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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Being Human

In order for the promised benefits of Enterprise 2.0 to become reality people have to be prepared to say what they think. Sadly in conversation about this many people say something along the lines of "most people don't want to think". I am beginning to suspect they may be right. The biggest challenge to getting people to share isn't to do with technology it is to do with very personal challenges and issues that relate to their sense of self and their relationship with their employers. I find it really sad that through school and into the workplace it can become not worthwhile, or even dangerous, to think while at work. What was it about the corporate world that made this seem a sensible outcome? What was it about the individuals and the culture that made this a reality for many? What can we do to help make it different in the future?

I am going to tackle this topic in my session "Being Human" at Social Business Edge in New York in a couple of weeks time. My blurb for that session is as follows:

This whole Enterprise 2.0 thing can make it seem as if we are talking about something radically new but aren't we just getting back to the future? Aren't we just in a small way rediscovering being human at work? The whole Protestant work ethic thing about work being hard and dour and even scary has become so pervasive in so many workplaces that it has made sense to leave a large part of ourselves at the door when we arrive at work. But aren't we leaving the best parts behind? The creative part, the social part, the very attributes that make us human and enable us to be the best we can be? How do we help this inclination to be more human at work to grow? How do we allow ourselves to tap the most effective parts of our characters in a place where to do so has, in many cases, been downright dangerous?


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  • Response
    Why don't people speak up and ask questions? Is it the standard list of concerns around why people lurk? Euan Semple suggests there is something else going on in the sociology of people: they are afraid to speak their mind.

Reader Comments (36)

I suspect that fear of the consequences of 'rocking the boat' is part of the answer.

In which case wrong things go unchallenged, in fact they get amplified.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Tebbutt

Totally agree. There is a collusive, bullying, force in business that is dangerous for all sorts of reasons.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Ken Robinson's Out of Our Minds covers it well. The whole education system stifles cretivity and funnels us toward conformity and risk avoidance with the emphasis on standards and testing, That then follows on in to the hierarchy of the workplace, where knowledge is power and being a maverick isn't the way you climb the "greasy pole". The new tools are amplifying the infomal social networks that were always there (your being human idea) in the work place. Peoples behaviour is changing and so the buiness culture will have to change and follow. This picture from Delta 7 shows it brilliantly:

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Terrar

Indeed. My experience is that the leaders in the best organisations actually cherish mavericks, they know they need them. The issue can be in the middle tier who may lack that vision...possibly. I didn't really mean that of course. Oh no.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRussell

It is cultural; more people are prepared to speak up in Australia than here in the UK. And the notion of finding work difficult is now actually resisted in many of the more enlightened industries. Indeed, there are ample examples of research into work that indicate a correlation between happy and included employees and productivity (check http://scholar.google.com for examples). But speaking up and thinking won't translate to action unless thinking is taking in to account implications for action. I'd argue that fear of litigation arising from implications of actions is far more of an impediment to change in the workplace than speaking up to suggest change. Humanity is less of an issue than greed.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne Jacobs

I'm not so sure it's that much better elsewhere Joanne. You may be right about Australia but all over Europe and even in the US I see a lot of folks holding back.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by the fear of litigation and greed?

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

People become entrenched and all-knowing in a role (yeah right) therefore thinking becomes a challenge to their ego, authority and security. If I had a pound for everytime i've heard 'but we've always done it this way' I'd have, well, loads.

A new web savvy breed is growing up. They know more about what they don't know than what they do know and are quite happy sourcing info/advice and teaming up quickly (clustering?) to solve problems in ways unknowable by the dominant bureacracies likely to herald the sociocide (?) I've literally just been reading about in Clay Shirky's Blog yesterday about collapse.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAl Tepper

I'd agree about the feeling of being challenged Al and believe it is often fear induced as people get pushed up the greasy pole beyond their comfort levels. I wrote a bit about the repressive effect this has in my post The Price Of Pomposity

Thanks for dropping by!

