Union

Both the problem and the beauty of the world, it seems to me, is our relentless urge to identify ourselves with things o...

September 13, 2014

Both the problem and the beauty of the world, it seems to me, is our relentless urge to identify ourselves with things outside us.

Life, for me, has been a constant process of trying and failing to locate my identity.

There have been very brief flashes of insight into ‘who I am’ throughout life. But in each case I’ve then failed to be consistent with those new identities. Pushed and pulled into different groups, life has been a constant replay of the playground – trying to fit in, kicked in the knees, bags thrown under my tyres, last to be picked.

There are only three ways to survive bullying – to bend with the pressure, to hold oneself rigid and intransigent or train up and kick the shit out of the bullies.

The first loses your identity; the second, your friends, the third your liberty.

In practice I have mostly gone with option 1. I have taken social symbols, like religion, sport-teams, charities, brands or political parties – each with its ready-made ‘club’ – and tried to squeeze my entire identity into them.  I do the same with relationships. The analogy of both a puppy and a cat both ring true. A loner, until called.

It is the same situation with sexuality.

It is NOT my JOB to educate the world about my sexuality, any more it is to explain my religious beliefs, politics or my taste in poetry.  But it IS my opportunity. An opportunity every single one of has in the age of social media.

From the Bullingdon club, to Greenpeace, to Islam, institutions demand their members’ whole-hearted support and a perfect allegiance. But the decision to shop at Lidl versus Waitrose does not define who we are.  We do not, as human beings, ‘belong’ to these clubs. We lend them our allegiance, based on their fit with our life story; based on how they themselves are changing to accommodate us and how willing they are to embrace us and learn with us. They are not forever. They do not have the right to command us. We are free.

Whoever we are, however bad, however weird, there will be a club for us. And while we are in, we should observe their rules, but we should also keep challenging them. Only that way can the club broaden and evolve.  I AM gay, in the sense that I enjoy the company of my own sex, and their peculiarities. Men are included in how I love the world; as are people of all faiths and all colours; old and young. This doesn’t make me ill, but it does make me massively fractured and sometimes dissociated from the world.  My love is kind of splintered.

That’s just me.

To get through, I much prefer to trust reason and intuition, rather than be guided by past conduct or the example of those around me – until I find myself alone. And then I tend to panic ;-) Every Watson needs a Sherlock.

The institution of marriage has been a stretch for me to accommodate who I am, and my wife and I have separated for that reason. I behaved badly and the contract we had with each other was breached. I broke the rules, I should leave the club. Fair’s fair. I’m bitterly sad and acutely sorry. But that is our private grief.

What matters is why I broke the rules!

What if, actually, my relentless desire to prove and assert my masculinity in life was just acting out to prove something that wasn’t actually true – my ‘pure’ physical attraction to the opposite sex. What if my early attempts to explore any affinity to men were greeted by physical threat from my father, and emotional ones by my mother – making homosexuality always an impossible choice. And thus a buried one.

What if the world’s attempts to have me join the ‘heterosexual’ club were against my genetics, contrary to my nature, and a denial of my soul.  What if I never had a choice, either by nature or nurture?  Growing up in a single parent household, I inevitably had a much stronger identification with the role of a mother than a father.  Faced with a pregnant woman I feel a sense of nurture, but also a huge sense of identification, bordering on jealousy.

It’s unlikely to be just me that feels this.

Single Mums, and many women who are effectively single Mums with absent husbands, become multiple parents in there children’s eyes, adopting both roles.  This will happen more and more as we mutate the structure of families.  It’s hardly surprising that the offspring of these hybrid families also face a pull towards multiple identity. And that’s a good thing. It makes them bigger and better humans.

So here I am, in the world. Aged 47. In Walt Whitman’s words, I contain multitudes. A husband-father-mother-wife. I have fully acted out my frustrated identity in pomposity and indiscretion, and I have projected my failings onto my partner. I have failed at all things. But I am resilient.

I feel deeply for everyone who faces this same challenge to their identity.  Even if their only choice is ‘football vs rugby’. Choosing is hard.  But not choosing is also hard.

So that is where I am, and no amount of pressure will sway me one way or the other until the time is right.

I respect every single person who attempts to answer the question of sexual identity, whether sexually ‘in’ the closet, out of it, or simply, as in my case, standing in front of the clothes rack feeling slightly forlorn, and thinking that I’m so glad corduroy is still in fashion…

Faced with the Boris Johnson-esque choice of having my cake or eating it. I choose not to choose. Faced with a plate of cake, I choose water.

Ultimately, I choose my children.  I choose families and communities created with love and with trust. I choose a future full of compassion and open-mindedness. Without prejudice and hate. Where same sex couples have the same rights as mixed sex ones; and more people feel empowered to explore and exploit their same-sex orientation.

I know how this story ends for me – it ends with families. Old ones and new ones, I hope.  But I don’t know the identity of my final life-partner, and I can’t. Why should I?  Time alone will tell and experience in the real world.

Anyhow, that’s quite enough internet for one day…

 

Think larger…

There are at least four fundamental axes of organisation:  Production, Relationships, Communication and some kind of cr...

July 20, 2014

There are at least four fundamental axes of organisation:  Production, Relationships, Communication and some kind of creative Entropy. There are probably many more, but these will do, to illustrate the point.

