Disruption and Governance

Former Clerk of the Privy Council of the Government of Canada has written an interesting article published today in The Globe and Mail on the effect that the speed of technological change has on governance.  He focuses on government, but the changes and his recommendations have application to other enterprises of all sizes as well.

Technological Change Necessary Governance Responses
Speed up of pace of change Move from hindsight to foresight
Scope of change: vast and shifting Structures need flexibility
Disruptive change involves risk taking Become more innovative and tolerant of risk
Innovation crosses borders Crowd source public insights
Platform-based technologies with non-linear scalability and low marginal costs Think long term and anticipate the effects of the changes
Changes evolve through trial and error Look ahead to both benefits and costs to the wider society
Creation of virtual communities of interest with unfiltered commentary Use social media well;

When technologies disrupt and cause social problems, distrust of institutions follows.  Not only do we need to grow through innovation, Page says, but we must respond with new policies to meet the present and coming disruption.

PPT and Zerox

Remember when photocopying was referred to as Zeroxing – because of my advanced years, I can even remember when photocopying machines entered schools – and suddenly we were freed from the dreaded purple Ditto copies which faded almost as soon as they were run.  The new copiers were so popular that every classroom teacher was reproducing documents at such a fast pace we were all put on a paper diet.  The name of the first photocopying machine became a verb or the process – in the same way that Kleenex now means paper tissue – and everyone knows how to ask for one from toddlerhood.

So it’s interesting that one – but only one Microsoft software program – has reached the same iconic status.  I’ve just received an invitation to a meeting where I am told there will be a PowerPoint presentation.  That is more than enough to keep me away – but do you notice that a presentation still must be preceded by PowerPoint.  At the same meeting there may be some documents or spreadsheets distributed but they don’t need the imprimatur of Word or Excel as prefixes to give them credence.  There is still some reverence for PPT in spite of the fact that it nearly always displays a canned document – not an engaging screen.  So even if you like the software – which I actually do – for heaven sake start with a blank page, an image and a maximum of about six words. Otherwise Death by PowerPoint will still hold sway.

 

 

Spoiler Alert

Just in case anyvody notices – re software.  My son Michael Bolton  – yes he is Michael Bolton but not that Michael Bolton – teaches software testing.  One of the clients giving a positive testamonial is from Microsoft.  Maybe it will all be better soon.  You can explore the world of software testing here.

Software for Health – or Not!

MS

News today from the the Consumer Electronics Show was all about Healthy Apps.  A more personal news stream told me about a friend’s crash of Windows 10.  I could sympathize because I had the same problem with the new version of MS Office

The automatic download of the latest upgrade meant that none of my icons would bring me to the connected programs, which Windows 10 now insists are Apps..  So I couldn’t access any file.  A Google search indicated that I was not alone and a few proposed solutions appeared – not, of course from Microsoft.  I tried several without success and finally signed on to Microsoft’s live chat.  After 10 minutes of announcements that someone would be with me instantaneously, a Chatter appeared and asked what the problem was – no actually she asked “How can I help you?”.  I told her and the Chatter took me through the same steps that I had already tried three or four times. Her solution?  “It appears that you have a problem”.  I chatted back, “Well duh”. This chat was going nowhere. She tried to connect me with tech support to no avail.  In desperation I logged off, went to the program file and decided to uninstall the program  There was also a last minute fix option.  It worked.  The proper icons for the upgrade appeared for the first time. This little escapade took about ninety minutes and it was not the reason for logging on in the first place.

I wonder what would happen if the millions of PC users tracked the hours that they spent trying to fix things.  Yes I know, I could switch to a Mac to join my Ipad and Iphone which work pretty well most of the time.  But what would happen if software releases were properly tested in the first place and saved us hours of time?  We might actually be productive instead of joining the MS volunteer tech support department sans wagers or benefits.  We might even make use of those new healthy apps instead of becoming sick of technology.

What Works – and What Doesn’t

I sat in a meeting yesterday and heard an interesting presentation from a person who is trying to build a new church community in a suburb – without a building, and the hope that a gathered community would have enough strength to move toward one some time in the future.  His target audience is families with young children – people quite like himself – and he is trying to do this by meeting the people where he knows they are – probably on public transport where they spend large portions of their lives. Because he also has a technology background he has created an app to make contact with them.  He calls the app, “Redeem the Commute”.  His target group is also described as “unchurched” – in other words, those who have no experience of or context for the kind of community that he is trying to create.

It’s a new way to try to combine local with global – and what was engaging was the honesty of his reporting.  How many of us get real about how things work – or don’t.  – in the worlds of social media and mobile apps.

