Why I Fired Myself from IBM

A couple of days back, my good friend and fellow CAWW, Ayelet Baron put together a rather interesting, inspiring and very thought-provoking article over at The Huffington Post under the suggestive title “Sometimes, You Need to Fire Yourself? Don’t Wait to Be Picked”, where she comes to reflect on, perhaps, one of the main expectations from knowledge workers in today’s workplace: being validated and waiting to be picked up. And from there onwards she goes on to muse about the reality of what next when that doesn’t happen. Interestingly enough it’s a story I can relate to,  specially, since I’m currently in transition myself trying to figure out the what next. Except that this time around I didn’t wait. I decided to shake off those golden handcuffs I put on myself back in the day and break free.

Most people may not know this, but back in June 2005, while I was still an IBM Netherlands employee, I got laid off and after having received the well-known compensation package I decided that I wasn’t ready, just yet, to leave the company. At the time I felt I had a lot more to offer and work on still. 9 years later, 4 different Lines of Business, and multiple other projects certainly would testify that it wasn’t my time just yet. So was it then my time, beginning of 2014, when I decided to quit IBM and move on? Maybe. I don’t know. Yet.

What I do know though is that it’s a decision that 3 months later, which is starting to look and feel like ages ago, I don’t regret a single bit. It wasn’t an overnight decision either. It’s been in my mind for about 2 years when I first started contemplating the thought of making a move and figure out what I would want to do next with my career. Somehow I felt The Call was near, so I may as well embrace it. As my good mate Rob Paterson wrote not long ago “Now the real adventure of your life begins”. 

You can imagine how shocked and surprised (in equal terms) my boss was when I communicated to him, while I was still enjoying my holidays back in January, that February 3rd would be my last working day at the company after 17 years of work in there. We had to talk, he said. Of course, we do, I responded back. And the week after we got together on the phone for a 2 hour long conversation where we got to spend some time to talk in-depth about the decision. 

This time around I was not going to wait. See? Once you have been exposed to a layoff, even if you manage to escape it, you know that things will never be the same. The whole concept of company / employee loyalty changes and while the motivation and purpose to do a professional job may well be there, very much intact, because, after all, you were hired in the first place as a hard working professional, things are no longer going to be the same. So, while we were talking, he asked me why I made the decision of leaving IBM after everything I have (helped) build over the course of time. He just couldn’t grasp such crazy idea and I understand perfectly why he would think that, specially, in today’s turbulent times. 

Well, as Ayelet mentioned on that article, referenced above, I had to start thinking about firing myself, which is eventually what I did, after two years of waiting for the right moment to do so. I told my manager than I had to be realistic and come to terms with the fact IBM would not allow me to retire after another 25 odd years of work I have got still as my working life. Now, I could have stayed at IBM for another 5 or 10 years. Sure. No problem. But I know that it wouldn’t last forever (till retirement, at least) and, unfortunately, I happen to live in a country where after you reach a certain age, being unemployed and finding a new job takes the whole concept of a chimera into a new level. Thus, eventually, the older you get without a job, the tougher it is to find a new one. 

I am sure that scenario could hold plenty of truth for various other countries, no doubt, but, in my case, I figured that before I would be getting too old, and after 17 years of big, corporate multinational work life, it probably was a good time to make a move, while I am still relatively young. That’s why I quit IBM on my terms and decided to become an independent trusted advisor around one of my all time passions (Social Business and Digital Transformation) and give it a try for 2 or 3 years to see if I could make it work and sustain that financial and emotional independence. 

If that didn’t work out, for whatever the reason, I would still be relatively young ;-) to look up for another career opportunity. Perhaps to even go back to big corporate world, although plenty of people have been advising me that once you become a freelancer and you get to experience freedom, there is no way back. I suppose then that’s why I started working my way towards that system of me and put together multiple plans where I could continue to “dream big and have a purposeful and meaningful life”. Will I succeed? Who knows… What is success anyway? Waiting for another Call

The reality is that while there is plenty of excitement about this new life as an independent freelancer, there is also a bit of uncertainty, about facing the unknown, at a very peculiar time where we may be going through the deepest, most profound financial econoclypse in our recent history. I guess that puts things into perspective as to what lies ahead and that I can summarise in a single sentence: I just don’t know. I’ll take it all as it comes. 

