Category Archives: Social Networks

What is your Twitter Diversity Score?

How do we,  particularly us knowledge workers, expose ourselves to different views and perspectives? I’m asking this as a very practical question. I’m currently reading Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice and one of the most important concepts concerning justice is that it should represent fairness, and that in fact justice and fairness are separate concepts. (Except that many languages, including French, do not have separate words for justice and fairness.) But it occurred to me as I was reading that it is impossible to be fair if you are not aware of all possible views on a subject. (Now, of course, knowing all views probably is itself impossible for most complicated subjects…there would be a long tail of views that defied comprehension, so then you immediately get involved in deciding which views are relevant, etc., which puts you in another miasma of subjectivity. And this is one of the main reasons why I’ve always been rather dubious about the wisdom of authority and institutions, but I digress…)

To return to the main topic, diversity of thought is key to attaining justice and fairness in societies. And how can we hope to achieve such diversity of thought? Well, of course, one way is through the use of TWITTER. Roger Schank, a leading thinker in education and artificial intelligence, just wrote a piece in eLearn magazine on how Twitter  is capable of changing the very nature of what it means to learn from your peers.  Absolutely! The magic of Twitter is in how it has become a perpetual learning machine. But the question remains, is my Twitter stream diverse?

So I decided to do a manual check this morning of the people I follow. I only follow about 200 people so it wasn’t too hard to do it by hand, although admittedly my analysis is extremely primitive. (Is there a program that lets you analyze the diversity of your network? I just tried Google’s FollowFinder, which helps me find more people who are like the ones I already follow. I want the opposite. I want someone to analyze my network and provide me with links to people who are in the same intellectual domains but have different perspectives. Then I would like a tool that shows me other intellectual disciplines I should follow.) In any case here are the results of my Twitter Diversity Inventory. N=200 (Yes, I know the numbers don’t actually add up…I took several shortcuts which I can explain if you’d like…but the numbers are generally truthy.)

Companies/Groups 67
Male 68
Female 55
American 122
Non-American 25
Northern European 129
Not northern European 19
Internet/Social Media/IT Experts 64
Other Topics/Disciplines/Interests 77

Bottom line: I’m not very satisfied. Normalizing to a 100-point scale, more or less, my diversity score for American/non American and northern European/non-northern European is below 20. That can’t be good.  It must lead to personal blind spots in how I think about many subjects. The next step is to figure out how to fix this. More to come….

What is your Stupification Point?

Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in this week’s New Yorker on the nature of espionage and asks some very penetrating questions about the psychology of the business: essentially once you’re in the hall of mirrors is there anything or anyone you can really trust or accept at face value?  It’s very much worth reading and also an amusing read, because Gladwell makes his points while reviewing what looks like a really fun book on the WWII exploits of the British intelligence service, Operation Mincemeat.

But what I really thought was worth sharing were some more overarching points about the business of intelligence or sensemaking. (I really don’t like to use the term intelligence because I think it has too many negative or at least questionable connotations.) Gladwell notes the point made by political scientist Richard Betts that in intelligence analysis there tends to be an inverse relationship between accuracy and significance. Boy, does that ring true, although I would just generalize Betts’s point by applying it to just about all knowledge activities. We almost always can be most specific about that which is least significant. This actually relates to the phenomenon of attaching disproportionate importance to activities you can count. To wit: When trying to fix something, as managers we tend to concentrate our efforts on the parts of the process we understand well, even though those parts may not really be what are causing the problems. I’m sure you’ve  suffered through this in your organization. Some large problems are identified but you and all your coworkers know intuitively that the solutions offered–often rolled out to great huffing and puffing–just don’t tackle root causes.

Gladwell also points to the work of Harold Wilensky, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley who has done some groundbreaking work over his career but whose book, Organizational Intelligence, which Gladwell quotes from, appears to be out of print.

