Guido Fawkes Blown Up?

April 26, 2008

The influential Guido Fawkes blog disappeared from the blogosphere this morning. Has its author finally succeeded in getting himself blown up?

What I Didn’t See This Morning

I didn’t see something this morning [Saturday April 26th 2008]. I didn’t see a blog on the web. I was looking for the latest posting from a political blogger described as one of the most influential around. The blogger goes under the name of Guido Fawkes, in homage to that earlier revolutionary figure Guy Fawkes.

This Guido Fawkes has acquired a bit of a cult status among bloggers. He has been attributed with breaking political stories which eventually have impact in the real world. For example, he can claim credit for starting the stories about a damaging bit of naughtiness by Peter Hain, during the campaign to replace Mr Prescott (arguably also caught in e-flagrante.

The convenience of pseudo-anonymity was blown most obviously in a Newsnight interview, after which a Mr John Staines claimed that he was indeed the blogging Guido Fawkes.

Guido Revealed

Another blog ['Tunbridge'] described the outing of Guido:

Despite the pantomime of the shadowy, unidentified mystical figure sitting in the studio, which everyone in political circles knows is Paul Staines; and Paxman’s usual put-them-on-the-back-foot opening gambit of “Why do you insist on this preposterous charade of sitting in a darkened studio?…” or words to that effect, the central question being raised by Paxman and Michael White, of the Guardian, was a crucial one. That Guido as a blogger can say pretty much whatever he likes and that newspapers, TV and more traditional media have all kinds of pressures and restrictions on them which prevent them from being so loose tongued.

Which remains the central point of the blogging debate and of this post.

In Search of Guido

Anyway, this morning there was an item on the BBC webpages which again referenced the egregious Guido, which prompted me to follow the link to his web-site. Not available. A bit surprising, but it happens, so I tried a few other ways to locate his site. Same results. Guido was no-where to be found.

Conspiracy?

Only if you believe in conspiracy theories. I’m on the opposite side of the world on this one, as far away as possible from believers in Lady Di assassins, cover-ups of alien visitors, Masonic plans to rule the world, and so on.

But I found myself wondering if Guido has been taken out of the game, having gone too far. Something he has done, or was about to do called for swift action. It would have taken some clout to do that. The sort of influence required to ‘persuade’ Google to operate a censorship filter to prevent its zillions of users in China from accessing the sort of information available in the West. A Mr Big has nobbled Guido. Or maybe a Ms Big ?

Guido Restored

Later: [1500 hrs]. Guido is back. But he was worried too, noting

Overnight something has happened. Not sure if it is technical failure, a hacker attack or just a glitch. Everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…

[Later] UPDATE : It was a glitch.

The Importance of Blogging

A debate going on about the merits of blogging, and its willingness to transmit (and create) unsubstantiated, and mainly scurrilous stories. It was touched on in the Tunbridge post above on the kind of virtual world whose inhabitants can write ‘pretty much what they like’.

The BBC Story

The BBC story prompted me to take a look at the Guido Fawkes site was about a hoax purporting to be reporting the resignation of a government minister.

Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman is the latest MP to become a victim of internet hacking. An item was posted on her personal site for several hours announcing her defection to the Conservatives. It began: “To friends, foes and fans, below is a copy of the resignation letter that landed on Gordon’s desk this morning.”
Beneath it was a link to a spoof Harriet Harman blog. The site ..appears to have been taken off-line following the discovery of the rogue message, which was highlighted by the widely-read Westminster gossip blogger Guido Fawkes.

The story also pointed out that

Last year, Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps was targeted by hackers who broke into his YouTube account to post a message under his name saying the party could not win the Ealing Southall by-election. In 2006, David Miliband [environment Secretary at the time] was forced to shut down an experimental wiki site after it was bombarded with surreal and abusive additions.

Games People Play

These examples seem to be indications of assorted behaviours, including creative if malicious japes, to the web equivalent of graffiti, passing off, and evidence of the wisdom or otherwise of the crowd.

The Bloggers we Deserve

One of the few clear aspects in the debate is that no simple answer seems to be adequate. At present, bloggers have a well-earned reputation as purveyor of unreliable stories.

