A couple of years ago I had the idea to chart the history of the BBC’s first twenty years online as a research project. Why? A couple of approaches to me since leaving the BBC in 2008 and as Professor of Digital Media and Innovation at WMG made me think. First could I answer a few questions to help a then PHD candidate at Kings College London Department with some background for his research on Blogging and War reporting and the BBC? I gladly helped out and it was fascinating to see how contemporary history is codified. It’s somehow different when its your own history that is being laid down however. It compelled me to turn to my own archives of how we set up the Blogging Platform at the BBC , who came to me first with the idea and what the confluence of influences were that brought the platform out into the open. I shall write about that separately another day.
The second approach was from Tim Jones, an Innovation Expert and practitioner whom we had worked with at the BBC but who ran an Innovation practise and who was working on a group of people writing a book called Growth Champions: the Battle for Sustained Innovation Leadership. Someone had got sick or left the project and I was asked to co-write a chapter at very short notice in the summer of 2011. My chapter was about Apple and Lego subtitled “Bringing Magic to the Everyday” the book looked at how companies kept sustaining their innovation leadership. It was a great time to look at Apple rising as high as it gets. I had a problem though. They don’t grant interviews. They didn’t even reply to my email request which is a bit of a first in my experience. To cut a long story short I turned to desk research to start out. And what did I find? Only people who loved Steve Jobs, or people who did not love Steve Jobs – hagiography and its opposite. Then thankfully I found an open archive in Stanford containing Engineers memos and then I found Folklore.org. Far from ideal not being able to get new material but it taught me a big lesson and raised a few questions. How is the story of digital change being told? Is it only CEOs who get to publish their autobiographies, or have their biographies written? In the age of the computer where is the history kept? On hard drives? But the stories prior to blogging where are they? Don’t suppose many people are writing memoirs or keeping diaries in the digital age, or are they just taking other forms?
Anyway it got me thinking about the BBC, how it tells its own story and how others tell it. I worked there from 1993 to 2008 and witnessed and took part in a very exciting period of organisational transformation. I felt sure that a lot would have been kept visible via the website from 1997 , in the written archives , perhaps in the oral history archive, and importantly in staff memories and experiences published on their own blogs or on BBC blogs. I took my idea to Roly Keating, then Head of the BBC’s archive and Online Editor and now Director of the British Library and we talked it through.
Many moons later I have now started the project with the BBC History Unit and the BBC’s oral history archive and many of my assumptions have been squashed as I explain on the BBC’s About the BBC blog and develop further here. Before April comes around again there should be a web page up with some excerpts of the oral history interviews we have conducted so far. The first step to creating a time line that I had supposed would exist somewhere on paper!
As I pack my holiday reading I realise that the books I am taking might be considered to be “work”orientated but after a momentary hesitation in they go to the suitcase. It’s clear now that my work interests are very close to my own life interests, and that is a good thing So books I have dipped into are going to get the proper attention they deserve. And my big question is this : is the power of the network strong enough to overcome the advantages of proximity?
I am thinking about this again as people I work with regularly are all on the move.
I am sad to miss the Kingswood Warren 60th Birthday party however obscure that might soundKingswood Warren has been the home of BBC R&D for 60 years and there is a party to celebrate next week, and a day of demos. But I read in the Guardian yesterday that there may be strike action to coincide with that day. That was news to me and got me thinking about the relationship between innovation and place.
You may have read articles in the press about the closure of Kingswood Warren and what that means to the the BBC , and there is undoubtedly a lot to think about when you start a discussion about the relationship of innovation and creativity to a place, geographical location or to a building.
BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren
But the fact that this building looks so opulent and other worldly obscures a proper discussion about the relationship between a place and the work that goes on it it. When we talk about an “esprit de corps” in an organisation or team, it’s a body of people we are talking about and their spirit we are highlighting – but does the place in which they work together count in the equation and if so what does it count for? Or can we say that wherever teams who know each other well work it will be the same? Is the power of the network strong enough to beat the power and advantages of proximity?
