Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

February VRM Hub meeting in London

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The next VRM Hub meeting will be on Wednesday 27th February. The change from the usual last Thursday of the month is due to Doc Searl’s availability on that date in London.

The meetings are open with a sign-up on the VRM Hub wiki.

Quote to remember

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The Web is just a cute hack.
-Bob Frankston in a conversation at Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View.

Work – play, play – work, even for CEOs

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Tom Glocer is a CEO who’ll make it to the round. :)

Over the past several years, some in the British media have suggested that I should have better things to do than spend my time on Facebook or other social networking or web services. …I believe it is a very worthy investment of my “free” time to explore the latest interactions of media and technology, or indeed to write this blog when I feel I have something worthwhile to say.

Innovation is non-linear – perhaps that is why all that networked stuff works rather well. What doesn’t work is the traditional command and control but that’s another conversation. Lateral thinking is rewarded in this day and age (actually, I believe it always has been) and a good way to get cracking when thinking about new business models. So, Amazon’s ‘unique proposition’ is reader book reviews, although it makes money on selling books, eBay ’sells’ reputation, makes money on auctions, Google’s offering is reach, though it makes money on text ads. Behind every new-ish business model is lateral monetisation struggling to get out.

Growth requires innovation, and, unfortunately, innovation is not a linear process. When Columbus “discovered” the New World, he had actually set out to find a new route to India. The much admired Google similarly did not set out to invent the dominant ad monetization engine. Too much idle experimentation in the executive suite leads to a failure to execute on any plan; however, the total absence of imagination leads to plans that lead nowhere.

And now for the personal touch. Tom Glocer is spot on about the nature of expertise. Recently I noticed how people in business are starting to approach learning about social media second-hand, listening to the self-proclaimed experts* rather than jumping straight in themselves.

I believe that unless one interacts with and plays with the leading technology of the age, it is impossible to dream the big dreams, and difficult to create an environment in which creative individuals will feel at home. This does not mean that the ceo needs to program a third-party app on Facebook, but I believe it is ultimately more useful in understanding business concepts like viral marketing, crowd-sourcing or federated development to use a live example rather than wait for the Harvard Business Review article to appear in three years time.

We should all feel comfortable to follow our own paths. What counts is the results, not living-up to some outdated view of what “work” looks like in the 21st century.

Indeed. This is an area of exploration that no CEO or other executive should leave to others. If part of the job of a business leader is to see the big picture, well, there is no more distinct big picture out there than what is happening at the crossroads of the web, technology, media and human interactions within networks and outside traditional organisations and institutions.

*For the record, rather than consider myself an expert on social media or Web 2.0 or [fill in the web buzzword du jour], I’d prefer to be an ‘expert’ at shifting people’s mindset and helping them understand what is the web and what’s possible on the web.

On feeling stupid

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A friend forwarded me a quote that I find particularly apt for my current state. Substitute “social media/Web2.0″ for music and current Web 2.0 buzzwords for the watchwords and good old Béla hits the nail on the head.

Recently I have felt so stupid, so dazed, so empty-headed that I have truly doubted whether I am able to write anything new anymore. All the tangled chaos that the music periodical vomit forth thick and fast about the music of today has come to weigh heavily on me: the watchwords, linear, horizontal, vertical, objective, impersonal polyphonic, homophonic, tonal, polytonal, atonal and the rest…

Well, not quite true… partly I am fed up with social media/Web 2.0 stuff bandied about all over the meedjaland, which is not a pretty sight. What with being ‘creative, ‘communicative’ and all front, the ad agency/comms crowd has mastered the lingo. Alas, ‘engagement’ in their mouth means ‘interactive campaign’ and we know what that means.. more evil Flash! And partly I have been hanging around some really clever geeks, which puts strain on any web evangelist.

So onwards in a distributed fashion. :)

VRM in London

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A couple of weeks ago, on October 15th there was a VRM meeting at our Chelsea HQ. The group was diverse, a CRM expert turned VRM , a marketing/branding strategist , a media analyst from the City, security gurus and uber-geeks from Google and Sun respectively, public sector & government IT expert . And me, although god knows how I would describe myself these days. Our objective was to discuss practical applications of VRM and what each of us can do. Both in business and technical terms, so the diversity of people at the meeting was deliberate.