As Harold Wilensky wrote in his classic work “Organizational Intelligence” (1967), “The more secrecy, the smaller the intelligent audience, the less systematic the distribution and indexing of research, the greater the anonymity of authorship, and the more intolerant the attitude toward deviant views.” Wilensky had the Bay of Pigs debacle in mind when he wrote that. But it could just as easily have applied to any number of instances since, including the private channels of “intelligence” used by members of the Bush Administration to convince themselves that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

I’ve been searching the internet all morning for more on the book Organizational Intelligence, because anyone who made the wonderful observation above has got to have more to offer. Sadly, I can’t find it, although, as is the way of the internet, I was next-linked to this very nice presentation by Richard Veryard. He asks a wonderful question: what stupifies your organization?

Each organization has its particular form of stupidity–It is up to the consultant (or the above average manager) to recognize the way that stupidity manifests itself and to find a way of doing something about it.

I would just note that organizational culture is probably the number one factor that stupifies organizations.

This presentation is chock-full of gems. “Stupidity is not making errors. Stupidity is repeating them.” I also love his discussion of the Algebra of Intelligence. Intelligence is not arithmetical: “lots of intelligent pieces doesn’t add up to an intelligent organization.”

So to summarize, what did I learn in the last 24 hours about intelligence (sensemaking), organizations, and networks?

  1. Closed networks have a hard time determining if what they know is really significant. (In part because determining significance invariably requires perspective and context, which can only be gained from a vantage point. Closed networks lack vantage points.)
  2. The smaller the network, the less room it will have for diversity. (So, a diversity solution that is self-contained is no diversity solution at all.)
  3. The smaller the network, the less it can tolerate differences of opinions.
  4. Every network has stupification points. You must constantly be hunting for and eliminating them or they will destroy you.

Another Commercial Break

A piece I’ve been working on concerning the future the government needs to start preparing for was just published on the Center for American Progress website. You can check it out here if you’re interested.

A Commercial Break

I’m going to be speaking at the Gov 2.0 Expo in D.C. at the end of May. My talk is the afternoon of 26 May. If any of you are interested in attending and haven’t registered yet, I’ve been given a code that purportedly provides you all a 40% discount on registration. Here it is:  gxp10sbx      In addition, early registration closes 5 May, this Wednesday. The message I received from the coordinator of the speakers doesn’t make clear whether the code applies on top of the early registration discount, but I guess no harm in trying.

My talk takes the principles of social networks and applies it to the work of high reliability/high risk organizations–you know, the ones who usually say their work is too difficult or too important to entrust to collaborative work practices. Like the one I used to work for. Of course, the argument is completely the reverse. Such silliness.

Twelve Stupid Things People Say about the Internet

I remember when I was a kid people  would always say that to find life elsewhere in the universe, we had to look for carbon, because life was carbon-based. And I remember thinking, probably as a 10-year old, well who says that all life has to be carbon-based? Can’t we imagine a different kind of life? And people would say, no, that’s wrong, except now it isn’t so wrong to think that way. And I thought the same thing about the chances of finding life in the deep, deep ocean. I bet we will find weird life down there, I thought to myself, because these arguments that life can’t survive the lack of light and the intense pressure, they’re based on our very limited experiential base. After all, in terms of how life works, our N = 1. It can’t be right to be so sure.

So when I read critiques of the new culture we may be creating using all this internet stuff and mobile devices and Twitter and all the other things certain people like to make fun of, my ear is always listening for these unproven and unjustified assumptions. For example, almost all these critics assume that the good is self-evident and that the internet is displacing a wonderful tradition of knowledge, wisdom. and contemplation, offering very little of substance in return.  Hmmm…I’m just not so sure about that, and I offer the following list of shaky assumptions that we should question fiercely and for which we should demand either evidential or logical proof

