Saturday, 12 December 2009

Monkeys with Typewriters


Monkey-typing   On Wednesday, I attended the book launch of Jemima Gibbons’ new book on social media, Monkeys with Typewriters.

The book is named after the theoretical monkeys or apes who, given long enough, produce the complete works of Shakespeare, and therefore explain the golden rules of social media:

  1. It’s simple (because monkeys can do it)
  2. It’s fun (why else would monkeys bother)
  3. Its ubiquitous (everywhere you look, there’s another goddamn monkey with a typewriter).


The book is one of the best I’ve read on social media - partly because a lot of Jemima’s experiences resonate for me (I’m one of the people who have never quite managed to get to Tuttle, but I have been a Fellow of the RSA for most of the last 15 years) – but there are other reasons too.

The book is written as a narrative, describing a series of experiences which I think works well.  And it also provides a lot of information, a lot of which is surprisingly current, and quite a bit of which is new for me – and I read a lot about this space.  All the book’s arguments are also very well referenced and supported.

But I’m also impressed because I think the book outlines the the paradigms that come with working with social media very well.

I’m particularly pleased to find that Jemima agrees with my own perspective that we need to focus on people, and what the technology enables people to do, rather than starting from the technology itself.

So, much of the book focuses on the required changes in leadership within a social media enabled environment, ie one that is not about:

  • command and control
  • micro-managing
  • over-structuring.


But instead, is based upon:

  • co-creation
  • passion
  • learning
  • openness
  • listening
  • generosity.


Jemima describes her dream environment as one which looks like the world-wide web (or at least, web 2.0 – Gary Hamel’s argument too):

“Wouldn’t it be great to have a system where people worked together constructively without the need for micro-management?  Where people were passionate about what they did?  Where there was a common understanding of objectives and protocols?  Where people knew who to ask if they wanted advice or where to go if they needed feedback on something?  Where there were numerous experts on hand to give advice for free?  Where people co-operated and shared stuff without arguing, and got rewarded for doing so?  Where people were valued and appreciated by their peers?  An overwhelmingly create environment, where ideas and materials were frequently re-used, re-purposed and mashed together in order to form new, eminently desirable products and services – desirable because it was the consumers themselves who had shaped them?”


I still think we need to take Jemima’s argument regarding people vs technology further however. For me, we need to be much clearer about what we’re trying to create.   Focusing on an environment which is enabled by social technology is still inherently about technology.  We need to go beyond this and think about all the different ways the desired environment can be created.

Even better we can go beyond talking about environment and focus on the outcomes this environment provides us, whether this is customer or employee engagement, knowledge, productivity or connections and relationships – or social capital (which is, in my view, the key outcome from both social technologies and the environment that Jemima describes).

Once we’re clear about the outcomes, we can look at which environments and which technologies or other enablers can best create these. My belief is that this can lead to an even more compelling case for change than the arguments Jemima uses for her very human organisational environment.

But I do think this book is a big step forward (from Andrew McAfee’s ‘not not about the technology’ for instance).


Picture credit: Chris 73

Technorati Tags: Jemima Gibbons,Monkeys with Typewriters,Triarchy Press,social media


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Jemima Gibbons said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for this kind write-up and very glad you enjoyed the book!

Good to meet you at the launch.

Best wishes,

Fairflow said...

Hello Jon,

I too was glad to meet you at the launch and thanks for blogging about the book and taking the discussion further. I look forward to more once I've reassembled my thoughts...


Fairflow said...
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Fairflow said...

Replying to the content of your blog, I agree that a focus on the outcomes ("social capital") of working in the way Jemima advocates will help us to encourage these outcomes in new and better ways. It often seems that the technology gets a life of its own though; and there are reasons for this. It is often difficult to predict the uses people will find for new technology so it will not always be posssible to work backwards from a good intention to the systems that will enable it. The technology has to help us do what is important to us, whether it's discussing developing software for an operating system or editing a book or film. Most people won't use something simply because it supports an ideal.

Fairflow said...
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Jon Ingham said...

Thanks Matthew.

I think that's right, but only up to a certain level of value (see under technology inspired implementation:

And maybe it's also the case at higher levels of value for web 1.0 where there's the opportunity to create value and gain competitive advantage from IT.

But for web 2.0, competitive advantage doesn't come from the IT, it comes from the people the IT supports. So we have to think of the people, and the opportunities provided by the people, first.

Fairflow said...

Here's a better (i.e working) proper link from where the book can be bought, easily, quickly and cheaply :-))