Thursday, February 26, 2009

Elitists, Rennaissance Man and the Nuclear Option

The Good News is that we can break through some of the Clutter. The bad news is that we way we do it can destroy our personal brand overnight.When the rules change they can change utterly. Stephen Fowler, an environmental entrepreneur who develops biofuels, considers himself an educated man, and boasts of an IQ of 158. Educated in the old definition of "book learnin'" he may be. He describes San Francisco as one of the few places in America he could live with its Opera and Music. He describes with affection (some might suggest affectation) a mythical Europe of civilised thought and behaviour. One can ignore crude Australians such as myself that question how an Englishman could be called 'European' (the technical Australian term is "Pommie" as in 'that Pommie Bastard').

His world has come crashing down however. He has apologized in a statement posted on his wife's blog for behaving "like a complete jerk" and has resigned from the boards of two nonprofit corporations for reflecting badly on the organizations. How? Why? In a way - because he wasn't educated enough. Several News organisations and the fun Huffington Post have described the massive fallout from appearing in Wife Swap and insulting the incoming Wife who hailed from Missouri. The reaction has affected his business and his wife's business. It has also affected the perception of potential business partners and friendships. Perhaps he thought noone he knew would be watching. That was probably true on the night, but Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and, of course, email started a flash fire amongst those that knew the couple, then anyone that knew someone that lived in Missouri, and finally spread across the Planet. When I say 'finally' we are talking a matter of a few days.

There are two parts to this - one is understanding the flash fire and what we have unleashed with the technology. @Stilgherrian pointed me to this article by Mark Pesce The Nuclear Option. I won't summarise the article because it is worth a read in whole. It addresses how something like Twitter combined with normal human behaviour transforms communication and creates unintended consequences.

What does that mean for us. One is that noone reading this will ever make the mistake that Fowler did of fouling his own nest. Was it hubris? (who cares what the viewers think of me?). Perhaps in part, but it was also a lack of education, a lack of literacy - technological literacy. The challenge for us all, is that the definition of 'educated' has moved on. Can one be educated today without a knowledge of Science? without an understanding of the technological world we have bequeathed to our children? Those of us who are parents need to be able to engage our children online as well as offline. Those of us that are in business, need to be aware that one mistake can blow up, and need to nurture our brand. Even those of us that take a relaxed view of life, need to keep a little watching brief on what is running in the back channel or we can be in real strife.

As Fowler discovered, ignorance is no protection. In fact, ignorance let it blow out of control. The only response that seems to work effectively is full, clear and immediate communication. Get on YouTube. Explain or apologise. Excuses leaked through 'friends' or spokespeople don't cut it. The world has changed - like it or not.

We will truly have our 15 seconds of fame - but remember as the big celebrities do - the Paparazzi are everywhere... little brother is watching. The future is here.

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