Being Human

In order for the promised benefits of Enterprise 2.0 to become reality people have to be prepared to say what they think. Sadly in conversation about this many people say something along the lines of “most people don’t want to think”. I am beginning to suspect they may be right. The biggest challenge to getting people to share isn’t to do with technology it is to do with very personal challenges and issues that relate to their sense of self and their relationship with their employers. I find it really sad that through school and into the workplace it can become not worthwhile, or even dangerous, to think while at work. What was it about the corporate world that made this seem a sensible outcome? What was it about the individuals and the culture that made this a reality for many? What can we do to help make it different in the future?

I am going to tackle this topic in my session “Being Human” at Social Business Edge in New York in a couple of weeks time. My blurb for that session is as follows:

This whole Enterprise 2.0 thing can make it seem as if we are talking about something radically new but aren’t we just getting back to the future? Aren’t we just in a small way rediscovering being human at work? The whole Protestant work ethic thing about work being hard and dour and even scary has become so pervasive in so many workplaces that it has made sense to leave a large part of ourselves at the door when we arrive at work. But aren’t we leaving the best parts behind? The creative part, the social part, the very attributes that make us human and enable us to be the best we can be? How do we help this inclination to be more human at work to grow? How do we allow ourselves to tap the most effective parts of our characters in a place where to do so has, in many cases, been downright dangerous?

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36 thoughts on “Being Human

  1. Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds covers it well. The whole education system stifles cretivity and funnels us toward conformity and risk avoidance with the emphasis on standards and testing, That then follows on in to the hierarchy of the workplace, where knowledge is power and being a maverick isn’t the way you climb the "greasy pole". The new tools are amplifying the infomal social networks that were always there (your being human idea) in the work place. Peoples behaviour is changing and so the buiness culture will have to change and follow. This picture from Delta 7 shows it brilliantly:http://www.delta7.com/employee-engagement-this-is-how-it-is/

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  2. Indeed. My experience is that the leaders in the best organisations actually cherish mavericks, they know they need them. The issue can be in the middle tier who may lack that vision…possibly. I didn’t really mean that of course. Oh no.

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  3. It is cultural; more people are prepared to speak up in Australia than here in the UK. And the notion of finding work difficult is now actually resisted in many of the more enlightened industries. Indeed, there are ample examples of research into work that indicate a correlation between happy and included employees and productivity (check http://scholar.google.com for examples). But speaking up and thinking won’t translate to action unless thinking is taking in to account implications for action. I’d argue that fear of litigation arising from implications of actions is far more of an impediment to change in the workplace than speaking up to suggest change. Humanity is less of an issue than greed.

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  4. I’m not so sure it’s that much better elsewhere Joanne. You may be right about Australia but all over Europe and even in the US I see a lot of folks holding back.Can you elaborate on what you mean by the fear of litigation and greed?

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  5. People become entrenched and all-knowing in a role (yeah right) therefore thinking becomes a challenge to their ego, authority and security. If I had a pound for everytime i’ve heard ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ I’d have, well, loads.A new web savvy breed is growing up. They know more about what they don’t know than what they do know and are quite happy sourcing info/advice and teaming up quickly (clustering?) to solve problems in ways unknowable by the dominant bureacracies likely to herald the sociocide (?) I’ve literally just been reading about in Clay Shirky’s Blog yesterday about collapse.

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  6. I’d agree about the feeling of being challenged Al and believe it is often fear induced as people get pushed up the greasy pole beyond their comfort levels. I wrote a bit about the repressive effect this has in my post The Price Of Pomposity Thanks for dropping by!

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  7. The corporate for whom I work part-time told me (via line manger) that I must seek permission before doing any media work IN MY OWN TIME. This made me furtive in my activities outside the company and I censored what appeared online about me via search engines. I considered leaving the company. I now have a new line manager who totally "gets it" that my private work enhances my credibility and relationships with the key customers of the company. I am treated as one of the customers’ team, rather than an outside supplier. Sales happen whilst I am engrossed in taking care of those key customers’ needs. I am much happier and more effective in the role since this change took place. Everyone wins.

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  8. Large command and control organisations view the workforce as interchangeable generalists so fitting to the expected perception quashes any individuality or creativity. Policy, protocols and roles are predefined and measured accordingly. This may be more prevalent in the public sector

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  9. Large command and control organisations view the workforce as interchangeable generalists so fitting to the expected perception quashes any individuality or creativity. Policy, protocols and roles are predefined and measured accordinglyJob descriptions, job evaluation & pay grades, reporting relationships, siloed work objectives and performance management, bla di bla bla bla .. and so on.Speaking out, speaking up, suggesting other ways of doing things HAS been dangerous for quite a while. The way work has been / is ‘designed’ did not foresee human-centered networks.I am sure your presentation will be insightful and provocative.

