Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cyber-Activism and the Revival of the Suggestion Box

I've been away from this blog for quite sometime now, after spending weeks settling in a new address and struggling with the crappy/inexplicably intermittent Smartbro signal near Marikina River.

Another thing that I am struggling with right now is not to be a "log in the dark", as Dean Jorge Bocobo had once described me on Twitter -- either because my tweets were too subtle or his wit couldn't catch my drift. 

DJB is the sort who is fun to tangle with and if he ever thinks of getting out of retirement (having been formerly employed by Westinghouse or some other big name company), he could probably give Carlos Celdran a run for his money by doing Metro Manila Taxi Tours.  

His mind twisting commentaries on life, nature, politics, and whatever else crops up on Twitter or Facebook or the Blogosphere can seem to make the entire world disappear.  There were times, when we were debating the RH Bill, that I nearly sipped my ashtray and mashed a cigarette butt in my coffee.  Then again, what would a tour be if you can't see the sights in relative peace disturbed only by one or two colorful  anecdotes about the place?

Don't get me wrong here, I like DJB and messing with him (trolling him, to be exact) has actually helped me a lot in re-examining quite a few ideas which include charter change, the RH Bill and anti-poor eugenics as I like to call it.

Discussing things with people like DJB over the internet in the manner that I have done, regardless of the online platform we tangle in, can generate a lot of noise for a topic or issue.  But I have yet to see how it can actually affect things in the real, off-line world.

Without doubt, online conversations and even online movements can influence policy and decision makers in corporations and government bodies. My doubt stems from whether or not the ideas proposed or promoted online per se are really the reason behind a policy change or decision.

Stuff like the RH Bill (reproductive health subsidies, population control, population management, eugenics, etcetera) or charter change have been around for decades already.  No doubt, policy makers have been familiar with these ideas for a long time and like old jokes told to young ears, these ideas have found some sort of "revival" -- like an old brand of soap repackaged in another form.  Maybe what happens, really, is that aging policy makers or newly minted ones probably brush off the dust from these ideas and re-work it in a way that will appeal to a lot of people.

Fashion designers, movie producers, writers, painters, politicians, and chess players are all probably in on the same racket of re-working old ideas to display it before naive or innocent minds.

There are really no new ideas, just old ideas and new people.

Going back to policy/decision makers and their encounter with online noise, I have yet to come across a corporate or government executive, who cites Twitter or Facebook noise as a major reason for a policy change or decision.  At most, maybe, policy/decision makers may treat online noise as an indicator (significant or otherwise) or as RAW intelligence.

Yesterday, though, I found it really odd that a member of the Philippine Judicial and Bar Council posed a question to Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate Katrina Legarda which purportedly came from a Twitter user.  In a way, it was a poorly executed attempt to demonstrate that the JBC hearing for the selection of the new Chief Justice was accessible and transparent -- it had a feel of those rigged radio contests that DJ Mo Twister has been accused of doing.

Which brings me, perhaps, how policy/decision makers may view Facebook or Twitter -- it's just another way to demonstrate responsiveness to their stakeholders in the hopes of increasing repeat sales or retaining more customers.  

And this one is an old, old routine that dates back to the time when the "suggestion box" gained popularity. Here's an excerpt from a PDF Document "Idea Management and the Suggestion Box" by Mark Turrel.
The first recorded suggestion program was implemented in 1770 by the British Navy. They realized the need for a process for listening to every individual in the organization -- without fear of reprisal.  At that time, the mere mention of an idea that contradicted a captain's or admiral's opinion was likely to be punished by hanging. 
The first physical box to collect ideas appeared at William Denny and Brothers shipyward in Scotland in 1880.   It was intended to collect ideas from all employees and to pay a 'fair' reward for each implementable idea.  This approach of the suggestion scheme, as it is still known in the United Kingdom today, spready rapidly through the country following government reports on the project's success. 
In 1892 NCR become the first US company to implement a company-wide suggestion program.  The concept was the "hundred-headed brain", developed by John Patterson, their infamous CEO.  He realized early in his business career that employees had valuable ideas but that management structures tended to prevent these ideas from spreading through the company.  Employees complainted that there was no point giving ideas to their supervisors as the best ideas were stolen, and the worst ideas used as a pretext for their dismissal. 
Suggestion boxes became popular in the manufacturing sector in WWII and the post war years.  They became part of the total quality movement and an integral part of cost, safety, and quality improvement initiatives over the following fifty years.  They are still the mainstray of corporate suggestion programs, be they physical boxes or virtual boxes on company intranet websites.

Perhaps, from the perspective of a company president/CEO/COO or government executive, what really matters is whether the online noise contributes to his company's bottom line or extends his political career.

Thing is, while the naive and innocent (with most Facebook and Twitter users being in the 17 to 24 year old range) feel as if they are contributing to "better management" or "better governance", they may be at times just contributing to company or political hype.

So, if you are wondering why Facebook is free or why Twitter continues to exist despite having somewhat of a contentious revenue issue... Think no more.

Or if you do think about it some more, keep it to yourself until you can put a patent on it or copyright it.

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