Inspiring women: Louisa Lawson – women’s suffrage activist and publisher

The fight for women to get the vote was a monument to cooperation, ingenuity and collaboration on the part of many women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These women educated themselves and their peers about women’s issues and agitated for women’s rights. And the women of Australia owe a debt to these women of the past who achieved the privileges of full participation in the political process that we now enjoy, and often take for granted.

In the nineteenth century it was true to say:

“A woman’s opinions are useless to her, she may suffer unjustly, she may be wronged, but she has no power to weightily petition against man’s laws, no representatives to urge her views, her only method to produce release, redress, or change, is to ceaselessly agitate.”
Source: Louisa Lawson, speech to the inaugural meeting of the Dawn Club. Published in Dawn, July 1889.

Louisa Lawson is an interesting example of these women who paved the way for our participation as equals in Australian democracy . Louisa is one of my favourite characters from the Australian history – strong willed and cantankerous, she was one of the key progenitors of the women’s suffrage movement in Australia. And among her important contributions was The Dawn, a journal for women:

“In 1888 Louisa Lawson, who had previously edited the Republican with son Henry, launched The Dawn; a journal for women. The publication’s purpose was to be a “phonograph to wind out audibly the whispers, pleadings and demands of the sisterhood”. It advised on women’s issues, including divorce, the age of consent, and women’s right to vote. As well as operating as an important vehicle for the communication of feminist politics the paper also contained short stories, fashion notes, sewing patterns and reports on women’s activities around the country and overseas. By October 1889, the Dawn office employed ten women as typesetters, printers, binders, and unskilled workers. They were harassed by male workers, and by their male union, The New South Wales Typographical Association. In 1905, after seventeen years, the publication ceased production.”
Source: The Australian Women’s Register

Donna Benjamin (aka @KatteKrab) reports that there is no funding for the National Library of Australia to digitise The Dawn. However, Donna estimates that $7,500 should be sufficient to see the entire publication digitised.

Donna has had the brilliant idea of collecting funds to Digitise The Dawn. If we all put in a little bit then it can be added to the Trove Project and provide open access to this important resource for historians around the world.

UPDATE:  The new Digitise the Dawn website is up and you can follow on Twitter or identi.ca @digitisethedawn.

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Social Media – the US Army gets it

Most organisations are grappling with the digital revolution and its democratization of communication. The US Army is no different.

However, they have met the organisational challenges of social media head on and have become an acknowledged leader in practice. They along with other parts of the US military – such as the US Air Force – have invested resources in adopting, using and benefiting from this digital revolution.

It is interesting that so many civilian organisations are still ignoring the potential benefits of the digital revolution while government and military adopt it so readily.

The US Army has updated their Social Media Handbook for 2011 and it’s available on slideshare as well as embedded below.

It’s worth a read no matter what stage of adoption your organisation is at – it gives some good ideas about how to communicate with people about how an organisation can use social media.

Army Social Media Handbook 2011

Eulogies are a stupid idea

It has long annoyed me that we often wait until people are dead before telling them how we feel about them. Instead we wait until their funeral to talk about what it is that makes them special to us.

As a person who has lost many family members this seems like a completely insane idea. They went very suddenly – grandparents, parents, a brother, aunts, uncles and cousins*. And then came the eulogies. Just a speech at a funeral, in front of a coffin. No time for us to say to them what was in our hearts. No chance to share how they’d made life so special and wonderful. No chance to hear back from them.

I often observe people who complain about their parents or grandparents with a touch of envy. They have access to a part of their emotional and family heritage that is quite precious. I suspect that we often do not recognise how precious it is until it’s gone from our reach.

Don’t wait. At any moment loved ones can be snatched from us, suddenly and without recourse. Don’t leave it until the eulogy to let them know how you feel. Even if they laugh in your face you’ll have owned the emotions and been true to yourself.

Owning our emotions is one of the hardest things in human existence. Doing it no matter what other people do or think is very important. It is part of becoming a fully grown human who can acknowledge pain as well as joy. And owning the emotions – complex, joyful, poignant, and painful – that are inherent in our relationships is an important way to reduce anxiety.

* By the way I’ve still got some relatives – several brothers; some aunts, uncles and cousins.

Note: I’d just like to say thank-you to all the people who reached out when I tweeted last night while thinking about this post. You’re all very kind and I appreciate you: @RealNickHodge @tealou @salisburydowns @davidahood @erkpod @JulieManfredi @MiA_Will @jodiem @aimee_maree @middleclassgirl @tleeuwenburg @helenperris @Sandra_DSouza

Sometimes a tweet is not enough

In the olden days when I was very young it was the custom, upon receipt of a kindness from someone, to write them a thank-you note. This note took the form of a missive, hand-written, on personal stationery or a note card. The note was then taken to the post office and sent via that which we now call snail-mail.

Someone did me a kindness very recently. That is, they went out of their way to do something nice for me. And it seemed that just sending a tweet that said something like “hey thx that was gr8” did not truly express how touching I found their action.

