The Nature of Your Jobs

The Nature of Your Jobs

For long time readers (that’s both of you) my aversion to Apple as an organisation and the near cult of Steve Jobs is well documented. However, I’m also pretty ‘whole of market’ about where I get my wisdom – because I think learning is so precious that you should try and grab it wherever you find it.

It would be ridiculous to say I didn’t like Apple so there are no lessons to be learned from that organisation or its history.

The other day I passed an ice cream stand that had a Steve Jobs (attributed) quote written on a board.

‘If you want to make everybody happy all the time then don’t become a leader… go sell ice creams’

I think at the heart of that is something really important. That helping people and organisations get better – and helping them achieve – isn’t the same as making people happy.

It certainly isn’t about making people unhappy (that’s toxic), but most of us have benefitted from tough but necessary lessons at some point in our careers. Most of us have recognised our luck in having people who are prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations with us which prompted us to reflect and grow. Once the conversation is over most of us were thankful that our manager/boss/colleague cared. Most of us – longer term – were happier.

I think it’s largely a false choice to ask people to pick between being respected and being liked. They aren’t mutually exclusive. But don’t ever lose sight of the fact that leaders get paid to do the stuff you respect them for, not to enhance their own popularity. My caveat to this is that once you accept you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs then it gives some people with a predilection for breaking eggs a nice excuse for poor behaviour. As with many things the truth lies somewhere in between.

If you are leading people then what they need and what they want aren’t always aligned. It’s your job to support those conversations to reconcile those things even if you are unpopular for a bit.

If you are leading people then their standards and those of the organisation might need to get a bit closer. It’s your job to step towards those conversations as quickly as possible for their benefit.

If you are leading people then sometimes the conversations with one person about their impact on the broader group fall may in your lap – it’s your job to handle them with grace and care.

If you don’t fancy that job or if you just want to be liked…

Well, you can always go and sell ice cream.

(please note if you work as a leader in the ice cream industry then you’ve got all angles covered. Kudos)

#StreetWisdom – life changing L&D?

This could be the most important blog you read this year. Not the best, just the most important. Stick with me.

I dithered over my question

I knew the question that I should ask (but would be uncomfortable) – and I knew the questions it would be more comfortable to ask. I went for the difficult question. We’ll come back to that.

Last Friday I went on the best development event I’ve ever attended. It didn’t involve incredible content delivery, it didn’t require incredibly talented facilitators, it wasn’t high tech blended learning – but it was truly fantastic. I’d like to help more people have similar events. I’d like to help promote Street Wisdom. 

This is part of that promotion, but I’ll also be delivering a few sessions in the near future to help encourage other people to spread the word too. I haven’t joined a cult – although if I have it is a pretty well intentioned cult with very low requirements for entry.

People found answers to some of life’s biggest challenges in 2 hours. If you wrote down a list of the biggest questions life can throw at you – then you would have found a group of 50 people grinning at having resolved them last Friday afternoon.

Short background

At the CIPD L&D show I met a guy called David Pearl. We talked about what I did, what I believed in and he said ‘look, I’ve got a not for profit thing that I do, it’s called Street Wisdom and I think it might be right up your street’. We exchanged details and a couple of days later I got an email with an invitation to a Street Wisdom event and a link to his TED talk. I watched the talk and signed up for Street Wisdom. I had a bit of faith.

In the run up to the event I was asked to think of one question I’d like answered. I toyed around with some career stuff but eventually committed to the big question I’ve been struggling with ‘what can I do to get better prepared for when someone close to me dies of cancer?’. There was no pressure on me to go with a big question, except that answering that one, in particular, seemed most likely to be of benefit to me and my family.

What happened on the day

We met in Trafalgar Square and were allocated to a facilitator. It was a diverse group – differing backgrounds, differing reasons for being there. We had a short introduction to Street Wisdom with particular focus that the intent is that it should become a movement – it isn’t owned by anyone, it is just about making a difference.

For the first hour we were set a series of challenges. Simple, simple challenges designed to get our heads into a space where we would be in a position to solve problems effectively. They were solitary adventures and I’m not revealing them in case losing that sense of unexpected spoils the learning journey for someone else. You don’t need to be scared, they are interesting. You do feel different when doing them.

