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

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The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MogánA little while ago Courtney Hunt, from the talented Denovati Group, reached out to me through Twitter, and then LinkedIn, to ask me whether I would like to contribute to a book project they are working on to go and celebrate the World Wide Web’s Coming of Age, since this year, 2014, we all, collectively, celebrate its 25th anniversary. Yes, I know, I couldn’t just reject such kind, generous and overall wonderful opportunity, as I am sure you would all agree with me on how much we owe Sir Tim Berners-Lee for such life changing invention with a huge impact on each and everyone of us, not just in a work context, but also in our personal lives and our society. I mean, could you possibly imagine a Life Without the WWW today? I know I couldn’t, and that’s why I thought about participating further along to that effort with my humble contribution, as a token of immense gratitude for a lifetime transformation journey from, once being a technophobe, back in the day, into, nowadays, truly loving the enablement power of the Web that’s helping us regain our very own essence: our humanity.

What you will find attached below, since it is already now publicly available at the Denovati Group Web site, is the book chapter that I submitted where I reflected on my own overall experiences and interactions with the World Wide Web from over the course of the last 17 years that I have been actively making the most out of it, day in day out. It hasn’t been an easy task to do, more than anything else, because there have been so many anecdotes, stories, life changing experiences and good overall transformation all around that I eventually decided to just focus on what I feel is perhaps the most profound impact that the World Wide Web has had in yours truly over the course of the last 15 years. Of course, I am talking about the Social Web and I am sure, as you continue to read further along, that you would probably be envisioning what single experience I picked up to reflect further on that would describe that shift from hating technology / computing (back in my high school years) to absolutely loving the WWW for what has done not just for me as a knowledge (Web) worker, but also for everyone else, for that matter. 

The title of the article / book chapter is “The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist” and you would be able to find it as well over here. However, since it has been out already for a good few days I thought I would also take the liberty to reproduce it over in this blog as an opportunity for me to reflect and continue to celebrate perhaps one of the most profound and of deep impact inventions in the history of the human race on this planet. Most probably, at the very same level as the invention of the Printing Press, if not even more significant. 

Thus, without much further ado, here’s the article, on its entirety, reproduced below:

“There was a time when I didn’t quite like technology. Back in my high school years, computing was one of the subjects that I kept struggling with time and time again. Eventually I gave up on it. You could say I was a bit of a technophobe. I moved on to a career in humanities instead. Fast forward to 2014 and today I wouldn’t be able to get by without the World Wide Web. What happened then? Well, transformation is what happened. The Internet changed my life 17 years ago, and my relationship with it is still going strong.

On January 20th, 1997, I started working for the largest IT firm in the world, IBM. From the very beginning, at the infancy of the World Wide Web, I realised that perhaps my high school experiences with computing didn’t provide the best foundation for my relationship with technology, and maybe I needed to move forward and restart with a clean slate. That’s when the transformation journey commenced.

As time went by, I started to get more and more heavily involved with technology. It all began for me with customer service – first the mainframe, then PCs, then ultimately the Internet. It was in 2000, when I was exposed for the first time to something called “wikis,” that I had that aha moment, realising how the Web – the Social Web that was then only just getting started – would change us all for good, whether in our personal or work lives. There would be no turning back.

That was the time when I realised the key, paramount role that technology and the Web would play in helping us collaborate and share our knowledge much more effectively in the workplace. It was that time as well when I realised that, if anything, the main purpose for the Web was to help us connect, build relationships, collaborate more effectively and eventually do our jobs better. The Web as an enabler – a very powerful enabler, reflecting a fundamental shift in terms of how we would get our work done, how critical remote, virtual collaboration would become over the course of time. How hoarding and protecting your own knowledge would be very limited in the long run. And, instead, how sharing it openly and transparently, through the (Social) Web, would give us an opportunity to change how the business world works – and for that matter, society as a whole.

During those early years, as I got more heavily involved with wikis, profile aggregators, blogs, social bookmarks, file sharing, podcasting, tagging, messaging, and various other key elements from the so-called Web 2.0, I continued to nurture the excitement of how technology would have a much more significant impact than anything we may have witnessed over the course of the last few centuries. And so I became a Social Computing Evangelist.

