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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What’s the big idea with social media? #media140

Media 140 Perth 2012
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I was lucky enough to be invited to Media 140 in Perth recently to discuss what the ‘big idea’ is with social media.

The idea was for a context setting discussion about social media and how it is changing business and society.

DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We are living through a digital revolution that is changing the world we inhabit as absolutely and as irrevocably as the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

That previous industrial revolution changed our relationship with time, with money, and with people. It created the wage labourer that we know, and the unions whom we’ve to come know encapsulated by the term ‘organised labour’. It created a society governed by the mechanical clock and the notion of work versus non-work time.

The digital revolution is on a similar scale, and this scale is based on a remarkable shift in the means of production. The digital revolution has at its roots a democratization of access to the means of communication.

EXPECTATIONS AND ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
As a result we are seeing a shift in the expectations of ordinary people about communications technology and their access to that technology. Further, we are seeing a rapid evolution of behaviour in relation to communications technology – mainly in the use of smartphones and tablets.

All of this is leading us to significant shifts in society, and it is all fuelled by innovations in communications devices. The smartphone and almost ubiquitous access to the internet have created a new baseline expectation in people that they will always be connected. I have often argued that with Twitter we are seeing the genesis of the hive mind of humanity.

The digital divide is no longer about access to technology – as my friend Mark Pesce notes, even poor fishermen in Kerala have access – it’s about your willingness or desire to be connected.

However, people are finding enormous utility in being always connected. For example, the number of ereaders in the hands of people is growing enormously, doubling since July 2011. And an example of a behavioural shift afforded by the technology is the growth in women’s erotic fiction sales. Romance novels have always been a big business globally, but a recent sales data indicates a substantial growth in sales of erotica (the so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ factor) that has been fuelled by the anonymity offered by ereaders.

As long ago as 2008 Australia mobile phone subscribers outnumber people according to ACMA data. This means that individuals have more than one device connected to the mobile phone network.

SOCIAL MEDIA, SOCIAL BUSINESS
Along with this embrace of ubiquitous mobile connectivity we have seen the growth of social media and social networking. This growth of social media is part of the landscape that makes up the digital revolution. Social media is revolutionary because it empowers the populace with access to the means of communication that were once the province of rich media barons.

This growth in social media fuelled by mobile connectivity has also changed the business landscape in important ways. There is a shift from command-control and pipeline driven businesses to social business that is focused on continuous engagement and conversations.

The kind of new business opportunities enabled by this digital revolution include:

  • the ability to compete in a new geography without even opening a local store (like Amazon);
  • the opportunity to reduce complexity for customers and remove friction from business operations (like Telstra);
  • subverting traditional models like recruitment where businesses build online talent banks of people who are interested in working with them (like Deloitte).

However, the shifts in society are not limited to business and consumers. They are also changing some things that we have always accepted. For example, we have always assumed that there is a just and valid separation between the domains of public versus private, or between business versus personal. But now those verities are being shaken by social media and social networking.

Social media is blurring the boundaries between the public, private, business, and personal. We are still working out how to negotiate this new territory. But already we see reports of people turned down for jobs because their online reputation score was too low.

We are now seeing a world where reputation is created, maintained, and mediated by online channels. There are increasing tools for measuring reputation online, such as: Kred, Klout, and Peer Index. Bouncers are even reportedly using Facebook as an identification check for entry into nightspots according to the BBC.

SOCIAL WORKPLACES
Workplaces are changing too, partly in response to the digital revolution. Open plan offices with collaboration spaces and hot desks are enabled because of wifi and portable connected devices like laptops and tablets.

SOCIAL EDUCATION
Our schools and places of education are being swept along by this digital revolution as well. With schools handing out laptops to all students and wifi in schools, libraries, and on public transport our children inhabit an always connected landscape. A teen boy said to me recently of my complaints about the poor wifi in Sydney: “but it’s just in the air, it’s everywhere”. It is a good example of the world that our young people inhabit. They live in a world where the connectivity is just ‘in the air’ around them.

