The HR Juggler

Day 19: How’s About That Then ?

Posted on: December 19, 2013

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Day 19 is written by my friend Anthony Allinson, who challenges, encourages and supports me, as well as often making me laugh. You can (occasionally!) find him on Twitter (@allinsona) and over on his blog.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath.

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In 1986 I wrote an essay about the potential of the internet. It was hand written, and while I cannot remember the detail of what it said, I do recall the visceral excitement I felt as the revolutionary possibilities for sharing knowledge, connecting people and accelerating business dawned on me.

In 1996 I began to manage the web site for the Wildlife Trust my wife then worked for.  She was appalled by my use of animated GIFs to make their logo, a badgers head, rotate comically every few seconds.  On reflection I can see her point. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

In 1998 my daughter was born, I recorded the experience of our preparations in a log posted on the web. I shared the happy announcement of her birth with scanned polaroid photos within hours of Lydia being born.  She had a blog, we just didn’t know to call it that.

Since then my career has been truly global. I have colleagues scattered all over the world and have begun to learn the art of enabling mass collaboration by connecting community through technology all fueled by the magic of purpose.  It is great fun and I have made some wonderful friends in the process.

That’s all lovely isn’t it?

Well, no, not really, not all of it.

There are aspects of the new media that are poorly designed leading to some highly undesirable consequences. I have written a fair bit this year while I wrestled with the complexities of balancing the experience of joyful and open collaboration with the need to protect us from each other, from the motivations and dominance of a very few businesses and from ourselves.

I could bang on about how we give away our privacy, content, identity, location, presence and preferences for free in exchange for dopemine and adverts. I have done all that elsewhere.

Then there is the view that we should not have controls or be accountable. That is an attractive idea but it seems to be based on the assumption that on average, people are good. On average, people are pretty good. However averages are very dangerous. Bad people, that is a broad term, so for example the <1% of people that are psychopaths, love a free rein, places where accountability and control have been removed.  They tend to take over, the average counts for nothing.

It is how the banks were run and got out of control, we got a very nasty recession.

It is what happens when we remove democracy, we got Josef Stalin etc.

It is how the BBC was run, we got Jimmy Savile etc.

My stakes in the ground are these:

I’d pay for a service that gives me all the media features I am now used to, but allows me to own and control what is mine and express preferences about its use.

I will stop, think, debate and wrestle with the cultural challenges.  The dewy eyed, “It will all be fine because I mean well, and on average so does everybody else”, philosophy is not working. Some controls are essential.

How’s about that then. guys and gals?

11 Responses to "Day 19: How’s About That Then ?"

Dear Anthony,

Whata pleasure to read your post! Over the last 27+ years you have embraced the Internet and used it to it’s maximum, have contributed to its current form whereas some of us have only been dipping our toe in it as it were and feel baffled by it all!

I agree to having controls, doesn’t matter what discipline you think about, structure is so important, only depends on the discipline and the degree of control.

Thank you for sharing. As ever, thank you to Alison and Simon. X

Bina,

My apologies for not getting back to you sooner!

A couple of years ago I all but lived on line for a while.

I have a ball doing all the open stuff. I continue to do so.

I think my subconscious misgivings started to surface here:

http://jtdots.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility/

I spent the morning in front of a video camera getting used to yet another new medium. Look at the camera and be yourself ? Yikes, that was a toughy.

Thanks for your support. I love this series 🙂

Anthony

Hi Anthony – thanks for this post. You and I have invested much beer and curry and time over recent years debating some of what you write about. And we’ve had some interesting disagreements about control in the past, but hey – it’s Christmas, so I may surprise you (certainly surprising myself a little), when I say I am more comfortable than previously about the idea of control. Like you I’m aware of the psychopaths, and others who will always take advantage of open doors and level playing fields, not for a mutual benefit – but for theirs, and theirs alone. I’m also of the opinion that for most people – less is better. I still think we exert control often too heavily and in the wrong places, and I hope that can be the subject of future investment between us?

Cheers – Doug

Doug

We have indeed wrestled with this one over several beers and one or two curries!

Over the last couple of years I have gradually started to become cured of my control freakery. In fact I reckon to be 78.29% cured.

