What will change the world? Welcome to the hive mind of Twitter.

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One of the things I love about Twitter is the way it enables serendipity on a grand scale.  Recently, I can’t remember how, I ran across @blogbrevity (a.k.a Angela Dunn) whose Twitter feed resonated with me and we followed each other.

On June 9th she invited me to join #Ideachat – Twitter Chat & Salon for Twitter Thinkers About “Ideas”. The topic for discussion was “What is the one long-term trend that will change the world?“. As food for thought Angela shared an interview with trend expert and curator Cecile Poignant of TrendTablet.

This topic fascinates me and it aligns nicely with other interests, like Social Innovation Sydney. Also the more that people start to talk and think about things like this then the more likely we are to take action.

The chat was dynamic and thought provoking.  And it got me thinking.

One of the recurring ideas was collective action, and some of the themes are nicely summed up in these tweets:


I started to realise that the big trend is something that enables the self organizing of co-creation. The big trend is the evolution of the hive mind.  It is only with social communication platforms like Twitter that something akin to a hive mind can emerge.

The always on and ambiently connected nature of Twitter is ideal for the emergence of a hive mind.  We begin to shed our privacy and to live within the omnipresent gaze of the group. We are connected into the minutiae of other people’s lives in ways that were not possible before.  We are connected to people in distant places and to the events that occur in their orbit as well as in our own.

Here the very minutiae of chats on Twitter, that so many disparage mindlessly, are important in creating the connections of the hive mind.

Once one becomes accustomed to the continual connection, to knowing the news before it makes the news media, to finding answers to questions faster and better than a search engine, then the connection to the hive mind comes to seem normal.

Then from the connection to the hive mind, one begins to sift out those individuals and groups who hold similar ideas and beliefs.  And from that pool of people the self organization and co-creation can begin.

Some people will try to tell us that feeling weird and strangely out of touch when disconnected from the hive mind is a kind of psychopathology. But they have not yet understood or experienced the new reality of constant ambient connection to the hive mind.

Nor have they seen the results of loose ties in action, network amplification of communication, the reciprocal knowledge engine, and the power of a hive mind working together to co-create change. I suspect that this is just over the horizon.

UPDATE 15 June 2012


Following are a few recent posts that have informed my thinking on this topic:

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Interesting new initiative: #Solved by TACSI via @stokely

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Just saw announcement by TACSI that they’ve launched a new campaign. It seems like a really interesting idea, and one that definitely supports social innovation:

Why Solved? Sometimes when tackling social challenges, we focus too much on searching for new ideas or solutions, and overlook things that are already working. Maybe you set up a scheme to help local kids eat a healthy breakfast in Broome, and someone in Newcastle is searching for a way to do just that. By sharing what works on the Solved map, we hope these solutions can help more people across Australia.

Big or small, it doesn’t matter. It can be something done by an organisation, or one person. My dad did a lot of work to help build a Men’s Shed in Sheffield, Tasmania to create a place for men to get together, and overcome loneliness, social isolation and depression. The work my dad did, and the impact it’s having on people in his town, is what inspired me to create Solved.

Solutions to social problems are worth celebrating and worth sharing. It’s a great opportunity for people or organisations doing good stuff to let people know about it – or to give a shoutout to their favourite local solution.

How you can help: The number one thing you can do is to notify your network of social changemakers about Solved, and encourage them to add their solutions to the map. If you’re sending out a newsletter, we would appreciate it if you’d include a brief plug for Solved! The campaign is running until December 16, but the sooner you can let people know, the better.

We would also love it if you would follow Solved on Twitter and Facebook, and help your followers there discover Solved.

You can do this by:

  • Following @SolvedAustralia on Twitter.
  • Retweet the following: RT @SolvedAustralia: #solved is an Australia-wide search for social solutions that work.
  • Seen or done something that’s helping? Tell us about it: solved.org.au
  • Like the Solved in Australia page on Facebook.
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Customer service in the digital age – what changes?

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During an exchange on Twitter earlier this year with some folks who were attending #scrmsummit we chatted about customer service and about how costs are a real focus for most customer service activity. Thus, rather than focusing on excellent customer service, most organisations focus on the cheapest and most efficient form of customer service.

But it seems to me the starting point must always be understanding what value customer service delivers to your business.

For most businesses customer service – during the purchase decision making process, during purchase, and afterwards – is critical.

