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Archive for the 'News' Category

Goodbye – it’s been real (or should that be virtual)?




Photo: cjsimmons

After eight wonderful years, iKnowHow is calling it a day, kicking off its trainers and walking off into the sunset (while owner Jemima Gibbons looks forward to no longer having to talk about herself as a separate entity ☺).

It’s been a fabulous time. Made more so by the amazing people who I’ve met along the way. Thanks to all the particularly brilliant friends and mentors who’ve helped me out: Andy Bell, Anthony Mangion, Barbara Benedek, Charles Baden-Fuller, Clive Holtham, David Sims, David Wilcox, Dotun Adebayo, Gemma Lines, Joanne Jacobs, John Prescott (not that one!), Joseph Lampel, Karen McCarthy, Kate Kinninmont, Matthew Fairtlough, Nick Watt, Nick Witte-Vermeulen, Paul Richards, Ricardo da Sousa, Stowe Boyd, Zoe Black and, especially, Noam Sohachevsky.

The world has changed a lot since March 2002, when I set up iKH with Alison Linskey to “provide consultancy and training in digital media to film and TV production companies”. When we started television was still very much at the centre of the media universe and the early years were shaped by work with Women in Film & TV, BT (in its efforts to become a broadcaster), Skillset and the UK Film Council.

But things were shaken up so much more than we anticipated. While the web has gone stratospheric and mobile is truly ubiquitous, interactive TV has diverted up its own strange back alley. Instead of television becoming “all media”, the web has become the most powerful medium we have. To the point where we no longer see the boundaries (between us and “it”).

More recently, I’ve been working with Triarchy Press, Cass Business School and the RSA, the first two organisations focused very much on the future of business, the other focused on the future of society as a whole. And all three looking deeply at the impact interactive, digital and social media are having on our lives.

My 2009 book, Monkeys with Typewriters, was a stab at understanding this brave new world we’re in. It feels like I was only scratching the surface. Now, I want to focus more on my writing, and more on social business design. It seems like the time is ripe for a re-brand – this will be my final blog post at iKH.

If you’ve supported iKH over the years, thank you so much. If this is the first you’ve ever heard of it, feel free to read back through the blog for a re-cap. ☺

For the next three months, I’ll be based in Jaffa (Tel Aviv), exploring Israel from the grassroots up. Beach, sunset, here I come. See you on the other side!

In the meantime, you can always:

Join my Jaffa adventures on Twitter
Muse social business with me on the Monkeys with Typewriters blog
Follow the re-brand at jemimagibbons.com


The Moses Method (not)

I’m back from the break at Social Media Influence 2010 and this’ll be a blog of the last few sessions of the day.

Adam Brown, Director of Interactive Marketing Communications, DELL, is on stage, talking about storytelling (not directly connected to the London 2012 presentation, but stories seem to be a popular theme here).

15.45: Adam: Some stats I pulled on the airplane yesterday: mobile web will be bigger than desktop web by 2015; The UK spent 65% more time onljne in April 2010 than they did in April 2007, more time on social sites than on search; 79% say they rarely click on display ad; 25% of search results for top 20 brands are user-generated content. All this tells us we must get our stories into the social stream.

This is why authenticity, transparency and disclosure are so important. Example, every blog post should begin with: “Hi my name is [Adam] and I work for DELL”. This is not the Moses Method (Moses didn’t conduct focus groups when he was revealing the 10 commandments).

Through the eyes of our audience, our home page isn’t Dell.com, it’s Google.com. The primary source for people looking for information about Dell is Google (I said this two years ago). Today you could add Facebook, Twitter etc to that.

15.55: There are four steps to social media outreach: Review what’s being said, respond appropriately, record your message (1bn videos are being served up every day online) and redirect your audience.

16.00: “Fish were the fish are” is the mantra I have on my office wall: look for opportunities in the communities where people are already talking about you – these may not be in communities you control or communities that you own. We have to realise that we are not the key keepers of the brand – the brand is in the eye of the consumer. Social media is not a broadcast medium. It’s a narrowcast medium.

