picnic08: Charles Leadbeater and Clay Shirky. Boulders and Pebbles

I noticed at this conference that I got most from the sessions where there was room for new conversations to take place between the speakers after their keynotes or presentations in the one-on-one exchange between them , intersected by questions from the floor. I wonder too if it is the time when speakers themselves can think new thoughts? I have two examples of this from Picnic08 .

The first from my own talk when my CD and powerpoint became corrupted and I had to speak without slides which will be the subject of another post.. the second in the final moments of Charlie Leadbeater’s talk when Clay Shirky asked him some questions and you had two great minds on stage thinking together – thinking live, thinking as performance.

Charlie in one section of his talk , captured here , talked about mainstream media organisations as Boulders, and individual content creators as Pebbles. His argument which built very elegantly suggested more than strongly that the Pebbles will have the future and that Boulders could never understand the agility, creativity and sheer potential generated by the pro-am, the user-generated and the unleashed creative potential of the network.

And what’s more, he argued, the Boulder (mainstream media) could never manage creatively enough to harness this explosion of creativity (I am paraphrasing here so please do correct me if I am wrong) . The landscape of the beach was changing and this was a direction that was now unleashed. But in the Q&A with Clay Shirky Charlie talked about his earlier meetings with Business keen to harness the creativity of the Pebbles and who asked him how best to harness the energy and to mange their output?

Rocks, Pebbles and Boulders by SixSixSith

Rocks, Pebbles and Boulders by SixSixSith

This posed a bit of a conundrum, for me at least. On the one hand the future of creativity and agility was in the hand of the pebbles who are free to network and grow their interconnectedness, on the other the needs of business to harness such creativity in order to get output. So I made an observation from the conference floor which I hoped might move things on from this either /or dialogue. I identified myself as both a Boulder and a Pebble. I work in a Boulder, but I am also a Pebble I write my blog, I contribute to other blogs and in other ways with my more individual creativity and output. And what’s more I work in my Boulder to encourage more Pebbles to interact with us and our Boulder to become more permeable – and in this respect and now I am now pushing at an Open door.

So isn’t the landscape more beautiful if you have Boulders and Pebbles on the beach together ? Isn’t the question rather about what is the creative or dynamic type of leadership needed in the networked world to harness the strengths and creativity of both and encourage the exchange – rather than assert the two camps , with the one on the path to triumphing the other.

Clay picked up the theme and contextualised it in terms of governance and management: people need a framework in which to be creative or innovate – the blank page does not always help them. He also talked about his analysis of the Linux Kernel report and how even Boulders can fund people to produce work that is valuable to the wider eco-system and enable the Pebbles to become stronger (my paraphrasing but for a proper summary of that work see here . And so, whether Boulders or Pebbles, the issue is of governance and framework setting – creative management in a way if such a thing can exist. I think Charlie agreed with this – while there are lots of examples he cited of people coming together in networks to do things together there needs to be a spark or a catalysit – and it seems what we may be talking about is the new definition of leadership, or creative leadership in the networked work place, or the networked world.

What I do know is that the next morning Clay came back to the platform and told us that after that talk and exchange he had torn up his prepared talk and started again with something new – I blogged that at the time. So perhaps the new had been allowed to emerge in those moments of thinking aloud and live – those moments at conferences that so easily get lost to the schedule but which produce lots of new value.

But getting back to creative leadership the session at Picnic that certainly made me happiest was watching and listening to Itay Talgam talk to a packed hall about creative leadership in the form of the symphony conductor. I couldn’t have taken notes so spellbound I was by his dissection of the meaning of the body language of the various maestro (maestri?) he showed us. Of course if you go to a classical concert more likely than not you will see the back of the conductor’s head and shoulders and not his face. But Itay turned it all around with some clips, and stories and lead us into an understanding of what such leadership could be best demonstrated by Leonard Bernstein. Ethan Zuckerman’s description of the talk is terrific, as is the one by Masters of Media. At the end we were left watching a clip of Bernstein conducting without moving his body or his arms. The expressions on his face, a raised eyebrow or an expression of pleasure or suffering were enough to communicate all he needed to after all the work he had done with the orchestra in advance. Just one look and he had them where he wanted them, and they collaborated to give him, and us, what we wanted to hear. No better end to a day of discussions around collaboration and leadership, and boulders and pebbles.

Here is an interview with Itay from Picnic08, followed by a Leonard Bernstein clip (with hands!)

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1 Comment

Filed under collaboration, conferences, creativity, engagement, media, participation

One response to “picnic08: Charles Leadbeater and Clay Shirky. Boulders and Pebbles

  1. Which all goes to show how we shouldn’t always think in metaphors.
    I am not a pebble. Pebbles are inanimate lumps that get washed around by waves. I do not work for a boulder I work for an organisation….

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