Five tips for corporate Twitterers

Today is the deadline for her Twitter book, but Danish entrepreneur Natasha Saxberg is impressively un-flustered. The manuscript is more or less ready, and she’s time for a quick chat about what makes Twitter work so well as a business tool.

“The border between the internal and external operations of an organisation is melting away…the big potential here is for a company to get out there with product development and talk to the customer before it launches a product, listen to what the customer has to say and learn and innovate from that.”

These are Natasha’s tips for connecting with customers via Twitter:

1. People relate to people not organisations so make your profile as natural as possible.

2. Be confident. Remember the format for Twitter is simple: everyone has something to contribute.

3. Be completely aware of your reasons for using Twitter: is it to listen? To learn?

4. Find role models. Seek out people who share your interests and follow them. Ask yourself what is it about their updates that makes them interesting.

5. Choose some subjects that really interest you, that you really ‘burn’ for, and focus on these – that way you’ll sound more passionate and others will connect with you more.

Natasha’s book on Twitter is due out soon; unfortunately it’s in Danish, but if you’d like to find out more about her work (in English), you can follow her on Twitter and/ or visit her blog.


“The spark of what we do is community”

With strong, heartfelt convictions and a background in PR for trade unions and leftist politicians, Matthew McGregor comes across as a charmingly un-reconstituted, died-in-the-wool socialist.

But his company, Blue State Digital, has pretensions way beyond the political arena.

In 2006, Blue State Digital was hired by Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign to build and manage its fundraising website. The site went on to become the most effective campaign website in history, enabling over three million individuals to donate over $500 million online, supporting more than two million user profiles and soliciting more than 13 million email addresses.

Blue State Digital was identified as Obama’s “Secret Weapon” by Businessweek and “the future of politics” by The Guardian.

Last year, Matthew was employed by Blue State Digital to set up its London operation. That’s where we are now: chatting on the sofas on the ground floor of Freud Communications’ building in London’s West End, where the UK office is based.

Although Matthew was not directly involved in the Obama campaign, he spent time alongside his US colleagues in the run up to the US Presidential Election last November. There he witnessed, first hand, the tremendous drive and dynamism of Obama’s support base which was constantly captured and reinvigorated via the campaign website.

Blue State Digital’s suite of online tools include a powerful mass e-mailer, a phone bank – which readily identifies “hot” or “warm” contacts – and an invite tool. These might be considered as typical campaign tools, but Matthew is keen to see their application across the board:

“The spark of what we do is community: where people are able to come together in terms of a common goal, not just political – it could be in terms of test-launching a new product. Politicians generally are really unpopular but look at the spark of engagement you get from someone wanting to test a new Blackberry! Companies have more sense of community than they realise.”

It’s unsurprising that Matthew refers to politicians less than favourably: we’re meeting on the Tuesday after a long Easter weekend which has brought disastrous news for the British Prime Minister and the UK Labour Party: Gordon Brown’s advisor Damian McBride has resigned after authoring a leaked email outlining an alarmingly misguided plan to spread nasty – and unfounded – rumours about rival MPs via the web.

Though he sighs and shakes his head at the thought of McBride, Matthew cites John Prescott and Tom Watson as two UK MPs who really “get” how to use the internet: “They understand the fundamental kernel of authenticity”.

“It’s all about engaging with people directly, on an authentic basis – engaging with people on their issues, in a language they understand.”

And this language of engagement can apply easily in business, believes Matthew.

“Maybe it’s a peculiarly British thing, to be so under-stated. I’m really struck by the language of sacrifice that permeates the UK. In Sweden, their language is of solidarity. In Britain, it’s a sacrifice. In the US, it’s hope. But the language of sacrifice is not inspiring!”

From his political and advocacy campaigns, Matthew has learnt that people need to be given positive messages to make them feel it’s worthwhile to take part in something, and this is just as true for business projects as it is for everything else:

“Being authentic, being engaging and putting people to work applies across the board.”

“You need to encourage people to take action: they need to be encouraged, incentivised, given a reward to take part in the bigger picture.”

