Friday, 22 June 2007

A Short History of Pianos and Pianists

Born in the village of Żelazowa Wola, Poland, in 1810, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin died thirty-nine years later after a turbulent life of great acclaim, passion and ill-health. Today his reputation remains: Chopin, more readily than anyone else, is understood to be the greatest composer for the piano.

An important social detail is that the piano itself was a relatively new and rare instrument during the period of Chopin's life. Its invention is normally traced to Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy, with the earliest recognisable piano being created in about 1700. Just over a century later when the prodigy Chopin left Poland for Paris, the piano was still restricted to the finest of houses and establishments. Today's world, where every aspiring family has a piano, and electronic piano keyboards of multiple sorts sprout from teenage bedrooms, was unknowable to Chopin.

Yet, Chopin's reputation remains. Frédéric is still Frédéric. We have not, as a society, decided that Frédéric can, somehow, be discarded simply because Kevin and Sharon can now also rumble up a bit of a tune. Nor have we decided the converse, that Kevin and Sharon should be prevented access to the instrument simply because they are unlikely to ever be Frédéric. Instead, we persist with a liberal attitude on the social question of who has the right to access pianos. Frequently, our liberal stance rewards us. It serves us up a treat when a new, great concert pianist is discovered, when a young niece masters 'Au Clair de la Lune', when the unexpectedly good pub-pianist embarks on 'The Long and Winding Road.'

It is indeed the liberal road that serves us best. Though there is no regulation to prevent access to pianos, and no rule that states that the instrument must be played in any particular manner, new generations of players tend to impersonate each other. Accreditation standards remain. Examinations are taken. Recognition of many sorts is sought. We humans remain distinctly social and contemporaneously competitive. To the best of my knowledge there is no serious group, other than The Taleban, campaigning for the restriction of access to pianos.

I have used this argument with two distinguished journalist friends of mine. Today, when we can all play the role of reporter and columnist, we should expect no corruption of excellence. The great journalist is still the great journalist. We will not be blinded into equating Kevin and Sharon with Truman Capote. Our liberal stance will reward us.

Monday, 11 June 2007

The Puritan Gift by Kenneth and William Hopper

Peter writes ...

Founded in London in 1628, the Massachusetts Bay Company came to foreshadow a golden age of American management that, much later, between approximately 1920 and 1970, would become “…one of mankind’s greatest achievements.” This is the founding argument of ‘The Puritan Gift’, a new book by the brothers Kenneth and William Hopper. Its structure follows the dramatic template of birth, triumph, loss and renewal. Along the way, we see the irony as in the immediate post-war years, the candles of managerial excellence are passed to Japan, just as misjudgement grips America and she starts to snuff hers out. In charting this history, the brothers Hopper lead themselves open to the charge that the values ascribed to Puritan settlers are vague and easily retro-fitted to well run organisations, that the same values are perhaps no more associated with Puritans than any other Christian (or other religious) group, and even that they are being culturally partial. Nonetheless, now, at this time, amidst the seas of neophiliac management practice, of evermore arcane financial accounting practices, of increasingly dusky professions and hocus bodies of expertise, and in an age when the daily manufacture of new products is seemingly less bountiful than the acronyms needed to explain them, the brothers Hopper have created a stunning triumph. The Puritan Gift is the post-Enron book. This is the book for all those who believe that business is essentially a simple affair of spirit, industrie, commitment to customers, and the will to see common progress in whichever neighbourhood or society one happens to reside.

Led by John Winthrop, hitherto an “obscure Suffolk gentleman”, the Massachusetts Bay Company would carry 14,000 souls across the Atlantic in approximately two hundred ships between 1630 and 1640. Even today, the scale of this operation is impressive, and its speed in recruiting able hands from across the south of England, the valleys of Lancashire and beyond, is of note. The Massachusetts Bay Company was well resourced; according to the Hoppers the cost of the Massachusetts settlement was about £200,000 or “some $40 million in today’s money.” It shares were owned entirely by Winthrop and his companions who transferred the company’s charter and its headquarters to New England, leaving no copy of its charter “left behind in London.” Instead, the Massachusetts Bay Company was able to focus on developing the spores of meritocratic practices associated with Puritan England, on good financial accounting, and most of all, on using the talents of all its people towards collective ends. Winthrop himself attracted some criticism for being “soft, evasive and lenient”, but history testifies to the success of his collegial management style. The Hoppers report that during the entire seventeenth century New England received 21,000 emigrants. By contrast, 120,000 would go to Virginia and Maryland. Yet by 1700, the population of New England was 91,000, this being 6,000 more than the total for the two Chesapeake colonies. Hence it was Winthrop’s ship, the Arbella, rather than the earlier Mayflower and her “leakie” companion the Speedwell, that would carry the germs of management expertise into the New World.

This history provides insight into a quartet of characteristics that would become intimately associated with the success of great American businesses. Quoting from the first paragraph of Chapter One:

“A conviction that the purpose of life, however vaguely conceived, was to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth; an aptitude for the exercise of mechanical skills; a moral outlook that subordinated the interests of the individual to the group; and an ability to marshal financial, material and human resources to a single purpose and on a massive, or lesser, scale.”

This then is an anthropology of American management, a roots study. And it is by following these roots that a fifth characteristic is added. This is an institutional respect for technology and the technologist. These cultural values were imparted through America’s long friendship with the French and can be traced in particular to the founding work of Louis de Tousard and Sylvanus Thayer at West Point, and the foundation of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, New York in 1824. A side-issue for this reviewer is to note that it is the French, and not the innovative (mostly northern) English or Scots, who possessed the insight and means to institutionalise the study of technology into the fabric of society. This digression cannot be developed now, but an historical anthropology can cast light in many directions and, perhaps, many of the most stubborn problems of British industry through the 20th Century are illuminated when stood upon this unfamiliar vantage point, i.e. when appreciating the great French contribution to America.

The Hopper brothers build their thesis by tracing the development of American management through the work of Colonel Roswell Lee at Springfield Armory, the impact of the American technology at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, the corporation-building exploits of the Scottish born Daniel McCallum, and those of the French descent du Pont family. From these talents and others arose the “Golden Age of American Management” between 1920 and 1970, an era within which great companies “possessed and enjoyed one common corporate culture embracing all divisions and disciplines.” Strangely, the Hoppers do not provide even a partial list of names of those they consider as “Great Engine” companies, but anecdotes are taken from Boeing, du Pont, Merck & Company, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, American Brake Shoe, Standard Oil, General Motors, Coca-Cola, Kodak and others. For the management world these names, these corporations in their pomp, are as stellar, as magnificent, as any names that could be plucked from Hollywood’s golden era over the same decades. For the Hoppers, “Collectively, the Great Engine companies represented one of mankind’s greatest achievements.”

Just a little more than half-way through this golden era, America found itself with the task of rebuilding its wartime enemy, Japan. The Hoppers’ detailed and respectful account of the work of the Civil Communications Section (CCS) led by Homer M. Sarasohn, Charles W. Protzman and Frank A. Polkinghorn is, in itself, an important new contribution to the academic study of management. It might even be inspiration to the dramatist, a playwright or film-maker perhaps, looking to explore the process of rapprochement between peoples and the marvellous ideal that a former enemy is worthy of the best ideas of the victor. However, as the Hoppers’ book turns, the irony is that just as the CCS undertakes its work, America itself is losing its appreciation of its own managerial tenets.

