E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

There Can Be No Resilience Without Transformation

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringIt has been nearly two weeks since the last post that I put over here in this blog, so I am sure that plenty of you folks out there may have been thinking I have been on holidays, or taking the typical summer break, and that at some point in time I may well be coming back to blogging on a regular basis, along with picking up my external social networking activities. Well, not really. I have just concluded, and be dealt with for good, I hope, what I think is the first time ever in my 13 years of social software exposure what I never thought I would be confronting: a week of denial of the Social Web.

Goodness! That was intense. Indeed, to the point where it nearly broke me apart and made me gave up on the whole thing altogether. Those who know me well, specially, fellow colleagues, know that the last two to three weeks have been incredibly emotional at work and with quite a draining toll that I don’t even have the energy just yet to write about. And those two last weeks of July finally paid off with this last week of denial for the Social Web where I just basically withdrew from the whole thing. And it was painful. Very painful. And it was ugly. Very ugly. With the end result that at the end of the day I just had to bounce back. That’s just what passion does for you, I guess. It lets you go through your odd moments of weakness, so you can do plenty of thinking and reflection on what’s going on with you, your surroundings and whatever else you may be interested or rather passionate about, to then help you re-focus and bring back the phoenix in you, restore the faith, restore the commitment, the urge, the purpose and meaning of wanting to still make a difference and, in a blink, just like it started, that week of denial is just gone. Gone to never return!

Perhaps what kicked off that week of denial was that article I put over here under the heading “Google Plus – Who Owns the Filter Bubble?“, more than anything else, because my last haven for hope for the Social Web out there just vanished into becoming what most social networking tools are nowadays at best: vulgar and ordinary, just to help us continue being stoned with that digital bliss where it seems to be the only model that works is to have you glued to your computing device(s) hitting refresh constantly, so that you wouldn’t miss a single thing happening from what’s delivered to you by those so-called social networking providers that keep claiming they know better than yourself what you need, when they themselves refuse to engage or provide you with support, thinking that, after all, you are just that, the mob. And you know how it goes. We don’t talk to the mob. We just keep it entertained and hooked, so that we can get away with our own agenda(s). Well, I have got news for all of you. Enough is enough. It’s time to wake up, everyone! There is just a whole lot more in life than just being an ignored product of the system. Life is too precious to waste it just like that. 

See? The reason why all of these social networking tools are so popular with 2.0 practitioners is not necessarily because of the technology, which is, as I have said above already, rather vulgar, ordinary and miserable, if, as a result of it, your own health is at risk. It’s actually the people who keep dragging us all into the whole thing. Vast majority of practitioners don’t really care what features a social networking tool may well have or not, if the community is there. You stick around because those people who you have built wonderful personal (business) relationships with over the course of time they keep coming back, just like you do. That’s actually one of the reasons why I haven’t been actively sharing content across, but I have been observing how my networks have been interacting during that week, without me, and, interestingly enough, things have changed quite a bit and not sure it’s for the better. But I think I may know why that’s happening, because I am starting to see it at work as well. And it’s not pretty. 

A couple of days back, I celebrated my fourth month on the new job as a Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM and it just feels like such a long long time ago already. I guess time flies when you are still having lots of good fun enjoying what you do the most: enabling and helping practitioners adapt to a new way of working where collaboration and knowledge sharing through social technologies take a new meaning by becoming more open, trustworthy, public and transparent. Essentially, more effective and productive at the same time by understanding that the corporate world is no longer ruled by the scarcity of knowledge stocks but by the abundance of knowledge flows through multiple social networks.Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Spring

The thing is though that, while I have been getting more and more involved with the new job, where scalability has taken a new meaning for me, I have had a chance to witness, and experienced fully!, how the 2.0 bubble I may have lived in for the last 6 to 8 years may have already burst. For good. Why? Well, for multiple different reasons that I am going to be blogging about over the course of time, but mainly because of a single one to kick things off: knowledge workers are no longer allowed to Play, Learn, Work, as my good friend, Harold Jarche blogged about beautifully just recently. No, they are not. They are just told, advised, and encouraged to just carry on their work into exhaustion, as if they were androids. And what would you expect they would do? Indeed, they have, eventually, become commoditised robotic entities that do their work and once those resources are no longer deemed helpful or relevant they are easily disposed of. 

