About this blog

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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  • Eating Animals
    Eating Animals
    by Jonathan Safran Foer


Dalton Caldwell to Mark Zuckerberg

Wanted to capture this here as this letter to Mark Zuckerberg is so spot on - particularly this paragraph:

I believe that future social platforms will behave more like infrastructure, and less like media companies. I believe that a number of smaller, interoperable social platforms with a clear, sustainable business models will usurp you. These future companies will be valued at a small fraction of what Facebook and Twitter currently are. I think that is OK. Platforms are judged by the value generated by their ecosystem, not by the value the platforms directly capture.


The social Olympics

I was asked yesterday to take part in a television interview for associated press on the impact that social media was having on the Olympics and its participants. I wasn’t able to get the logistics sorted out to be able to do the interview but thought I’d jot some reactions down here instead.

There have been a number of instances where athletes have been put under pressure by taking part in online conversations, a particularly nasty piece of aggression towards a British diver from unpleasant teenager, and NBC making a right mess of scheduling its output and winding up a lot of people on the web. Lots of grey areas, and few absolute rights and wrongs in all of this.

It is fascinating to watch individual athletes bumping up against online accountability (as in the reaction to the racist tweet by the Greek triple jumper and the consequences of not knowing when to stop using social media) in a very basic and almost naïve way. We all have the potential these days to end up in the public eye and need to be able to make better decisions, about what we say and think, and to stand by them.

This post from fleet street fox makes an interesting comparison between our reaction to Paul Chambers, the accountant convicted for his tweet about Robin Hood Airport, and our very different reaction to “Reece Sonny James”, the foul mouthed teenager from Dorset hassling Tom Daley. Thankfully common sense prevailed in the Paul Chambers case but sadly we appear to have forgotten it very quickly. As I said in my book we all have a volume control on mob rule and we need to exercise this responsibility wisely.

Mix in Twitter’s over-reaction to British journalist criticism of NBC and the Olympic committee asking us to tweet less about events so that it doesn’t screw up the TV coverage and you have a fascinating mix of naivety, human fallibility, and institutional over-reaction in various forms. Lots of steep learning curves here and I am sure there will be lots of material for academic studies of the events and their consequences.

Even after thirty years we are still in the early stages of learning what to do with this powerful communication tool we have been given. I would be very wary of making too many rigid decisions about what is the right or wrong way to deal with any of the situations we have seen and certainly very wary of enshrining our reactions in law. For me the most reassuring aspect of all of these incidents is that the Internet isn’t the problem - our behaviours and existing culture are the problem. What the Internet does is make us more aware of our weaknesses and mistakes and gives us a greater opportunity to do something about them. In the long run I reckon this will be seen as a good thing.


State Of The Net 2012

Nice to have a professionally shot video of my keynote at State Of The Net 2012 in Trieste earlier this summer. In it I go into some of the themes of my book and get a bit more philosophical than I usually do.


I can feel another book coming on ...

I really enjoyed the process of writing my book Organizations Don't Tweet - People Do and miss getting my teeth into longer form writing. I have a six week tour of Australia coming up in October and November with lots of time possibly spent in hotel rooms so I am tempted to use that time to focus on writing another one.

Last time I warmed up by reading books about the craft of writing and I am doing the same again, this time focussing more on how to self publish in various forms. I fancy writing a series of shorter more targeted books and publishing them on Kindle or iBooks.

The topics I am toying with at the moment are:

How to become confident at writing about your work

How the social web can save 25% of the cost of doing business.

A new business literacy for a new business world

Any suggestions as to other areas of the use of social in business that people would find useful for me to cover or areas of my first book that you would like me to cover in more depth?


Our job

“When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree.The world is perfect.It’s a mess. It has always been a mess.

We are not going to change it.

Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”

~ Joseph Campbell


Changing the world one word at a time

One of the main benefits of saying what you think in a public place like the web is that you attract people to you through your opinion and ideas. All of my work comes through word of mouth or through people having read my blog or book and getting in touch. The most obvious benefit for me, and one I feel grateful for every day, is that I get to work with likeminded people who are seeking the same sort of things as I am. By writing about the possibilities the web affords us to make the world a better place I attract people who want to make the world a better place. Every day I get to work with people who are really intent on improving things and doing so through better management practices and empowering people. As a result my days are mostly spent with really nice people doing really important things.

