If we build it, they will come

Otto Scharmer during our Skype chat

Originally uploaded by Jemima G

Since 1999, Dr Otto Scharmer has been running workshops on Presencing and Theory U – concepts he’s developed as a tool kit for stimulating “conscious evolution” and change in business leadership.

Dr.Scharmer is a senior lecturer in management at MIT in Boston, USA. His extensive private client list includes national governments, international institutions and multinational companies such as Daimler, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Fujitsu, and Google.

This week, Dr.Scharmer is in Munich, Germany. But he’s found half an hour to chat to me on Skpe. It’s half three in the afternoon, Dr.Scharmer’s just flown in from the US, and I imagine he’s pretty tired, but all that comes across in the call is great positivity and boundless enthusiasm.

Dr.Scharmer is part of the new hippie mainstream. The roots of his work can be traced back to the mid sixties. Dr.Scharmer believes that, since around 1965, through the last third of the 20th century, there has been “a new impluse going around the world, which really had to do with a profound [social] renewal and that came in a variety of different movements.”

These movements or “streams”, he says, appeared in three different ways: firstly in the environmental movement, secondly in the movements for social change (such as the Women’s and Peace Movements) and, thirdly, in “a deeper process that has to do with shifting our level of awareness from where we operate [now] to a higher level of consciousness.”

In the late 20th century, believes Dr.Scharmer, these three streams diverged and headed off in very distinct directions; now, however, they are re-converging:

“What I see happening now is that, almost on an underground level, we see these three streams coming more and more together and being reintegrated. That’s what’s beginning to happen in many places. That’s what we see [emerging] as a conscious consumer movement, that’s what we see [emerging] as a conscious investing movement. We see [this] in many different forms.”

Dr.Scharmer sees two forces at play: on an external level, concerns about the environment, about the ineffectiveness of established institutions and about individual careers and livelihoods falling apart. But on an internal level too, through close observation of behaviour in his workshops, Dr.Scharmer claims to have witnessed a “deeper longing” – particularly amongst younger participants – for “engaging with each other in different relationships and engaging with oneself in a different relationship”.

“This inner opening, this kind of inner predisposition to access a deeper level of self knowing, that is the other source: [the desire to] wake up to another level of awareness, of consciousness, as an individual – but also as a community.”

I think Dr.Scharmer’s vision sounds great but possibly a wee bit Utopian? What would he say to someone unable to sense the presence of any “deeper longing”?

“Certainly you could tell a different story that would make everyone depressed, right? I can tell that story as well and then you and I can both be depressed…but we [must work] with mindsets and attitudes that empower us, rather than making us more depressed.”

I like his point. Like motherhood and apple pie, it’s a tough one to argue with.

Dr.Scharmer may be full of positivity about humankind, but his mood grows darker when I ask about the web – and social media in particular. His view is that our current technologies have great potential, but we must be wary:

“There has always been the belief that technology transforms social relationships and that that will set people free. [But] that is not what happens. What happened in history was that technology became the tool for even better control, new forms of control – and [these were] used by the establishment to establish a more firm grip on the social structure, rather than transforming the social structure and empowering the marginalised groups to shape and create their future…we should be mindful of that.”

“[The web] has a great promise but [positive changes] won’t happen automatically. It will be a very co-creative process and I think, in our age, the new media, the new technologies, the new web technologies, need to be complemented with a new social technology. And it’s the social technology that allows us as groups, as collective entities across organisational boundaries, to shift our quality of attention from downloading, which is just doing more of the same, to co-creating together, which is really kind of accessing the collective creativity that we could utilise.”

We know it’s up to us to make the change. Technology alone can’t make the breakthrough. It’s up to us to put in the leg work and ensure we build something worthwhile. Time for anyone who’s good at motivating others to take the initiative.


For he’s a jolly good Fellow?

Centralised or distributed?

“We’re at A, we’d like to be at C.”

Laura Bunt, Networks Co-ordinator at the RSA, is standing in front of a large projection of a diagram illustrating three different networks: the first, marked ‘A’, shows a number of lines radiating from a single point; the second, ‘B’, shows a handful of smaller clusters, simplified versions of ‘A’; the third, ‘C’ is a block of diamond shapes – a fishnet of connected nodes.