It’s not an easy task to help people understand how they can benefit from the Web, especially all the various social networking tools, but I have learned over the course of time that the job of a social computing evangelist becomes a whole lot easier when you practice what you preach. That’s essentially when people will start noticing the potential impact of the Web, when they can see it working in real day-to-day work interactions not just for the benefit of a few, but for everyone. That’s why, after years of evangelising about the enabling capabilities of the Social Web, I decided to take things to the next level and make it an integral part of my work and personal lives.

Email has been with us for over 40 years, and most people would probably tell you they couldn’t live without it. It’s become so integral to how we share information, stay in touch, get work done, etc. that to imagine a world without email would be probably more of a nightmare than anything else. Well, that’s exactly what I did – I not only imagined a world without email, I lived in it!

In February 2008, after 8 years of evangelising about the power of social networking, both in a work and life context, I decided it was a good time to put my actions where my words were. To help demonstrate what the Social Web was capable of, I decided to tell the whole world that I would no longer use email in a corporate environment to get work done and collaborate with my peers. It was pretty much like that already in my personal life, where the vast majority of my interactions happened through the Web, so I figured I might as well give it a try at work and see how it would play out.

Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. You know, “How are you going to survive in a large corporate environment without using email?” they would say. “There is a great chance that you would end up getting fired if you continue pursuing that unrealistic idea,” they added. Yet I was convinced more than ever that the move would open the door to a new reality of sharing, caring, and helping one another, which is essentially what the Social Web has been enabling all along. And as stubborn as I am, I decided to continue pulling it off to see where it would take me.

Initially, plenty of people thought that I just wanted to kill email, ban it for good, get rid of it, annihilate it from the corporate workplace. I must confess that back then I too had those thoughts. However, things didn’t work out that way. Throughout all of those years of living a “Life Without Email” I realised that I didn’t want to kill the tool, or the system. I just wanted to improve the way we work together, as a team, as a network, as a community. And that’s when it all turned into helping people understand how this movement I founded over 6 years ago had then a single premise: open up to a new world of interactions, of connections, of serendipitous knowledge discoveries that, sooner or later, would affect the way we work and eventually become the new norm: an interconnected, hypernetworked (business) world.

The Web is a wonderful thing, especially the Social Web. We owe a great deal to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for helping change our lives forever. Indeed, all of these social media capabilities have helped us generate that conscious collective knowledge of wanting to do wonderful things, of repurposing and creating a new meaning for what we do with our daily lives: connectedness. It’s developed an ability to regenerate our empathy by caring and helping one another that we humans can’t just deny, neglect or ignore. We have been born with an innate urge to help each other when in need. It’s in our genes. Part of our DNA, our social fabric.

And that’s what makes the Web so special. It’s got that ability to help us humanise ourselves, to remind us all tof our ability to connect, share and build relationships with others no matter where they may be in this world. And that’s exactly the journey I started over 17 years ago, a journey that has proved how an initial dislike of technology (from my high school years) can turn itself into an unprecedented love of technology. The Web is helping us regain our very own sense of humanity: that of belonging to the group, our tribe. The one with which we can make the world a better place. One human at a time. Not just for us, or our children, but for our children’s children.

That’s the legacy the Web will be leaving behind. That’s our legacy: leave this world a better place than we found it. The Internet is us, we are the Internet. And all of that, without using a single email but through the power of the Connected, Social Web.

Hello, my name is Luis Suarez, a.k.a. @elsua. I am one of the billions of netizens out there… Are we connected yet?”

Happy anniversary, our very dear World Wide Web! May you keep flourishing for many, many decades to come!

We don’t need no regulation.
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall


Written by Luis Suarez

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

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There Can Be No Resilience Without Transformation

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringIt 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.Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Spring

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, plussedfacebooked, 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. 

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Spring 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!

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringTo 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? 

