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

Knowledge Management

Social Computing Guidelines and Why You Would Still Need Them

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A few weeks back I wrote about the first of the 5 pillars I keep using with clients, time and time again, whenever they are embarking on the so-called Digital Transformation journey. Back in that blog entry I mentioned how having the right purpose is the main trigger to get things going. From there onwards it all starts rolling out and for today I thought I would go ahead and continue with the series of articles and write about the second pillar itself, which I know is going to cause a bit of a surprise, and perhaps a bit of a stir, too, because most people are not going to believe that here we are, nearly at the end of 2015, and we still need them and pretty badly: Social Computing Guidelines.

Yes, that is right, whenever you are embarking on the Social Business journey, right after you may have figured out what the main purpose is for that transformation initiative through social / digital tools, the next big activity to look into is to have a rather robust, representative and relevant set of social computing guidelines. I know what you are thinking, here we are, already passed through 2015, and we still need guidelines? Really? Haven’t we learned much from the last 10 years or so? Well, you are probably not going to believe it, but we certainly do need them! 

Initially, because when starting to make use of social tools, whether internally, or externally, you would *not* want to use or talk about rules to describe how people should behave at work, no matter how insistent senior leadership may well be when stating they want to control how people behave in this brave new world of digital tools. Narrative matters, nowadays more than whatever you would have thought of in the past, and that’s the very first thing senior management would tell you that you would need to take care of: ‘Yes, I want to have a bunch of rules, so that my employees would not be goofing off, nor misbehave and what not and instead continue to work really hard. I want to command and control what they do‘. As if that ever happened in the past, right? Bless them … 

Here is the thing, if you let that happen you are just opening a can of worms you don’t want to open. Rules, control, entitlement, arrogance, (a certain) position or status, micro-management, etc. etc. don’t work well in an unstructured, almost chaotic, network driven environment where democratisation of conversations by earning the merit, the attention and the conversation of your peers is the new modus operandi. We no longer talk about rules, but guidelines. We no longer talk about imposing a certain method of operating while getting work done, but, instead, work through influencing certain behaviours to flourish and thrive over the course of time. Openness, transparency, publicy, trust, engagement don’t work well with rules. Quite the opposite. Those Social Computing Guidelines are your entrance door into modelling certain new mindset(s), behaviours and overall good business practices. 

Now, let’s have a look into what it would be like not having those social guidelines in placeLet’s take, for example, Twitter. Umair Haque put together, not long ago, a superb piece of writing in which it became pretty clear, right from the start, what Twitter is all about without those social guidelines themselves. The World Wide West would not suffice to put it mildly. You haven’t seen it just yet? Take a good look into Twitter’s Trending Topics, for instance, whenever you have got a chance, and you will see the kind of vitriol that takes a whole new level of describing what both trolling and bullying is all about. It’s just as if we are using these social tools as an additional digital layer of sociopathy that de-humanises not only who we are, but also both our actions and interactions with others. No wonder senior leaders are so scared of embracing internally social / digital tools, if they think things would be pretty much the same as what happens out there in the Social Web. 

See? There are many reasons why you would want to put together some Social Computing Guidelines in place, before you would run into potential trouble, but perhaps there are two of them that keep coming up time and time again in the conversations I usually have with my clients: 

  • Organisations need to become comfortable with their employees making good, smart and responsible use of these social tools, so they can put together a green check on their corporate legal records, and move on…
  • And people in organisations (i.e. knowledge workers) need to become smarter in terms of how they can make the most out of social tools to collaborate more openly and share more of their knowledge across to, eventually, help them get work done effectively vs. using it as a corporate weapon of massive destruction (of one’s own digital reputation, that is). 

That’s why whenever I work with clients I firstly asked them: ‘What’s your purpose?’ and, right after they have shared across the why, the what’s in it for them, I usually ask them whether they have thought about putting together a certain number of social guidelines to help their employees, and the overall organisation, prepare for the journey. And, if not, why not? Having a conversation about potential social media bloopers and evaluating, initially, the potential (negative) impact they can have within an organisation helps understand why those guidelines may well be needed, after all. From there onwards, ‘how do we get started with them?‘ usually comes up and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and start working on them. 

