For a good couple of years I have been a huge fan, and big advocate, of what I think is one of the most empowering and refreshing social networking tools out there: Google Plus. Yes, I know I may have well been one of the very few, but all along I have always felt that in terms of features, capabilities, blending of online and offline interactions and, above all, the deeper level of engagement in conversations is what made G+ special. Very special. Till a couple of days ago, where I discovered, by pure chance, which is how these things happen usually, I suppose, how it has been hiding away the best part of that social networking tool: the conversations themselves. Remember the filter bubble?
From the very beginning, I read in one of the review blog posts around Google Plus how the Home Stream (All) doesn’t really display all of the various different posts that your networks get to share. It only displays a fraction that the system itself identifies based on whatever the algorithm. Now, I can imagine how plenty of people may not feel very comfortable with the fire hose of updates coming through, so they may actually appreciate, quite a bit, having Google figuring it all out how it would work for most people. Alas, not for me. I would want to see every single post that comes my way, so I can then decide whether I would want to read it or not. I have always felt that’s the ultimate choice from social networkers in terms of defining the amount of signal / noise they would get exposed to without having that social networking tool calculating automatically what may matter to you or not.
I am sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. So a few months back I started relying more and more on Google Plus Circles to the point where I became rather dependent on them. I created a bunch of them, that I check on a rather regular basis, but there are four of them that I consider critical food for my brain. You know, the One50, Two50, and TheRest and a new one I created which is a combination of all three of those coming up to nearly 500 people in total, which is what I am checking out nowadays the most as my new timeline. Essentially, the one circle of those folks who I would want to receive whatever updates they share.
Thus a little while ago I decided to try out an experiment, which was, essentially, keeping an open tab in Chrome throughout the day for Google Plus and, in particular, for that specific G+ Circle (That I called Everyone), and which would allow me to jump in every now and then and check what people may be saying, talking about or sharing across. You know, in between work tasks, coffee breaks, those spare idle moments in between meetings and so forth. The idea was to be able to catch up with everything that may have been shared across with an opportunity to do it at my own pace, and without any restrictions.
However, over the course of time, I started noticing how after a short period of time, without checking things out, the lovely blue box would show up indicating the number of new posts that I had catch up with since I last refreshed, and I started to notice how if I would have, say, 74 new posts, when clicking on refresh it would just display (I counted them!) about 36, which means that half of the content is gone. Just like that! WOW!!!
And here I was thinking that G+ algorithm was only in place for the Home Stream (All) page. Well, apparently, not. I have actually raised this very same issue on my Plus Profile, on this post, where I talked about it more extensively, and a bunch of other folks have been very helpful sharing their insights, including reference blog entries like this one on that very same topic with the flair that it’s working as designed. Well, no, it’s not. At least, it is not my design.
See? If I create a new Circle in Google Plus because there is a list of contacts / networks that I would want to keep up with and get exposed to everything they share in G+ that’s what I expect the circle to handle graciously, not just show to me what it thinks is better for me. Never mind how much data you have about me. No, sorry, systems should not be making that choice for people. At least, people should be given the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of that model, which in this case it’s just not happening. And I am finding that incredibly frustrating and perhaps somewhat disturbing as well for that matter.
Why? Mainly, of course, because of that filter bubble. I would want to be the person in charge of what I get exposed to, how I would want to get exposed to, and, most importantly, how I would want to consume that content shared across. And let it be down to me to decide if I would want to mitigate, or not, the fire hose effect of content I get exposed to. It should be my decision, not the system’s. That’s actually one of the reasons why I have never been a fan of Facebook, Twitter and various other social networking tools that do pretty much the same thing: putting constraints in place by the system, within the streams, thinking it knows better than their end-users. Well, maybe not.
