Is it all about context?

June 19th, 2009

My first post is intended to explore the nature and importance of context in managing change.  Its purpose is also to put my own blogging activities in context.

Context helps.

It helps people understand a situation and it assists them in establishing their perspective on a situation.  Some would argue that “It is all about context”, as suggested to me by Bob Copp when he was heading up Telstra Multimedia in the mid-1990s.  I observe that human beings seem to have a deep need to establish context as exemplified by ‘Putting things into context’ as part of everyday conversations.

Creating a context may have been a recreational activity for those who in lived in the caves at Lascaux 16,000 years ago.  Paintings of animals on those cave walls portrayed the world that the painters lived in.  There may have been a spiritual element to the paintings.  One hypothesis is those images represent visions experienced during ritualistic trance-dancing.  No matter what the specific purpose of these works of art; they recorded the past, were interpreted in that present and may have foretold a future.  Contextually, the paintings provided a past, present and future.

I suspect the need for context is deeply ingrained in us all, simply because it helps us establish a structure.  We, humans, still like to ‘put things into their place’.  In essence, create a context.

My first blog is a journey in narrowing the gap between awareness and interactivity of Web innovation .

In the mid to late 1990s, I designed and developed the original Telstra web site – built on an experimental web site that Rodney Campbell had established.

Once the corporation began to take note of the Web and attempted to build a pervasive presence in, I became disillusioned with the simplistic approach adopted.  It seemed to me that the message conveyed was that the Web was misunderstood and it seemed unclear as to what it was really about.

At this time, ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’ strongly resonated with me.  The thesis put forward the idea that “a powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed.”

Now, with the growth of Web 2.0 social software, including the rapid growth of Twitter micro-blogging, that thesis seems more valid than ever before.

I left Telstra to join a dot-com that imploded less than a year later.  I moved into the traditional world of corporate IT and used the Web for banking and searching information.  During the early years of this millenium, things like wiki’s, blogs and podcasts were not needed in my life and I didn’t make the time to put them to use on a regular basis.

The difference

Early this year, I received a commission to produce a research paper on how to best increase collaboration within organisations using social software, or Web 2.0 tools.  Suddenly, I had the time I needed to explore, interpret and understand how the traditional push and read-only Web had transformed into a conversational, user-generated content that epitomises Web 2.0.  As I dived in to understand the breadth and depth of Web 2.0, and how it has already transformed some organisations, I was seeking a context, a background for Web 2.0 concepts that contrasted them with the ‘old Web’, Web 1.0.  The best context I had found started where I’d left off.

Tim O’Reilly, a well-known commentator on Web 2.0, started out with the burst of the dot-com bubble.  Since then, he has tracked events to the present.  The context he provides also explains why some Web 2.0 sites have achieved the success they have.

I suggest that context is about linking the past to the present and ideally, outlining what the future could be like.  In order to help people interpret a change that is before them, they will need to be aware of the change. They will benefit from a context and from knowing ‘What is changing?’  In time they will also need to know ‘When’ it is changing,  ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’

Although apparently simple, in answering the question ‘What is changing?’ can be complex.  Identifying the specifics of a change is important.  It informs planning for stakeholder engagement and identifies the key messages that need to be communicated to those involved and impacted by the change. web mentions . nrwrestling .