  1. Heavy internet users have short attention spans and lack mental discipline. This is just plain silly, if you ask me. When I get deep into researching a topic on the internet, I have a very long attention span. And if I am traveling across many different topics, how is that proof of anything other than a curious disposition?
  2. Digital life is shallow. Says who? By what standard? Compared to what? Going to the movies? Watching old I Love Lucy reruns? Reading a thick economic treatise? And in any case, digital life itself is neutral. It’s the person who is shallow or not, if indeed we want to use this rather elitist formulation.  Even in the old analog culture, I never bought the line that going to the symphony is somehow culturally more significant than catching Bonnie Raitt at Wolf Trap. (I have to say I’ve even been to a Donnie Osmond concert in my lifetime….or was it the Osmond Brothers…the synapses misfire.)
  3. Slow is better than fast. You often hear the digital culture beaten up for its quick answers or its provision of instant gratification. But independent of all other values, such as accuracy, fairness, completeness, etc, there is nothing inherently bad about fast. In fact, fast will always, all other things being equal, be more efficient.
  4. Always “on” is bad. Prove it. As our societies and economies have become more complex, there are significant costs to periods of non-sentience. We may want to go back to an era of slower pace and tempo, but we can’t wish our way there. My experience as a manager is that organizations work best when they sustain momentum; there’s a favorite saying among managers: if you want something to get done, assign it to the busiest person on your team. And I actually believe that for many crackberry addicts, being constantly aware of the status of projects or other activities is actually less stressful than not knowing what is going on.
  5. Work based on reflection is better than immediate reactions. This is actually the ultimate argument of individuals who criticize the internet culture for being too fast or too persistent. And I think you have to admit that reflection has many advantages. Let’s unpack them. Reflection usually contributes to completeness and, in most cases, to accuracy. But reflection is at best neutral in terms of creativity; many argue for example that the best way to be creative is to generate as many ideas as possible without stopping to be judgmental. And there are certainly opportunity costs associated with reflection. As a CIA manager, I was always aware that one never had a monopoly on good ideas.  The longer you wait to propose a new way of looking at a problem, the greater the chance that some other entity will beat you to it. (Whether knowledge work should be competitive in the first place–now that’s another question.)
  6. Formal work is better than casual work. By formal, people usually mean work that has gone through some recognized quality control or expert process. Writing in a hurry is just not as elegant and good, goes the argument, as a carefully constructed essay. The arguments used in discussing reflection apply here as well. There are certain situations where formal work is obviously appropriate, but they are not as numerous as the critics would have you believe. And informality has many advantages in addition to immediacy. For example authenticity, directness, and, often, honesty.
  7. Correct spelling and grammar is essential for communication and is an indication of careful expression. Now I have sympathy for this position because I would tell people whose work I was editing that the worst thing that could happen was for me to gain the impression that I as the editor was paying more attention to their piece than they ever did. Finding obvious typos was one of the events that would create that impression. But that said, I also reviewed many pieces that were impeccable in terms of spelling and grammar but deplorable when it came to logic or original thinking. So sometimes correct spelling and grammar indicates nothing more than that.  The argument that spelling and grammar are essential for communication cannot be disputed. But special communication methods, such as the telegram for example, have always developed spelling and grammatical shortcuts that quickly became well understood. Twitter is just following in that tradition.
  8. It is more serious to do things by yourself than to do them in collaboration with others. Oh, for heaven’s sake!! This can only be accepted as gospel by individuals enamored of the great person theory of knowledge work.
  9. The internet is destroying literature. You’ve heard this. Nobody reads serious fiction any longer. Although I do believe classic forms of literature are threatened, I don’t buy the theory that it is the internet’s fault. Actually, it is probably more the fault of movies, television, DVDs, and video games. And in my view the real issue is that, compared to other, newer media for storytelling, the advantages of the novel just aren’t that apparent any longer.
  10. People who are playing Farmville on Facebook would otherwise be writing the great American novel or reading Proust. Please…(the game I like to play is Typing Maniac.)
  11. Most people don’t have anything interesting to say. This point is made peevishly in reaction to the fact that anyone now can blog or tweet. Again, I’ll concede that good writers of 500-word essays are not that common; but my experience, and I bet the experience of many others, is that lots of people actually do have something worthwhile to offer in the short form.  Twitter and Facebook –and let’s not forget YouTube–are great democratizers of the public space and, if anything, are giving many the confidence to share their views with others. I’m darned if I can figure out why that is bad for a democracy. Now in your average dictatorship…
  12. Our current culture, which has taken millenia to develop, is better than any culture we could develop over the next ten years. At face value, that sounds pretty reasonable, but given the explosion of information, connectivity and transparency, I’m not so sure we should  concede even this point. Knowledge is doubling in many fields at a faster rate than the education cycle for those disciplines. I don’t know about you but I’m putting my money on the future.