The good thing is when trying to get things started we are never starting from scratch. There are tons of really good resources out there already, as well as dozens of examples, of other businesses and organisations that have graciously shared their own as an opportunity to contribute into the overall #SocBiz community effort. Take a look into the Social Media Governance Web site, for instance, where you will find hundreds of those same examples I just mentioned above. Even just go into Google and search for ‘Social Computing Guidelines‘ and you will find (first link on the top!) the one that has been perused over and over again over the years: IBM’s own Social Computing Guidelines.

Back in May 2005, yes, that’s not a typo, IBM decided to ask a bunch of very brave and rather prolific IBM bloggers to come together over the course of a couple of weeks, and using a wiki, put together an initial ‘Blogging Policy & Guidelines‘ that will then need to be cross-checked with both corporate communications and the legal teams to ensure things were all right and then publicise them both internally and externally. After a couple of weeks of frantic co-editing, updating, adding, removing, revising and working together the guidelines were done and presented to both of those teams. Not a single update was needed and IBM’s Blogging Policy & Guidelines were born. May 2005

That was, right there, IBM’s opportunity to, instead of blocking the use of social tools, send out a pretty loud and clear message to its employees, customers, business partners and competitors that, if anything, IBM wasn’t going to block access to them at all, but, instead, fully support and embrace them altogether. And IBM’s official journey to become a Socially Integrated Enterprise had just begun. Two years later, pretty much the same group of bloggers, as well as everyone else already using, internally and externally, those social tools, came together again to revise them and update them accordingly with guidelines about new tools, trends, and what not. And IBM’s official Social Computing Guidelines were born. During that time none of us, i.e. that group of bloggers, would know such guidelines would become an industry standard, but they, eventually, did. If anything, reaffirming the power of co-creation, through a wiki, of a bunch of enthusiasts, advocates and overall 2.0 practitioners. 

10 years later I keep thinking the main reason why those different guidelines (not rules!) were a success, both for IBM, as well as other companies that decided to adapt them to their needs and embrace them accordingly, was because of two different factors that were taken into consideration right from the start: 

  • Match those guidelines to the corporate culture of the organisation, to send out there a very clear message to everyone that these social tools are business tools, and, as such, there is a certain netiquette that needs to be respected, complied with and abide to. It’s how you do business, people to people. 

  • Put yourself in the shoes of those (back then new) 2.0 practitioners and ask them how they would want to make a smarter use of those digital tools in a business context. Then invite them to tell you what directives they would feel comfortable with and embrace those. Helping define a level of comfort for those 2.0 practitioners in a co-creative manner they would want to go ahead with is just the beginning of sending out a clear message, from there onwards, that you, as an organisation, do care as much as they do. Why? Well, you trust them to do the right thing. And they will. 

With those two underlying principles in mind, and with all of the resources already mentioned above, it’s now a good time to get things going and decide whether you would want to open up the process of creating those social computing guidelines, as IBM did back in the day, or whether you would want to have a representative team, as much as possible, to work on them. Either way, let’s start!

Here are though, some additional thoughts you may want to take into consideration as well when beginning to work in those social guidelines that may prove to be both helpful and relevant: 

  • Align them to current, existing business conduct guidelines, corporate values, code of conduct, etc. that you may be using already to set the tone and their overall purpose. In a nutshell, it’s still work.
  • Keep them simple and straight to the point. You would not want them to be longer than a single page people can go ahead and quickly print & have it ready at their desk for when in doubt. Don’t over engineer nor add too much corporate speak into them. You don’t need it, neither do they. 
  • Use plenty of common sense. If you see those guidelines don’t have much of that, start again. Till they make good business sense both to the organisation and to those 2.0 practitioners.
  • When in doubt, ask those social computing champions, ambassadors, evangelists (or whatever other naming convention you may be using) to give you advice. They live daily this brave new world of social networking for business. Use that to your advantage and let them help you accordingly, where you may need it.
  • Think about your customers, because, more than anything else, you need to remember the final frontier is not that people should use internal social tools and that’s it. It’s way bigger than that. They need to be able to use, in a smarter manner, external ones to interact, collaborate, connect and share with your customers and business partners.
  • Don’t spend too much time in them; get them out of the way as soon as you can and publish them out there for everyone to use. Observe and learn how people would behave through them and if you would need to adjust, correct, update them and iterate again, do it. Better adjusting on the way than having to wait for 6 months or a year for your legal team to come around telling you it’s ok. Keep the pace up.
  • Ensure confidential content is properly addressed in the guidelines. There is a chance everyone would already know what to do with it, but better to still have it down in writing, in case people might forget. You know, just in case.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected; there is a great chance once you get started with this process you would be entering unknown territory and that’s a good thing. Learning to act accordingly while on the move will probably dictate whether the guidelines will be a success or not. Adjust and adapt accordingly.
  • Finally, once the guidelines are done, publicise them externally, communicate about them, bring them up at every single place you can imagine. The more you communicate about them, the better. You would want to have every single employee wanting to use social tools be well aware of them even way before they dive right into it. 

