Being real

As a child I read a story where the main character wanted to be a ‘real boy’ and not just a wooden puppet.

435px-Pinocchio1And this choice between being a real person – who connects with other people and things in an open and organic way – and being a puppet – driven by fear and striving and struggle – seems to be facing us all today.

Social media is merely speeding up the process.  It is helping the real people find each other and create sustaining communities.  And it is helping the others to find like-minded desperate souls.

We are at a crossroad in the future of our world.  Which group have you chosen to join?

Social business, culture and value creation #sbs2010

I attended the Social Business Summit today in Sydney and had the privilege of being on a panel that discussed Transparency – Risk To The Business Or Not?

small-rabbit.jpgApart from Nicholas Gruen’s excellent incorporation of Hayek into his discussion there was much food for thought. A copy of my slides is up on Slideshare.

In particular, the idea that brands and financial value are created in large part by organisational culture resonated for me.

We’ve been conditioned by the bean counters that value in business is created by a mechanical process of creating and selling products or services.

But that mechanical process rests upon human beings doing things. Human beings work out what to do based on cultural norms. And workplaces have very strong and resilient cultures.

I had a great example of the resilience of organisational culture last year. When I returned to a place where I’d worked almost a decade ago it was surprising to see how little the culture had changed since that time. In spite of many corporate change programs over the years (and probably lots of funds invested in those programs) the culture was essentially the same as when I’d left.

There is nothing wrong with that (actually that organisation has a pretty nice culture); but it was a graphic demonstration of how resilient it was in the face of efforts to change the culture.

It is clear to me that the creation of value by organisations rests upon the corporate culture. The culture drives the manner and form by means of which the products or services are created.

Zappos is the great example of how creation of a particular kind of corporate culture also drove creation of a highly valuable brand.

This kind of example means that sensible people in leadership positions need to be thinking about how they can work with the existing organisational culture to create more value for their brands.

Ada Lovelace Day 2010: call for women’s history #ald10

Today is Ada Lovelace day, the day that women around the world celebrate the achievements of women working in technology.

ada-300x234While I could write about a woman in technology – there are many whom I admire here in Australia – instead I am putting out a call for documentation of the achievements of Australia’s women pioneers in technology.

It saddens me to discover that I can find little record of the achievements of Australian women in technology online. We have lost contact with our heritage of Australian women pioneers in technology – I know from anecdotes that women worked on many seminal technology projects.

My recent investigations have found lots of information about US women in technology but little equivalent information for Australian women.

There is the Timeline of Geek Feminism (HT: @piawaugh) and I do recall seeing some women in technology history on an old incarnation of the Australian Computer Society’s website (but that seems to have disappeared in a site restructure over the years).

Recently FITT celebrated their 20th anniversary and posted this slide show.

We need to capture these stories and celebrate the history of the women who made our current achievements in technology possible. We need to uncover the stories of heroines who challenged the status quo and made the idea of women working in technology commonplace. We need to discover the barriers and challenges these women faced in order to pursue their passion for technology.

If you know a story or have a link to a story about Australian pioneer women in technology please add a comment to this post.

Lean times favour innovation

Companies struggle with how to innovate when their existing business is stable or growing.  There is often a perception that innovation requires a lot of investment. However, it has been my experience that it is much harder to innovate in a successful and prosperous organisation than in a leaner and hungrier one.

The interesting thing to consider is what low cost things can be done to encourage innovation. Because innovation is less about money and resources than it is about mindset.

Wild flower meadow @ Eden Project by FamilyRalphWhat kind of environment supports innovation?

I’ve worked in many different kinds of organisation – including large and small private sector enterprises, government, education and not-for-profit – and the one thing that flowed through is that innovation is less about resources than it is about mindset.

Environments where people are micromanaged and failures punished are not conducive to innovation – fear rarely makes people look outward to develop new ideas.

The kind of places I’ve seen innovation flourish have been ones where managers were comfortable to let people put forward ideas. Places where failure was not fatal to one’s career and where giving it a try was part of the culture.

One of the most innovative workplaces I ever worked in was a not-for-profit. We had little money but our Executive Director was a very smart woman who surrounded herself with smart people and let them do their thing. Sure, she set boundaries for us. But we were able to try many different approaches to business and technology under her guidance.

The interesting thing was that under her leadership the other managers reporting her also gave leeway to new and experimental ideas.

