Category Archives: MSc

Book Review – Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

This very readable book has impeccable academic credentials:  Fraser and Dutta are on the faculty at INSEAD but they wear their scholarship lightly. They consider the effects of Web 2.0 on business and society, and their case studies include FaceBook’s patchy relationship with its users and their employers, the destruction of the music business by the internet, and the 2008 US presidential election. It’s comprehensive and accessible and has a superb bibliography, what more can you want?

Occasionally I disagreed with Fraser and Dutta’s arguments.  They use examples from medieval France and the Knights Templar to illustrate the fracturing of hierarchical power structures.  Now colour me cynical, but would they have done that if it weren’t for Dan Brown?

More seriously, they are naive about the height of the barriers of entry to online fame and pin a lot of the first section of the book on the unsupportable assumption that online fame is open to all. They talk breathlessly (well, breathlessly for academics) about Joe Nobody from Nowhere obtaining online fame. But that doesn’t mean it’s replicable: the fact that they cannot see how it happened doesn’t mean that there weren’t reasons for it happening.  I mean, haven’t they read Outliers?  Online fame doesn’t come for wishing as Sandi Thom’s publicists discovered.  Exactly the same astonishment was expressed about the working class rock heros of the 60s, but for every Lennon and McCartney there were …. well there weren’t any other Lennons and McCartneys.  Which is my point.

They are balanced in their reporting of Web 2.0 evangelists and Web 2.0 apostates. This makes a refreshing change.  In fact, they aren’t just balanced on the subject, they delve deeply into why and how corporate and governmental organisations resist Web 2.0.  This is the nub of the book, and no-one else is saying just these things in quite this way.  But even so, they are reluctant to admit that there are some serious Orwellian implications for all our futures.

So I am not sure why I’m not raving about it.  Perhaps because I like books that give me epiphanies.  This one was rich and informative but didn’t shift any of my paradigms. They close their arguments down in a rather authoritarian way, which doesn’t set the brain fizzing with ideas. It may just be that their usual ‘voice’ is  the de-personalised style of academia.  Don’t be dis-heartened by my faint praise: it is much better than I make it sound.

Definitely a must-read, though possibly in paperback, for anyone considering the role of Web 2.0 in any kind of organisation, or who has an interest in the recent history of the internet or in how technology affects individuals and society.   Worth it for the case studies and the bibliography alone – everything else is a bonus.

PS – I thought I’d reviewed Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – turns out I hadn’t. That’s easily remedied.


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Handling the feed that bites you

These feeds that feed feeds that feed feeds are a dratted nuisance when you type something into one by mistake.

In one of the screen layouts you get with Plaxo, the update status field looks just like a search tool.  Ok, it says ‘update’ on the button, but who reads buttons?

Plaxo Screenshot

Plaxo Screenshot

The other morning I entered the acronym of a company name to find people I know who’ve worked there, and within a minute or so it updated Twitter, and from there it updated this blog and FaceBook where it picked up 4 comments in 5 minutes.

Now the thing is, that I know you cannot ever actually delete anything you tweet, and that Facebook keeps your 1s and 0s forever and beyond. I know how my feed-chain works because I set it up.  I’m doing my dissertation on the use of professional and social networking tools in the corporate environment and I am reading and thinking a lot about the the Mastercard style venn diagram which is the overlap between most people’s public and private spaces …

… and I STILL did it.

Lessons learned?

  1. Don’t click anything before the first cup of tea of the day
  2. FaceBook friends like surreal and cryptic posts

Salvadore Dali summed it up best I think, when he said:

Fish.

Shock news: Post-modernist says something interesting

George Orwell's 1984If communication is the key to knowledge work, then why do people communicate like this:

We present immaterial labour 2.0 as an ambivalent modality of both biopower and biopolitical production, and as an exemplar of the paradigm shift underway in our interface with popular culture, media, and information and communication technology.

I had to stop and translate it word for word. Let’s assume that ‘immaterial labour 2.0’ means something: let’s call it ‘working with web 2.0 tools’. Ok, I’ve translated jargon into other jargon, but I do at least understand the second lot. So:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as an ambivalent modality of both biopower and biopolitical production … etc

I’m going to assume that ‘ambivalent modality’ means ‘a form that’s hard to pin down’. It may not, but let’s go with that for now:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of both biopower and biopolitical production that is hard to pin down… etc

But what is ‘biopower’? Or ‘biopolitical production’?  It’s no surprise that a quick google uncovers Foucault. Wikipedia, bless it, says this:

Biopower was a term originally coined by French philosopher Michel Foucault to refer to the practice of modern states and their regulation of their subjects through “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.”

