Tolerating intolerance

Robert Scoble made a comment today about dreaming "Of a tomorrow where political correctness is seen as a nicer way to live than spouting off any damn thing that comes to your mind (especially if those things include hate or intolerance)."

The thing I am most intolerant of is intolerance. I recoil from right wing conservatives' inclination to project their own dysfunctional nastiness onto others. However when it comes down to micro decisions about who we friend, or more challengingly unfriend, on Facebook this gets hard.

I don't want to end up in an echo chamber of people who agree with me. Having my views challenged and changed is part of why I love social media.

But nor do I want to be associated with people who I see as spreading attitudes that I think are hurtful to individuals or damaging to the fabric of society.

Where, and how, do we draw the line?

Roads not travelled

With recent trips to Sweden and Norway, and upcoming ones to Dublin, Brussels and Berlin in the next few weeks, I found myself yet again thinking how lucky I am to get to travel the world and work with such interesting people and organisations.

I also got to thinking about the ones I didn't get to work with. The ones who enthused about world changing projects who then didn't get the funding. The ones who talked about long term relationships who stopped responding to emails after a month. The ones who thought about getting in touch and then didn't.

If any of you have seen the film Sliding Doors you will know how tantalising it is to think of the parallel lives we might have had. But it is so pointless. We are where we are and we've done what we've done.

"Whenever you come to a fork in the path take it" - Yogi Berra

Shadow IT

Today, yet again, I tried to send a copy of my presentation to a client in advance of my keynote on Wednesday only to have the file rejected by their email system due to a file size limit. So guess what I did? I stuck it on Dropbox and sent them the link.

I have also set up a Slack team this morning to work with another client, and most clients resort to using their own phones or tablets to carry out Skype calls when we need to coordinate. This sort of "Shadow IT" is becoming the norm.

In their efforts to maintain control IT are losing it. Isn't it time for an attitude of enabling pragmatism?

Lipstick on pigs

I am lucky enough to see, hear about, and get involved in many brave and well intentioned attempts to change the workplace. Few of them succeed.

The theory is right, the communications plan impeccable, the deckchairs have been rearranged, but deep down things remain the same.

We hold on tightly to some very deep seated and long held assumptions about authority and our relationship with it. You can change a manager's job title, you can make him dress down more often than just Fridays, you can even get him to work virtually. But if he still sees himself as in charge of an unruly bunch of miscreants who, if it weren't for his valiant efforts and ever so carefully designed systems, would run amok, then nothing has changed.

More time and effort has to be spent exploring and questioning our assumptions about the world of work. It needs to be an ongoing process. It's what I aspire to do with my blog posts. More of us need to do it.

Grounded

There is something intensely grounding about mountain walks. The textures of the terrain you are passing over; worn paths, springy bog, hard slippery rock. The weather changing from cold and wet to sunny and warm. Views that disappear in shades of gray as far as the eye can see. The burning sensation in your muscles as they wake from their usual sedentary slumber. Even a little buttock clenching tension as you skitter down smooth rock having strayed from the path.

It's all very real and very different from our day to day concrete covered, air conditioned, electronically mediated lives.

It makes you realise how unreal much of our modern existence is. It makes you realise how many people never experience this feeling of groundedness. It makes you realise how many of the people running our world have lost any connection with it.

It makes you worry.

Afterlife

My wife had a dream about our former neighbour, Connie, last night. This happens to all of our family occasionally. Even during waking hours there is hardly a month goes by but one of us will think of Connie and mention her in conversation.

Connie was a small lady who had led a small life. She was "Bucks" born and bred, had lived in the house next to us since the forties, rarely travelled (except for weekly attendance at the local Salvation Army), and had tended her coal fired kitchen range up until the last few months before she died eight years ago.

And yet...

I am sure Connie believed in a "real" afterlife. As for me, I'd be more than pleased if I thought that people would remember me this long after I've gone!

