Monday 11 October 2010

Inspiring digital dreams

Everyone, I think, has a list of inspirations. I'd hope so, anyway. People who spark spirals of thoughts, people who you admire and respect, some whom you are in awe of. They're not definitive lists, well this one isn't, there are many people missing and a large amount of them are from my other love and passion, mountain biking. But this is about tech and digital and these are the people who inspire my digital dreams.

Take a woman. An ordinary woman. A farmers wife from the depths of the Lancashire countryside. Smart. Fiery. Determined. A woman who has a mission, and the mission is very simple. Pass the digital access onto everyone else, and I do mean literally everyone else because it's changed her life. She makes no bones about it. She speaks of it so eloquently in her YouTube video which is a submission to the Sheffield Doc/Fest under Digital Revolutions that I got a bit teary eyed. Part of it was hearing the voice finally of someone who's digital voice I have been following since February on Twitter. Part of it is the power of the simplicity of her words. Some of it is the recognition that digital has changed my world too. All of it is testament to a grandmother, a mother, and a wife who uses the tech in about the best way I know how - to quite literally try to change the world for everyone who hasn't had the opportunity to use it yet. The woman is nothing short of amazing. Nothing short of a one woman army. Every time I become jaded with the digital agenda, with what we are all trying to do in our very different ways, she reminds me of why we write the words, brainstorm at our desks, tweet and retweet and use all the brains someone gave us to push the digital inclusion message as hard as possible.

She will change the world. She is just a farmers wife from Lancashire. What, exactly, are you doing? Because this is the question I ask myself when I read her tweets and there is the essence of inspiration.

Tom Watson, Labour Party MP for West Bromwich East
The Digital Economy Act was a wake up call for a digital generation. It wasn't meant to be, of course, it wasn't written as a call to arms. Some of the most powerful Acts in history have passed unnoticed. This one did its best to. It didn't. Instead, a mobile army of tweeters and digital activists came together on a single issue and a new generation of kids interest in politics was sparked. Including mine.
In the midst of this absolute shitstorm of discussion, irritation, shock, horror, relentless questioning of the political process, and abhoration of the ability of such a massively wide reaching Bill to become reality without even being given the grace of a proper hearing, was one man. This one. On the 8th April 2010, an MP on Twitter became a much needed link between this generation and politics. He stood up and voted against the Bill becoming an Act. He publically declared that it was the first time in his entire political life he had disobeyed a whip.He answered a barrage of questions on political process. He committed to some digital declarations. He made me, and a whole hell of a lot of other people wish he was their local MP.
When I asked him on Twitter why he wouldn't stand for Labour Leader nor would be expressing any interest whatsoever in being part of the shadow cabinet, he replied something along the lines of 'because I want to be able to express my opinions freely'.
In an age where politicians are faceless money spenders, with no morals and who don't inspire anything but the need to reach for the off switch on the remote, Tom Watson is an inspiration to me. Perhaps the greatest thing about Twitter is that I think he knows that, knows that his actions and words inspired very many people of a disenchanted generation, and that one day, somewhere, someone will stand as an MP, entirely because of his openness, frankness, determination to stand up for what's right, and the straightness of his answers. It wont be me. But I suspect he sat at a conference a few months ago next to one of those people. A kick ass MP.