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

The corporate for whom I work part-time told me (via line manger) that I must seek permission before doing any media work IN MY OWN TIME. This made me furtive in my activities outside the company and I censored what appeared online about me via search engines. I considered leaving the company. I now have a new line manager who totally "gets it" that my private work enhances my credibility and relationships with the key customers of the company. I am treated as one of the customers' team, rather than an outside supplier. Sales happen whilst I am engrossed in taking care of those key customers' needs. I am much happier and more effective in the role since this change took place. Everyone wins.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMC

Large command and control organisations view the workforce as interchangeable generalists so fitting to the expected perception quashes any individuality or creativity. Policy, protocols and roles are predefined and measured accordingly. This may be more prevalent in the public sector

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersusanfrost

Large command and control organisations view the workforce as interchangeable generalists so fitting to the expected perception quashes any individuality or creativity. Policy, protocols and roles are predefined and measured accordingly

Job descriptions, job evaluation & pay grades, reporting relationships, siloed work objectives and performance management, bla di bla bla bla .. and so on.

Speaking out, speaking up, suggesting other ways of doing things HAS been dangerous for quite a while. The way work has been / is 'designed' did not foresee human-centered networks.

I am sure your presentation will be insightful and provocative.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon H.

It's telling, Euan, that my first thought was you were sounding seditious. I spent over twenty years in an Aerospace firm that was - at least in the early days - Reagan country. Being "liberal", "open", or even "honest" if one's views differed from the norm, was very dangerous and I learned to toe the line . . . at least visibly.

There are so many things that need to change, it's daunting to contemplate them. Communication, Rewards & Recognition, Compensation, Motivation, Decision Making, Risk Analysis, Collaboration, Participation, blah, blah, blah. Until our organizations see these things as interrelated, and recognize the systemic nature of our enterprises, we won't be able to fully realize our humanity, IMLTHO.

Ironically, and with more than a modicum of chagrin, I find having accepted a golden handshake at my place of business has given me the freedom to be a little more outspoken than I already was. Not too outspoken, though, as I'd like to come back as a consultant once in a while. :-)

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick Ladd

That last point about judging what you can and can't say is such an important point though Rick. Organisations act as though their employees are out to cause trouble and will bring the house down if not kept in check while in reality we all, well most of us, know our responsibilities and will try to do the right thing.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I've noticed particularly in the USA, a strong disinformation tendency. A group of bully boys appear on a network posting "information" from some "think tank" that appears to be topical, but is actually mere propaganda.

This isn't helpful to a conversation. The attackers invest nothing of themselves, but to reply in any sensible way, to take the comments seriously, you have to invest a great deal of yourself. I run an Innovation Forum, here:

Leading up to the COP15 Conference in Copenhagen, that forum was swamped with posts attacking climate change science. I spent the best part of three weeks chasing false leads, and never really getting on top of the issue. I do understand why Prof. Phil Jones, felt under attack by the incessant demands for his opponents for "more detailed information".

The problem with social forums and in-house forums at work, is that some people choose to use anti-social rules of engagement. I did find a solution. I insisted that each post included a personal statement that committed the person making the post to stating plainly a personal point of view. (Else the post would be deleted.) Three of the posters immediately quit. One other continued briefly, rapidly exposed his feet of clay, he ended up being heavily taken to task by several people who had been lurking, in silent mode, in the background for many weeks.

I have a commitment to free speech, but I'm been abused personally, because of that. (It's annoying but it doesn't bother me much.) Much worse in my view is the time wasted by all the members of a forum, because one member misbehaves. Human groups have an essential social structure that requires all the members to obey reasonable (usually unwritten) social rules. It only takes one person's abuse of such rules to kill any chance of having an open discussion. I have written about this issue here too.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Stephen Veitch

Thank you David Terrar, for the link to Delta7. Very interesting.

Looking at the other responses, what we see inside companies is the exercise of "political truth". Who has the power to decide what the "truth" is?

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Stephen Veitch

Were the forums that caused trouble anonymous John?