The RSA or rather, to give it its proper title, The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, is one of the UK’s oldest and most respected membership organizations.

The Society was founded in a Covent Garden coffee shop in 1754 by William Shipley, an artist and teacher. Shipley’s co-founders included the leading progressive thinkers of the time: Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth,. The aim of the Society they set up was to award premiums to innovative liberal arts and science projects, and “to stimulate enterprise for the common good”.

Today, the RSA has a global “Fellowship” of around 27,000 members and a civic remit “to develop and promote new ways of thinking about human fulfilment and social progress”.

This afternoon, we’re in a meeting room at The University of Westminster for an open workshop intended to explore the practicalities of creating a truly networked RSA. Twenty-five people, Fellows and non-Fellows, are sitting around four tables. In the middle of each table a pile of cling-wrapped plasticine and bags of Lego hint at the fun to come.

Since November 2007, the RSA Networks project (backed by NESTA) has been looking at new ways to engage and empower Fellows. The first year was intended to be one of “chaos” – a period of experimentation and innovation – followed by a year in which ideas would “coalesce”, allowing a clear roadmap for a third phase, “leadership”, to emerge.

We’re half way into the second year and possibly still at the “chaos” stage.

The ambition of the RSA Fellowship team, says Laura, is very much to build a strong distributed network. She likes to think that the Society’s internal office team of ten is there to support and be fully integrated with RSA Networks. She admits that the realization that a distributed network was needed and how that network might interact with or even “become” the RSA was not a firm idea at the onset but one that has developed organically over the past 18 months.

Another Laura, Laura Billings, who’s the RSA’s Senior Fellowship Researcher, starts to talk about practical developments. Two clear ideas have come out of the Networks project so far:

  • To create a Fellows Charter which will define expectations and responsibilities of Fellows (written and ratified by the Fellows)
  • To develop a taxonomy, a tagging system, written by Fellows (sounds a great idea but I’m not at all clear how this second will work in practice).

It all sounds good – but there’s a lot of anger in the room. The Fellows are restless.

First up, Paul Springer, who argues that the lack of accessibility at the RSA’s London headquarters (the rooms of this vast building that Fellows are allowed into amount to “the library and a tiny airless room in the basement”) is indicative of the attitude to fellows; although he adds that: “The fact you want to go from A to C is wonderful. That wasn’t even being said a year ago”

Laura and Laura listen with the worn patience of parents who are watching their children throw food over the kitchen as they try to feed themselves. It’s an ugly, messy thing, this feedback process. But once you’ve started on this particular road, it’s difficult to turn back.

But Paul’s comments are just the tip of an iceberg. There are others in the room who are also angry but can’t seem to be bothered to comment. Is it possible they might be giving up on the whole project?

RSA council member Malcolm Forbes stands up to give a brief presentation about the social media tools that have been introduced since the Networks project kicked off. There’s a wiki on Wikispaces, a news stream on Twitter, plus Google and Facebook groups. The Facebook group grew quite quickly to 600 members, but then plateaued. The wiki has been relatively inactive since early 2008.

The RSA is dealing with the same problems faced by many businesses today: What does ‘networked’ actually mean to us? Just how networked do we need to be, and why? How do we become more ‘networked’? How do we manage a networked organization? Do we need designated ‘leaders’ or just ‘co-ordinators’?

When I speak to people during the breaks, frustration is a key word. And also a growing sense that the workshops, seminars and ‘tasks’ (from setting up a Facebook group to building a model with plasticine that represents “the RSA you want to see”) are now simply a diversion from the real goal of getting this 250 year old organization to actually open up.

I get an image of RSA CEO Matthew Taylor with a pack of more or less amiable but hungry dogs. He keeps throwing out balls for us dogs to chase, but what we really want is a bone.

The Fellows I speak to seem to agree that the problem rests largely on Matthew’s shoulders. One points out that Matthew’s background as a Chief Advisor on Strategy to Tony Blair means that he is used to operating in a political, rigidly hierarchical world, seeing things very much in ‘top down’ terms.

