The Smartest People Will Never Work For You

Joy’s law is the principle that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”.

Bill Joy, the computer engineer to whom it’s attributed argued that if you rely solely on your own employees, you’ll never solve all your customers’ needs.

It’s a quote that’s never been more true.

Joy was not talking about the hackneyed “war for talent” trope. Even if you somehow manage to get the best and the brightest to work for you, there will always be an infinite number of other, smarter people employed by others.

Even if it was possible – these days we don’t need to employ those people. We live in a networked age – and having people who can master ‘distributed problem solving’ and collaborate at scale – will be a differentiator for organisations.

This week I was in Wales speaking at an event organised by the Good Practice Exchange – all about effective collaboration using technology.

Harnessing the power of collective thinking is one of the most effective ways to maximise innovation output. The more minds, brain power and insight you can gather, the better.

It’s recognised that CEOs with connections to diverse social environments built of people from a variety of backgrounds can create more value for the organisations they lead.  In today’s digital economy this knowledge exchange is open to any of us – IF we stay clear of echo chambers and embrace genuine diversity. (That means, not blocking people who disagree with you.)

Social media gives you access to people who behave and think differently.  Used wisely it can encourage people to break out of your own sector.  By actively following people you don’t agree with your people will become less prone to groupthink.

If you’re only surrounding your people with those who think like them – you are limiting your companies capacity and capability for innovation.

Groupthink – “a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures” – historically only happened to small groups.

Hashtags have changed all that.

In a society in which social networks consume so much of our time we have evolved into a mass version of groupthink. A herd mentality of a scale we’ve never previously encountered.

It’s time for us all to really consider the role of diversity in our social media content. The algorithm is deliberately feeding you more of what you want to hear.

This diversity can be advantageous: research suggests that employees with a diverse Twitter network—one that exposes them to people and ideas they don’t already know—tend to generate better ideas.

Screenshot 2019-10-18 at 06.39.28

 

This research differentiated between idea scouts and connectors.

An idea scout is someone who looks outside the organisation to bring in new ideas, using Twitter as a gateway to solution options.

An idea connector, meanwhile, is someone who can assimilate the external ideas and find opportunities within the organisation to implement these new concepts.

In the research,  Twitter users who performed the two roles at the same time were the most innovative.

That’s easier said than done, we often find that people who are great at making connections and opportunities aren’t the best ones at matching them to strategy and implementing.

A good innovation team plays this role – acting as a pressure chamber where external influences can enter the organisation, in a controlled and measured way.

Social media will help your people crowdsource opinion from others. I often find myself thinking out loud-  this blog is essentially a brain diary to see if what I’m thinking connects with others. Learning out loud in our networks helps to seek new opinions and share our own with a wider group. It allows us to take half-baked ideas and test them out in public, with low risk.

Just soaking up other people’s opinions doesn’t lead to innovation though. Rather – it’s the ability of employees to identify, assimilate and exploit new ideas to create new value.  This is where our organisations need to put more effort and support in for people – it’s hardly ever talked about, much less taught.

The smartest people will never work for you. We need to create a network of as many great contributors as we can–and transform it into a community.

So many of us , right around the world , are working on solving exactly the same problems. To address these complex problems our organisations must be reshaped for a community where ideas and information flow openly and transparently.

The real opportunities lie right at the heart of it.

How Technology Is Changing Our Conversation

In 2013 a Communications Director named Justine Sacco landed in Cape Town after a flight from New York.

As she switched her phone back on she was met with two messages.

The first was from someone she hadn’t spoken to for years:

“I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.”

The second was from her best friend:

“You need to call me immediately. You’re the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter right now.”

Then her notifications went haywire – and her whole life blew up.

Hours earlier, during a stopover in London,  she’d sent a tweet to her 120 followers that had gone viral whilst she was in the air.

It read:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Many of us on Twitter at the time remember the incident as we participated in it. We were rapt with excitement at we followed the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet – with tens of thousands of us waiting for the real time sacking of a villainous racist.

Except, as Jon Ronson revealed in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed , Justine wasn’t a villain, and she wasn’t a racist. She’d made a really badly worded joke intending to make fun of her own privilege. It had backfired in the most horrible way possible. She rarely left her house for a year.

I tried to change my social media behaviour the day I finished that book. I tried to resist joining in. Social media shamings are now a daily occurrence, as if we are becoming addicted to the experience of bringing others down.

Last week Sky News presenter Jayne Secker was the subject of her own tweetstorm. During an interview about the housing crisis she made comments about the competence of young tenants and whether they knew how to change a lightbulb.

“Do you think you’ve found amongst your friends, perhaps, that you’re aren’t equipped with the necessary skills to rent?” she asked.

