Category Archives: Dr Rant

Podcast: Shadow in Organisations (part 2)

Here’s part 2 of my podcast conversation with Annette Clancy and Matt Moore. You’ll find part 1 here.

Our chat about the shadow side of organisations branches off here into looking at the role played by Knowledge Management (and Human Resources) in organisations. What part do they play in managing the shadow side of the business?

Annette starts this off with some teasing questions about Knowledge Management which provokes a little outburst from me against some of its pretensions. For those who enjoy my Dr Rant posts here’s a chance to hear what he actually sounds like.

For me the best bit comes about 7 minutes in, when Annette asks: what’s useful to an organisation about having a department to bully? Another highlight is Matt’s suggestion of Knowledge Courtesan as an alternative name for a Knowledge Manager.

Click to Listen Download the Podcast – 16m – MP3 (5.6 MB)

Podcast RSS feed for iPodder etc.

Show notes

Here are the show notes with the same caveat as for part one: The timings are approximate and this is my paraphrasing of what was said. Don’t take them it too literally. This was a conversation and not as linear as even these rough notes might suggest.

0.00 Annette asks Matt, with what I’d say is a slight sense of irony in her voice, what knowledge management really is. Is it a gatekeeper? It sounds like a very powerful position…

1.00 Matt says knowledge managers don’t wield a lot of power but they do wield influence. It’s about linking people together. Matt toys with the alternative label of “knowledge courtesan”. Some of the best knowledge managers were those women who ran the salons in eighteenth century France, who created environments for others to have conversations in.

2.50 It struggles with issues of control and secrecy.

3.05 Johnnie and Annette banter before Johnnie slips into Dr Rant mode. (So that’s the connection to the shadow, then.) What’s the problem with these knowledge management people? Are they just trying to raise their status with fancy language? Johnnie drags HR into the fight too.

5.15 Annette asks if Johnnie’s feeling better now.

5.25 Matt talks about how some professions are marginalised, and adds communications/PR to the list. In organisations some divisions have the power and everyone else wants a piece of the action and get into the limelight.

6.25 Annette: how did we end up vilyfying HR etc?

6.35 Johnnie tries to put his rant in context. (Nice try.)

7.10 How could the put-upon divisions be more in their power? Annette asks (great question): what’s useful about having a department to bully? How does that contibute to the established power systems in an organisation?

Annette talks about how HR can get stuck with giving out the bad news for others. Maybe HR, marketing and KM are saddled with trying to manage the mucky stuff of relationships that others don’t want to deal with.

8.55 What role does knowledge manager take up as a gate keeper? Matt responds. Problems of managing intangibles. How KM gets saddled with document management.

10.25 Annette: so there’s some truth to my idea of knowledge managers as gatekeepers.

11.15 There’s anxiety about control of information.. is it about controlling identity?

12.00 We can create the conditions in which stuff is produced but we can’t control what happens. It’s easy to blame the gatekeeper/scapegoat than look at what’s really going on. How do you get out of being the whipping boy? Looking at both sides of this – what’s the “problem department” doing to put itself in this role, and what’s the organisation’s investment in keeping it there?

14.20 Bringing conversation to a close and marking the anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s death.

16.15 End

Not computers and not children but rather like chimps

I keep meaning to write a long, well-argued rant against a basic assumption in much corporate thinking: that we’re all basically computers on legs that simply need reprogramming to achieve excellence. Excellence in this context, is a little hard to distinguish from conformity.

I suppose it would then go on to relate such thinking to a Creationist world view which copes with the extraordinary mystery of life by reducing it to a silly morality tale. The ten commandments translate as the trite mantras of “best practice” etc etc.

It seems to me that a cursory glance at psychological research will confirm that we’re all rather wonderful but not-especially-rational creatures who are somewhat at the mercy of biology and barely controlled herd instincts. So could we all just take break from the “Search for Excellence” and maybe, just maybe, stop trying so damn hard to manipulate each other?

Anyway, I keep meaning to write that long, well-argued piece. But this will have to do for now.

What’s in a logo?

The new logo for the 2012 Olympics has been launched accompanied by the customary list of contrived quotes about what it allegedly conveys to people. These always sound as daft as wine critics finding notes of rhubarb and spinach in a glass of plonk.

For instance, Tony Blair says, “When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life”. You can just imagine it, can’t you? “Gee, I was a career criminal addicted to drugs and no therapy ever worked. Then one day Tony Blair said here’s an innovative logo but all I could see was a pink and yellow psychadelic blur. That’s when I knew I had to make a positive change in my life.”

