E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

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The Perks of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Cruz Grande in the winter

 

As I am getting closer to my third year anniversary as a freelancer, and since I also mentioned how every now and then I may write a blog entry here and there to share some additional insights on what it is like the life of an independent adviser (around Social Business and Digital Transformation, in this case, for yours truly), I thought I would go ahead and share across this article today where I would like to reflect on some of the perks I have enjoyed myself the most about being a freelancer in the so-called gig economy. Don’t worry, I know what you are thinking as well, that’s why I am also planning on reflecting on some of its various disadvantages no-one seems to be telling you about just as you keep wondering whether it’s a good time, or not, to start your own freelancing career and leave behind your job as a salaried employee. All in all, and through this blogging exercise, I am hoping to provide a somewhat balanced overview on what it is like being an independent and, essentially, share a few of the things I have learned along over the course of these last three years. Time more than enough, I would think, to confirm whether freelancing really is the future of work or just another buzzword, overhyped to no end, as we try to figure out what’s the Future of Work going to look like, potentially, instead of, perhaps, doing something a bit more meaningful and purposeful as we help redefine the Present of Work itself. What do you think? Hype or sharp reality then? 

Before you answer those questions, though, allow me to expand further along on those perks I have enjoyed the most from being a freelancer myself over the course of the last three years, and then see how many of them you would be able to extrapolate yourself as well to your own working life as a full time worker, so that we can decide whether being an independent is much different, or not, than being a salaried employee. Something tells me both worlds are not that far off from one another, but let’s have a look into some of them and see how many would apply to you folks out there working in a full time job. Mind you, this is not, by all means, an exhaustive listing of all the perks I can think of. There are plenty more, I am certain, but since I have to get started somewhere I will venture with the first ten I can think of from the top of my head and I will add a short paragraph describing each of them as an opportunity to unpack plenty of these thoughts in upcoming follow-up blog posts as part of the series. Then, at a later time, I may put together another article where I can include whatever other perks I can think of I may have left behind…

Thus without much further ado, here are some of my favourite perks of being a freelancer with a short explanation detailing why, because, you know, it all starts by asking ‘why?’. So here are my ‘why?’s
 

  • Freedom: This is, perhaps, my all time favourite perk from being a freelancer and by far! Freedom. And it’s not necessarily about doing whatever you want, but more along the lines of deciding what you love doing, as in what you enjoy the most in investing your time, effort and energy and then do it! Yes, I fully realise that plenty of people would advise you that things don’t work out that way in most cases, but then again you can prove them wrong. It’s that kind of freedom where you embark on doing what you love. Period. No exceptions. 
  • Flexibility: My second favourite perk of being a freelancer and it looks like I’m not the only one who enjoys it. The best thing about flexibility is that it allows you to learn, through firsthand experience, how you really work, and perhaps much more importantly, it helps you also understand your own productivity and creativity peaks. It helps you comprehend, and fully embrace, how you may have slow days where hardly anything happens and you are lucky if you clock a couple of hours of good work, and then you have got days when you clock in 12, 14 or 16 hours of really good work as if the day just went by in a flash and you are as fresh as when the day got started! If only we were more open and keen on learning about how our very own circadian rhythms work. Something tells me we would all be much better off altogether. 

  • Purpose: It all starts with purpose. With having a purpose, more specifically, whether you are freelancing or working as a full time employee in a firm. And while it’s really tough to go through that phase of self-discovery of your own ‘why?’, it’s one of those exercises you can’t skip just like that. The nice perk of finding your own purpose as a freelancer is that it’s you the one who decides what your own purpose should be all about while trying the match the needs and wants of your clients. There is an inefable symbiosis between both of them that hardly anyone can fight, so the sooner we get to embrace how our collective purpose is to serve others into achieving a specific goal, whatever that may well be, the better. That’s what I like the most from the whole exercise: co-create your own purpose with your clients. Help them help you find your ‘why?
  • Meaning: I bet, at one point in time, we all have asked ourselves how we may find real meaning at work and how some of us may have made it through, or not. What I like about this particular perk, as a freelancer, is that I have a chance to define for myself what meaningful work would be all about. At least, for me, along the lines of ‘Why do I still get up in the morning?’ or ‘What can kind of impact, or legacy, do I want to leave behind for others to benefit from when I am long gone? It’s a tough call, I tell you, but questioning it every single day is totally worth it on its own, even though you may not have an answer for it just yet while you keep trying; just the fact you are questioning it for yourself is a small victory already on its own, because vast majority of people have already long time ago forgotten about what it is like having meaningful work and seeing the huge % of disengaged employees it’s no wonder we still don’t spend more time trying to figure it out. That’s why I’m grateful I had the chance to challenge myself to find my own meaning. Have I been successful? Well, maybe. I will leave it down to you all to answer that one for me… 
  • Networking: This week is Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) and this year’s focus is all about working through some different routines to help you become more effective at what you do already by exposing and narrating your own work, by becoming more open, public and transparent about what you do and eventually entice you into making more connections by helping you build, nurture and cultivate different personal business relationships that, over the course of time, would potentially become your own social networks. You already know the gimmick, ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.

    Well, the world of freelancing is no different, perhaps even more prominent, because, you know, you are just yourself out there in a brave new world of trying to make ends meet month in month out and, as such, networking for us all freelancers is no longer a nice-thing-to-have, but an essential, critical skill to master in this day and age as my good friend Harold Jarche demonstrates repeatedly with #PKMastery. So if there is anything in this regard I appreciate quite a bit is the opportunity to be constantly networking with people, as I have written rather extensively in this blog for a good while already, and let it down to both curiosity and serendipity to do the magic

  • Focus: It wasn’t easy at the very beginning, and probably rightly so! Doing freelance work in the age of far too many distractions floating all over the place requires plenty of discipline, hard work and dedication. That’s why focus was perhaps one of the most unexpected perks I acquired, as freelance work kicked in, right from the start. Learning how to work alone can prove to be rather helpful as well. Fully embracing deep work will be another blessing to add into the mix, mostly, because it will help you fight one of the biggest myths of today’s workplace: our ability to multitask.

    Yes, it’s a myth. Get used to it. A myth that’s bad for our brain and, overall, for our very own health. That’s one of the reasons why, back in the day, I switched into single-tasking, through the well known Pomodoro Technique, to, eventually, get work done, task by task, much more effectively altogether. So when doing client work it’s amazing what being focused on the task at hand can do to your overall effectiveness, productivity and morale. The fact you can produce and create a whole lot more in less time, finally, allows me to embrace, fully, the good old mantra I have written about over here a few times already: ‘work smarter, not necessarily harder’. 

  • Free Time: One of the immediate outcomes, and wonderful consequences, of becoming more focused on the tasks at hand, when working with clients, is that, all of a sudden, you realise you are starting to free up plenty more time that you can then dedicate it to other activities whether work related, or not. That’s why I’m spending a whole lot more time outdoors (as you can see from my Instagram and Flickr accounts), exercising (running, too!) early in the morning while keeping up with some other healthy habits, which I can confirm have got plenty of additional great benefits to help me learn more or be even more productive, such as sleep, idle time, walking the dog, blogging, etc. etc.   
  • Learning: Now, you would remember how, not long ago, I wrote a blog entry over here about ‘Learning is the work’ to describe plenty of the work related activities I have embarked on since I went independent that have transformed themselves as well into learning opportunities. Well, that’s another perk of being a freelancer, that constant, lifelong learning experience where curiosity about everything that’s around you and your business (after 17 years of being a salaried employee) entices you to want to learn more.

    It’s an everlasting activity that’s nicely complemented with the free time I mentioned above, because, all of a sudden, you realise things slow down a fair bit to help you see them with a different perspective, reflect and learn accordingly whatever may be happening around you and your work. And there is a bit of everything in there: good practices, worst practices (Yeah, I know, I just made up that word, but you will find out pretty soon why!), lessons learned, opportunities, challenges, personal development, you name it. They say the moment you stop learning at work, that’s the moment you start dying a little bit inside. I can tell you though there is never a dull moment when doing freelance work, which I guess it’s good news! 

