Co-evolving solutions to a complex problem
by John Pollock1
& Richard Tyrie2
, Jayne Hilditch3
, Chris Wild4
and Rob Wescott5
A time like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs.
It’s the best possible time to be alive,
when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.
Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
The New Organon or True Directions Concerning the Interpretation of Nature (1620)
Turquoise Frog http://turquoisefrog.com Terracotta Blog http://thevisionthing.net
GoodPeople http://www.goodpeople.co.uk Jobs Go Public http://www.jobsgopublic.com
GoodPeople http://www.goodpeople.co.uk Jobs Go Public http://www.jobsgopublic.com
Chris Wild & The Retroscope http://www.chriswildhq.com
Career Planner http://www.careerplayer.com
In the last decade, individual – and organisational – careers have changed
radically. In the next, such change will simply accelerate.
Technology is driving that change, and new activities at the cutting edge
– by us, our peers and others – give clear pointers to the future.
Technology is also the essential ingredient to successfully develop a
more agile, responsive and adaptable recipe, one that effectively ‘co-
evolves’ alongside other changes in a fast-moving, dynamic environment.
The new approaches we’re seeing, and developing, are generally quicker,
lighter – and considerably less expensive – than the late 20th
systems they’re displacing.
This paper hopes to give readers a fresh perspective on a complex space
and bring them up to speed with some of the very latest developments in
the field. Finally we float some ideas as to where we might go – sooner
rather than later.
A Note to the Reader
This is not a minute, a policy paper, a brief or a backgrounder. It has elements of each, but is offered
more by way of starting a conversation...
It’s now ten years since the best-selling www.Cluetrain.com6
left the station. It addresses businesses
(still playing catch-up) but substitute ‘organisations’ (still reading about catch-up) if that helps.
People of Earth:
A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing
new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting
smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.
These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest,
direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice
is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.
Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of
the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone,
same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak
as they do.
[Organisations] need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with
Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It's going to cause real pain to
tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting
conversation business has ever engaged in.
And in that spirit:
“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...”
See The Cluetrain Appendix for the first three dozen ‘theses’. Or go straight to http://www.cluetrain.com for the monument.
“When a new technology rolls over you,
if you’re not part of the steamroller,
you’re part of the road”
Founder, Global Business Network, The Well, The Long Now Foundation, all that.
The Career Space – an evolutionary problem (with added complexity)
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
The world of careers and career advice is now being disintermediated8
by the digital revolution at least as
fast as other sectors have been before.9
The nature of the shift is from a version that was one-to-many – top-
down, silo-based career advice – characteristic of the 20th
century (and then mimicked in Web 1.0) to a peer-
to-peer, many-to-many, social network approach enabled by Web 2.0.
Career 3.0 sets out to give readers a fast take on the new careers advice ecosystem, showing how and where
solutions are already being delivered, and then ending with some thoughts on where the future is taking us –
and how best we should negotiate it.
Alan Kay, inventor of the laptop, famously remarked that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.
That future is currently being invented, as we speak, across huge numbers of non-traditional players using
technology in innovative, cost-effective and productive ways.
But first, we must go back in order to get to the future.
Appropriately in 2009, our overarching framework – chosen to help readers wrap their arms around a space
of great complexity – begins with Charles Darwin, born 200 years ago, and whose Origin of Species
celebrated 150 years last week.10
Evolution, which many regard as humanity’s greatest idea, offers a powerful toolset with which to analyse
Boiled down to its simplest level – and please forgive any grandmotherly egg-sucking pedagogy – in any
complex evolving system (i.e. all of them), there are three factors are at work:
From Wikipedia, another example of a disintermediated sector (encyclopedias):
“in economics, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: ‘cutting out the middleman’.
Instead of going through traditional distribution channels, which had some type of intermediate (such as a
distributor, wholesaler, broker, or agent), companies may now deal with every customer directly, for example via
the Internet. One important factor is a drop in the cost of servicing customers directly. Disintermediation initiated
by consumers is often the result of high market transparency.”
e.g. book-buying (Amazon, Abebooks), auctions (Ebay), couriers & transport (Ship.ly), photography (Flickr), business
cards (Moo), music (MySpace etc), events (Meetup) &c.
Variation The creation of diverse ‘opportunities’ which in due course prove more (or less) ‘fit’
within the ecosystem.
Selection The process of operating on that variation. This involves killing off duffers (or
reproducing them less well), and the picking out of winners.
Amplification The scaling-up (through successful reproduction strategies) of that which works.
