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

IBM

Blogging and Corporate Hippies by Luis Suarez

Gran Canaria - Roque BentaygaYou gotta love Twitter and those wonderfully inspiring serendipitous knowledge discoveries that it helps you bump into, time and time again, because most of the times they surely help you make up for whatever the tough situation(s) you may be going through. And bring you back on track, of course, to what your focus area(s) may well have been all along. Well, I have just had one of those the last couple of weeks (Which I am hoping to be able to blog out it at some point, since it’s still burning inside my brain like hell), but since we are just about to wrap it up for another week at work and move into the weekend, I couldn’t help blogging about that delightful serendipitous moment I experienced earlier on this week, because it surely has been quite an interesting learning experience and a superb reminder, perhaps even to us all: never, ever, lose track of your purpose, and your focus, on what drives your passion(s)

It’s not even worth the effort, nor the energy, being sidetracked, just because it may well all seem more enticing altogether. It won’t. It never will. That’s why I am really glad that a few days back, my good friend, and fellow IBM colleague, Ben Martin, introduced me to Bernie Mitchell, who along with Andy Bargery, they run the absolutely delightful London Bloggers podcasting series. Bernie invited me to participate in the recording of an episode around blogging, after having read a recent article I wrote on the topic under the title “Why Blogging Still Matters“. 

Of course, I couldn’t reject such a generous and enticing offer and earlier on this week, the three of us, Bernie, Andy and myself got together to record “LBM Audible #9: Luis Suarez from IBM on Blogging and Corporate Hippies” and while the main topic was around the purpose of blogging and why it still makes plenty of sense as perhaps one of the most powerful tools out there to help enhance your own personal brand and digital footprint out there in today’s Social Web, mostly dominated by social networking tools, we eventually ended up talking about pretty much everything around Social / Open Business. 

It was a rather enjoyable, gratifying and delicious podcast recording, more than anything else, because, while we were going through a rather fast pace and jolly dialogue, it helped me realise how much off track I have gotten from my core beliefs around Open Business over the course of the last few months. It felt like my own reckoning that I may have been losing, slowly, but steadily, my hippie 2.0 mojo, and that, somehow, I needed to get it back at some point. Well, that some point is exactly that podcasting episode I did with both Bernie and Andy, because they helped me recover from the back of my mind a good number of ideas I have been rather passionate about over time and that, for one reason or another, they went into hiding, because of other things.

So, what did we talk about then on that podcast, you may be wondering, right? What were some of the themes that helped me get back on track on keep on pushing for Open Business with that rather well known, by now, flair of being the outlier, the corporate rebel, the outrageous heretic and free radical optimist, and, essentially, that hippie 2.0 practitioner. Well, like I said, we talked about lots of various different subjects, but here are some keywords that hopefully will help describe what we discussed and talked about as a brief teaser for the longer piece, in case you may be interested in listening in: Open Business, Adaptation, #lawwe, business blogging as your personal / digital footprint, being bold, fear and reluctance, trust, relinquishing control, leaving a legacy (i.e. a digital footprint), executive (lame) excuses on doing both social and open, ghost writing, authenticity, honesty, best practices don’t exist for knowledge work, blogging101, employee engagement, sustainable growth, evolution vs. [r]evolution of social, servant leadership, managers vs. leaders, hierarchy vs. wirearchy … phew! A lot of topics, indeed, but above them all, we talked extensively about passion for what you do and for what you have always believed in!

The podcasting episode lasts for a bit over 30 minutes and you can listen to the podcast here, if you would be interested in tuning in further: 


Hope you folks enjoy it just as much as I did going through that interview with both Bernie and Andy, and from here onwards I just want to take the opportunity to thank them both sincerely for having me in the show and for allowing me to participate on one of the most fun interviews / podcasts I have participated in that I can remember.  More than anything else, because it’s helped me realise how I need to re-focus on doing what I know best: change the business world, one step at a time, continuing to challenge the status quo of how certain things happen in order to let that passion do the magic of realising what a Socially Integrated Enterprise is all about in a world dominated by Open Business. 

WOW! What a journey, indeed! 