  • Reading: If I were to name another unexpected perk of becoming a freelancer that I have enjoyed tremendously over the course of the last three years that would be the one about reading. Again, thanks to having the opportunity of freeing up more time, as I have mentioned above, it’s given me the enormous pleasure of rekindling my love for reading (whether business related or not!) and not just books, but also articles, white papers, reports, studies, research, publications and whatever else.

    One immediate benefit of such an increase of my own reading activities is that I have noticed how much richer my blog posts have become with plenty of links shared across about items I find interesting and relevant, which is brilliant because it helps me add further nuances on already existing conversations hoping to add my two cents worth of additional commentary. The same would go for curating hyperlinks to helpful reading materials I may want to come back to over time, like I have mentioned in previous blog posts with Slack becoming my personal knowledge hub as an example.

    But who knew that reading would be one of our secret weapons? That writing about what we read is a very powerful learning activity? That reading a book can be a healthy activity in the long run? That it will trigger your brain activity with a boost? That you would become more empathic altogether? Or happier? Whoahhh! See what reading can do to you?

    [PS: If you are wondering why I haven’t shared any recent review of the books I have read in the last couple of years, just to get a taste of what I’ve been interested in so far, don’t worry, that’s coming up soon! I’m just trying to figure out the best way of recommending those books I find interesting and relevant without having to maintain, yet again, another online presence]

  • Work – Life Integration: And, finally, one of my favourite topics of conversation from over the course of years, the well known dilemma of work – life balance, whether it really exists or whether it’s another myth we have bought into. As a starting point, I should add I don’t believe in work – life balance itself, more than anything else because there isn’t such balance, work always wins, even for freelancers. It’s all about integration though. It’s about understanding how flexibility kicks in to help you define when to work, when not to work, and integrate them accordingly and make the most out of it. Let me share an example with you on what I mean…

    Back when I was a salaried employee, I was working remotely already from Gran Canaria, Spain, and, as you can imagine I thought, at the time, I had a pretty good balance between both work and life. Yeah, I can see plenty of you thought the same thing. However, little did I know that when I, finally, went independent I would truly understand the whole notion behind work – life integration and it has all got to do with breaking up with the Cult of Busyness. Because, with it, we have got to add into the mix feeling overworked, stressed out, unhappy, miserable, dangerously unwell, addicted, etc. etc.

    It’s all about Quality of Life. And I do realise it’s all easier said than done, but being a freelancer over the course of last three years has helped me, at long last, fully understand as well, some times through trial error, silly thoughts, utopian ideas and other crazy thoughts, how, perhaps, working hard has never been the answer; how we should treasure more the one finite resource we have got allocated upon us (i.e. time) versus other material goods, including money; how we need to stop telling people how busy we all are we just can’t get work done altogether, and how we may have other choices.

    Interesting and rather thought provoking choices like learning how to break our addiction to work, how a potential solution to vast majority of our business problems today may well be to work less, or even mastering the art of doing less, who knows. Or perhaps we should start questioning harder why is it we keep treasuring that Cult of Business as if there is not tomorrow, when it’s been demonstrated, time and time again, how the world’s most productive countries also have the shortest workdays, never mind the happiness factor.

    Yes, I know, you can now see for yourselves, firsthand, what my mind keeps buzzing around while in between client projects. You know, that’s what freelancers (and salaried employees, too, I am certain!) do on a rather frequent basis, when the right conditions AND context are provided: think about the what next?

 

Being a freelancer has got lots of perks, with an increase on Quality of Life perhaps being my all time favourite one so far, as you can hint from the above long list, which will keep growing, the list, that is, as I have come up with a few more already that I will be putting together in an upcoming blog post to keep describing what it is like being part of the so-called gig economy. But, at the same time, there are also some disadvantages. Plenty of them, actually. Of course, it is not a rosy world where everything works just right, so I will also be putting together another article where I will list and detail some of those cons. As you can see, it’s all about striking that balance and ponder whether it’s worth the effort becoming a freelancer to enjoy the various different advantages while putting up with the burden of some of those challenges themselves I will be talking about shortly. It’s a thin line, I can tell you that, but, at the same time, these past three years have been one of the most rewarding periods of time from my 20 years work experience in the IT industry to the point where it may well have been the best decision I have ever made. And by far. Going freelance.

Now, here’s a final reflection, as an open question, I’d want to leave you all with: what’s your favourite perk of being a freelancer or a salaried employee?

Will both of them ever blend together to become one?

0 votes
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Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment – The Follow-Up

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes at sunset

 

Over the last few weeks I have been asked several times about how are things moving further along with my experiment in Twitter around #0Following and since it has been a bit over a year ago when I last published an article explaining what that experiment was all about and what I was learning from it at the time, I think it’s probably a good time to do a bit of a follow-up today and explain what has happened in between. Of course, over the last few months there have been tons of things I have learned from that experiment itself, on top of what I wrote about in that specific blog entry, but there is one in particular that I enjoy the most and that is the fact that it is no longer an experiment per se, but essentially how I get the most out of Twitter itself nowadays: still heavily involved with #0Following by relying on Public Lists, but this time around with an additional twist. Let’s see it…

Indeed, while re-reading through ‘Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment’ I realised that everything I had written in that article is still pretty much accurate and rather relevant, a year later, going from the initial reasons as to why I got things started with it in the first place, to evaluating plenty of the things I have learned throughout that experiment now becoming a new reality ever since, in terms of how I get to use Twitter on a daily basis. So in case you may have missed it and if you are keen on reading further along how it all started and what kind of impact it has had so far in yours truly, that article would still be a really good start on this particular topic. 

However, there has been a good number of new different things I have learned that I would want to include in this follow-up blog post, perhaps as an opportunity to reflect myself on how Twitter has managed to change some of my habits as well as myself, but also to share some additional insights with everyone out there who may be interested in pursuing a similar experiment and find out, beforehand, what to expect and maybe evaluate whether they should be jumping the shark, just like I did, or maybe not, just yet. 

So I thought that for this particular follow-up I will go ahead and share a number of different new items I have learned about over the course of time, with a short blurb describing them as well, of course, and see where we will end up. One thing I can share with you all is that once I have seen the light of a much smarter way of using Twitter through public lists alone it’s rather tough to go back to anything else for that matter, so I haven’t. Now, mind you, this system of #0Following works for me, and not necessarily for all of you out there. So this blog post is not intended, at all, as an opportunity for me to convince you all about how you should use Twitter from here onwards. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity for me to showcase how else can Twitter be used for, eventually, and to judge for yourselves whether it’s a system that could work for you all or not. Nothing else. I know I am benefiting from it tremendously, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would have the same effect with you, unless, of course, you give it a try for a good few weeks and then decide to stick around with it, if at all. For now, it’s just my overall user experience of how I get to use Twitter on a daily basis, so please do take this article with a pinch of salt or two as well. So, let’s go ahead and do it! 

Here’s what else I have learned about my Twitter #0Following experiment for the last year or so:  

  1. Open Direct Messages: By far, it’s one of my favourite capabilities from Twitter, as it allows everyone out there with a Twitter ID to reach out to me, via a direct message, without having to worry whether we follow each other or not. It just works, pretty much like some other traditional tools we have been using for decades, like *cough* email *cough*. So that need to follow someone so that they can send you a direct message is no longer there. It’s a window of opportunity into starting off a conversation without having to worry too much about additional quirks. It’s even easier than using email itself, because in order for me to send you one I would need to know your email address, whereas with Twitter I just need to know your name. From there onwards I can reach out and get the conversations going, whether through the public timelines or privately, through direct messages. Just fire away!
  2. I still use my main three public lists: Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From. What has changed over the course of the last few months though is that I have become more ruthless with that task known as Twitter Hygiene, so ever now and then, roughly about once a month, to be more precise, I go through each of the lists and I do a very thorough and exhaustive exercise of questioning (to myself) whether a certain contact should stay in that particular list or not, or whether I may need to move it out due to the lack of interactions over the course of time.