Yes, I realise that I am perhaps making a big fuss out of anything. I mean, I am sure that you folks would be able to identify a whole bunch of various different areas of improvement for Google Plus in terms of missing features and capabilities, but, to me, it’s all down to this: can I use it for work? Yes, I know I can use it for personal use, which I have already for a long while, just like any other social networking tool, but, to me, Google Plus was special, because I could also use it for work. Or, at least, that’s what I thought, because, after finding out about that behaviour, I am just not sure anymore. I mean, think of this very same scenario happening with work email…
Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. There is no way that you just can’t miss work related emails, specially, from a customer, or business partner, or from an urgent request from your boss or your fellow colleagues, only to find out the system thought about dropping it out, because it was not that important. Goodness! That would never happen with email. Period. It’s out of the question, even. So why should social networking tools be different? Why can’t we have that opt-in / opt-out option where we, the end-users, the social networkers, get to decide how we would want to process, consume and digest those streams? That’s a fair request, don’t you think?
So what’s going to happen next then, you may be wondering, right? Well, for now, and while I am awaiting for an official answer from Google Plus Help and some other folks, G+ has dropped out to the same level of attention, engagement, involvement and relevancy as plenty of other social networking tools, because no matter how hard you would try it looks like with Google Plus, just like with plenty of others, you will always be missing stuff and, to be frank, if that’s going to happen, I rather prefer to focus my attention elsewhere. It’s not even worth the effort anymore. Does that mean I will be ditching Google Plus for good? No, not yet. Like I said, I like it quite a bit. I am not going to give up on it that easy or that soon, even though I fully realise I will never get an answer from the Help & Support team(s), which is also another one of those issues with all of these public social networking tools on the Open Web. I will continue to make use of it. It’s just that instead of spending a substantial amount of time in it every day, the level of attention has dropped quite a bit, to the point where it no longer has the priority on my external social networking activities as it used to have. That focus is now gone.
And that’s a pity. I know and I fully realise about that. But I guess that’s what happens when you, Google Plus, in this case, make the assumption you can own the filter bubble of those who have given you the mere existence of your own being, ignoring their voices and opinions, thinking you know better than them. Perhaps you don’t, perhaps you shouldn’t have. Perhaps you need to address the issue before I will be coming back. Why? Well, because, amongst several other things, I still want to own the filter bubble. My filter bubble.
Thank you very much.
As I have mentioned in a recent blog post, you would remember how I have now moved into a new job role within IBM, as Lead Social Business Enabler for IBM Connections (both internal and external), where I am much more heavily involved with IBM’s knowledge workers’ own adoption efforts of social business and social technologies. So far, the journey has been incredibly fascinating, if anything, because we are just about to enter the last stage of Social Business Adoption and Enablement: Adaptation. And this is the best part, frankly, I am not really too sure we are ready for it just yet.
If you have been reading this blog for a while now, you would know how I have been involved with social networking tools since early 2000 to 2001 when I was first exposed to instances of wikis and people aggregators. And throughout all of that time I have seen a good number of different tipping points and different phases of adoption that have marked a rather interesting evolution into helping social networking for business become the new fabric, the new DNA, of the company in terms of how we collaborate and share our knowledge. There have been plenty of interesting and relevant challenges, and yet, the toughest is still awaiting us.
Having been involved with social networks inside the company from right at the beginning has given me the opportunity to witness how different waves of adopters have been able to embrace social technologies, at their own pace, in order to help themselves become more collaborative and effective by ways of opening up their knowledge sharing processes. At the same time, it has allowed me to witness how over the course of time those waves of adopters are getting narrower and narrower. Early adopters, first, second, third waves of adopters have all gone through that transformation of how they work and everything. And while there have been some good challenges, I feel the most pressing ones are yet to come. And for two different reasons:
The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics
The first one is that the one or two waves of adopters who still have got to make it across are probably the most intriguing, because they are the ones whom in another blog post I have called The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics. Yes, these are those knowledge workers who have already tried and played with social networking tools in some form or shape, and who have definitely heard and have been exposed to social networking and they weren’t very convinced. In fact, quite the opposite. It just didn’t click for them. They saw it, they dived in, it didn’t meet their needs and wants and they moved on back to where they were.