Being Puerto Rican–A Network Analysis

I was born in Puerto Rico and I try to go back every year for at least a week. This is one of those weeks. If you haven’t been there, it is a diverse and beautiful island with some of the best examples of karst topography in the United States and hundreds of miles of diverse coastline, from pure white beaches to dramatic bluffs. Most people who just visit San Juan never get to experience this diversity and may get little appreciation for the Puerto Rican people and culture.

Speaking about Puerto Rican people and culture reminds me of how I  learned that “being Puerto Rican” had (has?) a certain malodor, at least in some major cities of the East Coast. I came to live as an adult in DC as a transfer college student. Previously I had been in Texas for 8 years, which is why I consider myself a Puerto Rican by birth and a Texan by nationality. And I had no real concept of what being Puerto Rican meant on the East Coast. (To this day when I meet someone new, the chances are 50-50 that, when they find out I’m Puerto Rican, they will just assume I grew up in NYC. Conversely, I take great and flinching pains to rescue them from that idea, which reveals my prejudice as well.) Anyway when I got to Catholic University, I started working in the dining hall and I just innocently told my coworkers I was Puerto Rican. And this fellow student from Connecticut advises me: “If I were you I wouldn’t tell too many people that cuz where I come from Puerto Ricans are lazy and dirty.” (To this day I have had a prejudice against any Connecticut, including always rooting against their excellent basketball teams. But it can’t be helped.)

Once you get away from San Juan it becomes clear how different the island is from the States. If Puerto Rico ever became a state, it would be, by a 50% factor, the poorest state in the union. The economy as currently structured does not generate enough jobs for the young men and women who live there. So everywhere you go you see large clumps of young people, mostly men, mostly doing nothing. Another indicator of the absence of youth engagement are the large pied-piper party trucks and vans that bounce along the roads, topped by about 6-foot speakers, blaring out rhythms enticing all to join them at the best place to party that night and this weekend. My mom observing all this said, “We Puerto Ricans are lazy.” I said, “I don’t think so. But there is certainly a messed up rewards structure here.” When there is nothing to work for, we humans, being reasoning animals, often choose not to work. Sensible.

In terms of manmade structures, most of the island is just a mess. For example, there appeared to have been no zoning laws for much of recent history, leading to just the ugliest stretches of suburban blight I’ve ever seen. And, and this is my opinion, the Fast Food industry appears to have been allowed to run roughshod over the local food culture (which truth be told wasn’t too healthy either, but at least there was less of it usually served).  What I find really appalling are the huge billboards all over the state, tempting you to “take a break” by eating about 2000 calories of carbohydrates and fat. Diabetes is, of course, an epidemic.

So as I drove around the state, visiting relatives (and I thought it would be impossible to drive 400 miles in one day in PR but I am here to attest it can be done) I realized the entire state is a very good example of a very poorly designed network. The risk/rewards structure facilitates nonproductive behavior. Lack of design thinking at the very beginning leads to consequences one could have foretold. (Is there a design checklist out there? There must be. That actually reminds me of another lesson, #20, as a CIA manager. The importance of checklists. Most serious professionals I’ve known are offended by the concept of checklists–we’re above that, they say. As a seriously flawed human being, however, who claims to very little expertise, I love checklists. But I digress….)

The road “system” is the most obvious if not the best example of bad networks. Intersections between major highways are particularly clumsy, leading to creative workarounds by drivers. I wish I had a picture to show you, but of course I’m always driving at the time. But the lesson is clear: people will adjust themselves to even the most badly designed network. But making the most of bad situations allows for survival, but not prosperity.