It is when confronting this loss that The Puritan Gift crackles most intensely. Hopper and Hopper, so earnest in their historical anthropology, are more inclined to scatter fire when confronting the idols of new management. There are many acidic points to be made, and seemingly some scores to be settled. In building their analysis of failure, big names, even respected names, like Rosabeth Moss-Kanter, Michael Porter, IBM, General Electric, Roberto Goizueta, Stuart Saunders, McKinsey, Robert McNamara, Ray Gilmartin, Michael Jensen, and NASA are asked to file down the same corridors as Enron. Like it or not, agree with it or not, Part IV of this book, Collapse – The Cult of the (So-called) Expert – is a vivid, withering attack on what today passes as management and managerial excellence. Hauled centre stage at the outset is Frederick Winslow Taylor and the vines of “Scientific Management”. This is repeatedly associated with the widespread managerial nostrum, “if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed”; glaringly, an admission not only of partial blindness but also of being intellectually lopsided. Later, the loss of generalist management training, the rise of the imperious Chief Executive, the specialization of functions and the invention of new areas of expertise, the Human Resource movement, top-down management and the rise of financial engineering, are all cited as ingredients in the loss. It is a startling series of broadsides. However, if so much of today’s managerial practice is asked to take it on the chin, the most vituperative comments are reserved for business schools themselves. Business schools are asked to take it not only on the chin, but also in the belly, on the shins and in the balls.

I find myself wanting to speak up for Manchester and its long, novel, incomplete but persisting attempts to bring learning to the point of insight, to practice. I find myself wanting to utter a few kind words about other business and management schools, and to highlight some of the distinguished minds that work within. As she finds herself under some fire, I want to say some nice things about some of the ideas of Rosabeth Moss-Kanter, and to mention Michael Porter’s elegant analysis of market forces. I want to say something about the many talented MBA and PhD students I have met. I want to talk of their heterogeneity and, increasingly, their social passion.

But for me to defend in the detail would distract from the fact that I agree with the thrust of what is expressed by the Hopper brothers. Fundamentally they are right. Systemically, management learning is too far removed from management practice. It is often too insecure on anything qualitative. Conceptually, business schools are too often too faddish, too cultish, even to the extent where significant new developments do arise, they have to compete for attention with what is merely imagined and fake. Hopper and Hopper ask the right questions and step out of line repeatedly, with utter regularity, at what seems to be a whole procession of naked emperors parading before them. But, as its fame grows, I can imagine that others will want to mire The Puritan Gift in detail. They might, for example, question the chronology of the fall as it is depicted by the Hoppers and, in particular, the place of Frederick Winslow Taylor within it. The might question the idea of a Golden Age or, more boringly, dispute its boundaries. Alternatively, they might look back at the historical anthropology and ask of the place of the peoples of Catholic Europe, or of Jewish Europe, or any other identifiable ethnic group. I too would be interested in this latter line of questioning, though I would hazard that the best answer is simply in the sequencing of the migrations that took place. In this light the vagueness of the principles associated with the Puritans is actually a strength, enabling them to become a common, tacit umbrella for management thought, under the shelter of which many peoples provided the details.

The Puritan Gift ends with George W Bush (MBA, Harvard) and Donald Rumsfeld reversing Clausewitz’s First Principle of War and attempting to win the Iraq War using minimum force. Hopper and Hopper write:
“Mindless cost-cutting is ever the banner and insignia of the (so-called) Expert. Rumsfeld has been the public sector’s equivalent of the ‘imperial’ chief-executive, a ‘top-down’, ‘professional’ manager who refused to listen to his senior military advisors.”

It is a doom-laden opening to the final chapter of the book that also visits the terrible spectre of George W Bush’s “absurdly profligate” spending. Yet, for Hopper and Hopper, this is not actually a final chapter to American greatness in management. They instead proceed to find evidence of a “True Dawn” in the work of Jeff Immelt at General Electric, in A.G. Lafley at Procter and Gamble and the ‘company lifer’ Rex Tillerson at Exxon. Other positive evidence is cited. One neat passage likens the IBM’s new collaboration with the Linux open-source community to the Springfield Armory’s collaboration with the ‘confraternity of New England gunsmiths’. To me, open-source is a hugely significant business phenomenon precisely because it arises from the age-old, proven, human aspirations to come together, to be creative and to share. The sheer wisdom of Hopper and Hopper looking back to go forward is nicely encapsulated in this example. But will America go forward?

Many foreseeable delays affected the journey of the Mayflower and the Speedwell across from England to the New World. The delays were inevitably costly. The two ships set sail in August 1619 with funds already depleted and too late to plant and harvest crops. Nonetheless, further delays followed. A few days into the Atlantic, the newly repaired Speedwell was found to be ‘open and leakie as a sieve.’ As a consequence, both ships returned to Dartmouth. Only later still, on September 6, did the Mayflower finally set out to make the journey on her own. Winthrop had all this experience at his disposal and he learned from it, when the later, well-funded Arbella carried its set of managerial ideas across the Atlantic. It will be a very sad irony indeed if the robustness of these principles were finally obliterated by newer ideas without history, without notable track-record, and without a grounding in the noble adventure that is industrie. It will be ironic indeed if further investment is made in ideas that are themselves as leakie as a sieve.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The End of Information Systems

Peter writes:

The End of Information Systems or How A Technology Became So Successful That It Defied All Boundaries.

An act in a zillion parts.

The worlwide academic Information Systems community was established, so the story goes, by a relatively few far-sighted individuals. They sensed a transformation in the making. They were right. But no-one foresaw the worldwide reverberation, the shift, that followed.

In my opinion, Information Systems (IS) has struggled for purchase in the "real world" of Information Technology, application and organizational development. I always thought that odd. That said, I'd quickly concede that the picture is uneven and that great purchase was made by a few, especially Americans. I'd also concede that my view is personal and partial. Others exercised their academic right to not care. Theirs was to critique and reflect, not affect.

Nonetheless, on numerous occasions I felt frustrated to stand in the offices of CIOs, IT specialists, Directors, CEOs and managers, and see not even a single IS book, not a single paper, on the shelf. But mine is a delicate position. An argument of irrelevance does not necessarily follow from what I am saying. It is an argument of proximity, connection, aspiration and, most of all, method.

And anyway, maybe now is different. Maybe now, the petrol has leaked from the cannister. The socio-technical context that gave birth to IS is much changed. For the base technology is so successful, so consequential, that to study it further we'd need to rethink Information Systems as Social Systems. It would become a study of society itself.

Here are some big ideas:-

1. Social Media .... its about information, right? Wrong. It is just people, about you.

2. Athena's Camp: Information Warfare .... e.g. The Estonia Question

3. Open source: to labour for love. Although widely understood and researched, the mainstream media has still not seen this for what it is.

4. Strategy ...the Entertainment and Media Industries (and all industries dependent upon digital exchange).

5. The Blessed Unrest.... The Long Now.

6. Bureaucracy .... unassailable? We will see. We will see soon. For the bureau, the pen, and the form were the technologies of bureaucracy. With the mobile, the network and the application at our disposal, isn't it time for a rethink? Why write a report when you can put 5 minutes to camera? Why sit next to your grumpy old colleagues when you could be at home, or in Starbucks, or on the beach? Get ready for an age of microcasting (using the skills of media production within corporations and small social networks). Get ready for Media Intensive Enterprise ... as good as Enterprise 2.0 is, it doesn't go far enough.

