Weblog Entries for February 2007
February 27, 2007
Living in the web
Contrasting the way KFC and JetBlue have responded to negative publicity, Rob Paterson asks:
Every business is exposed to public risk today. You can guarantee that your story will be all over the web in hours. If you do not live in the web, the story will overwhelm you. So what is your plan to deal with this new reality?
February 26, 2007
Earl has some rousing thoughts about the power of Little Brother.
Those who used to take advantage of the fact that memory is so unreliable, and that they controlled the systems for production and distribution of information, are learning hard lessons from a world where half a billion little brothers are now peering through their windows, ratting the kitchen cupboards and the fridge and rummaging in the rubbish.
February 25, 2007
Before and after
Kathy Sierra's visual aids are as good as ever.
Coalitions of the willing
After googling "coalition of the willing" I fear it may be too hard to rehabilitate the phrase. But it would be nice use it to sum up a strategy that can work rather well: work with the active volunteers, don't get too hung up the less enthusiastic (often those "resistors" are figments of our imagination, anyway).
Phil Dourado points to this video of a panel of web community founders, hosted by Guy Kawasaki. Phil says
Community-based networks of common interest have the potential, it seems to me, to teach the corporate world some lessons in how to bring people together to pursue a common purpose, add value and generate income for participants.I agree. These folks are different from many business leaders you meet. They seem to have discovered how to work in what I'm glibly calling a volunteer economy.
There's a bit of credibilty gap when trying to convey this to corporates. I regularly experience that gap when talking to corporates about Open Space. It tends to bring to the surface unspoken assumptions about the willingness and ability of one's fellow man to collaborate productively. It's often a surprise to find how little carrot or stick is needed once you set up a reasonably transparent, non-very-hierarchical framework and focus your energy on the willing.
And then you realise that, the leaders, hitherto sceptical, are usually just as pleased to work within the space as the group formerly known as the followers. In the right context, most folks can move beyond the stereoptypes of formal hierarchy and get along fine.
February 22, 2007
Formerly known as...
Again in Northern Europe we've disassociated the body from the mind/spirit in thinking about audiences: the priest/marketer sends messages but the audience just receives intellectually or at least without moving. The medieval church worked really hard to extirpate dancing from religious celebrations (as well as secular ones) for similar reasons that later Calvinists (and even later missionaries to the 3rd World) did: they all saw the energy created by physical, collective worship as unpredictable, dangerous (and plain ungodly-in-the-sense-they-understood-it...).
See how far into the cartoon you get before it has the same effect on you. I hit curmdugeon mode about 40% in. The combination of teletubbies soundtrack, monotonous voiceover and a severe case of best-pratice-itis was just too much.
The basic idea of peer assist seems very sane and human. But it's ruined for me when it's turned into a series of rigid-sounding principles that make it all sound very antiseptic and incredibly laborious.
Relationships and ideas
A few days ago, I blogged about insight being "the popcorn of therapy" and sparked some interesting comments.
Today, this jumped out from a post by Rob Paterson.
Ideas do not change us. Only experience changes us.
I don't want to set up an either/or here, but I find this axiom attractive. The bookstores are full of "how to" books. Blogs (including this one, from time to time) are not short of advice on what to do. Somehow, it seems the advice is not being followed most of the time. I find most of those "how tos" demoralising to begin with, and then a bit irritating.
I wrote this a while ago (on a now redundant part of this site):
It's fairly common in business to champion creativity. Yet an emphasis on coming up with new ideas risks putting the cart before the horse.
Sometimes the demand for new ideas can demoralise many people who don't see themselves as creative, yet actually play a vital role in making things happen.
Consultants and ad agencies are often appointed because of a big idea - which then fails in the real world because it is pursued without paying attention to the problems of execution.
I've witnessed quite a few businesses doing brainstorming and other creativity sessions on awaydays/offsites. If they're lucky, they have an exciting day... then they return to their offices, the adrenalin rush long past, and revert to their normal, much less inspired, ways of working together. Sure, they went somewhere and had a few ideas. But they haven't really changed the way they relate to each other.
