The System



The Obvious?

I am currently going through an endless process of form filling and nit-picking questions in order to get paid by a large organisation. Those asking the questions clearly have no discretionary authority and the questions are equally clearly the result of trying to cover years worth of different eventualities. All of this for a one hour gig.

I also recently took on the challenge of arranging car insurance for my daughter as she has just got her provisional licence. A painless conversation with a pleasant salesman turned into another bureaucratic nightmare when “the system” decided that the wrong boxes had been ticked in the wrong way and started sending me paperwork reflecting charges 3 TIMES what I was expecting. Now resolved but another battle I could have done without.

Everyone in both cases was very nice, and very apologetic. It’s not them, it’s “the system”. They are constrained by the system and have minimal ability to intervene. It’s a bit like airline pilots in modern planes, they are there just to make me the passenger/customer feel reassured that there is someone in charge.

With whole new levels of increasingly sophisticated automation becoming available to “the system” things are unlikely to get better. I fear for our sanity.

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Non aspirational staff

The Obvious?

I heard this wonderful phrase last week at an event. It says it all doesn’t it. The sweeping generalisation. The arrogant condemnation. The chilling managerial tone.

But is it any different from those who say to me that it is unreasonable to expect people to think, especially at work? That not everyone wants to think about their lives and certainly not to express their thoughts in public.

Are either true? Or are we just making excuses for ourselves and others. Allowing ourselves to stay asleep in the half life of safety and compliance enculturated from an early age?

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Discomfort

The Obvious?

Many of us have vague feelings of discomfort that accompany us all the time. A feeling of unease, of things not being quite right, sometimes enough to make us anxious. It is all too easy to ignore these feelings as being “just the way things are” and do nothing about them.

The inclination to set these feelings aside is even stronger at work. The effort that it takes to change things, and the disruption it can often lead to, are strong disincentives.

But all of my clients have decided to do something about their discomfort, to address the issues that aren’t feeling quite right, to take on the risk and responsibility of doing something about them.

They deserve all of the support I can give them!

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Social media purist

The Obvious?

I love blogging, have done if for years, and would do it whether anyone read my posts or not. But it is also partly how I get my work. The more people read my posts, the more they are aware of what I know and can do for them, the more work I am likely to get.

However the idea that what I am doing is “content marketing” fills me with dread.

We all have a desire to have people read our stuff and respond to our posts but writing just to maximise SEO or liking our own posts here and on Linkedin to push them up other people’s newsfeeds feels like cheating.

Call me old fashioned but I’d rather maintain my genuine intent to connect with others through ideas and conversations than start chasing work by trying too hard – even if it costs me work. I watch so many organisations and marketers get this wrong. Their intent is to game people into paying attention to them.They use words like “drive” and “capture” that makes readers feel like cattle. I understand why they do it, and often they are under pressure from their organisations to increase numbers, but it feels wrong.

Someone who was in that position recently called me “a social media purist”. He wasn’t having a go, he meant it as a compliment. I reckon we could do with more social media purists out there…

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Gluttonous dreaming

The Obvious?

Now that was odd. I haven’t eaten meat for seventeen years, apart from the odd bit of finely chopped bacon squirrelled into a salad in the US. I don’t miss meat, I don’t think about it, and I have no desire to eat it ever again.

But last night I dreamt about eating a huge plate of lamb! It was cooked in small chunks and dripping in dark gravy, a large pile of it sitting on its own on my plate. I was sitting opposite someone else eating the same dish and we started off talking to each other about how delicious it was as we both rapidly picked up pieces on our forks and placed them in our mouths. I had barely finished one piece before I was ramming the next one in. As I did so I explained to him that I hadn’t done this for a very, very long time.

But I started to feel queasy. The gravy started to feel slimy and over rich. The meat was feeling really heavy in my stomach and I was having trouble keeping it down. I kept eating despite really wanting to stop. There was this odd compulsion to keep doing something that I really wasn’t enjoying.

Oh, and another thing. I very rarely dream so goodness knows what this all means!

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MVB

The Obvious?

I recently came up with the acronym MVB (Minimum Viable Bollocks) to convey the idea of the least amount of management bollocks that it takes to run a business. What is the smallest amount of administravia you can get away with? How do you resist the temptation to “play at shops”? How do you say no to people wanting to fill your life with things that don’t matter?

This is what I really think I help organisations and the people who work in them with. Social tools can support all of the above. If your job is to know what is happening around you, deciding what to do about it, and mustering the resources to do it then working through networks, especially distributed online networks, makes a huge difference.

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Developing a thick skin

The Obvious?

“That’s what I should expect if I stick my ideas out there onto the internet”. This was my daughter’s mature reaction the other day when a group of people took exception to one of her tweets. Their reaction had hurt her, and was unexpected, but not unusual. People seem to feel able to be more robust in their comments when they are not face to face, even with people they haven’t met.

I know this is a big issue for some clients. Maybe they are tweeting or blogging on behalf of a large organisation which attracts public criticism and therefore attract a lot of online vitriol. Is impossible not to be hurt by this, no matter how much they know it is not aimed at them personally. Remember Organizations Don’t Tweet – People Do!

Just to be clear I am not talking about disagreement or dissent here. That is a good thing, and a large part of why I do what I do. But it is the rudeness and aggression that seems unnecessary, whether intended or just a result of carelessness.

Yes we have do develop a thick skin but it would be good if people stopped to think about the effect of their actions too…

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Throw caution to the wind

The Obvious?

When on a slippery, wet, narrow ridge on a high mountain in blustery wind my instinct is to hunker down, make myself small, to cling to something solid. The trouble is this shrinks my spirit. It makes me feel vulnerable and weak. It dulls my thinking and clouds my mind with images of disaster rather than success.

When we feel at risk our most common reaction is to become cautious, to play things safe. I remember when editors faced the risk of being made redundant from the BBC most of them tried to do the right thing, to be “good”, to fit in. They were successful in blending in to the background. This was the most risky thing they could do.

Standing out, being brave, being proactive and making a difference. These are the activities that would have made them safer. These are the most sensible things to do when under threat. These are the things that are the hardest to do.

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Not giving up

The Obvious?

Working with people in large organisations I often encounter those who have given up. They are doing the minimum necessary because it feels like anything else is pointless. Too many years of not being noticed or listened to, too many initiatives having been done to them, too many of their managers having been promoted beyond their level of competence. It is easy to see why futility creeps in. I’ve been there and remember well the creeping cynicism that works its way into your personality like acid.

But there is always something you can do, however small. Somehow, somewhere, you have given people permission to treat you the way they do. Subtly, probably unintentionally, you have signalled acquiescence. But you can change this.

You can start to say no. You can assert yourself in the smallest ways. You can start to rebuild that muscle. You can work out what your limits are and exercise them. You can start to rebuild a sense of agency and control in your life.

You have to, the other way lies madness.

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A world of a difference

The Obvious?

Having been in very different parts of the world over the last few weeks, with what were outwardly very different people, I am reminded yet again how alike we all are. Generally we like the same things, we fear the same things, and we express our likes and fears in very similar ways.

And yet we seem determined to find and focus on our differences. Watching some of the fear filled reporting on events in Ferguson in the US I marvel at our willingness to be steered to a sense of difference rather than alikeness.

We should be so, so wary of those who have a vested interest in playing on our fears of imagined difference. This would be a very different world if we were.

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