7. New orders of order ...

8. Possessed and expressed identity... media and the self.

9. And then the Cinderella of the academic world, Media Studies, finds itself in a new gravity ... Once described by Chris Woodhead as "a one way ticket to the dole queue", understanding media is suddenly consequential. It is consequential to the new media industries. It is consequential to new citizenship. It is consequential to corporate life. It meshes with IS.

10. "Midwives to the emerging world" ... rethinking government ... rethinking human cognition.

11. Globalisation ... mega-corporations ... a new globally mobile super-middle class (e.g. you, MBA studenci). Nationality itself might be rethought ... is it a system for excluding people from things, a landmass (dear old Blighty), or a value system .. a reverberation (e.g. celtic values, Irishness). Meanwhile, corporate brands become symbols of our contested space.

12. Anna Eagin.

13. Shift happens.

Once, IT was the strange technology in the cellar. Once, IS was centred on the niche study of this strange technology in context. Now, the strange technology is just about in everything. So, the end of Information Systems will be because cross-pollination with other schools of thought, other groups, is more exciting than going it alone. It cannot contain, it cannot patrol its own boundaries. The end of Information Systems is its development as a portal, a view cast across social change, an access point to heterogeneous theory. The end of Information Systems is the beginning of much else. It becomes, perversely, the most exciting chapter in its short history.

I think, hope, expect, we'll see some exciting innovations in MBS IS. Onwards.

(The photo is by Paul Carruthers and is reproduced, quite appropriately, without permission).

Rue Obscure

Peter writes...

Here, I am meditating on the construction of identity and the ways in which media both reveals and fails to reveal meaning. And that where it fails, it masquerades.

I find myself unable to locate a boundary between media and mind.

1. A Photograph. I have, somewhere, a picture of my mother. In it she is a young blonde, though I place no specific age upon her. She is sat on a green hillside, my Dad's white Volkswagen is behind her and there is a sitting, inquisitive baby in front. I think that the baby is my younger brother, and though I could not have been more than four-years old, I believe that I witnessed the scene myself. I feel that I am stood beside the photographer as the picture is taken. As I cast my memory over the image, my mother is happy and though casually dressed in a cardigan and skirt, effortlessly glamorous. She is celluloid. She is a filmstar.

I don't reveal the photograph here, I leave it obscure, for though you may detect much from these few words, you cannot possibly know the depth of what it means to me. You cannot know how I feel to have stood beside the photographer, the breezes of that hillside about me, my mother's young hands organising the picnic under a great, new, rotating sky: all this is felt and seen by me, even though I don't truly know if I was there at all.

Neither could I penetrate an image, a memory, and their mutual construction, from your personal collection.

2. Camera Lucida. When Henriette Barthes died in 1977 her son, the philosopher Roland Barthes began writing Camera Lucida. This was an attempt to explain the unique significance a picture of her as a child carried for him. Reflecting on the relationship between the obvious symbolic meaning of a photograph (which he called the studium) and that which is purely personal and dependent on the individual, that which ‘pierces the viewer’ (which he called the punctum), Barthes was troubled by the fact that such distinctions collapse when personal significance is communicated to others and can have its symbolic logic rationalized. Barthes found the solution to this fine line of personal meaning in the form of his mother’s picture. Barthes explained that a picture is not so much a solid representation of ‘what is’ as ‘what was’ and therefore ‘what has ceased to be’. It does not make reality solid but serves as a reminder of the world’s inconstant and ever changing state. Because of this there is something uniquely personal contained in the photograph of Barthes’ mother that cannot be removed from his subjective perspective: the recurrent feeling of loss experienced whenever he looks at it. As one of his final works before his death, Camera Lucida was both an ongoing reflection on the complicated relations between subjectivity, meaning and cultural society, as well as a touching dedication to his mother and description of the depth of his grief. (These words are extracted more or less intact from the Wikipedia artcle referenced above).

3. The Friend in the Family. "The television set has become a key member of the family, the one who tells most of the stories most of the time." So spoke George Gerbner, author of Cultivation Theory which suggests that the greater the exposure to television, the greater that the viewer's perception of reality is shaped by it. Hence "mean world syndrome", wherein viewers perceive the world to be a nastier place than it is, and "the double dose effect" wherein events portrayed on television reinforce the experiences of viewers. So, where might social media take us ... "even meaner world syndrome", "banal world syndrome", "sexualized world syndrome", "quadrophenia"???

4. Rationality and Retrieval. Perhaps evolution never had need to equip us with the skills of sieving and critiquing media content. Indeed, arguably, from the point of view of the survival of the species, it is as well for us if we become increasingly anxiety-prone and cautious. Going further, though we may rationalise media content in our short-term memory, in other modes of thinking, long-term memories are retrieved without their source ever being declared. Deep down, inside, in the casualness of our daily lives, we don't know where our ideas come from.

5. The Hillside. Was I ever on that hillside? And if I was, did I actually witness the photograph? Or does it merely serve to conjure feelings that reside in me but in no sense 'belong' to that image.

Many years later my mother, the young blonde, died tragically as a result of an NHS accident. This was at an important time in her life, not very long after all her six children had grown. It was also not very long after my Dad, the invisible photographer, died in unsettlingly similar circumstances.

6. Rue Obscure. Here is information about Rue Obscure, the street under where the town seems to be, in Villefrance-sur-Mer.



Wednesday, 25 April 2007

The Question of Our Culture

Prologue Number 1: Recently I was talking with some friends about how Manchester is being reinvented as a city. As someone who grew up in its red-light, inner city I have that residual chemistry, that encoded empathy with the place. It is something that I would call a fellowship, a comradeship with its people and pavements. I would not call it love. It is more a deep-seated knowledge, perhaps a friendship.

Today, the place is moving on apace. Things are happening. Policies are bearing fruit. The city wears new clothes and though its problems and shortcomings are many, it seems to possess a more confident presence on the world-stage. And so it should; this is a seat of great innovation, of great learning.

“Nonetheless,” I said to my friends, “though it may merit a place in the first tier of world cities, it is some way from belonging in the upper echelons of that first tier.” This proved to be the controversial point. I defended myself by reference to the Lonely Planet Guide to Cities, and then said, “the greatest cities bring emotions to you…. like the ability of Paris to kindle romance, Florence to cause unexpected reflection on the places of Man and God … New York to transubstantiate the dreams of the lost and the poor.”

Rightly enough, they had none of it.

Prologue Number 2
: One issue that recurs frequently when discussing the development of Web 2.0 is the issue of trust. How can we trust it when anonymity is granted so cheaply? How can we trust any given article, when we know so little of the background and beliefs of the author? One initial reaction is to observe that these are also peculiar times for trust and the traditional, mass media; take, for example, our friendly household brands like GMTV, Richard and Judy, Blue Peter and Terry Wogan. Indeed, more deeply and widely, the whole history of the mass media has been concerned with propaganda, sophistry, domination and instruction. That’s not to say that great cultural beacons have not arisen from within its cauldron. I am not predicting the end of the BBC, The Times, the New York Times and so forth.

To Come to the Point: The Mancunian Bryan Appleyard wrote in The Sunday Times about Andrew Keen’s book “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy.” I have written nice things about Appleyard before, for I consider him to be an able provocateur, gifted in conjuring both the familiar and the odd so that they reside awhile in the reader’s consciousness. I have not yet read Keen, so the rest of this piece is probably premature.

