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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Sunday
Nov082009

The BBC, Enterprise 2.0 and management bollocks

I have been helping my wife edit some short videos she recently made for a client. The whole thing was shot and edited on what is disparagingly called "consumer" kit but, even though I say so myself, ended up looking remarkably professional. In fact you'd be hard pushed to tell it part from output costing thousands. In terms of story telling the means of production, and indeed of distribution, is most definitely in the hands of each of us to an extent that hasn't been true for decades.  

Then I found myself watching Strictly Come Dancing last night and marvelling at the BBC's ability to pull together such a large scale, complex, and highly professional operation. I found myself lapsing back into thinking that only a big organisation like the BBC could produce something like this. But then it wasn't "the BBC" that did it. It was a collection of highly skilled individuals working together. The number of full time craft staff has been being cut back since my own early days as a manager and certainly a high proportion of the most skilled staff are freelancers. The programme will have been put together by teams assembled on the basis of recommendation -  networks of trusting and trusted professionals. Even the directors and producers may well have been freelance. The whole thing could, and indeed might, have been pulled together without the need of the BBC.

Trust me -  I know. I was a manager of half of my 21 years at the BBC, the last few at a senior level. I know the extent to which people in suits sit in meetings "playing at shops" while others get on with doing things - very often in spite of the obstacles thrown in their way by the organisation whose espoused purpose is to support them. But it isn't. It is to perpetrate itself. It is like most, if not all, organisations that get to a certain size. They lose the plot and forget that they are there to serve an original purpose. They become a self perpetuating end in themselves.

This is the root of the biggest problem I have with most Enterprise 2.0 thinking. It is really little different from the institutional, centralised, professionalised thinking that we already have. It is about large scale corporate entities with large scale corporate budgets. It is about centralised technology decisions made by professionalised managers. It is about a monster recreating itself in its own image. It is emphatically not about getting more done better for less. To do so would take too much of a radical repositioning by people brought up from kindergarten to think that what we have now is the only way to get things done.


 

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Reader Comments (12)

great post Euan, thanks for sharing.

The means of creation and barriers to entry are changing so that the more I think about the present situation, where creative power is being re-vested in small groups and individuals, the more I feel that the coming paradigm is not so much Enterprise 2.0 as Renaissance 2.0.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercolin beveridge

It is about centralised technology decisions made by professionalised managers. It is about a monster recreating itself in its own image. It is emphatically not about getting more done better for less. To do so would take too much of a radical repositioning by people brought up from kindergarten to think that what we have now is the only way to get things done.

Well, yes.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJon

In the work I've seen from the Council members, there *is* something new and different going on. (I hear ya on the monster talk in the e20 echo chamber, though.) But the companies that are pushing the leading edge on this stuff have changed their corporate DNA and continue to push. I feel somewhat frustrated I can't talk publicly about the changes that are taking place in these large (once conservative) companies. It's anathema to trust in the corporate world, but as you've suggested in your production model, trust is an efficient medium to produce a predictable, positive result. Where I was once blindly optimistic, I am now sublimely satisfied we are all on the right track.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Scrupski

That's great to hear Susan. I have no doubt that things are going to shift and have no problem with some of that happening under the E 2.0 banner if it helps!

November 8, 2009 | Registered CommenterEuan

One of the issues you are touching on is the tension between management and leadership. With a small organisation, one person can do both. As they pass the 20-25 employee mark this becomes impossible. With an organisation such as the BBC spending citizens' money good corporate governance is demanded. Suits provide excellent stability and governance; the creators need to come up with the vision.

The trick is to provide a creative framework which lets the people responsible for well governed management have confidence in the creators. Then the creators can have the vision, and the managers can do the change management to get there.

Can Enterprise 2.0 help?

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Oughtibridge

I agree totally that this is a size issue. We have been suckered into believing that large scale organisations are the only way to achieve things, and are in and of themselves "trustworthy". I am beginning to suspect that "good corporate governance" is a myth requiring more and more of the same nonsense to perpetrate itself in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary!

November 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterEuan

We've both worked in big organizations where you spend more time and energy working around the bureaucracy and hierarchical process to get things done, than you do actually getting things done (which is why we both left). I agree that it's mostly a size thing, and most enterprise thinking isn't good enough, but I wouldn't necessarily put "most enterprise 2.0" approaches in that same class. In any case, it's all about a combination of getting the culture right, and making sure that individuals and teams understand what the real objectives are. I'm sure that's why the big BBC Strictly in Blackpool production was such a success - all of those freelancers and crafts people know what the end intent is and get on with it. When they've got clarity of purpose and some leeway to do what is necessary, they can achieve something special. That's the kind of philosophy you see working in good enterprise 2.0 implementations.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Terrar

I'm surprised that you've picked the BBC to illustrate this. It's a common public choice theory criticism of bureaucracies that never seems to be applied to commercial corporations. It illustrates the biases that arise from the fact that some interest groups can raise loud questions while others can't.

By most reasonable standards, the BBC recycle an impressive percentage of their income as high-quality output - AND they do it boundaried by demands for compliance from an impressive array of hostile interest groups.

And here's the big question: If it is true that "...the whole thing could, and indeed might, have been pulled together without the need of the BBC" I'd like to know why no-one else - anywhere in the world - is pulling together content of this quality as efficiently as the BBC does?

It's easy to forget, but content-creation isn't a large sector of our economy. The parts of the economy that make huge profits piggy-backing on content creation (ISPs, mobile operators, pay-TV carriers, hardware manufacturers, search engines) absolutely dwarf the content creators. BSkyB make more money from subscriptions than ITV do from advertising, but uniquely within the EU, they are excused from regulatory obligations to make programmes in return for their dominant market position (wonder why?).

You could ask why *these* organisations produce so little by way of public goods in comparison.

I would suggest that the biggest problem isn't self-perpetuating bureaucracies but the way that monopolistic business practices perpetuate large self-serving inefficient entities.

Thus my surprise that you chose the BBC to illustrate this.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Evans

My intention wasn't to have a go at the BBC so much as to show that work that used to be seen as inevitably the preserve of large organisations increasingly isn't. I chose the example of programme making because I had a current example of what is possible and also direct experience of what it used to take.

Yes the BBC still makes better programmes than most and arguably still employs loads of smart engaged people. However it also shares with any large organisation overheads which increasingly it could do without. I would agree that there are many, many organisations in all sorts of sectors that are in the same or worse states and need to change.

Watching Murdoch get things badly wrong at the moment suggests that struggling with this stuff is commonplace.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

In Italy, Rai, the italian Pbs, we are experiencing an even worse situation as Murdoch is producing channels in the hundreds doing more with less and monopolizing a so called quality tv. That is because a large organisation like Rai is loosing its importance because of what you well describe as a centralised decision making which justifies a centralised and powerful management, while others under theirs direction have to get the machine going. So Rai is losing budgets, quality and importance, because we don't respect the first rule of thumb, which you seem to refer to indirectly in your post: public value for money, which again is simply said, and I quote you, " getting more done better for less".

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercarlo alberto

Great post Euan.
Just read through it and all the comments aswell.
Very interesting indeed.

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Chanson

Yuk - what a load of self satisfied Gunk!

November 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJasper

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