Wednesday, September 27, 2006


One of the things I love about this blog, my most personal blog, is the sense of conversation.

There are now over 55 million blogs worldwide, still growing at 75,000 per week. This does not matter, nor am I especially worried about clawing my way up the Technorati rankings. I am only concerned about a tiny slice, that group that wants to talk to me or that I have so far found and want to talk to. So I thought that I should pause and talk about some of those conversations.

In my post of 25 September 25, 2006 Keeping a Sense of Perspective - Larrikins and Volunteers I repeated an earlier point about Australia having a unique culture. Then in response to the immediately following post (26 September) Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y - What does it all mean?, David Anderson commented:

If I did not know you were talking about Australia I would think you are here in the US. I find it intriguing that established countries seem to be moving step by step together in business and culture changes.

David is right, of course. When I was looking at the Gen X stuff on Wikipedia I too was struck by similarities. In similar vein, our conversation about sense of alienation, the disconnect felt by many people, also brought out the similarities between countries.

How, then, do we reconcile all this with my claim re Australia's cultural uniqueness? What are the forces bringing such convergence about? How are ideas transmitted and adopted? Has Australia in fact lost its uniqueness?

All this is interesting stuff that requires thought. At this stage I would only make a distinction between an idea or concept and the way that it is transmuted in practice in the circumstances of particular cultures.

One example that I hope to discuss a little later in the context of the change process in Australia is the way the global revolution in public administration including the winding back of the welfare state found a very particular and clear form in the New Zealand model that was then imported into Australia in a bastardised way as it met the barriers created by Australia's institutional rigidities.

In another conversation, Neil put up a very interesting article on his blog on Menzies and the Suez crisis. I had not focused on the Suez crisis in my thinking about change in Australia. I found the article intensely interesting because it made me think of the broader context in which the crisis, I think a key historical turning point, occurred as well as the associated implications for Australia.

The thinking I have been doing about cross-cultural comparisons on this blog feeds into other thinking. Using the concept of professional mental mudmaps as a peg, one of the issues that I have been pursuing on the Managing the Professional Services Firm blog is the cultural differences between and within professions. Often unrecognised, these have quite profound effects on behaviour.

As an aside, it may not surprise you to know that several Belshaws have been anthropologists, that I have been interested in social and cultural analysis from an early age, while my honours thesis in history - an analysis of the economic structure of Aboriginal life in New England at the time of the European intrusion - was a study in ethnohistory.

In the midst of these conversations I should mention that there is one conversation that I should have been having and have not. Tony Karrer has been putting up some quite remarkable material on his blog dealing with learning and especially e-learning.

I say remarkable both because of its standard and its simplicity. Someone who is interested in and wants to find out about e-learning can find much of what they want there. It is a world class blog.

I said that I should have been having a conversation. Because I have been focused on other things I have not participated in discussion with Tony in the way I should have, including not responding to his response to one of my suggestions.

Tony, please accept this as a public apology.


Tony Karrer said...

Jim - no apology needed. I have enjoyed our conversations and one of the nice thing about blog conversations is that we all understand how it flows. I appreciate your kind words and look forward to continued conversations when they make sense.

Travel Italy said...

Jim - Perhaps this is the herd affect. The US is perceived as some sort of Utopian mecca of economic possibility. I would even venture to say that in past years it has been but today is facing some economically frightening situations. Other countries only see the opportunity and dismiss good basic business sense and are emulating the US model.

I am amazed at the rhetoric used in various countries, it could be said by Larry Kudlow on CNBC.

Perhaps it is the Internet that is facilitating this expansion.

You see, it is easier to make money with financial operations than producing a quality product so everyone is trying to intervene financially on their problems but this does not work long term. We have numerous examples, Kmart in the 80s, Sears, the Airlines, car manufacturers, etc. GM is the most visible, it can cut costs all it wants but until it produces a viable product it will continue to lose market share.

Our Govts. are the same, they want to cut services and break the financial contract they made when they raised taxes in years past but fail to address the real problem: their management has been a failure and they need to change the way they do business.

