Old Ghosts and Happy Memories

To the Audit Commission‘s new offices in Millbank Tower for lunch today with Megan Meredith. Waiting in the space age reception I managed to say hello to Cathy Coyle and Bryn Morris, both of whom were relieved to be this side of the huge office move. Megan and I chatted over lunch about knowledge management at the Commission and how much has (and hasn’t) changed since I was there.

In the cafe we went to, bumped into Lisa Newton so popped upstairs to see her after lunch – the Taxonomy project lives on and has been implemented in the intranet, but is now being reviewed to make even more usable. Dropped by John Sandhu’s desk who revealed that he’s and avid (comparatively speaking) Perfect Path reader and had been particularly enamoured of my “100 posts I’ve never really written, but will when I get time”. I urged him to comment on the post which one he’d most like to hear.

I sneaked into the Tate on my way back to the office and found a room to sit in that wasn’t full of excited schoolchildren. Before I knew it, my sketchbook was in my hand and the following scene emerged so I had a longer stay than originally planned.

Wednesday afternoon, Tate Britain

Btw, the bird trying on the crown is my murky reproduction of John Singer Sargent’s Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

New Workshop Idea

A workshop/course/event/need-that-I-could-fill thing is forming in my brain.

The potential punters are – anyone who struggles with the difficulty of working in an organisation, anyone who feels that they haven’t quite got what they need, and no matter how many times they try to do what they know is the right thing to do, they hit a brick wall (a cultural one usually)

The basic ingredients are:

1. Coming to accept and understand how the world has changed, but business hasn’t caught up yet. That brain has replaced brawn and that looking after your brain, using it to make new stuff and connecting it to other brains is the name of the game. That while we continue to manage organisations in the same way that we learned to manage coal mines, steel mills, and automobile production lines, we will continue to hurt inside.

2. Celebrating and nurturing your own creative ability and that of others as the number one neglected bit of knowledge work. Exploring how to do this in whatever medium rings your bell.

3. Learning to be comfortable with the new tools (the old-new tools of browsers, websites and search engines, the new-new tools of blogs, wikis and social networking and whatever is coming just around the corner)

Any takers? How long would you like to spend on this – is it a day, a week, a lifetime? How much would you pay for a day of it?

Ideal Government Project

The Ideal Government Project says:

“The UK is spending a lot of money and effort computerising government. Let’s get a clear idea what we want it to look like when it’s done. Dream a little, and help set out the wish list. Otherwise we might end up with something we did not want.”

Louise helpfully points out that it would be a good start if the public sector learned a little, and made use of the clever people in other sectors who’ve already been there, and I agree, though I do (naturally ) have some sympathy for the managers (as opposed to the politicians) who are implementing e-government.

It’s a bit annoying with the site as it stands that there’s a hurdle to contributions – it maybe is just my perception and it may be really simple, but it’s simpler for me to blog here and link than to request the ability to post something longer and broader than a comment on something someone else has said.

William Heath tells an interesting story about data use in Finland. My take on government’s use of data about me is this: the problem is not in initial capture and first use, it’s about what happens to it then, how secure it is, how I get to know what it is, how I get to change it if it’s wrong, how I get to change it if it changes, whether I get a choice about whether it’s stored or not, whether I have any control over who else sees it and whether I have any control over what use they put it too – and then the chain of people who might pull it out of the place I put it and so on and so on and so on. My life is too short for me to be carrying out that sort of information management for the benefit of government – and I don’t want to pay for an army of civil servants who will manage it, imperfectly, on my behalf.

Even if this were fixable, I then come to the fact that I know that judgements will be made about me based on an abstraction (some data or combined information drawn from data about me) and that no matter how well managed it is, that sooner or later that judgement will be wrong, and that the wrongness of that judgement may have a wide range of implications for my personal life, by business, my career and my financial security. It matters not whether the judgement is wrong because the data’s wrong or the process for making the judgement is wrong – I want to be judged for who I really am, today, rather than the part of the story that I happened to hand over four years ago, while I was hungover.

