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.

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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.

The Number 1 Priority For Your CEO: Building Trust

Silence is now deeply dangerous—a tax on truth – Richard Edelman

Trust is the most valuable commodity in your organisation – although it’s probably not something you talk about often, much less attempt to measure.

For the past 16 years, Edelman has attempted to track the progress, or decline, of trust across 28 countries.

The latest results of their Trust Barometer shows we live in an era of misinformation – which has profound implications for our organisations and communities.

Globally, nearly seven in 10 respondents among the general population worry about fake news or false information, 59% say that it is getting harder to tell if a piece of news comes from a credible source.

Tellingly only 24% of the UK trust Twitter, Facebook and Instagram when looking for news and information.

The credibility of  “a person like yourself” is at an all-time low. The great hope we had for social media as a democratising force for good – unleashing waves of citizen journalists – appears to be over.

This all sounds bleak, but actually, there’s a new hope. 

In an era of trust stagnation, there’s a new opportunity for leaders emerging. People have a renewed faith in credible voices of authority.

A few years ago there was a big drive to get CEOs on social media. With hindsight that was naive – we bear witness every single day to the disastrous consequences of leaders and politicians equipped with Twitter accounts.

The real drive should be to ensure our CEOs and leaders emerge as trusted credible sources of information.

7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is the No. 1 priority for CEOs, ahead of high-quality products and services.

Nearly two-thirds of people say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in most markets.

Building trust as a priority over delivering services? That’s a sit up and take notice moment.

Making this shift means a radical overhaul of how we currently view communication. Most organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right they can control the brand message.

Tell a good story. Issue flattering reports and PR pieces. Show you are nice people. Only engage with those who are positive about your organisation.

Demonstrably, this isn’t working. We are haemorrhaging trust.

Over the past week, I’ve been involved in a quite a few debates with leaders and the people we serve. Some of the conversations – and the disconnections they highlight – demonstrate exactly the themes that Edelman are tracking on a global scale.

Feelings of powerlessness, of not being listened to, of organisations that were designed to improve social outcomes becoming distant and ever more corporate.

I’ve certainly reflected on my own communications and why people sometimes don’t trust my organisation. Why they sometimes don’t trust me.

  • Distrust will only be combatted through leaders being open and accountable and having public discourse with one another and with the people they collectively serve.
  • Concern about disinformation will only be combatted by providing real evidence of the kind of outcomes we are achieving. It’s time to kill it with the awards for ourselves.

The digital age has disrupted the accepted rules of trust. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a binary one to one relationship behind closed doors is now conducted in public in a much broader social context.

Silence is dangerous.

Social media hasn’t shifted the balance of power — but it’s certainly shining a light on where power is held and how it behaves.

My Five Most Popular Posts of 2014

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It’s the time of year to reflect on the past 12 months and consider where next – personally and professionally. 

To that we also need to add our online profiles and give consideration to how we spend our digital time. The temptation with social is to spread yourself across every available platform – and I can’t be the only one nearing digital burnout. 

I closed several accounts this year and am starting to withdraw from the seemingly endless discussion groups. “Let’s set up a Yammer group to continue this debate”.  No, let’s not! Social media going forward is about developing social layers rather than siloed networks.

This year I’ve spent more time on Instagram and SlideShare than before and Twitter continues to provide great value. 

It’s been a pretty good year for this blog. It’s had a significant increase in hits and , much more importantly, a big spike in the number of comments and contributors. 

I think with blogging most of us start out posting what we think other people would want to hear before finding our true voice. The organic nature of social media means you end up in the hands of people who share the same passions – and you connect with fascinating people from all over the world. 

Whatever anyone says, blogging isn’t easy. Just like any form of social media the more you give the more you get out.

I know a lot of people who’ve started blogging in a professional capacity only to give up when their first few posts receive minimal attention. 

It’s time to wake up folks. 

Social media is an increasingly crowded space and no-one is waiting on your latest pronouncement! Just because you are a big organisation or successful CEO you have absolutely no right to command attention. 

Social is about relationships – they take time to build and need effort to truly nurture. 

It’s no coincidence that the 5 most popular posts on here have either featured other people’s work , started a debate , or were collaborations.

Here they are – in reverse order of course: 

5 – We need less talk about innovation and more about mediocrity

My attempted takedown of the innovation naysayers generated lots of comment. The war on mediocrity needs to intensify in 2015. 

4 – Managers are waste: five organisations saying goodbye to the boss

As public service cuts deepen it’s only natural that enlightened organisations will embark on a cull of their most expendable and expensive resource – the manager.

