Tuesday, June 27, 2006

MnOnline Chair

My one-year stint as Chair of the MnOnline Council begins July 1. Already I'm beginning to think that this is going to be a colossal mistake. My tendency is to speak frankly and try to tackle issues head-on. It is my opinion that this is not a style that is acceptable within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Already I am hearing rumblings that certain people feel the need to squelch my expression of opinions. That is sad, but not surprising.

One of the books I'm reading now should be required reading for all higher ed adminstrators. The Cluetrain Manifesto is a brilliantly written treatise on how old-fashioned corporate-speak has no legitimate place in today's society.

Here's a quoted passage that speaks to me in my current situation of not being able to tell the truth about what is going on and instead feeling pressure to always speak the "party line." It's taken from pages 66-67 of the book:

"Companies will survive employees telling their truths, their stories in a business context, without instituting draconian controls on their ability to speak out when and to whom they please. We listen to individuals differently than we do to organizational speech. When a company publishes PR, it's trying to give us a complete message about who they are and what they do. We have to decide whether to trust or distrust the company based on a single statement. Well-written PR leaves us with few avenues for corroboration and second opinions. It's meant to be self-contained."

"On the other hand, when I converse with people inside a company, I hear stories from individuals. They're all grains of sand, their combined voices richer and more diverse than the univocal speech of corporate mouthpieces. We add up all the anecdotes we hear from individuals. We have to trust our own averaging, our own summing of stories, our own divining of truth. With more people, more stories in the mix, it's harder for one negative story to sway me. This speaks to the need to have many people in the organization talking to customers. A single 'corporate story' is a fiction in a world of free conversation."

And so, I enter this year with grave doubts about whether individual voices are allowed within the system. They clearly are not encouraged. As I like to say, I'm sure that this will become more interesting before it becomes more dull. (I'm also quite sure that I will be chastised for this particular post, which will of course make my point for me, but will also make life uncomfortable for me because I'm not supposed to form my own opinion or speak my own truth.)

1 comment:

Sam Buchanan said...

I really should start paying more attention to the Minnesota Online Council.

I'm glad you wrote this, Barry. I had begun to think the Cluetrain Manifesto was dated, that we had internalized its lessons and moved on, but as my delusions crumble it is clear that the book is still very relevant today. The book sure has started to crop up in my life a lot in recent weeks. I join you in recommending it as essential reading.

Maybe it's because we operate at different organizational levels within the system (for better or worse, being an obscure developer shields me from a fair amount of politics), and perhaps this just exposes my naïveté, but I don't think this is that inflammatory a post. It certainly shouldn't be. That you would find it so troubles me, as it speaks to the truth of what you say. It makes me all the more glad that you speak your mind and that you are blogging. I very much value what you have to say.

For what it's worth, some of us do encourage individual voices and clamor to hear more of them.