Doing nothing

"“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise Pascal

It is ridiculously hard to do nothing. Despite the sound advice to be found in Tom Hodgkin's wonderful book "How to be Idle" I still find it challenging. Even when I am taking a bath or lying in bed I always have a book in my hand. Forever trying to cram more knowledge in, to not waste time when I could be learning.

Even when meditating I am "trying to meditate". There is effort and endeavour in even that form of doing nothing. I can do it well, I can do it badly, I can give up doing it.

But really sitting; just sitting; not trying to do anything; just being; not noticing; not allowing; not resisting; not observing. Truly doing nothing. This might just be the hardest thing in the world - but also the most worthwhile.

The darker side of our nature.

The internet is a mirror and an unforgiving one at that.

Whether it is paedophilia, misogyny, racism or bullying, by indulging our weaknesses in a public "place" we will get to see them, perhaps for the first time.

Thoughts that we have harboured in the safety of our own skull are suddenly exposed. We get to see other people's reactions to them. We get the chance to adjust.

I hope we take it.

Professional Niceties

Clearly being nice is better than being nasty.

Business assumes professional niceness.

I occasionally resort to it myself.

I regret this.

Generally I prefer spending my time with enthusiastic amateurs.

Linguistic Epistemology

Linguistic Epistemology: the study of the way our language shapes our reality. In the interests of your reality and my own I promise not to use the phrase again but I do want to talk about the way we use words in our day to day lives.

Words box us in, even our own words. How often do you find yourself saying "I am [sad/angry/afraid]"? We may be feeling angry or afraid for a moment but defining ourselves as angry limits us, shrinks us.

Be particularly wary of defining yourself by other people's words, especially your parents'. How often is your sense of who and what you are a legacy from your childhood, the result of unthinking but repetitive use of critical words when you were at an impressionable age and too young to know better.

And then there is work. Not only are we at risk of our boss carrying on where our parents left off, but we are subject to whole teams of professionals hijacking and misappropriating otherwise useful words. Turning them into weasel words: "engagement", "collaboration", "content". The phrase "on boarding" always makes me think of water boarding. [Maybe if having read this you too will feel uncomfortable and stop using the awful phrase!]

We label the world around us. We can't help ourselves. We may not even be able to think without using words to do so. Words are as about as intimate and personal as our experience of the world around us gets. We need to choose them carefully.

Working things out at work.

Working things out at work.

We spend a great deal of our lives at work and, while there is a fair amount of routine, it can also present us with our most challenging situations. Apart from time spent with our families work is the setting for our most intense relationships with other people. We get to test ourselves, to discover ourselves, to act out different versions of ourselves. We do this along with dozens, or even hundreds, doing the same thing. It's no wonder work gets stressful.

As line manager of a large group of people I got to watch them doing this day in, day out. Sometimes they soared and became the best that they could be; sometimes they crashed and burned causing distress and chaos for those around them. Sometimes I was able to be of help, sometimes I made things worse. Either way I had the honour of accompanying a group of fellow human beings as they faced the challenge of working things out at work.

But I too was working things out and in a position to have disproportionate impact on those around me as I did so. This was a privilege I had to earn through gaining their trust, it was not a job title conferred right. The higher your position in your organisation the more this is true. Remembering this is an obligation.

Wherever you go there you are.

I am very lucky to get to travel as much as I do with my work. From Bangkok to Prague, Tallin to Sydney I have experienced many of the world's most beautiful and interesting places. And I do really try to experience them, usually managing to fit in a mountain hike or, at the very least, a long city walk. I try to get as good a feel for the place I am in as I can and not squander the amazing opportunity I have been given.

But often I am not really there. I am stuck in my head. Ruminating over some remembered mistake or anticipating some imagined threat. I might as well be wrapped in cotton wool for all the connection I have with the world around me. But then many of us spend much of our time like this. Lost in thought instead of living our lives.

If we could just get away it would all be better. The whole holiday industry is based on this urge to run away, to be somewhere else, to be someone else. But wherever you go, there you are. You take your thoughts with you and unpack them faster than you do your guide books!