I will make of it all a learning experience, why not, right? I am sure it’s going to be a rather interesting one. It’s the least I could do and see how things will pave out further along over the course of time on whether I’ll be sticking around with plan A, B or C. Plan B, if you remember from a previous blog entry, is essentially go back to basics: teaching (I am an English teacher, after all :-) and I have always loved, and enjoyed very much, helping enable people to deliver their best at what they do -that’s what, to me, teaching and learning have been all about all along). Oh, and today’s snapshot, shared above, is a hint of Plan C, in case you are wondering… But somehow, I need to come down to earth again and be reminded of Ayelet’s wonderful piece of advice that keeps coming back ringing true more and more by the day: 

What I know today is that if I focus on why I am doing something and identify the core problem that needs to be addressed, I can go out and solve it. I can ask for help. I can connect with other smart people who choose to work with me to make a difference and get shit done.

Thus, I guess I will just start there: get shit done

#Onwards


Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus

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Let The Next Adventure Begin – The Origins

Life works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? It comes and goes, never leaving you indifferent. It has got its own way of telling you when to stop, do plenty of thinking about why you were brought here in the first place and hop back into the train we all call the world to move onI guess this time around though it also had something else in stock for me. Something that has made the writing of this blog post kind of tough and a bit too edgy at the same time, not necessarily for putting it together, but for its implications thereafter. Once again, and probably for the zillionth time already, I am now back to my (no longer) regular blogging schedule and, after nearly two months since the last article I wrote over here, I have got a piece of news to share that may come as a surprise to some of you folks. Maybe. May be not. On January 20th 2014, I quit IBM. On my terms. Since February 4th, I am a now free man. Whatever that means…

Quit a surprise, eh? Yes, I know. It even was a shock for me, too! That’s right. Earlier on this year, to be more precise, on January 20th, I announced, to my former employer, right on the same day when I was celebrating my 17th year anniversary at IBM that I was quitting my job as a Lead Social Business Enabler and that February 3rd would be my last working day. I still can’t believe it myself and I don’t even know whether I may be regretting the decision over time, or not, but it’s now done and dealt with. That can probably explain the main reason why I have been relatively quiet in the last few months out there in the Social Web. It hasn’t been an overnight decision. Quite the opposite, it’s been already in my mind for about two years and all along I have been delaying it, because perhaps I just didn’t want to face it. Perhaps I didn’t want to come to terms with the fact it was time for me to move on.

But then again, signal after signal, conversation after conversation, and lots of thinking in between here and there, certainly help me arrive at the Christmas period where I was on holidays for a full month, away from everything, pondering whether it was the time for me to call it quits and do something else. Move on with my life. Picture me: a blank A4 piece of paper and a pen, two columns, one on pros and the other one on cons about whether I should stay or go, me frantically writing down for a good while on either column and at the very end reaching one rather massive conclusion. Picture this: family members doing the very same exercise without me telling them anything. Just writing down what they may have noticed. We compared notes. We talked. We were all shocked. The conclusions of both exercises were exactly the same. How weird is that? Or, better said, how scarily accurate is that?

It just felt right. It does feel right still. You see?, there is a time when each and everyone of us would come to terms with the fact that we would all need to question what we do with our (work) lives, figure out whether you are on the right track or not, whether we are still driven by the same passion as when we started working (In my case, 17 years ago), whether the motivation to carry on is strong enough to help you continue without deviations. I guess focus is the word I was looking for, you may think, right? Yes, probably, but I am more inclined to think I am looking more for a couple of other words: purpose and meaning.

