Bulletin 14 June 2019. Why do we assume the Internet will ‘just work’? 

Pies, damn pies and charts

As just about everyone I know knows, I’m in a band (https://www.facebook.com/PluckingDifferent/) . I never meant to be, it just kind of evolved, out of a ukulele based collective that friend and fellow podcaster (see below) Simon co-set-up. The “never meant to be” element is relevant, as I find I’m learning new things, not least how to sing in front of large audiences, but also the notion of an audience of one.

Performing is by its nature a little bit (okay, a lot) narcissistic: delivering artistic and creative things into a vacuum is no fun for anybody. At the same time, it is a complete lottery: sometimes you get the adrenaline rush of a huge, animated crowd, and sometimes you get what a friend refers to as a ‘paid rehearsal’ in which nobody is paying much attention.

At times like that, I have found, sometimes just one person will be actually enjoying what the band is doing… at which point, in my head at least, they become the audience. I can think of a gig we played in Swindon a couple of years ago, where one chap was nodding, singing and enjoying every moment. I have no idea who he was, never seen him since but for two hours, he was who I was singing and playing to.

And that was enough, no, more than that: it’s a real privilege to offer the gift of a tune or two, and to have an appreciative smile in return. And… and now I find myself wondering how to relate this point to technology. It all made so much sense half an hour ago, when I started writing this thing.

In my line of business, over the past decades I have spent quite a lot of my working life answering questions for people. I subscribe to the Einstein principle — I might not always know the answer, but I probably know someone who does so I can find out (and often, the person asking may just need a bit of help to answer their own question).

I have also spent my days surveying, researching and writing about it all. And making plenty of mistakes along the way, and hopefully learning from them. One mistake is, of course, to take anecdotal evidence as something quantitative: a problem exacerbated by the social echo chambers we inhabit.

I’ve been seeing this a lot recently, as I have consorted with the kids from the cooler end of the tech spectrum — those we might call ‘cloud native’. For this group, notions of collaboration, iteration, of trying something and getting it out there, are the norm, to the extent that they may well be surprised to find that others don’t follow that, straightforward and productive path.

Meanwhile, I still liaise with many people who work in what might loosely be called ‘enterprise IT’. In this group, linear thinking is the most likely approach to succeed and it can be very hard to convince people otherwise. I remember a corridor conversation at a large government department, where I singularly failed to convince a colleague why waterfall approaches weren’t always going to be the best option.

Perhaps never the twain will meet, perhaps not; trouble is, if you look at IT trends as a whole, you will end up with an amalgam of both, or a view from one side or another. It is almost impossible to get a high-level picture of how, in many large organisations, the mind might be willing but the body is weak; or how individuals may have the right idea, even if their teams and groups are still lagging.

Which brings to the audience of one. Again and again, I see research telling organisations what they should be like, rather than engaging with them individually and determining what might work for them. It’s the dark secret of consulting: the ‘thought leadership’ may tell decision makers to “disrupt or die” but the day to day activities of change are much more mundane.

What can we get from this? That quantitative research will always be wrong? Not so fast. Research offers a useful starting point to have a conversation, to engage on points of similarity, to help someone get a view on the broader context of their industry or domain. At the same time, it should almost always be rejected in favour of finding out what the specific organisation is actually like.

Smart Shift: Augmentation in progress

In this week’s section (http://joncollins.net/smartshift/panel/pages/the-instant-superhero/augmentation-in-progress/edit) I bring in Wim Wenders’ film ‘Until the End of the World (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/aug/27/until-the-end-of-the-world-review-wim-wenders) ’ to introduce the topic of Augmented Reality. “What we learn from such films, in general, is that the fight remains between good and evil, between acts of immense inner strength to overcome situations of utter peril.” It was ever thus.

** Extra-curricular: Getting Away With It Episode 7 – Post-Lechlade Festival Blues

Speaking of bands, podcasts and indeed, small audiences, Simon and I actually managed to bank another episode (http://bluecube.libsyn.com/getting-away-with-it-episode-7-post-lechlade-festival-blues) of our GAWI (as we have come to call it) podcast. It includes mention of headlining in a beer tent, barfing waltzers and strange phrases, Huawei and Google, scanning for skeletons in concrete, tech giants breaking industries… and a poem from Simon.

Thanks for reading.


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Bulletin 14 June 2019. Why do we assume the Internet will ‘just work’?