After that you all get together to share your questions and then head off to see what the street can answer for you. I took photos as visual anchors – you didn’t have to but you weren’t told you couldn’t. I’m sharing about 70% of them, some of them I can’t as they are too personal or refer to other people involved.

I left feeling as in control of myself and my environment as I have done in the last 5 years. I left with things that I was committed enough to that I went home and talked my wife and brother through them. I left with a clear head about a difficult problem that I’ve wrestled with for over 2 years. I left with good things and a hope that I could share the simple techniques that gave me that benefit with others. 

Here we go – these are my resolutions and realisations. Nothing dramatic – but all gained in about an hour of wandering and wondering.
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I need to exercise more. Even in the hustle and bustle you can find time to commit to it. Whether it is walking instead of the tube or getting up earlier for a jog, I need to make sure I’m feeling less sluggish and more energetic.

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And I need to take more holiday too. I let my free days become cluttered days and don’t get enough genuine time to relax and refresh.

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And I have to realise that when I take that time out it won’t always be that the bits all click together like a jigsaw. Some things can’t be solved. I need to be OK with that.

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I need to find more opportunities (and plan more opportunities) to have conversations with people that I enjoy. With the people that I’m most glad to catch up with.

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Even when things are busy I need to find time to communicate. When I don’t feel like communicating – I still need to do it.

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I need to focus more specifically on what my wife and daughter need to make them happy. If we can sort out the three of us then that makes everything else far more manageable.

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I need to keep learning and keep seeing new stuff. It gives me energy (as long as I balance it with the need to not clutter that I’ve mentioned above).

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I need to make use of the weekends to do cool stuff with family, but also find ways to do that during the week too.

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I need to hold it firmly in mind that stuff can always be rebuilt. It just takes time.

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I enjoy going to watch sport. Sandro is a Spurs player, so this is my reminder to try and get myself up to watch my club a bit more often.

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Most nights I only get a short window of time with my daughter before she goes to bed. It’s up to me to make sure we make the most of that time during the week.

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I need to not expend energy on things that don’t matter. I can spend a few months not getting animated about the little annoyances (like people paying a premium for Apple products without checking out alternatives that may be a better value fit for their needs…)

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Buy my daughter toys she will cherish and enjoy

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Make use of the countryside that we have where we live…

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Remember the importance of environment in how I feel. I’m always listening to my IPod, I need to ensure that I’m picking tunes to pick me up.

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Take family up on offers of babysitting more often, so my wife and I can have time out and about enjoying London.

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Give gifts to people more often. I diverted from my reflections to get this for Simon Heath. If you haven’t read 3 Men in a Boat then you’ve missed out on a lot.

 

What happens now?

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, Simon Heath and I will be running one in the near future in London. Let me know if you are interested in taking part. Kate and I have also agreed to do one in Edinburgh. Simon and I thought it might be a good addition to an unconference format.

Most importantly – I’m doing things differently. And that, after all, is what L&D and life is all about. 

For more information head here

UKIP and entitlement

I’ve heard two truly great speeches live. One was by Tony Benn and the other was by my A-Level economics teacher. I know this blog is about HR(ish), but some of the noise from UKIP has stirred a memory of that speech by my teacher.

I was lucky enough go to grow up in a part of the country where grammar schools still provide, essentially, a free public school education. It’s worth checking this map to see the uneven distribution of grammar schools in the UK. It’s also a part of the country where a disproportionate amount of people can afford to pay for a public school education anyway.

I went to school in Royal Tunbridge Wells. It was a bit like Hogwarts without the magic. When you are 16 years old it feels like your entitlement. A great education and then a nice life somewhere leafy. The large proportion of my school will have gone on to have good careers in established professions, some will have gone on to senior roles in government, the military and industry. It’s just the way it works.

Except that as I grow older I recognise that the access to power and influence isn’t strongly correlated to people being a worthwhile human beings. In that way it really doesn’t work. It’s not that I went to school with bad people, it’s just that there is a richness or depth of experience that most of us didn’t have access to that you need to truly understand the wider world. We grew up in relative shelter, but with disproportionate influence.