16.05: How do we get management buy-in? The holy grail is attributed sales. We can now attribute over $6m worth of sales to our Twitter handle. (We were able to include cookies and codes in our 140 character Twitter messages.) Net promoter score (?), brand value, sentiment and cost avoidance (in other parts of the organisation) also matter. Cost avoidance is probably the one that’s easiest to implement.

Sentiment? We ran two days at Dell: one when we invited in 15 people who ranted about how they hated DELL; another when we invited in people who raved about us. Some things came from both our ranters (detractors) and our ravers, so when you hear an issue coming from both camps, you know you need to do something about it.

Be a data junkie: there’s a lot of data out there and you just have to learn to track it.

[Note: After Adam's slides there was a talk by Jeff Dachis and a brief closing discussion about social business, but I'm afraid I was flagging by that point - as I think were most people - and although Jeff gave a great pep talk I've heard him speak before on this topic a few times - as compensation for the lack of live blog, here's a taster of Jeff's ideas on social business design.]

Story-telling at the London 2012 Olympic Games

Alex Balfour, Head of New Media, London 2012, is talking about how his organisation is preparing to use social media in the run-up to the London Olympics.

14:40: London 2012′s digital mission is to create products and services that:

1. Help the business meet its objectives efficiently and cost effectively
2. Aspire to be best in class
3. Are engaging
4. Are robust
5. Fully exploit potential of social and mobile media; aim to generate positive cash flow.

What we do online? Generic communications platforms including www.london2012.com, a ‘virtual agent’ tool and three official “channels” (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter). Email is still the most important and responsive digital tool, but social becoming more critical.

Our major learning from Vancouver Games is that social media has to be fun. People use social media in their procrastination time, down time and fun time.

A lot of the stuff we do now is effectively team-building.

Vancouver2012.com:
291m visits (Beijing 2008: 105m)
83m unique visitors (Beijing: 70m; Yahoo 32m; NBC 20m)
50% of all Canadians visited

14:55: My London 2012: a digital platform that will help deliver our promise to connect young people to sport and the values that Olympic an dParalympic sport represent by givein a voice to the inspiring stories that represent those values helping people share those stories with each other.

There will be 15,000 athletes at the games; 15% get a medal; 5% will be the estimated number of athletes with a medal who make a career out of having won that medal. The Olympics very different from the (football) World Cup in that the athletes don’t necessarily have a professional career to go to after the Games. Many of athletes have an amazing story behind them and if we can just tell some of those amazing stories, it would be fantastic. [True: this is one great way of harnessing the power of social media - not sure quite how they're going to do it on My London2012 but will check it out]

15:03: We have 28 key performance indicators, including: key moments and highlights, engagement, reach, revenue and Tweetdeck (monitoring buzz).

15:10: Tea time – come back for more liveblogging after the break!

“It used to be Revenge of The Nerds, now it’s The Brady Bunch”

Revenge of the Nerds

Back from lunch at Social Media Influence and I’m live-blogging here for the rest of the afternoon. The streams have merged for the next two sessions so we’re not just focusing on external or internal social comms, but across the two. Next up: performance with purpose: the promise of pepsico. (Please refresh the page for updates.)

13.48: Bonin Bough, Global Director of Social Media, PepsiCo: runs through the history of social media in newspaper headlines: from “Is Google making us Stoopid”? (Time) to “Is Google making us smarter?” (Atlantic). As Bough puts it, social media is so persuasive, because it’s so pervasive – everyone can use it: “it used to be Revenge of The Nerds, now it’s The Brady Bunch.”

13:57: Pepsico has been attending social media events (SXSWi etc) since the get-go. From these events, has developed the PepisiCo Zeitgeist. Another innovation strand is PepsiCo10: an open call to the public to become one of PepsiCo’s partners.