In keeping with the interests of this particular blog, I find myself arguing that the development of the blogosphere comes with its particular context of social action.

Through it, in ways we are still trying to understand, ideas gain credibility in the old world of modernity, with its traditional concerns about truth, reality, and morality. Some ideas take hold. This happens probably because of what people are inclined to believe, which itself indicates something about deeply-held fears and hopes.

On this line of reasoning, celebrity bloggers like Guido Fawkes are the bloggers we subscribe to, and are the thought leaders we create and deserve. The hackers, and jokers come as other denisons of the new blogospheric territories.

Something Old, Something New

For what it’s worth, I find connections with various old and newer ideas about innovation and change. I’m reminded of Rosabeth Kanter who developed a visionary picture in the 1980s of a future in which the most successful organizations operate with open access to information

More recently, a similar ‘freedom is good’ theme can be found in the ideas of Henry Chesborough under the catchy rubric Open Innovation

These ideas present the case for the virtues of cherishing freedom of expression in the interests of social and economic good.

However, I wish I could agree with Guido that ‘everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…’ That would be very nice.


Why innovation leaders should be controlled schizophrenics

September 3, 2007

Innovation requires a special kind of leadership requiring high tolerance for ambiguities and paradox. Professor Jan Buijs of the University of Delft has examined the characteristics, describing them as requiring a behavior pattern akin to ‘controlled schizophrenia’.

Jan Buijs is not a psychiatrist. This makes his newest contribution to innovation theorizing doubly risky. He stands accused of crudely misrepresenting and perhaps belittling a serious clinical condition. He also stands accused of the kind of political incorrectness that has recently beset users of the term brainstorming as a technique for enhancing group ideation.

According to Buijs,

Innovation leaders need to show a special kind of leadership. This leadership must be balanced, people-focused and must include a high tolerance for ambiguity and paradoxes. They have to be nice and nasty at the same time

.

Maybe the innovation process can be split up to provide the nice fuzzy warm stuff at the front end and the tough deadline scrambling at the pointy end. That’s how some textbooks present it.

But neat and tidy stage models of innovation are only approximations of a more complex and iterative reality. Buijs argues persuasively that innovation teams are cross-functional, and that

members … are responsible for the contribution of [various departmental contexts]. They also act as a postillion d’amour’ between the innovation team and their home departments.

To illustrate the iterative nature of the process, he presents the classical creative problem-solving model not in its customary linear form, but reconstructed as an elegant network diagram attributed to Dan Cougar.

The model is particularly worth preserving, because the distinguished author is sadly no longer with us to carry on his exceptional bridging work of the mostly separated islands of Information Systems and creativity.

Professor Buij makes a metaphoric claim in suggesting innovation leaders benfit from possessing schizoid characteristics. But even the metaphor would lose its force, if it were not embedded within a model of innovation as a non-linear process. Otherwise freedom to be creative could be confined to an early part of the process of innovation, perhaps granted to those ‘special creative types’. In a linear model, the case of special leadership skills is less convincing. By re-introducing Cougar’s non-linear model, the idea acquires additional strength.

Are innovation leaders that special?

A case could be made that innovation leaders are part of a wider set of leaders whose circumstances require in them a capacity to deal effectively with two potentially differing personal impulses.

This management of ambiguity is increasingly identified in studies of effective leadership, as ambiguous situations become more and more common. It is why leadership researchers are more aware than ever of the dilemmas of leadership.

An example is from the celebrated studies of high-performance professionals by Murnighan and Conlon

We determined from the data that the string quartets we studied faced three important paradoxes: the leadership versus democracy paradox, the paradox of the second fiddle, and the conflict paradox of confrontation versus compromise

The more general point about dealing with ambiguities is a key point in the influential ideas of group dynamics by Smith & Berg.

Summary

The article is fun, bubbling over with flights of imagination expressed in metaphors, some more vivid than others. Indeed, it even has its quota of creative spelings. In other words, it is consistent with the author’s thesis of innovation as a buzzing blooming confusion of activities, mistakes, ever-changing games, and rules of the game. The concept of the innovation leader as a metaphorical and controlled schizophrenic way be of wider application than is suggested.


