On the Beach

It took me six days before I actually entered the Pacific Ocean, although the hotel was very close to the beach. There were several reasons for this. My assignment was to present a paper at the IMTA conference taking place at Surfers Paradise, south of Brisbane. Since it was a great conference, I didn’t mind spending most of the time indoors. Another reason was that the weather wasn’t actually all that great. Warm, but mostly cloudy and in the afternoons we got tropical storms with heavy rain and hailstorms. Also, I’m a bit of a wimp (sometimes) and don’t like to be wet and cold.

But there was also another reason and that is that swimming in the sea in Australia is quite different from having a dip in the North Sea or the Mediterranean in Europe. The currents are very strong, as is the surf. I had trouble standing upright although I was just a couple of metres from the shore. There are also sharks to consider, as well as the poisonous blue-bottle jellyfish. This is why the beach is organised into sections where you are allowed to swim. These are marked with yellow and red flags and trained lifeguards watch from towers. 4WD cars, speedy boats and fast helicopters patrol the beach all the time.

This reminded me of the introduction in Charles Leadbeater’s new book “We Think” where he compares the Web 2.0 development to the self-organising principles ruling the conduct while at the beach. Although no special rules are actually posted, people tend to work out suitable arrangements themselves. However, self-organisation may need to be combined with organisation when the situation is very dangerous.

One of the most fascinating keynote speakers at the IMTA conference was David Schmidtchen, a former researcher in the Australian Defence Force. In his book “The Rise of the Strategic Private” he quotes Luther Gulick: “Good men seldom survive bad organisation”. He also talks about the need to change the metaphor behind Network Centric Warfare concept, and also to be aware of the limitations of metaphors.

The metaphors that we choose to make sense of the environment are at the core of our approach to exploration, experimentation and critical thought. Metaphors give our thoughts, and thereby our actions, direction. They help us to impose a degree of mental certainty on an inherently uncertain world. Metaphors produce new ideas and, on occasion, breathe new life into old ones. They can expose facts by prompting the right questions, or hide them by prompting the wrong ones. (p. 300)
Australian beaches are not the same as European ones. Armed Forces are not like other organisations. Peacekeeping is not business as usual. Ambidexterity is the key – organisation and self-organisation sometimes need to be combined. We need to remember this, so we don’t end up in a world like the one described by Nevil Shute in his book “On the Beach”.

Remember: No flag – No swim!
PS Want to see more photos from Australia? Have a look at http://picasaweb.google.com/lmholmberg/AustraliaOctober2007

1 comment:

Lave said...

Being a bit familiar with Queensland and the Pacific coast I cannot but agree to your advice on swimming and behaving on the beaches, although one should also be aware of the crocs that are operating in the ocean (salties) and in the river (freshies AND ...wooops.. yes, ALSO salties are there, even 100k upstreams). Having said that, I have to admit that touring upstate is a real thrill even if you do not meet with these fatal creatures. Visit e.g. Magnetic Island or Whitsunday Island where the beaches are white and smooth as potato flour...