Elastic Communications in a Crisis

In an earthquake, well designed buildings in Japan absorb shocks by separating the building from the base, by using deformable building materials or with internal counter balances.  Buildings are more elastic.  Communications in a crisis also need to be elastic, to absorb shockwaves. In a crisis, services, technology, people and resources you take for granted may not be available where they are needed.  Computer networks, email systems, phones and power – any of these may be degraded or lost through a crisis, or they may be the cause of a crisis.  Obtaining intelligent awareness of a situation, working collaboratively towards decisions, conveying instructions and obtaining feedback depend on timely, accurate and digestible communications.  A crisis that limits usual communications choices necessitates resourcefulness.  It demands elasticity in the way individuals, teams and organisations think and act.  It demands elasticity in our infrastructures, our processes and policies.  Elasticity buys time and rigidity spends it.

Elastic thinking is the ability to recognize new priorities quickly, to broaden peripheral vision, to make fast decisions and to act appropriately.  If appropriate, security gives way to expediency, best guess becomes good enough,  quick and dirty wins over detailed and thorough.   Elastic communications is the ability to switch media to minimize the loss of your normal media choices.  If your corporate email is down, can you easily switch to a public mail system such as Google Mail? If it is necessary to communicate two way rapidly with employees and their loved ones over public instant messaging or SMS, can that be easily done in a Starbucks? Do you even have those instant messaging addresses on your laptop?  Are they a facebook or LinkedIn group? If your continuity plans are held on internal servers, are they also on third party servers “in the cloud” or on usb sticks, or handhelds?  How would you use Twitter to broadly disseminate information and solicit rapid feedback in a crisis? 

Elasticity is the least expensive path to build resilience.  It is provides a higher return on investment than building infrastructure.  Bespoke infrastructure contingencies are expensive.  Using multiple, off the shelf, public services are cheaper.  Elasticity builds agility. An elastic organization is a more open one, one that listens to customers better, responds more quickly and works more collaboratively with suppliers.   The benefits of elasticity go far beyond those of organizational resilience and the ability to withstand large seismic shocks.

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The YouTube Symphony Orchestra as a Virtual Team – an insider’s view

I confess to owning two blogs.  One is my work blog, and the other, this, a more whimsical personal blog.   As sometimes happen, there is a blog item that falls between two stools.  Here I blog about virtual teams (and of course, Nasrudin), and there I blog about sales channels – sometimes known as routes to market – how products and services reach end customers.  What is the connection between virtual teams and sales channels?   A channel ecosystem is a large virtual team, with a vendor at the heart of it, trying to motivate, cajole, coral, train and support third party companies to do their bidding and add value.  Plus I have this YouTube Symphony thing whirling in the background.  So this time, a blog on virtual teams, sales channels and the YouTube Symphony as an example of a large virtual team went to my work blog.

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Holding a mirror to the State

The King’s wise men were summoned to Court to cross examine Nasrudin. This was a very grave case. The Mullah had admitted going around the country exclaiming “The Court’s “wise men” are ignorant, indecisive and confused.” He was charged with undermining state security under new legislation designed to protect the state against foreigners planning terror.

Speak first, said the King to Nasrudin “Bring me pens and paper,” said the Mullah The pens and paper were brought. Give them to each of the first seven wise men. They were handed out. “Have them each separately write an answer to this question: “What is bread?” This was done.

The papers were given to the King who read them out loud. The first said, “Bread is a food.” The second said, “Bread is flour and water.” The third said, “Bread is a gift from God.” The fourth said “Bread is baked dough” The fifth said, “That depends on what you mean by “bread”.” The sixth said, “Bread is a nutritious substance.” The seventh said “No-one really knows.”

“Once they are able to decide what bread is,” said the Mullah, “then they can decide on other things, for example whether I am right or I am wrong. Can you entrust serious matters of judgement to men such as these? Is it not strange that they cannot agree on something that we eat every day, yet they are unanimous that I am a terrorist?”

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Finding common ground

The king sentenced his treasurer to death for defrauding the public purse and appointed Nasrudin as his replacement. Not long afterwards, the king learned that Nasrudin was giving treasury money to the poor. Summoning Nasrudin, the king asked “Do you want to end up dying like your predecessor?” “Surely your highness, you would not execute someone who is merely trying to prolong your stay on this Earth?” “How does stealing from my treasury help me to live longer?” asked the king.
“When I give money to the poor and needy,” replied Nasrudin, “ I ask for them to pray that you will live long and prosper. If we do not support prayers for you in this way, who will entreat Allah to keep you alive for another day?”

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Changing roles

Sometimes taking a team member outside the role in which they are most comfortable falls flat on its face.

The German French horn player, Bruno Jaenicke (1887-1946), was, for many years, the principal hornist of the New York Philharmonic and a truly great one. He can be heard on many of Toscanini’s recordings. He rarely missed a note and was held in very high regard by the profession. In November 1931, at a concert with the guest conductor, Erich Kleiber, Jaenicke was booked to play Strauss’ first horn concerto.  Standing in front of the orchestra, he was completely unnerved, fumbled, missed notes and sounded like an amateur. After the first two movements, he walked off stage and didn’t return. It was announced to the audience that Jaenicke was unwell and that the piece would be dropped from the programme. Backstage, Jaenicke was seen smashing his horn by jumping on it and later reportedly got blindingly drunk. It was at least a week before Jaenicke reappeared. He returned to the section with no explanations and resumed his career as America’s finest horn player.

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The magic bag

The marketer at CeBit from twenty paces away spotted that Nasrudin had money to spend. As the Mullah approached the booth, the marketer said to him, “You look like a discerning gentleman. Would you like this magic nosebag?” “What does it do?”  “Watch,” and from the bag, the marketer first drew out an iPhone, then a Wii, and finally a sat nav.   Nasrudin immediately forked over cash.  “Just one little thing,” said the marketer. “These bags are rather sensitive, so don’t annoy it.  Don’t let on to others too much about it and all will be well.”

Tired and hungry from walking around the huge exhibition, Nasrudin headed to the train station with the bag.  On the train he said, “Magic bag, give me a fresh warm giant pretzel.” He put his hand in the bag. It was empty.  “Perhaps it only gives out portable electronic devices because it is sensitive,” he thought to himself.  “Magic bag, give me a Bose SoundDock.”  Nada.  “Please don’t be annoyed with me, I just don’t understand you,” he said. Then Nasrudin remembered that when his donkey was annoyed, he bought it a new nosebag, so when he got home, he saddled his donkey, rode to his local dealer and bought a donkey for his new nosebag.  “Nasrudin what you doing with two donkeys?” shouted an acquaintance.   “You don’t understand, my friend,” replied the Mullah. “It is not two donkeys.  It is one donkey and his nosebag and one nosebag and his donkey.”

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Preparation

When Nasrudin’s donkey became sick, the Mullah wept in public. “Why are you crying, Nasrudin?” asked a friend, “Your animal is still alive!” “If he does die, I will have to bury him, buy a new one at auction and then spend many days training that donkey!” replied Nasrudin.  “There simply won’t be any time to grieve.”

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