The rat race

On the odd occasions that I travel in to London during morning rush hour I marvel at the subtle jockeying for pole position that goes on on the station platform. An error of judgement could mean not getting through the door fast enough and not getting a seat so it's a life and death struggle.

I imagine the jockeying for position carrying on through the working day. I remember well the underlying worry about not keeping up, being overlooked, being left standing.

Is this inevitable? Is competition just part of human nature? Is it symptomatic of the drive that fuels progress?

Or is It a shame?

Patterns

I am currently playing with an app that purports to work out how I spend my time. It does do some clever stuff trying to work out what is work, what is commute etc. but given that I work all over the place, and often in cafe's, the patterns are almost meaningless. I could intervene and manually adjust times, locations, and activities, but life's too short.

Amazon are pretty good at working out patterns in my purchasing - usually too good as my impulse purchases show. But a recent purchase of a pair of fairy wings by one of my daughters on my account will cause mayhem unless I, again, take the time to manually intervene.

Both of these are frustrating but not the end of the world. They do however raise concern about the patterns I leave that are interpreted by others - marketers, insurers, governments etc. They too will be imprecise and subject to error and misinterpretation and with what greater consequence than a little inefficiency?

As A Man Thinketh

This is the title of a great little book that I read years ago that explains the way we create our experience of life through our thinking. We think we are responding and reacting to the world around us, but in fact we respond to our thinking about the world as we perceive it.

Two people can experience the same situation entirely differently. I always remember the story of two American soldiers held captive and tortured during the Vietnam war. One saw it as the worst thing that could ever have happened and suffered from his memories of the experience for the rest of his life. The other saw it as an opportunity to go deep inside and learn about himself and human nature. He went on to be very successful in later life.

Exactly the same situation, two different people, two very different responses.

Even when we look at our own responses to the situations we find ourselves in, one minute a new development can feel like a threat, the next like an opportunity. All that changes is our thinking. And it changes without us doing anything!

It's not so much that we should try to control the thoughts that appear in our heads. That never works. The more we resist a particular thought the more we concentrate on it and the more strength we give it. This is the Buddhist definition of suffering, clinging to or pushing away thoughts we like, or don't like. We waste so much time and energy fretting about the thinking that we made up!

Our thoughts don't represent reality, and they arise and change without us doing anything. The trick is to learn to watch this happening. If we do this the noise naturally reduces, our racing thoughts slow down and possibly even stop. The calm, relaxed feeling that emerges is our natural state. It's when we feel most contented. It's when our best ideas come to us. It's always there. We just forget.

"I don't often get to have conversations like this at work"

It has become clear over the years that even having an occasional conversation can make a difference. After meeting with me people have often said something along the lines of "I don't often get to have conversations like this at work". A couple of times recently our brief conversation has even been described as "life affirming"!

I don't claim to have any formal coaching credentials but I do have many years of experience both as a senior manager at the BBC, and also subsequently working with clients, of helping people think through their problems. These might be to do with technology, but as often as not they are more about organisational and cultural challenges within the workplace.

I have decided to offer hour-long conversations, either face-to-face (if in the London area) or by phone, as a new part of my business. If you feel that an occasional such conversation would help you do please get in touch.

Night and day

I was unfortunate enough earlier tonight to catch a glimpse of Jamie Cullen being inflicted on The Queen under the guise of celebrating her birthday.

This prompted a very different memory of seeing Oscar Peterson play live many years ago. Incredible virtuosity but also powerful simplicity, an ability to fill the auditorium with sound but also to break your heart with his sensitivity.

For such a big man, he even managed to make the grand piano he was sitting at look small, he managed to make you feel that he was a gentle giant soothing your soul with his haunting melodies.

Unforgettable.

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?