Social enterprise and the power of breaking stuff

I think we can pretty much accept that the traditional model of making the world work and surviving in it has broken, even for bankers. Whether this be the status quo for those on benefits, the funding mechanisms for start-ups, the charitable foundations, those looking to sponsor stuff and those seeking sponsorship right up to those who have done well for themselves – nothing is guaranteed and pretty much every system except celebrity is broken. So who can really blame the kids and adults for seeking a future through game and talent shows on TV – that’s basically the only model that has thrived and survived (dear Daily Mail commentors).

I think that I am a pretty odd person. I was odd at school: geek/nerd/books/computers/maths but I also survived. When I started relationships and breeding I guess I normalised – my weird edges were moulded into something vaguely resembling a mother and a worker – I never got the wife thing right and I am definitely appalling at school run outer-wear. But what I do have is a keen sense for survival – therefore I am what is socially classed as a serial entrepreneur. Yet I do not plan on retiring in five years having sold a business idea for millions – I plan on putting my talents to use doing things I can do and working with the very best of the best to making stuff I like doing happen. I think it is just happenstance that what I like doing is for the greater good – I wouldn’t champion me that much, there is an element of selfishness in there.

I also (as you might expect from the brief bio of my youth) am not excellent at networking and people. This makes my working life harder, but I can overcome that in a variety of brilliant ways – these do not include mass events with lots of people but definitely include my fabulous twitter family.

This is by the by…

OK so assuming we accept that traditional stuff is broken, but the broken society requires innovation and energy (as shown most successfully through TV talent and celebrity shows) – so how do we shred the tradition, without fear and look to what’s left.

I have been there and so I think I can help

I love Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Let’s be honest, Rewired State is probably about three years too early if it is to survive through hack days that pay developers for rapid R&D – we can survive, definitely – but we will have to do other stuff. Meanwhile we have a network of over 600 developers keen to help pretty much everybody – except recruitment agents and people needing code monkeys – the devs want to do strategy and innovation and in a digital world, you’d be bonkers not to let them; but in reality the world is not yet quite ready for that, it is broken and hack days are not traditional.

FACT: many want hack days because they have now become an OK way of dipping your toe in the water of  innovation, but they do not fit with traditional R&D and so there is no budget, therefore your hack days have to rely on the benefaction of developers willing to work on your problem/idea for free/FA so… you are pretty stuffed. Let me give you an extreme example. We are running a hack day, on a boat, in Cannes, at MIPCUBE, presenting to attendees of MIPCUBE and MIPTV and we are not awash with developers keen to do this. Why? Because of developer apathy, a whole other blog post. So if you want to actually engage devs in a hack day, for sod all and you can beat a boat in the South of France and one of the most high profile geekTV events in the world then you may have a chance of attracting a few – if you don’t, I would rethink it until the budget meets the ambition. Please do not believe the myth that devs will code in a garage for free on your stuff. They just won’t and why should they?

I digress…

Here is what I wanted to share with you

Knowing me as you do either in person or through blogs and twitter, I work relentlessly for the things I believe in. But paying for these things in traditional fashion means that I do not meet the demands of mortgage/tax/life for myself nor fair work for people I represent and the organisations I think can make a difference to, I refuse to accept this so I have had to be inventive. Here’s how to break the world and survive (I am only in stage 2, I have not yet officially survived but I think I can see the light, so come with me)

  • work with the knowledge you have to build a vision of what you want
  • social funding is there – benefactors have set up organisations to pay for stuff to happen if you can prove its worth – use them
  • talk to everyone and be honest – through doing this with Simon Peyton-Jones one day, he then introduced me to a retired man who was the ex CEO of Shell and BCS, who came to my house and learned about what I was trying to achieve and has since helped immensely from toilets at Bletchley Park to Scouts and tents to mentoring me and championing the work of YRS – you cannot buy that
  • I cannot tell you the people I have been exposed to though being honest and fighting for what I believe, I met Conrad Wolfram and had an hour on the phone with him after the fact chatting about how he could produce stuff to help YRSers get more maths out of coding
  • I had an email from Douglas Rushkoff – with advice…
  • through NESTA I discovered the peoplefund.it site and have begun crowdsourcing for Young Rewired State 2012
  • through tweeting pics of my dad’s BBC Micros and my old educational software I talked to Chris Monk from The National Museum of Computing who fixed the micros for free and then came to Learning Without Frontiers to showcase the old Micros and now they are hosting the show and tell for YRS2012
  • At my dining room table yesterday I had a volunteer and a YRSer working for on YRS2012 in return for a bottle of cold coke, tea, fruit and haribos
  • Rory Cellan Jones and Stephen Fry tweet about what we do – not because they happened upon it, but because we are relentless and we are good and we work hard – this is not an insurmountable problem for anyone, we can all be good at what we do and work hard

