Archive | June, 2016

Letting go of things not fully grasped

26 Jun

For the best part of my career I had a trusty cartoon companion – my mate Ed.

Ed Hoc graphicEd first appeared on my slides when I needed to explain that most of us have multiple identities – our personas.   Some of these were how we saw ourselves in different contexts – at work or home or in the band – or they reflected how others saw us.

Ed was, by birth, truly European and was first drawn to decorate a Scandinavian promotion for a telecoms company.   By the end of the 1970’s he was on hand to help me explain new identity options that were arriving with the advent of eMail.

It is nowadays difficult to explain the scale of that task but back then (before personal computers, mobile phones, message pagers or the Internet) telephone numbers and lists of them were important but not stored on anything other than paper.  And then suddenly we were introducing new, alternative, identities like email addresses and translations of those into meaningful names or functions.

Ed was Ed because in one serious context he was ‘Head of Communications’ or, when he relaxed listening to Blondie, he became Ed Phones.   He also served in academic circles as Ed Hoc, Prof. Ed or Dr. Ed Ovstrawski PhD but at home (or when visiting his children in Australia) he was more likely to be called Ded.

Ed has been retired many years now and rarely emerges from his comfortable archived crate in the loft – but now and again he senses that his life’s work remains unfulfilled. Last Friday morning I chanced to meet him on the stairs. “What are you doing down here, Ed?” “Just thought you might need reminding.”

Last Friday morning the newsfeed had told me I was not who I thought I was, not living where I imagined, not part of that community, not sharing the same delusions.  We live in bubbles of our own imagination.  Apparently my locale is in the top ten percent of UK places populated by folk with an entirely different worldview. I have many friends but I know none of these people from LeaviaLand.  Such are the delusional distances – the vast gulfs – that divided us in this EU Neverendum.

In business we are urged to ‘think outside of the box’ – indeed my own logo reflects that process – but now there is no box to constrain identity.  Today about half of the UK let go of something they’d not fully grasped.  Today the other half realised they had not fully grasped why the others were letting go.

Just for a moment we glimpsed the agony of those fleeing from warfare that is destroying what they imagined was their country. Today we can understand the anger of the disposed and disillusioned.  Today we (yes all of us) are like migrants wishing to plant new roots – to re-frame whoever we might be – and (some may hope) build bridges for their futures.

These seismic moments when reality breaks through are very rare but always devastating in direct proportion to the investments we made in our now thoughtlessly discarded frames.

As poet John Fuller wrote:

And it is late

To establish reasons for preferring

The things we prefer

When now it seems grotesque to imagine

That they might occur.


Thanks for reminding me, Ed.



2016 Digital Challenge Awards: shortlist announced

16 Jun

The Open Call for Nominations for the 2016 Digital Challenge Awards – where more people nominated more projects than ever before – has once again shown the wisdom of not defining the Awards Categories until we can take the measure of those responses.

We asked folks to nominate the projects that most impressed and deserved to be celebrated.  The online digital world is nothing if not dynamic.  Who would have guessed that so much brilliantly creative effort is focused on IT Skills, Health and Digital Inclusion.  These are areas where it is fashionable for politicians to bemoan a lack of progress – but in reality they are arenas to celebrated and honoured.

The 2016 Trophies will also reflect other trends – like major communities moving on from technological fascinations towards understanding the point that all that creative effort has a direct impact on economic development – yes, even the Augmented Reality  History Trail that enriches visitor experiences, boosts the tourism trade, educates local children and enhances local community identity.

This is the sixth year for the Digital Challenge Awards programme.  Over the years it has produced a wealth of inspiring case studies.  The full shortlist for all nine of the 2016 Awards Categories, once again, maps the UK’s digital development.   And when we get to the Awards presentation dinner in the House of Lords on October 13th all of the shortlisted finalists will deserve the applause.


Migration: the issue that goes away and doesn’t come back

4 Jun

Migration issues are rarely far below the surface in the current neverendum debate. Overcrowding is cited as an inevitable consequence of the migrant influx but no one questions the underlying causes of congestion.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

To what extent are overcrowded cities and the pressures on services and infrastructure the result of our own homegrown policies over which we have complete control?

Parag Khanna in his new book ‘Connectography[1]’ observes the growth of megacities – increasingly coastal megacities – and, like the UK’s Centre for Cities and the RSA’s City Growth Commission, regards that growth as inevitable – a long-term trend towards the supposed richness of culture and economic efficiencies of scale.  The drift within England from North to South and the consequential pressure on London and the South East has at least been recognized as in need of remediation – hence the Northern Powerhouse concept – but the remedy proposes further growth of great cities from Manchester to Newcastle via Leeds, and HS3 must go to the back of queue behind HS 2 nowhere near as important. The 2007 Treasury White Paper on subnational growth pointed in sensible directions but fell amongst the chaos of global economic calamity (and bonkers bankers) in subsequent years.

But what if our smaller towns and communities in the vastly greater hinterland were better enabled to be economically thriving without driving their citizens away to distant cities never to return? While we bemoan the pressure of overcrowded capitals do we spare any thought for the depopulation of vast tracts of land and market towns or the demands on road and rail travel for commuters who cannot find work near home?

This is our internal migration issue, the imbalance of rural and urban economies. It affects many countries – which is why you can buy a second home for next to nothing in rural Northern Spain or the middle of France. We read of massive effort and creativity being poured into solving the challenges of making megacities habitable. That’s no bad thing but let’s not kid ourselves; we choose to huddle together. That internal migration towards ever-more complex cities (mostly internally-displaced economic migrants) far exceeds any issue of a few hundred thousand refugees arriving from elsewhere.

Local Authorities can and should rise to the challenge. They may not have mayors like megacities have mayors but they surely know what is needed to bring the children (and jobs for the children) home. They understand the consequences of neglect.  It is time for Municipal Enterprise.  The issue that went away but now needs to come back requires a multi-year round of rural renewal.  The investment will pay dividends – not least in the greater resilience of cities!



[1] Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution, Parag Khanna, pub: Weindenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, ISBN 978-1-474-80423-9