Transcript: Innovative approaches to creating the learning organisation - Euan Semple

Part of the Iriss Masterclass series, embedding social media in the workplace.

Podcast Episode: Innovative approaches to creating the learning organisation - Euan Semple


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

ES - Euan Semple

Using social media

ES I grew up in this part of the world and my father was Head of Computer Systems for Strathclyde region, so for a long time I heard all the moans and groans of working in local authorities and all the sort of stuff he had to deal with in the seventies and eighties, combined with his experiences of computer and delivering computing to people. Very different to the world that I’m now inhabiting and about to talk about in some ways.

I was also burdened with the job title of Director of Knowledge Management for the BBC for the last 6 years or so that I was there but I was there, for a total of 21 years, some of it as a Sound Operator making programmes for the World Service and then up through various management jobs to being a Senior Manager. So that kind of background of kind of coming from media and frankly now seeing just how much is wrong with mainstream media. Having a kind of - I suppose respect isn’t too strong a word for grown up computing but an attraction to the alternatives that are increasingly viable but also having got into the web very early, which I’ll talk about a number of times through this and the sense that what’s being perceived as very new actually isn’t.

I’ve been in Twitter for three years, I’ve been in LinkedIn for six years because it’s been going for that long, I’ve been blogging for nine years come February, so I find it fascinating that in some ways there’s quite a lot of pressure on people, several people have said that they feel this kind of obligation to find out what this thing is and it’s fascinating how something that to me was just an incremental, sensible, gentle growth into something that made sense to me has suddenly become a ’thing’ that people feel pressure to get their heads round, so it’s quite an interesting situation at the moment, because that brings up sides and down sides.

The first half of the morning I’ll talk mostly about organisational use of the technologies, the underlying consequences of them and the way they change the way people work and the way they relate to one another. But I’ll also talk a little bit about how you relate outside to the wider world and the networks and communities that you work with.

I’m always conscious that the language is a bit of an issue: ‘social media’ has problems. People in business are very jumpy about the word social because they see that as the antithesis of business, it’s not business-like and media sort of implies that it’s all about video and all that kind of stuff. Knowledge management was always an issue for me, how do you manage knowledge. It’s really about how to encourage people to share better the stuff that they know and the things that they need to share to work with each other. But I talk about working in a wired world because it’s just basically the web, you know it’s the web growing up, it’s the web becoming more and more part of our lives. It’s that increased connectivity impinging on more and more of what we do, rather than any discrete separate thing called ‘social media’ or whatever.

And for many of us and for me particularly it kicked off 10 years ago when the first edition of this book called ‘The Clue Train Manifesto’ came out and people often ask me, ‘what should I read to get my head round what’s happening?’ and although it’s 10 years old that’s still the book that I recommend that people go and have a look at. It was written by four guys originally, three of whom are now, because of this technology, personal friends of mine, and they basically tried to encapsulate what it was about the web that was going to make a difference. They came from some marketing, computing and business back.grounds and were remarkably prescient. They really did put their finger on an awful lot of subsequently what has come to be true and in fact this is the tenth anniversary edition that was just published last year, and, one of the many pithy sentences in the book was this one which for me sums up what I think we’re actually talking about:

‘Globally distributed, near instant person to person conversations’

and to pull that sentence into… it’s the ‘globally distributed’ aspect of it, you know clearly, as the very sad events currently in Haiti are showing you know the speed at which we can find out about things, the speed at which American has been able to raise through tex.ting and Twitter, millions of dollars just within the last 24 hours or so, straddles all sorts of physical, geographical boundaries in a way that we just couldn’t do five years ago, certainly not 10 years ago.

But equally within a big, bureaucratic organisation like the BBC where I started to do this stuff 10 years ago it was easier for me to talk to somebody from another company in another country on the web in the evening than it was for me to talk to the guy in the office next door to me because we didn’t have shared spaces. In the old days, the good old days that I joined, you got drunk in the pub every lunchtime and a club subsidised by your license fees allowed us to get drunk at lunchtimes, but it meant an awful lot of connection and an awful lot of socialising and bonding went on through the workplace. But then when John Burt became, you know came in, it became very efficient, that time got taken away, that place got taken away and equally the technologies weren’t available to us. Within the workplace we were constrained to what IT (Information Technology Department) gave us.

So the point is that even in an organisational context within an organisation the potential for the technology to just break down barriers and allow people who ought to talk to each other to talk to each other is immense.

The ’near instant’ aspect of it still is one of the things people are fearful of, the fact that I can now with my mobile phone connect to those large networks pretty much instantly wherever I am and a powerful story of this is when one of my friends was in one of the carriages behind the Kings Cross bombs when they went off in London and like many people he was using his mobile phone to take photographs but unlike most he was able to upload them from his phone to Flickr, which is a photo sharing site. As he uploaded them he was tagging them, which is adding little messages to say what they’re about with the phrase ‘Kings Cross bombs’, Wired magazine in the States had set up an RSS subscription which is a way of being alerted to things on the web with that as a search, so that within an hour they were on the phone to John asking if they could use his images on their website.

Now at the same time BBC journalists were being kept away from anything interesting by the emergency services. We didn’t trust them with fancy phones like that and even to this day, I was talking to a BBC Cameraman the other day, even with one of those phones he can’t get the pictures back through the firewall to get them onto the system so that the BBC can broadcast them without jumping through endless hoops.