So that’s one point!! I don’t want the sort of customer service from Government that I get from NTL, Northern Rock and anyone else who makes business decisions about me based on the numbers, rather than on a personal contact with me.

NEXT. (You shouldn’t have asked, you really shouldn’t)

I want less of a reliance on data to judge organisations (yes, those who know what I’ve done in a previous life will find this hypocritical), I think we had to go too far in order to know we’d gone too far – now it’s time to pull back a bit.

I want e-gov projects to be right-sized and not doing stuff that could be better done by a private concern, with a good balance of bottom-up-ness and top-down-ness – I don’t want everything to be one-size-fits-all and I don’t want it to be entirely “customised” to me (see above) – can we spell “intelligent” and “diverse”?

I want projects to be grown up about risk and unafraid to be imperfect.

I want projects to be open and accountable and I want some assurance that the money is being spent wisely, without auditors sitting on the shoulder of every project manager who then has to jump through a hundred hoops.

And then I want every single project and every single public servant to understand that installing the technology won’t make the change all by itself – you will have to do the job of government differently, you will have to accept that times have changed and what really open government really means – it’s scary and unpredictable, but much more worthwhile than hiding behind those bomb-proof curtains.

Yes we will moan, yes we will groan, yes we will say you’re wasting our money, yes we will point out the obvious solution that you’ve entirely missed. And yes, we will be wrong too and sometimes rant without good reason – but that’s what people who are paying for a service are entitled to do.

So I guess I’d better stop here and get on with my tax return.


100 posts I’m sure I’ve written, but can’t for the life of me find anywhere

1.On gratitude for Kettle Chips
2.On gratitude for escalators
3.On being an attractive man in middle age
4.On having man breasts
5.On Coffee Republic vs Starbucks
6.On having days when I’m particularly sensitive to smell
7.On fear of being bitten by a dog
8.On the morning after the death of John Lennon
9.On using my mobile as a net bridge using GPRS
10.On the very first time I saw the WWW
11.On the very first time I drank Coca-cola
12.On the way I walk
13.On the way to the forum
14.On the importance of daily showers
15.On people who let their dog pee in the street
16.On skimmed milk and it’s part in my downfall
17.On just being fine
18.On the Central Line and the joy of Leyton Station
19.On using open source software wherever possible
20.On the Ukulele Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain vs The Hula Bluebirds (no contest)
21.On the joy of Pulp Fiction
22.On my physical reaction to Reservoir Dogs
23.On the Prince Charles cinema’s forward rake
24.On Kettners All-Day-Breakfast
25.On the power of the present moment
26.On digging holes in the sand
27.On sandcastles and moats
28.On the beach – the video
29.On the people I knew before they were famous
30.On my frustration with my children’s attitude to my stories about the people I knew before they were famous
31.On picking your nose in public
32.On the desirability of a town house in Chelsea
33.On the beauty of Chelsea Town Hall
34.On Local Government Reorganisation in London in 1965
35.On Ken Livingstone and London Buses
36.On how teenagers in 50 years time will think how cool it must have been to be living in the first few years of the 21st Century
37.On railway simulation using object oriented programming
38.On how weakness is strength
39.On the other side of the tracks
40.On sweeping my side of the street
41.On Sidney Bechet & Muggsy Spanier playing Sweet Lorraine
42.On the sameness of Wringin’ and Twistin’ and It’s the Last Time
43.On Lionel Hampton’s version of Panama Rag
44.On Ghost Town and my first half of bitter
45.On Banks’s Mild and it’s part in my downfall
46.On doing a runner from Pizza Hut and why it’s not a good idea kids
47.On the importance of keeping the floor dry in the bathroom
48.On the importance of placing raw meat on a shelf below cooked meat in the fridge
49.On being an ENFP
50.On not being an ISTJ
51.On walking in the country on my own
52.On walking on the beach on my own
53.On talking to myself
54.On the joy of blue and green
55.On not being who I truly am
56.On the difficulty of writing lists
57.On the ease of expressing thoughts in pictures and the difficulty of understanding other people’s pictures without intervention
58.On the British Museum vs the Science Museum
59.On the National Portrait Gallery
60.On owning my first mobile phone
61.On dinner and dancing at the Ritz
62.On the power of prayer before talking to call centres
63.On people jumping off bridges for fun
64.On Portmeirion and other highly places on the edge of the civilised world
65.On eating bacon, rice and peas
66.On forgetting what it was I was looking for in the shed
67.On the zen of weeding
68.On For Sale signs outside houses
69.On the rise and fall of the fax machine
70.On the renaissance of the coffee shop
71.On the back of a postcard
72.On walking from Pershore to Naunton Beauchamp
73.On rainbow pencils and rubber stamps
74.On the simultaneous ease and trickiness of playing the ukulele banjo
75.On drawing in public
76.On talking in public
77.On being PLACID
78.On school strikes and unemployment benefit
79.On leaving behind holes in my shoes
80.On starting again afresh
81.On being sunburned from sitting in rockpools
82.On the pain of being hit with a cricket bat – and why I’m really sorry Jason
83.On the secret sauce
84.On corruption and disease
85.On the futility of running the business by the numbers
86.On Steve Ross at Pizza on the Park
87.On living and talking dangerously
88.On not taking myself or others too seriously
89.On the belief in the healing power of software tools
90.On listening to people I can’t stand and thanking them for what they’re telling me
91.On estate agents and the impending end of the world
92.On falling over my own feet in the carpark of Toys R Us
93.On the Bolton report
94.On paper aeroplanes and major security alerts
95.On going tits up
96.On The Beat after a CND march in Rugby c1981
97.On the taste of honey
98.On marmite on toast and a cup of tea
99.On walking through treacle
100.On the comfort that comes from completing a list, quickly followed by the realisation that there are 100 more to write.

