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


Be Patient

One of the biggest threats to social media use inside businesses is lack of patience. There is a lot of pressure to "deliver". This pressure will kill attempts to be social. Be patient. Be patient when people don’t join your system fast enough. Be patient when people don’t learn as quickly as you expect. Be patient when people get things wrong. Be patient with yourself when you make mistakes.



I am going to see him speak tomorrow night so I'll let you know how he comes across.


Living in the real world?

What is the use of planning to be able to eat next week unless I can really enjoy the meals when they come ? If I am so busy planning how to eat next week that I cannot fully enjoy what I am eating now, I will be in the same predicament when next week's meals become "now."

If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.

-- The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts.


Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology

A tweet yesterday prompted me to remember sage advice from Dave Snowden which I took to heart in my work with social tools at the BBC. "You can't manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology". I thought it might be useful to others to list the ten most important things I learned about doing this.

1, Have a variety of tools rather than a single system. Not everyone sees the world the same way or has the same needs so mixing up different tools with different strengths allows people to find one that works for them. Avoid single platforms like the plague.

2. Don't have a clear idea where you are headed. The more fixed you are in your aspirations for your ecology the less likely you are to achieve them. Be prepared to go where people's use of the tools takes you and enjoy the ride.

3. Follow the energy. Watch where the energy in the system is and try to copy the factors that generated it. Get others interested in why energy emerges and they will want some of it themselves.

4. Be strategically tactical. You can have an overall strategy of behaving in certain ways depending on how your ecology develops. It is possible to sell this as a strategy to those who need strategies.

5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground. Keep doing things, keep talking about what you are doing and why, and have a rough idea of where the high ground is.

6. Build networks of people who care. Don't try to manage your ecology by committee but cultivate communication and trust between those who care that it works and have the commitment to do something about it - whoever they are and whatever their role.

7. Be obsessively interested. Notice everything that happens and consider why. Tell great stories about what you are observing.

8. Use the tools to manage the tools. Blog about what is going on with your corporate blogging, ask questions in your forum about security, tweet when something is changing in your ecology and ask people why it is interesting.

9. Laugh when things go wrong. If you are pushing limits and exploring new territory things will occasionally blow up in your face. Having a sense of humour and enjoyment of the absurd will help you stay sane.

10. Unleash Trojan Mice. Don't do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.



A tenuous connection with customers

I have had a couple of really interesting conversations recently with people in big corporations who are beginning to realise that social media isn't the sort of thing you can just hand over to agencies. You have to get hands on and have real connections between real people.

As a compete naif in terms of the marketing "industry" it has always fascinated me the way you used to be able to delegate your whole connection with your customers to others. If you combine "hands free" marketing with the fact that the most direct contact companies have with customers is an outsourced call centre you begin to realise just how tenuous the connection between companies and the people they take money from is.

Hopefully this is slowly beginning to change.


Welcome to the Internet

Chairing the morning sessions at Cloud Computing World Forum yesterday at Olympia it occurred to me that what I was watching was actually corporate IT finally being forced to acknowledge the internet.

It has always fascinated me the lack of interest shown by IT professionals in even the core technologies of the Internet. It has been such a Microsoft closed shop that even getting people to allow us to run PHP scripts or use Apache servers used to be an uphill struggle. It wasn't because they were making a conscious decision about the pros and cons, it was simply that it was all so unfamiliar and unknown to them. Being so focussed on delivery of the familiar seemed to drain them of any curiosity they might have had for the new and innovative stuff that was happening around them.

Now that businesses are insisting that they have some of that innovation and flexibility that they are becoming used to as consumers, the IT industry has reacted by giving it a name and packaging it all up so that they can have conferences about what it is and whether to buy it or not and the whole time wasting, energy sapping circus moves on.