Our realities are created inside, not outside, and if we want to be happy we have to get better at turning our attention towards dealing with our problems and challenges, not running away from them.

Myth busting

I found myself thinking about New York this morning and how wonderfully ordinary and "cosy" it always feels when I visit it. This is in stark contrast to its media image. Probably more than most cities our sense of it is conditioned by the many hundreds of movies it has featured in, many of which emphasise its seamier side and almost invariably involve wide shots of its soaring sky scrapers and apparently inhuman scale.

But real people live there. People I know. Sitting in a local park on the lower east side feels like sitting in a park in east London. Mothers entertaining their kids, older blokes dozing on benches, people walking dogs. Reassuringly human.

We pay people to create the stories that make our world feel unreal. How odd.

We do the same in our organisations. We pay people to make up myths about our place of work, creating air brushed, gender balanced, multi-ethnic, happy to the point of insanity, images of "typical staff" spending a typical day happy at the administrative coal face.

The reality for most of us is very different from this. Fraught with very human challenges and struggling to make sense of what is happening around us.

Do the air brushed images help? Or do they exacerbate the sense of disconnection from reality?

Intentional marketing

I am increasingly asked to work with marketing departments and run workshops for them on social media or "digital". This despite making no claims to expertise in the "profession". Listening to the conversations about their day jobs I am frequently surprised at the degree to which process takes over and thinking stops.

A senior group or individual in a corporation decides on a new branding exercise or new angle on a product which may, or may not, be based on the interests of the customer. This then ripples down through the ranks until someone commissions an agency to tick this particular box. The agency process then kicks in, unleashing their "creatives" on the world, and too often the end result is the bewilderingly inappropriate crap we have thrust at us while trying to go about our daily lives. If they stopped to think many, maybe most, of the people in the chain know that it is crap.

I have no problem with being better informed, in a timely and appropriate fashion, about products or services I might be interested in. I am going to buy stuff, I might as well make better informed decisions about it. But this isn't the intent of most marketing which appears to be about shouting at me about stuff I don't want while I am trying to do something else.

Intent matters. Think about it.

Differentiation

When we got going with blogs inside the BBC we had seemingly endless conversations about whether bloggers should be able to use their own designs and add their own plugins etc. I was all for it, believing that differentiation makes it easier to navigate not harder. Others felt that it was important to make them all look the same in the name of some ideal of consistency.

Reminds me of the analogy I used to use. Networks of blogs linking to each other become like old villages. No one enforces an overall architectural style or signage, but we find them easy to navigate because there are well worn paths between the church and the pub for instance. We feel comfortable with the human scale and quickly learn our way around. Over controlled shiny corporate blogs, and most intranets, are like Milton Keynes. Efficient on the face of it, but bewildering if you don't understand the system. I get lost in Milton Keynes every time I go there even with a sat nav!

I occasionally hear of marketing or internal comms teams trying to assert control over individual bloggers who have "found their voices" and in some cases attracted significant audiences. In doing so they risk compromising the very qualities that made the bloggers trusted, successful and, most importantly, discoverable in the first place.

What are they so afraid of? That we won't be able to work out that the blogger works for them? That we will think that they have lost control and staff are running amok?

We love differentiation. Why not embrace it and try to get good at it?

Culture change

Every time I hear that an organisation is hoping to bring about culture change, or perish the thought "driving culture change", my heart sinks. You can't change culture. You can change things that affect people in the hope that doing so gives them a good reason to adapt their behaviour, but culture emerges from the collective behaviours of the people in your organisation over time.

The worst scenario is when those "driving change" don't change their own behaviours but start producing shiny posters telling everyone else how to behave. Doing so is likely to bring about a rapid change in your culture but not in the ways you intended!

Curiosity

When I was growing up my parents were forever taking us for "trips" whether locally or further afield. They still set off, in their eighties, in my Dad's sports car, to explore Dorset where they now live. My wife Penny shares this inclination to go places and discover new ones we've not been, so we have visited and got to know much of the wonderfully varied countryside of Britain and beyond. Needless to say the girls are growing up with the same willingness to follow their natural curiosity and see more of the world than is brought to them via their TV screens. In contrast many of their friends it seems never go anywhere except for school, shopping, and the annual foreign holiday.