The drug pipeline: Is it bust, and if so can we fix it?

June 11, 2007

Update

Since the post, the concept of Open Innovation has become popular. It may well provide the alternative metaphor called for. Original post follows. [Update added Aug 2009]

The big question for Big Pharma: Is the pipeline metaphor for drug discovery and exploitation no longer fit for purpose? And if so, where do we look for a more appropriate metaphor?

For decades, innovation texts have documented the basic process of drug discovery and exploitation as progressing through a pipeline. But it is a very peculiar pipeline, because it has a huge number of ‘things’ entering at one end (ideas), and a tiny number of things (products) emerging from the other end of the pipe.

Think of the pipeline as an ice-cream cone placed horizontally and you’ve got the broad picture to be found in the text-books. The ‘things’ entering in great numbers at the business end of the cone are ideas for active chemicals or leads. The ‘things’ oozing slowly out at the other end are new drugs, of which there even fewer ‘big winners’.

Once strategic considerations have identified a medical opportinity or need the pipeline process begins in earnest. The description offered by AstraZeneca is a generic one:

High Throughput Screening is an automated system for testing tens or even hundreds of thousands of compounds rapidly and is highly effective for eliminating ineffective compounds and identifying potentially useful ones.

But the pipeline model has had its critics :

Ten years ago, high throughput screening (HTS) was being touted as the answer to improving productivity in drug discovery. If screening thousands of compounds a week was good, screening hundreds of thousands would be even better. This led to the boom in Ultra HTS (UHTS), manufacturing-scale systems, and high-speed automation. Today, reality has begun to creep in: HTS and UHTS have not lived up to their hype. R&D productivity is not improving, in fact it may be declining

A model past its sell-by date?

My uneasiness about old mental models is being echoed by pharmamacutical insiders. Mats Sundgren with many years of experience, has successfully completed his doctorate on the need for new thinking in the industry. He argues that over time, research has increasingly accepted the need for rationality in a way that is precluding the possibilities for imaginative (‘creative’) leaps of discovery. Sundgren argues that the management of creativity will be the decisive competitive advantage of the future.

Alexander Styrhre of Chalmers University with Sundgren have further developed an analysis of pharmaceutical companies.

They suggest that the there is a wider need for more creativity, extending far beyond Big Pharma.

Is the pipeline bust, and must we fix it?

The drug pipeline has become such a given for those in the business of drug making and exploiting, that its inherent looseless is now left unchallenged. What might have started as a metaphor borrowed from earlier industrial usage has become a taken-for-granted cliche.

Take for example the press statement of a partnership between AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers recently. A headline illustrting the industry dialect ran:

‘Deal [is] A Significant Step In Strengthening AstraZeneca’s Late Stage Pipeline Partnership Aligned with Bristol-Myers Squibb Company Strategy’.

You decide. My reading is that it’s time for a change of thinking about how Pharmaceutical comapanies go about their core mission of innovating in the interests of social health.

The drug companies are populated by large numbers of very bright people. I’ve served a bit of time among them, but now I mostly gaze from outside in. But I can still read the public pronouncements. In press releases, I’m still hearing talk as if the issue is to fix the plumbing, keep the pipeline. The mega giants of Big Pharma maintain their great chemical search machines churning away, piling leads for testing into the wide end of the funnel in ever greater numbers; smoothing the flow along the pipeline, to increase the chances of the billion-dollar idea emerging at the other end.

So what?

There are far wider issues to consider beyond the largely technical issues of re-examining the pipeline model of innovation. Widespread concerns of an ethical concern continue to plague the industry. One big advantage for a re-visiting of the pipeline is to see whether ‘pipeline thinking’ can
be challenged, and help in the design of more socially benign and less technologically dominated models and practice.

Managing creativity

Sundgren is suggesting Managing Creativity is one promising possibility. We have opened up the debate on creative leadership in earlier posts on this blog. A forthcoming special issue of the journal Creativity and Innovation Management will offer additional studies into these topics.

Is it too challenging to assert ‘there is no drug pipeline, and we have no need to invent one’?


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