I studied Economics for A-Level, except that I didn’t really study it because I had no work ethic whatsoever. If you ever want evidence of grade inflation it is simply that I got an A when my revision consisted of reading the textbook on the day of the exam, over a cup of tea, whilst playing snooker at my friend Dan’s house. That is how we rolled in Kent.

Achievement, status and effort quite regularly were divorced from each other.

My school used to ‘invite’ individuals who were struggling with Economics to move to study Business Studies instead. Business Studies was easier. The result of this was that I was in a good school, studying economics, where the wheat and chaff (academically) had effectively been sorted. In the room that I studied economics, you had (theoretically) the best of British.

Within a few weeks of starting the term it became clear that you can’t really separate economics and politics. Your view of what a government should do to influence economic behaviour is anchored in your concept of right and your understanding of how and why people act. We didn’t have much to work on in terms of life experience.

On my left sat a chap who has gone on to become an award winning economist. On my right sat the kind of person who now votes UKIP. Let’s run through his mindset.

The following were absolute truths that were recognised about foreigners

  • They were poorly educated
  • They came over here to take our jobs
  • They came over here to sponge off our benefits system
  • They were criminals
  • They weren’t all bad – but you know the ones that I’m talking about.

After one of these diatribes he provided a nice nod to me by saying ‘I’m not talking about you Dave, because you were born in this country, so you are only a bit foreign, and you are in a good school’ – yes, that conversation actually happened. I wasn’t sure whether to say thanks or just ignore it. There was a lot to process.

After about half a term of this mentality being applied to every economic and social problem we discussed our teacher felt moved to give one of the best addresses I have ever heard. It is the kind that I wish popped up more often on Question Time – or just in life more generally.

To protect the guilty we’ll call the individual involved Tarquin. Tarquin had just finished a speech on the economic necessity of closing the borders. This is how I remember the response. I really hope it was as good as I remember it.

“Jesus…just…Jesus Christ young man… you dumbfound me with your prejudice, you really do. I have no fucking idea how kids like you can get an education this good and still end up so stupid, I can’t begin to understand it. You are given access to all this knowledge and privilege and the best you come up with is reasons why other people shouldn’t get access to it? You really are an idiot. Even worst than that you are a bigot. You are a bigoted idiot.

 

I walked into the staff room the other day and overhead someone talking about bigoted behaviour – so I ambled across and asked them if, just guessing, they were talking about you and they were. You are a known bigot. We have such low expectations of your moral fibre its almost tragic. I know that you justify some of your comments by the fact your father is a banker, as if that is all we need to know, but let me tell you that whilst it might count for something in Tunbridge Wells, it doesn’t dictate right or wrong in the real world. Nobody gives a shit. I’ve seen the real world, it has no resemblance to what you describe as the UK when you open your mouth to give us another taste of your prejudice.

 

You’ve been studying economics with me for some time now and you are still unable to explain to me how these ‘foreigners’ are both claiming the dole and stealing your jobs and all without being educated enough to do either. I can understand why you, as an idiot, should be concerned about someone with a modicum of sense and ambition stealing your job, but the other folks in this room really shouldn’t worry about that.

 

I can see you are starting to cry so I’m going to stop talking to you, but I’m also going to ask you not to talk to me until you can give me some semblance of an idea that might make sense in terms of economic theory and the real world. All you offer me currently is that your father taught you to be scared of foreigners and that 6 years of education at this school hasn’t managed to undo that. Next time you speak please offer something that gives me some more confidence in both your intelligence and basic human nature.

 

If you can’t then just shut up and listen to these other gentlemen. I’ll mark your work fairly, but I have no time for your ideas being circulated in this classroom or elsewhere”

When I hear UKIP talking I hear people with a fear of ‘their’ world being taken over. I hear the voice of people who have just enough power to want to keep other people out of it. Who understand the politics of suspicion and greed. I don’t hear the voice of the people, I hear the fears of people being stoked. I hear the worst of human nature being manipulated. I hear hypocrisy and a sneering aggression. I hear an absence of compassion masked as concern. I hear arguments that didn’t pass muster when I was 16.