A mid-(work)life crisis of sorts? Most probably, but then again, feeling all along, it may well have been just the perfect timing altogether. One where serendipity does its magic and helps provoke these happenings, just like that. I know that this may sound crazy, but I have always felt that my entire working career has been defined and shaped up by serendipity. And this time around was no different. Things happen for a reason. Always. No matter what. It’s just a matter, for each and everyone of us, to figure out whether we can see it or not. Oh, don’t worry, I am still currently going through that process myself, but I am now more convinced than ever before that it’s time for me to move on…

17 long years at the largest IT firm in the world can give you plenty of stretch to do and experience lots of different things. I feel privileged to have lived through that. In those 17 years at IBM I have worked in 6 different business units, with their own 6 different cultures, challenges and exciting opportunities, making them feel like as if I had 6 jobs already at any other place. I have had the opportunity, and the great pleasure, to work with some of the most amazing talented people I know. In fact, they are the only and exclusive reason as to why yours truly, an English teacher, after all, has been working for an IT firm for over 17 years while loathing technology to bits. No, I am not a techie and nor will I be pursuing a long term career in that field. I am all about the people. For the people. I am a connector. And when you feel that work for the people is now done and dealt with, it’s time to move on. On to the next adventure.

I am incredibly thankful, an equally grateful altogether, for all of the wonderful 17 years that I have spent at IBM. I haven’t got a single regret. There have been highs and lows, I guess pretty much the same as for plenty of you folks out there. I have had some absolutely stunning and beautiful work experiences working in an environment where a crazy idea, executed with lots of passion and brain, can change your life for good. And IBM has been a key enabler of that. The people. It’s what motivates me to come to work every day. Day in, day out. It’s what motivates me to have a smile on my face, to always try to be helpful, empathic, full of energy and passion, keen on both sharing my knowledge openly and learn from others at the same time. I guess that’s when the customer service skills course I did way back in time does pay off eventually.

But at some point, you realise that you start deviating from that people focus into something else. Something that you know, and see, it’s totally not you. Something I know plenty of you folks would be able to relate to, something that drains your energy out of you with no remedy taking away all of that passion and motivation to carry on. To help and care for others. And, that’s right, before it’s too late, you realise it’s the right time to make a move, to re-find your passion, your engagement, your motivation to push forward and, with a bit of courage and some bravery, embrace the unknown: quit your job:


That was the tweet I shared across a couple of days later, where I announced to my world that rather unexpected change. Then it all got rather emotional and intense, as you can imagine. The responses both on the Twittersphere, as well as internally, have been truly AMAZING! I have felt, in massive waves, all the love from those who I have cared for and helped dearly over the course of the years. And it hasn’t been easy adjusting to the new reality.

In fact, this is my first blog post writing about it (Other than that tweet). But then you realise that in the world of the Social Web, you are not going away from people, you are just breaking up the firewall, while trying to help all of those folks embrace that notion that networks are *not* organisations. They are porous, they don’t understand, nor comprehend, nor even care!, about what organisation you work for, or which one would pay your bills. Your networks would only care about you and your well-being based on how much you have nurtured and cultivated them over time. Your networks become you. You become your networks. All one. Your one. No-one else’s.

And then you realise that your departure is no longer painful anymore, nor sad, nor shocking. You then realise as well how it is all a big, massive celebration of freedom. You are no longer trapped. The wild duck continues with its journey. It’s just the new reality. Networks are the new swarms. And you are just an integral part of them and whatever physical and virtual barriers they are no longer an issue. They just don’t exist. You are part of that system of networks. And the journey continues. That’s where I am at the moment.

I am pretty sure that plenty of you folks are now wondering what I will be doing next, where will this wild-duck go this time around? What is he going to do with his new freedom? What’s that new adventure he keeps talking about and hinting here and there with somewhat cryptic and obscure hints? Will he continue working in a large corporate environment helping people adapt to that brave new world of becoming a Social / Open Business? Perhaps giving it a go at a startup? Or maybe going solo? Or will he open up this rather lovely lounge bar called Sunset Cafe right where he lives offering delicious cakes and refreshing cocktails? What will he do? What would you do?

The uncertainty is killing us.