The state of any social system, envisioned on these axes, will obviously vary – from one extreme to another. The ‘scale’ of this variation will be the degree of sameness or homogeneity that is both assumed and desired by the would-be system ‘manager’…

So for example, if your belief as a manager is the left brain assumption that we are living in a mechanistic age, in which the outcomes of things may be largely predetermined, or are at least predetermin-able, you will tend to want to atomise the world you experience into small, homogeneous clumps, so it can be controlled, planned, predicted and managed within that planning framework.

In the forthcoming slides, produced with the thoughtful input of many named and accredited people, I will characterise this assumption of maximum, granular sameness as ‘Old World’ thinking – embodying the tacit assumption that the world is merely complicated.  The consequence of this complicated thinking is to break down the world into its lowest common denominators – minimal addressable units of internally consistent demand, belief or behaviour.

For communicators, the assumption of a complicated world is that the greatest control can be administered by promoting consensus. As an old world power-wielder, I am likely to  succumb to the urge to have people be ‘on message'; to be net promoters of my brand; to be consistent party voters.  By being consistent, they become manageable and my brand equity grows.

As a marketing communications or product producer in a complicated system, I want predictable supply-chain sources and processes. I want the minimal possible amount of required tailoring and the maximum amount of fit to customers’ needs. Ford’s Model T, a can of coke or a mars bar would be good examples – where demand perfectly matches my constrained production boundaries.

In terms of relationships, I would ideally like to limit as far as possible the voting breadth and inter-action of my ‘constituents’, to minimise the confusion and disruption they may cause.  I would like their inputs to be binary, their voice-outlets as few as possible, and their voting impacts constrained.

Finally in terms of entropy, an Old World manager’s aim is to create the maximum amount of predictability in the system; thus the capacity for change embodied in disorder (and especially unreversible processes) will want to be to minimise deviation not just in product, but also in process. This Old World, universalist and particularist scenario is summarised below.

Old World

It will doubtless be objected that nobody ‘seriously’ tries to manage a business at this level of  ‘sameness’.  This sort of mechanistic command and control ethos went out with the spinning jenny didn’t it? Or at least found it’s apogee in  the car factory.  This is anything but true – that behind the respective veils of soft ‘fat’ (rather than lean) trends like Engagement, Conversation, Inclusiveness and Relationship Management lies a defensive and consciously conservative planning ethos which still adopts an attitude of pseudo-scientific certainty and acts ‘as if’ human systems were indeed controllable.

A further objection to this model, even as an extreme picture, will be that it implies no competitive activity, or rather no  change.  And that in real life businesses and organisation work in a much more adaptive way. And indeed they do.

However, they do not wish to.  The Old World logic of annual budgets, appraisal cycles and carefully calendared meeting-cycles accustoms technocratic managers to carefully co-ordinated showpieces in terms of their product launches and investment reports.  Similarly, organisational charts, Enterprise Resource Planning and Business Information Systems for example, all strive to give an impression of control. The argument during the 1990s, and it’s a good one, was that short-term shareholder-oriented management was a bad thing and led to underinvestment in long-term resources and capabilities and erosion of long-term value. Certainly it corroded stakeholder value.

In parallel, but in the opposite direction ran the argument that management actually needed to be much more real time and more accountable to real-time challenges; that long wave-length management will always be too distanced and rigid to cope with the energetic bustle of market-led change.

The emergence of techniques like agile development and agile management exists as a counter to this fat, long-term ethos and prizes experimentation, short sprints, and rapid assimilation of input in an effort combine longstanding principles of just in time resource management, anihilation of deviations (from customer need in this instance) and assembly of minimal component of processes, alongside collaboration and meta-learning. Techniques like SCRUM and Kanban are now being widely adopted to make IT systems more adaptive at a micro level to real-world business need.  The same mechanistically adaptive logic might well be thought to apply to social engagement writ large…

So to summarise all this –  if the ‘old world’ can be stereotyped as ‘too’ atomistic, mechanistic, deterministic and many other ‘-ics’, as well as falsely homogeneous, what of the new world?

The New World, unsurprisingly, can be caricatured as heterogeneous. It’s just ‘turtles all the way down’ of course – but at least every one is different.  The big difference in new world thinking is that instead of recognising fractal, and hence replicable and modellable patterns within the areas it wants to affect, the world behind to recognise error and miscopying  as vital to change. The new world accepts multiple complex sub-systems – but accepts they are liable to error, spontaneous creativity and diversification.

While the old world describes man as master – the supreme engineer – the new world describes man as a fellow organism within a natural system, freer, within smaller scale systems, and able to leverage more group entropy and internal dissonance.

To turn to our 4 chosen dimensions, a new world view of value-creation would not be to create ‘universal product’, but at the extreme to create group-adapted product every time. These sorts of customised models already exist in abundance ‘out there’ in  hyphenated world of tariff-tailoring, content-bundling, spotify-style mass individualisation and Amazon’s long-tail recruitment and specialist recommendation based on an emergent logic of contextual modelling and ‘in memory’ computing. The simple argument these technology solutions make is that the whole world is addressable in principle through social production and social delivery. There is a market for everything and a solution for everyone, if only you can make product addressable far enough along the ‘long-tail’ of need.

The same logic underpins the emergence of shared-value. To take a trivial instance, just because developing-world rural dwellers may not have the funds, storage or insfrastructure to buy a huge tube of toothpaste, they can still clean their teeth! Novel solutions can be created melding global resources and local solutions through pragmatic and simple solutions like more lasting brushes and smaller packaged pastes.