My relatives in Puerto Rico are real characters. A real highlight is Juana, my mother’s cousin, I think, although determining exact family connections is a challenge given the alarming rate at which people recouple, at least in my family, and produce half-brothers and half-sisters. Anyway here’s Juana telling us one her many wonderful stories. I particularly liked the one where she went to visit the grave of her beloved husband (I was going to write deceased husband, but thought better of it given that’s why he’s in the grave in the first place). Anyway, she’s at the gravesite when a sudden burst of wind manifests, blows her down–that wind was substantial!!–and deposits her exactly alongside the burial site of her departed Gabriel, precisely where she will lie when she eventually joins him.

And here are some of her beautiful orchids.

Just a Few Last Thoughts about the Internet

Sitting here on a Sunday evening…the usual internet surfing on the laptop. Have about ten tabs open on my browser (using Chrome these days having just about given up on I.E.).

Absentmindedly click on the tabs sequentially, like flicking through the cable channels.

  • There’s my Facebook page.
  • Signed out on LinkedIn.
  • MNBC reports an Emirates flite dropped suddenly over India, 20 hurt.
  • Wikileaks still leading with the Collateral Murder story
  • Lead Tweet features the professional rabbit breeder I inexplicably follow, also inexplicably named the_turtle
  • Looking up information on Kay Ryan, the US Poet Laureate: Waiting is sustainable, a place of its own harvests
  • The bloggers are starting a comment frenzy over Stephen Hawking’s advice that we should not contact alien life. (and am struck that considering what we should do when we meet aliens is now talked about reasonably, without sarcasm or embarrassment. There’s a theory that somehow–intuitively, access to the multiverse, whatever–we develop a sense as a species for what is about to happen and without conscious thought begin to reflect it in our conversations, so that trending topics in forums such as Twitter actually can be used to predict the future.)
  • And the Houston Astros are recovering from their horrendous start

It took about 15 seconds to cover those topics. And just for a moment, the slightest tug of transcendence penetrated my consciousness, only to bounce away, like it was frightened by my material nature. The experience of soaring across topics in seconds is without precedence in human history. It’s become so commonplace that we usually lose sight of how shattering it is of our previous experiences and models of human behavior. What I know and am aware of at any given moment dwarfs, I think, what the White House Situation room in its entirety knew in 1960, 1970, 1980.

One of my favorite sayings is:

Quantity has a Quality all of its own.

The quantity of information and connections is changing the quality of the person, the society, and the species. Really, we have no idea of where this will end.

The Tale of Two Friendships

Drinks today with a friend of mine, someone I would call a work friend as in we’ve rarely done anything together outside of the context of work.  But this friend follows me on Twitter (milouness) and on Facebook and as we talked I realize she knows just about everything there is to know about me, or at least anything that I’ve been reflecting upon on Twitter or Facebook, which is probably 90% + of  what is meaningful to me.

My friend is a baby boomer like I, but quite different from most of my other baby boomer friends, who naturally form the bulk of my friendships given that they’re just as old and decrepit as I am. And as I drove back from our chat, I got to thinking about the odd state of my friendships, where most of my friends in real life, the longstanding ones, have no real-time connection to me because they’re not on Twitter, they’re not on Facebook, or if they are, they are there in the most perfunctory of ways. A handful are active on social networks, but for the most part they are absent and, unlike my work friend, have no real-time insight into me, and, of course, I don’t have that insight into them. It’s really odd because when I meet with these friends, maybe once a week, but for some very dear friends who are somewhere else in the country, much less often, I spend a lot of time updating them on what I’ve been up to, which is of course available for anyone to know, really. But my more casual friends, some of whom I’ve never even met in the physical world, are actually, if they care to be, part of my everyday life, and I part of theirs.