There’s no denying that Matthew is intelligent, charming and has impeccable left-leaning credentials, but its completely possible that he feels uncomfortable with any full abdication of responsibility, and the idea of truly letting the “natives” run riot.

From where I’m standing, it seems that The RSA has flourished under Matthew Taylor: The Society has a stimulating programme of thought-provoking events, and a reasonably high profile in the media. But ninety per cent of this is Matthew-led. It’s Matthew who capably chairs virtually all the discussions, and gives interviews on behalf of the RSA across press, TV, radio and web.

When you go to the RSA website and read the blog, all the entries are by Matthew (in fact, it’s called “Matthew’s blog“). If you click on “Who we are”, you get a three minute video of Matthew. Meanwhile, over on the “Fellowship” page, you are given the opportunity to “Meet a Fellow” : this is a four minute video of one (1) Fellow – not very representative of the 27,000 who make up the RSA.

Of course, this is by no means all Matthew’s fault. I’m sure it was his marketing team who encouraged him to write the blog. And the blog’s wonderfully un-ironic tagline “Politics, brains, social action and the day to day life of the RSA’s chief executive” must have been written by someone in PR.

A few days after the workshop, there are signs that a message of some sort may be getting through: a new thread on membership has started up on Matthew Taylor’s blog, one to which comments are invited – and, for the first time, the RSA’s Chief Executive is responding.

Maybe there is hope for change after all?

Metanoia Openness

Things can only get louder!

NESTA’s shiny glass and chrome offices on the edge of the City of London are rather swanky. It’s a bit like finding yourself in an uber-stylish wedding, one of Anouska Hempel’s boutique hotels or, possibly, the latest series of Battlestar Galactica.

Black Arne Jacobsen chairs are set off by white walls, white drapes and white orchids. Plush grey carpets muffle your feet (although no need as everyone’s in trainers). You can almost hear the doors swish as you step out of the lifts. The meeting rooms for break-outs have round walls and are known as ‘pods’.

Needless to say, the 160 guests who’ve just arrived seem to take to this 21st century environment like proverbial ducks to water. The auditorium is a sea of gently humming i-phones, laptops and digital cameras as people blog, tweet, message and record each other with all the earnestness of a roomful of children writing notes for Santa.

We’re here for Amplified08, the brainchild of Toby Moores and Mike Atherton. Bouyed up by the confidence around social media in London, and un-deterred (in fact, positively spurred on) all the talk of credit crunch Christmas and looming recession, Toby and Mike have decided we’re in a ‘perfect storm’ for change.

Toby estimates that around 2,000 people in London, maybe 10,000 across the UK believe that social media has the potential to create a positive difference in people’s lives. Amplified08 aims to harness that conviction by holding a series of ‘unconferences’ across the country – visiting a different UK city every three months, and culminating in a massive event in Summer 2010.

As Toby says: “If we, quarter by quarter, region by region, build it, we’re going to be able to change the way things are done.”

Most of the delegates seem to enjoy the spirit of evangelical optimism, others mumble about “hippy rubbish”. It’s possible we’ve become part of a cult, but then no-one has parted with a large amount of money or disowned their family…yet.

The way unconferences work is that it’s up to the audience to decide the agenda and put on the sessions (which works great if you’re not paying, not so well if you are). Half the fun is outside of the sessions where you’re meant to network like crazy, preferably with people you don’t know (difficult in social media settings as its always the same hard core who show up).

Amplified08 has the additional twist in that we’re urged to go to sessions we wouldn’t normally go to. I start off with #15: Dynamic practice interfaces for local government (business case), followed by #23 Young People and Social Media and #06 Bretton Woods II (okay I admit that last one excites me, but it’s getting late).

In the boardroom, @stephendale is talking about knowledge management in local government. His take on existing KM systems? “Knowledge being captured in a web repository is where knowledge goes to die”. Steve’s efforts to build a workable wiki for best practice across the UK’s 400 odd local councils are admirable. As always with these things, the real issue will be not so much the technology per se but getting people to actually interact fruitfully with the thing once it’s up and running. Calling it an ‘efficiency library’ (though I like the term) may not be the way forward.