Make no bones about it, it is flipping hard.

It’s about 17 hours a day of hard graft and it depends on a massive slashing of social media and community (but not dependent on real life networking, thank goodness), creating fundable projects for charitable trusts to invest in and ultimately a massive dollop of finding people who have capacity and might welcome a chance to work on what you are doing.

This way we can break the world but make it sustainable. It takes guts and if the world was not so broken it would be much harder to fix, but quite frankly there are many of us in the same position – so carpe diem and do what you want and find a way to live through that thing – forget the traditional routes and benefits. It’s borked.

PS Do not be tempted to secure your foray into the future from the broken past by paying for advice from people who have no proven success in the future. There will be many who offer unique skills, telling you scary things like: “My skills are unique, I scale social businesses and there is no one like me” pay me xxx – these people will not really be worth much, Trusts will help you and guide you through their processes and needs – even if you start from a great idea with no idea. And finally, if anyone asks you for a % of your organisation PLUS a salary, walk away immediately – they do not believe in your success as an enterprise and are only in it for the cash. (Thank you @sleepydog for that gem!)

PPS I am funding Young Rewired State partly through crowdsourced money – yes because I have to but also because so many people get to be a part of YRS, which for me is the greatest thing on the planet. Pledge your hard-earned cash here, and if you can’t, tell your networks, someone will have a tenner

Open Government Data *wince* it’ll take a while… Open Education – next September? No probs

Bear with me, I have a point.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, today delivered a complete coup de grâce for ICT education by accepting wholeheartedly that ICT education, and indeed the cross-curricular syllabus, was fundamentally broken. He accepted that traditional methods for mending a broken bureaucratic, micro-managed education system would not address the immediacy of the problem, and so he threw it open to the floor.

He made Open Education possible (potentially mandatory) in one speech, and he heralded the Government’s move into…” it’s over to you, gang, do your thing”.

To be fair I am obliterating much of his speech here, but the bit we are most interested in is the fact that Government has seen the problem, examined it and accepted that the answers probably lie out there – somewhere on the Internet.

Let me be clear, this is a good thing - Open Education is the future - BUT YOU CAN’T JUST SPRING IT ON US!!

We need to be able to relax about certain basic human needs: education, health, environment (getting the money in to pay for this through tax, our direct debit to government) and we have to assume that the elected governors will take care of that for us, with the right people helping and advising, steering and delivering – without brain-bleeding charges to the public purse. (Martha Lane-Fox took time and focused advice on how government delivered its open online presence, resulting in the Government Digital Service – which took years to curate, even after her report was published and it is still in its infancy.)

We know about Big Society and we know that the world and its borders are opening up and it is becoming fundamentally digital. We know this and are all pitching in as and when we can, but we definitely still look to government to horizon-scan and come up with a scalable, secure plan for the future – that goes beyond:

Have you *seen* this website? Codecademy.com is awesome

Yes… it is, but…

Let’s pretend

Let’s pretend the education system was the tax system.

Our tax system is fundamentally flawed, we all know this. It’s:

  • Not fit for purpose
  • Deeply complicated
  • Is still run by people working without access to the Internet
  • Requires experts to explain information that could be easily garnered from the web (free – if you have the time)
  • The OFFICIAL BOOKS measure in inches, if you intend to master it yourself

Have you *seen* this website? http://www.justanswer.com/ is awesome <- link chosen to back up point, not after in-depth analysis

The fact is that out of all the 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, 3 – THREE – were computer science majors. Three chose to go into teaching, the rest chose to reward their hard-earned degree in the City, or on their own start-ups.