In this, Matthew echoes the mantra of all successful social networks: give people a genuine personal motive, and they’ll participate. The importance of a strong underlying community cannot be under-stated:

“Obama wasn’t the first person to do this but [he’s been] far and away the most successful. So people see that campaign and want to emulate it. There’s not a huge amount of difference between Obama and Howard Dean in terms of the actual campaign but in terms of success, yes! Obama did get new media, yes, but what he got was community organising: the principles of good new media community.”

Matthew would love to get more corporate clients, but he’s not completely indiscriminate: true to his party roots, he draws the line at working for one David Cameron.

That’s a shame. Blue State Digital could do great things for the Conservative Party. No matter. I get the feeling that, sooner or later, a beleaguered Gordon Brown (or his successor) might just be giving Matthew a call.


Bush in social networking ban shocker!

I was intrigued, amused and not particularly surprised to read John Naughton’s report in The Guardian about the IT system used by the Bush Administration at the White House.

So, Bush’s team used a six year old version of Windows, then? Hmm.

Naughton’s source was an article for the Washington Post entitled “Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages,” in which reporter Anne E Kornblut talked about the Obama team arriving on their first day in the new office, brimming with iphones and mac laptops, only to be confronted by reinforced firewalls and ageing Microsoft technology.

Karin Robinson, a regional field director for Obama’s presidential campaign, laughs wryly at the memory:

“It was hysterical. Some of the fundraisers, they Facebook’ed and they IM’ed and a lot of their tools were blocked in the White House. When they got in there, they couldn’t contact anyone. They said “I don’t have anyone’s numbers!” They were used to having constant real-time sharing of their lives; their assumption of how to interact with the world is different.”

It’s ironic that the Bush Administration only appeared on Twitter in the dying days of George W’s presidency:

“Send a farewell letter to President Bush—Email [email protected] [no attachments] and I’ll give him your note on January 20”

wrote Karl Rove on January 16th.

Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post thought this was simply a cynical ploy to get hold of loyal Republicans’ email addresses. Surely not?

The Bush Administration was wrong in so many ways, and its handling of new media seems an apt metaphor for the way in which it connected with world opinion. As to George W Bush’s handle on social networking, Australian copywriter Johnathan Crossfield has a great take.

Something light for a Friday evening – read and enjoy!


The Listening Yank

It’s the day before the G20 Summit in London and Karin Robinson should be out on the streets, leading the pro-Obama rally she’s been promoting. Instead, she’s put her back out, so she’s confined to her flat, going a little stir crazy and watching news of the various demonstrations (mostly peaceful, but more anti than pro G20) online.

“There’s all these protesters and my question is: let’s say you got what you wanted? But do they have an agenda? My philosophy is to have very clear goals. If these protesters are trying to influence the [G20] meeting, they should have a lobby list. One of the signs I’ve seen says “Abolish Money”! Personally, from a ‘liking things to work well’ point of view, they need to know what they want.”

As a US citizen based in the UK, Karin knows all about agenda-setting. She worked as a regional field director on Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign between July and November last year. Her remit was to mobilse as many US Democratic voters as possible across the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and South Africa.

Despite her London base, Karin was in daily contact with the campaign headquarters in Washington, DC.

“I was reporting back [to the US] on a daily basis,” she says. “And every day we’d get reviewed targets back. David Plouffe, the Campaign Manager, was looking at very detailed data.”

“There was a lot of pressure to reach targets, we were really working our tails off. But it would have been easy to miss the opportunity to capitalise on all those volunteers. There were stories that McCain volunteers were being sent home because the campaign wasn’t prepared for them.”

By contrast, the Obama Campaign was meticulously organised at every level:

“In some of our key states we had forty per cent of people having some kind of contact with the campaign. [The campaign organisers] made it clear from the start that they wanted an unprecedented level of contact – face to face contact – the ability to use social media to make that happen was a very clever exploitation.”

Karin goes on to describe how the campaign used sites such as Facebook and MeetUp as an adjunct to, and extension of, face-to-face contact.