14:00: Gatorade Mission Control: this is the largest pool of unaided conversation we’ve ever had, why don’t we use it to do something really cool and innovative in the marketplace? Mission Control aims to be the adrenaline that transforms Gatorade’s digital engagement. There’s a ton of conversations out there about Gatorade and hangovers, but we dont’ reallly want to focus on that. We’re focusing on the conversations that matter: eg: mums and sports coaches.

14:05: The Juice: co-created with BlogHer and TropicanaTrop50 – the brand is hardly mentioned but increased awareness among bloghers from 20% pre launch to 67% at week 13.

DEWmocracy: a completely user-generated drink: used an avid community to co-create product and break sales records.

Pepsi Loot: partnership with FourSquare: check into popspots on FourSquare and get drinks tokens.

Pepsi Refresh Challenge: giving away $20m to “ideas that move the world forward”: how do we support the passions of our consumers and give them an enabling platform. Campaign has generated over 1 billion page impressions on Pepsi’s media. Changing the conversation from “I love Pepsi” to “I love Pepsi because it’s helping me realise my ambitions”. Even if they, didn’t win, consumers were grateful because they said they’d learnt to use social media, or they’d learnt the power of their networks, or they’d received a grant for their project from elsewhere.

14:16: The question we’re asking ourselves [at PepsiCo] is: How do we build the most collaborative, social, global business ever? We believe we’re changing the way that companies behave, causing them to behave in a more sustainable fashion.

Be the change you want to see

Continuing my live blog from Social Media Influence at the Marriott Hotel, London. Lee Bryant is up, talking about “Social business inside and outside”.

12.17: If you take the ideas of Christakis and Fowler’s book, Connected, and look at how individuals are impacted by their personal networks and the people attached to the people they know, then you will realise how powerful social networks are in a business. Zappos is a great example of a company which appreciates this (a shoe seller recently bought by Amazon for around $1bn)!

12.24: What if internal practice just can’t change? This acts against talent and initiative: Tall poppy syndrome + the Peter Principle = talent dampener.

12.27: questions for oubound social initiatives:

1. How does customer feedback really change the product?
2. Who actions market intelligence?
3. Can you respond to issues in close to real time?
4. Do marcomms, operations and IT collaborate?
5. Who acts on listening data? Just marketing?
6. How vibrant is your wider ecosystem? (look at what happened when BP forgot that!)

“As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product” – Jef Raskin.

12.30: Some useful social business accelerants:

1. Healthy internal, external social networks
2. Super-simple collaboration tools
3. Open data and knowledge flows
4. Sharing as a byproduct of doing work
5. A culture of getting things done together

Why the inside needs the outside:
1. Social customer, market intelligence
2. Create a place to co-ordinate action
3. Expose employees to the fresh air of real time customer feedback

Why the outside needs the inside:
1. A staging post for external campaigns
2. Plan and monitor comms actiivty
3. Connect customers with real sources of internal value deep in the business (people crave authenticity)

Uses a nice image of a made-up pig (“lipstick on a pig”) to show the danger of just using social media as a sticking plaster – of course, social media needs to be all the way through a company, (rather like a stick of seaside rock).

Customers don’t ♥ campaigns

I’ve moved over to the other stream at the Social Media Influence conference in London and continuing my live blog: this is the main conference stream (entitled “Social Media Influence”) – focusing on marketing. It’s not necessarily my main area of interest (nor that of this blog) but I’m interested in the crossover between external and internal comms, especially when it comes to management behaviour. Also, I really want to hear Anthony Mayfield talk as we were meant to meet up yonks ago when we were both writing our books, and didn’t manage to get it together.

12pm: Antony Mayfield and Ruth Speakman are on stage talking about “Beyond Campaigns”. This session is structured more as an informal chat than a panel discussion with presentations. The theme is down to the fact that while advertisers and marketeers might see their work in terms of campaigns, customers don’t see their relationship with a brand that way. Anthony: more people turn up to the M&S fan page on Facebook because they love the brand rather than down to one particular campaign.

12.05: Antony: The sound of an industry that is dying is when it keeps saying “we’re not dead”. You look at the cost of one TV spot and think what else you could do with that money.