Don’t worry. That same uncertainty is going after me as well. It keeps lingering at the back of my mind. And some times it grabs me badly reminding whether I have made the right decision or not. Whether it was all a mistake. Whether I will regret it over time. But then again that inner urge and intuition of letting serendipity do its magic, of bringing back the passion for what you have always believed in, and the excitement of that newly embraced freedom to focus on re-finding your purpose and meaning on what you do, they all do help mitigate some of that uncertainty. Either way, this is the first of a series of blog posts I will be sharing in the next couple of days of what and where to next. For now, a teaser: it’s going to be something completely different to what I have been experiencing over the course of the last 17 years, and therefore a completely new learning experience.

One where I am hoping my hybrid networks (internal and external) would become an integral part of to help us all continue learning along the way on what our purpose and meaning may have been all along…

Let the next adventure begin!

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Adaptation: The Key to Become a Socially Integrated Enterprise

Gran Canaria - Artenara in the SpringEarlier on in the week, my good friend, Eric Zigus, put together a rather thought provoking blog post that surely has got me thinking big time about the whole topic of adoption of Social / Open Business and about the different techniques that fellow practitioners get to employ to help other knowledge workers embrace new technologies, whatever those may well be. In Adoption via Peer Pressure? Eric comes forward to suggest that driving adoption through peer pressure, if done properly, could surely help out in the long run. Well, at some point in time in the recent past I may have agreed with him that would be the case, but, if I judge from my own experiences in the last year or two, I am not so sure myself anymore about it. I am thinking we may need to aim bigger, and better, perhaps even more effectively, from driving into inspiring and from adoption into adaptation, if we would want it to be successful. 

Over the course of the last couple of years there has been plenty, and rather extensive, literature (along with some pretty interesting and insightful frameworks) shared across all over the place about the whole topic of social networking for business and its wider adoption beyond just the initial wave of early adopters, even behind the firewall with social intranets. We have seen lots of very interesting reflections about its very own adoption as a new kind of digital literacy we all need to start getting comfortable with (to the point where it seems to justify everything to no end, some times even ignoring what matters the most, i.e. business performance); or about its own transformation journey even for managers and leaders (who, if not engaged properly, could surely slow things down tremendously); or about plenty of rather interesting and relevant trends on digital adoption

Perhaps, even, how social / open business adoption may stink (if done incorrectly); how it may well all be about removing certain roadblocks and plenty of other obstacles, never mind the ever growing list of rather intriguing challenges; how it may well be all about putting people first (technology second); how certain big words like culture,  empathy are back into the game (the only game, for that matter, if you look deep enough into it), along with looking into the soft side of things to make it work; how incentivising practitioners may well do it (More on this one later on, I am sure, since it’s been one of my major pet peeves on the topic for a long while now, and I am really glad I am not the only one…); how building it and they will come is no longer going to be good enough at this point in time in order to keep up the momentum making it self-sustainable; how it’s all about perhaps defining a good number of personas to establish some specific roles and responsibilities, to the point where it’s been highlighted how even community managers may be critical for that successful adoption (or rather the opposite); and eventually how social business adoption is a whole lot more organic than what vast majority of people may have thought about all along. 

Phew! Social Business Adoption is, indeed, a topic that truly fascinates me to no end, since forever, as you can see from all of the various areas it covers as mentioned above with the different links to plenty, and rather interesting, reads I have gone through over time. And I am pretty sure there are plenty more materials about it out there, all over the place, that I would certainly love to read on more about them, if you care to leave your favourite picks in the comments. I have always felt though it’s right at the heart of the matter in terms of helping businesses provoke their own transformation in order to survive on the Connection Economy of the 21st century, where, as I have mentioned in the recent past, we are transitioning from having lived through the scarcity of knowledge stocks into the abundance of knowledge flows.

But I am no longer certain that (social) peer pressure would eventually help much with those adoption efforts. In fact, lately, I am inclined to think that we may all be much better off if we stop talking about driving adoption and instead we switch over to inspiring adaptation, because that’s eventually what we, social business evangelists, have been doing all along: inspiring / modelling new behaviours, a new mindset, to help fellow knowledge workers adapt to a new way of working by becoming more open, public, transparent, engaged, collaborative, in short, trustworthy, in what we do. And, I am starting to think that peer pressure, if anything, is not going to help much. Rather the opposite. It will re-introduce a behaviour that we are all far too familiar with from previous decades and that we all thought we had left behind for good: (unhealthy) competition. 