“We were using [social networks] to find people and to communicate and to directly organise…Every single objective [was about] getting people offline. Every YouTube video would end with “Go volunteer, go give money, go do this!”. One of Obama’s signature endings for his stump speech, his generic campaign trail speech, was “So if you’ll work with me, come out and vote with me, we’ll do this!”. The whole tenor of the event was geared towards getting people out.”

This emphasis on calls to action was present at all levels of the campaign. Karin remembers the Democratic Nomination Convention which took place in a 75,000 seater stadium in Denver in August 2008:

“Under every seat was a piece of paper with a list of names. Before people came out and started doing speeches, the voter registration director asked everyone to take out their mobiles and call four people on their list. We wanted to send a signal at the highest possible level that this was a volunteer-led campaign.”

One famous revolutionary aspect of the Obama Campaign was the fact that it was the first in history to be majority-funded by small donations. By the end of the campaign, the official White House website was transformed from an authoritarian, text-heavy front page to a welcoming portal, a smiling Obama beaming from the top-right corner.

On Obama’s Change website, Google Moderator has been used to enable US citizens to vote up issues of importance to them (although the “Open For Questions” function raised eyebrows earlier this year when marijuana legalisation topped the poll). MyBarackObama continues as a thriving community, with the “Obama For America” campaign now rebranded as “Organising For America”. Obama’s Twitter stream, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook profiles all remain active.

Obama also has an offline way of getting a feel for what’s bothering people at a grassroots level. Every day, according to Karin, he asks for a selection of letters from the public to glance through: “He’s really concerned that once you become President you become detached from reality. He’s very serious about not loosing touch.”

And Karin adds that despite Obama being a great listener, sometimes our expectations of him run impossibly high:

“Obama really is listening to people but what you’ve got to remember is he’s not just listening to you. People sometimes mistake listening for acquiescence.”


Happy Campers

The glass-topped coffee table is strewn with empty beer cans, crisp packets, half eaten pots of guacamole and salsa, orange peel and empty blister packs. A bottle of vodka is being passed around; some people are complaining of “feeling a bit weird”.

But this isn’t a student flat at 6am in the morning, or even a Tracey Emin art installation, it’s the plush offices of the Guardian Newspaper in central London, and this is a scheduled session at 5pm on the first day of BarCamp London 6.

Dutch java programmer and internet entrepreneur Reinier Zwitserloot has brought along some “Mysterious Fruit” tablets from Taiwan to share. The aspirin sized pink pills, which dissolve in a couple of minutes on our tongues, alter the chemical balance of our tastebuds almost immediately.

Everything becomes unbelievably sweet. Guacamole and salsa taste like some sort of strawberry jam, lemons seem as if they’ve had sugar sprinkled liberally on them, and the vodka becomes a sickly-sweet alcopop.

“As soon as I discovered these tablets,” says Reinier, a mischievous glint in his eye: “I thought: gotta do a session at BarCamp.”

Reinier’s session is taking place alongside more high-level talks such as “Experiments in data portability” and “Faster front-end development with Textmate”. Some sessions have provocative titles (“Making kickass video navigation” or “Reading everyone’s deleted Tweets”). And some are clearly there for fun: a techie version of “Just A Minute”, a musical pub quiz, even an “action theatre” (drama) workshop.

Later this evening, after the unofficial schedule draws to a close at 8.30pm, there’ll be rounds of Werewolf and Semantopoly (traditional BarCamp games) and snacks, beer and deep conversation long into the night. Then, tomorrow, everyone will be up bright and early for another whole day of informative (and irreverent) lectures, discussions and workshops. And then it’s back to work – for most – on Monday.

BarCamps generally take place over a weekend. And might be considered a strange way for people to volunteer to spend their free time. But BarCamping is becoming a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Since the first BarCamp was run in the offices’ of Ross Mayfield’s Socialtext in the summer of 2005, and the format was made open and available to everyone via the BarCamp wiki, the concept has spread like wildfire, not only among the geek and internet community, but also out into the wider business world.

Why is the format so popular?

