The need for vigilance.

Yesterday I watched a moving special edition of The Antiques Roadshow focussed on relics of The Holocaust. One of the most chilling was a children's board game the object of which was to be the first to roundup and deport a set number of Jews. [This was not a government propaganda exercise but a commercial product made for profit which was very successful!]

I am currently reading the works of the later Roman Stoics Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca which contain occasional, and almost casual, references to the horrors of The Coliseum.

How do we do it? How does mankind ever allow itself to get into these positions where it can dehumanise chosen groups to such an extent? We are all fundamentally the same. Flesh and blood, hopes and fears, ups and downs.

But the problems start when we divide ourselves into good and bad, them and us. When we start telling ourselves stories about each other that demonise and dehumanise those we perceive as different from us. We then start taking these stories very seriously. Deadly seriously.

We need to be ever vigilant to avoid this tendency—in others, but most crucially in ourselves.

Interesting enough.

"I don't think that what I do is interesting enough" is a concern often expressed when I suggest people share more on their organisation's social network about what they do. Even, perhaps especially, people at a senior level worry that the stuff that fills their days is boring.

Firstly, what feels routine and boring to them can be fascinating to others. Things that feel unimportant can be significant. Small details can reveal insights. Good descriptions and shared stories can reveal aspects of them and how they see the world that even those who work closely with them have never seen.

Secondly, if their posts really are boring, maybe they should do something about it! Part of the value of writing posts is the self reflection it affords. Holding up a mirror to our lives, revealing what we do and why. Having this discipline makes us more thoughtful, more aware of what is happening around us. If we don't like what we see we can choose to change.

These principles apply more generally. Here on the public social web much is made of the trivial nature of many of the updates people share. But they needn't be trivial. Detail can be revealing, what is routine can have meaning. Well written posts have power whatever their topic. I've always liked the phrase "intensity of the mundane" (which I think I first heard from Rob Paterson). We consistently underestimate this intensity.

The day to day needn't be insignificant. Poets know this. We could learn from them. We can be more interesting than we think if we try.

Advice

There is no shortage of advice these days. Whatever we are contemplating doing we have, at our fingertips, confident, and often conflicting, assertions of what we should do.

But there is a world of difference between telling people what they should do and sharing with fellow travellers insights you have gathered along the way. This is why my writing usually takes the form of "memos to self" or "I've noticed that..." posts rather than "Ten ways to...".

"To rescue someone is to oppress them". Telling people what people they should do just keeps the one needing helped in a passive, subservient position. Walking alongside them as they work things out for themselves builds shared strength.

We need to own our solutions and put some passion behind them. We need to "Stop reading case study porn and get on with it".

And yes, as you have almost certainly guessed by now, this post is a "memo to self"!

The written word

For all its faults, and its inclination to distract us with images and memes, Facebook allows us to share words on a scale and at a speed as never before. This joined up writing has a power we are only now playing with. The power of connection and shared meaning. My knowledge of you comes through the words you choose and the order you place them in. My knowledge of myself comes through the words I choose and the order I place them in. We should choose our words carefully. If we want to use our new found power responsibly.

The fine line between bravery and foolhardiness.

I love walking in mountains on my own. There is something about relying on your own experience and competence under pressure that is incredibly rewarding. But it takes very little to switch from feeling like a hero to feeling like a chump.

A couple of years ago I climbed a pair of Munros, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin, in winter. Visibility dropped to about ten yards above 2,000 ft but to begin with navigation up Ben Vorlich and along the ridge between the two hills was pretty easy. However the gully that the path was meant to take up Stuc a' Chroin was blocked by a huge snow cornice. There appeared to be a track heading round to the SW so I decided to follow this on the oh so often erroneous assumption that if others had followed it "it must be ok".

It wasn't. I ended up crawling up this slippy, crumbly, near vertical gully clinging on with everything I had. It got to a point where I could see no route above me but did not want to reverse because of the very real risk of slipping off the hill and down into the glen. There was no mobile signal that side of the hill and a very real chance that if I did fall my body would not be found until the next stalking season!

Needless to say I did make it up, eventually having to squeeze my way past a smaller cornice than the one that had blocked the main route. But I felt considerably chastened. In fact I was so rattled that I made a schoolboy error navigating on the top ending up heading in the same wrong direction—twice!

