Exercising the right to talk rubbish

Following on from yesterday's post about standing up to bullies it occurred to me that bullying can be more subtle and widespread than we assume. And we all give in to it.

Every time we put someone down for talking rubbish it is a small act of bullying. It makes them feel small and us feel more powerful.

This happens all the time at work. That pervasive tone of disapproval so cultivated by managers who see their job as saving their organisations from people who talk rubbish.

You might argue that that is their job. To keep everything tidy and organised. The thing as that we have got so good at making our organisations look tidy, at reducing the levels of noise, that we have also driven out the signal. We are so afraid of talking rubbish that we are constantly at risk of saying nothing.

We need to practise. We need to say more. Some of which will be rubbish. If we don't get used to talking rubbish more often we will learn to keep quiet. We will learn to say nothing, and will all lose as a result.

We need to learn to be more tolerant of other people's rubbish - including our own.

Standing up to bullies

Sometimes the bullies are the state, sometimes they are money men, sometimes they are terrorists, and sometimes they are priests.

Reading news feeds about protestors in Hong Kong and Muslims around the world disassociating themselves from ISIS I am hopeful that we are learning that if we stick together we can stand up to bullies.

The real world

In my work I get to help amazing people, doing amazing things, often in tough places, using social media. Not marketing things people don’t want, not distracting them with silly viral videos, but reaching out to make a difference. It can be very humbling.

It is easy to sneer at the online world. It is easy to obsess about the latest tweaks to the interfaces we use. It is easy to forget that these tools are not an end in themselves.

They are what we make them. They can be the means to significant and important ends. What matters is our intent in using them.

Being brave

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"

I have written a many times that using social tools at work, and reaping their benefits by sharing ideas and opinions, calls for small acts of bravery.

But it is not just at work that we need to be brave.

I shared a couple of stories yesterday. One was about Emma Watson being bullied for sharing her views. In a comment on the other (which asked why the middle class weren't rioting about dodgy financial practice) Anne McCrossan expressed the thought that the middle classes are not speaking out because of the fear of being monitored online.

Caving in to bullies, whether hackers in hoodies or the state wearing suits, is a really slippery slope. We can't let others constrain our ability to say what we think in public. Each time we keep our mouths shut out of fear we let ourselves and others down.

History has shown us that small, apparently inocuous, compromises can allow dreadful things to happen.

Being cruel to be kind

I often take digs at management, the media, and institutions of various kinds, lumping them together as "the grown ups". This may seem like sniping from the sidelines.

But those are the very groups I spend my days helping. Many of you who are reading this with will work for those groups. For all the enthusiasm for startups, and even the likelihood that smaller groups may be characteristic of the future, most of the world is run by large, bureaucratic, organisations, and most of the world work for them, or are influenced by them. They are not going away in a hurry.

Or are they?

The referendum in Scotland showed how frustrated we are becoming at the political status quo. Even something as apparently stable as The United Kingdom has been shown to be surprisingly fragile. Our financial institutions have been found wanting for several years now. Geopolitics look like going into meltdown with the actions Putin and ISIS. Even our supply chains are stretched so taught in the name of efficiency it wouldn't take too many logistics computers going down for us to be fighting for places in food queues.

We are going to have to get better dealing with these challenges. Some believe that in order to do so we give up on our current solutions and build new ones faster. I don't think we have time. I believe that we have to reinvent our institutions from the inside. We have to take individual and collective responsibility despite the challenges of hierarchical command and control environments. We do this by thinking harder, talking to each other more, and taking more frequent small steps forwards. Unleashing trojan mice. Repeated small steps of bravery.

This is what I help people to do and this is why I think it matters.

Facebook and the fear of being judged

Interesting to read a BBC story that there have been 10 million interactions on the subject of the Scottish referendum on Facebook. It confirms my sense that our use of Facebook is maturing and moving beyond just sharing images of cats. We increasingly use social platforms to understand and discuss our world.

This got me thinking again about why we find the idea of "Facebook for work" so challenging. Why is it so hard to get platforms on which people can help each other solve practical challenges or understand strategic directions better to take hold in our organisations?