Let's stay with this issue of trust. It is unusual that at this point in human history we invest our trust in brands. We do, or do not, place our trust in Mercedes, Hotpoint, Bosch, The Times, Al Jazeera, Audi, Skoda, Google, Microsoft etc., often with very little actual empirical evidence at our disposal. This is historically unusual, neither of my grandmothers did much of it. For my maternal grandmother, the BBC and the Daily Telegraph were worthy, the latter only because my Uncle, her son, had a role in it. All other brands were either a horror or a foggy mystery. My other Babcia had no concern for the exterior world of brands at all; her horizons extended only to the well-being of her family and then leapt to lifetime recollections of the relative merits of different nationalities (‘Polish’, ‘English’, ‘Russian’ and ‘German’ all being a kind of brand, I suppose). My mother-in-law is another case in point. She is a child of Kinvara, Europe’s last idyll before America. For her, in her village life, she would talk of so and so, a particular person, who “always had great news.” Another might be “not to be trusted.” A third might be “in with the Clergy.” She has watched Coronation Street for years but I doubt that she has more than a vague, functional knowledge that it is on ITV. I am sure she doesn’t care. The corporate brand-builders at ITV might try and move her, but trust, for her, can only be sewn into a fellow human being.

So, will Web 2.0 kill our culture? The short answer is no. It will disrupt and shake it, hurting some, but letting other flowers bloom. It won’t kill it. Shakespeare will still be Shakespeare. Faced with a more turbulent, dynamic tide of new ideas, we might even place increased emphasis on the roles of arbiters, examination boards, and standards-setters. People were communal before we had the internet. They were communal before we had the mass media, and before we had the printing press. The great theatres of Greek and Roman civilization arose out of our desires to be communal, rather than vice versa.

So, our wish to commune, to enter common experiences and to share in common arenas will remain. It would be preposterous to say that it won’t. It is like suggesting that future Olympic games will be run on a basis where the runners decide individually when to start the race, and how long to run. It is not going to happen. The desire for the shared metre will remain. We want to compete, to compare, to share.

And, I suggest, the issue of identity is often overstated. It is certainly true that all of these anonymous blogs can annoy and frustrate. Who are you? Why do you conceal? And yet, the concealment of identity has a long, sometimes troubled but also sometimes proud history in media and literature. See my comments on epistolary literature as an example. Even today, can I pass a kind-of Waterstones’ test and be sure that each book on the shelf is by who it says it is by? No. I cannot be sure. For that matter, am I sure that Appleyard is Appleyard? By virtue of his relative longeivity in the media, his reassuring photo and, yes, The Sunday Times brand, I take it that he is. But I have never met him. Were it ever to transpire that he is not who he says he is, I suppose I would take comfort in the fact that it never really mattered anyway. It was the ideas that counted, not who said them. And so it is for Web 2.0.

But for the future, those that seek a reputation in the environment of Web 2.0, will have to offer up some kind of convincing human identity. I thus draw a distinction between those for whom the web is a form of the football terrace from where chants, hoots and curses may be uttered without account, and those for whom it is more like a theatre-stage, however large or small. Anonymity is all right if you just want to be part of the crowd. Anonymity is all right if you are trying to blend in, or to scupper and disrupt. However, if you are trying to build reputation and to prosper, you will need to offer some convincing view of yourself. Even in cyberspace, your audience is human. Even in cyberspace your audience is skilled at reading your face, your intonation, the deftness of your argument, your favoured line of wit. It may not be quite the same in terms of human richness as an evening chat on the quayside in Kinvara, but it draws on the same sensory mechanisms. Trust will be withheld from some, given to others and held in abeyance for many. So, does your Web 2.0 presence pass the Kinvara-test?

Professionals and Amateurs. For George Bernard Shaw, all professions were a conspiracy against the laity. Society having given ‘professionalism’ its golden age in the 20th Century, one can certainly build a powerful thesis about the limits of a professional model of social government. Evidence could be found in every quarter: from dis-satisfaction in politics, the post-war planning of British cities, the rise of Management Accounting, perhaps the role of the MBA, and through to the particularly uncomfortable individual cases of Enron, Sir Roy Meadow, controversy over MMR and even, if we look more widely, Ben Johnson. Even so, professionalism is not on trial. It is not, of itself, as a concept, under threat. But I suggest that its limits are being found, and that society’s coming conversations will blur its edges. As any GP will tell you, the professional can no longer rely on deference. As the best GP’s will tell you, that is not necessarily a bad thing. As the consumer discards deference, he or she also, inter alia, also takes on an increased share of responsibility.

It seems that Keen’s book misses the mood and moment on amateurism. If amateurism is a ‘cult’, then it is the most productive cult in human history. It has infected the arts, the sciences, politics and business with its enthusiasms. Amateurs run every family on the planet. There is no professional qualification required for being a parent. As, Ian Kendrick is fond of pointing out, the roots of the word ‘amateur’ are traced to the Latin 'lover of' and is related to the concept of 'virtuoso'. Love is a powerful motivation for excellence. We will revisit this later when we talk of 'open-source'.

So What Is Really Important (1)? I think it is better to understand the Web, and Web 2.0 in particular, in the language of ‘Disruptive Technology’, popularised by Clayton Christensen. It is all very well wishing the web away, but in doing so you risk running a barge-company just as the railway is born. Economically, organisationally, the web allows innovative business models and encourages new practices.

Another lens is provided by Michael Porter’s canonical Five Forces model. Under this light, we see that principally that the Web lowers the barriers to entry to markets of many sorts but, and perhaps especially in the case of Web 2.0, media markets. If we understand this, then we can begin to speculate on its outcomes, and how it will challenge the status quo. There will be more entrants, less patronage, more competition, more turbulence but, conversely, an elevation of some organising forces (examination boards, curricula etc). People will still want the shared metre.

So, focusing on Porter, if five talented kids newly graduated from film school wish to set up in business together, it is easier to do so. If we have a group of Trinity graduates in Dublin who seek to build a niche media company, the web is their friend. Maybe we have a group of talented people across the globe with a bold plan to build a new icon, a new New York Times; again they start on the web. And if you are an inner-city community group keen to influence thinking on a topic that concerns you, again, the web opens gates.

Recurring throughout is the requirement of talent. This will never be a pre-requisite for everything in Web 2.0, but it will be a requirement for everything that lasts in the new context that is set by it. Taking an example that I believe to be close to Appleyard’s heart, by what process will the next Bob Dylan prosper? Will he seek out the patronage of the major label? Or will he pursue an independent, viral path from website to worldwide audience? Again, surely, the Web is the iconoclast’s friend, and at least in the short-term, viral action will be the dominant strategy. Let’s stretch our imaginations still further and imagine that we are lucky enough to have a new Shakespeare in our midst. Will his verse attract interest on the website that he creates? Will the fragments of his plays stand out amidst the mass? Might even just a few, enlightened minds be drawn to the talent within, as the new Will struggles for recognition? And might the genius Will create video fragments that are darker, sparser and more compelling than his contemporaries? Might the virus start and squirm and prosper amidst the relative mediocrity of everything else?