This is what I believe is available to everyone. Writing about what you do, why you do it, and the possibilities you see to improve the world around you has never been easier or more effective. If you work in an organisation and have the possibility of internal blogging or its equivalent you get to influence others and be seen to be someone who knows what they are talking about. You have more opportunity than ever before to shape the world around you. 

Obviously doing this in the confines of an organisation can be more problematic than it is for those of us working independently. You may have a boss whose view of the world is very different from yours or you may be in a very structured environment where your opportunities for influence are limited. Even in these circumstances, and even if your ability to say what you think in public is limited, say it to yourself! Keep a private blog. Write your ideas down for your own benefit. Explore what is possible and set out your thinking in writing. It will help you to work out what you think and what you can do about it and then when opportunities arise, however small, you will be in a position to make the most of them. 


Fear of Freedom

I recently finished reading Erich Fromm's wonderful book Fear of Freedom. Written during the rise of Nazi Germany it explores the historical and cultural reasons why many found it easier to comply with authority or cultural norms than to think for themselves.

He writes of the confusion of the middle classes as the stability of the Middle Ages crumbles along with the dominance of the church. How many filled this vacuum with the austerity of Calvinism as they dealt with the challenge of being in a world of fallen individuals rather than part of a well ordered if rigid existence.

It struck me while reading it how fresh and relevant the ideas were. How applicable they are to the challenges facing many of my clients in the world of work. Our old worlds of corporate stability are crumbling - the job for life, status and authority from a fixed place in the hierarchy, individual certainty at the price of loss of soul. Many feel at sea and unsure of how to proceed. The old world is broken but we can't see the shores of a new one yet.

These are scary times indeed and we are ill prepared for the individual challenges they represent. But exciting times too. The prospect of individual freedom is there if we grab it. In my book I write about the opportunity to grow up, to wake up, and to individually and collectively seize the opportunity to shape the world when it is in an unusually malleable state.

Who knows where we are headed but the journey can be fun!


Video of my panel at Le Web on charities' use of the social web


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. 


This fragile life

Back in the early days of blogging, twelve years ago for me, it was a much smaller, much more connected world. It felt like we were living next together rather than separated as we were by, in some cases, thousands of miles. We built up some pretty close friendships that in most cases have lasted to this day. 

I was therefore really sad to hear through that network of the illness of one of our number, Michael O’Connor Clarke, with esophageal cancer cancer. The challenges he and his family now face just serve to remind me of how fragile life is and how important our friends are.

If you want to help, his friends have set up a support page here.


Are you prepared?

In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce.

It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time - literally - substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves.

And society is totally unprepared for it.

- Peter Drucker


Let the people play

Let people waste time with social tools. Don't ban them or bury them in rules. Encourage people to play and discover how they work.

When they get bored they'll start to do real work in a way you never imagined possible.


Knowledge Harvesting

I have often made fun of the knowledge management phrase "knowledge harvesting" as it sounds like some sort of cerebral milking machine, sucking the good stuff from staff's skulls and leaving the empty husks discarded outside the office door.

Just realised that is exactly what Facebook is doing!!


Daylite 4 disappointment

I've been a long time user of Daylite, the Mac CRM and task manager from Market Circle, and had invested a lot in learning it and customising it. Over time I found the poor task management frustrating and moved to Omnifocus which I love.
I watched effort going into Market Circle's invoicing app Billings, which I gave up using as the integration with Daylite never worked, and their iPad apps, which I don't use, and kept waiting and waiting for the Mac app to get some attention.
When the new version arrived yesterday I was genuinely excited as I still want a way to integrate my GTD with contact management. But what a disappointment. It feels like they have shuffled the deckchairs rather than really improved anything. Managing contacts and lists seems if anything harder, adding todo's is a multi step process, and not to have a system wide way of adding new tasks is a deal breaker. I know their CEO AJ says it is on the way but they said that about Daylite 4 for years!!
Sorry to appear grumpy but I am genuinely frustrated and don't see any way I could justify the $179.95 USD price tag to "upgrade". 
Oh well, off to look again at Salesforce ...


Out of time we cut "days" and "nights", "summers" and "winters". We say what each part of the sensible continuum is, and all these abstract whats are concepts.

The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.

- William James


Me and Linkedin

Chris Brogan blogged recently about his decision to close his Linkedin account. This got me thinking, yet again, about whether I should do the same. 

I have been in Linked in for nine years, having been user number 1400 or so out of 100 million. It is useful for keeping up to date with the people I know's changes of circumstance but little more.

