Working in the Facebook salt mine

I blog because I enjoy blogging. I have been doing it for so long that I can safely assume that I will always blog.

I often think of just blogging on my blog and pulling out of the various social media platforms. But given the fact that most people don't use RSS and following blogs isn't as straightforward as it might be, and the fact that I currently get the best responses and conversations on Facebook, I will continue to repost my blog posts there.

In doing so I guess I'm feeding the beast. In my own modest way I'm helping to keep Facebook interesting, helping them to make money. I'd rather not be.

Nice people

I am meeting a lot of new people at the moment. People from very different walks of life. People I would have been unlikely to encounter in the past. Would you believe me if I told you that they have all been nice?

Even the ones who, on first encounter, come across as gruff or aggressive soon start to open up if you take the time to chat to them. 

It is interesting to speculate just how far this principle could be extended. 

Who are the people who, from a distance, you most dislike? Who annoys you the most? Who would you find it hard to imagine having a civil conversation with? Who are you most afraid of?

Distance is they key. We find it easy to judge from afar. Clearly I am no saint, there are still lots of people who wind me up. But I bet you, if I ever got a chance to really sit down and have a bloody good natter with them they would soon start to open up and would quickly become "nice".

If this seems incredibly naïve and overly optimistic to you maybe ask yourself why…

Into the unknown

One of the consequences of being an agency driver is that I am working for different clients all the time with different processes and different products. This keeps things interesting.

But it also means that most of the drops that I do are for the first time. As a consequence I rarely know what is in store for me at the start of the day. Locations that can become easy when you have done them even once can be really testing when you have no idea what is involved. Finding my way into several very large Central London building projects, in my very large truck, yesterday was testing.

I never know what I am going to be doing until I get into that day's company depot in the morning. There is still a knot in my stomach as I pick up my duty sheet for the day but I am getting better at finding this an exciting challenge rather than a terrifying ordeal!

"Should" is such a toxic word

Thinking that you know what other people should do is naive and arrogant.

Tormenting yourself with beliefs about how you should behave is the source of most unhappiness.

The seeds of both are planted by family and society as a means of control, their effects are corrosive.

It's hard to think of a situation where the word should should be used.

Authority

Should be earned, not assumed; conferred, not taken.

Fascinating watching this playing out on the streets of Hong Kong and the front benches of Parliament.

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So what *do* you do?

At the dentist's today I was asked to fill out a form which included a question about what my occupation was. I have always struggled with this question but today struggled even more than previously. There was a strong temptation to just write "Lorry Driver" and be done with it. 

More often than not I have described my self as a writer and speaker which normally satisfies people. In the past I have occasionally used "consultant' but that never felt right. My consulting has taken the form of workshops and coaching more than what I think of as consulting. I don't write papers, I don't produce slide decks, I don't come up with strategic plans. I have conversations, both on stage and off. 

And I guess that's it. I have conversations with people about what I know and what I notice. 

I heard Seth Godin say the other day that he was paid to notice things. That'll do. I'll take that. I'm a professional noticer. 

I wonder if that would have worked on the form...

Choosing the company that you keep

I like having a large group of online friends and the variety of viewpoints that I am exposed to as a result. I am also very sensitive to the risk of avoiding criticism or dissent, only hearing views that I agree with, and ending up in an echo chamber.

However...

A couple of times recently people from my past have asked to be friends on Facebook and without so much as a "Hello, how are you?" have waded in with critical, snide, smart arse comments.

I have no problem unfriending them and avoiding their company in just the same way as I would in real life. Life is too short.

Flags of convenience

Over the years I have carried out my work under various "flags of convenience". Knowledge Management, Social Media, Digital, Learning, Communication, Marketing, and more. But from my first encounter back in 1994 with the ability to reach out with a question on a bulletin board and get back wonderfully helpful answers, it's been the same thing.

I think of it as "joined up writing". In fact that was one of my suggested names for my book but the mixing of the connectedness of online writing with the play on the conventional meaning of achieving grown up status by being able to write long hand was too subtle for my publisher.