Dominic Campbell, FutureGov
It's never one person. I know that. But the other person who I suspect is in some way partly responsible doesn't appear to step into the spotlight so much and so I'll do nothing more than acknowledge that discovering her existence inspired too.
I don't quite know how Dom appeared. I don't quite know how I discovered the existence of FutureGov. I don't think it was long ago, though it feels like forever. Some people do that. They sort of land in your sphere of awareness and then, well then suddenly they're on your radar and you watch them living their life in realtime and you wonder how on earth it can be entirely possible that one person can keep going, can keep moving, can keep travelling so damn much and not disintegrate into a puddle.
Dom is one of those people (well obviously). It's like watching some mad dynamo. Then you discover the business behind it and the mind behind the business behind it and you start to wonder if time machines really do exist because it couldn't actually be possible, could it, that one person could have so many fingers in so many pies and juggle all of them? From events organising (#ccldn is for City Camp London which is where I just spent my weekend) to TweetyHall, from inspiring to mentoring. That someone a similar age to me can understand that friendships come in both genders, know that I needed a mentor and some advice and gave it freely, that someone can be so painfully shy and yet be gobby as fuck are all reasons for liking someone. But the inspiration comes from the knowledge that the reasons are not all about making money. That the motivations are, I think, honourable. That making money doesn't have to be at the expense of inclusion or thinking of the lost people and that a sensitivity to peoples needs who struggle a little with the world for whatever reason is not something to be embarrassed about, but rather to be embraced to effect real change. Local government has a chance to benefit from a real innovator with a real heart. It might not matter to a lot of people, but it matters to me, because I am a sap. If future government could be shaped by people with such motivations, then we might just not drop the important people along the way.

Tom Stannard, Director of Policy & Communications
If I'm going to get stick for any of these, it'll be this one. So be it. I don't see why I can't find someone I work for (2 layers below, is that for, even?) inspiring. No one from work reads this except for those in our team anyway, and they all know me well enough by now, I think, to know that ass licking is not my style. Apart from anything else, the inspiration started before. The respect earned has come since.
It's not easy being enthusiastic in local gov. It's not easy being a trailblazer. It's even harder to be a trailblazer in a world where to do so is not only to stick ones head above the parapet but to invite derision. Hard words, hard facts, but true ones all the same. Dismissing Twitter as squawking is perhaps one of the more polite ways certain groups of people dismiss Twitter. Facebook was never meant to be the powerful tool for collecting groups of people that it is now. It was supposed to disintegrate into Farmville playing and little boys boasting about their recent conquests and little else. It hasn't. Tom knew that 18 months ago. He knew it before me. He knew it before a lot of other Councils did too. So the innovation happened, the team were pointed in a direction and little pieces of change started to glow in the darkness of a sector ignorant of futures. The first time I tweeted him I had no idea who he was. I got a tweet from another menber of his team telling me he had no idea who I was. Well I didn't have any idea who he was either. I generally don't. In fact, on Twitter, I make a damn big point of not reading the bio's of the people I follow and who follow me. They're just people. Interesting, smart, inspiring and challenging people. It means I'm not intimidated by job titles or well, titles. Like everyone else in this post, Tom takes this well. Better by rights than he should do. He answers my stupid questions, but also the challenging ones. He has effectively created a Department where some days I wonder if I've wondered into a digital agency and not a local gov Department. He is approachable, enthusiastic, determined and processes amounts of data that I am in awe of.
I'm not going to write anything else. There are paragraphs more that I could. Suffice to say, here I lay my hat, not only because of Tom, but because of Marc and Lee and many others in the team. But the team I work within inspires me too, and is one I am so so proud to be a part of, because it is led by an innovator. It's led by someone who is not afraid to state cold hard truth, but also by someone who doesn't see skies, I don't think, only futures. Leadership is not an easy thing to get right. It's hard to please all of the people, all of the time. I am watching and learning from someone I consider to be a leader in the very literal sense of the word.

Right, for today, that's where I leave it. There are more. But if I ever do anything interesting, innovative, inspiring or changing in my life, it will be for knowing these 4 people and a few others. Fires occasionally threaten to go out but they never die. Bring. It. On.


  1. flippin eck, you put me in with some good company... am honoured.
    And humbled.
    You ain't doin too bad yerself hun.

  2. Couldn't agree more: @cyberdoyle is the No 1 inspiration! You must come up to see the movement she's inspired at their inaugural on 6 Nov in Eden Valley. And meet Rory too! x

  3. Chris,
    You rock. That is all :P

    6th November, being a Saturday, I can do. Have you got a link to the event? If not, if you can DM me times, location etc, I'll be there. Would be awesome to meet everyone.