Important lessons

I have been enjoying the fact that our younger daughter is doing Sociology, Psychology, and Politics as her A Levels. We have been having really interesting conversations, particularly about Politics, as you can imagine.

And yet when she told her grandfather what subjects she was doing he said "Oh, so no real subjects then". While I realise that Sociology particularly is still considered a "pseudo-sciencep" and I can see why, it struck me that all three topics will leave her better armed for life as an adult in our challenging world than say maths.

Yes, core skills matter, but I have never ever made use of any of the Maths, Physics or Chemistry that I did at school and spent the rest of my life reading all that I can about Sociology, Psychology and Politics!

My workplace


As I am speaking at a workplace event soon I thought I'd talk about mine. This is my office at home but all of the tools in the photo can be put in a bag and seconds and the whole thing reassembled wherever I am. The various bits and how I use them are listed below.

I love having the iPhone and iPad side by side which can give me a two screen setup. This might let me do a conference call on the phone and take notes on the iPad or, as I am doing now, look at the image on the iPhone and write on the iPad. Sure you can have different windows open on a laptop but I like the way this keeps things separate and simple. I also like the way that writing apps on the iPad present a simple uncluttered and distraction free interface!

The Logitech K380 keyboard has three yellow buttons near the top. This allows me to set it up to work with three devices (my iPhone, iPad and iMac in my case) and switch between them at the press of a button. This means that wherever I am or whatever I am doing I am always using the same keyboard which increases my typing speed no end.

The image on the iPad screen is of GoodNotes which I use increasingly for most of my writing and note-taking using the Apple Pencil you can see to the side. The notes can be converted to copyable text with a high degree of accuracy and all of my handwritten notes can be searched in one go. This means that it is easy to both get ideas out of my head but also to be able to find them again!

My AirPods are how I listen to podcasts or audiobooks. While sitting at my desk I also use them in combination with Siri to instigate phone calls, add to-dos to my Omnifocus list and ask Siri to find information on the internet.

The only thing not in the photo is my Apple Watch which I use all the time to monitor my exercise, keep track of tasks while on the move, and control the phone calls and audio apps that I use.

As I say, I am finding this combination particularly efficient and love the fact that I can reconstruct it anywhere I happen to be.

On writing

I write every day, whether blog posts, longer articles, journaling, or even working on another book. The tools I use, Scrivener and Drafts, allow me to write in chunks and get ideas down quickly and easily. Pretty much all of my writing is intended for the web. As a result, the idea of documents, especially documents printed out on paper, is for me a thing of the past.

I write words in different sized chunks depending on how much I have to say on a particular topic, and in the first instance, I am saying it to me. I have often commented that my blog posts are really "memos to self". As a result, my writing style is conversational - I am really having a conversation with myself. And so the length of my writing depends on the length and depth of the conversation I feel like having. The idea of a book is beginning to appeal again because I fancy having a more extended and in-depth conversation with myself.

If I ever get around to writing another one I will self publish it. I have over the last few years got a lot of value out of short, to the point, non-fiction Kindle books. They can be as little as 20,000 words but cost only £3 or £4. They hit the mark and don't have any padding. So even the idea of a book is becoming more malleable. What makes a book a book? When does a tweet become a blog post? When does a long blog post become an article? When does a long article, or collection of articles, become a book?

So my motivation is the type of conversation that I want to have. Short ones like this blog post, or longer ones that a "book" would allow me to have. Content is starting to drive form. Interesting times.


The process of thingification (turning a useful idea into the latest thing and thereby rendering it useless) appears unstoppable. In the context of work it happened with collaboration, innovation, and creativity. It is even happening with disruption! It happened with blogging, it happened with YouTube, it's happening with podcasting.

All these potentially powerful attempts at building a new world using new tools being rendered safe by assimilation into the old.

Is this inevitable, or can we each do our bit to stop it happening? Being careful with our use of language, particularly jargon. Checking our intent and resisting bandwagons. Ignoring the most blatant attempts at cooption and manipulation.

Every time someone calls themselves a "social media influencer" an angel dies.

The sound of silence

I enjoy the comment threads I get on my posts on Facebook. It is these sort of interactions that attracted me to the social web in the first place. Interestingly I get much less response on LinkedIn and Twitter despite the fact that I am connected to many more people on those two platforms. And my blog is the place where I get least response as the numbers of people using RSS aggregators has diminished over the years.

But of all them, it is my blog that I will keep going. It is there that I have been thinking out loud for coming up seventeen years. It is that that I think of as my outboard brain. I have often said that my posts are thinly disguised "memos to self" and there's value in that even if no one is reading them.

If any of you are considering blogging and worrying if anyone would read you, or if you are already blogging and dispirited at the lack of response, keep going. It's worth it. Even if no one else is listening - you are!