    Yes, those three lists, as you may have noticed already, have got a proximity rule in terms of importance to me, in the exact same order I have mentioned above. So, over time, there is always a chance I may decide to move folks from one list to another, or drop them altogether!, if I sense they don’t fit there well anymore. It comes and goes, as I am pretty sure it happens with all of you who as well may be using Twitter extensively. For me though that housekeeping activity has become a regular habit and I like it a lot as it helps me make sense of why I add people at all to those lists in the first place and I keep questioning myself time and time again to ensure those lists as worth the effort following further along for my own learning activities. 

  3. Which brings me into the next item; something that I noticed was not happening much before is that now that I’m adding people into those public lists I do get to check out every single new follower I may get as an opportunity for me to try to figure out where I can place them, whether in any of the three already existing public lists or maybe on a private one. This is something I have found really interesting as part of this initiative, because when asking people about where I should place them, whether Collaborators, Cooperators or People I Learn From, to help me better understand where our potential conversations may well take us, the usual response I get is this one: silence! 

    Ouch! Not very helpful. So I, eventually, decided to create a new private list (accessible only to me) that I call Weak Ties where I add those folks. Then I usually spend about a month observing, watching, reading, learning about what they tweet about and at that point if I don’t know exactly where I could place them in the 3 public lists I just drop them out altogether and never come back. That list has gotten pretty big over the course of months with over 200 people at the moment, but, like I said, it’s some kind of temporary home for those folks I just can’t figure out where to place them from the start. Yes, I know, it would help me tremendously if next time I ask that question again I would get an answer, but it doesn’t happen often enough, unfortunately. Yes, I can understand how some people may be a bit shy initially, but then again why follow someone on Twitter if you are not very willing to converse. Just to lurk around? Hummm … maybe we need to re-discover the power of a tweet to reach out and connect, don’t you think?

  4. People keep subscribing themselves to those public lists: This is perhaps one of the most rewarding things I have learned from this experiment the entire time, more than anything else, because, just like I mentioned back then, it gives me the perfect opportunity to expose my several timelines and allow others to benefit from those folks tweeting along, just as much as I do myself, which is pretty neat if you come to think about the effort and energy put together to curate those lists accordingly. Right at this moment, there are over 50 people subscribed to any of those three given public lists, and I am sure, as I get to tweak them further, there will be more folks coming along. Best perk of it all? It’s that it allows me to also be open to other people’s public lists and subscribe to them accordingly as another social gesture of gratitude for their time AND attention.
     
  5. The number of followers hasn’t changed much in over a year tanking in, pretty much, at 12,250 followers, confirming, once again, no-one ever reads Twitter anymore, nor checks it on a regular basis, because vast majority of people still haven’t unfollowed me accordingly after I unfollowed them. Either they may not have noticed, or they can’t be bothered, or both. What I find really really interesting from this statistical item is that those folks who I have followed before the longest time (in the years!) are the ones who are still there, while the more recent followers, as soon as they find out I don’t reciprocate, they just unfollow again and move on. Twitter has been there for over 10 years and it looks like some good old habits never die, do they? The power of knowing or the power of not knowing influenced both by our ability to be patient enough to stick around or not and see what we may have to offer each other. 

    I know some folks have suggested in the past that just like I decided to unfollow everyone, I should also make my Twitter account private, so those 12,250 people would drop out altogether as well and could start clean as well. I thought about it for a while and then I realise it wasn’t really going to work very well because the moment I make my Twitter account private, that’s the moment I am locking myself out, because in order for me to receive DMs I’d need to follow those folks back again and I would need to approve their following once more, becoming rather impractical over time. So at this point I just leave it down to people to unfollow as they may see fit. What has been really refreshing to see though is how the number of public lists I used to be part of has increased nicely month after month resulting in plenty of other folks giving it a try as well and see how it would work, although some of them haven’t jumped into the next level of unfollowing everyone, which is just fine. One step at a time, I suppose. 

  6. Conversations are ever so much more relevant and meaningful: indeed, because, in a way, I’m forcing a hard stop when I trigger conversations starters based on what people tweet that may have piqued my interest. It’s a pretty intriguing phenomenon, because, if anything, it confirms how little people use Twitter nowadays to engage in conversations vs. just broadcasting further along their own marketing messages, before they move on to the next thing, whatever that may well be. I keep getting told, as a result, they find that dialogue rather engaging, but shocking at the same time since it’s been months, if not years!, when they last exchanged a round of tweets with someone else, which I guess is just the reaffirmation I needed to justify why I got things started with this experiment in the first place.

    Conversations are our most powerful tools we have got at our disposal and when talking about nurturing and cultivating our social networks through conversations it just can’t get any better than that. Ask yourself, as a Twitter user, when was the last time you had a great conversation through Twitter longer than 5 tweets with someone else? For me, 3 days ago, and that’s because I have been offline during that time enjoying the long bank holiday weekend that just finished.

  7. One of the activities I have noticed that has increased tremendously over time with my use of Twitter using publics lists has been that one of active listening to what people tweet. I could spend entire days where I won’t share a single tweet across, and yet I would get to read every single tweet that comes through any of those publics lists. It’s fascinating being part of those global conversations, but without you speaking up, just watching and observing how people behave and say the things they say, listening with intent, learning something new, reflecting further along on what just happened, and, as a result, reuse it accordingly for additional conversations at a later time.

    Right now, it’s one of my favourite Twitter activities: resist the urge to raise my voice with just another tweet and instead listen to what people have to say and venture into figuring out why people tweet what they tweet during those times of the day. It’s a fun exercise, I tell you, if anything, because it also helps you tame your own insatiable beast always rather keen on oversharing everything with everyone specially about topics you think you know better than everyone else! I tell you, I can highly recommend it. I’d say I’m spending probably a lot more time nowadays just listening than engaging myself in some kind of Twitterrhea as much as I used to.

  8. That’s also probably part of the reason why curation has become a huge thing for yours truly. The fact I’m reading a whole lot more tweets than ever before allows me to find tons of pretty interesting articles, blog posts, reports, white papers and whatever other kind of publication from those I follow through lists that I then share across in a private Slack space I have set up specifically for that purpose: acting as my Personal Knowledge Hub of interesting links and tweets I have bumped into over time that I would want to either re-read again or reuse elsewhere at a later time.

    We are coming close to the end of the year and I have already over 19,000 items accumulated. That may explain as well why plenty of the blog posts I have written in the last few months have got such overall rich linking activity, compared to previous years. And that’s something I am enjoying quite a bit, as it allows me to explore plenty of content I wasn’t even aware of from before, even if people don’t check for pingbacks / trackbacks anymore (Oh, boy, I miss those good old days of blogging conversations back and forth, and you?). 

  9. Because I now have an opportunity to read more tweets from people I add into my lists, it allows me to connect the dots much more effectively, so over time I have become a huge fan of Group Direct Messages to introduce people I am interested in learning more from and apply what is known as ‘closing of triangles’. Essentially, when I read tweets from a couple of people who are sharing similar stuff, but who may not know each other, I’m a whole lot more proactive nowadays in wanting to make those connections, i.e. connect the dots, as I have mentioned above, and get them together. As a result of such activity we get involved in rather intense (private) conversations of really excited and passionate people who are interested in similar topics and who would want to learn plenty more about them through that dialogue! As an opportunity to use Twitter this way, that is, a learning and networking tool, it’s just brilliant! 
  10. No spam, even with open DMs: This is really refreshing, and quite a relief, frankly. If I judge by the huge amount of spam I used to get in the past from Twitter, never mind from other media tools, this is one of the things I am most grateful about. Here’s an example: when was the last time you followed someone and right away, within a matter of minutes, you get an auto-direct message from them asking you to either follow them in other media tools or perhaps check their Web sites. Hallo? Sounds familiar? Well, I bet it does! That doesn’t happen when you add people into lists heh

    And that’s just an example, amongst several others. Somehow, ever since I started using lists exclusively I seem to have gone under the spam radar to the point of not seeing anything coming through at all. Nice

  11. Resisting the urge to automation: Nowadays, you may have noticed how vast majority of folks who are using Twitter, specially, power users, have jumped the shark making use of automation to publish tweets at specific times within their own schedules, or share retweets of their own content to resurface again into everyone’s timelines, or just simply automate certain social gestures so that it helps them maintain a certain presence even though they may not be there anymore. I am pretty sure you may have experienced such automatisation of how people use Twitter, or perhaps you may be doing some of that yourself.