Dealing with the down side

I bang on a lot about people finding their voice online, saying what they think, and standing up for their views. This is fine when things are going well but what do you do when people don't like what you are saying and find fault? No one likes being criticised and it can hurt. This is as true for people working for big organisations as it is for individuals - "Corporations don't tweet people do". There is always a person behind that tweet or blog post. Even if it is someone writing from within a big multi-national it is still a human being with feelings who presses "Update".

Many of my clients work in high profile, sometimes contentious organisations with lots of people ready to find fault at the slightest excuse. Blogging on your own behalf is one thing but sticking your neck out for your employer isn't trivial and the robust nature of online attacks can be intimidating.

So what do so if you come under attack online? Much of the available advice is aimed at the corporation as a whole as if we were talking about an entirely logical, dispassionate situation. While this might have been true when it was a case of issuing press releases into well worn channels it is different if we are talking about someone tweeting or blogging on behalf of their organisation. If they are any good they will have invested more of themselves personally in the situation and therefore feel more exposed and vulnerable.

What you have to do if this happens is no different from life generally. Look at the people who are being critical and weigh up the validity of what they are saying and the circumstances in which they are saying it. If there is something you need to learn from what they are saying then learn it and take it on the chin. If there isn't then decide whether you are going to respond at all and if so how. Then you need to pick yourself up, get back on your horse and do it all again. You are never going to be able to keep everyone happy all the time and if you let criticism numb you and make you retire into your shell then we will all have lost something.


Year of 2001

The intensity of the relationships you establish when you first get into things are never really repeated. I get nostalgic for that first flush of enthusiasm for blogging - a bit like your first year at secondary school or at university. The friendships you make in those times tend to stick with you for life. Blogging is the same.


Your staff are your best advocates

I recently completed a chapter in a book on social media to be published next year (no not mine - another one) and I called it "Your staff are your best advocates". Hugh McLeod just re-blogged this post from 2005 on the same topic, and Steve Bridger just said in a Twitter conversation that he got a good response to saying " loyalty to charity brands is now shifting towards affinity to individuals working within charities" in a keynote yesterday.

We are gradually groping our way towards the Cluetrain idea of markets being conversations but it is still a long way off and "brand" still mostly means orchestrated bollocks.

I am a mentor at The School of Communication Arts, run by Marc Lewis, which aims to develop new talent for the marketing business. I have done a few mentoring sessions and really enjoyed meeting and getting to know the students. However I have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about being involved, even marginally, with an activity that I find increasingly annoying.

When I called Marc to share these feelings we had a pretty robust exchange of views on marketing and its place in the modern world. We then had round two of this argument in a session in front of the students at the school last week. I said that I had no problem with advertising as such. I am happy being helped to make decisions about buying stuff. I will always buy stuff and ways of making better decisions about what to buy are always welcome. But this is a million miles away from being shouted at about crap I don't want when I am trying to do something else - no matter how entertainingly it is done. There were one or two students nodding as I made my case but most were pretty full on that we "need" marketing to fund content, entertain us in magazines, and smarten up Times Square!

Roll on the day when marketing retires into the background and I can have real conversations, with real people, in real businesses, who are doing stuff that makes my life better.



Yesterday I responded to yet another person criticising the "mindless dribble" [sic] of Twitter.

Moments ago I listened to Bernie Goldbach's Audioboo about a new arrival and was touched by his attention to detail - not about the baby but about the condensation on the inside of his car window!

I then scanned emails from 2005 as I archived them out of my main mailbox. It was like watching a timelapse of my life.

I often quote Rob Paterson's phrase "the intensity of the mundane" but it is worth restating that it is the little things that make life real and understandable - not the big exciting things that we are coached to value by the media.


The advantage of self selecting clients

When I first left the BBC and was considering whether to have a fancy corporate sounding name for my business, or to pretend that there was a whole team of people rather than just little old me, I decided to be up front and not pretend. I also chatted to my former boss about whether to adopt the dispassionate, third person tone of much consultancy and he said "Why be like everyone else. Be yourself. That is what people are buying"

Most of my work comes through referrals, speaking gigs or my blog and twitter. As those of you reading this will know I am reasonably forthright and open about what I think in each of those spaces. As a result people who I work with know what they are getting in advance. The advantage of this is that I get to work with those who I consider really, really nice, smart people!

