Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Over the years I have visited Italy and been subject to its frustrations, its bureaucracy, its crime and corruption and indulged in all the cliched and prejudicial chat which pretty much goes along the lines - “well what do you expect, its an Italian tradition!” I remember distinctly sitting in a restaurant in the far south listening to a learned friend describe a significant aspect of the local economy being what he referred to as “factory farming”. This was not chickens in large numbers but the proliferation of empty factories and buildings springing up across the dusty countryside, empty and redundant and with no more purpose than to access funding and grants that supported their construction, and of course many groups would take their cut. Whilst a lot of the banter we had was good humoured and my Italian friends in the main would josh along but defend their corner well. But later last year I noticed a change. It seemed that many of the educated, intelligent and eloquent Italians I met in Rome were articulating views about Italian institutions being broken, corrupt and hopeless, only this time they really meant it. Worst of all no one could see an answer. There was a hopelessness I had never encountered before and it made me sad. But maybe, just maybe they have begun to find a way to resolve it.
The results from yesterday's election and the success of Beppe Grillo and the Movimento 5 Stelle, or Five Star Movement, is simply not a surprise to me at all. Nor is the lack of support for Mario Monti. The continued, albeit reduced, support for Berlusconi should not surprise us either - even if it may depress me profoundly.
Whilst we hear expressions of surprise at the success of Grillo and his fellow candidates, described in the UK in hushed tones as “political novices”, this is entirely what one should expect when the established parties have demonstrated to the populace that they are incapable, untrustworthy and inept - surely much more damning than being novices. One can forgive novices their errors. I would be particularly interested to see the demographic of his supporters of Five Star. I would bet they are younger, significantly so, and this is for me cause for hope because it represents a vote for change unencumbered by consideration with convention.
As for Monti - apart from being the architect of Italian austerity and thereby almost inevitably unpopular - he represents a profoundly undemocratic imposition by European and global institutions and vested interests seeking not to change a system that is patently flawed, but to prop it up.
Those inside and perhaps importantly outside of Italy that are fearful of the inevitable instability that will follow this muddled election outcome are in many cases those that typically do not want change, espouse the idea that there is no alternative because they do not wish to see one, and hope for a return to a “stability” that will see them as winners.
Manuel Castells suggests that as traditional institutions, be they banks, legislatures, retailers, are increasingly seen as failing the people they purport to serve that those same people will now more readily embrace and supply alternatives. And importantly now in our networked world people are increasingly empowered to bring about those changes and create those alternatives and take ownership of the issues because technical tools allow us to collaborate and act with so much greater ease than previous generations. Increasingly they are disinterested in the fate of established institutions and do not seek to reform them, they simply bypass them. So why bother trying to change a bank from the outside by buying a share and attending the AGM? Simply ignore it and build an alternative one. Why stand for a political party or legislature in hock to vested interests and lobbyists? Ignore or it or start a new one.
I carry no torch for Five Star or any of the Italian parties, I am not closely enough engaged to cast a vote. Nor do I know what the outcome of this particular period of confusion might be. But what I find hopeful is that whilst some are scornful of the idea that a vote for a comedian as an anti vote I can see it as a very positive act. That is a vote for change even if you don't know what that change might be. So oddly and perhaps counter to what many might feel, I consider the outcome a positive one.
Today's result is a wake up call to the Italian political institutions, and the wider European and Global ones so unnerved by this outcome and so concerned what this impasse might mean to “markets”. Reform yourselves now, from the inside or you may well just be by passed by those that care nothing for your traditions. We the people are now empowered to ignore you.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
As it championed all things creative in Britain I couldn't help be struck by the irony of an event that began with Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman of Sony Corp, extolling the importance and centrality of intellectual property and copyright protection to the on going success creative industries and then to sit for at least two session in the morning when the content couldn't be broadcast from London to Glasgow “for copyright reasons”.