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The Art of Adaptation Does Require Time

The Prague Astronomical Clock or Prague OrlojI am not too sure what happened yesterday, but it looks like the previous blog post I wrote over here on Mastering the Art of Creativity in the Workplace dragged some massive traffic all around and for that I am very grateful. So thanks much to all of those folks who visited the blog and checked out that article. Well, today, I guess I am back for more! If on that article I talked about creativity and how it is being affected by both constraints and boundaries, I thought today it’s probably a good time to talk briefly about the impact of time in the whole creative process. Specially, in an environment where more often than not one could surely benefit from the Joy of Pause and Reflect.

Some time ago I bumped into an article that included a reference to a short video clip where it was indicated how we, human beings, seem to become more effective at the creative process when we have got the constraint(s) of time. Essentially, meaning that we would use all of our creativity spark much more effectively when we are constrained by time than when we are not. I wish I could find the reference to that article again with the short video, but alas my memory is not playing nice with me at the moment and can’t locate it anymore. Perhaps folks reading this post may well know which one I am referring to and add the link to it in the comments. Thanks in advance, if you manage to locate it. [Appreciated]

The thing is that while that may hold true and rather accurate, I am also starting to think what would happen otherwise? I mean, what would happen if we wouldn’t have that time constraint in terms of how our creativity processes would work out eventually, after all. What would happen if in a business world where things seem to pass by at lightning speed, and without much of an opportunity for a breather, we would eventually take time out to pause and reflect, to let our creativity juices do their magic and serve us to address that pending business need or solve that business problem that seems to be escaping us time and time again, because we just can’t focus well enough with all that’s going on around us? 

Well, it seems like kids, once again, have the answer for all of us. Right there, in front of our eyes and at our fingertips, as usual. While I was putting together the previous article doing some additional research on Mastering the Art of Creativity in the Workplace I bumped into this particular short YouTube video, that lasts a bit over 2 minutes, titled Creativity Requires TIME, that explains the potential issues behind time constraints when engaging through a creative process, whatever that may well be. The video describes one relatively easy exercise that needs to be carried by a bunch of kids over a short period of time (10 seconds) and that very same exercise over a longer period of time (10 minutes). 

In terms of achieving the goal, that is, completing that particular task, the kids succeed through both rather nicely, but if you pay close attention you will notice how the magic happens when that time constraint seems to be longer, substantially longer, to the point that it allows creativity to take place in full force allowing all of the students to utilise their imagination, smarts and ability to create something beautiful in ways perhaps none of us would have envisioned in the first place: 

I know you folks may be wondering what does this blog post got to do with Social / Open Business and Adoption / Adaptation, right? Well, it’s got do very little, or a lot! If you think about how most businesses are approaching the adaptation of social software in a business context, you would notice how time constraints are rather common, to the point of becoming the norm. For most businesses, and social enablement teams, adaptation doesn’t have much time. It needs to happen yesterday, by everyone, and for everyone, in all contexts, at all costs, with no restrictions and never mind whatever the waves of adapters. If it doesn’t happen within the first few weeks, it’s a failure, and like all failures, it’s bound to be ignored, neglected and never to be looked at again. 

The reality is that adaptation takes time, usually an average of 6 to 12 months, before you can start seeing the very first results in terms of how knowledge workers may have adapted to a new set of behaviours and habits, while embracing a new mindset altogether of becoming a bit more open and transparent on how they work using social technologies. Yet, time and time again the business world, in general, already begins to demand results within the first month, of in the first week or two, if too pushy. In reality, what they are doing, without not realising much about it, is that they are shooting themselves on the foot, because that adaptation is not going to take place in such a short period of time and the sheer frustration that would come up as a result of it, from both the business (for not seeing results sooner) and the practitioners themselves (For being pushed back and forth, left and right, non stop), pretty much kills that adaptation effort in a split moment, just like we saw the creativity process being trumped down on that video clip with the restrictive time constraint put in place. 

Thus next time that people may push you around during the first few weeks of getting started into delivering results for your adaptation efforts of Open Business within your company, I would strongly encourage you all to show them this video clip that although dealing with the whole concept of creativity, I would venture to state that it would also be applicable to Open Business Adaptation, more than anything else, because, as with all knowledge work, Open Business Adaptation is, pretty much, a creative process.

And, as such, it would need time to both produce and deliver best, optimal results.

