Zombie Media

The more the media persist in portraying us as victims of technology the more apparent it is just how out of touch they are.

Each time they interview some technology expert as if they were an alien from another planet. Each time they ask in doom laden tones how that expert feels about destroying civilisation. Each time they say the word Twitter with that special, sceptical, "I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole" tone of voice that they adopt.

Each time they treat us as if we are the ones who are stupid they hammer another nail into their coffin.

The truth

I often hear people express nostalgia for the days when we trusted the media to tell us the truth. They contrast the apparent simplicity and clarity of those days with the messiness of a social media world of fake news.

But those days never existed. Simplicity never existed. Clarity never existed. We were just protected from the messiness of real life and spared the effort of working things out.

“It is impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes, which can never be fully described, too many flavours in the air or on the tongue, half colours, too many.” - Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

The past is a fiction - even the recent past.

Least worst options

I am aware that I can sometimes appear overly critical of large organisations. Because I am asked to help with things that are wrong with them it is easy for me to lose sight of what they achieve.

I am also very aware of the constraints they place on the people who work for them, and the high price those people pay in return for the stability they seek. But at the same time those people get the chance to make a difference in the world through the power and scale of the organisations they work for.

Maybe large organisations are the least worst option for both society and the individuals who work for them?

Or are they a temporary and distorted blip in mankind's history of getting things done?

My inner geek

Was let out when I attended an event yesterday that followed on from the Internet Of Agreements Conference in London. Yesterday brought most of the speakers from the conference, many of them developers of Blockchain related products or services, getting together to work out concrete next steps around online identity - how to make it secure, how to manage it, who gets to manage it etc.

The session on key semantics was a stretch but also a blast from my geekier past. This session, led by Vinay Gupta, was tackling the challenges of private and public key encryption, the challenges posed by some of its history, and how to do it better going forwards. Getting my head around GPG, HTTPS again and remembering FOAF and OAUTH was fun.

One of the things we discussed, and a recurring theme of mine, was that more people from less technical backgrounds than those in the room, need to be brought into these conversations as soon as possible.

Sliding doors

If any of you have seen the great film Sliding Doors you will appreciate this story of my very own sliding doors moment. 

Just after the war my father did his National Service in the RAF, working on radar which was just beginning to be fitted in planes. He was stationed in Kinloss, on the east coast of Scotland, and one day he was crossing the runway, about to board a Lancaster bomber. As he neared the bomber he heard his senior officer call him back, having decided to assign him another task that day.

That bomber sadly crashed on Ben Eighe in Torridon, killing all of the crew. The wreckage is still up there. 

I have climbed Ben Eighe but if his Senior officer hadn't changed his mind Dad would have been in that plane, he would have been killed, I wouldn't have been born, and I wouldn't have been on that hill beside the wreckage.

A paradox

It is through my social media platforms that I learn about how mitigate the consequences of people tracking my data. I am better informed about how it works and what to do to protect myself from it. It is also through those platforms that I am able to join with others concerned about this tracking and achieve a mass influence to do something about it.

Deleting my accounts would cut me off from this knowledge; it would not protect me from people using my data, (which is gathered in way more places than just social media); and it would limit my ability to fight back.

Workplace

I occasionally get involved in future thinking about workplace stuff — the design and management of space to make it more suited to our changing ways of working. But it dawned on me the other day that the reason I don't get excited about it is that I hope never to work in a workplace again. Even a trendy one!

I was talking about this to a friend during the week when we met up in one of the many WeWork properties springing up around London. He pointed to the large, creative, messy, pin board beside us and announced that it was fake and that there is one in every WeWork! Point made. 

Somehow the manipulation of physical spaces in this way leaves me feeling as uncomfortable as the manipulation of our online spaces that is so much in the public eye these days. The intentions might be good but the feeling that trained rats are being given the right conditions to be maximally productive in their cages still rankles.

Maybe I'm being over sensitive...



 

Letting things go

I have read about the benefits of allowing emotions to pass through my body —not holding on to them, and recovering equilibrium more quickly — in many, many books, but had only ever understood it intellectually. Over the weekend on our long mountain walk I got to experience what it really feels like and to practice experiencing that feeling.

When you are slogging up a steep hill the trick is to establish a slow rhythm and to relax into an almost meditative state as you place one foot after the other on the path, over and over again — for hours.