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Life Without eMail – Year 6, Weeks 21 to 24 – (Newcomer Challenging for King Email’s Crown)

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the WinterAfter having just returned from another business trip to the US (Westford, MA, this time around, to participate on a client workshop on Social Business and Knowledge Management to figure out whether they could blend and become one and the same, but more on that one later on…), I guess it’s probably a good time now to share another blog post over here on that progress report around Life Without eMail, specially, after my last article on the topic, where I was mentioning what it was like going back to basics through that massive hard reset I experienced earlier on this year. I am sure plenty of folks are wondering where I am with it today and whether I am back on track, or not, right? Well, yes, I surely am! In fact, today’s entry will be about a Newcomer Challenging for King eMail’s Crown

If you would remember, about a month ago, I put together the last progress report to date where I was indicating how for the first 20 weeks of year 6 of Life Without eMail I was noticing a rather steep increase in the incoming number of emails received. Nothing to do much with the fact I moved on to another job (Although it contributed as well somewhat!), but, essentially, that intriguing trend of how both my social networking activities, as well as my incoming email, grew up further along hand in hand highlighting perhaps another interesting trend I have noticed as of late: over-sharing of information and knowledge all over the place, just for the sake of making yourself visible and ensure everyone knows you are out there, working really hard, whether on social spaces or in email, so that people would not jump into the wrong conclusions of you slacking off while at work. I guess tough times and work pressures are kicking in stronger and harder than I ever thought they would. 

And while email seems to be Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online (Very worth while reading Wired article, by the way, on the power of email in terms of its successful conversion rates vs. what social networking tools out there are doing), we should not forget though how emailing gives us all a false sense of progress. And if there is anything that I have learned during the course of the last few weeks from year 6 of having ditched corporate email is that realisation that I am now more convinced than ever about the paramount role that social networking tools will play in a business context in terms of how we share our knowledge and collaborate helping accelerate both our innovation efforts and our decision making processes, to the point where email still is a massive disruptor of that free flow of knowledge and information across the board. And it shouldn’t be. 

Indeed, email fosters closed, private, secretive interactions amongst a few people, what I have been flagging all along as sharing your knowledge across on a need to know basis vs. what social networking tools do, which is promote that wonderfully inspiring mantra of default to open. It’s been rather interesting to note as well how email is pretty much used nowadays as a way of managing your employees and your knowledge workflows vs. perhaps walking along the virtual aisles of social networks to find out what your team members are doing in terms of opening up the conversations, narrating their work or working out loud. And all of that without having to even ask a single question once. Somehow the latter approach sounds so much more of an effective use of our time than the selfish, egotistical use of email just to fit our own individual purpose(s).

So while that transformation keeps taking place I am sure you may be wondering what has happened in the last 4 weeks since the last progress report I shared over here, right? Well, like I hinted above, at the beginning of this article, things are slowly, but steadily, coming back on track. As you can see from the attached snapshot, after the massive peak of email activity for Week 20, with the highest amount of incoming emails for a single week that I can remember in years!, there has been a steady decrease on the amount of emails received for the following four weeks, which I can think can only be, but some really good news. For a moment, I thought all of that hard work of over the course of the last 6 years around Life Without eMail was just gone! Well, not really. We were just having a break, apparently…

 Life Without eMail - Year 6, Weeks 21 to 24

As you can see, the average amount of incoming emails is still sitting on 31.2 per week, which is pretty much the very same volume of incoming email that I was receiving back in 2009, but the good news is that over the last four weeks you will see a decrease on the total amount of emails received, and that is a good sign that things are going back to normal, the new normal: a Life Without eMail.

Yes, this year it may well have been a bit of a bumpy road, but that’s a good thing, because, amongst several other things, it’s allowed me to revisit, review and reposition the whole movement since I started it, and, if anything, I have also learned that I may have gone back to levels of email activity as I had them in 2009, but I have got plenty of years of first hand experiences of how to turn it back on the right track, once again, by living social, by living Open. And I know I am not just ready yet to let things go away like that forgetting everything we have done in the recent past. There is still a good fight out there to go for. One where we transition from closed systems of record into open systems of engagement. One where we continue walking the talk, leading by example on what really matters: a much more purposeful, meaningful work where openness and transparency through social networking tools help us all become more effective and eventually more productive at what we do, i.e. get our work done collectively as teams, networks and communities. And that can only be a good thing for businesses that want to promote sustainable growth as their primal reason for survival in today’s Knowledge Economy. After all, when was the last time that you could do your job without the help or support from your (extended) team(s)?