Why?

Money

Money is the elephant in the room here that no one wants to address. It takes money to solve this problem and we do not have money, as a Nation, nor most of us as individuals – not disposable income at any rate, and believe me – it will take many people with disposable income to help solve this across the UK. Hands up, anyone?

What if this was tax?

What if we were saying:

Yes, OK, the tax system is not fit for purpose and fundamentally flawed. But we are not going to spend years over-hauling the tax system and doing what we as government usually do! We say – Yes! You are right… you are vocal and on point in your suggestions so yes, go forth – and fix it… it’s still mandatory, natch, but you can do what you will with all the resources available to you on the Internet. Lots of industry leaders in accounting are going to be making up some new measurements, but it’s OK – we know it’s broken and you have the answer, so go on then :D we will be doing stuff over here…

I am being facetious

Of course I know this would never be the case. Of course I understand that the tax system is way too tricky for me to make such an analogy.

In my opinion if we do not treat education in the same way we respect tax, or even open data – then what exactly is democratic revolution all about?

How can we accept and wholly applaud a Government measure to turn education over to the ‘people’ when it is so utterly broken? This problem has been highlighted ad nauseum (more to come on Friday with the RSA report saying pretty much the same thing as everyone looking at this in any depth).

The issue has been accepted as a given – yes, it’s a terrible state of affairs, thank you Mr Gove for accepting this. However, you cannot step away from the fact that the solution lies in a big collaborative effort between industry and educators, between large and small businesses, corporates and social enterprise – all working in happy harmony with schools, full of children, children whom we protect (rightly) with stringent rules – particularly when we are talking real-life interaction with children, not just digital (but even digitally :/… ) this stuff does not vanish in a well-intentioned speech.

Are we sensible in being so care-free with our youth? Is education really the space where we feel most comfortable throwing open the doors and embracing Open principles without further thought? Let’s face it, Open Government data has been a minefield of risk aversity and open-eyed horror  – but Open Education can be rolled out on a whim, because micro-managing didn’t work?

I worry that in the excitement over freedom granted today to educators for something so utterly fundamental as Computer Science in the UK, so the doors open to frozen blind panic from schools and teachers, turning to potentially unethical opportunists wanting to make a buck and chaos and failure as the result. We cannot afford this.

I worry about publishing this post as I campaign for Open practice, loudly. I have campaigned hard for government to debate the subject on teaching our kids to code – please sign the petition, it has a long way to go… but if a subject is swept away in a general wiff-waff of ‘go forth and educate yourselves’ that we miss a proper, tax-payer funded (probably quite pricey) look at every issue raised – not just the problem. I also fight for Open Data. I welcome collaborative process.

Anyone who has googled Chaos theory will have a basic understanding of the fact that change is exacted through chaos. But also, that chaos is carefully crafted. And studied.

Much though it pains me hugely to say it – we have to keep pushing for a debate. We need this to be taken seriously. Education is not low-hanging fruit.

Today was great, but it was not enough. And I am so sorry to be saying this.

What’s the next challenge for Open Government data?

So three years in to data.gov.uk and the inaugural National Hack the Government Day and now there is a tick box exercise to “run a hack day”… please… someone… anyone?

Open data is not about hack days and running one does not achieve “engagement with the developer community”.

Background

I met Liz Azyan today. Someone whom I have been aware of for the last few years: blogs great stuff, is principled and keeps herself gainfully employed with a plethora of socially ethical social media support (if you know what I mean).

I was blindsided by her, she is awesome and I think really trying her damnedest to do the right thing in an environment that she totally understands, but with a community she is less accustomed to – yet. Watch this space, and government data geeks: I urge you to chat to her if you get a chance.

One of the questions she asked me today was: What is the next challenge for open government data? So thank you Liz for the inspiration for this blog post, it got me thinking about something I have not thought about much, recently.

The environment

Government has opened up quite a bit of data through data.gov.uk, and has encouraged engagement with keen developers who have been hankering after such information for years.