It’s certainly, extremely worrying, how all of that passion, enthusiasm, energy, and huge effort by early adopters and first thinkers on helping set the stage, act as pathfinders, provide the initial roads to get started with that wonderful journey of becoming a Social / Open Business are now things of the past. That’s what I have been noticing these past few days while going through that stage of denial of the Social Web. You see? People nowadays are just putting check marks on their massively ever growing to-do lists that they have tweeted, plussedfacebooked, linkedined and what not, so that they can move back into their real work: the one that doesn’t require critical, constructive thinking, engaging, conversing, caring, or helping others and so forth for that matter. Essentially, people are back to what has gotten them to the stage of being androids: their meetings and email Inboxes. Those wonderful hide-out places where you can just get by, good enough, pretending you are working, when you know you aren’t. But, hey, that’s what your boss wants you to do, right? Why change? Why bother? Why trying to look for new, better, more effective ways of working if your boss and your senior management / leadership team(s) keep accumulating fatter and fatter bonuses anyway? You know, you are just sitting inside of your own little mental cubicle, your own comfort zone, that one that doesn’t require you to think much in order to go through 12 to 14 hours of hard automated work each day for who knows what business value. 

It’s really interesting to see what you get to learn when you start questioning everything you have believed in over the course of the last 13 years, in this case, for me, around social networking, but even more interesting when instead of going into broadcasting mode, that is, that industrialisation of your social activities, just like everyone else is doing, you decide to pause and reflect and see how people really interact. Don’t worry, you won’t have to look into it with much detail. Actually, people just don’t interact anymore. They post whatever they have been told they need to share across, or, even better, they scheduled it all, so that they don’t have to leave their Inboxes and really important meetings, then they place the check marks on their to-do lists and the whole thing dies. Right there. But, you know, that’s all right, because they have done their work already, that is, put a check mark in their lovely spreadsheet, so that it all shows lovely green even though no-one else would be looking into it anyway.

You see? This is what’s happening right now. And not just externally, but also internally, behind the firewall, with all of those Enterprise Social Networking tools and across the corporate world. We have defaulted to stop learning, to stop with all the play and, eventually, we have stopped to do our real work more effectively (The work we are truly passionate about), when we all know we can deliver and so much more, but, yet, we don’t, because we no longer feel engaged employees anymore and our managers, bosses and senior leadership teams are right there ready to remind us through our monthly paychecks and bonuses what happens when you are not heads down supposedly. 

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Spring Exhaustion and overwork, but, specially, fear (I will be blogging plenty more about this one, not to worry), are not helping people go out and play with other fellow social networkers, in order to promote and engage on meaningful conversations to get work done. Instead, people just keep putting on more and more hours of work, just because they want to keep up with those extra work pressures that have been imposed on them, as they wouldn’t want to lag behind their colleagues. See the trend? It gets better. Managers and senior leadership only care about how much money you have made for them today. Anything else is redundant and they will keep reminding you of it, in case you didn’t deliver the fat bonuses to their front door. So when they come to you telling you you need to be social they all make it look like it is, yet again, another spreadsheet to fill-in, put the checkmarks in place and move on. It’s easier to manage individuals as exhausted and overworked androids than to treasure and nurture powerful networks that thrive in free flows of knowledge where the hierarchy is no longer the one that calls the shots anymore. You need to earn both the merit and your reputation with total strangers. Every day. Every single day of the year. Year in, year out. And that’s pretty though, you know, specially, when you are not used to. So what do you do? 

Very simple. The same good old thing you have been doing all along, except that at the moment you have got a new spreadsheet with a bunch of to-dos where it says “Be social or else. Spread around my own messages, so I don’t have to do the homework. Represent the brand according to the corporate branding guidelines, never mind your own personal brand, we don’t care, and, above all, ensure our customers know about our same good old messages, because we still know more than they do“. Whoahhh! I know! That’s what I keep seeing, more often than not, when I hang out on both internal and external social networking tools nowadays as I watch, learn and observe how people pretend to interact on the Social Web. 

My goodness! Where did we go wrong?!?! How could we possibly waste 6 to 8 years of some wonderfully inspiring 2.0 thought leadership that we knew was going to change the business world for good? Where did we get off the train? Why have we stopped this absolutely inspirational journey to go out there and keep making a difference? And instead go back right into our comfort zones, our spreadsheets, meetings and email, where little thinking is required and minimum action is encouraged so managing things still is relatively easy.