And talking about that Openness and Transparency, I just couldn’t help closing off this progress report post sharing across a recent article I had the privilege, and true honour, of writing it for The Times where I basically shared some additional insights in terms of how king email’s crown is getting more and more challenged by the day by a certain newcomer that’s transforming the way we work: social networking for business. Indeed, over at The Social Business report, pages 12 and 13, you would be able to read “Newcomer Challenging for King Email’s Crown” where I mentioned the larger impact all of these social technologies are having around how we get work done in a business environment nowadays:

Social sharing, when occurring in the workplace, is becoming more focused, purposeful and is making a meaningful contribution to productivity. […] 

Knowledge workers are more comfortable with sharing work-related items in the open, but they are also encouraging transparent working. There is an understanding that the more business-related information available out there for practitioners to benefit from, the better the decision-making. It is increasing the ability to share responsibility and accountability

Yes, I know, I just couldn’t help teasing you all with a couple of paragraphs from that article, so that, if you would be interested, you could have a look and read on, specially, if you are keen on finding out plenty more how that openness and transparency are challenging the traditional role of management, decision making, knowledge sharing and, eventually, executing work. Resulting, all in all, in helping us address what I still think is the number #1 business problem of today’s corporate world: employee engagement

Because, after all: 

Socially integrated enterprises have been empowering happy employees to create delighted customers, all through the clever use of digital tools. Social technologies have just become the new overlord. It’s about time.

[Oh, and before I forget, here’s a friendly reminder, in case you may want to find out further more, to come and join us at the Life Without eMail Google Plus Community where a bunch of us (Including the coiner of the well known mantra I have been reusing for years > “eMail is where knowledge goes to die”) have been having some rather interesting, refreshing and thought provoking conversations of how social technologies are reshaping the workplace by helping email repurpose itself into better things…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you will join us! 

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Connectivity – The Achilles Heel of Remote Knowledge Web Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No exceptions. 

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Meet Your New CEO – Your Kid

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MoganSummer time is usually one of the busiest times of the year for me in terms of extra curricular work related activities. I know that this may sound a bit weird, but it’s actually rather accurate. While most folks keep enjoying their summer vacation, or a relatively quieter time anyway, my busyness increases a notch or two! And it’s actually quite fine. I have been enjoying it for a good few years already, more than anything else, because of a particular activity that helps me advance forward and take a good peek into what the workplace of the future would be like in the next 10 to 15 years, where I am hoping I’ll still be employed by then. And what activity would that one be? -you may be wondering, right? Well, engaging with the next breed of Leaders: (young) students working through their PhDs thesis on Social Business or Org. Change Management, amongst several others subjects…

Indeed, it all started around 2006 and 2007 when all of a sudden I began to notice how plenty of PhD students were contacting me, through whatever the means, asking for help, advice, coaching, interviews and what not, because of the research they were doing around Social Business. Most of them found me through Google.com (Yes, I know, I am the one who doesn’t bite other people!), mainly landing into this blog. Before I knew it, I was approached by them asking me whether I would be willing to help them out with their PhD thesis. And that continued to repeat itself over the course of the years. 

In fact, and most folks may not know this, but one of the sources of inspiration as to why I kicked off the Life Without eMail movement, over 5 years ago, was eventually from my interactions with those younger generations and how they live AND work through a different set of collaboration and knowledge sharing tools. Never mind their different mindset and behaviours. Yes, I know what you are going to say… I, too, don’t believe much on the digital divide or the generations divide, however, they do have something special in terms of how they get work done. For instance, throughout all of these years I have been working with hundreds of students I never, ever, exchanged a single email with them and yet not only did we get work done, but for some of them, those who decided to come and join IBM afterwards, they eventually did so and they are now my colleagues. And very soon, I am 100% certain of that, they might be rather my boss, my executive or, who knows, even my next CEO. 

