Lessons in the Jasmine?

Mike Klein – Commscrumming from København

Having talked about “revolutions” over the last year or so, I find myself oddly flat-footed when it comes to discussing the wave of revolution sweeping the Arab World.  In some measure, this is because my severe pro-Israel bias makes me skeptical about how this will all turn out.

I also find I have little to add beyond what my friend in Boulder, CO, Rachel Berry has to say (http://ow.ly/480xm).  While I think corporate executives often can think in dictatorial terms, today’s workplaces are generally more democratic than the violent Arab dictatorships that are being overthrown and that we ought to use caution when drawing deeper parallels.

One exception I will make is that of speed.  While corporations like to think of themselves as “big”, a company with 200,0oo employees has fewer people than the third ranked cities in Egypt or Libya or Iran (or Arizona for that matter).  In the time it takes to mobilise a flashmob in Alexandria, smartphones and a good sense of an organisation’s social landscape can send a rumour or pronouncement around “the company world” in seconds.

Contrast this to days-long and even months-long approval processes for even routine documents.  These are a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, today’s communication speeds can punish errors swiftly and seriously.  On the other, official communication can and does increasingly find itself behind observable facts and the spread of rumor.  The speed of socially fuelled revolutions should serve as a caution to those who dither about what and when to communicate.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard in The Netherlands

Agree: the pot of unrest in the Arab world has been brewing for decades.  You could say that the speed of social communication is directly proportionate to the mass will behind / significance of the desired new outcome.  Either that or social communication is just about some inconsequential ‘interesting’ gossip.  Conversely, ‘official’ communication to reactionary events has less momentum – an automatic disadvantage.

Kevin Keohane – London

In the foggy mists of my education I recall something called “stability delay analysis” which was all about the phenomenon that building in deliberate delays in financial transactions, legal actions, engineering, etc., are sometime built in to ensure “flash in the pan” decisions don’t create serious breaches, distortions, accidents or errors.  It could be argued that this is a critical role that bureaucracy plays in government and business.  In this world of instant gratification and any form of delay being seen as “administrative b.s.” – I want it all, I want it now, I want it fast – it could be that the rapidity we see in expectations of the “consumer experience” are being translated into expectations about bigger social change.  A guy on the street with a smartphone isn’t making academic distinctions necessarily … but I ramble.  Raises some questions:  How fast can revolutionary change happen without destabilisation?  Too big for my brain … Berlin Wall, Velvet Revolution vs. the overthrow of Ceasucescu (probably spelled that wrong).  Is it possible to stem the tide of a revolution to help ensure its success?

Dan Gray – screwing in his studs in London

Mike, I’m probably going off on a wild tangent here, but when it comes to assessing the malaise of ‘traditional’ communication approaches, framing the lessons to be learned from these events purely in terms of speed is, IMHO, to ignore something much more profound.

If only it were as simple as addressing the tendency of organisations to dither about what and when to communicate.

As tempting as it may be to believe that ‘If we could just do things a bit faster, loosen the reins a bit, rid ourselves of some of the treacle of bureaucracy etc.’ then everything would be peachy, the reality is much more complex than that.

It’s not just traditional, hierarchical, centrally controlled models of communication that are ill suited to a world of rapid change; it’s the whole system – the business and organisational ecology – that spawned them.

Reshaping communication and reshaping the organisational orthodoxy go hand in hand; otherwise all we’re doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and the use of social media (however effective) just ends up being a ‘sustaining innovation’ solution to a much more ‘disruptive innovation’ problem.

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4 thoughts on “Lessons in the Jasmine?

  1. commscrum says:

    Dan, you are not on a tangent. You are on a collision course with those of us slugging it out in the marshes to even get basic evolutionary change from our employers…good on you for upping the ante.

    Mike in Copenhagen

  2. mrhibbert says:

    This all reminds me of my motive for suggesting (over on commscrum LI) that we account for the success to date of the old school, ie, have a crack at documenting what Command & Control is *good* at.

    I think you can’t transcend an established system that you simply dismiss – at best, you’ll break it (more likely, it’ll break you).

    • commscrum says:

      So, Adam, are you saying we shouldn’t have dismantled the Ba’ath Party and the Iraqi Army until we had a viable alternative in place?

      A fair comment. My take is that Command and Cascade structures first be augmented by social approaches, like for instance, putting managers and catalysts on the same conference calls.

      Mike in the Big Pastry

    • Dan Gray says:

      It should, Adam. My contribution was very much shaped by that LinkedIn thread you started (Geoff Barbaro’s comments on political and legal constraints in particular); hence my suggestion that a scaled-down LiveScrum event should focus on developing the ‘fishbone’ started there by engaging in the kind of collaborative drawing etc. that the LinkedIn interface doesn’t cater for.

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