October 3, 2010 by Colin
Last week, David Eaves asked whether young public servants are having to turn to insurgent tactics to build the workplace of the 21st century, largely because the bureaucracy is stultifyingly slow to make collaborative tools and work processes available to them.
Can a large organization – at least one headquartered outside Silicon Valley – accomodate cultural change and an ongoing challenge to the organizational status-quo?
It appears that General Electric is taking steps in the right direction. In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, and accompanying podcast, chief marketing officer Beth Comstock explains how the global conglomerate has identified four specific roles that marketers must assume if the organization is to continue to grow: instigator, innovator, integrator, and implementer.
“Marketing leaders need to think strategically and challenge the status quo, using their unique external vantage point to see what may not be apparent to others in the business. Sometimes this entails moving beyond preaching about marketing’s merits to imagining scenarios that business heads might face—perhaps marketing’s most important role. Leaders must be willing to push change.”
An instigator is just that: a member of the team that pushes for strategic change, often to the discomfort of others.
Or, more simply:
Instigator: Incites a “better way” using a unique vantage point to see around corners (a GE Director, speaking at BMA Chicago)
In a comment to David’s original post, Geordie Adams notes that
“I see them inside the public service regularly, wish I could say everyday. I just call them progressive though, not insurgents.”
Let’s remember that GE has identified FOUR roles as essential to the success of its unit, industry and global marketing efforts: instigator, innovator, integrator, and implementer .
I argue that we can identify colleagues in the public service (whether you self-identify as #w2p, #goc, #gov20 or whatever) whose behaviour echoes one or more of these roles. Some are good at selling ideas, others are good at developing new strategies, and others are very good at the not-so-simple job of execution.
Working as a team, public servants from a range of backgrounds and equipped with a variety of skillsets can get great work done.
April 6, 2010 by Colin
*addendum: This post, while it references one particular example published in the blogosphere today, was prompted by a number of examples – on blogs, in person and on twitter – where people inside and outside government have rushed to comment and judgement on social media work implemented by government agencies. It’s a product of the rush to #fail – something of a new generation of “first!” in the comment field. I didn’t try to write it as a critique of that one particular post – which had a lot of spot-on observations.
A more transparent government. A more responsive bureaucracy. A more accessible public service. Those are the hopes and goals of Canadians no matter where they fall among a particular demographic or geographic segment. Whether they’re open data advocates, engagement gurus, social media consultants or simply public servants pushing for change as quickly as possible.
I would argue that governments across Canada are committing the time, money and staff to make these changes. We’re seeing new tools, new data streams, expanded outreach activities, even contests as government organizations assess which tools and strategies would work best for them.
I have the opportunity to speak to groups across government about the benefits, challenges and potential costs of social media. In the face of institutional anxiety, I’ve argued that social media is a positive environment that encourages experimentation. In fact, online users are willing to accept mis-steps and stumbles from government organizati0ns simply because it demonstrates initiative and ambition, if not expertise.
This seems to calm nerves among more traditional bureaucrats, who have been trained through repetition and repercussion to mitigate risk – especially the possibility of public embarrassment.
Which is why I find it upsetting – yes, upsetting – to watch when people in the “social media community” decide that there’s no better way to greet a new social media initiative than a detailed critique of its failings, distributed as quickly and widely as possible in the name of “creating a conversation.”
Senior civil servants, you see, are not comfortable with the rough and tumble dialectic that frames the development of most innovative projects in the online world. While they’re trying to adapt as quickly as possible, they still rely on the advice of their functional experts to plan and launch new projects.
Blunt criticism of a project, when published or re-tweeted widely, then has to be interpreted/deciphered for these senior civil servants by the very same technical and “social media” experts. This can become a Sisyphean challenge: spend months building internal agreement for a project, then days defending it from criticism leveled by your erstwhile allies.
For the individual or team who spent a lot of time convincing a senior public servant to launch a groundbreaking personal web site incorporating relatively new communications channels (the public service still has fax machines), it must be frustrating to be criticized for:
- using brown in your design;
- poor photo montage skills*
- a lack of “engagement”
Let’s keep this in perspective: the Clerk of the Privy Council is the head of the public service of Canada. It is a job that requires the greatest networking, engagement and communication skills of any in the public service, but these skills are largely targeted at ensuring the dozens of Deputy Ministers are implementing the government’s agenda, on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day, basis.
If you want to argue that we need a central online gathering point for public service renewal efforts, I would agree with you. That responsibility, though, has been delegated to a committee of Deputy Ministers and the Chief Human Resources Officer. There have been cross-Government experiments and pilot projects, like GCPedia and GCConnex. Dozens of departments are lurking behind the firewall with blogs, wikis, podcasts and videos. Some are even resorting to relatively sophisticated Sharepoint installs.
