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Tag: Clay Shirky

What a social scientiest learns about your business from social media

Listen, I'm just a farmer from Iowa - I don't want your discount ticket to see "Mama Mia!" on Broadway..This week, Clay Shirky went over the precepts and misunderstandings about social media and was suly covered by The Economist.  The principles of social media are now so well known that they will probably be a mandatory undergraduate essay soon!

I started to summarize what The Economist said Clay Shirky said (!) and found myself mashing and extending.  Very quickly, I’d move to what sophisticated social media users are doing and what social media coaches do to help people use social media better.

Following below are

  • The three misunderstandings of social media listed by The Economist, mashed up, followed by three questions we like to ask

Then I’ve rewritten the ideas as

  • Three questions I would ask you if I were helping you with your social media.

This is a first draft.  If you have any comments, I would like to hear them.

Point 1: Social media is not part of the information age!

As poet David Whyte says, “This is not the age of information . .  . this is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.”

Social media is not a call center where we ‘push’ a script, or, try to ‘steal’ information from unwitting customers.

Social media is a conversation.  We join in, in the way of all conversations, adding, extending, asking questions, never knowing where our exchange is going and preferring – all the while – not to know because surprise is delight, and delight brings us all back again!

We might eavesdrop, of course.  We can also try to dominate the conversation.  But we also have the opportunity to join the conversation, wherever it is and wherever it takes us!

  • Where is the conversation?
  • Who is coming and who is going?
  • What are they talking about and how does the conversation change as people come and go?

Point 2: Social media is not technology!

The road, the telegraph, the penny post, the telephone, the radio, the television – communication became safe, fast, cheap, shared, visual.  The intrepid, the adventurous, the business-like, the sociable, the opinionated, the entertaining– one by one, we all benefited.

The internet is one more step along this road of inclusion.  But it is different from earlier technologies in one important respect.  It self-heals. Take any one of us away, and the conversation closes over as if we were never there in the first place  The internet searches, and continues searching, until it finds the conversation it needs.

We often treat the conversations as static and fixed.  This is misdirected because it is the morph that is really interesting. What is the conversation now?  What is the conversation in a few moments?  What will the conversation be in a few moments?

Which morphs are interesting?   And what causes them?

  • How are people connected to each other?
  • What are the unspoken rules of their interaction?
  • Which external cues influence their conversation?

Point 3: Social media is not research!

Social media is, well, social, and sociable.  We are part of the conversation, and while we are in the midst of one conversation, we are taking part in others too.  We are talk to a lot of people at the same time.  We have multiple identities and many goals, all of which are important to us.

To the left, to the right, above and below, there are other conversations.  We can look only at one conversation at a time, but the edges ring the changes.

  • What other conversations are happening around our people?
  • When do these conversations command attention?
  • What morphing takes place as the edge becomes more interesting?

Social media and you

If we were working together, this is what I would want to know and the questions I would be asking

I want to know which conversations interest you

You might already be very clear about the conversations that matter to you.  And you might be central to the conversations that matter.

Social media boosts our sociology and anthropology.   Computers mean data.  Data means analysis.  Analysis means insight.

I would ask: Do our social media numbers tell us anything more about the conversation; who is part of it: and how participants come and go?

  • What do we already know and who is the curator of our knowledge?
  • What social media numbers are easily available?
  • What do our social media numbers tell us, over and above, what we knew already?

I want to know who influences the players in your industry

Who studies the players in your industry?  Do w know?  Have their been any studies on your social networks?  Or, any wider anthropological or sociological studies about who are the players and how they act together?  Do we understand how players relate to each other (or not)?  Do  we understand the external cues and events that attract their attention?  Do we have any hunches or naive theories?

  • What morphs have caught our eye and ask for explanation?
  • What information do we have about the player and what can we find easily?
  • What insights can we generate with quick and simple studies?

I want to know who influences players in your industry

It’s very likely that you already know who influences the people you work with.  They are also very sensitive whom you talk to when you are not with them.

  • What other conversations are the players having?
  • What do we know about those conversations?
  • How do changes in those conversations ripple through ours?

These are the questions I would ask you when we sit down to talk about you and your social media.

  • What conversations are happening?
  • How to the conversations change and why?
  • How are the conversations affected by other conversations?

Seemingly esoteric, I know, but these three core issues are not new.  Social media just makes it possible, practical and urgent to track them and position your business accordingly!

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I don’t believe in charity – I believe in solidarity

Rock Shoes (Good Shoes) by Tatjana Ruegsegger via Flickr

Timely advice as we advance into the eye of the financial crisis

“Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping poverty: that, one magical day, good luck will suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets.

But good luck doesn’t rain down, yesterday, today, tomorrow or ever.

Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day on their right foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.

The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no-ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way. Who are not, but could be.

