Monday, January 26, 2009

Shoes of Mass Destruction

If you think I am re-hashing here the story of the bold Iraqi reporter, who threw his shoes at ex-President Bush during a press conference with Iraqi prime minister present, you are mistaken. This story you're about to read did not take place in Iraq nor was Mr. Bush involved.

The story is from Turkey, where an Israeli basket ball team was playing against a Turkish team. I was unable to confirm exact date or place of the event as the story reached me after multiple forwarding of emails. I have written to the last sender trying to get more information, but the photos looked genuine enough.

Here is how the story goes. All seemed normal enough: spectators filed in slowly through the security checks at the gates and took their places in orderly fashion. Then the teams entered the field. As soon as the Israeli team was on the grounds, spectators started hurling shoes at them. The team had to be whisked out while security forces struggled to contain the angry spectators.

Here are the photos received about that encounter:

Looking at the pictures I can't help but have conflicting feelings. The first is feeling sorry for the players and for the game. Sports is supposed to foster sportsmanship and friendly competition. Chasing a team out of the court with a barrage of shoes does not fit in that category.

On the other hand I also felt a certain satisfaction that people with nothing but shoes expressed their dismay at Israel's overbearing power used so unjustly against the Palestinians under occupation for so long.

Next the cynical part in me took over and I thought about all the "funny" jokes that such accident could trigger: Turkey ( a Muslim country) would be accused of having shoes of mass destruction that threaten the national security of Israel and the U.S.; embargo will be put in place against it and UN inspectors sent to dismantle the Turkish shoe industry... etc.

Finally, a feeling of sadness was all that remained. Sadness because of the damage this conflict is causing to civil life and society; because people are so desperate under occupation that they challenge tanks with stones and powerful enemy leaders with shoes; because their anger is spreading to other people and other places feeding a never ending cycle of hate and violence; and because of the failure of our international community to put a stop to this tragedy and restore the rights of the Palestinians.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama, Changecamp and the World Economic Forum

This weekend Changecamp was held in Toronto. Inspired by the changes seen south of our borders, it is an event bringing together Canadians from all walks of life to answer the question:
"How do we re-imagine government and governance in the age of participation?"

Unfortunately I was not able to attend in person but many from my Overlap and Unfinished Business friends were there. Through their tweets (tag: #changecamp), their blogs and the event's wiki I was able to follow at least from a distance this remarkable event.

In the course of the discussions my good friend Charles Finley tweeted the following question: "new models of engagement, or technology-enabled versions of what already exists? Will this change structures of governance?". I find this to be a very good questions. Since the success of Obama's new media participatory campaign became known, there have been a tremendous demand to learn the "secrets of the trade" and "how they did it", and to apply learning to organizations of all sorts: corporations, agencies, political parties, and all levels of government.

In the rush to learn the recipe of that success, however, there is great danger to miss the magic that enabled the recipe in the first place. There are many, who can teach the tools and recipes better than me. But here is my take on the real magic behind it all:

The Vision

It started first and foremost with thought leadership, a renewed vision of a truly participatory way for governing. It wasn't fundamentally new; we have been dreaming of it and seeking to achieve it for centuries if not millenia, but our implementations, even in the Western democracies of the past 100 years have been wanting at most. Instead of true conversations, there were and still are many on-way "broadcasts" from the governing to the governed with only a brief opportunity for real feedback, mostly through an election every few years, and frequently in a context of lopsided communications due to interests-driven media.

There is no denying of the inspiration injected into that vision by the Internet's many tools for communications and collaboration. But inspiration alone is not enough to attain success. Even the leadership's vision, while a necessary ingredient, is not sufficient.

Values & Willingness to Adapt

The vision had to be bolstered by strong leader values: authenticity, transparency, mutual respect, fundamental rights, trust in the people, acceptance of interdependency and shared future etc.
The vision had also to embrace a true two-way conversations with people, which meant really listening to what people had to say. It had to be followed to its ultimate logical consequence: the demonstrated willingness to adapt plans and precepts in accordance with t
he conversations with stakeholders. This is a tall order as most organizations only engage in conversations after they have developed a plan and a strategy and people come up with many ideas and preferences, not all easily reconcilable.


If the vision, values, and will are all there, the final prerequisite is for the enablers. Although a technological platform is a major one, it is not the only one. Other enablers include: organizational capacity not only to run the technology, but more importantly to aggregate, analyze, understand, and respond to the conversations engaging the organization. This requires a capacity for rapid decision making and a dynamically adaptive strategy responding rapidly to the evolving conversations. Not your standard business school curriculum!
Another enabler is the relevance of the subject and objectives of the conversations to the audiences engaged in these conversations.

Who's Change?

Engaging in a new media strategy involves hence technological, organizational capacity, and cultural changes. What is important to realize is that these closely entwined elements force the organization implementing them to change significantly. From vision to values, to willingness to adapt, to capacity building and cultural change, the organization is driven by the requirements of a successful new media strategy to become a better, more transparent and capable organization, and to be better connected to its stakeholders and constituents. This is quite a departure from the past, where most media strategies aimed at changing the target audience, not the originating body.

The Moral of the Story

To achieve success all of the prerequisites are needed, technology being only one of them. To my friend Dave Gray and my fellow changecampers I say: Definitely new models of engagement, with serious changes asked of the status quo.

And to the elites of the world as they gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) this week to discuss "shaping the post-crisis world" (twitter tag #davos), I say: You would be well advised to reflect on the need to change yourselves as much as changing the world, if not more. Therein lies the true promise of the new media for the WEF and for the world.

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