From there onwards, let the fun begin!

It’d then be a good time to move into pillar #3 of the Social Business and Digital Transformation Journey, where, in an upcoming blog entry, I will be talking about Building a Solid Library of Use Cases to help your 2.0 practitioners dive right into how they can get work done more effectively by working smarter, not necessarily harder. By making good use of the social / digital tools at their disposal, focusing on the tasks and activities at hand to help, in the long run, entice a new set of behaviours and mindset and, overall, good business practices to become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise. But that would be the topic for another blog entry coming up next! 😀

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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’s Your Purpose?

Gran Canaria in the Winter

Apparently, ‘two thirds of digital transformation projects fail’. I know that headline may well be both a bit too provocative and rather pessimistic at best, but I guess we can’t deny there are far too many reasons out there as to why that may be happening, as Dion Hinchcliffe himself wrote, quite nicely, over 6 years ago, in a rather insightful article titled: ’14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail’. Even today. When looking into it with a bit more detail though, one can find that perhaps, right at the heart of the matter, one of the most powerful reasons as to why that happens is because most organisations haven’t been able to answer properly the one question that matters: ‘What’s your purpose?’

When talking about Social Business Adaptation (not the same as Adoption, by the way), there are 5 different pillars, over the years, I have considered essential for any successful Digital Transformation programme (not a project either, by the way); and since I mentioned earlier on, in another blog post, that I’d start sharing plenty of the methodologies, strategies, processes and tools I use for my work as an independent adviser, I thought I would get things started with the one single question that, to me, triggers those transformation efforts: figure out the why first, before you dive in to the how.

Throughout all of these years of having been involved in Social Business Adaptation (both while at IBM and nowadays as a freelancer) I have been exposed to a good number of different purposes as to why both people AND organisations embark on that so-called Digital Transformation journey. And time and time again there have been a number of them that typically fall sort of the expectations towards the second year that they have been put in place. Three of them in particular come to the top of the list and I thought I would share them over here in the hopes that, if you bump into them, you may have an early warning, and some pointers, on what you may need to do to shift things a fair bit in a different direction perhaps. On the other hand, there are also plenty of other great purposes for which people/organisations have pretty much nailed their efforts into becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise. So we will talk about those other three as well in a few minutes (Yes, I know, I like to see things in threes and multiples of threes :-D).

Why Digital Transformation Projects Fail?

I am pretty sure that, by now, your head may be spinning around a fair bit coming up with a good number of different reasons as to why you think Digital Transformation programmes keep failing over and over again over the last few years. To me, it’s all down to figuring out what your purpose is. Why do you want to do what you are about to do? What is it that you expect to happen, once you get started with the Social Business journey? And what are, potentially, some of the expectations you would want to meet up at some point in time?

Now, this is not, at all, at this point in time, about trying to figure out the ROI of Social Business. We already had that conversation a while ago and it didn’t take us anywhere. Total waste of time, really. In fact, if you look around, today, you would hardly see anyone trying to question the return on investment from your digital transformation efforts anymore. It’s just not happening. It’s 2015, it’s considered a given. Why? Well, mainly, because we no longer have a choice (never had, actually!). I mean, look at the alternative(s) of not diving in to the Digital Transformation journey. It’s ugly and it will become uglier over the course of time even more so if we keep ignoring the inevitable: change. 

