The one with the ungodly philosopher

So the story goes that University College London (UCL) was founded in the mid 19th Century as a reaction to perceived discrimination in other higher educational institutions. Specifically Oxford & Cambridge which at the time (not now of course…) required both wealth and religious affiliation as part of the entrance criteria and Kings College London which required the religious affiliation but not specific wealth.

The man described as its spiritual founder, Jeremy Bentham, was a leading philosopher who advocated amongst other things the separation of church and state and utilitarianism – fundamentally “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. Some of this thinking can be seen today and is clearly impactful on positive psychology but we’ll leave that topic for another day. His mummified head can still be found on display at UCL and the origins of it’s formation lead it still to be referred to as ‘the ungodly college’ to some (and Gower Street Tech to others)

I recently wrote a post called ‘The one with the crowdsourced research’. The purpose of the post was two-fold, firstly to try to collect relevant data and case studies about the deployment of social networks inside organisations and secondly to understand people’s perceptions to social. I got some great comments and links (thanks to those who contributed).

The reactions I found most amusing/bemusing came from people who work specifically in this area who in some form or another ‘called me out’ for wanting evidence and one who went as far as to imply it was cowardice to seek validation – curious business development indeed! I think there was a misunderstanding that I was seeking to be convinced rather than gathering information to convince others and use a window of opportunity to get clear buy-in to change.

Around the same time I was revising for an exam on a college module entitled ‘Technology, Work & Organisations’ and in the course of my reading came across a reference to Bentham’s Panopticon. Despite the fate of the cat, my curiosity got the better of me and off I went to Wikipedia to try to understand what the hell it was…

The panopticon was envisaged by the same Jeremy Bentham as a prison design where observers could observe all inmates without the inmate being aware they were being observed. The basis of the design has been used in prisons all over the world. In the context of work and organisations the reference was the perception from within organisations that technology wasn’t just about enabling more effective and efficient working but a tool of managerial control – effectively creating a virtual panopticon.

The saying goes ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ and whilst I am pretty far from angelic there is a voice in the back of my head saying that whilst social has great possibilities the notion that everyone wants it and everyone will love it just seems ‘yet to be seen’ for me. Maybe it’s about specific purposes – collaboration, innovation, visibility, rather than just ‘social’s great – do it’. For the moment I’m going to keep working up my solution and give some more thought to how this will land on a very diverse group of prisoners people.

And I must close there as the red light on my Blackberry is blinking and if I don’t answer it in under 5 minutes…



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4 responses to “The one with the ungodly philosopher

  1. I think there is a good piece of work to be done comparing the prison regimes of the early 19th century – based around solitary confinement and highly controlled routines aimed at breaking down an individual character and rebuilding it into something more useful – with the management of customer contact centres.

    Fewer actual beatings and more coffee breaks. But otherwise…

  2. Being a new comer to “social” I find it interesting how quickly I’ve integrated using twitter, blogging etc into my day to day work. It feels seemless now. Now – I’m an advocate, and am mentoring people to encourage them to have a go and create their own experience. I notice too how the majority of my work colleagues, family and friends view it, my activity, as a bit strange or who are completely uninterested. I recently mentioned Yammer as a possible way forward to a group of geographically diverse managers, who have part time teams, compounding the challenges of sharing information, and communication. I got blank looks, and if I’m honest, a low level of interest.

    I think case studies and stories are a way to engage with people and evidenced based research is obviously emerging. I think though that there is a paradox here. If I hadn’t had an unusual and unexpected chunk of time out of work earlier this year, I just don’t know if I would have jumped in, despite having attended a number of events, and met with people to understand what they meant by “social media”. Iit took time and effort for that considerable mindset shift and to find out how to do stuff. I did a little at a time, I built my confidence, curiosity and appetite to do more. Isn’t that how change in organisations woriks too?

    Most of the successful organisational changes that I have experienced /facilitated have been incremental, allowing time for experimentation and evidence being built and validated from within. Even with the evidence that is offered up to organisations about the most effective and sustainable approaches to business (I have loads of it) they don’t buy in until they either have to, or at some point really want to.

    So is the paradox this; that whilst evidence is a way to influence and encourage people into exploring new ways of doing things, the most believable evidence is that which people experience so they have to do it to believe it.

    Trying stuff out, testing the waters, letting people build their own case studies and develop advocates, may be the way ahead.

  3. The problem with evidence, is that its not evidence until its evidenced! And there in lies the challenge. the number of examples of success of this approach are few so easy to either dismiss or miss altogether. Rob I think it is much better as you suggest to think about specific purposes as this is always where we end up. Once the tech hype has gone thats what we will be talking about.

    Im with Megan on the experimentation. I think there are enough examples to at least make organisations more curious no? To do as Megan suggests and start to allow experimentation.

    Her other point about what happens when you present evidence is also valid – when the evidence challenges conventional wisdom, people still wont believe even when you do produce the evidence. This post from Jamie Notter articulates this nicely:

  4. Pingback: I’m hosting, you’re posting… « Inside My Head…

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