Privacy! Who the hell ever had privacy?

One question that I am often asked when speaking to groups about the digital revolution is “what about privacy?” This is usually in relation to social media and social networking.  Privacy comes from the Latin word privatus:

In Roman law, the Latin adjective privatus makes a legal distinction between that which is “private” and that which is publicus, “public” in the sense of pertaining to the Roman people (populus Romanus).
Source: Wikipedia

This question fascinates me.  Privacy is such a recent invention and many people seem to be unaware of this. Also there is an important distinction to be made between privacy and confidentiality.  Since time immemorial societies have acknowledged that some kinds of information are confidential.  A good historical example of this is the Catholic Church keeping the revelations made during their rite of confession confidential.

However, until very recent times – during the late twentieth century – privacy was an aberration.  Anchorites had privacy, but most people lived cheek by jowl with others for their entire lives.  This is important because privacy is predicated on separation. It is predicated on a physical separation between people – it is enabled by the spaces in between individuals.  If there are no spaces between individuals then privacy is very hard to achieve (or even to conceive).

In the past even the most wealthy and most exalted personages did not experience privacy.  Kings and queens lived surrounded day and night by their courtiers.  In the days before genetic testing even queens gave birth in front of their court to ensure veracity.

Historically nobles were attended, bathed and dressed by their servants.  The servants lived together in crowded quarters.  Secrets were very hard to keep in such a world.

For the poor, there was no separation even between people and their livestock.  And, if there was no separate room for the livestock, nor was there a separate room for any of the people.  Entire families were conceived, born, lived and died within shared physical spaces.

Even in cities people lived  a village-like existence (London is a good example).  Without transport to move easily from place to place people stayed within the confines of their local village.  Neither rich nor poor city dwellers experienced privacy.

Nor did the generations of the early twentieth century experience privacy.  During the first half of the century poverty meant that most people could not afford the luxury of privacy.  And during that same period the wealthy still lived with domestic staffs who cared for their needs (and continued to ensure little privacy).

Privacy for most of us only became possible with the advent of the post World War II economic and population boom.  The growth of tract housing in suburbs meant that nuclear families could live in large houses with separate rooms for most family members.  Thus it was in this period that people could assume that they had a right to privacy.

Thus a brief flowering of privacy in the latter part of the twentieth century allowed many people to assume that this was how things had always been.  It also allowed many to assume that this would continue.  However, with the advent of the hyperconnected world of the early twenty-first century we are seeing digital villages remove the spaces between individuals once again.

Perhaps the only thing that enabled privacy to blossom was the increased physical space between people and lack of communications technology during the late twentieth century? And perhaps it is now time to farewell privacy once more?

Some resources for thinking about privacy follow:

Rethinking organisations: the digital revolution, social and convergence

An interesting question came up last Friday in a discussion with a group of Marketing and Communications folks from McDonald’s. It was about how social media might be situated and used differently depending upon whether you approached it from either a Marketing or a Communications team perspective. Also the question of who should “own” social media within the organisation was raised.

These are good questions and they got me thinking.

One of the things I often speak about is how technology is converging. How computers, televisions, mobile phones and broadband are converging together to give us new kinds of devices that call into being new kinds of content. As a result we are seeing the mashing up of media from diverse sources and its remixing. The much loved Hitler Downfall Parodies are a great example of this.

The convergence of technology is also being influenced by new kinds of software. Social software that is so easy to use that non-technical people can create and use it without needing to track down geek assistance. Software like Facebook and Flickr are great examples of this trend.

However, another trend associated with this change in technology is the skills and capabilities that businesses need to thrive in this new environment.

In the past, under bureaucratic systems that arose during the last two hundred years in the industrial revolution, specialised silos were created to enable businesses to scale effectively.

Bureaucracy has become a value laden term these days and it is generally used in a negative sense. However, bureaucracy was an essential way to organise people on a grand scale in an age before realtime digital communications. But now that there is almost ubiquitous realtime digital communications we are undergoing a digital revolution.