But then you stumble or trip. The adrenaline courses through your veins, your heart races, and irritation and frustration rush through your body. Usually I would hold onto these feelings and stew in them, feeling sorry for myself and all this discomfort and strain it is taking to get to the top. Wondering why I bother. Contemplating turning back. 

But not this time. This time I felt the surge of emotions after the stumble but instead of reacting I watched them. I noticed how they felt physically. I allowed myself to enjoy the rush of adrenaline then let it go as I returned to my steady rhythm and the delights of the sounds, textures and stretching of my next step.

Now I just need to practice applying this new learning to the rest of my life!

Coherence

Our brains crave coherence. They want our lives to make sense. To do this they make up stories. We then cling to those stories and make ourselves happy or unhappy as a result. 

If life doesn't fit our story we get frustrated and upset. If it does fit our story we feel pleased with ourselves. But then we worry that it won't last and things will change for the worse!

In reality our thoughts, even about exactly the same situation, change all the time, moment to moment. If we didn't add the thought of our made up story, of "the way things should be", we would be so much more at ease with ourselves -and life.

Being cruel to be kind.

After my Startup Stage presentation at Unleash last week, in which I talked about the importance of addressing managerial and cultural assumptions as part of "digital transformation", I was asked what to do if management don't change. I said that senior management had to take responsibility and move, or remove, people.


In a previous comment thread on one of my posts someone said that in order to really bring about significant change you have to change key people. I think they are right. Many times I have seen situations, and whole departments, change radically when someone in an influential position has been moved and replaced by someone with a fundamentally different attitude.


This may seem brutal but nine times out of ten even the person being moved realises, deep down, that it is the right thing. I remember many moons ago having to preside over staff redundancies and most of those affected were ultimately relieved to go and turned it into an opportunity.


Keeping someone on when everyone, including them, know it's not working is not a kindness.

Eyes wide open

A bit like my post the other day about fake news being a good thing, the current brouhaha about what Facebook does with our data is also a good thing. While it surprises me the degree to which people appear not to have realised what was going on, it is a good thing that they are finally waking up.

I have often said that the internet is a mirror, showing us a reflection of our nature, warts and all. Sometimes that mirror is going to be deliberately distorted, like those old mirrors at funfairs.

When it is, so long as we know it is happening, we don't need to get literally "bent out of shape" about it. We can adjust our behaviour, expose the manipulation, and move on.

But we can do none of this if we've got our eyes shut!

Be that person

It occurred to me yet again recently how almost all successful attempts that I have seen to shift intranets from being passive content repositories to active places where work really gets done, and great conversations take place, have been down to one person.

Even if they have been supported by a small team there is almost always someone who cares enough, who is determined enough, and who is bloody minded enough to do all of the pushing, pulling, and cajoling with the dogged determination it takes to make these things happen.

Are you that person?

Right up my street

I don't write much about my various projects here. It's easier in terms of confidentiality and I am always always a little put off when people broadcast about every project.

But... I am really looking forward to the two talks I am doing at [Unleash][1] this Wednesday (after ten years working with them as HR Tech I am still having to learn not to call them that!)

I am looking forward to it so much because my two talks are titled "From Disengaged Employees to Changing the World" and "HR and AI - a marriage made in heaven or hell?" both topics that are dear to my heart.

Thanks again to Marc Coleman and his team for giving me the reason to think hard about stuff that I believe really matters.

[1]: http://www.unleashgroup.io/london/index

Why I love Facebook

Well, OK, perhaps that is overstating it a bit.

But...

What has always interested me about the internet is the possibility it affords for bloody good conversations with interesting people. For whatever reasons Facebook is where that currently happens most often for me.

Take my last post on Supporting Change. A great comments thread on Facebook, in large measure due to Louise Robey's first response. And barely a flicker on LinkedIn. When I wrote the post I wondered if it was too business related for Facebook, almost succumbing to the conventional wisdom that Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for work. Bollocks.

I've always said “follow the energy” in online conversations and if it's in Facebook that it is greatest then it’s there that I'll spend most time.

Supporting change

Two conversations yesterday reminded me of how important training or other forms of support are when implementing large change projects whether involving new technology or new processes. 

