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April 3, 2014

Productive Social Business and the Post*Shift launch

Livio and Lee at Post*Shift

When some of the social media gurus of the world started proclaiming that "social business was dead" a while back, my immediate thought was "this is where it gets interesting".


Well, when the shiny suited bandwagon jumpers move on it's pretty much a sign that the peak of inflated expectations is over, and that we're passing through the trough of disillusionment towards a plateau of productivity. And yes, gentle reader, I am alluding to the Gartner Hype Cycle here:


Once the flash and dash of the early hype is over, the serious work gets done. We're seeing some interesting new businesses emerging in the space, like my friends Agile Elephant and now a post Headshift/Dachis Lee Bryant and Livio Hughes with Post*Shift.

They held their launch part last night, and while I can't claim to completely understand what the company is right now - some hybrid of an incubator, an investor and a strategic consultant as far as I could tell - I'm certainly interested to see what they do over the next couple of years.

A few interesting notes from the introduction talks

  • Existing companies are prone to "innovation tourism" - where they go visit innovators and startups, and then go back to doing exactly what they did before.
  • Existing companies tend to become entities whose purpose is protecting their business model. They're disruption-adverse.
  • Startups may be more professional than many businesses, as they run lean and with zero waste - they just can't afford it.
  • There are many company structures which have existed conceptually for decades - but which social technology is finally making practical
  • The management consultancy model hasn't significantly changed in a century. It needs rethinking.

Right at the end of the talks, Lee touched on a small obsession of mine, when he started talking about how the disruption that the internet can bring could interface with more physical businesses - industry, manufacturing and the like (I've written about this for NEXT Berlin). I'm desperate to see startup thinking and social business start to spread beyond the obvious confines of knowledge workers and mobile apps. Looks like Post*Shift could be planning on making some inroads into a much wider discussion about the future of work - and that could be worth watching.

October 1, 2012

Meaning: Alexander Kjerulf on the happiness beyond job satisfaction

Alexander Kjerulf

Why is there so little concept of happiness at work? In Scandanavia there's even a word for it: Arbejdsglaede

It's not about being deliriously happy, it's about that feeling of kinda liking what you do. It's a feeling, not job satisfaction. A lot of companies measure and try and improve job satisfaction. Arberjdsglaede is how you feel about your job, job satisfaction is what you think about it. It's measured through a cerebral exercise of judgement. 

Anyone can have it. Sewage workers have it. You become part of the team when you have your first head-under accidental dunking... 

What make you happy at work? Pay? Perks? Promotion? Good coffee? None of those. 

1: Results

Making a difference - being proud of what you do - feeling that you did an awesome job, and contributed positively. It doesn't need to be in a checking-off tick boxes way. Not completing tasks - but knowing that you made a positive difference. A lot of jobs offer this - and some don't. Say... you make landmines. Is that meaningful? To most, probably not. 

2: Relationships

It's very banal: it's when you like the people you work with. Everything goes easier when you like each other. Knowing something about the person behind the professional title - when you have a coffee break in the work place, take the time to talk about other things than work. More and more people skip coffee breaks and eat lunch at their desk, missing an opportunity for this. 

The Meaning crowd

He had us greeting, complimenting, and touching each other to prove this. 

About 30 to 35% of the English hate their jobs. Why do we put up with this? There is an idea that work something slaves do so free men have time for philosophy and sports that started with the ancient Greeks. This came to the fore in the industrial age - that was a terrible time to be a worker. The attitude is that work is something you have to do. 

We spend most of our waking hours at work. It's the number three factor in life happiness after a romantic relationship and family. People who are happy at work do better work. Chasing success thinking it will make you happy is a failed idea. But working at something you love is more likely to make you successful. 

Southwest Airlines make employee happiness their number one priority, because that will make customers happy which will make investors happy.

What can you do? Really greet co-workers tomorrow, do random acts of workplace kindness, give yourself a little me time - and write down three things which were really awesome at work today. 