Similarly, the opposite to the quality control, deviation reduction and internal engagement obsessions that tried to drive Old World effort into everything to create consistency and stability, now find their opposites in a New World that acknowledges that the nature of the future itself is uncertain. Social, political, economic outcomes are planned by never delivered. And this is as it should be. Because something else, more interesting occurs instead.

Reality, and specifically the realpolitik of stakeholders’ needs always gets in the way. The macro-future – climate change, global recession, north-south power shifts, just as much as the micro politics of your payrise or who is buying the beers tonight come down to accidents of influence. The fact that plans never come true of course, doesn’t make planning pointless. Far from it – as long as that planning recognises its dependencies on networks beyond its immediate influence.

Rather than thinking of targeting constituents to elicit a ‘vote versus a no vote’ response or a ‘buy versus no-buy’ response, the new world paradigm observes the world as a spaghetti of only partly self-identifying communities. These allegiances may be temporary, as a ‘new parent’ or ‘NCT-er’ for example, or more lasting as an ‘environmentalist’ or ‘MacMillan supporter’, churchgoer’ or ‘muslim’ or a ‘woman’ or a ‘retired person’.  The crucial insight in this new world is not that these social identifications offer fresh behavioural segmentation, but that they unlock new networks of loose ties that can be travelled as pathways by inspirational viral messages and behaviours. More importantly still, these connections may offer ‘sufficiently strong’ ties to bind groups to take action together. They thus form the organic scaffolding for new experiments in integrated social learning…

Finally, reviewing the axes of the New World, it’s worth noticing that the opposite of consensus is dissidence – the creation of contrarian or minority thought and action – the element that is the most vital ingredient in change. In this context, the mode of engagement is not persuasion, co-ercion or the three-line whip (in UK terms) but the simple recognition and re-assimilation of difference.

New WorldThe goal here, in this emergent or possibly reemergent world is the transparent wielding of political intelligence – to surface, though sincerity and trustworthiness, areas of difference and allow what is expedient to proceed through common evaluation.

While old world consensus-building is a masking or spray-cover technique, political dissidence, or more accurately integrative dissidence is a weaving technique. It does not let go of difference. Indeed it needs it for colour, texture and interest.  But it also understands how to connect those opinions and skills into a dynamic whole.

Of course in reality neither the banal, mechanistic conformities of the Old World, not the exhilarating, individualistic humanism of the New World actually exists. What prevails in reality is a constant ebb and flow between the two sets of assumptions: the two systems and mental models of power: competed and contested. Left and right brain, united. Biology and Physics. Artistry and rationalism.

In practice, between the individual and the organisation exist a series of diverse groups that form, dissolve and reform chaordically in endless formats. At any one time these groups – anything from a duo in a meeting room to a conference room full of people conducting open space workshops, all will be interrelating to each other, however weakly. These interactions and the way they are experienced is the stuff of life.

Within these ad hoc groups we are each of us engaged in an endless series of experiments to make change happen through influence, to learn about ourselves through assimilating the feedback and inspiration of others, and to change ourselves.

Real WorldThe challenge of the Real World is the familiar buddhist-style tension – either simply to accept the oscillation between institutional and individual ways of being (stability changing places with volatility; assimilation with projection etc) – or better still, to find ways to weave a more inclusive approach into our group relations: recognising that both giving and taking as both patterns of holding.

The systemic aim lies in recognising that individual identity contains both breathing in and breathing out, metaphorically.

We can think of this insight as a sort of social mindfulness – a sort of pragmatic version of the social imagination espoused by C. Wright Mills, and absolutely aligned with the group dynamics and situationalism of Mary Parker Follett.

In Follett’s own words, the challenge of this real world is “the integration of difference without annihilation or absorption.”

Our challenge, then, is to continually seek out and try new ways of relating that respond to this reality, and begin to turn a fractured web of organisational being into solid, secure pathways, which are commonly understood. They must be explicitly social. To become less abstract for a second, we need to explore new ways of relating which are not about pre-ordained power and control, but about instantaneous being and becoming.  We need to experiment with ways of relating within organisational structures, which reflect and respect the dignity of the group, not just the individual.

This real world is not just a merger between the monochrome nature of the old engineering paradigm, and the vivid palette of the newer organic or biological one; it is just as importantly a collision between internal experience and external projection; between inner chaos and outer gloss – between surface appearance and deep structure.

Munching

The human condition remains a process of adapting and coping with change. We are creatures of flesh and feeling as much as thought and theology. The logic of the group remains a tension between mutual nurture and dominance.

Crucially, the things that might set us free from these limitations – grand alignments of vision, agreement on values; the zero-sum bargains of accommodated self-interest – all fall down in the face of a complete human being.

The reality is that these idealised ‘management’ conceptions of how we are supposed to be: visionary, fast, empowered etc, all describe stereotypes which in practice conceal a veneer of hesitancy and confusion. As work-life balance increasingly vanishes, and social media consume ever more of our waking time, the ability to maintain a veneer on ‘reality’ diminishes. New ways of relating are needed for a post-industrial age but our social function has not caught up with the new nature of work.

Organisations of all forms work well split into functions when they are populated by self-identifying ‘units of production’. But they work much less well when confronted by interdynamic questions of loyalty, love or leadership…

So we conclude that the new world munches the old, but does not digest it. Or perhaps the other way around. The old digests the new.  In truth digestion is probably just a bad analogy here. What we have here is not consumption, not even dialectic clash, but a process of weaving. The old the warp, the new the weft. Most innovation appears merely as slubs of ideas, causing a little bulging of the fabric here and there and a little chafing, but never fundamentally altering colour or texture.