Ok… leaving aside that it’s defined as the increase in techniques and not the techniques themselves, we now have:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of both the explosion of techniques for controlling people and biopolitical production that is hard to pin down, and … etc

The first and simplest definition of ‘biopolitical’ in Wikipedia is ‘the style of government that regulates populations through biopower (the application and impact of political power on all aspects of human life)’.

So this gives us:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of control and subjugation of people by governments and other bodies that is hard to pin down, and as an exemplar of the paradigm shift underway in our interface with popular culture, media, and information and communication technology.

Actually that’s interesting!. Web 2.0 tools aren’t nice and friendly; they are the very stuff of Orwellian supervision? Mmmm.  Much the conclusion of Wiki vs Word (my previous post): the main differences is the audit trail which is the very stuff of accountability.  But why use the word ‘exemplar’ when you could say ‘example’?

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of control that is hard to pin down, and as an example of the sea change in how we use popular culture, media, and information and communication technology and how they affect us.

In other words: Big Brother is LinkedIn

No kidding. This is moderately interesting, expecially in the context of the work-place.  It has also taken me 45  minutes to translate a single paragraph and, of course, other meanings can be constructed.

Am I going to read the whole thing? Maybe I will, now I know what it’s about. But why write like that? It’s off-putting and it hides stuff which, on this occasion at any rate, is really interesting.

Anyway, here it is, for what it’s worth:

Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks
Mark Coté and Jennifer Pybus

Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0:
MySpace and Social Networks
Mark Coté and Jennifer Pybus

PS – I still have no idea what the verb ‘to immaterial’ means.


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A meme on modelling

Craig Brown of Better Projects has launched a modelling meme for BAs and PMs.

He asks us to 

Recall the first and last analysis model you used at work. 

An interesting question for a BA.  

My first diagrams were probably Wide Area Networking diagrams from back in the day. Admittedly my job title wasn’t “Business Analyst” but it was still all about balancing requirements, technology and budget.  

For a while after that they’d have been web page designs, and then the branch and workarea diagrams for Interwoven TeamSite installations.  Since then I’ve done every sort of process diagram, dataflow diagrams and influence diagrams, soft systems diagrams and of course a shed-load of UML.  

It’s been a while since I’ve done any modelling at work though I was messing around with Visio and a process flow today.

My two most recent models haven’t been done on my employer’s time.  One is a model of investigative questions, and directly relates to The Business Analyst’s Guide to Questions, which is a series of posts I am publishing over the next few months.  

 

Question grid based on Kipling's honest serving men

Question grid based on Kipling's honest serving men

The other hasn’t been drawn yet, but will plot quantative research vs qualitative research in a 2×2.  This is something I’m thinking about as a result of my MSc.  These two research methodologies are normally  considered to be opposing poles of the same scale, but I wonder if there’s something useful to uncover if we model them as two different dimensions which sit at right angles to each other.   Surely collecting statistics about how pople feel is BOTH quantative and qualitative and sits out there in the middle of a 2×2.  I’ve not done the analysis yet, so we shall see.

And the question is…

Tony Robbins has a slick one-liner in one of his self-help books.  He says:

Questions are the answer.

For a Business Analyst that is certainly true.  We are members of a profession like law and journalism, where success is built on asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time.  I’ve spent most of my professional life consciously trying to improve my ability to ask questions.

I’m discovering just how important this is in academia too.  I’m doing a Research Methods course as part of my MSc at Bristol and I have to think about questions and answers in a whole new way: I must think of them as the set-up for a piece of research, and the research has to be doable.  

Now I thought I was reasonably clear on what I want to do for my dissertation.  Something along the lines of “What mitigates for success or failure of a corporate Knowledge Base, and is it worth the time and effort?”  -Sounds nice and crisp and – hey – how cool is that use of “mitigates” eh?  

But when you pick it over, you find it’s as full of holes as a crunchie.  Let’s define a few paramaters here: what do I mean by “success” and “failure”?  And scope: what is a corporate Knowledge Base anyway, and what things aren’t corporate knowledge bases?  And metrics, let’s define some metrics: how do you measure what’s “worth it” and what isn’t?   

My usual stand-bys don’t work in this context.  If I was running a workshop and put this question to the team, I’d supplement it with “what does good look like?” and “what do you mean by… success / failure / corporate knowledge base” etc, etc, and put the answers up on the whiteboard.

Maybe what I’m learning is that it’s much harder to answer questions than to ask them.