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.

Social tools and the filter problem

I just saw someone comment that "Twitter would be improved by better list functionality". For years my only experience of Twitter has been through a list of about a hundred people who I trust to add more signal than noise. I have also been adjusting my Facebook lists, after watching Robert Scoble's enthusiasm for adopting that technique, to raise the level of stories I see and reduce the number of pictures of cats.

As soon as we get "improved" information systems we are exposed to too much information, feel swamped, and feel the need to improve signal and reduce noise. We are then faced with the problem of classification. Do I classify someone as a person whose views I value on technology, a friend, someone who spots quirky stories, or all of the above? If I put them in a technology news list that I improve by "liking" technology related posts, what do I do when they then post a heart warming human interest story that I also want to like? The people I follow aren't one dimensional. The appeal of social tools is that we get to see more than just one aspect of the people we connect to.

It's the same old issue that was meant to be sorted by portals and executive dashboards. As soon as I think I have reduced noise in my system I begin to worry that I am missing out.

The solution is partly to use different tools for different purposes. This is why I prefer an ecology of diverse tools in a business environment rather than the all encompassing enterprise social tools that are the current fashion. It's a bit like "real life". We expect to meet different people in different physical contexts and manage our expectations of different conversations in this way.

The problem at the moment is that in the competition between Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and the others for our time and attention, they are all beginning to look and feel the same!

Be the change

There is much busyness in business around change. Change theories, change consultants, change strategies, and lots of pretty diagrams. Don't you know "change is the new constant"!? 

Most of this is displacement activity to avoid actually having to change. It's all about changing things outside our selves: structure; processes; or, more commonly, other people!

But real change doesn't happen until you do it. Until YOU do it. Until you think differently, speak differently, act differently. Until you have different conversations with your colleagues, with your boss, with your clients, with your customers. 

Why not start now?

Learning to say no

One of the attractions of our mobile online world is that we can do pretty much anything, anywhere, any time. This is also one of the biggest challenges.

If we are not careful we can end up working all the time. The boundaries between work and home, or work and play, are getting increasingly blurred, and it is us who are having to manage those boundaries.

It used to be that work stopped when you left the office and the speed of your incoming work was constrained by how fast the office postman could walk. But now we have to find our own limits and exercise them. We are going to have to get better at saying no to more people more of the time, including ourselves.

I am writing this as we are about to leave for a family holiday in the USA. As a freelancer, with the luxury of using my own tools on my own devices, I am as able to do work on the road as I am at home. My mobile carrier now offers free roaming in the States. There is nothing to stop me taking work with me, except my own self discipline.

Wish me luck!

Life after death

Articles about the death of social media appear frequently these days. They have a bit of catching up to do though as articles about the death of blogging have been being written for at least the thirteen years I've been involved. I guess pundits have to write about something and they are either on the rise or fall of the wave they themselves create.

But these waves are just noise on the greater wave which is the impact of connected thinking and minimal cost distribution of ideas which the internet is enabling. That isn't going away. Fears about privacy may make us retire into echo chambers for a while, and the commercial machine will continue to trundle on to the next technology innovation, but it would take a concerted effort to unlearn what we now know - that we have the potential to find our voice and use it.

Right and wrong and our volume control on mob rule

I mentioned last week that my understanding of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was through my network and called on me to work out, from differing viewpoints, what I think on the matter.

I also finished listening to Game Of Thrones last week which constantly challenges our desire to work out right from wrong as several times the good guys turn into the bad guys, and sometimes back again!

Lastly I posted about celebrity and the way that our fascination with certain high profile individuals gives them disproportionate power and influence, whether they merit it or not.

All three topics raise the issue with which I began my book - we all need to grow up. Deciding right from wrong is hard work, we avoid doing it, we avoid thinking about it, we get others to do it for us. But when things start to change faster, become more unpredictable, and we learn as much or more from each other as we do from "experts", then we need to accept the responsibility that this places on us.

Whether we like it or not, in our use of social tools, we all have a volume control on mob rule (another chapter in the book). We get to choose what we link to or like, which flames we fan or douse. We need to think before we share horrendous images of suffering on our newsfeeds. Are they an effective way of sharing our righteous indignation - or are they just disaster porn?

None of this is easy, we used to allow other people to do it for us, but now we need to work it out - together.