The world is changing. Damn, THE WORLD NEEDS CHANGING.
A great piece from Jo Confino writing in the Guardian about the blocking role that the financial community appears to be playing in holding back the fundamental change required for business to become sustainable:
At its heart, the answer is simple. The vested interests who control the financial architecture, and have an extremely powerful voice in the corridors of power, simply don’t want to change because they still benefit hugely from the status quo, despite seeing the ruin they have brought on all of us.
And the possible answers:
So could it be up to civil society to generate change? The Bank of England governor quite rightly wondered why there wasn’t more outrage at the behaviour of the big banks, but the Occupy movement did show there is a river of anger below the surface that may well turn into a flood.
Or maybe it will just be the case that the financial markets will implode under the weight of their own hubris.
Personally, I think it is only to going to change as a result of real action from civil society. In other words, us. No single institution is going to face up.
In Culture Shock, I wrote about Tech DNA, and about how all businesses need to break technology from out of its IT and R&D silos to truly enable the whole organisation. This story isn’t quite that, but it’s still provocative because of the scale.
In fact, this is just about giving people access to a particular mortgage app. But what else is possible now? What more does the trojan horse of a new technology bring when rolled out like this?
And this is happening widely – my dad, a teacher for 35 years, was given an iPad mini today… All change. As the article says: The IT supplier independently confirmed that it was seeing “significant interest in the take up of Apple iPads in large enterprise.”
Fascinating, odd and slightly scary account of how Israel is using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Pinterest to: “to get Israel’s narrative out in real time, as people read about red alerts in Tel Aviv and rocket landings in Gaza on Twitter, and to cut out the middleman of “old media” in communicating with pro-Israel activists”
In fact, we turned down a defence company last week. I guess that world is changing too…
Inspiring and perfectly-timed movement to propel Brighton’s already different-and-better business cluster into a truly radical, employee-owned hotbed, driven by co-founder of NixonMcInnes, Tom Nixon (link to his blog in righthand sidebar):
Wouldn’t it be great if the economy in Brighton existed to make life in our city better for everyone, now and for future generations, in harmony with the natural world?
Wouldn’t it be great if the local economy was not just for the people, but owned by the people – the workers and citizens?
Wouldn’t it be great if businesses that worked in this way collectively became the largest employer in the city, creating jobs that deliver happiness and meaning as well as a salary?
Wouldn’t it be great if we created a model that inspired other towns and cities across the world to build better local economies for the benefit of everyone there too?
If you’re in or near Brighton or London, and into this stuff, come to the launch party thing, I’ll see you there. This is where it starts.
Alex is a master of happiness at work. This talk at Meaning 2012 was one of the highlights for many people I’ve spoken with since. This is Alex in top form: 30 minutes of funny, poignant Danish brilliance.
Further reading: For a book that wraps these ideas up into 8 chapters, check out Culture Shock. It has a five star rating on Amazon, I wrote it and I believe in it.
Here’s the 22 minute video of a conversation I was invited to by those wonderful people at Wired Sussex as part of their Homebrewed series.
In it, we talk about Culture Shock, the roots of NixonMcInnes and the brilliant available future for Brighton’s progressive business community.
My first answer is a bit rambley but on the plus side I use the word ‘motherfucking’ at 3 minutes in.
I wrote this piece for The Argus, Brighton’s local newspaper, a few weeks back.
It’s basically the belief that I (and others) have that Brighton, by nature of its vibe, its location, its size and most of all its values, has the opportunity to play a helpful role in showing how to do business better.
We get used to drinking our own Kool-Aid in the Brighton business community. “Why, yes, we’re by the sea! Yes, we’re amazeballs at creative and digital and tourism and culture and stuff! Yes, everything is brilliant here – come and buy stuff from us! (Oh, and please tidy the beach before you leave).”
And to be fair, much of that is deserved. It is right that we are so well known for what we do: our mosaic of gorgeous North Laine boutiques, our cluster of world-class digital hothouses, our endless carnival of cultural & hedonistic experiences, and the rest.
But what would it be like if Brighton led the way in not only what its business community does but also how it did it? What if this brave, quirky city could stand up and show the world how to do business better in the 21st century? In how to organise groups, how to motivate people, in what leadership means and how rewards are distributed? What if we can create a new form of business operating system that can spread, but always have its roots in Brighton? I think that’d be pretty cool.
So where are the local pioneers already that we can learn from and build on? Here’s a few to get us started. Mooncup is a business that has both an innovative, disruptive product AND does business differently. Mooncup’s product is an alternative to traditional feminine hygiene products. A reusable medical-grade silicon ‘cup’ design (look it up, I can’t explain it elegantly), it is massively more sustainable, and in a way just operating in this area is pretty radical – the product demands quite a mindshift from customers. And yet customers are huge advocates and most women come to Mooncup after hearing positive clamour from a close friend. But as I say, we’re already good at the ‘what’ we do in Brighton, so how do they do business differently? At Mooncup decision-making is entirely flat – at the weekly team meeting anyone can influence up and coming decisions, ‘we all pitch in’ they say. In the team wages are entirely transparent and are calculated purely based on length of service to reward loyalty and create a clear and fair system.
