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

Freelancing

Work Stream #1 – Learning Is the Work

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes

Ever since I went independent, nearly three years ago, there have been a few people who keep asking me, on a more or less frequent basis, why haven’t I put together a regular Web site where I could list and offer my services as an adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation, so that everyone would have a pretty good idea as to what I am up to and see how I may be able to help other people. Time and time again my answer has always been the same, at least, so far: ‘No, thanks! I don’t need it at this point in time’. I guess the growing amount of surprised faces I keep seeing to such reply is triggering, most probably, the urge to put together this blog post explaining a little bit the main reason as to why I haven’t gotten one so far: it depends!

Indeed, it depends on what you want . Over the course of the last 20 years I have been acquiring a number of different skills and experiences in the corporate world around Customer Support, Knowledge Management, (Remote) Collaboration and Virtual Teams, Learning, Online Communities (and Community Building), Change Management and Social Networking for Business (i.e. Social Computing, Social Business, Digital Transformation, or whatever other monikers you may want to use), which means that depending on what kind of business problem(s) you would want to tackle, or depending on the business opportunities or potential new markets you would want to create, I may be able to help one way of another. Like I said, it just depends.

Perhaps I could describe that ‘it just depends with a description of the kind of work I have been doing in the last couple of years to help everyone understand a little bit more what it is that I do for work and get an idea of the kind of services I could potentially offer that people may find useful.

At this point in time there are a number of different work streams I get to execute on as part of my daily work routines, and since there may well be quite a few, based on the skills and experiences I have been accumulating over time in the different various fields I mentioned above, I have decided to split them up in multiple blog posts where I can expand on each and everyone of them further along to add some additional insights and perspectives, so I’ll start this series of blog posts with what’s perhaps, right now, my number #1 work stream at the moment: client work. 

Over the last three years I have been working with clients from both the private and public sectors, and from multiple industries as well, both nationwide as well as internationally. Some of those clients have been small, medium businesses up to 1,000 employees and some other clients from major big corporations with over 40 or 50 thousand employees (or above, up to 100k). And, typically, after an initial round of conversations, I would work with clients based on two distinctively different contexts:

  • A customer may have recently purchased a particular Enterprise Social Networking platform (i.e. an ESN, whatever that may well be) and may need some initial advice about how to get started with their own Social Business and Digital Transformation adaptation plans. So I’d get together with the client in an initial round of meetings and discuss the 5 step framework I have developed over the years around Social Business Adaptation Techniques, to get the conversations going, which covers the following areas: business imperative(s), governance model(s), use cases, networks and communities of champions / ambassadors and, finally, enablement. And begin work with them in executing such initial framework as we move further along, if the client agrees, of course.The most important aspect of those initial meetings is for me to state very clearly how I may be able to help out, based on what the client wants and needs, and over what time frame and what fees would be incurred, accordingly, but also to clearly showcase the kind of transformation work that lies ahead for them to work on together with me by insisting on using the co-creation approach towards adapting that framework I mentioned above to their own doing around adaptation. That basically means, not much talk, but tons of action, that is, real work from both of us.
  • A customer may have purchased a particular Enterprise Social Networking platform (i.e. an ESN, whatever may well be) and after a certain period of time (usually between 6 to 18 months, if not longer) of excitement with tons of exhilarating, frantic activities around their change and transformation initiatives, their adaptation rates plateau to the point where there is very little progress further along. This usually happens when second, third or fourth waves of knowledge workers don’t follow the initial rage from the so-called early adopters group. Or when a number of different barriers, obstacles, inhibitors and what not, come along and are just plain tough to overcome them successfully on your own, specially, if you haven’t been exposed to them in the past and don’t know for certain what you are up against. Typically, one of those major obstacles is direct management and senior leaders / executives (I’ll explain further in detail on an upcoming blog post what I mean in this regard).In this particular scenario I’d first spend some time trying to figure out what’s been happening all along since they purchased that specific ESN, why is there such a sudden stop to those change and transformation initiatives, what are the main obstacles and what are they trying to achieve, and, most importantly, figure out how to fix them accordingly, so that things can move on further along, once again. There is a great chance that in my 16 years of first hand working experiences around social and change initiatives in the corporate world I may have seen quite a few of those barriers and could share how we overcome them together as part of that co-creation process I mentioned above.

You see? It depends. It depends on your needs and wants based on what you, my (potential) client, may want to work on, not on what I would want. I know what I want. I have it very clear right from the start: help you become successful at whatever you would would want to achieve and that I may be able to help you out with, either by addressing your business problems or by making the most of new business opportunities creating new markets. And along the way, something else very important to me as well, learn. Learn from you, learn with you, on what it is like becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise. It’s how I work, it’s who I am, it’s what you get, more than anything else because a long time ago I realised the moment I stop learning that’s the moment I stop living a little bit. ‘Learning is the work, after all.