Jacques Rogge reckons, “This is a truly innovative brand logo that graphically captures the essence of the London 2012 Olympic Games… the brand launched today by London 2012 is, I believe, an early indication of the dynamism, modernity and inclusiveness with which London 2012 will leave its Olympic mark.” Come again, squire.

Actually far from being innovative, this is brand-wank as usual, these quotes bearing all the hallmarks of PR consultants and not the sort of thing anyone believes for a nanosecond in the real world.

For the record, the logo reminds me of Fruit Salads, one of my favourite sweets as a kid, but not much to do with sport and still less all those other high ideals. Or is it just me?

UPDATE: Tony has just emailed me this alternative logo which seems good to me:

Enough moralising, already

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland says

The revolutionary public space that online debate represents is in danger of becoming stale and claustrophobic

It’s a longish piece that is a bit like one of my terrible college essays, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand, but the overall message comes out, sort of, at the end:

Right now, the internet is too often like a stuffy meeting room on a bad night. It needs to change if it’s to live up to its democratic potential.

Oh for crying out loud.

This seems a ludicrous generalisation that bears no relationship at all to the extraordinary diversity of material available to me online.

But this kind of vapid generalisation provides the step for others to clamber onto the moral high horse, and say that “something must be done”. To which I say (not to Freedland but to the code-of-conduct bores generally), bollocks. If you want to indulge in control freakery, go cover up some piano legs with doilies.

If you want to change the way you manage your own tiny piece of the wonderfully vast net, go right ahead. If you want to host a party for all the other neurotic control freaks who share your dismal view I can’t stop you. You know what? After a while, even your polite civility-fest will break down into disorder, thank God.

It’s like watching the feeblest presentations to the Dragons Den. I hate that show, but on this occasion, I’ll pinch their catchphrase and offer it to the code-of-conduct brigade: I’m out.

Code of conduct

Oh dear I’m still feeling a bit ranty this morning. Perhaps this will exorcise my demons?

Here is a draft code of conduct for this blog.

1 If you look thatat the entire content of this blog you’ll get some notion of how I conduct myself. It varies a bit.

2 You’ll also see how visitors conduct themselves. It, too, seems to vary.

3 The past is not necessarily a guide to the future.

Frankly, I find this too long and detailed so I don’t think I’ll bother. Especially, as I’m sure that potentially “disruptive” elements will have have even less interest than I do in idealised prescriptions for behaviour.

Instead, let’s watch this lovely YouTube. (hat tip: Chris Corrigan)

Some professional communication

James Byford posts about the link up between Technorati and Ogilvy. James raises some good questions about what it means.

I find the comments Technorati make about it depressingly full of hype and jargon.

To start with, could we be spared the sycophancy of saying Ogilvy are “one of the world’s preeminent advertising agencies” and “some of the worlds best creatives”. (I find those “one of” type comments are pretty much endemic in most flatulent PR output)

Then I’m trying to figure out what this means:

Ogilvy creatives and account teams will use Technorati’s conversational marketing products to build relationships between brands and conversations relevant to those brands.

I cringe at the idea of a conversational marketing product. And what does it mean to create a relationship between a brand and a conversation? Is that different from…err.. plain old having a conversation?

Apparently this “will result in the the creation of destination sites”. What’s a destination site? Is it different from just a plain old ordinary website? Is “destination” just a way of saying “more important that just a regular old site that the rest of you get to make”?

But wait, there’s more: “For bloggers and other citizen media creators it means new forms of distribution and awareness”. Wow, new forms of awareness. You thought this was just some bloggy product launch, but actually it’s a profound change in our collective levels of consciousness.

When it continues…

As we developed this product line it was clear that the best way to advance the state of the art was to show some of the worlds best creatives on what was possible and then work with them and major brands on how to build sites and advertising that reflect the conversations and passions of each brand’s identity.

I start to despair. Reflecting the passions of a brand’s identity? And do they really think in Web 2.0 that the best thing is work with just “some of” the best creatives?

Ah well, never mind. Technorati are just bloggers aren’t they? Thank goodness we can turn to the communication pros at Ogilvy for clarity.. in their news release.

Well, first we have to get past the obligatory return of sychophancy: Techorati is, it seems “the recognized authority on the global Live Web”. None of that “one of” feebleness here, the pre-emiment creatives can churn out the flattery undiluted. Technorati is the authority. And I naively thought the Live Web was fun because no-one was in charge…

I didn’t find this very illuminating either:

By partnering with Technorati, we can offer our clients an innovative engagement point with the Live Web. Key to this is defining measurable ways to integrate blogs and other citizen media on behalf of brands… brands gain an opportunity to affirmatively enter into conversations related to their brand, and authentically promote themselves across the Live Web

A case of adverbitis there. And what’s an innovative engagement point?

