Like many people, I’m fascinated by how education is changing.
My dad is a teacher, my brother is a teacher, my sister works in professional publishing – the books she commissions end up as textbooks in universities.
Education is family thing, I suppose, though I was hardly passionate about education when I was in it – scraped through with half-decent A-levels, dropped out of a half-decent university.
I particularly love the work of Sugata Mitra. I love the Forest Schools ideology. It’s interesting to me that the school I went to, a state school, is now an ‘Apple School’ where every teacher and every pupil has been given an iPad.
So it was exciting to be invited by Facebook to speak at The Sunday Times Festival of Education at Wellington College back in late June. Just that combination alone had my interested: Facebook + Education + Wellington College (very old, well established public school).
Just arriving was an experience – Katie Price (‘Jordan’) was being greeted by Antony Seldon, headmaster at Wellington and a proponent of progressive ideas about the importance of teaching happiness at school. Ellen MacArthur walked past and then David Willets MP (I think). Not my usual crowd – I grabbed sandwiches and ran.
What was most interesting was how Facebook had partnered The Education Foundation, who in turned worked with two UK schools – London Nautical College, a proper inner city state school, and Wellington, an extremely affluent leading private school, to use Facebook in the classroom.
Hearing those two teachers, and those two groups of students, explain how they had experimented with using Facebook groups to manage learning projects was cool.
It was very thought provoking.
These were my takeaway points:
- both groups had found it useful enough that they’d do it again – that was a surprise to me, particularly – if I’m honest – Wellington
- both groups talked about how quickly the kids (who were teenagers) moved on from ‘fiddling around on Facebook and getting distracted’ to cracking on with work
- the kids themselves expressed how they were sceptical that they would be able to use Facebook without getting distracted but had surprised themselves
- Last surprise: how the parents hadn’t kicked off either, again I would expect that to happen especially at Wellington – perhaps people are more open-minded than I expect?
Surprises all round…
What I took away was another sense of just how much education is changing and about to change more. Methodologies, tools, practices, expectations, it is really interesting. Terrifying and thrilling when I think about my two boys who are in school.
And Facebook’s goals are absolutely clear here: they are interested to see how their platform can be positively used in education by educators and learners, and they are open about that. I have a combination of emotions about that: caution, curiosity, excitement.
I guess this is just another piece of this great big shift that we’ve been thinking about and exploring together for a while now. Digital transformation in education…
I just wrote this and put it on the NixonMcInnes blog, because it is talking about the work that we do and want to do more of, our current mission I suppose.
But it belongs here, too, with you.
We are at an interesting point.
The World Wide Web is nearly 25 years old. Google is about 15 years old, and Wikipedia about 12. Mobile phones have been commercially available since 1983, and there are now gazillions of them and not just in the developed world, of course.
This stuff has been around a while now.
Today Amazon no longer only sells books and running shoes – it now sells the building blocks of its own ecommerce infrastructure to others, it develops hardware in the Kindle and is developing an ecosystem all of its own. It isn’t sitting around, cosy in its little digital world. It is busy disrupting the status quo in publishing, entertainment, in digital infrastructure and in retailing,
Activists in Turkey, and before that in the so-called Arab Spring, now use digital networks to get videos, photos and notes about police or government brutality out to the rest of the world.
Here in the UK, an elite team called GDS is seeking to transform government digital services, attacking the highest volume transactional websites in the UK – spreading user-friendly goodness, bringing the best of digital practice to government departments, departments that ran the British empire for hundreds of years.
Communities that have never and will never physically meet raise funds for people in need on Reddit, through Kiva and to get projects off the ground via Kickstarter.
And my dad, soon to retire as a state school teacher after 30 odd years, has been given an iPad, as has every student in his school. What is education like in a world where every person in a classroom has a tablet at their finger tips? Where the greatest universities in the world publish their courseware on the web freely? (See also: Sugata Mitra).
This is the new reality.
You know this. So what. It’s all a bit yada yada, perhaps.
The point is this. We are at a point where digital practices, behaviours and business models are disrupting pretty much everything – education, business, politics, civil society, and so on.
