Watching the BBC’s latest costume drama, a very English adaption of Tolstoy’s War & Peace, has made me realise just how much stuff we now have to learn to be considered educated. Tolstoy’s story is set in a society where science was only just beginning to make inroads into the educated elite, where technology was pretty limited and where your ‘lot in life’ was largely determined at birth. A modern primary school education would have sufficed for most people.
Fast forward 200 and some years and a primary school education won’t get you anywhere. We’re fast approaching a point where a high school education won’t get you much either. In the education arms race, a degree is a minimum and post-graduate qualifications are becoming more like the norm. As our society becomes more and more complicated, will we see an end to this escalation in educational requirements? Are we in danger of some people just giving up and saying its too hard; I’m never going to get there? It seems that many people have disengaged from politics as our world appears to become impossibly complicated and leaders who promise to understand the issues and hold the solutions subsequently fail to deliver. Could fatalism become the fashion?
It seems to me that we can’t let our education system become an arms race. We cannot allow a situation where students without a degree are considered a failure. We cannot allow a situation where Oxford and Cambridge are seen to be the only tickets to a bright future. The fact is that none of us can predict what will happen in the future and which skills will really be most useful. Any modern economy needs people with a broad range of practical and academic skills.
We need to be harder on ourselves – getting an education should be about being good at something, whatever that something is. What we define as a good education seems to have narrowed to a really worrying extent. Society in general seems to have checked out of this debate – its someone else job to figure it out. Its all too hard. We simply cannot afford to do that. We all go through the education system and we all recognise that a modern working society needs a broad portfolio of skilled workers to make it tick. So where is the debate? Its not owned by the education sector or the teaching profession. Its owned by all of us.
As part of the techno-brethren of Bristol, we recognise that we’re members of an industry that has almost single handedly mangled the English language. We put our hand up and admit to being paradigm-shifters, global platform providers and generally solution … solvers.
But wait, we have competition. It appears that if there’s one group that could edge ahead of the techno-brethren, its the MBA-wielding global management elite. And just to confirm our worst fears, the FT has given over a small slice of its global web presence to recording the worst excesses of our well travelled management friends (at least techies save the planet by using Jira and Confluence). Next time you’re stuck at a train station and you’ve run out of Facebook posts to peruse, take a look at the FT Dictionary of Business Jargon and Corporate Nonsense aka Guffipedia. Its just staggering – if you haven’t said, ‘what!’ within a minute, there’s something wrong with you.
Wake up fellow fellow techno-brethren, you’re not trying hard enough. Mangling words to explain things and sell stuff is passé – these people do it for kicks.
It took me a while, but about five years ago I realised that for all its rational, think-things-through image, the tech industry was as prone to fads and fashions as … well the fashion industry. As Erlich, occasional wearer of the Steve Jobs turtle-neck on HBO’s Silicon Valley will tell you, there are times when ‘social’ is hot, there are times when B2B is top of the investment pile and there times when its ‘all about mobile’, but there’s always something thats the flavour of the month, the thing to be in.
At the moment, you could say that collaborative tools are one of the hottest spots in tech. Sharepoint has over 50m licenses out there, Slack became the fastest company to reach unicorn ($1bn valuation) status and Atlasssian just got their IPO away to great fanfare. All the old school tech companies like Adobe and Citrix are rummaging through the closet to find product that can be re-purposed as a collaborative platform.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be thinking the only way from here is down. There will be a new ‘hot sector’ along any time soon and collaborative tools will become yesterdays man. But in this case, that would be a shame. Collaborative tools really are a big thing and here’s why: for all the talk of creative spark and the lone genius, the academic literature suggest that most innovation comes from teams, not individuals. If that’s the case, then the more that we can do to help people link together and work together over a distance, the more innovation we will get.
That’s important, because in my experience, if you want to work with people who are genuinely in the forefront of their field, then these days you’ll find they’re spread pretty far and wide. That means you either need to spend a lot of time on a plane (expensive, time consuming and bad for the planet) or you need to work on your remote working skills. Working in geographically dispersed but high performing teams means good collaboration tools. That means the likes of Confluence and Slack have a rosy future (assuming they can execute).
Being a Bristol-based company, we’re slightly biased, but for all you fans of Bristol out there, this one’s for you. To say that this is ‘one from the archive’ seems like something of an understatement, but take a look at this film commissioned by Bristol Corporation in 1951, as a promotional tool for the Festival of Britain:
Bristol, British City 1951
Despite being over 60 years old, it’s pretty familiar in many ways. It’s not so much the people or the place that seem like a relic from the past, but the paternal (and the City Corporation were mostly men) attitude of the local government that seems so out of place. The other big change is the amount of manufacturing that took place in the City back then. It makes you wonder how a film of Bristol 2015 would be viewed in 2079. Perhaps it would be amusing for our grandchildren to see all those digital agencies, media companies and hipster beards on show.