Archive for November 2010

Greetings from the E-Learning Provocateur

30 November 2010

After a couple of years of blogging under the banner E-Learning in the Corporate Sector and more recently Learning in the Corporate Sector,
I have decided to revamp my image.

One of my reasons is the seemingly ubiquitous advice for bloggers to specialise in a topic, rather than try to be all things to all readers. For me that topic is e-learning, so I am keen to reinstate that term into my blog title.

Another reason is the realisation that some of my posts generate strong responses from my readers: mostly constructive, sometimes less so. In either case, I am pleased to contribute another perspective and provoke critical thinking. Naturally I’m keen to capture that in my blog title too.

So today I re-badge my blog as E-Learning Provocateur and declare my aspiration to provoke deeper thinking.

E-Learning Provocateur blog banner

Please wish me luck… I’ll need it!


Trending: Sydney

22 November 2010

So Sydney has its own trending topics on Twitter…

I’m not sure how useful it will be.

Cartoon showing only the #property hashtag trending in Sydney

Smartfailing the vintage future

15 November 2010

A little while ago, Ben Betts blogged about a wonderful book called 2010: Living in the Future, which was written by Geoffrey Hoyle back in 1972.

2010: Living in the Future (1972)

I love these vintage visions of the future.

Reading the book prompted me to seek other predictions from yesteryear, and I found plenty at Vintage Future.

Doctor consults a child via AV media

A woman obtaining ready-to-eat meals out of a machine

Space station

Some predictions were remarkably accurate (eg telemedicine, prepackaged meals, orbital space stations) while others were way
off the mark.

This got me thinking

Why do some predictions of the future pan out so wrong?

I remember as a child being fascinated by a 19th century illustration of space travel that depicted a steam train flying among the stars and planets.

Clearly at that point in history, the futurist was so convinced of the modernity of the locomotive that he did not conceive any other possible mode of transport – let alone the depletion of fossil fuels.

It was perfectly natural for him to expect that, one day, trains would be hurtling through outer space.

More examples

Consider these…

Mechanical servant vacuuming the floor

Why is a robot pushing the vacuum cleaner?

Because contemporary practice was for the housewife to do it.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to replace her with a humanoid.

Shoppers in a supermarket push buttons to bring items on a conveyor belt. (1964)

Why must the shopper be at the store?

Because contemporary practice was for the shopper to visit the supermarket in person.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to automate the system on site.

Dick uses his famous 2-way wrist radio in Dick Tracy: America's Most Famous Detective. (1952)

Why is Dick talking into his watch?

Because wristwatches were the contemporary fashion.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to add an audio channel to that device.

Why did they miss the mark?

In each of the above examples, contemporary practice prejudiced the futurist’s expectations of future practice.

They were wearing blinkers.

Of course they had no concept of jet engines, infrared sensors, the World Wide Web and smartphones. But without an audacious imagination that dared to consider the possibility of these technologies, their predictions were doomed to fail.

Not so fast

It’s easy to look back with a smug sense of intellectual superiority. How rediculous those predictions were! How primitive the science!

But are we really any better today?

I hear a lot about innovation in the workplace, but I doubt we have mastered the creative thinking that is required to forecast beyond our immediate future with any sense of confidence.

If we don’t wrap our minds around the stuff that doesn’t yet exist, our “innovations” will become the latest examples of charming vintage.

I stand corrected

8 November 2010

I wasn’t impressed at this month’s SMCSYD meeting.

I mean, it was professionally organised and delivered as always, but I just didn’t buy into what the presenters were saying.

The topic was How can social media analysis help predict results? and several highly regarded social media strategists recounted their work in mining Twitter and other online forums leading up to the Australian election.

The central message was: Look, there are heaps of voters on Twitter. If we can sample their sentiment, and combine that data with how well we think the two major parties are campaigning online, we should be able to predict who will win the election.

Twitter birdI didn’t just scoff, I tweeted:

I don't know about this. Most twitterati are staunchly leftwing. Will twitter use really affect their votes?

My rationale was that if most people on Twitter lean heavily to the left, so will their vote, and nothing stated or debated on Twitter will change that. Therefore the Twittersphere is not representative of the broader citizenry, so any analysis of it will be redundant.