So, I wonder, which really are the most important networks in my life? It’s disturbing to contemplate that these lifelong friends actually may end up inhabiting some other, less intimate category, but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion. Social networks not only have the power to connect you to entirely new categories of allies and collaborators, they also indirectly can erode other ties that are  based on a powerful but, in the end, limited and, in some ways, arbitrary factor–physical proximity.

If this dynamic can develop in the context of lifelong friendships, imagine what it could mean to organizations that fail to develop social platforms among their employees? Sure, you may work alongside someone every day but, if you’re not allowed to access Twitter at work, as an example, you may not have the intimate insight into their thinking that develops trust. In fact, you may end up developing more trusting relations with “strangers” you meet who share your same interests. Some of them may even work for your competitors.

What to make of this funny dynamic? Can I make others, particularly those who don’t join social networks because they believe, sincerely, that they lead to shallow relationships, see what is really occurring? I wonder, because, you see, if you don’t participate, it doesn’t make sense to you. It’s a puzzlement.

Does the Government Have any Pull?

About halfway through their new book The Power of Pull, John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison write about how individuals can use emerging social networking capabilities to harness personally the power of pull–pull being their term for the capability of institutions and individuals to contribute to society by becoming centers of attraction, rather than continuing with the old model of pushing their value propositions regardless of how tired these may have become. But the authors admit there is a problem, that being ” the certain reactionary peevishness with which some people dismiss social media and digital culture.” And I thought when I read that, gosh that describes many federal government employees I encountered over the last few years of my service. I routinely confronted downright hostility to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter often, I thought, based on ignorance and on this odd conviction that experts do best by working by themselves, not by sharing with others. Now, I admit this reaction may have been particular to my Agency, but my sense is that it is rather characteristic of individuals above a certain, ahem, age.

I just finished reading the book, which is both an easy and provocative read and provides a detailed and I suspect largely accurate prescription for the adjustments we need to make to become power surfers of the pull economy. (Their argument is actually much more complex so here’s a link to Hagel’s blog post introducing the book.) In any case as I read the book I came across many concepts that I think will be challenging for the federal government–not impossible mind you, but hard.

One of their more ambitious points is that “rather than individuals serving the needs of institutions, our institutions will be recrafted to serve the needs of individual.” Wow, I thought, rather breathtaking and a good example of something that will be quite a stretch for federal agencies. Many, for example, are formed around needs that are at least today considered essential, such as the military, the Coast Guard, tax collection, and intelligence. It will be quite an intellectual journey to get to where we will be comfortable having these necessary functions carried out in a manner that depends less on rules and more on personal initiative.

Hagel, Brown, and Davison convincingly argue that as we move to the pull economy we will discard the “detailed demand forecasts, operational plans, and operational process manuals [that] carefully script the actions and specify the resources required to meet anticipated demand.”  I agree. The complexity of today’s age just mocks tight planning concepts–the impact the Icelandic volcano is having on our just-in-time economy is an apt illustration. But unfortunately for the federal government, we may have no choice but to remain prisoners to arbitrary budgets and program goals primarily because of the flaws in our law and budget-making processes. I suspect Congress will remain quite determined to keep federal agencies on a short leash.

One of the best sections in the book is the discussion of the need for institutions to arrange for creation spaces and for their employees to be exposed regularly to the potential for serendipity. Why? Because  only the explorers in your organization can hope to spot the advantages and opportunities that will, like fireflies, constantly flash before them. (By the way the need for employees to have an explorer’s mentality is another reason to ban the use of the metaphor “short leash”.) I would think these are ideas that federal agencies could start implementing right away. But to do so we have to realize that innovation requires failure to succeed.

Hagel, Brown, and Davison also provide a warning for federal agencies given the looming shortage of skilled workers. They write that “any institution that cannot provide a powerful platform for talent development will find its most talented people fleeing their cubicles and corner offices for other ‘homes'”. Well, we all know that government workers NEVER voluntarily give up corner offices, but otherwise federal managers need to take seriously their responsibility to create an environment where talent can best develop. In a pull economy, only those organizations that can attract the best talent will prosper.

