Pushing eagles off cliffs

Increasing numbers of senior people face the challenge of social tools in their businesses. As these platforms become more widespread, and the numbers using them increase, the pressure to take part is growing. Even if they were the ones responsible for the deployment of the tools, using them on a daily basis is a different matter.

Some managers are willing participants and take to online engagement readily, but they are very much in the minority. Most are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Frankly they are not used to such close contact with staff. Hearing people's opinions and reactions to your decisions can be terrifying at worst, awkward at the very least. Working out how to react is challenging. Even finding the right words and tone is a significant hurdle.

But with a little help the majority will learn to cope, some even flourish. Supporting them is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. It was them that my book was written for - let's face it I was one of them once! Watching them learn to fly and discover a whole new way of working is immensely rewarding.

Signal to noise

I am sitting opposite a city gent who has obviously just had a cigarette before joining the train. The smell is overpowering and I was tempted to write one of those witty observational tweets you see so often during commuting time.

I found myself thinking "Is this it? The power of the internet reduced to sarcastic comments about fellow tube travelers?" Instead I chose to write this blog post. On my phone.

I am on my way into town to take part in a workplace event and to talk about the power of writing on the internet. This issue of trivia versus import is what I am talking about. The right balance of signal to noise. The opportunity to think harder about things and share those thought, even on the move on a mobile phone.

I will leave you to judge whether this post was signal or noise but whichever it is I still find the potential it represents to work stuff out together, even in the midst of busy lives, amazing.

My outboard brain

In the twenties the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined the phrase noosphere to convey the idea of a layer of thought surrounding the earth. I first read about this idea more than a decade ago and it stuck.

While walking with Matt Mower last week I worried him when I said that I thought of him as part of my extended neural network. This is what it feels like. The ubiquitous short messages connecting those of us using social platforms allow me to push ideas in and out of my brain in an almost biological way never before possible.

This feels powerful and exciting. Literally worth wrapping our heads around!

Can we not do better than "nasty, brutish and short"?

Reading about sexism in the tech industry, and helping my daughter deal with bulling at school, I find myself yet again despairing of human nature. Is human life inevitably "nasty, brutish and short"? What makes us so blinkered to the consequences of our actions, so disconnected in our thinking?

The internet and social media are often blamed for our failings but they are just a mirror. They don't make us anything - they show us what we are. I remain hopeful that they are one of our few hopes of improving.

We are having our uglier behaviours held up to us for inspection. This feels uncomfortable and the first instinct is to hide them again. But we have to work through the discomfort and work things out.

Digital

Last week I went along to Reclaim The Net, hosted by Eva Pascoe one of the founders of Cyberia (who ran the first network of cyber cafes in Britain). Held in Digitas Lbi off Brick Lane it was attended by a mix of Hoxton Hipsters and hard core geeks.

Last night Henley Business School asked me along to ‘Driving Growth in Digital Britain’ with a keynote by Baroness Dido Harding, Chief Exec of Talk Talk. Held in a conference room in RBS Bishopsgate, it was attended predominantly by grey haired middle aged men in suits.

Aside from presented by women there was little in common between the two events either in style or content, yet both came under this umbrella word Digital.

At the first Bill Thomson said the early adopters had taken their eye off the ball and allowed business and government to squander the early transformational potential of the net. At the second there was talk of digital inclusion, and they had picked up on the meme of the need to learn coding, but the focus was on business and infrastructure, and at the end of the day money.

Two very different ends of the "digital" spectrum in the same week. Neither right or wrong, both doing what they think matters. These are interesting times...

Another small step

I often wonder what difference writing posts on social platforms can make. Is it just self indulgent shouting into the wind?

I remember being hugely upset by the changes that Jon Birt, Director General at the time, was making to the BBC I loved. It felt like he was doing them to us. We were victims - and acted like it. We felt defenceless.

But then it dawned on me that things were only happening because he said they should, often enough and to enough people. To the right people. At the right time. If he had said nothing, nothing would have happened. We all had that potential, but he did something with it.

This is why I now realise that all change happens one step at a time, one conversation at a time, one person at a time. There is no other way for it to happen.

This is why, no matter how small the chance of massive change happening as a result of writing your blog post, one thing is for sure. Nothing will happen if you don't.

Webinars

I am currently in the middle of delivering my series of webinars about the social web to the United Nations and was really chuffed to be asked to do them again, for a third time, next year.

There are five in the series broken down as follows:

  • Intro to the social web: how it works, why it works, and what you can do with it.
  • "Branding": how to get your message across without spamming the rest of us.
  • Influencing: how to reach out, build networks, and build trust.
  • Reporting: how to know if what you are doing is working and how to keep your boss happy while you do it.
  • Learning: how to use the social web to keep up to speed and keep doing things better.

If you think your organisation would benefit from something similar, or you know someone else's that would, you know where to find me.