    The thing is that with #0Following there isn’t a single chance for me to automate my Twitter presence, and I quite enjoy that. You only get me, with all of my own perfections and imperfections, but still me, the human being. No machines involved. It’s my opportunity to keep Twitter human, social, even more so when bots seem to have taken it by storm to the point where they are even more active than we are. In a way, if you come to think about it, there is a great chance than when you tweet along you may be interacting with bots and you may not know it, nor realise it, till it’s perhaps too late.

    The thing I have learned with this particular initiative is that sometimes it is good not to be there, to show you are human and that you don’t live in Twitter 24x7x365, because there might be other much more important things to do than showing you are there, even when we all know you aren’t. For me, at least, it is down to when I tweet, I am there, it’s the real thing, no automation, just myself, and somehow I quite like that living in the moment feeling, even within Twitter. Now, wouldn’t it be great if Twitter would have an indicator of automated tweets, or an early sign you are about to engage with a bot just before that tweet goes out? 

  12. No bullying, trolling or hate speech, specially, involving a certain footballer, come through anymore. Before, when I used to follow people and had open DMs, I used to have some of the least interesting, colourful, foul tweets one can imagine, to the point where I ended up in a frenzy of blocking people like never before. It was crazy! I don’t know what happened though afterwards, but ever since I starting using just public lists all of that vitriol is now gone. For good! In fact, I can’t remember a single tweet exchange in over 14 months that involved any kind of behaviour associated with bullying, trolling, hate speech and what not. Oh, boy, judging from all the news items you keep reading on this topic, isn’t that rather comforting or what? Knowing you are heading back to Twitter and all of that foul discourse is missing entirely from the different timelines you may be interested in at that point in time. W00t!
  13. Despite 14 months since I have embarked on this no longer an experiment but initiative as to why I use Twitter the way I use it today with public lists, I still find I need to justify and explain to people myself why I still do it, as almost everyone out there is rather surprised and intrigued about why I have been doing it for so long, beyond proving the point it can be done, to how I can be such an active AND interactive twitterer when I don’t follow anyone back.

    That’s why I added in my Twitter bio a link to the blog post explaining the experiment in detail. That seems to have stopped people questioning or wondering why I’m doing this. I know now I should have included it right from the very beginning and it would have saved me tons of typing across the board here and there. All good now though, I have learned from that experience if I ever embark on a new experiment or initiative a link in my Twitter bio to explain things further along will always be helpful. Alas, you will run out of characters pretty soon! Yikes! Anyway, don’t think there will be many new changes coming along in this regard from yours truly, so it may take a while before I need to updated it again. 

  14. More self-aware of how I use Likes (❤️) not just to like stuff, but love stuff that comes through my Twitter Lists, which is terrific, because it helps me amplify certain social gestures along the flair of caring for what people have got to say and share a token of my gratitude to compensate for that tweet exchange or interesting insight or relevant links shared across. The fact that Like then gets retweeted into my timeline is just an additional perk I appreciate quite a lot, if anything, because some times people find it a bit surprising altogether the kinds of things I ❤️.
  15. I mentioned on the original blog post how my favourite Twitter client to work with lists only was Tweetbot, either on iOS or Mac. Over a year later, that’s still the case. In fact, I am now in v4 of Tweetbot for iOS and I still think it’s the most powerful Twitter client for mobile out there in the market. And on the Mac, the desktop app is just as good! Another reason why I treasure Tweetbot a great deal is that it doesn’t have all of the new distracting capabilities from Twitter that don’t add up much overall into the value add of the whole microblogging concept, which is pretty neat, because it just helps me focus on the conversations themselves and ignore everything else. 

    Ohhh, and did I tell you about its wonderful Mute button capability? That one that allows you to mute, within the app itself, not only bullying people trolling you around, but their tweets, as well as hashtags, certain keywords and other Twitter services put in place? Gosh, I love that mute button, I tell you. It’s one of my favourite features by far! Seriously, if you are looking for a client that would help you tame the noise of unwanted people and their tweets, including Twitter services and hashtags, Tweetbot is as good as it gets, for real!
     

  16. (Web) Celebrities’ nonsense: Many months have now gone by and I still get a bit ticked off when people with thousands of followers and them following many other thousands more keep following, unfollowing, following and unfollowing you (and on and on and on) hoping to trick you to become another number to count for in their vanity metrics. My goodness! What a nuisance!

    I am really sorry to write this, but I have started to develop that healthy habit of blocking those people and keeping them away from my timeline. If all you are looking for is my attention, I’m not going to give you such luxury. You will blocked the moment you engage in such ill behaviour. Besides all of that, I still find it really hard to believe they do anything else other than broadcasting their own marketing mumbo-jumbo about how cool they are for hanging out with the cool kids versus engaging with the @lonelyboy15s in different conversations. Time is precious AND is a finite resource, so I lost the ability to tolerate such behaviour of only caring about you and your numbers. No, thanks! Like I said, you will be blocked!
     

  17. That also means that, over time, I have become something I never expected that would happen in this day and age of me, me, me where vanity seems to have killed the social media star. Indeed, ever since I started up this experiment that then turned itself into how I use Twitter on a daily basis, I have found out I’m easily ignored out by everyone else, helping me go by days and days unnoticed, as if I didn’t exist and while I know plenty of people would feel uncomfortable with that feeling I’m loving it. Why? Well, a simple word really to explain it all: freedom. No attachments. No exceptions. No expectations.

    I know that this may sound a bit too cold from my side, but, believe me, it isn’t. It’s just a confirmation that the most intimate conversations / dialogue have now moved on into niche networks, typically closed. I guess that’s what happens when we continue to live in a constant state of surveillance (and approval) created by everyone else. That’s why we have a tendency to find new, comforting havens where we can hang out at ease without having to pretend or watch what we say out there. Remember groupware back in the good old days? Does it ring a bell why there is just such a massive uptake for messaging or chatting apps or apps like Snap with a rather unique proposition around sharing private, ephemeral content? Yes, I know, it’s the Web we are building today, although it’s not much different than what it was 20 years ago as far as our habits and behaviours are concerned, except, perhaps, it’s a different cycle altogether proving we may not have learned much in the last two decades, and counting … 

  18. An act of rebellion at its best! Something I didn’t think I needed back in the day when I got things started, but that over time it’s transformed itself into an opportunity for me to become, once again, an outlier, the weird one, the rebellious one (with or without a cause!) highlighting how there may well be other more effective and engaging ways of connecting, learning, collaborating and sharing our knowledge with others, but that we may not have discovered just yet. Pretty much like I did with #noemail, or when deleting my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, or when I decided to return back to blogging at the risk of spending a lot less time in media tools and see what would happen, while everyone else is heavily involved with becoming the new media
  19. Refusing to become the media: Yes, while everyone is attempting to become the new media, as mentioned above, that is, the centre of attention with those 15 minutes of Internet fame, I keep running away from it like the plague. You know, I have been online on the Internet since early 1997 and over the course of those two decades I have learned many things, but one in particular got stuck in my head very very early on in the day and I still get to practise it every day: never ever talk online about politics, religion or sports. 

    And guess what’s happening in Twitter nowadays? Yes, I know, I once said that Twitter is the ‘Pulse of the Planet’ and, as such, it’s becoming indispensable, but then again if you look into what Twitter was, say, 5 or 10 years ago, you would notice how all of those three themes I have just mentioned above have taken over everything that made Twitter a shiny new star of what was possible to make this world a better place for everyone. And much to our collective regret, Twitter has become nowadays the shining star to showcase our many various different dysfunctions as a global society. 

    Twitter is currently mastering how dysfunctional our diverse cultures may well be, regardless of wherever you may well be in the world. And because we enjoy that morbid sense of ‘you are always wrong, while I am always right and I am going to prove it!’ Twitter itself refuses to do anything about it, because that’s where vast majority of its income comes from nowadays: our very own miserable and meandering experiences demeaning others.

