Life works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? It comes and goes, never leaving you indifferent. It has got its own way of telling you when to stop, do plenty of thinking about why you were brought here in the first place and hop back into the train we all call the world to move on. I guess this time around though it also had something else in stock for me. Something that has made the writing of this blog post kind of tough and a bit too edgy at the same time, not necessarily for putting it together, but for its implications thereafter. Once again, and probably for the zillionth time already, I am now back to my (no longer) regular blogging schedule and, after nearly two months since the last article I wrote over here, I have got a piece of news to share that may come as a surprise to some of you folks. Maybe. May be not. On January 20th 2014, I quit IBM. On my terms. Since February 4th, I am a now free man. Whatever that means…
Quit a surprise, eh? Yes, I know. It even was a shock for me, too! That’s right. Earlier on this year, to be more precise, on January 20th, I announced, to my former employer, right on the same day when I was celebrating my 17th year anniversary at IBM that I was quitting my job as a Lead Social Business Enabler and that February 3rd would be my last working day. I still can’t believe it myself and I don’t even know whether I may be regretting the decision over time, or not, but it’s now done and dealt with. That can probably explain the main reason why I have been relatively quiet in the last few months out there in the Social Web. It hasn’t been an overnight decision. Quite the opposite, it’s been already in my mind for about two years and all along I have been delaying it, because perhaps I just didn’t want to face it. Perhaps I didn’t want to come to terms with the fact it was time for me to move on.
But then again, signal after signal, conversation after conversation, and lots of thinking in between here and there, certainly help me arrive at the Christmas period where I was on holidays for a full month, away from everything, pondering whether it was the time for me to call it quits and do something else. Move on with my life. Picture me: a blank A4 piece of paper and a pen, two columns, one on pros and the other one on cons about whether I should stay or go, me frantically writing down for a good while on either column and at the very end reaching one rather massive conclusion. Picture this: family members doing the very same exercise without me telling them anything. Just writing down what they may have noticed. We compared notes. We talked. We were all shocked. The conclusions of both exercises were exactly the same. How weird is that? Or, better said, how scarily accurate is that?
It just felt right. It does feel right still. You see?, there is a time when each and everyone of us would come to terms with the fact that we would all need to question what we do with our (work) lives, figure out whether you are on the right track or not, whether we are still driven by the same passion as when we started working (In my case, 17 years ago), whether the motivation to carry on is strong enough to help you continue without deviations. I guess focus is the word I was looking for, you may think, right? Yes, probably, but I am more inclined to think I am looking more for a couple of other words: purpose and meaning.
A mid-(work)life crisis of sorts? Most probably, but then again, feeling all along, it may well have been just the perfect timing altogether. One where serendipity does its magic and helps provoke these happenings, just like that. I know that this may sound crazy, but I have always felt that my entire working career has been defined and shaped up by serendipity. And this time around was no different. Things happen for a reason. Always. No matter what. It’s just a matter, for each and everyone of us, to figure out whether we can see it or not. Oh, don’t worry, I am still currently going through that process myself, but I am now more convinced than ever before that it’s time for me to move on…
17 long years at the largest IT firm in the world can give you plenty of stretch to do and experience lots of different things. I feel privileged to have lived through that. In those 17 years at IBM I have worked in 6 different business units, with their own 6 different cultures, challenges and exciting opportunities, making them feel like as if I had 6 jobs already at any other place. I have had the opportunity, and the great pleasure, to work with some of the most amazing talented people I know. In fact, they are the only and exclusive reason as to why yours truly, an English teacher, after all, has been working for an IT firm for over 17 years while loathing technology to bits. No, I am not a techie and nor will I be pursuing a long term career in that field. I am all about the people. For the people. I am a connector. And when you feel that work for the people is now done and dealt with, it’s time to move on. On to the next adventure.
I am incredibly thankful, an equally grateful altogether, for all of the wonderful 17 years that I have spent at IBM. I haven’t got a single regret. There have been highs and lows, I guess pretty much the same as for plenty of you folks out there. I have had some absolutely stunning and beautiful work experiences working in an environment where a crazy idea, executed with lots of passion and brain, can change your life for good. And IBM has been a key enabler of that. The people. It’s what motivates me to come to work every day. Day in, day out. It’s what motivates me to have a smile on my face, to always try to be helpful, empathic, full of energy and passion, keen on both sharing my knowledge openly and learn from others at the same time. I guess that’s when the customer service skills course I did way back in time does pay off eventually.
