31 December 2008

Shiba Inu Puppycam - one of the highlights of 2008!

For pure innocent joy the Shiba Inu puppy cam united viewers from all over the world. It was a great way to relieve stress - just switch on the puppy cam and watch the pups discover the world & each other.

For those who missed it, or who just want to revisit here's a little retrospective:

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

30 December 2008

Does anyone know the context of this quotation?

Recently took walk down by the water at Brooklyn just north of Sydney. Here I found a quotation written on a park bench:

"We have endeavoured ... to lay down a broad and just foundation upon which a commonwealth may be established in the southern seas, of which a man may be proud to be a citizen." -- Samuel Griffith, 1891
I'm not sure of the provenance of this quotation - suspect it was something to do with the 1st Constitutional Convention in 1891. Would be grateful if anyone can tell me the context of this quotation, and any other information about it.

UPDATE 31-Dec-08 Thanks to Michael Axelsen who kindly provided a source for this quotation. Interestingly he also noted the omitted section, which referred to something the Australians don't talk much about any more:
"..broad and just foundation upon which a commonwealth may be established in the southern seas that will dominate those seas, of which any man may be proud to be a citizen, and which will be a permanent glory to the British Empire."
I suspect that the civic powers that be in Brooklyn did not want to include the 'glory of the British Empire' in their little monument to Federation? Michael also pointed me to a good summary of Samuel Griffith's role in the 1891 Convention.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

Frost/Nixon & Leadership

This film really got me thinking about leadership so you can expect to see more about this topic ...

29 December 2008

Three Books to Help Make Sense of the Global Financial Crisis

I've just finished reading these three books. They have each helped me to make some sense of our current global economic situation and to consider what actions we can take in response.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. This book shows how we are not rational thinkers like the economists have assumed for all their models. Instead it shows how we tend to behave irrationally in a predictable fashion.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He talks about a "black swan" as an extremely rare, improbable event (like 9/11) that cannot be predicted and is outside our vision, yet has catastrophic impact. Taleb discusses the role of "black swans" and risk. This book is extremely prescient of the "shadow banking system" that finally triggered the global credit crisis. BTW I left a copy of this one in Paris as a Bookcrossing.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution by Thomas L. Friedman. He argues that America needs a green revolution create new sources of power and maintain its status as a global power. This is a theme that Obama has talked a lot about since his election. My summary is that we need a green revolution to innovate our way out of disaster and we need the US to step up and take a leadership role.

Each of these books challenges existing world views and is worth reading. It seems that we need to start thinking about the world in different ways. The ways that we have viewed the world in the 20th century have not led us to nirvana but to the edge of disaster. Instead we need to find the courage to face up to the challenges of the 21st century in positive, world and life affirming ways.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

27 December 2008

Primate Caturday

See it's not just human primates that like cats, here's an orangutan and cat friendship ...

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

26 December 2008

Is Australia turning into a police state? How can we protect our rights?

A very disturbing thing happened to a friend of mine the other day. Nick Holmes a Court, well known entrepreneur and digital media maven, saw some police activity occurring in a public place and he decided to video it on his mobile phone.

The full story has been reported in Courier Mail, Techwired and Crikey - but the short version is that Nick filmed the police in a public space. The police then confiscated his mobile phone, searched it without his consent and threatened him with arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Now this all sounds like something that would happen in a police state, not in a free country like Australia. But it happened in Sydney this month to a citizen who had done nothing wrong.

Incidents like this remind us that we have no formal protection of our rights in Australia. In the past it was argued that our rights are enshrined in common law and that this is sufficient protection of those rights. Now we see that long held and traditional common law rights (e.g. habeus corpus) can easily be legislated away.

Many Australians do not realise that our constitution does not protect basic rights such as freedom of speech or freedom of association. The only rights explicity protected in the Australian Constitution are:

  • freedom of religion, [Section 116]
  • trial by jury, [Section 80]
  • freedom from discrimination against out-of-State residents, [Section 117]
  • and a right to acquisition of property on just terms. [Paragraph 51(xxxi)]
Any other rights are open to judicial interpretation under common law or can be legislated away by Parliament. Thus the assumed rights of Australians are extremely vulnerable to attack.

In Australia today our freedom is seriously at risk. We need the formal protection of a constitutional bill of rights. We need a bill of rights that cannot be attacked or diminished by politicians legislating away our rights. We need our human rights protected formally and in a way that the consent of the people is required in order to diminish those rights.

More information on the issue of a bill of rights for Australia is available on the Council for Civil Liberties site.

I suspect that there are constitutional experts who can explain the issues far better than I - please feel free to correct any errors in fact in comments.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

25 December 2008

What Did I Learn in 2008 & How Will I Use it in 2009?

This past year has been a remarkable one for me. I've met so many amazing, interesting and supportive people that it is hard to count them all. Many new friendships were forged and new ideas generated. And I'm really grateful to everyone for their support and encouragement.

During 2008 I had the opportunity to attend some training called The Performance Edge. This course reminded me of the power of effective goal setting and planning. In the latter part of 2008 I found that this really helped me to achieve more than I'd imagined possible.

For 2009 the plan is to:

(a) continue to build relationships and to enjoy the great people that I know;
(b) apply goal setting and planning to achieve more interesting things;
(c) expand my horizons in ways I've have not even thought of yet.

I have long believed that wishes, while a fine thing, are not worth much unless they are backed up with positive action. My Christmas wish this year is to live a simpler and more positive existence. Thus it is time to ask: What steps are required to achieve this goal?