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Why Blogging Still Matters

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MoganIt’s been a little while since the last time that I had a chance to write another post over here in this blog, so I guess it’s now time for another experiment then. No, I know what you may be thinking, but I am not going to stop blogging nor give up on writing for that matter. I still feel it is one of the very few pleasures out there on the Social Web, and still rather relevant, apparently. If I could, I would spend the whole day blogging away like crazy the several hundreds of ideas and drafts I have got in my brain that are rather desperate to come out. There is just so much that I would want to share, talk about and throw out there on the Web that writer’s block has never been an issue for me in the last 10 years that I have been blogging. The issue is, as usual, time. As in where can I find the time to blog? Well, this is where that new experiment will kick in, because I’m just about to switch from where do I find the time to blog, on to, how can I make time to blog? At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about: choice.

Lately, as you may well have duly noticed, work itself hasn’t given me much of a choice though in terms of my external social networking activities. As I am about to enter the 3rd month in the new job as Lead Social Business Enabler for IBM Connections, I am finding that I am spending more and more time in social networks behind the firewall than on the Social Web out there, resulting in me dropping off plenty of my external social activities in detriment of participating in internal conversations. Now, that may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it’s certainly starting to have an impact on my external presence that I am not too sure I would want to give up on it that soon yet. The challenge though is that after rather long, exhausting, but exciting work days, the last thing my brain wants to do is to spend time participating on more social networks. It just basically needs a break. And so do I.

For Seth Godin showing up daily is not an issue though, as much as it appears to have been for me as of late, as he brilliantly wrote about on his 5,000th post anniversary article. But he mentioned something that I can certainly relate to myself on this brilliant quote he shared across on why blogging still is very much worth it:

[…] it’s learning to live with the fact that I can’t say everything I want in a single post, that the trade-off of reaching people easily is that you can also lose people easily. It’s a journey, for both of us, and I’m thrilled to be taking it with you

And it gets even better when he continues to explain why he still shows up every day to his blog:

For me, the privilege is sharing what I notice, without the pressure of having to nail it every time… I treasure the ability to say, “this might not work”

Well, perhaps that is my main issue, that every time I aim at pretty much nailing it and that’s probably the very same reason why more often than not, if I cannot make the time for blogging I just don’t. And I end up watching how days go by without those blog posts coming along. That’s why it may well be a good time to shake things off a bit and experiment. Play. See if I can shake off that perfectionist flavour when blogging away over here. Now, on the other hand, here I am smiling away reflecting on the fact that, at least, my Inbox is not broken 🙂

The thing though is that there is always time to learn new tricks on blogging, no matter how long you may have been going at it. There is always an opportunity out there to learn how you can juggle with it, along with work, family and other commitments. It’s just a matter of establishing priorities and stick around with them, which is essentially what I will be playing with from here onwards.

Like I have mentioned above, I have got no intention of giving up on blogging, or hanging out on external social networks, but I am certainly going to shift focus and intentions on how I would want to stick around with it all from here onwards, which is essentially when this new experiment will kick off. All along you may have noticed how blog posts over here have got a tendency to be on the long form, sort of mini-essays. So I am thinking that while not neglecting such opportunity of writing longer pieces I’m going to start playing around (again, as I have attempted to do it in the past a couple of times already …) with the opportunity of sharing shorter reflections on things that come across my mind, whether work related, or not. Pretty much a la Euan Semple, if you know what I mean 🙂

I know you may be thinking that perhaps there is an opportunity to share those shorter thoughts on other social venues like Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr and what not, but I am thinking that while those other options are out there, there is still a place for some of those reflections to happen over here, in this blog. Specially, for one particular use case, that one where I am thinking about sharing a thought or two across that I would want to come back to over time, something that it’s proved to be quite a challenge in multiple other social networking tools, due to poor quality search capabilities. Never mind the fact that this blog still is my home, whereas all others I am just passing by  and the door can be shut down any minute, any day, any time. At least, over here, the door will always be open. For you and for me.

So … game on!

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Open Business and The Power of Habit

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringIf you have been reading this blog for a while you would remember how all along I have been insisting on the fact that for businesses to facilitate and adapt to that Social / Open Transformation technology is nothing more than just an enabler, it’s the icing on the cake, and how the key to become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise there is nothing more than just acquiring a new set of behaviours, a new mindset, in short, a new core of good healthy habits to get things going on that journey. It may well be much easier saying it out loud than writing it down, but what is a habit though? Is that something that you inspire in yourself, and / or in others? Is that something that you aim to acquire by osmosis mimicking what other people may be doing already? Is it that inertia that keeps coming up without questioning the status quo of how certain things get done around the workplace? Well, may be not. A habit is, apparently, a reward.

