Weblog Entries for June 2007
June 22, 2007
I agree with Andrew Sullivan's analysis:
America has exchanged some if its basic freedoms for the patina of phony security - and so easily... We have terrible enemies abroad, seeking to destroy our way of life. But this truth should never blind us to the danger within as well. Al Qaeda can only give us death. It is up to us to surrender the liberty they despise. In so many ways, we already have.
June 18, 2007
Spot the pattern
These are the books I've been enjoying lately: Stumbling on Happiness; Fooled by Randomness; Freakonomics. Now I've picked up The Halo Effect, which may be the best of the lot. These are all books which show the staggering number of ways in which we delude ourselves about the world we live in.
Phil Rosenzweig, the Halo author, kicks off one chapter with this George Bernard Shaw line, which resonates strongly with me:
The difference between a lady and a flowergirl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.The chapter shows how the appearance of success leads us to a whole series of unjustified assessements about the causes of it and makes a larger point about what I'd call the Cult of Leadership. If you happen to be at the head of a successful company, you acquire a halo. So you get rated for having all sorts of great qualities. Whether you have them or not seems fairly immaterial. Rosenzweig has some compelling examples of how leaders are described as Dr Jekyll duing upswings and Mr Hyde when performance is down. They haven't really changed character, it's basically a delusion in the minds of the observer.
Rob May gives more detail.
June 17, 2007
Don't get too attached to MySpace. You might want to pull up stakes from Second Life, too. And you'll probably want to stop posting inanities to Twitter. Why? All of these sites will be gone before the end of this decade.Already, I think Lance is missing the point. I'm not posting to twitter based on some notion of payback at some future date, I'm doing it because it satisfies me right now. As Tom says,
[T]here is something deeply compelling about social-networking...not the specific software or approaches we're seeing now, as Grant points out, but about the desire to be in contact with other people.But Ulanoff really goes off the rails here, describing MySpace:
It's huge, ugly, unmonitored, unrestrained, and pointless.Yes, it's that pointless point again. MySpace is pointless to Ulanoff so he seems to assume it's pointless to all its participants. But clearly it's not pointless to them or they wouldn't be there. It's a shame he responds to this by dismissing it, instead of asking himself: hang on, what am I missing here?
What I think he's missing is that most of our social discourse is, on one level, trivial - but the trivia are actually the little bits of interaction around which we build relationships. I wonder if Ulanoff thinks coffee shops and pubs would do better if they banned all that pointless conversation so that people could get on with the real purpose of being there?
Tom pretty much nails it thus:
Focusing on social-networking hype is like looking at the map while driving through Yosemite: you're so busy trying to figure out where you are that you're missing the amazing things going on all around you.
For Father's Day
Rob has a great post about his surrogate fathers.
It was funny to have people come up to me at the conference yesterday to ask me how if my loo was working yet. The joys of blogging. For those who care, we're making progress with a new macerator due for installation tomorrow.
I had a stimulating, at times over-stimulating, day out at Interesting2007. I don't go to many conferences whose subjects include reinventing egg, bacon, chips and beans as uber-haute cuisine; life lessons from Ibsen and the Muppets, the joys of woodchopping, what it's like to turn up on Oprah too soon after surgery, and why tubes are good. Plus a man playing Wichita Lineman on a saw (video here) or the editor of the Spectator impersonating Al Pacino to make a point about brevity.
I kept thinking of David Weinberger's books: Everything is Miscellaneous and Small Pieces, Loosely Joined. Here was an event that didn't have any explicit purpose, and only the vaguest of themes, that seemed to engage and enthuse both speakers and participants, all for £20 a head. So many business books suggest managing people as if they are all the same and can or should unite around some single passion or laboured mission statement. In the real world, something way more interesting and complex is going on and events like Interesting seem to point to that.
