Looking in the mirror.

Interesting to read my daughter Mollie's take on some pretty dystopian behaviour on Twitter. It brought back the chapter in my book that I called "We all have a volume control on mob rule". We get to choose what we amplify, turn down, push back against or ignore.

The optimistic take is that seeing ourselves in the mirror of the internet forced us to deal with our dark sides. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The pessimistic take is that we fragment into warring factions, reinforcing our prejudices and become more dysfunctional not less.

Neither outcome is a given. How this turns out is in our own hands. Literally.

Joining the dots

One of the pleasures and privileges of my job is to work with people from all walks of life. From the military to aid workers, multinational corporations to small charities.

Recently I got to meet an amazing lady who along with a friend was organising a relief trip for Syrian refugees, taking a van full of supplies over to Slovakia. Her story made me think of all the people who spend their lives helping people recover from the disruption caused by wars or other traumatic change.

I then thought of all those involved in politics or even business who can bring about those massive changes. All people who wake In the morning and head off to work hoping, in their own way, to make a difference and, presumably, the world a better place. We are all parts of the same incredibly complex chains of actions and reactions that make up the human experience. Sometimes it is easy to forget this and act as if we are not.

I realised how unusual and privileged my position is. I get to see the variety and interconnectedness of human endeavour from lots of different perspectives. Part of what motivates me is the prospect afforded by the web to make this interconnectedness apparent to more people. Even within our organisations the consequences of our actions on each other can be hidden.

Maybe if we felt more joined up we'd be more thoughtful about what we do and get better at looking after each other...

Don't wait for HR, or anyone else for that matter, to save you at work.

Here at HR tech World in Paris yesterday I heard Yves Morieux from Boston Consulting Group make the case that in a post industrial world an organisation's people, and their willingness to collaborate, are their greatest assets. He also suggested that given that organisations play such a large part in modern civilised society, and that HR are responsible for the people in our organisations, that therefore the future of society was in HR's hands. When I reported this view online it was met with considerable scepticism!

But how many times have we heard this before – that people are the most important things in organisations - and how little have we done to show that we actually mean it!? If it's not HR who are going to take responsibility who is it? Finance?? IT??

Later in the day I watched Sir Richard Branson sit on stage in jeans and an open neck shirt berate the besuited audience for indulging in power dressing while expecting to bring out the best of the people that work for them. He also described how throwing a massive party for 70,000 former British Rail staff when Virgin took over the west coast main line converted them from "government workers" to enthusiastic customer service staff.


With unprecedented numbers of people expressing severe disengagement from work, and a general sense that something is wrong pervading the workplace, it is going to take more than changing our dress code and throwing parties to sort this. It is also no good waiting for the heads of our various silos to sort it for us. They are part of the problem.

If, as I believe it is, the future is about autonomous, thoughtful, proactive individuals operating and coordinating through trusted networks, supported by online conversations, then that is how we have to start acting. Now. We can't wait for someone else to give us permission. We can't wait for them to show us how to do it. We have to start taking responsibility for behaving differently, for saying no to more of the bullshit, for reaching out to others beginning to act in the same ways.

What are we waiting for? Seriously - what?

Living in the future

As I was getting dressed this morning I realised that I could do with some new T-shirts. I called Hey Siri remind me to get some new T-shirts" across the room in the general direction of my phone, confident in the knowledge that this would be added to my to-do list. I then sat down to dictate a fifteen hundred word contribution to a conference white paper that I had to write. Once I have finished dictating, I got my computer to read the text back to me which is a great way of working out if I have any errors or not.

I have just dictated this post which took moments to do and only required a couple of corrections.

I continue to be amazed by what it is so easy to take for granted.

Tinkering or transformation?

I have written before about how it is easier for organisations to tinker with how they do things rather than to transform themselves. Yesterday I mentioned the possibility of holding our organisations to account by using internal social networks. There was a degree of scepticism in the comments.