With the advent of modern telecommunications such as email, and the subsequent growth of micro-format communications like Twitter, we have lost idea of sending a tangible token of our gratitude.

So today, for the first time in many years, I sat down and wrote a thank-you note using pen and paper. Then Trotsky and I walked up to the post office to send it off via snail-mail (using two stamps because I’m not sure how much it costs these days).

To send a tangible token of thanks rather than a digital one enables the recipient to perceive it with their various physical senses. For example, they can put the physical token on their desk or bookshelf, or pop it into their wallet and carry it around with them. These are things we cannot yet do reliably with our electronic communications at present.

Clearly since so much of our interaction these days is online it is often the best, fastest and most relevant way to communicate with people. But sometimes a tweet is not enough and this idea of sending thank-you notes might just be a new (but old) way of doing things?

Guest lecture UNSW law school

Late yesterday I spoke with a class in the Strategic Public Advocacy for Civil Society course at UNSW law school. They are lucky to have Joan Staples as lecturer – because she is one of the few people in Australia who understands these issues at both a deep practical level and at a theoretical level.

The class and I talked about the digital revolution and its impact on social activism. We covered topics such as wikileaks and the implications for activist groups, the risks of cloud computing, and some of the successful digital campaigns (such as Greenpeace’s Nestle action).

Meeting up with smart and thoughtful young people like this class always gives me hope for the future of our country and for the world. They asked a lot of insightful questions and hopefully the session gave them different perspective on digital technology and advocacy.

There was also a mention of the various #wonkdrinks that take place from time to time around the country. The funny thing about this discussion was one of the students asking what a wonk is. And then immediately followed the dawning realisation that most of the class were, in fact, wonks.

For the uninitiated a wonk is defined as:

“wonk (wongk) noun
An expert who studies a subject or issue thoroughly and excessively.
[Of unknown origin.]
This word is most often encountered in the term “policy wonk”. There are many speculations about the origin of the word, for example an acronym for WithOut Normal Knowledge, or the reverse spelling of the word know, but these claims are not supported by evidence.”
[Source: A.Word.A.Day]

But for me the real sign of a political/policy wonk in Australia is whether they own or have watched the entire series of The West Wing and/or they regularly watch The 7.30 Report and Q&A on the ABC. Other wonk give aways are that they know the names of federal or state electorates and who is the sitting member; or the names and portfolios of ministers; or even of shadow ministers.

For those interested in #wonkdrinks you can follow on Twitter @wonkdrinks.

I also mentioned some of the social change and activist related meetups that happen around Australia, some of these include:

Greenups
The Social Change Collaboratory
Social Innovation Sydney
ASIX
NSW Wonk drinks
ACT Wonk drinks
(please let me know if there are any to add to this list)

Gear review: Lenovo ThinkPad X201i

For my recent trip to Europe I was able to take and road test a Lenovo ThinkPad ultra-portable laptop (model x201i). I’m going to be a bit sad to give it back.

That’s a pretty big call for someone like me who usually takes a MacBook Pro on trips and hasn’t used a Windows laptop for many years.

The Lenovo turned out to be a gem of a machine. It is fairly light in weight for a fully loaded laptop. It has built in wifi and DVD drive, several USB ports and all the functionality of a Windows desktop in a nice lightweight laptop. And it has the solid feel of a well-engineered machine, not just flimsy plastic like some of the other Windows laptops I’ve used.

I was traveling for nearly a month and needed to do a lot of work – writing documents, slide decks and working on spreadsheets – while away. This machine turned out to be very good for this. A proper keyboard with large keys for my fairly large hands was a real boon. There is even a little light up near the webcam that gives some illumination to the keyboard in low light, although it would have been even better if the keyboard was backlit.

The ThinkPad survived some pretty cold weather in France and Belgium and worked just fine at airport lounges in transit through London, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Usually I disable all of the manufacturer’s software as it tends to annoy me. But in this case the ThinkPad wireless connector was very useful as I was in low wifi areas.

The built in microphone and webcam are good quality and made Skype calls a breeze so it was easy to join in conference calls while traveling. The onboard DVD drive made watching shows on flights a good option where no in-flight entertainment was available. The multiple USB ports made the mini hub I was carrying redundant and I was able to plug in my phone and Flip Video Camera at the same time.

From this experience I think that the Lenovo ThinkPad x201i is an excellent Windows laptop for business travelers. It combines all the grunt of a a larger machine in a lightweight and fairly rugged device. It’s definitely on the shortlist for the next laptop we buy in this house.

Floods, community spirit and Australia #qldfloods

Along with most other Australians I have been moved and disturbed by the unfolding flood disaster in northern Australia. The floods are said to cover an area of Australia the size of France and Germany combined. Typical of Australia we also have bushfires in the western part of the country.

