Mirror, mirror

The internet is one big mirror that reflects us back at ourselves, as individuals, as groups, as society. Sometimes we don't like what we see. We get annoyed. We get hurt. Certain posts, certain people, certain memes press our buttons, make us react.

But they don't. It is us who choose to react. It's us who react in certain predictable ways that, if we are honest, we know all too well.

We can choose to get really interested in our reactions. We can be really honest about what is winding us up and why. We have this opportunity to learn more, faster, about ourselves and others than ever before.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we have to be brave. But to hide from ourselves is cowardice.

Enough

"How often should I post?" is a question I am often asked. It came up again recently when I was working with a very busy chief executive who clearly saw posting on social media as a burden and I was there to encourage them to have a go.

Another question I am often asked, invariably in a judgemental tone, is "How much time do you spend on all this stuff?" to which my reply is "Enough".

Enough to build and maintain connection with other people. Enough to work out what is happening around me and in my own head. Enough to help others interested in doing the same thing.

Being judgemental

Yesterday I allowed frustration at a couple of real world situations to influence my post. I indulged in my least attractive characteristic – being judgemental.

Working to identify challenges in the workplace and surfacing issues is worth doing. Sometimes it means facing disapproval and takes courage.

However.

Splitting the world into right and wrong, good and bad, them and us, is dangerous and unhelpful. Judging others and finding them wanting is the most sure fire way to alienate them.

Must try harder…

Being in charge

I bet there is one sitting near you as you read this. A white bloke in his late fifties. His slightly shabby grey suit barely containing his spreading gut. Full of bluff and bluster as he spouts management clichés. Pressured and stressed as he rushes between ever so important meetings, desperately maintaining the delusion that if he wasn't in charge the world would fall apart.

Part of me feels sorry for them. It must be terrifying to be so out of touch and out of control.

But part of me wants to drag them out of their complacent complicity. They inflict so much pain and cause so much damage. So many bright, committed people give up under their relentless scrutiny.

Standing up to frightened bullies can be a kindness, both to them and those they abuse. We should do it more often.

One conversation at a time

I have often said that we are living through a social revolution rather than a technological one. That the internet is supporting change rather than driving it.

But what IS fundamentally different is, to quote The Cluetrain, "Globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations."

It is these conversations that allowed the fears and hopes of those the mainstream media ignored to be heard both here and in the US.

It is these conversations that I am encouraged by as I watch my network come to terms with what has happened and adjust.

It is these conversations that we are getting better at having.

We have at our disposal an amazing platform on which to work things out better and faster — together. There are going to be bumps along the way as these conversations take us into the darker side of our nature, but we will work this out. We will.

Decisions, decisions

I failed yet again. I fail every day. Despite my best efforts and intense concentration, I fail to catch myself making the decision to get out of the bath.

I know when I am about to do it, and I know when I have just done it, but I have yet to catch myself actually making the decision.

Try this.

And, if you find it to be true, ask yourself who made all those decisions that filled your day? The ones you fretted over and regretted. The ones that changed your life. The ones that changed the world.

If you didn't make them who did? And why?

Real change

This week I am delivering keynotes in Paris and Trieste on the topics of Lipstick On Pigs and Seeking Personal Truth. And yes they are closely related.

So much organisational change fails because either it is a token gesture at an organisational level, or people don't buy into the change individually. More often than not it is both.

I am convinced that all change emanates from the individual. Structural and procedural changes can help but unless people change nothing changes. And of course people are messy and unpredictable. There is an intimacy about real personal change that most in corporate life back away from, or sanitise with process. How many corporate change programmes hit the mark? How many annual appraisals change lives?

And yet it can be different. Each of us can be brave and start to act differently. And once we do who knows what might happen. I use the following quote in both keynotes:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Report writing

A friend recently had to produce a report at work. A tight deadline caused significant stress, and an important topic meant that it felt like it mattered. However when asked if they thought anyone would read it the reply was — no.

I so clearly remember, in my first managerial job, being faced with a blank page in Word and the expectation that I would generate dozens of pages filled with — I knew not what. So I dug out an old document I had been sent, copied the structure, and began attempting to fill it in with content as relevant to my topic as I could manage. Much of it was padding. My language was stilted and awkward.