Over the course of the last few months I have become very interested in the whole concept of behavioural dynamics, about how we may be able to influence the behaviours of those around us, and the good old habits they may have accumulated over the course of the years, in order to think differently in terms of how they share their knowledge across and collaborate perhaps much more openly and transparently through social technologies versus whatever other traditional means. And all along it looks like I haven’t been the only one interested in that topic judging by the extensive amount of additional reading materials in terms of blog posts, articles, dissertations, reflections, infographics, and numerous, never ending, Top N Habits posts to perform or do XYZ, you name it. Plenty of extensive reading on the topic of habit formation, too, I can tell you.

I would event bet you all may have your own favourite picks that you may have curated over the course of time in terms of what would be those desired good habits (Even for Community Managers!), or whether they are related to keeping up with healthy habits, or perhaps enjoy the odd pleasure of showing your gratitude. You may even want to break away from your email habits altogether (As my good friend, Oscar Berg brilliantly wrote recently at CMSWire) or from any other bad habit from that matter!

The thing is that habit formation is hard. And yet, it’s of paramount importance, because habits are at the heart of our successes and our failures, apparently. So when thinking about that Social / Open Business Transformation I just couldn’t help thinking whether we have got it figured out how we can inspire those new habits in terms of how people connect, collaborate and share their knowledge across. Whether we can model new behaviours and new habits and, if so, how can we achieve such goal, because something tells me that it’s not going to be an easy one. You know, they keep saying how for a human being to acquire a new habit for a particular action, it needs to be repeated, at least, 31 times. I know, that’s a lot! Well, that’s what would take us to build a new habit into what we do on a regular basis.

Interestingly enough, a couple of months back, I bumped into this superbly done short video clip (Under 3 minutes) from Epipheo that pretty much describes The Power of Habit from Charles Duhigg and which surely makes up for quite an interesting watch altogether. No, I haven’t read the book just yet, in case you are wondering, but I finally managed to buy it for my Kindle for my upcoming, and ever growing, summer reading.

The video though clearly highlights what’s perhaps the main challenge we, social / open business evangelists, keep facing when helping fellow knowledge workers adapt to those new behaviours, those newly built habits, in terms of whether they are going to succeed in the long term or not. Here it is, so you can have a look and see what I mean: 

Apparently, a habit is based on three components: a cue (the trigger), the routine (the behaviour itself) and, finally, the reward. I am sure, at this point in time, you may know exactly where I am heading, right? Well, may not. If you look into how most businesses have been facing the adoption / adaptation to Social Business as their new fabric, their new DNA in terms of how they get work done, you would notice how time and time again we do have the cue, we do have the routine in place as well for that matter (The hundreds, if not thousands, of use cases), but more often than not we seem to lack the reward. And I am not just thinking, perhaps, about tangible rewards, which is, I am certain, what most people would be thinking about out there. I am talking more about the long term reward of that habit, that is, of how we are transforming the way we work, interact, build relationships, while still keeping the focus on the business results.

That, to me, seems to be missing from most of the various different deployments of Enterprise 2.0 to help further along with the overall Social Business strategy; to the point where it is no longer surprising the apparent high % of failed deployments of social networking platforms for business, if your vision and focus are on the behaviour and the mindset (which is where it should be, in the first place), as Gartner recently indicated.

Somehow, it’s probably now a good time then to dive into the world of psychology, behavioural dynamics, and social sciences in general to understand how Social / Open Business has never been about technology, nor the business process themselves, but about the people, their mindset and their behaviours. In short, their day to day work habits they have accumulated over the course of time and the rewards in place to realise that long term vision of becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise. Somehow, and like I have mentioned above, we seem to have the cue, the routine, but we better get our act together around the reward piece, because otherwise those new habits would not stick around for long, before people would move on to something else. And, once again, we would be going back to square one. Remember Knowledge Management?

We shouldn’t have to go back.

Instead, I do want to have my small piece of chocolate today, and you?