Slowly, but steadily, they turned themselves into skeptics with the earned right to voice out their concerns, issues and what not, in order to make the point across that they are not going to make the change over, no matter what. At least, for now, or till the point where things have changed and shifted so radically they won’t have a choice anymore.
And while I think you folks may highlight that as a potential issue in terms of the overall social business adoption strategy, it’s perhaps the one group left we should not try to keep convincing of what lies ahead, but let them re-discover it at their own pace and everything, over and over again till it hits, if needed be, at their own time, at their own pace. Indeed, there will always be different waves of adopters and each and everyone of us, social software evangelists, should be ok with that. The sooner we are, the much better of we will all be eventually. If not, we are the ones who have got an issue, because we are just not working hard enough to understand their context and different working styles and adjust accordingly.
Social Business Mandates
The second reason, which is the one that has got me extremely worried at the moment, is that one where we have failed in inspiring to transform our very own knowledge workforce and switched gears thinking that Social Business Transformation can be accelerated by mandating its adoption, whether you, the knowledge worker, like it or not. Yes, I know we are all excited and rather committed to provoke the change, no matter what, even if we decide to go ahead and mandate such shift. But it is just so flawed, it’s scary. Very scary altogether, because it just shows how we haven’t learned much in the last decade.
Social Business transformation is not a project team, it’s not something that you start by date X and you finish it off in a year or two. And then you are done and time for you to move elsewhere. It’s not something that you put together with a group of folks picked up by you to force it down to the rest of the employee workforce, just because you are in one part of the organisation that feels it’s entitled to push down those corporate mandates. Specially, onto those who still haven’t made the switch-over.
It just doesn’t work like that, I am afraid. Even more so when those corporate mandates are pushed down into people’s throats by that executive hierarchical structure understanding they are entitled to do so, just because of who they are and the position they hold. No, I am really sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that. Today’s corporate environment is a whole lot different than what it was 10 to 15 years ago.
In the world of social networking for business it’s never been about mandating and forcing certain behaviours or a specific mindset (That one of Openness, for instance). It has always been a personal, individual choice of the knowledge worker him/herself to have a play, to try things out, to find new ways of working where openness, transparency, trust, etc. become the norm in terms of how we share our knowledge and collaborate effectively together. And it will always be that: *a* personal choice.
So I cringe, and I die a little bit inside as well for that matter, whenever I bump into a group of fellow colleagues who have been mandated by their corporate executive(s) to use social software tools, or, else! Or, even worse, when knowledge workers are expecting to be told / mandated by their management teams that they must do it, or else. Yes, I admit it, it drives me a little bit crazy as well, because it sounds as if they have failed to inspire to transform and, instead, use their position, power and entitlement to enforce it, so that they could put a little checkmark, right next to their yearly performance evaluation, that they have been social and time to move on.
And if there is anything wrong with that is that they have enforced the very same kind of mentality and behaviours that social business has been trying to fight all along: corporate politics, bullying, power struggles and hierarchical clashes. And it gets even worse when they have mandating their team(s) to become social and yet they haven’t even explored it themselves, can’t be bothered arguing all of this social networking stuff was not meant for them or whatever other lame excuse. Whoahhh? Really? Is that what *you* really think?
See? To me, that’s the main key difference between a manager, ruling by command and control using their position of power and entitlement, and a true leader, inspiring a new behaviour, a new mindset, walking the talk, taking the lead, while learning by doing, on what all of these social networking behaviours are all about and which this snapshot shared below (Courtesy of 9GAG) captures it very nicely:
The biggest challenge with all of that is not that senior leadership, no longer believing in the power to transform through being a living example of the shift, but it is actually the folks, right underneath those executives, who execute those orders, because they want to please the command from the ranks above. Never mind thinking about questioning the validity of such assertions, or challenging the status quo of something they know it’s wrong, or even rebelling against it since they know very well it just won’t work. It’s just as if they have drunk so much kook-aid from the whole thing that they are still drunk with it and can’t see anything around them anymore.
