Purple Shirt

purple shirt‘Purple Shirt’ is what I understand Dr. Edward de Bono (www.edwdebono.com) would call a prototypical word – to be used when a word does not currently exist to describe what one is attempting to describe: a new concept, a new way of looking at something or a subtle change in the existing.

Using a word (or descriptor) that is completely unrelated or ‘off the wall’ helps prevent people from using existing understanding and or biases when considering the new concept being described. To emphasize its use as a prototypical descriptor in this blog, I will continue to write it capitalized and in italics.

Recently, we used ‘Purple Shirt’ to describe what we felt was a new way of using and applying “social media” “web based” online digital communication tools.

Why this was important, was that I was completing a position revision and I needed to explain to others what our ‘Purple Shirt’ person would be doing, why this position needs to exist and how we felt it was different from a typical social media or new media positions.

Let’s see if I can explain. Note all definitions are from www.wikipedia.com.

First, why didn’t the existing definitions of social media, new media or website language capture what I was meaning?

Social media refers to interaction among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

While”exchanging information and ideas” is important and would be a critical part of what we do at the CRI, ‘Purple Shirt’ involves more than “interaction among people” and “sharing and exchanging”. What remained missing was the “application” piece because we wanted ‘Purple Shirt’ to be about working towards specific outcomes in addition to information or idea exchange.

New media refers to on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation.

While the “interactive user feedback” and “creative participation” and “‘any digital device” are pertinent this definition did not capture the effective use of the tools and platforms component or the job that we wanted to articulate. And again, there was no sense of application.

Website is a set of related web pages served from a single web domain.

Website has been around long enough that defining it almost seemed redundant and everyone knows that webmaster is “the person who maintains a particular website” but as we know, website implies static while both “social media” and “new media” convey dynamic. The new position was being designed to use the website as the “library” with the social media tools the “classroom” (we are a College after all).

We stuck with ‘Purple Shirt‘ until something else emerged. A few weeks later, it eventually it did.

Here’s how it went . . .

What I really wanted was to combine this convergence of all of the social media and new media tools and practices, with existing more static forms of digital communication tools and platforms. But I did not want to abandon offline forms of communication, because I still believe that “innovation is a body contact sport” and that offline forms of communication are still highly valuable. And I wanted all of that led by one person because we are a small unit within the organization; and I need that person to be able to apply it not only within the department but to extend that to the benefit of our clients. Sounds like a practitioner.

I liked the sound of practitioner. I liked the way it implied that there is an art to the way someone applies knowledge and practices. It also implies that while practicing, one gets better, learns and then applies new techniques. That’s important to me and what I believe we are about at the Centre for Research & Innovation.

What’s in a (position) name?

What has emerged at the CRI is a person who understands how to integrate both static communication tools (e.g. website, e-newsletter and offline tools like magazines/ news features) with dynamic tools (Blog site, Twitter, Linked-In) in a way that enables her to communicate in real time and pastime in a coordinated manner. Sounds like a coordinator.

We also wanted this person to craft the strategic plan for both the department as a whole and the units within the organization consistent with the digital plans of the College. In addition, this person needed to organize the training of all staff who currently understand and contribute through pastime communications but are not participating in real time, or at least, current time communications. Sounds like management and leadership duties. More importantly, this person must do the work – be a practitioner (a person actively engaged in an art, discipline, or profession . . . ) as well as a leader.

I brought the ‘Purple Shirt Practitioner’ forward during the organization’s review process. It did what I intended it to do. It made the committee members stop and really listen to what was really different about what the ‘Purple Shirt Practitioner’ was doing relative to what others in the organization working in this realm are doing. Once they really listened, they understood the need relative to our Department, how it was different from the other positions within the College, and most importantly, they recognized the level of creativity and responsibility this position would have and they placed it well on our pay scale.

One more thing:

We all recognized that ‘Purple Shirt Practitioner’ was not going to work on the business card. So . . . we settled on New Media (rather than Social Media); we agreed Lead more adequately captured the leadership component of the position.

This is how we used a prototypical word and an excellent process to help our former Innovation Facilitator become our New Media Lead. And that works for me.

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