I reckon it comes down to the fear of being judged. This is bad enough on something that "doesn't matter" like Facebook but all the more significant in the world of work. Being found wanting by your friends is one thing but being judged by your peers or your boss represents a whole different level of discomfort.

But it will happen. Eventually the benefits will outweigh the risks, both individually and organisationally. All it takes is incremental small acts of bravery, and once we start there's no stopping us.

Small is beautiful

I have always loved the idea that all avalanches are triggered by that last tiny snowflake. No matter how much snow ends up moving, the tipping point is inconceivably small.

We can so easily go numb in the face of our challenges. Our work, our relationships, our health. We can put off making changes because our efforts seem so futile.

But all it takes for any significant change to happen is that last, insignificant snowflake.

Scotland

I have been disengaged from the issues of Scottish independence. I don't feel Scottish having lived most of my life in the south of England. I don't see myself as a particularly political animal.

BUT

I now find myself swinging wildly in two directions.

I think that the United Kingdom is an amazing place with characteristics and attitudes that not only made us a huge positive influence on the world in the past, but could do in the future. The ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment and Scottish engineering prowess played a large part in that success. Splitting off Scotland makes us less than the sum of the parts.

On the other hand those in power in London have become complacent and increasingly ineffective in dealing with the significant challenges we face. Westminster politicians from the main parties have become indistinguishable from each other, and people are disengaging from the electoral process. Bankers have staggered us with their hubris and the ongoing march of multinational, bland, corporatism sucks the life blood out of too many of our good people.

The desire for Scottish independence is either foolhardy or brave and I really can't make my mind up. I worry that a lot of the energy behind it is jingoistic and naive, and I would want the vote to be no - but by a narrow margin. My hope is that it shakes things up, gives people throughout the UK a sense of their ability to change their lives, and gives those currently in power a bloody nose.

Herding cats

I love the fact that the comments thread on my earlier post about disorder has morphed into a lively debate on Scottish Independence. And I am not even taking part!

Serendipity is wonderful. Going with the flow is key. This is SO important to success with social media. If you can't handle it you should give up any plans you have for enterprise social and stay off the internet!

;-)

Disorder and the power of small steps

There is much instability in the world at the moment. Whether it is the disruptive effects of technology, the fickle economy, the environment, the Ukraine, Isis, or even the impact of a separate Scotland on the rest of the UK.

I tend to be a half full rather than a half empty sort of person, and resist the doom and gloom message of the media, BUT there are no guarantees that we will face these challenges and do well. Our old, centralised ways of doing things aren't up to the job. The grown ups have lost the plot.

When I was speaking in Latvia a couple of years ago I found myself walking around large, concrete housing estates, full of tired, depressed looking, former Soviet state workers. I thought of the challenges of an old order collapsing and how little as an individual you can do to stop that. I thought of programmes, like the one I was supporting, to rebuild the fabric of a productive life. I thought of the typical state supported initiatives that would just create new dependencies for the people. I thought that not everyone can be entrepreneurial. I felt powerless to help and thought "What's blogging going to do for these people?"

But then I thought that any lasting solution is going to come from small steps. Adding value to someone you know. Helping the person next to you do something they currently can't. It comes from relationship, from one person reaching out and connecting with another. From rebuilding trust. From taking responsibility.

We have the tools to reach out, to work harder at understanding, to see more opportunities for connecting, to get better at taking responsibility and helping each other. It all starts with that next blog post or update.

More Linkedin creepiness

Linkedin has recently started to refer to meetings I have had with people in its email updates. I am pretty sure that I haven't given access to my calendar and in some cases I am not even connected to the people in Linkedin. The only way I can see that it is doing this is from them having given it access to their calendars and then using those pesky little ics meeting invites.

Grrr..

Keeping the converstion going

One of the frustrations of blogging used to be the challenge of knowing when someone had responded to your post. Trackback tried to make it possible to see when someone wrote a blog post that cited yours. Disqus tried to let you know when someone mentioned your blog in comments on another. But neither became universal enough to really work.

