On being human and overreacting

One of the headlines on the BBC News web site this Sunday was “Foreign Office apologises for Pope ‘condom’ memo“.

It appears that a department within the Foreign Office held a brainstorming session to gather ideas for themes to promote during the papal visit due to take place in September this year. Evidently quite a few of the ideas were less than appropriate. But it wouldn’t have been much of a brainstorming session if all the ideas put on the table were sensible and obvious.

According to the BBC news web site, Foreign Secretary David Milliband ‘is said to have been “appalled” by the incident.’ I would have been more impressed if he had simply said he was disappointed with the people involved for being inappropriate, insensitive, insulting or just plain stupid. The junior civil servant responsible for the document has received an oral and written warning and ‘been put on other duties’. Was anything more than a few sharp words necessary?

Thanks to social media, we have more opportunities than ever before to witness stupidity in action. It’s called being human and is a theme Euan Semple shared in his talk ‘Being Human at Social Business Edge‘. It’s a great talk from start to end, but particularly relevant to this post is Euan sharing his own experiences of becoming a manager and the behaviour that emerged:

The reaction to a stupid brainstorming session shows how inhuman so many of our organisations are still trying to be.


Related posts

Ideas are rarely original

…and they are worthless until you turn them into actions.

I’ve been watching the ongoing dispute about who did or didn’t come up with the idea for Facebook. (Check out the latest article in the New York Times – Who founded Facebook?) And I’m on the side of the credited founder Mark E. Zuckerberg. It doesn’t matter who came up with the idea, I daresay plenty of people have thought along similar lines for a social networking site. What matters is who takes the time and effort to turn that idea into a living breathing company, who secures the funding that enables the idea to scale into a platform. It’s easy to try and claim the success should be yours after it has happened.

A fair few years ago, I started bleating on about how great it would be to have an interactive table top. I chatted through it with a geeky friend and we started sketching out the sorts of technologies that could project a laptop screen on to a table and not lose fidelity when people lean over the table. How multiple mouse cursors could enable people to collaborate on the table, move files around and annotate them. How woudn’t it be great if you could somehow build a scanner in, and merge physical documents with digital ones. How if you could project it onto the walls too, the entire room could become an interactive collaborative workspace. And the whole lot would be stored on your laptop so that you could take it with you when you left the room.

What did we do with the idea? Nothing. We had no idea how to secure the level of funding that would be needed to develop even a basic prototype (let alone apply for the required patents) and figured that, given I’m no Einstein, people with deeper pockets and bigger brains were probably already working on something similar.

..and along comes Microsoft Surface. (Not quite the same because it is a full blown computer built into a table whereas we were thinking of plugging a laptop into a glass top that could be installed on a normal table to turn it into a giant interactive display.)

It’s easy to have ideas. Turning them into a working product, let alone a profitable business, takes far more skill and effort. And usually requires the original idea to morph several times to find its success. Where were those Facebook claims 2 years ago when Facebook was just another struggling social networking site that looked like it was doomed in the wake of MySpace? The big shift in usage (a.k.a. exponential increase in value) occurred when Facebook went from being ‘college-only’ to ‘anyone-can-join’ and opened up its application programming interfaces (APIs) to outside developers.

Employee participation

A great example to demonstrate the benefits of the firm as a collaborative community. Creating an internal stock market to suggest and invest in ideas to improve the business beyond the imagination of the leadership team

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