3 – The Top 50 Digital #PowerPlayers14 in #UKhousing 

The second year of the online influencer list for people working in and around social housing sent my Twitter into meltdown. This time we introduced a public nominations system (thanks Shirley Ayres for that idea!) which received hundreds of votes – showing that people love the interactive elements of social.

2 – Three things we should learn from Benefits Street

I was in Vietnam when my UK timeline erupted in fury at the latest Channel 4 docu-soap. Intrigued as to whether the haters had actually watched it , I came back and viewed it back to back. They clearly hadn’t. Poverty porn, much like real porn I guess , comes in varying degrees of quality and this series was pretty damn good. It had a better narrative about hope and aspiration than the social housing sector has ever managed. 

1 – Why the death of the office can’t come too soon

My most popular post (ever) detailed how 90% of work is a waste of time and money. It split the comments section , but I guarantee we’ll see some big UK organisations rationalising their offices in 2015. 

My blogging resolution next year is to be more diligent with the regularity of posts. With the exception of powerplayers , all these were written very quickly indeed.

I mess about with posts too much and perhaps worry about offending people. On social media someone somewhere gets upset about anything and everything.

I’m going to hang a a little looser this year and maybe publish some of my 100+ draft posts. 

Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. Thanks for your support! 

Throwback: Our Social Journey (So Far….)

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Your life story is being told by the digital content you produce 

One of the downsides of our digital lifestyle is that we simply can’t retain the information that passes through it.

I couldn’t tell you what I tweeted last week, much less a year ago.

Digital storage is changing our memories. We don’t need to remember specifics anymore – we know they are in the cloud somewhere. Searchable if we want retrieval.

This has risks, as we forget the experiences and learning that shaped where we are today.

Last week I was reminded by Timehop that I’d missed the 3rd anniversary of Bromford on Twitter.

Timehop – in case you don’t know –  is an app that sends users a daily reminder of moments from their social media past. A digital flashback.

It isn’t a new app but popularity has been boosted by trends like  Throwback Thursday (or #TBT) in which people share memories from across the social web.

It’s quite a novelty for people like me. I get reminders of photos I don’t remember taking, never mind posting.

But 3 years of Bromford as a social business? Is that all? It feels like a lifetime..

I’ve met more new and fascinating people in the past three years that I did in the previous 10 – and that’s purely down to professional (and unprofessional) use of social networking.

We should never forget our journey and the people who helped us on our way.

So this post is my personal digital throwback. A timehop through the past three years that brings together some  significant posts and slide decks.

Christmas 2011 – Our first baby steps

This post in which I picked my Bromford highlights of the year sees the emergence of key themes I still bang on about today. Losing the fear factor. Digital leadership. CEO visibility. I’d say transformation is nigh on impossible without those three things.

Spring 2012 – A Social Future

This was a key date – for me personally and for UK Housing. The Northern Housing Consortium hosted what would be a pivotal Social Media conference. It was chaired by Nick Atkin – who I didn’t really know at that point. It’s very easy to criticise digital evangelists like Nick and others but I think people should remember what the sector was like before.
Siloed. Lethargic. Bureaucratic.
The sector really only cared about the big associations – some of whom are now almost invisible in the post-digital world. Nick and the guys at Halton Housing have been genuine disruptors in that sense.
 The conference was also the first to open its doors to (shock, horror) non-housing people like Helen Reynolds.

Summer 2012 – Our first social media birthday

“12 months ago – nobody had access to social media at Bromford. Today everybody does. Unrestricted.

My hybrid work/personal twitter account @paulbromford was created exactly 1 year ago. Our Facebook pages opened 1 year ago. Our 1st blog appeared 1 year ago.

We still have no policy as such. There is no big list of rules. It’s a system run on trust and common sense rather than rules and procedure”

Think that says it all. But you can find more in this post capturing the six lessons we learnt in our first 12 months.

Christmas 2012 –  Myths from the year Housing went social

This attempted to sum up learning – and bust some myths. Here’s my favourite:

“Myth: Our Customers Are Not Online

I knew this to be false when a Customer Board Member emailed me to say they didn’t have internet access. People are online,  but they often choose not to tell their landlord. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are online. A customer recently told me they didn’t need broadband as they only ever used Facebook. Although I don’t deny that exclusion exists – the emerging issue is digital literacy and confidence rather than lack of access.”

Spring 2013 – 20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social

Originally presented at Housing Goes Digital – this slide deck represents my greatest learning: Keep it simple. Keep it short. Make it fun.

With nearly 90,000 views it’s also my most successful post about social media – by far.

Summer 2013 – Five Unexpected Benefits Of Being A Social Organisation

This post , for Comms2Point0 , gives an overview of the cultural change that has happened at Bromford.