12.14: Antony: social media is natural, human and a good way to experiment. It’s very unambitious.

[Close of session - sorry I only got the last few minutes of that one!]

It’s not ROI, it’s ROA!

Continuing my live blog from Social Media Influence in London. We’re back after the morning coffee break and I’m back in the Social Business Design stream. Up on stage is Julien Le Nestour, formerly of Schlumberger. He is going to tell us all about his idea of ROA (Return on Attention).

11.40: Julien asks us to solve a problem: the issues are framed slightly differently in two differently worded questions – they are essentially the same problem and the same choice of solution. Our reaction to the two questions shows us that “choices involving gains are often risk averse and choices involving losses are often risk taking”.

11.43: Macro-trend: attention is an increasingly-scarce resource. An organisation is not like “Care Bears” community – some people are going to hate you.

We need to understand ROA at individual level: Employees are putting up their own goals, based on their perception of the organisation. People are going to pursue their own goals, whatever they are. “The physical effect on the individual of the idea of death suggested by the collectivity”.

Usage, adoption, value creation through social media is simple: the employee will use it if he gets return on attention (as part of a defined workflow or not). In a lot of organisations, the hardware is often the weakest link. The ROA for the employee checking emails with Microsoft browser is worse than for those using Blackberry and iphone. In terms of management, what we should use is the aggregated and weighted ROA.

We should base the business case for social media on ROA not ROI.

Social Media Influence – live blog

I’m live-blogging from the fifth annual Social Media Influence conference at The Marriott Hotel, London. There are two tracks: “Social Media Influence” and “Social Business Design” – I’m starting out in the second track but aim to move between the two. Keep refreshing this page for updates.

9.15am: Headshift’s Lee Bryant kicks off with an intro – we’re told we’re in the serious track – “far more intelligent than the fluffy bunnies next door (but please don’t tell them I said that)!”. Poor Lee. I guess he has to say something as there are only about 20 of us in here – the rest have been lured by the bright lights of the larger ballroom.

9.19: JP Rangaswami: the business value social media creates for the enterprise – the assets. (2) the business models themselves, rather than just talking about the ROI. (3) the context in which we operate. What a social network actually is within the enterprise. (4) The dimensions. The A, B, C and the D!

9.25: Social media starts with the address book. The telephone companies were sitting on these assets for ages – they had the directory, the classification and the modality for communication. Why did it take somebody like Microsoft to see that if you had everyone’s contact details on your database, you can enable them to schedule events between them? Why did it take companies like Microsoft and Bloomberg to add the ability to schedule?

9.29: the reason wikis and blogs worked when the original intranet didn’t is because intranets were put together by a limited number of people with already out of date information. Who knows my address or my condition better than I do? Who knows better than me than to describe my status as “it’s complicated”? It’s taken a long time for us to realise that this type of descriptor is useful in an enterprise context.

9.38: Expert systems and KM failed because they were all good ideas, but we always focused on the “where is the value” argument – this deflected from the fact that they were simply every day work. You can’t use terms like Yammer and Jabbr and Twitter – they don’t sound businessy. They don’t have the gravitas of Microsoft Powerpoint. Your first response when trying to design for value in the enterprise is: this is not anything new.

9.40: Business models: I hate the phrase ‘business model’. Peter Drucker used to say, “people make shoes, not money”. There is always a market for what you are good at. Do what you’re good at. A lot of business models are “pay per drink”; others are “eat all you can”; the third model is “somebody else pays”. Generally, either a transaction model or a subscription model.

9.46: How many of you remember using internet when there was only ISDN? Tendency was to get on there, do something very quickly then get out. Human beings dont’ like the concept of leaving the taxi meter running. In late 1990s UK and Europe were held back because we had ‘pay per drink’ internet and not ‘eat all you can’ (like the US).