Industry too has embraced Open, with a small number of notable businesses throwing open their data doors, with good results. I wrote a post about this, I shan’t repeat myself and bore you.

APIs are being released almost every day – developer information overload has maxed out, and now we risk lethal developer apathy.

Developers have attended hack days, meetings in Whitehall – indeed many of them have joined AlphaGov. This is all fabulous; but not scalable to the extreme that the open data dream promises.

The challenge

Making it all work.

It’s all very well having developers working away with this data, but if government is not ready for it, it’s a waste of time.

Take just one example: two incredibly talented developers worked together over the course of a weekend hack last year, coding through the night to create a notification engine for the government Tell Us Once programme. It worked, it would have saved oodles of time and bucketloads of cash – but government was simply unable to implement it. This is one simplified example of 100s of apps created by Rewired State hack days alone, and there are many others.

Now, if you can imagine for a minute being a developer, donating your time – granted, sometimes the hack days are paid, but always weekends away from family – year on year creating apps that would help government and citizens. Solving problems time and time again – quick example, every year the Young Rewired State coders create apps to help them define safe routes to school/friends. Year on year we showcase these to the Home Office – nothing happens. Still no government supported/approved app to meet this obviously critical need.

Why would you bother?

Open data? Awesome, and we are making tracks.

Open Government? HARD, and we are not banging on that door yet.

The reality

The developers who work on government data often do so either out of personal frustration, or a genuine commitment to making the world a little bit better.

Rarely can they reach an audience that would benefit from their app/widget/website on their own and in their spare time, at least not without considerable support. Nor are they doing this for profit, so they are not going to get investor cash.

Helping government do its work better is not a good proposition for your typical angel or VC – the target is government; and only government can utilise the genius that they are being offered.

Lots of tiny arrows

Right now lots of tiny arrows are rained on the government portals day on day, by an increasingly disparate and desolate group of extremely talented people.

Is there any success anywhere? No. Well unless you count the oft-reported GovSpark created by Issy in Young Rewired State 2010, curated by a plethora of supportive geeks and designers and some financial and hosting support from The Stationery Office. But that was a ‘nice to have’ addition to a Prime Ministerial commitment. It was not a revolutionary way to interact with central or local government.

So what’s the next challenge for Open Government data?

Forget the data.

Find a way to enable these revolutionary ideas, apps, websites and widgets that save time, money and mind-numbing frustration from those who have to engage with government.

Do that, and only that.

And when you have done that – then engage the developers again around your open data through hack days, geek advisory boards or whatever means you can.

Until then, let them have a break. They’ll still be there if you do this. If you don’t, they won’t.

And that is ridiculous.

Also, please don’t insist people ‘do hack days’ for you. Here’s the point of a hack day.

Open the business case

So I have been doing a bit of research into being “Open” as a business strategy, inevitably it led me to Open government thoughts.

We can all cite merrily the bazillion reasons for buying Open source/Open tech, using Open standards, championing Open platforms and generally being the cheering public and sometime consumers of, or contributors to, Open projects.

But what about when you are the supplier? What about when you are the business, looking at the business model and not just being the vendor of Open technologies? It’s a tricky one. In this blog post I have shared some of the things I found out, and as ever, I would love to learn and understand more.

Here is a starter for ten:

“Companies that keep their intellectual property too close to the vest risk missing out on critical business innovations that idea-sharing could generate. Open business models foster collaboration with customers and suppliers to everyone’s benefit.

The more companies learn about open business models, the more they realize how much they have to change their own innovation activities to take full advantage of these paradigms. It’s not simply a matter of searching for new technologies. To thrive, companies must adapt their business models to make them more open to external ideas and paths to market.”

Henry Chesbrough, “Embracing Open Business Models”, Optimize Magazine, 1/1/07

Ponderables for a business case

  • While you are Open, you still own the data
  • What you gain by being Open is distribution
  • The value of user generated content (UGC) is growing, indeed it’s king when it is structured properly
  • The more you Open up and distribute the higher the quality of UGC you get back
  • Sometimes, other people do better things with your data

(The above is a synopsis of a conversation I had with @steveathon, in Sydney, over IM, whilst his wife made gingerbread – thanks for giving up your evening Steve)

But that’s irrelevant: Crisis forces Open consideration

The one thing I saw repeated article after article was that it usually takes a crisis for a business to even consider the benefits of being Open. None detailed more clearly than this business week article by Michael Arndt. I advise reading the whole article but here copied is the bit that I think is most interesting:

Their companies converted to Open innovation—relying on outsiders for their next products or services—only after falling into a crisis….