Over in the Faraday pod, chairing the session on youth, @digitalmaverick (aka Drew Buddie) tells us he’s recently had “an epiphany” through using Twitter. Drew teaches ICT at a comprehensive in Hertfordshire and has nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter. Making contact with hundreds of people across the world, whether it’s to discuss technology or share recipes, seems to re-affirm his belief in the general good of human nature.

Inspired by Dave Eggers’ legendary TEDtalk, Drew wants to do something for children using social media that really engages them and produces positive results. All around the room, there are general gripes and moans about the way the education system (in the UK at least) doesn’t address social media properly or, indeed, seem to take it seriously.

Drew mentions that, despite the stereotype of young people revealing everything about themselves online, sometimes anonymity is preferred. He produced a collaborative play where pupils of all ages contributed lines and characters. When he offered to throw a party so all the cast could meet each other in person, the pupils refused – they liked the fact that a grade 11 was working alongside a grade 6 but completely unaware of the fact – that anonymity actually enhanced the creative process because there were no pre-conceptions about what each party was capable of.

@simonperry is concerned about children growing up online and being unaware of the “digital shadow” they leave. I’ve never heard this term before but google it and find out it was coined in an EMC report earlier this year and refers to the data you unintentionally leave about yourself as you browse, make purchases or are filmed on security cameras. The shadow makes up a part of your digital footprint – the mass of digital information there is about you, including email, social-networking, blog posts etc.

@antoniogould points out that personal information you actively leave eg in social networks can be just as damaging as unintentional information. He recalls the story told by Danah Boyd of a young black man who passed the Oxbridge entrance exams but was rejected because of the derogatory anguage he used on his MySpace profile.

@philoakley thinks it’s ridiculous that Microsoft’s hold on schools (as the main supplier of software) means that issues such as open source simply don’t get taught or discussed. Why are kids being taught to use pc-based Word and Excel, he asks, when open source and cloud computing is more important to the future of the web?

Another contributor whose name I failed to get refers to the web as “the eternal memory of our indiscretions”, which turns out to be a nice term used by academics Alessandro Acquisti and Ralph Gross (Carnegie Mellon University) to describe the nature of social networks.

The final session on Bretton Woods is the liveliest. Taking his cue from World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s suggestion that we need “a Facebook for multilateral economic diplomacy“, @paulmassey wants to know if any of us have a new perspective on solving the global financial crisis.

Comments veer from the indignant (“Governments are pushing immense amounts of money into these very ill patients…the market is saying ‘this is dead!’) through the reflective (“The idea of a social stock exchange is interesting…”) to the blatantly optimistic (“If we had a few top notch developers and a few lawyers we could develop something great and hand it to the UN!).

No firm conclusions are reached but everyone agrees the conversation is worth continuing – the hashtag #bw2 is born.

With that, we all break for wine and olives. It feels a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.

Randomness, connectivity, serendipity…these are all themes of Amplified08. I met a lot of good people and learnt interesting things. The sharing and openness is great (although yes, that could all change once big money is involved), but for now the momentum seems positive. Roll on Amplified09!

Metanoia Passion

Time to Huddle

Huddle MD Alastair Mitchell isn’t having the best of days. He’s about to exchange on a house and the electronic money transfer system of his bank – a well-known online only service – has gone down. Luckily, given the current economic climate, it’s only a temporary blip. But Ali is having to jump every time his Blackberry bleeps, and he’s constantly apologising.

Alastair – or Ali to everyone who knows him – is bit of a champion of all things digital, so the fact that his internet bank should be shafting him in this manner is ironic.

Two years ago, Ali and his partner, Andy McLoughlin, launched Huddle from a renovated warehouse in South London. The idea behind Huddle is simple: a network of online workspaces where people can chat, share files, organise a project, etc all in a safe, protected environment, but with anyone they care to invite, anywhere in the world.

“From the start, we wanted to bring Web 2.0 concepts into enterprise working methods,” says Ali, when the Blackberry’s been silent for long enough to let him speak. “Everyone hates using enterprise tools. We wanted all the ‘hygiene’ aspects – security, control, back-ups – but to make it social as well – easy to use, friendly and organic.”

