I was struck by a comment made on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning by Justin Webb. The story was about David Cameron in Burma when Mr. Webb said “we believe David Cameron is the first British Prime Minister to go to Burma” and added “unless you know differently, in which case let us know”.
Now radio programmes are always trying to be more interactive and invite comment. But a news programme seeking facts? I resisted the temptation to muse on the dear old Beeb not knowing these things and instead my mind turned to the democratisation of knowledge over the centuries. There was once a time of unquestioning belief in authority of god delivered through men, and it was men, in the West expressed as papal infallibility and the Divine Right of Kings to rule, in China this was expressed as The Mandate of Heaven. This softened, but still revered experts and wise men were looked up to until now, in a complete reversal of that thinking, where democratisation of knowledge leads to today’s wikis and crowd sourcing. In parallel, this has been accompanied by what is now a complete lack of deference these days – which I suspect makes those wikis and crowd-sourcing possible – with the technology making them achievable. Yet It wasn’t so long ago that, for example, the family doctor would have been listened to with respect; nowadays they are more likely to be confronted with a torrent of internet research being used to challenge their opinion and treatment. The same applies to teachers too.
I’m reading Alistair Campbell’s diaries at present, a surprisingly frank book and in one section Mr. Campbell tells of the growing tensions between him and his long time partner Fiona Millar about the all consuming nature of his role as Tony Blair’s press secretary before the 1997 election. He receives advice from Peter Mandelson amongst others that the way to resolve this is to talk more with her, share his day and so be more inclusive, as there is no doubt that she supports “the project”. This is hard as the last thing Mr. Campbell needs at the end of another day that, in his words, will have been another nightmare is to explain, although he recognises that he will undoubtedly have brought some of the tension home. In that way Ms. Millar gets a partial view, an unrealistic impression of the job as well as the impact it is having on Mr. Campbell and their family life suffers. Sound familiar? In addition, she completely misses an awareness of his pleasure and total absorption in trying to fix the problems.
CIO Connect started to explore the tensions that “consumerisation of IT” brings to a business at the CIO Connect conference last year. We’re going further this year both before and at the conference and are looking at scenarios based on the degree of individualisation and the degree of virtualisation adopted. Roger Camrass and Ben Shenoy are working with CIO Connect on this and their early work seems to identify four distinct models which create some tension when co-existing in one business. Resolving that tension requires further differentiation – for example between the freedom that may be allowed with devices and the control that will be enforced on data security. We are consulting a think tank of top CIOs on our ideas, and those ideas will be strengthened as a consequence. We will explain, and we will review and we will revise. More on this to come, so please add your thoughts In the comments below.
Business is not a democracy. It’s not a dictatorship either. The CIO needs to decide what is required for their business. But that can’t be done in isolation. Paul Coby, IT Director at John Lewis, explores his interaction with social media on his excellent public blog and indicates the amount of time he expends explaining himself to different groups and in different ways to get their understanding.
There is no monopoly on knowledge. Explaining generates understanding – not necessarily agreement – but as Alistair Russell says, in homage to David Hume, “truth really does emerge through disagreement amongst friends”.