Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A moment of pragmatism?

I'm heading off to LSE in a few minutes, where Clay Shirky is speaking tonight. Journalism.co.uk has an interesting interview with him today - the following passage jumped out, in relation to my recent posts:

Significant changes often come at times of crisis, like the current financial downturn, adds Shirky, who says we are entering a two-three year period which could shape society for decades.

"In a crisis people lay their hands on what works without regard to how they've done it the past," he says. Often seen as informal changes, significant technological shifts quickly become part of the established political landscape, he says.

Shirky hopes that specifically British issues will get raised at tonight's debate. "When this stuff charges in the US the questions are 'what are the kids doing?' and 'what is it going to do to companies?' In the UK it is 'what is it going to do for the government and social exclusion?'

Two ideas there that resonate with the conversations I've been involved in over the last couple of weeks. Firstly, that the UK already stands out for applying ideas from the social web to solving social problems. (That doesn't mean we've done it brilliantly, just that it seems to be more of a focus of people's thinking and activity in the British startup scene.)

The second one is the idea that a major crisis can generate a moment of pragmatism - a point at which new ideas and approaches may suddenly get taken seriously, with lasting consequences. I don't know about anyone else, but I've been aware of a pragmatic openness to radical ideas lately, from a surprising range of directions.


Vinay Gupta - Hexayurt Project said...

We do not influence the course of events by persuading people that we are right when we make what they regard as radical proposals. Rather, we exert influence by keeping options available when something has to be done at a time of crisis.
--Milton Friedman

happyseaurchin said...

you are definitely well placed :)

seems to parallel basic strategy in GO
where each stone is effectively reducing the number of possible moves
and hence
it is about keeping as many options open as possible...

sofia said that shirky said
this time marks the end of gurus

interesting stuff

Dougald Hine said...

@Vinay - nice quotation. It reminded me of a couple of others, not quite as relevant, at least one of which I'm sure you know:

"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antione de Saint-Exupery

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - Buckminster Fuller

@happyseaurchin - yes, one of his themes was how much things have changed since a year ago, and how little need there is now for evangelism about the potential of these technologies. I'll try to write up some more on his talk tomorrow. I don't remember the "end of gurus" line, but it sounds in tune with what he was saying - and it also reminded me of this article on how web 2.0 and government learn to work together in Obama's Whitehouse, which you might find interesting.

(By the way, apologies to you and others for the lack of daily email updates - am trying to conserve my energy a bit, but will send a general update soon.)

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