Unfortunately companies have eliminated those with a bit of experience for a short term reduction in cost so they cannot understand the changes they are facing and Govt. is corrupt.

I see bleak times as the herd piles on, accentuating the problem. Who knows we may be ripe for a new type of world dictator!

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you Tony. I was pleased to see having written my comment (we are indeed both members of linkedin bloggers)that you had been placed number one in a list of top e-learning blogs.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting as always, David.I think that you are right in the herd effect, although the flow is too as well as from the US. After all, Rupert Murdoch came from Australia!

Your point about the business focus on financial management is well taken and links to managerial short-termism.

I think that the impact of the internet on the herd effect is very mixed, working against the herd effect in many cases. TV is more important. News trivialisation (the twenty second grab)combined with 24 hour news coverage is I think more important.

I am more positive than you about the future because I can see positive as well as negative trends.

Travel Italy said...

I wish I could see a bright future but I am not seeing the necessary understanding of the cyclicallity by management of corporations to believe that they will be able to take the "visionary" steps.

Take the US in this simple scenario, eliminating services, only 8% of what the US needs to support the economy is produced in the US. What happens if global tensions rise. This is evidenced by a recent break-out of E-coli in Spinach. Because of one farm in California Spinach has completely dissappeared from US markets. ONE FARM.

Economies work the same way as companies do. You should never have one producer yet our current system facilitates the creation of mega producers eliminated the geographical distribution of the production of goods.

What will be the reaction of the people if 92% of the goods necessary to survive can no longer be sourced?

Jim Belshaw said...

David, tell me more about the spinach case. Why did the spinach disappear? Was it a Government reaction, a shop reaction, a customer reaction or a combination? It sounds like an example I might want to use.

I, too, worry from time to time about the hollowing out of economies on one side, concentration and complexity on the other. In Australia two chains, Woolworths and Coles, dominate the grocery market. Their decisions can and do affect entire industries.

In the eighties I did a fair bit of work in the defence arena. One of my people was an expert in and wrote a lot about the risks associated with complex technology. The bigger and more complex the system the greater the risk of unforseen and potentially catastrophic failure.

Countervailing trends? You pointed to one of them in your comment on linkedin bloggers, people going with bosses they like. Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly given the conversation thread, my next part written post is in part on changing attitudes to work.

Other trends include the debate on work/life balance, sea change and tree change in Australia, the eat local movement in the US, the slow food movement, life style downsizing (how I hate that word), the creation of support structures - linked in itself is an example - providing the type of individual support that once came from the organisations we all worked for.

In a small way, my own blogs are an example as is yours. You have a focus on the texture of Italian life (I would like to see more of this, by the way). I am using this blog as my main conversation blog, I launched New England Australia to celebrate an area that I love and which is in danger of being lost, Regional Living Australia aims to sell the virtues of non metro life, even managing the professional services firm (a business blog) picks up related issues - improving people management for example.

I think that individuals do have more power than they realise even in complex systems. At the very least we have the power to use our pens.

I join linked in bloggers to find out more about blogging. This introduces me to your blog. I then use your approach as a guide to help me in thinking about my approach, especially to the New England and Regional Living blogs. Now we are in a more general conversation.

I think that this example can be replicated thousands of times over. Without overstating it, we are a trend in our own right.

Travel Italy said...

Jim - for the Spinach thing you can find info at Centers for Disease Control.

Several people have died. The area has had several ecoli infectious break-outs over the past 10 years but, what amazes me, is that no one is asking why 60% of the US spinach supply is from one company!

In the name of free market we have created numerous monopolies. I consider the food supply monopolies to be the most dangerous to the future of the US.

I have some other thoughts on your comments that I will try to put down tomorrow. I do not mean to take over your blog but your thoughts are incredibly insightful.

Jim Belshaw said...

That spinach thing is terrifying, David.

Please don't worry about either the length or frequency of comments. How can you have a conversation withou frequency and substance?