    Yes, I refuse to become the new media. I refuse to think that all of these media tools are only good at overexposing our own misbehaviours, ill conducts, foul speech, hatred and what not. In the case of Twitter, for instance, it’s not the once rather tolerant, inclusive, understanding, diverse, empathic and caring Twitter I used to know, which is why you would understand now why I am ruthless nowadays in building Twitter lists that have got other purposes beyond that hate speech. It’s the connecting, the reaching out, the learning, the working together, the collaborating effectively in changing this world that still pretty much tick for me when making use of all of these social media tools and this experiment of #0Following is my attempt to do something about it.

  20. No ego: This particular item may well be the actual big shocker from the entire experiment / initiative on its own so far, because that one died, for me, back in August last year when I first got things started with relying on public lists alone versus the vanity metrics of who follows you and who do you follow, instead. And, frankly, it’s probably the best things that could have ever happened, more than anything else because,  when I use Twitter, the focus, at long last, is no longer me, me, me but the ‘we’.

    Over the course of time, I realised I was starting to care more, and become even more empathic, not only about those people who have been an integral part of the lists I use, but also about the interactions, conversations and content they were sharing across, which meant that, all of a sudden, I went slow. I paused. I reflected on how and why people have a tendency to behave the way they do online through tools like Twitter. There was no longer that frenzy of trying to keep up with stuff, instead, things slow down enough that you start reading more about what others are creating and sharing across, more than anything else as an opportunity to show your appreciation for how people in your lists use Twitter and how you would want to either amplify or augment what they are doing by contributing your two cents. That’s the power of social networks, in a nutshell, when you start caring more about them than about your self, understanding that, eventually, you become the network, the network becomes you. It is just like going back to Twitter circa 2006 – 2007. Remember those good old days? I miss them, too!

  21. And, finally, something else I have been noticing as of late that I couldn’t find an answer for, and still haven’t, just yet, to be frank, which is how this whole experiment / initiative on #0Following has now, finally, managed to burn out the potential flame of stardom I may have enjoyed from back in the day, if you know what I mean, taking me back into that wonderful place of oblivion where no-one cares anymore about you, really, either about who you are or what you do, again giving me the opportunity of enjoying a new freedom, a new clean start of deciding for myself how I would want to continue making use of social networking tools like Twitter for the next decade, as I am about to complete this one.

    It’s as if all of a sudden the pressure to conform, to try to fit in, to try to please each and everyone, to keep feeding the poachers, the leeches, the takers, the selfish who only care about them and so forth is now a thing of the past. Phew! What a relief! In a way, this whole experiment now feels pretty much like a rebirth. Of what? I don’t know yet, but somehow it’s starting to feel like I am about to embark on another exciting adventure of exploration, of playful good fun, of active learning, of apprenticeship, of self-discovery, as to what do I want to do to make sense of these social networking tools, while I keep questioning whether it’s all still worth it, or whether it’s perhaps now a good time to move on and never walk back.

    In short, if anything, this experiment has managed to, finally, make me question and challenge my own core beliefs (and my place within them) of what I once thought was going to help us all change this world to make it a better place through the use of social technologies not only just for me, or you, but for everyone else for that matter. Do I have the final answer to those questions? No, I don’t, but that’s what makes it all worth while to me, the uncertain path, the unknown journey, and what we learn about one another along the way, not necessarily the final destination, whatever that may well be…

Yes, I know, I do realise that this blog post may have come out a whole lot more intimate and rather poignant on its own than what I may have thought about at the beginning of it, but I suppose I needed it to come out, I needed to reflect about what I have been doing for the last 20 years since I first went online out there on the Internet, more than anything else as an indication of a potential new, clean start, with no baggage, no legacy, no ties, no additional explanations, no expectations, no nothing. Where to? I don’t know. 2017 will mark my 10th year anniversary using Twitter and I guess that’s what’s left for me to explore, whether it’s now a good time to move on to other things and leave everything behind, or whether it’s a good opportunity to stick around hoping things will turn out all right eventually.

They say that the Internet was born a few decades ago based on a couple of principles: trust and procrastination. Well, we might as well sit tight then and start working much harder so that none of those two break down, eventually, because, whether we realise it or not, whether we like to admit it or not, we may well be going through a time nowadays when we may need to start questioning ourselves for what do we want to do with the Open Social Web we once helped build back in the day but that, finally, got destroyed a great deal much to our regret and, most importantly, what can we do to make it happen, once again, and restore it to its fully glory. Because, you know, so far, we are failing big time, and I suspect that unless we all do something about it, no-one will. The final question that’s left out there for me to reflect upon and that keeps lingering around all over the place would be the following: are we up for the task to reclaim back the Open Social Web they once took away from us all? 

I certainly know we can, will we though?

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Becoming a Successful Socially Integrated Enterprise – The Long Journey

 Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the winter

Back in October last year, if you would remember, I decided to, finally, get things started with this particular series of blog posts around the Social Business Adaptation Framework I have been using with clients for a good while now to help them either jumpstart their own efforts in their Social Business journey or to help them spice up their already existing Digital Transformation initiatives they may have had in place already for some time. Well, a year later, and after a much longer hiatus than what I would have wanted, or expected, I am pleased to share with you all the very last blog entry from the series where I will be talking about the last tip of advice I, typically, share with customers, within that framework, of course, to help them get things started.

But before we go a little bit deeper into that last piece of guidance, allow me to share over here as well the index of articles that cover each and everyone of the 5 pillars of the Social Business Adaptation Framework I have been using all along, so that you get a chance to see how the flow would kick in within that framework itself. So, let’s see it: 
 

As you can see, it all starts with asking the ‘why?’, that is, the purpose. Why are we embarking in such a journey to become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise in the first place? What do we want to achieve? Why are we doing the things we are doing? and, perhaps, much more importantly, why are we still doing the things we are doing, when we all know they may well not be as effective as they once were? Can we get to successfully challenge the status quo of how certain things operate?

From there onwards, we get to define, jointly with the knowledge (Web) workers themselves, what are the potential constraints, guidelines, policies, etc. etc. in place that we will be operating under, so that people will have an understanding about how far playing safe can go. And right after all of that, that’s where the good fun starts! It’s all then about an opportunity to help provide the necessary conditions for people to decide for themselves if they would want to improve the way they connect, learn and share their knowledge with their colleagues, as well as customers and business partners. We know we just can’t change people, nor organisations, but we can certainly provide the necessary conditions for them to make that choice. It’s theirs and theirs alone. So working towards influencing a set of (potentially new) core behaviours and mindset via differently adapted business practices, a community of social networking ambassadors / champions for support and additional guidance (to kick off even perhaps an additional community building programme) and the opportunity for each and everyone to get enabled is essentially what’s going to help us jumpstart that journey towards becoming, living AND doing social

And because it’s a journey aimed at the long run, not just through several short sprints (remember, it’s a marathon that we are running here), the last tip I keep sharing further along with clients, from the framework mentioned above, is to eventually start small, build from there. Get started as soon as you possibly can and, above anything, avoid over-engineering the whole transformation process itself. Far too many times I have witnessed, first hand, how plenty of really well thought-out and about-to-be-executed change initiatives get lost in the far too many intricate details discourse. Far too much over-engineering the whole transformation process may eventually kill it, before you realise you are doomed for good then, as there might not be a way back. And that’s the last thing you would need. Dave Snowden once wrote that the moment you announce your change management initiative with all of the fanfare you can think of by grabbing vast majority of the attention, that’s the moment when that same change initiative starts dying out a little bit day in day out.

That’s why I keep advocating myself for start small, build from there, because by thinking about change in small increments and actions will probably give you a much higher rate of success, however you may have defined it, or, as Dave himself puts it in another rather thought-provoking article under the title ’Towards a new theory of change’:

But the real change in organisations is when you change the way that people connect, and the most profound way in which that connection can be achieved is through small actions that change perceptions in an evolutionary way. People argue that it is easier to change an individual that to change the system and that may be right. But if you want systemic change there are simply too many individuals to change to achieve it and it is a lot easier to change the interactions and allow people autonomy over what they are.’ [Emphasis mine]

If you come to think about it, it’s like building a cathedral, really. Brick by brick, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. A small change, or action, may happen every day that makes the whole difference and over the course of a very long period of time you realise you are, eventually, building a very beautiful cathedral altogether. My all time favourite one took 300 years to build and it’s just as stunning and jaw-dropping as it can get. Like with all change management initiatives aimed at long term, that’s when you realise it takes an awful lot of patience, perseveranceresilience and, above all, empathy. Tons of it. So the soonest you start working on those soft skills, as you prepare your way towards completing that Social Business Journey over the course of decades, the much better off you will be. Both individually as well as collectively.