With all of that said, you may be wondering what are the main three purposes I bump into, every now and then, that are bound to create more trouble than help out with those transformation efforts. I am sure you all have your own favourites and I would love to read about them in the comments, but, for me, here are the Top 3 Reasons as to why digital transformation programmes fail, based on what their main purpose may well be: 

  • Cost savings: Bean counters, and everyone else, dealing with the financials of your organisation would love you lots if this is the main purpose of why you would want to start the Social Business journey. Yet, the reality would be quite different. Justifying the existence of a Digital Transformation programme within your organisation as an opportunity to cut / save costs and become more efficient as a result is bound to fail on the second year of life of the initiative. Why? Well, mainly, because there will always be something out there that would help you cut costs, specially, in the technology space, and that means the moment you find something else to help you cut costs there goes your Social Business effort. Down the drain. To no avail. Efficiency has never been a good friend of Change and Transformation programmes. What you are after is effectiveness. Big difference. 
  • Competitors driving your agenda: ‘My competitors are all going through this Digital Transformation programme already. We are late into the game!’. That’s typically another popular reason as to why people figure their purpose is just to play catch up with their competition. Don’t worry, you are already late, if you are just getting started now. Why worry then? What you may want to do is shake off that strong feeling that your competitors are driving your agenda, whatever that may will be, and perhaps re-focus on what you really want to do as a business, which, last time around we checked was no other endeavour than delighting your clients through an excelling employee experience. Focus on that. You will be much better off, believe me.

    Take a look, for instance, into IT vendors, specially, in the Social Software / Collaboration space. There are plenty of them that will always tell you that they are doing much much better than the competition, so they will flood you with all sorts of information, brochures and marketing speak on features and capabilities on a certain product, etc. etc., almost as if it were a whitewash of sorts, to then match themselves against their competitors for you to see how good they are, when, eventually, they keep failing on meeting up with a clear premise: what business problems are they trying to solve for you? Then there are other vendors that just focus on helping the competitioncompeting accordingly, and they are doing just fine, because that’s their main focus, both the employee AND the customer. Seriously, if the products you are trying to sell your customers are wonderful and meet their needs, you don’t need to worry about the competition. There isn’t any. Go the extra mile. 

  • Change for the sake of changing: It’s not a good idea. It’s never been. On the contrary, it would just show that you are not ready for the change itself, nor the (digital) transformation process. Whether we like it or not, we just can’t change organisations, nor can we change people, for that matter; we can only provide the (right) conditions for knowledge workers to be self-empowered to come forward and change themselves leaving it all up to them. So thinking that we need to change because we don’t have a choice anymore will only create even more trouble. If only, it would work out as adding another layer of (social) tools and think we have changed. When we have only put but more lipstick on the pig. Still a pig. 

    Yes, I can see the urge from most organisations to want to hang out with the cool kids who have already gotten started with their own transformation journey. I realise how plenty of businesses would want to jump the shark and join those very same cool kids on the open Social Web, interacting with their customers, business partners, even their competitors, but then again still operating, pretty much, as v1.0 on the inside. Frankly, to be 2.0 on the outside, requires that you may well be 2.0 on the inside, because otherwise you are off to a massive wake-up call when things go messy. And they will. 

The Journey of Becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise 

Like I said earlier on, I am pretty sure there are tons of other reasons as to why organisations have decided to embark on the so-called Digital Transformation journey, that may well not have worked out as planned, while trying to answer as well the key question ’What’s your purpose?’ I bet you all know, or have, quite a few and I would certainly love to hear them in the comments, if you would have a minute to share them with the rest of us, but for now, let’s go ahead and focus on the Top 3 Reasons as to why digital transformation programmes are a wonderful success within (some) organisations: 