The physical changes in workplaces are being reflected in schools too. They are becoming focused on collaboration rather than rote learning of facts. Students are learning how to discover, assess, and synthesize information rather than memorize facts.

WTF?
When we put together the shifting physical nature of the workplace and schools together with the blurring boundaries between public- private-business-personal, and the always connected devices in the hands of individuals many opportunities and challenges arise.

It is an exciting time to live. We are living through a revolution. The real question is will we drive the revolution or let it just happen to us?

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Connectedness – it's not just a technology thing, it's a people thing

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For many years now my friends, colleagues and I have been talking and thinking about the hyperconnections made available to us by the growth of the internet, telecommunications devices and networks, and social platforms. For a good background on it check out Mark Pesce and Ross Dawson.

But I think that we have reached a state in our evolution as human where the practices of hyperconnectivity have changed the way we are doing, being, and thinking.

Connectedness is no longer about technology it is about people. Our need for connectedness is beginning to transcend the technology. I believe that, even if the internet disappeared tomorrow, our desire for and expectation of connectedness would continue and that the behaviours engendered by the internet will remain to be expressed.

Ian Shafer summed it up nicely recently:

“I think this whole notion of connectedness is more a state of human evolution than rather a generational thing.”
from: Ian Shafer, in Generation C: A new demographic label for marketers by Kai Ryssdal, 24 Feb 2012

Movements like #Occupy and the Arab Spring around the world show that people connecting is more than just a technology thing, although technology has amplified the ability of people to connect across distance.

Human beings don’t want to just engage and connect with brands, a desire to create a world better suited for the beings that inhabit it (and their progeny) is growing and we see real life communities growing.

A good example of this Social Innovation Sydney. It started online but this community connects in real life meetups and the human network creates connections, relationships, and activities far beyond the initial starting point.

If the internet disappears tomorrow how will you be able to find your tribe?

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2012: Not the end of the world, but perhaps the end of the world as we know it

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As we come up to the year 2012 many prognosticators are predicting the end of the world. I suspect that this will not come to pass.

But I do think that we are seeing the end of the world as we’ve come to know it during the latter years of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century. Many of the verities upon which we’ve relied will be falter or disappear.

Doomsayers talk about the Mayan calendar ending in 2012. However, The Guardian kindly reassures us that an “expert” says: Mayan tablet does not predict end of the world in 2012.

No matter what one thinks of these predictions of doom it is clear that we are moving into a new world next year on several fronts, mainly due to the global economic situation.

The economy

The global economy is not looking well – the British, European and US economies are mired in problems that seem insurmountable.  Austerity measures are starting to bite in the UK and Eurozone. We are starting to see the breakdown of normal social bonds. For example, in Greece, there are even stories of parents giving up their children to the state because they can’t feed them: Greek economic crisis turns tragic for children abandoned by their families.

The US is coming up to a Presidential election and the deadlocks between Republicans and Democrats are likely to continue thus blocking any possibility for change. The economic situation in the US does not seem to be improving, in spite of the ‘green shoots’ some speak of.  Instead the charts tell a sobering story (source: Financial Armageddon) for the US:

Australia has been sheltered from all of this by the strength of China, and it remains to be seen if this continues into the coming year.

What can we do?

It seems that there is not a lot we can do as individuals to address these larger global problems.  However, what we can do is adjust our own lifestyle and mindset to better suit these challenging times. Since we are moving into a different kind of world it seems prudent to prepare proactively rather than sit and wait.

We are moving into a world where the rule of law is shifting, where the rights we’ve assumed were ours are being stripped away, where the social contract between the government and the governed is dissolving.

In this kind of environment the only source of solace is individuals who join together to create positive change in the world. We must join together to create a new kind of polity that rejects control and inequity. We must join together to create tribes and communities that embrace peace and reject anger.

Here are some of my thoughts about how we can approach this challenge:

Mindset?