Still, at least Ogilvy’s client, Marianne Samenko of Kodak, speaks English: “Technorati will help us understand what is going on in the blogosphere, which will be tremendously useful to our brand.” Now that I can understand. Though I hope she’s not going to rely on Technorati or Ogilvy to explain it in any more detail to the rest of us.

UPDATE: Some slightly more constructive criticism from Rik, who sees this going one of two ways:

If, however they… choose to venture out to invent a new way of talking with their customers, all will be hanky dory. I for one would love to be on the team figuring this out. Until that happens I’ll be on the sideline cheering. But if I had to take a guess based on the fuzzy tone of their introduction, my bet would be that it’ll be more of the first option and less of the second, because, you know, having a conversation involves a lot of listening and a lot of clarity.

One Word Equity

James posts about Maurice Saatchi’s thoughts on the future of advertising. Saatchi’s article is tucked away behind the FT paywall. James critiques it very well. Essentially Saatchi says advertising is dead (on the same day his agency is running… er a two-page ad about itself in the broadsheets here.) Saatchi seeems to think it will be replaced by the notion of brands owning single words. He says Google “owns” search and America “owns” freedom. You get the idea.

At the M&C Saatchi site we’re told

M&C Saatchi launches One Word Equity for clients. The global ownership of one word is the most priceless asset a company can have in the digital age.

This links to The longest message on the opening page of this is a direction to “disable popup blockers” – which for me speaks volumes about the kind of thinking behind it.

James and I were talking about this and came to the conclusion that Lord S probably isn’t online much. He launches this new idea with an article that is locked behind a paywall, and a website that takes ages to load and whose idea of interactivity is a few slightly tiresome graphics.

I’m all for simplicity but the idea that brands now have to fight to “own” a word is taking things a bit far. In fact, Saatchi seems to want to replace advertising with something that is even more crude and interruptive. It’s a bit like Kevin Roberts’ Lovemarks which said branding was dead and then proposed to replace it with… even more of the same.

In the Saatchi world, it seems brands are doomed to a future of heavy-handed oversimplification, which feels like the opposite of what I see happening in the real world, where in a mass of conversations the meaning of brands is in constant flux based on the attitudes and opinions of millions of stakeholders.

Saatchi praises “the word”; for myself, I’ll stick to conversation.

UPDATE Grant McCracken doesn’t agree with Saatchi, either.

The premises are sound.  The conclusion is insane.  Lord Saatchi peers into the future and loses his nerve almost immediately.  Hold, Lord Saatchi, might the new consumer offer new life to advertising?  After all, this is a creature who can monitor several media, detect tiny messages, accomplish acrobatic acts of analysis thereupon.  The evidence collected by the likes of MIT’s Henry Jenkins points to the emergence of a consumer with extraordinary powers of assimilation and understanding

Winer wars and the trouble with lawyers

I’m way behind on my blog reading after my holiday so I’ve only just caught up with the hoo hah over the battle between Dave Winer and Rogers Cadenhead. I found out via Stowe Boyd’s thoughtful post: What we can learn from Scoble’s lament which I highly recommend whether you care about the Winer/Cadenhead spat or not. It’s an interesting reminder to those who crave A list status or want to be A listers that there is a price to fame.

[Warning: mini-rant imminent. I’m not even trying to be fair here. Some of my best friends employ lawyers, one or two of my friends are lawyers.]

Anyway, for those who care about the dispute, I think the terrible mistake was to put it in the hands of lawyers. This, in my own bitter experience, is a highly risky way to try to resolve an argument since many lawyers have a congenital inablity to deal with ambiguity, nuance and have no concept whatever of how to relate in a friendly way to a fellow human being. I took a look at Winer’s lawyers’ opening salvo and it reminded of how just how stupidly nasty, threatening and inflammatory lawyers can be. It captures their trademark mixture of mixing small elements of damp handshake reasonableness with piety, pedantry and patronising citing of sources. Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness pointed to research that showed lawyers’ unique status among professions for inbuilt pessimism. It’s a trade for miserable people who like to share.

However, I think the legal profession does a terrific job of identifying many of society’s most dangerous and anti-social individuals and putting them away in secure institutions where the wise among us can do our best to avoid them: lawyers’ offices and barristers’ chambers.

Barclays spends £5m on trivia

Oh dear. Since last October I have managed to avoid posting in my Dr Rant category but today I am unwilling to hold back.

According to the Daily Mirror, Barclays Bank is spending £5m “changing the way it talks to customers”.

The bank plans to revamp all 1,500 branches, ditching jargon and “out-of-date” signs.