You can read more general things about VRM here and over the next few weeks and months I will be writing more about it here. Here is William’s account of the meeting and his impressions of first encounter with VRM. The money quote:

VRM opens up all sorts of new markets as people articulate their requirements. The long tail finds its voice and states its needs. It’s counter-intuitive model, and a fundamental shift in how they do business.

Good stuff.

I want to note one issue that emerged from the discussion. When people hear about VRM, the idea that they are in control of the data is very easy to grasp and accept. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes to get that across. I note with some wonder that it is easier to explain VRM to a cab driver than to a marketing director.

Once people mentally flip the ownership of data on its head i.e. your data (purchase history, notes on products, recommendations) is owned by you, not captured and locked in inside a vendor’s silo, they see the power flowing from the control, management and sharing of information about themselves. But looking ahead and building on that ability, it is interesting that most people assume their market power will come from aggregation. Along the lines of.. if enough people want something they can get together and exert some influence over vendors. Similar to this perhaps.

I don’t think this is about aggregation. It will be a result of people’s behaviour as facilitated by VRM tools – the demand side as the sum of informed and networked individuals will have continuous impact on the supply. But I do not believe that is where we start when building VRM applications.

I am rather fond of saying ‘the network is always stronger than a node’ – so much so it appears in my email signature. But the context is that the stronger the node, the more robust and better the network. It starts from the understanding the human need for identity, ownership and a degree of autonomy or sovereignty. VRM needs to help create a framework where many tools and applications, modular or integrated, will help people to achieve just that and let the Web again work its magic.

Where this is not about pure power play is in accepting that businesses also need to be nodes in the network. We need to work with businesses that understand having customers on their side is much better than herding them into their silos for the all important, money-making Lock-In.

VRM for business then is flipping the mass customisation on its head, where it belongs. Businesses know individualisation is expensive now. And yet expected by their customers more and more as they are learning to behave and treat each other as individuals. The pressure on the industrial age mindset that sees standardisation as cost reduction is increasing. All existing processes are forcing one route, the best way to achieve efficiency is to streamline that one way. Scaling is god. Processes are the priesthood. In this context, focusing on the individual is about providing above and beyond that standard. And that can cost a lot. What we need to do is demonstrate it is not necessarily the case, when customers are genuinely part of the ‘process’. We will need both tools and change of mindset for that.

Confessions of a (former) control freak

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David Tebbutt finds out at Creative Coffee Club meeting in London why social networks are no place for control freaks:

Inside organisations, we are all trained to prepare for meetings, to have agendas, objectives, checklists and actions. The theory is to conduct the proceedings as efficiently as possible and have a means of control if things get out of hand.

Accordingly, my thoughts about the CCC were to let people mingle for a while, then tap a glass to attract their attention and make an objectives-type announcement. My colleagues were much too polite to call me mad. They just said: “Hmmm. Not quite what we had in mind.”

Agendas and objectives for meetings are for people who don’t want to be there. If you have things you want to talk about or share, care about a project or want to connecting with others, you will have plenty to say. The crucial thing is to have the right people there – they are those who choose to be there. And we are back to autonomy…

In such gatherings a structure will emerge. There is no need to impose objectives or agendas that often represent a thinly disguised command & control attitude. The result may not be what you are used to, or imagined or would like others to conform to but something will happen alright. And most likely it will be a lot better than anything you could come up with. [Insert a respectful nod to Johnnie Moore who both preaches and practices this.]

The funny thing is that David and I used to meet in Dana Centre cafe for discussions that lasted several hours at a time and never seem to come to a natural halt. There was no structure or even an objective other than enjoyment of talking about stuff we both found interesting.