There is one consistent quality sought from every Clerk: the ability to delegate power. Depending upon our ambition and our inspiration, we all would like some piece of this delegated power. Members of the #W2P community would like to see a delegation (network access, software, smart phones, time for side of the table projects) that would allow them to launch and implement innovative new projects quickly and collaboratively.
Before these powers and resources can be delegated on more than a short-term basis, there must be awareness and engagement among senior leaders at the ADM and DM level. That will begin to build buzz-word worthy activities into the long-term business processes at the Branch and Department-level. We’re beginning to see that.
The fact that the Clerk is even experimenting with these tools is a tremendous step forward.
So get off his back and let the man (and the team behind the curtain) tweak their experiment.
*Don’t get me started on photos and graphic design. For the longest time, many departments had in-house photo, film, editing and production teams capable of producing clear, consistent and first rate multi-media materials. Through attrition and cost-cutting in the 1980s and 1990s, this capacity was slowly eliminated. (If you’re one of the few departments that still has this capacity, why don’t you share it with the rest of us??) Today, graphic design and pre-production layout is either contracted out, or given to someone with consumer editing software installed on their desktop. (Or someone with a Mac at home).
October 16, 2009 by Colin
Lately, I’ve been zoning in on books that discuss location – whether through wayfinding, past experience in urban and wild settings, the development of innate navigational skills, or novel treatements of life in particular locations. Here’s a sampling from my recent bookshelf:
Where am I? – Colin Ellard
” … Two things seem to be universal in wayfaring cultures like the Inuit and the Australian Aborigines. One of them is that they’ve honed this exquisite eye for detail that we don’t have. The other thing that these cultures do is use narrative and story. The best example of all is these song lines in Aborigines – what they’re doing is they are making an explicit connection between their creation, the creation of everything, and the shape and size of the landscape. They’re using song lines as a kind of navigational aid, but at the same time there’s this spiritual connection to place …” (Globe and Mail)
Retrofitting Suburbia – Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson
” … But we found, over and over in interviews, people being really sad when their mall had died. “I had my prom in that mall,” they’d say. They attribute the mall with a lot of bonding, a lot of time growing up—they really loved their malls. When it died, the first reaction was: Let’s find a developer to fix our mall. Most people didn’t want a downtown-type structure, they just wanted their mall back. It takes a paradigm shift, like the example of Belmar (see pictures at right).
Belmar was built five miles outside of Denver, and originally had no desire to be urban at all. But by the time the mall died, the surrounding suburban community of Lakewood, Colo., had become the fourth-largest municipality in the state. They had put in a library and a city hall, but it was set up like a strip mall. They eventually found a developer for the property who said “I won’t redevelop the mall, but I’ll give you a town center.” It took a while, but they bought in, completel …” (Popular Mechanics)
Stripmalling – Jon Paul Fiorentinohttp://canuckflack.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=3243&message=1
” … Jonny lives and works in a strip mall in Suburban Winnipeg. For some people, this would be exciting and fulfilling enough …”
Personal Space: the behavioral basis of design – Robert Sommer
Before “getting up in your grill,” there was “personal space.” This is the original work, which drawn from initial insight found at a psychiatric hospital in Saskatchewan.
Hollywood in the Neighborhood – Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley, ed
How Hollywood and the new breed of popular entertainment – movies – arrived in the heartland, and the effect this had on the community.
July 17, 2009 by Colin
Colin McKay was an early Canadian pioneer in blogging and social media, but also in the Government use of social media. In my continuing series of interviews with Alumni from the Global PR Blog week, I ask Colin questions about the conference.
John: What did you learn from the Global PR Blog Week?
Colin: Global PR Blog Week was my first real opportunity to work with like-minded people from around the world. Collaboration, community and crowd sourcing are words that are thrown around quite easily today: just five years ago, it was unusual to pull together virtual teams working to a common agenda. YoungPrPros and other listservs were the most similar beast.
John: What did you learn about blogging, if you learned anything about blogging, from the blog week?
Colin: By July 2004, I had been blogging for nearly a year. I had been posting short observations, longer analytical pieces, and even commentary. I didn’t, however, truly realize the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience that could be shared if bloggers pulled their resources together and focused on a common series of topics.
John: Did the conference give you any new insights into PR, and if so what were they?
Colin: I had been aware of the different fields of PR and communications, but hadn’t really spent much time really thinking outside my own day-to-day work. PR Blog Week really demonstrated that there were inspired and influential bloggers who could bring insight to issues common across all these fields.