But it's what I think I talk about. How to write in a joined up way with others, to connect with others through writing, to embrace the immediacy and global scope of conversational online writing to improve our lot.

I still find it fascinating and never tire of helping others get better at it.

Right and wrong

The internet is full of people projecting their sense of right and wrong onto others. Each of them so convinced that they are right and the others are wrong. But they can't all be right!

We cling so desperately to the need to be right. To know what right is. To feel that we are doing the right thing. We do this out of a need to feel in control, because feeling out of control is terrifying.

But we are never in control. Life is such an unimaginably complex interweaving of millions of factors, most of which we know are out of our control. But even the ones we think are in our control aren't.

Even our own thoughts aren't under our control. If they were we could decide not to be unhappy, not to be angry. But we can't. Think about it.

Being in the world

When we were young my parents always took us on trips. Visits to interesting places, holidays around the UK, and when I was older motorcycling day trips around the highlands on the back of my Dad’s bike.

We have carried this tradition on with our own family and will almost always “go somewhere” at the weekends. When we got into walking and hiking in a big way this took us into the wonderful mountainous areas of the UK but also into enticing footpaths both locally and around the country.

One of the appeals of my truck driving is “being places”. OK, so I don’t get to stop to enjoy those places much, but I have really enjoyed getting to know pretty and less know places like The West Midlands and around Tewkesbury, Essex from the coast in to Thaxted and Saffron Walden, and along the Sussex coast and back into The South Downs . I find it odd, and at risk of being condescending a little sad, that there are lots of people who don’t do this. They commute into offices, spend their weekends in shopping malls, gyms, or cinemas, then fly off to resorts for their holidays. So often even when people do visit beauty spots they don’t explore much further than a few hundred yards from their cars.

I worry that the consequence is that lots of people are losing contact with the world around them and end up in hermetically sealed, media created bubbles that aren’t real.

Being in the world seems increasingly important as we destroy the riches that surround us… “Getting out more” matters more than we think.

The last mile

Whenever I say that I am setting out on a career in truck driving people invariably say something like “you must be mad - that is all going to be automated soon”.

Err…no…

Maybe the long haul stuff between Regional Distribution Centres, maybe in American cities with their more regimented grid systems, but everything else? You must be kidding.

Most of my work is what is known as multi-drop. Up to eight or ten deliveries in a day, many of them in remote areas with windy country lanes, or in Central London with it’s gloriously random patterns of roads.

A lot of the firms I have worked for deliver into building sites. By definition building sites are new. They are often not reliably mapped yet and the Sat Nav often gets their location really wrong.

Once you get there navigating around the site is a nightmare, despite the Site Managers’ and Traffic Managers’ best efforts. Every time you visit the site there is a different combination of parked vehicles, skips, moving fork lifts, scaffolding extending beyond the perimeter of buildings. It’s a real challenge and changes day by day.

The thought of an AI system having enough information to not only get to the site but to manage entry and exit is a joke.

My guess is that most of the areas being eyed hungrily by the tech companies selling the benefits of automation and AI will have their own equivalents of “the last mile”. That gloriously messy and unpredictable junction between theory and practice, between order and chaos, where our best laid plans meet the real world and we have to grapple with that world to get anything to work!

A good start to any day

My current driving job starts at 5am each morning. This means getting up at 4am. This is a non-trivial challenge!

But…

I get to see the sun come up every day!

This morning as I was driving round the M25 towards Watford the mist was settling in the valleys around Rickmansworth and The River Colne. Trees were poking above the mist and the low sun was catching the hedgerows and field edges and glowing on the golden stubble left after the newly harvested crops.

Beautiful!

Why my brain hurts

Why my brain hurts.

In many ways the actual driving is the easiest bit of my truck driving day. Getting stuff on and off can be challenging and hard work but by far the hardest thing is the sums!

I have to keep so many rules about driving time, working time, time to next stop etc in my head that it really hurts. To get a sense of that complexity watch this video from KevTee which attempts to make things easier. Stick with it long enough to feel your brain aching like mine does every day!