That, in a nutshell, agglutinates the main work stream I have been involved with ever since I went independent. There are a few other related work streams (i.e. KM, Collaboration, Learning, Online Communities and Change Management) I’m currently involved with as well and I’ll definitely be blogging about them over the course of time, along with some other kinds of work I decided to embark on upon becoming a freelancer, but I’ll talk about those at a later time as well. Suffice to say that part of resuming my blogging mojo over here is to eventually blog about all of the things I have learned over the course of those three years, as a freelancer, as well as how it blends with everything else I have done in the past, hoping to share all of those experiences as to why I’m having such a fun time doing what I love doing: helping others become better at what they already do; working smarter, not necessarily harder, with social tools as key enablers.


PS. Psst, you may have noticed how throughout the article I haven’t mentioned anything about the fees I usually work with in this kind of change and transformation work around Social Business with clients and if you’re wondering about what those would be like, well, it depends… on what you would need and what I could offer 😀👍🏻

[Contact me via Twitter DM at @elsua – got open DMs-, should you have any further questions or queries you would want to discuss in private, or, alternatively, leave a comment below (with your preferred contact method, if you wish) and I’ll reach out to you as soon as I possibly can. Thanks!]

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Trusting People in This Social Age Is a Tough Job!

Gran Canaria - Ayacata

As a result of the article I put together over here in this blog a little while ago under the title ’The Home You Never Left’, and after a bit of a conversation going on in Twitter on the same topic, Anke Holst put together this rather helpful and very insightful piece under the rather suggestive heading of ‘Building Circles of Trust’, in which she makes a pretty convincing case as to why all of these social networking tools are so powerful in helping self-empower knowledge Web workers to nurture and cultivate their own relationships (both online and offline) by building what she calls circles of trust.

I, too, used to think that very same way, and still do, to a certain degree, but recent work experiences have convinced me that, when talking about trust, words, perhaps, are no longer enough. They have never been enough. It’s actions the ones that matter the most, specially, when people can no longer stick to their word, whether online or offline, and you end up having to rely on their real behaviours and get ready for the disappointment, because, despite all of the kool-aid and all of those cool mantras about how social tools help people trust each other by getting to know them a little bit better, it’s actually their own actions the ones that’d mark the tipping point on whether you could trust that individual or not. And time and time again it’s those very same actions the ones that confirm that who you thought you could trust, initially, based on those offline / online interactions, you find out you just can’t. And you tried very hard, but, nevertheless, the disappointment settles in. I am pretty sure plenty of you know, exactly, what I am referring to as I write these words … 

Anke starts building up her blog post with a rather clear idea, which she describes on the following quote:

When I taught people how to be on social media, back before it was all marketing, it was very much about building circles of trust. It was just like building friendships as opposed to giving fake attention, just to sell or influence’

 
If she were to have written that sentence, say, 5 or 10 years ago, I would have believed in it wholeheartedly to the point where I could justify the need to use social tools in this day and age as an opportunity to do just that: building friendships. Alas, fast forward to 2016 and for the vast majority of cases and interactions, that’s no longer the case. Every single individual wanting to make use of social tools has got an agenda, a different (most of the times very well hidden away) agenda, than whatever you thought they were portraying online initially. So instead of using social tools today to build friendships, I am afraid we are inclining more towards the giving AND taking of fake attention, just to sell, market or influence one self into doing something they very well know it’s not going to be in their ultimate benefit as a whole. Just a one way road, if I may add. But, either way, they would still carry on with it. After all, it’s in their own interest, not yours. 
 
But this is about relationships. Relationships are built on human interactions, on imperfections, not PR, on care, not follow-backs.’
Yes, indeed, this is all about relationships! And relationships built on human interACTIONS, which is where we get to experience vast majority of failures in this regard from how people behave online and how they totally transform themselves when interacting, or working together, offline, turning out to be completely different people than those you thought you knew, somewhat, rather well from over the years. Sadly, those interACTIONS are the ones that confirm, once again, you have been framed into believing you were a true friendship / relationship vs. just another individual waiting to be poached upon getting away with it. Once more. It hurts. A lot!
 
