Time for corporate Ireland to wake up and smell the free trade coffee?

At least two estimable columnists picked up Ibec on what Richard Delevan describes as penning ‘the most perversely ignorant sentence’ of 2006. The import is that corporate Ireland is still not getting the net, and shows few signs of shaking itself out of its long term lethargy/complacency. Delevan reckons Ibec and Irish business is missing the point of online business:

Ask yourself the following questions.

Which podcasts do you sink? What did you think of geriatric1927 on YouTube this week or Un-pimp My Ride III? Is your WiFi good enough to Skype on my Treo? How many MySpace friends do you have? Have you got the workaround for the Bebo ban? Isn’t that, like, sooo Google in China? Will the blogosphere back Bertie?

If that paragraph was incomprehensible, you fall into one of the following categories: you’re over 35, you’ve been in a cave since 9/11, or you’re working for Ibec.

He refered to a quote from the Republic’s employer’s association’s faux pas, from last Thursday:

Greeting the Leaving Cert results of the “text generation”, the Indo warned they “have little interest in learning on the job, take no pride in their work’ and struggle to turn up on time”. My favourite quote of the article was from Caroline Nash, Ibec’s assistant director of policy: “Texting, online chat, Bebo . . . they all involve a style of interaction that is acceptable among young people, but which fails to make the grade in the working world.”

Yep, that last sentence is the one that has them well ahead of the field for Richard’s ‘Preventing the Future’ Award.

Now I am the first to admit that the Irish blogosphere has yet to demonstrate its considerable latent power, but social networking has already been dropping plenty deeply unsubtle hints. BeBo (Blog Early, Blog Often) is, after Google, the biggest website in the country. It was only launched 18 months ago!! It arose out of a clear idea of 1) how the net works best (ie linking individuals, building communities if you like) and 2) according to Professor Stephen Coleman the most important online demographic is the younger ones that Nash is inadvertently denegrating above.

It’s the companies, schools, political parties, churches and unions who can’t find a way to work with these kids that are in trouble. They’re Amazon. You’re Easons. They have a future. You do not.

Your organisation ought to be desperate to learn how to operate in their world, not break them into working in yours. Assembly-line, nine to five, must-touch-you-tobelieve-you’re-working cultures are dead or on life support. That doesn’t mean you can’t hold the kids accountable. But you’d better start by holding their attention, with work that doesn’t suck.

Official Ireland likes to pretend it’s techno-savvy and future-focused. Nonsense. The instinct of many is still to try and prevent the future. Unless that old fear is overcome, your kids could be beaten into submission by self-interested luddites and their useful idiots. Your kids will then make great drones at companies that will soon no longer exist.

Few of Ireland’s big institutions really ‘get’ this yet. The fact that a micro light US based company has sucked up the majority of online value without most Irish companies even noticing tells its own story. Futureologiest Alan Toffler perhaps offers one explanation:

While the revolutionary wealth system is all about decentralisation, niches, flexibility and devolution to networked and distributed power, Europe’s leaders are trying to build a megastate. Europeans have very slow-moving institutions and societies. And they are proud of that fact. This is fine, but there will be a price. The large states – France, Germany, Italy – are falling into relative decline behind the US and Asia.

The other columnist I mentioned had written on this yesterday was Eilis O’Hanlon. Her piece was rightly given a prime spot in the paper edition, but whoever ‘edits’ the online version of the Sunday Independent saw fit to exclude it from a wider net readership. Perhaps an unconcsious example of the ‘shortsighted stubborness’ she berates in Ibec’s Luddite attitude to new media.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Loads of people don’t ‘get’ Bebo or Youtube, but that won’t do them any harm. The plebs have always had their entertainment like the soaps and Big Brother, and many great businesses have got on fine without knowing about it.

    The trick is to notice the relevant changes and react to them. For example, Amazon noticed that with the internet customers would shop at multiple stores simultaneously and buy the cheapest book. So Amazon realised they should allow their competitors to sell on their website instead of trying to pretend the competitors don’t exist.

    So you don’t need your CEO to start wearing a fashion accessory like an iPod. You just need people who aren’t stupid about business.

  • Mick Fealty

    Amazon is a good example. What is more relevant to where Ireland is now is the story of what is happening to the big bookshop chains (and the many smaller bookshops that have gone to the wall). Amazon is slowly cutting off their air supply.

    The fact that Amazon is as interested in pointing to the bargin elsewhere as selling you the book tells another (though equally important) story of how the net works.

    As Delevan hints in his title, this is about evolution more than revolution. But, going forward, the value lies in that demographic being derided by Ibec.

  • Occasional Commentator

    The same ‘Official Ireland’ people that slag off young ones for spending work hours on Bebo are just the same types who are off playing golf on company time, or in meetings with state bodies patting each other on the back and siphoning taxpayers money into their own pockets. When they are in the office they put obstacles in the way of work and get involved in office politics and so on.

    Big firms, especially newer industries like software, often succeed despite their managers, not because of them. In theory, a manager who knew what he/she was at would be great for a firm, but the average identikit twiddle-with-Excel-all-day manager that stalks the corporate landscape today does more harm than good.

    PS: I too hate Bebo, but I’m not a hypocrite.

  • Fraggle

    “Which podcasts do you sink?”

    I laughed at that. It sounds like someone’s dad trying to be ‘hip’ and failing miserably.

  • Mick Fealty

    Hypocrisy is the least significant aspect of the matter. It is a profound misunderstanding of where and what your market is. Toffler’s term ‘Prosumers’ is a bit faux, but it absolutely describes the emerging online market.

    BTW, what’s your problem with BeBo? Its phenomenal growth in value suggests it is both popular valuable.

  • Mick Fealty

    Fraggle,

    You may not be laughing when we’re all using it a few years time. 😉

  • lib2016

    Amazon has made some very interesting predictions about how much of it’s distribution will be made on-line in the very near future e.g. all cinema, music, and quite possibly reading material etc. etc.

    This is still a remote off-shore island the last time I checked.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Mick,
    My main problem with Bebo is that the software is shoddy. I often find it takes me to the wrong person when I click on links. There are lots of niggly little things that make me wince. The success of Bebo shows that sometimes it’s more important to be first than to have a good product.
    And the inbuilt Bebo email thing is pretty rubbish too.

  • kensei

    “Hypocrisy is the least significant aspect of the matter.”

    I’m not sure sure it is, just a different thread. Anyone read “Generation Debt”? It’s fairly US centric, but a lot of it applies here. Basically it’s point is that the current young generation is getting shafted by their parents – on house prices, decent jobs and social benefits their parents took for granted (like cheap 3rd level education) while they simultaneously brand them as lazy and immature.

    Seems a startlingly good example of it to me.

  • Mick Fealty

    Very interesting point Kensei. Lib, it is not anywhere near as remote as it once was. The kind of remoteness being connived at above is self defeating. What is happening to your favorite Irish brands on the supermarket shelves? Mine are disappearing, not because they are not quality enough, but the companies concerned are not interested in creating strong enough brands for them to survive outside what was once a robust and discrete Irish market.

  • Some good points made here. What it boils down to though, is the fact that large Irish corporations do not want to encourage something over which they have no control or expertise. As new media becomes more important in communication roles, it outdates the weekend conferences and seminars where old buddies can meet up and socialise. Now dont get me wrong there is still a minor part for that role also, but it is hardly an effecient communication means.
    Another quick point..huge amounts of revenue are made annually on our generic media. What happens to this revenue if webcasts, podcasts, webinars etc take off. Who loses most in this situation? Who has control at the moment and who is advocating a return to the traditional means of communication. I bet you get the same answer to the last 2 questions.