  • Transform how the entire organisation works: Through a co-creative process, where no-one and everyone owns it, the social business and digital transformation journey is mostly focused on transforming how the entire business works. The focus moves on from being on either technology and business processes and, instead, it’s all about the people, about self-empowering them to become more accountable and responsible for what they do, how they work, connect, collaborate, share their knowledge more in the open, transparently, and, eventually, get work done in a much more democratic, egalitarian, wirearchical, engaged manner. The change process begins when the organisation realises they need to relinquish control, become less risk averse, more open and transparent, to then re-gain it back through how they nurture and build healthy networks and communities as the new operating model. The wake-up call? That these conditions of operating through social networks are not going to go away any time soon, so we better adapt to them and act accordingly. Or we are in trouble. Big trouble.
  • Address business pain points: Perhaps the toughest of reasons. I mean, no-one wants to air out, even internally, what doesn’t work, whether it’s related to technology, processes or people. We all want to keep drinking the kool-aid, to control the message, to continue distrusting our peers, because, after all, we never did, so why start now, right? Alas, it doesn’t work out that well in reality, so if you take those business pain points and turn them into business opportunities through both some bravery and courage admitting not all things are working all right, there is a great chance you will find the right purpose to correct your due course.

    And if you are brave, again, one more time, to involve your entire workforce to help you not only surface what doesn’t work, but also try to provide different solutions to each and everyone of those issues, there is a great chance that you will be on the mend sooner than you think. Both the change and transformation processes will kick off by themselves, without even needing to have a certain strategy. Biggest leap of faith to come across? Understand we are not the experts we all think we are; we are all weak, vulnerable, constantly making mistakes (and learning from them!), and it’s our relying on building those strong networks across the organisation that will only help us, collectively, address those pain points and venture to suggest some potential solutions. And initiate that process of self-healing that’s so very much needed in each and every single business today, in each and every single individual knowledge (Web) worker. 

  • Finally, identify new business opportunities: Indeed, create new markets. I know, I know, easier said than done, but what’s stopping us? What’s stopping us from thinking we can, collectively, change the (business) world for the better? The realisation that it’s going to be impossible? Or perhaps the itch that we can’t attempt to realise the impossible, because, you know, it’s the impossible, after all. How could we? That’s exactly why we need to venture into creating those new markets. New frontiers and I’m not necessarily just talking about technology in general. Think about the world we would all want to live in, say, 15 to 30 years from now. 2030 and 2045. What’s the world going to look like? Most importantly, what’s your dent in this universe for which you would want to be remembered when you are gone. How would you like your offspring to remember you? As those folks who had the chance to change the world and failed because they were not courageous enough to explore and create new markets? Or those folks who didn’t have a clue about what they wanted to do down the line, but there was a very clear premise in the air: leave behind a better (business) world than they themselves experienced throughout their (working) lifetime. And perhaps start working towards achieving that goal. Why not?

My goodness! Talking about having a meaningful and rather impactful purpose for us all! How does that sound to you folks in the long run? Please do tell me you are, with me, in the second group. Please do tell me that, when you are pondering to embark on this so-called Digital Transformation journey within your own business you are thinking about potentially answering ‘What’s your purpose’ with this particular mindset: what kind of world do I want to leave behind me / us when we are all long gone? Something tells me that if we shift focus on that short term purpose, gains, and think more into the near future, into the long run, we would all be so much better of, collectively. Not just for our own mere survival, but for all of those who come after us pushing harder, stronger, higher than whatever we all attempted to do in the past.

Yes, exactly, ‘What’s Your Purpose?’ starts with you asking yourself every single morning, when you come to work, what you would want to achieve that day to make this world a better place. After all, it’s our chance to make a dent in this universe while we change and transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live our lives. Not just for ourselves, but for them, whomever they may well be …

Signing off, sincerely, your #hippie2.0.

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The Trials and Tribulations of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the Winter

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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Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes (Playa del Inglés)

When I first got things started with #elsuahackstwitter, the experiment where I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead move on to using, exclusively, Public Lists, I knew, right from the start, that I’d have a bit of a challenge in terms of not necessarily grouping people together, but what names would I pick up for each of those lists, so that a) they’d be rather representative and meaningful, and b) would not offend the people included in them (for whatever the reason). It wasn’t easy. It took me, eventually, a good few days to figure it out what I would go for in the long run. I knew I didn’t want to pick something vague, overhyped or just simply buzzwords du jour along the lines of gurus, ninjas, #SocBiz experts, influencers, future-of-work, digital-transformation, etc. etc. So I decided to look deeper, in retrospect, and try to define for myself the kinds of relationships I have built over the years with the people who I used to follow on Twitter and see how I would be able to group them accordingly. Finally, after a good few days of tinkering Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From were born. 