But at some point, you realise that you start deviating from that people focus into something else. Something that you know, and see, it’s totally not you. Something I know plenty of you folks would be able to relate to, something that drains your energy out of you with no remedy taking away all of that passion and motivation to carry on. To help and care for others. And, that’s right, before it’s too late, you realise it’s the right time to make a move, to re-find your passion, your engagement, your motivation to push forward and, with a bit of courage and some bravery, embrace the unknown: quit your job:
— Luis Suarez (@elsua) January 23, 2014
That was the tweet I shared across a couple of days later, where I announced to my world that rather unexpected change. Then it all got rather emotional and intense, as you can imagine. The responses both on the Twittersphere, as well as internally, have been truly AMAZING! I have felt, in massive waves, all the love from those who I have cared for and helped dearly over the course of the years. And it hasn’t been easy adjusting to the new reality.
In fact, this is my first blog post writing about it (Other than that tweet). But then you realise that in the world of the Social Web, you are not going away from people, you are just breaking up the firewall, while trying to help all of those folks embrace that notion that networks are *not* organisations. They are porous, they don’t understand, nor comprehend, nor even care!, about what organisation you work for, or which one would pay your bills. Your networks would only care about you and your well-being based on how much you have nurtured and cultivated them over time. Your networks become you. You become your networks. All one. Your one. No-one else’s.
And then you realise that your departure is no longer painful anymore, nor sad, nor shocking. You then realise as well how it is all a big, massive celebration of freedom. You are no longer trapped. The wild duck continues with its journey. It’s just the new reality. Networks are the new swarms. And you are just an integral part of them and whatever physical and virtual barriers they are no longer an issue. They just don’t exist. You are part of that system of networks. And the journey continues. That’s where I am at the moment.
I am pretty sure that plenty of you folks are now wondering what I will be doing next, where will this wild-duck go this time around? What is he going to do with his new freedom? What’s that new adventure he keeps talking about and hinting here and there with somewhat cryptic and obscure hints? Will he continue working in a large corporate environment helping people adapt to that brave new world of becoming a Social / Open Business? Perhaps giving it a go at a startup? Or maybe going solo? Or will he open up this rather lovely lounge bar called Sunset Cafe right where he lives offering delicious cakes and refreshing cocktails? What will he do? What would you do?
The uncertainty is killing us.
Don’t worry. That same uncertainty is going after me as well. It keeps lingering at the back of my mind. And some times it grabs me badly reminding whether I have made the right decision or not. Whether it was all a mistake. Whether I will regret it over time. But then again that inner urge and intuition of letting serendipity do its magic, of bringing back the passion for what you have always believed in, and the excitement of that newly embraced freedom to focus on re-finding your purpose and meaning on what you do, they all do help mitigate some of that uncertainty. Either way, this is the first of a series of blog posts I will be sharing in the next couple of days of what and where to next. For now, a teaser: it’s going to be something completely different to what I have been experiencing over the course of the last 17 years, and therefore a completely new learning experience.
One where I am hoping my hybrid networks (internal and external) would become an integral part of to help us all continue learning along the way on what our purpose and meaning may have been all along…
Let the next adventure begin!
I have been a remote knowledge (Web) worker for almost 10 years now (Back in November 2003, when I was still living in The Netherlands) and over the course of time, while I shifted from European based projects into worldwide ones I have been doing plenty of adjusting of work schedules to meet the demands of work and therefore become a night owl of sorts, but at the same time ensuring that work life integration is there, right from the start. It’s been an interesting journey all along and even more so when it has given me the opportunity to live fully key concepts like flexibility and negotiation in a collaborative workplace. Well, it’s now a good time perhaps to take things into the next level and become an early bird, once again.