Getting your hands dirty

Like it or lump it technology plays an increasingly important role in all of our lives. It also plays an increasingly important role in business and our organisations.

And yet it is still held at arms length by most management, certainly most senior management. This isn't good enough.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that they all need to learn to code.. There was a flurry of interest in that about a year ago to little effect.

But more people need to be more curious, to play more, to tinker. They need to learn more than 5% of the powerful capabilities of their phone. They need to have fun exploring their computer beyond the ubiquitous confines of Microsoft Office. They need to learn enough about Facebook, Google and Amazon to know the questions to start asking.

Why do they need to do do this? Because these are the first steps to getting a real hands on, visceral experience of the major challenges we face. It will trigger the curiosity, confidence, and inclination to become more thoughtful about technology's role in life.

"I am too busy", "It's not my job" I hear them cry. But it increasingly is your job and it is all of our responsibilities. It is way too important to leave to the techies and we have already given them too much of a head start!


I will assume that, like me, you are currently looking at an electronic device of some sort, reading the words that I am typing. But then as I type you are not there, and as you read I am not here. So we are neither here nor there but it feels like we are having a conversation. More and more of us do this more and more of the time. We think it is normal and rather take it for granted.

Is it normal? Is it real? All we get to see is short bursts of text and from these we extrapolate personalities that we can feel attracted to, annoyed by, even close to. But we have no way of proving that they exist. They could be a bot. As far as you are aware I could be a bot. It is increasingly possible.

Our lives are made up of such bursts of input. Not just text on a screen but the sounds of a phone call, even the smiling presence of a body standing before us. Out of these stimuli we create reality. Our reality is created. It is a construct in our mind. This is always true. Sure there are molecules out there and the physical world is real, but what it means, and how I react to it, is all made up.

So to go back to the funny little text boxes that so many of us nowadays spend our lives staring at and responding to, we would do well to remember what they are. They are light streaming from a bit of glass. Nothing more, nothing less. What they mean and how we feel about them is made up. It is up to us. We would do well to remember that.

Capital T Truth

I have just started reading The Patterning Instinct by Jeremy Lent, described as "A cognitive history of man's search for meaning." - Right up my street!

Reading the opening chapters on how language developed, how communal thinking came to be a thing, and the anthropological approaches currently being combined with recent advances in neuroscience, made me realise yet again what a malleable thing the truth is.

Even in the scientific world the best any particular version of the truth can claim is that it is a currently working hypothesis. In fact one of the strengths of the scientific method is that it acknowledges this and is continually testing existing hypotheses and "improving" them.

But one of the points of the book is that what "improving" means changes over time. Our overarching narratives of what life means steer our day to day experiences and determine what sort of truths we seek proof for.

While I worry that we appear to have a generation of politicians in charge who have an even more loose than ever grasp of the truth, the fact that it is making apparent how consensual these truths are will, in the long run, prove to be a good thing.

Fear, and loss of control

We love the idea that we have control over our lives and the world around us. A lot of work goes into maintaining this fiction. How much time and effort is spent in business attempting to convince ourselves that we know what is going to happen next and the reasons why?

But do we? How many ten year, even five year, strategies come to pass as so confidently predicted? How many carefully spreadsheeted cashflow predictions turn out exactly as planned? How many of our own goals do we look back on wistfully as another year passes and nothing turned out quite as we had hoped?

Life keeps on happening, without our control. We are out of control. We don't even control our own thoughts never mind the world around us. Deep down we know this and numb ourselves to the fear it induces with mindless media, sugary food, or alcohol.

But something magical happens when we stop worrying about our lack of control. We can still take actions, we can still think thoughts, we can still affect the world around us, we just stop worrying about whether things turn out as we expect. We stop piling stress on top of the lack of knowledge of how things will end up.

Rather than inhibiting us, the acknowledgement of our total lack of control makes it easier for us to take action. We stop worrying and do stuff. We enjoy going along for the ride and worry less about where we are going. In doing so we might just get somewhere magical - again and again.

Getting annoyed

One of the aims of mindfulness and practicing meditation is to get better at responding to things rather than reacting to them. To take calm, appropriate action when needed rather than to get bent out of shape because things aren't how we expect them to be.

This isn't to say that you end up as some chilled out, passive, punch bag for the world. In fact strong but considered responses are more likely to change things for the better than flying off the handle every time the world doesn't confirm to our expectations.

This is why many of us who have been early adopters of the online lifestyle have become interested in meditation. We have experienced the consequences of letting every online spat wind us up. From "don't feed the troll" to "wait an hour before responding to that email" we have developed techniques to mitigate the power that the internet gives people to press our buttons and meditation helps take this further and deeper.