Not only have Andy and Ali created Huddle online, they’ve also replicated a mini-version of the concept offline. Their Bermondsey warehouse space is shared with a number of other technology start-ups, and they run a regular event, DrinkTank, specifically for tech entrepreneurs and investors.

“We’re really passionate about entrepreneurship, so we really wanted to do something to support the start-up community here; we wanted to come back and circle in. If you’re an entrepreneur in the UK you tend to retire and go to live in the Cotswolds. But Silicon Valley is like a big business park. We wanted to find a way of getting entrepreneurs together over here, helping them to talk to each other – that’s what DrinkTank is all about.”

Helping people communicate more easily was the impetus for Huddle – the idea to create an online collaborative space came out of Ali’s own frustrations at his previous employer:

“I was running the product team at dunhumby [the marketing company], which was made up of 300 people working in five different countries. Everyone was working via email or social networks because the existing enterprise technology simply wasn’t good enough. So, when I began to think about doing my own thing, I knew exactly what I wanted to create.”

A mutual friend introduced Ali to technology specialist Andy, funds were raised from Eden Ventures – and Huddle was born.

Take up has been enthusiastic, with the company’s user-base growing steadily by around 40 per cent each month (“Because we’re a low cost technology with a relatively small base, the impact of the credit crunch, so far, has been hard to see”).

And, despite, the current gloomy economic outlook, Ali’s for the future are bright: he admits to having “Google-esque ambitions” for the company.

“On the one hand, we’d like Huddle to become a verb: ‘let’s huddle it’. And we’d like to be as ubiquitous as Facebook. On the other, we’d like to become an enabler for social change. We set up the Huddle Foundation to give Huddle away free to charities. In fact, our customer service manager spends about 50 per cent of his time working – for free – with the charities that use us.”

That social element is key in a company where the majority of the workforce are under 30 and keen to feel that they are involved in something that’s about more than just making money: “Our culture is not just about business. It’s very much built around being nice to each other.”

And Ali believes they can keep hold of that dynamic, start-up mentality, citing Virgin and Google as two companies that have grown dramatically yet continue to prioritise innovation:

“The perceived wisdom is that as companies grow they become bigger and more boring; inertia creeps in. It’ll be interesting if we can stay with the culture we’ve built so far. That will be the real test. We believe in what we call ‘loose’ leadership. You hire the very best people and let them get on with it. Give them more than enough rope to hang themselves. I’m constantly surprised and amazed at what these people can do.”

And on that positive note, Ali rushes off to take a call from his mortgage broker. I keep my fingers crossed for him.


In the knowledge garden…

A friend of a friend of mine spent years in business development for the BBC before he decided to pack it all in and become The Master Genie of The Universe. Needless to say, The Master Genie no longer has much time for mortal work, being kept busy granting wishes to anyone who chooses to ask, via his Myspace page.

A few weeks ago (when he popped in for dinner), The Master Genie alerted me to a number of websites that he felt were pointing the way to the future of leadership. I’ll list them here for the sake of completeness, if nothing else:

It’s strange, this hippy thing, because hippies can be a bit like Jehovah’s Witnesses in their constant talk about the looming Apocalypse, and the fact that their (to the majority, slightly barmy) ways are the only route to salvation.

A lot of this can, frankly, be put down to bad marketing – Whirl-y-gig founder, Fraser Clark, banging on about over-use of black bin liners in an illegible font isn’t going to impress anyone, yet a book like The Celestine Prophecy, covering similar issues (though not, specifically, black bin liners), sells over 20 million copies worldwide and spends 165 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Now that the liberal, free-spirited baby boomers are becoming grandparents, isn’t it inevitable that ‘hippy’ values become more mainstream? It seems that we’re all buying organic vegetables, wearing tie-dye and inhaling at High School (thank you, Barack).

The irony is that the recent inflation in petrol and food prices is forcing even the most cynical of us to reconsider our consumerist behaviour. Last month, the UK saw a decline in car use for the first time in years (thank you Steve Moore for pointing me to this), while in the US, sales of gas-guzzling cars have nose-dived (thanks Janet Parkinson!) and airlines saw an unprecedented drop in air travel during their usually busy Labor day weekend.