Energy management

It occurred to me today that we focus a lot on the outputs of our work lives but not enough on the inputs. What it takes to make things happen.

It can take inordinate amounts of energy and commitment to bring about change in our organisations. This is true on a personal level as well as a collective one. Finding the reasons to summon up the energy to push, pull, cajole and inspire sometimes unwilling participants is not always easy. I often think that my work, whether my consulting, keynotes, podcasts or blog posts like this one, is helping people keep their energy up in the face of often considerable adversity.

Energy management is also a useful way to think about how you manage social networks, either inside work or facing the public. Watching where energy is focussed and where it is dispersed. What increases it and what saps it. How it changes over time and how it flows.

Any successful social enterprise initiatives get this right. There is a significant up front investment of energy, often from a committed individual or small group, to get things started. They then do the right things to increase and spread that energy wider. Those initiatives that fail, despite appearing to have done the right things, do so because of a lack of individual or collective energy.

Energy management makes all the difference. We should get better at it!

Exercising the right to talk rubbish

Following on from yesterday's post about standing up to bullies it occurred to me that bullying can be more subtle and widespread than we assume. And we all give in to it.

Every time we put someone down for talking rubbish it is a small act of bullying. It makes them feel small and us feel more powerful.

This happens all the time at work. That pervasive tone of disapproval so cultivated by managers who see their job as saving their organisations from people who talk rubbish.

You might argue that that is their job. To keep everything tidy and organised. The thing as that we have got so good at making our organisations look tidy, at reducing the levels of noise, that we have also driven out the signal. We are so afraid of talking rubbish that we are constantly at risk of saying nothing.

We need to practise. We need to say more. Some of which will be rubbish. If we don't get used to talking rubbish more often we will learn to keep quiet. We will learn to say nothing, and will all lose as a result.

We need to learn to be more tolerant of other people's rubbish - including our own.

Standing up to bullies

Sometimes the bullies are the state, sometimes they are money men, sometimes they are terrorists, and sometimes they are priests.

Reading news feeds about protestors in Hong Kong and Muslims around the world disassociating themselves from ISIS I am hopeful that we are learning that if we stick together we can stand up to bullies.

The real world

In my work I get to help amazing people, doing amazing things, often in tough places, using social media. Not marketing things people don’t want, not distracting them with silly viral videos, but reaching out to make a difference. It can be very humbling.

It is easy to sneer at the online world. It is easy to obsess about the latest tweaks to the interfaces we use. It is easy to forget that these tools are not an end in themselves.

They are what we make them. They can be the means to significant and important ends. What matters is our intent in using them.

Being brave

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"

I have written a many times that using social tools at work, and reaping their benefits by sharing ideas and opinions, calls for small acts of bravery.

But it is not just at work that we need to be brave.

I shared a couple of stories yesterday. One was about Emma Watson being bullied for sharing her views. In a comment on the other (which asked why the middle class weren't rioting about dodgy financial practice) Anne McCrossan expressed the thought that the middle classes are not speaking out because of the fear of being monitored online.

Caving in to bullies, whether hackers in hoodies or the state wearing suits, is a really slippery slope. We can't let others constrain our ability to say what we think in public. Each time we keep our mouths shut out of fear we let ourselves and others down.

History has shown us that small, apparently inocuous, compromises can allow dreadful things to happen.

Being cruel to be kind

I often take digs at management, the media, and institutions of various kinds, lumping them together as "the grown ups". This may seem like sniping from the sidelines.

But those are the very groups I spend my days helping. Many of you who are reading this with will work for those groups. For all the enthusiasm for startups, and even the likelihood that smaller groups may be characteristic of the future, most of the world is run by large, bureaucratic, organisations, and most of the world work for them, or are influenced by them. They are not going away in a hurry.

Or are they?

The referendum in Scotland showed how frustrated we are becoming at the political status quo. Even something as apparently stable as The United Kingdom has been shown to be surprisingly fragile. Our financial institutions have been found wanting for several years now. Geopolitics look like going into meltdown with the actions Putin and ISIS. Even our supply chains are stretched so taught in the name of efficiency it wouldn't take too many logistics computers going down for us to be fighting for places in food queues.

We are going to have to get better dealing with these challenges. Some believe that in order to do so we give up on our current solutions and build new ones faster. I don't think we have time. I believe that we have to reinvent our institutions from the inside. We have to take individual and collective responsibility despite the challenges of hierarchical command and control environments. We do this by thinking harder, talking to each other more, and taking more frequent small steps forwards. Unleashing trojan mice. Repeated small steps of bravery.

This is what I help people to do and this is why I think it matters.

Facebook and the fear of being judged

Interesting to read a BBC story that there have been 10 million interactions on the subject of the Scottish referendum on Facebook. It confirms my sense that our use of Facebook is maturing and moving beyond just sharing images of cats. We increasingly use social platforms to understand and discuss our world.