I know I may be sounding a bit too radical and negative in that description of how we eventually bastardised the entire notion of what social networks are all about and how to best make smarter use of them, and instead we decided to just focus on the phoney digital marketing techniques we all knew and learned to live without in the offline world, as if we were just bringing with us our bad habits and misbehaviours from the offline world into the online one. And that’s fine. That’s us, after all. Well, that’s not my intention, by far, in fact, following the discourse from Anke in her blog post, I think she is on to something with this particular quote where I feel she is clearly indicating the way forward to what we used to have in the past, say, 10 years ago, when social tools were emerging in the corporate world and people were genuinely trying to figure out what the fuss was all about and truly engage accordingly: 
 
My understanding of building a personal social media presence for us who don’t already have an audience, and using it well, is that we all, wherever we are, build a close circle of trust.
I couldn’t have agreed more with her vision and mantra as to how we could just go back to basics in terms of challenging and questioning the validity of our current social interactions and how much do they differ from, say, 10 years ago. Remember, for instance, when you were using Twitter back then? Ok, perhaps 5 years ago would work, too! Did your use of Twitter, for instance, change much from back then (or Facebook, LinkedIn, for that matter)? I bet it has and perhaps it’s turned itself into something you may not enjoy anymore, but, you know, since you have to be there, because everyone else is and you certainly don’t want to be either left out or lag behind, you are just thinking about carrying on as is, hoping one day will click again and re-engage yourself into the über-awesomeness it once was! Best of luck with that! I suppose those days are now long gone!
 
But, fear not, there is hope, of course! Remember, I’m still an outrageous, heretic optimist, so, as such we can’t just give up like that! That’s why my favourite paragraph from Anke’s great blog entry is this other one that pretty much sums it all up on the kind of challenges AND opportunities that lie ahead, right in front of us, for us to act upon them accordingly…
 
If the real humanity of people is out there, if people truly appreciate each other, see more of each other, and as a result, care more for each other’s feelings, and don’t just use new media to do old-school exploitation, it can all be so much more useful, peaceful, harmonious for all of us.
 
Amen to those words, indeed! 5 or 10 years ago I would have signed up for that vision right away as an opportunity to showcase the true potential of emerging social technologies and, fast forward to 2016, I still do today, except for a couple of nuances, if I may add. Yes, I still strongly believe that emerging social technologies are incredibly powerful to help knowledge Web workers foster, build and nurture their own social capital skills to improve their trust levels wth their peers, their customers and business partners, and, why not?, their own competitors (Coopetition anyone?). We do business with people, because we trust them, and vice versa, we don’t do business with people, because we don’t trust them, or we no longer do. It’s that simple. It’s who are as human beings. Trust is the foundational trait that makes it all worth it, but in this case, for me, the additional nuance is that trust cannot longer be manifested via words alone, but actions as well. Gran Canaria - Artenara
 
Why am I saying all of this in this rather cryptic blog post? – you may be wondering, right? Ah-ha, you noticed it, eh? 😀 
 
Well, there is, indeed, a reason why I’m saying all of this here and it’s perhaps my biggest lesson learned as a freelancer coming close to my third year anniversary as an independent. And since I mentioned in a previous article I’d be sharing my own experiences about what freelancing was all about, I guess it’s a good starting point to share with you all what, to me, has been the hardest and toughest lesson learned as an independent and which I’m still trying to come to terms with, as it’s happening more often than not and I still haven’t been able to figure out how to address it nor fix it: you just can’t trust people through your mutual online social interactions despite years gone by! 

WOW! I know, I know, very harsh words I have just written above, but allow me to share some context in here, please, if I may. I have been involved with social technologies since early 2000 and throughout all of that time I have been able, like I’m pretty sure most of you folks out there!, to build and nurture some pretty amazing relationships / friendships over the years that have made all of these online interactions via social networks a real treat. Totally worth the effort, the energy and the time invested. However, ever since I went independent and became an independent freelancer around Social Business & Digital Transformation nearly 3 years ago, I’ve had, at least, 4 different rather nasty and disappointing work related experiences where people who I thought I could trust and rely on, based on our social interactions from over the years, both offline and online, have let me down big time to the point where I’m still in recovery mode trying to figure out whether I could trust them back again or not. Considering, even, whether that’s even worth the effort altogether. 
 
Yes, I know, we have all gone through similar experiences in our work lives, I am certain of that! (Wish I weren’t!), and I would say we’ll be seeing plenty more of that. Why people keep on behaving in such malicious ways towards others when everyone is just trying their best to make it through and succeed (whatever that may well mean for each and everyone of them), is something that I just won’t be able to comprehend in a long while, specially, when they misbehave and abuse, big time, your own good will, that good will from those who truly believe that we are living in a different world: one where are all are more open, collaborative, caring and overall more trustworthy with one another thanks to that enabling factor from emerging social technologies, as that’s exactly what we are trying to advocate for in terms of things that need to change at work, as much as in our personal lives. Yes, I know, I may well be a bit too naïve in this regard, yet, we keep getting betrayed left and right because of that good will of wanting to have a better (business) world with us not being able to do much about it other than try to learn better for next time around. The scars keep building up in one’s mind. Will they ever heal properly?
 