Whirlpool came around that same year after top management realized that big-ticket appliances had become a commodity. As a result, prices and margins were in a permanent decline, steepened by the recession. Unlike P&G, it didn’t respond initially by Opening its portal to product suggestions from outsiders. But it did enlist proposals from all employees. Further, it trained some 3,000 in the innovation process and began collaborating with suppliers. Now, in Phase II, Whirlpool is inviting consumers to help, said Moises Norena, global innovation director….

GSK’s goal was to boost its share of externally developed products to 33% in three years. Instead, it hit 50% even sooner than that. Among the Open-innovation products is a new form of Aquafresh that turns to foam in your mouth. Rutledge said the idea came from someone in the oral-care business who had background in gel foams like Gillette’s Edge, but it never would have hit the market if not for technology that came from four outside partners….

Makes blinding sense right? A hard sell into a thriving business, relatively easy to a business in trouble who are pretty willing to do anything, especially when that ‘anything’ is something others have done successfully.

So – government: Open and as a platform

If we accept that fact that crisis triggers a consideration of an Open solution (and I am sure that there are many who will disagree) – a bit like how we can tell that someone is about to leave their job/is scared they are about to get booted when they start updating LinkedIn and asking to connect with lots of people: we can recognise that Government only really embraced Open principles after it realised its own crisis, economic mainly, but also engagement with the citizens of this country.

Not, sadly, for all the reasoned and logical arguments, lobbying and hectoring over the last decade or so. Shame that, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it has happened – in a very roundabout and reactionary manner, which does leave everyone feeling a bit unstable and scared, but the blame for that cannot be laid solely at the door of Open – it’s crisis, innit.

Martha Lane-Fox and Transform’s paper: Directgov 2010 and beyond: Revolution not Evolution really is all about giving Open a go (not going to expand on this here but many have, if you want to read).

Interestingly when researching this a bit, I discovered that Tim O’Reilly has opened up his book: Government as a platform for comment, as he says:

You are reading the text of an O’Reilly book that has been published (Open Government). However, the author of this piece—Tim O’Reilly—understands that the ideas in this chapter are evolving and changing. We’re putting it here to get feedback from you—what are your ideas? This chapter uses the Open Feedback Publishing System (OFPS), an O’Reilly experiment that tries to bridge the gap between manuscripts and public blogs.

Next to every paragraph, there is a link you can use to comment on what you’re reading. We are grateful for any feedback you have: questions, comments, suggestions, and corrections are all welcome and appreciated.

It’s fascinating, and I know most of you who read my blog love this stuff, so get commenting :)

So, government has embraced Open, through a combination of natural crisis response behaviour with some well-timed logic in the form of a paper that they could respond to and point at.

This is good – but a LOT of information and a lot of confusion. It does help though to separate the confusion created by the crisis: money and engagement; and the confusion created by an Open and transparent government. See? It feels easier already, right?!

So how should we, as the Joe Bloggs in this wonderful Open world of government work with this?

Well, if we understand the business reason behind being Open and the ponderables, it gives us a place to start.

The trigger

Response to a crisis: no money, gloomy jobs market, disengaged electorate, nothing else is working so why not? (oh and the expenses palaver)

The business reason

  • Martha said it would work
  • It has worked elsewhere
  • We have tried everything else

Going back to the final three points I made in my list of ponderables up there:

  • The value of user generated content (UGC) is growing, indeed it’s king when it is structured properly
  • The more you Open up and distribute the higher the quality of UGC you get back
  • Sometimes, other people do better things with your data

What’s in it for us?