So even now many years ago the Kings Cross bomb, John with his mobile phone at that moment had more clout in some ways than the BBC because he could get the story out, he could get access to information. With things like the Iranian Election and all sorts of subsequent events it’s become more apparent that an individual with a little bit of savvy and a decent network can actually get access to huge potential audiences if you like. All of which can be slightly intimidating if you’re a broadcaster but for me the reassuring bit about it and the theme of what I’m going to talk about is that it’s about person to person conversations.

It’s about relationships. It’s not about technology, it’s not about celebrity, it’s about some kind of connection and relationship with other people, which is actually how businesses are run. This is what I always found really frustrating and paradoxical about the reaction of ‘it’s social, it’s not businesslike’, you know businesses are based on, and networks are people that know each other and trust each other and in some ways the ones that are most adverse to this like the financial sectors and whatever else, they’re the ones that are about the ‘old school’ networks and the buddies and the people who kind of know each other and whatever.

So in a sense there’s nothing new about the underlying ability that these new technologies are giving us. Now those old networks - and there’s a lot of network theory about it - you are constrained by physical space. You know you’re so limited to the people you bump into, maybe the people who know people. Some of you may be away of the principal of six degrees of separation, the theory that we’re all no more than six steps away - those six steps become real when you have these technologies and there are people who get better at using that networks approach. And there are certain characteristics of people who are using that kind of networks approach.

Now we talk about being sort of just out of college or whatever, there’s an assumption by most people that this is an age type thing young people get it, old people don’t. I’m not so convinced. I think maybe younger people have had more exposure to computers so they’re more comfortable with playing with the technologies but actually the distinction is between open and closed, and people with an open temperament and people who want to connect, people who are open to other diverse views and enjoy that kind of network connecting really take to this stuff. I’m no spring chicken myself and there are an awful lot of people even older than me that really got into this stuff, the ‘silver surfers’, people getting into email in their sixties, seventies, but it’s because they see the world in a net.worked way. The trouble is most of our organisations have actually discouraged that, they put people into silos, you’re separated off from other groups within your organisation or other organisations that are actively seeking connections is very often challenged.

Now just to touch on the technology. I think it’s foolish to underestimate how intimidating people and how alien people find these things and of course there’s a real risk with all of these systems that you get a group of early adopters that get really confident and they kind of know what they are doing and they get quite dismissive about ’newbie’s’ which is another bit of jargon, people that are new to the systems. None of this is new, I mean this all goes back 20, 30 years to the beginning of the internet with bulletin boards and every.thing else but if you’re not aware of those etiquette things it can be quite intimidating.

How many of you use the Wikipedia? And how many of you have changed something in the Wikipedia? It’s funny the numbers always plummet on that last question.

Do you want me to talk a bit about the tools? Yes, okay I’m always a bit wary of going too much into Tools because sometimes these days’ people know about them but it might be worth just revisiting some of the issues for some of you anyway.

Well blogging - in fact let me just call up - right here’s my own blog. Blogging basically, the power of blogging is that it gave everybody the potential to publish. You know until blogs in order to put something on the internet you had to be geeky enough to write code or buy applications or whatever so this professional group of web masters grew up and still to a great extend do this for other people. But in a way it didn’t break the broadcast mould, you know there’s a small group of people publishing content where the rest of us passively consumed it but when blogging emerged about 10 years ago it allowed anybody basically to have a free tool based in your web browser where you write some content, you pressed ‘save’ and it publishes it. And once it’s published it, it is then available to everybody on the internet.

And there are methods and mechanics within the blogging network that allows people to pick up on what you’ve posted and copy it and move it on and refer to it and whatever else and you can see here some of my bulk posts. In fact that’s a single post, let’s go back to my main - it’s a very different form of communication, that you’re not writing a kind of ’talk to the hand statement’, sort of thing, you’re trying to start a conversation - this is a slow network here, I might not do too much of this. You’re trying to peak interest from the listeners.

So unlike traditional static formal documentation where you’re basically just stating these are the facts, with a blog you’re trying to go, ’this is interesting’, ‘come and see what I’ve seen’, ‘come and learn what I’ve learned’. And so you write differently, you write shorter, more direct, more plain-speaking sort of language and then other people will pick up on what you’ve said and sometimes comment on what you’ve said. The blogs give them an ability on the bottom of each post to comment and one of the things I was going to show you that I’m most proud of is that my posts tend to get lots of comments. So one I did the other day there had about 24 comments from pretty serious, heavy-weight, thoughtful people and I love it when my little idea has kicked off something that other people have taken up and started thrashing around on my blog.

So it’s a very proactive, networked, conversational way of trying to connect with people. It’s very different from a static website and still has a lot of power. You know people have migrated to things like Twitter and Facebook and stuff but blogging’s a sort of slow burn, powerful bit.