I hear nothing that gives me confidence in intelligence or human nature. I hear people who dumbfound me with prejudice.

The fact the traditional party system has left us with a void doesn’t mean we should tolerate it being filled with poison. Or incoherent nonsense.

 

 

 

 

1/2 metre Bratwursts and a Santa Dog

I went to the Christmas Markets in Berlin last month. We got caught in a blizzard (which is actually pretty standard for our family holidays) and generally had great fun.

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Here are some observations.

  • They offer hot dogs in Berlin that are half a metre long. As a direct consequence result I ate a hot dog that was half a metre long. There is something about dramatic numbers and challenges that is inherently attractive – also there is something about Bratwurst that is inherently attractive.
  • The Christmas Markets start in late November and it really doesn’t feel too early – that means that 6 weeks a year in Berlin are full of festive cheer. Over 10% of the year. So whilst (seemingly) half of the UK is moaning about the merits of Christmas jumpers the Germans are already holding a nationwide festival of hot dog eating and beer drinking that takes up almost every street. It doesn’t feel ‘less special’ for starting early, it feels wonderful because of the consistency of positivity and the community feel. The best solution to cynicism is enjoying yourself.
  • When you get a mug of hot chocolate with rum (as I may have done once or lots)or mulled wine you rent the glass it comes in as well. You pay a deposit of more than the manufacturing cost of the glass and then elect whether to take it back or not. It’s a glass or a memento. Nobody loses either way. The English may be a nation of shopkeepers, but the Germans have invented a deliberate win/win situation where every time I steal from a shopkeeper they are delighted at the profit. I don’t know an organisational parallel, but I’d love to find one (perhaps ‘I’ve hijacked this meeting so we can spend the time taking work off you’?)
  • The underground in Berlin works by you being required to have a valid ticket. End of story. If you don’t have a ticket and you get caught then you are in trouble. For most people this means that you don’t have to bundle your way through the bottlenecks caused by the hateful TFL barriers, you don’t have the kerfuffle of the Oyster card not working for the person in front of you. They assume you have a valid ticket and therefore wouldn’t want to inconvenience you by putting up barriers. I know plenty of organisational equivalents for this. Trust people, remove barriers, everything flows better – doesn’t mean you can’t punish noncompliance or you are weak – it means you are confident you recruited adults.
  • The coming together of cultures was wonderful. It was very confusing knowing how to speak to the waiters when they know you are English – but you are ordering in an Italian restaurant in Germany. Generally, people find a way to communicate. Often this involves grinning and stupid hand gestures. I have no idea why I thought I could mime ‘pepperoni’ or why I thought I needed to – but what you do in the moment doesn’t always tally with what you know to be sensible. I feel smaller every time I travel for understanding how much I don’t know – feeling smaller is often a spur to growth.
  • You forget, when working in London, just how little space there is. You get used to it. The wider streets in Berlin made everything more relaxing. Every trip out of the hotel felt at a different pace. That lack of intensity is a holiday in itself. I resolved when I was back in London to go for a walk around the parks and squares at lunch. I haven’t managed it once – I’m trying to work out if that is because of London or me. I probably know the answer.
  • The zoo was grim and would fail the ‘beermat test’ – please check out my slightly more downbeat post here

We’ll be going next year…I’d encourage you to as well

Also, does anybody not think this dog should be shared….
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The Imposter

During the the past week I have had more than one person congratulate me on how good I am at networking and self promotion, citing the success of the book as an example of this. I thank them for that, I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness behind it.

I’d like to level with you all. I’m rubbish at networking and self promotion. I simply can’t do it. I feel uncomfortable and slightly like an imposter. At a recent event someone asked me if I was a consultant. My reply was ‘um, I guess so, I mean…technically…people pay me to do stuff, so I guess I’d have to say I was, but I’m not sure I’m a proper one or if it will last’.

Yesterday someone asked me what my areas of expertise were for a speaking engagement. My initial response was ‘I’m interested in lots of things, I’d hate to claim to be an expert’

These aren’t the responses of a natural salesperson.