I keep trying to get involved in the various Linkedin groups I am a member of but a few things drive me away.

The first is the interface which throws away nearly thirty years of experience with online forums and either doesn't do, or does badly, most of the basics of online discussions.

The second is the feeling that it is slipping into the Ecademy nightmare of desperate out of work consultants pouncing on corporate folks like piranhas seeing meat. Many otherwise interesting threads end up either spammy or "me too". 

Ironically the third thing that drives me away is the thing that I suspect makes it appealing to others. It is too safe and too corporate. It feels bland and lifeless. Despite having no great affection for Facebook I spend more time in there because at least the discussions are more free flowing and lively. 

Unlike Chris I am going to keep my account, and make the most of having a self updating address book, but it is a shame it never became more for me.  


Dodgy characters

Many moons ago I wrote a blog post asking:

"Is it unfair to characterise the IT industry as dodgy characters in cheap suits selling wish fulfilment to out of their depth executives?"

Sadly those guys have now moved on to package and sell social into the business world. People are being fleeced for over engineered, over priced and over sold bloatware. This is not in anyone's long term best interests.


Happiness is ...

Happiness is a newly mown lawn. And yet how hard it is to get started. I will do anything but get that mower out and have even been known to hope for rain on a day I have agreed to cut the grass.

But the quiet satisfaction of getting it done is so sweet. The slightly aching muscles, the smell of petrol and newly mown grass, the neat, alternating, light and dark lines drawing your eye down the centre of the garden. It feels good for a short while. I resolve to try harder next time.

But I know I won't ...


Paperless Field Guide

Paperless Field Guide was my first experience of reading an interactive book created with iBook Author and what a great experience it was. Written by David Sparks, author of iPad At Work and presenter of Mac Power Users, it is packed with really useful information on how to go paperless using the various Apple devices. David has done a terrific job of deploying the multimedia capabilities of this format to the maximum effect without going mad with them. The book is really easy to read, clear, and very, very useful. Highly recommended. (Requires an iPad)

Screen Shot 2012 05 12 at 04 20 19


Orange and the over systematisation of life.

As some of you who have seen my grumpy tweets will know I have been having significant problems with my broadband access from Orange over the last few weeks. It would run fine for a while then go for days only managing to stay connected for a few minutes at a time - apparently more than 500 disconnections! Given how much I work online and with a family all wanting to use the web for all sorts of things, this is a not insignificant irritation.

Things started going badly from from the beginning. When I moved to them in November  Orange got my login details mixed up with another customer. When I pointed this out I was told that they couldn't correct this simple bit of information and that I would have to start again with the ten day registration process. I said this was nonsense and to get around it I now have to log in under this other customer's login name.

They then failed to cancel my previous ISP causing double payments on my account for a couple of months which led me to two sets of call centre hell to sort out.

This more recent technical problem involved approximately 30 phone calls to Orange technical support who insisted on conducting about 8 line tests because that was part of their rigid system. They also replaced my modem, triggered a visit by a BT engineer and lost my landline as well for half a day. On top of this they closed the fault twice because we had triggered some time delay or particular response from some part of their check list. I would then have them announce that the fault had been resolved while I still had no broadband access!

The reason I am writing this post though is to comment about the over systematisation of everything. Each time I called the Orange operatives in the call centre in India they wanted to start from scratch with their script. Literally. If I am ever asked again if I am using a wired or wireless connection I will scream. Not only that but no one seemed to know anything about what had happened previously. There was no one apart from me seeing the whole picture. It was like being in my own Groundhog Day nightmare. It was all very frustrating.

No one really owned my problem. Not even the databases that stored my info owned the problem. And when the system didn't work no one was willing, or able, to step out of it and take responsibility for solving my problem. As I said in a pointless email exchange with a gatekeeper in the chief execs office their company was in a race to the bottom with other ISP's reducing costs to such an extent that their product was becoming unusable. I had little confidence that moving to another ISP would make a lot of difference as their whole industry is afflicted with the same corner cutting mentality. Feeling stuck in this disembodied, call centre hell is an unfortunately common experience these days with all sorts of services.

I got to the stage where I didn't care how much my service cost so long as it worked or at the very least I got looked after well when it didn't. In response to some advice from friends I have switched to Zen who cost more but who I understand still employ grown ups who can take responsibility for solving my problem and aren't hamstrung by a broken system. Here's hoping!