Someone following the #smcsyd hashtag politely challenged my assumption that most Twitterati are staunchly leftwing. Fair enough, but when a photo of Tony Abbot in his budgie smugglers elicited sneers and giggles from the audience, I knew I was on the right track.

Then something unexpected happened… one of the presenters showed us how his analysis predicted an even result. This is impressive not only because I didn’t see it coming, but also because the election result was so tight that it produced a hung Parliament.


How did that happen?!

Was Tony Abbot’s online engagement so effective that it shored up his stats against the lefty chatter? No – the presenters claimed his social media campaign was poor.

In that case, if my assumption was correct, the analysis should have predicted a landslide victory for Labor. The fact it didn’t happen could only mean one thing: my assumption was wrong.


OK, I decided to take a dose of my own medicine and collect some facts. So I ran a strawpoll comprising one simple question:

How left-wing or right-wing are you?

I provided five response options on a Likert scale: Very Left, Left, Center, Right or Very Right.

With some retweeting help from my twiends, I received a grand total of 20 responses. Not very scientific, I know, but here are the results nonetheless:

Strawpoll results: Very Left 10%, Left 35%, Center 15%, Right 40%, Very Right 0%

As you can see, my tiny sample of the Twitterati is uncannily balanced. Not only does a substantial proportion of the population consider itself politically centered, but a large proportion considers itself right-wing.

So why did I think the Twitterati were a bunch of tree-hugging GMF-fearing border-opening closet communists?

Upon reflection, I think one reason is that the only political tweets I ever seem to see are left leaning. Why that is the case, I do not know. It might just be coincidence.

Another reason, however, is that the Q&A TV show seems to televise mostly left-wing tweets. Heaven forbid I accuse Australia’s ABC of bias, although others more illustrious than me have done so in the past. More likely Q&A attracts a strong left-wing following, and I suppose that subconsciously influenced my view of the Twitterati in general.

Cartoon straightening out the left bias of the ABC's Bananas in Pyjamas

Anyway, something that one of the SMCSYD presenters said that I whole-heartedly agree with is that the Twittersphere is a niche demographic.

This view is supported by the analysis which isolated the hottest subjects of discussion as being the National Broadband Network and the proposed Internet Filter. Of course people who spend time online are going to have a heightened interest in these issues.

So while the rest of the public probably couldn’t care less, Twitter is clearly an important battleground in the war that is politics.

Pollies take note!

The Melbourne Cup: it’s not about the horses!

2 November 2010

I was invited to a Melbourne Cup business lunch today. (Thanks C.S., that was very generous!)

Shocking wins the 2009 Melbourne CupIn Australia the Melbourne Cup is affectionately known as “the race that stops a nation”.

As a cultural event, I imagine it’s similar to America’s Kentucky Derby and England’s Epsom Derby.

Every year, however, more and more cynics seem to come out of the woodwork. They range from the “I don’t believe in gambling” crowd to statisticians who bemoan the nation’s lost productivity.

These people are oblivious to the fact that the Melbourne Cup is not about the horses.

Even if you don’t buy into the nationalism of the event, I hope you can appreciate its true value.

Picture this: In every state except Victoria (where Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday) the race is a workplace event. The ladies wear a lovely dress with a hat or a fascinator. The men wear a smart suit and a tie. Someone will run a sweep. The boss will take us out to lunch, or we’ll organise a barbeque. Or if we’re lucky, one of our business partners will invite us to a swanky restaurant.

Oh, and we’ll watch a bunch of horses run around for a few minutes.

Everyone gets excited, all our gazes transfix to the TV until the first nose crosses the finish line.

Some of us win, most of us lose, while others deconstruct the “shoulda”, “coulda”, “woulda” – but didn’t.

And guess what: it’s fun.

Everyone’s smiling, chatting, laughing and generally having a good time. How often does that happen at work?

If you want to analyse it in terms of management science, why not consider:

Colleagues• engagement
• reward and recognition
• team building
• breaking down silos
• relationship management
• peer-to-peer networking
• social learning

…the list goes on.

But lost productivity?

Give me a break!