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Life Without eMail – Year 6, Weeks 1 to 20 – (Back to Basics)

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the WinterYou know that moment when you realise that everything you have done in the last 5 and a half years has not been really worth while at all and forces you to go through a massive hard reset, challenging your main core beliefs, in terms of what has motivated you quite a lot in this whole Social / Open [r]evolution space over the course of all of that time? Well, that is the “moment” I have just been experiencing in the last 20 weeks of Year 6 of “Life Without eMail” culminating this week with something I thought I would never be able to see, say or talk about again. And while I can imagine there would be plenty of you folks out there who may be wondering whether I am on the brink of giving up on giving up corporate email, I am afraid nothing further than the truth, despite the fact it may look as if I have lost the war (on email) altogether. I am still as strong as ever in wanting to think outside the Inbox, but acknowledging a fact that I never thought I would be pondering about much, after all of this time being heavily involved with social networking for business: going back to basics!

Indeed, I am not too sure what may have happened, but over the course of those 20 weeks (Yes, I know, that’s 5 months right there!) I have noticed a steady increase on the overall amount of incoming emails I have been receiving at work and it’s been rather interesting to see this phenomenon developing further along with intrigue and awe at the same time. It started already on my previous job role, and continuing along in the new one, where it looks like despite the huge shift towards embracing social technologies at work, the volume of incoming email has skyrocketed to levels that have brought me back to the beginning, in 2008. Yes, that drastic.

All along, I have been reflecting on the potential reasons as to why my fellow IBM colleagues keep insisting on relying for vast majority of interactions on email vs. social tools and while I may not have all of the conclusions sorted out and in place, just yet, I can tell you I’m starting to believe it’s more than anything else because people, in general, don’t feel comfortable enough, just yet, it seems, about narrating their work, working out loud, for the benefit of others, including total strangers, and therefore they still prefer email as that is a medium they control in terms of reach, access and knowledge shared.

How illusory, I know! I have been mentioning in both Twitter and Google Plus how surprising this sudden change has been for yours truly and a couple of folks have suggested whether in part this is all due to the recent change of jobs I have gone through, and the fact that I am now exposed to a larger target audience, where vast majority of that IBM population do not know me much, (nor of my work habits): the email-less man who IBM gave birth to in February 2008. It could well be, but then again it was already happening from the beginning of the year when I was still doing my former job, which makes it even more intriguing altogether.

I am certain that, at this point in time, you may be wondering what this is all about and what do I mean when referring to the fact I am now back to basics, once again, having gone through a massive reboot of everything I have been doing in the last few years on walking the talk, leading by example, with my extensive use of social networking tools in a business context. Well, it looks like I am now going to resume a more regular blogging frequency on the topic of “Life Without eMail“, because apparently many folks out there, within my own working environment, have never heard of it and still keep bombarding me with email after email, resulting in a rather alarming increase of email volume to handle, implying as well for that matter, and I am myself spending a whole lot less time in social networks while processing it along accordingly. 

Yes, during Year 6 – Weeks 1 to 20, I have gone from the good average of 15 emails received per week throughout the year for 2012 to, currently, 31.25 emails received per week, which is just huge compared to the range of emails received in the last 2 to 3 years. Take a look into the weekly progress report from those first 20 weeks, and please do pay attention at the data from Week 20. It will be rather telling altogether, so you can see what I mean:

Life Without eMail - Year 6, Weeks 1 to 20 - (Back to Basics) 

You could say that the vast majority of that incoming email volume has been provoked by my new team members and, to be frank, that hasn’t been the case, at all. Most of our collaboration and knowledge sharing happens in open, social spaces, for folks to participate in as they may see fit, along with some other protected, private ones. What I have noticed though, is a sudden increase of incoming email volume from people outside my immediate teams and for a good number of reasons that I have spotted so far. Because I am now working in a completely different area (Have gone from IBM Software Marketing, into IBM’s CIO Organisation) I have seen plenty of email traffic that would be flagged as political, bullying, unnecessary reporting, delegated tasks on to you, and a whole bunch of other aspects that have clearly reminded me why I got started with ditching corporate email back in the day. And while I have tried to be rather condescending and understanding that not everyone wants to buy into living social AND open, I think I am just about to harden up substantially and become bolder when challenging people’s behaviours on how they keep abusing, and killing, each other’s productivity.Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the Winter

I guess after 20 weeks waiting for those folks to re-adjust some of their behaviours and become more socially savvy, and not seeing much progress along the way to adapt to that new kind of mindset, it’s now probably a good time to awaken that outrageous optimist heretic, free radical, corporate rebel, hippie 2.0 side of me and fight back! I guess it’s time for me to start challenging, just like I did at the beginning, how people work and entice them into open up their eyes AND minds into new, more effective ways of getting work done through social / open streams. 