(1) An audit of my possessions
Do I really need all the stuff I've got? Is there any stuff I really need that I haven't got? What is my action plan?

(2) A healthy lifestyle audit
Are there any lifestyle habits I need to stop or new ones to start? What is my action plan?

(3) A mental habits audit
Are there ways of thinking that I need to change so as to be more positive? What mental habits are holding me back? What mental habits are helping me? What is my action plan?

I'm still working out the plans for these 3 areas, but the plans will evolve and it will be interesting to review them in December 2009.

Best wishes to all for the festive season.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

23 December 2008

Corporate values & reality

The Global Financial Crisis (#GFC) has shown that some of our 'greatest' companies were no more than fraudsters at worst and incompetent at best.

This made me think about all the corporate value statements that I've seen over the years and what they really mean. And it also made me ask how can we see through the stated values to see the real values enacted as behaviour in a particular company?

For a university assignment a few years ago I took a copy of the Enron corporate values from their 1998 annual report. They are nice values. I would be happy to have a company that used values like these to drive their behaviour. But clearly there was a vast disconnect between the published values and acceptable behaviour in Enron.

I wonder how many companies are like Enron - all squeaky clean on the outside, but rotten on the inside? So many companies are turning out to be whited sepulchres to use a biblical turn of phrase.

But how does someone like me, who is outside the company, get to see the real corporate behaviour? What are the warning signs for ordinary people? How can we trust companies with our lives, our money and our families?

More on this later ...

Enron’s 1998 Annual Report, “Our Values”:
RESPECT: We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance don't belong here.

INTEGRITY: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, we won't do it.

COMMUNICATION: We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another...and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

EXCELLENCE: We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Source: Yale (opens Word document)

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

21 December 2008

Society, mindset & resilience - Part 1

Over the past week I've travelled to Boulder CO and San Francisco meeting people for business and also taking the opportunity to meet some Twitter people IRL. It has been interesting to discuss some of the cultural differences between my home (Australia) and the US.

Two moments of clarity occurred in discussions over lunch yesterday with IdaRose and dinner last night with Valerie.

From my perspective Australia takes a more collectivist or mutual aid approach - which seems to arise from our harsh climate, challenging geography and foundation as a series of penal colonies. This is a nation that sees it as right and proper to provide social security safety nets for the sick, poor and unemployed. It also is a nation that increasingly seeks government support for the private individual.

Australia is also the home of the tall poppy syndrome, where individuals who are seen as getting above the mass are brought down to the same level as everyone else. This is what makes us feel all weird at the idea of building a personal brand. There are strong cultural values that make personal branding uncomfortable.

I'm thinking about this in the context of John Robb's ideas of resilient communities. I wonder if these cultural norms in Australia are likely to make our society more resilient in difficult times?

More on this later ...

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

20 December 2008

More Caturday-ness

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

19 December 2008

Web startups & venture capital

Is it just me, or is there an air of desperation whenever web startups are talking to venture capitalists (VCs) at events? I'm not talking about the formal meetings with VCs, rather about those informal meetings over coffee or in the breaks.

Was interesting to sit there at Le Web 08 and watch people lining up for an informal chat with the VCs. What has been interesting is the obvious tension in the startup folks as they wait. The tension is palpable.

I'm not sure that this kind of desperation makes for a healthy relationship. We know that in personal relationships where one person is more desperate for the relationship than the other it often tends to be dysfunctional.

People in startups are passionate about their product, that's why they are doing it. But they're not often exactly clear eyed on the commercial potential of their product.

More than anything this dance reminds me of dating. And dating is where people try to attract the other person by being or seeming to be what they are looking for. But for investment purposes surely we need a less subjective approach? But then I question if truly objective means of assessment are possible or valid.

Had dinner with some entrepreneur buddies in Paris recently. They reported that they'd checked out approximately 40 startups for investment potential. Of those only 4 had demonstrated any real potential in their view.

This made me think that we need to find better ways to assess the potential of startups. We also need better ways to assess different startups against each other - so we can decide for one or against the other.

I'm very interested to hear about formalised assessment methods for startups and venture capital investment so please let me know of any.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

17 December 2008

Is Social Media Still Serious Business? Part 3

In the business arena social media will continue to enable the agile enterprise. Social media provides businesses with the ability to build relationships. This will continue, with many organisations using social media to assist in the area of new product development – crowdsourcing new features as with recent examples by Dell, Asus, and Pepsi.

Businesses need to take the time to understand how technology can benefit their organisation and to partner with genuine experts rather than seeking out generalist agencies that often do not have a broad understand of the technology milieu. 2009 will see business continue to blur the distinction between online and offline marketing as they focus more on customer segmentation, saliency and laser focused delivery.

There has been no significant improvement in how we interact with devices since the mouse or touch screen. Over the next few years we will see a move away from textual interfaces and towards newer kinds of interfaces, such as Microsoft Surface. We could see the replacement of the traditional keyboard and mouse to innovative designs that allow for greater freedom and flexibility.

A key enabler of this innovation includes increased use of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), which offer cross platform interoperability across PC, TV and mobile devices. This includes traditional AJAX approaches to development, but also increasingly use of products like Adobe AIR, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun JavaFX. The focus will be on increased ease of use and cross platform operability. An important challenge that will need to be addressed is data portability, and several industry initiatives are already under way.

