Malcolm was talking to me about an article he’d read in the Times; since then he’s blogged about it. And something about it made me feel uneasy. And it wasn’t what he said or thought, just something I could’t pin down.
Then today I was doing my usual trawl around the blogs of people I like reading. While I have my netvibes set up the way I want, and I love it, I still like an old-fashioned wander every now and then. RSS aggregators are great at showing “latest” and “today” and “now” and “unread” and all that jazz, but sometimes I want the apparent serendipity of walking across to someone’s blog and just wandering around. Following links almost randomly.
And reading reviews of Rebel Sell, my unease returned. I began to understand why I felt the way I did when I read the Times article referred to by Malcolm.
I think we make a big mistake when we use terms like counterculture and rebel and deviant loosely. They’ve had it as terms. Defunct. Finito. Past their sell-by-date.
Because every time we do that, we paint a big red X across the backs of the people we so describe and put the firm’s immune system on full alert. And the rebels are toast.
Which is often a shame. Because they weren’t rebels. Or deviants. Or counterculture whatevers.
They were doing their job. Trying to find a better way of doing things. [In a strange way, I think that Malcolm’s feeling for consultants is related. When a “consultant” finds a better way of doing things firms roll out the green carpet, papered with spondulicks; when someone in the organisation quietly does the same thing,Â he’s a deviant…]
- When I was 15, we had a new maths teacher. He walked into class and stated first off that he would personally award the Nobel Prize to anyone in his class who managed to fail GCE O Level Mathematics-With-Additional-Mathematics. Then proceeded to ask us “What is the maximum number of electrons in the nth orbit of an atom?”. Hands went up, the answer was provided. He then gave the answerer a piece of chalk and said “Prove it”. The proof, based on permutations and combinations and induction, was provided.
- He then looked at all of us and said “You think I’m impressed? Not one bit. You want to impress me, don’t give me the right answer. Ask the right question. From today you will be judged not by the answers you give, but by the questions you ask.”
Asking questions is important. Asking the right questions is even more important. And sometimes, asking the right questions requires some investigation, some experimentation.
And we let everyone down when we start labelling people adept at doing this as rebels and deviants. Or by labelling that class of activity as counterculture. Because the terms have been hollowed out and trashed.
Call it emergence. Call it democratised innovation. Call it something. Probably not even opensource any more, because the six-degrees-of-meaning approach has already connected opensource with pinko and lefty and rebel and deviant and counterculture.
Just don’t call it deviant.
Generation M is not innately rebellious or deviant or even countercultural. They have new tools they understand better than we do. They don’t have some of the shackles and frames and anchors and tunnel vision we have. And they are asking why? in a number of ways and in a number of places. And they need to be encouraged.
The act of downloading music off the Net is in no way rebellious or deviant. Just a better way of accessing and acquiring music. Buying books, ordering groceries, looking for cheap flights and hotels, watching homemade videos, these are not intrinsically deviant or rebellious activities. Combining things and seeing (or hearing) what happens is not fundamentally rebellious.
We have to be careful. Words have power. Let us use them wisely.