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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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Thursday
Jun282012

Feel the fear

It is so important not to forget how unfamiliar the web and social tools are to most people.

Working, as I do, mostly with managers in their forties and fifties I would say that 90% are unsure of themselves online. Yes they are on Facebook and Linkedin, and some of them have Twitter accounts, but their use of these tools is predominantly passive. They are consuming rather than creating stories.

This is why when you suggest seriously that not only do they begin writing down what they think in these tools, but do so in the context of work, there is that familiar look of unease bordering or outright fear.

"Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say?", "What on earth would I write about?" "Won't people find me boring" - all this from people who, face to face, are fascinating and have really interesting stories to tell about challenging jobs in exciting businesses. 

Forget paying eye watering sums of money for enterprise platforms - this is where the real work is. 

Reader Comments (10)

Euan, I couldn’t agree more that this is where the main work is if organizations are to gain real benefit from the web and social tools and often totally neglected as tools and platforms are implemented.

Fear invokes an automatic threat response in people, which we then rationalize this with excuses you list and more; “I don’t have time”, “Who is the audience, who will read this”, “I don’t want to receive negative feedback”, “this is not a priority”, “I don’t know how to use the tool” and so on. I remember sitting with one VP encouraging her to use one of our internal social media tools, finally got her to write something, but it was yet another challenge to get her to actually preset the SHARE button.

My analogy is swimming, no matter how much time and effort I spend trying to convince you that being able to swim is a positive experience, and even a life saver, you cannot learn to swim in practice without getting wet. If you are not able to overcome your fear of water you will obviously never swim.

So in my opinion we need to help leaders overcome their fear, reduce the perceive threat to their status, sense of control, help them to become more comfortable so that they and their organization start to experience some of the rewards.

Perhaps some basic exercises at a comfortable depth are needed before plunging in the deep end?

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Hanwell

It's somewhat ironic. When someone isn't on an email chain or invited to a meeting, egos are twisted wickedly out of shape for chance they may have something to contribute.

Ask someone to blog or micro-blog without the crutch of an email chain or meeting request and they morph into a slapstick comedy version of, "will anyone care?"

There's more creativity and courage by the 6 year-old setting up shop at the sidewalk lemonade stand.

Egads.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan Pontefract

Sadly, they are also made to feel like dinosaurs in these spaces, when actually they're not - there are as many youngsters who find it all slightly overwhelming.

I made the mistake a few years back of sharing a Socialnomics type video with some people I was working with, thinking it's that they didn't get how important social media is to them. One very kindly told me over a coffee break that it was the sheer size and speed of it made it frightening.

I think sometimes we forget that it's not knowing too little, but understanding too much that can be offputting: you don't get to manage people without understanding some of the complexities of human interaction. Online those complexites are not only magnified, but stay there.

As the comment above shows (Dan), sometimes empathy is a little thin on the ground.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaire Thompson

I agree 'fear' of what to say is an issue. For others it's giving them a business reason (and they don't always see what that reason is).

I do think technology matters. It needs to be easy once we've made the first step to participation and a lot of platforms we use aren't easy to use let alone access when the mood takes us. As soon as it gets difficult some revert to type and never come back.

But as you say Euan, the hard work is the initial conversation. Excite and enthuse them about the possibilities, let them see of rhemselves, they'll overcome the technology barrier.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Thomas

I completely agree with you final sentence: "Forget paying eye watering sums of money for enterprise platforms - this is where the real work is". That's why I am developing change management programmes with a focus on the new of working: networked working. I collaborate with different support services (such as HR) in order to coordinate this awareness and build the skills and compentences that are needed in the networked organisation.

Almost four years ago a client asked me for advice on starting to use Twitter and I said "Follow interesting people, and share interesting things." Since then, I've used that formula on a variety of people, from craft potters to family law barristers. It's the only rule I've ever needed.

The way into social media is to read, and listen, and then join in. Lots of people worry that their own ideas won't be interesting, but everybody knows what holds their interest. And once you feel what an authentic, interesting point of view sounds like in your own field, it's easier to find your own voice.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGordon Rae

Absolutely spot on! This is the fallibility of elephant-size social platforms - which I saw time and time again in my experiences. I think simple tools that do one defined job really well, is the answer - and built a couple in my new venture, Amiweb. We're keeping their details under wraps at present. Further, if they integrate right into the flow and do something really obvious - it's common sense that they will be easier to play with and incite less fear and accumulate less participation anxiety.

More than this - the participation inequality that does result from web or closed collaborative circles may be proof that light point-and-click sharing, rather than inviting or engineering explicit collaboration could be the real answer to adoption. To echo your point, I think that simply reading curated/other content is hugely under-rated. There is immense value in reading the right things in the right form in an age of overload - without being badgered into pressing the 'like' button and commenting.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmit

I read this last week and its stayed with me as a fine summary of the challenges of persuading senior execs/leaders to participate. To illustrate how it was always thus, last night I was reading an early history of the BBC and its first leader; John Reith and thought this anecdote illustrated Euan's point that its not so much the tools, in this case a fledgling magazine, as the fear. So forgive me for sharing these couple of quotes... (Euan - you might already know this story..!)

Reith, in 1922, leant on the BBC's Board of Directors to adopt a resolution so that the BBC would immediately appoint "an individual to deal with propaganda, publicity, and the production of a magazine". This led of course to the launch of the best selling magazine of the 20th century; the Radio Times. The downside for Reith unfortunately though was that he was (according to the magazine's history) "press-ganged" into writing a weekly column for the magazine called "Whats in the Air ?". In his diary he called it amusingly "an awful plague" and his first piece perhaps chimes with the initial thoughts of those business chiefs that Euan perfectly encapsulates above ...


I had hoped to evade active participation in this venture. I imagined I was already fully busy. The Editor's views and mine apparently differ on what constitutes a week's work. Perhaps, however, he will discover that journalism is not my long suit. I wonder what he will do: there is some delicacy in the position. Perhaps he will come to me and report that he is dissatisfied with the "What's in the Air?" column and ask authority to dispense with the services of the contributor. He will get it"

This was Oct 1923. 89 years ago...
As it turned out Reith rather took to the column which this wry response on the BBC's first
birthday in Nov 1923 shows.


"I was somewhat vexed by the insinuation made by one correspondent, who made humorous references to bottles consumed on the birthday evening. I hope the spontaneous good spirits of our announcers at [the BBC/2LO] on that occasion were not misinterpreted by any other listeners. This should have gone without saying"

Now if the advisers of the BBC at the time could persuade the notoriously austere John Charles Wesham Reith then...

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJem Stone

Cracking story Jem - thanks for sharing it!

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I think there's an additional factor at play here. Much of what senior managers do actually has little or nothing to do with their industry or their client markets. It's about their own organisation, channels and products. And when it is about their clients, it's often confidential. Probably 95% of the most interesting things they think or do is confidential, or they have become accustomed to seeing it as confidential.

Private enterprise social platforms are a good way to build confidence that can then be taken into the public realm, while also getting what a lot of executives say they miss; direct strategic communications and feedback from their workforce.

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRon Hayden

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