Better Together, with Richard Bartlett and Nigel Dalton

Helen Heath chaired a panel discussion on how collaborative technology can encourage radical cultural change in business, with Loomio co-founder Richard Bartlett and REA Group CIO Nigel Dalton.

Richard_bartlettHeath’s chairing style was unobtrusive, which is generally welcome. Unfortunately, in this instance, I think Bartlett in particular could have done with quite a lot of reining in. Invited to give a quick introduction to Loomio, Bartlett spent some time talking in detail about his feelings about Occupy Wellington and how his experiences there contributed to his spiritual development. “It was a totally singular experience in my life … it’s hard to describe what it’s like to be part of a global superhuman collective intelligence, but it was pretty sweet.”

He related how reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had profoundly affected him. Bartlett described at length how Occupy Wellington had really made him check his privilege, and then proceeded to explain social justice. He said several times that “if you’re not explicitly challenging structural oppression you end up perpetuating it”. During the Q & A section at the end an audience member asked Bartlett, not unreasonably, how his product Loomio (a digital decision-making tool) challenges oppressive power structures. He said that people are less aggressive on the internet (?) and that “software can passively and automatically change power dynamics”. It’s an intriguing concept, but unfortunately by that point we’d run out of time to learn more.

nigel_daltonDalton was a much better panel member: articulate, comparatively concise, and entertaining (his opening line was “my name is Nigel Dalton and I work for Rupert Murdoch: I’ll see myself out”). He summarised Bartlett’s point about the dissonance between collective decision-making and inclusiveness – “the problem is you have to include the assholes” – before saying that, in his experience, “a magical thing happens when engineers turn 34” in that they tend to get over themselves a bit and learn to work well with others. (Bartlett is an engineer and looks to be around that age. Dalton is, at a guess, in his 60s.)

Dalton evangelised enthusiastically about ‘agile’, although unfortunately he forgot to begin by defining it. The most I managed to gather in the session was that it has something to do with people choosing their own teams to work with. I have since looked it up: dear old Wikipedia says “Agile management is an iterative, incremental method of managing the design and build activities for engineering, information technology, and other business areas … in a highly flexible and interactive manner.” Or, as Dalton said, “Work teams that self-select are infinitely more productive … There’s a flow to the world that delivers what’s right in the end.”

We didn’t reach the meat of the session until quite near the end of the hour, which was a shame, because I would have liked to have heard more about, for example, the ways in which the Lonely Planet publishing house (where Dalton used to work) failed to respond to the advent of smartphones: “it was a fascinating failure to transform … our inability to predict the future is epic”. Dalton said “the lowest common denominator of modern organisations has become resilience … there is scientific evidence that diversity of thinking increases resilience … business today is chaotic.”

I am continually fascinated by the ways in which the internet changes the way we read. Dalton commented “every digital Kindle book makes a real book more precious”, and I would have liked to have heard more discussion on that point. He also said that the difference between the internet and a book is that with a book you have to finish your idea. Bartlett said that the problem was that “publishers haven’t gone through the grieving process [like we did in Occupy Wellington] and they’ve been bought up by Rupert Murdoch, centralising power instead of distributing it”.

Since the session today, Bartlett has written a blog post entitled “The speech I wrote about patriarchy but didn’t have the courage to deliver on stage today” about all the things he wishes he could have said to us. He ends: “patriarchy and capitalism and colonialism [have] turned me into the self-centered loud-mouthed know-it-all that keeps trying to grab the microphone.” Maybe he just needs to get more agile.

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Better Together: Nigel Dalton and Richard Bartlett, with Helen Heath
Saturday 12 March, BATS Theatre
NZ Festival Writer’s Week

Editor’s Note: We have, at Helen’s request and with Elizabeth’s permission, removed the indication of time period from the second paragraph of this review. It now reads ‘some time.’

What’s so funny? with James Nokise, Jackie van Beek and Chris Parker

My final session for today was called What’s so funny?, a panel discussion of comedy in Aotearoa with James Nokise, Jackie van Beek and Chris Parker. It was meant to have been chaired by Jo Randerson, but she’d been “sentenced to Hamilton” and was unable to come.

Talking about comedy is a bit of an odd one. Because they’re all professional comedians, and because the topic was comedy, I kept expecting laughs. But, although there was the odd giggle here and there, and although they’re all very personable and are professional entertainers, the session didn’t quite gel. Perhaps it was the absence of the chair. A lot of the discussion was unstructured and was basically them talking about which shows they’d been in and what they were working on now and with whom. This was my first Writer’s Week session where my attention began to wander (admittedly it was my third in a row that afternoon and I was under-caffeinated). The session this morning with Mallory Ortberg talking about her writing had been a lot funnier.

Perhaps I am being unfair: after all, what have I come to a literary festival for if not to discover new artists and hear them talk about their lives and work? Maybe indie comedy just isn’t my scene. Certainly, since the advent of broadband and Netflix, I don’t watch nearly as much NZ TV as I used to, so I missed a lot of the references.

Still, it was interesting to hear about the creative process in all of their various roles: writing, performing, acting, improv, theatre, stand-up, TV, and film. They all spoke about the importance of collaboration, and of writing comedy that you personally feel is funny, rather than trying to pander to the market. Nokise, who does a lot of political comedy, spoke about finding the ridiculousness of serious situations (eg Nick Smith going swimming in the Manawatu).

It was heartening too to hear that people can make a living as professional comedians in Aotearoa these days; a welcome change from days of yore (even a few years ago). There was a funny moment when Parker related how he broke his foot just before the opening of one of his shows. His father told him “Richie McCaw won the rugby world cup with a broken foot, you can finish your gay autobiographical dance show.” Parker described himself as a comedy “addict”: “My tendency is to go for the cheap gag, because I want to be loved by everyone.”

The other thing that was a bit odd about this session was the explicit diversity line-up: the gay one, the Pacific Islander one, the woman. They each spoke to their respective ‘ism’ – and then that thing happened. That thing that so often happens in a room when a woman speaks up about sexism: the men immediately chimed in to prove how sexist they weren’t, by saying how they can’t believe sexism is even still a thing, and then sitting back, job done, unconscious of the power structures that helped them to where they are today. In fact, Parker even interrupted van Beek when she was speaking about sexism, and spoke over her to prove how not-sexist he is by listing lots of female comedians. He seemed completely unaware of his textbook mansplaining. It was even more stark because the equivalent thing didn’t happen when Parker spoke about homophobia or when Nokise spoke about racism.

Van Beek inadvertently summed this session up for me when she said “I can’t think of anything funny”. In essence I think I was the wrong audience – others who were there (including the reviewer for Radio New Zealand) – seemed to enjoy themselves more, and the comedy and theatre people in the audience seemed to get a lot out of it. It did inspire me to check out more home-grown comedy, though, starting with Funny Girls.

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

What’s so funny? with James Nokise, Jackie van Beek and Chris Parker
3.30pm Friday, at Bats Theatre, part of NZ Festival Writer’s Week