The innovation; the new ideas and inspirations are contained. There is no ‘paradigm shift’ from cotton to nylon, what happens instead is that variation is merely incorporated into ‘the tweed of life’.

An American poet once wrote beautifully about this:

WaltOver-reading Whitman, just a little, we can perhaps interpret the ‘groups’ of Mary Parker Follett as the fabric of reality. If individuals provide the thread, it is groups that weave them together.

This is the central metaphor of ‘containing’, without contaminating or distorting. Whitman’s ‘large’ is an expression of scope, of scale, of imagination, ambition and range. Whitman, of course is talking about individual complexity – our ability to flip from role to role in an instant , to be obtuse as often as acute; closed as frequently as open.

But the middle lines of this extract are also enlightening. Who, he asks, will discard the trivia of his daily life? Who is tired of repetition?  In those central lines, Whitman prepared us for an offer to those who stand ready at the exit door ready to depart. In management terms this can be read as a plea for readiness and responsiveness. As the market moves; as customers move; as colleagues move, are you ready?

It feels wrong in many ways to bastardise Whitman to the expediency of management thought. And yet when work occupies so much of life, maybe it’s inevitable that we should do so.  The final stanza – “Who will walk with me” is a plea for diversity. It is an open invitation to humankind to take a step forward in self-discovery. I can’t think of a better encapsulation of the orientation to act. Carpe Diem.

With any luck you may by now be in agreement that something or other goes on in human society, in the interplay between the analytic-scientific and the creative-artistic worlds.

Attempts at scientific management are not misguided; they are suggestive of underlying structure. Their efforts to individuate and compartmentalise are vital to understanding. Meanwhile efforts at the rehumanisation of work, its socialisation, spiritualisation or systematisation are equally well-meaning. They tell us something of unpredictability, mutual dependence and humility.

The middle ground – the inclusive ‘large’ space of reality – reminds us that we ourselves are (for materialists) simply trillion-cell biological systems interacting with other systems. While we may strive for control of big things like outcomes, and spend our time articulating grand visions, the reality is that our efforts are far better focused at the level of interaction, and the nests of interaction we can construct through group work.

Our ambition should stop, I believe, at the level of principles, and aspirations rather than fall into the delusional realm of outcomes.  But even so, we must know what we stand for. The following feel like a good start point:

PrinciplesHow does this lack of large talent, large practice and large thinking affect organisations in practice? Predominantly at the level of collaboration and innovation, I suspect.

In organisations today, the management clichés still apply. It is much easier to say no, than yes. Most breakthroughs are attributable to the efforts of a few determined individuals, who often have to break the rules to make progress. Support functions like HR, Finance IT, Legal and even Communications spend vast amounts of time reducing risk, rather than creating opportunity.

Functional boundaries act primarily as a defence on unwanted contact and decision-making pressure. They act as coping mechanisms for collaborative pressure.

Large practices, by contrast, are designed to make groups based on talent, knowledge and shared ambition, rather than authority, resources or formal mandates. Large thinking privileges individual autonomy, but only in service to ‘the group’.

It rejects formal co-dependencies in favour of ball and socket thinking – holding one anothers’ needs in ways that allow full rotation. It prioritises actionable shared insights, and techniques rather than skills, per se. It favours attitude before aptitude, but sees both as necessary. It seeks out novel ways of breaking down organisational boundaries – challenging traditional Taylorite management practices, quality principles or ‘management by walking about’.  Instead it favours management by walking with. This ethos offers a strong echo of Parker Follett’s identification of power in and power through others as a rejection of power over.

If a large learning lab were to be formed, it would seek to overcome the following sorts of social capability issues:

EmployersThe question remains, then: how do we begin to equip organisations to exist ‘largely’ in the inclusive space between new and old? And how do we equip individuals to cope well and function effectively in this high contact, multi-role, porous boundaried, granular future…?

If this is a real issue – and rates of mental illness, job dissatisfaction and slow rates of large company job-growth suggest it is – then the solution must be many-fold.

Some crucial elements of a large approach are laid out in the slide below:

 

Large EducationThere are a number of imperatives underway here:

1. To establish large skills (or better put, ‘techniques’) as an accepted ‘way of understanding the world’ – and describe better what they stands for.

2. To build a network capable of creating an emergent portfolio of large skills – especially those which blend social, psychological and digital – through compilation and experimentation, and share those processes.

3. To recognise those techniques by direct viral propagation and by licensing to encourage ‘for-profit’ partners to participate in dissemination. In so doing, we will also need to reward those who use the techniques by recognition – both celebration and publicity, giving credit where credit is due.

And finally,

4. To recognise exemplary efforts and bring them to prominence in ways which inspire outlying groups and capabilities to develop further confidence.

5. To make use of the ‘celebrity’ of the emerging expert practitioners to encourage new adopters of large thinking to enrich its meaning, and thereby contribute to the growing diverse pool of knowledge.

The good news of course that many of the required tools are already in play today. From experimental theatre and improvisation to hosted social CRM platforms and MOOCs, many of the underlying principles of large thinking are already visible within organisations and society, as indeed they must be, being based on human instincts…

Mindfulness, for example, which started out as a process of spiritual reflection has been subsumed into the self-help movement, thence into therapeutic practice and now into as aspect of employee wellbeing and performance.