Happiness at work is something you create together, every day. It's a great business strategy. 

Meaning: Indy Johar on the micromassive society

indy Johar

The firm, the corporate entity, is a relatively recent invention. It was born in the 18th century, and a vehicle for efficient exploration of other of the world.

In 2010 he went to Detroit, and visited where the Model T Ford was built. Henry Ford was famous for paying more than average - a lot more. Why was he paying more than anyone else? Because he lost so many staff each week. Why? Because they were asked to doing the same thing again and again. It was the end of craft. Seven years later, the car had become stylised. It was being sold as a lifestyle image. As purpose was removed from work, it was transferred to consumption.

In 2004, he was working for a practice of 17 people. At 17 people, they were designing handrails for hospices with nodules, as the tactile memory is the last to go. At 64? The detail was lost. They were creators of images, not details. That says something about how we manage size.

Until 1998, he was at architectural school. He realised that the decisions of how a wall was made were being pulled from the craftsman building it to the architect designing it. The meaning was being stripped from the crasftman's work. 

There are diseconomies of scale - which are under-discussed. The losses of management are significant. We're moving into a civic economy. Since the 1960s, very few large organisations have been born. It's a trend. We're starting to have to look at what the informal economy means. The accelerated reputation economy is becoming more important than contracts. We can start holding ash other to account in small ways. We could all underwrite Stowe small amount for a loan. We can all start to aggregate in ways that haven't been done before - and that starts to redistribute power. 

Rutland Telecom is a great example of people coming together to create micro-infrastructure. 

The Hub is like a co-working space - but it's global. Not corporate clonal, but locally-owned global. All The Hubs together owned the idea and assets. It signals that we can build a civic global. There are 32 hubs around the world. Imagine what you could do with that with a university. 

Micromassive - the idea of how resources is pulled together is huge. The web is allowing us to make co-operative structures fractional and sharable in a way they never could before. 

Social - can be outcome, method, governance, ownership and inputs. But their all linked. They're all converging. In 10 years, we'll just be talking about social business as the way to do business. The funder is just one stakeholder in the process - the model of clients is different, because everyone is one.

Architects should be social liable for the buildings they design. It would ensure that I did everything possible to make that building a positive social outcome. If the local authority could sue me as an architect., I would have to work differently. But then you could librate planning. Why would you need it?  

In London Zoo, the only way out is through a tacky gift shop? It's a charity, I'm a member. Why? They're legally obliged to maximise value for their purpose. Single purpose vehicles are problem. Finance is changing - capital is starting to have to become intelligent. One VC says they're getting 40% returns - because ether think this is the future. 

There's a shift from management to co-ventureship - it's replaced by servant leadership. It's a fragile thing, easily destroyed by someone trying to take the reputation for themselves. 

Streetcar is not a sharing economy product, it;s a rent economy one. There is a risk we will be moved into a rental economy, where the assets are owned by fewer and fewer people. You end up with no assets. Sharing assets is different, because we actually build resilience. We have to be very careful about what we mean by platform. Platforms should be though of more like states than corporates. If we let assets be stripped away, be become very exposed to shocks. 

Meaning: David Hieatt on jeans and purpose

david hieatt

Imagine that one day they made you stop doing the job you love. That's what happened to Cardigan. The jeans factory closed, and 400 jobs - in a town of 4000 people - went away. 

Imagine what you'd do, if you sold your company and realised that it was a mistake. That's what happened to him. He toyed with the idea of getting back to making jeans - but does the world need another jeans maker? No. There are enough unsold ones in the US to last decade. 

But something needed to be done for the town. So, he started a jeans company. And they got six months of orders in the first few days - they had to stop taking ordes. 

But it was a good match. He could market jeans. The town could make them. The taxi drivers could teach you how to make jeans. They had people who had spent 50,000 hours making jeans. They were grand masters of jeans making. 

So far, they have 10 people. 10 out of 400.