9.49: we are building these [social business] services every day, we just don’t realise it. It wasn’t that look ago, when finding the email you wanted was impossible. We’ve got better because our kinds are more likely to be online than offline; storage is so cheap. The relationship we have with data is so much better.

9.51: Terms like ‘cost centres’ and ‘profit centres’ are all lies: the only revenue is when someone outside the firm pays money for something within the firm. Someone like [Facebook's] Mark Zuckerberg really understood that the thing that we value as we move into the 21st century is: RELATIONSHIPS.

9.53: All business is about conversations (not just marketing). I’m glad Euan is here because the first time we met on stage was when we were discussing the impact of the Cluetrain Manifesto [update: you can watch that conversation here]. It’s the way we always did business: directory, modality, record changes, means of scheduling…the tools we used were the same, it’s just they’ve got better. Thanks to Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law etcetera. We must each remember: I’m not doing anything new. If we do that, we get rid of so much of the noise that holds all this up.

10am: Now up, it’s a panel discussion chaired by Euan Semple. Panellists: Steve Perry, Sonia Carter and David Christopher.

Euan: I’m a bit uncomfortable with the word “design” because it doesn’t convey all the messiness and guerilla activity that is really driving social media in business.

Steve Perry (Knowledge and IM advisor): I was working with (leading London-based law firm) Freshfields focusing on improving collaboration. We had an ‘aha’ moment when we realised that the Confluence wiki could be the intranet, because the intranet is simply a series of community spaces – the previous intranet was very static, very dry and boring. We wanted partners, everyone to start working ‘in the flow’ and contributing comments, insights as they were working. If you can do that, the end result is much more shared collective intelligence and knowledge.

10.04: I came up with an approach called ‘tight/ loose’ – we used standard branding: company name etc, but the feature I really wanted them to use was ‘latest news’ – gives it a blogging feel.

10.07: I wanted to get people out of the habit of using email, and revising documents using email. We got people to start creating their documents in the wiki. Getting them out of email and into the wiki was the crucial thing. The other thing was getting them to use the discussion forums. I got the US partners to start using these for strategy work.

10.08: A couple of things we would have done differently: (1) build a coalition: get other departments on board: risk, finance etc. We had budget approval but we came up with a lot of objections from other depts that I should have dealt with at the beginning. (2) initiated more two-way communication between users and the central team. I should have done more work running workshops, spending face time with other users. (3) identified more busines processes which would benefit from the wiki. (4) agreed earlier how to measure and monitor usage. (3) planned content migration in more detail.

What worked well? The “tight/loose approach”. the fact it was a clear business need and part of firms’ strategy. Did not over promise (so we exceeded expectations). Earlier with KPMG we pitched a project very high, so perception was that it didn’t deliver.

10.13: overall result: increased intranet use and particpation. One example: The Frankfurt based Porshe team: they were wrestling with a legal issue with Porshe. Someone in London added a point [to the query posted up on the wiki], someone in New York built on it later that day, the guys in Frankfurt woke up the next morning with two or three real nuggets of good ideas that they could take back to Porshe. This was a job worth 100s of 1000s of £ to Freshfields.

10.16: Sonia Carter, AXA UK: if we can make these things succeed in a company that’s very conservative with lots of employees very demotivated (in current climate), then its a great example of social media. How do we do things? Sometimes by stealth. Also, sometimes we’ve been able to piggy-back on a big project. Where we’ve hit challenges is in the huge amount of process being involved – this can drive costs up exponentially. Security, IT, procurement, legal etc can add months and months on. Bigger projects where we’ve taken waterfall approach and crossed every T and dotted every i take months and months. The agile approach works better.

10.20: employee engagement is quite fluffy in the nicest sense: no-one’s too interested in measurement, people have a gut-feeling as to whether it’s improved or not. There have been a few projects in AXA that have focused on employee engagement and we’ve piggy-backed on the back of them.

A lot of our innovation has started internally – we’re still rather nervous about engaging directly with customers, mainly because of compliance and legal shackles. We have a lot more free rein within the firewall.

