Sam Marshall,  CMSWire top  contributors of 2020: Any business has competitors, but we  have common aims so  we can collaborate and  help everyone in the   industry progress.

Sam Marshall uses technology as a front. Let me explain: he uses intranets, microservices, collaboration tools and other components of the digital workplace as a means to open up businesses conversations around strategy, governance, communications, access to knowledge and more. He learned this perspective after helping roll out Unilever's first global intranet and seeing the reaction (or lack therein) of employees to the roll out. It was then he realized the intranet project needed to do more than just give a dedicated space to file an expense report to consider how it might enable new, improved approaches to work that help employees accomplish daily tasks.

Sam shares this perspective in his monthly column in CMSWire as well as with his clients at ClearBox Consulting, the independent consultancy he founded over 14 years ago. 

What kept you sane during 2020?

Cycling! Even in the strictest lockdown, we were happily still encouraged to get exercise. Spending time in the hills clears my head — mainly because I have to stop thinking about work and focus on not hitting the tree in front of me.

Where do you look for inspiration for your articles?

The charming reminders of a deadline from my editor help no end! Beyond that, I listen to what my clients are saying they are finding challenging in their digital workplaces and see if I can help make sense of it all. I’m always asking myself “what are the real variables at play here that would help people decide what works for their situation?” There’s rarely a definitive recipe, but you can help people figure it out. Some articles I mull over for years before I can find the words.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Aim for a bigger cake, not a bigger slice. Any business has competitors, but we have common aims so we can collaborate and help everyone in the industry progress.

Which of your projects or research from 2020 (or upcoming for 2021) are you most excited about and why?

We’ve spent many hundred hours of research for our new reports looking at employee apps and non-SharePoint intranet platforms (we’ll be launching that one in January). It’s inspiring to see a genuine focus on employee experience and so much innovation going on (whilst still playing nicely with Microsoft 365).

Outside of work I’ve become a charity trustee for an organization that encourages sustainable, active travel through cycling. Applying knowledge of behavior change and strategy to a new challenge is very energizing.

If you could only recommend one business book, what would it be and why?

"Slack" by Tom de Marco. He argues eloquently that if you overdo a lean, ‘efficient’ model then you stifle innovation. You end up being even less efficient because you have no spare capacity for change. Right now, everyone needs some slack.

Speed Round

What was the best book you read  in 2020?

"The Accidental Tourist" by Anne Tyler.

What was the best movie you watched in 2020?

"Jojo Rabbit"— funny, quirky but purposeful.

What was the best meal you ate in 2020?

Slow-cooked barbecue ribs, in the garden on a hot sunny day with family, laughter and dogs all around (OK, the dogs didn’t laugh much, but they liked the ribs).