The other innovative workplace was a very large global multinational. Innovation was seen as part of our job there and, again the leadership of the company reinforced the message that new ideas were welcome. Funnily enough we did not invest a lot of money into encouraging innovation or into piloting the new ideas – only after they’d been proven was money available.

For me innovation is something that bubbles up within an organisation if management allows it. This does not mean that there should be no parameters around meaningful innovation for that particular company or industry. But in my experience it is management who set the tone for innovation within an organisation. If managers don’t support innovation it will be still-born no matter what innovation programs and other gimmicks are attempted.

A key signal as to how an organisation regards innovation is whether or not they celebrate their innovators. In both the organisations above, successful innovators became part of the corporate storytelling and anecdotes of their ventures became part of the corporate lore.

Transparency in business – so what?

This coming Thursday, 25 March, many folks will be attending the Social Business Summit in Sydney.

I will be on a panel discussing Transparency in Business – Risky or Essential?.

The debate will be moderated by Headshift’s Anne Bartlett-Bragg and Robin Hamman and the panel members are Nicholas Gruen (Gov2.0 TaskForce Chair); Sherre Delys (ABC Radio National), and me.

This topic has really got me thinking about transparency in business. It’s very much in vogue these days, with many people arguing for radical transparency. And I’ve been re-engaging with Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies at the same time.

An open society seems to me to be a necessary precursor to transparency; but there are so many barriers to openness and transparency. But then there is the question of who benefits from transparency – how do the different stakeholder groups benefit or suffer from transparency? These are all questions about power relationships and the nature of hierarchical relations.

So much to think about. But the question that keeps coming back to me is “transparency – so what?”

Real world social values and social networking

Social media and social networking do not reduce the need for good social skills. Rather, the disconnection from physical presence in online communication makes social skills (what some call EQ) even more critical.

Some of the recent fracas rebounding across Twitter are a good example of this – covered well by various people including @kimota and @mUmBRELLA.

The basic skills for building relationships include reciprocity, negotiation ability and sharing. Also critical are the skills of walking away gracefully from an issue or staying to fight with dignity.

For many people these are skills that were learned in the playground. But what happens when people have missed these important lessons?

What happens if the person who’s been asked to run your firm’s social media activities never developed those skills in the playground? And what are the essential skills required for effective social interaction?

It seems to me that we’ve been putting up with a paucity of social skills in the workplace for a long time and it is only now that there is traceable evidence we’ve noticed that it’s a problem. Social media merely provides us with documentary evidence of the kinds of human social interactions that have been happening for aeons. The problem is that this documentary evidence now gives these unfortunate social interactions a much longer lifespan than a cranky comment in passing conversation.

Evidently on a quick shot medium like Twitter it is easy for a grumpy day or lack of coffee combined with quick fingers to lead to an explosive incident for your brand. Then the Streisand Effect can amplify the incident so that it resonates for days or weeks afterward. And, as an added benefit, the whole thing will get indexed by search engines and be findable for ages.

Social media is now providing us with tangible evidence of how many people lack (or fail to demonstrate) the basic skills required to get along well in the playground. And these are the same skills we need to work successfully with other grown-ups, both online and offline.

Goleman, one of the gurus of emotional intelligence, offers twelve questions to assess emotional intelligence. Answer ‘yes’ to half or more, (and if others who know you agree with the self-rating) then you are apparently doing okay.

The real question is how can we apply this to social media and learn how to channel the best of ourselves rather than the worst?

Goleman’s 12 Questions

  1. Do you understand both your strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Can you be depended on to take care of every detail? Do you hate to let things slide?
  3. Are you comfortable with change and open to novel ideas?
  4. Are you motivated by the satisfaction of meeting your own standards of excellence?
  5. Can you stay optimistic when things go wrong?
  6. Can you see things from another person’s point of view and sense what matters most to that person?
  7. Do you let customers’ needs determine how you serve them?
  8. Do you enjoy helping co-workers develop their skills?
  9. Can you read office politics accurately?
  10. Are you able to find “win-win” solutions in negotiations and conflicts?
  11. Are you the kind of person other people want on a team? Do you enjoy collaborating with others?
  12. Are you usually persuasive?

[Source: Goleman, Daniel. “Working Smart.” USA Weekend, October 2-4, 1998, pp. 4-5.]

