I don’t think that many romanticise war too much these days. And there is something very poignant and compelling about seeing the fruits of war.
In northern France and Belgium the unimaginable scale of loss wrought upon so many families in the great wars of the twentieth century is still visible at every step.
It was in north eastern France that I found some family graves. Here is the the resting place of young ANZAC Rupert Alexander, aged 31 years, along with his compatriots lost in France in 1917.
This poem by Gellert captures the melancholy of war:
There’s a lonely stretch of hillocks:
There’s a beach asleep and drear:
There’s a battered broken fort beside the sea.
There are sunken trampled graves:
And a little rotting pier:
And winding paths that wind unceasingly.
There’s a torn and silent valley:
There’s a tiny rivulet
With some blood upon the stones beside its mouth.
There are lines of buried bones:
There’s an unpaid waiting debt :
There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the South.
By Leon Gellert
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them”
Lest we forget
This talk gives us some really important insights into the changed world we now inhabit. The world in which our passing fancies and offhand comments were written on the wind has passed into history. Now most things that we click or share online are recorded and ready for analysis.
Matt draws out the point that our real selves – the ones who listen to Lady Gaga or Katie Perry and then delete them from our scrobbles – are revealed by our online activities.
As Jung suggested, it might be time to embrace our shadow (or as Matt LeMay suggests, learn to be okay with being a kitteh).
I commend this video to you, it presents important concepts in a really engaging way.
As companies embrace the notion of a reputation economy fueled by the power of social platforms this brings a new set of challenges for management and employees.
I was at the Salesforce #cloudcrowd event in Sydney recently and we were discussing this issue with guest speaker Peter Coffee.
The issue is that companies increasingly require employees to interact online on behalf of the company but using their own persona.
Upon consideration, it is not much different to offline where one meets with business contacts using a real name. But the difference is that those meetings are mostly written on the wind. Online interaction is forever. It is an almost permanent record of where you were, what you said, and to whom it was said.
Thus for the employee, the private conversations and meetings of the past have transformed into public online interactions, potentially geotagged and with accompanying photo.
What this is doing is tying the individual’s personal reputation very closely with that of the company in a very public and well documented way. In the past it was relatively easy (especially in a big city) to gloss over a former job and what you really did in it.
But now this will become increasingly difficult as more and more of our business interaction is transacted in public and online.
It will also become increasingly difficult for companies on several levels:
Firstly, they will find it more challenging to repudiate the activities and actions of employees, since these will be well documented online.
Secondly, they will find their public reputation increasingly tied explicitly to employee behaviour as played out in various online forums.
And thirdly, there is the risk that employees will use online forums to share their feelings (both positive and negative), as per the very colourful examples of Goldman Sachs’ former employee Greg Smith Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs or Google’s James Whittaker Why I Left Google.
One thing is certain, the boundaries between private citizens and their online activity as representatives of a company is starting to blur and this is likely to increase. It also means that we individuals will increasingly be subject to ongoing and continuous surveillance from companies as well as the government.
For many years now my friends, colleagues and I have been talking and thinking about the hyperconnections made available to us by the growth of the internet, telecommunications devices and networks, and social platforms. For a good background on it check out Mark Pesce and Ross Dawson.
But I think that we have reached a state in our evolution as human where the practices of hyperconnectivity have changed the way we are doing, being, and thinking.
Connectedness is no longer about technology it is about people. Our need for connectedness is beginning to transcend the technology. I believe that, even if the internet disappeared tomorrow, our desire for and expectation of connectedness would continue and that the behaviours engendered by the internet will remain to be expressed.
Movements like #Occupy and the Arab Spring around the world show that people connecting is more than just a technology thing, although technology has amplified the ability of people to connect across distance.
Human beings don’t want to just engage and connect with brands, a desire to create a world better suited for the beings that inhabit it (and their progeny) is growing and we see real life communities growing.
A good example of this Social Innovation Sydney. It started online but this community connects in real life meetups and the human network creates connections, relationships, and activities far beyond the initial starting point.
If the internet disappears tomorrow how will you be able to find your tribe?
Recently I was re-reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, a moving letter from prison that looks at spirituality and faith from the depths of despair and degradation.
This particular quote stood out for me, especially the notion that we do not know ourselves very well.
“But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can’t know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom.
The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?
When the son went out to look for his father’s asses, he did not know that a man of God was waiting for him with the very chrism of coronation, and that his own soul was already the soul of a king.”
It seems, as we move into the interesting year of 2012, that this is a good time to turn our efforts towards understanding ourselves more fully. And, along with that, to discover how to accept ourselves as we are, both flawed and fabulous in parts.