In raw terms, we might characterise IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance11
) variation as the array of
different products, services, companies, organisations and other iterations in the marketplace of ideas;
selection pressure, meanwhile, was historically exerted by senior policy-making officials and Ministers –
although now, increasingly, individuals directly select themselves, by voting with their wallets, or at least
their attention; and amplification took the form, again historically, of government funding – but is
increasingly reflected as the market-success of major players. (Albeit, lest we forget, on the back of existing,
publicly-funded, infrastructure like the – er – Internet.12
To take one more step backwards in order to see ahead more clearly, consider Eric Beinhocker’s highly
book The Origin of Wealth14
, where he notes that although “the message of Traditional
Economics is that if humans can just behave rationally enough, and if we possess enough information, then
the economy will be revealed as a universe of clockwork predictability”, the truth is that the ‘clockwork
dream’ ended for science last century – and is ending for economics in this:
The economy is too complex, too nonlinear, too dynamic, and too sensitive to the twists and turns of
chance to be amenable to prediction over anything but the very shortest of terms... the computational
complexity of the economy is such that the future [happens before we] have time to predict it.15
We could simply replace ‘the economy’ above with ‘careers’ (‘career paths’ or IAG) – after all, the
energy underlying the economy – and the case obtains.
As Beinhocker says, “this is a sobering message”. But there is a way forward: to design our institutions
and societies to be better evolvers. This solution derives from Beinhocker’s core insight that
evolutionary theory combined with complexity theory actually informs our understanding of the
realities of the economy rather well.
That is, if we can become adept at adaptation, we can ‘co-evolve’ solutions as the problems evolve.
And the problem of providing advice and support to people as they progress (or otherwise) their careers
is certainly evolving. Dramatically.
Although see http://www.acronymfinder.com/IAG.html for a further 42 meanings of this acronym. (Unsurprisingly,
Microsoft provide the first in the list).
See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET
Beinhocker advised the Obama team and is a senior advisor to McKinsey.
The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics by Eric D. Beinhocker
(Harvard Business School Press, 2006)
Op. Cit. pp323
Punctuated Equilibrium – stasis doesn’t live here anymore
The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best –
and therefore never scrutinize or question.
Stephen Jay Gould
Before a landmark paper16
co-authored by Stephen Jay Gould, the general view of evolution was that of
gradual, iterative improvements. The theory of punctuated equilibrium17
punctured that particular
balloon. Instead, it’s argued, ecosystems go through long periods of stasis in which nothing much
happens at all, follow by brief bursts of punctuated equilibrium – rare, rapid events which lead to new
species branching off. (It’s a sufficiently powerful idea that it led, in turn, to a sub-species known as
‘punctuated equilibrium in social theory’,18
used to study the evolution of policy change.)
Take an oversimplified, Eddie Izzardish way to imagining this process: an island, free of predators, on
which ruminants graze happily, ruminating (“Hmmm, yes, perhaps we could...”) Punctuated
equilibrium might involve the introduction of a new predator, or slightly more active competitors. If the
grazers don’t adapt, they will die. Simples.
Think of the Digital Revolution as that predator.
Almost comic attempts to evolve can be seen in the world of careers. What the
geeks call brochureware has morphed into Government and other public sector
websites. Often with ‘youthful’ names, like Jobs4U – faux text usage being the
trendy vicar of youthspeak – this one has a whole section on its home page
excitingly titled ‘21st
The National Audit Office’s 2004 report19
on the – ahem – success of
Connexions, reports its (then) £450 million budget. And to be fair, among its
other achievements, the Connexions funding has indeed helped create a website
that reaches 0.00156% of those on the net, making it the 4793rd most popular
website in the UK.20
But the net doesn’t work like that.
Eldredge, Niles and S. J. Gould (1972). Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism, In T.J.M. Schopf
(ed), Models in Paleobiology. San Francisco: Freeman Cooper. pp. 82-115
Department for Education and Skills: Connexions Service - Advice and guidance for all young people, REPORT BY THE
COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL HC 484 Session 2003-2004: 31 March 2004
In fact, a case can be made that the net is the most ferocious, rapidly adapting ecosystem the world has
ever seen, with constant and huge levels of variation, user-driven selection (aided by peer-to-peer
recommendations) and the occasional massive amplification seen with some of the larger (not quite)
overnight sensations like Twitter, Facebook and Bebo.
Indeed, on serious websites, you will also see evolutionary pressures exerted internally, too, on the
valuable ‘real estate’ of, say, the home page. Such pressures – exerted in the case of Jobs4U not by
users-as-selectors but by a Minister-as-selector – accounts for the fond delusion that the launch of ‘21st
Century Acronym!’ is precisely what’s most likely to attract young people on ‘their’ homepage of
advice on careers.