Total control is impossible and what we can achieve is partial and transient. Its total absence, frustratingly, boringly leads to some proper horrors.

Creating safe environments where we can experiment, learn and enjoy each other and what we do is hugely enjoyable. Working with you and a few others has changed the way I approach things totally and in a very positive way. I am truly grateful and a little amazed at how many risks I have taken and the mostly positive outcomes.

I am sure we will dream something up 🙂

Ooh, I am now 78.38% cured !

Cheers,

Anthony

Control and freedom are indeed bedfellows. We have a great deal of control in daily life these days and I wonder what would happen if a little more trust were introduced into the equation? That said, unfettered freedom can also be bad.

Crikey, I am tardy today!

Trust is an interesting one. It makes things go very quickly, I tend to work that way. I tend to start from an assumption that we have it.

There are some environments where I wonder if it is a very good assumption to make. For example where huge rewards are in play and where accountability has been removed or diluted.

I have just spent an hour buried in numbers, I am now only 68.21% cured!

Great post, Anthony.

“Some controls are essential” and Peter saying “unfettered freedom can also be bad” – cannot and would not argue with those observations. And at the same time I’m with Doug on “we exert control often too heavily and in the wrong places”

Albert Tannenbaum said in a book published in 1968 (Control in Organizations) that “The theoretical analysis of control in social systems has a long and venerable history.” Control was already a hot topic in 1968 and continues to be a hot topic now.

One consequence is that there’s a load of accumulated insight and analysis around control / autonomy (and related themes like power). How can we best use it to help us in our struggle to understand the “complexities of balancing the experience of joyful and open collaboration with the need to protect us from each other”?

Hi

That last quote nails it for me.

“The complexities of balancing the experience of joyful collaboration with the need to protect us from each other”.

To put it all another (less elegant!) way, we ought decide how much to control, how much to trust and recalibrate all the time according to circustance, risk and reward, but never discard accountability, our values and (boringly) the laws that link the two things together.

Our banks used to be subject to, “light touch regulation”.  In an environment with extraordinarily high rewards, the resulting behaviour ought not to have been a surprise. 

Interesting and challenging comments for which I am, as ever grateful as they are the best bit 🙂

Anthony

Now then, now then…. I am not sure that total control is possible. I sit in the educate and alert people to the risks camp. One of the positive, joys of the early days of the web was collaboration and open source sharing, if there had been oppressive restrictions much creative developments and change would have been delayed or not seen at all. Increasing control and regulation limits innovation and could make the world a less inspirational place (witness the difficulty indie bands have making a name, compared to 20 years ago). By controlling or only accessing secure spaces we homogenise and reduce choice. There are so many challenges facing us, and the beautiful marble on which we reside, that we need all the routes available to us to solve the problems ahead.

So here is a twist on those observations.

That Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google and a very few others now have such incredible control and ownership (read the Ts&Cs we so quickly and unthinkingly agree to whenever we sign up to a new service) I find extraordinary. It was actually one of my two stakes in the ground, though not the one we have discussed much here.

I wrote about it (and the blog about the birth of my daughter) here:

http://jtdots.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/information-should-not-be-free/

The original, open, collaborative nature of the internet lives on in many ways, with open source development and wholesale freedom of speech being just two excellent examples. Even behind the firewall where I work, I awoke this morning to news that the team I try to lead have collaborated overnight to address a backlog that was building up in London yesterday afternoon. Teams in Santiago, Singapore and Capetown rallied around each other, switching priorities and simply removed the problem. Ostensibly for the customer, but I suspect actually for each other.

However, that all that power, that ownership of our preferences, location, plans, relationships is in the hands of a very few companies needs opening up, breaking down and redistributing.

I want to own my identify thank you and determine what can be done with it. If I have to pay $5 per month for the privilege, thats fine with me.

Equally, I would break up or re invent companies like Twitter. I would redefine them through standards and allow multiple organisations to implement those standards, a bit like how my Vodafone handset can call some one else’s O2 handset.

That is the model and intent behind the internet as it was designed. We have let it slip through our fingers for dopamine and adverts and given a lot more away in the process.

Any way, back to my mince pies 🙂

Anthony

[…] Allinson provided post number nineteen and looks at control and accountability in an age when we freely offer up our personal data and […]

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