Nowadays within Facebook it is easy to tag someone in an update or comment (and this is partly what makes the energy flow better in Facebook) but it is just within Facebook. The @ sign in Twitter and the + sign in Google+ help too but again these really only work within their own environments. If, like me, you post blog posts in various places the conversation stays fragmented and the crossovers between the members of your networks is limited.

Writing a blog post, wherever you do it, is like lobbing pebbles into a pond. You get better at creating ripples. The trouble is that at the moment you end up lobbing many pebbles into many ponds.

Formal study of Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do

For a couple of years now Dr. Silagh White, of Lehigh University in the USA, has included study of my book as part of a course on Entrepreneurial Communications for Creative Industries.

Last year I took part in a live Twitter chat with the students and this year I have just been reviewing some of the questions that the book raised for the them. On both occasions I have been really impressed by the thoughtful and insightful responses including this nice tweet from Andrea Stiffelman.

I am so chuffed that a book written for old codgers is helping people less than half my age be more aware of the impact of the web on their lives!

Walking the talk

It surprises me when people promoting the use of social tools in business, whether those working in digital agencies, consultants, or even clients, don't actually use the tools themselves. Even when they have the tools deployed.

"How are your staff getting on with using your new social platform?" "They aren't using it as much as we hoped" "Are you using it?" "Oh no, I am far too busy"

It is so important to show the way, to use the tools to manage the tools, to work out loud as I do with these posts, to engage people in your thinking and work things out together. Otherwise what's the point?

The ideology of algorithms

I have written about this before, and no doubt will again as it is so important.

Fewer and fewer of us buy newspapers and I can't remember the last time I watched TV news or listened to the radio. My news comes to me through my various networks on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook. I like that my news is now messily diverse. I have to work out the truth from a variety of sources. I need to take responsibility for keeping these networks as diverse as I can, avoiding the risk of echo chambers.

The risk of news being steered is not new. Newspapers, and TV in the US have always been funded by advertising. Newspaper moguls have always had vested interests and pushed particular views. Echo chambers are not new - do you choose The Guardian or The Telegraph?

At least now I can avoid my technology platforms using their algorithms to steer me to what they think is newsworthy (or to what gets them the most advertising revenue). I have to invest a bit of time and effort, but as least I can do it. I can create lists in Twitter and Facebook and steer the algorithms with my likes and shares. If any platform becomes too intrusive in its steering of my network I can leave it. I still maintain a set of RSS feeds of smart people, including many journalists, that get me to the good stuff outside of the walled gardens of Facebook or Twitter.

Kevin O'Keefe has picked up on an article by Emily Bell in The Guardian in which she expresses concern at technology platforms' lack of accountability in steering our news consumption. His response:

"But we ought not be looking to hold Facebook and Twitter accountable for news. We’re going to have to be accountable this time by carefully selecting those we follow and using these media enough to let their algorithms work for us."

Kevin thinks that we can take responsibility for our understanding of the world. I agree. This will not be easy, many will find it too onerous, and we still have to work out ways of paying for it all, but it does really matter!

Rigour

I had a conversation with my Dad about education this week. He is a fan of the changes made by Gove, and of the view that we need to return to "proper" fact based learning. He says thing like "we can't just look up everything on Google" and "Look at how much people on University Challenge know, we need more people like that". Not all such conversations with my Dad end well but we managed to keep this one on an even keel and stay friends.

But it left me wondering why such conversations get to me. Those "young folks nowadays" type of conversations that belittle new ways of looking at things and advocate a return to an older world of order and rigour. It's a bit like when Dennis Howlett gets all macho about "real business" and the need for tough business attitudes when he is having a rant about naive social enterprise bollocks.

They get to me because they are right. We need high standards and people who work hard to excel. We need rigour. I have been in high pressure operational jobs in broadcasting where you had to know complex engineering standards and stick to them. Keeping a lot of information in your head like that takes effort and matters.

They also get to me because they have the weight of convention behind them. It takes confidence to stick your neck out and break from the norm, to advocate new ideas and change the status quo. For most of us there is that nagging feeling that we might be wrong. Every time I write a post about the possibilities afforded by the web I think "Is this bollocks? Am I talking out my backside?"