But remember, it’s all about the small actions, about starting to do something today, whatever it may well be. Even the smallest of actions or changes under those potential conditions and constraints already put in place, can have a huge impact altogether as knowledge (Web) workers start making their own choices and begin their own journey of discovery, connection, sharing (what they know), learning and eventually of getting work done more effectively, which is what matters at the end of the day, if you ask me. We need to ‘stop talking about how things should be, and start changing things in the here and now’. 

Indeed, I couldn’t have put it in better words than we need to stop talking about the so-called Future of Work (#FOW) and, instead, start doing more (in small increments and actions, of course!) about the Present of Work (#PresentOfWork).

It’s our choice and ours alone.

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Can IBM Watson Workspace Save Our Productivity?

Apparently, our productivity as employees has been plummeting since the mid 70s. Yes, indeed, you are reading it right, since the mid 70s! And yet we seem to be working more hours nowadays than ever before with a rather horrifying effect on us all for that matter. Yet, productivity still is very weak and we don’t seem to succeed in figuring out who (or what) is to blame for that. We just keep working hard, to the extenuation, having fully embraced the Cult of Busyness as if there is no tomorrow, well, because, you know, there won’t be a tomorrow anyway, if we all go on like this claiming we are just too busy doing things, while, at one point in time, sooner rather than later, we are all very aware we are bound to collapse. Is there hope for us? Can we help redefine productivity for us all, once more, and, more interestingly, can we rely on technology, specially, AI, to help us out in that daunting task at hand? I think we can, I think we will, although not necessarily through Artificial Intelligence but more along the lines of Assisted Intelligence

Welcome to the wonderful brave new world of IBM’s Watson Workspace! 

IBM Watson Workspace

 

If you look out there, and read carefully, you would notice how vast majority of people keep saying how AI (newest shiny object out there in the tech scene at the moment) is going to save us all from almost everything. Perhaps even ourselves! The thing is that I have always been a bit concerned about the specific role we seem to have placed upon AI to come to our rescue and solve all of our societal / business problems, even to the point of replacing our very own decision making processes, therefore becoming the new managers. Yet, when I come to look a bit closer and observe how most AI has been applied through algorithms into some of the media tools I rely on I despair, and more and more by the day, frankly. All of a sudden we see how our overall user experiences are bastardised when an algorithm starts acting on behalf of us, the individual human beings, assuming they know better than we do what we really want, what our needs may well be and what our decision making process should have been like without even bothering about figuring out our context in the first place. 

It’s horrifying. Not necessarily because of the potential implications, but more than anything else because of the overall horrendous user experience they provide. It’s one of the main reasons as to why I deleted my Facebook account, my LinkedIn and my Google Plus Profiles; why I use Tweetbot everywhere vs. the regular Twitter Web site; why I have gone from the state of loving Instagram to loathing it more and more by the day; why every time there is a new media tool out there that comes with an algorithm I keep running away from it like the plague. I don’t want AI to decide for me what’s best, or not, for me. I don’t want AI to make me dumber by sacrificing my own privacy in exchange of convenience. You see? I don’t think that’s the role to explore the huge potential AI has got to offer in today’s world. If anything, I would want AI to make me better, smarter, and, overall, a much more effective decision maker, so that instead of replacing me and obliterating my entire thinking process, it can augment it helping me become more aware, more conscious, tolerant, diverse, empathic, caring and, overall, a better human being as a result.

Now, that’s what humanising AI should be all about, if you ask me, which is why I’m so incredibly excited about IBM’s announcement, from earlier on this week, at the World of Watson conference event, where Watson Workspace was officially launched as a pre-view beta of what the future of collaboration, knowledge sharing, learning and innovating around knowledge should be all about. Not replacing and wiping out entirely our human potential, but, instead, augmenting our capability through enhanced, trustworthy and advisory commentary from IBM Watson itself.

Welcome to the amazingly exciting world of Assisted Intelligence! 

Earlier on this week, IBM announced a new product called Watson Workspace coming into play in an already rather crowded space, that is, the one around Messaging / Chatting apps with plenty of already rather solid products available like Slack, HipChat, Microsoft Teams, Spark, Circuit, RingCentral, TalkSpirit, Ryver, HiBox, Telegram, etc. etc. The list goes on and on and on. You may say they may well be a bit too late into the market, but then again no-one ever said that when Google first introduced Google Search over 15 years ago. It wasn’t the first search engine coming into the market, it wasn’t the last one either, indeed, but it transformed the way we use the Web today.

If you had a chance to view and participate in its live launch or if, instead, you have been playing with it already for the last couple of days or some more, Watson Workspace, that is, you will know it’s still very much in pre-view beta status, because plenty of the key basic capabilities from vast majority of messaging and chatting apps are still missing from the product itself, which, you may say, it’s a bit of a pity, but then again I am certain all of those standard features will come to par in a matter of weeks, if not days. Then what? Well, that’s when the fun truly kicks in, because what Workspace has got to offer is rather unique on its own, at least, that I know of. As a starting point, we will have Watson Work Services, which means that it will provide an opportunity to be integrated with almost everything that’s out there that would want to tinker around with its open APIs.

Watson Workspace - Slack Integration

And then there is IBM Watson itself through a superb new capability called Moments, which is, by far, what excites me the most about the application itself. Moments can best be described as, essentially, Assisted Intelligence at hard work with you and therefore helping me become smarter at what I do with what I know, without having to work harder unnecessarily. Moments is that brilliant new capability of applying cognitive computing to the way you collaborate by making your decision process much more effective keeping in your know of what’s happening while you are there, or even when you are not there. It will summarise interactions and conversations already held for you, present you with options on what you may, or may not, need to do to complete a certain ask or request, and eventually reduce all of the potential friction and clutter as to who does what, when, with whom and for what purpose. 

Watson Workspace - Moments

Now, not sure what you would think about it, but that’s not only what I would call the Future of Work, but the brilliant and exciting #PresentOfWork, frankly, and I just can’t wait for Workspace to unleash its full potential by demonstrating, in a very capable manner, it is very possible to turn Artificial Intelligence into Assisted Intelligence, to no longer think about replacing the human(s) when doing (collaborative) work, but to realise the full potential of the human intellect by enhancing the way we share our knowledge across and how we collaborate to get work done more effectively, which is, eventually, what productivity has been about all along either as an individual or collective activity.

WoW, I am really excited about Workspace’s present, never mind its bright future! And you?


[PS. Ok, I know, you all want to take it for a spin and judge for yourselves, right? Well, if you are interested in giving it a serious try, just either leave a comment over here below, or reach out to me on Twitter via @elsua, and I will invite you all into a space where we can play around with it. Oh, and if you would want to keep up with news items, updates, capabilities, enhancements, fixes, etc. etc. you may also want to follow IBM Watson Workspace’s Twitter ID. I just did!]

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Never Underestimate the Power of Education and Enablement

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the winter

A few months back, if you would remember, I got started with this series of blog entries about the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients who are just about to embark on the so-called Social Business Transformation journey or with those other clients who may want to spice up their digital transformation efforts carried out so far and whatever other change initiatives already put in place. Up until now, I have talked about four out of the five pillars from the framework itself that I use, going from ‘What’s your purpose?’, to then ’Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them’, to ’Building a solid library of use cases’, to then move on to ‘Enabling early adopters to lead your change initiatives’ and for today I will go with the fifth and final pillar, which is perhaps my all time favourite one, more than anything else, because of how often it is either ignored, or neglected, and yet it’s one of the most important, critical ones for the success of whatever the programme I may have worked with over the course of the last 20 years and not just necessarily related to social networking for business, but in almost for everything else for that matter: never underestimate the power of education and enablement.

