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.

Normality

I was going to write a post about breaking ranks, about the challenge of acting differently in the workplace and bringing about true change. This challenge is too intimidating for most and the pressure to fit into whatever is considered "normal" is enormous.

I then read a friend's Facebook post about his wonderful daughter and noticed that he had changed his profile picture to an image that says "I Love Someone Rare". I have just spent the last five minutes trying to remember what disability his daughter is challenged with so that I could put that appropriate "abnormal" label on her in the previous paragraph. I then realised that "wonderful" is the only appropriate way to describe her!

Then I got thinking again about Trump and the terrifying sense of being "normal" that his supporters have and their apparent willingness to demonise anyone who they see as not being normal. He is tapping into the instinct to not only cling to normality but to aggressively assert it over those who challenge it.

Normality is overrated. In fact it is dangerous. It erodes our ability to be our true selves as individuals, can cause unhappiness in those who through no fault of their own are "not normal", and gives us the tribal excuse to behave appallingly to our fellow man.

Be very wary of normality and its proactive proponents.

Retro Punditry

Like it or not, technology in all its forms is going to have an increasing impact on our lives. Most people and organisations are not ready for this. Attending the conferences that I do, even ones that are focussed on technology, I am amazed at how unaware people are and how many are actually in denial or resistant to the changes that technology is already bringing about.

Don't get me wrong, I don't for a moment believe that we should passively accept technology and it's effects on society. Far from it, my "mission" is to get more people aware, thoughtful, and actively engaged in how we deal with the challenges.

However, I get tired of pundits who make a virtue of resisting technology, harking back to a time when all we had was "good old fashioned face to face" relationships.

Yes we need to make better informed decisions on how and when we use technology and certainly we need to remember the importance of the real relationships on which we depend for our success and happiness, but there is a real risk that these "experts" allow people to stay in their comfort zones and asleep to the enormous challenges we face. This is not a good thing.

Stating the obvious.

I am struck by how often people say "I have nothing to blog about. Why would people be interested in what I think?" when we are discussing using social tools at work. They suffer from the same reticence as I did when I started blogging all those years ago. "Who am I to say this?" "Surely everyone knows this?" I called my blog "The Obvious?" because it was me overcoming my reticence about stating the obvious in public. Even the question mark was a self deprecating virtual nervous tick!

And yet most people love talking about what they know when you are in conversation with them face to face. We all have valuable experience and given the right encouragement will willingly share it. Maybe it's because we are sharing in writing?Maybe even that little bit of additional formality makes us feel presumptuous?

The thing is, once you get over this hurdle amazing thing start to happen. Often what seems obvious to us isn't obvious to everyone. They may never have realised what we are sharing. Or maybe they had realised it but are glad someone else has too! At the very worst you might share something that is common knowledge. Is that the end of the world?

All that is necessary

Following on from my visit to Auschwitz last month I have been reading as much as I can to try to understand how such an atrocity could ever happen. I have just begun reading "An Interrupted Life: The Diaries And Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943". Powerful, thoughtful, and heart rending, they are an intimate insight into the last two years of Etty's life before her death in the gas chamber. Reading such personal stories makes the situation all the more real than broad historical political analysis of the times. It also reveals, as I have written before, how terrifyingly ordinary evil can be, and how ordinary people allow it grow.

It is inconceivable that seventy years later we could be watching the apparent rise of fascism in America. "The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism" (that I linked to yesterday) is a recent article by Chris Hedges that pulls no punches and is hard to argue with. Current conventional politics seem as much part of the problem as the solution. Our old "big picture" stories of material success and liberal politics are losing relevance and we're not anywhere near compelling alternatives yet. My usual strategic advice for unpredictable times of "Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground" isn't much use if we can't agree on where the high ground is.

Or is it?

Maybe it is the "big picture" myth that is the problem. The idea that there is one all encompassing story that will sort everything. This is where idealism and ideologies go wrong. Invariably it is one vocal, small group, who impose their views on the rest, no matter how benign their intentions. Maybe this is why I see the demise of mass media as a good thing, allowing us to take back our story telling and sense making to a more personal and more human level. Maybe this is where my "organisational anarchist" tag comes in handy. Maybe we need to take the idea of "Trojan mice" seriously and on a global scale? Lots of small actions, closer, more intimate networks, fragmenting the opportunity for abuse of power or polarising of wealth?