It was harder to imagine a more striking demonstration as to how unsuited intellectual property law is to the digital age. And we see it everyday. I have yet to find anyone who can give me a cogent argument as to who benefits from the truly ridiculous Samsung v Apple tit for tat. The only beneficiaries as far as I can see are the lawyers, the fees for whom will be truly eyewatering and simply passed on to the consumer (that’s you and me by the way) whilst the disputed features that are supposed to benefit us are withdrawn, suspended and generally messed about with to become ultimately useless.
But Sir Howard was clear in his own mind that protecting IP to preserve “long term” revenues was what it was all about. And I think it is on that point that I could not disagree more.
His argument was this ability to lock up the revenue generating potential of an invention for the long term is what underpins creativity and without it creativity simply withers and dies. To demonstrate the historical significance of this (and the UKs historical role is establishing this core principle) he pointed to the ancient formation of copyright law, and cited the example of Joshia Wedgewood as an exemplar of a creative who successfully commercialized his creative genius and in so doing generated an enduring national legacy. The later part I would agree with but this was a tale of the early industrial era, one has to ask how appropriate is it now? I was tempted to scream at the screen that the interrupted show we were watching would not be possible without that marvellously open piece of software called LINUX. The irony became deeper, although less apparent to Sir Howard, when he championed the creative genius of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Hmm? Yes that would be the Sir Tim Berners-Lee who enriched our lives by....not protecting his invention.
In the case of LINUX and WWW we have seen billions of pounds of value created by endless creativity that would not have been unleashed had those two geniuses of Torvald and Berners-Lee not had the vision, grace and generosity to free their creativity to be shared with the world to build on.
Another example quoted of creativity was Stephen Hawking. Now I can’t be sure but as far as I am aware he is not a multi patent owner, but I am pretty confident that his insight and wisdom are shared academic ammunition that have been built upon by others without constraint.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting no protection, but our desire for a simpler more appropriate mechanism of managing this, it seems to me, is writ large in the wide adoption of Creative Commons.
However my main point is this. In a world of extremely rapid iteration ( the “pivoting” and fast fail to which Sir Howard refered) long term locking up is surely a recipe for stagnation. For the industrial era of large corporations maybe it worked ( although I have reservations about that) But in a highly collaborative, agile and responsive development environment shorter protection would surely be much more appropriate. In a world of creativity, where the freedom to build readily in others ideas more rapidly releasing invention to be extended and developed must win. Similarly I think the returns would be more equitably spread and the incentive would be there to keep inventing, keep creating.
I am old enough to remember “Home Taping is Killing Music” with an accompanying Skull and Crossbones being stamped onto the inner sleeves of just about every LP I borrowed and taped. It seems with hindsight ( and I said it at the time too) that it didn't, and I think calls to preserve the old order because it served us well in Joshia Wedgwoods day is not an argument for its unreformed retention today.
Monday, July 23, 2012
I love cycling and have for many years and for many reasons. Its extreme demands, its rich unwritten rules, its cruelty and its sense of honour and fair play, its history and its characters. But as a follower it’s noticeable how the sport has moved from a solitary sport to very much more a team sport. The advent and ubiquity of team radio has accompanied the rise of coordinated team led approaches to winning major Classic stage races like Le Tour, Giro and Vuelta. Long gone, it seems, are the solitary predators like Eddie “The Cannibal” Merckx.
So as we celebrate Bradley Wiggins success we also celebrate a team success and the mastermind behind Team Sky is Dave Brailsford and what can we learn from that for our teams?
Known for his attention to detail and the “aggregation of tiny margins” Brailsford has managed to craft a team of powerful individuals each with deep reserves of self will, stubbornness and, in some cases, ego into a unit that works and in this case was unbeatable. Of course we must never over simplify or seek to commoditise how this is done. No doubt there will be some interesting revelations about rifts and conflicts that have been kept undercover for the duration of the race.
But for all that I find the team rules set out and agreed by Team Sky to be an interesting statement of togetherness and intent, and the process of agreeing a set of boundaries and understanding of high performing teams and crews can be a lesson for us.
The rules, written on the side of the bus - or Death Star as is often referred to - are:
- We will respect one another and watch each others backs.
- We will be honest with one another.
- We will be on time.
- We will communicate openly and regularly .