Well, the number one rule of a BarCamp is that there is no pre-determined schedule, and no designated speakers. This is a “user-generated” conference – the delegates are the speakers. At the start of day one, anyone who wants to run a session writes their topic on a post-it note and sticks it up on the blank schedule “grid” (which will be up on a wall somewhere). The sessions can be on absolutely any topic and in any style. This means that traditional ideas of hierarchy and deference are automatically dispensed of – everyone’s voice can be heard, and everyone gets the chance to be talked about.

Coverage of the event is also as “open” as possible, with participants encouraged to record, blog, tweet and transmit the minutiae of their BarCamp experience to the outside world.

Amidst the silliness and irreverence, many serious discussions are had, and firm friendships are made, consolidated and re-established. The atmosphere is one of earnest frivolity. The idea is that fun, work and learning should not be mutually exclusive.

What do the participants at BarCamp London 6 hope to get out of it?

Mark Norman Francis (ex Yahoo): “I’ve been to quite a few BarCamps. BarCamp London 1 was organised by and run at Yahoo. If you go to a conference, it’s usually very expensive. You assume high relevance and good quality speakers, but that’s not always the case. Being very technical and working for Yahoo, I’m surrounded by some of the techie-est people in the world. You sit in the audience and think, why am I paying to hear this?”

Simon Willison (co-creator, Django): “At conventional conferences you have this big difference between the attendees and the speakers. The speakers all network with each other in a different place to the attendees. With BarCamps, you don’t have that.”

Ryan Alexander (YouDevise): “There is a hierarchy, but there’s also equitability of spirit. You come here to get ideas from other people. I feel really energised when I go back into work. It gives me a sense of security – nerd security! You have animated, passionate discussions with people. It’s an interest meritocracy rather than a knowledge meritocracy.”

The inclusive, dynamic structure may be why the BarCamp format has been replicated not only globally (BarCamps now take place in at least 68 countries), but across industries. There are BarCamps in banking (BarCampBank), government (Gov2.0Camp), medicine (HealthCamp), education (EduCamp) and entrepreneurship (SeedCamp).

There are different versions of the BarCamp theme within the geek/internet community, such as PodCamp (podcasters), WordCamp (bloggers) and SocialMediaCamp. And variations on the BarCamp format: MiniBarcamp and MobileCamp.

I’m sure that business has much to learn from BarCamp’s informal, flattened, highly interactive structure. But the geek community has particular enthusiasm and dedication – and I wonder just how inherent that is to other sectors and disciplines?


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?


Tears are us

Luis Suarez writes eloquently about the joy of seeing leading sportsmen who are not scared to show their emotions.

His post reminded me of the final episode of the BBC’s Million Dollar Traders which we watched on the iplayer on Monday night. This three part series took eight “ordinary people” and gave them basic training followed by two months to run their own (£1m) hedge fund. The two months happened to be September and October 2008 – possibly the worst two months in the history of hedge fund management.

In one scene, the two self-made millionaires who are running the operation (one of whom is actually donating his own funds to the “experiment”) discuss the lacklustre performance of a highly intelligent but nervous rookie – they decide it’s time to ‘let her go’.

The discussion between these two powerful men – ‘she’s going to cry, I know she is’ – is fascinating, as is the interplay between the dismissed girl and her fellow rookies – half of whom walk out with her. The two “bosses” stand in their glass-fronted office and watch awkwardly as the walk-out takes place, agreeing that it’s best not to “interfere”.

Of the three novice traders that remain, one, an ex-soldier, seems genuinely perplexed that there should be any gesture of support, asking, repeatedly, “what’s going on?”.

Another (interestingly, a single mum), then goes on to be praised by the fund managers for her “impressive” (ie: lack of) reaction to the entire episode. She is told that this cool-headedness is essential for City success. There is much talk of how emotions, and emotional ties to others, can only get in the way of making money.

Interestingly, there is a whole separate incident where another novice – an environmentalist – despairs at his inability to make money through ethical trading. He is singled out for criticism – the suggestion is that ethics will only interfere with profits.

This portrait of City trading as the towers of mammon begin to topple is excellent and should be set viewing for business studies students everywhere. I wonder if the two men who led the show have reconsidered their stance? I suspect there’ve been quite a few tears shed on and off the trading floor in the past few months.