Facebook, you’re all on there I don’t have to explain this to you much and there’s a whole raft - I mean I’ve been in more social networks than you’ve had hot dinners, you know they come and go at a fright…Friendster, …, Orchid…I can’t even remember half the names. I get odd friendship connections coming out of these dark pits of humanity that have sort of died and gone away that most of us have left but are now inhabited by Malaysian prostitutes - I’ve never quite understood what goes on there but anyway. So there’s an ecology and evolution of all these systems of which Facebook’s the most recent iteration. You know in fact My Space is rapidly kind of descending into the dead pool of things that were once famous and Facebook will end up there too. I did predict a year from now but I might be a bit optimistic in that, it might take longer to die. But, you know, these are places where people can set out their stall, they can say what they are or aren’t as the case may be and connect with other people.

Now within the BBC we had all these tools. Our first tool was effectively an equivalent of Facebook, it was a big network, a big bulletin board that I’ll show you in a second and we had the blogs as well. They didn’t have Twitter when I was there. The reason I’m using my I-phone screen grab’s in this is to subtlety make the point that you don’t need to be on a computer to do any of this stuff which is why I find it hysterical all these organisations banning Facebook, you know, unless you’re going to fleece your staff on the way through the door in the mornings, you ain’t banning anything. And the ubiquity of the technologies as well, the fact that I am pretty much connected most of my waking hours and we’ll maybe come back to why it’s worth my investment of time to do that, but there’s nothing to stop me doing all of this on my phone, hence the screen grabs.

Now Twitter, how many of you use Twitter? How many of you think Twitter is a complete waste of time and everybody telling everybody else what they had for breakfast? I mean Twitter basically was invented by the same guys who did blogger, one of the original blogging tools and it’s described as kind of like ‘micro-blogging’. It’s the same sort of principles but just delivered in shorter sound-bitey, sort of format of 140 characters, which was to allow it to be used on mobile phones because SMS was the original assumption with that. And as I say it has been around, well just over 3 years, I’ve been in it for three years and when I first saw it I thought, ‘oh what a complete waste of time’, as I tend to with all these tools until I finally find that they’re worthwhile.

You know I’ve enough noise incoming what do I want with more people’s twaddle. But I’ve now realised that it’s almost indispensable for me now. It’s hard for me to imagine how I could now be effective without it. And the reason for that is that I have now gained access - I’ll come back to this in a moment - but I’ve now gained access to the collective noticing of thousands of people. Now I’m followed by about three and a half thousand and I think I follow two and a half thousand back. I then have a sub-set because Twitter now has groups of about 300 that I really pay attention to because I can cope with 300 peoples’ worth of noise. I struggle a little bit with two and a half thousand peoples’ worth of noise but I’ll dip into that if I’ve got some spare time. And it’s very much worth me having 3 and a half people following me because any time I ask a question I’ve got the collective efforts of a good chunk of those people trying to sort something out for me.

So just to give you an example of that, I was doing a ‘webinar’, a seminar on the web using my laptop for a university recently and they were using a software that I hadn’t used before, it wasn’t seeing the camera on the laptop and the clock was ticking, I’ve got two minutes to go live to a reasonably big audience, tried the helpdesk absolutely use.less, tried to work my way through the help files again absolutely useless and then I just popped the question into Twitter saying, ‘does anybody know how to get this software to see the camera?’ and literally within 10 seconds I had three answers to my question and was able to make the change and went on and did it.

Or while I was walking round London recently there was more than average pedestrian traffic, there was more than average road traffic and I became apprehensive that maybe something dreadful had happened again, maybe there had been another terrorist attack or whatever and I didn’t go to any of the news services, I went to Twitter because from experience was more confident that out of those 2,500 people somebody would notice something. Which may have been a news source or a news agency but I may have not picked that one to go and look at.

So basically it just gives me a big fishing net on the web to pick up on stuff. Now it takes effort to manage that. You know, I have to invest effort in staying across those people, investing in those people so that when I answer other people’s questions I’m putting something in that I’ll then be able to get back when I have a question. And there are occasions where I get weary with it and I stop using Twitter, I make myself go back and invest in the network because I know I get so much benefit back from it. Now that’s me having had three years of experience and learning how to deal with the stuff and I totally under.stand why people are resistant to it.

Just to deal with the inanity thing, I normally sometimes use a screen grab with about half a dozen tweets and the language doesn’t help, you know a friend of mine wrote about the market value of a tweet and I said ’look I have enough to deal with trying to get people to take the word ‘social’ seriously, never mind talking about the market value of a tweet. But I’ve got this slide which is 4 people tweeting about ‘just got up, just had a coffee, looks nice outside’, blah blah blah, just completely inane stuff and people kind of snigger at it, and I go ‘okay that top guy is a Politician, the second guy down is a Chief Executive of a multi-million pound business and the third guy is - I can’t remember what the third guy is - but you know these are people who haven’t wasted their time in life, you know they’re not idle, mucking about teenagers, they’re grown-up people who’ve got some reason to put that effort in. And it’s basically the same sort of stuff that you get when you walk into an office, well you do, you just sort of say ‘hi how are you doing? Did you have a good weekend? Have you seen the frosty roads out there?, blah blah blah’, we all do that, you know there’s nothing new about that and it connects people at a kind of human level.

So my wife’s friend, she works from home like me and she hasn’t got into this stuff as early but she’s become a fan of Twitter recently because she said it just gives her connection to people other than the mums standing outside school picking up the kids. So it’s this stroking thing that you use to build the connections of the network but you then have the pay back if you’re smart about who you follow and who follows you or has access to an extended outboard brain effectively and it’s all based on what I’ve kind of called the collective ‘ooh that’s interesting’ process.

