Editor’s blog: Can the new connectedness save us?

On Thursday MT held a seminar with the title ‘Recession 2.0 – is there a silver lining in the cloud’? Snappy title, eh? It’s fair to say that after the dismal news contained in Wednesday’s budget, silver linings were in short supply. But the group of 40 guests wanted to look at whether the ‘new connectedness’ will help organisations get themselves ahead of the curve as the recovery comes.

It’s certainly true that the speed of this downturn’s onset and its truly global nature have been exacerbated by this connectedness – the always-on, instantaneous nature of modern communication – whether that’s automated selling systems for bonds and equities, or the way in which global bad news spread fast like contagion. However, staying close and connected will be vital to those businesses who want to speed the upturn. And this applies to the full set of stakeholders: employees, customers, investors and prospects.

The panel consisted of MT contributing editor Stefan Stern, Caroline Plumb of FreshMinds (the youngest woman ever to make it onto the MT ‘35 Under 35’ young women in business list) and David Beard from Sage’s enterprise division (who kindly sponsored the event).

Caroline was particularly interesting on the subject of the formation of collaborative networks, both within and outside organisations, that help to innovate and solve problems. The old idea of the company as a fortress was out-of-date, she said, and contributors from outside needed welcoming within the walls with ideas about how to improve products and services. Caroline cited the case of Dell, which acknowledged that shortcomings in its customer service had given it hordes of detractors. So it invited them into the fold to help make things better by allowing new ideas to be discussed, and even voted upon, in its online communities.

I still believe a problem shared is a problem solved. And I also agree, for example, that a phenomenon like Wikipedia is an amazing case of collective endeavour leading to the creation of something truly astonishing. Almost like a 21st century Gothic cathedral. But I do have my worries. I retain an old-fashioned belief that Henry Ford was right when he said that if he’d asked potential customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse’. Those great leaps from the bath, accompanied by a eureka from the creator, will still often come from individuals. Even the concept of Wikipedia has a single mind behind it.

Apple and its brave new world of Apps has shown how this outside contractor system can fall flat on its face. ‘Solving Life’s Little problems one app at a time’ is the advertising line for those helpful add-ons you can buy for your iPhone. Then yesterday Apple was hideously embarrassed by the fact that some sicko nerd has developed an App which involves shaking a baby to sleep. The aim of the game was to quieten the on-screen infant by shaking the iPhone until a pair of thick red Xs appeared over each eye of a baby drawn in black and white. Hilarious. I laughed until I got taken away by the social services. That’s why developer nerds require careful control.

There was also a lot of hand-wringing about the state of the media, which is being undone as its business models are torn to pieces by this new connectedness. In view of the recent furore I created when I questioned the value of Twitter in the coverage of the G20 protests, I’m glad to report that there was some support for the idea that, while it’s crucial to stay connected and sharply savvy about what’s going on in the minds of staff and customers, the yelling Twitter-style Babel of the crowd does not necessarily lead to enlightenment or wisdom.

In today’s bulletin:

UK economy suffers biggest slump since records began
Microsoft sales fail to compute
Scaling your business with Susan Boyle
Editor’s blog: Can the new connectedness save us?
Tightening the purse strings, with YouTube

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    Sorry I wasn’t able to make it.

    I don’t think innovation has to be collaborative, but it still needs to based on some sort of creative insight.

    Social media is an ideal tool to use to bring different perspectives together – and this is a key source of ideas for innovation.

    So I still think Twitter has a role to play in navigating our way out of ‘recession 2.0’.

    Jon Ingham

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    Featuring Caroline’s contribution is apposite and welcome.
    What she could also have said, and have been able to defend such a statement, is that every organisation has evolved from a collaborative network. In time, it may well close its boundaries – and die. A key question is, “How can value be co-created?”

    In the nick of time, the developed art and science of VALUE NETWORKS AND ANALYSIS becomes available to upfront all process oriented methods and incorporate the contributions from informal networks where the ideas and energy reside. Think role plays, contribution, value, relationships process, deliverables, tangibles, intangibles, assets, business models, put them in the VNA mixer and see the suspension thin to reveal a clear solution.

    See real co-creative knowledge networking being transformed into real monetised tangibles.

    For open resources see http://www.value-networks.com
    For proprietary solutions see http://www.valuenetworks.com
    For my own insights, frequently refreshed and refreshing, see. http://davidmeggittlog.ning.com/

    David Meggitt

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    Hi Matthew
    There’s a story that Hugh MacLeod (www.gapingvoid.com) tells:

    ‘One of my big “A-ha!” moments was this guy on the TV, over a decade ago, talking about Lego, the famous Danish children’s toy. Some journalist asks him, “What does Lego actually do that makes it so interesting?” With a wee sparkle in his eye, the guy answers, “It’s not what Lego does that is interesting. It’s what THE CHILD does with the Lego that is interesting…”‘

    The point is, that it’s not twitter in itself that is so interesting, but it is how people are using it. People who are involved in the same industries, or have similar interests tend to follow each other. The people I follow fall into these categories. If I don’t know them, or I don’t think they’ll add much value, I can choose not to follow them. This means that my twitter stream has become one of the most valuable sources of news, useful links and opinion that is currently at my disposal.

    Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism at NYU, draws the distinction between ‘lifecasting’ on twitter, and ‘mindcasting’ – productive, real-time sharing and connecting amongst like-minded people.

    I guess your “yelling Twitter-style Babel of the crowd” falls into the former, but it’s not one I recognise. I’ll go back to the point I made before – you get out of it what you put in…

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    So essentially you are saying that new systems for expressing the political views of tech savvy people and collating them should be ignored when it comes to policy making. How democratic. This is based on the fact you don’t get 21st Century satire of crisis in the quality of parenting, and the daftness that is iTunes and it’s wares.