Social media does have a future, and it is moving us towards shared experiences online via many different devices. It is going to change the way we watch television or shop. We live in a connected society now and we are moving towards a hyperconnected society enabled by social computing.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

16 December 2008

Is Social Media Still Serious Business? Part 2

Over the next few years we are likely to see the continued integration and convergence of devices, media and channels, with users taking technology with them wherever they go, instead of being tied down to the immovable PC at home or the office. The term mobile will have a greater meaning and we can expect to see integrated wearable technology available in daily life. Already there are Nike Plus and Adidas adiStar Fusion running shoes that deliver data on distance and pace via an iPod.

The recent link between Seesmic and the BBC is another great example of these changes. The BBC is asking people to share their thoughts and opinions on issues of the day via Seesmic and the material may then be published either on BBC online or on BBC television. User created video is about to experience substantial growth and the change the face of social media as we currently know it.

We are moving from a one-way video publication model of YouTube to the conversational model as evidenced in Seesmic.

Soon we will be able to do many of the social activities that are now only possible with close physical proximity via social media. For example, women often approach shopping as a social activity where they can share opinions and advice as part of the shopping experience.

Growth in social applications that enable this, such as search and shopping, are already here. My Virtual Model ™ has just launched a new visual search application. Users search visually for outfits and put them on their customised virtual model, share them with friends, ask for their opinions, and put the model against different backdrops. They can then purchase the outfits online.

Thus social computing enables us to adopt real life social modes of being in an online context. This makes the next generation of social uses interesting to contemplate. It also makes monetization and commercial adoption critical.

More on this later ...

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

15 December 2008

Is Social Media Still Serious Business? Part 1

Social media is being woven into the fabric of our daily lives almost without us noticing. Most mainstream news sites now have user comments and voting, and they embed video that we can share.

Sites like Facebook and MySpace are going mainstream; even parents are getting involved so as to interact with their children. Business networking sites like LinkedIn and Xing are providing useful ways to connect for business purposes. These sites are using web 2.0 style social computing features to drive user engagement.

Presently there are more that 100 million websites according to Netcraft and many of them now incorporate social media and web 2.0 elements.

There are a couple of important things to note before we consider technology. Firstly, human beings are inherently social creatures and we formed social networks for generations without the benefit of any technology apart from language. Secondly, the speed of technological change means that much of our opinion of what is important today will be proved wrong, possibly even a few months from now.

Technology is evolving fast. For example six months ago most people thought twittering was something done by birds. But 2008 saw micro blogging via Twitter become widely recognised as an innovative social media platform.

In 2009 it is likely that video micro blogging and point of view video will begin to take off as our social media becomes even more personal. Some of the new platforms make it easier than ever before for ordinary people to participate, for example Seesmic enables anyone with a webcam and microphone to participate in video blogging.

More on this later ...

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

14 December 2008

Impressive recent conference - eLearning08

I've been to a lot of conferences but one of the most impressive in terms of logistics and use of social media was eLearning08.

Held at the Roundhouse at University of NSW in Sydney this conference was for RTOs (registered training organisations) who are working to embed e-learning as a key aspect of their business strategy.

The format of the conference was interactive, as well as providing traditional keynotes and panel sessions. This participation model was particularly effective and great discussion and active knowledge sharing was obvious.

The organisers of this conference did a great job. The logistics were superb, the wifi reliable, the food yummy, and the active participation was great.

I learned a great deal from seeing the presentations of the various training organisation's project results. Many of the RTO presentations were really inspiring stories and are worth catching up with here.

Some of the social computing tools that were integrated into the conference included the following, some as demonstrations and others as social media and broadcasting:
- FlickR
- FlickR tools
- Online image editors
- Tagging
- Using blogger
- Digital Storytelling
- Voicethread
- Recording audio
- Audacity
- Twitter

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

13 December 2008

I know it's Caturday but ...

see more puppies

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

11 December 2008

Top 10 Habit of Bad Managers

In recent years the idea of good management has become somewhat unfashionable. Instead, writers and researchers have focused on leadership. This has led to a serious dearth of good management in our organisations. Thus, while managers are poncing about being 'leaders', our businesses and our people are suffering from plain old-fashioned bad management. These bad management habits can be disastrous, not only for the staff, but also for customers and the company over the long term. It is hard to run a good customer service organisation when there is a lack of good management habits. Bad management habits can even impact badly on the bottom line.

Many managers exhibit behaviours in the workplace that they would not display in any other place (such as at home). We must ask ourselves why this is so. Why does it seem okay to behave at work in ways we would not consider as appropriate in any other environment? For example, rarely do we see someone being discourteous to others in a social situation. So why does it seem appropriate in the workplace? Why is there incongruence in behaviour between work, home and social situations?

Each of the habits listed below can be seen either alone or in combination in many workplaces today. These habits create stress for both the manager and their staff, and this is often passed on to customers as well. The tragedy is that this is unnecessary suffering. Many of these habits exist in complexes thus a manager who has poor communication may also; as a result, have no trust in staff because they do not always carry out instructions 'properly'. Or a manager who is disorganised may also be indecisive. A few simple remedies can be effected to make life much better, and these are discussed below.

The top 10 bad habits managers can exhibit are:

  1. Bullying
  2. Poor Communication
  3. No Trust
  4. Disorganisation and Indecision
  5. Not 'Walking the Talk'
  6. Discourtesy
  7. Politics and Inequity
  8. Avoidance
  9. Pride
  10. Lying
Bad Management Habits
It might be argued that I am merely expressing a value judgement, and that these subjective ideas of what constitutes 'bad' management are not universal. This is very likely true, however, I can attest based upon personal experience that workplaces avoiding the practices outlined below function at a higher level of productivity and have less staff turnover than others. They are also a more pleasant place to spend time - after all we spend more time at work than with family or friends.