As Luis remarks on his blog, now is surely time for businesses to reconnect with their emotions:

“Now, can you imagine the corporate world of the 21st century, the one we all feel social software is slowly, but steadily, humanising and shaking itself inside out, behaving in such powerful way? Can you imagine your business re-gaining that human side of things? Those feelings? Those emotions?”

Here, here to that!

This same week, we’ve seen a report from the Children’s Society saying that the “selfishness” of UK parents is a major factor in the unhappiness of the UK’s children. Once again, working mums are singled out as particularly self-centred.

Why, oh why do we keep going back to this same old, broken record? Blaming working mums is the easy solution. Talking about how to construct more family-focused, humanised workplaces is far more difficult. And how to re-construct and support not the family but the extended family.

To be fair, The Guardian and The Scotsman, among other media, were up in arms about this, too.

Because this type of work is the future. It’s good to see that someone of Julia Hobsbawm’s intellect thinks so, too – she’s got a new book out which champions flexible working as the most significant trend of the 21st century.

I know my 2 year old daughter wants to spend time with the parents she loves, but in seeing myself and my partner go out to work, she’s learning that it’s normal to work, and that work can make you happy and fulfilled. She’s sat in on business meetings from the age of 12 weeks and listens in to conversations about work, between her parents, our colleagues etc. This has improved her vocabulary and I’m sure in later life will make her more instantly at ease in business situations.

And the flipside is that the workplace also benefits from having the input of parents (especially mums) who spend lots of time with their children. These people have vast lives outside the boardroom and inevitably see things differently.

OK, so maybe women are, on balance, more likely to show emotion (eg: cry) in certain situations, but why do such outbursts need to be a problem? Can’t we just learn to deal with them?

Diverse voices, thoughts and interpretations are key to the worldly governance that today’s companies need if they want to survive in this fragmented, global marketplace.


CEOs faceless on Facebook

“All these work-related conversations are taking place on Facebook, and the CEOs are missing out!”

Sofia Quintero almost spits out her coffee with impatience. She’s been studying for an MA in media and communications at London Metropolitan University and has just handed in her dissertation – on Facebook at work.

For the paper, she interviewed five CEOs from different sectors – and uncovered this disconnect:

“They allow their employees to use Facebook, but they see it as ‘oh, something that the kids do’. They won’t ‘friend’ or be ‘friended’ by the people they work with. They keep their profiles separate. But what’s the point of that?”

We’re sitting in the new Tinderbox cafe, in Angel, North London, on a chilly Friday afternoon at the tail end of January. All around us, people have got their laptops, Blackberries and i-phones out, hooked up to the wifi, working, social networking and generally communicating.

“Social convergence is a reality – why don’t they see it?”

I’ve never thought about the term “social convergence” in the simplistic context of public/private before, but I like it. The faster we work, the more we need simplicity.

Blogger Rob Vanasco put his finger on the problem in a recent post:

“People want more and more to bring their data together to one central, easy to use place. However, people also want to be able to separate their data for their friends, family, co-workers, potential employers, and online acquaintances.”

And Rob goes on to give a good example:

“Someone heavy into the tech industry who uses Twitter, or a service like it, might not want their Twitter post automatically updating their Facebook feed. Their family and friends might not want to be inundated with post after post about what article they are reading, up to the date tech news, or what sites they’ve just bookmarked or added to their RSS feed. This could potentially turn their friends/family off to reading their updates, and could be a good way to lose friends on social networks. “

He adds that “contacts on Linkedin don’t need to see “party pictures” or your latest mobile uploads of your child’s first haircut.”

But as home-working, flexi-working and other work/life hybrids become the norm, surely the hard and fast division of work/social personas is increasingly irrelevant?

We’ve already seen this happen: post the dotcom crash of 2000/1, there was an explosion in laptop use in coffee bars – back then it seemed to signify you were either a student who’d been thrown out of the library or someone who’d just been made redundant (from your hi-tech start-up) and was filling out applications online. Now laptop, coffee/green tea and jeans looks positively modern and industrious. The fact you’re not wearing a suit is neither here nor there. But it’s taken a while for that to change.