You could frame the whole day as a celebration of a very English kind of eccentricity. A nation that probably wasn't held enough as a child perhaps, so expresses its love via the safe medium of eccentric passions for obscure subjects, and by kindly interest in the passions of others. Plus in one of many small acts of genius, Russell laid on scones for tea. (Pic from Tim Duckett)
Russell asked me to compere the morning which was nice of him. I guess I do facilitationy stuff because I keep learning from it. I learnt some more yesterday... and did enjoy it too.
As compere you get a microphone, but don't think that means you get to control the audience. I generally get that, because audiences will always remind you who's really in control (a mixture of no-one/everyone). With a microphone, you get to make bigger disturbances, some of which seem to create what you expect and some of which don't.
I should write a separate post on this but for now I'll just throw out this notion: all our efforts at control - be they rules, suggestions, sarcastic remarks, pleas, force, whatever - they're all just disturbances of a big complex system. As humans, we're sort of in the business of disturbing each other. It might be good to embrace the uncertainty that implies, and maybe also remember the value of humility. (Pic: Steve Bowbrick)
PS It was great to finally meet Grant McCracken who flew all the way from New York to tell his Oprah anecdote. Brilliantly.
June 14, 2007
The thing I always worry about with the application of any technique is that some people are always looking for a shortcut to make people do what they want. Matt Moore
Conferences and driving events...
There is also, I think, a misconception of the behaviours and needs of business people at conferences. In my experience, it is only in clipart libraries that business people just wear suits, shake hands and point at spreadhseets on a screen. In reality, they are much more rounded and interesting than that and, like everybody else, they crave authentic connection with other people, new thinking and inspiration.Absolutely, I constantly find this myself. A lot of business events seem to be conducted in a kind of trance of mediocrity. Below the surface I think people are more different than on the surface, but paradoxically far better able to get along than the creators of rigid formats allow.
Lee's criteria for success are passion, meeting real needs (something he was very eloquent about in his own contributions to Reboot), physical space (again Reboot was a winner on this, down with dreary hotels!), the right people and objects (basically, things around which we can create conversations). Dead right.
Reboot had a relatively flat structure, so that anyone who wanted could convene their own session on-the-hoof, and most of the presentations were from volunteers putting themselves forward. Reboot opens a space and invites people to fill it. And they do.
Personally, I'm really sick of conferences with publicity that lists a series of slightly hysterical bullet points begining "You will learn..." with lots of references to industry-leaders and best practice. All very patronising and top-down. There's a feeling of compulsion and manipulation about the whole thing, as well as a hefty price tag. Such events rarely acknowledge the brains in the audience.
Lee and I have different degrees of enthusiasm for Open Space as he points out in his post.
Techniques like Open Space are sometimes helpful, but they too adopt the host culture of the event they are part of, which can sometimes result in partial, tentative half conversations instead of the intense debate, dialogue and challenge I seem to crave. I admire Johnnie Moore (I bet he doesn't believe me!) for putting his ego on the line in his Open Space events as a sacrifical lamb to get the party going, but even then I often sense there are a lack of meaningful drivers that stimulate people to engage. Perhaps I just went to too many noisy and argumentative political meetings as a youngster.I think the atmosphere in Open Space is essentially down to the participants. Some of the talking is tentative; I'd say that makes for some tentative conversation but not half-conversations. Maybe tentative is just what the people in them want. Tentative can be good sometimes. And one man's passionate conversation is another's shouting match.
If you're not getting what you want or need, you can change how you're engaging, find another conversation or start one of your own. If you want intensity and challenge in an Open Space conversation, you might have to take the risk of being challenging in your behaviour.
I think Open Space is in some ways quite confronting and it doesn't particularly reward bullying or controlling behaviour (though it's approach sometimes provokes it for people who long to be in control and find they aren't).
It's fine for passive reflective types but what it won't do is create engagement without risk-taking. The idea of passion bounded by responsibility.
I think what makes Open Space challenging sometimes is exactly the kind of English politeness the Lee spots in his post. People think it would be impolite to challenge the direction of a conversation or get up and leave. The process doesn't make people polite, that's a choice they make. (The longer it runs, the more people seem to get this).