Then the question that a business must answer is: how important is customer service to driving sales, and how important is it to drive repeat business? But it is also necessary to understand what form that customer service ought to take to delight customers.

Based on my experiences as a customer in the ‘real’ world many organisations see me as a bother or an annoyance that gets in the way of something more important. It certainly makes switching to an online shopping context rather easy. Mostly there’s no special customer service person with whom I have a relationship. That lack of a relationship makes switching to another supplier very easy. Especially when the main differentiator is service.

However, a personal relationship is not necessarily fundamental to excellent customer service.

There are a few notable example of this.

Sharon, at the local general store, has built up a great relationship with us. We often choose to shop with her rather than at a larger store in town, even though her prices are slightly higher. Because of the relationship we have (and that relationship might just be in my head, I might actually be just another annoying customer, but she never lets me know that). I often choose to shop there rather than buy something online or at another store.

Net-a-Porter is a great example of how to do online customer service. I have never spoken to them, I just order products online. But if there is a problem with fit the return process is so smooth and easy – usually the replacement item is in my hands within 48 hours of sending the return. No questions asked. This makes me happy.

Another example is the guys who just painted my house (for those on the Sydney north shore KMK Painters = highly recommended). They did a fantastic job. Not because they painted the house (although they did that well). It was the little things like turning up when they said they would, cleaning up really well afterwards, patting my dog when she came sniffing around, and helping me to carry stuff from my car. Those little extras were not part of their core mission – painting the house – but these little extras made them stand out from the last lot of painters. It means they’re top of mind for any more jobs.

Three quite different models of customer service. Each good. Each satisfying in their own way. Each earning and retaining my repeat custom. It seems to me that customer in the digital age does not differ much from customer service in any preceding age.

Some thinkers who have interesting ideas about customer service in the digital age include:

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What kind of zombies have we created?

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I was reading Bill Bonner’s recent post Zombies Born of Government Spending where he posits the notion of zombies in our economy. As Bill defines it:

“In economic terms, a zombie is a parasite. He contributes less to the economy than he takes from it. He lives at the expense of others.”

His argument is that social welfare programs as practised by most of the developed world only work during good times. As he argues:

“It’s relatively easy to turn people into zombies. And it’s fairly easy to support them when an economy is healthy and expanding. But when an economy goes into a contraction, you can no longer afford to give the zombies their meat. Then what?”

This is an interesting question. Western societies have created a group of people with few skills and no means by which they might generate value to exchange.  Nor do many in this group appear to have bonds to the society within which they exist and they exhibit few loyalties to ideas or ideals outside of mere existence and consumption.

But the real issue is how we create a new economy, one that is founded on creation of real value and its exchange, and not ephemeral things (like hybrid securities and CDOs). One that sustains and nurtures community rather than destroying it through extreme competition and crazy ideas like the priority of shareholder value above all other things.

This raises some important questions:

  • If the government can no longer sustain them (or us) then what happens?
  • How do we create ways of connecting people with skills to share with those who want to learn?
  • By what mechanism can we develop shared values that support the creation of valuable skills?
  • How do we create communities of people that choose to contribute and collaborate for the common good?

We don’t have to let what’s happening in other places happen here. We have the choice. We can create communities where real value is exchanged between real people. Not what passes for value in the some places – faux celebrity, immediate gratification, and continuous consumption – but sustainable and sustaining value.

There used to exist such things as commons in the past – commonly held land and other resources. But we have few of these remaining to us nowadays.  It might be times to create some new common resources to share in a fair and equitable manner?  We have already seen the rise of new forms of sharing and common ownership through Creative Commons on the internet. It makes me wonder what other things for which this approach will work. I suspect that Mark Pesce’s work on his Plexus innovation is a beginning in this quest.

It is worth considering how we can each begin to nurture collaborative behaviour and thinking in our local spheres to work against the zombie world view.

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How do we create and share value in a jobless economy?

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Jeff Jarvis sparked my thinking on this recently with his post on The Jobless Future. As Jeff so bluntly stated:

“We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. We’re going to have a jobless future.

Holding out blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth in the economy is a fool’s faith.”

If that is the case in the US, and we have riots on the streets in the UK, Spain, Greece, north Africa and the middle east, then things are not looking good in large portions of the world. There will likely be flow on economic and social effects around the world, especially since Richard Florida is pondering if riots could come to Canada too.

