The Price Of Pomposity

On an almost daily basis I am faced with someone asking me to tell them the return on investment of social computing in business or proclaiming that Twitter is all about people telling us what they had for breakfast. These interactions are always delivered in a particular tone — at best pompous, at worst sneering and condescending. Every time it happens it brings back memories of countless interactions I have had with more senior managers in my organisational life.

I would argue that pomposity represents a real, and nontrivial cost to the business world in the following ways:

  1. Every time someone is faced with a pompous response to a suggestion or idea they take one step back and become much less likely to ever offer their heartfelt thoughts again. Imagine the impact this has on the creativity and innovation that organisations depend on.
  2. Many, many meetings could be done in less than half the time if there wasn’t a need to feed the ego of the chairperson or more vocal participants. How many times have things gone on way too long because someone likes the sound of his own voice?
  3. How many millions and millions of pounds have been spent because someone was too pumped up and full of themselves to admit that perhaps the major project they are sponsoring should be aborted?
  4. How many fledgeling social media projects get squashed by IT departments because “professionals” have had their nose put out of joint at “amateurs” thinking they know better?
  5. How many bright, committed and intelligent potential senior managers have failed to step up to the mark because they couldn’t face the antler clashing and ego massaging that goes on in the boardroom?

I could carry on but I’d better stop – I’m sure you could add many examples of your own. Seriously, the cost of all this nonsense to business is astronomical and makes the odd bit of social banter on low-cost technologies appear trivial in comparison.

27 thoughts on “The Price Of Pomposity”

  1. Euan, I’d just like to comment on point 4.In my experience it’s not just IT Depts, who squash Social media initiatives. (However I must add these are the people who do seem to insist that many invaluable social tools are kept the wrong side of the firewall. Earlier this year I was presenting to a top PR company in town and was unable to demo Twitter Search and indeed show some stuff on YouTube because IT had blocked Twitter and YT access. Let’s just let that sink in, the IT Dept dictated to PR professionals that they were not allowed to use Twitter and YT at work. Trebles all round for that one.)But let me not restrict my kicking to the (wonderfully oxymoronic. Or shall we just stick to ‘moronic’, dinosaurs in IT.) Plenty of marketing, pr, HR and comms departments are also woefully off the pace when it comes to social media.It seemed tom be a rule, rather than an exception, for a long time that whenever I went into an Org to consult on social media, those who should be the embracers where/are invariably the rejecters. Prickly doesn’t come close to the vibe that was/is pumped out.Why? Because they seem threatened by Social Media. (The one thing that could liberate them and make them the rock-stars of marketing and customer relationships.)But intimidated, not by what social media can do, but by how little they, the ‘powers-that-be’, the ‘Great Communicators’, actually know about it. In a world of ROI they hadn’t spotted: ROT. Return On Time if they would but engage with social media authentically.I’d see (and sometimes still do), PR depts with Pritt Sticks, scissors and guard books as the nearest some get to social media tools.I see a print out of a single Google alert for a keyword, blu-tacked proudly on a wall. (With a ‘date printed’ of several months earlier.)And I’d also see the more youthful, (but not necessarily younger’) people in some of these departments shake their heads in disbelief at the lack up social savvy from the top.Oh dear, I’m beginning to bang on a bit myself now aren’t I.Time to go.

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  2. And it’s not just pomposity, but rudeness and intolerance of all stripes. There’s all sorts of workplace behaviour that can only fall into the category of ‘dysfunctional’. But what is more troubling to me than the appalling behaviour I’ve witnessed first hand and heard of second hand is the fact that in the vast majority of those companies, it was acceptable. So it’s ok to shout at your colleagues, it’s ok to be two-faced, it’s ok to be rude. So long as you have the right level of seniority, it’s ok to be all of these things. I’ve always believed that culture is set from the top. If the big boss doesn’t have a problem with his direct reports treating their direct deports like shit, then the shit just rolls on downhill. I find it a little sad, really, that these people don’t realise that treating your staff like shit not only makes them unhappy, it makes your company less capable and thus less profitable. But then, I have a whole rant about outdated management styles that I will, for now, save you from. 😉

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  3. Brilliant – and spot on – do you mind if I translate some of it into Danish and continue the rant? And I really would like to ask management some serious questions the other way round:What is the return on squandering ideas and putting every new effort on hold for months? I also would like to know how many relevant and potentially cost reducing projects are canceled simply with the excuse "Our culture would never allow that to happen"?

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  4. The people* who criticise twitter for being about what I had for breakfast (even if it is, cuppa tea and alpen thank you very much), just fundamentally don’t get what being a human being is all about. Twitter is a kind of online coffee house culture thing, so as well as discussions about politics, what I did today, new ideas, music, art, philosophy, whatever then you are going to get people mentioning what they drank or eat. It seems to me that a lot of bosses would prefer it if a load of robots turned up for work rather than messy, hungry, thirsty, inventive, amazing human beings.*This goes for nearly every journalist who has written about it too.

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  5. I am an early Baby Boomer who fights the mindset you describe all the time – both in and out of the workplace. Within the workplace, they see social computing (Twitter, Facebook…) as a huge waste of time that produces zero rewards. Outside the workplace, they see it as self-absorbed engagement in trivial relationships.I see it as launching into the flow of shared knowledge and experiences and allowing the river to take us where it will. The experience is glorious, and I am saddened by their inability to join in this grand experiment.

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  6. Nicely put, Euan. It’s a furstration to keep on having to work with, wrangle this kind of smokescreening/misdirection in discussions. It is part of our jobs to turn round perceptions, introduce the new – but I know that you’re not railing against ingorance, per se, just wilful ignorance, the digging in of heels and the swatting of new knowledge because some senior people are too insecure to admit that someone else might know more than them. The best leaders and senior executives in big companies – and there are many – are the ones who flaunt their intelligent naivety, their joy of gaining new knowledge, rather than flimsy illusion of infallability. I’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of the former type, wearing as it is to endure the latter from time to time.

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  7. Ken and I discussed this right after I read it. It’s all about ego, isn’t it? People get so caught up fighting for the right to be right, they can’t let go of ego enough to see winning happens best collaboratively. We all want the glory all to ourselves. (Not everyone, but probably we all have at some point) Great post, Euan.

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  8. dear valued cost-siders whose deliverables are suspect , as a pompous oaf i recognize myself in these comments. duly noted. i will now ignore you and plow on. yours, the chief.

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  9. Recent experience makes me think we might be on the cusp of a sea-change, as far as social media in the enterprise is concerned. One of the key issues seems to be the difficulty a lot of managers have in visualising how ‘leisure’ tools (Facebook, Twitter) can be legitimised in a corporate setting. The will to share knowledge is there, but the way is unclear to them. Therein lies the challenge for the evangelists.

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  10. My partner is working with some bespoke software which was clearly designed by substantially less than an infinite number of monkeys. It’s primary purpose is to unreliably publish processes and their associated documents to a website. I proclaimed that a range of social media tools could achieve the same aim at a fraction of the cost. So during a strategic review I had convinced her to suggest using a Wiki. She was laughed at, apparently they thought the name was funny, and they decided to use MS Visio to save on the software publishing and static content.It was both IT and management that didn’t understand and couldn’t look past the funny name. Now it is coming back to bite them in the behind. The software is failing and the subject was raised again of using a Wiki. The response from a senior director? ‘We aren’t big enough/mature enough to use such a tool.’*Sigh*

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  11. You can influence an organisation just as much by what you reject as by what you accept. Social tools would force too much accountability for some as it would expose a lot of poor past and continuing judgement. In the wiki case I too suggested its use. In a meeting it’s easier to make a joke about it rather that make an effort to understand it. Of course a few years down the line it gets rebranded as core strategy and the people who rejected the idea for years now sit there tinkering with its specification, often buying expensive unnecessary products. It all depends if your aim is to encourage good judgement and ideas or just to create more layers to avoid any tangible evidence of your choices and distort meritocracy to your advantage.

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  12. Hmm.. I agree with Antony that pomposity in business may be related to insecurity. After all social media gives HR and other professionals access to who and what is out there. Could it be that those whose performance falls short of the expectations are quivering at the thought of all those potential replacements? Of course they won’t want anybody to have access! From experience I bite my tongue lest I elaborate:-)

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  13. Same people that said [email, blogs, sms] is all about people telling us what they had for breakfast.You could probably extend "The Price of" to many other words, that social software should be able to help with and that accountants can’t measure.The Price of:EgosTraditionNepotismInertiaSartorial EleganceSecrecyDuplicationand so on.

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  14. Suz and Anthony I question pomposity in business is related to insecurity because if you are a specialized position in your department with no concerns of being replaced or fired then we should not be insecure. However, I believe sometimes a person tries too hard and tries to fit into an established network or clique that the person inadvertantly shows a pompous personality. The unfortunate thing is that its misconstrued as being pompous.

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  15. Fair points. But just because the pace of the industry is doing warp speed to business does not mean adaption will follow this pace. Digital media was slowly accepted. How soon some forget that google and SEM were once a battle to get accepted. Old battles, new weapons, different foes

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  16. Such an encouraging post and following commentaries. Oh to see things fly, sometimes they land with a thud but then hey, you pick up another idea/thread and off you go again – positivity please.As for breakfast; for the second time this week I have to point out that if you are in the food industry actually it is quite interesting to hear what people are doing with food. I am collecting people’s tweets on my sector as they are so inventive and imaginative it really does spark ideas. – so thank you to all those food tweeters out there.Before I go I must mention a small food business who I encouraged this week to get on twitter asap and ensure their brand name was captured. The owner reacted immediately signed up and you cannot stop him tweeting away – brilliant. Us babyboomers are up for it.

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