Lee talks about Open Space lacking passionate drivers. I don't think the process itself drives, or should drive, anything. It's only the participants that can do that by driving themselves. If no one does the passion/responsibility thing, not much happens. And in my experience, there seem to be plenty of people willing to take risks and make Open Space satisfying. So if you have a bad experience in an Open Space, I'm not sure the process itself is to blame.
(Caveats: There's lots of contextual things that affect OS events. It helps if participants really want to be there, and haven't been bussed in my organisational mandate or false promises. It helps if they've not been horribly misled about what to expect. But I don't think that's the nub of this issue. And no, I don't think Open Space is the cure-all for conferences, though I think it has a lot to offer.)
June 13, 2007
I occasionally grumble about Writers Block, but today I'm suffering from something at once more down-to-earth - but with its own neurotic spin off.
A blocked loo. Just typing that I feel the shame. Do I need permission to mention such things here, I wonder? To be more specific, the loo in my ensuite uses a device with the charming name of of a macerator and it's not working properly.
This word "macerator" has a remarkable effect on plumbers; I spoke to three this morning, all of whom feel ominously silent at its mention and said that wasn't really their, er, expertise. Leaving me feeling even more of this weird sense of being dirty.
So I found one recommended by the makers of macerators and to be honest, he doesn't soon overkeen himself. Very quick to tell me his costs, the likely difficulties of repair and anxious questions about access. I fear he'll arrive tomorrow tut tut at me and say I have to get a builder round to do something to improve his access.
This is the sort of thing that triggers a very dark and pessimistic part of my soul and I'm sitting here imagining a chain of expensive events - broken tiles for which no identical replacements can now be found etc etc - none of which bring me any cheer. I'm only blogging it to see if it makes me feel even a tiny bit better.
June 12, 2007
BlueGrassRoots takes us on a guided tour of the er, remarkable, Genesis Creation museum in Kentucky. It's a great example of how defending a position sometimes ends up undermining it all the more. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.
UPDATE: Compare and contrast Doc Searls' reflections here. This version of our past evokes vastly more awe, sense of mystery and aliveness - at least, it does in me.
June 11, 2007
Lunch and conversation and capture
Loosely related, I've been thinking how often I hear people at meetings concerned with capturing knowledge and capturing outcomes. I wonder if there is some other need being expressed, as so much of the most juicy knowledge seems to me to be social. So I can have a conversation in which I just build a relationship and nothing needs to be captured. In fact, capturing stuff might fail to honour the relationship. Just a thought.
June 7, 2007
Blogs that make me think
What they all have in common is a willingness to be irascible sometimes, a tendency to force my little grey cells into a few aerobics, and an appetite for debate. It's up to them if they want to continue the tag game.
Doing a Henchard
I must say I am thoroughly enjoying the massive public response to the 2012 Olympic Logo. What a well-deserved pushback to the ludicrous hype with which the thing was launched. What a heartening demonstration that the great British public has a brain and isn't going to swallow whole the spin and hype of the branding browntongues.
What really provoked me was not so much the logo itself as the organisers' smug predictions of what it was going to do for the games and what it was going to mean. I found especially laughable the notion that this would appeal to young people. How patronising is that?
It's great that everyone now has access to technology so that a plephora of alternative designs are being put up. The Sun even has an entry drawn by a monkey, which is a cheap shot I know but makes me laugh out loud.
There's a marvellous scene in an old BBC adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge. The doomed antihero organises a lavish party for the folk of the town in an effort to glamorise himself. But it pours with rain and no-one shows up for this rich but soulless party. Meanwhile his rival organises a rough and ready dance in a barn where everyone has a great time in each other's company, with none of the grand expense. Henchard eventually arrives at the barn but can't really conceal his bitterness and dismay at everyone having so much fun.
Wouldn't it be great if Seb Coe had the humility to admit to a mistake and really embrace the public's creativity and exuberant irrerverance. But more likely he'll do a Henchard, taking cover like the kid who won't play nicely and justifies his temper by yelling "It's my ball". Or maybe he'll take the last refuge of the branding expert, waffling on about how he's got our attention which is what he really wanted to do.