The interview was certainly bizarre and her comments completely irrelevant to the subject at hand – but was the response entirely proportionate?

Haven’t many landlords , social as well as private, asked themselves exactly the same question?

Twitter was unforgiving and brutal, even in the face of an apology.

“I am sure many of us will have made a mistake at work – unfortunate for me mine is a lot more public than most” she tweeted.

In the responses below I saw two tweets from people who follow me. People who I’ve had many positive interactions with.

One of them used the hashtag “#scumbag”. The other just said “sack this c**t”.

We are now truly down the rabbit hole, with shamings leading to sackings leading to shaming and more blaming. It’s as if we can’t adapt to the new power of instantaneous communication, compelled to comment in ways we’d never do in a real life situation.

In her excellent TED talk Carole Cadwalladr rightly calls out the ‘gods of Silicon Valley’ for their failure to control the awesome tools they have given us, but arguably the responsibility is shared with us too. We have to re-calibrate our online behaviour based on values of free speech, but also have empathy and consideration for others.

I’ve just finished listening to The Last Days of August in which Jon Ronson returns to the subject of shaming.

It details the story of August Ames, a porn star, who came under heavy criticism for saying she didn’t want to work with men who have also appeared in gay pornography.

Finding herself engulfed amid accusations of homophobia she posted her last ever tweet the next day – which simply read “f*** y’all.”

A few hours later she was found hanged. She was 23.

In the podcast, and its excellent companion piece, The Butterfly Effect , Ronson charts the effect technological disruption is having on us. Much of it is funny and wonderful, and some of it is sad and deeply troubling.

The most worrying aspect is the effect on our public discourse. 

Conversation is all we have. It’s only through talking with those who disagree with us that we can hope to achieve any form of progress.

However we must also recognise we will make mistakes in our online behaviours. I’m not intelligent all of the time and I doubt you are too. We all have a lot of stupid in us.

We have to be able to criticise bad ideas. But we don’t want to close down those ideas as without the conversation we become more and more entrenched in our views, and that is good for no-one.

Last week I had a bit of a Twitter spat when someone misinterpreted a tweet I sent. I was having a bad day and sent a bit of a snarky response. In real life I’d have probably offered to buy them a pint and talk it out down the pub. However the lack of eyeball contact on social media is where so much can go wrong. We haven’t yet developed a complete set of cues that guide conversation.

This is the first time in human history that we’ve had a space in which we can collaborate with total strangers.

We desperately need to protect that space and that conversation.

That means we need to be lot more tolerant.

We need to try to get our facts straight before commenting.

We need to resist the temptation to join in with public shamings.

Most of all we just need to breathe a little more and be a whole lot nicer to one another.

Minority Dissent: Why Intelligent People Fail To Solve Problems

At the end of November 2018 my blog posts dried up.

I’ve not published one for over seven weeks – the longest gap for a couple of years. The problem wasn’t that I had nothing to write, rather I was afraid of the reaction to what I’d say.

I have five draft posts I’ve struggled to finish because of a fear of being misinterpreted – or a fear they might upset someone.

It’s hard to believe it was only five years ago when we had huge hopes for social media – that a genuine counter-culture was disrupting our established organisations. We finally had a decentralized communication platform for knowledge sharing and idea exchange.

With hindsight that was overly optimistic.

The two seismic events of 2016 – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – were partly a reaction to that misplaced optimism. Plenty of people felt shut out and left behind from the party. The fallout has caused mayhem ever since.

  • Fake news – a term no-one really used until a couple of years ago is now seen as one of the biggest threats to democracy.
  • We seem to be getting a bit nastier to each other online –  where the lack of eye contact allows us to be particularly rude to people in ways we’d never consider in real life.
  • We’ve arguably got a bit too sensitive , with hurt feelings meaning you can be reported to the Police for upsetting someone.

Analysis of social media use shows that we tend to engage most with information that aligns to our existing beliefs and perceptions on the world.  With people spending up to two hours a day on social media that’s a significant amount of time spent in a bubble.

If you are mostly friends with people on social media who share your views,  naturally you are more likely to hear confirmation of your views than dissent.  You share your views on Brexit for example, and everyone agrees with you. This reinforces your world view rather than making you question it. When you do hear dissent it seems like an anomaly. You’re clearly on the side of the angels!

Last year I made a deliberate effort to spend more time engaging with people and content that offered completely opposing views to my own. I only drew the line at anything that was truly hateful.

I think I understand other people’s views and experiences better as a result, and I definitely acknowledge that I was more comfortable living in a bubble. It’s unsettling when you’re not so sure you are right.

Why Intelligent People Fail To Solve Problems

In 1972 a psychologist named Irving Janis published an essay explaining how a group of very clever people working together to solve a problem can sometimes arrive at the worst possible answer.