I know that in times where we are busier than ever at work, all of us for that matter, where time and work pressures are massive for everyone and where we are asked to keep delivering more and more with less and less, it’s surprising for most folks why I keep saying Yes! to that activity when in reality most knowledge workers out there in the corporate world would kindly decline helping out with the argument they are just too busy. Goodness, they don’t know it just yet, but right there, they are closing down the door to find out plenty more what the workplace of the future is going to be like. Starting today.

Even more, they are closing down the door to find out what their next leaders would be like for their own work, how they are going to re-define the workplace through those social technologies, networks and communities, and with one particularly interesting aspect, that those potential new leaders who live and thrive on building strong personal trustworthy relationships, when they get there they usually tend to remember who helped them out when they were starting up and who didn’t. Yes, that’s how the hyperconnected, networked business world will start operating in the near future, if not today already altogether. 

Are you ready? I surely hope so, because if there is anything that I have learned throughout the years interacting with those younger generations, both inside and outside of IBM, is that they are not going to wait. Not for you, not for me. Not for everyone else for that matter. It’s how they live. It’s how they operate. And that’s what I really find fascinating, because it’s through those networked interactions that one gets to learn how if you decide to be part of the pack, you are more than welcome. If you decide instead to do your own thing, that’s fine, they will move on without you. It’s just like when senior subject matter experts decide to cling together to their ivory tower related mantra of “Knowledge is power” and they refuse to share their expertise. I keep telling them how long would you think it’s going to take a group of younger folks to recreate their knowledge just good enough to get by and rebuild from there? It’s rather interesting how these wonderfully different working styles collide and clash with one another in an attempt to come up with something better, because there is always something better. 

Thus here we go with the question again. Do you think you are ready to face that side of the corporate knowledge workforce, that I read somewhere that by 2020 they will be about 75% of the active working population? Yes, 75%. Well, if not, just yet, allow me to share a couple of resources that I am sure you will find rather interesting at best. The first one is this blog post by Frederic Gonzalo under the suggestive title “Social Media Defined by Kids” where he reflects on a short video clip where a bunch of young kids (That generation that will probably be part of the active workplace between 2020 and 2025 approx.) talks about what they themselves understand about Social Media. Very nice, witty, smart, fun, and insightful video on its own: 

Did you notice the remark about email? If not, watch it again; it’s worth it. Yes, indeed, that’s the kind of knowledge workforce that’s just already entering the workplace already today, except that by the time they themselves join the acceleration and pace of the adaptation to social technologies will probably be complete. Vast majority of those generations and working styles will have adapted by then. The workplace will be ready for them by them. 

In the mean time though, let me share with you all one other resource that I think would fit in perfectly in terms of where we are today within the corporate world, in terms of having multiple generations and working styles at play. It’s a presentation put together by my good friend Professor Paul Jones who I had the great pleasure of co-sharing the remote stage (Along with Robert Shaw from ATOS) through a webinar, organised by IORG, where we talked about Information Overload and what it is like living in a world without email. I would encourage you all to take a look into slides #9 and #10 to get a taste of what’s coming (If not already there!) and, even better, if you can spare 51 minutes you can actually go through the entire recording of the event, which I am going to embed over here, in case you may want to hit Play right away (See embedded code at the end of this blog entry): 

If you would just want to jump ahead and listen to Paul himself delivering those slides that he used, fast forward to minute 25, 16 seconds, and watch it through from there onwards. Very inspiring to see how the very same trends that the world of Academia are experiencing are also starting to become more palpable within the corporate world. That’s what I meant earlier on about the impact of social networking tools for business along with the younger generations and, perhaps, why I would want to add a final piece of advice for knowledge workers out there: next time a PhD student approaches you to help them with their thesis, remember that very very soon they may end up being your boss, your executive, or, even your new CEO.

Thus choose wisely 😀


[Oh, and if you would want to read through another interesting discussion on a similar topic, i.e. younger generations and their education in today’s more complex world than ever, have a look into “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate“]

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