Kindness. Compassion. Love. Community. Dignity. Composure. Peace. Grace. Flow.

Lifestyle?

Find our tribes. Build communities.

Sustainability. Grow a garden.  Simplicity.

Walk with a friend. Slow down. Eat fresh food. Share a meal. Breathe.

Business?

New models. Innovation. Doing good. Creativity. Collaboration. Consensus.

Profit with honour. Nurture people and the environment.

And?

It is good to remember that there is strength in the people when they join together for the common good…

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Welcome to the panopticon

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Tonia Ries has just published an article titled Privacy Fail: Klout Has Gone Too Far, which outlines how Klout is indexing social networks and creating/measuring user profiles, even if they have never registered with Klout.

About the same time Facebook was accused of creating ‘shadow profiles’ on users and nonusers.

As I said recently, welcome to the panopticon.

When Jeremy Bentham originally came up with the idea of a panopticon he introduced it saying:

“Morals reformed – health preserved – industry invigorated instruction diffused – public burthens lightened – Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock – the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied – all by a simple idea in Architecture!”

Source: Bentham, Jeremy The Panopticon Writings. Ed. Miran Bozovic (London: Verso, 1995). p. 29-95

And thus it is, that by the beginning of the twenty-first century, we have (well most of us) willingly and freely chosen to become part of an electronic panopticon.

Privacy is now only possible by a steadfast refusal to participate in digital society in any way – by becoming like the Unabomber and moving to a shack in the woods. And even then, if others who participate in the electronic society mention your name or activities online, you are still caught up in the net.

Global surveillance has been made easy, simple, and ubiquitous. The very devices – laptops, tablets, mobile phones – we all carry enable this constant geophysical tracking via the SIM cards and wifi connections.

However, as we are seeing with the various #Occupy movements around the world, these same technologies that enable surveillance of us by the authorities, also enable sousveillance of the authorities by us.

This is one of the interesting things about living in an electronic panopticon. Unlike Bentham’s inmates we are not physically constrained to cells. We can move about freely (for the most part).

And we can also co-opt the same technology to create our own networks. Those networks can become peer-to-peer and frictionless. They can enable us to organise into groups very easily and to share information and ideas in ways that used to be hard.

The panopticon is here, it’s time to turn it to our own ends.

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Social media, radical transparency, insights, and klout

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One of the various social media influence scoring platforms – Klout – has just changed its algorithm and overnight many people’s Klout scores have dropped.

This has caused one of several reactions:

  1. complete indifference
  2. refutation of the importance of social media influence measurement
  3. howls of pain at the destruction of hard work in achieving high Klout scores
  4. humour like that of @jason_a_w
  5. even an #occupyklout movement

All very amusing  to someone like me.

But the really interesting thing is that we have entered an age of radical transparency.  Now our social connections and interactions are open to analysis because of our increasing use of social networks and social  media.

If the data is there and publicly available then it will be analysed.  There is little we can do to stop this phenomenon.  As users of social networks we are fair game due to the public nature of our social discourse.

However, as  a marketer, I’m often on the other side of this equation. In our businesses we seek to understand who the relevant influencers are for our particular niche or geography.

Social media is the new focus group.  And it is far richer than any focus group we ever had in the past. Now brands can engage with people in realtime and adjust strategy and products in response to feedback.

We need to find ways to cut through the enormous bolus of information that is there to be digested. And we need to make some kind of sense of the new landscape we all inhabit.

Mechanisms to measure people’s influence have always existed. Clothing, manners, motor vehicles are only a few of the ways we’ve judged people’s status and influence in the past.

Social media influence measurement and monitoring is only just starting.  Our lives are now lived in plain view and the data is open to analysis.

Welcome to the panopticon.

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The business of social business

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Social business is the new trend following on from Enterprise 2.0 – but underlying it is an essential conflict between two different styles of doing business.  The conflict is between businesses optimized for efficiency and those optimized for the creation of value.