I also have a confession to make – it was the internet that has driven the futility of control freakery home for me too. Once you start blogging, interacting and communicating, there is no point in trying to make people pay attention to you, let alone force or manipulate them to do what you consider right or appropriate. And anyone, whether an individual or business will struggle with the web until realise that they should control what they can, not what they wish they could.

Muffett lived a life full of cannibals and councils

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The headline says it all. Alec’s father was a character that loomed large in people’s lives and this obituary explains why. Not many a man’s name becomes part of a saying in an African language:

He spent 16 years in colonial administration in Nigeria, from 1947 to 1963, and proudly laid claim to being one of only two Britons, ever, whose surname passed into the native Hausa language. “Aka yi masa mafed” (literal translation “One did to him Muffett”) coming to mean “Justice caught up with him”.

I had the privilege of meeting the man himself. We talked of international relations, Ethiopia, WWII, history and African languages. Even in his weakened state he brought terror to the carers around him.

They don’t make them like this any more… Sorry, Alec. :)

Sympathy and best wishes to Alec and family.

Passive agressive notes

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This is brilliant! Another no-brainer use of a blog…

via Jackie

Autonomy is the only metrics

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William over at the Ideal Government asks:

Is there a simple way of measuring how ready people are to change? Is there a quick and easy psychometric test or something which checks whether people “get it” and can cope with the workload of change? Presumably when a huge, deep, long-lasting change happens different people play different roles, advocating change, visionary leadership, adopting it early, pointing out all the potential drawbacks, adjusting new processes so they really work, or resisting it until death or retirement. There are 101 ways to be unresponsive to people’s needs, waste money, destroy people’s trust in the integrity of public services. There’s every imaginable way to block change. But how many ways are there to start to get it right?

This is of interest to me. Finding such people within businesses is the hardest part of what I do. What follows once you find them is not easy either but it pales by comparison to the challenge of reaching out to those who are ready to change. In organisations they can be hidden, masked, downtrodden (literally). What distinguishes them is not their job, status or position but a mindset conducive to openness, curiosity, individuality, creativity and a strong dose of common sense topped with a sense of humour.

But why is it not those who have been appointed and tasked to change and innovate? Because this is what I think about system change from within…


… you can’t do it.

Processes are created within companies to streamline the various functions people are meant to perform. There is no room for innovation or change, after all the objective is to remove what is deemed unnecessary or duplicated. This is usually done by someone else, not the person subjected to the processes.

More importantly, you cannot design for innovation at the level of process. It is like being forced to prepare a meal in a kitchen where you cannot deviate from the recipe. Where the tools and ingredients are laid out in a precise order (not necessarily bad) and you have to follow it exactly (not always good). Any deviation is only diminishes the effectiveness of the whole set up. It is like a breakfast machine in cartoons or comedies – the character wakes up, presses buttons, pulls levers and voilà his coffee is poured, toast prepared and buttered. Then something goes wrong, the sequence is lost and the process breaks down, to much hilarity. The unwitting lesson is that the contraption meant to make life easier can turn on you just as easily. Here is one that takes this to a whole new level.

Not sure how long this clip will stay up, many have already been removed from YouTube. Just search “breakfast machine” and “family guy” and you are sure to find one.

To continue with the cooking analogy, the best chefs are those who can improvise with what they have, substitute ingredients, re-arrange recipes, try entirely new ways of preparing food. It is still important to have good tools, well arranged kitchen or tried & tested recipes but it is the person, with his experience, creativity and freedom to use it who makes or breaks the meal.

When it comes to change, the best a process can do is help incremental innovation (and that’s pushing hard the limits of my opinion on such matters). It is of no use when you need to be flexible facing unforeseen or infrequent circumstances. It is certainly of no use in times of major changes or tectonic shifts in markets and technology. This is when organisations need alternative ways of doing things, ways that are not of their ossified system.

In such times, the balance of ‘impact’ shifts towards the individual. By this I mean that the individual has a greater chance to change the system. It is when the individual must redefine the system, instead of being defined and constrained by it. Constrained because humans are more flexible and adaptive that the systems they build.