Mouse

It can surely only be a matter of time until it is vacuumed up into group-level practice along with previous tools like Myers Briggs and Jungian archetypal analysis. Similarly Open Innovation – the recognition that innovation occurs not only in darkened IP-protected labs, but in collaborative fora, with customers and competitors at the table, for mutual benefit – is also well-attuned to large thinking.

Attitudes like inclusiveness, a focus on dynamics, and loose holding of relationships are all reflected in the its spirit of openness. Ubiquitous transformation – admittedly verbal stretch to produce the necessary acronym – just speaks to a relentless cauldron of change in organisations.

Much of this change may be superficial in practice, and purely confined to the surface. Nonetheless, it needs to be coped with. The march of new technology, the continual emergence of new businesses, the greater availability of knowledge and the unresponsiveness of traditional structures create continual collisions or roles and rules which produce frustration and anger if not surfaced and assimilated by large processes.

Shared value, as promulgated by Michael Porter, can be seen (at least) two ways: either as a means for large companies to colonise new markets with relevant products, or as a genuine attempt to co-innovate with emergent markets in mutual beneficial ways. Both are true. From different sides, these dynamics simply represent ways of integrating new world thinking into old world practices. The value-chain at the back of shared value thinking is a special case of group interdynamics.

Finally evidence-based strategy, exemplified by evidence-based medicine or evidence-based policy is a typical trend which exists in theory, if not in practiced towards an ever-emergent realism in decision-making. Evidence-based thinking is a hypothetical example of a self-correcting process. Similarly large thinking reflects an action-oriented, ever-ready process that ‘waits on the door slab’ and is ever prepared to self-scrutinise in a process of continual learning.

So what is to be done, then, to bring about large organisations and a large society? Certainly it is not a ‘Big Society’ in terms of assuming the burden of services.  This is assuredly not about shrinking the public sector. Neither is it about outsourcing social functions to resource-deprived third sector organisations. Nor yet about empowering a capital-subsidised market to compete away regulated services. But is certainly does share the bottom-up, or middle-across processes of big society thinking, and it’s sense of empowerment. In the words of Will Bentinck, it is assuredly about creating ‘little princes’ who can humanely challenge the status quo and fondly reveal its lack of rootedness, while cultivating something better.

Large thinking is about the conduct of intentional social learning experiments which are digitally literate and radically inclusive – of disadvantaged, disenfranchised and simply dislocated groups.

Its intention is to help take to scale those approaches to individual and social learning which single actors alone cannot accomplish, by focusing on equipping both individuals and society to play a more contributory role in collaborative groups.

To that end a group of disparate individuals with a mixture of skill-sets from technology, social engagement, charities and commerce has come together to turn this simplified analysis of an ongoing human malaise into a practical vehicle for change.

Its mission can be encompassed simplistically, but hopefully in the slide below:

Growth

 

Blatancy and the #SocialObjectFactory

With apologies to @gapingvoid (Hugh Macleod) I described his latest venture as showing 'blatancy' on twitter.  I meant ...

March 21, 2012

With apologies to @gapingvoid (Hugh Macleod) I described his latest venture as showing ‘blatancy’ on twitter.  I meant it well*.

The first thing I meant is ‘authenticity’ – Everything he does is driven by exuberance for a belief system that he consistently advocates…

The second thing I meant is ‘simplicity’. Hugh has reduced the entire proposition down to an animated icon and a promise.  As someone whose ‘business’ is words, crafting “Stories about Strategy” I am in awe of the suggestive power of images to cut across our reservations.  Disagreements about words become a cause of demolition.  Disagreements about images are an excuse for construction.

The third thing I meant is ‘directness’.  There is a ‘buy my stuff’ abruptness to the execution which is disarming to a 19th Century Brit like me…

The fourth thing I meant is that there is an ‘aggression’ of conceptualisation. I have written elaborately in the past on memetic branding, along with Mike Cayley and also on brands as producers of connectivity.  In Hugh’s mind brands simply become ‘Cannons’ puffing out memetic cannon balls… the visual language removes the need for analytical and captures the essence of the idea.  More importantly, it is a productive, energetic and kinetic image, which makes brand owners feel as if they are in control.

Fifthly  I was evoking ‘commitment’. Hugh’s basic concept here, as I see it, is to move away from a typical agency focus on the production process, and also to move away from a consultancy focus on outcomes. Instead he confidently assumes the outcomes and trusts his track record for the production process, and focuses instead on the ‘stuff’ itself.

Any traditional agency could think this strategic insight but none that I know would commit to the idea so far as to name the business after the process.  They’d be too busy trying to define some much looser discriminator based on ‘modes of engagement’ – or just name it after the founder. Not Hugh.

So Blatancy rules. Underthink and Overcommit. This is the spirit of the age.

#SocialObjectFactory, is the ur-zeitgeist.

I’ll say it once more for effect: “Innovation is Simplification”.

*And on a related note, in my defence, I defer, once again, to Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all.”

Dan Dares

Many congratulations to @serenestudios Dan Hill, who designed this web-site some years back now in his Cambridge days, a...

Many congratulations to @serenestudios Dan Hill, who designed this web-site some years back now in his Cambridge days, and has just sold his first startup Crashpadder to Airbnb.

Incidentally, Crashpadder is surely by far the better name ;-)

Interested to see what Dan dares next…

Chomsky on culture; Scientists on acid

Two snippets from the new Scientist this week create an interesting apposition: New Scientist (meeting Chomsky to PR ...

March 18, 2012

Two snippets from the new Scientist this week create an interesting apposition:

New Scientist (meeting Chomsky to PR his new book):

In your new book, you suggest that many components of human nature are just too complicated to be really researchable.