You may be wondering why do I bother about all of this, after all, right? I mean, I proved the point for a good number of years that it is possible to live a life without email, so why keep things running as we move further along? Well, probably because I am stubborn enough to believe all of these digital tools will eventually help us transform how we collaborate and share our knowledge, making it much more purposeful and meaningful altogether. Probably also because over the course of the years I have learned to become more patient, and be resilient enough, to persevere and continue to walk the talk accordingly to show and demonstrate how it’s possible to have such a life without relying so badly on email to get work done or, even, to justify it. Probably, because, deep inside, I still feel rather strong about challenging folks, through constructive dialogue, and practical hints and tips and other pragmatic advice, about thinking different, about fighting that inertia that has trapped them for years in thinking “eMail as the default knowledge sharing, communication and collaboration tool, so why would I change? Not worth it“. Well, it is worth it. It always has been worth it and will always be…

I suppose I am an outlier, a rebel with a cause, after all. And after this week, in particular, even more so, once I am done with it and I finally received the total amount of 99 emails (As you can see from the report shared across above) in a single work week! Goodness gracious me! 99 emails!! That’s the highest number of incoming emails I have received for a single week in almost 6 years!! [Previous one was 60 in 2008]

And talking about rebels with a cause. This working week, which is now a thing of the past, reminded of an interview I got done with one of the smartest people I have had the pleasure of spending some time with to learn what Social / Open Business is all about, along with a whole new concept that I am sure you would all be hearing about plenty more, over the course of time, around smarter workforce. Yes, I am referring to the absolutely delightful interview I had the pleasure to be invited to by Rudy Karsan, CEO of Kenexa, an IBM company, and which he then wrote about on this rather insightful blog post under the heading “Introducing The Smarter Workforce Profile: Luis Suarez“. 

Why does it remind me of where I am, right at this moment, when I am stating “I am just going back to basics“, you may be wondering, right? Well, initially, because, to date, it’s probably the most accurate, insightful and relevant interview I have given, out there, on the topic of Social / Open Business and “Life Without eMail“. It basically explains why did I start it in the first place, how I have been moving along with it, and what’s meant so far, and, most importantly, what drove me to kick it off as far as benefits are concerned and on the working week where I have received 99 emails for the whole week, it’s a tremendous refresher, and a huge energy boost, to identify, refine and remind myself why, despite the hard reset, there is no turning point for yours truly, other than keep pushing, and perhaps not as gently anymore as I have in the last few months. Here is one of my favourite quotes that pretty much describes what I do and why I am so passionate on this topic: 

[…] This  convinced me more than anything else that social is the way of the future, and I found his courage inspiring. What came out of my conversation with him was that there were three things that drove him to do this.

The 1st was to bring about efficiencies. The 2nd was that outcomes are better when people collaborate rather than compete. I was fascinated by his notion that email is more of a competitive than a collaborative norm, as it is more about ‘I’ than ‘Us’. The 3rd was that social is the ideal venue, according to him, of teaching–and all humans have this yearning to teach and share knowledge–because somewhere, somebody will find our words meaningful and respond accordingly. What struck me in particular was that there are very few people I know who have no almost no sense of fear in their decision-making, and Luis is one of those. He is driven more by purpose which enabled him to overcome fear. Now, lots of books have been written about how to be an entrepreneur and how to do things very differently, and I think that is fascinating to watch somebody in a massive organisation like IBM be able to execute on their vision of the world because their sense of purpose is stronger than fear of consequences.” [Emphasis mine]

Gran Canaria - Roque Bentayga's Surroundings in the WinterYes, I know, I would be drooling, too! In fact, I still am. Feel free to read further on through the interview itself, if you would be interested, while I would ask you to bear with me for a few, while I try to clean up the mess on my keyboard. But that’s it. Those are big, big words that, over the course of last few months, i seem to have forgotten, ignored or neglected altogether, and somehow I need to get them back: Efficiency, Outcomes, Collaboration, Teaching, Meaning, No Sense of Fear and, my favourite, Purpose. Not bad to put them all together as an opportunity for me to re-focus on what I need to keep focusing on, specially, after nearly 6 years gone by: Life Without eMail not just for me, but for everyone else around me, too! 

Indeed, it’s a larger group, a much larger one, but then again I’m fully committed. Remember, I’m pretty stubborn, rather resilient, flexible enough to understand the dynamics and act accordingly and, above all, incredibly patient to keep pushing for that business transformation of how we share our knowledge and collaborate further through Open Business. You could say I have just re-gained my status of a Rebel with a Cause, because, to me, it just feels like it. 