Sales of energy-saving lightbulbs are soaring. Concerns about health and carbon footprints means that people are turning to freshly-made food, local producers and farmers markets, forcing fast food giants like Macdonalds to rethink their menus and approach.

George Por, executive coach to businesses, government and NGOs, happily admits to being a bit of a hippy. There’s no doubt he has the credentials: a student of sociology, he was jailed (for 20 months) in the 1960s after leading university protests in his native Budapest; exiled from Hungary, he studied tantra in India at Puna in the ‘70s and moved to Berkeley, then Santa Cruz in the ‘80s. His website is decorated with flowers and mind maps.

“It’s clear that we’re at a transitional time in human history,” says George. “Everywhere you can see signs that old systems are dying out while the new ones are still to come.”

The thing about George is that he seems to be getting the right sort of people to listen to him. He was a senior research fellow at INSEAD and a visiting researcher at the London School of Economics, before becoming PrimaVera Research Fellow at Amsterdam Business School. He currently advises both the European Commission and the European Investment Bank.

George is keen to support what he refers to as “the transformation of organisations” and what he calls “evolutionary leadership – large scale systems thinking”.

“I like to think of myself as a community technology steward,” he says. “It’s an emerging profession – at the join between business, technology and personal development.”

(It’s interesting just how many people I’ve spoken to for the book seem to like to apply their own labels to what they do, rather than accept a conventional job title.)

George is interested in what he calls “knowledge gardening”. It’s in pursuit of this, he says, that he spends much of his days, “evaluating gadgets and platforms in terms of their potential contribution to collective intelligence; looking at the organisational requirements; finding out what technology can do for us.”

I’m quite happy to believe in the positive evolution of humankind, but would like some hard scientific facts. George points me in the direction of the following:

Okay, so I’m going to try and have a conversation with Otto – watch this space!


Hello 2.0

It’s a non-committal sort of day (overcast, chilly) and I’ve got a fuzzy, non-committal sort of head (not enough sleep, one too many glass of red).

Here I am, later than desired, dragging my feet through the urban roadwork frenzy that now marks the entrance to London’s West End. (Shaftesbury Avenue, Oxford Street – they’re all being dug up, relentlessly, all summer. Believe me, it’s bad – even taxi drivers are refusing to go there.)

So why bother? Because Lloyd Davis’ Tuttle Club or, just simply, Tuttle, is always worth the effort. It’s a pleasant, cosy place (a room above the Coach & Horses, Greek Street), they serve freshly brewed coffee and a proper (sticky) Danish – and the people are okay.

In fact, everyone and everyone who goes to Tuttle is interesting in their own right, so when all these lively, interesting people get together, then something super-interesting should potentially occur, right?

There are the regulars – James Whatley of SpinVox who sits in the corner tapping away at his laptop, but will happily offer up instant mobile phone surgery to anyone who needs it.

There’s photographer Christian Payne who, in typical web 2.0 fashion, now makes more money out of social media wizardry than he probably ever can taking brilliant pictures.

There’s singer Lobelia and her partner (in life and work), Steve, who come all the way up here on the 159 bus from Herne Hill, and then all the way down again, just for the vibe.

And there’s Lloyd himself, generally avoiding the limelight, smiling sheepishly, and asking for the occasional fiver here and there.

Apparently the C&H opens up especially early just for Tuttle, but this place reached notoriety many years ago as Francis Bacon’s prefered watering hole so it’s no surprise at 11am to see a handful of warn-looking punters holding the bar up.

You need to nod politely at the punters, say hello to the staff, and step neatly past them through the bar and up the narrow stairs behind. Lloyd thinks this is an effectively low barrier to entry – Tuttle is open to everyone, but then you do, of course, have to hear about it in the first place.

Every week there’s a sprinkling of newcomers (who Lloyd does his best to welcome and make feel at home). This week there’s Laura Whitehead (Popokatea), who’s come all the way from Devon, Arseniy who works for a Moscow-based PR firm, Mala who’s flown in from Bangalore and Sofia who’s studying in London but comes from Caracas (hmmm, Tuttle’s gotta do something about that carbon footprint).

While the regulars generally laugh and make fun of the book concept ( ‘hello 2.0’, ‘Jemima 2.0’ etc), the international bunch are much more earnest, wanting to interview me, use the idea in research, find case studies etc.

