Clay Shirky, internet guru, recently gave a “provocation”  at Supernova and the video has gone up on YouTube.  It’s powerful stuff.

And it was at that moment that I understood what was going on.  Because they didn’t care.  They didn’t care that they had seen it work in practice, because they already knew it couldn’t work in theory.

He is talking (at that point) about technical support for programming languages, but it feels as though his point has a much wider application – there is a point at which persuading somebody of the merits of an argument slides into persuading them to look at the problem in a different way.  If we don’t do the second, the range of options for the first may end up being too constrained to be useful.


  1. Is it apocryphal that French officials once mused in forming EU policy words to ze effect “we can see it works in practice. but does it work in theory?”
    My own Damascene moment of realising “they just dont care” was sitting alone on a luxury coach I had booked to convey CIOs from Westminster to Earls Court where they had all been invited to see ThePublicOffice, a project created specially to show customers’ point of view including the poignant observation that “when they dont listen to you it’s not just frustrating; it’s enfuriating and insulting”. Not one CIO came on the coach, even tho we had first alerted their host a full six months earlier…

  2. Better than that. Some years ago I chaired a discussion on e-government at a European conference on the training and development of senior civil servants. It’s one of those things which wanders between cities and pops up somewhere every couple of years – and that year it had landed in Warsaw. There was a fairly hefty east European presence.
    We started the discussion with some practical examples of improved services drawn from, as I remember, Ireland and Portugal. About ten minutes in, the Ukrainian delegate could contain himself no longer.
    “Stop!” he said, loudly and firmly. “We cannot continue. We do not yet have an adequate theoretical base for this discussion.”
    The French and (French) Canadian leaped on this with enthusiasm. It was a further twenty minutes before the conversation returned to anything even vaguely practical – and the theorists made clear that doing so was boorish low minded and, worst of all, anglo-saxon.

Comments are closed.