I have come to suspect that our good relations with others hinge more upon our own understanding and acceptance of our own self than upon any other thing.
Hopefully we are not fated to suffer – as did Wilde (or Verlaine or Prince Kropotkin) – similar trials to achieve clarity and understanding.
As we come up to the year 2012 many prognosticators are predicting the end of the world. I suspect that this will not come to pass.
But I do think that we are seeing the end of the world as we’ve come to know it during the latter years of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century. Many of the verities upon which we’ve relied will be falter or disappear.
No matter what one thinks of these predictions of doom it is clear that we are moving into a new world next year on several fronts, mainly due to the global economic situation.
The global economy is not looking well – the British, European and US economies are mired in problems that seem insurmountable. Austerity measures are starting to bite in the UK and Eurozone. We are starting to see the breakdown of normal social bonds. For example, in Greece, there are even stories of parents giving up their children to the state because they can’t feed them: Greek economic crisis turns tragic for children abandoned by their families.
The US is coming up to a Presidential election and the deadlocks between Republicans and Democrats are likely to continue thus blocking any possibility for change. The economic situation in the US does not seem to be improving, in spite of the ‘green shoots’ some speak of. Instead the charts tell a sobering story (source: Financial Armageddon) for the US:
Australia has been sheltered from all of this by the strength of China, and it remains to be seen if this continues into the coming year.
What can we do?
It seems that there is not a lot we can do as individuals to address these larger global problems. However, what we can do is adjust our own lifestyle and mindset to better suit these challenging times. Since we are moving into a different kind of world it seems prudent to prepare proactively rather than sit and wait.
We are moving into a world where the rule of law is shifting, where the rights we’ve assumed were ours are being stripped away, where the social contract between the government and the governed is dissolving.
In this kind of environment the only source of solace is individuals who join together to create positive change in the world. We must join together to create a new kind of polity that rejects control and inequity. We must join together to create tribes and communities that embrace peace and reject anger.
Here are some of my thoughts about how we can approach this challenge:
The proliferation of social computing and huge growth in smart phones means that the communication landscape is changing. No longer are people tied to desk to access applications and the internet. And the high usage of social networks is driving different expectations in our user communities.
Further, there is an increase in social recommendations as an engine of business. The workplace is changing. We are changing both the physical experience of the workplace, with creation of collaborative spaces for people to gather in as well as traditional work stations. Along side the changes in the physical work spaces we are seeing a rapid evolution in social business practices and platforms that mirror the experience of public social networks.
The challenge for businesses today is how to engage and retain staff, and to build a culture that supports the creation of value for all stakeholders. Maintaining relationships with current and former staff members (through alumni communities) and other stakeholders is becoming critical. This is where community management becomes increasingly important.
Also, for many years, employers have taken it as their right to undertake surveillance of various kinds in respect of their current and potential employees. Now we are seeing the rise of sousveillance or ‘inverse surveillance’, where the watchers become the watched.
This phenomenon of sousveillance is merging with the trend towards social recommendations to create reputation networks that not only encompass the personal brands of individuals, but also include corporate brands. This is changing the rules of engagement for all parties. Employees are increasingly likely to bring with them a fully fleshed personal brand and a propensity to use social media as part of their daily lives.
Companies are increasingly demanding that their employees participate in social media on behalf of their brands. This means that the boundaries between personal and corporate brands are likely to blur, and we can expect to see skirmishes along those boundaries. Questions such as who really owns the contacts made via social media that an individual has made during their employment will need to be resolved. We are already seeing legal cases testing this question.
The big challenges that I see (from a company perspective) within the new hyperconnected landscape include:
the need to master complexity;
finding ways to deal with shifting or blurred boundaries between the public and private or between business and personal;
the need to remove friction in processes across silos and boundaries;
continued demands to deliver value to all stakeholders; and
the increased need to build and maintain relationships and the growing visibility of those relationships via social channels.
Tonia Ries has just published an article titled Privacy Fail: Klout Has Gone Too Far, which outlines how Klout is indexing social networks and creating/measuring user profiles, even if they have never registered with Klout.
When Jeremy Bentham originally came up with the idea of a panopticon he introduced it saying:
“Morals reformed – health preserved – industry invigorated instruction diffused – public burthens lightened – Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock – the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied – all by a simple idea in Architecture!”
And thus it is, that by the beginning of the twenty-first century, we have (well most of us) willingly and freely chosen to become part of an electronic panopticon.