Here’s a quote:

“You Start Talking Like Normal People

Social transforms the organisation’s tone of voice.

Our workplace language has been developed through years of formality – the daily grind of reports and emails. And without us knowing it we passed our jargon on to our customers.

But if you start talking like that in the social space – you look a bit odd. Real people don’t talk about Stakeholders and Efficiencies.

So you start talking you do in real life. Because social is real life. And your customers will love you for it.”

Winter 2013 – How social helps us cross organisational borders

This post – on the rise of super-connectors – points to a future of new possibilities. A time where we have moved beyond talking about social media and concentrate more on social business. This is what I find most exciting about the new world – where our organisations are a lot less important than the networks they inhabit.

Summer 2014 – How to be a social media superhero

This brings us up to date with lessons from #powerplayers14 and a fun analysis of social media behaviours.

That’s my personal Timehop.

Here’s to the next three years!

Five Things We Learned From Doing A Twitter Only Recruitment

About five or six years ago I applied for another job. It would have been a significant promotion – nearly doubling what I earned at the time.

I went through the usual shenanigans that come with this type of recruitment. The huge application form. The CV. The covering letter. The telephone interview. The online assessment. The endless psychometric tests.

I don’t think I got to speak to a human employed by the actual company until I was at the final stage interviews.

What I remember about the culture was in the five hours I was there no-one offered me a cup of tea. And no-one in the offices laughed.

I never got the job in the end (I had a message left on my voicemail telling me so) so I’ll never know whether I’d have sacrificed my principles for a payslip.

But I know that someone wasted an awful lot of money on recruitment when we could have just started with a social conversation.

Twitter

Two weeks ago we started a new experiment to mark the launch of our Innovation Lab. What if we literally crowdsourced the people we would work with?

What if we only recruited via Twitter?

This is still a work in progress – we are still having conversations. But in the spirit of capturing learning as you go – here’s my top five:

Your networks network for you

The buzz that has been created has been tremendous. Each of the role profiles on Slideshare has been viewed over 2000 times – with combined views of nearly 9000. That’s way above the normal hits we’d get on a conventional recruitment.

But –note to excited recruiters reading this – don’t think that just by tweeting your job openings you’ll get the same results. That interest has been generated by getting the support from people like Dominic Campbell, Immy Kaur, Mervyn Dinnen and Helen Reynolds. And the other 200 people who have tweeted about it. Build up an engaged social support network. You get interaction through building relationships – not broadcasting or posting flashy slide decks.

You can react in real time

Recruiting via social gives you constant feedback. The first stage took place over 10 days meaning we could adapt to feedback and amend the process as we went along. So , for example, I picked up very early on that the inclusion of Klout as an indicator of social influence was putting people off. I was able to remove this from the application criteria and feedback publicly. This helped boost interest as well as build rapport.

Similarly – a conversation about the “geekiness” of the slides led to comments about the lack of interest from women. We were able to amend this and call specifically for more female interest highlighting the flexibility.

It reduces waste

A couple of people have already dropped out of the process. They’ve been googling me. I’ve been googling them. We’ve had a couple of conversations about the way the Lab will work and we’ve agreed we’ve got different ideas but can perhaps collaborate in another way. Ever been in the first 5 minutes of an 45 minute interview knowing this is wrong for both parties? Yep – a huge waste of everyones time.

A couple of people from HR and legal backgrounds have suggested that we are potentially breaking employment law here as we could discriminate against applicants based upon what we find on Google.

Come on.

We are just trying something different. If you think you’ve got sexist,homophobic,racist,ageist managers I’d suggest you’ve got bigger things to worry about than Twitter. Thanks Jacqui Mortimer for supporting me here – every HR team needs someone like you!

People are shaping our thinking

Already the nature of the conversations , and the wonderful diversity of interest , has led us to start making amends to the way the Lab will work. It’s become less about how people fit into our boxes and more about tearing those boxes apart and building around people. It’s more organic and is evolving day by day.

Who knows. Your next restructure might well be crowdsourced.

It’s 24/7 and global

Imagine the talent you might miss out on because people are on holiday or travelling. That doesn’t happen on social media. Word gets around. I’ve had interest from Europe , the USA and South America. Right now whilst writing this post I’m messaging someone in South East Asia.

I haven’t had a lot of naysayers but probably the biggest misconception is that this approach would only work for these type of roles.

I don’t get that. It’s 2014 and perfectly conceivable that a Housing Association could employ someone based in Indonesia. Geography is less important than broadband speed.

Maybe we need to stop thinking about what our organisations are today and start imagining what they could be.

Hope you find this interesting – I’ll update you soon.  Thanks for the support from everyone – I can’t name check you all!

Be great to hear your views.