It’s tough. I mean, it’s really tough to trust people in this Social Age, unless you try to associate their online fancy talk with their actions, in which case you are bound to find out you couldn’t trust them in the first place. And that’s, exactly, what I’m trying really hard myself to do after these different work related experiences from people I thought I could trust, but I eventually found out I just shouldn’t have. I don’t know whether all of this happens more often with freelancers, but I can assure you that in the 17 years I worked at my former employer I never experienced such distrustful behaviours from fellow peers and it makes me wonder that perhaps the big corporate world is not the only one that’s totally broken and needs some serious fixing. Perhaps it’s us, humans, the ones who need fixing in terms of how we need to substantiate our words with our actions. The latter should speak more often for us than our very own words, alas the current Social Web focuses much more on that fancy talk I mentioned above rather than in our deeds on how we treat other people, and perhaps that is the main problem the Social Web has got nowadays… 
 
Trusting people in this social age is a tough job, indeed, perhaps the toughest of them all! We all know how many years of truly hard work, effort and energy it takes to build trust with people you want to respect, treasure and care for, but we all know as well how little time, i.e. a split second, it takes to destroy for good those trustworthy relationships when people say one thing and they do something else completely different abusing your good will of wanting to do things different, because you truly believe that social networks can, and will!, change the world as we know it! Only thing we can do then? Move on, work harder and learn that if people would want to earn your trust, their fancy talk will no longer do. Actions, now more than ever, do matter ever so much more. Now and forever!
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The Home You Never Left

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Winter

There are plenty of times when you have got that strong, unstoppable urge to spend more time in someone else’s home rather than in your own, either as an opportunity to want to learn something new, whatever that may well be, meet new people or perhaps because you may need a change of some kind, maybe even some new fresh air, who knows, to really appreciate what you may have had all along till it is then gone. It’s pretty much like when you grew up with that determination to leave your parents’ home as soon as you could possibly make it, to then realise, a few years later, how perhaps you shouldn’t have left in such a rush in the first place to understand what you have had all along: a home. Your home.

That’s pretty much how I feel at this very moment, as I get to write this blog post, upon reflecting on when was it the last time I have blogged over here, nearly 8 months ago!, thinking I may well have been away from home for far too long, spending plenty of time perhaps where I shouldn’t have, to then realise it may well be a good time now, if at all, to come back again and make an effort to stick around for a while, pretty much like when you return back home after an extended absence thinking the last thing you may want to do is leave again. At least, not yet.

I fully realise that this blog post may well be too cryptic on its own, it’s not intended to be, frankly, but in a way it’s something I needed to finally write down somewhere and what a better place than my own online home from over the last 11 years and counting: my own personal blog. That place that’s always waiting out there for you, like the good parents anxiously awaiting for the return of their prodigal son; that place that once you arrive it makes you feel like you are right at home, comfy, with no attachments, nor strings, where you don’t have to pretend to be who you are not, and you can be just you, the authentic you. No masks. No bullshit.

That’s what I have been missing all along since the last time I wrote a blog post over here. That online space where I could be me, without having to pretend to be someone else, or to play a different role, or to put on that dreaded mask I just don’t feel too comfortable with in the first place as once you have it on, before you realise it, you cannot longer take it off.

That online space, that is, your blog, where you no longer feel like you are being butchered left and right by multiple social spaces that only care about how much data and information I can keep feeding them with without asking for pretty much anything in return. As if I ever had a choice in that silly game of us being the product.

I’m tired of being targeted, of the constant surveillance state of our very moves throughout those social tools and apps, of the silly algorithms being put together by people who just don’t have a single clue of who you are, what you do or what you care for, not that they would care anyway, in the first place, but that have promised to improve our overall user experience, when in reality they keep destroying it big time to no avail, nor say from our part. I’m tired of reading on a daily basis multiple articles about how certain social tools keep improving the way they surveil and capture our data and knowledge, our relationships and our connections to a great detail and how everyone seems to be celebrating it all with much anticipation as an opportunity to be on the crest of the wave, when, in reality, they have already been swallowed by the savaging digital capitalism wave(s) themselves we once thought would change the world, and, in reality, just keep on perpetuating a dying status quo that doesn’t seem to be too keen on wanting to become extinct in the first place. Quite the opposite, It’s as alive and kicking as ever. And we only ought to blame us all for that to have happened in the short course of a bit over a decade. Just yesterday, if it were. 

I’m exhausted about the sickening polarisation, the despiteful vitriol, the useless hatred, the time-wasting and ever tiring trolling for no particular reason, nor excuse, and, above all, the bullying the Social Web has institutionalised over the course of time with those very same social spaces wanting to do very little about it themselves, because, you know, it’s morbid enough to drive huge traffic and therefore generate more revenue for the benefit of a few while rejoicing on the disgrace from everyone else who keep suffering from all of these horrendous and dysfunctional behaviours the Social Media keeps pontificating and advocating for. Well done to all of us! We truly deserve the Social Web we keep building on and on and on.