So What Is Really Important (2)? Alongside the lowering of barriers to entry, I would set the ways in which the web supports collaborative, communal action. In this regard, the web is already cultural miracle. How else do we explain open-source? Strangely, this huge cultural phenomenon rarely features in the broadsheets and general media. When it does feature there, it is usually Linux that is set as the standard bearer. This is probably just, however it is important to understand that open-source is moving quickly. Some sectors of the market, for example Content Management Systems, seem to be dominated by it, and elsewhere there are examples of companies like SAP and Microsoft co-opting the volunteer effort of gifted programmers.

I am not sure that anyone accurately predicted the rise of open-source. In an age when western leaders take the market as a proxy for freedom, and everything is given a price, who foresaw that volunteer effort would become a norm in the software industry? Who foresaw that creative people would give their gifts for nothing? I did not. I thought people worked for money. How wrong I was.

Whilst I appreciate that there will be a plethora of reasons why people engage in open-source communities, I think that the dominant ones are the sheer rush, the thrill, gained by collective creativity, and alongside this the hard-headed realisation that we all gain by it. If the open-source model leaps to other industry sectors, then it will be something of a social revolution. For now, it is one reason why I recommend that people seeking to understand the web read a book that comfortably pre-dates it and never contemplates it: Lewis Hyde, ‘The Gift.’ The simple desire to create is the seed that germinates both the crummiest blog and the genius of open source. It will yet give rise to new talents whose natural environment will be this wonderful, weird world of the web.

Epilogue (1). Bryan Appleyard argues that the Web will have to develop an “identity-based discourse.” I agree, but additionally add (1) that this will happen as a matter of course, because of people's own interests in using the web for creative and commercial purposes. They need to earn the the trust of the reader and, unlike some of today's major brands, cannot take it for granted. (2) That the football terrace, anonymous web will remain. For many, in many circumstances, anonymity is no problem.

Epilogue (2) Writing of Manchester in ‘The Condition of the Working Class In England’, 1847, Frederick Engels found that many slum-dwellers “....must surely have reached the lowest stage of humanity." I expect that this was an accurate description of the misery he witnessed. It was not, however, a prescription of how things would develop. Engels encountered “measureless filth and stench” but even as a great social theorist, he could not project forward to the contribution Manchester was yet to make as a great centre of innovation and learning. He could not have seen today’s Manchester. That was not his business.

Likewise, as observations, I probably agree with many of Andrew Keen’s views of the content that inhabits the world of Web 2.0. I detest some of it. I mentioned earlier that I grew up in Manchester’s red-light zone. That was scary sometimes, but actually less sleazy an experience than it must be to grow up in reach of the web’s many hovels. But the point is that, like cities, the web is a dynamic, human project. It will be organised in some fashion, because we humans do organise. It is as simple as that. Even as we write and read, it changes. It will be different tomorrow. Many ills will be righted. Some frustrating wrongs will persist. It is never finished. There are new encounters ahead.

And, unlike cities, it changes very quickly.

I hope.

DC Goes Weekly and Dies

Since the MBA class finished, my dedication to this blog (and your readership of it) have both declined. Nonetheless there are about four more pieces that I will write, probably on a weekly basis:
- The Question of Our Culture (motivated by Andrew Keen)
- The End of Information Systems (you heard it here)
- An Idea For All Seasons (on Stafford Beer)
- The Puritan Gift (on Hopper and Hopper's book).

Then the blog can die.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

The Puritan Gift

Peter writes ...

Future students of mine will be required to read 'The Puritan Gift' by Hopper and Hopper. This is a warm-hearted but unflinching critique of our Western managerial and technological culture. It is in many senses "a hymn of praise to America" but, in this, sees the cracks, cranks and follies, as readily as it bears witness to nobility and fortune.

Early on, the authors report that in its infancy and prime:

"A subtle but robust blend of respect for the rights of the individual and the group - which, in its managerial expression, may be described as collegiality - lay at the beating heart of America's evolving commercial and industrial life."

Later, focusing upon "the Business School Counter Culture", the authors talk of how "Collegiality was succeeded by the worship of the all-powerful or 'imperial' chief executive."

A full review will follow, possibly as a last post to DC 2007.

I have borrowed the picture of the Chrysler Building, one of the world's greatest buildings, from RachelleB

Friday, 6 April 2007

Think Different

Peter writes...

Tonight a friend, with great timing, has reminded me of this brilliant Apple campaign.

" Here's to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They're not fond of rules
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, quote them, disagree with them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing that you can't do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. "

Alongside Picasso, Lennon and others, the Apple campaign famously featured Einstein. I've been reading about him too, "In his own freedom of thought, the valiant Swabian demonstrated how to be free." This from The New Yorker.

It is good to feel small sometimes.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

move over New Hampshire, here comes MySpace

Paul writes...

I noted this with interest..."MySpace to hold presidential primary". This will happen on Jan 1st/2nd 2008, a couple of weeks before the 'real' primaries get under way. Each MySpace user will be asked to vote for their favourite candidate, providing some for m of indication about potential voting patterns.

Of course this is not without it's problems. MySpace is plagued by duplicate ID's and no understanding of how representative it's voting base will be. Also, millions of the ID's are based outside of the US. Techcrunch thinks that perhaps FaceBook would be a better vehicle for this - they can tie their user base to being of college age (so at or approaching voting age) and limit it to the US.

But, one of the interesting angles would be how the International user base felt about the candidates. After all the US drives much of our global economy and we've all felt the effects of the Bush administration. So, why not canvass the opinion of the non-US users? Break down the results and give an insight that most pollsters would kill to get hold of.

Experimental at this stage, fraight with inconsistencies over the 'validity' of the users and the results will be pulled to pieces, but the shape of things to come? Why shouldn't these huge social networks be tapped into to give an insight into the views of their user base...after all as TechCrunch also note - if MySpace was a country, it would be the 11th largest in the world (presumably by population).

Friday, 30 March 2007

Epistolary Literature, Blog and Questions of Identity

Peter writes ...

“In the space of a few hours I had been through a host of situations which the longest life can scarcely provide in its whole course. I had heard the genuine language of the passions; I had seen the secret springs of self-interest and self-love operating in a hundred different ways: I had become privy to a multitude of incidents and I felt I had gained in experience.”

This quote relates not to the internet in general nor to social computing or blogs in particular, but is from the 18th Century French Philosopher Denis Diderot. It is cited in the introduction to the 'In Our Time' presentation of epistolary literature. As Melvyn Bragg and his guests reveal, at the dawn of the age of the novel, authors sometimes felt it important to conceal or manipulate their identity.

Even today, if you think about it, you can be sure of the authorship of very few of the books that surround you in a bookstore. For more, see 'Pen name'; a Wikipedia article written, of course, by persons unknown.

Friends, Mancunians, Countrymen and other speeches...

Peter writes...

Time not think of what Web 2.0 can do for you, but what you can do for Web 2.0. It is time to muscle in on the new goldrush.

Here is the the tale of Garrett Camp.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Trouble at the San Francisco Chronicle

Peter writes ...

"...journalism should become a required course, one or two semesters for every graduate. Why? Because journalism like everything else that used to be centralized is in the process of being distributed. In the future, every educated person will be a journalist, as today we are all travel agents and stock brokers."

Full story here.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

The Machine is Us/ing Us: The Director's Cut

Peter writes ...

Here is the final version of Michael Wesch's 'The Machine is Us/ing Us.' See also, the Social Computing Hypotheses.