Distraction in the office

I’m increasingly distracted today by a conversation that’s been going on a few cubicles away (I use a serviced office with lots of hotdesks) about e-mail marketing.

They’ve been going on and on about the ways you can get round spam-filters and make sure you get through to people; fooling people into opting-in to stuff just to get the message through; getting whitelisted IP addresses. The most important thing seems to be getting their message (I think they’re promo-ing a gambling site) into someone’s inbox. Forget the fact that even if it gets through the filter, everyone’s got a delete button. Forget that by doing this and chasing people, you turn people even further off from using your service and maybe online services in general.

I just keep thinking “Why, why, why are you putting so much effort into contacting people who don’t want to hear from you.”

And better to think it and blog it than to go round there and poke my nose in directly

Golden Oldies

Darn those pesky folk at we make money not art
for pointing to the old computer museum. Can’t they see I’m supposed to be working?

OK this is the first computer my father bought in the early eighties – whizz bang spec: 16K ROM 16K RAM (expandable to 48K!!!) and running at a cool 1MHz, yeah that’s one megahertz, woah!

But the PET 2001 with a BASIC from some bunch of kids in a garage called Microsoft, was where I learned:
10 INPUT “What is your name?”, x$
20 FOR i = 1 TO 10
30 PRINT x$
40 NEXT i

This one
looks like a later 3xxx series given the clickmatic keyboard but I am ready to be put right.

See? I can do techno-nerd.

Getting under the COLLAR

COLLAR – is an idea right now that I want to turn into a real place – not simply a conceptual space or an online/virtual space, although it can’t escape being those too. But a real space that people can physically come together in to talk and learn and teach each other about the current state of organisational life and how best to survive it. It reflects my passionate belief that we need new institutions to help us survive and thrive in the knowledge economy.