  • Well, assuming that one day soon government will realise the value of UGC and digital reach, they will soon find a way to run consultations in a proper consultative fashion – and find a way of receiving the feedback and including it in policy development: this ticks the box of those dealing with the crisis of a disengaged electorate
  • and assuming we have good collaboration around well-consulted policies, you never know, the solution they seek – much like the foaming toothpaste GSK stumbled upon – may be found more quickly than they thought, and a regenerated economy may be triggered by Mrs Miggins at Number 47 – you never know
  • and of course, we all know that the geeks will inherit the earth – and they will do better things with government data, whether that be services for us all or a hugely successful commercial opportunity that highly acclaimed, sets us as digital leaders and is syndicated across the globe. Dunno, might happen?

Shutting up now

The point of writing this was to share what I had learned, and the resulting clarity of mind I had with regard to the chaotic world of government at the moment. As well as unpicking the business reasons for being on the supplier side of being Open. I hope it was interesting.

Many thanks to Gordon Rae @socialtechno and Steve King @steveathon for the Links/conversation/insight

Campfires, tents and the future

So this my final post in this week of blogging about the challenges and issues I have faced/been talking about with colleagues – with the express aim of trying to draw out who is thinking about what and what happens next.

It has been an amazingly useful exercise, taking time to write down these thoughts and discussions; I have found myself researching more, asking questions, learning and meeting new people. I shall certainly continue to write posts more often and in this style of writing less about what I think and asking more about what you think.

It strikes me that there is still a great need to seek out the futurologists of today, to reignite the discussions about what the landscape might look like in the digital world as well as in the political and social realms.

So I would like to suggest that we have a weekend away towards the end of the Summer, where we all get together in an informal setting to talk about this. I do not think we need to have people formally speaking, nor any organised activites – but what we do is have people of different interests and specialities having conversations. What comes out of these should be tweeted and blogged over the course of the weekend – to engage those unable to attend and to widen the conversation.

We should hold it somewhere with a big field for camping as well as being close to accomodation for those who just hate camping with a passion – we have fun, we relax, we talk and most importantly – we amplify the conversations. Nothing is disallowed (families are welcome) but I don’t imagine this working if it is in any shape a conference or unconference. However, I am going to give it the hashtag of #campcon because that is all I can think of.

So who’s in? I am happy to throw my hat in and help organise some of the logistics, also spread the word with the developer communities (including Young Rewired State) and people with whom I have the most interesting discussions. But it will need far more than me to get this off the ground.

Just to reiterate, this is a weekend about the future, not issues and problems of the present – there are many, many people successfully holding local and national events to try to address these issues. It is about painting a picture of the world into which we are going to be delivering digital products and solutions:

  • borders: are they open or shut? what happens in either case?
  • data – is it open or increasingly regulated?
  • space travel
  • virtual reality
  • climate
  • natural disasters
  • population
  • migration
  • shopping
  • music
  • travel
  • television
  • time machines
  • science
  • politics
  • royalty
  • gypsy weddings

Anything, anything at all – but it must be about the future. Probably need a wiki for this…

Stephen Fry’s Big Digital Day and our hack room

So I started this week calling out for those digital futurologists to raise their hands and heads again and then started writing in a bid to draw out those brilliant but busy people who may have an opinion on subjects that were becoming critical to the world of Open. (One reality is that there are so many “Open” things: data, standards, pub standards, sub-pub standards, platforms etc etc etc)!

I can only write daily if I am amplifying what has taken up my time or headspace during the day, and today it has been working out how to best serve Stephen Fry’s Big Digital Day.

The idea is that we (Rewired State) are going to run a hack room backstage with 20 of the country’s most exciting developers working on data provided by a selection of SMEs in the audience. The aim is to see how many ‘businesses’ (applications, websites, widgets etc) we can make in a day, to show how rapid the digital business world is. How essential it is not to get too hung up on your one big idea; that in fact if you collaborate and take a few risky steps by sharing your data with other businesses, the outcomes could be spun into gold.

The digital day is being run with the following intention:

We recognise that over the last two years in particular, an incredible amount of passion and determination has been put into new products, online businesses and brands. The Big Digital Day is a clarion call to bring the industry together for a single day of inspiring exchange.