And it's not just going places, it's exploring ideas. The girls will often comment that their fellow pupils seem incredibly blinkered in their ideas as well as suffering from a lack of travel itch. Even basic questions about why things are the way they are, why people behave the way they do, and inquiry into different philosophies and world views appear to be virgin territory. They wonder what sort of conversations take place over their schoolmates' breakfast tables and contrast this with our willingness to pick up an idea, throw it around, and leave it gasping for breath on the floor as we tussle with everything from politics to religion and everything in between.

This lack of curiosity seems to me to be at the root of so many of our problems. Yes it may be easier to pass through life asleep, and yes they may be happier not being riddled with self doubt and existential angst as we can sometimes be, but we all only get one shot at this. The willingness to wonder why, to explore beneath the surface, to break away from the norm out of a desire to explore the world and to address its problems seems so important and the more of us who do it the more likely we are to cope with our unpredictable futures.

To miss so much of what life has to offer seems a shame individually, and a willingness to sleep through the sort of challenges facing civilisation at the moment, seems a waste at the very least and an avoidance of responsibility at worst.

Do you wanna be in my gang?

Reading Mollie's post yesterday about religion, and reading today about Krishnamurti's rejection of any form of authority other than your experience when exploring truth, got me thinking again about tribalism and dogma.

The instinct to find and apply what Krishnamurti calls "false universals" is so strong. The successful case study, "best practice", or for that matter The Ten Commandments. Having chosen our formula we then identify with those that share our "truth" and reject those who don't. The sense of comfort we get from having found our answers is reinforced by our dengration of those who have come to different conclusions.

But they are all made up. They are all stories. Whether at work, or in the world at large, we cling to these stories with such desperation that we will fight holy wars over whether my story is more true than yours. We form gangs around our stories and exercise control over membership, who's in and who's out. We threaten eternal damnation to those who fall on the wrong side of that line.

But I will say again, they are all made up. They are combinations of made up stories passed down by our ancestors or new stories made up by our experts. We need to be forever sceptical about other people's stories.

For that matter we need to be forever sceptical about our own...

Preachiness

There is a preachiness about enthusiasts for change of whatever sort. Whether technological, sociological, or pscychological. But if those who you are preaching at haven't given you the authority to preach you are just yet another voice in the wind. To preach is to assume a dominance, a position higher up the food chain, a more advanced state of whatever sort. Doing so is deeply unattractive.

So how to bring about change?

Be different, and brave enough to be visibly so. Be consistently different through good times and bad. When invited to share how you became different do so enthusiastically but respectfully. Allow others to be different in their own way!

When accused once of being against religious evangelism, while at the same time being evangelical about my own world view, I responded by saying: "I don't want people to think what I think. I just want them to think, and to share what they think me and with each other. Doing so may not get us where I think we are going but it will be somewhere worth getting to."

"Transformation"?

A while back I tweeted "Do you want transformation or just tinkering". The implied question being "Are you up for real change or do you just want to keep rearranging the deckchairs on The Titanic?"

But...

The word "transformation" is beginning to worry me. It implies a total change, a radical departure from the status quo, a discarding of how you currently do things. It also implies an idealised end state. "If we manage to get to the magical world described in this forty page document then all will be OK." But then we never do and it rarely is. Life, and work, stays gloriously messy and imprecise despite our best efforts, or most compelling fantasies.

Real change doesn't happen in these big bang ways. It happens one person at a time, it takes longer than you ever imagined, and it ends up looking little like what you anticipated it would.

Yet again Trojan Mice spring to mind. Little things, loosely coordinated, working together. Add to this my favourite "Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground" and you have a greater chance of bringing about the level of change that we are all beginning to realise is called for to deal with our ever increasing challenges.