Monday, 19 March 2007

"The future of sport is real-time science"

Peter writes ...
This Guardian piece on Mike Forde of Bolton Wanderers is interesting for many reasons. Its central theme is innovation, brought into sharpest focus by the real-time information Sam Allardyce can conjure during a half-time team talk.

But there are many more interesting nuances too. If you want to understand what Beer meant by System 4, you could do well to start with thinking about Mike Forde's work. Also, though I would not claim that this is a skunk works, it does show how innovation relies on structural and cultural separateness.

So, if you don't play by the same rules as everyone else, is that a good or bad thing? In many ways, the early 21st Century is no time to conform! Think disruption, asymmetry, Blue Ocean, and Bolton Wanderers!

Friday, 16 March 2007

Enterprise 2.0

Peter writes...

It is not just Manchester [2], but Harvard too. Here is Professor Andrew McAfee talking about what he calls Enterprise 2.0:

"Trying to turn lemons into lemonade in class, I asked some of the people who actually had sent a URL to describe the experience of starting a blog. They all shrugged and said it was no big deal, took about five minutes total, didn’t require any skills, etc. I then asked why I would give busy executives such a silly, trivial assignment. In both classes one smart student piped up to say "To show us exactly how trivial it was." At that point, class discussion became interesting."

This relates to a feature in Sloan Management Review.

Congratulations to all the groups today. Magnificent.

Thursday, 8 March 2007


Peter writes ...

Continuing the Wikipedia theme from Paul's posting below, yesterday the on-line encyclopedia was caught in a "Fake Professor" scandal. Two observations:

1. That Wikipedia is becoming increasingly organised with structures of various sorts (some ad-hoc, some organised by the foundation itself, e.g. the role of experts as arbitrators).
2. The real question, surely, is whether the imposter's postings were any good. In an ocean of anonymous and near-anonymous contributions, does it matter whether or not the professor title is genuine? Perhaps we might find a parallel of the Nature study of Wikipedia versus Britannica: that under scrutiny it is found that the quality of the fake professor's entries are equivalent to those of a real professor.


Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Groups, wikis and Big Brother

Paul writes...

It's obviously not just the trailblazing Exec MBA course that is using social computing on University programs. Here's a story from the Beeb about UEA students editing and building Wikipedia pages, as well as being assessed on their efforts.

I've thought for a while that the technical competencies of the wiki lend themselves extremely well to supporting academic assessment. The 'view history' feature alone is, it seems to me, a good way to start to combat the 'freeloader' syndrome that often happens in group projects.

Is that too much like Big Brother, or would it be valuable in your group work?


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Much Ado About Money

Peter writes ...

Here are two examples of technology and people power in the banking industry:

1. The Guardian story on the consumer campaign website
2. Zopa: a new concept.... kind of open-source banking.

What do you think? Much ado about nothing? Much ado about much?

Thursday, 1 March 2007

A World Without America & Other Questions of Democracy

Peter writes ...

Has e-Democracy finally arrived? Will it ever? This useful BBC article is typically well-informed. It focuses upon the recent use of the web by major politicians and the recent campaign video, 'A World Without America.'

My personal view is that the recent developments are significant. Established political groups are taking the web more seriously and, whether or not you like their output, they are making more skilled use of its potential. Alongside this it is obviously easier to make oneself into a political voice or to create a political group. Again, the 'World Without America' video bears testimony to this, as do the comments and alternative videos that trail it on YouTube. This lowering of the barriers to entry might yet be very significant in our lives.

That all said, one must not mistake the debate for the execution. Ultimately, politics is about control, and until the web shifts the levers of control, I don't think we can announce the arrival of e-democracy. This is a subtle point. One needs an expansive view of what democracy is. e-Democracy will not necessarily be the replacement of the representatives in the council chamber by the electronic clicks of a thousand residents. It might be more concerned with the individual's ability to access and control what he or she thinks is important. For example, the spirit of democracy is unleashed in the simple acquisition of knowledge about stuff that's important, from medicine to benefits and taxation, and then outwards to work and entertainment. The spirit of democracy is then enshrined when as much control over as is possible is passed to the lowest possible level. So you get the maximum possible level of control over medicine, benefits, taxation, work, entertainment or whatever. And in this broader light, the web is already advancing the democratic cause.

But is it profound enough to merit the label e-democracy? And do you ever get total control? Well, no, because that is cybernetically impossible. Politics is about contested spaces, and in those spaces politicians shall always sit. They have to. Somebody has to decide about that contested planning application, that tax law, that allocation of school places. You can have all the e-petitions you like but someone, somewhere has got to read and take in all the opinions. That too, is probably cybernetically impossible.

And one final thought is that in the age of the machine, it might be immensely reassuring to know that ultimately, human hands are on the tiller. The law of surprising consequences might yet dictate that representative democracy is yet to have its finest hour.

See also, 'Designing Freedom and Handy on federalism and subsidiarity.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The Beauty of Software

Peter writes ...

The beauty of software or a five minute guide to software development.

The beauty of software is that we have never known a product like it. We invented software engineering to cure a disease of low product quality. But there never was engineering like this. Our engineering forebears, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Victorians, did not know software. For them, engineering was the beauty of calculation and design, and then the reification of that design in stone, glass and iron. Software isn’t like this. You never stand back and let the design be converted to a physical reality. The drawing never becomes the pillar. The drawing is the pillar. With software, you always have control of the design. You just press ‘run.’

And software engineering didn’t exactly cure the disease, it just made us more ambitious. You will find software in you car. It has flown you to business and holiday destinations. It looks after your money. It pays you. It recognises that it is you who is stood at the Tesco checkout. It knows your criminal records. It knows your children. It can tell you the whereabouts of that book you ordered. It checks every incoming flight to British airspace and is ready to aim missiles towards any that it does not recognise.

The beauty of software is that it makes you think. It is, intrinsically, concerned with modelling complex systems. So, you can build categories, classes, objects and processes. You can specialise and re-use. Software is built out of defined languages but its design in itself becomes a language: knowledge of class structures and objects allows developers to collaborate on complex designs, without ever having the need to meet each other or even to know with whom they are collaborating.

The beauty of software is, perhaps, that it is only just leaving its teenage years. There are those who lament a craft based childhood where every solution was bespoke. But software had to grow up. The standard package had to be born. There have been enormous problems, but the rise of the Enterprise System was born of the interests of quality and economics. These systems have allowed software to proliferate and to run business operations that were previously out of reach. Today every major company in the world has enterprise systems. And the huge complexity that has resulted has given birth to a new architecture. This is not the architecture of buildings. This is the architecture of software. We talk about classes and objects again, services, layers, and cathedrals and bazaars. Software is growing up.

The beauty of software is that it has allowed the expression of ideals. People talk about the .com ‘bubble,’ usually by chastising imprudent investors but failing to see the cultural shift that lay beneath. The .com, and its three years of hard-labour with friends, is a cultural alternative to the corporate ladder. It is the counter-culture that has assembled a younger, richer, more lauded set of icons than rock ‘n’ roll, than Hollywood (see for example, Hurley, Chen, Page, Brin, Fake). Meanwhile, whilst the mass-media still vaunts the 60s as an age of ideals, they are blind to what is happening now. It is now that ideals are being converted into action. The internet is the greatest collaborative platform ever. And with open source, more people are sharing more of their economic worth than ever before. Who knows where the ideal of open source will lead? What will be its ramifications for wider society? For against it, Woodstock looks just like what it was; a party.