Nouriel Roubini may be right in his assertion that “Karl Marx had it right. At some point, Capitalism can destroy itself.”

The inherent instability of markets in the US and Europe mean that jobs are going to be harder to come by, especially for the less educated and the less skilled.

All of this got me thinking about what skills are really useful in this new world that is developing before our eyes? What kinds of businesses and communities will be more resilient in the face of changing economic verities? How do we need to recast our expectations and aspirations for this new world that is unfolding?

That kind of thinking led me over to John Robb’s blog and one of his recent posts, Entrepreneurs and Open Source Hardware. Perhaps we are all about to become open source entrepreneurs?

The kind of economic environment that is emerging is one where sustainable and ethical business models can come into their own. Not large scale, top-down, industrial operations. Rather there is an opportunity to develop peer-to-peer and networked organisations. Social innovation, social enterprise and ideas like collaborative consumption become significant, and a return to older ways of organising businesses – like co-operatives and mutual associations – become critical.

We also need to find ways to create and exchange value in an environment where traditional mechanisms might no longer be available to us. This means creation of new means of value exchange, or even new kinds of currencies. Reverting to gold is not really feasible, after all it’s rather heavy to tote around. Thus virtual currencies might even come to replace some of the existing ones

If you consider it unbelievable that major currencies can fail then it’s time to go read some history. Just to put it in perspective there’s a great visual post by Jeff Clark over at The Daily Reckoning that illustrates the risk rather neatly: A Thousand Pictures Is Worth One Word.

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The jobless future and social innovation

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I have argued previously that capitalism is broken and that we need to find new approaches that are good for people, animals and the planet.  Further I asked if social innovation might be part of that new approach.

The world is facing an unprecedented financial crisis that is creating a future in which traditional jobs are being destroyed.  Jeff Jarvis outlines this future well in his post The jobless future. Before our eyes entire industries that thrived during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are disappearing.

The consumer driven economy of the late twentieth century is teetering due to:

  • the demise of the debt fuelled growth to support consumer spending, and
  • a lack of jobs to provide the income for consumers to continue acquisition of goods and services.

In the period 2008-2010 the car industry is a good example.  A confluence of high fuel prices, a global financial crisis (GFC),  tightening of credit markets, and job losses across Europe and North America meant that demand for new vehicles dropped to historic lows. This in turn drove job losses in the car industry around the world.

But the car industry has for many years produced more new cars than the world really needs to replace old or damaged ones.  Driven by consumer leasing arrangements that saw people acquiring a new car every few years, debt was fuelling an artificial demand.  And when that debt fuelled demand dropped away during the GFC, demand levels for new cars fell back to more ‘real’ levels. With demand down, jobs will go in this industry.  It is unlikely that the lost jobs will return.

This is a strange situation.  Motor vehicles are a great social good.  They have enabled us to achieve mobility to move people and goods in ways that our ancestors could not even imagine.  But even a social good, when inflated by debt driven acquisition, might not be good for us.

Faced with the kind of jobless recovery and jobless future that the US is so kindly modelling for us we need to consider what means of value creation and exchange need to be created to replace the old models. In some places we are even seeing tent cities arise for those who have lost access to traditional housing and jobs.

One response is a top down Keynesian approach, with centralisation and extensive government intervention.   However, the scale of the economic crisis facing us today means that governments simply do not have the resources for continued intervention.  After a variety of interventions in the US and Europe the first world governments cannot afford to keep spending.

But another response is a grass roots and bottom up response that finds different, diverse and sustainable ways to re-create an economy.

It is here that the notion of social innovation comes into its own. It is the notion that we can create innovative businesses and business models that generate value for us from both a social and economic perspective.

Just repeating the same old models will not get us out of this situation.  It is time to broaden our perspective and look to each other, to our local communities for sustainable and ethical ways to generate value.

An interesting place to start thinking about this is the work that is being done about resilient communities:

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Twitter and the great iPhone rescue mission #140conf

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You know that moment? The one where you realise you’ve left your mobile phone somewhere.

It happened to me recently in New York. I was on the train to JFK airport, heading to Los Angeles, when that sinking feeling was accompanied by a vivid memory of my iPhone recharging in the hotel in midtown Manhattan.

