Organisational communication 2020

This was the 50th meeting of the London Communicators and Engagement Group, an informal monthly meetup of (mostly internal) communicators. After 50 meetings you’d think organiser Matt O’Neill would be out of topics to cover – but you’d be wrong.

This time, Matt invited David Galipeau (from eighty20.org /United Nations/Academia) to deliver a mini exposition into the future of communications. In a futuristic spirit he delivered his talk – on where he sees communications of the future heading – using a Skype video link from Geneva.

David Galipeau off Red Dwarf

In practice, this gave him the disjoined, disbodied appearance of Holly from Red Dwarf. But it worked surprisingly well – so that’s another nail in the coffin for international business travel, perhaps.

As Matt said in his introduction to the event, communicators are focussing on how we can use social media tools to improve organisational communication now and in the immediate future. But are the implications for the future? ‘Is this just the start of an emerging pattern that will fundamentally change the way organisations talk internally and externally?’ asked Matt.

He’d also suggested we take a look at some of Galipeau’s work ahead of the event. Alas, I was in a rush, and when I took a look at this, I thought ‘arrgh!’ and closed my browser tab.

Galipeau’s talk was almost as difficult to digest. I know he’s an academic, but I suspect I was one of the more geeky communicators in the room, and still quite a lot of what he said went right over my head. I’m not sure whether those who weren’t digital natives really knew what he was talking about for much of the time.

For example, Galipeau talked about the implementation of IPV6. For the lay reader – that’s most of you, I suspect – our IP addresses are currently based on IPV4, but we are fast running out of numbers. IPV6, Adrian Short told me via the Twitter back channel, will give us gives 6.5 x 1023 addresses for every square metre on Earth.

The arrival IPV6 will enable an ‘Internet of Things’ in which everything down to your slippers will have its own IP address. Your TV will speak to your fridge, and your supermarket trolley to your bank.

This, he contended, means the interweb is entering a new and much darker phase, quite different to the hippy free-for-all we’ve come to know. The internet is already slowing down thanks to tens of thousands of DOS attacks taking place daily. This, he said, is an early sign totalitarian nutjobs are engaged in cyber attacks and counter hacks, and the threat of industrial and political espionage is growing.

He gave groups that protested against Scientology as an example of this – yet didn’t really elaborate what was new about this threat other than giving people the ability to self-organise.

What was odd about the talk was that the speaker achieved the rare feat of going right over people’s heads while at the same time getting some real basics completely wrong. For instance, he talked about ‘crowdsourcing’, giving the example of “bringing people together to all dance in the station at the same time”.

This isn’t crowdsourcing, it’s flashmobbing. Crowdsourcing means drawing on the wisdom of the crowd in order to inform your own decision-making. It has a purpose, and increasingly it has real value for individuals and corporations. It can be as simple as putting a shout out on Twitter to gather some lazy reasearch, or as complex as wiki-style policy formation.

Simply framing it in terms of simply bringing people together for no discernable purpose really undermined Galipeau’s credibility, and this was reflected in the Twitter stream.

Galipeau went on to argue strongly what organisations are becoming more centralised, and in particular decision-making is becoming more centralised within organisations. But as he didn’t elaborate on why he believed this to be so, or what evidence pointed in this direction, I wasn’t convinced (particualrly as it doesn’t chime with what so many of us internal communicators are working towards).

I was glad, then, of the surprise appearance of engagement guru John Smythe. His excellent book – CEO: Chief Engagement Officer – focuses on how organisations can deliver increased engagement, and improved productivity, by opening up and moving towards a culture of co-creation.

When Smythe asked the speaker to give examples of research that proved the opposite, Galipeau muttered something about unpublished research commissioned by the US military, which didn’t convince me at all.

I am far more convinced by Smythe’s thesis than Galipeau’s, not least because the latter appears to run contrary to so much of what I see going on in government and business. There are already countless examples of companies successfully democratising decision making both with employees and customers.

Smythe has challenged Galipeau to a debate on this, which he very grudgingly accepted. I really hope this happens.

My objections to Galipeau’s thesis are, I admit, partly emotional. He presented a remarkably gloomy vision of the future, in which the individual is powerless and the corporate centre is an omniscient Orwellian beast.

Nonetheless, it provided an interesting counterbalance to the the highly positive future envisaged by theorists like Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater. Shirky, as I’ve blogged about before, sketches out future in which technology enables public participation on a scale never before seen. He says that ‘for the first time, we have the tools to make group action truly a reality. And they’re going to change our whole world.’

So there’s a concensus that techology will radically change our relationship with organisations and the state. For me, at least, the balance of evidence would suggest Smythe and Shirky’s culture of co-creation is on the rise.

If Galipeau’s talk got you reaching for the anti-depressants, check out Us Now, a film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet. It’s a rather more cheerful view of the digital future.

3 thoughts on “Organisational communication 2020

  1. Possibly because D and I have spoken at length about this topic, i’m not entirely convinced that his view is as dystopian as might seem on the surface. My sense is that control will likely wrestle back and forth between institutions and individuals. There’s still a lot more to play out. To use the analogy of radio. When first invented, it was absolutely two way. Only over time did its dominant use become to broadcast ‘one to many’. We haven’t even begun to understand what the Cloud means yet!

    The planned debate between Smythe and Galipeau will come to fruition. Plans are afoot. Keep your eyes open!

    Thanks for writing such a reflective and thoughtful piece!

  2. I shared your intense dubiousness, Sharon. But then I also like a contrarian, and Galipeau certainly has plenty of that good stuff going on.

    The thing with the Shirkey thesis is it seems to suggest that politics adapts to technology, when in practice most of us experience the opposite happening. Check Peter Senge’s great quote about collaboration technology, in The Fifth Discipline, for example: “in a culture where what I know determines my status and pay, it is naïve to suppose that a new [system] will lead people to start collaborating.” On the contrary, he goes on, the new system will tend to get bent out of shape to fit the existing power structures.

    I agree we should definitely bankroll a full-on debate between the two (with Seconds, preferably, and a voting audience). We should also try to take open minds, in case Galipeau manages to get specific about this alleged research.

  3. Great post, Sharon.
    First I’ve heard of David Gallipeau and, given his role and profile, I was kind of surprised at the language of his blog, especially his use of ominously scary titles such as ‘darkchannels’, ‘whitehats’, ‘darkhats’ and ‘darknet’, and alarmist language like

    “This is not new – this is not the beginning – this is not a conspiracy theory – this is real and it is certainly is not the end.”

    BTW I tried searching “miltary onint intint & nn programs” but unfortunately the only result returned was his blog.

    Most of all though I loved his hammily portentous sign-off:
    ” Their call to action on February 10th will be successful and this meme will not pass.”

    UN role and obvious social informatics credentials aside, his choice of language and apparent fearmongering leaves me unsure of how serious one is meant take this person.

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