Sugata Mitra is a very interesting man. Get to see him if you can. I’ve mentioned him several times both around his school in the cloud work and also the development of self-learning environments. That reminds me that I must do something about my wish to create a self-learning work environment (number eight on my list of things for this year). But today I’ve been thinking about something else. A conversation I was having with a supplier reminded me of something Sugata had said.
‘The Victorians created a global computer made up of people. It’s called the bureaucratic administrative machine. In order to keep that running, you need lots and lots of people. They must be identical to each other so they created a system, called school, to make parts. They must have good handwriting, they must be able to read, and they must be able to add, subtract and do division’.
My question on the back of it is, are we a bureaucratic nation? Is this what puts the so called great in Britain? Is our ability to organise, document and manage what put the backbone into Empire? Is bureaucracy within our DNA?
Just over the road from our offices in Seaham there is a nice walk that takes you along the cliffs along the coast. When I say nice you will need to accommodate the vagaries of the weather but on the right day it can be very pleasant. The cliffs are high, very steep and the sea boils away below. They can be a dangerous place to be.
You know this however because it is made absolutely clear. Signposts are everywhere that there are dangerous cliffs ahead and that there is a risk of falling. In case that’s not clear there are signs showing people tumbling over the edge. If you get anywhere close there is a fence, with wire and more signs reminding you of the danger. You can be left in no doubt at all that you proceed further at your own imminent peril.
Contrast this with a visit to Majorca where I walked up to the edge of a much higher cliff and was able to peer over the edge into an admittedly much more welcoming sea some distance below. There was one sign, some way back from the edge and no fence. It was if the authorities were saying if I am stupid enough to go to close then on my own head be it, or whichever part of my anatomy I happen to fall on.
Alright, this is not really a bureaucracy issue but demonstrates a potential difference in our approaches. In Britain it seems that we are more than willing to be nudged and guided into better behaviour even if we ignore it most of the time. We accept it because it is on our nature and this is the same with administration. Our default position is to add more, to create a process, to develop a form.
I need to use the technology at our disposal to drive out unnecessary paperwork and process yet I’m beginning to wonder if this is made harder by the fact that bureaucracy is something we like to do, because we are good at it.
Perhaps we are not a nation of shopkeepers but a nation of bureaucrats.