Carry on blogging: now with even more diverse content!

Obviously my previous blog post (on leaving my job at COI) was probably the most significant and personal single piece I’ve ever written here, and I’ve been really amazed and bowled over by the response and comments back on it via email, Twitter, Facebook and the rest – thank you, one and all.

It does, however, leave me in a bit of a nervous quandary about The Next Blog Post – it’s got something of that “difficult second album” feel to it after a breakout hit record, where you just know the follow-up just doesn’t have anything like the same importance, depth of meaning or frankly level of interest as that one and is going to be, if we’re honest, a bit of a disappointment. So I thought I’d throw in a quick “managing expectations” post in the meantime to lay out my intentions.

First, the good news (or maybe bad – depends on your point of view): I’ll certainly be blogging a lot more. In the past I’ve been ecstatic to get around to writing a blog post a month, and a post a week would have been a worrying level of hyperactivity from which neither I nor the blog would likely never have recovered. Now, though, with more time on my hands and with the public announcements of my circumstances out of the way, an increased frequency of posting is very much on the cards. You are hereby warned!

Actually, one of the limiting factors of blogging more is simply, “what am I going to write about?”, and here’s what I really wanted to say in this piece: it’s going to be as random, disorganised, eclectic and all-over-the-place as it ever was. Serious pieces about work – or rather, life without work for the time being – will be crammed alongside pieces about films and television programmes. Digital and social media developments will sit alongside pieces on politics, which I can now – no longer a civil servant – actually write and talk about.

I’m still very much interested in government and communications, and about what happens to COI, but I don’t want to become a one-issue blogger who drones on about the same subject every day because I’d bore the hell out of you, dear reader, and if not then certainly me. Also, there’s a lot of thoughts about all that which are swirling around in my head right now, and I need to let the pieces settle a bit before coming back and writing more in that area.

Hence the next post will be about US politics, and the one after that will be a scrapbook of film reviews that I’ve meant to post for about six weeks now but not got around to because of the other things have been going on, and then we’ll see what happens after that.

But in the meantime, just to keep the government comms theme running albeit by slender thread, I wanted to commend two brilliant blog posts I’ve been reading this week by public sector folk, one a former COI colleague.

Sun Tzu for our times?

Ross Ferguson, a former COI-er and now Head of Networks in the Digital Diplomacy Group at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote a fascinating blog post on David Kilcullen, a name not well known in the UK but who was one of the architects of “The Surge” initiative that the US implemented in Iraq.

Ross has written up a great summary of learnings from a 2007 paper written by Kilcullen offering a practical guide for officers engaged in counter-insurgency operations; Ross’s attention was caught by one line asking “what does all the theory mean, at the company level?” which leads on to the idea that the quintessential business poseur’s guide – the 6th century BC “Art of War” by Sun Tzu, often cited but rarely read one suspects – really needs a modern day equivalent. Just as the rules of war and engagement have changed profoundly during the last decade – and relying on a military handbook over two millennia old would be disastrous in this day and age – so too does business philosophy require a thorough updating and overhaul to meet a profoundly different landscape.

Among the lessons: Know your turf; Diagnose the problem; Travel light and harden your CSS; Find a political/cultural adviser; Train the squad leaders – then trust them; and Rank is nothing: talent is everything. As with the best blog posts, it’s thought-provoking and will get your brain whirring with ideas and possibilities.

Innovation functions in large organisations

The same is true for Kate Bennet’s post on the lessons she learned about innovation working on a graduate scheme at the Department for Work and Pensions. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a particular interest in innovation, and in particular with how anything approaching innovation can be achieved in such a large and habitually resistant-to-change culture as the civil service, so Kate’s blog post on the subject couldn’t have been more on my wavelength if I’d asked for a special commission.

There’s some really valuable advice here – from the need to mix old experienced hands with newcomers who are keen, fresh and eager; the need to push boundaries but still be aware of the need to win high-level friends and not alienate them; to the very important point that innovation is not the same as inventing from scratch, and that it’s not about the latest gadgets either. Kate finishes off with “sometime you have to forget the rules and just do it”, which is very true but also very difficult in a large organisation as there can be big consequences and frankly most of us are risk-averse, safety first especially when it comes to career-affecting judgement calls. As Kate wisely counsels at the very end of he piece: “if you push it too far then make sure you have a back-up plan.” Gulp!

Plus, I have to say that with its colourful and appropriate icons for each lesson, this is one of the more visually appealing blog posts I’ve read in a while. Makes me think I need to liven the place up around here!


  1. Ross Ferguson

    I hope that since you are now blessed with free time that you were able to watch that Kilcullen video from – a brilliant talk but also an interesting channel of other occasionally brilliant talks.

    Thing is, that @Google videos also provide an rare insight into the internal workings of Google and the issues that get their staff excited or not (cue Kilcullen video with it’s six or so attendees).

    You may also enjoy the

    That lot should keep you going. See who needs boxsets and books!

  2. andrewlewin

    You know, I’m beginning to wonder where I ever found time to go into work: this has already been one packed week and now you’re lining me up a full academic syllabus to get through!!

    I’m going to hide with a DVD boxset of action and explosions. Isn’t the final 24 out soon?!

    Cheers, Ross.

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