There’s a lot more insight I could point to, but they all support the conclusion that the pull economy will eventually lead to significant changes in how the mission of government is carried out. For me the change needs to begin with how we define the roles of government workers. Right now too many of them are in fact pulling at short leashes, assigned to narrow jobs that allow for little innovation. Despite public prejudices that the opposite is true, I suspect the key to better government performance is not to have government employees do less, but to encourage them to do more.

Who Are You Calling Old and Selfish?

Are Civil Servants Too Old and Selfish for Gov 2.0? That’s the title of an interesting blog post and discussion on Generation Shift. When I saw the tweet about the post well, of course, I took it personally. I’m 55, I’ve been tweeting for almost two years and I can’t really remember when I started Facebook it’s been so long. Not only did I adopt these practices personally, but I promoted them as best as I could at CIA, including being a senior sponsor early on of the Intellipedia effort. I must admit however that all of these activities made me “a person of interest” at CIA–that‘s meant to be funny. (I’m reminded of a conversation I had once with a colleague, during which no doubt I was lamenting the slow pace of change and the general reluctance of government to engage with the new. He looked at me wisely and wryly and observed: ” being for change in a government bureaucracy is not unlike being a mobile home in the path of a tornado.”)
So of course I agree with the principle that government is slow to change, but I don’t think it’s because we are too old and selfish. Yes we are old and no doubt selfish, but that hasn’t stopped us from doing other things that clearly were better for us. In our lifetimes we’ve stopped smoking, started walking long circuits in our neighborhoods most evenings, and learned to recycle plastic and paper products…….so we’re not like dense.
But clearly there is a problem. Why have so many in my generation, particularly in government, decided to draw the line against transparent collaboration (except, of course, they don’t use those terms–the terms I’ve heard are “waste of time” or “lonely hearts clubs.”) Some factors that I think are more credible than the cheap shots of  old and selfish are:
  • Insulation. This applies particularly to government civil servants in managerial slots. Once they reach a position of authority their days become so programmed (with both necessary and Alice-in-Wonderland events) that it becomes impossible for most outside factors to penetrate their consciousness, at least not without serious lag. It takes a real act of will to step outside “the cone of importance“ to look at what is actually going on in the world. This is not necessarily related to age or selfishness.
  • This brings me to a second point, related to insulation, but worth calling out separately. Let‘s call it  Government Exceptionalism. Not unlike the view that America holds an exceptional place in the world and a special role, government exceptionalism argues that the role of government is somehow different from other functions in human and civil society. I don’t know that this position is often explicitly expressed but I would argue that it is implicitly accepted by almost everyone. Those outside government even espouse this view, except they often argue that government is exceptionally inefficient. The function of government itself is inherently broken, they say. But within government, the exceptional argument goes more like this: what we do is very hard, very critical, very special and we just can’t accept any new method that comes down the pike. (I actually don’t believe that most of what government does is exceptional. Most of what government does is actually transactional or knowledge work, which makes it very eligible for the introduction of transparent, collaborative practices.)
  • The final factor I’d offer is Existential Fear. I admit this is probably rather rare, but I do believe there are those in government who understand that Gov 2.0 implementation would eventually lead to a different, and I believe necessarily smaller, footprint for government. Often government is simply the mechanism by which one group of citizens connects to another for necessary interest or mutual advantage and through which the norms of behavior in that transaction are stipulated and enforced. These are exactly the types of activities that mature social networks can do automatically. In the same way that the internet paradigm has destroyed the middleman role in many economic and social activities, social networking has the potential to do the equivalent for government.
(I’m reminded of a visit to my local Post Office almost fifteen years ago. If you remember AOL installation CD’s were everywhere then. It was raining AOL CD’s. This particular year the Post Office had a stack of AOL CD’s available for perusal as you stood in line. When I got to the counter, the postal worker, whom I thought eccentric at the time but now realize was prescient, said “I can’t believe we have these AOL CD’s here. Don’t people realize they will drive us out of business?”)