Due to the fact that my back went out before me, and I spent the day trying to catch up with it, there was no conference in London on social tools in business, no lunch with Johnnie Moore and Euan Semple, just walking on eggshells and, thank goodness, a osteopath with a spare appointment.
But plenty of time to think about the subject of the conference and the ongoing discussion on the use of tools like blogs, wikis, RSS etc in business and organisational life.
I confess to being prejudiced against the tools-first approach, if your business is not crying out for the tools so that it can work the way it wants to, I suspect that you are wasting your time, and worse, by adopting tools for which your organisation has no organic need.
I don't know what has lead managements into the trap of leading with the tools, seeing software or networks or WiFi PDA's or GPS or anything else as some kind of essential business “solution” when they, for the most part, don't know what the problem is. I suspect it is lack of imagination and fear of being "left behind" when they don't atually know where they are going in the first place, and terrified of the fact.
The Internet is a tool, and to use a tool you need some skills of course, but you need a purpose. My father repaired sewing machines, my mate Noel was a watchmaker. To the untrained eye their toolkits might have looked pretty well the same; but they weren't. They had very specific purposes and very specific devices on which they worked and using them on another device was pretty well a waste of time.
Ah, you say, but the Internet is an adaptive tool, it can be use for any number of purposes as long as human imagination can conceive of them and as long as they are in the field of information. Which is both true and convenient BS. There is an underlying unity to the net that enables and supports the range of processes It is NOT every kind of tool, it is not, for example, a stove, or a dentists drill. And I think it is also a different mode of tool that we have dealt with before.
Traditionally, a tool implies that, once you have learned how to use it, you will have some control over the results. That when you twist the spanner, the bolt tightens.
So lets say the net is an amplifier. As many of us have discovered, that net amplifies very well, one person writes a blog, a news story, an email, and within minutes it has been picked up, multiplied by the million and broadcast at full volume to the rest of the world. Embarrassment, apologies, firings, law suits etc follow for those who said something they really should not.
The catch is that the net is a random input, random output amplifier. It totally ignores most of what gets put in, but picks up on certain kinds of thing more often than another, and then applies a random amount of amplification to the signal. We have no control over how loud or where that signal will be broadcast. Yet here we go, slapping up websites, blogs, wikis etc and asking, ASKING for feedback.
Take an amplifier and ask for feedback. Go on. Crank up that volume till it starts to tweetle and scream and subject your equipment and your ears to the tortures of the damned. When we add social software tools to our organisation, and especially when we put them at the edge where the rest of the world can interact with them, use them for their own purposes, when we ask for feedback; that's what we can expect.
For practically any musician, feedback is a curse, a disruption, a damaging factor that you want to avoid at any cost. Yet here they go, asking for it.
Which is where Jimi Hendrix comes in. As far as I recall, he was about the only musician ever, and certainly the first, to seek out that feed back, to walk his guitar into the highest power zone of the speakers and induce them to vibrate the strings, closing the loop and setting off his very distinctive, soul destroying howl of electronic pain.
But then, when any other musician would have scuttled away as fast as possible, Hendrix stuck around and played with the howl, he found ways to modulate it, and interact with it and instead of driving out his music, he made it part of the song.
He invented a process where the amplifier became an integral part of his tools set, where the feedback became part of his music. But to do that he had to work in the midst, almost literally, of pandemonium because that is the only place that real feedback, real amplification, actually happens.
And that is exactly where the internet works best as well.
The next time your “communications” people, or your CEO, freshly back from a “blogging and wikis” conference, gets all enthused about this stuff, slap up a huge poster of Jimi Hendrix in your office, and ask them if they are ready for him to become the poster boy for your business.
Then play them some of his music.