Christmas in Paris

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I like Paris in winter – there are not too many tourists and the queues to get into museums and galleries are much shorter. Of course, in 2010 western Europe experienced snowpocalypse and many people suffered from cancelled transport and were forced to spend days trapped in airport terminals. Luckily I was spared that experience.

The typical Australian Christmas experience for me is to join relatives for a long lunch in the heat (trying to stay out of the sun) and then drive home in the evening to collapse for a nap.

Instead, this year, I drove back from Ieper (aka Ypres) in Belgium to join some friends for Christmas in Paris before flying to London. These friends are not geeks, so there was little discussion of technology. Instead we dined very well and went to the opera. Our conversation was wide-ranging and that camerarderie that arises when far from home on a traditional holiday kicked in.

Au Chien Qui Fume Xmas 2010On Christmas Eve we dined at a traditional restaurant called Au Chien Qui Fume near Pont Neuf. The staff were friendly and welcoming – making jokes and recommending wines to accompany our meal.

For Christmas Day we had a late lunch at a tiny but lovely Breton inspired place called Le Relais de l’Isle. It is on l’Ile Saint-Louis just across the bridge from Notre Dame Cathedral. Again we experienced a warm welcome from the proprietor of this establishment and enjoyed a fine meal with good wine.

Opera Bastille Paris Xmas 2010Then on Christmas Night we were off to the Opera Bastille to see a performance of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. It was rather amusing to see the opera performed in German with surtitles in French. It was a very enjoyable production and I enjoyed the strong female performers.

It was a very different experience of Christmas – of note was the fact that so many venues were open in Paris on Christmas Day. The weather on Christmas Day was lovely, Paris at its winter best with cold crisp air and clear blue skies.

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On this Christmas Eve in Paris

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I contemplate the year past and the year to come and think on how I want my life to be.

What do I want my life to stand for?

Not clamour for power or wealth; not hunger for praise or admiration; not frenzied desire for new and thrilling experiences.

What then is it? I’ve been sitting here in the somewhat chilly lobby of my hotel pondering for a while now.

I want, no aspire, to be civil and just in my words, meanings and acts. I want to meet my fellow human beings with peace in my heart and anger towards none. I want to be real, open, and free of fear.

I suppose that this seems to be all about me. But it seems to me that I am the only thing that I have the power to change.

Interesting to realise how little power I have to change other things and how much power I have to change myself.

Strange ponderings on Christmas Eve.

Wishing one and all a merry Christmas! Peace on earth and goodwill to all.

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The Somme really does have sticky mud

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I have taken some time out from business meetings in Europe to make something of a personal pilgrimage in the steps of my ANZAC ancestors.

It has been a very moving and very sombre experience. To see the tiny spaces of land fought over in World War 1 that resulted in so many deaths is beyond tragic.

It is sobering to realise that every death did not just kill the individual concerned, it had flow on effects to each family, town and country and that damage reverberated for generations. And for every survivor there was no counselling, no awareness of the physical and emotional damage they carried with them and shared with families and society throughout their lives.

I toured the Somme and Ypres Salient with a French guide who combined a deep knowledge of the history of World War 1 with a gerat reverance for the sacrifices made by those who fought. Olivier Dirson of Chemins D’Histoire really helped me to understand what had happened both in battle and to the people around.

One of the saddest places to visit is the Fourth Australian Division monument at Bellenglise. Sad because it is a monument to battles fought in 1918 and to sacrifices made so close to the end of the war.

Yet also sad because, unlike the fine Somme American Cemetery and Memorial near Bony in Picardie, the Australian memorial is in the middle of farmers’ fields and can only be approached by a rough and muddy road. The stories of Somme mud are no joke. It is sticky and clumps-up on your feet and it is easy to see how walking through this mud could add several kilos to every step.

In damp or snowy weather it is impossible to drive up to the Fourth Australian Division monument at Bellenglise. This is a national scandal! That Australia cannot even be bothered to ensure that those of us who would remember them can reach this memorial made me feel angry.

How much would it cost to build a short paved road so that we can visit this site to remember the enormous sacrifices made by these men?