Now a lot of organisational life and management has been about tidying stuff up, about making stuff look organised and not messy and kind of labelling and categorising and defining structures and all this kind of stuff, which has a point but you end up creating quite big gaps that the interesting stuff tends to fall into. The organisation chart very rarely reflects the organisation that people actually work in which is messy and straggly and unpredictable and people based, and these tools in a sense actually celebrate that messiness, you want noise, you don’t want to reduce noise. This is one of the big intuitive leaps about getting people to use these tools, you want them to be inane, you want them to talk, you want them to say anything because by doing so you increase the opportunity of some signal beginning to appear, of some useful stuff beginning to be allowed to emerge. And one of the biggest single things I get sad about working with organisations is the degree of repression, you know, the degree of fear, even in quite senior people, ‘who am I to say that?’, ‘who am I to think that?’, what if I write this and they all laugh at me?’ or ‘what if I’m wrong?’. You know we’ve squished so much people bring to organisations out of them with that slightly repressive kind of tidy, business-like, managed thing. Now these tools are the antithesis of that so don’t go near this if you don’t like - if you don’t want to unleash that kind of stuff.

But what you get is like I say this ‘ooh that’s interesting’ so for instance, because I have a blog I notice more, I think more, you know when I’m out and I’m meeting people and seeing things I’m thinking, ‘oh that’s interesting I might write about that’, ‘why will I write about that?’, ‘what will I say?’, ‘what will the consequences be of my saying something?’ So I become much more thoughtful, much more analytical, much more aware of stuff happening around me and for instance, Richard Sambrook who is a good friend of mine who - well in fact he’s just leaving the BBC but he was Head of Global News and World Service so one down from Mark Thompson, was the Head of News during the Gilligan Affair - is a senior guy used to dealing with heavy-weight stuff and he said it just make him more aware of the stuff of work by having his internal BBC blog that we gave him. And because Richard got good at writing and being honest and just writing about stuff that was interesting to him other people began to follow his blog internally and he ended up with about 5,000 at its peak, 5,000 staff reading his blog on a monthly basis. Now he only had about 2,500 people in his directorate, so it basically gave him a platform, a network and an influence beyond his parochial group and they watched what he wrote because they would go, ‘oh that’s interesting, I didn’t know Richard was involved in that?, I didn’t know Richard thought that, I didn’t know that was a problem’, whatever and if enough people collectively start to notice stuff you do get an emerging structure that comes out of things and you also get better at using - there are various tools, I should have touched on RSS - in fact I might explain that in a moment if you’re interested - there are technologies and practices that allow you to get better at managing that signal to knowledge ratio, which is partly the selection of people, so I get quite a lot of people all the time wanting to be my friend and of course that language of ‘friend’ in these things is problematic as well but people pop up and say you know ‘I want to connect’ and I’ll have a quick look and I’ll see how much they contribute, I’ll see how much crap there is in what they contribute, I’ll see who else links to them and if they look like they talk sense and are relevant to me and won’t add to my noise I’ll add them into my RSS feeds or all the other things I use to pick up the signals.

Let me just touch on RSS, it stands for Really Simple Syndication. It was invented by a friend of mine, Dave Winer as a means of allowing users to subscribe selectively to the stuff on the web. So when I’m in a website or a blog or Twitter or any of these tools and I see something that I think is interesting that I want to keep an eye on, most browsers these days have a little RSS logo appear somewhere, either in the browser window itself or sometimes you get a bit orange fan shaped thing at the side of the blog. And if I click on that this tool which is called Google Reader which is free and is a web-based thing is an aggregator which then subscribes to that source of information, such that as soon as that gets updated, I get alerted to it. Okay, so you can see here - my screen has refreshed I think I might have got on the network now, but since I last looked there’s 131 things have changed. Now I last looked at five past 10, okay, so 131 things have been refreshed since I last looked and it shows me down the left here - right rather, my categories, I’ve put these in a rough taxonomy of things I’m interested in. So I can see that within technology 5 things have been updated since I last looked. If I click on that it will show me the headlines for those five things eventually and will have pulled out not just the headlines but the content of those five things okay. It will basically pull the content of the headlines into that space.

So I’m trying to stay across 200 sources of information which have proved of value to me. There’s no way I would go and look at 200 websites worth of information on a daily basis. I just wouldn’t do it, I would not be interested in doing it, whereas with this I can quickly skim and I can do this on my phone as well. So I can very quickly - and you get better at it, you can tell which are rubbish and which are good but you can just quickly look through them and think, ‘oh that’s interesting, I’ll go and look at that’.