Whilst saying "relationships before ideas" is a bit trite, as well as being an idea itself, there's something in it, I think.
Rob puts it in more dramatic terms with this picture of Thomas Cranmer burning for his beliefs, sticking his sinful hand into the flames. Reminds of the Fritz Perls injunction to "lose your mind and come to your senses".
Update: I've just read an interesting related story in the book Made to Stick. A school teacher creates an experiential lesson for her pupils, after the assassination of Martin Luther King. She divides them into the blue-eyed and the brown-eyed, and sets higher privileges for one group on the basis of them being smarter. The next day she says there was a mistake and switches the status of the two groups. On the third day, they get to discuss prejudice - with he benefit of a life-changing change of perspective.
February 20, 2007
And you thought advertising was bad today? How about this effort for Nixon in 1972?
(Via Andrew Sullivan, who invites us all to singalonganix)
I know I've got better things to do. But I have whiled away several minutes having a good laugh browsing 419eater.com, a site dedicated to revenge against email scammers.
The author has developed ruses even more absurd than the scammers to basically scam them back. Here's the narrative of his latest, which culminates in this YouTube: two accomplices of the scammer re-enacting the Dead Parrot Sketch. (I won't go into the role of a mouse, squirrel and head carving along the way). Hat tip: Boing Boing
Question for any passing geek:
I've upgraded to Movable Type 3.34 and am now using their own version of Tags. Does Technorati recognise them? I used this plugin to convert my old Technorati tags. And should I be getting rid of all the +s (I used to tag social software as "social+software"). And should I alternatively get a life?
Jeff Jarvis on McCain
Jeff Jarvis gives some good advice to John McCain in this little video.
The head lemur pushes back
Social Media is one of those phrases that needs to be killed, and the ashes scattered in an undisclosed location over an unmarked gravesite. It is an oxymoron of the first water.The nub of his argument echoes Brian of Nazereth: We are all individuals.
I'm just left wondering if Social Media is actually a tautology rather than an oxymoron, but clearly I need to stop blogging right now as I'm descending into pedantry and obscurantism.
Update: Doc Searls is more articulate than I am.
The volunteer economy
Is it true that big companies are taking advantage of enthusiasm and volunteerism? How do you ensure that the volunteers don’t get treated like suckers?...I like that down-to-earth example of the neighbour/butcher and I suppose that, as usual, we'll muddle through somehow.
We previously put so many intermediaries into our commercial transactions that then when we start disintermediating we no longer have the etiquette or guidelines to know how to behave. Used to be that you’d go buy stuff from your neighbor the grocer or your other neighbor the butcher and they’d give you advice and they’d try to sell you stuff. You wouldn’t come home and complain to your spouse about them turning conversations into money.
How do we get back to a place where we can be authentic as ourselves and yet still do business together? Enthusiasm and volunteering don’t pay the bills, wanting to make money doesn’t mean we’re inauthentic or prostituting ourselves … what is the answer?
Anyway, Anne's post sent me googling the definition of volunteer, which often suggests doing something for free. That's not what I really intended when I talked about a volunteer economy. I quite liked this wikipedia definition of volunteer in a botanical context:
In gardening and botanical terminology, a volunteer is a plant that grows on its own, rather than being deliberately planted by a human farmer or gardener.I think that'a bit closer to what I was aiming for: volunteer as in a bit more spontaneous, self-directed. And I realise that all this may sound a bit wide-eyed, but I'm just casting seeds in the wind (apols for labouring the botany).
February 19, 2007
Chris Anderson advises: Don't Confuse Media With Media Institutions.
First, let's agree that "media" is anything that people want to read, watch or listen to, amateur or professional. The difference between the "old" media and the "new" is that old media packages content and new media atomizes it. Old media is all about building businesses around content. New media is about the content, period. Old media is about platforms. New media is about individual people.