I have Burke's phrase “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" ringing in my ears all the time at the moment. Maybe it is "ordinary people" who have the power to prevent evil? Maybe our alternative to doing nothing is to do lots of little things. Lots of little steps. Lots of real conversations with real people about stuff that matters.

Maybe...

Ten years

It is ten years this month since I left the BBC. Hard to believe really. I have to say I have loved every minute of it, despite the challenges of working solo as a freelancer, and find it hard to imagine ever doing a "real job" again.

As to the BBC I am occasionally asked what I think about what is happening there. I know this may sound harsh but, other than the impact its death throes are having on the few friends who still work there, I find it hard to care. I watch very little television and listen to practically no radio. I listen to a lot of recorded audio but it is all independently made podcasts and Audible audiobooks.

As I have often said, what inspires me about the internet is the potential it gives us to take back ownership of our story telling and the fragmentation of mass media into ever smaller bits excites rather than worries me.

Wisdom

Back in the days when I was involved in knowledge management I remember recoiling in horror at someone describing themselves as a wisdom manager. This seemed like a ludicrously presumptuous idea. It still does.

But…

We have more information nowadays than we know what to do with. It is increasingly difficult to discern the truth in our increasingly complex lives. Even within our own heads, extracting the signal from the noise is a perpetual challenge and a continual source of stress.

And yet...

Underneath all of this noise and complexity, at a deeper level, we know. We know right from wrong, we know what we should be doing, we know what things mean, and we know how we feel about things. When we become calm and step outside of our never-ending stream of thought, we achieve a sense of clarity. Of wisdom.

We don't need someone to manage our wisdom for us but we do need to get better at allowing our wisdom to surface. We need to get better at this both individually and collectively.

A slippery slope

I am currently reading Tzvetan Todorov's classic book Facing The Extreme. It is a fascinating exploration of what happened to morals and ethics in Nazi and Soviet concentration camps. Where individual responsibility for evil lies, why some people still "do the right thing" in the face of intolerable pressure, and how easy it becomes for everyone responsible for evil to be "just doing their job".

To some extent the camps were the logical extension of totalitarianism. You gain power and influence by identifying the enemy, even the enemy within, demonise and dehumanise them, and then justify their eradication. It is all too easy to see this as something particular to the German or Soviet character, or even to excuse it on the basis of the culture and norms of The Thirties, but to do so would be dangerously complacent. Stanley Milgram's famous experiment took place in America, Guatanamo Bay is still in use, and the circumstances of Donald Trump's rise are being compared to those of Hitler.

What is striking about the evil described in Todorov's book is how ordinary it all was. Very few of the guards were sadists or psychotic in any way. The vast majority were very average people. People pretty much like you and me. People trying to get through their days, to keep their families safe, not ruffling too many feathers.

It is all too easy for us to see evil as the result of particular, malevolent, individuals. But that is not how it happens. It is lots of little actions, or inactions, by lots of people that lead to our greatest nightmares.

As I have so often said "we all have a volume control on mob rule". We need to start exercising that volume control...

"I don't care"

It's the easiest thing to say, the most reliable "get out of jail free" card, the ultimate side-stepping of life.

When faced with mind numbing routine, or overwhelming challenges, not caring seems attractive. It's shields us from the vicisitudes of life, against the grazing and scraping as we are buffeted by our challenges, a balm for our jangled nerves.

But it is corrosive and addictive. It becomes a way if life, a shell in which we can hide, an excuse we can all too frequently give ourselves.

And then one day it's too late. We've lost the ability to care, we don't care that we don't care. Our lives are out of control, freewheeling aimlessly, a recollection of unease our only memory of a time when we cared.

We should take more care...

Painful reflections

The internet is like one of those shaving mirrors you get in hotel bathrooms. You know the ones, especially those with bright lights around their frame, that seem to expose and exacerbate every flaw and blemish on your face.

Learning to use social tools for work feels the same. Starting to work out loud, and in groups, is awkward to begin with. What might have been got away with in a face to face exchange lingers online. A brusque response, a glib aside, a "light hearted" criticism, sits there staring at us for hours days and weeks, growing in magnitude each time we look at it. Our flaws, and those of others, gain a permanence and are amplified in a way that is testing, but testing in a good way.

Those shaving mirrors were invented to improve on the blurred, hazy images of our faces obscured by steam that risked missing bits of stubble or slicing layers of skin. It's the same with social tools. They enable us to get up close and intimate with attitudes and behaviours that arguably we should already have been dealing with. They make it harder to hide and cover up our moments of shame.