Reality

The world we each live in is constructed in our brains. The stimuli that we experience through our sense organs get interpreted on the basis of previous experience, cultural conditioning, and the mechanics of differing biology. There is no such thing as a shared real world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking solipsism. There is a real material world out there. When I snagged the truck I was driving on a weigh-bridge on Friday it caused real physical damage. But what the incident meant, my mixed emotions of regret, embarrassment, frustration, these were all mine and were all made up. Someone else’s reality would have been different. In some cases subtlety, in some radically.

It is as well to remember that the people around us are living in their own self constructed dream worlds. Their worlds will seem as real to them as ours does to us. When our worlds collide, and we feel inclined to defend our version of reality, we should bear in mind that it is all made up!

Destructive distractions

We fly around the world chasing a dream of fulfilment somewhere else.

We spend our lives putting up with boring pointless jobs to fill our houses with stuff that we are told will fill an imaginary void.

We pollute our silence with the endless noise of words from other people.

We expend so much energy running away from ourselves.

Global warming could be solved overnight if we increased our ability to "sit quietly in a room on our own". 

Life’s banksmen

Building sites of any size will have at least one banksman. Their job is to manage trucks off the public roads and onto the site safely. They wear specially marked high-vis jackets and carry an air of authority. They will stop traffic on the main road if necessary and then walk behind you as you reverse onto the site, normally waving their hand to give you directions.

You quickly learn that getting them to stand between you and oncoming traffic is useful, taking their arm waving seriously is dangerous! They don’t know what it is like to drive a truck, have no idea of its turning circle or the way the front tracks as you position the rear. They can’t see what you can in the many mirrors and cameras you have at your disposal, and it isn’t going to be their responsibility if you hit anything.

But life is full of banksmen, whether official or self appointed. Teachers, or bosses, or just well intentioned friends, people take it upon themselves to tell you what to do and how to do it. They too can have an air of authority and appear to be helpful but, just like with the truck, they can’t see what you see, don’t know what you know, and it isn’t their lives that will be affected if their advice turns out to be wrong.

In the great building site of life, don’t take the banksmen too seriously.

Just enough…

Being a commercial lorry driver allows me to experience management from the sharp end. Most of the businesses I work for are really impressive, not only in terms of the systems and processes it takes to do my job, but also in terms of focussing effectively on the key importance of safety.

There is a real skill in giving me just enough information, delivered in the right way to encourage me to take notice. Too much information, delivered too frequently, and to be honest trying too hard to "grab" my attention, has the opposite effect.

As with so many things, intent matters. If your intention is to give me enough information to help me do my job I will hear what you are saying, if your intention is to show off the latest corporate communications fad - I won't.

Old dogs, new tricks, and competence.

I don't want to go into too much detail online about my driving jobs but some days are hard. They test my limits both in terms of skill and psychology.

I know that I will pass through the feelings of incompetence that something new brings, I almost always do, but the feelings are nonetheless uncomfortable while they are there. It may have been easier when I was younger, when everything was new and you were learning constantly, but I am not sure.

Maybe it is to do with pride, with not wanting to look a chump, even to myself let alone anyone else. The hardest thing is shutting up the voice in my head that is constantly telling me how useless I am, how I will never master this new challenge, how daft I am for trying.

But the feeling of not running away is satisfying. In fact I always remember reading somewhere that it's not that brave people don't feel fear - it's just that they keep going despite it.

Managing my fears and getting better at ignoring that negative voice in the back of my head are the real skills that I am sharpening with my new adventures. And that has to be a good thing.

Half full

On a good day I believe that we are seeing a great falling apart of old ways of looking at the world and our place in it. Ideas like "the establishment", isms like Capitalism and Socialism, Nation States, "the media", assumptions about consumerism and even materialism, all past their sell by dates and struggling to maintain relevance.

All developed nations will face the challenge of building a new world out of the debri.

I also believe that Britain, or more exactly the people who inhabit these islands, with their rich mix of cultures, tradition of muddling along, and deeply held skepticism about grand ideologies and messianic leadership, is uniquely placed to deal with these challenges and, despite current signs to the contrary, will pull together to work this out.

On a bad day...