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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Current Reading
  • Eating Animals
    Eating Animals
    by Jonathan Safran Foer


Self Indoctrination

I found myself reciting the following lines from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here the other day in my head:

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

It reminded me of the many, many hours I spent as a teenager listening to Dark Side Of The Moon and other Floyd albums. I would listen intently, often with my eyes shut or in the dark, almost forcing the words into my psyche, etching them in my memory. It is little wonder that several decades later the ideas contained in those lyrics form such a fundamental part of my world view. It’s as if I was deliberately indoctrinating myself. It worked!


The eBook edition of my book is published!

Screen Shot 2011 12 19 at 16 52 05

Thanks to the guys at Wiley the eBook edition of my book "Organizations don't tweet, people do" is available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. You can also get it from amazon.com.

From the blurb:

Practical advice for managers on how the Web and social media can help them to do their jobs better.

Today's managers are faced with an increasing use of the Web and social platforms by their staff, their customers, and their competitors, but most aren't sure quite what to do about it or how it all relates to them.

Corporations Don't Tweet…People Do provides managers in all sorts of organizations, from governments to multinationals, with practical advice, insight and inspiration on how the Web and social tools can help them to do their jobs better. From strategy to corporate communication, team building to customer relations, this uniquely people-centric guide to social media in the workplace offers managers, at all levels, valuable insights into the networked world as it applies to their challenges as managers, and it outlines practical things they can do to make social media integral to the tone and tenor of their departments or organizational cultures.

A long-overdue guide to social media that talks directly to people in the real world in which they work

Grounded in the author's unparalleled experience consulting on social media, it features eye-opening accounts from some of the world's most successful and powerful organizations Gives managers at all levels and in every type of organization the context and the confidence to make better decisions about the social web and its impact on them


Words, words, words

I recently tweeted about my dislike of words and phrases such as “Enterprise 2.0” and “the people” These are mass words. They depersonalise. They make it easier to see fellow human beings as “other”. I then acknowledged my inconsistency in that I am happy to make sweeping generalisations about “IT”.

It is easy to be too relaxed about words. To use them without due care and attention assuming that everyone gives them the same meaning as we do. This is one of the things I love about Twitter - the discipline that writing well for 140 characters calls for. You only have a few words and have to make them count. If you get it wrong, or are unclear about your meaning, there are consequences.

This is also what I love about writing in public. Our use of words has consequences, albeit modest, beyond our own thoughts. I recently quoted Orwell in a Facebook update and although some understood my reference, my lack of context setting caused others to misinterpret my meaning. Unlike conventional printed forms of writing, online we can be called to task immediately about our words. While this is testing and can be intimidating it is also strengthening. We have to think about what we think and why we think it.


The problem with pay walls

This morning I tried to follow a link to an article in The Times on the death of Christopher Hitchens. I was greeted with the following screen.

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How ironic that they should offer the content on my terms when it is clearly being offered on their terms. I didn't take up their offer as I have little or no interest in reading The Times other than when someone whose judgment and intelligence I trust points to their content. I am not unwilling to pay for stuff but "on my terms". Their paywall, as currently conceived, makes this impossible.

Thoughts on not making things happen

In a conversation yesterday about revolutions the risk of a small, dominant group of thinkers simply replacing one leadership with another was raised. The very nature of the changes we are seeing brought about in society and organisational life by the impact of the web makes this sort of risk even more of a concern. If we are talking about distributed influence and universal access to the contribution and exchange of ideas any dominance by individuals or small groups is something to be worried about.

I am very conscious of the irony of raising this as a concern while on the point of having a book published by which process I am clearly seeking to have increased influence. I have always been fascinated by the challenge of helping things happen without being seen to make things happen. That fine balance between inspiration and direction. Phrases like “to rescue someone is to oppress them" occur to me on a daily basis. I guess what I am talking about is a new form of leadership. Leadership that involves and encourages rather than commands and controls.

The instinct to seek leaders is strong though and the temptation to succumb to this perceived need needs to be resisted.


The biggest challenges clients face

  1. At least thirty years of ingrained business culture that focusses on process rather than people and doesn't have the language or concepts to handle relationships.
  2. Senior people who will never get "it" but have the power to stop "it" happening.
  3. People's fear of disapproval if they say what they think.
  4. Vendors who talk nonsense about unrealistic timescales and benefits and want to lock them into over-engineered solutions that keep IT departments happy but don't change the world.
  5. IT
  6. IT

Talking funny

I have just finished listening to William Zinsser reading his book On Writing Well. It is entertaining and wonderfully clear on the subject of non-fiction writing and how to do it better. I quoted from it yesterday on Twitter - "People in authority are prisoners of the idea that a simple style reflects a simple mind". This reminds me of a story I tell in my own book about an experience of the temptations of management speak:

I can remember in my first managerial job, as a line manager of fifty staff, being terrified at the prospect of “being responsible” for all of these people. In fact that is a telling phrase in itself - how could I be seen as responsible for fifty grown ups, many of whom knew more than me about the business we were in? Initially I let the fear get to me and I started wearing a tie and talking funny. I retreated into management speak to distance myself from those I was “responsible for” and wore my uniform like armour. When faced with dealing with redundancies and having to talk to someone old enough to be my father who broke down in tears in front of me, the temptation was to recoil, to run away and hide behind my tie and my language. Thankfully I managed to resist that temptation and to stay there, stay part of the conversation, and continue to treat him as a fellow human being rather than just a member of staff. Thankfully I realised what was happening to me and I stepped back from the brink. Many, if not most, don’t and descend that slippery slope into pompous management speak.

I believe it is facing this discomfort that many people in business find challenging about social media. Its plain and direct style calls on them to open up in a way that makes them feel exposed and vulnerable. This is not easy.



Protecting their bollocks

It fascinates me the amount of effort that goes into maintaining brands. Organizations fabricate these shiny images of themselves and then fight fiercely to protect them. They spend loads of money polishing their shiny façades and even turn the myths inwards on their staff.

But it's bollocks and we all know it. These fabricated brand images fool no one. We all know, even my kids know, that reality bears no relation to the shiny image. Our impressions of companies and their products are formed day to day in our experiences and our conversations.

So why is it so hard to have real people talking with real customers about real products or services? What are brands so scared of?


Words matter

It is interesting how often in my work with clients our conversations turn to the words we use. Words to describe the business benefits of what we are doing. Words to make using the tools attractive to colleagues. Words to clarify what they expect from vendors and to help see the wood for the trees. We invariably agree that we don't yet have the right words for any of it!


What I worry about

I have an increasing conviction that an old world is crumbling under its own corrupt weight and that something new and interesting is beginning to emerge in its place. But two things worry me. Firstly that the new thing isn't working itself out as fast as the old thing is falling apart. And secondly that we will be tempted to turn the new thing into a thing. I have referred before to when Stowe Boyd first used the word "movement" to describe what we were seeing emerging around us and that this made me feel nervous. What we have here is too fragile and precious to turn it into an "-ism" or an "-ology". As soon as we do that it will start to it will develop its creeds, orthodoxies and priesthoods and start to die.


Blood sweat and tears

One of the things that has struck me most about listening to Steve Jobs' biography on Audible is the amount of crying that goes on. Not just him but others - and not just others who he has made cry. People in all sorts of positions welling up in the face of the challenges and setbacks they faced.

It is all too easy to think that successful people have it easier than the rest of us or that they are so full of confidence that they sail through life's challenges. It is good to be reminded that they don't face any less difficulties than we do - they are just less likely to back away from them and they do what it takes to move forward. Repeatedly and no matter how scared they are.


The Social Media MBA

Not content with writing my own book I also managed to sneak a chapter into The Social Media MBA . The other chapters have been written by some pretty smart folks and the book was ably pulled together by Christer Holloman, Sky News blogger and chairman of First Tuesday. The book is available for pre-order from Amazon here.


Wise words on using social tools in the enterprise

The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them. - Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind Beginner's Mind


Corporate permafrost

There tend to be three responses to the possibilities of using social tools inside organisations - enthusiasm, lack of interest, or resistance. Resistance is in part because those who exhibit it understand all too well what these tools are about. Even though they often don't use them, or in a conventional sense "understand them", they are uneasy about what they correctly intuit about their potential.

But this is not some sort of workers revolution. It is wrong to describe the appeal of social tools in business as bottom up. They can appeal as much to the middle and the top as they do to the bottom. In fact bottoms and tops don't matter - they are anachronistic concepts. The way to understand what is happening is to watch Occupy Wall Street and the other protests around the world. There is no one single clear demand, there is no overt leadership, there is not even a specific target. There is just a general and consensual feeling that things are not right and a willingness to do something about it. Even if that something isn't initially clear.

Those in conventional positions of power struggle with this. Watching the media trying to cover the Arab Spring when there were no leaders to interview was fascinating. Paul Mason has a great post about the underlying nature of what is happening. It is decentralised rather than anarchic, purposeful rather than pointless, not organised but not chaotic. He talks about OWS being a reaction to "economic permafrost". Maybe what those in business who ban the social web are resisting is the thawing of corporate permafrost?


Does technology lead change?

I was asked in an interview today if I thought that technology, namely social technology, could bring about change. I was tempted to quote the old psychiatrist joke about people having to want to change but resisted. I do think though that whether it is the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, or your staff talking about your business with other staff online, the technology is not causing people to change their attitudes but it sure is speeding the process up.