Privacy is now only possible by a steadfast refusal to participate in digital society in any way – by becoming like the Unabomber and moving to a shack in the woods. And even then, if others who participate in the electronic society mention your name or activities online, you are still caught up in the net.
Global surveillance has been made easy, simple, and ubiquitous. The very devices – laptops, tablets, mobile phones – we all carry enable this constant geophysical tracking via the SIM cards and wifi connections.
However, as we are seeing with the various #Occupy movements around the world, these same technologies that enable surveillance of us by the authorities, also enable sousveillance of the authorities by us.
This is one of the interesting things about living in an electronic panopticon. Unlike Bentham’s inmates we are not physically constrained to cells. We can move about freely (for the most part).
And we can also co-opt the same technology to create our own networks. Those networks can become peer-to-peer and frictionless. They can enable us to organise into groups very easily and to share information and ideas in ways that used to be hard.
The panopticon is here, it’s time to turn it to our own ends.
However, having worked in a number of organizations that took the triple bottom line and corporate social responsibility very seriously, I know that it is not pervasive within the organization in the same way as the maximization of shareholder value.
To put it bluntly my bonus often had a small component of CSR involved, but the major KPI was always contribution to revenue (a.k.a. shareholder return). Very rarely were major issues discussed in terms of CSR impact, but issues were often talked of in terms of impact on shareholder return.
Measurement of the triple bottom line is not the problem. It is only a problem in an environment where the only things that matter are those that are monetized and which are realizable within a short term timeframe. In that context it is impossible to measure other things that matter – like quality of life, social impact, or common good.
Corporations focus on what provides revenue. That is the nature of the beast. It is not evil to pursue revenue. However, the pure pursuit of revenue is an amoral activity. This is especially true if executed in an environment where things – people, environment, society – are objectified and monetized.
I got interested in the idea of implementing a triple bottom line back in the 1990s. From my perspective it has not made much progress. CSR is still largely the responsibility one department within most companies. It has not become a pervasive filter for everyday business decisions. And I do not think it ever will become one with the current way corporations are structured, rewarded, and assessed.
Even if a corporation wanted to change their approach on CSR and implement it more fully, the market analysts would most likely punish them. This is because CSR necessarily impacts upon returns to shareholders. Since most public companies focus on analyst reports to ensure share prices are maintained this is a problem. And the problem is related to executive rewards, since often these are tied to stock performance.
For modern corporations the complex nexus between corporate structure, executive reward, and market assessment means that truly implementing the triple bottom line is fraught with risk.
Back in 1976 Michael Jensen and William Meckling argued that the solution to the principal-agency problem — business leaders advance their own interests not those of shareowners — was to make the goal of the corporation the highest return to shareholders and to align shareholders and business leaders through granting stock options. Today this remains the prevalent model of organizing and motivating people within organizations in the western world.
I have long argued that this approach evokes extremely dangerous behaviours in companies – creating corporations that are run as if they are peopled by soulless automata.
The construction of reward systems that prioritize shareholder value as the sole objective of the corporation encourage risk taking, little focus on other concerns (such as social and environmental good), and poor treatment of human resources.
Dan Ariely has written about Better (and more) Social Bonuses – it is worth reading. Bonus scheme incentives encourage unhealthy competition and can drive unintended outcomes, such as ignoring due process (as in the various bank scandals such as the recent UBS rogue trader).
One characteristic of the shareholder value model in action is the objectification and monetization of things – people, environment, social good. This attitude has inherent problems for all stakeholders in a business, even for the shareholders. Shareholders are people too, they live within a society and an environment. Thus prioritizing shareholder value over social and environmental good is not necessarily good for shareholders.
As a senior manager in large corporations I often found myself referring to people as FTE (a.k.a. full time equivalents). This objectification of the people within the organization – treating them as if they are mere machines – is a characteristic of this shareholder primacy model.
Once the people who work in the business are successfully objectified it is much easier to treat them in ways that previously impossible. It is easier to implement inhumane or unsafe work practices. It is easier to fire people. It is easier to ask people to do things that are unethical.
The other part of this unhealthy equation is the large institutional shareholders in corporations. Because they represent interested parties at second or third hand again we see objectification of the process. They too seek only to maximize benefit for the shareholders that they represent. But because they represent those shareholders at arm’s length they do not understand the needs or wants of those shareholders. Thus the real people who are shareholders are assumed to only seek maximum value no matter how that is achieved.
The common thread in all of this that real people with real desires to create a good world for themselves and their grandchildren do not have their interests adequately represented. Instead we all suffer – people, planet, nature – because of this single-minded pursuit of maximal shareholder benefit.