Chomsky

That’s a pretty normal phenomenon. Take, say, physics, which restricts itself to extremely simple questions. If a molecule becomes too complex, they hand it over to the chemists. if it becomes too complex for them, they hand it over to the biologists. And if the system is too complex for them, they hand it to the psychologists…and so on until it ends up in the hands of historians or novelists. As you deal with more and more complex systems it becomes harder and harder to find deep and interesting properties.

The second snippet that struck me was a five page article, speculating on improvements to the  Standard model of physics.  Stringballs, Tetraquarks, Glueballs, Inflatons, Pomerons, Leptoquarks, Winos and Anyons are all speculated as additions to our basic model of Physics, which already explains – (drumroll) nothing. Even if the Higgs Boson is found and we finally understand why things we can see have weight; even is String theory is proved and we understand how weight leads to gravity; even if supersymmetry is proven and we understand where 80% of ‘other inert stuff’ comes from that doesn’t fit the model. Even if I could understand what any of this meant…

Chomsky is still right.

We must respond as humanly and obscurely as possible…

Over to Basho:

“Furu ike ya

Kawaza tobikomu

Mizu no oto”

Translations here: including from Allan Ginsberg

Revisiting VRM

Back in 2008, Tim Wilson and I gave a presentation on the brand impact of Transparency in Amsterdam. The presentation...

March 7, 2012

Back in 2008, Tim Wilson and I gave a presentation on the brand impact of Transparency in Amsterdam.

The presentation described a move from brand opacity (hiding knowledge to build brand premiums) through translucency (offering sneak peeks to support brand story telling), to fully-fledged transparency (a free and open information exchange with stakeholders).

Transparency is a founding principle of RightSideUp (RSU) thinking and the most critical enabler of social markets.

But actually the relationship between RSU and transparency goes even deeper. There’s a two-way relationship going on here.

Transparency is both enabled by VRM (which restores information and social symmetry between individuals and institutions) but it also drives the need for VRM, as any remaining asymmetries stand out like beacons of inequity, demanding ever more efficient matching services on behalf of the individual.

In principle, at least, this will create a virtuous circle of ever more transparent and trustworthy relationships.

Transparent individuals want transparent products which match their precise needs and social context.

But such richly transparent products can only be produced by transparent organisations which share their product backstory, seeking to combine both brand principles and supply-web production processes.

Inevitably though, transparent organisations’ self interest lies in creating transparent markets where their true stories can be selected over their rivals’ over-bundled half-truths and obfuscations.

Closing the systems loop, these transparent markets are the ones in which social and information democracy prevail – in which individuals are enabled to both share and benefit from their personal assets – the underlying principles of VRM.

RightSideUpness is thus embedded at the centre of the Transparency system and the Transparency system is, to my mind, an inevitability.

Make no mistake. Transparency is already here. We are seeing  a proliferation of stakeholder to stakeholder, stakeholder to enterprise and enterprise-wide ‘mutual marketing’ tools to make it work for us not against us.

Back in 2008 I suggested the next decade will be a race between Microsoft/Google vs Oracle/SAP to provide the infrastructure for a see-through world.

I had not foreseen the exponential rise of Facebook.  And more importantly I had not foreseen the open economy which is created by micro-applications operating to common interoperability protocols, with personal data-sharing at their heart.

In 2008 I suggested ‘Find’ would be the new killer app.  This was a glib expression of a deeper truth, that merely identifying information would be trivial but that the productivity of insight is what drives progress.  This is a function of the trust of social networks and of the decision flows they share.

From supply-chain cleansing to product innovation and customer mediation, all multi-stakeholder processes depend upon trust in the quality, integrity and linkage of decision-making. Shared, transparent decisionflow is the metaprocess that underpins mutual accountability.

Data and decisions; decisions and data. These are the building blocks of brand integrity.

Keep Calm. Carry on. Go bust.

Note to shareholders: "In 2012 we hope not to shrink, by instinctively guessing what our customers want and gambling ...

Note to shareholders:

“In 2012 we hope not to shrink, by instinctively guessing what our customers want and gambling on a portfolio of more than 100 incremental improvement projects reflecting well-established management priorities.  To support this diversified innovation strategy, we will invest in a variety of tools to generate unprecedented levels of data which we will store in secure organisational silos until such time as they may be useful.  We will foster a climate of mutual consultation and multi-stakeholder project oversight without meddlesome intervention.  In our ongoing quest for middle management accountability, we will ruthlessly scrutinise the business case for any substantive change and so avoid any unnecessary disruption to customers’ experience. To fuel this strategy we will cut unnecessary operational resources which may undermine trust by engaging in direct customer interaction. We will promote internal dialogue through the latest social media techniques to ensure that the whole organisation can engage in debating the future direction of the business, thus creating a collective accountability for the inexplicable inertia which has arisen as a result of the challenging economic environment.”

We are living through a plague of undecision…grrr…

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Closing the Credibility Gap

Just reading an interesting and timely report from the team at Sustainability - Signed, Sealed, Delivered - exploring th...

December 6, 2011

Just reading an interesting and timely report from the team at SustainabilitySigned, Sealed, Delivered - exploring the present value and future role of branded certification systems.

As in any maturing market, there is an ongoing tension between the heavy weight of the vertically integrated systems that kick-started this assurance infrastructure, and the paper-thin, but tightly laminated layers of process that now support it.

The many-celled structure that we have now is undoubtedly costly and cumbersome and may still not be delivering the assurance that’s required.