I believe what we are seeing is the morphing from the industrial, corporate mindset to something new and potentially very different. We happen to have the Internet as a platform on which to conduct our conversations about these changes. It enables more people to learn faster from each other, to work out what is happening, and to gain support and strength from each other as they muster the energy and courage to fundamentally change how they see the world.


Why I do what I do

I really do believe that the corporate myth is about to fall apart under its own weight. I try to excite as many people as possible about the opportunity this represents and to give them the tools to claw their way out of the crap before they get buried.


"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." - Steve Jobs



Publicness and Real Love

I have just started listening, on Audible, to Jeff Jarvis's new book Public Parts.  In it he explores the consequences of the increasingly public lives we live online. He acknowledges the challenges of living our lives more openly but, like me, focusses on the upsides rather than the downsides. There are more than enough people willing to scare us about the downside - if there is one. The biggest upside of openness for me is the potential to discover our true selves. To say what we think and have others respond directly to us without any middle men in between.

This is not as easy as it sounds. I remember as a kid struggling to disentangle how I felt about things from how I was meant to feel about them. I can remember being nostalgic for pre mass-media eras when you could just kiss a girl without wondering which film star was the best to adopt as a role model in such a frightening new endeavour. Thomas de Zengotita's wonderful book Mediated explores the issues of finding our true selves and the challenges of disentangling our stories from the messages we are bombarded with from birth about how we should be in the world.

So what's in it for us if we learn to be more open and to work out what we really think?

I have just finished reading Real Love by Greg Baer M.D. If you can get past the title and the slightly Mills and Boon cover I can thoroughly recommend it. The main idea in the book is that it is the absence of unconditional love that causes many, if not all, of our problems and unhappiness. We learn to accept conditional love from an early age. I will love you if you act the way I think you should act. I will love you if you love me. I will respond positively to you if you make me feel good etc. etc. We learn to trade conditional love and learn not to expose our true selves for fear of having this conditional love/approval withdrawn. Greg's radical, but compelling, solution is to tell the truth about ourselves and keep doing it until we come across people who will unconditionally love us. Until we do so we find it hard do give others unconditional love and until we learn to do that we will be forever ill at ease and unhappy.

Going back to Public Parts. The openness Jeff discusses in his book is still unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, for many people. Especially in Britain we tend to keep our true selves hidden. "And a  good thing too" I can hear many of you say. But our reactions to openness say more about us than the people we are reacting to. What are we so afraid of? We hide from others but we also hide from ourselves. We should get over worrying about who sees our indiscretions on Facebook or who gets to know what we are thinking through our blogs. We should get over our squeamishness about exposing our feelings and stop disapproving of those who do. Who knows what we might learn about ourselves and the world around us ...


Broadcasters, trust, and the web  

Some time ago, before I left the BBC, I took part in a meeting about blogging with Mark Byford, the BBC's Deputy Director General and the executive with primary responsibility for news and editorial standards. During the meeting he raised the familiar question about whether you could trust bloggers. In response I said that trusting individual bloggers on the first reading would be foolish but that over time one built up patterns, connections and associations that I did believe meant that you could trust bloggers - certainly when seen as a network. I also said that I increasingly didn't "trust" BBC news in the sense that I found their coverage to be sensationalistic and focussed on the negatives in the world and that I and others were increasingly choosing not to "consume" it.

Any time I have been involved in, or close to, anything that became a news story I have been struck by how far from the truth most of the coverage has been. Extrapolate this to all the other stories covered in your average news day and you start to get worried.

Since leaving the BBC I have been asked to appear on a few news programmes on both radio and TV to comment on some story about the web. Each time I have been mildly disconcerted at the apparent lack of concern about my credibility as an expert. A couple of times the people involved already knew me, but the others have mostly got my name from a list and, apart from a phone call to check I am able to speak on the topic without being a complete arse, they seemed casual about putting me on air.

It would appear that this same casualness has been behind Alessio Rastani's recent appearance on BBC News ...

Thanks to the web I was able to do something about my instinct that this story wasn't what it appeared to be and track the various attempts to dig into it. If I was just sitting passively consuming the news and trusting broadcasters to get it right, I would be none the wiser.


When wrong is right

My thirteen year old daughter just sent me this poem that she wrote:

When wrong is right

If right was wrong and wrong was right,
Then death would be a sorry sight.
The birds would never sing their song,
And all would be governed by all that was wrong,
Or is right?

If wrong was right and right was wrong,
Then life would be forever prolonged.
And merry ways would sooner die,
For the forbidden fruit would always be right,
Or is it wrong?

If right was wrong and wrong was right,
Then day would always be the night.
Darkness would never have shone,
A light that would always be wrong,
Or was it right?

If wrong is right and right is wrong,
Then why shall I suffer for ever so long.
And die when life is out of sight,
For life will never be so right,
Or so wrong.

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