NYT > Public Speaking

Public speaking, a requirement in many jobs, also provides employment or extra income to thousands of people who travel for speaking engagements that can pay from $1,500 to more than $200,000.

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Diversity, Minus the Tokenism

NYT > Public Speaking

At a recent TED conference, it took about a day to realize that the usual pangs of irritation were missing. Unlike many other similar gatherings, this one featured a critical mass of female speakers.

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Normality

The Obvious?

I was going to write a post about breaking ranks, about the challenge of acting differently in the workplace and bringing about true change. This challenge is too intimidating for most and the pressure to fit into whatever is considered “normal” is enormous.

I then read a friend’s Facebook post about his wonderful daughter and noticed that he had changed his profile picture to an image that says “I Love Someone Rare”. I have just spent the last five minutes trying to remember what disability his daughter is challenged with so that I could put that appropriate “abnormal” label on her in the previous paragraph. I then realised that “wonderful” is the only appropriate way to describe her!

Then I got thinking again about Trump and the terrifying sense of being “normal” that his supporters have and their apparent willingness to demonise anyone who they see as not being normal. He is tapping into the instinct to not only cling to normality but to aggressively assert it over those who challenge it.

Normality is overrated. In fact it is dangerous. It erodes our ability to be our true selves as individuals, can cause unhappiness in those who through no fault of their own are “not normal”, and gives us the tribal excuse to behave appallingly to our fellow man.

Be very wary of normality and its proactive proponents.

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Retro Punditry

The Obvious?

Like it or not, technology in all its forms is going to have an increasing impact on our lives. Most people and organisations are not ready for this. Attending the conferences that I do, even ones that are focussed on technology, I am amazed at how unaware people are and how many are actually in denial or resistant to the changes that technology is already bringing about.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a moment believe that we should passively accept technology and it’s effects on society. Far from it, my “mission” is to get more people aware, thoughtful, and actively engaged in how we deal with the challenges.

However, I get tired of pundits who make a virtue of resisting technology, harking back to a time when all we had was “good old fashioned face to face” relationships.

Yes we need to make better informed decisions on how and when we use technology and certainly we need to remember the importance of the real relationships on which we depend for our success and happiness, but there is a real risk that these “experts” allow people to stay in their comfort zones and asleep to the enormous challenges we face. This is not a good thing.

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Stating the obvious.

The Obvious?

I am struck by how often people say “I have nothing to blog about. Why would people be interested in what I think?” when we are discussing using social tools at work. They suffer from the same reticence as I did when I started blogging all those years ago. “Who am I to say this?” “Surely everyone knows this?” I called my blog “The Obvious?” because it was me overcoming my reticence about stating the obvious in public. Even the question mark was a self deprecating virtual nervous tick!

And yet most people love talking about what they know when you are in conversation with them face to face. We all have valuable experience and given the right encouragement will willingly share it. Maybe it’s because we are sharing in writing?Maybe even that little bit of additional formality makes us feel presumptuous?

The thing is, once you get over this hurdle amazing thing start to happen. Often what seems obvious to us isn’t obvious to everyone. They may never have realised what we are sharing. Or maybe they had realised it but are glad someone else has too! At the very worst you might share something that is common knowledge. Is that the end of the world?

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All that is necessary

The Obvious?

Following on from my visit to Auschwitz last month I have been reading as much as I can to try to understand how such an atrocity could ever happen. I have just begun reading “An Interrupted Life: The Diaries And Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943”. Powerful, thoughtful, and heart rending, they are an intimate insight into the last two years of Etty’s life before her death in the gas chamber. Reading such personal stories makes the situation all the more real than broad historical political analysis of the times. It also reveals, as I have written before, how terrifyingly ordinary evil can be, and how ordinary people allow it grow.

It is inconceivable that seventy years later we could be watching the apparent rise of fascism in America. “The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism” (that I linked to yesterday) is a recent article by Chris Hedges that pulls no punches and is hard to argue with. Current conventional politics seem as much part of the problem as the solution. Our old “big picture” stories of material success and liberal politics are losing relevance and we’re not anywhere near compelling alternatives yet. My usual strategic advice for unpredictable times of “Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground” isn’t much use if we can’t agree on where the high ground is.

Or is it?