Exactly, that’s why I needed to finish off with my own week in denial of the Social Web. That’s why I needed, I wanted it!, to bounce back. I had enough of it. It was just killing me to witness how all around me, both inside and, most worryingly outside!, over the course of the last three weeks, I have spent far too much time experiencing what that exhaustive, overworked, under pressured work mentality can do to the corporate world. To all of us, me included. And, in essence, it’s managing to do one thing very well: kill all of our passion, all of our critical thinking skills, because we just want to fit in, all of our motivation and purpose to want to do interesting and relevant things, and, eventually, become, at long last, an engaged employee

That’s why instead of giving up on it altogether and move on with the flow (with that rather dangerous inertia of just wanting to blend in, not being noticed) I decided, over the weakend (while I have been on full recovery mode from some rather exhaustive and emotional work experiences through multiple interactions with the business 1.0 world, but equally inspiring and rather thought provoking – I am really looking forward to blog some more about) to … bounce back!

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringTo keep up the fight. Because, amongst several other things, there can be no resilience without transformation. And this is what it is all about, folks: transformation and our ability to shake up everything we have been experiencing and living over the course of the last 150 years and realise that in order for us, knowledge workers, to survive in today’s corporate environment, the sooner we adapt to living the values and philosophy of Social / Open Business and how they apply to how we work, the sooner we will finally transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live. And that’s just so important.

Why? Well, because since a few years back it’s a matter of our own mere survival: that one of the Knowledge Web Worker, finally, fully embracing that digital transformation we all keep talking about, but that we keep seeing slipping away from our fingers time and time again, because we refuse to change. 

Change is hard, I think we all know that, but it’s now time to take a new grip. And don’t let go. Play, Learn and Work like you have never done before! It has always been part of our human nature, an integral part of who we are, so we might as well awaken ourselves and embrace what’s inevitable: our very own human digital transformation. 

Boy, I am game. And you? 

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  1. I don’t mean to be flippant but “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” just jumped into my head http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qq0OQBdIhsc. “Helping your kids to learn about the world we live in.” And giving us a metaphor for resilience, perhaps?

    Organisations change at snail’s pace, even when faced with extinction. We know that from looking back at manufacturing companies making the transition from traditional to customer-focused, knowledge-based and agile ways of working. But this time it is different, I argued in the book I recently had published (academic and expensive).

    A key thread thoughout the book is the principle of ‘reciprocal determination’- people are not prisoners of their work environments, rather than being automatons they can take responsibility to change their experience of work. They can do this outside of their organisations and connect to others like themselves through social tools, learning together and giving each other courage and support.

    I invited a small group of family and friends to an informal gathering to discuss the book. As well as social advocates like myself, there were people who work in hospitals, universities, and a big global engineering company.

    I had already been struggling with the gap between social business idealism and the reality of work for many. This event confirmed it. The nurses work 12 hour, non-stop shifts. They do not have time to draw breath let alone play. And they sleep on their days off. One of my friends at the university said that online is the last place she wants to be after 10 hours in meetings and looking at spreadsheets. The engineer was just baffled – what on earth was I talking about.

    Something else has popped into into my head, Bruce Hornsby ‘s 80s song, That’s Just The Way It Is. Or is it? I still think that despite the pressures people experience at work, or maybe because of it, they / we do not have to accept being automatons. As Neil Usher, @workessence, asks: When did we become so helpless? http://workessence.com/when-did-we-become-so-helpless/ He concludes that: Cassius might today reflect that “the fault dear Brutus lies not in our organisation but in ourselves”.

    There are people who are taking responsibility for their own experience of work. One of the nurses at the event transformed the performance culture on the ward she is responsible for. It can be done. So I am still in – for the moment.

    Thank you Luis for another cracking post from the front-line of organisational change. As they say here in France, Bon courage!

  2. Sometimes the new stuff works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes we have to make compromises. I’ve gotten much more selective about how “social” I am these days and devote a lot of energy to reaching out to and engaging with those people I want — and in some cases — need to interact with. It sounds like you have found that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between “social media as tool” and “social media as way of life.” In my case I’ve come to realize also that the people you have to interact with, whether via traditional means or via digital means, can make or break your state of mind. Hasn’t that always been true?