I believe that true, long lasting, transformation comes about through repeated, consistent, small acts. It is as much about a change in culture as it is a change in systems. Culture changes when we begin to behave differently individually and collectively.

We are beginning to learn to change our behaviour on the web. We are beginning to realise what a powerful tool we have at our disposal and maturing in our use of it. We are beginning to realise that we can use what we have learned at work.

Yesterday at the E2.0 conference in London David de Souza used the phrase "working how we live". Sure there might be some rearguard action by those determined to prevent transformation, but I reckon there are more of us brave enough to have a go by the day.

Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation "Digital transformation". It sounds grand doesn't it. One of those big, strategic, important initiatives we can all get busy with. But what does it really mean? Does it just mean using computers more, using the web more, shifting what we do now from one technology to another?

Or does it mean something more personal, more profound? Does it mean seeing the world differently and thinking hard about our role in it? Does it mean losing sight of the familiar shore of our assumptions about work as we set off into uncharted territory?

I see more and more people struggling with the changes we are going through and likely to face in the future. Uncertainty and anxiety can provoke an existential crisis. What does all this mean? What does it mean to me? What am I prepared to do about it?

Until more of us are willing to seriously attempt to answer these questions there will be little chance of a true "digital transformation" happening. We will keep rearranging the deckchairs until the new world passes us by and leaves us behind.

"Could you just do me a one pager on that?"

I remember the sinking feeling those words triggered. You knew that you had lost their attention and they were resorting to diversionary tactics.

So many documents are diversionary. Putting off doing something by writing a templated bit of business fluff. Reading yet another fictional case study rather than inspiring your own. Faffing about with formatting and fonts rather than taking the leap and sharing what you have written. Burying the final document on an obscure file server with the confident expecatation that it will never be seen by human eyes again.

If you are tempted to write a document today, or asked to do so by your boss, resist. Do something useful instead.

The Power Of Stories

I spent the end of last week talking to a group of financial directors on a cruise. As part of my responsibilities I hosted four discussion groups, the topic for which was "Creating customer focused finance teams".

At the start of each session I asked the participants to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about the businesses that they were from. The range of businesses that people work in amazed me yet again. Everything from the world's largest supplier of daffodils to a company trying to export the idea of free range eggs to America. All of them, even those in more conventional businesses, had great stories to tell and flew in the face of conventional wisdom that would have us believe that accountants are not the most exciting people in the world!

In fact it became apparent that all of them had a significant role to play in the overall story of their businesses. Not only the story as it related to the customers, but also as it related to their own employees. In fact it was the potential of stories to help everyone make sense of what could otherwise be difficult to understand data that became the theme of the sessions.

Making sense of things, and helping others understand, are really key activities in the workplace. They are also aspects of work that the social media principle of "working out loud" is made for.

Being bothered

I can't be bothered". It's a phrase I use all too often.

At the weekend Penny went sailing with a friend and talking to him how much faffing about it took just to keep the thing maintained and setting it up to go sailing I marvelled at how he could be bothered.

Last night we went kayaking along a stretch of the Thames. We nearly didn't go because I couldn't be bothered. In reality it only took us twenty minutes to drive to the river and five minutes to inflate and set up the kayak. In return we had the most wonderful trip in glorious low sunshine and came back full of the joys of life.

It's the same at work. It so easy to slip into not being bothered. Failing to find the reason to put in that little bit of effort that can make work so rewarding and make a difference.

It's worth finding the reason to be bothered.

Losing your balance

Many moons ago I managed the editors who worked on Panorama. In those days it was broadcast on a Monday night so the weekends were the busiest and most pressured time for the editors. Being at the end of the production process, editing is where all the pressure ends up coming to a head and to be frank the production team took advantage of the commitment of the editors and I had many run ins with them about the way they worked.

