Process 2006 Day 1 – Peter Fingar Keynote

No free wifi at the conference so posting I’m writing in Windows Live Writer and will post later tonight. Either that, or I have to ask someone else for their room number so that I can access under their account, but questions like that can be taken the wrong way. :)

As with other conference live blogging, these posts are really just my initial impressions, without much analysis or even editing, so they’ll see a bit rough.

[A bit of editorial on that last statement, just before I post (12+ hours after writing): at the drinks reception tonight, someone introduced me to Peter Fingar, who, upon hearing my name, narrowed his eyes in thought, then came up with the statement "you wrote negative things about me on your blog." I find it a bit weird that he would focus on one or two slightly negative comments that I made about him rather than the other neutral or positive comments. Most consultants are happy to have any mention made of them in the press; Keith Harrison-Broninski pretty much laughed off the criticisms that I had made about one of his posts. Maybe Peter should develop a thicker skin if he's going to put himself forward in public (especially if he's going to read the rest of this post).]

Anyway, following a welcome by David Lyneham-Brown and Steve Towers, Peter Fingar arrived — in the flesh — for a keynote. At last year’s BPMG conference, he was scheduled to appear but dialed in via Skype, the first time that I’ve seen that in a conference setting but not quite the same as a real speaker.

I was not impressed when he started his presentation with a canned video segment that was an ad for the Women’s FIFA World Cup from 2003 followed by an ad for his current book, Extreme Competition. The football ad was one that was pitting a group of Chinese women against a group of white women, and I think that it was his attempt to make us visualize competition with China. He appears to be against globalization and outsourcing, and paints China and India as a slightly dodgy group of Johnny-come-lately capitalists in a country that he refers to as “Chindia” who are out to steal “our” (read “American”) jobs. Instead of seeing companies in Asia as potential collaborators, he sees them as competitors, and portrayed several examples of outsourcing in an extremely negative light. I’m sure that this protectionist message plays well in the U.S., but I found it slightly off-putting. When he made a big deal about how “mighty America” (his words) is 16th in broadband penetration while South Korea is 1st, I (and likely others who are higher in the ranking) thought “so what?”

His writing is good, and some of his ideas are sound, but his slides are dense with text that he reads, albeit with a very nice speaking voice. I have the sense that many of the phrases that he uses were coined some years ago and he has them as his particular catchphrases, but they don’t always reflect the current vernacular: for example, he talked about Web 2.0 concepts, but called it “the executable Internet”. Huh?

One thing that I really liked was his analogy about BPM: buying MS-Word doesn’t make you a novelist, and buying a BPMS doesn’t make you a process-oriented company.The technology is an important enabler, but there’s much more to it than that.

In closing, a key lesson on how to insult and alienate a non-U.S. audience: mention an American business book that ranks 236 on Amazon’s UK list rather than in the top 10 as it does in the U.S., say, Friedman’s The World is Flat, then ask an early morning crowd how many have read it. When only two people put up their hands, state “Only two people are literate here? It’s a bestseller in the U.S. for two years.” Yeah, that works for me.

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