We need both perspectives. We need order and repeatable processes but we also need flexibility and serendipity. We need structured and managed business data, but we also need messy and serendipitous online conversations. If we want innovation and change we can't cling to old ways of doing things out of nostalgia. If they are no longer effective we should stop doing them.

The trick is achieving balance and managing the transition between the old and the new. We will only do this if both "sides" listen to each other and respect and value the alternative perspective. Sometimes my Dad and I manage this!

Cluetrain at fifteen

Doc Searls has shared an interview done in 2000 about The Cluetrain Manifesto. Most of its theses are as as fresh and relevant now as they were fifteen years ago. Take this sample from the interview:

  1. Markets are conversations.

  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

  4. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

  5. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

  6. Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?

  7. We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.

When talking to folks in "digital" marketing agencies I mention Cluetrain. It's like a test. If I get a blank look I know what I am dealing with.

Follow the links in the article and take a look.

The written word

OK so I know that there's YouTube and podcasting but most of the Internet's power is still in the written word. It is text that conveys most of the important ideas and it is accessible at almost zero cost to all of us. And yet so few of us write. Most still consume, or at the most share other people's "content".

The same is true at work. You can spend thousands on a social enterprise platform but if people don't write nothing is going to happen. If only a small proportion of your staff write and the rest lurk you are not going achieve the savings and opportunities you seek. If all of your business's online activity is carried out by the marketing team you are never going to have the conversations with customers that can transform your business.

It is hard, this thing of putting our thoughts down "on paper". It takes effort and courage. Most of us still carry baggage from our school days about what it takes to write well and heads full of rules and judgements about good and bad writing. We are all too aware of "getting it wrong" and the risk of failure or of exposing ourselves to ridicule.

We need to start small, to take baby steps. Even the practise of keeping a paper journal is immensely powerful. We often don't know what we think until we write it down. Jotting down ideas and impressions gets us in the habit of thinking about what we think and better at expressing it. As we get more confident we can share some of our insights online. Whether by blogging or updating Facebook we can put things out there, see what reactions we get, learn from the responses. Rinse and repeat.

Yes I still believe that the internet gives us the power to change our world but I am becoming more and more convinced that it is in this first basic building block of learning to write well and in public that people need help. The big picture, philosophical, world changing stuff can come later. Unless more of us are willing to put our words and thoughts out there in public, and to get better at doing so, none of the rest is going to happen.

Making new friends

The use of the word friend to classify online connections has been problematic since Flickr first used it way back in the mists of internet time. It still jars on Facebook where my connections now extend way beyond those who would feel comfortable with me calling them my friend.

However...

I now get the sort of interactions in Facebook around posts that I used to get blogging. In fact I now see myself as blogging in parallel in Facebook. In the early days of blogging we would reach out to people who looked interesting and said smart things. I am now doing that in Facebook. Based on Facebook recommendations of people with more than 30 shared connections, I will take a look, and if they look like they post interesting stuff, request a friend connection.

Hope some of them say yes!

Learning to look away

Right from the start the internet has enabled us to share images. Even before the web the voyeuristic appeal of alt.misc.binaries exercised a strong pull on even the most vigilant attention. I remember stumbling across grainy images of Chinese executions involving gradual dismemberment of the victims and being haunted for days by the images. I still regret having seen them.

In time we learn which bits of the internet to avoid if we don't want to be subjected to grotesque images but with the advent of social tools this is harder. It is not in our control what other people choose to share and horrific images can appear without warning in our news streams. We have to learn to look away. With the awful events in Gaza and the recent murder of James Foley, I am primed to react if people in my network share images I would rather not see.

Is this an attempt to hide from ugly truths? I don't think so. I don't need to see those images to understand human suffering. Reading about the holocaust and trying to understand the enormity of the horror is important, seeking out endless images of human degradation isn't. Maybe it is a question of degree. Maybe it is a question of intent.

What is most upsetting to me about our ability to witness the last moments of another person is the loss of human dignity. Even state sanctioned capital punishment has always had a particular horror for me in it's degrading ignominy. Nowadays this visceral reaction is not just to the event itself but to the fact that I could watch it happening in almost real time.

Roman circuses were a symptom of the decline of their empire and a loss of civilisation. We should remember that.