On one particular weekend I was laying roofing felt on our garden hut. I'd been fielding calls all day from work about some Panorama crisis, trying to protect my editors, keep the programme happy, and not get fired in the process. Eventually I lost control and shouted "fuck" at the top of my voice, hurled the hammer I was using spinning across the garden, and literally lost my balance at the top of my ladder.

Not all jobs work to deadlines like this and not all jobs involve temperamental luvvies like TV does, but we all have that moment when we lose it, when the world falls about our ears and we run out of things to do to keep our balance. It can be the loneliest feeling in the world and though rarely life threatening can get our pulse racing, hands sweating, vision blurred, the lot.

But it passes. It always does. No matter how long it takes. We recover our sense of perspective, the situation starts to resolve itself, solutions begin to emerge. We all know this.

It's remembering it in the heart of the storm that is the hard part.

We only have moments to live.

I've always loved this phrase from Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is meant to convey the idea that rather than live in the past or the future we should be more attentive to the present moment. In fact all of our memories of the past and our imagining of the future can only occur in the present moment so it really is all we have. One moment after the other.

How different things are in business. We obsess about the past, raking over the coals of previous disasters, or we fantasise about imagined futures spending months strategising about events that we delusionally expect to control.

Even when we are talking to each other we are never there. We are always racing ahead, anticipating our next smart answer to the question we imagine to have been asked or implied. Senior people are often the worst at this. I used to describe them as propeller heads. Always looking around for the next, more important, conversation to have rather than taking part in the one they are meant to be engaged in.

But it can be different. We have all experienced leaders who are truly present. Who lift our spirits with their attentive listening, who engage with the real world in the current moment rather than holding it at bay with a barrage of management bollocks.

Real presence takes courage, a willingness to face down and grapple with the world as it is in this moment, and the next one, and the next.

Tools of your trade

Sadly I still encounter too many people who still feel that technology is being done to them. From the senior execs I worked with who winged at me about what IT wouldn't let them do, to that sinking feeling when trying to send a client a presentation and they say "your file doesn't work" or they can't work out how to get it through their organisation's firewall. Even using Skype or knowing how to bcc emails appears to be beyond the abilities of too many.

Don't get me wrong. I am no geek expecting people to have PhDs in computing science. I have never been a fan of technology as an end in itself. I've never taken computers apart. I've only written as much code as I've written bad poems. My excitement about technology is as a tool to help me do more and better, along the lines of Steve Jobs' "bicycles for the mind".

In pretty much any job a computer, or smart phone, is the tool of your trade. It is a professional competence to know how to use it.


One of the hardest things about change, especially at work, is questioning what others take to be normal.

I so clearly remember that feeling of waking up to the madness of busywork, trying to talk to others about it, and watching them close down and close ranks.

There is an almost bullying collusion about clinging to “the way we do things around here” in most workplaces. Challenging office norms is seen as deeply threatening.

This starts at an early age. I am about to deliver a talk to the sixth form at my daughters’ school this Friday. The sixth-formers are allowed to not wear school uniform but are required to wear “office appropriate attire” which for the boys means cheap suits and for the girls a world of confusion!

“Office appropriate”. Two seemingly mundane words with so much behind them.

But it’s all stories. Appropriateness is a story. Normal is a story. We make them all up. Other people make them up. Other people assert their stories over yours.

They say that madness is being in a minority of one. I reckon it’s a sign of sanity. Make sure the stories that make up your sense of normal are your own and not other people’s!

Bugger “tolerance of ambiguity”. Run towards it with your arms open!

I’ve not been paying enough attention to the election of Jeremy Corbyn to comment about his suitability as either leader of the Labour Party or as a potential prime minister. But I do get a sense of excitement about his appointment that signals bigger changes.

We are moving away from “mass”. Mass movements and mass media are things of the past. Our current political class knew how to handle mass, they appear at a loss as to how to harness networks of thoughtful individuals. Our old isms are outdated. We are shaping and forming new stories with each tweet, selfie and update. Large networks of individuals are beginning to emerge as the way we now make sense of the world around us.