There are exceptions of course, the US Constitution, Open Source and, of course, the internet. It is not that these systems are somehow inherently more flexible, it is that they play their role at the appropriate level. They provide the framework or in other words the ‘lever’ and the ‘fulcrum’ through which individuals can move the earth. What matters is the individual’s decision and freedom to use them. In other words, the autonomy to act and have impact.

So even if you can’t change the system from within, you can bring the change from the outside. This can be done through people within organisations. I would argue that it can only be done by them. What they need first, however, is to have a clear understanding of why the change is necessary, what it means to them and applies to their job or life. They also need to learn to use the technology and tools to bypass the bottlenecks and to lay foundation to the alternatives.

But what about the management responsible for results and functioning of the business? There are ways to satisfy the executives but their main role in this is to let everyone exercise as much autonomy as they need to use their energy and time building new things rather than defending themselves against the old ones.

And who are those willing to take the risk? This is where William’s quest becomes relevant. The challenge for anyone looking to change the old ways is to:

  • avoid existing and mostly dysfunctional processes

  • connect to the outside where the shifts are being defined
  • bring the change inside and apply it to their sphere of influence
  • find people to set up a loose and cross-functional network of allies who end up building alternative ways

The first three apply to those who have had their OFM. The forth is the hardest and involves co-operation, conversations, reaching out and most of all willingness to face the stigma of a disruptor. There rarely is innovation without disruption…

Tomorrow, I’ll post a ‘typology’ of people within organisations from the perspective of inducing change.

OneWebDay in NYC

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On Saturday had brunch with Charles Hope and Grace Piper at one of my favourite hang outs in NYC – Les Halles.

Les Halles

They told me about OneWebDay party that night at For Your Imagination loft, which was round the corner from the hotel I was staying. The venue was good, a large room with groovy images projected on the wall. People were mingling in the gloom and ambiance of low lighting.

OneWebDay party in NYC

OneWebDay is a good and necessary meme. The last night’s party was one of the many ways to celebrate and share it. Glad I could be there.

It’s easy to take the web for granted. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what the web could mean to humankind in the future. That’s the purpose of OneWebDay, held each September 22.

The idea behind OneWebDay is to encourage people to think of themselves as responsible for the internet, and to take good and visible actions on Sept. 22 that (1) celebrate the positive impact of the internet on the world and (2) shed light on the problems of access and information flow.

The internet is made of people, not just machines. It’s up to us to protect it.

Why I love the internet #89,734

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Embarrassment, then an act of kindness, then the internet and human distribution.

I feel sorry for Andrew Keen that he’ll never understand or appreciate something like this. Well, almost sorry.

via Johnnie Moore

Blue monster anti-trust

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Two FT articles I read this morning – Microsoft loses EU antitrust appeal and Microsoft launches a tipple for techies.

One has to do with an ongoing court case about Microsoft’s violation of anti-trust laws.

The European Court of First Instance rejected Microsoft’s appeal against a ruling by the European Commission that found the software group had violated competition rules by abusing its dominant market position.

The other was about release of the Stormhoek Blue Monster reserve, with Hugh’s cartoon.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

The contrast between the FT pieces amused me. I get frustrated when people see and treat companies as uniform monolithic entities. When they don’t realise an obvious fact – that people working inside are just like them and most of the time they are not plotting the world domination. This goes for Microsoft and any other large corporation. To me, the Blue Monster is a battle cry for those inside Microsoft who want change and who share the desire for openness and direct connection with people outside.

But there is another obvious fact. That among those people working for Microsoft are those who do plot, if not the world, then certainly market domination, which they see as their main purpose. By any means available. This is why the Blue Monster has teeth. Those people believe in the rightness of their actions and see their drive as being commercial, business-savvy and mock any who would talk of, well, social objects. They want a monolithic and controlled brand because it bestows more power on them. They miss the fact that over time they will hollow out their company. By then, most of them will have moved on to another company or position.

Drinking the Kool-aid


Their drink of choice is the Kool-Aid, which often turns into corporate venom. So instead of Kool-Aid, let them drink Stormhoek. Kudos to Hugh for making that option available.

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