In typical London fashion, the regulars find it impossible to take anything seriously. When asked what he thinks I mean by ‘leadership 2.0’, CTO Allix Harrison-D’Arcy says:


But leadership 2.0 is all ‘lower case’, surely?

“No, it’s like standing in a classroom with a stick in your hand and mortarboard on your head and yelling at people to ‘GET ON WITH IT!”

Next time I go to Tuttle, gonna stick with the visitors.


Lloyd Davis on the birth of Tuttle

“In the future, organisations aren’t going to be the same. This is about different ways of organising. In fact, it’s not the ‘organisation’ we’re talking about any more, it’s the ‘collaboration’.”

So says Lloyd Davis, consultant, ukulele player and all-round good egg. Since January, Lloyd has been running what is now known as the Tuttle Club – a space where social media types in London can get together to chat, work and collaborate.

“This time last year, a few people were starting up coffee mornings, where everyone would meet in a café somewhere and chat. The mornings were popular, but it was all very ad hoc.

“I felt there was a need for something more permanent, outside of an organisation, where people working in social media could meet and talk on a regular basis, and hopefully go on to actually create projects and maybe work together.

“Ever since I saw the film Brazil, Harry Tuttle [the lowly engineer who is able to single-handedly challenge the system] has been a hero of mine. When I started up this ‘social media café’ it seemed to make sense to call it the ‘Tuttle Club’.

Lloyd clearly delights in the random nature of the group he has created.

“You get such a diverse mix of people and back-grounds – geeky start up types, social media consultants, advertising/digital agency people, classic media people (by that I mean BBC, Channel 4 etc), creative people – musicians, filmmakers, mobile geeks…

“It shifts – we get different dominant cliques from one week to the next. One week there a whole load of musicians turned up, the next there was a load of film scripts being passed around.”

“Anything could happen. People come with different perspectives and come up with creative solutions. I want to encourage that.

The model has proved so popular that ‘Tuttle Clubs’ are now spreading to other parts of the UK – Brighton and Birmingham are both starting up in the next few weeks.

With growth come calls for a more organised approach, but Lloyd is adamant that this type of gathering/collective can only thrive if the framework is loose.

In organising Tuttle, there are two golden rules:

1. Let go of control
2. Minimise structure

“I have to work very hard to stop it becoming more structured” he admits. “There is some structure, there is a ritual: every Friday, 10am, Coach and Horses. Step across the bar. That’s it.”

“The Tuttle Club is not about competing with Starbucks, One Alfred Place or The Hospital. It’s about the people you’ll meet there. It’s about talking, innovation, chatting, sharing. And the people who say I can’t come because I’m at work are missing the point – because this is work, just in a different way.”


Scaling the ivory towers

In 2001, Adriana Lukas was working for a large financial firm in the City of London when she started blogging with Samizdata, a quasi-political blog “for people with a critically rational individualist perspective”.

Back then, there were dozens of bloggers rather than millions, and the term social media wasn’t even a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

Adriana liked blogging so much, she left her finance job and started up an agency, the Big Blog Company, telling businesses how to use blogs.

With a degree from Oxford University and an earlier stint spent at ‘Big 5’ consultancy, KPMG, she could have been your archetypal management consultant.

“No, no, I hate that term,” says Adriana. “A friend of mine says I’m an ‘insultant’ – I much prefer that.”

Companies be warned, it’s not the blogs we’re really talking about here. The blogs are simply an entrée, a conversation starter, or, potentially, a metaphor. Adriana’s big blog crusade is all about business change.

We’re chatting over chilled water (it’s hot, it’s August) at Adriana’s town-house in Chelsea. And Adriana’s feeling frustrated and maybe a little bit fed up.

Adriana at home in Chelsea

“I’m amazed when I go into businesses how little they know about the outside world. Managers are so bogged down in the day to day minutiae of running the organisation they don’t have a chance to be aware of what’s really going on.

“Businesses are SO behind. If you think about a typical business organisation, certain words come to mind – control, autocracy, systems, closed – whereas if you look at the web, the networked world, it’s completely the opposite. The networked world is completely heterarchical.

