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.’