Who don’t speak languages, but dialects. Who don’t have religions, but superstitions. Who don’t create art, but handicrafts. Who don’t have culture, but folklore. Who are not human beings, but human resources. Who do not have faces, but arms. Who do not have names, but numbers. Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper.

The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”

Eduardo Hughes Galeano, The Nobodies

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”

Clay Shirky

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Eduardo Hughes Galeano

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A personal view of the world is NOT the mark of a spoiled generation

new cell phone by grafitti with numbers via FlickrEssential intellectual skills of old

When I was an undergraduate, the hardest tasks were to format essays in Harvard or APA style, to write references out correctly, and to wade through incomprensible tomes.

We got good at all three tasks, of course ,and after two years of graduate school, I had developed good habits of checking references as a I read.  I was taking in

  • the words
  • the structure
  • the mental map of the people and history of a field

all at the same time.

Intellectual skills in the internet age

Reading on the internet is hard because even with two screens, we can’t flip back and forth between the text, contents and references quite so fast.  We also can’t take notes so easily or highlight text quite so physically and memorably.

Copy Gen Y

When I first started teaching Gen Y, I read around and saw references to their ability to organize information without a structure.  It didn’t take me long to realize that this observation was accurate.   They have their own skills born out of the internet age for checking the provenance of information and updating their mental maps.

More to the point, they don’t want structure and they don’t want “received opinions” from on high.  University lecturers brought up in another time are disconcerted by their apparently “personal” view of the world.

Publishing is the new literacy

What Gen Y are doing, without being told by us, is stepping in to the what Clay Shirky and others call the new literacy.

If reading and writing became common place after the invention of the printing press, publishing is common place today.  Everyone does it, more or less.

Just as being able to write well affects our performance in many subjects over and above English or whatever language we speak, publishing underlies our performance in every area too.  We are each responsible now for judging the quality and value of information and making it available to other people.  Just as we still have writers, we will still have publishers par excellence.  Just as we have people who “don’t write” and “don’t read”, we will have people who don’t publish either.  But publishing as a skill is now as commonplace as other activities that were once reserved  . . . like international travel for example.

When, and how, will Universities catch up?

Universities know and understand this.  At least, educational scholars do.  I saw a good presentation from someone at Open University on slideshare a few days ago.

But a fully ‘constructionist’ view of education is still seen as dippy or at best innovatory.  It is neither.  It is essential.  And we have many changes to make in the way we organize classes, assess assignments and understand what is knowledge.

The wheels are not just coming off the old industrial structures of banks and oil companies.  The time for decrying industrial age education is gone.  We are past that stage.  We are in the thick of building the education system of the new age.  We need to be part of it.  We need to publish to our own account.  That’s how we will learn, not just personally, but as a collective.

The point is that a “personal” view of the world is not a mark of a spoiled generation.  It is an essential skill and Gen Y has grasped its necessity, intuitively perhaps, but they have grasped it.  We have to catch up.


Universities: parties and yawns or surprisingly vigorous enterprisess

What was your uni like?

Parties with casual yet dictatorial professors?

Most of us go to university and college and find something that looks like a lawless, unruly form of school where the lecturers and professors are the biggest outlaws.  And so we go out into the world thinking of universities as schools with no business-imperative and no business-sense.

The business of universities

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Universities are businesses, or enterprises; but with a business model  that is so opaque, few people understand it, unless they have worked in one for quite a while.   If you do business with universities, if you are in a knowledge business, if you have to hire graduates to get work done, you might like to read this brilliant description of university business models.

As greedy as bacteria

“As organisms in a system, universities evolve. They eat up smaller institutions to dominate a niche, or split of side campuses to enter new spaces. They relentlessly share their DNA, as Universities heads look over their shoulders and shamelessly copy the innovations of others. Universities fight for resources, funding, students among themselves, where a Society usually co-opts all of the resources in it’s zone of control and operates without competitive challenge.”

As disregarding as dinosaurs

“Make no mistake, Universities are dinosaurs. They can crush you, outrun you and outbreed you. They dominate their ecosystem to the exclusions of all others, existing in astonishing diversity, and repeatedly adapting to environmental change. What it took to get rid of the dinosaurs wiped out almost everything else as well. The same is true here. If Universities become non viable institutions, then their collapse will be the least of our worries.”

As mutative as viruses

“Universities are not going to go gently into the night. They won’t wave their hands in the air, cry that it’s all to complicated (or was it complex?) and shut their doors. Some will no doubt go under, but most will adapt and survive, ruthlessly ripping out the DNA from models that work and re-engineering themselves for Internet Age. They will do it in University Time, not Internet time, but they have enough inertia for that not to matter. In fact, a slower response to change will insulate them from short timescale fads (Would you wish you had bet the farm on CD-ROMS? WAP?).”
Brilliant description of the strategic model of universities.  But who would know when you are yawning your way through another lecture?
FOR THE FULL POST:  Tertiary21
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How do we cope with abundance?

