Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do You Hear the People Sing? - Les Mis as a lesson for SM

I have always been reassured to discover that I am not the only person to have little benchmarks that we use to assess new acquaintances. Stuart Maconie revealed in the magnificent Cider with Roadies that he doesn’t really trust anyone that doesn’t dance. I read with glee how David Niven was tested at helm of Humphrey Bogart’s boat in The Moon's a Balloon, and my dad’s gruff maxim “Never trust a man in white shoes.” has never let me down. But last night I was reminded of one of my own unconscious bell weathers when Matt Lucas revealed his love of Les Miserable when he performed in the anniversary show at the O2 in Les Mis at 25: Mat Lucas Dreams the Dream

And that measure is? "Be wary if anyone that doesn’t find Les Mis moving – as they are probably already dead."

I have had the pleasure of seeing the stage show many many times and I remember well when it arrived in Melbourne when I lived there in the late eighties. The blokeish culture of Australia might not seem to be the most fertile location for such a show to thrive, and my evangelism of the merits of teh production I had already seen several times in London first fell on deaf ears. But I shouldnt have worried. The trams were duly plastered with a smart advertising slogan – “Les Mis – moves more people than the Met.” The Met being the colloquial term for the metropolitan transport system. The show was a sell out

But at the risk of sounding like I am trying to twist this into something relevant there is another reason why I love Les Mis. To me it is an excellent example of two very powerful lessons. These are firstly that gatekeepers are often wrong, and secondly that it is possible to overcome them. Today the internet and social media tools give us extremely powerful mechanisms to do that.

They provide us with a mechanism to burst open many of the gates so firmly closed by gatekeepers in the past, and they allow for popular feeling to not go unheard, to connect and find its voice. The democratising potential of these tools has application in so many fields and we have seen many barriers fall as a result of their invention.

How does the analogy work? Well Les Mis was not a success when it opened. I remember it well when it was at the Barbican and last nights programme had stark reminders of how cruelly dismissive the critics were of its initial opening. But these self appointed gatekeepers were wrong – evidenced by the fact that the show is now the worlds longest running musical. People loved it and its success was driven by word of mouth recommendation generated by the passion and emotion of the production. Of course simple popularity is not the only metric of success but I think you would have a hard time convincing me that Les Mis is not a success on other levels as well.

Of course this happened before the web and twitter, my point is that the principles apply and this type of viral success is so much more accessible and possible now with tools available to us.

So all together now “Do you hear the people sing…..?”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Save me from the airport whingers

Now call me a curmudgeon if you wish but...I am getting tired of airport whingers. I am as exercised as anyone about the usual and predictable collapse of the transport infrastructure in the face of a bit of snow. Shouldn't happen and there is no excuse. For those saying it would cost soooo much to procure the necessary equipment to prevent this I say – actually no it wouldn't, and secondly we do seem to be able to find enough money to fight unnecessary and illegal wars don't we. But I digress.

What really irked me was the interview with a woman on the news describing how she had been forced to spend the night at an airport with her children, and how her husband had found it necessary to walk a mile (yes a whole mile) in the snow (yes real snow) in order to get a taxi to take them home. She described her children as being “traumatised” by the experience.

Okay, lets get a bit of perspective here. I see bright young things in stilettos and not much else walk a mile in the grey Glasgow snow for a taxi on Saturday night. Now I wouldn't recommend that but unless your hubby is a right Jessie I am not truly sympathetic. A mile – poor love. At least he got a cab! I guess she must be the type of person that drives the 200 yards to the local supermarket and parks in a disabled parking space because it is just tooo much effort to walk.

But children “traumatised”!!!??? Nah, sorry. Traumatised is where you see daddy run down by the snow plough and ends up as a red smear in a snow drift. Or maybe when you lose a figure or two to frostbite as you are held in the freezing airport security queue. Or even when the plane skids on the snow and berths itself through the terminal window causing mass casualties. That might be classed as a traumatising experience. Spending the night at an airport albeit cold and hungry would have been the best fun I could ever have had as a kid, it would have been a real adventure. Bit like being locked in a department store overnight! True I might have got myself arrested but even that wouldn't have been that traumatising ( well its just a case or familiarity and practise I guess.) And my folks clearly went to a different parenting school to this ridiculous woman because they would have made it an adventure for us.

Kids of today eh. Tchh! I blame the parents.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snow, Disruption and Social Knowledge. Do you know the connection?

Knowledge is not information. Never has been, never will be. But information is often one of a number of inputs to a knowledge activity, and finding ways of making that information resource as good as it can be is challenging, particularly in complex environments. Many KM projects fail because of too much emphasis on information management, and that part itself often fails because the technical tools they use to underpin that aspect of the project are much to rigid, mechanistic and rules based to be of use to knowledge activities in complex environments. Lets not get into the failure to recognize when we are in complex environments!

This has been very apparent in the recent snow falls in the UK. The disruption caused by the snow is immense and very very costly and all the usual debates about lack of preparedness begin again. The debate typically runs along the lines of why we don't have enough gritt, snowploughs, why do we fail where other more climatically challenged countries cope etc etc etc.

These are all important considerations but for me the biggest problem is the collapse of information provision. So many of the journeys we take are regular ones and we are lured into the sense that this is a simple environment where routes are known, timings set routines established. The number of knowledge activities are typically decreased, there are not so many decisions to be made when all is well. But, as soon as there is disruption, caused on this occasion by snow, the complexity of the situation is revealed. Knowledge activities, decision points, are legion and in order to make those activities as effective as possible one of the resources that is needed is accurate timely information. Wherever you look people want information, and the usual sources are in utter disarray. In fact they are usually very misleading, so our ability to complete knowledge activities, that is make decisions and judgements, is seriously reduced. This is applicable to all but as a public transport user a typical example is the utter collapse of train information. Indicator boards show trains on time that never arrive, announce cancellations when the train roles though and no one from the train staff seems to know anything. This scenario can be replayed in almost any travel environment. Staff are not empowered to undertake knowledge activities – regulations the other brake to knowledge effectiveness – and if and when they do the information about that is often hidden, not shared, or shrouded in secrecy.

The fascinating thing in the last few days is to watch the twitter traffic. People reach out to these mechanisms to self organize and share real time insight from multiple parties. People ask questions, anyone on this train, anyone know if this road is open and often the answer is from someone on the ground, on the train looking at the scene. Its is not perfect by any means but the information available is generally far more accurate than the rubbish on offer from, in this case the train operating companies.

This emergent, community generated and, importantly, live and timely information sharing is just one example of how Social Media tools have such great application in knowledge intensive and complex environments, and why Social Knowledge is in fact the only game in town from a KM perspective at present.

If there is to be a government led review of the disruption caused by this latest cold snap I hope that whoever leads it takes note of this insight and looks at establishing very simple cost effective flexible information sharing techniques that are open to all as one part of a more complete approach to dealing with extreme weather. It would not be difficult or costly but the pay off would be immense.