Maybe it is the “big picture” myth that is the problem. The idea that there is one all encompassing story that will sort everything. This is where idealism and ideologies go wrong. Invariably it is one vocal, small group, who impose their views on the rest, no matter how benign their intentions. Maybe this is why I see the demise of mass media as a good thing, allowing us to take back our story telling and sense making to a more personal and more human level. Maybe this is where my “organisational anarchist” tag comes in handy. Maybe we need to take the idea of “Trojan mice” seriously and on a global scale? Lots of small actions, closer, more intimate networks, fragmenting the opportunity for abuse of power or polarising of wealth?

I have Burke’s phrase “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” ringing in my ears all the time at the moment. Maybe it is “ordinary people” who have the power to prevent evil? Maybe our alternative to doing nothing is to do lots of little things. Lots of little steps. Lots of real conversations with real people about stuff that matters.

Maybe…

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Ten years

The Obvious?

It is ten years this month since I left the BBC. Hard to believe really. I have to say I have loved every minute of it, despite the challenges of working solo as a freelancer, and find it hard to imagine ever doing a “real job” again.

As to the BBC I am occasionally asked what I think about what is happening there. I know this may sound harsh but, other than the impact its death throes are having on the few friends who still work there, I find it hard to care. I watch very little television and listen to practically no radio. I listen to a lot of recorded audio but it is all independently made podcasts and Audible audiobooks.

As I have often said, what inspires me about the internet is the potential it gives us to take back ownership of our story telling and the fragmentation of mass media into ever smaller bits excites rather than worries me.

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Wisdom

The Obvious?

Back in the days when I was involved in knowledge management I remember recoiling in horror at someone describing themselves as a wisdom manager. This seemed like a ludicrously presumptuous idea. It still does.

But…

We have more information nowadays than we know what to do with. It is increasingly difficult to discern the truth in our increasingly complex lives. Even within our own heads, extracting the signal from the noise is a perpetual challenge and a continual source of stress.

And yet…

Underneath all of this noise and complexity, at a deeper level, we know. We know right from wrong, we know what we should be doing, we know what things mean, and we know how we feel about things. When we become calm and step outside of our never-ending stream of thought, we achieve a sense of clarity. Of wisdom.

We don’t need someone to manage our wisdom for us but we do need to get better at allowing our wisdom to surface. We need to get better at this both individually and collectively.

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A slippery slope

The Obvious?

I am currently reading Tzvetan Todorov’s classic book Facing The Extreme. It is a fascinating exploration of what happened to morals and ethics in Nazi and Soviet concentration camps. Where individual responsibility for evil lies, why some people still “do the right thing” in the face of intolerable pressure, and how easy it becomes for everyone responsible for evil to be “just doing their job”.

To some extent the camps were the logical extension of totalitarianism. You gain power and influence by identifying the enemy, even the enemy within, demonise and dehumanise them, and then justify their eradication. It is all too easy to see this as something particular to the German or Soviet character, or even to excuse it on the basis of the culture and norms of The Thirties, but to do so would be dangerously complacent. Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment took place in America, Guatanamo Bay is still in use, and the circumstances of Donald Trump’s rise are being compared to those of Hitler.

What is striking about the evil described in Todorov’s book is how ordinary it all was. Very few of the guards were sadists or psychotic in any way. The vast majority were very average people. People pretty much like you and me. People trying to get through their days, to keep their families safe, not ruffling too many feathers.

It is all too easy for us to see evil as the result of particular, malevolent, individuals. But that is not how it happens. It is lots of little actions, or inactions, by lots of people that lead to our greatest nightmares.

As I have so often said “we all have a volume control on mob rule”. We need to start exercising that volume control…

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"I don’t care"

The Obvious?

It’s the easiest thing to say, the most reliable “get out of jail free” card, the ultimate side-stepping of life.

When faced with mind numbing routine, or overwhelming challenges, not caring seems attractive. It’s shields us from the vicisitudes of life, against the grazing and scraping as we are buffeted by our challenges, a balm for our jangled nerves.

But it is corrosive and addictive. It becomes a way if life, a shell in which we can hide, an excuse we can all too frequently give ourselves.

And then one day it’s too late. We’ve lost the ability to care, we don’t care that we don’t care. Our lives are out of control, freewheeling aimlessly, a recollection of unease our only memory of a time when we cared.

We should take more care…

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