Volume Control On Mob Rule (reprise)

Much is being made at the moment about fake news and the suggestion that we are living in a post-truth society. We worry that our sources of news have become untrustworthy. We get stressed about our ability to discern the truth in a welter of misinformation. But doesn't this model depend on us having been trained to act like a mass and take the news fed to us seriously? To be passive consumers overstimulated by what is considered "newsworthy".

Unless by accident, I haven't watched television news or listened to radio news for many years. I am aware that this might strike some people as irresponsible. I might not get to know about big important things happening in the world. Big important things like Trump and Brexit. But then I find myself wondering if things like Trump and Brexit could happen without the concepts of media and of mass. Arguably our modern nation state came about with the arrival of the printing press and radio. It required a mass form of communication for the sense of identity on which its existence relies. It was this mass identity and the forms of communication that go with it that allowed Hitler to do what he did. Its modern form, where we act like herds of sheep being shepherded around by the latest meme on the Internet, is what is allowing Trump to do what he is doing.

We need to get much, much more critical in our choices of news consumption. We need to think much harder about the sources of that news, the motivation of those generating the news, and the motivation of those sharing the news.

I don't feel at risk of missing out on information that is truly important to me, confident that stuff that matters will get to me through a network which I spend considerable time and effort trying to ensure isn't an echo chamber and is made up of a group of people thoughtful and astute about what they generate and share.

As I have said many times before "we all have a volume control on mob rule". We need to learn to use that volume control more effectively, for all our sakes.

Voices inside our heads

These apparently innocuous little chunks of text have deceptive power. We allow them inside our heads. They entail an intimacy that even face to face rarely achieves. They are like talking to ourselves but more potent. We can both help and harm ourselves and others. We must learn to tread lightly.

Even bullies need a hug.

I find myself feeling disconcertingly protective towards a second United States president in a row. With Obama I had such a strong feeling that here was a good bloke placing himself in an impossible situation with a lot of hard men out to get him, and I had the instinctive response of putting my arms around him to protect him.

With Trump it is obviously different. He reminds me of those school bullies who were physically terrifying but who you could verbally run rings around if you got the chance to engage in conversation. If they realised what you were up to you might get a slap for your efforts, but you both knew who had won. I would end up walking away from such exchanges feeling guilty for having made their failings so obvious. It felt cruel.

Don't get me wrong. Trump is capable of doing incalculable damage to the United States and needs to be stood up to at every available opportunity. But inside that pouting, sneering, malevolent persona it strikes me that there is a very sad, and completely out of their depth, individual.

I don't really feel like putting my arms around him but might it be possible to be compassionate while standing up to him?

Plain English

I have often said that the biggest challenge facing senior execs who want to engage people through social media is remembering how to talk normally.

We get so used to mincing our words, talking in jargon, using passive verbs, writing in the third person. And it's not just in writing. My partner Penny Jackson has recently run a very successful media training programme for the executive team of a large company and much of that was helping them become clear about what they want to say and saying it well. But we make it hard for ourselves. Partly out of nervousness, partly out of habit, and frankly partly out of laziness.

People have been kind enough to commend my clarity and concision but if I have these skills they don't come easily. I practice constantly. I write all the time, even if no one else sees it. I have a house full of books about grammar and writing skills. I read lots and lots of poetry.

Being able to communicate effectively is a key skill in any walk of life. Sharing our ideas well is what will differentiate us from the advancing threat of artificial intelligence. We would do well to work hard at getting good at it.

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.