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Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp #sibsyd

Social Innovation Sydney
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Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp went well yesterday.

The day kicked off with an opening talk by the Hon. Bob Carr, who kindly gave his time to support this event.

Throughout the day we had some amazing networking and discussion sessions focused on creating sustainable futures and directing innovation towards social good.

We also had a lovely lunch sponsored by Cisco and coffee sponsored by AskHer.

I’m very grateful to everyone who helped out to make this event work, in particular my co-un-organisers  Selena Griffith and Michelle Williams.

There are already some amazing photos up in the Social Innovation BarCamp group on Flickr:

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Real world social values and social networking

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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.]

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National Growth Summit 2010

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I’m speaking at the National Growth Summit 2010 in Sydney this week about engagement marketing and running a workshop on Technology to drive Growth.

The line-up includes a number of international luminaries along with local experts, gurus and knowledgeable people such as: Mick Liubinskas, Stephen Collins, Mike Walsh & Stephen Belfer.

There’s also workshops available on day 2 of the conference – for a special discount on the Technology to Drive Growth workshop use this registration form (opens pdf)

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Just one little change in the ecosystem

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I recently experienced how easily one can disrupt a stable ecosystem. And I learned the hard way how difficult it can be to re-stabilise that same ecosystem!

We have two dogs and one of them likes to socialise around the neighbourhood, and to this end she will dig amazing tunnels or climb over the high fences in our back yard.  To keep her in safely we have laid various bricks and paving stones around the perimeter of the yard.

Not long back I moved one brick from one part of the perimeter to another. Several months of chaos, escapes and tunnel digging ensued.

Just one little brick gave Trotsky the idea that escape was viable and she turned her considerable energy & intelligence to that end. The ecosystem of my backyard suffered for months following the removal of just one brick.

It’s all sorted out now.  But this got me thinking about how we often cannot see the pattern that keeps an ecosystem strong and stable.  Just one little thing that looks almost irrelevant can pull the whole thing asunder.

This is precisely the kind of thing that we are seeing in the traditional marketing ecosystem with the impact of social media and social networking.

Businesses are grappling with this problem.  They are continuing to execute the old faithful marketing plans and see them deliver less telling results than before. Debates are happening in board rooms about the importance or otherwise of the web.  And many business people think that it is all a fad that will pass like so many others.

People are using & consuming media and technology in new ways – for example a recent Nielsen study showed users want to use TV and internet simultaneously. The change is deep, and it is important because it is a social phenomenon. It is also impacted by the convergence of web and mobile phones that see traditional ways of consuming internet changing – this Pew report gives some indication of these changes.

Luc Vallee sums it up nicely in the title of his recent blog post: Moore’s Law x Metcalfe’s Law = Chaos? It all reminds me of Yeats:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

Time will ensure that we work out how to deal with the changes in our business ecosystem that arise from the changes in people and their use of technology. But it is these in-between times that challenge us and create fear, uncertainty and doubt.

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Social media, reputation and immediacy

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Reputation is critical for any person or business – we only have to look at the professional reputations of the James Hardie directors & managers in the news today.

Social media can be a great way for companies & individuals to build their reputations. But it also means that we need to manage reputation proactively. This is because social media harnesses the effects of network amplification, for both good and ill.

The great success stories show how it can be done effectively. For example, Tony Hsieh of Zappos (just sold to Amazon) has used social media – like blogs & Twitter – to share the corporate culture & to support both customer service and branding goals.

Also a number of people I know personally have obtained new jobs via social media – posting about their availability for work on their blogs, LinkedIn or Twitter.

But the other side (some might call it the dark side) works just as effectively. One friend of mine lost a job because of a seemingly innocent (but slightly derogatory) remark on Twitter. Or the very recent examples of:

The very thing that makes social media a powerful force for building online profiles so rapidly also enables the downside unfold just as quickly. The sheer velocity with which bad news can spread nowadays makes social media a sword that cuts both ways.

As Jeff Nolan points out:

“… there is no latency in communication today.”

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Twitter and talking at once

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The other night I caught up with some folks who (except for @dbendall) also happen to use Twitter (@fibendall, @iggypintado, @kerrypintado) at a local pub for some grub, a drink, lively conversation & exchange of ideas.