And this is where the corporate rebel side of me, the hippie 2.0, the heretic, the outrageous and optimist free radical me is coming back and in full force to fight it back as much as I possibly can, because I feel that if I don’t do it, no-one will question it, and everyone will just basically conform with it. No, we shouldn’t.
We should keep up the fight and help out our leadership, regardless of the company (As I am sure there are plenty of businesses out there going through the very same thing as I get to write these few thoughts), understand their new leadership role, that one of being servant leaders, that one of provoking that social business transformation by themselves and for themselves first, as a personal experience, so that they can comprehend better the new dynamics of engagement, those where “knowledge is power” transforms itself into “knowledge SHARED is power”, where traditional command and control management progresses through into doing is believing leadership.
And this is exactly what excites me about my job, that, 12 years later, I still feel like I am just getting started with my social networking evangelism efforts, that there is just so much more to explore, discover, play with, learn and experience that we are just starting to scratch the surface of the tip of the iceberg. The difference between today and those many years back though, is that I have now got all of those years of additional experience, skills, knowhow, pragmatic way of 2.0 thinking and so forth that I can apply further along that I have finally decided to make the switch from Adoption and move on…
Earlier on this year, you would remember that blog post I put together on me making the move away from Social Business into Open Business, well, a mere 5 months later, I am making the move from Adoption into Adaptation, which I think is much more appropriate for what all of the business world is trying to do with Social Business. We are not doing Adoption per se anymore, specially, driving adoption. Instead, we open up the door to adaptation, where we help knowledge workers adapt to a new way of working, where we become more open by nature, more transparent, more trustworthy, hyperconnected, networked, engaged, participative and so on by doing something we, human beings, have always been very good at: sharing our knowledge.
The Industrial Age neglected our ability to adapt. Instead we became machines; robots and drones capable of putting together a massive amount of silly hours working really hard, without applying too much (critical) thinking, or even questioning the status quo, so that we could just get a pay check at the end of the month, hoping that one of those years we might potentially become part of the executive chain that everyone aspires to because we feel things would be much better. No, they were’t.
Indeed, things never got better for the vast majority, only for the very very few. In fact, they got worse, because with the current work pressures people are behaving even more like corporate drones understanding that if they don’t put enough hours during the work week (7 days a week!) they may get fired altogether together for not being productive enough. How flawed is that? I mean, how can we keep ignoring over 150 years of research on what’s obvious?
Perhaps we should get fired. Maybe we need to go through that massively rude awakening to understand how we need to go back to basics: our very own human nature. They say that we are one of the very few species in this world that can adapt adequately to any given environment, no matter how harsh it may well be. Well, perhaps we may not have adapted well enough to a corporate environment where we have been eaten up alive by the status quo, because we just haven’t challenged it well enough like we have done with other environments.
The difference between last 50 years and now is that for the first time ever, we have got the tools, the social technologies, to help us provoke that transformation of how we do business and how we should behave in the new business world that aims at sustainable growth, equity, parity, earned merit, digital reputation, etc. and how the sooner we may be switch from adoption to adaptation, from corporate mandates to servant leadership, from corporate drones into human beings with an ability to think and make beautiful things, the much better our societies would become as a result of it. Not just for each and everyone of us, but for many future generations to come.
It’s the least we can all do. Adapt for our mere survival as a species. The race has already started a while ago. The clock is ticking and faster than ever… Think, inspire and execute. Don’t waste any more time trying to conform with a status quo that was never meant to be. Challenge it by helping people understand and fully embrace how they can adapt to a new reality. Their own reality.
Remember that life is just too short to have to conform with a status quo you never believed in, nor adapted to, in the first place. It’s now a good time to level up the game and demonstrate what we are all capable of in terms of adapting social business gestures to how we work.