Indeed, for a good number of years I used to be an early riser, and I mean, a really early one! However, and like I mentioned above, over the course of time, and as I have shifted into more global working schedules, I became more of a night owl, starting work at around noon, my local timezone, and then finish work related items late in the evening, never mind adding up after-work related activities, of course. All in all work life integration has always been a key theme for yours truly, since I have never believed in the so-called work life balance that plenty of people have been talking and writing about for a long time, more than anything else, because I have always believed, and rather strongly, that balance is just a myth. Why? Well, because work always wins.
What I am finding truly fascinating from this journey as a remote knowledge (Web) worker is how time and time again we all get to redefine and redesign our very own work habits and mindset to meet up a new set of behaviours that would allow us reach our business goals: mainly, get work done in both an effective and productive manner through the use of social technologies. You know, the good old mantra I have been talking about over here for a while now around working smarter, not necessarily harder. But what happens when, all of a sudden, everything gets disrupted because you end up finding out it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with both worlds: internal and external? Is that something that has happened to you all as well?
What I mean with that is simply how ever since I moved into this new role as Lead Social Business Enabler for IBM Connections within the CIO organisation, my external participation on social networking tools has become more and more scarce, not necessarily because of a time issue, or intent, or motivation, or willingness to do it. But more than anything else because both my brain and body seem to have had enough with it all. No, don’t worry, this is not a blog post where I am going to announce I am going to give up on external social networking activities. This is more of an article to reflect how the time that I used to allocate for those external activities needs to shift accordingly to match a new reality: at the end of the day, both my body and my brain are just wonderfully fried.
Why? Well, because I am loving what I am doing. I am having a blast helping my company understand and embrace that new brave world of Social / Open Business. I am enjoying tremendously the huge amount of interactions I have daily helping fellow colleagues adjust their habits and mindset, and eventually adapt to a new set of behaviours, a new wave of interactions to do business, where they themselves become more open, collaborative and transparent on what they do. And it’s that passion that shines through that keeps me going at a rather full throttle pace that some times it’s hard to keep up with. The immediate result? At the end of my work day, I am wonderfully exhausted.
Indeed, it just doesn’t feel like work, this job role is truly aligned with my core values, even if that means that I get to fully challenge each and everyone of them, on a regular basis, in terms of what I have always believed over the course of last 13 years around social networking for business, so, yes, I am very willing to suffer as a passionate method into learning how everything flows around me and those I interact with, understanding fully where the limits may well be in terms of commitment, involvement, engagement and what not. Hopefully, it does get noticed as time moves on realising how pretty much that exhaustion, that fulfilment, that readiness to come back tomorrow for more pretty much drives what I do nowadays.
You could say that I have turned myself from a first thinker (around 2.0 matters) into a powerhouse practitioner in full mode for executing, and walking the talk, on the Social / Open Business mantras and philosophy. Am I enjoying it? Yes, you bet! I surely am! Is it having a price, a toll, on yours truly? Yes, it is! At least, on my external personal, digital brand / footprint. Am I really willing to sacrifice it for the greater good, i.e. helping everyone else get there? Yes, very much so! That was one of the main reasons why I took this new job in the first place! Will it mean that over time I will keep fading away till I pretty much disappear from the Social Web? I just don’t know. I haven’t explored that yet, or the implications of such thought, but I do sense how I am slowly going into oblivion, to the point that I am not too sure anymore I may be able to recover that external social presence anymore to what it used to be. I guess I will have to take that risk and, yes!, I am willing to take it. It’s perhaps all what I have got left, if I would want to grow further along on that learning path of becoming a fully engaged and empowered knowledge Web worker.
The trade-off is huge and rather risky, but quite an adrenaline rush all along. At the same time, I feel though how I am starting to miss those thinking times where you would pause and reflect on what’s happening around you, that is, your own thought leadership, in order to develop some ideas around it and share it across with everyone else to keep improving things for you and, hopefully, for everyone else. Yes, I am starting to miss that thinking time for reflection. Why? Mainly, because as soon as I start my working day at my home office, there is no time for a pause, or a breather. A constant influx of internal social interactions, instant messages, phone calls, videoconferences, meetings, conference calls, *cough* email *cough* , etc. etc. you name it, take over and by the time it’s all done and dealt with both my body and brain are so exhausted that I cannot longer think and reflect properly to interact in a meaningful way out there on the Social Web in conversations where I would want to share my ¢2 and still make sense out of it.