Down the road, Infinity Foods shows that different business can still be great Business with a capital b: rammed every day with people picking up ethically sourced dried figs and super-sensitive handcream. Whether we’re shoppers or just observers I’m pretty sure we can see that this co-operative, owned by the people working in the business, the people actually creating the value, is doing pretty damn well. What would it be like if we could extend that, and nudge up the percentage of profits made in the city that stayed in the city?
And weirdly, perhaps controversially, I would say the attempt to reorganise our beloved Brighton & Hove City Council had a whiff of the positive, radical and progressive about it. I cannot say as an outsider whether it’s working or how it has been received internally (with resistance, I imagine, given that most of us resist change) but the goal of turning a classically introspective and static bureaucracy into an outward-facing, ‘customer-centric’ organisation should be lauded. If the council can successful evolve themselves into a better shape for the 21st century, they set the bar for the rest of us.
There are more: Big Lemon buses, Wired Sussex, Relentless Games, Robin Hood Pub, Cranks bike workshop, The Skiff co-working space, CityCamp, Moshi Moshi. And every year these ranks grow. Each organisation offers us something different to be inspired by – their purpose, their people-centric policies, the collaboration and openness at their core. This is a growing movement of businesses willing to do things differently, here, in our city.
In these examples, the change is already happening. But for every positive example there must be ten more local businesses doing things the bad old ways. A warning to those business people that believe it will be enough to be great just at what you do. It won’t. It can’t last. Just pick up a copy of the FT – old skool business is creaking, breaking, collapsing in on itself. The rules have changed. To win the best customers, the best team members, the best reputations, we must change. Change, change and change again. Not just our products, services and marketing, but our very core.
And this need for change presents our city and our organisations with a once in a lifetime opportunity: to lead the way, to get there first, and to bring the rest of the world with us. I believe we can do it.
That’s what I believe.
With my clever co-conspirators at NixonMcInnes, I’ve been helping to organise Meaning 2012, an event about the future of business.
It is HUGELY exciting.
There are future tech conferences, events about employee ownership, about happiness, and lots more. But no one event – we felt – pulled all of the related strands that make up the progressive future business we want to see in the world. So we decided to put one on ourselves.
Our speakers are the very best in their fields, drawn from an international pool and are going to blow our minds.
So far we have:
• Umair Haque, the mighty rogue economist and leading management thinker
• Caroline Lucas, MP and Leader of the Green Party
• Stowe Boyd, wise author and social tools researcher
• Alexander Kjerulf, brilliant happiness-at-work expert
• Vinay Gupta, inventor of the hexayurt and clear-eyed critic of the status quo
• Margaret Elliott, employee ownership advocate and inspirational do-er
• David Hieatt, founder of Howies, The Do Lectures and now Hiut Denim
• Professor Karen Pine, infectiously upbeat and challenging behaviour change expert
And participants are signing up from all over the place.
If you’re interested in progressive business, in the topics I cover in my book Culture Shock (out this coming month!) and all that other good ‘let’s change this’ stuff, join us at Meaning 2012. It is going to rock.
4 things I’m really enjoying at the moment:
1. Stowe Boyd’s ‘Liquid World’ concept
We are clearly at the tipping point of a new era in computing, and we haven’t got a great name for it. Steve Jobs used a ‘post-’ characterization recently, saying that the iPad represented the gateway to the post-PC world. But we need a term to characterize what this is, not what it isn’t.
And what is it? It’s a convergence of a number of trends, some of which are more-or-less independent, but all are coming together in a class of new devices and the tools and practices that are popping up around them.
What is over the near horizon is a liquid world, in which social nets, ubiquitous connectivity, mobility, and web are all givens, forming the cornerstones of a vastly different world of user experience, participation, and utility. This is the new liquid world, just a few degrees away.
2. Fred Wilson’s ‘Content Shifting’ concept
This is an excellent recognition of something that’s been bugging me but it hadn’t got close enough to the surface for me to notice.
You get the idea. With the proliferation of devices and content types, all connected to each other via the Internet, content shifting is becoming a huge deal and a real pain point.
Some content shifting is pretty hard. Getting a song from Sirius XMU to fredwilson.fm is not straightforward. Getting Soundcloud playing on Sonos is not straighforward either…
3. ‘Longreads’ Twitter account
YES! Curation of the first order.
@longreads New YorkThe best long-form stories on the web. Great with Instapaper, Flipboard, Read It Later. Use the #longreads tag to share your favorite stories.
Mo’ here: http://twitter.com/#!/longreads/
4. Seven Bees burger night
My favourite English breakfast serving and award-winning Seven Bees Cafe in Brighton run by the masterful and passionate Iain Chambers is prototyping an invite-only burger night, and I’ve heard that Iain has been reading up on In-n-Out Burger amongst others.
Holy shit I’m excited.
If anyone can nail this in my hometown it’s Seven Bees. SO EXCITED.