- If we want our helmets cleaned, we will leave them on the bus.
- We will pool all prize money from races and distribute it at the end of the year.
- Any team bonuses from the team will be split between riders on that race.
- We will give 15% of all race bonuses and prize money to staff.
- We will speak English if we are in a group.
- We will debrief after every race.
- We will always wear team kit and apparel as instructed in the team dress code.
- We will not use our phones at dinner - if absolutely required, we will leave the table to have the conversation.
- We will respect the bus.
- We will respect personnel and management.
- We will ask for any changes to be made to bikes (gearing, wheel selection etc.) the night before the race and not on race day.
- We will follow the rules.
A fascinating mix of the cycling specific and the team, respect bonding and trust oriented.
What would be the rules you would sign up to?
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Breaking the law is a good thing. I make a habit of it. Any laws that exclude me, laws that say it cant be done, or “it must be done this way” all shout a message to me that says “Why?” Social technology can be very very useful in breaking the law.
The power of social tools is that they challenge established convention by providing mechanisms to by pass or lower the barriers or accepted or embedded behaviours that have served to create our very own “iron cage”. People can re imagine themselves into new roles, become things that seemed previously unthinkable. They can make connections and links that were once unlikely or impossible. They can collaborate across geographies and hierarchies. This means we can use them to innovate in ways we once never could, and liberate resources that can generate value that were once eternally locked up.
Of course this can be unsettling or uncomfortable but still, in my book, breaking the law is, on the whole, worth trying and a good thing.
Breaking the Law is another matter and you should be aware that social tools make this easy as well.
In the past few days we have encountered some serious breaches of the Law - notably through the use of twitter. I don't propose to debate the merits or demerits of the cases, simply to point out that it is incredibly easy to fall foul of the Law with social tools. Sometimes it is the fact that the Law has yet to catch up with changed behaviours that are now considered acceptable and mainstream. I look forward to fun that will be had with the absurd rules around the useof images on social channels from the grossly commercial Olympics.
Sometimes it is the international nature of these network that can be part of the issue, both for and against prosecution.
A lawyer recently opined that it is stupid, or unthinking or reactive tweeting that is often the cause of people falling foul of the Law. Its so easy to quickly speak ones mind and in so doing create a public record of a potentially illegal view, or breach long held confidences. Either way, when we become alarmed by the behaviour of a few individual numpties on line lets not get too carried away. As they say hard cases make bad law. We should stand firm against those that would use these examples as a justification seek to surveil and constrain the social networks and mass behaviours it enables. Social is by definition challenging the anti social conventions of the past two centuries. For me it is a positive. In the week we celebrate the anniversary of the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout lets not forget there are many noble examples where mass off line actions have challenged bad Laws for the benefit of all.
So breaking the Law has its place too.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The Listener is described by wikipedia as a defunct magazine published 1929 - 1991. I remember it well and loved it, and like many (though not enough apparently) was sad when it closed its doors. In the readers defence I have to say it was cruelly dumbed down in its later years - a decline properly described in the wikipedia entry where you can also read about the fateful blocking of Richard Gotts editorship, lest we forget!
Imagine my surprise then when, a few years ago, I did a bit of a double take when what looked like a copy of that fine magazine was sat on a newsagent shelf in New Zealand. Now it can take a while for periodicals published in the UK to make it to NZ, but given that this was in this millennium it seemed unlikely that this copy had taken some 10 or 15 years to get there. So I took a closer look and discovered that this was in fact a copy of The New Zealand Listener, a magazine of similar content, branding and style to the version I was familiar with, but published in New Zealand and aimed at the good people of the Land of the Long White Cloud.
It was a great discovery and since then my father-in law will dutifully collect a few copies for me before I arrive on holiday. It keeps me quiet no doubt and goes some way to reinforce the case as to why I should relocate from the land of the long black cloud o more sunnier climes.