Greg Satell encapsulates this conflict neatly in his 2010 post Creating Efficiency vs. Creating Value. He raises the notion of Kuhnian paradigm shifts and open innovation as a key part of creating value.

However, I suspect that Geoff Livingston is right when he argues that we are actually facing the post social media revolution era.

These two ideas – that we have entered the post social media revolution era and; that we need to create value as opposed to efficiency – frame the challenge of the next few years for business.

With the decline of the verities of the economic system that we’ve taken for granted over the past 30 years we are now faced with a new economic landscape within which to create and grow businesses.

In an environment of reduced consumer power, restricted credit and the prospect of sovereign crises, businesses need to find ways to harness creativity to generate revenue. This means we must diversify our efforts from a focus on efficiency and cost optimization. It means that we need to create mechanisms for creation and sharing of value.

We need to find new ways of doing business that do not merely follow the ideological constraints of what has gone before. Instead it is time to bring all of our commitment and determination to find new ways of doing things.

It will be insufficient to merely put the word ‘social’in front of our business activities. It will be necessary to find out how to embed social processes and technology within our businesses to meet the demands of these challenging times.

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Business, boring jobs and social good

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Over the past 150 years businesses have dealt with the challenges of increased scale by optimizing processes, resource allocation and expenditure. However, there is a limit to how much one can optimize a business and not damage the society within which that business exists.

I have spent a goodly part of my career working on optimizing large scale businesses and increasing productivity.

The main way to achieve that is by automating routine and repetitive tasks or outsourcing them to lower cost regions, thus making low paid jobs redundant. That process generally takes bottom line cost out of the business and increases productivity as a by-product. Where it does create new jobs they are rarely suitable for the workforce that has been displaced through this process.

Many older workers have been pushed out of the workforce due to the disappearance of these types of jobs. For them it seems too late to re-train, and many face ageism from employers who are unwilling to give them a chance at different roles.

Thus we are wasting the talents, energy and skills of many older workers who now languish unhappily on welfare payments.

But it is also interesting to consider this: if the many young unemployed people across the western world had been born twenty years earlier they would be doing those repetitive jobs and earning an income. Those jobs have disappeared. And they have disappeared either due to optimization and productivity improvements.

So what do we do with all of the people who used to do those old jobs? In most western countries (except the USA) we pay them some kind of social welfare benefit. That allows them to subsist. But what do they do with their time while subsisting? Are they included somehow in the community? Do they have a role, apart from being passive recipients of welfare, that make them feel part of society?

A boring repetitive job is boring for many young people. But it does provide some benefits: they earn an income; they learn real-world work skills; it gets them out of the house; it gives them some kind of purpose outside of themselves; and it is really a good way to get them thinking about what else they can do with their life.

My first job was utterly dull and boring. It gave me the impetus to get back into study and work out ways to never have a job that dull again. It also gave me a perspective on how business works, and it is a perspective that I could not have achieved from outside.

But now most of those entry level (boring) jobs have gone. And many young people do not want to take them even if available. That is a bit sad.

We seem to have mostly banished boredom in our society, and that might not be an entirely good thing. The social benefit provided by those lost jobs has not been replaced.

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Riots, desire, consumerism, community and values.

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Want is a funny word. It can mean different things, such as:

“absence or deficiency of something desirable or requisite” or
“to be lacking or absent, as a part or thing necessary to completeness”, or
“to feel a need or a desire for; wish for”, or
“to wish, need, crave, demand, or desire”
(Source Dictionary.com)

The scenes in the UK of rioters and looting were awful on many levels. But one scene that was repeated that was especially revelatory was the looters trying on goods in the stores before they stole them.

That behaviour spoke to me of want.

In the past, usually riots were because people lacked some necessity – food, freedom, the right to vote. That is, the rioters acted in response to want in the sense of absence or lack of something. This is the kind of rioting we have seen in the middle east in recent times, places like Egypt and Syria.