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  10. It’s telling, Euan, that my first thought was you were sounding seditious. I spent over twenty years in an Aerospace firm that was – at least in the early days – Reagan country. Being "liberal", "open", or even "honest" if one’s views differed from the norm, was very dangerous and I learned to toe the line . . . at least visibly.There are so many things that need to change, it’s daunting to contemplate them. Communication, Rewards & Recognition, Compensation, Motivation, Decision Making, Risk Analysis, Collaboration, Participation, blah, blah, blah. Until our organizations see these things as interrelated, and recognize the systemic nature of our enterprises, we won’t be able to fully realize our humanity, IMLTHO.Ironically, and with more than a modicum of chagrin, I find having accepted a golden handshake at my place of business has given me the freedom to be a little more outspoken than I already was. Not too outspoken, though, as I’d like to come back as a consultant once in a while. 🙂

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  11. That last point about judging what you can and can’t say is such an important point though Rick. Organisations act as though their employees are out to cause trouble and will bring the house down if not kept in check while in reality we all, well most of us, know our responsibilities and will try to do the right thing.

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  12. I’ve noticed particularly in the USA, a strong disinformation tendency. A group of bully boys appear on a network posting "information" from some "think tank" that appears to be topical, but is actually mere propaganda. This isn’t helpful to a conversation. The attackers invest nothing of themselves, but to reply in any sensible way, to take the comments seriously, you have to invest a great deal of yourself. I run an Innovation Forum, here:http://www.ryze.com/networkindex.php?network=innovationLeading up to the COP15 Conference in Copenhagen, that forum was swamped with posts attacking climate change science. I spent the best part of three weeks chasing false leads, and never really getting on top of the issue. I do understand why Prof. Phil Jones, felt under attack by the incessant demands for his opponents for "more detailed information".The problem with social forums and in-house forums at work, is that some people choose to use anti-social rules of engagement. I did find a solution. I insisted that each post included a personal statement that committed the person making the post to stating plainly a personal point of view. (Else the post would be deleted.) Three of the posters immediately quit. One other continued briefly, rapidly exposed his feet of clay, he ended up being heavily taken to task by several people who had been lurking, in silent mode, in the background for many weeks. I have a commitment to free speech, but I’m been abused personally, because of that. (It’s annoying but it doesn’t bother me much.) Much worse in my view is the time wasted by all the members of a forum, because one member misbehaves. Human groups have an essential social structure that requires all the members to obey reasonable (usually unwritten) social rules. It only takes one person’s abuse of such rules to kill any chance of having an open discussion. I have written about this issue here too.http://johnsveitch.blogspot.com/2010/04/finding-energy-to-understand.html

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  13. Thank you David Terrar, for the link to Delta7. Very interesting. Looking at the other responses, what we see inside companies is the exercise of "political truth". Who has the power to decide what the "truth" is?

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  14. Talking politics with people IRL and on the web certainly does give you the impression that people by and large (with notable exceptions) do not want to think. They want to have predictable neurons of tribal solidarity and righteous outrage fired off. It’s almost sexual in structure, and definitely addictive — monotonous, repetitive, a reliable provider of a certain pleasure or relief of tension. But as far as laying down a new mental track or standing in someone else’s human shoes, that offers only the unknown and dubious.

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  15. From which I speculate that people who do like to think, to have new thoughts, to see from new points of view, have learned to get off on it. Maybe it’s the mental equivalent of the temperament of the physical thrill-seeker.

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  16. I spent over twenty years in an Aerospace firm that was – at least in the early days – Reagan country. Being "liberal", "open", or even "honest" if one’s views differed from the norm, was very dangerous and I learned to toe the line . . . at least visibly.Lest anyone think this is a one-sided phenomenon, I have friends who have found uniformly liberal workplaces every bit as intolerant.