It's a great story - manufacturing comes back to a town. It isn't enough.

Their coin pocket fits an iPhone. But quality isn't enough.

We have to have ideas.

The things we own, tell stories about us. Think of children's' beloved toys.

Now, think of the space where the internet - which tells stories - and the luddite desire to make objects last.

What if jeans had a story? The secondhand jeans market is stronger than the first hand one... If your jeans end up in a secondhand shop with a story attached, is that interesting?

The Antiques Roadshow is interesting for two reasons - you find out if you're going to be a millionaire, and what your object's story was. 80% of the market for jeans is for pre-washed jeans. Industrially was he dot make them look old. We can't afford the £1million market to fake history for our jeans. That puts us in the 20%.

So - we have the denim breaker club. You give students jeans for six months, who agree to wear them, and not to wash them. To record their history. And when we sell them, you get 20%. Planet earth is better for out. Our margin is better for it. But it's an experiment. We need ideas, because there are 390 jobs left to go. 

In 20 years' time we'll thank the bankers for making a mess of everything. It's such a mess that we'll have to do something extraordinary again. They made such a mess that everything has to slow down. I love Kickstarter - I love anything that starts putting the banks out of business.

We need big, bold, brave ideas. If you have them, I love you, and I want to make jeans for you. 

Meaning: Caroline Lucas asks when is enough enough?

Caroline Lucas


We need to throw away the old box, not think outside it. We need to give up on the idea of continuous economic growth. Its costs are too high. We need to see the economy as a possession of the environment, rather than the other way around. 

The green economy is more labour-intensive than the fossil fuel economy. It provides jobs to be a route out of our current economic difficulties. Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels are six times higher than for renewable energy. Imagine if that was refocused. 

We're stuck in an odd paradox. We have companies trumpeting their environmental credentials, even as the situation gets worse. Planes may be getting more environmentally focused - but as the planes get more green, their use goes up. It's a net loss.

There are some signs of hope. No-one wants your products - they want the use of them. B&Q realise that people want a hole in the wall, not a drill. So why not rent them? The need gets met, but resource consumption goes down. A human-powered MP3 player that looks like a plaster... Skype and Spotify stop us using planes or the plastic for CDs. You can make carpet tiles from recycled yarn

What would replace the mechanism of capitalism that requires endless growth? This is a dangerous idea. But growth is creating dysfunctional, unequal societies. Happiness does not reply on it - that's about happy families, meaningful work and connected societies. Right now - unless there is growth, people lose their jobs, taxes drop and public services erode. We need a new macro-economic model that takes account of the limited resources of the planet. If the biosphere isn't getting any bigger, the sub sphere has to achieve a steady state. 

A steady state is not a failed growth economy. A helicopter is designed to hover. An aircraft... is not. We need a helicopter economy. We need the same amount of better stuff, not more of the same stuff. We need to reform taxation, working hours and practices, pay structures, It's ambitious stuff - it need shift is attitude of politicians and the expectations of the public. We need to make the future we aspire to more positive than the fossil fuel driven one. We need enlightening people in business, in politics and in every walk of life. 

Unless people like you care - nothing will happen. 

Meaning: Stowe Boyd on Postnormal Culture

Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd is encouraging us to actively imagine a future where we ahem to rethink the fundamentals of business and society. Too much "social business" thinking is just too timid, he suggests. We have a challenge - we are always one step behind. We can only see the present clearly once it has become the past. But he's gonna help us try...

We're moving from a solid to a liquid world - the rate of innovation is growing exponentially. Great for medical research, for example, but bad for newspaper business models and the funding of investigative journalism. Social business has been an attempt to adapt to these changes. Things that arose in the social media world started to infect the business world. The big picture drivers are more important than the marginal economic benefit. Social business is post-modern. 

The loosening to connection to employers and employment has been largely negative. Huge tranches of jobs are being swept away by automation and computers. Are taxi drivers next, killed off by automatous vehicles. 