He paid particular attention to foreign policy, the US involvement in Vietnam and JFK’s disastrous intervention into Cuba.

The paper inspired the phrase ‘group-think’ – the psychological drive for consensus at any cost that suppresses disagreement and prevents the consideration of alternatives.

As facilitators and designers at Bromford Lab, we see this all the time. Well-intentioned people can make irrational decisions when they are spurred on by the urge to conform. This can simply be because we value harmony above rational thinking.

Minority Dissent and Innovation 

It may go against a happy-clappy harmonious view of the workplace, but discord has to be allowed to take its proper place if we are to solve the problems that matter.

Agreeableness is not always the best personality trait for innovation. Agreeable people like to work in places where everyone gets along, rather than places that are competitive, or where people are openly challenged. They prefer the status quo to rocking the boat with new or controversial ideas.

Ultimately we do need to create safe team climates, but ones in which dissenting opinions are used effectively to create radical change.

  • We need to regularly seek out views that are different to our own – and create conditions where people are comfortable expressing dissenter views.
  • We need to debate more and be a lot less sure we are right. There are very few absolutes in the world today.
  • Every organisation needs a truly safe space where beliefs can be challenged and assumptions put to the test.
  • Remember that dissenting for the sake of dissenting is not useful or clever. Don’t be a dick.
  • However, authentic and sincere dissent stimulates thought and improves the quality of ideas.

Diversity is important,  but we need to embrace a diversity of perspectives too.  It’s easy to say that but not so easy to do.

It means challenging yourself on where you spend your time, and who with. Listening to voices you’d probably prefer not to hear.

Making Sense of Social Media and Learning

 In 2017 not using social media as a leader is akin to sitting in a closed office with the door shut and the phone on divert – all day everyday.

However – there’s often a gap between social media and our ‘real’ work.

Despite the fact that we’ll spend about three years of our lives on social media many of our workplaces still block access or see it as ‘non-work’.

The question I posed during a webinar I presented this week was:

If you’re not using social media as part of your learning and development, what are you using?

The people who are shaping – and challenging – my work and thoughts are all active participants in interactive media. The leaders and emergent leaders I admire are all using a range of tools to communicate ideas. Not in a broadcast way, but as part of many-to-many conversations that they respond to in real time.

However I know that many current leaders think that time spent on social media is not real work. That it means you don’t have enough to do.

Traditional leadership distrusts social networks in the same way the mainstream media does.

People are rapidly migrating away from the old-school mainstream media, away from centrally controlled and managed models. Many of us are out there forging our own networks – making new connections and using our communities to bridge the gap between innovation and getting work done.

We can spot spin. We no longer need the push messages from organisations and government. We don’t need your leadership development programmes thanks – we can develop our own.

However we can help our organisations make sense of social media – by being more purposeful about how and where we spend our time.

I’ve posted before about developing your own personal social media policy – but I took the opportunity during the webinar to refresh it.

My current five rules are:

Clarity of purpose is increasingly important to me in deciding how I spend time online. If we can articulate this to our organisations – and can demonstrate how social learning translates into work outcomes – we’ll bridge the gap.

If we are going to spend three-to-four years with our thumbs on our smartphones we owe it to ourselves and our employers to be more purposeful.

Using the idea exchange of social media to transform the workplace would be a good place to start.

Stepping Behind The Rhetoric of Digital Transformation

Fundamentally the challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model which is rooted in serving a de facto purpose which is disconnected from the people and places the organisation or leaders serve – Carl Haggerty

 

Yesterday I chaired an event where the CEO of HACT , Matt Leach, gave us a wicked provocation.

Talk of a digital transformation in housing (he could also have been talking about care, health etc) is rubbish.

It hasn’t happened.

All the talk , all the conferences , all the clubs , the tweets,  all the lists of digital leaders – it’s all rhetoric.

Nothing has changed.

We are delivering the same services as we did in 1965. Just with shiny websites and customer portals.  

It’s a point that Carl Haggerty also refers to in his must read post. Too many people are claiming that there is digital transformation happening – when really it is just automating legacy processes.

It’s improvement for sure. Less time for customers , less money for providers – but it’s not ‘transformation’, a word possibly even more abused than innovation.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 11.26.00

Here’s what transformation could be:

  • Rebuilding your organisation as platform – enabling people to select the suppliers and services they themselves want – rather than the ones that made it through your procurement framework.
  • Rewiring your organisation for the network era – stripping out hierarchy and management and making the,  often painful, transition to decentralised decision making.
  • Automating everything that can be automated. But not before stripping out legacy protocols and systems.  Decommissioning old world services as you launch new ones, reserving your people for worthwhile jobs that add value to their lives and those of others.