I’m convinced that the same will happen with the traditional “line you cross at your peril” that defines the employee/boss relationship.

Like Sofia, I think we’re going to see an increasing number of bosses lowering their defences on Facebook – even if it involves taking up multiple profiles.


The wonderful wisdom of the table tennis ball

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m drinking tea with cultural theorist Michael Thompson in the RSA’s crowded coffee shop.

In between chats with Andrew Summers, RSA trustee (whose friend, it turns out, is also publishing a book on leadership) and Alison from Triarchy Press (who’s treating us to carrot cake), Mike and I discuss how the internet helps with problem-solving.

“The internet is clumsy by design!” says Mike, enthusiastically.

In Mike Thompson’s world, “clumsy” means “good”, even “best”. He is keen for us to find broad, all-embracing, “clumsy solutions” to problems. These are win-win resolutions where each party gets “more of what it wants (and less of which it does not want)” (“Organising & Disorganising“, p4) – in essence, all voices are heard, and responded to.

Cultural Theory argues that there are four ways of organising – and all too often we focus on just two: individualistic (eg:a free market economy) and hierarchical (eg: a heavily-regulated market). The other voices (fatalistic and egalitarian) are frequently neglected.

Our love of the “pendulum” model (arguing between one of two extremes) and desire for an “elegant solution” (using single definitions) leads us to favour a simplistic decision-making process where alternative voices are excluded; additional viewpoints become “uncomfortable knowledge” and are inevitably dismissed without serious consideration.

Mike has just finished giving a lunchtime lecture at the RSA, a lecture in which he proposed we start solving the current economic downturn by incorporating egalitarianism (equality with fettered competition) and fatalism (inequality with unfettered competition) more rigorously into future decision-making models.

Mike’s model is a holistic, 360° one, so maybe it’s not surprising he has drawn it on a table tennis ball which is passed around the room.

The world is now “effectively one colour” says Mike – individualistic, market-orientated: representing a “self interest ideology”. This world has been hit by what Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, calls “a once in a century credit tsunami” and it’s inevitable that something “hierarchical” is going to happen: this is what we are seeing now in the effective nationalisation of major banks.

According to Mike, we need to consider egalitarian and fatalistic approaches in order to encompass all viewpoints, move forward, and stop ourselves from simply swinging the pendulum back.

Financial institutions are just one example. Mike opens his lecture with the story of Arsenal Football Club [an individualistic player], who approached Islington [hierarchical] to build its £60,000 seat Emirates Stadium. Within days, a third actor appeared – The Highbury Community Association – and “all hell broke out”. But all three voices were heard, some under-used land was found, and a “clumsy’” solution emerged. The new stadium was built on time and on budget; all parties were happy.

Mike also cites Coca-cola in India: the soft drinks giant recently ran into trouble over its use of local water in soft drinks production – the company was accused of making a private good of something which was, essentially, a public good. If the egalitarian view (as expressed by the local villagers) had been accommodated into the planning process, such negative publicity may never have surfaced.

Another example given by Mike is that of the Brent Spa storage and tanker loading buoy which Shell wished to dispose of by sinking in the Atlantic Ocean in 1995. Shell [the individualistic player] obtained consent from the UK Government [hierarchical]. But Greenpeace heard of the plan and launched a world-wide campaign against this type of disposal. A heated debate ensued and “new paths were exposed that had been hitherto hidden”, according to Mike. Eventually, Shell agreed to to re-purpose much of the original structure.

Mike’s argument is that if we stick with the pendulum model, we’re going to be confined to just four of nine provinces in a three dimensional grid – and those four provinces are “most impoverished in terms of deliverable quality”.

I’m not saying this approach is always going to be workable – clearly it takes time for a business leader to seek out and listen to opinions, especially those that disagree with him/her, but I do like Mike’s metaphor of “clumsiness”. It ties in with the web’s propensity for democracy and its ability to throw up the “long tail” of human opinion.

You can listen to Michael Thompson’s lecture again via the RSA events page.

If you’d like to read more about Cultural Theory, RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor gives a nice every day example on his blog.