We've renovated our business by sanding the floors and painting the walls, not moving the walls around. 

This is a concept used by the military to define decision-making problems in war:

  • V = volatility
  • U = Uncertainty
  • C = Complexity
  • A = Ambiguity

It applies to our lives now. Cities, like social networks, increase social density. People move there because they're cheaper, you can make more money there. They innovate out of proportion to their size. New York has low numbers of gas stations and air-conditioning costs because of that density. 

VUCA undoes the conventional style of leadership. 

Marketing latched onto social media as another channel - but they got infected by it. They started using it internally as well as externally. They wanted to do more of it - and it infected the whole business. But the old company is still there - it just has a new layer on top of it. Research shows that if you increase people's social density - give them more connections in the business - they're happier and more productive. This is independent of any other changes in the business. People will use these tools to make work better - even if management do nothing. Businesses are going to get more porous - weaker barriers between departments, weaker barriers between the organisation and the rest of the world.

Companies are decreasing their office space and allow employees to work whoever hey are. A Citrix study suggests that companies are planning 6 seats for every 10 employees. 

Swift Trust: human beings have the capacity wired into us to co-operate. That's why freelance style projects - like Hollywood movies - work so well. People will come together and suspend their disbelief, do their work, and not bother with the battles for dominance and power in established organisations. It's projected to be 40% of the creative and professional working the US. This means companies can be more agile and experimental. That means that there's less commitment to workers, to their skills, to their pensions... 

Social business doesn't really support social business yet. The tools don't really facilitate it. They don't interoperate very well. 

So, what do we need to imagine? The Schutze method - that allows a huge number of people to vote on particular issues.

We need to move from exploitative models, to models based on people's relationships with small groups, that builds up based on the fact that everyone is connected.  Our leaders are not giving us visions of the future. We need to do that for ourselves. 

May 15, 2012

How corporate structure can accidentally stifle innovation

Flickr 2012-styleAh, Flickr. In 2004 I loved that site. But today is not a day for nostalgia. Today is a day for looking at the mistakes corporates make, and how you learn from them. And the Flickr/Yahoo relationship is a compelling example of just that:

"The money goes to the cash cows, not the cash calf," explains one former Flickr team member. If Flickr couldn't make bucks, it wouldn't get bucks (or talent, or resources).

Because Flickr wasn't as profitable as some of the other bigger properties, like Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Sports, it wasn't given the resources that were dedicated to other products. That meant it had to spend its resources on integration, rather than innovation. Which made it harder to attract new users, which meant it couldn't make as much money, which meant (full circle) it didn't get more resources. And so it goes.

As a result of being resource-starved, Flickr quit planting the anchors it needed to climb ever higher. It missed the boat on local, on real time, on mobile, and even ultimately on social--the field it pioneered. And so, it never became the Flickr of video; YouTube snagged that ring. It never became the Flickr of people, which was of course Facebook. It remained the Flickr of photos. At least, until Instagram came along.

It's a terrifying tale of how a corporate stifled the very innovation that it had bought, because t's entire business structure was built around rewarding existing successful businesses, not nurturing the business sectors of the future. Too much management philosophy is rooted in defending and growing existing success. And as long as companies enshrine that principle in their structures, jobs and employment approach, they will not be able to innovate - or profit from buying innovation. 

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January 10, 2012

What's the lifespan of a change agent?

Last week, David Armano of Edelman Digital published an interesting post looking at the qualities needed for a good change agent, someone who promotes change within an existing business. It's a term I identify with closely, as driving and promoting change are exactly what I've spent the last half decade doing. The most resonant phrase?

Change agents aren't sprinters, they run marathons

Preach it, brother. ;-)

It's a good read, and I thoroughly recommend that you take the time to work through its ideas.

However, I was actually struck harder by a remark in the comments, if only because it resonated so strongly with my own life:

Nothing in here tells me why this is the year of the change agent. In fact, at a lot of companies that guy got laid off.