But in the UK we saw rioters, unfocused on anything except inflicting damage on property and helping themselves to goods for which they had a desire. That is, acting in response to want in the sense of desire for something. And that something wanted was material goods rather than aspiration to freedom or truth.

This is different. It is about people who have learned to desire those things for the acquisition of which they do not have sufficient economic resources. And yet, they do have the means – through a collective act of will – to achieve access to the goods they desire.

The looters have achieved their want, they now have the material goods that they sought. However, in achieving those goods they have destroyed the community facilities upon which they and many others rely. They have reinforced their other-ness. They have achieved a short term goal while simultaneously creating the platform for increased levels of dissatisfaction.

I suspect that material goods will not really fulfil the wants of the rioters and looters in the UK. Their anomie will remain. And they will recall the power of their collective action. They will also recall the powerlessness of the authorities in the face of that collective action.

It might be as Winston Churchill once said (in slightly different circumstances):

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Source: Sir Winston Churchill, speech at Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, Mansion House, London, November 10, 1942

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Generational theory cannot explain how people behave

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Quite often there’s an article that bundles us all up into handy age-based cohorts (a.k.a. ‘generations’). Behavioural phenomena are neatly explained by the characteristics of the particular age cohort or generation. Based on the theories of Strauss and Howe generations have been adopted as a popular explanatory model for people’s behaviour, and demographers like Bernard Salt and Mark McCrindle have done very well in explaining this model to business and marketing folk.

While large scale external factors can impact on a particular generation and influence them in a particular ways, individuals of that generation shape their lives by other means too. A generation that suffers a war, like the First or Second World War, or a Great Depression like during the 1930s, is shaped in important ways by that shared experience.

Yet I am not convinced that the individuals within each generation are like a mob of sheep who respond as a mob to stimuli.

Instead, based on my experiences in implementing technology and process change in the workplace, I am more influenced by the technology adoption lifecycle (as popularised by Rogers).

I think that this model can be generalised to explain other parts of human behaviour in addition to technology adoption.

Clearly significant life experiences influence an individual’s responses to events throughout their life. And shared experience, such as wars and major disasters, can influence how cohorts behave in future. But we respond to stimuli as individuals who live within societal, kinship and friendship structures that influence our behaviour. And that behaviour is also enacted within our internal physical, psychological and spiritual context. Thus our age cohort compatriots may be part of the mix, but they are not the entire story.

Which leads to one of my pet peeves about generational theory. Articles like this, (from 2007) A-Z of Generation Y:

“THEY’RE hip, smart-talking, brash and sometimes seem to suffer from an overdose of self esteem.”

It is this kind of glib summary that irritates. It fails completely to reflect the diversity, magnificence and sheer idiocy encompassed by humanity.

We see the best and the worst of humanity every day. And just when you feel like giving up hope for us as a race someone somewhere does something amazing, moving and awe-inspiring.

For example, I do a lot of work with those Gen-Y kids who are so often the target of this shallow analysis in the media, and every day their enthusiasm and passion to make the world a better place inspires me.

I also work with a number of Baby Boomers (the so-called “Baby boomers: powerful and selfish“) who work every day to improve their corner of the world and the global community.

Perhaps it’s time we stop making assumptions about what people are like and judging them by stereotypes? I suspect people are more complex than the simple stereotypes so beloved of tabloid journals.

Here’s a few inspiring examples mentioned on Twitter today in response to one of my questions about inspirational things people had heard about recently:

@casandjonesy trek 2 southpole 2400km on foot” via @ljLoch

Well, @Nyx2701 did some pro bono legal work to (ultimately) help let the family of a missing person know they’re still alive.” via @mjberryman

My good friend having a bone-marrow transplant.” via @zbender

I read in the Enquirer that a blind couple adopted two blind children previously thought unadoptable. It’s an amazing story.” via @AskMonte

what planet are you on? How about @CadelOfficial Cadel Evans 1st aussie to win TourdeFrance?? #tdf #yellforcadel” via @lisafeg

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