It will rename ATMs – a US acronym for Automated Teller Machine – “holes in the wall”.

“Customer service” signs will now say “Can I help?”, the Bureau de Change will become “Travel money”.

Barclays is also outlawing black pens on chains, which it says are awkward for left-handed people.

They will be replaced by pens carrying slogans such as “Take me I’m yours”, which the bank obviously thinks customers will take literally as it has ordered 10 million of them.

If you’re not already reaching for the sickbag, how about this sign from the new style Barclays: “Through this door walk the nicest people in the world.”

The Mirror describes this as the “brainwave” of Jim Hytner – the same chap who reportedly “masterminded” the dismal TV ads the bank ran a few months ago (reviewed by me here). I love the droll way in which The Guardian introduces us to Mr Hytner as the man “who was responsible for the last ITV revamp but one.”

Funny how the coverage of these launches seems to feature Mr Hytner so prominently… he must be frustrated that people might think all this money is really spent to make him look good – instead of making the bank look good… or (heaven forfend) making the customers look good.

Of course, we’ve seen it all before in financial services. Abbey tried it a couple of years ago, preposterously claiming they were going to revolutionise the way people dealt with money – which basically boiled down to gimmicky renaming of its products. Many millions of pounds and a takeover later, it all vanished.

As the Mirror concludes

The trouble for Barclays is that this sounds like a bit of a gimmick. What customers really want from bank branches are shorter queues and fairer deals.

Now, where’s the thought?

Barclays’ latest TV ad sets a new low standard for the bank.

Davidreviews has a stream of it here. It’s a fantasy in which a young executive creates a debit card that can be made to vanish at a touch. This he explains to a colleague makes it theftproof. So excited are they at this genius that they engage in a dance making the invisible card fall on the floor so they don’t know where it is. (I think we’re supposed to find this funny.)

At which point, the voiceover intones,

“At Barclays, we’re always looking for new ways to protect you from fraud.”

Followed by the tagline

“Barclays. Now there’s a thought.”

Err… sorry… where is the thought in this?

This is an ad which really has nothing to say at all. Is there any concrete example of a real innovation they’re offering us? No. Just the waffly claim that they’re always looking for new ways to protect us (except when they’re busy squandering millions on this exercise in vanity). With the suggestion that they’re a bit silly and overenthusiastic (which I suppose might be true of their marketing department). Back in the day, Barclays actually was an innovative organisation… it pioneered credit cards in the UK, and was ahead of the game in inventing cash machines. Now they’re reduced to this shallow posing.

It’s pathetic. In recent years, the best Barclays has managed is to run ads with Anthony Hopkins about how BIG they were. Then ones with Samuel L Jackson telling some fairy tale to let us know they were “fluent in finance”. (That line lasted a year or two and now, it seems, has been quietly buried.) Now they’ve hired Bernard Hill (who played Theoden in LOTR) to try to add gravitas to the voiceover for this bit of flim-flam. This is an organisation with a serious case of Brand Narcissism. Every couple of years, a new pose, each more trivial than the last.

This is the sort of fatuous rubbish that gets me grumbling out loud at my television. For me, it’s the mark of an organisation that’s failing to engage in a real conversation with its customers. Instead, its high powered executives are preening themselves in the mirror and wondering if they look good in their latest promotional costume.

This sort of tripe can only arise from a marketing department where there’s a complete failure of internal conversation. Having worked in the business, I can easily imagine the series of meetings in which agency and client pretend to themselves that this is a great idea. That it’s “research-based” (which translates as, we wasted a ton of money on research, so let’s spend millions on a TV ad to support the pretence that we discovered something.) And no-one had the nerve to point out the elephant under the table: the ad is childish nonsense.

And if a massive bank can’t look at the state of the world and the real issues facing its customers and find something intelligent to say, then its got serious problems. This is the attention economy after all.

I was a bit surprised to find this was the work of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the agency that just won the British Airways account. BBH’s site says “great creative work should be rooted in great strategic thinking”. They might claim to have done that for some of their clients. But here, they’ve conspicuously failed.

The Marketing Blog also points to a prnewswire report that an accountancy firm is suing Barclays over the line “now there’s a thought” as they’ve been using it for 5 years.

It also reports that “The campaign and accompanying strategy to position the bank as customer facing and approachable has been masterminded by group marketing director Jim Hytner.” I wonder if Jim is the brother of Nicholas Hytner, the director of The Madness of King George? In the time of his insanity, King George III carried on a conversation with an oak tree as if it were the King of Prussia. I imagine that his courtiers had to go along with the delusion. That’s probably what it’s like in the court of Barclays bank.