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



“What day is it,?" asked Pooh.

"It's today," squeaked Piglet.

"My favorite day," said Pooh.


ht Dina Mehta


iTunes for journalism (reprise)

Some time ago I suggested iTunes for journalism and compared newspapers to albums - having to buy two crap tracks along with the six you really want. Why not build an RSS playlist of journalists you rate rather than having to pay for all the stuff you don't?


This tweet from Mark W. Smith suggests taking the next step and giving journalists their own platform - at least for longer form pieces. I know all the arguments about the need to fund good investigative or foreign journalism but this might in the long term prove an interesting alternative.


The web ain't what it used to be

It was interesting to read The Guardian's interview with Sergei Brin today in which he expresses concern about commercial interests and governments damaging some of the principles that have made the web so successful, and Google so successful at searching it.

I was lucky enough to meet Sergei years ago at the first Super Nova conference in Palo Alto just before their IPO. We were each allowed to ask him one question. My question was what he was going to do, being an American company with, at the time, most of its servers on American soil, when the US Government asked them to index some bits of the web better than others or in some other way tried to control their activities.

He didn't really have an answer but from his comments in The Guardian interview it would seem he has been trying harder to come up with some recently.


Wordsworth on blogging

O reader! Had you in your mind

Such stores as silent thought can bring,

O, gentle reader! You would find

A tale in everything.

- William Wordsworth


Destructive criticism

"Destructive criticism is the biggest single enemy of human potential. It is worse than cancer or heart disease. While those diseases can ultimately lead to the deterioration and death of an individual, destructive criticism kills the soul of the person but leaves the body walking around." - Brian Tracy


Flexing our muscles

It is really interesting to watch first the Internet population's ability to turn back SOPA through the strength of a collective response, and now to watch both the phenomenon of KONY2012 and, more interestingly, it's backlash.

Part of me loves the way ideas can spread so effectively and so quickly on the Internet, and part of me is worried by it. In "real life" we have all sorts of social and practical constraints on our righteous indignation. On the web we don't have such constraints.

We need to individually take responsibility for our power to amplify, or to ignore, each wave of ideas as they pass through the internet. We need to apply our own filters and make our own judgements as to the truth or otherwise of what we are passing on. As I wrote in my book we all have a volume control on mob rule and we need to learn to use it.


The "thingification" of social media

Last week I took part in several events at Social Media Week London. It is an amazing event and kudos to Sam Michel and his team at Chinwag for helping make it happen.

I met loads of interesting people and had lots of interesting conversations but came away bemused by the amount of business there is doing something for people that I believe they should be doing for themselves. We have turned social media into a thing that can be bought and sold and are attempting to industrialise something that I believe is organic. Just turning it into a thing is problematic (thanks to Mark Foden for the word "thingification") and I had a few rants about this throughout the week.

You can watch one below!


Sky News, The BBC, and Twitter

Head up arseImage by wstera on Flickr

Interesting watching the fuss about Sky News and now The BBC putting limits on how their journalists use Twitter to break stories. I have been talking about the growing tension between individual journalists' brands and those of their employers for a long time. In fact three years ago I toyed with the idea of iTunes for journalism and used the above graphic on the story!

As Matthew Ingram, writing on Giga Om, says:

if a single tweet from someone on your staff gives away enough of the value of your story that you have to forbid it, you have a lot bigger problems than just breaking news on Twitter.

Increasingly, institutions hold smart people back.



It's all about pointing

Robert Scoble has a bit of a rant today about the open web being dead and does a bit of trolling against Dave Winer and others who fight for open standards. He may be right. "Most people" may experience the web through closed systems like Facebook and Google+ rather than directly through blogs and RSS. Part of me feels that this is like AOL in the old days and that however attractive walled gardens may be in the short term the open web wins out in the long term. The other part of me wonders if it matters.

What is powerful about the web is our ability to find things and then indicate our feelings about them by linking to them. As David Weinberger says every link is an act of generosity. This may be a direct link from or blog or it may be a "like" in Facebook or a "plus" in Google+ - does it matter?

It matters when people start telling us what we can and can't link to and that is the risk of proprietary systems. Much of the web is now "owned" by corporate interests and these, while they may provide most people with most of their experience of the web, will ultimately be eroded and replaced by the evolution of the web itself. I am reminded - yet again - of Bob Khan's point that the hacker mentality will always stay ahead of those attracted to corporate or institutional thinking. Whatever the mass may do most of the time there will always be edglings and to claim that Facebook or Google have killed off the open web is naive.