Our journey using social tools for employee engagement started 2 and a half years ago. Huge employee engagement initiative getting employees to understand importance of customer. We do act in a very silo’ed way – not great for customer. They talk to someone about pensions and want to talk to that same person about healthcare. After this initiative had run a few months, people were coming back from training very engaged, but we didn’t have anythign to facilitate that. There wasn’t any forum, just email and clunky old directory all very top down. People were coming back very fired up and nowhere to channel that excitement. For a few hundred pounds we built a system called “Ourspace” – incorporated Dell’s Idea Storm – a while back, not too many people had these internal ideation systems. Used WordPress and a load of plugins to build it. We rolled it out in six weeks. Only people who’d come back off the customer-centric training could get a log-in. We were very light touch, with an acceptable use policy which we tied into other workplace policies. In two years we’ve only removed four or five posts. If people post using their own name, you don’t need to give people reams and reams of usage guidelines. These forums have now become an intrinsic part of the business. Example: the news broke that a buyer was interested in buying the company, within 24 hours we had the CEO of the business concerned on the forum answering everyone’s questions. Everyone felt unhappy they hadn’t known about this but this turned the situation around.

10.28: Something called “Red button” – we got users to put up a red flag to mark anything that was confusing or hindering the customers. Now brokers let us know what’s not working in the sort of policies we offer them. Also “Blue button” – in insurance we have a very engaged CEO who really loves social tools so makes pushing anything forward there very easy. Something with Headshift: “You Prove” – we got employees to make videos about how they were fulfilling various corporate values – in a much more engaging way, eg: “When was last time you made customer smile?” This has worked very well.

10.35: David Christopher, Oracle / Founder, stop!thinksocial: shows Slideshare presentation Social Media In Business: it’s just a bunch of tools, right?. His mantra is simple: It’s not about the tools, it’s about the people!

He advocates the POST process designed by Forrester analysts (as recommended in the book, Groundswell).

David finishes with his five top tips:

1. Find the hook (eg: I can reduce your email by 50%)
2. Start small: quick win, big impact
3. Be creative – use social media to demonstrate the power of social media
4. Be passionate
5. Stop!thinksocial – before you send off that big attachment, stop and think is there are more social way of doing this?

11am: Break for coffee.

In pursuit of happiness

I loved the opener to Matthew Taylor’s annual lecture at the RSA last night: “At the heart of our public debates about the future of the human race is the [Reggie Perrin-like] question ‘can we go on like this?’”

That set the tone for an hour of deep, communal, navel-gazing. But, as Matthew himself points out, we need it! This sort of analysis is all too often lacking.

Matthew has been a while writing his lecture (now available as a pamphlet). Its core idea of 21st Century Enlightenment was first discussed in a blog post a few months ago. Since then the essay text has been debated and challenged, pulled apart and added to, not only on Matthew’s blog, but also on a wiki.

The result appeared to be a triumph of collaboration (although it wasn’t necessarily presented as such, and I’ve no idea how many of the final words were down to Matthew and how many to his many invisible co-authors). The lecture was, overall, seamlessly structured and imaginatively argued.

Matthew’s proposition is that it’s time to complete the Enlightenment project begun in the Eighteenth Century: he sees the RSA is the ideal vehicle to take this forward (“21st Century Englightenment” is the RSA’s new strapline).

Certainly, following on from Arie de Geus’ idea that organisations need to reflect the environment around them if they are to flourish, Matthew is orchestrating the structural changes necessary to make his vision a reality. As he himself admits, “the re-imagining of the RSA Fellowship itself is in pursuit of a new ethic of collaboration … the RSA is looking to develop a model of innovative social activism. The hierarchical, bureaucratic model of membership organisations is bust.”

As a member of the new(ish) RSA Fellowship Council, I’m pretty involved in this process. So that makes all that Matthew has to say doubly interesting.

His argument of 21st Century Englightenment is based on the three ideas which the philosopher Tzvetan Todorov (In Defence of the Englightment) suggests were at the core of the original Enlightenment: autonomy, universalism and humanism.