In fact the internet has for me become a way of extending my practice. Noticing when a comment has triggered a response, watching my reactions, feeling my muscles tense and heart race. Really paying attention to my feelings, and in the moment it takes to do this achieving even a modest distancing from my emotional reaction. Realising that I am not that reaction. I am more than that.

Every day we get to see the consequences of people not applying this understanding. Extremes of vitriol and polarised attitudes are becoming widespread. But it doesn't have to be like this. We can learn to do better. We can learn about ourselves. We can use the opportunity to go deeper rather than to flail around on the surface.

Doing the right thing

One of the first questions in BBC staff surveys used to be "Would you defend the BBC?". My first thought was always "That depends on whether we screwed up or not". It seemed such a stupid question that I struggled to take the rest of the survey seriously.

But how often do we really think about whether our organisations are doing the right thing or not? And do we do anything about it if we feel that they aren't?

In my book I wrote about the possibility of using internal social networks to regain some degree of influence over the large corporations that dominate the world of work and which are forever challenging the abilities of governments to control them. I am pretty sure that this potentially disruptive power is partly why their adoption is still rare!

But how else do we respond to that nagging doubt, that feeling of unease? Are we really powerless? Do we really need to keep working for an organisation that we feel is doing the wrong thing?

Or could we dare to have that first conversation with a colleague to share our concerns, to get the ball rolling, to start to take responsibility?

Digital Ethics

Digital Ethics is fast becoming the latest victim of what I call thingification - the tendency to turn a good idea into a thing that gets oversold, underdelivered and becomes a displacement activity that distracts us from the need for real change. But I think it is important that we hold onto the idea that technology amplifies our human characteristics, both good and bad, and literally hard wires them into the tools that increasingly shape our world.

We need to be aware of the moral and ethical consequences of this. Just because we can do amazing things with our new tools doesn't mean that they all necessarily make the world a better place. We can use them for good or ill. What worries me at the moment that who gets to determine what good or ill means is too often a frighteningly small group of people. This is not their fault. It is as much the fault of the rest of the world who still too often stand back and say "I don't do technology".

This is true within organisations too. I watch IT departments making decisions that will have a massive impact on the interactions and ultimately culture within their organisations, while groups like HR, Comms, and even line management adopt a victim mentality and go along with the changes as if they were somehow inevitable.

These groups need to educate and inform themselves enough about technology to fight back, to put a brake on the rampant march of the digitisation of everything. Not to hold back the future but to take ownership of it, to make sure that it works for all of the varied interests and priorities of the organisation. To increase the chances of it turning out well in the end!

Utopia, dystopia, or a more mundane truth in between?

Every time someone sends me a link to an article about how the internet or social media are destroying the very fabric of civilisation I am struck that they wouldn't be able to send me the link without the internet and I wouldn't be able to maintain a connection to them without social media.

I gave up on Cal Newport's books because I got so wearied with someone who I had only heard of through social media wasting half his books telling me what a negative force social media was!

Talking with a friend recently about the early days and John Perry Barlow's Declaration Of Independence Of Cyberspace I found myself wondering, yet again, how much of that original idealism that was so infectious has been lost. But then I thought that it is all about timescales. If you believe that we are at the end of the impact of the internet and that it's potential has been assimilated into business as usual for commerce and politics then there are reasons for pessimism. If you believe, as I do, we are only at the start of a much longer story arc, then the future is less bleak and there is much to be done.

But that doing is much more low key and ordinary than we expect. It is not about becoming the next internet meme, amassing a huge audience on YouTube, or even becoming some sort of guru or expert and inventing a new ism that ends up discarded and tarnished like all of the others.

Someone asked me the other day if I wasn't interested in increasing my impact on the web, employing marketing techniques to increase my profile. They thought that my ideas were important and worth aiming for greater impact. But to do so would be to fall for the very ideas that I am arguing against. I don't want to "maximise my impact", I want it to be what it will be. If I start chasing audience and employing SEO and other internet dark arts then I might as well give up. I would rather build a future post by post, conversation by conversation, thought by thought, modest exchange by modest exchange.

The future is always much more ordinary than we expect. Contrary to popular opinion we can start living it now.

Life imitating art

Having been learning a lot about consciousness, psychedelics, and the origins of computing recently I had my head done in this afternoon by Brandersnatch, the first episode of the new Black Mirror series.

Watching the gob smacking programme I wondered what the origin of the word Brandersnatch was.

Apparently unconnected, recently read references to Alice in Wonderland in Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything mean that my unread copy of The Annotated Alice is on my desk.

But now, in my current kindle reading by Greg Goode on non-duality I stumble across the following from Lewis Carrol"s Jabberwocky.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!”

It's all too much...