When thinking about education and enablement in a corporate environment around a social business adaptation programme that may well be underway across the organisation, there are typically two different types of initial reactions as to how most businesses would confront the whole topic of enabling the workforce. To name:

  • No, we don’t need no stinking education, nor enablement, because, you know, these social tools put in place are just so easy to use that no-one would need it, nor find it useful nor relevant. After all, everyone can tweet, blog, share a status update, or perhaps a file and what not.
  • Yes, we will be having an education and enablement programme with a very thorough overview of features and capabilities, because, you know, we need to ensure people understand fully the huge potential they now have at their fingertips.

While both reactions may well be rather valid, in my experience from over the course of the last two decades of having worked with hundreds of clients, as either a salaried employee or as an independent freelancer, I have learned that neither of them are very effective in their overall efforts, more than anything else because both of them put an emphasis on the (social) tools themselves resulting in an overwhelming experience by the knowledge (Web) workers themselves to the point where they would eventually switch off and go back to the traditional tools they may well be the most familiar with from all along, like, for instance, *cough* email *cough*.

The thing is that when you start thinking about your education and enablement programme around your Enterprise Social Networking tools suite, or any other emerging social tool for that matter that you may have put in place already, the focus should never be on the tools themselves, but on the behaviours and the mindset you would want to inspire while defining new ways of getting work done more effectively. Essentially, the focus should be on the mindset that triggers the mantra of ‘working smarter, not necessarily harder’. And that’s when you realise that what really matters in an effective education and enablement programme is just simply how you may help the rest of the knowledge workforce adapt to a new set of behaviours and habits based on something they already know really really well: their own core business practices and use cases.

You know, change is hard, we all know that, but, at the same time, it’s also inevitable, as in we can only decide up to how long we are going to be able to delay it; so when you are willing to go the extra mile and provide the necessary conditions AND context for knowledge workers to choose how they would want to define that new and enhanced set of business practices, there is a great chance you would become rather successful over time. Not only generating the right level of awareness about your own change initiatives, which is always a good thing, but also you may experience an increase in the active participation from the knowledge (Web) workers themselves across the board when they decide to make use of these social tools to execute on the use cases they are already really good at while using other (traditional) tools.

Eventually, it’s all about how you come as close as you possibly can to discover and find out plenty more how people really work, how do they do their daily tasks, what they struggle with, what they learn, what gets them stuck, what they do in a heartbeat without too much thinking, what they still consider potentially pernicious pain points to their own productivity and may be what makes it tick for them. That’s why when putting together your own education and enablement programme it’s essential that you listen carefully, capture as much information as you possibly can and offer them a vision around ‘WHAT IF I could show you a way of getting your work done much more effectively with a whole lot less effort?’ Who wouldn’t want to buy into that, right?

Yes, I know some of you folks may be thinking that while going through that exercise you would need to build yourself up with tons of patience and perseverance as it’s going to take a good amount of time to get it done. And you are right, but remember that you are on this Social Business journey for the long run. It’s not a sprint, it’s never been a sprint, but a marathon, so, as such, you need to prepare well in order to avoid giving up too soon. It’s a slow process, it will take time, tons of energy, effort and really good work, but totally worth it, because at the end of the day you would manage to help your fellow colleagues adapt to not only a new set of social tools, but also adapt to a new set of behaviours and a specific mindset that may be completely different to everything you did before, but that you would want them to stick to in the long run. This is also the main reason as to why context is so critical, because whenever that enablement programme misses the context of why it was put together in the first place, i.e. for what purpose, it will fail within the first few months of having it in place. So don’t lose track of that context, specially, over time, because, in a way, it will help you justify the entire programme.

Time plays against you, for sure, so you would need to tame it accordingly but, in my experience, the best thing is to start small and build from there. Build your enablement program in small increments, develop a grassroots effort of excitement from your fellow colleagues through engaging early in the game that wonderful community of practice of champions you have been working with already. In a previous blog post I mentioned how there are a number of different activities you could put into action with the help of that community of ambassadors; well, this education and enablement programme would be one of them, if not the main one. So while the time constraints are there, relying on those advocates to help you out while you help them, is probably as good as it gets. Building community right from day one.

Your biggest challenge though may well not be how much time it would take you to put the programme in place, but what kind of format are you going to use for it, so that people may find it relevant, useful, and overall more engaging than whatever else you may have done in the past. Time, in this case, will also play against you, more than anything else because hardly anyone nowadays would be looking forward to going through an enablement module of about an hour, for instance, no matter how interesting and helpful it may well be. No-one has got a free hour anymore as we keep treasuring and nurturing that Cult of Busyness. So you would need to tweak that. Easy. 30 minutes.

That’s all you would need when putting together this enablement programme with an initial number of different modules based on use cases and business practices. Remember, nothing about social tools, nor their different features and / or capabilities on their own for that matter. I know you are all probably thinking I am crazy, but, frankly, 30 minutes is all you need, because you should not forget that your education programme will be based on specific tasks, activities, business practices, use cases, etc. etc. you name it, of how people actually work, so if you focus just on a single task at a time it shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to cover it all nicely.

In fact, over the course of time I have developed a particular structure myself that has worked really well in terms of keeping things at bay, focused, straight to the point and with a lovely combination of both theory AND practice within that specific time constraint that would still be rather relevant to the knowledge (Web) worker interested in that particular topic. Here’s the typical overview of an enablement module around a specific task, say, for instance, around sharing a document with your colleagues:

  • 20 minutes of theory, where you, basically, apply the following structure:a) Show the old way of doing that task (i.e. file sharing via email) where you can also introduce potential challenges and new opportunities;
    b) Show the new way of doing that same task (i.e. file sharing via a specific social file sharing space either as part of your ESN or standalone);
    c) Explain the main personal benefits of shifting from the old way to the new way (notice my emphasis on personal as a golden opportunity to try to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question);
    d) Insert a success story from a fellow colleague (one of the champions, for instance, since they have already changed the way they themselves work) where he/she can explain how they do it, so that people can relate to it with a real story. After all, we learn better through stories we can relate to from fellow colleagues versus just our own.
  • 10 minutes of practice, where you, essentially, go live into the Enterprise Social Networking tool you may have at your disposal and spend some time walking the audience live through the different steps of how you achieve and complete that old task in a new way. And here’s the most important tidbit of them all, encourage everyone in the audience, whether face to face, or remote, to follow your steps and play with the new way to complete that particular task. The gist here is that your fellow colleagues can find out, for themselves, how easy it is to complete that particular task defining and using new ways of working. See? Who is going to deny you 10 minutes of their time to show you how to acquire, embrace and adapt to a new set of behaviours and habits? No-one. BOOM!

From there onwards, as you get to build up that comprehensive list of education and enablement modules, it’s just a matter of figuring out how you would want to make them available to as many people as possible and in multiple different formats and methods of delivery. But before you move into that, and just in case you may feel a bit overwhelmed about the prodigious amount of modules to put together, remember it’s all about starting small, and grow from there, without forgetting, of course, you have a good head start already, because you still have a rather solid Library of Use Cases which you can then port over and convert them into education modules. You are not starting from scratch, nor are you alone by yourself, since you can also count on that community of champions who are just waiting for you to ignite that strong sense of purpose of transforming the organisation, while you help them help you spread the word around.

Finally, a quick short tip in terms of helping you potentially identify how many ways, and methods of delivery, you would want to make available to knowledge (Web) workers for whenever they may ask you what kinds of enablement materials are out there. In principle, you should aim at introducing as many as you possibly can, going from face to face workshops (remember they shouldn’t go beyond 30 minutes!), to remote weekly webinars where every week you pick up a specific business practice to focus on, to hosting office hours sessions, to perhaps make all of the materials (i.e. presentations, videos, audios, etc. etc.) available online in a specific open space for people to choose as they may see fit what may matter the most to them at that point in time, to work with specific teams, or individuals, who may require a bit more attention and therefore more focused enablement materials. The list goes on and on and on …

The idea is to make your education and enablement programme as open, accessible and available to as many people as you possibly can. Some times folks may require your attention, help and assistance, but in most cases, because of the nature of those 30 minute long modules, people would be self-serving themselves, and their teams with the materials you make available, which is exactly what you would want to, because, if anything, you would be sending across a couple of rather strong messages: doing and living social with a business purpose is not as difficult as it may seem and, secondly, you, too, could contribute your bit towards helping your business become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise by doing something so relatively inexpensive as determining your own learning activities based on your needs and wants.