Bullying can range from verbal to physical, and it always has the threat of violence inherent in it. I have worked in organisations with very serious bullying problems. Generally the bullying is either acted out explicitly by managers down the chain of command or at very least tolerated at all levels of senior management. Very rarely is bullying seen only at the lower levels of the workplace. The critical thing to note is that bullying puts all staff, not just those who are being directly bullied, into a state of fear.

Once a person is in that state they are not able to be positive or creative. Thus bullying is perhaps the most demotivating, demoralising and debilitating of all the bad habits.

Poor Communication
This category includes those managers who fail to provide feedback on staff performance including praise and constructive criticism, that discipline subordinates openly, or who are unable to effectively communicate task requirements or who falsely assume that subordinates understand their requirements. It also includes managers who do not know how to communicate the importance of good process in the organisation to optimal functioning, and managers who do not know how to listen to their people.

No Trust
When managers demonstrate that they do not trust their employees this often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Managers who fail to trust employees to do good work, or allow them the latitude to accept increasingly more difficult tasks are a roadblock to employee growth and good performance. This lack of confidence leads to a reluctance to delegate on behalf of managers, which in turn may lead to employees withdrawing their involvement from the workplace. Another symptom of this is the manager who micro manages staff and completely disempowers them.

Disorganisation and Indecision
Reactive managers, who run from crisis to crisis, or who are constantly reacting to crisis, rather than being proactive are viewed as ineffective by employees. This type of behaviour puts significant amounts of stress on both the manager and their staff, and ultimately upon their customers. This type of manager rarely works with their people to identify the root cause of the problem and solving that, instead they continually treat the symptoms.

Part of a manager's job is to make decisions; this is one of the reasons that they earn more money than other staff. Managers who are either afraid to accept responsibility or are afraid of the consequences of decision making are viewed as ineffectual by employees.

Not 'Walking the Talk'
There is nothing more demoralising for staff to see a manager who has all the best rhetoric in the world about the corporate values, but who does not act out those same values. Managers who fail to model appropriate behaviour in the workplace make it difficult for employees to maintain these same high standards even when they want to. If managers want staff to act in certain ways then they must first model the desired behaviours.

Managers who fail to treat employees as human beings by offering simple courtesies can completely destabilise an entire department, and sometimes an entire company. At one workplace I saw a manager who did not greet their staff when arriving each morning. The staff were outraged by this behaviour and spent many hours of valuable work time discussing this lack of courtesy. The manager remained completely unaware of this serious drain on productivity. While the staff found themselves ill-disposed to work harder at the request of this manager. When managers do not treat employees with common dignity and respect their staff often see this type behaviour as acceptable. The staff then start to act discourteously to each other, thus setting up a chain reaction. Again, the bad habit is passed from the manager to the staff and then ultimately the customers suffer.

Politics and Inequity
Work place 'politics' which are engendered or fostered by managers is demotivating and disruptive to employees. Unequal treatment of employees is especially demoralising, people see this unfairness and react against it.

Many managers with this habit will do anything to duck out of dealing with the difficult issue. Generally these issues are related to people and performance management, which are almost universally problematic for managers to deal with. Managers who are unwilling to confront issues and who avoid difficult conversations and situations generally just make the issue harder to deal with in the future.

There are managers who will not admit that they do not know something, who do not ask questions, or attempt to bluff their way through a situations, or base decisions on something they know new very little about. This habit is about pride. In my experience, managers with this habit are also prone to avoidance.

Many managers lie to people in the workplace. Rarely is this the result of a sociopathy, instead it is often associated with avoidance of difficult issues - for example, reluctance to impart bad news. It could be the 'social' type of lie, such as not answering truthfully when asked a difficult question, or more serious such as not telling someone why they missed out on a promotion.

It is important to note that this is different to withholding information. Managers are often privy to information that cannot be shared with staff for various reasons. However, instead of lying when asked about such information, it is better so simply advise that it is not possible to disclose information about that issue at present.

Remedies for Bad Management Habits
The remedies for these bad management habits are simple. Managers should:
  • Reflect on their behaviour to check if there is congruence between their behaviour in non-work and work situations. If there is incongruence then this needs to be explored.
  • Check if their behaviour at work models the corporate values and their own personal values.
  • Ask people for honest feedback on their behaviour and management style (NB: if you have been a bully it is likely nobody will tell you the truth because they are scared of you).
  • If senior managers see other managers exhibiting these behaviours then they should counsel them and help them to change their behaviours in a positive way (here the idea is that of manager as coach) - call people on bad behaviour, if you let it happen on your watch you are complicit.
  • Stop avoiding difficult issues, just get on with it - if you deal with the issue early it is often easier to resolve than after a delay (often it is good to get some support from inside the organisation, HR or another manager may be able to provide both support and useful ideas on how to manage the situation).
  • Be courteous to everyone, even if this does not come naturally at first, over time it becomes a habit.
  • Just tell the truth, or if speaking the truth openly is not appropriate say that you are unable to comment on the matter (this makes life much simpler).
Most of these remedies are focused on aligning personal non-work behaviours and values with those demonstrated in the workplace. It is up to senior management within organisations to analyse themselves to see if they exhibit these bad habits, and they must also speak out when they see these bad habits in colleagues and staff. These behaviours are only common because we accept them. For example, if a senior manager notices another manager throwing things at their staff; it is likely that they would ask the manager to stop that behaviour. It should be no different if the senior manager sees someone bullying a staff member. Too often senior managers avoid confronting these bad habits and they multiply across all levels of the organisation.

