Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Reading for (Digital) Revolutionaries

Colleagues have been asking me about books to help them understand the communications revolution engulfing us.
Everyone is having to ascend a steep learning curve, steepest and most treacherous, perhaps, for those most accustomed to pre-digital communications. Many colleagues don’t have time to explore extensively online, but they are thoughftul people who realise that things are changing fundamentally, and would like to get their laughing gear round contemporary communication technology and its implications for their own work as pastors or Christian leaders.

How far should one get into this stuff, and how?
It rather depends on your learning style. Some assemble flat-pack furniture by getting it out and having a go: This learning style has a lot to commend it, for contemporary media. Other IKEA customers prefer to read the instructions first, to construct a framework within which they can understand what they are trying to achieve. Christian leaders will, rightly, be anxious about the risks of getting something very wrong whilst experimenting. There is value for all in including conventional reading in a journey of discovery.

There is an incredible variety and number of titles out there — this in itself adds confusion. Colleagues may have a particular interests, and I’d gather my top 17 titles around five frequent lines of inquiry. If you’re reading this, by definition, you’ve made it online, and are probably far more expert in these matters than I. Therefore I’d love to know what you think of my immediate suggestions...

(1) What is going on? How is our cultural context changing?

Begin, I would say with Clay Shirkey: Here comes everybody — How change happens when people come together. Alongside a general line of approach, people over 50 wonder how people under 30 habitually communicate and what kind of culture are they developing. For this, I’d turn to Don Tapscott: Grown Up Digital (following up an earlier survey of the net ge eration called Growing up Digital). To assist contemplation about the implications for institutions, I’d still recommend Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom: The Starfish and the Spider — the unstoppable power of leaderless organizations.

(2) What is modern communications technology doing to the ways we get things done, our business practices and attitudes?

The classic strategic overview is Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics — How mass collaboration changes everthing. At a strategic level, leaders in any institution will need to take serious account of the map provided by Gary Hamel: The Future of Management. For a closer and more recent picture of the operational possibilties, I recommend Arthur L. Jue, Jackie Alcalde Marr & Mary Ellen Jassotakis: Social Media at Work: How networking tools propel organisational performance. I have been asked about books dealing specifically with Facebook, like Clara Shih: The Facebook Eras. If interested in the operational feld within which Facebook operates, you could do a lot worse than Lon Safko & David K. Brake: The Social Media Bible.

(3) What are the implications of all this for the Church as a communications outfit?

Shane Hipps: The Hidden Power of Electronic media: How media shapes Faith, the Gospel and Church starts with concepts first formulated by Marshall MacLuhan, drawing acutely from them challenges and benefits for the Church. The same pastor and theologian’s Flickering Pixels aks the $64K question “How far is this technology our servant, and how far our master?” Good for sermons...

(4) How do you put yourself or your product over in this environment: What’s it doing to Marketing?

Here I remain very impressed by the wisdom contained in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff: Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. This is particularly helpful on how feedback can be set up and maintained in a complex and crowded environment. Many hundreds of books on the groaning shelves address marketing issues, but I like the people-focused treatment in Juliette Powell: 33 million people in the room. Eric Qualman is an interesting marketing writer, whose recently published Socialnomics assesses, on the basis of research, the impact of new media on marketing. If you get a taste for this stuff and want to strategise in the light of the above, I’d recommend Larry Weber: Marketing to the Social Web — although it’s a couple of years old, it proposes a clear iterative strategic approach which is easily transferable to many contexts.

(5) Should I start a blog, and if I do how do I write material for electronic media?

This is probably an area where it really is best just to click around the various blogs out there, but a very good overview of some excellent and innovative pratitioners of the medium can be found in Michael A. Banks: Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World’s top Bloggers. Getting down to brass tacks, how am I supposed to write material suitable for web communications? In a space full of words really good writing remains precious. Janice Redish: Letting go of the Words, deals with some stylistic particularities of new media, but I don’t think it’s worth worrying too much about these. What makes good writing interesting remains surprisingly constant. I wish I had read a good book like Angela Phillips: Good Writing for Journalists years ago, but if people don’t have time for that, I recommend George Orwell’s Essay “Politics and the English Language.” If really pushed for time, T. S. Eliot’s poem “Whispers of Immortality” says pretty much everything that needs to be said about writing style. I suspect the areas of communications in which clergy need most training is effective use of presentation software. Some the dreariest uses of PowerPoint to deliver design abortions that are merely the script reduced to headings make me want to stick my head in a gas oven... But that’s another tale.

Well that’s a preliminary list> What have I missed? What is now obsolete?

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Alex said...

Jeff Jarvis' What Would Google Do? A great book looking at how we're all affected by Google's approach and why we need to understand it. His Buzzmachine blog is a mustread as are his columns for The Guardian.

Andrew said...

I'm reading "We-Think" by Charles Leadbeater which I think is a key work in this area.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Alex, thanks for the reminder about "what would Google do." I read it the other year, and found it a helpfully pragmatic exploration of how the company philsopjy might apply elsewhere — exactly what I wanted. It'll go on my list!

I don't know Charles Leadbetter's book, Andrew. It looks spot-on, and I'll add it to my 2010 reading list... It's particularly helpful to have a UK based source. Many thanks for the recommendation.

Andrew said...

I've bought the Clay Shirky book and will see how it compares with the Leadbeater book.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'd be really glad to know, Andrew. Leadbeater doesn’t seem to be available in an e-book edition, and I dont feel inclined to order in anything by post until the big freeze is over!

Anonymous said...

Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.

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