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Talking politics with people IRL and on the web certainly does give you the impression that people by and large (with notable exceptions) do not want to think. They want to have predictable neurons of tribal solidarity and righteous outrage fired off. It's almost sexual in structure, and definitely addictive -- monotonous, repetitive, a reliable provider of a certain pleasure or relief of tension. But as far as laying down a new mental track or standing in someone else's human shoes, that offers only the unknown and dubious.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramba

From which I speculate that people who do like to think, to have new thoughts, to see from new points of view, have learned to get off on it. Maybe it's the mental equivalent of the temperament of the physical thrill-seeker.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramba

I spent over twenty years in an Aerospace firm that was - at least in the early days - Reagan country. Being "liberal", "open", or even "honest" if one's views differed from the norm, was very dangerous and I learned to toe the line . . . at least visibly.

Lest anyone think this is a one-sided phenomenon, I have friends who have found uniformly liberal workplaces every bit as intolerant.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramba

Cracking comments Amba! :-)

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I am with you - I think that we are part of a huge development cycle as a species that replicates what it is for each one of us.

We begin as an innocent child - who is at one with her mum and with the universe - we live in wonder and exploration - the early pre ag humans.

In Early Ag - We grow into a child - we detach from mum but are attached to our parents as rule makers - Kings God etc - we are obedient kids - our own wonder is replaced by the stories of the mysteries as told to us by Dad. We are still connected by blood.

I think that we are now teens - Industrial Ag - we want to belong - we think nothing of the future - it is all about me - but we are also very conformist - we pay most attention to peers and wisdom is gone - its all about show. We are separated from nature and our own innate nature.

If I am right then we are ready for the next phase.

Might the real first adult and generative stage be ahead? Where we have to create a home for our children - where we care about the future - where we start to experience the forces of time both behind and forward - where we know that only a community can offer us what we truly need?

Of course this is not the final stage of a person's development and if I am right and our development is fractal, then we have the wisdom phase further ahead.

If I am right then this is not all easy either. The terrible twos separated the infant from the child - the end of hunter gatherer must of been hell. Is this not the story of the bible? Where the new herders exterminate the followers of the Goddess.

The end of the teen years is when our kids are the most destructive to themselves and to society. Is this not us now?

What I am so hopeful about now is that every day I meet more people who have broken through to adulthood - it's not an age thing. Some are 60, some are 21.

When I woke up about 17 years ago, I thought I was going mad - so much so that I entered treatment! There were a few hippies out there and the self improvement movement but to think then as so many think today was to be utterly rejected.

That is no longer the case. I see almost enough for there to be critical mass.

The 2.0 world has helped immensely - as the press helped the reformation - it got us better connected than them. Many of us are not natural joiners - think Johnnie and me. But this connected us and gave us a refuge.

Sorry about the long comment but you got me going and I have also started my 15 year old germinating book on this idea and I am bursting with feelings and thoughts

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob Paterson

No need to apologise Rob! I love the idea of us "growing up" as a species. Have you read "Sex, Time and Power" by Leonard Shlain? He talks about the current speed of change resulting in a phase shift for our species. I blogged it here.

April 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterEuan

I see someone has already mentioned Ken Robinson - IMO people turn up at work already conditioned to be this way. Most bosses would love people to bring more of themselves and their creativity to work.

Industrial Education is at the root of the problem.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Tedd

Euan asks:
"Were the forums that caused trouble anonymous John?"

No Euan, the forums in Ryze expect people to use their real names. You can see what happened here. (This forum if open for the public to read.)

35 Inconvenient Truths, quoting Christopher Monckton.
My immediate response was to open a Wiki on the topic, but people refused to use it. There were then five post from three people claiming that climate science was fraudulent.

As forum moderator I tried desperately to talk sense to these guys in this post.
But the effort was eating up hours and hours of my time. (Also the time of several others I later discovered.)

After that the non-debate got quite out of hand. You can read the evidence for yourself, but please don't spend three weeks on it. It's not worth that much time.

April 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Stephen Veitch

John I think the role of forum moderator is a complex and often thankless one.

April 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

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