These remedies may sound hard to do or unnecessary, however I have found that if you adopt them life becomes simpler and less stressful. Work should not be an unpleasant place; it should be a place of passion and commitment to common goals. It is the responsibility of management to make the workplace productive and efficient, and the bad habits listed above do not help in that regard. Remember the old saying "the fish rots from the head". Each person holding management responsibility ought to reflect upon their own behaviour so as to ensure that their behaviour is congruent with personal and corporate values.

Note: I do not claim immunity from bad management behaviour. But I do try to reflect and improve based on experience and feedback. A big thank-you to all the people who have given me feedback over the years. It has helped me grow as a person and as a professional and you have my gratitude.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

9 December 2008

Devils in the Workplace - part 3

In a great book Bob Sutton has talked about his no asshole rule (No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't) and he has evangelized the idea of a workplace free from bullying.

We are reaching a stage in our society where it is time to say no to the bullies, to say no to bad behaviour, to demand a civil society within our workplaces.

But thinking about the causes of bad workplace behaviour led to a realisation that it is often caused by fear and uncertainty. Now that we are moving into an economic downturn it is likely to continue that fear driven behaviour. Thus poor behaviour in the workplace is even less likely to be addressed. People who fear losing their job in a time of rising unemployment are unlikely to speak out. People who fear that they will lose their job if they fail to meet targets can choose to drive other employees using tactics of fear.

It is time for us to recognise that much of our own bad behaviour in the workplace is driven by fear. And it is time for us to find the resolve and strength of character to be better people than fear would have us be. Like the cartoon says "admitting you're an asshole is the first step".

Devils in the Workplace - part 3
Devils in the Workplace - part 2
Devils in the Workplace - part 1

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

#LeWeb08 Paris - some thoughts

The theme for Le Web 08 is LOVE. Strangely I was walking around the area where the conference is being held earlier today and realised that the square nearby the ancient looking church of St Christopher was where the Edict of Nantes was proclaimed in 1598.

How, you might ask, is that obscure historical fact connected with Le Web 08 and its theme of love? It is connected thus ...

The Edict of Nantes proclaimed general freedom of conscience to individuals thus bringing to an end many years of religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

Freedom of conscience, the freedom to believe and practice according to one's belief has been a primary engine of progress for our modern world. Scientific progress is enabled by freedom. It is enabled by freedom of belief, freedom of association, freedom to think and discuss.

In my mind love is enabled by freedom. Love and freedom each create positive energies. And when I see the problems facing our world today we need every positive thing we can grab hold of. Love and freedom are a good place to start.

For those who are curious, the Edict of Nantes was eventually revoked by the Edict of Fontainebleau. This is thought by many to have had a very damaging impact on France with many of the most creative and energetic Protestants choosing to emigrate.

We face times of unprecedented freedom at present. But as with all freedoms we must be vigilant to protect our freedom. History shows us that love flourishes better in freedom than in tyranny.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

7 December 2008

Devils in the Workplace - part 2

What does this work devil phenomenon tell us about the modern workplace? It tells us that in spite of the rhetoric about caring for staff, the reality is that as long a manager is seen as delivering results it does not matter what damage is done to the human beings involved in the process.

If the well being of staff members were important to companies then work devil behaviour by managers would be completely unacceptable. Instead, the damaging behaviour is often rewarded (as long as it is accompanied by good financial results) and results in disempowering and discouraging those suffering under the reign of terror. Sometimes, when a staff member tries to speak out about the work devil's behaviour, it is made clear that they should just keep quiet and not rock the boat. This has happened to colleagues and to me over the years. During these encounters with other managers (either senior managers to the work devil or human resources managers), it becomes clear that these people are afraid of confronting the bad behaviour of the work devil. It would be very interesting to know if this fear is simply a fear of confrontation or if they too are terrified of the work devil?

Another interesting question: Is there something inherent in the way workplaces are organised that makes it easier or possible for people to display work devil behaviours? Obviously, the scale of the bad behaviour is not the same as in the concentration camps, but the pattern is similar. In the work devil phenomenon individuals demonstrate a disconnect between their private and public behavioural personas. Is the connecting emotion between the two (i.e. workplaces and concentration camps) the emotion of fear?

Is fear what drives a person to disconnect from the private mode of being - which is kind and loving - to display a special work mode of being?

What Can Be Done About a Work Devil? If you work for a work devil then there is a decision to be made. Either you stay and put up with the behaviour and consequent feelings of stress, or leave and take the chance that you will not be unlucky two times in a row.

If you are a manager, the best thing that you can do is to stop the behaviour at inception. As soon as you see or hear of any of your team members displaying work devil behaviours counsel them. Make the ground rules for behaviour in your team clear to everyone. Usually upon taking over a new team I hold an introductory meeting - laying out the ground rules - and these usually include statements like:

"I do not care what you think about each other or how you feel about each other. We are here to do a job. In this team, we treat each other with courtesy. We treat our colleagues with courtesy (even if you happen to hate one of them). We always treat our customers with courtesy as well. We do this because we are professionals and we act like it. We are all on the same team and it is important that we act like it. Our team will do well if we all work together. Together we can achieve more together than individually - that's why we build teams."