Now some of this and again for instance since I last looked 25 minutes ago 11 people on the web have written about me or have used my name so those are Twitter posts that have either taken my tweets and re-tweeted them or whatever and those are Google alerts for my name, where people have written my name on some website. So basically I get to know within seconds if somebody’s written about me on the web. Why is that useful? Well I was talking at a conference in Brussels years ago, came off the stage, opened my laptop up, there was a Wi-Fi network, Google refreshed, it showed me that somebody had written about me and it showed me that they’d written about what I had just said on the stage so it was obvious that it was somebody in the room and when I looked it was a guy called Thomas Vanderwall, whose actually quite famous and came up with the phrase ‘folksonomy’ to describe the use of tags to identify content on the web, and I was able to look across the room, caught Thomas’s eye, waved at him and we went for a coffee and we’re now good friends and now every time when I’m in Washington Thomas and I hook up and talk about the disruptive effect on tagging on American governments. But the point of my talking about that is that out of that unmanaged, uneditorialised sea of rubbish on the web I got to make a connection with a really interesting guy.

So I always say to people, whether you feel like the self expression, verbal diarrhoea of having a blog or Twitter you should at the very least get your head round RSS and use it to subscribe to sector information, people are writing maybe formally, a lot of people are writing formal sites now of RSS but also the blogs and tweets that are related to your activities. Do a search in Google for your organisations name or issues that relate to your organisation and you’ll start to get an incoming stream of stuff that some of it will be useful and some of it won’t. You get tolerant of the crap because you get good stuff as well. You also get good at weeding, so I weed this all the time. If people are adding too much noise and not enough signal I’ll take them out. If I’m getting into an echo-chamber where all I’m doing is listening to people that are agreeing with me, I’ll actively go out and try and find something that will stretch me, which is nothing new in a way because people choose to read the Guardian or the Telegraph and all that kind of stuff but actually sometimes you think, ‘I’m going to go and see what other people think’…

It worries me still that people talk about digital - they’ll put air quotes when they say digital or talk about computers or talk about technology as if it was something other, something other people do, something that doesn’t matter but actually increasingly it is just how people live their lives and increasingly the people - I think somebody said this - the people that you will be serving are already in there, they’re doing this, this is how they talk, this is how they connect and part of why I do these workshops is to help - as I said already is to have the non-geeks catch up because there are, there are a small envelope of us going - and I’m in a very front end small envelope, I mean I’m not normal and I’m not claiming that but a long tail behind is kind of shortening all the time in the gap between what’s new and what’s normal. So all I’m trying to do is entice you in to my world and you too will be talking about ‘weeding’ and ‘gardening’ and ’echo-chamber’. To define an echo-chamber that’s just, you know, you only listen to people that agree with you which is one of the risks of this.

Concrete examples and organisational examples; at the BBC we set up a forum (bulletin board), that I put in eight years ago and also a news groups. Facebook and LinkedIn they’re called groups but it’s basically a place where people can post things and other people can react to them. Fundamentally a reaction to the email where with email - some.body might send an email to all staff and then only one or 2 people respond or they only respond to one person not to all and a lot of the value to the answer to a question gets dispersed and lost. Whereas if you ask a question on a forum all the answers stay there and can be accessible by everybody else. So for instance one of the questions on the BBC forum in the early days was ‘how do I transfer a telephone call in the internal phone system?’ Right not rocket science, there was only 2 answers to the question but the last time I asked 5,500 people had read that thread because 5,500 people didn’t know how to transfer a phone call and would otherwise have tried to look it up, tried to work it out or bother the person sitting next to them. So that accumulative access to the collective knowledge which in our case is almost 25,000 people because 90% of the staff ended up using that tool at some point and we had a huge range of stuff and deliberately so because I knew it was a social space so we allowed them to talk about anything, and I mean anything. Some of the topics where toe-curlingly inappropriate for work but it was what brought people in and once people were there when somebody asked a work question there was a body of people to answer it whereas most people try to work sanitise these tools and end up with - it’s just kind of boring and nobody goes there and so they all end up going out on to Facebook anyway and, you know, you’ve lost.

I used to use the analogy that we were trying to create the equivalent of Cotswold villages, that grow up haphazardly and nobody predetermines the architectural style and they look messy but they’re human and you can work out where the church is and where the pub is and there’s lots of nice well worn paths that you stand and natter on street corners. Most corporate IT systems are like East Kilbride or Milton Keynes, you know, efficient on the face of it with lots of roundabouts and sign posts but you kind of get lost because it all looks the same and doesn’t feel as human. So there’s a kind of messiness about these tools as I said early.

So like I say 25,000 people, any question technical, practical, ‘should we have played out Jerry Springer the Opera?’, ‘Why did Greg Dyke - should he have resigned?’ You know we had a huge bunch of issues that we discussed on this thing. And to this day there will be people that think this is a huge waste of time but equally in meetings I would be sit.ting with maybe 12 people and half of them would be on this system and have all this peripheral information and contextual information about the subject we’re talking about, the other half would just look blankly when we referred to some of that, so there was this disparity.

My team was disbanded four years ago when we got made redundant and nobody took on ownership of these tools particularly but they’ve all survived and that was partly because from the word ‘go’ we cultivated a high degree of ownership with the users. It was their system not mine and they took responsibility largely for working out what was wrong, what was right and what they did with it. Which came back to the thing about being a Director, you know, one of the kind of cultural shifts in this stuff is the hive mind as it’s called - sorry more language - but just that distributed collective responsibility and intelligence for things which doesn’t happen by magic and I actually takes quite a lot of work to cultivate the right attitudes, the right environment, the right sense of individual responsibility to stop it going wrong, it takes real work to do it.