Ever since I was first exposed to Twitter Lists a good few years back, I knew they were going to be something rather special. It’s, by far, my favourite feature from Twitter from all along. An opportunity for the end-user to be, at long last, in full control of the flow of tweets going by, according to your own criteria in terms of people added to them, timelines (no longer a limit in there!), conversations, insights shared, etc. etc. vs. having to rely on the system to do it for you. I have been a huge fan of Lists. Currently, I have got 25 of them I, usually, check on a more or less regular basis. All along, though, most of them have always been, and still remain today, private, just for me. And for a good reason: I didn’t want to expose them, nor the folks grouped in each of them. 

The whole thing changed though, when I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter, and somehow I started to feel the urge of exposing, openly, where I usually spend my time on nowadays while tweeting away. Somehow I felt I needed to show the world a little bit of my Twitter world. The time of hiding is over and while the private lists are there I decided not to pay much attention to them anymore and instead focus on the public ones I created a few weeks back. Those new lists would become my new timeline(s) and, contrary to what was happening before, they are now exposed to everyone out there who may be interested, since they are publicly listed and people can subscribe to them, if they so wish to.

In a way, it’s some kind of brutal exercise around working out loud and openness, because, all of a sudden, everyone can now peek into my daily flows of tweets going back and forth and get a glimpse of what I’m exposed to, without having to even ask me, if they would want to. Yes, it’s both exciting and rather intriguing not knowing anymore what may well happen next, because one of the unexpected highlights from having run this experiment was that even though the lists are my lists some people have decided to subscribe to them as well. So, all of a sudden, I have transformed into a curator of connections, relationships, triangles to close, and good, relevant content on what matters to me. And share it with the world. 

You may be wondering by now then why did I pick up those names for my main three public lists, right? CollaboratorsCooperators and People I Learn From. Well, initially, there is the reason of proximity, just like when I blogged back in the day how I work through Google Plus’ Circles with One50, Two50 and TheRest. However, that proximity nowadays is mostly down to how I view people I used to follow on Twitter in terms of working together or learning together. Long time ago I decided to stop following people just for the sake of following if it meant I didn’t learn anything in the first place. Life is just too short to have a cluttered timeline, I am afraid.

Working together, for me, can be seen in terms of two different types of interactions: collaboration and / or cooperation. My good friend, Harold Jarche, put together, just recently, as he has been blogging about this very same topic for a good while now, a new superb article explaining the main differences between one and the other. ‘Cooperation for the network era’ is a highly recommended read, for certain, as it will make you think twice about the kinds of business relationships, contacts and networks each and everyone of us has been nurturing over time. At the end of the day though, to me, it’s also all about commitment, what differentiates one from the other, that is. 

When you collaborate (closely) with someone (or a group of people), there is a commitment to get something done in a timely manner, to get a deliverable out the door, finish off that task, activity or a project and move on the next one. The proximity and closeness is a notch tighter than when you cooperate with someone, which seems to be a lot less about commitment and more about sharing, connecting and learning. To quote Harold from that same article shared above: 

Cooperation is a foundational behaviour for effectively working in networks, and it’s in networks where most of us, and our children, will be working. Cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate.

To then finish up with this other really nice quote that clearly differentiates what collaboration and cooperation are, and what they are not: 

Cooperation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary. Teams, groups, and markets collaborate. Online social networks and communities of practice cooperate. Working cooperatively requires a different mindset than merely collaborating on a defined project.

Organizations need to extend the notion of work beyond collaboration, beyond teams, and beyond the corporate fire wall. They need to make social networks, communities of practice, and narrative part of the work

Here’s something that Harold mentions on the last quote shared above that I think is rather interesting and pretty much nails it for me: ‘[…] they are complimentary […]’. Indeed, in the rather polarised world we currently live in, where it looks like we can only have a winner, a one single choice, a simple choice, yet, time and time again, reality tells us otherwise. Why can’t we have both? – I keep wondering about. Why can’t we have, in a work environment, where both collaboration and cooperation are working together nicely to achieve a certain goal, i.e. getting work done on their own terms (versus ruthlessly competing with one another)? What’s stopping us from doing that? The company firewall and bureaucratic business practices? A business and management system that haven’t changed much fundamentally in the last 150 years or perhaps even more so our very own mindset and behaviours and our inability to change even more so, if for the better?