In doing so, he'll probably be listening to the likes of Michael Wolff, cofounder of the firm, Wolff Olins, who designed the thing. (Clarification: Wolff doesn't work there now and he didn't do the logo himself.) Here's what Mr Wolff has to say: "When something is so swingingly attacked as the 2012 logo has been, it tells you more about the people doing the attacking, and their taste, than about the design in question...Prejudice is comfortable and lazy...I think this petulant reaction will subside and pride will take its place.” A textbook case of projection, in which the patient condemns in others the exact qualities he can't take responsibility for in himself. Mr Wolff, in the great tradition of logo salesmen, really does think he's cleverer than the rest of us.
I think some of the reaction is about our ambivalence about the Olympics themselves, which have a long track record of combining grandiose talk about the human spirit with some really serious fat cattery. There's a real shadow side to the Olympics, and chucking £400k at Wolff Olins sounds very much in that tradition.
It has to go down as a bit of a black mark for Edelmans who did the PR for this launch that they so badly misjudged the public mood. They're trying to position themselves as leaders in social media but this isn't the first time they've been parties to a bit of Marketing 1.0 nonsense.
June 4, 2007
What's in a logo?
The new logo for the 2012 Olympics has been launched, accompanied by the customary list of contrived quotes about what it allegedly conveys to people. These always sound as daft as wine critics finding notes of rhubarb and spinach in a glass of plonk.
For instance, Tony Blair says, "When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life". You can just imagine it, can't you? "Gee, I was a career criminal addicted to drugs and no therapy ever worked. Then one day Tony Blair said here's an innovative logo but all I could see was a pink and yellow psychadelic blur. That's when I knew I had to make a positive change in my life."
Jacques Rogge reckons, "This is a truly innovative brand logo that graphically captures the essence of the London 2012 Olympic Games... the brand launched today by London 2012 is, I believe, an early indication of the dynamism, modernity and inclusiveness with which London 2012 will leave its Olympic mark." Come again, squire.
Actually far from being innovative, this is brand-wank as usual, these quotes bearing all the hallmarks of PR consultants and not the sort of thing anyone believes for a nanosecond in the real world.
For the record, the logo reminds me of Fruit Salads, one of my favourite sweets as a kid, but not much to do with sport and still less all those other high ideals. Or is it just me?
UPDATE: Tony has just emailed me this alternative logo which seems good to me:
I agree with Phil Dourado:
Start thinking 'acts of leadership' rather than 'leader'
Josh Porter has a good post on recent events at Digg. This is the bit that most interested me:
One is as described by Mike Arrington of Techcrunch: Digg Surrenders to Mob. Simply using the word “Mob” makes for great press. We gravitate to mobs because we know they’re messing with the Man. They’re anti-authority, they’re doing what they’re not supposed to, they’re pissed and fighting for their rights. We think of the French or Russian or American Revolution, and we like it.Me too. People often use words like chaos to refer to, for instance, some people disagreeing with each other in a meeting. As if it will be like the streets of Paris in 1968. The orgins of the word suggest that actually chaos was the preamble to the creation of the cosmos but the creative potential is not what people usually mean. As for Michael Arrington's use of the term "mob", I think he should get out more.
But maybe, just maybe, mobs aren’t that bad. Terry Heaton had an insightful observation: “What I find most fascinating here is the automatic assumption that chaos is evil. This is a purely modernist perspective, but life itself proves it to be false.” He argues that the so-called Mob was more like the site at its finest…that a Mob is nothing more than democracy at high speed. I tend to agree with this.
Chris Corrigan in town
Chris Corrigan is visiting me next Sunday. Chris is an uber-facilitator and a regular source of inspiration to me, though this will be the first time we've met in person. I'm inviting a few friends over, probably to do lunch somewhere, maybe take a walk and generally schmooze in a dialoguey way. If you'd like to join us, drop me a line.