Some other examples from another one of my clients as people often sat ‘well of course it worked at the BBC, you’re a communications organisation, you do that kind of stuff’. NYK is a Japanese shipping firm, conservative, male dominated, engineering based, not the sort of people you’d necessarily think would leap to this but they’re actually doing really well with a Wiki that they’ve put in on their intranet. There was a guy who didn’t have anything in his job title to give you an idea that this might be the case but was a real boat nerd who loved taking photographs of NYK’s fleet and of all the docks that they docked in and of all the statistics of the docks that they docked in and when he found the Wiki he just started populating it with all this stuff and all these other people are going, ‘oh I didn’t know we had that dock’, or ’that we had that boat’, you know all this rich information. Now you might not want to go for a drink with the guy because he was a bit nerdy about boats but suddenly he just made all this information available to people. He subsequently left NYK and one of the big promises of knowledge management was, you know, language like ‘capture’ and ’extracting knowledge’ and then you wondered why nobody played the game but because this guy just stuck it all out there it’s still there, you know.

When I left the BBC, the ultimate in irony, the week I left I got asked to take part in a senior level workshop on how to prevent knowledge leaving the organisation, ha ha, you couldn’t make it up could you? And I pointed out that unlike most of the people that were being made redundant I had left an audit trail, you know, you can find all my inane war.bling for the last six years.

Another example is the British Library, another client, and they’re using Yammer which is an internal equivalent of Twitter.

Dave Snowdon who was a well known knowledge management guy who was a friend of mine and he’d this phrase ‘you can’t manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology’, okay which was the approach that we took. You can put in a variety of little tools - in fact we also talked about Trojan mice, which I really liked, you know unlike a Trojan horse we had lots of little Trojan things that nobody paid too much attention to and you didn’t have to ask IT permission for but that gradually began to join up without them noticing and turned into this great monster that they couldn’t turn off. But what I’m you is that range of little things which you don’t have to do all of, you don’t have to do any of, you know that’s another point I should maybe have made - you don’t have to do this. You know, you’ll be dead in 10 years if you don’t but you know - if it doesn’t make sense to you and you can’t see where you’re going to apply it you shouldn’t be getting involved in it. Chief Executive’s shouldn’t be blogging because they’re Head of Intelligence or Communications tells them to have a blog that’s just death to do that.

So I’m trying to entice you with a menu of options. In terms of the difference it makes to you. As a Senior Manager, I was charged with knowing what was going on, deciding what needed done, and amassing the resources to do something about it. So I got to know much quicker and much more truthfully what was going on. As a brief example, you know within the Beep we had Internal Comms Team who put out all staff emails, now I would find out from our forum from the people involved in a situation instantly that it happened, the truth, and then I’d get some bollocksy internal comms email come out two hours later that was just embarrassing. Now who’s better informed - the guy who sits being busy waiting for that to happen of the guy who’s got his network that’s telling him what’s going on? I’ve then got a context in which to decide that something needs to happen that’s possibly richer than would be available to me otherwise. So I’ve found out earlier, I’ve got a better basis to make a decision and I then have a network of smart people who owe me favours because I’ve been helping them for the last six months who I can go, ‘shit what do I do about this?’ Who can then help me to deal with it and actually if you add the fourth one and you do all this on an online environment you’ve captured what happened the last time so - you know nobody goes back and reads all that stuff but it might just to make somebody more aware of what went wrong the last time in a way that avoids them making the same mistake.

In the early days because it was difficult for people to open up about really big problems. I was showing this system live once on a big screen and the thing refreshed and somebody asked ‘does anybody know where I could find a fixer in Poland?’ Fixer are people who go out into production areas and find out who are the local camera crew and that kind of stuff and I hadn’t paid this guy honestly but he just happened to walk past and he glanced up and said ‘oh I know a really good Fixer in Poland’ and walked forward and typed the answer in front of this audience of people. So that meant that that crew didn’t have to go off and find a fixer. Another example is about translation - Radio 3 had a thing in Danish, they were going to put this programme out and there was chunks of text in Danish and they were going out on air in half an hour. The conventional way would be to recruit a translation agency who would pass the work on to somebody else, it would take a couple of days, cost you couple of hundred quid. Instead he just punched it into the forum said ‘does anybody speak Danish?’, five people said ‘yep me’ and within 20 minutes they had it back translated. Maybe not perfectly but they got it on air with something.

Q Certainly within Social Work and the Council we’ve been talking about the…people use our services, have access….and the other night a friend texted me, she’d seen a picture on Bebo and I went into look at it and there’s a lot of people have sites but there’s actually a site about the Council because people were complaining about the weather and about the state of the houses and I’d this PR guy yesterday said ‘do you know about this site?’ and there were photo.graphs uploaded and issues about what joiners were doing and what electricians were doing and I went into the manager and said ‘do we use this site, do we respond say what we’re doing?’

Yes is the answer. But at least you knew it was happening, which without Bebo you wouldn’t have done.

Mars Confectionary, another client, just sent the statistics yesterday that they’ve got thou.sands of people using their Wiki’s and hundreds of blogs, it’s really taking off.