Having the luxury of time to read is a joy and I found a fascinating article in the September edition a fantastic article on “The Power of Failure - how it creates success” Written before the Rugby World Cup final the article includes a good deal of passing reference to the performance of the All Blacks - frankly almost all discourse in New Zealand does at some point make reference to the All Blacks! But it has a good deal of sensible insight into the importance of being able to have safe failure. Dave Snowden often describes the necessity of creating an environment where we can experience safe failure rather than trying to create a fail safe environment. He is right of course as we can generally learn so much more from our experiences of failure, to the extent that if it leads to subsequent success it is arguable that, when considered in the round, it is a failure at all. Tim Harford and his book Adapt: Why success Always Starts With Failure is referenced a good deal, and he makes the distinction between these small managed failures and those that occur complex “tightly coupled” systems. My response to that would be that generally these systems exist in complex environments but have been applying approaches that are applicable in the simple or or complicated domain making them vulnerable to tipping into the chaotic domain and bearing out the Cynefin framework’s insights. It’s also a sensible reminder for us to shout very loudly at people - notably politicians who accept that things get “too big to fail” but do nothing to amend this circumstance.
I was also interested to read about the work The Icehouse an Auckland based incubator that has a somewhat more sanguine attitude to failure, and an anecdote about the early efforts of Muhammad Yunus being less than entirely successful before he developed the micro finance principles that led to the Grameen Bank's success.
The point of all this? Well apart from the inherent wisdom of the article and the reminder to keep trying it serves to remind us that we can now operate in an environment of rapid iterations where the capacity for accelerated learning through microfailure is enhanced. With sensible reflective learning approaches the capacity to source a crowd of insight coupled with the ability to launch micro initiatives with the help of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing our capacity for innovative advance has perhaps never been better.
If only I had time to read the October editions....
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I am a great fan of the occupy movement. I love it. I particularity like the way the great diversity of opinion and lack of coherent, single issue, manifesto leader led style confounds and confuses the vested interest groups that are unnerved by it. It is like a group expression of teenage rebellion, that hormone driven maelstrom of pooled discomforts that grump and grumble as a rumble of scowls that hates ….. well …. stuff! Its not a single issue thing its juts a groundswell of discontent at more or less everything and that its not fair and it all being stacked against you while everyone else parties.
The absence of a single agenda and specific manifesto means that the usual defence tactics of the vested interst groups – the 1% - cant directly challenge and unpick it so it confuses them. Yiou can almost see th frowns and thoughts of “How can this be? Our usual media management techniques of vacuous words and supposedly rational argument about this is the best and only way – dont work.” Here we have the 99% saying we the majority state the systems broke. You the 1% with the levers to change it must change it even if its harms your privileged position. Physician heal yourself or else.
There is undoubtedly a younger demographic very much embracing this. Many would say the Gen Y's (I hate the labels) You hear many in that group declare that what has brought them to this is action is the fact that the promises made to them have been broken in that they were promised opportunity and told to aspire and now its all been taken away.
I would say – as a baby boomer / Gen Xer ( The fact I could be either shows how daft the terms are) twas ever thus. Its not that is is not true it just we have all been there. We all have dreams and ambition. We are all told to aspire, that things are possible, the world is your oyster, the good and honest prosper etc etc, only to find that actually it aint so. We discover life passes quickly, that the things we are told we should have require taking on commitment and debt and that the need to service this demand means holding onto dreadful jobs with hateful organizations that exploit and degrade you because you need them more than they need you. Liars and charlatans often get on and lying is a necessary evil. Of course none of this needs to be so but the system sucks you in and grinds you down and soma to deal with this deep disappointment is the council of “Well its life. That’s the way it is. Its growing up.” Some console themselves with that other opium, religion – it will be better in another life. But even that seems to be unravelling as “grown ups” in the privileged west come to understand that the whole edifice is not as sounds as it seemed.
Personally I never bought that “growing up”idea. Inequality and lies still leave me angry. So I say to the disgruntled youth – your experience is not unique.
What is unique however is that we have a real opportunity to genuinely challenge the “status quo”. Never before have the 99% had such possibility to rapidly come together, organise articulate and act in concert to bring about change. The appetite to do it has always been there, but now we have to tools. Lets make the change actually happen.