From the very first black tie networking event I attended in my career I’ve felt inadequate, out of place and about to be found out. So I found ways to make the experience more comfortable.

i) I find one person who I know (or who also looks lost) and I talk to them about whatever they like

ii) I try and help them with a problem if I can – I listen and try to be useful to them

iii) I assume everyone has an interesting story to tell

iv) I open up early and ditch the formality. I’ll talk really honestly with people

So I mentally exchange my forced black tie event for an evening doing what I love – learning about people and helping them solve their problems. Last week that led to me getting a visit to Facebook, a wonderful experience. I’m happy to admit it came about through me just wanting to find someone to talk to at the CIPD Centenary Dinner, primarily so I didn’t feel like a spare part.

The volume of PR around the book has been based around not letting 50 other authors down. If this was my book that I’d written on my own? There is simply no way that I’m spending days tweeting people asking them to endorse it. That is a horrible concept to me. I’m not brave enough and it’s not in my nature.The fact there is a social ambition to it and an ability for me to create success for others is what drives my behaviour.

All the good stuff that people think is me being brave is just me running scared from failure and awkwardness. I’m not leading, I’m just finding the most creative way I can to run away.

This will probably be a problem for me if I continue to be a ‘sort of consultant’. I’m not comfortable at self promotion. I’m comfortable with sharing. I thought I’d share that in case anyone feels the same way.

So I’m sharing that if you feel awkward with self promotion – well, there is at least one other person out there who feels the same way too.

No – they didn’t

The thing about time is that it is a great concealer. As we move away from any incident our brains are rapidly working overtime to make us the rational and courageous heroes of that piece.

Let’s think about what that looks like in the workplace.

Do you remember that incredibly heated meeting you had, the one where you kept your calm, but that guy you don’t like was shouting? It didn’t happen that way, it really may not have http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24286258

Do you remember that time you had to decide between rival tenders – one from a company that you had gone out for drinks with (they just bought the drinks, no biggy) and one you hadn’t seen before? You probably didn’t choose as fairly as you think you did  http://www.livescience.com/23902-brains-unconscious-bias-decisions.html

Do you remember all that great work your new hire did this year (you just clicked at interview, great gut instinct) and all the examples of ‘old thinking’ you saw from others? Not as clear cut as you might think. http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/10/halo-effect-when-your-own-mind-is.php

Derren Brown
Derren Brown (Photo credit: lwpkommunikaci

You don’t think the way that think you do. Which means that you are always a little bit further away from reality than you think you are.

What does that mean? Shouldn’t you just stop contributing – after all you may be relying on false memories or ignoring a bias.

No. Don’t stop. Everyone else is too.

Continue with confidence, it’s the only way anyone ever makes a difference. Just continue with humility and an understanding that you are fallible. Ask others for their view of the world and give it credence.

Understanding that you aren’t as right as you thought you were will help you be right more often. That is as right as you may get.

HR Social – Unicorns, rainbows and pixies

Emotivism – I feel a bit bored of social media without the fighting

Prescriptivism – everyone should fight, because I’m a bit bored of social media

Yes, it’s a trite summary of someone else’s position – but it’s provocative, likely to start an argument and possibly upsetting so it’s actually ok.

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Yesterday I read this blog http://goo.gl/IGMvG by Neil Morrison. Neil had been tweeting similar for the past few days, so I thought I would reply. Then some people agreed with Neil, so I attempted to pop their bubbles and things got a bit out of hand. Later on things got even less professional with people attacking each other directly and losing sight of the point altogether. The final comments posted were simply not something you would ever like to see. It was just abuse. I wasn’t involved in them, but as you can see they are personal, distasteful and not fun.