February 18, 2007
Mantras and mutations
Ask your audience to participate with you in a little game. You will tap out a song with your fingers or a pencil and you ask the audience to guess the song. Pick two songs everyone knows well—I was using Happy Birthday to Me and Advance Australia Fair. Most people are unable to guess correctly, though Happy Birthday is a lot easier than Advanced Australia Fair. In fact, Elizabeth Newton, a PhD researcher from Stanford, found that, on average, only 2.5% of the listeners she tested could guess the song. But here is the rub. When she asked her tappers how likely it was for the listeners to guess correctly, they expected the listeners to get is right 50% of the time. The tapper has the song in their head and can hear it as clear as a bell. They are cursed with their own knowledge and expect everyone else to hear it as easily as they do.I guess tune-tapping is going to be an extreme example, but I rather think the same phenomenon afflicts most mission and values statements, and other mantras of command-and-control.
Of course, that may be a cue for some to insist on a massive programme to make sure everyone really is "hearing the same tune". I'm a sceptic. If exhaustive argument and attention to detail really got people on the same page, then lawyers would be the most harmonious professionals in the world, rather than - by some accounts - the most miserable.
Plus, if you really want people to spread a story, you have to let them mutate it. The one quoted above is Shawn's retelling of the original. Will the authors be upset? I somehow doubt it!
No prizes for spotting a link to the theme of my previous post, on A Perfect Mess, which ends with a fascinating (to me, as a non-musician) account of tuning in an orchestra. It turns out that getting instruments in tune is way more complicated than you'd think, for all sorts of reasons. And in good orchestras, players are having to retune on the fly to get great results. So even in an orchestra, you need improvisation to sustain the impression of order...
A perfect mess
If you've read much of my stuff, you'll not be surprised I like A Perfect Mess, subtitled The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place. I kept reading right to the end, a linear response I'm not used to making to non-fiction books.
It's crammed with interesting anecdotes to support the notion of healthy amounts of disorder. One central theme for me is how we attach a certain moral superiority to order, so that sometimes the only problem with mess is that we feel bad about perpetrating it. Actually, there are lots of benefits to disorganisation - it can support greater innovation (more chance of random stimulation) and flexibilty. And often there are hidden costs to order - the stress of having to constantly refile things to maintain it.
One touching example is the Little Red Wagon nursery, where the conventional norms of teaching are suspended. There are no standard ABC alphabet posters on the walls. Here's how the founder explains that in the book:
When you put up a poster with the alphabet, you telling the children several things.... That they're supposed to learn them in this order. That the apple in 'A is for apple' is a red apple, so that I guess apples are supposed to be red. But what you're not telling them is 'why'. Why do they have to learn the ABCs? Why should the color apples red?We go on to learn about Red Wagon's unschooling methodology, in which teachers follow the curiosity of the children, with excellent results. I loved this in particular:
One boy started pounding on a doll with a block; instead of admonishing him, a teacher expressed interest, and the boy explained he needed an injured patient on which to practice medicine. Soon half the class was involved in running a hospital.
These guys have dozens of other fun, messy stories you’ll enjoy, and overall the book is a winner. Know where it falters, though? When it attempts to categorize types of messiness, define the methods people use in dealing with mess, etc. Come on, guys, it's a book about mess. Don't mess it up by trying to neaten it.
I had an excellent chat with Mark McGuinness on Friday. One of things Mark has been championing lately is enthusiasm. I'm particularly struck by his notion that focussing on enthusiasm might be a way out of worrying.
I found the original meaning of enthusiasm, from the Greek, was (my italics):
inspiration or possession by a divine afflatus or by the presence of a godIf you like, enthusiasm is about showing up in the here and now - a good way to counter anxiety, I find. You can invoke God according to your spiritual taste.
I've taken to suggesting that Web 2.0 may be creating a volunteer economy. One that will be driven increasingly by the enthusiastic. Maybe not by these guys:
It's not about how much your product engages with the customer. It's about how much your product allows your customer to engage with other people.Reminded me of what James and I say in our Co-Creation Rules - in fact it prompted me to put this slightly rewritten thought there:
Marketing 1.0 treats customers as objects of communication: marketing is done to them. In co-creation, everyone is a subject (in the grammatical sense) — an initiator of action, a creator. Your brand, and your marketing, are the objects everyone gets to play with - if you're lucky. Miss this point, and you may head the same way as the music industry...