I’d been staying at the Pod Hotel in New York while attending Jeff Pulver’s remarkable and diverse 140 Conference: Exploring the State of Now. The hotel staff had been very helpful and friendly during my stay, and the location in midtown was convenient for both the conference and socialising.

But the day of my departure was an early start (I’m not really a morning person) and it was a rush to get to the airport in time for the flight to Los Angeles.

As I sank into a seat on the AirTrain and reached for my phone the horrible feeling hit me. I realised it was too late to go back and retrieve the phone. The only thing to do was press on and get to the airport. But without a mobile phone there was a dilemma – how to contact the hotel to secure my phone?

Upon arrival at JFK airport it was a delight to discover that JetBlue has free wifi and thus it was possible to use my iPad and Twitter to make contact with the hotel.

Luckily the Pod Hotel is on Twitter @ThePodHotel and they responded to my desperate tweet and follow up email immediately. The staff at the Pod Hotel retrieved my phone and promised to hold onto it until I could arrange for its collection.

Another tweet to an Aussie entrepreneur in New York – Josh Anstey – secured his assistance in rescuing the phone from the hotel. He kindly retrieved it and handed it on to a buddy of his who was flying back to Australia the following week. It arrived yesterday. And was handed over to Josh’s dad (another Aussie entreprenuer) – John Anstey – who’s dropping it off in Sydney on Monday.

Operation iPhone Rescue is almost over. This could have been a complete disaster, but there are a number of elements that make this a happy ending:

  1. the excellent customer service from the folks at the Pod Hotel in New York (it’s great to see them monitoring their social media channels like that)
  2. the remarkable kindness of people like Josh, his mate and John
  3. the amazing fact that, without a mobile phone, I was able to organise and coordinate the entire thing via Twitter while I continued my travels

Everyone who helped to get my phone home has my sincere gratitude. And more than anything they’ve reinforced my belief in human kindness.  Best of all the photos of my new nephew are not lost thanks to the efforts of everyone involved in Operation iPhone Rescue.

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Inspired and delighted with people's willingness to work for positive change #sibsyd

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I’m exhausted after a busy weekend and totally inspired by the people I just spent the weekend with!

We held the first Social Innovation Sydney Startup Camp this weekend. It was great to see so many people willing to work together in an open and collaborative way on developing social innovation projects.

It really inspires me with hope for the future of our world to see people join together, starting as strangers, and collaborate on social innovation ideas so effectively.

There’s a nice round-up of Startup Camp from @lucyjjames on her blog: day 1 and day 2; and a some feedback from the participants on Social Innovation Sydney.

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Science communication and social media #media140au

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Attending the Media 140 Conference in Brisbane today. The tag line for this conference is “exploring the impact of social technologies on science communication” and it explores some of the issues and challenges facing science communication today.

There’s been a great line-up of speakers so far, with:

  • Bernie Hobbs, ABC Science (who’s doing an excellent job as Conference host)
  • Dr Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center and the Charles and Rita Gelman Risk Science Professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
  • Natasha Mitchell , ABC presenter of All In The Mind.
  • Wilson da Silva , Editor-in-Chief of COSMOS
  • Elena McMaster , Nanotechnology Project for Friends of the Earth Australia
  • Craig Thomler , Gov 2.0 advocate
  • Dr Craig Cormick , Manager of Public Awareness and Community Engagement for the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
  • Dr Kristen Lyons, Senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Queensland

Dr Andrew Maynard’s keynote on Social media and science communication – a load of Jackson Pollocks? was interesting and he noted his top three issues to consider for science communication:

  • Hubris – disregarding the medium because you don’t understand it. Assumed authority – old model does not work, and Control – “rather misguided theory that we can control conversations”.
  • Creating value – behaving like rockstars does not give us credibility as science communicators – remember cause & effect. Trying to mimic viral videos and blogs is not the answer need to have the good content that creates value.
  • Uncivil behaviour – feeling that we can “tell people forcefully what is right until the get the message” – ends up alienating people we need to connect with.

And a fascinating panel session on Web 2.0 or Web too far? chaired by Natash Mitchell. The panel discussed topics as varied as:

  • Online democratisation and/or demonization.
  • How to manage when the web is used to distort, misinform and distribute propaganda.
  • How anti-science ideologies and commercial agendas use the web, and how we should use social media to democratise scientific knowledge.

Media 140 Brisbane - Science Communication

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