Now this is a smart and entertaining bunch of people. But some of the characteristics of our real life interaction helped me to perceive why Twitter might work so well for some folks.

The hashtag for the evening turned out to be #ihavethetalkingfork. This is because the ideas and discussion around the table were flowing so fast that we were falling over each other to get our words out. In a vain attempt to impose some order, and notion of taking turns, at one stage the convention of the ‘talking fork’ was adopted, only to fail a few minutes later as there were a number of forks on the table.

This phenomenon of simultaneous outbound and inbound communication is something that Twitter enables quite well. You can get your idea out at the same time as I can. Then we can each respond to the other’s idea. This means that, unlike in real life, on Twitter we can almost multiplex our communications.

Some people might just see this problem as one of rudeness. But it is what happens when you put a bunch of people with ideas who, while talking to each other, generate new ideas and made new connections. I learned a lot from being part of the conversation at that table. Some of the things @iggypintado has planned sound amazing.

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On our way to a networked society.

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In an earlier generation all computer networks were for business or the military. That is, they were point-to-point connections between large organisations and were vastly expensive to setup and run. But the invention of TCP/IP and the modern internet changed all that. Now networks are between ordinary people using simple and easy to operate equipment (like their mobile phones or netbooks).

And now as we move from the society of the book into a networked society there are some important influences working to shape the future.

Amplification is important in that it enables ordinary people’s opinions to have reach via social networks (like Twitter or Facebook). In the past I could stand in Sydney amongst my friends at the pub and complain about a bookstore moving certain kinds of books to a dark corner in the back of the store. And nobody but the people at the pub, or perhaps a few of their friends, heard about it. But when Amazon recently did the same thing with gay and lesbian books, social networks around the world went crazy with the news. Suddenly an ordinary person can have the same kind of reach which was previously possible only through mass media.

Amplification is working together with each of the other items under discussion here. Each item amplifies and is amplified by the others. This is systems theory in action, with feedback loops driving change. Thus, with the recent Amazon problem, mainstream broadcast media picked up the issue from the social networks, amplified it, and fed it back into the social networks.

Many people misunderstand the nature of communities that are developing now. Simply because the communities that are growing are mediated by technology does mean that are not genuine communities. I am fascinated by the number of groups of people who’ve met online via Twitter and have subsequently formed real life relationships, such as attending trivia nights together, attending music festivals, or various kinds of tweetups. For example: STUB, MTUB, PTUB, BTUB, CTUB demonstrate this kind of crossover of online relationships into daily life (here’s some pictures of a recent tweetup in Sydney).

There are also some ‘laws’ that are useful in thinking about the development of a networked society. That is not to take these as legislative imperatives but rather as heuristics to inform our thinking.

Metcalfe’s Law is helpful, not because it is necessarily directly applicable as originally proposed back in 1980. It is helpful because it gets us thinking about how networks create new relationships, and how those relationships can amplify the power of the network. Metcalfe was considering small hardware networks and posited that “the value of a network increases proportionately with the square of the number of its devices”. The principle that a network (even a social one) can grow exponentially depends upon a number of variables. These variables would include things like actions taken or affinities developed or destroyed by members of the network, since unlike devices, people can act of their own volition. These social networks create feedback loops and amplify both positive and negative effects across the primary network, and even reach out into other loosely connected networks.

Gilmore’s Law is also very useful in thinking about the growth of a networked society. The funny thing is that people often mistake modern networks as being only about the technology. But this is not the sum total of our modern networks. Instead a network’s value is in the real human beings with substantive relationships. The technology merely mediates the relationship. Since it is about relationships between people, blockages in the network that impact upon those relationships are perceived as an organic threat. People don’t like to have their relationships interrupted. And when there is some kind of blockage in the technology that mediates those relationships then the people will find ways to route around it. Thus even political interference in the network will merely be interpreted as damage to relationship management channels.

The degree of connectedness available to us in a networked society is far higher than at any time since most of us lived in small villages. And, more than anything else, the networked society seems to be like a village. But more on that another time.

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