Of course, if this is just rhetoric, the staff see right through it very quickly and become cynical. If you model the behaviour and ensure that all other management staff model the behaviour then the rest of the staff will follow on. However, if you allow even one manager to get away with not modeling the behaviours, then you lose the trust of the staff, look insincere AND you become complicit in the work devil's bad behaviour. This is a moral issue for managers. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to participate in this, after all as the English philosopher Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

It is possible to deliver good results for your organisation and to treat the people that deliver those results as human beings. In fact, it is easier to sustain good results if there is lower staff turnover and staff are not anxious or stressed.

Work Devils in Comedy & Drama: The following are entertaining examples of what not to do:

  • David Brent - the boss in The Office (BBC)
  • Gordon Gecko - in the film Wall Street (Oliver Stone 1986)
  • Any boss in Dilbert - http://www.dilbert.com/
  • Franklin M. Hart Jr. - the boss in the film Nine To Five (Colin Higgins 1980)
  • Katharine Parker - the boss in the film Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1988)
More on this topic later ...

Devils in the Workplace - part 3
Devils in the Workplace - part 2
Devils in the Workplace - part 1

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

5 December 2008

Devils in the Workplace - part 1

We have all done it - putting on the special telephone answering voice as we pick up the phone. In our daily life, we use many different personas. This is not a bad thing as this helps us to navigate our way through daily interactions. But there is a phenomenon occurring in offices all over the world that is disturbing.

My mother used to call me a "street angel and a house devil" because I often behaved well in public but was a tearaway at home; luckily I have out-grown those unfortunate behaviours. There are many people in workplaces today who are acting in the opposite way. That is they are "house angels and work devils". These individuals may be known to their families and friends as charming and delightful people. However, to those unlucky enough to cross their path in the workplace the meeting is with a bully, tyrant, and emotional saboteur.

A friend gave me a book to read on psychopaths in the workplace (Working with Monsters). Based upon that book and other reading it does not seem as though these work devils are psychopaths in the classic form. But having seen the damage done by these work devils, there must surely be some kind of psychopathology behind such dreadful behaviour and bad treatment of other people? But evidence of several cases where I have known the work devil on a social basis showed clearly that these people are quite charming in a social context. Even in work based social contexts, such as lunches or dinners, the work devil can display charm and be a pleasant person to interact with. But as soon as they are back in the office setting, the work devil reappears.

It is important to note that, while work devil behaviour can be displayed at any level within an organisation, it is most generally displayed amongst managers and supervisors. I suspect that this is because of the greater power that managers and supervisors exercise in the workplace. The work devil behaviours that I have seen displayed in workplaces include (but are not limited to):

  • Walking past every staff member and not greeting them or acknowledging them in any way
  • Screaming at an individual about a problem that they had nothing to do with while in an open office
  • Gossiping about staff to other managers to avoid losing them to another internal role
  • Yelling at a staff member in a large meeting that they were stupid
  • Lying to staff and then pretending they did not lie
  • Setting impossible targets for staff to ensure that they cannot meet achieve a bonus
  • Micromanagement, micromanagement, micromanagement, micromanagement, micromanagement, micromanagement
  • Isolating individuals from information they need to do their job, not inviting them to important meetings
  • Going through a staff member's personal possessions
  • Doing something wrong then pretending it was one of their staff who did it
What is difficult to encapsulate in a bullet point is the way that a work devil can chip away at your sanity and self esteem on a daily basis. Leaving you feeling stupid and ineffectual. There is good stress and bad stress at work. The feeling you get from a work devil is definitely bad stress (see Lenson's Good Stress, Bad Stress).

The most frightening issue with many of the behaviours listed above is that they are often public displays, yet rarely does any person in authority take action to stop the behaviour. Rarely have I seen a senior manager take the work devil aside and counsel them. Never have I seen a work devil fired due to their continued bad behaviour. Often in spite of high levels of staff turnover in their department and clear suffering of stress by their staff the work devil is allowed to continue their reign of terror.

What makes the work devil think that it is acceptable to act in horrible ways at work? Why do they act that way at work and not at home? Is it because at home nobody would put up with that kind of behaviour? Does this mean that the work devil is being authentic in one place and not in the other? Which place is the one where they are being authentically themselves - home or work? What would their families and friends think if they could see the work devil in action?

An interesting thing to note is that some of the most brutal commandants of the Nazi concentration camps (e.g. Rudolf Hoess http://www.deathcamps.info/Letters/Hoess.htm) also displayed this work devil pattern. They were known to their families as kind and gentle people, noted for their kindness to animals, but displayed dreadful inhumanity and cruelty in the workplace.

More on this topic later...
Devils in the Workplace - part 3
Devils in the Workplace - part 2
Devils in the Workplace - part 1

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

4 December 2008

Why I like MBTI

Over the years I have been put through many different personality assessments in the course of employment. Of all of them the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (a.k.a MBTI) remains my favourite.

This is probably a good time to confess my MBTI type - ENTP - which could go some way to explaining why I like the MBTI.

One thing I do like about MBTI is that it is not about predicting behaviour. Rather it is about preferences considered on four dimensions: how we channel energy; how we like to take in information; how we make decisions; and our orientation to the outside world. The chart pictured here summarises the four dichotomies of the MBTI.

Thus MBTI gives an insight into propensities for ways of seeing, thinking and acting but is not deterministic about how you will actually do them.

Since the MBTI does not attempt to predict behaviour it does not annoy my like so many of the other personality instruments by misinterpreting situational behaviour with my personal preferences.

Another good thing about the MBTI is that it is rooted in Jungian theory. And I have a great fondness for Jung, together with a detestation of the entire Freudian ideology. On the anti-Freud note it is worth checking out the critique of Freud and Freudian psychiatry in Anti-Freud: Karl Kraus's Criticism of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry by Thomas Szaz.

