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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Yet another idea for the Whitehall Innovation Hub

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 13, 2008

Based on the responses I’ve been getting via email, I think it’s fair to say that few people think that the government should be spending more than it does already on management consultants.

So, what’s to be done?  Well, how about a dose of wikinomics?  It’s certainly taken off in a big way in the private sector so I think it’s time to try it in the public sector.

How would a wikinomics model of management consultancy work?  I think it would be very straightforward. Government departments would set up wikis describing problems they wanted solved, new systems they’d like set up, Olympic games from which they’d like lessons learned,  and so on.

Anyone – members of the public, experts, academics, freelance consultants, civil servants and so on – could pitch in with ideas for dealing with whatever is published on the wiki.

Some responses might solve the problem then and there (‘I’ve seen that problem before, and this is how it was fixed’ or ‘Here’s one way you could build that new agency that ministers have dreamed up…’ or ‘You’re describing the symptoms and not the problem’) and so on.  In my experience, it’s the thinking that goes on before management consultants are hired that’s often the problem: organisations dig theselves in before they really know exactly what they want to do.  In other cass, it would be necessary to bring in outside help but only after things had been thought through properly.

Worth a try, isn’t it?  Could save millions.  Open source consultancy might be another name for it.  Tapping into that cognitive surplus once again and exploiting the fact that social media reduce transaction costs to virtually nothing.  Think of all that spare thinking capacity that’s currently wasted which could be brought into play.

A barrier to all this is that it might leave ministers with very little to do.  Politicians pretty much agree on what I call the ‘whats’ – we should all be healthier, wealthier, wiser and safer.  So they have to differentiate themselves from one another by coming up with headline grabbing ‘hows’.  In other words, they have to specify what they are going to change before they’ve even thought it through properly. ‘Let’s reduce terrorist attacks by forcing everyone to buy ID cards’ for example ‘the terrorists will never be able to think of a way around that!’.  (I think the ‘what’ for ID cards may have changed since the almost-certainly-disatrous system was proposed.)  If the Daily Mail thinks a particular how is a good thing that’s what we’re going to get.

It’s not politicians fault that they have to tinker randomly with headline grabbing and often ill thought through hows. That’s how the system works: it incentivises tinkering.  If the public were really involved in working out the hows for themselves – via open source consultancy – how on earth would politiicans distinguish themselves from one another?  It’d probably all come down to having good hair.

Incidentally, a poll currently online here asking the question ‘Do you believe there is sufficient IT expertise within government …. to deliver egovernmentand trans-government (sic.) ambitions?’.  The overwhelming response is ‘not bloody likely’, or stats to that effect.  Let’s hope that whoever is responsible for fixing the problem has read the NAO and PAC reports which point out that a good way of bridging the defecit would be not to hire yet more consultants.  It just ups the internal cognitive deficit, as we’ve already agreed.

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Posted in cognitive surplus, consultancy, creativity, government, innovation, Network of minds, thinking | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Form follows function

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 10, 2008

Form following function

Form following function

Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.  A while back I thought it was going a bit awry: some articles were getting out of hand and were beginning to look as if they’d been drafted by committee (which, of course, they had in a way) but most of the articles I look at these days are really excellent.

I started off this post thinking about another project and typed “form follows function wiki” into my google pop-up window.  This is the article.

I knew the phrase had its origins in architecture and the article identifies two architects associated with it.  It’s worth quoting Louis Sullivan’s statement of his credo:

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.”

Gosh, there’s a lot in there don’t you think?  “All true manifestations of the head”!?  And I love the idea that “this is the law”.  Presumably he means a natural law, but the idea that it should be an actual law is more interesting.  Imagine a law which decreed that form should follow function.  Lawyers would have a field day.  Car designers would be prosecuted for adding bits onto their designs which had no obvious function and their defence lawyers would say ‘it doesn’t actually do anything, but it looks nice and that’s part of the car’s function”.

Anyway, the best example I know of form following function in “things physical” is the modern high-performance glider.  I included youtubes of some glides in an earlier post.  They are, to my mind gorgeous machines.  Their function is to be able to fly as far and as fast as possible, simply using the energy in the atmosphere.  The fact that they look the way they do has everything to do with the best aerodynamic form and nothing to do with aesthetics.  If there was an uglier way of increasing the efficiency of a glider, glider pilots would fly uglier machines.  The ASG 29 pictured top right has a ‘glide angle’ of 52:1. This means that it will fly 52 thousand feet – 10 miles – horizontally while only losing 1000 feet in altitude.  That’s very efficient.

Posted in Africa, creativity, design, form follows function, gliding, innovation | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Only connect

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 9, 2008

Until about 15 seconds ago I thought that E M Forster’s advice to authors that they should ‘only connect’ was about connecting their minds with those of their readers.  Wrong.  Never assume anything.  I should have paid more attention during English lessons – perhaps someone did explain and I was daydreaming.

Forster, as I expect you already knew, was talking about something much more profound.  A little light googling swiftly revealed that there are some excellent resources related to Forster sitting on the web.  One explains: ‘… his fourth novel has partly become famous for its epigraph, “Only connect”, which stands as a call across Forster’s writing to seize the day and unite the spiritual and the material sides to life.’

Another, a site dedicated to the man, quotes a paragraph from his best known novel Howard’s End: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”  Crikey.  The site on which this quote appears seems to be a sub-site within one called musicandmeaning.com.  If you go to the home page it links to a blog and various sections – looks amazing.  Could spend the whole day exploring it, based on a first glance, but there’s lots to do, most of it completely unconnected with ‘the idea’.

Simon will be pleased if he looks at the site.  It’s been produced using WordPress.  Simon – who I’ve got to know via a project I’m working on in a nearby town – is WordPress’s representative here on Earth.  You can do some amazing things with the help of WordPress.  Take a look at Simon’s site for some examples. If you do, you’ll be able to see Simon rather cleverly holding up the first page so you can read it.  At least, I think that’s what he’s doing.

Incidentally, I didn’t resist temptation and tried to explore the music and meaning site again – very frustrating, as it turns out.  Can’t find my way back to the Forster sub-site – all the links lead to a ‘home page’ which doesn’t have any links.  Perhaps this a kind of challenge which you have to figure out before you’re allowed to read the other material.  Or maybe it’s just incomplete.  Maybe Simon won’t be pleased after all.  Forget I mentioned it.

As a result of discovering that Forster didn’t mean what I thought he meant I haven’t covered about what I meant to write about.  Will start again in a moment, but can’t leave this post without mentioning a topic Simon blogged about recently.  The fact that this website cost £9.7m to build.  NINE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS! TO BUILD THAT WEBSITE! AND £1.6M OF THAT WAS FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT!

As you can see, I’m a little cross but to put that in context, it’s nearly a third of the amount the government has allocated to building our new school.  If someone said to you ‘you can have three websites or a new school for 1600 students’, which would you choose?  Unforgiveable.  I am sure the person who made this decision has been sacked. Haven’t they?

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