John: What were the lasting effects of the Global PR Blog Week?
Colin: Personally, I am still in contact with many of the contributors. Participating encouraged me to write longer form posts and articles on my blog and elsewhere, and to consciously look to other bloggers and online sources for inspiration and ammunition.
John: How did the Global PR Blog week influence you and the industry?
Colin: I’m not sure how influential PR Blog Week was for the industry. We’ve certainly seen an explosion in the number and quality of PR pros expressing themselves online. I’d hope that PR Blog Weeks 1 and 2 demonstrated that sold, well-reasoned and influential work could come out of blogging, and that blogging was not just a distraction for disaffected employees.
Interestingly, I look back at the list of participants, and I notice many names that are still influential in the field – personalities that have remained consistent and have continued to contribute, often without a care for being identified as influential, or a guru or a thought leader.
Reviewing the post(s) you wrote for the Global PR Blog week what has changed? What has not changed, since you wrote your post?
Colin: In year 1, I covered crisis communications. I notice that I didn’t cover online tools in any detail. That would definitely change today, but my advice on the preparation, attitudes and approaches to a crisis would not.
In year 2, I focused on the intersection between online communications and the development of government policy. For the longest time, that article remained current – it seems that the ground has begun to shift over the past nine months or so. #Gov2.0 has taken a great leap forward with the arrival of the Obama administration and the experimentation of the Labour government in the UK.
John: Give an update on what you’ve been doing in the last five years, and what you are doing now?
Colin: Well, canuckflack is still well and alive, although it has received greater and less attention over the years. I continued as a communications manager at the Department of Industry until 2007, when I joined the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. At the moment, I’m the Director of Research, Education and Outreach, and have been able to launch some fairly novel outreach tools that draw from my experience blogging and fooling around with social media: http://dpi.priv.gc.ca, http://blog.privcom.gc.ca and http://youthprivacy.ca. Not to mention our fledgling Twitter account http://twitter.com/privacyprivee.
John: Thank you Colin. Great insights into the virtual event, how PR has changed and not changed. Also I think your point about the faster pace of change in Government is very true.
June 27, 2009 by Colin
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve had an offhand awareness of the seeming abundance of ketchup, relish, flavoured water, detergent, cleansing auto fuel and Moleskine notebooks. But I HAD NO IDEA of the true plague of brand extensions and varietals that had been conjured up by test labs, anonymized focus group meetings, data-fuelled marketing meetings and retail executives looking to populate their planogram.
According to the WSJ, the number of products in the average grocery store jumped 50% from 1996 to 2008. Retailers and manufacturers have been trying to pare back those numbers over the past few years, but were wary of consumer backlash. The recession has provided a perfect opportunity to begin some gentle trimming.
Jimmy Dean, for instance, now ly offers 14 types of frozen breakfast sandwich – down from 25!
” … Pharmacy chain Walgreen Co. is cutting the types of superglues it carries to 11 from 25. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has decided that 24 different tape measures is 20 too many.
… A typical Target store has 88 kinds of Pantene shampoo, conditioner and styling products. A Target spokeswoman said the chain has “slightly reduced” its hair-care offerings this year … “
April 18, 2009 by Colin
That’s right. It’s a murse. A man purse I found fetching. It reminded me of a similar bag from Mountain Equipment Co-op – one that I used to carry until I began hauling around dockets and other oversized papers.
In this application, the new Bell Canada logo makes sense – both in application as a design element, and as a distinctive brand identity.
(Yes, I did have a thought or two when this new logo came out in August 2008)
Its rough canvas exterior reminded me of a Freitag custom messenger bag – which is cut from old tarpaulins taken from trans-European transport trucks.
March 18, 2009 by Colin
” … Pragmatically speaking, if we imposed a tax on the 50 billion places now hawking small plates, handcrafted artisanal cocktails with antique bitters, house-cured salumi, and featuring servers who call the customer “dude” or “bro” while texting on their cell phones, we could probably put enough dough in the state till to end obesity for generations …”
Gabrielle Hamilton, a NewYork chef, commenting on the proposal to tax non-diet soft drinks in New York City.
February 24, 2009 by Colin
Two positive takes on the demise of British retailing icon Woolworths:
February 24, 2009 by Colin
“… The number of containers being shipped from Hong Kong’s ports to other areas of the world fell by 23.2pc in January compared to the previous year, highlighting just how the global slowdown is affecting exports from Asia.