Transformation is not about the illusion of radical change (better, faster services , less crap than they used to be) but rather a fundamental rethink of why you exist – and a reshaping of the ways you deliver upon it.

That said, a few events I’ve been to over the past week have reminded me that many of us are a long way from this.

For a lot of people closer to the frontline some minor changes could be truly transformative.

Over the past days I’ve heard the , sometimes sad,  reality of people trying to change things whilst their organisation seems to fight against it.

  • Of organisations where social media is still banned, or at least actively discouraged
  • Of organisations where IT departments tell people resources like Yammer and Slack cost £35,000
  • Of people stuck using digital tools that were last updated when Gordon Brown was in Number 10.

(As an aside I was told great stories of young people entering the workplace not knowing what Outlook is. Not even realising that Microsoft made anything other than Xbox!)

For all the talk of transformation we are in an era of digital haves and have nots. And Matt rightly questioned how seriously this agenda is taken strategically.

  • How many social sector organisations have true digital leaders on their boards?
  • How many Chief Information Officers (or their equivalent) are part of the executive function?

At the end of the conference I collected up some of the evaluation sheets.

The first one had scored my slot , presented in the slides above, 5 out of 10.

My talk of robots, 3D printing and self management was a world away from what they needed. They just wanted tips on how they could convince their organisation that social media had a business benefit.

Transformation, like innovation, is all relative. We need to support whatever makes a difference to people. 

2015: The year we put the social back into housing 

Social-Business-Textbook

You can have super star status online without any official status offline; you can be a powerful chief executive offline with very little impact online – Victoria Betton 

Just over two years ago I pronounced rather grandly that 2012 was the year we went social. The year the UK housing sector embraced new technologies embarking on a journey of redefinition for the era of digital transformation.

Looking back at that now it seems very naive. 

In reality only a fraction of the sector is genuinely experimenting with new forms of digital engagement. 

I haven’t the time or inclination to count how many housing CEOs maintain an active social media presence . But I’m taking a considered guesstimate it’s around 15%. 

By way of example just five of the high profile G15 Group of CEOs have a presence on Twitter and only three in a way that’s meaningful. 

But it’s not just leaders , The staple roles of the sector , housing officer , maintenance engineer , support worker are – by and large – missing in action and failing to embrace golden opportunities to connect with communities. 

Board members are pretty much invisible although there are some very notable exceptions. 

Organisations that livestream or share from board meetings?  CEOs doing Facebook chats or hangouts? You could count them on one hand – even if you’d had an unfortunate accident with a meat cleaver.

 Additionally most organisations still have the dial firmly set to Promote rather than Converse.

Do a check on any housing brand account. Check how many of their last 10 posts directly link back to their own website. There’s a prize if you can name ten that don’t reference themselves 90% of the time. 

Here’s a shot of realism: UK housing is about 10-15% operational on social media. At best. 

This speaks to me of a lack of curiosity. An insularity that has haunted the sector for the entire time I’ve been part of it. It’s not a good look. 

People often talk to me about the battles fought in their organisations to get digital adopted. It’s all too often a sad story of risk averse leaders , hierarchical control and command, power mad comms teams and rabid IT and governance departments.

Of course this isn’t true everywhere: some are setting an astonishing pace. 

Power Players 14 and Connected Housing showed there are a raft of organisations and people who are sharing ideas, connecting with others and reaching beyond sector boundaries. We could have filled the Power Players list four times over last year.

There’s also a growing movement of CEO front runners – although it’s notably stronger in northern England and Wales than elsewhere. 

This lack of leadership presence is especially puzzling given housing has an obsession about getting its message heard. (The laudable if slightly self-serving “build more homes”). 

And therein lies the problem: anyone that focuses solely on getting their message heard is guilty of the most heinous of social crimes: broadcasting. 

My big wish for 2015? That organisations and a whole sector could wake up to that fact that endlessly broadcasting your “message” just isn’t going to work. 

This is a world built on relationships and connections. It involves you listening to others, generously sharing and doing more than just following everyone else in your sector. 

I hope to be writing a different post in 12 months time.

  • I hope to write of the social leaders who are openly challenging mediocre services and championing innovation and risk.
  • I hope to see organisations using social to reconnect with communities and embracing the emerging online tenant voice. 
  • I want to see organisations experimenting with new networks and technology in inventive ways. Having a Twitter account is a minimum requirement now not a badge of honour.
  • I’d love to see more recognition of the talents of individuals and communities rather than the well intentioned but paternalistic focus on rescuing people from the latest reforms. 

Most of all I want social housing to be more social.

It’s a new year and a new start – where we can put bad habits to bed. Latecomers can join the party and we’ll welcome them with open arms.

Let’s make 2015 our Zero Year. 

We can do amazing things when we’re better connected.