Another friend was recently presented with the results of a similarly pointless effort. Forty pages of wasted life. When they asked if the person who wrote it would ever read something like that themselves the answer was no. "THEN WHY DO YOU EXPECT ME TO?!" They replied.

Why do we subject each other to this nonsense? What if we all agreed to stop?

Feelings

My friend Joan Keevill Recently referenced this Maya Angelou quote:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou

Following on from my post on Wednesday about making an impact this got me thinking just how much of the world of work this applies to. The world in which we have fetishised “deliverables” and denigrated feelings.

Remembering bosses who may have done all the right things, may have been very busy and delivered lots of projects – but made me feel like a small, unimportant cog in the wheels of industry. This is what I remember. Or what about all those documents they were so busy writing that may have been full of information – but made me feel as if my life was slowly draining from me! That too is what I remember.

On the other hand what about those teachers who made me feel inspired and invigorated, ready to take on the world? And what about the toilet attendant I once watched in Vegas who made everyone smile with his witty banter as they benefited from his pristine empire over which he watched with a proud eagle eye!

Instead of showing off the next time someone asks how you are with that all too common “Oh, I am really, really busy”, stop for a moment to think about how you are making them feel…

Making an impact

We celebrate those who change the world rather than those who just talk about it. But isn't this the western disease? Seeing problems as out there in the world rather than within us, sorting others instead of sorting ourselves? Aren't most of the world's biggest problems the result of our previous attempts to make an impact?

Both of the main words in that phrase are problematic. Making something happen implies force or coercion, impact is what happens in collisions.

And isn't talking, even talking to ourselves in the act of thinking, how the world really changes?

Through having and sharing ideas we perceive the world differently. As a result we act differently. Doing so changes our world and the world of those around us. Perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps over longer timescales than we would like, but no need for "making" and no pain of "impact".

Don't just do something, stand there.

Structure

Hearing Mollie deal with the challenge of the unstructured nature of University after the imposed order and discipline of school brought back memories. Wandering around wondering what I was meant to be doing, feeling guilty about not doing it, lost in a slippery quagmire of expectations. Looking back I regret not having dealt with the challenge better. I would have done so much better with what I know now.

And what do I know now? After ten years of working for myself, and much of the time alone, I have become so much better at knowing what I need to do, refining my ability to do so effectively, and proactively seeking out the next challenge and opportunity for learning. In fact just in terms of reading I read more, and "better" now than at any time in my life. I am also more disciplined about how I spend my time and building my own structures to do so. Applying and refining David Allen's principles from Getting Things Done has been instrumental in this and a life saver in so many situations.

But this is not for everyone. I often make the mistake of thinking that everyone can, and should, work like this. I have to remember that some people respond better to an imposed structure, to tasks delegated by a boss, to clear and extrinsic rewards. I forget that for many the daily commute is part of that structure as is sharing space with others in an office.

My worry is that these structures look likely to become less common in the future. As our large corporations crumble under their own inefficiency more people will work for themselves or in small groups. Fewer people will commute to offices. As artificial intelligence nibbles away at work tasks the nature of the "knowledge work" that is left will become less routine and call for more individual input.

The comforts of our structures will become liabilities rather than benefits.

Growing up

While proud and delighted at Mollie leaving for university at the weekend, we have also all been dealing with the emotional wrench of such a dislocation. It got me thinking what a particularly middle class right of passage this mostly is. Talking to a builder and his wife who we met on a walk yesterday reinforced this thought. Their kids hadn't gone to college and so the transition out of the family home was much gentler and more gradual. The need for toughening up and coping with the emotional upheaval had been avoided.

I've also been thinking about the many ex boarding school students I encountered in my own university experience at St. Andrews. How much more grown up and intimidating they seemed to those of us who had stayed at home and gone to comprehensive school. In the hey day of public schools, the days of the empire, the emotional wrenches started earlier, the toughening up of the managerial class was more systematic.

I remember my own transition into management and the stress of feeling that I was expected to be "in charge of" other people. The pressure to don the armour of the suit and tie was enormous. I was expected to join the grown ups.

I thought of friends who change as they climb the managerial ladder and of middle managers I meet who talk managerial bollocks and cultivate aloof distance from others. This urge to differentiate themselves as different, as more responsible, as more grown up, is endemic.