In his lecture, Matthew updates these principles to become “self-aware autonomy”, “empathic universalism” and “the new humanism”. (I’ll outline them a bit here to save you reading the pamphlet)!

Self-aware Autonomy

Autonomy is defined as the idea “that every individual should be able to make their own choices about their own life free from overbearing religious and political authority”. According to Matthew, “we need to aim for a [more] self-aware form of autonomy, informed by a deeper appreciation of the foundations, possibilities and frailties of human nature.”

In reaching this more self-aware state, we need to accept our limitations: “Whatever happens in the future, we will still have to find a way of negotiating a modern world with brains that evolved in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies.”

We must learn to be more mindful, especially of our own inconsistencies. For example, “in many policy areas the preferences people express in opinion polls are systematically different to those which they reach after a process of deliberation”

We need to accept that “our capacity for reason does rely on emotion” (rather than some, cold, disassociation), as well as the fact that we are heavily influenced by our networks and “context” (something explored brilliantly in Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler’s Connected).

Above all, says Matthew, we need “to distinguish our needs from our appetites and our amazing human potential from our often self-defeating aspirations.”

And he cites David Halpern who discovered that “the Danes are the happiest people in the world not only because of their material circumstances but because they say what matters most
in life is good relationships. In contrast, the most miserable nationality, the Bulgarians, say money is the key to happiness.” (This was probably one of the most tweeted quotes of the evening).

Empathic Universalism

Universalism is described by Matthew as “the idea that all people are deserving of dignity and share fundamental rights.” He sees this principle, now, as having its greatest potential if it is enhanced by empathy: “We need to pay more attention to our innate capacity for empathy”.

Matthew observes that, “despite major departures from the trend, most terribly in the twentieth century, the history of the human race has been one of diminishing person-to-person violence.”

He points out that “before the Enlightenment era, for example, mutilation and torture were conventional punishments for minor misdemeanours that would today receive a fine”. In addition, an analysis of medieval records by the criminologist Manuel Eisner, “found that the rate of killing has subsided from one in a thousand a year in the Middle Ages to one in one hundred thousand in modern Europe”.

We have seen “a revolution in social attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality” and “the emergence of global state and philanthropic agencies now committed to the ambitious Millennium Goals.”

However, there are many drawbacks: levels of inequality have started rising again, tensions between ethnic groups have “taken on new dimensions”, anti-immigrant sentiment has grown in richer countries, violent gang culture exists in poorer areas, a minute proportion of the rich world’s wealth is devoted to tackling global poverty and national interests still dominate global concerns (we have weaker global governance than we used to, apparently).

Like many of his (my?) generation, Matthew is concerned about video games: “If we are concerned about the factors shaping the empathic capacity of future generations we should be willing, at least, to ask searching questions about the social experiment now taking place in the bedrooms of millions of young people.”

He cites a June 2010 paper to the American Association of Psychological Science which combined studies from 14,000 college students and identified “a marked and growing decline in empathy in comparison to the late 1970s”.

One solution lies in design: “A stronger recognition of empathic capacity as a core capability for modern citizens would also influence the design of institutions – public, commercial and civic – and public places, including the online world. It would provide a case for public investment in art and culture which might transcend the sterile debate between art’s intrinsic and instrumental benefits.”

The new humanism

Todorov described his third Enlightenment principle as “the human end purpose of our acts”. Humanism, says Matthew, is the idea that “we should organise the world according to what is best for human beings.” And through “the new humanism”, he suggests that we “more often ask what is progress and acknowledge the fundamentally ethical nature of this question.”

Our society is currently dominated by three logics, says Matthew: of scientific and technological progress, of markets, and of bureaucracy:

“The limitation of the logic of science and of markets lies in an indifference to a substantive concern for the general good. If something can be discovered and developed it should be discovered and developed. If something sells then it should be sold. The problem with the logic of bureaucracy, as Max Weber spotted over a hundred years ago, is its tendency to privilege procedural rationality (the rationality of rules) over substantive rationality (the rationality of ends).”