Why am I telling you all this? It struck me that the same fine balance between hero and chump faces us at work. The choice between playing safe and taking a risk. Heading out on our own or staying with others in the valley.

The whole point of taking risks is that it can go wrong. There are no guarantees that things will work out. All you can do is prepare the best you can and keep your wits about you.

At least at work there is more chance of having a mobile signal!

Originality

When I played in bands, and we were trying to write songs, someone would come up with what they thought was an original chord sequence or riff and someone else would say "that reminds me of...", or "that's just like..." and we'd have to start again.

When I first began going out with girls I remember being plagued by images of how you "should" kiss your partner, with a catalogue of choices from scenes from famous films running through my mind and significantly reducing my chances of passionate spontaneity.

At work the pernicious combination of "best practice" and case studies places huge pressure on people to copy what has been done before and avoid the risk of originality. Fitting in with the familiar is so much easier than breaking ranks.

But originality is your USP. It's what will differentiate you from increasingly capable artificial intelligence. Replicable order used to be the ultimate goal of the well trained employee but it will soon become the preserve of bots. Simply mimicking what has worked before is too easy.

Originality is our most important skill and one we all need to cultivate. Start practicing as soon as you can!

The joy of reading

I am currently reading three books on the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad, umpteen "real books", and an Audible book. These are mostly non-fiction so I find I can quite easily parallel read, and in fact often benefit from doing so. Audio books take more concentration and so I tend to stick to one of those at a time. But then I do also listen to a lot of podcasts!

Contrary to popular opinion this is not in spite of the internet it is because of it. I get to find out about so many great books through my network, podcasts, and the ever wonderful Brain Pickings.

New technology makes it easier to find, buy, and consume, great writing and world changing ideas. Dumbing down isn't inevitable — it's a choice.

Who do you think you are?

Is the real me the one inside my head, the one constantly chattering about this and that and the other, usually beating me up for something I have or haven't done?

Or is it the calm, silent me that watches the chattering me from a distance as Buddhists would have us believe?

Or is it the me that everyone else sees that is the result of my actions and the impressions I leave on others, the one my family will remember when I have gone, and the one that leaves tracks and trails on the internet?

Or is it all of the above?

I wonder...

Muddling along

It is hard to find someone actually in charge, who actually knows what they are doing, who are actually making strategic decisions, at the top of way too many organisations — including our governments.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying this is anyone's fault. I am certainly not saying that I could do any better. It is however a disconcertingly familiar scenario.

Maybe it's a sign of how fast moving and complex the world is becoming. Maybe it was always like this. Maybe our large, complex organisations will survive anyway.

Maybe they won't.

Mirror, mirror

The internet is one big mirror that reflects us back at ourselves, as individuals, as groups, as society. Sometimes we don't like what we see. We get annoyed. We get hurt. Certain posts, certain people, certain memes press our buttons, make us react.

But they don't. It is us who choose to react. It's us who react in certain predictable ways that, if we are honest, we know all too well.

We can choose to get really interested in our reactions. We can be really honest about what is winding us up and why. We have this opportunity to learn more, faster, about ourselves and others than ever before.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we have to be brave. But to hide from ourselves is cowardice.

Enough

"How often should I post?" is a question I am often asked. It came up again recently when I was working with a very busy chief executive who clearly saw posting on social media as a burden and I was there to encourage them to have a go.

Another question I am often asked, invariably in a judgemental tone, is "How much time do you spend on all this stuff?" to which my reply is "Enough".

Enough to build and maintain connection with other people. Enough to work out what is happening around me and in my own head. Enough to help others interested in doing the same thing.

Being judgemental

Yesterday I allowed frustration at a couple of real world situations to influence my post. I indulged in my least attractive characteristic – being judgemental.

Working to identify challenges in the workplace and surfacing issues is worth doing. Sometimes it means facing disapproval and takes courage.

However.

Splitting the world into right and wrong, good and bad, them and us, is dangerous and unhelpful. Judging others and finding them wanting is the most sure fire way to alienate them.

Must try harder…

Being in charge

I bet there is one sitting near you as you read this. A white bloke in his late fifties. His slightly shabby grey suit barely containing his spreading gut. Full of bluff and bluster as he spouts management clichés. Pressured and stressed as he rushes between ever so important meetings, desperately maintaining the delusion that if he wasn't in charge the world would fall apart.