A blog is normally an individuals or a small group where people write a diary with sequential little stories. A Wiki is a technology which allows people to update a document principally okay so the Wikipedia is a particularly use of Wiki technology. The word is a Hawaiian phrase Wiki Wiki means quickly in Hawaiian and Ward Cunningham who invented it, it was just a quick way to get a document up there and work on it together.

The reason for showing you Mars - don’t let me forget I’ll come back to that distinction - is a cultural one. They’re a family industry, family business based in the States where in the old days the family members would travel the world basically passing on stories from one bit to the other but they’re getting older and doing less of that travelling so people were beginning to think ‘hang on we’re not quite getting the stories the way we used to’. So blogging has really taken off for them because it’s given people the ability to just write narrative about the organisation which culturally they were up for because they were used to that story-telling way of working.

This last one here - this is the World Bank who I worked with and they’ve got - which I can’t show you internal ones but this is an external one that they now have. So part of the reason for getting into this in your organisation was to let people know the ropes and feel comfortable doing it and they can then start to stick stuff out on to the web which in their case does an awful lot to create a positive impression of what the World Bank does and to explain some of the issues behind what they’re doing.

I have a Crumpler bag which has got a big heavy strap and to try and extend it I undid the strap about a year and a half ago and couldn’t re-lace the damn thing. So I’d been round the airports around the world flapping this strap unable to do anything about it but a couple of months before Christmas Crumple UK started following me on Twitter - now I have a bit of an issue about organisations tweeting - organisations don’t tweet, people do but I forgave them in this case because when they started following me I said ‘seen as you here could you explain to me how to re-lace my bag strap?’ and whoever it is made a brave attempt at 140 characters to explain this complete process but I had to say ‘sorry mate none the wiser’. So they said ‘give me an hour’ and about an hour later I got this other ping that said ‘Go on to Flicker’ and they had taken - they may have had the photos already - but they had put up this sequential set of photographs showing me how to re-lace my bag strap. Now I thought that is just a great little example of the power of this stuff. The fact that they were noticing that I was out there, the fact that they were able to respond - you can imagine lots of organisations where they would say ‘well you’re not in marketing so you’re not allowed to respond to tweets’, or ‘you’re not allowed to put branded images of our products on the web without going through this department - you know you could imagine all the stuff that would normally prevent this but they were able to answer my question in a way that I hadn’t had it answered in a year. So I now tell that story around the world so they’ve got positive PR, they’ve got a connection with their customers wherever so that’s really powerful.

Now about two years ago I went up to Inverness and hired a car from EasyCar which just went horribly wrong, loads of mess and confusion mostly driven by a small thing wrong on their website. So I got in touch and said you could avoid all this hassle if you just changed this thing - I got an automatic bop response a couple of times and then bop with the per.son who got in touch because they were so unhelpful and I said ’look I’m not saying this aggressively but this is an interesting situation given the work that I do, if you don’t help me I’m going to write this story up and stick it on the web’. So I did, being careful not to defame or slander and getting a lawyer friend of mine to check what I’d written and for a year and a half if you search for EasyCar on Global Google they were still number one but I was number 2 with a post called ’not so easy EasyCar’ and nobody ever got in touch. Now either they weren’t noticing or they didn’t care - can’t imagine them not caring given how much people use Google to find stuff to have me slagging them off that far up the rankings was staggering.

Closer to home I was writing an article for housing associations on social media recently and what they might use it for and there’s not much out there but in my research I came across a housing organisation that are doing a great job of tweeting on behalf of their tenants and what they’re doing that. Things such as about the office closing, or a photo.graph of someone who made a cracking rabbit snowman that they’d stuck in front of one of the houses that the property owns; or asking for information about the effects of the snow from various tenants in different areas. A nice mix between the personal, the informal but the business-like and the work sort of stuff as well. And again an example was that I tweeted, ‘here’s somebody doing a great job of using social media for doing business’, they saw that I’d tweeted about them, they got in touch, we’re now having a dialogue about how I could help them, so I’m getting potential business out of it as well. So it’s back to that collective ‘oh that’s interesting’.

Somebody else talked about descent, what happens when it goes wrong? What happens when people slag you off? Again, I was using Skype to talk to a Web Designer in Marbella last week, which again I would never have done before, we were talking about stuff and he was showing me the Sunshine & Co. holiday company - you probably can’t see this - but they offered a free holiday to people responding to a quiz I think it was and up here somebody says, ‘don’t fall for it people’ lots of exclamation marks. People say ‘fall for what?’ and then she says, ’they just want you online so you can book a holiday with them and you never get anything for free’. So being antagonistic and sceptical about the thing, but then another customer comes on and says ’they do give free holidays away - they were kind enough to donate a week’s holiday for a family of four raffled up for Help for Heroes. There was no con and the person that won the stuff really enjoyed it’ blah, blah, blah, ’they mean it’, right, so basically that issue was resolved because the users, the happy customers came in and started telling the ’trolls’ as they’re known to - you know ’trolling’ is deliberately going in and winding up an online network and don’t feed the ’trolls’ is a good bit of advice.