I’m utterly worn out about how we, collectively, don’t seem to want to change things, nor to put a stop to it all, to quit making heavy use of those very same social tools ensuring they die a slow, painful death for having mistreated us for years as if we were just resources to feed their hungry needs for with tons of data, to then be disposed off and find someone else to drain in the process. Somehow it feels like we haven’t learned much over the last decade or so about ‘The lost infrastructure of Social Media’ and how it’s turned itself into something completely different than what we originally envisioned in the first place. Remember Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us?

 

But then again, we are the media, indeed, and, as such, we have got a responsibility to make a smarter use of these social tools to help us connect, learn and collaborate more effectively; we have got a responsibility to *not* make use of these social tools that are only interested in the data we provide them with on a regular basis, so that they can then use it against us time and time again, if we ought to change things. We’ve all got a volume control on mob rule and, as such, we should exercise that right, instead of letting morbid, tragic and dramatic news flood our feeds while we watch and observe from the comfort of our couches, as we left the computer desks behind us. We know better. We should do better. We must do better. We should break the chain. Today. 

That’s essentially what I’ll be doing myself from here onwards as an opportunity to come back home, to come back to those special social spaces we once treasured and loved dearly for how they helped and allowed us to change the world as we knew it and make better people out of ourselves altogether. Each and every single time. Back in the day I deleted both my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, amongst several other social spaces, and it looks like that was one of the best things I could ever have done in the last few years. But that doesn’t seem to have been enough, at least, for now and there isn’t an indication that things will change any time soon. 

Time to regain control of our conversation(s) then and leave the silly, pretentious algorithms behind thinking they know better than us. They won’t. They can’t. It’s going to be us, knowledge Web workers of the 21st century, the ones who need to decide what kind of Social Web do we want to build and nurture over the years, not the social tools themselves dictating how us, the mindless sheep (according to them), will continue to behave. I know, and realise fully, how this may well be a bit too radical and everything, a bit of an outlier, if you wish, but then again it wouldn’t be the first, nor the second time for yours truly. I want a totally different Social Web user experience and I know that unless I do something about it for myself, no-one will. It’s in our hands to change it and I realise now that by resuming my blogging mojo it’s perhaps the perfect opportunity to reclaim back the conversations. So we better get started with it, don’t you think? 

That’s why, from here onwards, at least, for myself, there will be a whole lot more blogging and a whole lot less time spent in social tools, specially, those that seem to be only interested in me for the data I keep feeding them with and not for the conversations they can start and facilitate accordingly with me. Remember blogging? That’s exactly what it once did and why it feels good to, finally, be back home.

The home I never left… 

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10th Year Blogiversary – The Unfinished Journey of Blogging and Why It Matters

Gran Canaria - Playa del Inglés' Beach

Remember the good old days when people were writing about the death of blogging thanks to social media tools? When they wrote, rather prolifically, about how Google Plus, Tumblr, LinkedIn’s Pulse, Facebook’s Notes, Medium and a whole bunch of other platforms were just going to kill our own ability to have a personal Web Journal of sorts where we would be able to host our own thoughts, have conversations, learn and overall  build, over time, strong online communities about topics we were all passionate about and that we would keep on writing about for years to come? Well, 21 years later, blogging is still alive and kicking, thank you very much! And on October 10th, 2015, I just made it through my 10th year blogiversary for http://elsua.net. Who knew… The Death of Blogging? Hummm, I don’t think so!

Thing is this is not the first time I write about this very same topic, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last one either. It’s also not the first time I share across the many benefits as to why blogging still rules in the social / digital tools extensive landscape. But what I find the most baffling from it all is while a few people keep claiming that it’s now a dead medium for online publishing and personal journaling several other dozens more keep talking, and writing extensively, about the many perks behind having your own blog, whether it’s a corporate blog or not. The articles with dozens and dozens of tips can get quite overwhelming, but then again I keep getting dragged into reading through all of those listicles, because, you know, we are always going to be drawn upon them, whether we like it or not, so we better try to enjoy them and move on, don’t you think? Phew! That linking exercise I just did above to curated blog posts I have enjoyed in the last few months alone! has just been exhausting!  Oh, don’t worry, I don’t expect you to go through all of them. It’ was just an opportunity for me to highlight how blogging is alive and kicking if just a sample of the articles linked above contained hundreds of different blogging tips, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or an advanced blogger. Mind you, if you are starting your own blog, or think you could go and learn some new tricks, put some time aside to go through some of those. I can recommend reading through them to learn a new trick or two. I did. 