The beauty of software is that it has allowed unlikely British innovators to occupy many of the stellar positions in the history of Computer Science. See Tom Kilburn, Freddie Williams, Tim Berners-Lee, and Alan Turing.

In the end, though, the Americans were king. They got rich on the “stuff”. The British didn’t. And today, a software developer in India can be hired for 20,000 rupees per month. That is the price of laying riches for tomorrow. India's riches. The world's.

This is the world’s product.


The picture is Grady Booch who gave the Turing lecture at Manchester in 2007.

Thank you to Russell Bee and Mike Newman for their contributions to our recent classes.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

You Still Have To Be Good To Be Big

Peter writes ...

I am trying to wrap up my thoughts on Social Computing as we move deeper into big systems and change.

And so I offer the opinion that you still have to be good to be big. Perhaps this is even more the case in the blogosphere than it is with conventional journalism. As a blogger you have to construct your reputation from scratch. The star witness to this, as ever, is Tom Reynolds. After years of spin, misrepresentation and tabloidism, one independent voice was enough to reveal the true temper of work in the frontline of Britain's public services. You might start your encounters with Tom's blog by looking at These Boots and The Slow Attrition of the Soul.

See also this out-take featuring Tom from Alan Yentob's BBC documentary on Web 2.0 last year. It proves again that you have to be good to be big. Alternatively, just have a one track mind.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Mash Up!!

Peter writes ...

1. Mash-up your web content and services.
2. Mash-up your organizational forms. (If it is good enough for McKinsey and Visa).
3. Mash-up world leaders, John Lennon and Lou Reed. (Thanks to Stephen for this).

..a walk on the wild side.

Kendrick's Library

Peter writes ...

Here are book recommendations from Ian Kendrick. These are for life, not specifically this course. So, at your leisure, and in Ian's own words...

"Geoffrey Moore

Check out You can subscribe to a free email newsletter. I do.

Crossing the Chasm
The original work from the early ‘90s. Now revised so that the case studies/examples are more up to date. Still an excellent read, in Moore’s conversational style. Essential, unless you get a copy of….

Inside the Tornado
The follow on from CTC, focuses on what it is like to be in the hyper growth Tornado phase of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle. Includes an overview of CTC. Probably the best “Chasm” book, if you only want one.

Living on the Fault Line
Again from Moore, covers life in the internet age. Some say it is dated now, being pre dot com fiasco era. I still reckon it is very good. The slide that I use about risk, capitalisation etc is from this, as is the culture model of William Schneider. Recommended.

The Gorilla Game
Supposedly a guide to how to “read” technology companies and spot the emerging Gorillas. Never achieved the success of his other works and possibly his weakest, IMHO.

Dealing with Darwin
Moore’s latest work, focuses on what happens after the original Chasm crossing and the category matures. Feels like a response/trump to Clayton Christensen’s works on innovation. It is here that Moore reveals 14 innovation types. Excellent, highly recommended.

Clayton M Christensen

Another Harvard guy. Made his reputation by focusing on how innovation works.

The Innovator’s dilemma
The original work from Christensen. Introduces the concept of disruptive innovation and how large companies put themselves in potentially fatal danger by focusing on satisfying their customers and continuous improvement. Meanwhile a disruptive innovation comes along that seems trivial but ends up taking customers and business away from the large incumbent market leaders. After this book, Silicon Valley firms started to hire Vice Presidents of Disruption. No, really. An excellent work, Christensen is more academic in his style that Moore.

The Innovator’s Solution
A guide to how incumbents can deal with disruptive innovation. A well argued, rational read. Recommended.

Seeing Whats Next
A bit like Moore’s Gorilla Game, Christensen shows how to use knowledge of how disruptive innovation works to spot how winning disruptors configure themselves for success. One of the best books on high tech strategy, IMHO. Highly Recommended.

Other authors

Kim and Burgoyne – Blue Ocean Strategy
A Blue Ocean is a nice place to be. Full of oxygen and empty apart from you, no competition. The opposite is a Red Ocean, full of competition, red with blood. K&B show how to establish Blue Oceans in a very practical and sensible way. Entirely compatible with Moore and Christensen but easier than either of them. Chapters on Bill Bratten, the man who turned around New York from being crime ridden and dangerous into a much safer place. One of the greatest leaders I have ever read about and certainly one who understands the principles of variety management/requisite variety espoused by Stafford Beer and W Ross Ashby. Very good read.

Markides and Geroski - Fast Second
An examination of companies who prosper by waiting until a category is established and then stepping in to win the big prize. A great idea for a book…..but….. I could not get into this one. Feels like a rehashing of Moore and Christensen without adding too much value. Worth a look though.

Warren Bennis - Organising Genius
An examination of a number of “great groups” from history, including Disney, Apple, Xerox PARC, the team who got Clinton into the White House, Los Alamos (original A bomb) team and the original Skonk Works at Lockheed, (forever referred to as Skunk Works) at Lockheed. Bennis explores what it is that separates these groups from history. He draws some very interesting conclusions. A great read and highly recommended. I have a short form/summary PDF of this if anyone wants a copy.

Stafford Beer
Where to begin? ... All of Stafford’s books are serious works but can be a bit daunting. For those who would like an introduction without having to read Stafford, check out Barry Clemson, Cybernetics: A New Management Tool, Volume Four. Specifically commissioned to be an introduction to the VSM.

Arie de Geus – The Living Company
A look at how to build and lead in a company that works as a living entity rather than a machine. An excellent read, it is here that Arie introduces his 4 rules of long lived organisations. Recommended

Kees Van Der Heijden – Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation
Probably the most authoritative work on scenario thinking. Excellent but not one to skim read.

Gill Ringland – Scenario Planning
Gill was the person who led the ICL team that produced Coral Reef and Deep Sea. Her book is a good set of case studies and different approaches. Not as heavyweight as Kees’s work but recommended all the same."

Friday, 16 February 2007

DIY tv

Peter writes ...

Did you see The Money Programme tonight?

"DIY TV is here to stay because of one inescapable fact: anyone can have an audience of millions at the cost of virtually nothing."

See also, The People Formerly Known As The Audience.

A Whole Lot of Spilt Milk

Peter writes...

We could have trained a lot of nurses, paid a lot more to a lot more staff. Never mind. But it does seem like that NHS patients records system just isn't going to work.

Has more money ever been wasted on anything?

In the words of Andrew Rollerson of Fujitsu, “There is a belief that the national programme is somehow going to propel transformation in the NHS simply by delivering an IT system,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. A vacuum, a chasm, is opening up. It was always there.”

I have not found the original text of Rollerson's presentation, but I note that from the press reports that he seems to focus on issues of project management and technology adoption (transformation). Presumably it is safe ground for Fujitsu, a technology supplier to the project, to criticise these aspects.

In this light, maybe he is making informed use of the word "chasm."

It would have been good, but nobody wanted to use it.

Later in this course, the true story of Salford Council, skunk works, and a project that really did work. There wasn't a management consultant in sight.

See also The Lingering Death of the NHS Computer.

PS. You might also be interested in an MBS project we are undertaking. It looks at the conditions that make a public sector organisation amenable to successful engagement with management consultants, and those that ae associated with a negative outcome. Any management consultancy contract is at heart a relationship. You can get relationships more right or more wrong, depending on how you go about them.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

1,000 Campfires

Peter writes ...