The Sustainability team does a good job of starting to unbundle both the functions and outcomes of assurance systems and so begins to reveal some of the inefficiencies, opacities and redundancies of so many overlapping schemes.

They don’t suggest that labels and certifications are to be made redundant, but they do imply that the provision of Credibility is an exercise in the gathering, auditing, assuring and communication of non-financial impact; and that each of these is a specialist task, susceptible to optimisation; and that all might be rebundled in new and more resilient ways.

We live in a fast-maturing market for Credibility, when values-based claims are increasingly susceptible to investigation.  Any entity, or set of entities seeking to make judgemental claims of a product must assess its risk from two standpoints.

Firstly, what is the assurance-value inherent in that claim, compared to others’ claims? i.e. How much value are consumers investing in the claims being made?

Secondly, what is the scepticism-risk inherent within the trust network of that claim? i.e. How likely is it that a sceptical observer would find a claim dishonest, or disingenuous.

Where risk and value intersect, rational judgements can be made about the breadth and depth of the reassurance to be provided.

There is a third issue though, and one which goes to the heart of this dilemma. What is the social coherence of the claim? i.e. How resilient are the value-exchanges that support it? How incentivised are stakeholders to supply legal, decent, honest and truthful information?  If power is distributed too much to the top or the bottom of the assurance system, or even captured by the middle, credibility will be imperilled.

There are major clues in this report that the way to unglue this matrix lies in interoperable assurance networks, which can overlay individual supply-chains, and that the credibility platform, and the reassurance processes that sit on that platform will need to become increasingly separate, and increasingly specialised, over time.

Brands are fighting hard for their Credibility. Certification systems will need to offer them ever stronger Reassurance.

Refuse-niks on the rise

Kudos to Patagonia for its Black Monday advertising encouraging a form of #unconsumption while improving its own compet...

Kudos to Patagonia for its Black Monday advertising encouraging a form of #unconsumption while improving its own competitive position.

In addition to Patagonia’s 4Rs – Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, I think its about time we introduced a new first R – Refuse.

We all have the will, but possibly not always the willpower, to refuse the efforts of marketers – including the iconic Patagonia – to persuade us to buy more stuff.

Just because an economy needs growth, does not mean that that growth must come at the expense of the earth.

If we are to be persuaded to pay good money for intangible benefits, then the less tangible, the less resource intensive and the less energy intensive these are, the better.  Recycling is a safety net, Reuse is vital, Repair is good, Reduction is great; but Refusal is better.  Reduction slows the cogs, but selective Refusal, is in the words of James Tobin – a little grit in the wheels of financial capitalism.

Refusal steals value from ‘the system of destruction’.  It mutualises brand value.  And this approach to stealing back value, this unconsumption, is well worth paying for…

If we can start to reward creation, not destruction we can find ways to pay for people not plunder.

By accurately and effectively valuing the life story of products, including their shared production and their common ownership, environmental capitalism can evolve into social capitalism.  The pieces of the product we end up paying tomorrow will be the pieces we steal today.

The time we invest in care and repair, in creativity and choice-editing, in individualising and socialising our choices – this is the value we can steal back from the system.  By adhering to the five Rs we create social value.  These will be the unconsumptive values that brand owners will seek offer us back in the decades ahead. And they cost nothing. So steal with pride.

Become a Refusenik.

“Only disconnect”

Fascinating encounter yesterday with a friend who's a psychotherapist, discussing his new web-site. The colours of th...

October 27, 2011

Fascinating encounter yesterday with a friend who’s a psychotherapist, discussing his new web-site.

The colours of this web-site – the dark blue and brownish-grey – have enormous significance for him. The blue  – a sort of muddied ultramarine or ultraviolet colour – echoes a stage-set he created years ago and evokes the colour just before dawn – a time when the despair of night ends and the hope of day begins. In his mind, this transitional colour has a luminescence – it conjures memories of gold, painted to burn behind the blue. Likewise, the grey colour brings him memories of an experience walking on a dorset beach across slabby, ankle-breaking rocks.  It evokes solidity, calm and a sort of impermeable truthfulness, and a very particular rock.

When I look at the web-site, I feel a mix of emotions.  I do, precisely, feel a combination of tension and calm he is seeking to evoke, but I also see a certain murkiness – an indeterminacy. A kind of open-closed tension, in that I am not sure whether or not I am invited in. In short, we disagree, or more accurately, meaning has been transformed.

The point of this little diversion on colour is that I am encountering exactly the same issue on a writing course I’m undertaking.  We were recently asked to answer the question “What is a story?”.  Having resisted the temptation to respond with “What is a question?” I eventually managed to produce a sensible, constrained response.

But in doing so, I became viscerally aware, in a way I never have before, of the paradoxical nature of language.  Hemingway is credited with writing the shortest short story, which goes simply, in its entirety:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.

We can debate whether this is a story – when all of the action take place in the imagination, and I would, and did.  But the very act of considering this question brings us into contact with the most fundamental truth of language.

Language is both personal and social.  It is both symbolic and systemic.  Language is a public private partnership.

This is the paradox at the heart of creativity – to sketch a space in which meaning can be exchanged, but never unified.

Language holds reality. But only very loosely. The act of creation and the act of consumption borrow a loosely-shared lexicon which is wholly insufficient for the task of communicating experience, let alone higher truths.  But this is its joy.