Anyway, see how silly the whole argument about the death of blogging really is? Here we are, 2015, and we are still talking about it. Yet, we keep on blogging. Regardless. And that’s a good thing, more than anything else because, if anything, blogging should be about just that: you writing along as an extension of your brain, of your thoughts and ideas you would want to share out there with the world. Just because you want to, not because of whatever other people may tell you otherwise. It’s about a unique opportunity, we all keep taking for granted, it seems, about having a voice (your voice!) and an opinion on a particular subject at your own place, that you care about and / or are really passionate about. Blogging, essentially, writing, is all about you. You are what you write. It’s a personal craft that takes years to master, if at all, and nothing, nor anyone, should be able to take that away from you. Ever. Don’t let them.

See? Writing in your blog on a more or regular basis can be both therapeutic and rather healthy, but perhaps, most importantly, cathartic and while you are all going to tell me you keep on writing on multiple different venues, i.e. social tools, with exactly that very same flair writing in the long from in your own blog where you reflect deeper on a particular topic of interest can well be a rather intimate and overall engaging activity of you yourself and your idea(s), before you allow the world to get a glimpse of them and do something about it.

David Weinberger (@dweinberger) put it brilliantly in this particular article under the thought-provoking title ‘Why Blogging Still Matters’: 

But, we thought, the most important challenge blogging posed was to the idea of the self in self-expression. Blogging was more about connecting with others than about expressing ourselves. Truth, we thought, was more likely to live in webs of ideas and responses than in the mouth of any one individual braying from soapbox, whether that soapbox was The New York Times or a blogger read by five people. By linking and commenting, we were consciously building a social space for voices in conversation.

 To then continue with this other rather relevant quote: 

We bloggers are still there, connecting, learning from one another, and speaking in our own flawed human voices’.

And that’s where I am myself, after 10 years of blogging in this blog, and although I have been blogging for nearly 13 years now in total plenty of other blogs I have had in the past have come and gone, whether on Intranets or not; and whether using various other different platforms for online publishing the thing is http://elsua.net still remains that special place I always call Home. A place, over the course of the years, I can always return to and be just my self

‘[…] a place for the sound of the individual’s own flawed voice in open conversation with others, building something bigger than itself.’

Thank you very much for sticking around throughout all of these years, faithful readers of this blog, and for allowing me to show and share with you my special place, my blog, my home. Thank you for being an integral part of quite an amazing, yet unfinished, journey!

Welcome on board! 

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What Do You Sell?

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes at Sunset

‘What’s your own purpose then?’ That’s the main question I keep getting asked myself over and over again after I wrote about that very same topic a few days ago. ‘Is it still pretty much the same as when you were a salaried employee at a large IT firm? Or has it changed now that you’ve become an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation?’ The questioning goes on and on and on (People are curious, after all, I suppose) and I keep answering pretty much the very same thing as if I were asked the following question: what do *you* sell? Because, you know, after all, deep inside, whether we realise it or not, we are all both sellers and marketers. Thus, what do I sell then, eventually?, you may be wondering, right? What’s my purpose? Well, I have been giving it plenty of thought and, over the course of time, I have pretty much narrowed it down to a single keyword that has become my mantra from all along, even while I was at IBM: enablement. 

Originally though, I always thought my main purpose for everything I do at work was all about empowerment, as in empowering others to take control back of their work lives and do something meaningful and purposeful with it. But, then again, my good friend, John Wenger (@JohnQShift), showed me otherwise and taught me empowerment is not really what I was aiming for, as he brilliantly put together on this particular article under the rather suggestive and thought-provoking title: ‘Why you can’t empower someone’, where the sub-header pretty much nails it for me in terms of describing what I do for work: ‘Effective leading is about enabling (not empowering)’.

What do you sell?’ Have you asked yourself„ out loud, that same question in the recent past and come up to a single keyword to describe it? Well, if you haven’t, you should. I can highly recommend it as an exercise to keep you focused and very down to earth on what you would want to achieve at work day in day out. To me, the answer to that particular question is pretty much the main purpose of doing what I do for work. Enablement. Now, I fully realise that in some cases both don’t align well with each other in terms of what we keep selling may well not be what our main purpose is right from the beginning, but, in my case, it certainly is. I don’t think I would be able to have it any other way, for that matter. That’s probably why, back in the day, I decided to stick around with this job title that pretty much describes what I love doing:

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Digital Humanist

Organisations are pretty much broken. We all know that. They may as well have been for a good few years already and while I think everyone could venture to state one, of multiple!, reasons as to why they are pretty much borked, those folks who have been regular and faithful readers of this blog would recognise the one single reason I keep tooting my own horn on with regards to what I feel is the main problem with organisations today: employee engagement or, better said, employee disengagement. To me, all along, and over the years, it’s the main business problem out there that needs fixing and pronto! We are already pretty late, judging by some recent studies done over the years. It’s the most critical business problem to fix that clearly would impact a whole other set of issues currently happening at work, all of them tightly aligned with the overall employee experience. Let’s not forget, happy employees = happy customers. Unhappy employees …  