The truth is, today’s young – and older – people in search of IAG are likely to get it from an
unpredictable pottage of sources.
The old ‘one stop shop’ model is, to use Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase, “an erroneous story”. Indeed it
always was. And given a choice, in a vigorous and dynamic marketplace of sources, that’s exactly what
people exercise. They choose whether, and where, to deploy the resource for which we all tout: their
The concept of the attention economy – human attention is a scarce and valuable commodity – helps
illuminate how people draw down ‘IAG’ in the real world, which is via sources as wide-ranging as:
parents, siblings, friends, peers, neighbours, friends of friends, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, TV, radio,
Information, leaflets, The Apprentice, The Dragon’s Den, Advice, YouTube.com, CareerPlayer.com,
books, Guidance, newspapers, gossip, magazines, rumours, serendipity, school, college, university,
volunteering, teachers, careers advice, lecturers, acquaintances, work experience, internships, holiday jobs,
summer jobs, temping, gap years, interests, hobbies, clubs, groups, school, visits, dreams, Take your
daughter to work day, McJobs, LinkedIn.com, online and offline psychometric testing , JobCentrePlus,
Careers Advice Centres, CVtips.com, RateMyFirm.co.uk, headhunters, EmployeeInsider.com,
CareersAdvice.direct.gov.uk, recruiters, Gumtree.com, &c. &c.
Yet the thrust of the 2004 Audit Office report is that by spending nigh on half a billion pounds a year:
The proportion [of young people aged 16-18 who are not in education, employment or training] fell by 8
per cent in established phase 1 and 2 partnership areas between November 2002 and November 2003, and
3 per cent overall taking the newer phase 3 partnerships into account
Unfortunately, herein lies another ‘erroneous story’ (one which, by the by, accounts for Google’s
enormous financial success). Traditionally, advertising spend led to sales increases. Principally this was
because of renewed attention and focus. So a TV campaign, say, would be accompanied by new
packaging, pricing, better product placement, ‘point of sale’ tie-ins and so forth: the result – increased
sales. The heartless precision of digital traffic measurement means Google Ads are much more
accurately calibrated in terms of real attention, which is where the value lies.
Put another way: spend billions over several years on some initiative or other and you will get some
movement. It just won’t necessarily be cost-efficient, or ultimately realistic.
Hence the problem that the old new solution, poorly considered ab initio, essentially became obese, as
the Audit Office notes:
If Connexions operated to the caseloads that were deemed to be manageable at the pilot stage, they would
require in excess of 15,000 Personal Advisers. However, Connexions does not have the financial resources
to employ this number of Personal Advisers.
Leaving aside the pleasingly medical sounding notion of ‘caseloads’, the entire approach – train lots of
advisors to pass on ‘bespoke’ meaningful inputs to the young – suffers from what academics call ‘the
deficit model’. This is the notion that if the (young person’s) deficit in information, advice and
guidance were simply remedied, by a top up of ‘personal advice’, the problem would go away.
Not so, for the problem is about the problem.
The Great Problem – the small solution
Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free
view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.
To recap quickly: the great problem is that careers do not follow a path – they follow criss-crossing,
multifarious, dynamically changing pathways, which are being erased, created and constantly changed
in ‘real time’ by those just a few paces further up the hill.21
The top-down approach of collating vast
quantities of brochureware (neatly labelled, admittedly, in rather nice brown cardboard boxes), and
churning them out, with a dollop of sympathy, to those who wander into the centre – or onto a website
– by mistake (or compulsion) is, frankly, ludicrously mismatched to the reality on the ground. Because
there are barely any careers left.
Instead, we need a much looser definition of sectors and skills. A much more profound understanding
of the porous and fluid nature of the artificial reifications we assert. (Themselves in large measure a
consequence of bringing education and business into cahoots over careers, thereby creating a new set
of inappropriate ‘selector pressures’ – this time for the current jobs available that a business or sector
may wish to fill).
In the online world, where agile development is the nostrum du jour, the default, increasingly, is the
API – or Application Programming Interface. This allows third parties access to read (and write to)
particular sub-sets of a core database. This is why we have not only Twitter – but also about a twillion
other apps built by others to sit on the core Twitter architecture. We have, in effect, a dynamically co-
evolving ecosystem. Responsive, adaptive, agile – and more (and more cost-) effective.