They are not for the faint hearted but reward those willing to take a closer look at their actions and their consequences, willing to learn from their mistakes, and willing to learn to learn together.

Guilt and accountability.

It would appear from recent developments in neuroscience that we are less conscious of our decision making than we would like to think. One of the most important functions of our brain is to filter the world as we perceive it, to identify from the infinite number of inputs that surround us those which matter and those which we should pay attention to. These filters are in part genetic, partly cultural, partly the result of previous filtering, and take place at a subconscious level.

These filtered perceptions and memories, which are themselves filtered for a second time as we retrieve them, form the basis for our apparent decision making process. I say apparent because we are not aware of much of this process happening! We then retro fit a story of conscious decision making onto what we have unconsciously decided in order to maintain our illusion of being in control of ourselves and the world around us.

Walking around Auschwitz last weekend this out of control decision making was troubling me. Did the Nazis have a choice? Was their industrialised evil inevitable given the vast number of small, unconscious, genetically and culturally driven micro decisions that led up to it out of their conscious control? Were those horrendous events inevitable given the time, the people, the context?

The slippery topic of guilt then arises. If what happened was inevitable what happens to guilt? Guilt is an emotive word, loaded with all sorts of moral and cultural baggage. It assumes a level of conscious control and intent that may not be our reality. It leads to feelings of justified retribution, ripples that spread out and subtly affect the attitudes of millions and itself becomes one of those unconscious factors that will steer the decision making of generations into the future.

But none of this means we get let off for the consequences of our actions. Causing untold suffering and misery isn't something we can ignore or condone. Whether or not we are conscious of our decisions we make them and they have consequences.

This is where the idea of accountability is, I think, more helpful. However unconsciously our decisions are made they have consequences and we must be held accountable for those consequences.

Arguably you have to be "out of control" to carry out even a more mundane murder never mind instigating the insanity on the scale of The Holocaust. No one "in their right mind" would do such a thing.

But this doesn't mean that you should ever expect to walk free having taken the life of another - whatever neuroscience might suggest.

Masterclass at Roffey Park

Most of the talks I do are for staff in organisations or, if public, for professional associations or trade conference so few are open to the public or intended for a more general audience. So it is nice to be able to let you know about a Masterclass I am going to be doing at Roffey Park on the 10th of March entitled Thriving In A Digital World. A 10% reduction is available for bookings made before the 12th of February.

A plague of managers

We need managers in our organisations. We always will. We just don't need them as much as they think we do.

It fascinates me watching startups grow beyond the original founders and the rate at which they accrete managers. When they get as big as Google, Twitter or Yahoo you start to see cracks at the seams as the original principles and behaviours get buried under the MBA fuelled "business as usual" mindset.

Established organisations suffer too. If they encounter problems they invariably try to solve them by throwing managers at them. If they've run out of managers they hire more from consultancies!

Once in place management culture becomes an end in itself and anyone who dares question it risks disapproval, marginalisation, or dismissal.

When I was in an operational job at the BBC we enjoyed fantasising about inverting the pyramid. We knew what we had to do, we did it without supervision, and we also knew when we needed help to resolve conflicts or when change needed to happen. We imagined only recruiting managers when we needed such support and keeping them on short term contract only for the time that they were needed. An unrealistic fantasy perhaps but closer to the truth than many would like to think.

Don't get me wrong, good managers can transform a business, great ones can transform lives. Like I said, we need managers and always will. We just need them not to get ideas above their station!

What other people think

Yesterday I expressed surprise and disappointment on discovering that some teenage girls photoshop images of themselves before posting them online. In the ensuing Facebook comment thread there were interesting differences of opinion as to whether this was a good or a bad thing, an extension of the habit of wearing makeup, and so on.

My discomfort with this practice was the idea that youngsters should be so concerned what others think of them. Probably an unrealistic concern when it comes to teenagers, the age when comparison with others is at its most intense.

But it relates to a post I wrote a year or so ago called "The risk of becoming conservative" in which I confessed that gaining a larger audience was making me more conservative in what I wrote about, and more likely to moderate the strength of the views that I shared.

Worrying what others think of us is an inevitable human trait. Fear of disapproval is one of the greatest inhibitors when it comes to using social tools at work. That phrase is on my second last slide in my workshops and presentations.

But my last slide is about love. The basic human instinct to reach out and connect, to be part of something worthwhile, to care and make a difference. We need to be brave and willing to feel exposed if we are going to do other than keep our heads down and stay safe.

We need to get better at not worrying what other people think.