The broader Jungian ideas include psychological archetypes, the collective unconscious and synchronicity. These ideas are important in thinking about the world, especially in the light of modern physics and our progress towards the singularity.

If you've got a favourite MBTI related blog please add it into comments so I can check it out.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

3 December 2008

Social Media Community Building 2008

In Sydney we have had a great year of building a lively and vibrant social media community. Late last year many individuals decided that they wanted to be more connected with other people who were active in the areas of technology startups, entrepreneurial ventures and social media. As a result a number of initiatives happened throughout the year:

Twitter has been a key tool in getting these various groups together and building a sense of community. We have also used Google Groups, Facebook, Upcoming and plain old-fashioned email.

How do I know it is a community? The results are there. People have got to know each other in real life. There have been squabbles, there has been cooperation, there have been many ideas shared, there's been fun and a few drinks along the way.

All in all a good year for the social media community in Sydney.

What really stood out for me is what an amazing bunch of talented, enthusiastic, and motivated people we have around. It has been great to be part of this community building and I'm looking forward to the mayhem we can create next year.

BTW don't forget the inaugural CupcakeCamp Sydney is on in Feb 2009!

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

2 December 2008

New article on workforce development

The article is up on the TAFE NSW website now - Workforce development: Case studies in private and public sector implementation

A big thank-you to Michael Specht and the team at NSW Department Commerce for their time.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

30 November 2008

Imagining Technology Futures - part 6

For me some defining characteristics of social computing (or web 2.0 as some call it) have been (a) democratization of the process of creation, enabling user generated content; and (b) mashing up of different applications and media to create something new.

These characteristics are likely to remain part of the next generation of the web. All of the new technology trends discussed in this series of posts together with a myriad of others will work together, intersecting and cross-enabling each other. They will work together to create ways of being and behaving that we can only dimly understand in much the same way that our predecessors could only dimly understand the revolution inherent in the creation of the internet.

One thing is certain, with so many smart and well motivated people who are working with technology to solve the problems facing our world we will see many innovations.

Imagining Technology Futures - part 1
Imagining Technology Futures - part 2
Imagining Technology Futures - part 3
Imagining Technology Futures - part 4
Imagining Technology Futures - part 5
Imagining Technology Futures - part 6

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

29 November 2008

It's Caturday again ...

The music is a little weird but grew on me after a while. But if you want a more serious view on lolcats then go here.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

28 November 2008

Imagining Technology Futures - part 5

Another key feature of the future will be an increased importance in data management to enable the semantic web.

Databases are the key to the future of the web. Until now we have focused on the frontend of the web, developing RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) as part of the web 2.0 revolution. But the next generation of the web will be about semantic and context aware computing. To achieve this new generation of the web changes to database technology will be required.

Only the database appliances that are fully optimized for fast parallel processing will really enable the shift to semantic and context aware computing. However, a key limiting factor for the next stage in the evolution of the web – from web 2.0 to the semantic web – is the way our current relational databases work. These older style databases are optimized for transaction processing, which either ensures that a complete atomic transaction is completed or will reverse the entire transaction. The next generation web will require massively parallel database operations to support the semantic web.

David Wiseman from Sybase was introducing their new Analytic Appliance at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Sydney. He described this database as a “highly optimized data warehouse analytics appliance.” This is a column based database that is optimized for high speed massively parallel access. It is this kind of approach that is going to enable the next generation semantic web. Kevin Kelly was talking about this new approach, using databases to power the next generation of web, recently at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, calling it the “operational Semantic Web, or World Wide Database, or Giant Global Graph, or Web 3.0”.

Imagining Technology Futures - part 1
Imagining Technology Futures - part 2
Imagining Technology Futures - part 3
Imagining Technology Futures - part 4
Imagining Technology Futures - part 5
Imagining Technology Futures - part 6

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

27 November 2008

"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

Over lunch the other day with some girl geek buddies talk came around, as it does, to the revolutionary nature of community on the internet. It reminded me of this quote from the noted anarchist Emma Goldman.

So much of the discussion about what is happening on the internet is so earnest and serious that I think we've lost a bit of our joie de vivre. Before the internet became a business it was about trying out cool stuff with people, it was about pushing the boundaries of what we knew was possible. It was also about meeting new people and creating our own, somewhat idiosyncratic, communities of interest.

Now the internet is all business. Everyone's got advice on how to monetize it. But I miss the early days when it was just for fun and a way to stretch our notions of human endeavour. When it was idealistically driven and seen as a way to share information widely and to break down barriers.

I want an internet that is about connecting people and ideas in new ways that create a better world. I want an internet that helps us to overcome barriers and distance. I want an internet that makes people better than they were without it. I want to join with like minded individuals in collective action for positive purposes. And, like Emma says, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

[Photo: Ned the Dog, Gold Coast Australia]

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

26 November 2008

Imagining Technology Futures - part 4

New Interfaces are another area in which we can expect to see change. Since the development of the mouse and touch screens we have not seen any significant improvements in how we interact with devices.

However, over the next few years we will see a move away from textual interfaces and towards newer kinds of interfaces, such as Microsoft Surface which is just an extension of the current HCI (Human Computer Interaction).

The ultimate future trend is about evolving the HCI into a BCI (Brain Computer Interface) using non-invasive methods.