A new philosophy of careers IAG would be: (Rule No. 1 in Fight Club) dump the acronym, and then
make the space much more open-ended, allowing that career reality is about much more incremental,
portable, organic entities, subject to vagaries (God, anyone?) way beyond the remit or reach of civil
servants and policy papers.
This philosophy would focus on generating an evolving solution, as advocated by Beinhocker, that was
literally designed properly for a complex system, with built in functionalities that could deliver
adaptation – fitness for purpose – without constant reinvention and tinkering by an administrative
machine last seriously reinvented over a century ago. The solution would have the character of Italo
Calvino’s Six Memos for the New Millennium: Lightness | Quickness | Exactitude | Visibility |
Multiplicity | Consistency22
In short, a solution more about the rest of this century – not one designed for the needs of the last.
Or think pinball. And Tommy. He’s a deaf, dumb and blind kid. How do you think he does? (I don’t know). What makes
him so good? Sure plays a mean pinball
How Did I Get Here?
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself: well... how did I get here?
Brian Eno et al.
Once In A Lifetime
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
Time for a two minute break (because we can do this kind of thing really easily now):
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do” <-Click here
Or type in or cut-and-paste this URL into your browser bar -> http://bit.ly/Career3
A short video prepared for Career 3.0 by Rob Wescott of http://www.careerplayer.com
The Wealth of Networks – and the poverty of incumbents
How we make information, how we get it, how we speak to others, and how others speak to us
are core components of the shape of freedom in any society.
The Wealth of Networks:
How Social Networks Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006)
Only connect! ...Live in fragments no longer.
E.M . Forster
Howards End (1910)
For a couple of centuries now, we’ve seen the DNA embedded at the start of the industrial revolution – and
the fervour of new thought that emerged in the late 18th
and early 19th
centuries – unfolding. Now a new
revolution has come along. And a new set of DNA is being laid down for the next century or so.
Ten years ago I prepared the following table, Two Centuries: Two Revolutions in Social Capitalism &
for the OECD’s Forum for the Future:
That future is now past, but past is prologue. Or, as pukka member of the digerati24
(the digital aristocracy)
recently noted, the web as we know it is only around 5000 days old.26
Social Capitalism & Human Diversity, David E Bloom and River Path Associates, March 2000. Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD), Forum for the Future.
But already we’re seeing certain features which have profound implications for policy. Knowledge
production of all kinds has radically changed in the last 15 years. As Yokai Benkler remarks in the opening
of his magisterial book The Wealth of Networks:
The change brought about by the networked information environment is deep. It is structural. It goes to the
very foundations of how liberal markets and liberal democracies have coevolved for almost two
What Benkler calls the ‘social production’ of knowledge – a famous example being Wikipedia – is also, he
points out, a threat to incumbents. Benkler is a tad tedious as an academic writer, to be honest, but worth
quoting at some length. We’ve attached the opening chapter of The Wealth of Networks as The Benkler
Appendix (it’s all free, and commentable, online) – because this stuff is big and serious. And not only is it
not going away, it is, in fact, approaching all of us at warp speed:
Individuals can [now] reach and inform or edify millions around the world...The fact that every such effort
is available to anyone connected to the network, from anywhere, has led to the emergence of coordinate
effects, where the aggregate effect of individual action, even when it is not self-consciously cooperative,
produces the coordinate effect of a new and rich information environment...The networked information
economy improves the practical capacities of individuals along three dimensions:
1. It improves their capacity to do more for and by themselves;
2. It enhances their capacity to do more in loose commonality with others, without being
constrained to organize their relationship through a price system or in traditional hierarchical
models of social and economic organization; and
3. It improves the capacity of individuals to do more in formal organizations that operate outside
the market sphere.
Within the career space, our own network – admittedly privileged by being densely connected both online
and offline – provides ample demonstrations of this reinvention of the world as we know it.
This is where the past meets the future somewhat uncomfortably: we’d really prefer readers to simply
explore the websites we outline below: it’s what digital natives (those brought up with this stuff, roughly
under 30 years old) do. But instead we’re forced – because you’re almost certainly reading this as a printout
on ‘dead tree’ – to ‘write it up’.
Which is frankly a little tedious – not least because it forces the experience into a modality derived, literally,
from the way monks laid out the Bible on vellum. Yet as those of us producing digital experiences know all
too well, the online dynamic is dramatically different.
The Wealth of Networks – see Benkler Appendix
www.icould.com is an independent not-for- profit
organisation delivering insights into careers through
real people and their stories. At its core is a library of
one thousand broadcast-quality films where people
from all walks of life and backgrounds tell users
about their own career journeys.