Questioning things

Last night I watched a documentary about King George VI which contained lots of archive footage of political events and state occasions many of them during the war.

It struck me that, despite the turmoil of the times, society, in terms of its attitudes to power and the establishment, was so much more trusting and compliant than the attitudes we are experiencing now.

In fact you could argue that part of the reason for people voting leave in the Brexit referendum was a nostalgia for a previously more stable and predictable society. But it has had the opposite effect. The ensuing chaos has left us feeling even less "strong and stable" than we did before.

Likewise in the US. The unpredictable madness of Trump has thrown things up in the air to such a degree that I heard someone comment on a podcast that the next incumbent is going to have a challenge working out what "acting presidentially" even means any more let alone how to do it!

But no matter how uncomfortable all of this change is making us feel in the short term I am increasingly confident that in the long run it will make us stronger.

The falling apart of the myth of stability and predictability that is so carefully maintained by the state and the media is in the long run a good thing. It is waking us up from the collective dream state that we have been conditioned to think is normal.

It feels painful at the moment but questioning things is good for us. It makes us work harder at seeking truth. It makes us feel more alive.

Just what I wanted

Today, as I sat in a large city office in London, with its glass and steel and modern furniture, discussing possible work in Hong Kong, I had to keep pinching myself as the couple of days before I had been driving a truck up and down the M1, staying overnight in a Premier Inn, and delivering in and around the Leeds and Bradford areas.

I'm loving the fact that my two worlds of work are so very, very different!

Magical thinking

One of my first jobs at the BBC was scheduling the use of video and film equipment. We had A3 planning sheets, coloured pencils, a ruler, and an eraser. Resources were arranged vertically down the side and time slots horizontally across the top. You could visually take in lots of information at a glance and make changes in an instant.

And then the system was computerised! We only had a partial view of the information at any one time, we had to remember what it was we were changing and what we were changing it to, and changes were a complex multi step process. We were told this was progress!

Many moons ago I wrote "Is it unfair to characterise the IT industry as a bunch of dodgy characters in cheap suits selling wish fulfilment to out of their depth executives ". Sadly not much has changed.

The IT industry still resorts to the sort of magical thinking peddled by religions of various flavours for millennia. "Perform these rituals, obey these rules, give your power to our priests, and we will take your pain away and deliver a state of bliss/enlightenment/rapture."

Don't fall for magical thinking. Think for yourself, be skeptical, choose your tools and methods very carefully, and avoid priesthoods of any flavour.

Magic in our hands

It never ceases to amaze me how much technological power is at our fingertips these days.

One of the benefits of my alternative career in driving is having time on my own to think, and being able to capture thoughts simply by raising my watch on my wrist and dictating to Siri is incredible.

In fact most of my writing these days is done either by dictation or, as is the case now, by handwriting on my iPad which Good Notes then automatically converts into text.

Like I said, magic. But not just magic for its own sake, magic that makes me more productive, and creative, while having fun at the same time!

Bad weather

This morning I woke up the sound of heavy rain on the window and felt excited. As I said recently - I love rain. On the other hand my wife woke up and said "what awful weather".

Even on Friday when I drove my truck out of the yard with heavy rain obscuring the mirrors, car headlights sparkling and dazzling my view, it felt exciting. Terrifying, but exciting.

I don't tend to do much mountaineering in the summer. It is when the air gets colder, the days shorter, and the exciting prospect of snow becomes a possibility, that I start sorting my kit out and planning trips.

Bad weather feels real, coping with it makes me feel alive and it is so true that "There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!"

It's always the small things...

In the current turmoil brought about by Brexit and Trump it is so easy to think that we need to do something, to take action, to do something grand, to join a movement, to wave banners. But if we see the world as dominated by grand things, big things, things that we have no control over, then we either go numb and feel powerless, or we overreact and provoke a counter-reaction.

But neither Brexit nor Trump happened because of big or grand things, they happened because of the combination of a lot of small things. Conversations that weren't had, daft ideas that weren't discussed, unpleasant attitudes that weren't questioned, power that was deferred to rather than challenged that incrementally got out of hand.

It is only ever the small things that we have any influence over. We need to make sure that we exercise that influence. If we hear someone trashing immigrants, or being nostalgic for an "old days" that never existed, have a conversation with them, or for that matter failing to question the power in Brussels, ask them why they feel that way. Instead of building opposition movements, which just exacerbate the polarity and divisiveness, have lots of brave conversations, all the time, with everyone you meet.

In some ways getting busy with initiatives is easier than having those conversations. It's a bit like at work. Kicking off a grand change programme (ideally involving considerable spend on technology) is easier than facing the existential challenge of behaving differently, of relating to people differently.

It is in our relationships that our real power to change our world lies. We should spend more time focussing on that than on displacement activities.