The music industry stepped up for its annual Brit awards on St Valentine's night but, somehow, it felt like the end of an era. Was it just me? Perhaps, it was that I had been reading this article in the Sunday Times. Or maybe it was that the double winning Arctic Monkeys did not turn up to collect. Their reason? "Rehearsals." It somehow seemed symbolic that it was they, alone of all the winning acts, that did not make it to the ceremony. After all, the Arctic Monkeys had an alternative birth.

I am too old to be asking these questions, but going on regardless, I reflect on other news stories these week, like the recent Unicef report and this on teenage victims of gun crime. If the UK is indeed the pantheon of youth culture, then one question might be, is this a good thing? Would it be better to be a lot worse at youth culture but a lot better at parenting? I am the right age to be asking this particular question.

Coming back to the Brits, it was Noel Gallagher who predictably enough had the best one-liners: “The reason Oasis are accepting the BRITs Outstanding Contribution Award is that I want to do it before I go bald. Simple as that.” But perhaps the most astonishing quote was to be found in that Sunday Times article. It is attributed to Ian Grenfell, MD of “We felt we’d rather die on our feet than live on our knees.” In it he articulates the frustration motivating Mick Hucknall's decision to live without a major record deal.

So, with Simply Red, we see one model emerging of how the future music business will be organised. It applies to those like Hucknall who already possess high brand value. Its key principle is disintermediation. The product grabs control of the sales channel and, in many cases, distribution too. Alongside this is a principle of product variety, the brand sells as much as it can e.g. CDs, downloads, t-shirts, tickets. Marketing is direct, and key gateways (such as radio and music press sites) are addressed as peers.

However, for the fledglings without brand, alternate strategies apply. The key in this case, surely, is to generate an effective viral action. The new artist seeks to light a thousand campfires of approval across the internet, each campfire igniting more interest and activity. One thousand campfires becomes ten thousand etc. Marketing is thus indirect, and key gateways are converted through a kind of tipping point pressure. To make this work, product focus is beneficial, at least in the early stages. The good news is that like their established rivals, the fledglings can also sell direct, and even make profit if costs are tightly controlled (no long sessions in residential recording studios).

What goes for the music business will be replicated in similar industries such as book publishing and video production. The only other thing you will need, then, I guess, is talent.

See also Martin Cahill's musing on the music business as an innovation process.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Social computing hypotheses - The machine is Us/ing Us

Paul writes...

Social computing...or Web2.0? Whatever moniker we give it, our message is the same. These technologies are going to cause revolutions. Revolutions in the way we collaborate, network, do our jobs, locate each other, learn about each other, communicate, redefine bureaucracy - I could go on.

But let's think about this in a more focused way. In three domains - the media industry, knowledge management and 'bureaucracy' - we could start to build hypotheses about how social computing will impact.

Media hypotheses
  • In media industries, content production will become increasingly disparate and communal, but commercial opportunities will arise around gateways, standards and analysers. Typical commercial opportunities include but are not limited to key word search, advertising, click through, database access, revshare, and pre roll.

  • In media industries, individuals and group content producers will still be able to build superstar reputations through one or more of the following;

    • association with gateways, standards and analysers
    • raw community approval.
Knowledge Management Hypotheses
  • A new generation of stakeholder will be skilled in new content production techniques and will use these in their business activities. Examples include, but are not limited to, wikis, blogs, folksonomies, mash ups, podcasts and tag clouds.

  • Organisations will be increasingly able and willing to institutionalise organisational learning and knowledge management practices through the use of these new content production techniques which foster a truly collaborative approach and invert the traditional organisational hierarchy.
Bureaucracy Hypothesis
  • Web 2.0 will supplant and eventually surpass existing technologies of reporting, minutes and meetings, effectively revolutionising the traditional bureaucratic model of an organisation.
A question for you: How could we build on or rebuild these hypotheses?

Before you answer that question, take a look at this video on YouTube. I guarantee it will evoke a response and possibly one that is different from how you may have answered before viewing it.


Monday, 5 February 2007

Anticipating Poppy's World

Peter writes...

These are musings on two bold initiatives that seek to place Manchester at the forefront of the digital world.

Media City:UK. Tomorrow's media will belong to the people. This will not be naive and silly, quality will still be quality, but access and know-how will be shared much more widely. With wider access and know-how, more people will be able to say more things well. These things will be said to audiences large and small: that's the point, the new technology will not reconstruct a mass media model. Some of it will be big or bigger, but much of it will be smaller. The term 'campfire media' is very eloquent, I suggest. In essence, it is describing 'The Long Tail' effect for media.

Innovation theory tells us that successful new technologies tend to be socially inclusive (the alphabet, the printing press, the Model T, the wide-bodied jet). You can see this hallmark in the campfire concept. So, what's the next step for Media City? Well, whilst the developers get on with their side of things perhaps the city's educators should set out to see that every child is media savvy: understanding of the technology, art and psychology of media creation. Perhaps 'computer literacy' as a major educational concern was only ever a stepping-stone to 'media literacy.' Discuss.

ONE Manchester: Whilst celebrating Media City:UK, we can also cheer the ONE Manchester bid and hope that it wins the country's Digital Challenge. Have a look at the video featuring Poppy (pictured) and listen to the council folk and citizens expressing their wishes for a digital future. It is, as Poppy says, her future that is at stake. So my best advice is that we get the highest speed access to as many people as possible. The rest will follow. For the truth is that electronic media profoundly affect the economics of organisation. This is what is so often missing from the analyses of a digital future. Proponents and sceptics alike too often fail to see the link between technology and organisation. This is why people struggle to make it 'real'.

With digital technology we can organise in different ways. For example, more people can find their entrepreneurial niche because more niches can be sustained (Long Tail, again). Large corporate bodies and public institutions can divest themselves of functionality and pursue network relationships (lots of references but I like Unleashing the Killer App.) So, we get more and more organisations working with more and more organisations. The networked economy is born, new business takes advantage, builds position, and defends position as first-mover advantage is somehow made to apply. But business is still business, the winners still win and become a new sort of giant; a networked giant. The winners become intersections.


Sunday, 4 February 2007

A Whole New World

Peter writes...

Are these customer reviews what Surowiecki meant by The Wisdom of Crowds?

Some art is so great that no man can speak with more eloquence than another. Each must have his say.

Disintermediating the critics; now that really is A Whole New World.

Friday, 2 February 2007

The 'D' Word Again...

Peter writes ...

It is that 'D' word again; disintermediation.

It is also a reminder to me that I am perhaps over-emphasizing the small, the upstart, the campfire. If you already have an established brand, however this was achieved, then the possibilities of the internet open to you.

So, step forward Clive James, The Rolling Stones, Darcey Bussell, Stephen King, Manchester United, Take That, U2, JK Rowling, Mick Hucknall and so on. In the information age you will, or do, sell direct.

And so it may well be that one day, soon, Manchester United will stream matches all over the world, selling access for a few dollars each to millions. And yet, it should also be acknowledged that selling, that commerce, is only part of what is going on here. This is most evident in Clive James's site where he is mainly concerned with the continuation and development of his creative self. That simple germ, the desire to be creative, seems to underwrite so much of the explosion of social activity in the virtual world. And in this Clive James is no different to all the unsung bloggers, to all the anonymous open-source creators, to the commentors and the MySpacers: he just wants to develop his creative self.

To understand this, business theory will no longer suffice. We have to reach for The Gift.