The simple but big idea is to inspire and encourage
young people to make the most of their potential
and talent, by showing them how others who have
gone before them have used theirs. It i primarily
aimed at 14 to 19 year olds.
Horsesmouth (‘A Public Service, Delivered by the Public’) A public
website where people safely exchange advice and support based on
their shared life experiences, because ‘Someone knows what you need
- Someone needs what you know.’ The ultimate gift economy. A social
enterprise launched in Jan ’08. A hosted, managed and moderated
public (16+) website, with a robust technology infrastructure, a
growing and active community of 20,000 mentors and over 30,000
pieces of unique UGC (user-generated content) and significant IP
Rob Wescott’s www.careerplayer.com - you watched the
video he prepared for this ‘paper’ earlier... didn’t you? Go
on. You know you want to. www.careerplayer.com isn’t
even 6 months old, and it’s already scooping prizes – like
the International Academy of Visual Arts’ Best Educational
Website. It’s an online destination for students and job
seekers to get real insight into different careers and to
seek advice on how to break into them. It's about career
discovery and bringing it to life. The driving force is an
interactive video library, with a bespoke player letting
users quiz employees about their roles. This is supported
by a host of features and a unique suggestion engine, all
designed to make us the first port-of-call for career
“We’re brand new but already have the largest independent career video library, the only psychometric tests that
match you to real people and one of the most comprehensive career event listings online. Development is ongoing
and exciting features are already in the pipeline to help connect users with the people, information and employers
they need to make the most of their career.”
www.thestudentroom.co.uk is the world’s largest
and fastest-growing student community, with over
250,000 members and over 16 million posts.
In essence, it’s a place where students provide
‘Information, Advice and Guidance’ for each other
and for free. It also offers a nexus for links with
educational institutions, recruiters, businesses and
so forth. At its core is a series of peer-to-peer
www.wikijob.co.uk uses the underlying
wiki principles – quick, light, multi-user
crowdsourced editing by volunteers –
to reinvent the job interview space,
capturing user-generated insights on
specific sectors and companies,
pooling experience and tips on
everything from techniques and tests
to internships and contracts.
www.annmarie.org.uk uses everyday
technology – phones and email – to
leverage and reinforce important offline
networks, across multiple and diverse
communities. As well as an emphasis on
mentoring, leadership and excellence, a
recruitment element helps place
tomorrow’s senior managers in post
everywhere from LOCOG, Channel 4
and Whitehall to The Economist & Time
Warner. Annmarie Dixon-Barrow OBE
also advises on evolving more
intelligent career solutions at very
senior levels, including as a special
advisor to www.green-park.co.uk
Interim & Executive Resourcing
GoodPeople are innovators and technology geeks,
focusing on the talent space.
Ten years ago they set up www.jobsgopublic.com
which is now the UK’s biggest public sector-facing
job board with 1.2 million unique visits each
month. They’re the brains behind
www.lgtalent.com - the shop window for Local
Government to promote itself to job seekers.
In 2008 they developed
www.kentconnection.com a regional recruitment
portal with a difference. More than just job
listings, there’s a full-featured e-recruitment
system co-created and shared by all the public-
sector project partners involved.
This year they’re working on bigger challenges. Last month we launched www.mytowerhamletsjob.com tackling
worklessness with shared talent pools and skills passports.
And now we’re creating www.ThisAbility.co.uk - a technology-driven eco-system to help disabled people and
disability-confident employers to find each other.
(That’s enough cool new initiatives in the career world – Ed)
We could, as you might have guessed, go on. And on. And on.
There are a plethora of new, exciting, innovative and high impact developments happening at the leading –
and often bleeding – edge of the sector.
But you’ve almost certainly not heard of most of them.
For one simple reason: the incumbent ‘legacy system’ infrastructure of career IAG – more or less lavishly
publicly-funded – is squatting in the space. It takes up much of the light which might otherwise be
photosynthesizing more fresh green shoots of recovery.
(Although of course you will have heard of The Guardian, whose principle source of income derives from
public sector and non-profit advertising, all of which could be delivered via other platforms a lot more
inventively and inexpensively).
And – truly, madly, deeply – we’re not that bothered by this for ourselves: frankly we’re all having far too
much fun reinventing the world. But we are a bit concerned for the wider picture.
Yochai Benkler (lightly edited for digestibility) puts it all in a slightly more ‘grown up’ way:
Most state interventions are either captured legislation that caters to incumbents, or, at best, well-
intentioned but wrongheaded efforts to optimize the institutional ecology for outdated modes of
information and cultural production.
The state could be constructive, if only it stopped listening to the incumbents for long enough to realize
what’s going on – which is that there’s more freedom opening up institutional spaces for voluntary
individual and cooperative action than in intentional public action by the state.