Part of me feels sorry for them. It must be terrifying to be so out of touch and out of control.

But part of me wants to drag them out of their complacent complicity. They inflict so much pain and cause so much damage. So many bright, committed people give up under their relentless scrutiny.

Standing up to frightened bullies can be a kindness, both to them and those they abuse. We should do it more often.

One conversation at a time

I have often said that we are living through a social revolution rather than a technological one. That the internet is supporting change rather than driving it.

But what IS fundamentally different is, to quote The Cluetrain, "Globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations."

It is these conversations that allowed the fears and hopes of those the mainstream media ignored to be heard both here and in the US.

It is these conversations that I am encouraged by as I watch my network come to terms with what has happened and adjust.

It is these conversations that we are getting better at having.

We have at our disposal an amazing platform on which to work things out better and faster — together. There are going to be bumps along the way as these conversations take us into the darker side of our nature, but we will work this out. We will.

Decisions, decisions

I failed yet again. I fail every day. Despite my best efforts and intense concentration, I fail to catch myself making the decision to get out of the bath.

I know when I am about to do it, and I know when I have just done it, but I have yet to catch myself actually making the decision.

Try this.

And, if you find it to be true, ask yourself who made all those decisions that filled your day? The ones you fretted over and regretted. The ones that changed your life. The ones that changed the world.

If you didn't make them who did? And why?

Real change

This week I am delivering keynotes in Paris and Trieste on the topics of Lipstick On Pigs and Seeking Personal Truth. And yes they are closely related.

So much organisational change fails because either it is a token gesture at an organisational level, or people don't buy into the change individually. More often than not it is both.

I am convinced that all change emanates from the individual. Structural and procedural changes can help but unless people change nothing changes. And of course people are messy and unpredictable. There is an intimacy about real personal change that most in corporate life back away from, or sanitise with process. How many corporate change programmes hit the mark? How many annual appraisals change lives?

And yet it can be different. Each of us can be brave and start to act differently. And once we do who knows what might happen. I use the following quote in both keynotes:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Report writing

A friend recently had to produce a report at work. A tight deadline caused significant stress, and an important topic meant that it felt like it mattered. However when asked if they thought anyone would read it the reply was — no.

I so clearly remember, in my first managerial job, being faced with a blank page in Word and the expectation that I would generate dozens of pages filled with — I knew not what. So I dug out an old document I had been sent, copied the structure, and began attempting to fill it in with content as relevant to my topic as I could manage. Much of it was padding. My language was stilted and awkward.

Another friend was recently presented with the results of a similarly pointless effort. Forty pages of wasted life. When they asked if the person who wrote it would ever read something like that themselves the answer was no. "THEN WHY DO YOU EXPECT ME TO?!" They replied.

Why do we subject each other to this nonsense? What if we all agreed to stop?

Feelings

My friend Joan Keevill Recently referenced this Maya Angelou quote:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou

Following on from my post on Wednesday about making an impact this got me thinking just how much of the world of work this applies to. The world in which we have fetishised “deliverables” and denigrated feelings.

Remembering bosses who may have done all the right things, may have been very busy and delivered lots of projects – but made me feel like a small, unimportant cog in the wheels of industry. This is what I remember. Or what about all those documents they were so busy writing that may have been full of information – but made me feel as if my life was slowly draining from me! That too is what I remember.

On the other hand what about those teachers who made me feel inspired and invigorated, ready to take on the world? And what about the toilet attendant I once watched in Vegas who made everyone smile with his witty banter as they benefited from his pristine empire over which he watched with a proud eagle eye!

Instead of showing off the next time someone asks how you are with that all too common “Oh, I am really, really busy”, stop for a moment to think about how you are making them feel…

Making an impact

We celebrate those who change the world rather than those who just talk about it. But isn't this the western disease? Seeing problems as out there in the world rather than within us, sorting others instead of sorting ourselves? Aren't most of the world's biggest problems the result of our previous attempts to make an impact?

Both of the main words in that phrase are problematic. Making something happen implies force or coercion, impact is what happens in collisions.

And isn't talking, even talking to ourselves in the act of thinking, how the world really changes?

Through having and sharing ideas we perceive the world differently. As a result we act differently. Doing so changes our world and the world of those around us. Perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps over longer timescales than we would like, but no need for "making" and no pain of "impact".

Don't just do something, stand there.