My instinct is to do as I have laid out above, show the potential through practical and fast programming by the best geeks I know. However, should any of you who have been gazing into the future of relationships between developers and businesses – whether with devs as the business owners or brought into a business – have any bigger and better ideas for how we might use the hack room, 20 devs and lots of business data, please could you share?

This event will also be interesting to see who Stephen and Andrew can draw out of the woodwork in terms of speakers and those with their finger on the digital pulse of the UK. The speaker list has not been published yet – I look forward to hopefully discovering/rediscovering some big thinkers.

I shall keep you posted and welcome your input.

We do have a few tickets to the event, and if you want to share your expertise here then we may be able to squeeze you in on the Rewired State guest list :)

Who herded the cats?

In the early hours of this morning the lovely Jonty Wareing (@jonty) tweeted this:

The Present is colliding with The Future slightly faster than I’m comfortable with.

I am not entirely sure what context he had in mind but I know that for me it is something that has been tickling the back of my mind for the last week or so.

A few years ago there began a seismic change in all things digital, with special focus on communication and technical delivery. Many things occurred to make this happen, and each of these have been charted by many a blog, news article and twitter stream – so thankfully I don’t need to rehash that little piece of history.

The utterly excellent Steph Gray mentioned often that working in the public sector at that time was like herding cats: a busy, sometimes apparently impossible and sometimes seemingly pointless task. However it does feel as if said felines have been ringfenced, for now.

Yes it is chaotic, there is much unrest and feeling of loss of control because there are very few who seem utterly, uncompromisingly confident in the immediate future. For this reason, I believe, all the people who a few years ago were considered the futurologists of note, those whom people would pay to hear talk, would read their blog posts avidly and follow their twitter stream with reverence – with almost daily revelations affecting and reinforcing the behaviour of those in the field (whichever field that may have been) – have been gripped on to, employed, drafted onto boards.

To some extent, the very beauty of twitter’s snappy communication has synergised with this increasing lack of time and could be held accountable for the death of the big, mind-changing blog posts. Those thought leaders, now so busy nurturing change, choosing to tweet their glances forward rather than writing blog posts (this is a generalisation – but notable).

I look about and there is a dearth of people mucking about at the edges of reality. Everyone to whom I looked for guidance and inspiration, those who fashioned my thoughts for sure and focused my attention when the future seemed such a vast and exciting morass of possibility – are really flipping busy. They are busy back with those cats, encouraging, teaching, guiding, assuaging fears and – when they have time – glancing quickly to the future to make sure they were still going the right way. This is natural – I am sure someone has a formula for this behaviour after a big change has occurred.

The problem is that the future is catching up with us, and we need to free the thinkers again. A collective deep breath needs to be taken and we all need to be a little bit more brave and trust in our own abilities, despite the occasional hissing and spitting, and free up some time for those we respect. Of course there is a mammoth amount of work to do and people who still need help working through everything that has changed, but this needs to become part of the day job for everyone now.

And so what Jonty said this morning is so right: The Future is rapidly catching up with The Present, it is uncomfortable because we are all gripping the hands of those who we need to set free. My own teensy little offering to supporting this, is to blog more myself as – hopefully – the thought leaders I value who sometimes do comment here, will still have time to comment: commenting is not as time-consuming as blogging and perhaps will spin-off into other much bigger discussions, hopefully mapping together lots of little discussions (as so often happens).

I have often used my blog to scribble down things that have occurred to me, long before I have thought about them too hard, as I learn so much more by conversation and community debate than navel-gazing. So for a week I am going to:

  • write a little every day about those things that have been tickling my brain, it may work, it may be pointless, but I am going to give it a try (I would really appreciate comments and discussions)
  • try to let go of the hands I cling to, set them free and strap on a pair
  • look for groups of people saying interesting things. Matt McAlister says the cryptologists are having good discussions and we all know that I am partial to a coder – but who else is fascinating you?

I don’t usually ask for things here, but I would love to know who you are getting your inspiration from – point me to their blogs and tell me when they are speaking. And if you are mindful that you too may be gripping the hand of someone who needs to have some time to gather their thoughts – please let them go a bit. We need those future-casters out there.

The cats are OK.

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