The networked information economy [has yet to stabilize and is in a state of perturbation]. During periods
of perturbation, more of how society is organized is up for grabs; more can be renegotiated.
To borrow Stephen Jay Gould’s term from evolutionary theory, human societies exist in a series of
punctuated equilibria. Periods of disequilibrium are not necessarily long. A mere twenty-five years passed
between the invention of radio and its adaptation to the mass-media model. A similar period passed
between the introduction of telephony and its adoption of the monopoly utility form that enabled only one-
to-one limited communications.
During periods of stability, we can probably hope for little more than tinkering at the edges of the human
Right, enough academico-philosophical talk for now.
Let’s cut to the chase.
What to do? – (and what not to do)
The readiness is all
Hamlet (c. 1599-1601)
There are several reasons to restrict one’s intake of science fiction (e.g. to avoid those who speak Klingon) but there
are some gems. And for those who read PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford University, there is one
in particular: William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine.28
This re-imagines a Victorian England –
but with computers. The Duke of Wellington stages a coup d’etat, an Industrial Radical Party is led by Byron – and
Disraeli is a tabloid writer. (The book also spawned an entire movement, ‘steam punk’).
There are two points to this diversion: it’s fun to imagine things taking different paths and – considerably less
amusingly – the ‘mash-up’ of 19th
century bureaucratic methods with 21st
century technologies underscores the
inherent tension between the two.
Anyone – and it’s usually well-established large technology-based firms with a lot of mouths to feed – who suggests
you can peer into the future, let alone plan it, over a five year period, Soviet-style, is, not to put too fine a point on it,
lying. The rate of change is simply too fast. However, some thinkers have a better track record than others, while some
of the trends are – apparently – beginning to settle down. But even a quick surf through http://www.ted.com provides
eye-popping proof of how fast – and unpredictably – things are moving.
This generation of politicians is the most important, historically, for a very long time. Precisely because you (yes, you)
will decide the definitive directions which this churning revolution can – and should – take.
Above all, what we need is an overview, an approach, that reflects reality, rather than wish lists.
This means a system that can adapt, not ossify. One sequenced to existing trends. That frees up the energy and
resources of all players, individuals and organisations – and not simply a poor refurbishment of an existing system
without the moral (or indeed any other kind of) authority to actually reach people in ways that matter – where they are
Talk about it
That means recognising that this is an ongoing process. Not a ‘fire and forget’ kind of solution, like the mythical
golden bullet of cancer-treatment. Life is not that simple. So we need a space in which to evolve – rapidly – a better
approach. Not a talking shop – more a think-, talk-, imagine-, do-, test-, try-something-else-, test-, invent-, talk-, do-,
improve-, shop/tank/thingy. (TTIDTTSETITDISTTT) We’ll work on the acronym first.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Difference_Engine | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Difference_engine
Why it matters:
Quality, Choice and Aspiration: [Sic]
A strategy for young people’s information, advice and guidance [Sic]
‘Building Britain’s Future’ [Sic]
department for children, schools and families [Sic]
Metaphors we live by29
In discussing this section, we kept reaching for metaphors. Two proved useful. First, imagining the career advice
space as a North-facing garden, in which the state-fed and -constructed system is a large – an enormous – shed (an
ugly one at that), which blocks out most of the light (we’ve done that one). Second, think of Government’s role here as
similar to that of transport: providing roads, bridges, agreed rules, reasonable speed limits, fewer cameras, more
coherent signage... It’s not the role of Government to tell people what cars to drive, or where they should drive them.
In short, think strategic infrastructure support, with occasional, clever, tactical interventions. Almost everything else is
no longer cool enough for school.
Everything is miscellaneous (the power of the new digital disorder)30
We no longer live in a world of ‘second order’ Dewey Decimal Classification – the digital allows a near infinite
variety of tags, labels, elements, media, material and other matter attached to one ‘thing’. Ergo, it is urgent that we re-
invent the existing, threadbare, frankly miserable taxonomies for career, skills and employment. More precisely, we
recognise a semantic folksonomy – a taxonomy generated by and for the people. This is the substrate by which
increasingly sophisticated matches can be made between people and posts. Think Tesco Cards, and clever offers fine-
tuned to your needs – based on a rich data array. Or Amazon’s clever suggestions based on the way it’s captured your
past behaviour. Starting this process, properly, technically, is a perfect job for TTIDTTSETITDISTTT to get on with.