I’m guessing, but I imagine Neil is delighted that he has acted as some kind of provocateur (not delighted about the abuse, but the debate), bringing more fire to the topic of social HR. Stirring up some action, creating a platform for more openness. In contrast, what I was seeing was how quickly things disintegrate when a lack of respect is shown. I saw nothing creditable, no quality of debate, none of the upside that Neil originally posted about. It was like telling everyone in a meeting that from this point on you just need to shout loudest to win. Neil’s view (lifted from his blog) is that –

Social HR should be:

Edgy

Argumentative

Difficult

Provoking

Upsetting

Social HR has become:

Cosy

Warm

Consensual

Boring

Predictable

Guess what – I think the first list paints a picture that is horribly exclusive and the second one a horrible caricature . If the point is ‘wouldn’t a bit more constructive challenge be useful?’ then the answer is normally ‘yes’. However, to think that anything (a business or a group) should aspire to a culture that upsets people and is ‘difficult’ is something that, historically, only people already in power desire.

Since I’ve started tweeting/blogging I have been reliant on the kindness of strangers, the warmth of a community and encouragement from people that I’ve never met to make a contribution. That is how this works, we get excited about first time bloggers because we recognise the bravery in those first steps. People contribute in the hope they have something to offer – quite often it may not be ‘new’, but it will always be a slightly different angle. People do this because there aren’t monsters lurking in the background waiting to leap on their mistakes.  People do this because most people realise that, deliberately upsetting other people is counterproductive, if you want to to get the best from others, rather than just ‘win” the debate. The job of leaders is to move people through the cycle of forming, storming, norming, performing as quickly as they can – not to keep it in storming just because you used to like it that way.

Ignore the words ‘HRSocial’  and you’ll find any group benefits from being welcoming, supportive and curious. If you give support and create openness you end up with ideas. If you shoot down ideas, simply because you want to upset people under the banner of debate, then you are killing thoughts. Steinbeck said ‘ideas are like rabbits, get two, look after them and soon you have hundreds’. We now have hundreds being socialised on Twitter and blogs, it’s harder to track down the ones you might want to keep as pets… but the choice….wow.

Do you know what else kills debate? Crude polarisation. The thought that if we create something ‘warm’ then it can’t have edge and must be boring. Or that consensus means there has been no debate. Or that upsetting people shows that you have edge. That if you aren’t upsetting people they only other option is that you are obsessed with unicorns, rainbows and pixies and would never challenge something you believe to be wrong.  Some of the finest people I’ve worked known have been able to challenge, provoke and shape  my thinking without ever having to upset me. In fact, if they had upset me it is unlikely I would have allowed my thinking to be challenged.

Neil wrote a ten point agenda for change in HR that I really liked. It contains the following parts that I think apply to ‘social’ as well as in business. After all, we are people in and out of the office…

We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.

We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.

We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.

We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.

I could sign up for that for being what we need to do on Twitter, with a few tweaks; I can’t sign up for being difficult just for the sake of it. There are other people involved when we are difficult. Those people matter. If you upset someone on social because that is what you think you should do then it is cowardly. You aren’t doing it face to face, you don’t have to deal with the consequences and unlike work they were giving their energy to the conversation for free. Bad form, bad form.

So what’s new?

Neil makes the point that he is bored of reading the same old things, that everyone is still talking about engagement surveys etc.  Well, that’s true, but everyone has a different angle, in fact, when I started blogging I read an article about blogging for HR that inspired me to publish my first blog, it was written by Neil and contained the following

I won’t have anything new to say
Take it from me, there isn’t a single blog post that hasn’t been written before, fact. But there are a million different perspectives to be had on a subject and with the news constantly changing, you get a whole load of potential new topics presenting themselves each week. Blogs that add insight, perspective, thought and challenge are as popular as those that try to be at the cutting edge.

I haven’t read a blog that I haven’t taken something from, even if it is just one person’s view of the world – and I’m always glad they took the time to share their view. I was glad I read Neil’s, it gave me the chance to write this. He’s written some great stuff and I’m glad we have people injecting debate, but I can never be glad when someone is the architect of conflict, because normally it isn’t them getting hurt.

(slight caveat – this isn’t the start of the ‘Dave vs. Neil’ wars to keep people entertained. This is just a counterpoint, similar to the excellent one offered here wp.me/p2YgNX-fq by Simon Heath. Which attracted less debate, but also less bile. Neil actually has been nice to me personally, supportive and welcoming. I just want everyone to have the benefit of that)

If you want to know what ‘social’ constructively might be for I’ve added a feel good video…