My dog and her new food

My dog T-dog* is a somewhat bolshie little beast and she does not like it when I travel away from home overnight (I’ll come back to this fact later).

Butterfly Trotsky_3709633210_o copyRecently we (T-dog and me that is) were asked to participate in a trial of a new dog food by the folks over at Yoghurt Plus. The deal was T-dog would eat the food and I would report back on how it all went down.

I was intrigued by the notion of a probiotic dog food that had been developed by a former AFL player.  As mentioned in their press release:

Yoghurt Plus has been developed by John Gould, former Australian Rules Footballer, who played half back for two Carlton premiership sides in the 1960s. John himself owns 10 domestic dogs. Yoghurt Plus is supported by five years worth of scientific studies, conducted by Melbourne University, Victoria, Australia, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia and Auburn University, USA. All studies were independent and met the strict requirements of AAFCO. The findings were then substantiated by Professor Nick Costa – Head of the school for Environmental Science Murdoch University, Australia and Dr Robert Gillette- Director Veterinary Sports Medicine Program Auburn University, USA.

I don’t know much about Aussie Rules football, but this guy sounded like a real dog lover to me, and it’s not often T-dog gets invited to review things, so we accepted.

She’s been eating this new food for three weeks now. We were a bit worried about how she would go with a new diet as Staffordshire Bull Terriers have notoriously delicate tummies (which has been bad for the carpet in the past). But she’s scarfing down the stuff quite happily (and sharing it with Roy our other dog). Both of the dogs are looking good on this new diet.

But there was one claim in the press release was proved absolutely true the other day. Namely: “Helps Reduce Stool Volume and Odour – Assists digestion, helps to decrease the potential pathogens in the GI Tract and helps decrease the compounds that can lead to unpleasant odours in stools.”

As mentioned earlier, T-dog is unhappy when I travel and, as a protest, she has a bad habit of sneaking into the upstairs living room and making a ‘deposit’ there for us to find at a later stage.

In the past these ‘deposits’ have been very smelly, squishy and hard to pick up. But I am delighted to report that her last ‘deposit’ powered by annoyance at me for being away and Yoghurt Plus dogfood made for a non-smelly, less bulky and easy to pick up ‘deposit’.

Sure this dog food does nothing to address the weirdly passive aggressive relationship between me and T-dog. But it is living up to its promises and T-dog and Roy have healthy shiny coats and gobble down their Yoghurt Plus with gusto.

The only other thing I would note is that the food has a very yoghurty kind of smell when you open the bag – some people might not like that. But the dogs don’t seem to mind at all.

* that’s her on the left in her butterfly wings


Digital citizens need real world knowledge too

It was fascinating to be at the inaugural Digital Citizens event in Sydney last week – the topic was: Private Parts: Personality and Disclosure – Finding a Balance in the Digital Space.

There was a great line up on the panel with visiting US lawyer and social media specialist Adrian Dayton (Social Media for Lawyers), Sam North (Ogilvy PR), Damian Damjanovski (BMF), and Renai LeMay (Delimiter), all wrangled expertly by the moderator Bronwen Clune (Strategeist).

It was a very thought provoking session with the panel and audience discussion. And the big takeway for me is that social media and its practitioners need to accept that we live within a particular social and legal context.

No matter how much we ‘social media’ types decry how poorly the law is setup to deal with what we do everyday, that is the situation we must deal with. The law moves much more slowly than changes in technology, and, upon consideration, maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

For example, Damian Damjanovski argued: “A lot of people out there use it as a personal communications method. There are lots of people with no more than 70 followers . When did we get to the point that this is suddenly publishing and should be treated as such?”

The fact is ordinary people are doing something that was once privileged – publishing. We are publishing content in many places now in the same ways that publishers (who have lawyers vetting much of their content) have for years.

Now that everywoman and everyman is a publisher we need to understand the rights and obligations that come with publication. We are no longer having a chat about something over dinner or at the pub with a bunch of mates. We are posting content (pretty much) for perpetuity and complaining when there are legal ramifications associated with that act.

It all made me think that perhaps a good topic for another Digital Citizens session would be about the legal issues associated with the act of publication on the web? Since, while Adrian Dayton was great, it would have been handy to have Australian lawyer on the panel.

A brief write-up of the event is also available on mUmBRELLA