There’s a lot of stuff out there on the net (and on dusty office shelves). Putting it together in ways in which people can
find it quickly and efficiently is important – and actually rather valuable. Kevin Kelly (again) is spot on, in his widely
regarded blog post Better than Free31
, which argues that there are many reasons why people actually want to pay for
services – one of which is findability:
A work has no value unless it is seen...being found is valuable. The giant aggregators such as Amazon and Netflix
make their living in part by helping the audience find works they love...publishers, studios, and labels (PSL) will
never disappear. They are not needed for distribution of the copies (the internet machine does that) [but for]
distribution of the users' attention back to the works. There is little doubt that besides the mega-aggregators, in the
http://www.everythingismiscellaneous.com NB David Weinberger was one of the principal co-authors of
www.cluetrain.com (see The Cluetrain Appendix)
world of the free many PSLs will make money selling findability... In short, the money in this networked economy
does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits.
Good, well-designed platforms help organise stuff. Think Apple’s App Store, or Google’s widgets. The
interoperability afforded by open-architecture, with agreed standards and protocols, add consistent value at all levels.
They are, in effect, eco-systems designed to foster variation and diversity, facilitate selection and amplify the good.
They help maintain standards – Apple is notoriously fussy – while also reducing the barriers to entry for all players
with something to bring to the party. Again, a job for TTIDTTSETITDISTTT.
From Prisoner’s Dilemma to wiki trolls (and wiki fairies who ‘just like making pages look really nice’), the cultural
norms that enable co-operative, civilized behaviour are complex, and although operating in different ways digitally,
increasingly well-understood there too. Developing the right reputational and financial incentives to ‘play nice’ is
useful, important, and can be resource-heavy.
An overview alone of the many highly-complex and highly-contested issues around security, data privacy and trust
could – and no doubt does – take up a massive amount of headspace. We don’t, by and large, trust the Government
with our data. But often we need to. The route out of this impasse includes better ‘vendor relationship management’
(VRM) systems – think, sort of, Facebook’s recently-evolved range of privacy settings, whereby I control my content
and who it goes to – as well as multilateral initiatives like TAS, with which several partners in this paper are deeply
involved. See also The Technology Appendix.
It’s got algorithm
Algorithms already exist (think Tesco card and recommendation systems again) but are getting increasingly
sophisticated – and in some cases nudging into Artificial Intelligence-like behaviours. But at their core, the thinking is:
reward people, and they’ll be more inclined to share their data (I don’t mind being advertised stuff that’s cool and I
want: I loathe the blunderbuss approach).
How to waste £100, £150 or £180 million
Spend it through ‘normal channels’, on people that no-one would instinctively or naturally go to for anything, let alone
advice, least of all careers advice.
Rip it up
Rip up and reconstitute the entire set of current notions around ‘standards’, ‘sectors’, ‘skills’, ‘competences’ (insert
acronyms ad nauseam). They’re reductionist and claustral. They actually lock as many people – if not more – out as
in. (“Sorry, you just don’t have the right [insert acronym] we need for this role”. And above all, they’re drag-weights
on progress. However, some standards – e.g. coding standards for particular software languages – are important,
conferring a kind of hygiene as well as Lego-like interconnectivities. However, many (oh all right then: most)
‘standards’ around the career space are, beneath a veneer of otiose indigestible language, well, otiose indigestible
concepts, often derived from sociology – or ‘sludgy’ as it’s called on the streets.
We believe – and recognise – that there is, in fact, a great deal of expertise, nous, (meatspace) connectivity and so on
among the older school players in this field. We value that. We don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the digital
bathwater. But we do think a certain amount of transformational goodwill, energy and translation is needed on both
sides of this equation. Strategic and tactical fora where people get up to speed – and get excited at being able to do all
the things they may have spent decades dreaming about doing – could have real value. (If they’re ripped up and
reinvented with an emphasis on doing rather than ruminating). Again, who you gonna call? Perhaps it’s time to call
See big, think smaller, do even less
This approach is not something you buy off the shelf from massive suppliers like Capita. (Although, of course, they’ll
sell it to you like greased lightning). Clever Italo Calvino memo-style approaches are needed. Small pots of money,
deployed quickly, intelligently and multifariously. Preferably well outside the public sector. And, in particular, beyond
the grasp of anyone who wants to stay a “digital refugee” (i.e. those who are basically hostile to the new technology).
Unless you want complete failure, of course, in which case...
Own up to it
If you’re going here, take real, genuine ownership of the thing. Don’t leave it to any layer of officials once in power.