Our business structures, skills and organisation have not yet adapted to this new world. I can see the need for convergence of skills and activities to enable businesses to take advantage of the digital revolution. Thus I’m starting to see the need for a convergence of many roles and functions. We need to start thinking about how to totally remap the organisation to integrate digital functions effectively.

For example, in the areas of marketing and communications the boundaries start to blur already. The real task of these areas is to communicate with people, either inside our outside of the organisation. And, increasingly, their role is to converse and collaborate with their stakeholders. These functions are merging towards creation of collaborative communities as the audience morphs into participants rather than passive recipients.

The kinds of ideas that need to inform our thinking about how to reshape our organisations for the digital revolution include:

  • Networks: both human and technology networks are key, working out how to enable each of these inside and outside of the organisation is critical.
  • Amplification: understanding how these new human and technology networks amplify messages is imperative; defining cultural practices that embrace this idea is important.
  • Connected: determining how to manage people and business in an age where everything is connected – both people and things – as is how to use this power for business and social good.
  • Personal: the blurring of the boundaries between business and personal or between private and public is already occurring. We need to develop cultural and organisational practices that understand and enable us to manage this blurring of boundaries.
  • Social: human beings are social animals.  The Taylorist world view that has coloured much management thinking in the twentieth century needs to change and reflect this truth.  Humans are not interchangeable widgets and we are not machines.  It is time business leaders and structures change to reflect the social nature of human and business interactions.

We need to find ways to move away from hierarchy and silos. We need to find ways to move towards meshes and webs of relationships.  These are more like the way human beings relate in nature anyway.  The entire bureaucratic venture has been an unnatural way of being for humans. Humans need to find a way to make business more human and less machine like.

It seems that social computing and hardware convergence could be the catalyst for us to change our ways of running businesses so that they better meet human needs and map to human social needs, while continuing to make profits.

What matters?

A recent discovery for me is McKinsey & Company’s new site What Matters. It is a thought provoking question and it is good to see it being tackled by McKinsey and their interesting array of authors.

The things that matter change if we are considering big or small things. At this time in our world there are an enormous number of big things for us to consider. And we all need to get out of our focus on the small things and start thinking about the big questions.

Big questions like:

  • Do we need to change the way we do business for it be sustainable?
  • How can business be profitable and ethical simultaneously?
  • How can we innovate in a resource constrained world?
  • How can we balance security and freedom in an increasingly turbulent world?
  • How do we create an inclusive world that respects diversity?
  • What can we do to respect individual rights while respecting diversity?
  • What difference can individuals and small groups make?
  • How can individuals and small groups take action?

It was questions like these that inspired me to do something and, along with Selena Griffith and Michelle Williams, kicked off Social Innovation BarCamp Sydney.  The inaugural event went well and now we are thinking about next steps. If you have any ideas or suggestions please head over here and post a comment.

Hard work! Aligning organisational values and behaviour

Alignment of articulated and enacted values in business

The issue of how well an organisation’s values align between what they say they are and what they actually do in practise was illustrated very graphically by a large software company this past week. It also shows how difficult it is to get all parts of a large organisation to act in the same way on the same issue. The news coverage aggregation via Google is fascinating to review.

In that case we see an organisation that has articulated a particular value – diversity – very strongly. It has successfully enacted this value in many ways and places within the organisation and is seen as a leader in the broader community. And yet there still remained a pocket of that organisation that did not see how that value did not align with some planned promotional activities.

As a former manager within large corporations I know how challenging it can be to get the values enacted across the entire organisation. And I have a great deal of sympathy for Microsoft and their recent predicament. It could happen to any of us.

But their predicament did get me thinking about how this kind of thing could be prevented in future, and how other organisations could learn from this.

Blame is not the answer
Hardly anyone wakes up in the morning thinking that they want to head into the office and damage the company’s reputation. Mostly these things result from misunderstanding what is required or not perceiving that an action might be considered badly by external stakeholders.