And some organisations are natively digital – those we laud and congratulate loudly. “Well done Facebook!”, “Bravo, Twitters!”, “Go Mumsnet!”. And those guys are great pioneers.
But the most fascinating question for me is what will it take for organisations steeped in and born from the last century or before to make a digital transformation, when their successes were born of old models and practices?
That’s hard. That’s interesting.
Is it classic reinvention story, like Lou Gerstner tells of his transforming IBM from hardware to services in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Can you achieve it through acquisition, perhaps, this digital transformation?
And in the end, who will make it? Now that’s going to be really interesting.
- Will the US Treasury and the Bank of England move with the times, and will the dollar and the Euro still be suitable?
- Will state governments resist a great atomisation, a fragmenting into digital tribes and physical small communities?
- Will schools work more like co-working spaces?
- And how on earth does an 80,000 person multi-national corporation transform when so much around it is in flux? Who will be on the inside and the outside, how will rewards happen, how will intellectual property be handled, what does leadership look like and who will the shareholders be?
- And what is like to be a person or a team or an office in all of these places – what is like to have the ground moving under your feet, to have to adjust to things that are profoundly different to before, to be so challenged?
This is a big ask of us as individuals, with our habits and norms, let alone a big organisation.
Yet the challenge is we have to bring these large complex organisations with us. And what a great challenge to tackle, in service of a better world.
And it is tempting to divide these things – to see the rise of technology and the rise of a new business consciousness as two separate things, but I really believe that they are innately connected. That transparency, openness and the rapidity of the digital world is a powerful catalyst for the rise of employee ownership, for participatory leadership and new networked organisational structures. I guess that’s what Culture Shock is about.
That is what we’re up for at NixonMcInnes. To help positively transform the business world, with digital transformation as the catalyst.
Right, let’s do this. Four fresh Culture Shock-y items.
What your culture really says - by @shanley
Oh man. This is so good. So so good. Please read all of it. It’s like an antidote to the sunny optimism that pervades my work and that of others, where there is only upside and no scepticism.
Check this out for an ‘ooof’ kick in the stomach:
An economic and class-based revolt of programmers against traditional power structures within organizations manifests itself as an (ostensively) radical re-imagining of work life. But really, you should meet the new boss. Hint: he’s the same as the old boss.
I need to re-read this piece weekly, because I do blithely drink the kool-aid, I do include examples in my evangelical talks that I pick up with little research or sceptical interrogation. I do need to question much much more.
Hat tip Mark Higginson
Up a creek, Pirate Party looks for a paddle - Spiegel Online
Ooops, another example I promote in my work, and touted only last week – but it seems that the German Pirate Party has hit a downward spiral.
I talk about the Pirate Party as vibrant example of how politics is being disrupted in the same way as business (and education, and science and government and so on) by networked, purpose-driven organisations with a new kind of DNA.
I still believe that, of course, but this is a very interesting snippet that relates to a big theme in Culture Shock of openness and transparency:
The party’s culture of open debate and transparency has, if anything, provided a powerful argument for the kind of discretion with which most parties go about their business. Hardly a week goes by without a brutal and public personal attack made by one Pirate Party member against another.
One to watch with interest.
I just liked this for the fact that Sorrell, a notorious and open micro-manager and self described ‘old fart’ describes his 162,000 person organisation as being in a state of anarchy. At our consultancy we believe that all organisations are spinning into a worldly state of affairs that is more anarchic than they have ever experienced or are indeed ready for, so good to hear Sorrell saying as much.
HBR: You’ve been quoted as saying that your business is in a state of anarchy. What do you mean by that?
Sorrell: There are four forces creating anarchic pressure. The first is what we call faster-growth markets—Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe. The second is new media: digital, search, display, video, social, and mobile. The third is the application of technology to our business, including unifying all the sources of data that our clients use. And the fourth is what we call horizontality, which means getting people to play together.
Welcome to anarchy.
Before I die – another awesome Candy Chang project
Just love this project from Candy Chang – its purpose, its format and its open-source spreadable nature. (An instance of it has popped up in my city, Brighton).