Create, and then give collective air support to, something like the think-and-do-et-cetera tank outlined above. Help it
reach across, and into, senior levels in different departments. Think of this stuff as the legacy-bit, and as near as you're
likely to get to the really cool enjoyable stuff about running things in a revolution. Without air cover, the officials will
kill it, with the smiling efficiency of Sir Humphrey on crack. Provide access to you, not a shield of officials – but in
return, demand whoever’s doing it to be quick, light, efficient, transparent and on it.
Don’t set up a Fund
Unless you want to end up supporting organisations better at getting funding than actually doing anything. Some of
the most interesting stuff happening out here is desperately short of money – but frankly no one can face filling in the
forms. We’d rather Tweet.
Do think micro-match-funding/top-ups
In a world of lots of competing ‘apps’ and possibilities, but limited resources, people will make responsible choices if
it’s their own money. (Think Milton Friedman, RIP). Top it up to extend its reach, perhaps, and it’s still their’s.
Few but impressive hubs
It would be possible (arguably) to morph some existing centres into innovative hubs where, for example, those without
the right kit could come and do some cool stuff (e.g. make a video CV). But if they can’t get on a bus or coach or train
and travel a bit to get there, they’re probably not likely to go anyway. So the lavish overprovision of the past isn’t
helping anyone, really, apart from those it directly employs.
LinkedIn provides an impressive organizing infrastructure for business and professional contacts as well as one’s
‘CV’. But it also has lots of flexibility, and room to generate one’s own way and approach. (And, literally a couple of
days ago, it finally opened its API, w00t32
). Something similar around the career space, possibly in partnership with
LinkedIn, is one obvious initiative – but only if handled by people who get it, and are likely to be among the first
users. Another task for Super-TTIDTTSETITDISTTT
Avoid the lean and hungry
Especially if they’re touting themselves in any shape or form as “creative”, “can-do” etc etc. Think of the Creative and
Cultural Skills’ multi-million car-crash that is http://www.creative-choices.co.uk. Now reaching, ooh, around two in a
million online – and ranking 63,920rd among UK websites. Pretty much take it as read that if someone has time to go
through the hoops to take money from Government officials, then that’s what their business is. The rest of us are
getting on with doing it.
Get your head in the cloud
This is where data either is – or more or less should be. It’s a rather different way of thinking about things than, say,
boxes (Ministerial red or otherwise) or even plastic boxes containing chips. See The Technical Appendix.
The Wisdom of Crowds33
is, well, wise. Or at least, rather wiser than officials34
or a committee. (The official
responsible for abattoir regulations, it emerged in the BSE report, had never visited one). The crowd is also quicker
and more intelligent. (Google Search is basically little more than an aggregation of the crowd’s wisdom). The crowd
needs to be breathed into the career sector big-time. Well, it already is. But more would be good.
Do some knitting
What we think will really work, essentially, is a bit of knitting. (Think tumbrels. Oh all right then, don’t). Actually, the
sector really does need a kind of organic knitting machine. Perhaps by assembling a team of outsiders to get the thing
rolling, seeding key memes35
and approaches while knitting relationships together. And coming up with a cool
All designed to increase and improve what’s already going on out there in the wild i.e. stimulate more variety, better
selection – crowd-sourced and bottom-up – and considerable wariness about serious amplification of the large-sums-
of-government variety until a few big winners emerge (although even this may not even be the best model: it could
equally be a larger number of medium-sized beasts that provides the 'fittest' ecosystem).
So – as with most really complex things, while we instinctively would like to reach out for a really simple solution, if
we do, we would only be conning ourselves.
This stuff is complex. But that’s the nature of the beasts and the beasties – the nature of nature. So go with the path of
least resistance – which is the increasingly frictionless paths of the interwibwebwob world – and help let people work
out the solutions for themselves.
Meanwhile, a little help would not go amiss with:
-The Navigation Layer
Although uncertain as to the correct collective noun -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collective_nouns_by_subject_I-Z – we’re thinking of trying to Wiki in ‘a paperclip
We may have appeared occasionally flippant during this paper – but we’re deadly serious.
So we’ll end with Yochai Benkler’s call to arms. Then you can dive into the exciting world of our Appendix. (No,
really, you’re going to enjoy Government, if you keep your head, while all around are losing theirs...)
We are in the midst of a technological, economic, and organizational
transformation that allows us to renegotiate the terms of freedom,
justice, and productivity in the information society...
As economic policy, allowing yesterday’s winners to dictate the terms of
tomorrow’s economic competition would be disastrous.
As social policy, missing an opportunity to enrich democracy, freedom,
and justice in our society while maintaining or even enhancing our
productivity would be unforgivable.