Just for the record ...

Banning social sites at work is for wimps - real managers have conversations with their time wasters about wasting time.


Organizations Don't Tweet now out in hardback

Looks like Amazon now have my book Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do on their "shelves"!

Something I hadn't realised previously was that my publisher John Wiley & Sons is able to do special runs of the book with individualised company inserts such as a frontispiece or introduction. They are also able to publish individual chapters, or selections of chapters bound in special editions. A number of clients are also buying in bulk which is great as the book was primarily written as an influencing tool for those trying to get traction with the social web in big organisations. Do get in touch if you would like to find out more about this by emailing me at euan [at] euansemple [dot] com



Andrew McAfee has an interesting post about The Surprising Benefits Of Solitude in HBR. In it he questions some of the assumptions of collaborative working in "the real" world that tend to be taken for granted. He also suggests that people working together online can avoid some of the dysfunction and group think that sharing the same space can lead to. I recently wrote an article for a corporate real estate newsletter about the changing needs for space that we can expect to see over the next few years. In it I suggest that people will become increasingly aware of where they work better and for which activities. Some will be better at working in the same space and some will be better done online. It will be the transitions that will be interesting.

Spookily, shortly before I read Andrew's article, I ordered Solitude from Amazon. Its description includes: "In a series of biographical sketches it demonstrates how many of the creative geniuses of our civilization have been solitary, by temperament or circumstance, and how the capacity to be alone is, even for those who are not creative, a sign of maturity."

What do you reckon. Is our need to work together in the same space over rated?



There is something testing about putting your thoughts in writing, especially in public. The discipline of being forced to consider “Is this really what I think?. What will people’s response be when they see what I think? What will the consequences be when they see what I think? Will I be OK with that?” This self scrutiny is a good thing.

I was asked recently to sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement) and as usual responded that, to me, being asked to sign such a piece of paper indicates a lack of trust. It is hardly worth the paper it is written on in terms of regulating my behaviour. However the social web does. Particularly for those of us who live much of our lives online. We are very accountable. If we mess up, or do something reprehensible, any criticism of us will be immediately visible online and will therefore have an immediate effect on our reputation. I believe that, over time, this accountability brings with it an increased integrity. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

This is true not just of individuals but of groups, organizations and society itself. This is the end game for me, seeing an increase in people’s visible and public engagement with life and a consequent improvement in our collective accountability. If we all have our thoughts out there, in writing for all to see, then we will have to think harder about what we are doing and why. This has to be a good thing.


The olympic spirit

The olympic games communications team have rightly been being criticised for imposing constraints on the use of social media by volunteers for the duration of the games. This is naïve on so many levels.

It is a missed opportunity. Allowing volunteers to be part of communication about the event could have generated so much genuine involvement and enthusiasm. Any official use of the tools is likely to be stilted and ineffective in comparison. Trying to control use of the social web in this way in this day and age is impractical. It makes the organisers look stupid.

They are not alone. Most people running our institutions don’t understand what is happening and don’t know what to do about it. They pay agencies to do it for them and the agencies themselves don’t understand what is going on, or find it challenging and try to retain their own form of control.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This is not rocket science.


In an orderly fashion

From our earliest days at school we are trained to think that if we don’t have order of a particular sort then we have chaos - and chaos is a bad thing. If we don’t have the grown ups in the centre of our society, maintaining order, then it falls apart. Those in power in companies, institutions or nations all have a vested interest in perpetrating powerful myths that keep the rest of us in check. In fact the degree to which they have power is determined by their success in convincing us that without them looking after us we would get in a mess. As a result We have a consistent and pretty fixed sense of what organised means, what organisations look like, and how unattractive the alternatives are. We cling to this sense of order like a lifeboat in the stormy seas of life.

Being part of this myth generating group has a strange effect on its members. It makes the grown ups start to think and act funny. They react differently because they are in charge, because they are responsible. They stop reacting to things in spontaneous and natural ways. Instead they start to filter and calculate their responses based on their roles. This screws things. They realise this is happening and feel uneasy about it. They know it is wrong and start to hide these feelings from themselves. They hide them from others. They see people in the same situation as themselves and start to gravitate towards them because it feels more comfortable to be with people who understand. Next thing you know they are starting to see the world in terms of us and them, black and white. They need to defend something they are part of from people who are not.