Indeed, doing is believing!
Adaptation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”
I am not too sure whether meetings lower our IQ or whether they make us all more stupid, as my good friend Stowe Boyd reflected on a recent blog post, but I can certainly confirm they do take a toll on your own productivity. Specially, when those meetings are not set up by you, but by everyone else, and therefore making you lose the control, once again, in terms of one of the most precious things all of us, knowledge workers, have that we don’t seem to treasure well enough: Time. Attention management, indeed, is the new currency and it looks like meetings want to keep having that special place in our day to day workload in terms of grabbing most of it: our attention, that is. But perhaps enough is enough. Just like 5 years ago I started challenging the status quo of corporate email with the “A World Without eMail” movement, I think this week it’s a good time to start its follow-up: Life Without Meetings.
I still haven’t settled up on picking up the hashtag I will be using from here onwards to identify the movement (More than happy to read suggestions in the comments, please!), but I am certainly more than willing to getting started with this new initiative, in terms of wanting to improve my own productivity by what appears to be, right now, my biggest time sink while at work: meetings, specially remote meetings. And here is the funny thing. You may be thinking that one of the disadvantages of having moved into this new job as Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM is that I basically spend far too much time meeting up with my new team. Well, that’s not really accurate.
I do meet up with my team, don’t take me wrong, and I enjoy those meetings since they only happen a couple of times here and there per week. In fact, if I were to count the hours I spend on those team meetings it would be probably about 5 to 7 hours per week, which doesn’t sound too bad if I consider the 40 hours of work. Indeed, the issue is not the meetings I have with my immediate team colleagues, but the meetings provoked by everyone else. Specially, from other teams, in other organisations and business units, in other projects with their own agenda, never minding your own. And in this case that is when I do have an issue, because, amongst several other things, they are inconsiderate enough to not be aware of your own work, your own agenda, time, availability and willingness to participate in their projects.
I never use those meeting invite thingies because having a diary full of things that other people are in control of fills me with horror!
— Euan Semple (@euan) April 18, 2013
If you notice, there are plenty of similarities with some of the various different issues that I have highlighted over the last few years in terms of how we keep abusing email through our bad habits and behaviours in a successful effort to try to kill each other’s productivity. Well, apparently, the same thing happens with meetings. Or, perhaps not.
When I was in my previous project I used to average about 10 to 15 hours of meetings per week. Nowadays I am doing between 25 to 30 hours of meetings. About 5 to 7 hours of those are dedicated to team meetings and the rest are remote ones solicited by other teams that want to abuse and take advantage of my reduced attention management span to sneak in. And over the last couple of weeks I am starting to think that the main reason why knowledge workers seem to have an obsession with hosting meetings (Specially, back to back, or what I have learned to call very descriptively as meetings galore) is not that necessarily down to work, but perhaps to a couple of other reasons:
- If you are in the office, meetings are usually put together because you want to see people face to face and play the corresponding political, empowerment and bullying games that you have been taught about really well over the course of time.
- If you are working remotely, like from your home office, or at a customer site, or while travelling, the main reason why people host those remote meetings is because (I know I am going to be very blunt and rather bold on this one, so bear with me) people feel lonely at work, isolated, disengaged with what happens “at the office”, distrusted, disempowered because they are just not there and therefore they provoke those meetings so they can have a good chance at disrupting that and show that they, too, count!
Of course, they do. We all do. But there are different ways of showing and demonstrating that. And perhaps meetings are not the best option anymore. We, human beings, have been stuck in meetings for thousands of years I would think and if you come to consider the huge amount of time we have wasted over the course of time for those meetings, think now about the possibilities and the potential of what we would have done with all of that extra time.