Yes, I know, employee engagement is a fully loaded theme already, totally overhyped and perhaps too empty already from being abused left and right. On the other hand, my good friend, Perry Timms (@PerryTimms) is a big fan of Employee Involvement. And I quite like that idea for sure as it proves to be ever more refreshing and enticing into wanting to do things different in terms of what’s not working with employees at the moment: getting them involved in the first place! I do strongly believe there is a lot to be done in terms of helping improve the overall employee experience of knowledge (Web) workers at their workplace. That’s why, still today, my pet peeve continues to be employee engagement or rather the poor job we keep doing at it, if we look into the recent data put together by Gallup from 2013 where globally only 13% of active knowledge workers are engaged at work. And the data for 2014 (US only, alas) doesn’t seem to provide us with much hope for a huge % increase… 

Plenty of businesses will keep telling you all sorts of different problems they may have, or perhaps new business opportunities they would want to explore. Yet, the lack of, or better said, the low % of engaged employees doesn’t seem to be much of a worry for them, because, after all, there is still this implied thought that employees should just be happy they have got a job that helps them pay their bills at the end of the month, and, as such, they should keep quiet and be ever grateful. And if they are not happy they can always leave the organisation that thousand other people would be waiting to fill in that position in a heartbeat anyway. Somehow it just feels like people have become, over decades!, hankies you can easily dispose off while buying some new ones. Awful, terrible state of things, isn’t it? Where did we go wrong in the first place? Where did we turn sideways from believing that the biggest asset from any organisation are their people, i.e. their knowledge workers, and, yet, they are the very first thing they get rid of when things get tough without even looking what what they themselves could well do to help out? 

See? That’s why I get up every morning to come to work. A while ago (around 2007 to be more precise), and after thinking I could change the world and convince everyone there are better ways out there to get work done more effectively through social tools, while treating your employees with respect, trust, plenty of caring, and, specially, empathy, I realised I couldn’t change people. I still can’t today. Nor can we change organisations for that matter. We can only, essentially, provide the right conditions for people to come forward, self-empower themselves and change what’s broken for them and the work they do, from the inside, as if it were trojan mice, and as a personal transformation journey of sorts that happens within each and everyone of us and that’s usually triggered by doing something, making a start, like my good friend, the incredibly talented and rather smart, Anne Marie McEwan (@smartco), wrote recently on this very same topic quite brilliantly. 

Thus, my purpose, i.e. what I sell, is to help people, knowledge (Web) workers, get enabled on changing the nature of work, for the better, for themselves, without having to wait to tomorrow for the future of work to arrive, but, instead, take action today to perhaps start making their own work a little bit more open, transparent, collaborative, less hierarchical and more wirearchical, and, overall, more social altogether while we transition into new operating models like networks and communities (i.e. Wirearchy). In a nutshell, it’s some kind of democratisation of the workplace (as Harold Marche@hjarche – wrote not long ago), where the knowledge worker feels self-empowered to make the right decisions to keep learning, iterating and improving their own employee experience, so they can then influence their customers’ for the better… 

In order to make this happen, it takes a bit of bravery and courage to realise that everyone would need to step forward and become, potentially, a leader, an open and connected one, constantly learning understanding that ‘if work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning’. And since all along I have been very much in favour of leadership as fellowship (more than fellowship) it’s the co-creative learning process we are all in together that does the trick for me, because I have always suspected that enabling knowledge workers to find their own potential leadership capabilities in whatever form and shape, while they connect and network with their peers accordingly, is perhaps our very own, and only, chance to change not just our own selves for the better, but also businesses and organisations, and overall our societies, as our mere matter of survival changing the world. Today. Not tomorrow.

To me, that’s where the magic happens, and why, 18 years later, I still love doing what I do, as if it were just my very first day at work: that is, helping others become better at what they already do. 

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The Trials and Tribulations of Freelance Work

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Ever since I went independent, nearly two years ago, a recurring theme has been coming up in plenty of conversations I have been having, whether offline or online, with a good number of people going from former colleagues, to family members and friends, to several acquaintances. It’s a topic I have been interested in myself for a good while, although I never thought I would be experiencing it first hand, but, since I have been doing it for a while, I guess it’s time to start talking, more in length, about freelance work and how it is shaping up the nature of today’s work. After all, you know, people keep claiming it’s the future of work itself.

Today

After having worked at IBM for over 17 years, and deciding it was time to move on into the next big adventure, whatever that may well be, little did I know I would end up doing what I am currently working on today. Like with everyone else, potentially, it crossed my mind a few times to become a freelancer, why not, right?, but I was never too sure. I guess that was the toll I had to pay for having an extensive corporate life, according to today’s standards. I gave it a lot of thought though whether I wanted to work for another major corporation, or just stick around with a small, nationwide business (even within the IT industry), or perhaps even work at a startup (You are never too old for that, right?). I, eventually, decided to go from one extreme to the other and see what it would feel like. See whether I would be able to make it in the long run. Or not.