Blaming the individuals who make a mistake does not really help. It can make them into passive-aggressive rule followers or ensure they feel hard done by and leave. Firing them also sends a bad message. It tells other people that mistakes are not tolerated, and stops everyone from feeling safe to take action.

Turning the mishap into a corporate story or parable is useful
Putting the learnings from a mistake into a corporate policy (while making some feel better) generally does nothing much to change behaviour.

The trick is getting the learning into the culture and translating it into practice. One good way of doing this is to create a corporate story or parable that illustrates what happened, the results, the key learnings and the principles to apply to avoid similar mistakes in future.

Then the parable needs to become part of the leadership narrative and is used create awareness of the values and how they should be enacted. It is much easier for people to remember story than a policy.

To get the story out it is necessary for business leaders (formal and informal) to use the story to illustrate how the value applies in real life. Some insights into how this can happen are:


McKinsey: cultural revolution in four steps

Don’t forget Enron!
They had some of the nicest sounding values you could list and put on a pretty poster. But clearly none of those values were enacted in a meaningful way.

Enron’s 1998 Annual Report, “Our Values”:
RESPECT: We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance don’t belong here.

INTEGRITY: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, we won’t do it.

COMMUNICATION: We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another…and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

EXCELLENCE: We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Source: Yale (opens Word document)

There is nothing that makes corporate values seem more real than people seeing leaders within the company apply them daily as part of doing business.

Operating systems are merely hygeine factors …

Many people in the IT industry don’t realise that operating systems are not important to ordinary folks. We don’t want to be bothered with things that live under the surface of our devices.

This is one of the reasons Apple has made such inroads in recent years, they abstract the complexity away from users so nicely. It is also why Linux is starting to get a bit more traction, they’ve finally realised most people don’t want to fiddle with a command line to install things.

Usability is a critical feature for technology. Consumers are getting tired of technology that is hard to use. This feeling is bleeding over into the workplace too. Soon IT departments will find people rebelling against complex and hard to use systems. Their users will slip away to find SaaS applications that meet their needs and accept montly payments via corporate credit cards. Then what price the current obsession with centralisation and cost reduction my IT friends?

Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp #sibsyd

Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp went well yesterday.

The day kicked off with an opening talk by the Hon. Bob Carr, who kindly gave his time to support this event.

Throughout the day we had some amazing networking and discussion sessions focused on creating sustainable futures and directing innovation towards social good.

We also had a lovely lunch sponsored by Cisco and coffee sponsored by AskHer.

I’m very grateful to everyone who helped out to make this event work, in particular my co-un-organisers  Selena Griffith and Michelle Williams.

There are already some amazing photos up in the Social Innovation BarCamp group on Flickr:

It’s real people and real communications

This past week I spoke at the Sydney session of the International Customer Service Professionals (ICSP) on the topic of How can Social Media benefit our business? along with several other well known professionals (@carolskyring, @jasonealey , @CatrionaPollard).

It is always interesting to see how business people – whose real jobs are something completely unrelated to technology and social computing – are grappling with the digital revolution.

There is a dawning realisation by these business people that something different is happening. That old ways of marketing are shifting. That new modes of communication and conversation are evolving. And they are questioning.

The questions are to be expected. What is it? How do I do it? What needs to change in my organisation to make this happen?

Answers to these questions are both deceptively simple and fiendishly complex.

The real challenge lies with the simple fact that now there is no avoiding interaction with real people. It also means that all of the assumptions that we’ve made about our customers for so many decades might just be wrong (or they might be right – who knows?).

The one sure thing with this digital revolution is that our businesses are now marketing to audience of one. And that this audience has the ability to talk back to us in no uncertain terms.

A new challenge for business in the age of digital revolution is dealing with real people and undertaking real communication with them. No more set and forget above and below the line marketing campaigns. Now we might just have to think about it a bit more than we’ve been used to.