  3. Lot’s to noodle there Luis thanks. For me, as the adoption grows wider we get into the ‘got to be seen to be doing’ social. When older ways of working are not surrendered for the new, the necessary time given to truly work in a new way is absent, and we get an increased volume of ‘likes’, ‘+1’, ‘great work’, ‘I’m not so sure’ – non-constructive feedback that doesn’t progress conversations but is seen as ‘engaging’. The volume score goes up in social, but the quality score doesn’t move.

    I had a school teacher who once silenced my back of the classroom chatter with an “empty vessels make most noise Scott” comment – perhaps that’s why when I do contribute, I try to make it count. So, here’s an article that I hope you’ll like which gets to the point that if we focus on what we love to do, we hone our skills and our craft, and stop spending all our time self-promoting (or adding ‘volume’ from my perspective) the folks that appreciate the skill/craft/quality, not only help you along with that with their useful feedback, but in so doing, undertake that promotion too: http://www.fastcompany.com/3014689/dialed/more-doing-less-promoting-the-key-to-creating-great-work

    Perhaps as more folk move through the ‘volume’ interactions, ditch their old ways of working to give them time to hone their crafts in the digital space, THEN we can move into the quality area and really see the value of digital.

  4. Ethan Zuckerman just published a wonderful book on the filter bubble we face as “digital cosmopolitans” [1]. Lots of thinking about the role and impact of this global re-wiring; I think this is all fertile ground for some practice runs, optimizing our new skillsets, and getting ready to push some real change into organizations (adoption, adaptation and exaptation).

    [1] http://www.amazon.com/Rewire-Digital-Cosmopolitans-Age-Connection/dp/0393082830

  5. Hi Luis

    We are living in strange times – at once having access to tools that help us all connect and share what we feel is important and needed in order to move us forward as people and as organisations – yet simultaneously in the midst of a financial crisis (even though all we hear is recovery) which is removing the safeguards that we (especially in Europe) have fought for since the 50’s and we also now know that all of this stuff we do online is captured and shared elsewhere. We are weary and wary yet full of hope.

    Who profits is what we often have to ask when we question the reasons for events and actions. Do our organisations want us to disrupt the status quo; do they want wirearchy or to keep hierarchy?

    As you say where is real work happening in our streams? It’s not often is it, yet we have to be seen to be taking part, paying lip service to the dictats from above – this time it’s social and folks like you and I won’t agree with all that’s happening but we know the reasons.

    Thought I’d share this post from Thierry De Ballion – in it he talks about the virtual Assembly Line, the stream that we have to keep looking at, that constrains us in time and space (time expanded so we are ‘always on’ and space constrained so we are held in place, some social limbo waiting for the meaningful work to come along).

  6. Thanks again for a marvelous read. Took me a couple of days to land on this but it inspired a bit of thinking and writing on my own part. You continue to set a high standard for open reflection.

    The thing that is keeping me going is an experience I had earlier this year participating in a volunteer-led MOOC (etmooc). It honestly gave me a glimpse of how things could actually work when it all comes together – people interested in connecting with others, learning and yes playing. Hard to replicate – but etmooc showed it is possible.

  7. Reading up on your posts near the end of my summer break and makes my wheels turn. Are the tools of 2.0 truly bringing change for the good. Just three weeks ago I was at OHM 2013 listening to the changes at a larger scale then I was thinking off in my filter bubble. Being in control of the data I sent around, using tools as I need them. Having impact at work and a personal level over the last few years. Though I think play and learn are an integral part of work, as are making mistakes, it seems that the hierarchy is not fast changing. These tools enable us to trigger change, but people change slowly.

    To me, the filter bubble is disturbing on multiple levels. I want to hear when I listen. Not just to get the ‘best’ posts. I am the filter the tools should help me, but they seem to limit now.

    The social web? That’s about people, community and global open community is easy. I have made new friends in the virtual world over the years and met even more great people in real life. And AFK is the best place to have the discussions on the change that is needed. Long term thinking is needed, however the world around seems to think only short term goals are worth it. I disagree. I think and feel that the long term is the only think that truely matter. Even for enterprises, the focus in this fast paced world should be on we’re we are heading and not just what the next goal is we need to meet. How else can we sustain the passion we feel, how else can we sustain the energy levels we need.

    I will do the filtering, I want to listen to the noise and I do want to work for a sustainable change.

    Thanks for sharing your Thoughts Luis.

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