You get to tell pretty quickly who is genuine, mostly because corporate people have for.gotten how to speak normally, I mean seriously, the biggest thing I have to teach people is how to unlearn management bollocks and you know it sticks out a mile on things like this - ‘who are you kidding’ - you know. And if you’re in doubt you can go back and look at their other posts and you see how rich the information about them that they’ve been happy to share is. You know unlike - this is the funny paradox - unlike face to face you can check people out, you can suss out their authenticity, you know sunlight is a great disinfectant, and it’s never more true than on the web.

So I think that thing about - like Dave Wimer says, ‘if you don’t want me to slag off your product, don’t have a shit product’. There’s a degree of that on the web. You know the real way to solve your problems is to solve your problems. But if you’re trying to solve your problems and you’re seen to be willing to try and help then you’ll enlist the support of huge numbers of people who go, ‘actually these guys are trying give them some space, let them get on with it’.

Still this strong reaction of ‘but it’s not real work’. If real work is sitting in meetings for hours on end and you’re not quite sure why you’re there and you’ve got a little note book taking down notes of things to do that you know you’ll never get round to doing or if you’re really lucky getting to write a 40 page report that nobody is going to read, you know, that’s real work that nobody doubts and yet this new stuff is placed under all this footery about is it or isn’t it real work. So one of the last workshops I did at the BBC I had a guy at the front row clearly uneasy with what I was saying, you know he barely let me finish before his hand shot up and he said, ‘I could never trust my staff to do this, they’d all end up wasting their time’ and there’s people kind of like looking at him you know and I said, ‘have you ever thought that your recruitment policy might not be effective if you’re employing people that you can’t even trust to make basic decisions about minute to minute stuff never mind the big things?’ Well he couldn’t deal with that and I said, ‘well you know perception about if being a waste of time is a moot point. A question answered can save thousands of people’s effort. But’, I said, ‘if they are wasting their time unlike staring out the window or going for a fag or spending too long over a coffee, I can show you when they logged on and when they logged off and how much they contributed in-between times. So I can show you if they’re wasting time and if they’re wasting time your job as a manager is to deal with it.’ And I said, ‘how do you spend your working days?’ and he said, ‘going to meetings’ and everybody just fell about laughing. But just the strength of his assumption was that that was okay.

Back to the technology, it’s easier to build a tool for the community than a community for the tool. You know and I think somebody asked a question about the cost. That forum that we ended up having 25,000 people using that was answering and asking questions that was a huge range of worthwhile stuff was £200 in terms of software. Now we could have got it for free but we splashed out because we needed something specific and we sat it on a £2,000 computer. It lasted for six years. When I had to leave we went to see IT to talk about moving it on to Professional Services and they wanted £40,000 per server. We sat in a month’s worth of meeting with people who didn’t understand the technology or what we were trying to do with it that must have cost tens of thousands of pounds in itself. And we were sort of chatting earlier, Ewan and I about this and there are - these tools are out on the web, or inside, you can do it inside as well for low cost but they should be tending to free in terms of the cost. So don’t get seduced into buying stuff and if your IT department tells you to use Share Point, I mean you can use Share Point and no harm to and in fact I met the Product Manager of Share Point in the States and he’s a good guy and they’re trying to do the right thing but you’re still in that vice-like grip of IT. Because it’s not about technology. We actually got the word ‘community’ taken out of all of our software because people thought - well managers think, ‘we will form a community, we will manage a community’. You know people will behave commonly if you’re really lucky and you give them the right reasons to do so and that’s the hard work and it is hard work, convincing them to play.

I think it’s my last quote - I was lucky enough to hear the management guru Peter Druker talk in the States years ago and he came up with this great one-liner, ‘in a knowledge economy there are no such things as conscripts there are only volunteers, trouble is we trained our managers to manage conscripts’. And I think that is becoming more and more true by the day that your smart staff will have gown-up with these networks, they will have spent their lives on these networks, they will rely on these networks to be smart. So trying to stop them doing it, trying to pretend they’re not doing it is a really dodgy way to go. Even when I got involved in this nine years ago, it was apparent that if we tried to stop it, it was just going to spill onto the web. Bringing it in, learning about it, making it work for us as an organisation seemed the more sensible thing to do.

And just a last anecdote - like I said I’ve been blogging for nine years - in the early days there were far far fewer of us, there are tens of millions of blogs now, but there was only about 50,000 in the early days so we got to know each other really early and really well and I was lucky to get in with the guys who wrote the Cluetrain and various other sort of famous people in my world one of whom was Acma. Now Acma - it’s letters of his name, Andrew Adam is his full name but he’s not like me, I’m a bit of a heathen, I’m a bit robust in my views, I’m sort of tilting against organised religion all the time, Acma is a lecturer, was a lecturer of a seminary in the States and he’s now a lecturer in the Religious Department of Glasgow University, having just got a job there. But Acma and I have grown to be real friends on the web over the nine years that we’ve known each other but we’d never met until last night when we met in the restaurant next to my hotel and I’m getting brittles up the back of my neck - I was just so chuffed at meeting Acma but apprehensive at the same time. You know going back to that thing, are they real or aren’t they real and just instantly lit was hugs and smiles and energy and we got straight into it right into the depths philosophical argument about religion, which in normal circumstances would have been ’no don’t go there’ but we just got straight in, talking, thinking, didn’t realise the time was passing and it just shot by and just yet again reinforced the fact for me that that’s actually what this is about, it’s about people.

Euan Semple

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