Abundance & scarcity

On Monday, an American said something to me which struck me as profound and worth storing away to think about.  “People from your part of the world take something and do everything they can with it.  British take something and do as little as possible with it.”

With that in the back of my mind, this morning I was reading the reports on Clay Shirky’s opening address to NFAIS.  We know what to do about scarcity.  But abundance confuses us.

The two ideas connected at once.

Maybe in conditions of abundance it is wise to do as little as possible with each thing that you have?

Does that chime with you?

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Filter, filter,filter. That’s where the money is.

In the olden days, our job, you and I, was to consume.

Today, we consume, create and share.

And because we all create and share, we have greater choice, overwhelming choice.  Suddenly, we have to take responsibility  for our choices.  Like it or hate it – we can no longer blame poor outcomes on lack of choice.  Nor can we assume that the creator of what we consume is acting responsibly, thoughtfully, competently, or in our interests.  Anything and everything is out there.  A terrifying world for people who cruise along on auto.

Filter, filter, filter

The scared will run inside and slam the door.  The reckless will try anything.  The bold, the curious, the inquisitive and the thoughtful will learn.

But how do we filter?  Who can we learn from?

I put “filter” into Flickr and this is the first image that came up.  A scientist folds his filter paper in a special shape so that when he filters soil, the thingymebobs that he wants to look at naturally fall around the edge.  Have a look.

Confusing filtering and hoarding

I didn’t put the image here because it is “all rights reserved”.  That is the scientist’s choice.

Quite likely, he assumes our only possibility is consuming with permission from him (and fee).  Sadly, for him but not for us, in this day, people will create and share as well.   His work has no value as scarcity.  His work only has value if it is used.

Let me explain the alternative. He could have  put a creative commons license on his picture, with attribution and share-alike.  Then I would have put his picture here and publicized his work for him. True, some of you will trek over to Flickr but I can guess only 0.5% of visitors will – the typical CTR – click through rate.

Understand our value to the world .  .  . and be rewarded for it

This person’s ability to do science is of far greater worth than his ability to post a picture on Flickr.

A much better bet would be to post the picture and ask for comments and alternatives.  By become the central point for discussions on scientific filters, his knowledge and reach grows, and commercial opportunities of far greater value would emerge – from his filtering ability – not from his hoarding ability.

To demonstrate his ability, we will want to see it in action. Junk, comment, redirect. Junk, comment, redirect.  Rinse & repeat.  Finding one good product from the process and trying to sell it doesn’t advertise the process. The process advertises the process.

That is the nature of filters that we have to get our head around!

1.  Filter so as not to be overwhelmed by junk.

2.  Filter because it is our ability to filter in a specific domain (not to be confused with hoarding) that will have value to others.  And people will want to see the process.  What is our raw material, how do we evaluate it, what advice do we give.

My mind is racing.  This works equally well for the baked beans and irradiated apples at the supermarket as it does for scientists, psychologists, politicians and newspapers.

Enjoy. It is where the money is in the future!

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Is the essence of a happy life a point-of-view?

I read a great post this morning suggesting the Clay Shirky has it wrong.  We don’t really have a cognitive surplus, or we cannot make use of the cognitive surplus, because people prefer desultory entertainment to purposive action.

Positivism vs constructivism

The author writes in a scholarly genre: dealing with facts and evidence in a positivist way.  I almost responded likewise.

What if the author, Steve, looked at the world through other eyes?

What if the mytho-poetic tradition, a la Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, are correct and we like to hear a narrative?

  • Does that explain why we prefer to watch stories about someone?  Rather than a read explanations of some thing?

What if we like to write stories in a narrative (even though it was beaten out of us at college)?

  • Would we feel more cheerful, me and Steve included, if we were allowed to tell stories about
    • action,
    • purpose,
    • calling,
    • doubt,
    • triumph?
    • All the human attributes banned from psychological reports?

Positive psychology and the narrative

Positive organizational scholarship, for example appreciative inquiry, are quite clear that a positive approach includes social constructionism – in other words, our voice and the voice of others.  The positive principle is expressed not only as something positive and not negative, but as something purposeful, compelling, engaging, enduring, exciting, soothing, validating.

Positive psychologists (as opposed to positive scholars) tend to retreat back to questionnaires to measure their strengths and virtues.  Just as happiness strictly refers to a life well-lived (not a mood, person or moment in time), I suspect someone better read than I can explain why a strength or virtue belongs in a narrative, probably as a ‘calling.’

In short, the Hero’s Journey, or narrative structure is still to be adopted by positive psychologists with vigor.

The essence of positive psychology is a point-of-view

Would I be going too far on this Saturday morning to suggest that the essence of a positive approach is a point-of-view?  We all want to hear who does what, and why.  What was their deep moral case for spending time the way we do.