Over the past few days as the scale of the tragedy has become apparent I have observed people reaching out to help. Social media has again stepped into the breach in an emergency situation, providing fast breaking news (with occasional misinformation, usually corrected speedily), coordination of assistance, uncovering of scams or shaming bad behaviour, and sharing of needs.

Jason Langenauer’s tweet this morning summed it up for me and made me glad to be a part of this country that pulls together in a crisis and helps out those who are in need:

“The values exposed by this flood – mateship, care for people, altruism – are the complete opposite of the usual values of capitalism.”
Source: Twitter, Jason Langenauer Tweet 12 Jan 2011

There has been an outpouring of support for the flood victims with donations at $32million as of this morning. More information on the QLD government site.

Again Twitter has proved itself to be a great resource in a disaster situation. It has enabled people to easily pool resources and to share information where the traditional media is just to slow or not capable. Some great examples of this include:

Many people tweeted about the Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal ensuring scam sites were not used – official Qld government site #thebigwet #qldfloods Donate to the official flood relief appeal here.

Retailers perceived as seeking to cash in on the #qldfloods were speedily smacked down on Twitter – like this one.

Individuals made offers of help via Twitter like:

” If there are pets in need of housing let us know! We have 5acres #qldfloods #thebigwet #bnefloods #RT”

“Now that we’re safe, this is a 6 bedroom house. There’s beds for 3 and floor space for twenty. Peeps in need – ping me. #qldfloods”

“have space for pets from evacuations if needed. On a hill in brisbane. Please rt. #qldfloods”

“Anyone in New Farm area needing some storage space – our place isn’t in the flood zone. Have LUG and a spare room #qldfloods #bnefloods”

It has been heartening to see that only one politician so far has tried to use this disaster as a political sledge hammer. While, in my opinion, the performance of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and the Mayors of the affected areas has been excellent under extremely difficult circumstances. One of my favourite comments came from the Ipswich Mayor: “If I find anybody looting in our city they will be used as flood markers” (via @1233newcastle).

Kudos to the organisations who have already made donations of greater than $10,000.

Some resources and ways to help:

Donate to the Queensland Government flood relief appeal

Donations can also be made in person at any branch of the Bank of Queensland, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ, NAB or Suncorp.

Donate to RSPCA Queensland to help animals

Can you offer emergency animal foster care in Brisbane area?

Lifeline phone: 13 11 14

Alerts and updates

Live flood updates
Queensland Police Service
@QPSmedia (Queensland Police)
@consultqld (Queensland Government)

Innovation – does it make sense for business?

Every business book I pick up nowadays seems to accept as a fundamental premise that innovation is a good thing and that it should be pursued relentlessly. But I’ve been wondering about that particular premise and under what circumstances it might (or might not) be true.

Innovation provides us with a dilemma in business. Don’t do it at all and the business will probably die over time. Or others will innovate and leapfrog the business – this is what has happened to Australian retailers (like Gerry Harvey) who have ignored their online channel. Do it too early, too late or too often and it could also damage the business.

A business is setup to measure, monitor and reward people on the basis of performing well in the existing business model, and few businesses are setup to simultaneously manage a disruptive new business model.

Then there is the challenge of innovating while continuing to run a successful business. After all, if the current business is not broken, why would people bother to change? This is a big problem that I have seen many times. Once the need to change is obvious it is often too late and market disruptors are already in play. In many organisations the pressure on getting the most out of the current business model leaves little spare capacity for innovation.

This dilemma of managing both the existing business and innovation at the same time is the great challenge for business leaders of our day. We can see ample evidence of this with the Australian retail industry. Many of the big retailers rested secure in their ‘knowledge’ that online had failed in the dot-com bust of 2000. They ignored the online channel and competitors from overseas have gradually grabbed market share to the point where Australia’s retailers are now crying out for government assistance.

It is interesting to see that, in contrast to the head-in-the-sand approach of many Australian retailers, shopping mall giant Westfield has pursued a diversification into online shopping as well as focusing on their core bricks-and-mortar business. [Disclosure: I used to work for Westfield as part of the digital team.] Thus they have balanced their successful existing business model with innovation.

In the places where I have worked successfully on new products there has been a happy confluence of things that made it possible. Among them were:

  • substantial top-down support from C-level team, coupled with time to educate executives about the idea/product and it’s benefits and risks to the business
  • an active and responsive project owner at executive level who can protect the team and manage upwards effectively
  • adequate resources to get the job done
  • appropriate oversight and governance (but not too much)
  • freedom to get it wrong in the short run, together with focus on getting it right in the long run
  • clear goals, objectives and milestones
  • adoption of agile development methods for software
  • good project management together with adequate reporting to enable stakeholders to gauge progress
  • a small tight-knit team who have a clear sense of mission and purpose

Whenever these things have come together for an innovation project it has been successful. Where these are missing the success has been much more hit and miss. That is not to say that an innovation cannot be brought to market without these things, but it is much more fraught with angst and is much harder for all concerned.

Business leaders really need to think about what internal barriers to innovation exist in their organisations and how to create safe nests for innovation to incubate.