COLLAR stands for the “Centre for Organisational Life, Learning and Associated Research” – the name was provided by MUSICA (Made-Up Silly Institute for Contrived Acronyms) whose previous work was the PICKLE (Public Inspection Centre for Knowledge Learning and Enlightenment). Mmmm….I do like that “Enlightenment” bit, so in homage to PICKLE an alternative name for COLLAR would be LICKLE – the London International Centre for Knowledge Learning and Enlightenment.

“Enough of the stupid name game – geddon with it – Ed”

What’s it for?
The Centre’s primary purpose is to provide a physical space for people to come together to discuss the nature of organisational life in the early 21st Century and to share their experience of ways of dealing with it and managing it. I think it’s important to have an urban location rather than a rural one to make it easy for people to drop in while they’re in town.

The kinds of products that could initially be available to people visiting the centre would be of two types:

Classes and Workshops in tools and techniques

  • Cultivating your creativity

  • Using creativity for better business
  • Developing your 60-second personal pitch
  • Making Personal Knowledge Management work for you

Interesting Conversations

  • Knowledge Cafes (any subject you want to introduce)

  • Talking Walks around interesting areas of London
  • The Talking Shop (ongoing conversations, primarily developing products and ideas)
  • Research Colloquia (gulp this is getting frighteningly academic, let’s stop now)

Haven’t we already got one of those?
If so, then great, point me there and I’ll go and sit on their doorstep until they find a use for me, but I’m not sure. What I have in mind is not as academic as the Business Schools or Management Training Centres. Nor is it as wildly, ecstatically cutting-edge as the Cynefin Centre. It’s the sort of place I’d love to hang out in and do the sort of stuff, for example that we did on BlogWalk IV recently.

Why not?
I can make up a hundred reasons why other people might think this is a bad idea, but I’d rather hear them from other people than to entertain them myself. I think it can work, it’s needed and I’m prepared to put time, effort and money into making it happen. The worst that I can hear is that someone’s already doing exactly this – and as I’ve said, that doesn’t bother me.

What’s needed next?

  • Money
  • Someone other than me to think about it
  • People with time etc. to start making it happen
  • Constructive ideas on making it happen
  • Premises
  • Suggestions of people who might be fired up by this idea (preferably ones who are already sympathetic, but also have some spare cash or cheap, but beautiful premises to offer and don’t want to have complete control over everything – shouldn’t be too hard to find ;-))

Comment here or e-mail me to lend a hand, keep the conversation going or point out any enormous blind spot that you think I have.

Young ‘uns

Euan is having a staggering time with his daughter the six-year-old mega-mixer. On a similar, but non-technical note, I just had the following exchange with my 13 year old son:

“Dad, what’s aspirin?”

“It’s a painkiller – for headaches and stuff”

“OK…is it strong?”

[suspicion rising] “Yes, sort of but it doesn’t work for some people and others are allergic to it. People also use paracetamol and ibuprofen”

“Uh-huh, so you can still get it”

[now worried, can see coke & aspirin experiments when friends come round later today] “Yes, you can get it over the counter from a chemist, why? Have you got a headache..?”

“No… it’s just there’s a drunk in my book”

“What your Stephen King book?” [anger towards Surrey Libraries and their liberal attitudes to lending to minors – guilt for my own liberal attitudes, I said it was OK and now my son's experimenting with drugs at 13 – where will it all end?]

“No Dad, my book – you know…. and there’s a drunk and he’s got a hangover and I want to know what he’d take for it”

[Wild relief combined with heart-piercing guilt that I've forgotten that he's writing a book. Well not forgotten so much as put it out of mind, assuming that as I hadn't heard about it in six months it had gone the same way as many of my books/blogs/sparkling careers, started with enthusiasm and ditched when the going got tough or some new sparkly thing came my way.]

Dad leaves for work, heart now bursting with pride in his son, the 13 year-old sure-to-be-Booker-prize-winning-novelist.