This is, exactly, what I wanted to do in the first place when I put together these two Twitter Lists, to see if I could combine both collaboration, cooperation and mix them a bit to the point where they would become blurry and, eventually, perhaps a porous, intertwined duality. And then see what would happen next. As a result, and rather unexpectedly, I came up with a third one for another very specific activity altogether: learning. And this is how these public lists came along: 

  • Collaborators: The original description I used for this list was the following one: ’[Some] People I’ve collaborated with in the past, the present & hopefully in the near future as well’. Remember, this list was built up from the list of people I used to follow on Twitter, not the hundreds of people I have collaborated with over last couple of decades, and the criteria was essentially to figure out who would I be able to move over here and feel comfortable about it when talking about collaboration: some of the folks I have collaborated with in the past, or now in the present, or have the gut feeling I will be in the near future. That was the exercise to be done. How close did I feel to those folks in order to collaborate with them all, where needed and accordingly, in a heartbeat. It’s my primary list, the one I check every single day and read every single tweet from and the one where I progressively move people away on to from the other lists to keep it growing over time with folks I do committed work with. 

  • Cooperators: Again, reusing Harold’s definition for cooperation, this is the list of folks I cooperate with at times in different initiatives, and where the commitment may well be there some times, or not. This was the original description I used for it: ‘[Some] People I’ve cooperated with in the past, the present & hopefully in the near future as well’. Again, following pretty much the same flow as Collaborators, except that for this one the proximity is not as close as the one for collaborators. In a way, it’s like my second tier of interactions, the networks, the communities of practice, the weak ties that sooner or later I know I will eventually be doing work together with. It’s also the list I check and read every single tweet from daily as an opportunity to help build my social capital skills with them so I can provoke committed work with at some point in time. I’ll wait for when I feel things are ready.  
  • People I Learn From: While both Collaborators and Cooperators make my primary network of contacts and business relationships (and, of course, friendships!), all along I knew there would be a third one coming, one with people I keep learning from on a daily basis from our mutual tweet exchange and that, sooner or later, I know they will all end up being either in Collaborators or Cooperators. It’s the largest of all three lists and by a large margin. It’s also the one where most of my learning happens, although it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t learn much from the other two. I still do, it’s just on a different level (i.e. I know them relatively well already…). The People I Learn From is essentially the list where I curate, nurture and foster relationships that I will then move on to one of the other two lists and become more involved with over the course of time. Mind you, I still get to read every single tweet that gets shared across. I use each and everyone of them as an opportunity to evaluate whether we are both ready to be moved up and, if so, make the move and carry on with the conversation on a higher level of involvement and intent. 

And from there onwards, I rely entirely on the magic of serendipity, that always seems to know more and way better than yours truly, to do its thing and keep redefining each and everyone of those lists. Helping me as well shaping them up accordingly over time by constantly building a trustworthy personal learning network where not only will I be able to continue learning from in the multiple areas we are all really passionate about, but also work with, whether collaboratively or cooperatively, or both!

It’s all about building the commitment, the intent, the context, and the ability to transform our daily work routines into the networked economy, because, for as long as social networks, communities and teams exist out there, we are no longer talking about the future of work, but the present of work. The continuous today. The one we can all collectively influence each and every time, because, after all, it still is our choice.

It always has been.

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Pardon the Interruption … From Adaptation into Engagement by Luis Suarez #soccnx

Prague in the SpringA couple of months back you would remember how I put together a blog post over here on an upcoming business trip I was about to embark on heading to Prague, by mid-June, to speak a couple of times at the Social Connections VI event (#soccnx). A few of you have asked me over the course of time whether there were some recordings made available of the different presentations and all along I mentioned that they would become accessible online, eventually, since they were all recorded live, while we were there. It was just a matter of time, and a bunch of hard work to make it happen. And lo and behold, here we have got them, finally, available at the Social Connections Vimeo site and they are looking very good, indeed! So, I guess, it’s now a good time to make your favourite picks and start diving into some really good content!