None of us really know the rules for this yet. We are making them up as we go along. WE are making them up as we go along. Each of us individually has a new found responsibility, a new found power. It’s why the chapter in my book called “we all have a volume control on mob rule” will matter more and more.

It’s exciting - and the more we shake off our fears of ambiguity and learn to proactively shape our stories, the more exciting it will get.


This could be an alternative name for my business! I am increasingly asked to talk to people who are obstructing use of social tools in their business or otherwise getting in the way of change. One grey haired old codger talking to other grey haired old codgers to try to get them out of the way.

Seriously though having been a senior manager in a big organisation myself I can relate to their challenges. Managers are under pressure to deliver. Especially middle managers are in a tough place, getting grief from above and below, blamed for everything, and invariably in a situation of competing for resources and profile with their peers.

The sorts of behaviours that got them where they are today, and that appear to keep them safe and successful, are based on some deeply held assumptions. Challenging those assumptions is not for the faint hearted because doing so provokes an almost existential crisis and they, naturally, resist!

Like I say, people change one at a time and for their reasons and not yours. You have to find a way to relate the changes you want to bring about to the challenges the people you are talking to face. You need to really work hard at building trust and finding ways to relate to their fears and deal with them. Challenging but rewarding work.

Plus Ça Change...

Change is nothing new. It’s a constant and always has been. Every generation thinks that is it is experiencing greater change than those who have gone before, and certainly the fundamentals of human nature remain the same. But surely there are certain periods that are more momentous than most?

If, as I do, you believe that digital technology, in all its forms, is going to have an impact equivalent to the printing press, and you consider the long term ongoing impact that that had in terms of the enlightenment and our modern world view, then we are about to enter a similarly fundamental period of change. We are only getting started with what we will have to deal with.

This is why I feel a sense of urgency in working out what our overarching story is, our collective way of making sense of what is happening. Not a formula, not a quick and reassuring answer, but a different philosophy, a different world view.

Exciting and frightening at the same time.


Sometimes I wake in the night screaming having dreamt that what I am doing here is “content marketing”.

But it is not. My intent is different. I write to work out what I think. To respond to what I see happening in the world around me, to work out what it means, to consider what to do about it. I do this on a blog to share this thinking and offer it to others. I do this to trigger conversations, which in turn help me think more and often better. I also do it in the hope that I might help others to understand their worlds better, act differently, and make a difference.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that my blog doesn’t help me get work. By touching on issues that people are grappling with, and hopefully having some insights that help, it gives them reason to reach out and ask me to work with them. But it is not my primary intent.

Conventional wisdom would have it that you have to work out a reason for blogging before you start. You’re meant to focus on a particular outcome, target an audience, “drive traffic” to your blog etc.. Even inside businesses it is seen as a channel to improve “employee engagement”, a means to an end, a way to steer people to particular outcomes.

But people aren’t stupid. They sense the difference. They feel manipulated. Your intent becomes obvious. Your intent matters


People who feel certain about things worry me. So much of life is unpredictable and out of our control that certainty can seem an act of folly.

It is often said that the difference between people who are brave and those who are not is that they are both afraid but brave people do what they have to do anyway.

People who are uncertain, who are unsure, tend to be derided. But people who aren’t sure can still take action. Not only that but they can be flexible enough to respond to whatever happens next.

There is a lot of certainty on offer on the internet. Maybe we need more uncertainty?

Choosing our words carefully.

The words that we choose to describe each other have huge impact. They become a shorthand all to quickly and bake in assumptions, often before we have really considered situations.

Whether it is the words the media choose to describe the various examples of human suffering that they invariably focus on, or even the words we use ourselves to describe each other at work or in our families, our words shape our reality.

With social tools we get to write those words in a way that is stored forever, and in public. Our words pass with lightening speed into the brains of those we are connected to and have an influence whether we like it or not.

We should exercise the care of poets in choosing those words.