This whole new experience for myself of what has just happened this working week with such a high number of incoming emails may have just signalled how I may have now reached the bottom of it all, a new beginning, a completely new beginning, and from here onwards I suppose there is only one way left: upwards and onwards!

Thus here we go. Upwards and Onwards with “Life Without eMail” through the point of no return and using our usual Google Plus Community to continue to help educate, teach and facilitate further into that Open Business Transformation, while we keep going for repurposing email in a work context and put it back where it belongs, at long last!

Hope you will join us! 

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Connectivity – The Achilles Heel of Remote Knowledge Web Work

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo As Seen from Roque Bentayga in the WinterLast week at work was, perhaps, one of the most excruciating, rather annoying and frustrating weeks that I can remember in my 16 years of work with my current employer and it was not because of the sheer madness, rather hectic and busy work schedules, you know, those are business as usual and quite good fun still (Already having crossed through the second month on the new job!), but more because for the first time in a long while I got to experience what I think is the Achilles Heel for Knowledge (Web) workers in this digital age. Specially, for those of us who are working remotely, away from the traditional office. Yes, indeed, last week I experienced, in full force, what it would be like having an intermittent connection to internal networks, through VPN, as well as the Internet in general, through my ISP. And I tell you, it wasn’t pretty. At all.

Indeed, like I mentioned above, it was one of those dreadful experiences that clearly reminds us all how fragile remote knowledge (Web) workers are in terms of the dependencies on the availability of a good, reliable and accessible VPN and Internet connections. Most folks out there know by now how, thanks to the “Life Without eMail” movement I started over 5 years ago, I have now been successful in having moved over 98% of my daily work to the Web, whether on the Intranet or the Internet. Yet, last week was perhaps one of the quietest times I have gone through that I can remember. Why? Because I was offline for the vast majority of it. Both my VPN connection as well as my local ISP were having continuous issues helping me remain connected and eventually ended up in me putting a bunch of extra hours at work just trying to catch up with things when they would become more stable. And some times they did, and some others, they didn’t.

But right there I realised how when you are working from the traditional office space things are relatively good in terms of connectivity. You know, everyone working along through the same pipes, so to speak, and if the Internet or the Intranet goes down, that’s just fine, it’s down for everyone, so you are in equal terms for that matter and might as well enjoying a coffee or two while the system goes up to support back again several hundreds of office knowledge workers. However, when you are a remote knowledge worker, who depends on the Web for the majority of your work, things are much different.

As a starting point, you are alone. You are, typically, in the middle of nowhere (my closest IBM office is about 1,200 KM away from where I live / work), trying to get connected to the rest of the world that flies passed by you at a lightning speed, and that you hope to jump into the bandwagon which is the Internet, so that you can catch up. Well, last week, my train never showed up, helping me understand the challenges of what it would be like if, all of a sudden, remote knowledge (Web) workers, get to suffer from intermittent (Or permanent, for that matter!) connectivity issues in order to carry out their digital work.Gran Canaria - Roque Bentayga in the Winter

It just won’t happen. And, you know, work won’t stop. It never does. It will just keep carrying on and piling up, which means that, as a remote employee or knowledge worker, your dependency on a good VPN and ISP connectivity are going to be critical. Otherwise, it’s just like one of those dead tentacles you can just chop off and no-one will notice. And while I can see how that may well not be too worrying for companies and businesses, since it’s just an isolated case or two, perhaps a few hundred (tops), the reality is that for you it’s like the whole world just collapsed and decided to stop spinning around.

Yes, I know, I realise I am putting a little bit of extra drama on the huge impact of network connectivity for remote employees, but is it really that much of an exaggeration? Because, somehow I feel it’s not, specially, if you consider how, unless you live in a rather large urban place, you, as a remote worker depending on the Web to get your work done, are doomed and big time. And, most probably, no-one would even notice.

And, let’s face it. We are entering the stage where broadband penetration, at least, in (Western) Europe, is pretty much a good myth, specially, if you don’t live in big cities. If you live in relatively small towns, or rural / remote areas, that pervasive connectivity is non-existent, which comes to fight the argument that the Web keeps us all hyperconnected and networked no matter what. Well, it matters, connectivity, at least, in Europe, is not as pervasive as what most folks feel, and if you have been reading my recent business trips across several European countries, it’s more of a wider issue than anything else, not necessarily related to a specific country or local region.