This got me thinking again about why we find the idea of "Facebook for work" so challenging. Why is it so hard to get platforms on which people can help each other solve practical challenges or understand strategic directions better to take hold in our organisations?

I reckon it comes down to the fear of being judged. This is bad enough on something that "doesn't matter" like Facebook but all the more significant in the world of work. Being found wanting by your friends is one thing but being judged by your peers or your boss represents a whole different level of discomfort.

But it will happen. Eventually the benefits will outweigh the risks, both individually and organisationally. All it takes is incremental small acts of bravery, and once we start there's no stopping us.

Small is beautiful

I have always loved the idea that all avalanches are triggered by that last tiny snowflake. No matter how much snow ends up moving, the tipping point is inconceivably small.

We can so easily go numb in the face of our challenges. Our work, our relationships, our health. We can put off making changes because our efforts seem so futile.

But all it takes for any significant change to happen is that last, insignificant snowflake.

Scotland

I have been disengaged from the issues of Scottish independence. I don't feel Scottish having lived most of my life in the south of England. I don't see myself as a particularly political animal.

BUT

I now find myself swinging wildly in two directions.

I think that the United Kingdom is an amazing place with characteristics and attitudes that not only made us a huge positive influence on the world in the past, but could do in the future. The ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment and Scottish engineering prowess played a large part in that success. Splitting off Scotland makes us less than the sum of the parts.

On the other hand those in power in London have become complacent and increasingly ineffective in dealing with the significant challenges we face. Westminster politicians from the main parties have become indistinguishable from each other, and people are disengaging from the electoral process. Bankers have staggered us with their hubris and the ongoing march of multinational, bland, corporatism sucks the life blood out of too many of our good people.

The desire for Scottish independence is either foolhardy or brave and I really can't make my mind up. I worry that a lot of the energy behind it is jingoistic and naive, and I would want the vote to be no - but by a narrow margin. My hope is that it shakes things up, gives people throughout the UK a sense of their ability to change their lives, and gives those currently in power a bloody nose.

Herding cats

I love the fact that the comments thread on my earlier post about disorder has morphed into a lively debate on Scottish Independence. And I am not even taking part!

Serendipity is wonderful. Going with the flow is key. This is SO important to success with social media. If you can't handle it you should give up any plans you have for enterprise social and stay off the internet!

;-)

Disorder and the power of small steps

There is much instability in the world at the moment. Whether it is the disruptive effects of technology, the fickle economy, the environment, the Ukraine, Isis, or even the impact of a separate Scotland on the rest of the UK.

I tend to be a half full rather than a half empty sort of person, and resist the doom and gloom message of the media, BUT there are no guarantees that we will face these challenges and do well. Our old, centralised ways of doing things aren't up to the job. The grown ups have lost the plot.

When I was speaking in Latvia a couple of years ago I found myself walking around large, concrete housing estates, full of tired, depressed looking, former Soviet state workers. I thought of the challenges of an old order collapsing and how little as an individual you can do to stop that. I thought of programmes, like the one I was supporting, to rebuild the fabric of a productive life. I thought of the typical state supported initiatives that would just create new dependencies for the people. I thought that not everyone can be entrepreneurial. I felt powerless to help and thought "What's blogging going to do for these people?"

But then I thought that any lasting solution is going to come from small steps. Adding value to someone you know. Helping the person next to you do something they currently can't. It comes from relationship, from one person reaching out and connecting with another. From rebuilding trust. From taking responsibility.

We have the tools to reach out, to work harder at understanding, to see more opportunities for connecting, to get better at taking responsibility and helping each other. It all starts with that next blog post or update.

More Linkedin creepiness

Linkedin has recently started to refer to meetings I have had with people in its email updates. I am pretty sure that I haven't given access to my calendar and in some cases I am not even connected to the people in Linkedin. The only way I can see that it is doing this is from them having given it access to their calendars and then using those pesky little ics meeting invites.

Grrr..

Keeping the converstion going

One of the frustrations of blogging used to be the challenge of knowing when someone had responded to your post. Trackback tried to make it possible to see when someone wrote a blog post that cited yours. Disqus tried to let you know when someone mentioned your blog in comments on another. But neither became universal enough to really work.

Nowadays within Facebook it is easy to tag someone in an update or comment (and this is partly what makes the energy flow better in Facebook) but it is just within Facebook. The @ sign in Twitter and the + sign in Google+ help too but again these really only work within their own environments. If, like me, you post blog posts in various places the conversation stays fragmented and the crossovers between the members of your networks is limited.

Writing a blog post, wherever you do it, is like lobbing pebbles into a pond. You get better at creating ripples. The trouble is that at the moment you end up lobbing many pebbles into many ponds.