And that’s probably as good as it gets, really, because that’s the moment you are sending out another very clear message to everyone that in order to adapt successfully to a new way of working through these different social technologies everyone, and I mean, everyone, needs to chip in accordingly, based on their own needs and in their own terms, not your own, in order to make it a huge collective success over the course of time.

That’s how you realise when the real marathon for everyone begins …

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Enabling Early Adopters to Lead Your Change Initiatives

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves

Continuing further along with the series of articles around the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients, it’s now probably a good time to share some more details about the fourth pillar itself, out of the five of them, after having talked about ‘What’s your purpose?’, ‘Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them’ and ‘Building a solid library of use cases’. This particular item in the adaptation framework is all about enabling your early adopters to become the change (leading) agents within your organisation to help transform not only how your business operates through the extensive use of enterprise social networking tools, but also to inspire that personal transformation journey every single knowledge worker might need to embark on, once your firm decides to go social. My dear fellow BlueIQ Ambassadors? Are you all still out there?

Back in the day, about a decade ago, within each and every organisation there was always a chance to have the odd, strange team mate who would be just that, social. *The* weird one. Remember them? The one who was almost always on line on different social networking tools, exploring, playing, discovering new, perhaps, more effective ways of getting work done; yet, since they were just alone by themselves within each team, they didn’t manage to make much of an impact other than being the ones no-one would talk to, because, you know, they were social. Fast forward to 2016, do you still have some folks behaving that way within your teams or within your firm? Of course, I know you do! Great! You are now ready then to execute on enabling your early adopters to help you transform your business…

But before we go into that with a bit more detail, you may consider yourself lucky working on such Social Business transformation programme right from the start within your company. You may consider yourself lucky as well if you have a (small) team of rather talented colleagues working and executing with you on the various different change initiatives you may have going on, but the thing is that neither you, nor your rather talented and smart team, can scale over time, eventually, and that’s why you need to be prepared for whenever that happens, because, whether you like it or not, you will need some help at some point in time and the soonest you start mobilising it together, the better.

That’s why it’s going to be incredibly important for those of you out there working on Social Business Adaptation programmes to start building a strong sense of purpose for those (social) early adopters who, in its due time, will become your small army of volunteers, as they will be rather keen on going the extra mile to help you achieve your different goals. But it all starts with giving them a purpose. You can call them whatever you would want to: ambassadors, champions, advocates, evangelists, connectors, change agents, etc. etc. you name it. What’s really important about this exercise of giving them a reason-to-be is to essentially build a strong community of practice where they would feel and sense they are no longer the weird ones, but they will be on a new major, critical mission: transform the company they work at. That’s where it all begins…

That’s how IBM’s own BlueIQ Ambassadors got started back in 2007. We were a small global team of about 8 people who were working on IBM Software’s own Social Business Adaptation journey and right from the very beginning we realised that we weren’t going to scale in terms of how far we could reach out within the organisation, so within a few weeks from the programme launch we decided to put together a community of practice, BlueIQ Ambassadors, where we’d be talking to multiple teams, business units and divisions asking for volunteers who may be willing to help out spread the word around social and execute on a number of different initiatives. And within a couple of weeks we had a small community of 50 people (that grew, over the course of two years and across the board, to 2000 ambassadors in 50 countries). We had scaled. We could start!

Over the course of the last few years I have always said that online communities are perhaps the most significant and major driver of your own social business change and transformation efforts, so having an initial community of practice of social evangelists or champions that could act as a leading example of defining and creating new business practices that could then spread around in multiple ways, whether through word of mouth, virally, or through traditional communication channels, is probably as good as it gets. An open community of volunteers where not only social networking advocates are welcome to join in but also everyone else for that matter who may be interested in this new way of working. The purpose of the community is that one of connecting, learning, collaborating and sharing with others what they are working on. That way there is always a huge amount of collateral materials AND conversations that will be created and sparked to then be reused accordingly in a number of different contexts and scenarios.

Right from the beginning we knew that, when putting together such community of practice, we would have to come up with a set of criteria to join the community to get things going, so we decided to keep things relatively simple and put in place two specific items for other fellow social networking advocates to come and join us:

  • A social networking ambassador should be a rather passionate advocate for all things social and should want to help enable others in their terms at their own pace, because, after all, they are all volunteers.
  • A social networking ambassador should be willing to want to learn more about social networks and social software, in general, in order to stay ahead of curve at all times as a lifelong learning experience.

And that’s it! That’s as simple as it can get when you build such community of advocates, because what you would want to focus on is not necessarily on a specific skills set, because they can always acquire them over time, but more the right mindset and behaviours. From there onwards you can model together how you would want to operate as a community of evangelists wanting to spread the message around about what your social business transformation efforts may well be about and how other people can get involved. And, right there, right then, your collective Social Business Journey begins …

As a community facilitator of such community of practice, and any other online community, for that matter, there are a number of different tasks and activities that you would need to act upon in order to engage its members, but perhaps the most critical one is to eventually ensure you can answer, for each and every member of the community, the most important question of them all: What’s in it for me, if I join the community? Some folks may join the community because they want to be in the know; or they may want to learn more; they may have decided to help out with the enablement efforts of not just their own close teams, but also the different communities they are already part of; or they may want to be part of the different mentoring, coaching, or facilitating initiatives put in place so far; they may want to co-create relevant content together; or they may want to learn more through general education sessions (even perhaps with external guest speakers) about a particular (niche) topic; they may want to have open access to executives, so they start their own personal journey to become the new leaders of tomorrow; or they may decide to reach out to you, as the community facilitator, and ask you the question you have been anticipating all along: how can I help you advance our collective efforts in transforming the company we work for? 

Putting together a community of practice is not an easy task, as I’m pretty sure all of you know by now already. There are a number of different phases you would need to go through in order to arrive at the critical one of community launch before you are ready to go, but from there onwards, perhaps the most important, critical task you would have is how you plan to make the community grow into a more mature and sustainable state where it becomes self-serving and self-regulatory to the point where you no longer (almost) exist, at least, your presence. You are just one other member of the community, just like the rest of us, contributing and participating in the conversations as you may see fit adding value where you can, just like everyone else is.

Now, I am certain you may be wondering by now about what tasks, activities, and initiatives this community of practice of social business ambassadors could be focusing on, while helping you and your team execute on the different change plans and transformation efforts you may be responsible for. Well, I will be sharing plenty more in detail on an upcoming blog post about this particular topic, when I will talk about the fifth pillar of the Social Business Adaptation Framework I have been referencing so far. But for now, though, and to act as a bit of a teaser, I am going to take the liberty of embedding over here a presentation I did over 4 years ago about ’The Secret Art of Cultivating Online Communities’ where, over the course of a bit over 30 minutes, I shared plenty of the community building techniques I have used as a community facilitator of the BlueIQ Ambassadors community itself, as well as plenty other online communities I have been stewarding over the course of the last 20 years and still going strong. Have a look into it and see what you would think and how far you could relate to it as well:

 

Becoming a Jedi Master. The secret art of cultivating online communities – Luis Suarez

Finally, I should add that when thinking about enabling your early adopters, and build a community of practice around them, to lead your change initiatives, there is something that always gets either ignored or rather neglected and that has perhaps remained one of my favourite everlasting key takeaways from community building done right: it’s never been about you, the community facilitator, but about the community itself you are cultivating, and that means every single day you would need to go the extra mile for your community members, think about their needs, not necessarily just your own, and question yourself how you can best serve them accordingly, because the moment you fail to do so by focusing on just your own needs, that’s the moment when your community will become dormant, if not extinct, over the course of time, and that’s the last thing you would want to see happening, because when taking into account your social business journey you need to focus on the long term and having such an active and thriving community of practice will help ensure not only the success you are aiming for, but also an everlasting flair around it that will be pervasive enough on its own way beyond your own digital transformation initiative as well as the community of practice itself. And that’s just as good as it gets and what you should be looking for all along right from the start!

My dear fellow BlueIQ AmbassadorsWhere Art Thou? 😀🙋🏻‍

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