Here’s how they open sourced the project with a toolkit – kinda Hexayurt-y:
After receiving many requests, we created the Before I Die toolkit and this project site to help people make a wall with their community. You can also download all files for free on this site to remix or create your own stencils. Thanks to passionate people, over 100 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 10 languages and in over 30 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa. Each wall is unique and reflects the people of that community. Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life.
Hope you enjoyed some o’ that.
And if you did, please spread word of Culture Shock!
On that note, I am grateful for this interesting and positive review by Simon Robinson – a consultant and lecturer in chaos and complexity theory, innovation, creativity and sustainability living in São Paulo, Brazil.
Onwards yeah? Will.
After writing Culture Shock I went on a bit into a bit of a sofa-slouching-brain-resting phase: bought a PS3, developed a bad habit around Battlefield 3, and stopped reading business books.
I’m sort of still half in that phase. Still can’t get my head back into business books, for example.
Good things came of this slovenly phase. I learned a lot from getting back into video games and ended up writing this piece for Wired UK: ‘Modern business is a video game: a bad one’.
I’ve also been bingeing on the Game of Thrones books. Basically ‘fantasy’ Lord of the Rings-esque series, describing the rise and fall of elite families and their characters in a mythical world. Brilliant, easy reading for a geek like me.
(Sorry for the long intro here – I’m winding up to something interesting, I think…)
All of which is a long way of saying that I’ve been spending an hour or so a night in bed immersed in stories of a feudal world, with the hierarchies of old – from Kings and Queens down to filthy poor peasants and slaves.
At the same time, consolidation in the social media and social business sectors has continued. Many of our peers have now sold their businesses to bigger companies, all part of that natural ecosystem of business, where the entrepreneurs reach the end of their natural phase, want to move on to the next thing, and where incumbents want to buy in some of the sizzly new stuff. That’s all good: I’ve been really happy seeing people I like achieve their goals and more and more I can see the sense in this cycle.
In my head these two things have begun to relate: the fortunes of the Lords and Ladies of a fictional world and the accomplishments of entrepreneurs in my world.
And for some reason I’ve started to get this idea that most people are modern slaves, at work. Or at least, disempowered and mistreated peasants. (I know many people aren’t, but this is a dramatisation, mkay!?).
If we pretend that most people are ‘modern slaves’ at work, toiling away to produce the lion’s share of rewards for a small royal elite (shareholders and senior management), when it is in fact their work that creates the rewards, then I can’t stop thinking about employee ownership as the only way forward.
In fact, I’ll go further: I believe that within 15 years, all businesses will have a significant proportion of employee ownership (let’s say more than 25%). That’s probably wrong – if it were to happen, would probably be the greatest shift of wealth ever in the history of the world or something. But it’s just what I feel intuitively – no science included.
Entrepreneurs deserve a premium for taking risk and the act of creation and early growth. I feel that strongly, personally. And shareholders deserve a reward for their risk and investment. But it feels too much, too far skewed at the moment, to me.
I am conscious that this creates a dangerous expectation for me as an entrepreneur. Personally, despite what I’m saying I would like to do a traditional ‘exit’ at some point. I think it would be interesting, exciting, and a nice lump sum would be useful too. As for NixonMcInnes (where I don’t think that’s likely), I personally think that increasing the employee ownership from 5 of us (25%) to 90%-100% would be a brilliant outcome. So what I am saying isn’t free from hypocrisy, expectation-setting or whatever: I’m talking the talk – it remains to be seen if I (and others) can walk it.
But yes. There it is. When the millions go to the few founders and executives, and the rest of the organisation usually resembles a pyramid, with most people earning not very much at all, have we really come very far in the past thousand years? Outliers like John Lewis and other-brilliant-companies-owned-by-their-staff are just that – outliers, quirks. Isn’t that a bit weird?
Aren’t most people just modern slaves, when they are toiling for others?
And won’t that necessarily change as things are becoming more transparent, people are better connected, work tools are lower cost and more accessible, and more of us in the UK work in knowledge work where the product is the people?
I think so. That’s why this topic is in my book, and why we have Margaret Elliott speaking at Meaning 2012 about her experiences creating and scaling up successful employee-owned businesses here in the UK.
