A tale of two meetings

I had two meeting scheduled today. One in Edinburgh at General Synod Office this afternoon and one in Glasgow in my office this evening.

Both were threatened by the great storm that has hit Scotland today. (Forgive me for delighting in the fact that the online commentariate have dubbed the storm Hurricane Bawbag).

The first meeting was quite rightly cancelled. Several people were coming from afar – someone from somewhere near Inverness, someone from near Stirling, a couple of people from the Edinburgh area and me from the West. (Note that one day we need to press the Scottish Government to change the law which forbids people from Edinburgh from travelling to Glasgow for meetings – now that would be a consultation and a half). It simply would not have been sensible to travel.

An attempt was made to reorganise with a telephone conference but that wasn’t on as people were wanting to hurry home to safety and offices were closing left, right and Central Belt.

Meeting abandoned.

It was obviously going to be stupid to try to get people together for a meeting tonight at the Cathedral from across town. Bus services were being limited and it was not really safe to be out. Slates were crashing down on some streets and it was without doubt, a night to be home and dry.

However, the participants at this meeting (there were just three of us) were not to be outdone by Bawbag the Biggest Storm in the West. Oh no. We quickly got chatting on facebook and realised that we all had broadband and all had webcams. We were all able to sign in to Google+ and enter a hangout – which is the simplest video conference imaginable. It’s free and easy to sign up for and, well, it just worked. You can use it for meetings of up to 10 people

The meeting went ahead at 7.30 pm. By 8.15 we were all done and about our tasks.

Meeting not abandoned. Meeting very successful.

Now, had that meeting taken place by us all going out to St Mary’s Office, we would have taken two or three times as long, all got wet and run the risk of being knocked into the next world by an over-eager falling chimney pot.

Unsurprisingly we also got to talking about how shocked we were that this was so easy and couldn’t really understand why it isn’t being used more often.

Using the same system I was also able to have a chat with Fr Vice Provost who had been turfed out of the office early to go home whilst the going was good.

Now, I’ve no doubt at all that people need to meet in physical space sometimes. However once I heard that someone I know was running a counselling business that relies on skype and regularly offers counselling to someone in another country, it did make me think.

I’ve a notion that this technology could easily be used a lot more in the church. One idea at the moment is that it could be used for saying Evening Prayer. A small group could easily be formed of people who are actually physically all over the city (or the world) saying evening prayer together, being led by a different person each day. There is experimenting to be done and the time to do it is fast approaching.

Wave Goodbye

Oh, I do admire Google’s ability to fail.

They started something a while ago called Google Wave which they launched as the answer to life the universe and everything. It was going to be collaborative workspace, social communication, the new e-mail that everyone was going to flock to and generally more fun than feather boas.

It hasn’t worked and they’ve stopped development of it this week. Its a lesson in glorious failure. I admire the fact that they had a go and failed so magnificently. No doubt they have learned a lot and got lots of things to build on in the future.

I suspect it failed because the benefit was not worth the sign-up. It was proprietary software (you could only use it from within the Reign of Google) and that’s always tricky. Facebook seems to have managed to make a success of a proprietary model and there are lesser successes like Skype. In some ways its odd that Google hit the mark as the are big enough and butch enough to have a lot of power in the online world.

Google also has a model which is committed to glorious failure. They let their software-bods have significant time to work on dream projects that are not governed by managers. The theory is that the rare successes make it worth living with the failures that are inevitable from some projects along the way.

I’m interested in that for I work in a world which is often a success culture and people fear failure so much that they often won’t innovate.

I was asked this week where I would set up a new Episcopal church in Glasgow if I had a magic wand. I knew my answer immediately. I think there are two obvious targets in this city where a church might be established within five years or so. I’ve been thinking about that for a long time too. Mulling it over and brooding on possibility.

We’ve lost the knack of starting new congregations. A hundred years ago we did it constantly. The failure rate was huge, when you look back at the stories. However, if we could build a little bit of Google innovation into our heads we would realise that failure is inevitable and part of the growth cycle.