Over the course of the last few months, specially, since I moved into this new job role as Lead Social Business Enabler, I have come to realise, big time, that adoption is hard, specially, if you move beyond the initial first waves of early adopters and you get a deep touch with reality. Adoption works in mysterious ways. It’s a tough job. It’s an art in need of craftsmanship. You know, acquiring new habits is not an easy thing to do, specially, when your natural inclination is that one of defaulting to what you are used to, what you have been doing over the course of the years, through traditional collaborative tools, whatever those may well be. And on top of that, never mind the massive work pressures most knowledge workers are currently going under, here comes another one: peer pressure, specially, the higher you go into the organisation, that’s preventing those practitioners to experience the main benefits of social networking in a business context. As if they didn’t have enough already!

Fear is a powerful factor that should not be ignored, nor neglected, more than anything else, because it’s the main element that gets added into the mix when embracing peer pressure. Practitioners would always be a bit reluctant to want to enter the digital world, if they would be fearful to try, to play and learn, perhaps even to fail or make mistakes, in case of being ridiculed by that social pressure of their own peers. So what do they do? They switched off, before they even try. 

That’s essentially the main reason why I don’t think that peer pressure would help much in our adoption efforts. What you would want to inspire within your organisation is an opportunity to explore, to reflect, to challenge the status quo of how certain things happen at the workplace in order to make things better and improve. You would want to figure out whether you can apply some of your already existing day to day use cases, i.e. your tasks and activities to a new mentality, a new mindset, a new set of behaviours with a not too steep learning curve, so impact of change would still be meaningful. And, as such, I just can’t see how peer pressure could help. I am starting to question whether even healthy peer pressure would help much in the long run, specially, since that innate connotation of competition will be lingering around quite a bit. 

Lately, at work, I have got a tendency to attend a whole bunch of meetings, well, not really meetings like these ones, or these other ones, that my good friend Bertrand Duperrin would love to ditch for good (He surely has got my vote, too!), but different gatherings (I am still trying to find a name for them… any suggestions more than welcome, please!) that would be classified as education and enablement sessions, where I spend a good amount of time trying to understand people’s challenges and inhibitors, potential technical issues, business concerns, daily work habits, productivity pain points, use cases they would want to explore further and what not and all along I have noticed how I have shifted the conversations myself away from adoption and into adaptation, because that’s essentially what I am aiming at: helping other knowledge workers adapt to a new way of doing business by opening up and becoming more transparent and engaged to help accelerate their own decision making process to innovate.

And it’s been a fascinating journey all along, because, eventually, the focus is on modelling new behaviours, new ways of interacting, of conversing, of opening up, of helping and caring for one another getting work done, understanding we are all in this journey to provoke our very own transformation, and, certainly, harmful items like competition, knowledge hoarding, corporate politics and bullying, gamification (in whichever form and shape), busyness, extenuating work / peer pressures and whatever else are not very helpful in getting people to adapt to a brave new world: becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise.

A few months back I wrote about transitioning from Adoption into Adaptation in order to achieve maximum impact to become a successful social / open business. I surely am glad that I am no longer the only one talking, or writing, about it anymore. Fast forward into the end of 2013 and, to me, walking the talk, leading by example, learning by doing, narrating your work, working out loud, challenging the status quo, etc. are plenty of the new mantras that matter in terms of helping inspire such transformation. It’s essentially right at the heart of it, and I am no longer certain that carrying potentially bad habits from the 20th century (like those pressures or harmful items I mentioned above) into today’s business world is going to help us achieve our goals. Let’s leave out all of those different types of (work) pressure(s) and get down to work

We still have got a lot to achieve and somehow I am starting to sense, rather strongly, that adaptation will be much more effective than adoption. It’s just a matter of adjusting accordingly, because, you know, language matters, after all.

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