Significant research advances are taking place in relation to our understanding of the BCI, and this effort is largely driven by medical needs. Neurological rehabilitation is a need that is driving the development of this technology. There are already a number of prototypes that enable disabled people to direct a thought command to drive prosthetic devices. Previous incarnations of this type of technology looked at implanting devices into people, but now the direction is non-invasive BCI devices, perhaps using wearable technology?

[Image: Nick Hodge asleep on one of two Microsoft Surfaces in Australia]

Imagining Technology Futures - part 1
Imagining Technology Futures - part 2
Imagining Technology Futures - part 3
Imagining Technology Futures - part 4
Imagining Technology Futures - part 5
Imagining Technology Futures - part 6

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

25 November 2008

We need geeks!

It has been prevalent among many cultures to laugh at geeks. But this is a shortsighted approach to this special breed.

Geeks have been with us for a long time. Back in our cave dwelling days, while most of the tribe were running around with pointed sticks trying to catch some dinner, there was a geek back at camp fiddling with an interesting bit of rock that could be sharpened into a better tool for catching dinner.

Great geeks of history have included doctors, scientists and engineers, and today this category also includes software developers, hardware designers, network engineers, etc.

Geeks are the people in our society who ask 'why', and this question is often followed by 'why not?' They are the people who pull things apart, and who try to put them back together better than before. Who see what another geek just did and think 'if that is possible then my idea might just work too'. They are the ones who work on their projects, often unpaid, through genuine passion for the work itself. And sometimes this effort leads to significant advances in technology or in thought.

Until recent times it was often lonely being the only geek in town. Other people were intolerant of the constant questions or the abstraction while thinking about a new idea. Geeks getting so focused on their new idea that they forget to eat, sleep or (sometimes) wash has caused relationship stress for many.

But the internet (which was built by geeks) has empowered geeks to reach out and meet others like them. Hyperconnective tools (things like Slashdot, Twitter and Friendfeed) mean that our geeks are no longer isolated from each other.

With the myriad of challenges facing our world we need to harness this natural predilection of geeks to question, to debate, to come up with new and different technologies, and new ways of thinking.

A sensible society would be looking at its geeks and trying to work out how best to nurture their ingenuity and passion, how to support their endeavours and to channel them into addressing the great problems of the day.

[Image source: my favourite online store for t-shirts ThinkGeek - we have no commercial relationship but if they want to send me a t-shirt it would be most welcome.]

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

23 November 2008

Imagining Technology Futures - part 3

Another area that is enabled by wireless technology and miniaturization is wearable computing.

Already we are seeing wearable computing in daily life with integrated wearable technology beginning to be commercially available. Nike Plus and Adidas adiStar Fusion running shoes are already on the market which can deliver data on distance and pace via an iPod.

Another example of pre-commercial applications of wearable technology is currently being researched at Georgia Tech University. The researchers have developed a way to weave textile fibres covered with zinc oxide nano-wires into cloth so that a wearer’s body movement can generate electricity to power electronic devices. Professor Zhong Lin Wang says they are working on improving the nano-generator’s power output and finding ways to store the energy (PDF report available here). His current estimate on a commercially viable product is approximately five years from now.

But the real growth of wearable computing will come in response to our medical and family needs. Our rapidly ageing population will see a real focus on technology in relation to health care. One example is the possibility that the majority of the baby boomers will want to delay moving out of their own accommodation and into nursing homes with a large number of this population frail or in need of specialised care.

We will see the development of unobtrusive health monitoring solutions, enabling the aged to retain their independence, while providing peace of mind for their families in case anything untoward happens. The other area of application is providing robotic prosthetic devices to assist the disabled.

Spin-offs of this technology will also be focused on reducing cognitive load on our busy lives. With technology that is contextually aware using sensor technology and decision engines to make our lives easier by automation of routine processes.

[Image: http://www.apple.com/ipod/nike/]

Imagining Technology Futures - part 1
Imagining Technology Futures - part 2
Imagining Technology Futures - part 3
Imagining Technology Futures - part 4
Imagining Technology Futures - part 5
Imagining Technology Futures - part 6

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire

22 November 2008

Open source & Linux

I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Mark Jones, Paul Kangro (Novell), Greg Luck (Wotif), and Matthew Mengerink (PayPal) while recording the The Scoop podcast recently (the show will be posted soon). Our conversation got me thinking about where Open Source and Linux are in terms of enterprise today.

We are seeing major players globally running their core business systems on open source and Linux. PayPal is the poster child for this, delivering reliable and resilient global systems using Red Hat Linux and open source.

One comment Matthew made was about the way his team modify the Linux kernel and other open source code to make the overall system more secure. PayPal's Linux servers run Red Hat kernels with custom tweaks to provide additional security. Thus he sees a better security capability enabled via open source. However, this is predicated on having really good people - highly skilled people and effective software development process and controls.

I think that Linux and open source have fully proven themselves able to support global enterprises. However, the need for highly skilled resources to implement this effectively remains a limiting factor. In our use of open source at Westfield it was a common problem, we really did need 'rocket scientists' and any software developer off the street simply did not cut it.

Several recent conversations with CIOs and senior IT executives demonstrated their lack of trust in Linux and open source and a preference to go with known brands. In one conversation last year a corporate legal counsel asked plaintively "but who would we sue?" in relation to use of open source. Thus there appears to be a gulf between organisations. There are those who are willing to accept the risk of using Linux and open source - and thus achieve significant cost savings. Then there are organisations that will continue to use known brands and fail to achieve those significant cost savings.

But the game changer may be the global financial crisis (GFC). This will drive IT expenditure down and lead many organisations to consider open source, cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS), where previously they would have ignored them.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire