Digital dieting

fire hose - MediumRecent and upcoming elections have revealed an interesting, and disturbing trend. The creation not just of “fake news”, but highly targeted fake news. Using data scraped from social media, and elsewhere, what arrives in out inbox or social media accounts is more and more tailored and targeted. A form in many ways of virtual reality.

Of course, it’s not just elections. It is happening in all realms. On the benign side, curated, filtered information is a boon when it comes from those we trust, and have given permission to do this for us. On the dark side, it gives those with the capabilities of shaping our perception of the world to suit their agenda.

We are hosed down with information, of varying quality and as our attention is increasingly consumed, we have become “solution junkies” looking for fast, easy, proven, safe answers to the challenges consuming our attention. We end up chasing our tails, reacting to assertions and views that have sometimes been designed to achieve that.

Let’s consider a few of them:

Business is more competitive than ever

This has become accepted wisdom, and the rationale for many a consultative offering. The problem is, it’s a questionable assumption. The years since the financial crisis have seen record levels of consolidation. For many businesses, it’s not competition that’s the problem, it’s the lack of it, as successful companies are gobbled up by their larger, slower, competitors.

We are all entrepreneurs now

Although we have seen a rise in the number of start ups, and independent operators, they are not all entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who create high growth businesses are few and far between. There are more of us who operate independently out of choice and a desire to have more control of our lives, and there are those who work independently out of necessity.  These three groups have very different needs. Lots of “solutions” as to how we can increase sales dramatically, scale our business, and the like force many into costs and models that are just not appropriate.

Business is getting faster

Only partially true, certainly the internet had exponentially increased the amount of information we receive, and the number of people we are in contact with, but speed? Business is a function of relationships, and those don’t get faster. Transactions do, but transactions are soulless, and do not of themselves build businesses.

Globalisation and robots will overwhelm us.

 This is the current “fear du jour”, and like business getting faster is only partially true. Certainly, if your current job involves routine processing, whether on the assembly line, or in an accountants office, then there is a threat – both from low cost outsource labour, or an even lower cost algorithm. Again though, this affects transactions far more than relationships. 

What matters

We can easily get distracted by the volume of “noise” being directed at us, and spend so much time processing it that we lose the ability to identify the “signal”-the stuff that matters.

Dieting

Dealing with the issues is a simple as it is difficult. It’s like dieting. Consume less, be selective about what you consume, and track your progress. Even better, find a group trying to do the same thing. 

If we can free up even an hour a week to be able to think and reflect, rather than react, what is important will become clearer. We have everything we need to find our way forward.

There are lots of self help books with “recipes”- all have something to offer, but like the diet, it’s really about intent.

Here.s my diet:

  • I’ve limited my social media contacts to only those I really want to be connected with. In my case, it’s around 50. Signal generators, not noise machines.
  • I use my tablet for emails, social media, calendar and any other communication.  My laptop is a place of quiet- where I do my work. There are no inbound channels to distract me. It is based on “pull”, not giving others permission to “push”
  • I do original research, and carefully select the media I use. I avoid, like the plague, articles pushed at me by those who I don’t know. They are on their agenda, not mine, and I can do without the interuption.
  • I spend at least 10 mins every day getting rid of the noise (I’m a fan of mindfulness – other approaches are available) and one afternoon a week entirely off line. 

What I’ve come to understand is that most of what we spend our time coping with uses very little,of our ability, and that most of it can be done by someone else, or something else, cheaper and probably just as well. Our futures are at heart really simple. It involves no more than 150 people who you want to work with, doing something that matters, that brings you joy.

Making time for that is worth the short term pain of a diet.

 

Image: Medium.com

New Game, different rules

Webb-Ellis-at-Rugby,In 1823, legend has it that at Rugby School,  William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the football and run with it. The rest, as they say, is history.

If he did that today, he’d be sent off. We have rules, and people in charge of making them,

Games are easy – clearly defined rules that change only rarely. There have only ever been three changes in the rules of Lawn Tennis since it’s inception. The court is the same size, the sequence of play is clear, the scoring rules clear.

Nobody comes on to play with a golf club, or serves a rugby ball. Players can develop their skills within very tight boundaries, and can develop incremental improvements to extraordinary levels, confident that they have the time to do so.

There are very few other areas where the same applies. Even the law is subject to judgement and opinion, and the other professions have seen ingenious, often brilliant ways of circumventing rules (Tax law springs to mind.

Business is another case altogether. When AirBnB picked up Hilton’s ball and ran with it, nobody sent them off. When Elon Musk developed Tesla, nobody gave him a yellow card. We just watch, and wonder, and go back to what we were doing.

Often, we create our own rules – processes, protocols, authority levels – all designed to keep the game we think we are playing under control and convince ourselves that efficiency and control is king. Except, nobody else is listening.

If a champions league footballer wandered into an NFL game, believing his skills and training will prepare him, he’s in for an unpleasant, and probably painful shock. It’s football Jim, but not as we know it.

The point is this, the business you are working in this morning is different to the one you turned up at yesterday, and you’re a different person to the one who turned up yesterday. As Heraclitus said, “no man treads in the same river twice. Different river, different person”

Whilst this constant change has always been the case, it is now far faster, more connected, and more complex. It means the time we have to play the game we’re in is getting ever shorter, that we have to be able to recognise the changes taking place, and that we have to train for the new game whilst still playing the old one. That’s some order, and unsurprisingly, very few of us do it.

Maybe we need to think in terms of having a TMO, and independent person with an overview, to support, or question the referee we answer to. All the people playing  in the game, including the referee, are so absorbed in the here and now, they become blind to what else is going on outside the game they’re in.

Meanwhile, someone, somewhere, is picking up the ball and changing the game.

 

Bandwidth and Friction…….

brain bandwidthWe have long been aware that the scarcest commodity today is people’s attention, and have adopted a variety of coping strategies – from “shouting louder” marketing, to fear generation, to interruption. None of them work for anything other than a brief, unsatisfactory and often counterproductive moment. One of the many unintended consequences is that trying to start something new, whilst maintaining a current activity is extraordinarily difficult. People just don’t have the bandwidth.

This lack of bandwidth directly affects engagement. Engagement requires us to have a strong and visceral connection between what we do, who we do it with, the outcomes we generate and what we value – and that requires having the bandwidth to cope with it. If we are overly focused on one area, and lose sight of the others, engagement is likely to erode.

Another are affected is collaboration. Collaboration has long ceased to be a novelty, and is a vital component of thriving in complex, volatile and uncertain conditions. It is not a “plug in”, but required a whole new way of working.

However, many businesses I see are trying to pile collaboration on top of how they work today. It means that people who are attention saturation point are being asked to attend yet more meetings. the end result is that things freeze up.

The case for making better use of our available bandwidth is overwhelming.

f1big

I find the best way (for me) to visualise it is as a flywheel. Getting it moving in the first place requires significant effort. Once it is moving though, the biggest enemy is friction,

For us as individuals, and teams, friction is created by anything that saps energy. Unnecessary reporting, micro management, keeping per projects going beyond their sell by date, fear of being judged, lack of confidence – the list is endless.

But not unmanageable. Becoming agile requires that we work differently. It starts with the right team – skills, trust, vision, commitment and is energised by the projects that inspire. It needs an outcome focus, rather than specific goals, so that we can change tack as needed without being held hostage by no longer relevant measures, and last but not least that we give people room to operate. Probably the biggest single source of friction in most organisations is an obsession with control and measurement. Both are important, but far too often clog up the system.

Removing friction is the equivalent of releasing a brake. Whilst we can’t do much about our individual and collective bandwidth, we can make far better use of what we’ve got. We can use the energy we generate to far better effect. we can keep up with the changing environment, and move faster than our competition.

If we want to thrive on what’s ahead of us, reducing friction is the single best thing we can start to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engagement – a numbers game?

5s-numbers-game-3-638We can only be engaged with so many people.

Robin Dunbar calculated it at around 150, and although there is some argument around how social media impacts that, the core concept of meaningful relationships appears to hold good. We have limited emotional and attentional bandwidth, and we work best when we husband these resources.

Alfie Kohn, another respected academic, adds another angle. In his book, “punished by rewards”, he demonstrates that by giving people who have vocations, those who work for the love of what they do, “hard” financially based goals, we destroy their motivation. (as ably demonstrated by current state approaches to education and health).

Bring the two together, and we underpin what we already sense. Engagement is maximised in relatively small groups doing something they believe in that is bigger than them.

Despite all the efforts we may make, we will not create engagement in the middle of the distribution curve.  Logic and intuition seems to support the notion that in any group, there will be a standard deviation – a small number – around 1 sigma who will be very engaged, and similar number at the other end of the curve who are actively disengaged, with the majority, in the middle of the curve, happy to turn up, but who derive their satisfaction elsewhere,

Which brings me back to Professors Dunbar and Kohn. In a group of 150, If I have 10%, or 15 people highly engaged working with another 120 who are happy to turn up, that makes a good and effective team. I can cope with the 15 who are disengaged, mainly because social norms makes it unlikely they will stay. They are visible. If on  the other hand, my organisation has 15,000 people, then 1500 people are not so visible, and they become an embedded, and energy sapping  part of the culture. Much harder to identify, and even harder to convert or isolate.

I also suspect that the larger the group, the more diluted the sense of common purpose, and the weaker the “glue” that holds the organisation together. Far more likely to become a transactional, financially measured and focused organisation that will wax and wane rapidly. Great for investors with good timing, not so much for those interested in communities.

If we want to get something useful done, we should bear this in mind. Small groups, held together by a common purpose bigger than them, where everybody knows each other. Leadership and Management become intertwined, not  separate “disciplines”. Stuff happens.

In the end, engagement is a consequence of committed groups doing something they believe in with people who support them. It is transformational.

The middle of the curve? – that’s transactional. Little we do can make it transformational. not bad, just something to recognise.

Trying to turn transactional relationships into transformational ones is probably possible in smaller groups. In  large ones. it’s largely a mugs game.

Engagement is built at the outset, It cannot be retrofitted.