Getting in tune


I’m singing this note ’cause it fits in well
With the chords I’m playing
I can’t pretend there’s any meaning here
Or in the things I’m saying

But I’m in tune
Right in tune
I’m in tune
And I’m gonna tune
Right in on you

Getting In Tune, The Who, 1971


I admit it. I wrote this post just to have an excuse to refer to this song. Not really. I don’t need an excuse to refer to this song. Nobody needs an excuse to do that. Or to listen to it. Great song.

This is a post about collaboration, about people working together. Not just in your own team or department (although it can be that). Not just in your own company (although it can be that). Not just in your own country, or language, or timezone, or culture.

The problems of a new paradigm cannot be solved with the tools of the old. If we really want to make headway on issues ranging from climate change to availability of water; if we really want to deal with medical conditions that migrate at speed and mutate even faster; if we really want to resolve today’s versions of age-old problems to do with poverty and hunger; and if we want to do all this in a world heading serenely for 10 billion people and dwindling resources, we’re going to have to get better at doing at least one thing.


Across culture, timezone, language, jurisdiction.

While having objectives that are not just not aligned, but often in conflict.

And while figuring out what went wrong the last time and plugging in those lessons learnt as quickly and as effectively as possible.


And at scale, at a scale we have never known about before. Facebook scale.

This is a post about those things.



Collaboration requires many things, starting with the heart. You must want to collaborate, to work together. Even though there are many conflicts to be resolved.

Collaboration at scale requires many people to have a common understanding of the basics; in most cases, this common understanding will need codification so that the sharing can happen digitally. Otherwise we will not be able to work at the right speed. And what is that right speed? One that is faster than the pace of change in the environment, in the market, in the context.

I think this common understanding begins with labels and descriptors.

Like “when”. Synchronisation of watches wasn’t necessary until the locomotive arrived, it is a function of people in different locations treating time differently, looking at time in the context of their sunrises and sunsets. A perfectly reasonable thing to do. Unless you want people to work across timezones. So yes, there was a time when Manchester and London were in different timezones, and they had to sort that out before train timetables could mean anything.

Like “where”. Location labels are very important, as important as time labels. In many countries, the “ownership” of maps and mapping has been given away by some benighted government in the past to some agency or other, sometimes public, often private. In the process, monopolies were formed, and monopolies never get given up easily. Wailing and gnashing of teeth all the way to the grave. A shame, since it holds up progress; open data activists the world over are trying to resolve this. If the monopolists aren’t careful, they will watch stupefied as new commonses emerge, labelling every GPS location using collective intelligence and the latest digital tools. Too late, it’s already happening.


A monopoly on place names and information is like having a monopoly on the word Tuesday.


Like “who”. Identity is much more than a name, it’s about relationships. Relationships with people, with beliefs, with activities, with aspirations, with intentions. In singular or in plural, in pairs, in large groups. The name itself is commodity, a label.

Like “what”. Plant names, creature names. Part numbers and SKUs. Names for elements and compounds; generic, public. And not public.

If you have a product and I can’t refer to it in my “buying system” (whatever that is) then you won’t have me as a customer.

Taxonomies and ontologies can and should be open.


Taxonomies are the DNA of collaboration; open data catalyses collaboration.

We’re only just beginning to understand what true multistakeholder multicultural collaboration will need to look like. Right now we’re still in the Khrushchev phase. There are a lot of shoes flying around, and more to come. Good time to be a cobbler, perhaps.



One day the shoes will stop flying. And by that time we will know who will survive, who will thrive.

Because they’ll be the ones that have worked out how to share the labels and descriptors, who else is interested in such sharing, and how to speed up the transformation and innovation that will take place as a result. Across culture and timezone.

More later. Probably not for a couple of weeks.

4 thoughts on “Getting in tune”

  1. Ideally I’d like to see natural language interoperability – Pure and Easy – but first step is a better dictionary. Interesting problem for healthcare at mo. I also find sign-ons to have conversations put people into different buckets – including Chatter. Format wars too – in some ways Kindle less universal than paper. Is that cricket?

  2. The US Congress is firmly stuck in the Khrushchev phase lacking tools to merge dissent (and get in tune). Meanwhile the open source community has GitHub to successfully collaborate, merge and move past the Khrushchev phase.

  3. @Clive … thank you for introducing me to the “Nikita Khrushchev” idea… I learned something today (cool)… but aren’t they really good at using old school tools then?

    Is that really going to leave the Congress behind? I mean, they do have “secret” to hide behind :)

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