Do your clients, or indeed your boss, know what they are getting up front?


Me and my inner Scot

The highlight of my speaking gig this week on board the cruise ship Aurora was getting to meet and spend time with the author Maria Nemeth. I realised half way through our first conversation that I had read her book The Energy Of Money a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact as we talked I downloaded her other book Mastering Life's Energies on the Kindle app and am reading it now.

Maria is one of those wonderfully intense Californian women who take themselves and you very seriously because they have spent a long time thinking very hard about the sort of stuff most of us gloss over or take for granted. She is also a very close listener and it is disconcerting to have someone listen to you as hard as she does. It is so unusual.

During the course of our first conversation I came out with my usual one liner about not feeling Scottish any more. She responded by saying "Of course you are Scottish. What is wrong with being Scottish? Why are you resisting that part of you? What are you hiding from?" I did my best to make light of it during the rest of our conversation - we bantered about my "inner Scot" who I imagined as a grumpy wee troll with red hair and a tartan tam o' shanter - but she had really got to me. Not so much about the Scottish bit but the way I can define myself by my resistance to things and why this is so. Whether it is religion or IT, those who read this blog will have seen me shape myself by the strength of my reaction to these two groups, and some of you will no doubt have winced to watch me do so.

Given that I was on the boat to talk to The IT Directors' Forum and to write my book I went back to my cabin in an existential funk struggling to think clearly about what I was trying to say, to whom, and why. This was a good thing. Thanks Maria!


Organisational Naivety

This may seem like a contradictory post given my continued belief that social tools will revolutionise the workplace but I do get frustrated at a common naivety about what this will take.

There are many aspects of organisational life and the work of managers that is tough, really tough. Grappling with the human condition in hand to hand fighting is the lot of many a middle manager and there are some things that are painful and difficult to do - no matter how much you blog or tweet about them. I have had to face grown men, old enough to be my father, in tears about what their organisation was doing to them. I have had to cope with staff involved in industrial tribunals who stretched the line between them and their employers. These things are scary and managers have to deal with them. This is why they get jumpy about suddenly being expected to open up and blog about everything - it is isn't going to happen.

At least not in the short term.

This is where the real work is. Getting away from the superficial "new shiny thing" characteristic of much thinking about social media and helping it finds its place in the real world. Finding a way through the tough stuff of making things happen and helping the workplace move out of the industrial era into something a whole lot more sophisticated and productive.

This isn't going to happen over night but it is bloody exciting!


Zen and the art of screwing

I had to screw a locking bolt on to the door of the hut in our garden today. I am not useless at DIY but this is the sort of thing that could easily drive me nuts. The screwdriver might slip in the screw. There might be knots in the wood that make it difficult to screw properly. I might have to stand in a difficult or awkward position to be able to get enough purchase to screw the screws in.

Any or all of the above would in the past have been enough to push me over the edge. I would have seen it as a personal attack on me that the process wasn't going well and would let it get to me at a very fundamental level. In response to such trivia I could really lose my temper.

None of that happened today. I have been practising mindfulness meditation again on a regular basis and today I was able just to notice what was happening. To notice the screw and how it was formed. To notice the screwdriver and how it felt in my hand. To notice me noticing the screwdriver. The end result was that I managed to screw the locking bolt onto the door with little effort and without once losing my temper.

I need to apply this principle to more of my life.


My fantasy 

A business where everyone blogs. Everyone thinks about what they are doing and writes about what they are doing. From the top to the bottom, the edges to the middle. Everyone awake and bouncing off each other intellectually as they get more and more effective at whatever they do.