After all, switching from the largest, most complex, IT firm in the world to running your own business as an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation can be quite something and, now that I am nearly two years down the road with it, I can surely confirm that it can be a lifetime changing experience. For the better, of course. And since I keep getting asked about it time and time again I guess it’s now a good time to start blogging about it and share some first hand experiences on what it is like having a new single boss to respond to: your customers.

I know, and fully realise, that this new series of blog posts I am kicking off today perhaps doesn’t have much to do with the usual themes and topics I have blogged over here for nearly 10 years, but I suppose I’m also getting a bit weary of having to answer the very same questions from multiple people over and over again with the same information, so I figured it may actually work out all right. We shall see. Either way, if you, faithful reader, feel like the time for you to move on has arrived, as I introduce this new series of articles around freelance work, please do go ahead and do so. No hard feelings. Life changes, constantly, and so do we, whether we like it or not. Best we can do is to adapt accordingly and where possible. The choice is ours. Always has and it will always be. Thank you for spending your precious time sticking around for that long… 

This is also part of the reason why I decided to open up this new series of blog entries around what it is like the trials and tribulations of a freelancer, more than anything else in the hope that some of those experiences, insights, know-how, hints & tips and practical advice may help out other freelancers, as well as others who may have already started hearing the internal voice that their time in big corporate life is now, finally, coming to an end (hopefully, a happy one, too!) and it’s time to move on to something else, whatever it may well be. 

Oh, in case you are wondering, this doesn’t necessarily mean I will stop writing over here about subjects that are pretty dear to my heart, like Social / Open Business, Digital Transformation, Knowledge Management, Online Communities, Learning, Productivity, social networks, social networking and social software in general. Quite the contrary. I am hoping to be able to add further up into each and everyone of those not only from that corporate point of view of 17 years at IBM having worked with hundreds of customers over time, but also add on a fresh new perspective of what it is like being an Open / Social Business as a freelancer and describe in full length how work has shifted into networks and (online) communities to a point of no return any time soon.

It’s a fascinating journey, it already has been for certain, seeing how there are plenty of differences, but also lots of similarities, in terms of how we, knowledge (Web) workers, operate whether working as salaried employees or just by ourselves, going solo. The thing I am hoping will be an immediate outcome from this new series as well, and that may also benefit others, is how I’ll keep walking the talk on what I have preached for a good number of years now about the many benefits from working out loud, even as a freelancer, as I plan to write about how I work by exposing plenty of my work routines, tools and processes I use, etc. etc. 

It’s bound to be good fun altogether, I am sure, as, if anything, it will help me get my act together as well on something that’s been in my mind for a good while now on whether one can thrive at work as an independent knowledge (Web) worker and still have a life. Yes!, work / life integration is also going to be one of the main topics I will be talking about in terms of being able to rediscover something I may have thought I lost at one point in time: productivity, or better said, effectiveness, without having to clock in 80+ hours per week. I think I may have just had enough pretending to be a workaholic. Why should we? There must be a better way out there, don’t you think? I suppose it’s time to explore, learn and co-create together, play and iterate accordingly, and where appropriate, and keep moving on…

All in all, and to wrap up this blog post, I thought I would put together over here a list of topics I will be covering over the course of time in terms of what it is like doing freelance work and whether it is worth while doing or not through sharing plenty of first hand experiences. Here it goes: 

  • Why freelance work? What’s in it for me?
     
  • Practical hints & tips on how to get started, what to watch out for, initial first steps, etc.
  • What social / productivity / business tools may well be a must-have for freelancers (according to my own experience)
  • What are my daily work routines and business processes? How does client prospecting work out?
  • How do the finances of a freelancer work eventually? How to cope best with the uncertainty creeping in every now and then?
  • Is freelance work the panacea of the so-called future of work?  Why or why not?
  • What role do social networks and communities play in helping freelancers thrive? Are we really all alone by ourselves?
  • What other additional resources do I have available to freelancers we should all be aware of?
  • And, finally, work / life integration: do freelancers have a life, after all? 

I am pretty sure there are tons of other topics that will come up over time I may be able to include over here as well, accordingly, but, for now, I think this will do. I’ll be counting on you all as well to share in the comments, and your own blog posts!, what it is like for you being a freelancer or having worked with a freelancer (why not?). I am not sure about you, but I am excited about the opportunity to start writing about what it is like both life & work from the other side of the fence, and to explore together whether freelancing really is the future of work, or perhaps a new fancy, hyped, buzzword we have been told it will save us all from our current miseries (and there are far too many!), if at all.

Ready for this new, exciting journey? I surely am! 

Let’s go! Let’s do it!

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