David Maister writes his perspective on careers. There are 12 rules, including these which I quite like
5 If you want a specific experience, ask for it.For me, the list is made a bit dispiriting by these two
6 Better yet, just go grab it.
7 Do not expect that you will be promoted because you deserve it - it is unlikely that anyone is really keeping track.
8 If you want to be promoted, ask to be promoted
1 The cold, hard, truth is that you’ve got to look after yourself.They sound harsh, as I don't think I associate looking after myself with being cold and hard. And I think there's a difference between taking care of ourselves and being all alone in the world. One nifty definition of independence is knowing when to ask for help. David's blog stands out for his enthusiasm for encouraging a commons, a sharing of ideas and his willingness to encourage and connect to his readers who comment.
11 In spite of what they may say, it’s up to you. You’re on your own, kid.
David reflects further in a post about Ayn Rand which generates lots of comments. As always, the scope for different interpretations of the same words turns out be fairly wide.
Courtesy of Hugh, I spent Friday evening at a freebie screening of The 300. 300 was about the number of people in the audience too - a little different from the more intimate preview of Hallam Foe. Bloggers were definitely in the minority here, surrounded by (I think) a mixture of press and a large helping of graphic novel enthusiasts.
I had fun being a fish-out-of-water, in a crowd I'd not normally be in, watching a movie I'd probably not normally go see.
When it ended, Fredd Kambo asked me that I thought. I said I didn't really know, but I enjoyed it. Uber-violent, in a comic book way, it's an utterly, unapologetically boys film (as BarryD points out). You could nitpick over the plot but the overall visceral experience was powerful (the director was right to insist at the start that it be played very loud.) Lots of movies bore me through their excessive effects. This was almost all shot bluescreen, but I wasn't bored. I wasn't sure why at the time, but thinking about it now I think it's because the actors were so clearly not bored or lost (compare and contrast with the Star Wars prequels).
Barmy though the plot was, the cast played the whole thing with full-on passion and conviction. Almost certainly because the director did. In a chat afterwards he brimmed over with geeky enthusiasm, and a paradoxical mixture of shy shamelessness.
I think if I'd not seen it in these circumstances, I might have been a bit more snarky about it... and I think that's interesting. These bloggy initiatives rip down some of the barriers between creator and audience; because the director was there, I thought more about the work that he'd gone through in making it, saw his passion for the work, enjoyed his quirky anecdotes about the challenge of getting it made. I made connections. In my eensy-weensy way I felt part of something. I like that.
Afterthought: What the heck would it be like on IMAX?
Update: Londonist loves the movie - and also fancies seeing it in IMAX
February 17, 2007
Control and trust
There is an inverse relationship between control and trust.
February 12, 2007
Consuming more media and less stuff?
Mark Ramsey interviews Watts Wacker and gets this interesting idea from him:
Perhaps the biggest trend that I would pay attention to in the short run is that while consuming is never going to go away, consuming as the defining criteria for individuals is. We are now using our media consumption as opposed to our physical consumption to explain who we are.Spotted by Rob
So you don't go to a party anymore and say, you know, "Where'd you go to college? What kind of car do you drive? Where do you live?" Now you say "What do you blog? What websites do you surf? Have you read the article in Vanity Fair on terrorism in South America? Are you an Imus or a Stern person? Have you seen The Departed?
February 11, 2007
Alphabet and Goddess
My friend and ex-sparring partner Alan Moore got my attention with this thought:
Some people describe the alphabet as masculine whereas, the web is feminine This has deep implications as to how culture is created, how business is created, how organisations are structured.Whoa!
Alan recommends the book The Alphabet versus The Goddess, which
proposes that the process of learning alphabetic literacy rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture. Making remarkable connections across a wide range of subjects including brain function, anthropology, history, and religion, Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy's early stages, the decline of women's political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.I love this theme of non-linearity and I'm feeling a bit less lonely in advocating it these days.
Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject of any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art.
Those Clever Scandos
The next generation
Tony pursues a theme he's raised with me before. I think it's important.
What I've been pondering recently, are Gen Y and Gen Z going to work at corporates, such as a bank. Decades ago, you loved to join a corporate because they had the latest technology to play with. Word Processors, Fax Machines, email, computers, telex!! And yet over the last decade we now have more up to date technology at home than at work. When did this happen? So what will a Gen Y or Gen Z make of a corporate work environment where they can't use Chat, Twitter, Wikis, Blog, SMS, Mobiles. They won't have Vista, OSX, or Linux, you won't be able to use Office 2007 at work for a few years, and yet you can pick it up down the road, or probably use it in school.
February 10, 2007
The popcorn of therapy
I've been re-reading some of A General Theory of Love and came upon this pithy line in the context of a dicussion of what really works in therapy:
Patients are often hungry for explanations, because they are used to thinking that neocortical contraptions like explication will help them. But insight is the popcorn of therapy. When patient and therapist go together, the irreducible reality of their mutual journey, is the movie.I love that idea insight is the popcorn of therapy and I think it touches on a truth for many other contexts. Our culture seems to prize clever insights, but I think these are often fairly superficial excitements at a mental level. What's going on underneath is more mysterious and profound.
In facilitation, it's tempting to offer clever insights instead of being willing to join people in their journey through unknown territory.
I think this relates, in a way I can't quite articulate, to this paper I've been revisiting on Wicked Problems with this thought:
...humans are oriented more toward learning (a process that leaves us changed) than toward problem solving (a process focused on changing our surroundings).If we over-direct a meeting we aim to move it to problem-solving - getting to a specified destination in predictable steps. If we allow people simply to engage with the material and go with what interests them, we facilitate learning - and, I suspect, support the creation of relationship and not more popcorn.
I found this quote in Phil Dourado's admirably snappy free book chapter for February.
Leadership is emotional. Leadership deals with feelings. Leadership is made up of dreams, inspiration, excitement, desire, pride, care, passion, and love. The areas of our lives where we show the strongest leadership - including our communities, families, organizations, products, services, hobbies, and customers - are where we're most in love. Jim Clemmer
Some professional communication
James Byford posts about the link up between Technorati and Ogilvy. James raises some good questions about what it means.
I find the comments Technorati make about it depressingly full of hype and jargon.
To start with, could we be spared the sycophancy of saying Ogilvy are "one of the world’s preeminent advertising agencies" and "some of the worlds best creatives". (I find those "one of" type comments are pretty much endemic in most flatulent PR output)
Then I'm trying to figure out what this means:
Ogilvy creatives and account teams will use Technorati's conversational marketing products to build relationships between brands and conversations relevant to those brands.I cringe at the idea of a conversational marketing product. And what does it mean to create a relationship between a brand and a conversation? Is that different from...err.. plain old having a conversation?
Apparently, this "will result in the the creation of destination sites". What's a destination site? Is it different from just a plain old ordinary website? Is "destination" just a way of saying "more important that just a regular old site that the rest of you get to make"?
But wait, there's more: "For bloggers and other citizen media creators it means new forms of distribution and awareness". Wow, new forms of awareness. You thought this was just some bloggy product launch, but actually it's a profound change in our collective levels of consciousness.
When it continues...
As we developed this product line it was clear that the best way to advance the state of the art was to show some of the worlds best creatives on what was possible and then work with them and major brands on how to build sites and advertising that reflect the conversations and passions of each brand's identity.I start to despair. Reflecting the passions of a brand's identity? And do they really think in Web 2.0 that the best thing is work with just "some of" the best creatives?
Ah well, never mind. Technorati are just bloggers aren't they? Thank goodness we can turn to the communication pros at Ogilvy for clarity.. in their news release.