“We’re talking about two totally contradictory environments – offline versus networked. It’s a war!”

As Adriana sees it, the business structures we see today are the result of many different layers, wrought first by industrialisation, then by the impact of mass media and, finally, by complex legal regulations.

This tangled mesh of restrictions is virtually impossible to un-pick. As a result, any positive steps towards change are difficult.

“Take pharmaceutical companies, for example, they’re not allowed to talk about their products [drugs] unless it’s in a certain way – and that makes whatever’s written, unreadable. They’re totally straight-jacketed. ”

The established systems within businesses are equally restrictive:

“You are more important than your job description but, in business, it’s the job description that matters.”

Traditional business behaviours throw up “limiting mental models” which people need to change if they are to evolve. The first step is becoming aware of these models.

“For example, when people talk about networks, we still tend to think of a bicycle wheel, with ourselves at the centre, rather than a loosely connected pattern of nodes.”

“We need to start looking at the ‘because’ business model – ie, I don’t make money with this product, I make money because of this product. Because people are using that, they can be persuaded to pay for this.

“That’s what businesses have to understand – the money’s there. But until you change the mental models, you’ll never be able to benefit.”

It’s still early days, and Adriana admits it’s often hard to see exactly what we’re meant to be working towards: “It’s as if the amoeba are just beginning to separate [over here] and we’re looking at fashion design [over here].”

Is that the stage we’re at, then – amoeba separating?

“Yes – exactly! It’s like the five blind men trying to describe an elephant. One says ‘it’s tusks’, one says, ‘it’s a tail’, the other says ‘it’s a trunk’…but none of them can feel the whole elephant. That’s where we are.”

Adriana is furious that certain companies – like Noka chocolate, which “practices a very 1.0 ways of doing things” – can be denounced on the internet and still carry on as before.

“A food blogger in Dallas did an expose of Noka and revealed that there was a 150 per cent mark up on their products. Noka were completely exposed, completely humiliated, but they’re still going strong. I’d really like to know – how much difference do these things [blogs, wikis etc] make? How much damage do they really cause?”

Indeed. How long does Adriana think it’s going to take before the ‘2.0’ message gets through?

“Maybe there’s going to be a dark age. The movement for net neutrality is getting quite big in the States – and it will do here. It’s possible the telcos could decide to restrict access to the pipes. But you could kill the web but you can’t kill the net. The geeks will find a way.”

And for now?

“I’m focusing on building up pressure on the side. I’m focusing on people rather than companies. I think the individual is far more dynamic, advanced and creative [than the business organisation].”


The Un-company

Maybe we have hit an era of constructive deconstructivism, where ‘0’ is celebrated as a something? With all those digital ones and zeros around, maybe it’s no surprise.

A time of ‘everything you know is wrong’, where we all need The Haitian to come and do a little ‘reprogramming’.

With organisations like Steve Moore’s Policy Un-plugged and Cliff Prior’s Un-limited, and Brian Winston preaching about Unknown Unknowns, is it time to launch Un-KnowHow?


Who’s afraid of the big idea?

We have a fear of being seen as stupid – and it’s stifling creativity.

This is how advertising guru (he’d hate that), Russell Davies would have it.

At the opening session on day two of 2gether08, Russell (who runs the apparently fab – I haven’t been – Interesting conferences) talked about “Interesting for a change”.

Here are some key points:

  • People are interesting, messages are boring
  • Focus on people, not messages
  • Depth, humour, subtlety, irony, anger, romance, drama, involvement
  • Little actions (eg: putting ‘thank you’ notes on people’s bikes at Fruitstock) are what matter
  • Don’t spend time and energy worrying about the next ‘big idea’ – it may never happen!
  • Be happy to be a contributor, no need for any big, ‘engaged’ effort
  • Instead of writing a list, just go and DO something.
  • We don’t have to separate strategy and execution any more – we can combine them.

Russell recommended Ze Frank’s talk on ‘brain crack’ as the best description of organisational use of ideas he’s seen. All that focus on big ideas simply stifles innovation, apparently.

Can we have ‘contributing managers’ like we get ‘contributing editors’, then?