That’s right, depending on what your various interest areas may well be like, you would have a chance to go into the Agenda of the event, as a good refresher, even in case you may not have made it face to face, and pick the topics, breakout sessions or keynote presentations you would be most interested in and start hitting the Play button to enjoy some of the really great quality content that was shared across over the course of a couple of days.

What a privilege we all had! Prague, on the brink of summer, stunning location, amazing networking events throughout the entire conference, plenty of very knowledgeable, brilliant and amazing folks talking about some of the topics they are truly passionate about and an amazing team putting it all together to make us all feel just at home. Stunning! 

I had the true honour of speaking at the event a couple of times and I enjoyed both of them tremendously! To me, it was a little bit like a homecoming of sorts, after nearly 5 months since I went independent and left IBM to start my own new adventure(s), because I had the wonderfully unique opportunity of catching up with former colleagues and good friends, business partners and lots of amazing customers I had worked with over the course of the years (even while at IBM).

That’s what User Groups events have got. That special flair of an incredibly strong sense of community that goes beyond the borders of vendor(s), customers (and their firewalls) and business partners. It’s like one massive online social network coming together face to face to talk, converse AND learn about what they are truly passionate about, i.e. becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise with no attachments in between, like marketing and vendor speak, practitioners with their own agendas and what not. Purely an intense two day long learning experience of passionate knowledge (Web) workers wanting to make the world, their world, a better place by sharing, collaborating and innovating out in the open. 

So when the smart folks organising the overall event asked me whether I would like to be the closing keynote speaker for Day Two, I just couldn’t say “No!”, could I? Of course, I accepted such generous offer and the wonderful opportunity of picking up a topic that is dear to my heart, even though I may start sounding like a broken record, and cover it during the course of nearly one hour: Employee Engagement.

And the end-result of that presentation can now be watched through online as the recording of the keynote has just been made available a couple of weeks back under the title “From Adaptation to Engagement, Luis Suarez”. A copy of the slides can be found as well over at Haiku Deck, in case folks may well be interested… Here’s the embedded code of the recording as well, so you can watch it at your own pace. Hope you folks enjoy it just as much as I did delivering it: 

From Adaptation to Engagement, Luis Suarez from Social Connections on Vimeo.

 

Oh, and if you care to watch another recording of a fun session we did as well while at the event, you may want to take a look into Pardon the Interruption (Fast-paced Social Business Panel Discussion). In case you may not know about the innovative format from this panel session, it’s one that’s been championed by my good friend, and fellow IBMer, Louis Richardson, who introduced it at IBM’s Lotusphere event a couple of years ago and that, basically, puts on the stage a moderator and 3 other panelists who get to answer a good number of questions (Usually from the audience) around Social Business in under a minute. Fast paced, straight to the point, and lots of knowledge sharing in a single round of Q&A. 

This time around the moderator was the always insightful Stu McIntyre, then we had a client (Brian O’Neil), a vendor (Luis Benitez) and an independent advisor (yours truly). And for the rest an exhilarating, good fun, very insightful 40 minutes of experiences, know-how, and lots of knowledge sharing from three different worlds colliding with one another to become one: a Social / Open Business. 

Pardon the Interruption (Fast-paced panel discussion), Stuart McIntyre & Luis Benitez & Brian O’Neill & Luis Suarez from Social Connections on Vimeo.

Needless to say that I am back for plenty more! How come? Well, I had a wonderful time all around (As you will be able to see from both presentations, never mind the massively inspiring networking that always takes place while at such events), as well as very much worth while catching up with good friends, customers and business partners. And, just recently, they have announced Social Connections VII for mid-November this year, and taking place in Stockholm, Sweden, a city I have never been to so far and I think it’ll be a good time to check out more in depth, don’t you think? Will you be joining us as well? Hope you will. It will be good fun seeing you all there! Here’s the link to the Registration page.

Oh, and don’t leave it for tomorrow! Places fill up pretty quickly and before you realise it, BOOM! They are gone! Just like that! 

 

Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer and People Enabler. 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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