There is no link but there will be photos after :)
The Argus, our local paper here in Brighton, asked me to write a piece on the social networks.
Earlier in the week I’d had an enjoyable conversation with Jo Wadsworth of that same newspaper about how I felt their news was disappointingly negative.
I really respect Jo’s opinion, and I felt I got a good drubbing and ended up the sad little optimist, defeated by a healthy dose of ‘reality’.
This summed up the conversation for me (click to biggify):
Good news doesn’t work – bah, grrr and nooooooooo!
Anyway, I wanted to write something that did address the dark side of the social web – the reality of snark, bile and polarised opinion. But maybe also highlighted some things we can do, some reasons for optimism.
It’s a bit long. I wouldn’t read it :)
Let’s start with the dark side.
Perhaps it’s the grey weather, but I’ve been thinking recently that there are times when nowhere is darker or more negative than the web. A quick trawl of the comments on any newspaper website, videosharing or social networking space usually quickly reveal the very worst of our collective bile.
That’s tough for those on the receiving end.
The kind of specific, personal sniping previously limited to politicians, celebrities and other public figures is now reaching into all of our every day lives. Schools – see Varndean’s spat with a mocking if fairly benign student campaign in Facebook and now Twitter – and teachers, event organisers, colleagues and mid-ranking bosses, shop keepers, hoteliers, mums in the playground – are all at the wrong end of digital sniping.
The things is, most of us don’t really want to live our lives in the public eye – it’s not what we signed up for in life! But one effect that online social networks have is to enable gossip, leaked memos, photographs and general “snark” to spread instaneously and with much less hassle and effort than before. One dodgy photo uploaded and we could be Tuesday morning’s unwitting internet superstar.
A number of the web’s characteristics seem to lend themselves to skewing this aspect of the web towards the darkside, but anonymity is usually cited as the most influential. The fact that any of us can pretty easily conceal our identities online removes inhibition in a big way. No holding back! And for many this has evolved into a daily pursuit – ‘trolling’, the act of deliberately starting arguments online, and the constant invocation of Godwin’s Law (Google it).
Even so I remain resolutely positive about the impact that the internet can and already is having in society. Despite the bile and negativity, positively world-changing things are happening both generally and specifically in this city of ours.
If we play our cards right Brighton can really come into its own in the next decade. This funny little city of ours has somehow grown a community of digital businesses and organisations that stands out in Europe and perhaps beyond.
This community includes video game companies, creative agencies, digital marketers and a thriving sector of independent web freelancers and expert practitioners. It is a marvellous and mixed party pack of “internetty” talent.
In 2009 an HSBC report picked Brighton as one of 5 ‘Super Cities’ set to thrive in the emerging knowledge economy. With 11% of our workforce employedin creative industries versus a 3% national average, this isn’t a foamy marketing claim – this is real.
So what now? Given the shocking and continued impact that the recession and its fallout is having on many people’s livelihoods, I believe this is too serious an opportunity to be relegated to the ‘nice little media sector’ box.
This isn’t just a business or a ‘creative sector’ thing. It is and can continue to be a city-wide thing. The city council is making positive noises about both supporting this growth and also harnessing the power of the web to improve its own shape and performance. (When you have to reduce your budget by as much as they do, there’s a real imperative to change – but their kind of change is incredibly painful and wide-ranging in its effects).
Other associated movements in the city are gaining momentum and need to be nourished and celebrated.
The Open Data project, kindled by Greg Hadfield of Cogapp, describes itself as “a collaborative project to transform Brighton and Hove into a world-class open-data city, in which all citizens can together lead more rewarding, more prosperous, and more fulfilling lives”. That might sound a tad ambitious for us slightly sceptical Brits, but I do believe in this project. If we can embrace the disruptive changes that the internet will wreak anyway, and consider how city-life can be improved by opening up and joining up information sources, and show the rest of the world an example, then we will all benefit.
Take, for example, the link between information about public transport (like when the next bus is coming) and the challenge of creating healthier habits around exercise and reducing carbon emissions. Or the opportunity of matchmaking the time and experience that older people have, who are also often lonely – which is a significant health risk – with school-age kids whose reading ability is behind where it could be. If we can find city-wide ways to helpfully connect, we can truly improve lives.
The second and closely-related initiative worth joining in with is CityCamp Brighton. Again, this is a free, volunteer-driven effort to apply the skills and ideas of Brightonians to the goal of making the city better. With a sleeves-rolled-up ethos, open participation and serious attention from city leaders, this is your and my opportunity to get stuck in to the job of creating a more enriching future for Brighton & Hove.
By way of explanation and disclosure, we believe in the City Camp format enough to have ‘sponsored’ it through the leadership and hard work of Max St John in our team, working with The Democratic Society and Public-i, two other progressive organisations that care about this goal. I know they are actively welcoming involvement so do get on board.
When I think about the web, it can be overwhelming in its many facets – good and bad. Nevertheless, today the real potential of the web to make life tangibly better is slowly emerging, and with it is our chance as a city and a society to take a big step forward. The time for action is now: get involved.