Well, first we have to get past the obligatory return of sychophancy: Techorati is, it seems "the recognized authority on the global Live Web". None of that "one of" feebleness here, the pre-emiment creatives can churn out the flattery undiluted. Technorati is the authority. And I naively thought the Live Web was fun because no-one was in charge...
I didn't find this very illuminating either:
By partnering with Technorati, we can offer our clients an innovative engagement point with the Live Web. Key to this is defining measurable ways to integrate blogs and other citizen media on behalf of brands... brands gain an opportunity to affirmatively enter into conversations related to their brand, and authentically promote themselves across the Live WebA case of adverbitis there. And what's an innovative engagement point?
Still, at least Ogilvy's client, Marianne Samenko of Kodak, speaks English: "Technorati will help us understand what is going on in the blogosphere, which will be tremendously useful to our brand." Now that I can understand. Though I hope she's not going to rely on Technorati or Ogilvy to explain it in any more detail to the rest of us.
UPDATE: Some slightly more constructive criticism from Rik, who sees this going one of two ways:
If, however they... choose to venture out to invent a new way of talking with their customers, all will be hanky dory. I for one would love to be on the team figuring this out. Until that happens I’ll be on the sideline cheering. But if I had to take a guess based on the fuzzy tone of their introduction, my bet would be that it’ll be more of the first option and less of the second, because, you know, having a conversation involves a lot of listening and a lot of clarity.
This is the sort of wry content that makes Jessica Hagy's blog, Indexed a regular stopping point for me.
The meaning of life...
Nick Smith has another good post (and the above funny cartoon) about, well, the meaning of life.
Let's be really frank and honest with each other here - we don't really know how to do the enlightenment thing, do we? In spite of our best efforts we have always come up short. If we tell the truth about this, we can see that this un-knowingness is something that we do have in common.
February 9, 2007
The Machine is Us/ing Us
I like the way it deals with ambiguity and the way Web 2.0 handles it... with some interesting implications for how we organise ourselves.
Hugh pops into Tesco
4. I'm enjoying being away from my usual "blog routine", I have to say. Though it's nice to have something which allows anything to to be published, by anyone, anywhere, into a global medium... like all media, to do it well is EXTREMELY time consuming. I spent five-odd years being sucked deeper and deeper into the blogosphere vortex [Current Technorati ranking: 86], and it's nice to come up for some air, at long last.Yes, blogging is really just the tip of the Web 2.0 iceberg, and it's fun to see brand Hugh hitting the road this way. Judging by the posts on the Stormhoek blog, he's a walking social object and I wonder how many conversations he's sparking as he schlepps his way round the country. How many Tesco employees are going home and reporting on a weird thing that happened to them at work today?
It's all a million miles away from high-powered branding from the top down. You let go of the trappings of high office when you follow this path, and get down to the grassroots, taking the risk of having some ordinary, rambling conversations in the real world, instead of broadcasting brand mantras over mainstream media. There are no comforting stats of impacts-per-thousands spent this way, just the reality of a certain amount of grind. Of course it's not really a grind if you happen to like talking to people.
February 2, 2007
CEOs and egos
I was a little surprised to read this at the egonomics blog. (The blog's a recent discovery, it looks good.)
“You can’t ever suggest that any decision made by the chief executive in the past was wrong,” marketing guru Al Ries recently told us. “You can’t get to be a chief executive or a CEO without a powerful ego. And people with powerful egos will never, ever admit they made a mistake. How then can you sell a new strategy unless you can convince the company that their previous strategy was wrong? You first have to tell them that their strategy was ‘right for its time.’ But today, times have changed; therefore their strategy has to change. No CEO has ever told me that he or she has ever made a mistake.”Assuming Al's not been quoted wrongly or I've misunderstood the context, I have three responses:
1 This isn't my experience of CEOs. I find them as multidimensional as the rest of us mortals.
2 Personally, if I were a CEO I'd be wary of taking advice from a consultant who professes a professional commitment to placating my ego.
3 I idly wonder if Al has reflected on whether there may be other explanations for his never having heard a CEO admit to a mistake.