So I just go elsewhere and do other things, typically, what most people would flag as private quality time with your family, friends and relatives. Basically, enjoy the other side of life. Still my external social presence gets to suffer on this one quite a bit, because that time that I had allocated for those external social interactions is now a thing of the past, since it is used for something else now. Still, like I mentioned above, I do miss the thinking times around Social / Open Business, perhaps as an opportunity for yours truly to keep advancing and learning plenty more, since we are just at the tip of the iceberg, right at the beginning, of this fascinating business transformation journey. Thus time to take action then, I suppose: become an early riser!
Indeed, there have been a good and rather extensive, varied number of different articles, blog posts, dissertations, research and what not, that talk about the various different perks of being an early riser. All packed with plenty of helpful, practical and rather relevant hints and tips on how to make it work accordingly. Well, to me, there will be a new one out there that I would be adding into the mix: my own thinking time.
Indeed, that time where you just kick things off with your day, where you just focus on what you would want to do, that may not necessarily be even work related, but that can certainly give you that opportunity to work on something you would want for yourself in terms of your own thought leadership, effectiveness at achieving something or just plainly personal productivity. In my case, an opportunity to pause and reflect on interesting and rather inspiring links I may bump into from my various different social networks or perhaps an opportunity to blog on a more regular basis, shorter pieces, maybe, as I will just be capable of focusing on that particular writing activity without constantly being pulled off in multiple directions.
Somehow I feel rather enticed by the idea of whether I can change my own habits from being a night owl into an early bird. To see whether I can regain that productive time (not related to my internal work) to focus on my external social presence and to whatever the level. Remember, no need to be constantly over-sharing stuff all over the place without thinking the potential purpose and additional for that activity, i.e. your audience and yourself. I can see how some times I may be able to spend the odd hour here and there, perhaps two!, or may be just 30 minutes, or even less, after all, don’t forget that we are all in here for the long run, so the important thing is just to kick things off, learn from that new experience and I guess that with this blog post I have just done that!
So, any other early risers on my external social networks … ?
It has been nearly two weeks since the last post that I put over here in this blog, so I am sure that plenty of you folks out there may have been thinking I have been on holidays, or taking the typical summer break, and that at some point in time I may well be coming back to blogging on a regular basis, along with picking up my external social networking activities. Well, not really. I have just concluded, and be dealt with for good, I hope, what I think is the first time ever in my 13 years of social software exposure what I never thought I would be confronting: a week of denial of the Social Web.
Goodness! That was intense. Indeed, to the point where it nearly broke me apart and made me gave up on the whole thing altogether. Those who know me well, specially, fellow colleagues, know that the last two to three weeks have been incredibly emotional at work and with quite a draining toll that I don’t even have the energy just yet to write about. And those two last weeks of July finally paid off with this last week of denial for the Social Web where I just basically withdrew from the whole thing. And it was painful. Very painful. And it was ugly. Very ugly. With the end result that at the end of the day I just had to bounce back. That’s just what passion does for you, I guess. It lets you go through your odd moments of weakness, so you can do plenty of thinking and reflection on what’s going on with you, your surroundings and whatever else you may be interested or rather passionate about, to then help you re-focus and bring back the phoenix in you, restore the faith, restore the commitment, the urge, the purpose and meaning of wanting to still make a difference and, in a blink, just like it started, that week of denial is just gone. Gone to never return!
Perhaps what kicked off that week of denial was that article I put over here under the heading “Google Plus – Who Owns the Filter Bubble?“, more than anything else, because my last haven for hope for the Social Web out there just vanished into becoming what most social networking tools are nowadays at best: vulgar and ordinary, just to help us continue being stoned with that digital bliss where it seems to be the only model that works is to have you glued to your computing device(s) hitting refresh constantly, so that you wouldn’t miss a single thing happening from what’s delivered to you by those so-called social networking providers that keep claiming they know better than yourself what you need, when they themselves refuse to engage or provide you with support, thinking that, after all, you are just that, the mob. And you know how it goes. We don’t talk to the mob. We just keep it entertained and hooked, so that we can get away with our own agenda(s). Well, I have got news for all of you. Enough is enough. It’s time to wake up, everyone! There is just a whole lot more in life than just being an ignored product of the system. Life is too precious to waste it just like that.