Look at the way that in the second world war  the Germans managed to maintain administrative control over such vast numbers of people and at such a speed when they invaded most of Europe in a couple of years. A friend of mine put his finger on how this could happen. People like order. Those in charge of maintaining order particularly like it. Up to a point they don’t care what kind of order it is so long as it is order. So if you invade a country you only need to take out a few of the top people and most of the rest will meekly line up in an orderly fashion and those charged with maintaining order, the police force, the judiciary, educators etc., will continue to do what they do.

Does it have to be this way? If not how do we stop this pull to an artificially created centre? Is it an inevitable part of human nature? Might we avoid it if we have such decentralised systems that there is no longer a centre to aspire to and defend?



May my pebbles ripple in your pond

I just tweeted about the odd feeling of cramming ideas into my head as fast as I can when eventually my head will no longer exist. This wasn't necessarily as gloomy a thought as some may have assumed.

I have often thought that writing a blog post is like lobbing a pebble into a pond. You are not sure where the ripples will end up but you aspire to getting better at lobbing them and making bigger ripples.

A while back I was chatting with a friend about recent discoveries in neuroscience and got on to the way significant or repeated thoughts have a physical and persistent effect on our synapses. We reckoned that one way to achieve physical immortality would be to make sufficiently significant and replicable dents in enough people's heads - literally!

As we parted he said that my pebbles were rippling in his pond. I reckon this is as much as we can hope for ...


Sticking your neck out

Rob Paterson blogged recently about feeling scared and lost. I made an off the cuff comment about the time when you are not scared and lost being the time you really have to worry.

Today in a Twitter DM Thomas Power said "Values and beliefs are tested everyday online".

I never underestimate what I am asking people to do when I advocate saying what they think on a blog. Especially in the world of business this takes real courage. Not everyone will agree with you, some may think you are mad, and sometimes you will regret saying what you did. Sometime the response you get will shake your confidence and make you challenge your assumptions.

Someone remarked to me the other day how brave they thought I was saying what I do in public. I don't feel brave, I feel scared a lot of the time, I feel scared posting this blog post. Publishing my book may be the scariest thing I have ever done.

But if your not scared  maybe you are  not pushing yourself hard enough …?


Social Media Victimhood

“he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.”  - Emerson

This quote is taken from an excellent article on leadership and solitude by William Deresiewicz. The article was particularly  interesting to me as it referenced my favourite book Heart Of Darkness extensively. I agreed with much in the article but the reason I wanted to write about it here is the way Deresiewicz criticises social tools as being mere distractions from real relationships.

I agree that we need to hear Emerson's warning about drowning in other people's opinions but I get really frustrated by an increasingly common victim mentality to tools. In fact I just gave up on reading Is This All There Is by Julia Neuberger because of her knee jerk “young folks nowadays” attitude to the web and modern culture. It is almost fashionable to make yourself appear more serious and worthy of attention by claiming to be above the noise on the web.

These folks need to get over themselves. Twitter and Facebook are just tools. If we allow them to be shallow distractions they can be. If we want them to enrich our lives and help us understand the human condition better they can do that too - it is up to us!


Being an outsider

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” ~ Mark Twain

There are advantages to being an outsider. Being outside allows you to look in. You can retain an independence from the mainstream and have the privilege of noticing things hidden from those closer to the action.

In business it is easy to get locked into things being the way they are. To be too much in the flow. To become too mainstream and feel stuck. It is easy to think that things are inevitable and that change is too difficult to even consider.

Blogging inside a business has the potential to alter this. Writing a blog helps you step outside. It helps you to observe what is happening around you in a more detached way. It enables you to interpret and comment. Being even slightly outside the mainstream helps you to see the way forward, to see things as less inevitable. To see clearly how things are now and to imagine how they might be otherwise.


Homeless Link

This year I have had the honour of sitting on the board of trustees for Homeless Link, a membership organisation of groups helping homeless people in the UK. I have rarely come across an organisation with so many smart, nice people working really hard to do something so worthwhile. They have produced a video review of some of the things they have been involved in over the past year which will give you a flavour of the important work they do.