At the BBC this is the first move for the Kingswood Warren staff to London and that is likely to be followed by a second for some of them and many others to Salford to the MediaCity Development. This is a very interesting and exiciting development and the opportunity to create a groundbreaking research and production centre – but it will be a few years until it is all up and running and lots of transition time is hard for even the most dedicated to handle while keeping productive .I say this as someone who has worked in an organisation for many years whose propensity for change is high, and whose need to change is great.
BBC at MediaCity
This is not only being debated at the BBC, but more generally by writers such as Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater writing about collaboration and the network. What can be done virtually and what has to be done face to face? My take on this has always been that innovation is a social process. The place can be a garage or indeed a dingy forgotten basement such as the birthplace of BBC Imagineering, but the spirit needs to be willing. Networks work well virtually when there is a common purpose and a vision or mission. They also work in real locations for the same reason – the key is in relationships, language, camaraderie and cooperation – in other words in the social.
esprit de corps (-də kôr′)
group spirit; sense of pride, honor, etc. shared by those in the same group or undertaking
Etymology: Fr, lit., spirit of a body (of persons)
esprit de corps Synonyms
esprit de corps
Organisations need to move people around and change their location a lot for good business reasons. They also need to move people in and out of their organisations for business reasons too.
But what people find hard is when the web of relationships is broken by movement and limbo and so despite best endeavours output can become invisible, less important and at worst ignored as people try to preserve what they feel makes them tick – their teams and their esprit de corps.
What people like is to create webs of relationships which give them meaning beyond transition, or in transition and that is why the social and human will always drive innovation, whatever new technologies come along for them to investigate, explore and exploit. The social web gives people that opportunity whatever is going on in their workplace, but I wonder if anyone has measured the true cost of limbo and transition?
People skills in managing transition and change are vital as is vision. In my own area we do have a new leader, and there is a great sense of hope about the place that he will pull us all together and integrate and capture all the undoubted energy around and between our buildings. Who knows, I might come back to a whole new landscape.
A while ago I attended the Convergence Think Tank second seminar organised by BERR and DCMS looking at convergence in the media, telcos, advertising, policy etc. There is a good write up here by Simon Waldman. The most interesting thing for me (and I wasn’t officially representing the BBC) was the momentary conversation about the need to try new models of distributing content. Dawn Airey talked about this briefly in terms of potential experimentation with content in the long tail.
While detail was elusive I was glad to hear the thought was there. I tried to make a point but was not called and the point I wanted to make was that while there were organisations there representing Artists creativity and rights there were no artists a this event. Why might that be important? Because Artists are doing it for themselves…last year Radiohead, this year Rezner.
Go vote at the Wired Reznor vs Radiohead Innovation Smackdown and see who readers vote for most innovative in terms of distrubution, user generated content and more. The Evidence is here!
It would be great to get some hard facts about this artist-lead distribution models. And see what it might bring by testing it with video or tv clips owned by talent/artiss rights holders online…
Ofcom has scrapped the PSP. This is very interesting. At the Oxford Media Convention in January this year, at the session about the PSP and ideas about the future of public service broadcasting I made a comment from the floor as the temperature rose on the panel. Perhaps I just do too much facilitation at the moment. But what I said was that it seemed to me that the PSP proposal had always been a carrot or a stick (rather than a real thing). What had happened in the last year was that the industry, in its criticism, had taken it to be a stick and tried to kill it but it could have been seen as a carrot. Am beginning to wonder having just listened to the new Channel Four Innovation Strategy online this morning whether Channel Four might have taken it to be a carrot. I think we should be told….
Whatever has been going on behind the scenes, the Channel 4 Innovation for the Public fund sounds interesting
“Designed to “kick start a wave of new investment in public service digital media for audiences around Britain” the £50m 4IP fund will launch in July as a collaboration between Channel 4 and a series of development and media agencies from around the UK”
as does some of their language around creating value for the public and a new public value framework.