I don't really hold with the first sentence, but I do with the second, and not just because that's how I perceive what happened to me. Since I went public with my news, I've been amazed by how many people in broadly similar roles to me have confided that their change of job, or move into consulting, was triggered by exactly the same set of circumstances: redundancy. Media businesses in particular seem to have been pushing their change agents out of the door for the last 18 months to two years.

So, there's a question here: what's the lifespan of a corporate change agent? How long can companies tolerate people whose natural focus is shaking up and changing the business from within? Do they grow tired of them? Or do they decide that change is "done" at some point, and thus that a change agent is no longer needed? Is, in the end, a change agent a role better suited to a consulting business, brought in for periods of time to other businesses, than a permanent employee?

I don't have the answers. I wish I did. But these are questions I am most certainly asking myself as I figure out what's next for me.

September 26, 2009


Nice thought from Valeria Maltoni:

Social is not new, businesses have known about social for a long time. It's the greater access that we now have (potentially) to learn more about how to do stuff well through collaboration that we are excited about - or we should be. Imagine if you could connect with people who think like you throughout the organization
Imagine indeed...

September 24, 2009

Social Business Ahoy

I admit it - this blog is all but moribund. But I thought I'd sneak a post or two on here before James takes it away from me.

The discussion about use of social software in businesses seems to have risen up people's radar significantly in the last month or so, and there's some really interesting discussion starting to build around it. This post by Euan really caught my attention:

Why do I believe this? Because I believe there is a fundamental change in how we do business heading our way. Driven by the networked communication tools flourishing on the web, tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, not only how we communicate with those who benefit from our services but also how we organise ourselves to produce them will be changed forever.
The post is about as good a summary of the changes in the air as any, but it's the discussion in the comments on the post that really make it fly.

June 8, 2009

Niall Cook on Corporate Social Networking

Niall Cook has started his talk with a challenge to preconceptions about social networking in corporates. It's not a case of buying something with Enterprise 2.0 on the box and thinking it will work. It won't. 


Any innovation in history usually is based around a technology that has been around for a while, but it requires a perfect political. social, technological storm to make it work.

The credit crunch is what is making it work. The "R" of ROI doesn't need to be much if the "I" is very small. You don't need to spend millions to get something that works. Our existing internal systems don't work. E-mail is overloaded. Intranets aren't working either. They're not collaboration tools, they're publishing tools and nobody's interested. The more social stuff is the only place that traffic will be holding up.

There's a shift from CEO as God to CEO as guide. And employees don't want command and control any more - they want managed engagement. The research says that if you're employees aren't engaged, they're creative negative value for your company. 

The workplace and the business are changing. It's more mobile, and more information-focused. The expectation of the workforce is greater than ever. They don't go "I'm at work now, I'm quite happy working in this structured, clunky system and then go home and use Facebook." They won't put up with the old-fashioned stuff any more. There's a shift in the psychological contract between employer and employee.

Digital natives are entering workforce - they don't care what impact their technology choices have on the business. Technology is part of their culture and they won't leave it at the door. 

Continue reading Niall Cook on Corporate Social Networking.

December 16, 2008

How The CEO's Kids Drive Adoption

Great post from Lee Bryant at Headshift looking at the evolutionary pressures around Web 2.0 tools in the workplace:

What I really like about the consumer Web 2.0 world is the fact that it has given us an amazing experimental laboratory for new tools and communication techniques. It has produced a Cambrian explosion of start ups, tools, features and buzzwords, each of which has evolved very quickly through exposure to rapid feedback at scale. Conversely, in the enterprise tools space, users are of secondary importance and therefore there are few evolutionary pressures that can improve the generally poor quality tools and systems that IT departments force on the business. This is starting to change as more and more senior people ask why their children have access to more effective tools on their home PCs than they have access to in the office.

Time to be proactive in providing stuff, before the CEO comes asking some hard questions...


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