All My Coffee Cups Are Different

Dear Mr Berners-Lee,

Does the WWW have a warranty?  It appears to be broken and in need of repair.

What we all liked about the web was its open, standards based decentralisation and its interoperability.  It was amazing, thank you. However, it has been high jacked.  

The web has gone the same way as the high street.  For Starbucks, where the coffee makes you shudder,  for M&S that renders us similarly beige and for Tesco those tyrants of spurious choice, read Facebook that reduces me to Liking things, read Google that narrows my world (yes, narrows) and Amazon that crushes new talent.      

Can we turn it off and on again?   Better still, can we uprade it?  We are after all, used to doing that for everything else.  How about we add some new standard features that anyone can implement,  you know, like email (which is a tyrant, but not owned by anyone) or SMS which can get to me anywhere on this wonderful planet.  So how about we standardise:

Willingness to buy

and open up services:

Private conversation

and let people invent services around that lot.

I am sure we could dream up many more so we can innovate, evolve and conduct an infinite culture, you know like actual people.  Some new services may be national, others regional and some still global. I’d like what we’ve learned from the few who dominate, who have identified de facto standards, to be re engineered into the web itself as formal standards and no longer owned by any one company.

I hate everything being the damn same.  All my coffee cups are different.  Perhaps that’s just me.


Organised Showing Off

Re posted by popular demand, I had pulled it to tweak it, one or two people preferred it as it was.

The chap next to me on this train is watching the Chelsea Flower Show on his iPad.

This programme appears to be 95% design, lifestyle, aspiration and other forms of organised showing off. The main flower on show seems to be the narcissus in its various forms.

Overall this show has very little to do with growing things. I’m told the event itself, while being perhaps a little overly about being seen, is essentially about growing things.

I got really into gardening in my 20s. I am living my life in reverse and will spend my later years being recklessly hedonistic, perhaps I’ll move back to my parents. Anyway, I was lucky enough to own a house when I was 24 but was consequently a bit skint. Growing things was my bungee jumping.

I drifted away for lots of reasons, I got busy in other ways. We had our wonderful children and we bought another house, one that was falling apart. My drift also co incided with the evolution of gardening in popular culture, away from growing things to design and construction projects, from the doing, to the stuff and being seen to have it.

I’d have thought there was room in the vast TV schedules for some programmes about how to actually do things and how things work.

– How to grow things, there are none I can see in the schedule. 

– How to cook, to be fair, there are some of these, buried on channel 619, but prime time limits itself to the tearfully elaborate, time pressured, gamified dross that’s all about me.

– A programme about cars would be a great idea. I’m told lots of people, especially men, are very interested in cars. There isn’t a single show I can find that’s about this huge topic. Bizarre.

I’m going to tend my daffodils. Actually I’m going to tend some PowerPoint, it’s much the same thing.

It’s All About Accountability

Some years ago, while I was employed by a well known corporation in the UK, I worked with a team from one of the big consultancies on an organisational transformation project. Whether it was successful is debatable, I think in the main it was, others disagree. That I learned a lot and was changed by it is without doubt. I recall it costing many millions of pounds. I am of course, worth it. I also made two very good friends in the process. Both began from positions of conflict and mistrust, each is a separate story best saved for another day.

I learned about big topics like operational planning, organisational design, resource strategy, vendor management and project portfolio management. I took my first steps, though without realising it, into culture development and had the shocking realisation that the person in my life I knew least well was myself. I’d never really thought about what I was like very much. That was quite a shock.

In the middle of all that I learned that I have a behavioural tick, a tell, something that gives away when I am frustrated, not bought it, that I think you are an idiot, no matter what I might say.

It is not a dramatic gesture, I don’t cry blood. I just take my glasses off and put them on the table.

I discovered this in a progress review in the middle of that transformation project. Someone said, “It’s all about **some fad or other**”.  I can’t remember which fad it was supposed to be “all about”, people, process, tools, strategy, contraints, culture, take your pick.  The glasses came off and were quitely placed on the table and a few people chuckled.  I didn’t even know what I’d done. 

“So why do you disagree, Anthony?”.

“I haven’t even said anything!”.

“The glasses are off, you plainly disagree, it’s what you always do when you think other people are idiots”. 

I had indeed been thinking they were all idiots.  I then wondered how often I removed my glasses in meetings and how long everyone had perceived this insult for what it was actually was.

It was all good humoured.  Frankly, I told them out loud that I thought they were all idiots quite often anyway.  Usually, I was informed, a few seconds after I’d taken my glasses off.

Perhaps I expected to get into a fight. Taking my glasses off is quite sensible in those circumstances.  

Anyway, whenever anyone says, “It’s all about **insert fad**”, I still take my glasses off, I probably sigh loudly and then likely kick off about fads and over simplfications.

There is one exception to that,  if someone says, “It’s all about accountability”, I wheel out another tell,  the one that says, “I think you are probably right but I am not sure I dare say so just yet, do go on”. It involves me half smiling, half wincing, while almost imperceptibly nodding and looking you right in the eye.  Becuase I think you might actually get it.

I have quite a list of fads, I am vertitable Mr Toad, serially excited by the next big thing.   I even utter the phrase “It’s all about **lazily insert latest over simplification**”, myself from time to time.

But I have noticed that despite all our fads, the things we think it is now, “all about”, we need to remain accountable no matter how our institutions, social norms, laws evolve. For our fads to become part of a sustained, valuable and ethical whole, be that corporate, charitable, sporting, social, religious, poltical etc. etc., without triggering unintended negative consequeces so great they outweight the benefit and so as to maximise and accelerate the positive, you have to add accountability.