See? The reason why all of these social networking tools are so popular with 2.0 practitioners is not necessarily because of the technology, which is, as I have said above already, rather vulgar, ordinary and miserable, if, as a result of it, your own health is at risk. It’s actually the people who keep dragging us all into the whole thing. Vast majority of practitioners don’t really care what features a social networking tool may well have or not, if the community is there. You stick around because those people who you have built wonderful personal (business) relationships with over the course of time they keep coming back, just like you do. That’s actually one of the reasons why I haven’t been actively sharing content across, but I have been observing how my networks have been interacting during that week, without me, and, interestingly enough, things have changed quite a bit and not sure it’s for the better. But I think I may know why that’s happening, because I am starting to see it at work as well. And it’s not pretty.
A couple of days back, I celebrated my fourth month on the new job as a Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM and it just feels like such a long long time ago already. I guess time flies when you are still having lots of good fun enjoying what you do the most: enabling and helping practitioners adapt to a new way of working where collaboration and knowledge sharing through social technologies take a new meaning by becoming more open, trustworthy, public and transparent. Essentially, more effective and productive at the same time by understanding that the corporate world is no longer ruled by the scarcity of knowledge stocks but by the abundance of knowledge flows through multiple social networks.
The thing is though that, while I have been getting more and more involved with the new job, where scalability has taken a new meaning for me, I have had a chance to witness, and experienced fully!, how the 2.0 bubble I may have lived in for the last 6 to 8 years may have already burst. For good. Why? Well, for multiple different reasons that I am going to be blogging about over the course of time, but mainly because of a single one to kick things off: knowledge workers are no longer allowed to Play, Learn, Work, as my good friend, Harold Jarche blogged about beautifully just recently. No, they are not. They are just told, advised, and encouraged to just carry on their work into exhaustion, as if they were androids. And what would you expect they would do? Indeed, they have, eventually, become commoditised robotic entities that do their work and once those resources are no longer deemed helpful or relevant they are easily disposed of.
It’s certainly, extremely worrying, how all of that passion, enthusiasm, energy, and huge effort by early adopters and first thinkers on helping set the stage, act as pathfinders, provide the initial roads to get started with that wonderful journey of becoming a Social / Open Business are now things of the past. That’s what I have been noticing these past few days while going through that stage of denial of the Social Web. You see? People nowadays are just putting check marks on their massively ever growing to-do lists that they have tweeted, plussed, facebooked, linkedined and what not, so that they can move back into their real work: the one that doesn’t require critical, constructive thinking, engaging, conversing, caring, or helping others and so forth for that matter. Essentially, people are back to what has gotten them to the stage of being androids: their meetings and email Inboxes. Those wonderful hide-out places where you can just get by, good enough, pretending you are working, when you know you aren’t. But, hey, that’s what your boss wants you to do, right? Why change? Why bother? Why trying to look for new, better, more effective ways of working if your boss and your senior management / leadership team(s) keep accumulating fatter and fatter bonuses anyway? You know, you are just sitting inside of your own little mental cubicle, your own comfort zone, that one that doesn’t require you to think much in order to go through 12 to 14 hours of hard automated work each day for who knows what business value.
It’s really interesting to see what you get to learn when you start questioning everything you have believed in over the course of the last 13 years, in this case, for me, around social networking, but even more interesting when instead of going into broadcasting mode, that is, that industrialisation of your social activities, just like everyone else is doing, you decide to pause and reflect and see how people really interact. Don’t worry, you won’t have to look into it with much detail. Actually, people just don’t interact anymore. They post whatever they have been told they need to share across, or, even better, they scheduled it all, so that they don’t have to leave their Inboxes and really important meetings, then they place the check marks on their to-do lists and the whole thing dies. Right there. But, you know, that’s all right, because they have done their work already, that is, put a check mark in their lovely spreadsheet, so that it all shows lovely green even though no-one else would be looking into it anyway.