But now I believe in this even more - more than when I wrote Culture Shock, more than when I curated the original speakers for Meaning. Ownership belongs here, where it happens, not somewhere else – best of all, in the hands of the people doing it. In time, this will be irresistable.
What do you think?
A while ago I went to hear Jon Ronson talk about his new book on The Pyschopath Test. As you’d expect if you know Ronson, the talk was both droll and fascinating. But there was that thing, again, about how many leaders may be psychopathic.
Then, in this last week or so, with more outrageous behaviour at banks here in the UK and the attitude of some of their leaders it led to a discussion – probably with Jenni – about what to do with psychopaths. And, in this pop science pub conversation, we were considering non-murdering psychopaths – those that get on and progress especially in business due to their personalities and traits, (though I admit I have no idea what I’m talking about) but don’t kill people (directly).
The question is, as society evolves is there a role for psychopathic people in life and business? What can they offer to the common good? How can they contribute? It would be easy to assume that we want a world only populated with compassionate, empathic, considerate people – that does sound quite nice, actually. But is it true?
Or to put it in the words of software developers, are psychopaths a feature or a bug in society? They seem only to be discussed as a bug, an issue that needs to be fixed.
In this pub conversation we agreed that it is easy to bemoan people who appear to have no regard for others, and the kind of audacious, utterly cold and ruthless decisions that these kind of CEOs and political leaders make. But is it possible that we need them more than we realise? I’m willing to entertain that idea.
And in the future, from the perspective of inclusion and also from using the resources we have to get the best outcomes for as many people as possible, why would we segregate people with these traits and condition any more than anyone else?
If we were designing a better world, wouldn’t an enlightened future world actually place these people in roles that suited their unique talents and abilities, and provide counterbalances and stopping mechanisms to optimise their positive contributions, whilst limiting the awful consequences of unhindered decision-making?
One of the things that marks out today’s cadre of digitally native businesses is their ability to change very rapidly. And their propensity to do so.
For me it’s one of their most violent and disruptive advantages.
They eat away at industry incumbents through their ability to whip through the OODA loop many times faster than the old guard.
Another change! Another change! Another change! POW.
I am thinking Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble / Waterstones, Netflix vs. Blockbuster, Threadless vs. GAP.
And related to this, one of their other great emerging characteristics is their ability to u-turn. By u-turn I mean not just product innovation. This is wholesale changes of direction.
Whatever you think of it, Facebook has been absolutely brilliant at doing something, hearing a load of feedback, and doing a public u-turn within hours or days. It doesn’t always, and has returned to the same initiatives and goals over time, but the Beacon turnaround sticks out – though there are others. See this Google search for “Facebook u-turn” – 999,000 results (same search for “Google u-turn” returns me 18,200 results, and for Apple 19,400).
I thought of this characteristic again having followed the interesting Netflix story lately.
If you haven’t already heard, they made some bold changes to their product – divided the whole business in two with no consultation, called the DVD mailing business Qwikster, kept Netflix as the solely-focused streaming business.
The outcry has been sustained, and numbers have backed up the complaints – some commentators say this is hitting Netflix’ business.
Now I read that, 23 days later, they’ve reversed the decision – That Was Qwik: Netflix Dumps Qwikster, Won’t Split DVD-Streaming Accounts by paidContent
I always admire a u-turn:
1. You tried to innovate and make change – that takes guts and brainpower
2. You listened – that takes ears!
3. You are humble enough to publicly admit you were wrong – that takes guts
A couple of the qualities we at NixonMcInnes most want to see in businesses and organisations in the future is the ability to hear/see and then to change. We are starting to think about this agility and openness as a characteristic of Social Business.
Now having begun to write this I realise that before this little phase of reading and writing I just got off a call with a team in a gigantic multi-national bank.
Some young talents in a development programme for top potential future stars have been working on launching a business innovation. Their biggest challenge is what they describe as the internal ‘conservatism’. Making change in that organisation is really really hard. Scarily hard when you think about the above.