His idea was to offer online mini- courses – parenting, marriage preparation and relgion 101.  I immediately found myself questioning the first one here – did he have the necessary credentials to offer a course on parenting – especially as a new parent himself?  While I have decades of parenting experience I’d be inclined to recognize my views as opinion rather than credentials.  Marriage prep and Religion 101 were fine. These are churchy things and related to the business he is in.  There were hopes that participants would group themselves around topics and form discussion groups.  There were also invitations to come to real meetings in a real location  Here are some of the things that happened.

Clear measurements took place over a 60 day period. There were a fair number of downloads of the app and quite a few visits to the website. But there was very little interest in the parenting or marriage course; there was better response to religion 101. The online communities never formed.  There were a very small number of visits to the local website.  Turning up for local events was sparse. Some local initiatives worked so much better.  An outdoor movie night attracted 400.  A Christmas party brought out 40 parents and children.

What do these things say to any of us who write for blogs or websites or posts for social media? We may be fooling ourselves quite a  lot of the time.  I had the same experience writing for a local community grouping in downtown Toronto over a three year period.  There were interested subscribers from all over the world – even a reporter from the Washington Post checked in – but local interest was sparse at best.

My Facebook friends are people whom I would recognize if I met them on the street – and some of them live a plane ride away – but the truth is we have common contexts for being digital acquaintances – and let’s face it, we are not all friends in a real sense but more often colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances.  It’s extremely difficult to develop relationships unless people have something of substance  in common – and what the targeted group had in common here was actually defined – no knowledge of the enterprise that was trying to recruit them. Social media is now based on the economic hope that what we “like” will be adopted by our “friends”.  Such friendship will come at a price and it doesn’t really build human bonding.

What did work was what the movie and Christmas party have in common.  They were local events where real people could actually meet and interact with other people.  When I think back to Howard Rheingold’s lovely book, The Virtual Community, Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier”, which I first read in the early 90’s, I realize how much things have changed.  Local combined with digital was possible then – to have a local community like the Bay area “Well” where people could meet online and share theirv real life experience.  But they also shared the context of San Francisco.  What there is to share in the sense of a new suburban commiunity is a a bit hard to say. There often is no sense of history or common experience and sometimes even landmarks are hard to spot.  Apps, on the other hand, are almost by definition, global.

So this honest presentation raised far more questions for me than it answered.  The presenter suggested that he might go in an app direction or a local relationship building direction or possibly a combination.  What did seem necessary was to make a choice – because the strengths and limitations of both were clear.  And I found myself leaning toward building relationships.

 

Technology as a Tool

Earlier today I complained about the Apple ad that thinks the point of technology is product (theirs of course) instead of about people.  I like the products – but not for their own sake but for their utility.  But this short video redeems the Ipad when you see what little people can do with it.  I have spent the past two years one half day in a junior/senior kindergarten.  No such tools there at this point.  But one of these days I hope there are. Have a look to see what kindergarten students can do.

My Media Life So Far #14 – New Job, New Technology

towerIt was 1982.  I was working in an office for the first time since university summers when I hand coded all those insurance cards that went into the primitive main- frames or searched for lost policies in filing cabinets.  I was now the executive administrator of a service organization for the province’s choirs. I was getting helpful hints every time there was a new phone call from my administrative assistant, who always told me who the person on the phone really was. Three weeks in she had a fall and was hospitalized.  I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by manuals and trying to cope with the photocopier and postage machine.  I hardly knew how to turn on an electric typewriter let along type with it.

We were a staff of three on her return.  The other two were in their 70s and 20s and I was smack in the middle.  The older woman was a godsend who patiently taught me administration and the younger one was full of innovative energy.  I met with provincial representatives who funded our overhead and with our sister organizations who provided services to orchestral music, drama and the visual arts.  What we started hearing about was something called a personal computer.

Our organization had no money for research or feasibility studies, but the orchestra organization had just spent $5,000 on a feasibility study – so I asked to borrow it.  The recommendations included the purchase of an Altos computer and customized software. While I have made lots of bad decisions before and since, I did make one good one after  concluding that we were in no way unique and should go for a basic machine and proprietary software.  So in the spring of 1983 we became the proud owners of one PC with an amazing 10 megabytes of memory, and versions of Wordstar, DBase Three and Lotus123. Their Altos never arrived and the programming consultant disappeared.

We didn’t have proper manuals because the software came pre-installed.  I spent a good deal of my own money buying heavy paperbacks produced by Sybase and other publishers. I always looked for ones whose authors were out-of-work English teachers like me. We had to learn a number of keyboard combinations to perform simple tasks.  The only one that I have properly retained to this day is Ctrl-Alt-Delete.  That summer I took a three week holiday  and forgot everything that I had learned.  Two of us mastered Wordstar slowly while third could always beat us on the IBM Selectric with her excellent knowledge of both touch-typing and shorthand.  I was so taken with the new machine, that I bought a similar desktop for $2500 of my personal hard earned dollars and took it home. We stared at the black screen with its orange letters until our eyes ached. But we were on our way.