You see? This is what’s happening right now. And not just externally, but also internally, behind the firewall, with all of those Enterprise Social Networking tools and across the corporate world. We have defaulted to stop learning, to stop with all the play and, eventually, we have stopped to do our real work more effectively (The work we are truly passionate about), when we all know we can deliver and so much more, but, yet, we don’t, because we no longer feel engaged employees anymore and our managers, bosses and senior leadership teams are right there ready to remind us through our monthly paychecks and bonuses what happens when you are not heads down supposedly.
Exhaustion and overwork, but, specially, fear (I will be blogging plenty more about this one, not to worry), are not helping people go out and play with other fellow social networkers, in order to promote and engage on meaningful conversations to get work done. Instead, people just keep putting on more and more hours of work, just because they want to keep up with those extra work pressures that have been imposed on them, as they wouldn’t want to lag behind their colleagues. See the trend? It gets better. Managers and senior leadership only care about how much money you have made for them today. Anything else is redundant and they will keep reminding you of it, in case you didn’t deliver the fat bonuses to their front door. So when they come to you telling you you need to be social they all make it look like it is, yet again, another spreadsheet to fill-in, put the checkmarks in place and move on. It’s easier to manage individuals as exhausted and overworked androids than to treasure and nurture powerful networks that thrive in free flows of knowledge where the hierarchy is no longer the one that calls the shots anymore. You need to earn both the merit and your reputation with total strangers. Every day. Every single day of the year. Year in, year out. And that’s pretty though, you know, specially, when you are not used to. So what do you do?
Very simple. The same good old thing you have been doing all along, except that at the moment you have got a new spreadsheet with a bunch of to-dos where it says “Be social or else. Spread around my own messages, so I don’t have to do the homework. Represent the brand according to the corporate branding guidelines, never mind your own personal brand, we don’t care, and, above all, ensure our customers know about our same good old messages, because we still know more than they do“. Whoahhh! I know! That’s what I keep seeing, more often than not, when I hang out on both internal and external social networking tools nowadays as I watch, learn and observe how people pretend to interact on the Social Web.
My goodness! Where did we go wrong?!?! How could we possibly waste 6 to 8 years of some wonderfully inspiring 2.0 thought leadership that we knew was going to change the business world for good? Where did we get off the train? Why have we stopped this absolutely inspirational journey to go out there and keep making a difference? And instead go back right into our comfort zones, our spreadsheets, meetings and email, where little thinking is required and minimum action is encouraged so managing things still is relatively easy.
Exactly, that’s why I needed to finish off with my own week in denial of the Social Web. That’s why I needed, I wanted it!, to bounce back. I had enough of it. It was just killing me to witness how all around me, both inside and, most worryingly outside!, over the course of the last three weeks, I have spent far too much time experiencing what that exhaustive, overworked, under pressured work mentality can do to the corporate world. To all of us, me included. And, in essence, it’s managing to do one thing very well: kill all of our passion, all of our critical thinking skills, because we just want to fit in, all of our motivation and purpose to want to do interesting and relevant things, and, eventually, become, at long last, an engaged employee.
That’s why instead of giving up on it altogether and move on with the flow (with that rather dangerous inertia of just wanting to blend in, not being noticed) I decided, over the weakend (while I have been on full recovery mode from some rather exhaustive and emotional work experiences through multiple interactions with the business 1.0 world, but equally inspiring and rather thought provoking – I am really looking forward to blog some more about) to … bounce back!
To keep up the fight. Because, amongst several other things, there can be no resilience without transformation. And this is what it is all about, folks: transformation and our ability to shake up everything we have been experiencing and living over the course of the last 150 years and realise that in order for us, knowledge workers, to survive in today’s corporate environment, the sooner we adapt to living the values and philosophy of Social / Open Business and how they apply to how we work, the sooner we will finally transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live. And that’s just so important.
Why? Well, because since a few years back it’s a matter of our own mere survival: that one of the Knowledge Web Worker, finally, fully embracing that digital transformation we all keep talking about, but that we keep seeing slipping away from our fingers time and time again, because we refuse to change.
Change is hard, I think we all know that, but it’s now time to take a new grip. And don’t let go. Play, Learn and Work like you have never done before! It has always been part of our human nature, an integral part of who we are, so we might as well awaken ourselves and embrace what’s inevitable: our very own human digital transformation.
Boy, I am game. And you?