We should reformat our ultimate aim to be “maximising human happiness”.

Ethics is a key part of this because ethical thinking is also part of human nature. Matthew cites recent research from the Yale University Infant Cognition Center which found that “even before they have developed speech, infants make rudimentary moral judgements. In one experiment babies between six and twelve months old watched a simple coloured geometric shape – for example, a red circle with eyes – try to climb a slope. When other shapes intervened, apparently either helping or blocking the circle, the children’s responses showed a clear preference for
the helping shapes.”

Ah. Bless ‘em.

Matthew goes on to compares sexual repression in the late Victorian era to the suppression of ethical discourse today: “Just as sexual repression spawned hypocrisy and vice in the nineteenth century, so the suppression of ethical discourse leads to the strange coincidence, remarked on by Edward Skidelsky, of an era which combines social tolerance and cultural relativism alongside an almost continuous drum beat of public indignation against everyone from bankers and celebrities to welfare cheats and immigrants.”

And he moves onto his conclusion by incorporating Michael Thompson’s ideas around Cultural Theory:

“Superficially, ethical differences may look like a threat to social harmony or organisational coherence. In fact, recognition and respect for difference is the foundation for an enduringly cohesive society and a strong basis for innovative thinking. [In some circumstances] Resolution is impossible, but the recognition of difference can enable ‘clumsy’ but creative solutions.”

In conclusion

There are several signs that we are moving towards a more self-aware society, says Matthew: the recognition of the importance of the earliest years of a child’s life, the increased interest in mental health issues, the multidisciplinary focus on human motivation and behaviour in universities, the growth of “social businesses”, the fostering of inter-faith dialogue, the upsurge in collective forms of recreation (music festivals, art exhibitions, lectures and debates) and the greater willingness of government and the OECD to question conventional measures of economic growth.

Despite these developments, and no doubt to encourage them, we desperately “need to see a more reflective public discourse; a revival of a public sphere in which we might debate who we are as social beings.”

The RSA, Matthew feels, is well-placed to spearhead this revival.

Good on him!

PS: The liveblogging of RSA Fellowship Council meetings is just part of the process of opening up debate, making the RSA more accessible and putting its ideas and challenges more at the centre of public life. I’ll be liveblogging the next meeting here from 1pm on Tuesday 29 May, so do come back then!

Photo: strollerdos

Another ’80s revival?


Photo: Snrang

It’s not often you hear former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and ex cabinet minister Chris Smith praised in the same sentence, but they were both commended yesterday at the launch of a new report on creative entrepreneurship (which took place at Cass Business School).

According to the report’s co-author, Barbara Gunnell, these two incongruous politicians deserve the most credit for driving forward the UK’s creative sector.

Margaret Thatcher (somewhat inadvertently) enabled the creative industries to thrive when her government introduced the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which ran for six years between 1983-9. The scheme took entrepreneurs off the dole and gave them financial support and subsidised training for a year in order to get their businesses off the ground.

Chris Smith, the UK’s first Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (1997-2001) was the architect of Creative Britain – a New Labour project which championed the importance of the arts, both socially and economically.

Both Thatcher and Smith leave their mark in the report, which makes 12 recommendations for improving the skills and job opportunities for young people wishing to enter the creative industries.

Key among these is a call for the next UK government to establish an Enterprise Allowance Scheme for the 21st century. This Scheme would place artists at the vanguard, and enable a new generation of creative professionals “who will lead Britain out of recession”.

The report was written by Gunnell with former New Statesman deputy editor, Martin Bright. Bright is so taken with this new idea (which came out of a New Statesman article) that he has quit his day job and is now working full-time on a new project, New Deal of The Mind, which he hopes will be a vehicle to drive the report’s recommendations forwards.

I know very little about NdotM but the report is well-argued and they have a good website incorporating vimeo, twitter and other social tools. Lobbying is hard work, especially in these testing times. I wish NdotM the best of luck!