It’s true, as Herman Hesse says, that “words do not express thoughts very well”.  But I would argue that they don’t have to.  Meaning lives in the gaps.  Meaning lives in our personal punctuation. We must give it space.

To disagree with the words of Somerset Maugham.

“Only disconnect”

And see what comes.

Notice the world. And build on it.

Johnnie Moore reblogs sections of Roland Harwood's post on the importance of location for open innovation clusters and o...

April 12, 2011

Johnnie Moore reblogs sections of Roland Harwood’s post on the importance of location for open innovation clusters and offers the quintessentially Johnnie aphorism that we must strive to notice more, and change less. Build on what’s there; don’t reinvent it.

At a personal level, as someone with a fervid desire to change the world at every available opportunity, this resonates as an almost spiritual truism!

At a professional level, as I try to help The Chartered Institute for IT to catalyse a ‘metacluster’ of technology innovation capability across the UK, our success depends upon it.

Roland is right. We need new, more humanistic collaborative approaches which bridge the location-irrelevance of skills and the location-dependence of culture, heritage and social energy. When people meet, noticing can happen. Noticing is a precursor to lasting change.

More evenly distributed?

I'm transitioning at the moment, from one dominant client - CropLife - to another - the Chartered Institute for IT. Th...

February 25, 2011

I’m transitioning at the moment, from one dominant client – CropLife – to another – the Chartered Institute for IT. This sort of change is (almost) always good, and (almost) always a source of new energy. It’s a chance to reflect on what else is changing in the world.

The future is already here, after all, but it’s just not evenly distributed.

My very strong view on the future, is that form of delivering stakeholder assurance – management consultants, ERP systems, standards bodies, and standards themselves will be replaced by a variety of new forms of DIY accountability. I’ll be focusing my future consulting efforts on helping organisations and industry to self-organise. To be more self-reliant. To replace narrow sustainability with a new collectivism of self-sufficiency and mutual self-help.

In the UK, Cameron’s Big Society is an exercise in shifting the public sector burden to the private and voluntary sectors. What this vision does not yet embrace, and must, is the renovation of the private sector itself as a mutualist undertaking. This is my ‘special project’.

As a first example, take a look at We are what we do. This is the future. It’s just #notevenlydistributed.

KAHRO. The diamond uncompany.

How many businesses will launch themselves in future via a facebook app' rather than a web-site? If your goal is to ...

November 17, 2010

How many businesses will launch themselves in future via a facebook app’ rather than a web-site?

If your goal is to build a customer community, why bother with the interim step of a web-site to get between you and your customers?

This certainly seems to be the thinking of KAHRO diamonds, just launched at KAHRO Facebook. Luxury psychologist Dr Isaac Mostovicz is offering to help you choose the perfect diamond, based on his academic research into personality types.

Will the idea take off? Who knows! But it’s certainly a new disruptive take on business launches, and a great example of an emerging uncompany.

The next logical step will be to train customers to ‘self-diagnose’ and become a diamond-lovers’ self-help community…

The high cost of free

Aleks Krotoski's documentary, The Virtual Revolution continues to throw up nuggets of interest. The latest episode on...

March 15, 2010

Aleks Krotoski’s documentary, The Virtual Revolution continues to throw up nuggets of interest.

The latest episode on BBC Radio, http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2010/03/100305_the_virtual_revolution_part_three.shtml she highlights the social externalities of Google-style advertising.

In this, the 3rd episode, she rues the loss of serendipity. And with serendipity removed, we face a process that “appears to broaden our horizons but sells us the same old thing.”

Doug Rushkoff explores the long-term social implication of recommendation engines (and implicitly social media) thus: “The more like one of my kind of people I become, the less myself I am.”

There is no such thing as free.

9 meals from anarchy…for real!

Here's the thing. Agriculture's share of development spend has collapsed from around 17% to just THREE per cent...in ...

April 24, 2009

Here’s the thing.

Agriculture’s share of development spend has collapsed from around 17% to just THREE per cent…in barely twenty years…

Now don’t get me wrong – urbanisation is a great idea.  Instrumental in China; partially successful in Brasil; and collossally underexploited in India.  But it isn’t the answer to sustainable prosperity and quality of life on a crowded planet.  

We have to rewind a little.  We have to maintain a pervasive and universal commitment to agriculture.  We need, I think, a commitment to reruralisation – to knowledge-based agriculture!  

Renewable energy may eventually fuel our cars (via fuel cells) but it will never feed the planet.  But we have, as yet, no good alternative to our present unsustainable food sources.  Our food supply is dangerously fragile.

IMHO, we must move beyond an expedient and exploitative ‘sustainability’ to genuine symbiosis.  I’ve been a committed advocate of organic in the past.  And I still see the ‘harmonious’ value of organic approaches. 

Social, or systemic sustainability is perhaps more pressing now that environmental balancing…

We must fix both.  But we need a much more solid evidence-base on which to make our decisions.

Above all, we need to produce a better system of accountability for sustainable development…

Think larger…

There are at least four fundamental axes of organisation:  Production, Relationships, Communication...

Blatancy and the #SocialObjectFactory

With apologies to @gapingvoid (Hugh Macleod) I described his latest venture as showing 'blatancy' on...

Dan Dares

Many congratulations to @serenestudios Dan Hill, who designed this web-site some years back now in h...

Chomsky on culture; Scientists on acid

Two snippets from the new Scientist this week create an interesting apposition: New Scientist (me...

Revisiting VRM

Back in 2008, Tim Wilson and I gave a presentation on the brand impact of Transparency in Amsterda...