In the first conversation the project had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on technology but it hadn't had the anticipated impact because not enough effort had gone in to explaining the "why" let alone the how! This so often happens, especially with social enterprise platforms. These enable such a new way of doing things, frankly a new way of seeing the world, that expecting people to "just get it" is naive.

The second conversation was again about a big change effort but this time the plan was to offer an extensive programme of coaching. Coaching targeted at helping people understand the why of the new processes and to grapple with what the changes mean to them.

Even with the technology project an investment in coaching, or group workshops, would have made such a difference. If your large scale project is worth doing, and is going to make a difference, then surely helping people make the most of it is a smart investment?

Avoid the tyranny of being picked

This phrase from Seth Godin has always resonated with me. Since leaving the BBC twelve years ago I have been in the very lucky position of either being approached by people who have heard about me asking me to work for them, or have been part of new ventures that have grown out of conversations. The result has been that I haven't applied for anything for about twenty years. 

Several people have said to me recently that as businesses realise that "digital" isn't going away and they are going to have to grapple with it, a part time Non-Exec Director role is one way for them to get strategic input at a high level and that this would be a great way for me to help them. 

These roles used to be predominantly filled on a who knows who basis and so the process has been appropriately tightened up and managed through recruitment agencies. 

So, back to my favourite saying from Seth Godin, I now find myself in the position of having to write a CV today. 

Gulp!

 

Helping people to catch up

One of the challenges of my work has always been balancing clients' need to anticipate the big technology driven changes that will impact their business with sometimes really basic questions about how to use Twitter!

Even those involved in "digital" can be unclear why. They focus on the practicalities and get busy building things or doing stuff - often simply because other companies around them are. But after a while they begin to wonder if all this busyness is really making the difference they expected.

While in some ways the world is changing very fast - in others, usually the important ones, nothing ever really changes. The challenge is working out which are which. What are the core elements of your interactions with customers or staff? What are the essential processes and what can be ignored? Very often people haven't had the time or space to consider these questions in their old analogue worlds let alone in the context of the shiny new digital one.

Sometimes the questions they have to ask themselves are difficult and uncomfortable. Not knowing the answers hurts. Getting them wrong hurts even more. Helping them to work through this is often a challenge - but it is a challenge I love.

Clever people

I am really early for my first meeting this morning and so am sitting in a Pret A Manger on Finsbury Square. I know I shouldn't be earwigging but it's hard not to listen to the group of men sitting at the table next to me. Essex lads from their accents, discussing what sound like office fit-outs.

Their conversation reminds me yet again of the amazing amount of expertise there is these days. Everything has become so much more sophisticated than even ten years ago and the possibilities to do things differently are endless.

It takes so many clever people to make things happen. Real things, things you can touch and pick up and use. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the online world and the world of technology with the cleverness that they represent, but it takes all sorts of clever people to maintain the world around us and we can so easily take them for granted.

Between the stimulus and the response

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

  • Viktor E. Frankl

I try to write as clearly and unambiguously in my posts as I can, but sometimes the comments that people leave really come out of left field and appear to have little to do with my original post. They seem more to do with the sensitivities or current challenges of the person commenting than with anything I have written. Sometimes they even express annoyance at things I didn't say!

The internet has always made it too easy to fire off a quick response, whether that ill considered email reply that you immediately regret, or an over-reaction that starts a flame war.

It's worth remembering that our reactions to what we see or read online have consequences. They are our volume control on mob rule. We should use that volume control with care.

Digital Transformation

I heard recently that in response to their “emissions scandal” VW have unleashed a new set of rules on “proper legal and ethical behaviour” on their staff. The irony of those who created the culture that caused the problems in the first place being the ones to issue the rules is staggering.

It’s the same with Digital Transformation. The biggest challenge is that the transition to a new world is in the hands of the old. Those who can bring themselves to use the phrase “Digital Transformation” are invariably those who least understand, or would like, its implications.

The true transformation of a digital culture is in behaviours and interactions between people. It is in the ability to more directly connect with each other in the workplace, to reduce unnecessary steps and overheads, and to be able to adapt and respond to challenges more quickly. All of this threatens the status quo and the authority of many of the gatekeepers who have, until now, been deemed necessary.

As I have said before, most organisations want tinkering rather than transformation. They would rather rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic than face the true challenges of “Digital”. They find it easier to digitise their dysfunctions than to face up to them.

This is human nature.

The brave will try harder.