A mate of mine has worked his whole career in sales. He is a proud salesman through and through. And he half-jokingly introduced me to one of his favourite concepts a few years ago: “revenue velocity” – not how much work the client needs doing in total, but how quickly they need or want to invest that budget. At the time I find it a hilarious encapsulation of his persona both good and bad (though in time running this services business I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the wisdom in it).
But it makes me think about an organisation’s ability to change quickly – would it be too cheesy to think about the change velocity of an organisation? Perhaps change quotient or potential is better?
Right now I am wondering about our change velocity
There’s this huge momentum towards fluidity at work – to remote working, to portfolio careers, job sharing, the rise of ronin / freelancing, work life balance, Skype, yammer and the Cloud and so on.
For us as individuals, as workers, there’s lots to like in all of this. We are unleashed! I can work from anywhere! When I want, how I want, with who I want (and so the dreamy hype goes).
And there are – of course – tons of benefits for organisations and businesses too who have been keen to capitalise on these.
But in this working world, if we are all remote and virtual and part of loosely formed networks around projects that quickly form and then dissolve, then where is home?
Where is the centre of gravity that binds and anchors and provides that sense of HQ, of the mothership?
We know what we gain with fluidity, but what do we lose when this base goes, both as workers and business owners?
This all occurred to me after a week where I spoke with two different Managing Directors of consulting firms, both much more fluid than NixonMcInnes.
One firm was entirely geographically distributed across the States, with 20 people peppered across the whole country. Their consultants were mid- to late-career, so pretty grown up, experienced business people and the consultancy operated a reasonably traditional ‘eat what you kill’ mode of rewards. No central staff, no support or admin people not earning fees, no geographical centre of operations. Certainly makes sense from a financial bottom-line point of view.
But not everything about the consultancy was traditional – like us they do some more radical stuff in how they work together. Their MD told me that they tried to get everyone together three times a year. THREE TIMES, I thought, as I thought of how frustrated I get when we struggle to get a decent turn out for weekly team meetings, given all of the important, useful stuff there is to relay and the constant challenge to satisfy people’s desire to know what’s going on.
The other MD runs a consulting firm also in Europe that does have a centre of gravity, an office with a small central staff and then consultants distributed in different countries, all working from wherever they want to work from. But we were talking about how that might not always be a good idea commercially.
The third thing rattling round in the same tumble-dryer of background thinking was the 37 Signals case study of distributed team, connected by digital tools, and their Meetings are Toxic mantra. They are world class in what they do, they seem to do ok without lots of face to face meetings – theoretically one of the key benefits of a central HQ.
And these conversations and thoughts made me think about what we’ve been doing with NixonMcInnes.
We’ve been deliberately developing a real physical heart, and so have invested our office space, in having administrative and marketing support, and in developing a cohort of people living and working in the same county, and almost entirely in the same city.
It’s like we are walking directly against the tide. And that’s confusing (although not unusual for us).
I wonder what organisational benefits we derive by having a home. Or are we just doing it because of the preferences of the people in the organisation, and if so what does that cost us and do we acknowledge that?
Also, do we gain competitive advantage? If we compete with a distributed firm, are we more likely to win or is the playing field level apart from the extra financial resources they have saved from central costs?
In theory, I would expect benefits to show up in areas like these:
- in trust, resilience and therefore quality under pressure in the relationships between team members leading to client retention, referrals and project profitability
- in people’s happiness and engagement at work (even as I write this one, I’m starting to question it) leading to talent acquisition and retention
- in communication between team members which then drives quality to clients and profits for the company through saved time (again, I can quickly think of counter arguments…)
- in pitching for clients business, and them having the comfort of the physical tangible sense of a team and a business (having seen the networked agency model many times I am actually more confident of this point for the time being though I think it will change over time)
Are there others?
Are these flawed, am I drinking my own Kool-aid?
The thing is, I know I want to be part of something and to me personally I like the physical part of that, the offline, the home. And I believe others do too.
But there is a tidal force here. And a string of benefits as well as costs that we are only beginning to understand.
Given all of this, I do wonder with some interest how the traditional physical centre of gravity at the heart of an organisation will change in this next generation of work.
We are just back from a lovely family holiday on the coast of North Devon. Croyde, Woolacombe, Combe Martin. Beautiful.