Local experts estimate that some 390 unused container ships are currently anchored mid-water or in harbours around the world, equivalent to around 11pc of the global fleet. In Hong Kong, the glut of empty containers is clogging up much-needed space. There is talk that the disused Kai Tak airport in Kowloon Harbour could be used as a temporary home for the empty steel boxes …”
- Tesco’s International Sourcing – the machine behind the machine (Daily Telegraph)
December 24, 2008 by Colin
“While sales at most stores plummeted last month, the teenage retailer Hot Topic enjoyed a 6.5 percent gain, thanks mostly to brisk sales of gear inspired by “Twilight,” the teenage vampire movie.” (NY Times)
Enjoy MC Lars’ “Hot Topic is not punk rock“
October 19, 2008 by Colin
Economic shock waves, political unrest, tightening consumer credit, retirement savings at risk, and the looming threat of unemployment.
In these situations, advertisers often retreat to comfort, reassurance and tales of past victory over challenging times.
The latest ad from Hovis, a storied British bread manufacturer, certainly plays upon these themes. Victory in two world wars, the 1966 football championship …
While impressive and emotive on its own, the ad draws considerable influence from an earlier ad, directed by Ridley Scott (yes, that Ridley Scott) in 1973.
Scott’s Boy and His Bike regularly tops polls as the best ad in British history, and was relaunched for a 10 day run in 2006 to celebrate the bakery’s 120th anniversary.
Hovis has the new ad available on their site (but not embedabble). A “making of” featurette is available, and two historians provided insight into the details of the opening outdoor scene for the Daily Mail.
October 13, 2008 by Colin
October 1, 2008 by Colin
A portion of the transcript from a conversation earlier this year between Peter Campus, Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon and David A. Ross, formerly Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, published in Tate Etc.
DOUGLAS GORDON Well, I have a story to tell. When I was a student at the Slade, I was bored, so I went up to Glasgow where my mum and dad live. The pubs were closed, all my pals were in bed, my family were asleep, but I wasn’t sleepy. I was in my brother’s room. Being a good Jehovah’s Witness boy I had never seen Psycho, because my mum had told me not to watch it. Said it was bad. But then I thought, damn it, Mum’s in bed so I can watch it, so I did. There’s a scene where Janet Leigh takes her bra off, and I thought: I’m going to watch that again, in slow motion. Then I thought, well, I’m going to watch the whole thing in slow motion, and it turns out that it was about 24 hours long.
DAVID A ROSS So out of repressed boredom came an idea to create a work that put people into a very different space.
PETER CAMPUS Boredom is a powerful tool.
DAVID A ROSS I think Warhol introduced boredom into art again in an interesting way, but video made it really possible.
DOUGLAS GORDON It’s a fairly crucial and horrific fact that people spend longer looking at a video monitor that isn’t working than a painting, waiting for something to happen, while there is a Barnett Newman just round the corner for them.
August 20, 2008 by Colin
My local grocer seems to have a good thing going. Surrounded by national and regional chains in a very competitive suburban market, Ross’ Independent Grocer brands himself as the locally engaged grocer, with clear links to the community.
At the same time, the “Independent Grocer” franchise is clearly a part of the much larger Loblaws/Weston group of brands – and that gives owner Ken Ross access to the much loved President’s Choice range of products, as well as bulk purchasing discounts.
Ross emphasizes his connection to the community in local papers, working with the business improvement area, through the weekly flyers, and by voicing the promotional spots broadcast over the store PA system.
It really shouldn’t have surprised me – Ross’ Independent Grocers won a 2007 Retailer Award from Foodland Ontario, the provincial government public relations campaign charged with getting us locals to eat something other than Dominican bananas and California grapes.
It’s clear that, this summer, part of the Independent Grocer franchise marketing package is a “grown close to home” campaign, tied to the peak of the Ontario growing season. That’s one of the reasons I picked up canteloupes, watermelon, peaches, blueberries and tomatoes earlier this afternoon. Fresh, nice smelling, reasonably priced and, admittedly, grown close to home.
This fits well with the contemporary Foodland Ontario campaign, which is attempting to resurrect the “good things groooowwww in Ontarrrriooooo” jingle first advertised in the early 80s.
Still, I was surprised when, at the end of an in-store promo announcement, I heard Ken Ross signing the very same jingle and fairly well, all things considered.
For an idea of what I heard, the current Foodland Ontario television ad is pasted below.
And beside it is “Peaches” by Presidents of the United States – because I like it, and it’s tangentially relevant.
August 15, 2008 by Colin
The long tail finally snaps at something I’m interested in and have been looking for: music from the late 70s / early 80s mod revival.
The Lambrettas, The Creation, The Purple Hearts: a treasure trove can be found at The Songs That People Sing.