It bugs me. I tell you, it bugs me quite a lot, actually, because, last week, I realised how I was no longer capable of accessing the most precious thing that makes the Internet a wonderful thing: free information. And I don’t mean free as in you don’t have to pay for it. I mean it from the perspective of no longer being capable of accessing free flows of information to allow me to get my work done in an effective and efficient manner. Never mind the good amount of conversations I could no longer have in terms of nurturing and continuing to build my personal business relationships, including blogging away over here, which I couldn’t, as some of you have well observed through offline interactions.

Ugly. Very ugly state of things, if we have to keep depending on that reliability of connectivity for that major shift of the knowledge workforce that’s already well underway, where more and more people are becoming remote employees, or even no longer attached to companies but doing freelance work, and still needing to have that connection to the Web. That shift is not going to change, nor disappear, but to accelerate greatly over the next couple of years and seeing how urban places are starting to become more jammed and overpopulated, it’s going to be a huge issue if those remote workers from small, rural places can’t keep connected in a reliable manner. Or if, all of a sudden, ISPs decide to sacrifice their quality service to reduce costs or companies decide that good, robust VPN solutions are not worth the investment anymore, therefore forcing their remote employees to trash off the flexibility they once had and return back to the traditional office, no matter at what costs.

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo As Seen from Roque Bentayga in the WinterOf course, we have got email to fix that problem. I am sure you all have been thinking about that very same thought all along while reading this article, and, to be frank, no, we don’t. Email will not solve the problem, because, yes, you can work offline through your mailbox and everything, but you still need the connectivity to send those emails across and when exchanging large rich media files, or presentations, proposals, status project reports and what not; you are going to have a need for a rather fast and robust network connection. We are no longer in the mid-90s where a regular analogue line could get you through the daily email in a matter of minutes. Plus, I am not sure I would want to venture to state that email is safe in the current workplace just because we don’t have enough broadband capacity or a rather robust VPN set of solutions. It would be just totally wrong and for a good number of reasons.

We need to step up, we need to level up the game and start embracing the fact that over the course of time, the vast majority of your companies’ work is going to be executed, done and dealt with by people who are not working at the traditional office anymore, and, as such, we would need to ensure they are reliably connected to the Web to get their work done. As more and more of us progress further away from firewalls and internal protected networks into the Open Social Web, I guess we would be saying good-bye to VPNs, but then again, if you have been watching the news over the course of the last few months, and, lately, in the last week or so, you would know how some conversations would still need to take place in a secure, private, protected space, although still open and accessible to everyone concerned (i.e. employees, customers and business partners, for that matter).

So the need for ISPs to understand how freelancers work remotely and how much they rely on that network connection for a whole lot more than just sending an email, also correlates to the need from businesses to understand how critical good, reliable VPN connections are to allow those employees to stay connected in a world that’s become more virtual, distributed and remote than ever. Upping the game will get us all there, eventually. Not doing anything, though, thinking things will be all right, after all, will help us go into a Dark Age I doubt we’d ever be able to recover from accordingly. All of us.

Now, imagine if all ISPs, while they are going to become more under pressure over time, decide to take us through on to those dark ages … for good. Imagine, if, all of a sudden, after seeing last few weeks’ global events all over the place (Take your pick as there are a lot of those to choose from!) things just collapse. Just like that. Well, don’t imagine it. Let’s just work really hard on not making it happen any time soon, because somehow the trend keeps showing how we are heading towards that collapse, without remedy. I know, I know, I don’t plan to finish off this article with a negative thought of what might happen. Instead, I would want to finish it off with a rather outrageous, optimistic and heretic trend of thought on what’s at stake at this point in time, so please do allow me to leave you with this absolutely stunning, rather inspiring and incredibly thought-provoking presentation from one of my favourite thinkers of the 21st century that I just can’t have enough of in terms of showing the way of where we are heading, not only in the business world, but in our society. Check out Manuel Castells‘ recent RSA speech on “Networks of Outrage and Hope“, which will also confirm, for that matter, why social networking is here to stay and for a good few years, not only as matter of expressing yourself, but perhaps altogether as a matter of finding a new purpose, a new focus and a new meaning altogether: a better world for all of us.

No exceptions. 

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