And is it so wrong to relax by following the moral case of others?

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Are you reifying your organization properly?

I hope my title caught your eye and made you panic a little – ooooooh, there is something I should be doing . . .!

Well, I hope to persuade you to do it less. Or, to run a mile from any organization where you hear it a lot.

Reify : To regard or treat an abstraction as if it had concrete or material existence

It really bothers me when we talk of an organization as if it has an existence beyond the people who are in it.

It is true sometimes the organization has a legal persona. We will eventually talk about the Democratic Party nominee, for example. But that is simply a decision that members of the Democratic Party will make following a procedure they devised and adopted.

Real thinking, breathing, living people who are quite entitled to change those procedures as and when they deem it fit. Indeed, they have anticipated doing so and have already laid down procedures on how to initiate change – as do all good organizations.

The rules that we lay down do not live and breathe without us. Every organization has rules that are still written down and have been ignored for years. Every organization also has rules that are extremely powerful and are not written down anywhere.

What the rules tell us, written or unwritten, are the relationships we have with each other.

This is why I think it is dangerous to reify an organization: this is why it is dangerous to present an organization as a mind beyond the minds of the people in it.

Compare the minutes of a meeting which say “it was decided” to “Mary proposed” “Peter seconded” and the votes was carried “10-5” with no abstentions. Compare these minutes with minutes which include the voting record of each person.

When we say “it was decided”, we are deliberately concealing who said what and who decided. Why are we concealing that information?

Because we don’t want to write down how we made the decision. Whatever we did that day would not, we believe, reflect well on us.

Most likely, we have made a decision we are not entitled to make. Most likely we have usurped authority that is not ours.

Can we get away with saying “it was decided”?

Yes. Often. Rensis Likert has written on this problem.

1. We may not talk about a problem.

2. We may not talk about not talking about a problem.

This is a mark of a festering trouble-spot in an organization. When the double-bind is widespread, the organization is likely to run into deep trouble.

I remember a colleague who used to send out memos headed “from the desk of . .”. Mmmm, she received a lot of replies addressed “To the desk”.

Survival guide to contemporary corporate life

1. Be wary of the passive voice. Ask ‘who dunnit?’

2. Be double wary when inanimate objects and abstract concepts are used to resume the active voice. Ask ‘who substituted a thing or an idea for a person’ , and then,  ‘what have they done that they don’t want me to know’!

3. And if you can, cut your losses. As Clay Shirky said, a four year old knows that any activity not designed for her participation is not worth sitting still for.

Don’t allow people to obscure who gains from an action and who has been cheated.   If you cannot restore a better atmosphere, then look for a better place to be.  It is important to be in a place which is honest in its essence. Where people intend to do well by each other even if they get it wrong sometimes.  Look for that essential honor and head there.

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Who moved my mouse?

Who Moved My Cheese?Image via Wikipedia

I am looking for my mouse

Clay Shirky at Web2.0 Expo tells the story of a 4 year old who gets bored looking at a DVD and crawls around the back of the screen: “I am looking for my mouse”. This is the story of child brought into a technological age where we expect to participate in whatever we do. “Looking for the mouse” is the mark of a generation who expects to take initiative.

Who moved my cheese?

Just ten years’ ago, we were delighted by another story, an allegory, Who moved my cheese? This story is about a generation who does not expect to take initiative.  Indeed, it resists taking the initiative.  It wants to ‘put the clock back’.

We spend a lot of time crying, “we want the cheese to come back.”  Or, words to that effect.  We celebrate the past rather than the emerging future.

The positive message of this allegory is that once we can move beyond fear, we are free to move on, and find fresher, more interesting, more enjoyable cheese.

My advice is “follow that mouse!”

I live a double life as I have said before. In my one life, I work with Zimbabweans who are frozen in terror about the changes going on in their country. Their fears are real, and justified. So too, is their desire to go back to a time when cheese was there for the taking. Their liberation will ultimately come when they stop protesting the unfairness of it all and start to explore their future.

In my other life, I work with HR professionals who are also frozen in terror.  In the case of HR, there is a little cheese left, but not much. The world has moved on to work patterns where there are new demands and new generation who says “I am looking for the mouse”?

For Zimbabweans and HR professionals, I am looking for my mouse has a sadder meaning The mice have already detected the dwindling cheese supply and have left.

My advice is “follow that mouse”!


Is 2.0 a passing fancy?

Both Scott McCarthur and Jon Ingham have been blogging on 2.0 recently. The big question in discussions about 2.0 is always whether or not 2.0 marks a fundamental shift in the structure of society.

Here is a video of Clay Shirky speaking at the Web 2.0 expo recently with a compelling story about why 2.0 is here to stay: “I am looking for the mouse”!

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This video was originally shared on by Web2Expo with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.


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