And there, rockpooling every day, were fat people, pretty much wherever you looked. Including in the reflection I saw mirrored back at me rock pools.
Seriously. Over the past two or three years I feel like the obesity epidemic has crawled out of the newspapers, radios and TVs as a media story entity and into the playgrounds, swimming pools, schools and streets as a fully formed physical fact.
Isn’t it shocking, seen up close? How fat so many of us have got in the developed world.
I cannot help but think about my diet, and diets and eating in general. I am a poor role model right now. And I cannot help but think about my kids and their diets over the coming years, and kids and their diets and eating in general.
How right did Pixar get it with WALL-E? And how close are we already?!
More importantly, how will we overcome tomorrow’s challenges when we are in such morbidly poor shape?
This concerns me greatly.
Both of their blogs are absolute must-reads for me. And both of their recent work is incredibly aposite and interesting. You need to read their work.
With these thoughts of fatness at the back of my brain somewhere, two other things collided in my head last week: the first from lusting at the magnificent brand that David Hieatt is creating over at HIUT, and in particular that gorgeous image of the light blue Land Rover Defender; the second from reading on John Robb’s resilience wiki Miiu about resilient cars.
The humble Defender is apparently one of the most resilient cars out there.
It appears on John Robb’s Miiu resilience wiki along with 25+ other ‘autos’ . The Toyota Prius, to my initial surprise, is not resilient by the Miiu community’s definition – it relies too much on the intelligence in its Engine Control Unit:
The basic engine integrated electronic component is called an engine control unit, or an ECU. Because resilient cars do not have advanced ECUs, they are easily fixed and tuned. A simple example of this is idle speed control, which in all new cars, is controlled by the ECU. The idle speed is controlled by the engine RPM. The RPM is monitored by the crankshaft position sensor, which is connected to the ECU. So, if the idle speed is too low, one would have to change it by tuning the ECU, which is an involved process. To tune an ECU, one would have to have an in-depth understanding of engine electronics and possess the knowledge and tools to tune an ECU. This is however, not the case in resilient cars. In resilient cars, the idle speed can be controlled mechanically by rotating a screw connected to the throttle that will increase or decrease idle speed.
In the future, the Defender and its fixable friends win.
And what of us, the humans? What makes for a resilient human? What traits should we seek to develop in ourselves, what skills?
There is a link here between the fat and the Defenders. I cannot quite draw it out, but it is here, just beyond my fingertips.
And though I can’t quite reach it, I instinctively know I want to be a Defender. Adaptable, fixable, resilient. And not too fat to help myself or others
Business and entrepreneurial literature describe the big new business opportunities: cleantech, the bottom of the pyramid, health 2.0 and so on it goes.
I believe these are all big, valid market opportunities.
Another one is – or should be – time creation.
Study after study shows that people say they are too busy, that they don’t have enough time. (I was reminded of this today at the Arts Marketing Association’s annual conference in Glasgow where I was part of the opening keynote and where my fellow speaker Jerry Yoshitomi shared a study from New Zealand that showed that by far and away the biggest cited reason for people to not attend arts events was lack of time/too busy.)
These people I refer to are already afforded an abundant life full of necessities and luxuries. They are mostly in the developed world, mostly in the West.
What these people are generally (but not always) driving for are chunked experiences, shorter emails, on-demand stuff that can fit in.
As information overload grows to crisis levels, as our internet addiction spirals and our positive and counterbalancing moves towards greater work life balance and more integrated lives add to the pile of tasks to do, so our time fritters away.
There are products and services that create or reclaim time for us.
The concierge and virtual PA. Google’s Priority Inbox. The Getting Things Done religion. And much more I’m sure.
There are products and services that have sympathy for the time constraints we now willingly live with.
On-demand and catch up TV. Reminder text messages from dentists. Other things you can probably think of.
This is a huge business opportunity. If I were starting a business today I would be asking ‘how does this reclaim time for our customers?’ and ‘how does this play nice and fit into the madly busy lives of our customers?’.
If you believe we could be doing good, useful things with the reclaimed or unlocked time, then this is also an important contribution to society.
Time creation: it’s where the smart money should go.
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