There have been several attempts to try and fix the way we host and conduct meetings in an effort to make them effective. I am sure you, too, may have got your own hints and tips on how to make them work, and I would love to read some more about it in the comments, so feel free to share your best tips. Lately, I am playing myself with a couple of options: creating buffers, participate in meetings no longer than 30 minutes and be ruthless in terms of how many meetings I can participate in during the course of a working day. In my case I set that threshold in 4 hours of meetings per day. Maximum (with the odd exception here and there, of course).
But, apparently, that doesn’t seem to work very well, because I still spend between 25 to 30 hours of meetings per week. Last week, for instance, 26.75 hours were just spent on conference calls participating and hosting meetings. Not good enough, I am afraid. And not good enough not because the meetings may have been rather helpful and useful overall, which they were, but more from the perspective that vast majority of them did *not* need to take place, since we could carry out the work offline and rather effectively.
And this is where I am going to jump in and kick off that movement of “Life Without Meetings“. Because all along I have felt that the vast majority of meetings wouldn’t need to take place if knowledge workers would make a much more effective use of social networking tools for business. You know, All Hands Meetings, Cadence Calls, Weekly Team Meetings, Status Project Reports, Monthly Calls and what not can eventually be conducted and rather effectively through various different social technologies.
Never mind as well how by shifting gears and moving the interactions of those meetings into social networking tools we would have the opportunity to get rid of the two main reasons I mentioned above as to why we are so obsessed with hosting meetings at the moment. You see? We don’t need so show up at meetings to play those political, empowerment and bullying games. We have got work to do. By relying (heavily) on social software tools, if anything, we would never have that strong feeling of being isolated, or ignored, or neglected, as remote employees. Quite the opposite. If there is anything that social networking shines and thrives at is helping us all stay connected, regardless of where we may well be in the world.
And that’s the main reason why I am now ready to kick off this particular initiative where over the course of time I have decided to strive for that goal of seeing the number of meetings I participate in go down to those levels of 10 to 15 hours per week. If I can hit 10 or less, even better. But we have got to get started somewhere, don’t you think? And that’s why from here onwards, and every now and then, depending on the frequency, I will be blogging about different techniques knowledge workers can put in practice to reduce the amount of time they spend in meetings, so that they can carry on with their work. And perhaps I’ll kick things off with a bold statement in terms of sharing with everyone what meetings, to me, should be all about, whether face to face or remote ones: decision making. Anything else, it’s just a waste of time, resources and precious talent that could be working on something much more interesting, relevant, purposeful and meaningful altogether.
So, there! I said it. If you come to think about it, we have spent already a huge amount of time on theorising how we could improve the way we host, both online remote meetings and face to face ones. Everyone seems to have an opinion, or an infographic, as to how to make them better. And that’s just a wonderful thing. I guess what we would need to do next, eventually, is acknowledge that it’s a good time now for action to start re-thinking how we would want to keep hosting and conducting meetings in an effective manner, instead of thinking they are one of most poignant productivity drains within the corporate world. We already know that. Let’s move on. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, get down to work and change the way we get work done through meetings by realising that work does *not* happen when we meet. So how much time do we want to keep wasting away drifting our attention to them instead of figuring out perhaps different ways, methods, techniques of how social / open business tools can help us re-gain our productivity back.
In the recent past, we have already done it for email, so there is no reason, perhaps not even an excuse anymore, why we couldn’t do the same thing for meetings and shape them up the way we would want them to by asking perhaps the first initial key question: What’s the purpose of the meeting? How are you planning on achieving that purpose, and, most importantly, can social technologies help achieve the same goals? Because if they do, there is no need to conduct that meeting any longer. We would then have to redefine again the true meaning of meetings, because the current one is already obsolete, and utterly broken, to match today’s complex collaborative and open knowledge sharing working environment. So, we better get our hands dirty and get down to business. It’s time for us all, knowledge workers, to take back responsibility, buckle up and own them again, as Seth Godin brilliantly quoted not long ago:
“Somewhere along the way, meetings changed into events where we wait for someone to take responsibility (while everyone else dives for cover).
How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.”
Finally, an Open Business without meetings.
I am game! … And you?