You will have seen me dismissively using the phrase "the grown-ups" to describe those in business who over enthusiastically assume this fictitious mantle of responsibility. Who throw their weight around at work, assuming that the "children" they are "responsible for" need controlling. Being hard nosed. Making tough decisions.

But do they really grow up? Is all of this toughening up a good thing? Does it result in well balanced human beings, happy in themselves, capable of inspiring and supporting others? Is it all necessary?

I wonder...

Every time

Every time I define myself by difference Every time I indulge in righteous indignation Every time I assert myself over a fictitious other Every time I play "the hard man" to hide my fears

I make it easier for Trump to exist.

Hope

This struck me as describing what bogging can be at its best.

Hope - by Victoria Safford.

"Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see."

Finding life amazing

We think that we know all about life and have made it ordinary.

We label things and think that means that we understand them.

We focus so much on getting what we don't have that we miss what we do.

We get upset when life isn't as it should be without realising that it is perfect as it is.

We want the ups without the downs and fail to see that one can't exist without the other.

While doing all this we forget the power of just being.

We forget how amazing life is and how lucky we are that, despite incredible odds against it happening, we are here at all.

We might as well relax more and enjoy it while we are.

Drawing lines

Last night I read some of the anti-semitism being shared on Twitter. In one tweet the poster asked Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, whether his company was unable to police anti-semitism or just unwilling to. I then thought of Facebook’s decision to delete the iconic image of the child running along a road in Vietnam because it had crossed some line of decency (they later reversed this decision).

Both of these examples reminded me of the early days of the internet when too incautious an exploration of Usenet would invariably expose you to really disturbing images or ideas. We learned to look away, but we also learned what fellow humans are capable of.

It takes a lot of work by dedicated teams to filter extremes of human nature from any of the public facing platforms. Given my view that the greatest opportunity afforded by the internet is that it is a mirror, part of me thinks that this is important work – part of me worries that it is protecting us from ourselves.

Where do we draw our lines? Do we draw our own or do we rely on others to draw them for us? Is it better to be made aware of the darker side of our nature and forced to face up to it - or do we need protected from it?

Maybe there is no easy answer…

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror

"The internet is full of idiots." "The internet is dumbing us down." "The internet is spoiling our kids." "The internet is destroying society."

The internet is wires and code.

The problem is you. The problem is me. I can't change you. You can't change me.

But we can see each other [waves]

Staying ahead by slowing down

I have always loved the phrase "Don't just do something stand there." It conveys the paradox that very often doing things is less productive than taking a moment to reflect. A moment to work out what is really going on. A moment to ponder what we we really want to happen. A moment to gather ourselves before stepping back into the hectic stream of modern life. 


This willingness to be still is becoming ever more important. The fad for mindfulness in the geek and startup communities that has emerged over the last few years is a sign that chasing the newest shiny thing and frenetically pursuing the ultimate in productivity eventually takes its toll. We end up "busily bored" as Todd Henry calls it. Never having enough time but constantly wondering what the point is.

I used the phrase "Staying ahead by slowing down" in my talk at Learning Live last week. My theme was that we need to get better at our most human characteristics if we are to add value when AI and robots can run rings around us in terms of efficiency. Rather than efficiency, effectiveness needs to be our main focus, doing the right things for the right reasons. Sometimes sitting quietly in a room on our own, even for a little while, is the best way to work out what those are.

Being at work

A long time ago I wrote a post entitled "When an office becomes a liability". It was about how having an office was shifting from being a status symbol, a place to get things done, to being a place where the network was slower than at home, someone controlled what apps and technology you could use, and your creative energy was sapped by endless meetings.

Ten years later, having experienced over that time the joy and increased effectiveness of being a freelancer in charge of my own productivity, I marvel at organisations agonising over whether or not to give their staff the choice to work at home, over engineering the technology they feel is needed to allow them to do so, and having time wasting meetings about whether they can be trusted not to waste their time!

Work is more about attitude of mind than place. Most of us can do it anywhere. I am writing this on my phone in bed! It could be a report or an email. I could even be taking part in a phone conference - with the camera turned off!

Too often being at work is about being seen, about politics, about insecurity. Given how much time and valuable natural resources we waste getting to and from the places where we may, or may not, be able to get things done, we need to get braver about taking the alternatives seriously.