Literate Business

There's something wrong with all of the names we use to describe the use of social web tools in business. They are wrong for various reasons whether Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business or whatever. At risk of adding another inappropriate name to the list I have been thinking that in many ways what we are really talking about is "literate business". This is probably because I have been reading a lot about writing in preparation for writing my book - the idea of thinking through writing, getting a shitty first draft down and then critiquing it, refining ideas through the process of sharing them, etc..

It occurred to me that what is significant about the tools we are seeing creeping into the business world is not so much that they are social as that they are literary in nature. They require, at whatever level, people to observe the world around them, make sense of it, and convey that sense to others, mostly, through the written word. All three parts of this process are the essence of good literature and they are all relatively unfamiliar in the business world. Most people don't pay much attention to what is going on around them, they don't sit and think much about what it means, and they are very unlikely to take the time to sit down and write about it. This is what blogging or tweeting makes easier. It also makes it collective.

It is this possibility of businesses being collectively literate, in a way fundamentally different from the turgid, disconnected, process related documentation that we currently spend so much time, money and effort creating and storing. David Weinberger once said that through blogging we were "writing ourselves into existence" maybe this is what we are seeing happen in the world of work?



I probably seemed a bit curmudgeonly in my disdain for the royal wedding yesterday but I wasn't negative about the pleasure other people found in watching it. I am not even against the odd bit of pomp and circumstance. In fact I even watched some edited highlights and these included Parry's wonderful anthem I Was Glad which brought back memories of the many times I sang it as part of St. Salvator's Chapel choir in St. Andrews. I remembered taking part in the many formal occasions that the royal couple must similarly been involved in while they were there.

So what's been bugging me. I think it centres around a couple of words used by the BBC anchor man for the day. I was out of the room at the time but overheard him commenting on the size and enthusiasm of the crowd and contrasting this with our "cynical society" and "lack of deference". At this point I yelled "Oh fuck off" from the kitchen much to my wife's annoyance!

Both of his assumptions bugged me. I don't think we are a cynical society. I think people are generally healthier, happier and in a better state than they have ever been and I marvel at the many ways they show energy and enthusiasm for all sorts of things. I also appreciate the best in people and even reckon the Queen does a good job in a tough role.

But the other word is the one that really gets me - deferential. Dictionary definition "humble submission and respect". Why should I be deferential simply because of the position someone holds? Why should I accord the decidedly weird group of people who have become our royal family through some pretty dodgy dealings throughout history "humble submission and respect"? There have been enough occasions when people in positions of authority have shown that they don't deserve my deference to make insisting on it a form of madness.

Respect - fine. Acknowledgment of authority - fine. But deference - oh fuck off.


Note to self:

Why does every new management theorist seem to want to outdo Chairman Mao in calling for perpetual havoc on the old order? Very simply, because all economic organizations involve at least some degree of power, and power always pisses people off. That is the human condition. At the end of the day, it isn’t a new world order that the management theorists are after; it’s the sensation of the revolutionary moment. They long for that exhilarating instant when they’re fighting the good fight and imagining a future utopia. What happens after the revolution—civil war and Stalinism being good bets—could not be of less concern.

- Matthew Stewart via Dennis Howlett



Words, words, words.

I love words. I love sucking them in and I love spewing them out. I am currently reading three "real" books, a couple of Kindle books, and Audible books and podcasts. I can't cram the things in fast enough.

Some of the books I am reading are also about how I can spew them out better too. I've learned to touch type and, using The Pomodoro Technique to focus, I can turn out 1000 words every half an hour or so.

I am turning into a lean, mean, writing machine and just loving it!


When is a blog not a blog?

Q. When is a blog not a blog?
A. When it is a blog post

There is not much that brings out the pedant in me but when people refer to a blog post as a blog it drives me nuts! I get caught out all the time when someone says "Have you seen my new blog?" and I think they have set up a whole new blog when in fact all they have done is write a blog post! A blog is the whole blog with all its posts and a blog post is a post - OK!

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