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  17. EuanI am with you – I think that we are part of a huge development cycle as a species that replicates what it is for each one of us.We begin as an innocent child – who is at one with her mum and with the universe – we live in wonder and exploration – the early pre ag humans.In Early Ag – We grow into a child – we detach from mum but are attached to our parents as rule makers – Kings God etc – we are obedient kids – our own wonder is replaced by the stories of the mysteries as told to us by Dad. We are still connected by blood. I think that we are now teens – Industrial Ag – we want to belong – we think nothing of the future – it is all about me – but we are also very conformist – we pay most attention to peers and wisdom is gone – its all about show. We are separated from nature and our own innate nature.If I am right then we are ready for the next phase.Might the real first adult and generative stage be ahead? Where we have to create a home for our children – where we care about the future – where we start to experience the forces of time both behind and forward – where we know that only a community can offer us what we truly need?Of course this is not the final stage of a person’s development and if I am right and our development is fractal, then we have the wisdom phase further ahead.If I am right then this is not all easy either. The terrible twos separated the infant from the child – the end of hunter gatherer must of been hell. Is this not the story of the bible? Where the new herders exterminate the followers of the Goddess.The end of the teen years is when our kids are the most destructive to themselves and to society. Is this not us now?What I am so hopeful about now is that every day I meet more people who have broken through to adulthood – it’s not an age thing. Some are 60, some are 21.When I woke up about 17 years ago, I thought I was going mad – so much so that I entered treatment! There were a few hippies out there and the self improvement movement but to think then as so many think today was to be utterly rejected.That is no longer the case. I see almost enough for there to be critical mass.The 2.0 world has helped immensely – as the press helped the reformation – it got us better connected than them. Many of us are not natural joiners – think Johnnie and me. But this connected us and gave us a refuge.Sorry about the long comment but you got me going and I have also started my 15 year old germinating book on this idea and I am bursting with feelings and thoughts

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  18. No need to apologise Rob! I love the idea of us "growing up" as a species. Have you read "Sex, Time and Power" by Leonard Shlain? He talks about the current speed of change resulting in a phase shift for our species. I blogged it here.

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  19. I see someone has already mentioned Ken Robinson – IMO people turn up at work already conditioned to be this way. Most bosses would love people to bring more of themselves and their creativity to work.Industrial Education is at the root of the problem.

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  20. Euan asks:"Were the forums that caused trouble anonymous John?"No Euan, the forums in Ryze expect people to use their real names. You can see what happened here. (This forum if open for the public to read.) http://www.ryze.com/posttopic.php?topicid=1051580&confid=54635 Inconvenient Truths, quoting Christopher Monckton. My immediate response was to open a Wiki on the topic, but people refused to use it. There were then five post from three people claiming that climate science was fraudulent. As forum moderator I tried desperately to talk sense to these guys in this post.http://www.ryze.com/postdisplay.php?confid=546&messageid=3444619But the effort was eating up hours and hours of my time. (Also the time of several others I later discovered.)After that the non-debate got quite out of hand. You can read the evidence for yourself, but please don’t spend three weeks on it. It’s not worth that much time.

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  21. I actually enjoyed the to and fro of that exchange. I know it feels different when you are personally invested in these sorts of things but none of it appeared to me to be out of hand.

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  22. You speak of a collusive bullying force in business–but to focus merely on that is to merely obscure that on the employee side, there is a collective victim mindset and there is an ever-perpetuating symbiotic relationship between the two.Employee victimhood itself combines two factors–one having nothing to do with the employer per se (employees over-extending themselves with family and financial commitments) and the other reflecting an abdication of responsibility (relinquishing a sense of ownership of one’s own free choice in workplace situations). In other words, one doesn’t challenge the boss because one is afraid of jeopardizing Junior’s private school education, and then starts simmering about the company’s "gulag" culture. Companies may indeed seem like gulags, and bosses may indeed act like prison guards–but the employees are doing a hell of a good job keeping the electrified barbed wire in place.

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  23. Interesting that you have assumed an employer/employee slant on this Mike as I didn’t actually say that in my post. In fact most of the people I work with are managers and it is them who I see as affected by the riskiness of saying what they think as much as, if not more than, the people they manage. I would totally agree that people at whatever level are to a high degree complicit in the way they are treated by those around them. Apart from the upper and lower extremes most people are someone else’s "subordinate" or "superior" and the motivation for standing up and being counted, or shutting up and stopping moaning are fascinating!

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  24. i have a feeling this conversation could tie in with the notions explored in "The Rise of the Creative Class" by Richard Forida. Where "creative" goes beyond the arts. Every single person hold creativity within: the possibility of contributing to making things work in a more human way, in a way that speaks to everyone.Which is something leaders wish to control. The web is like another planet where we have the possibility to create new social systems. Now is the time though…

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  25. Hi Euan,As Andrew McAfee pointed out in the conclusion of his recent book ‘Enterprise 2.0’, what’s interesting about all these social media tools is that they can help organisations move from what Chris Argyris called a Model I organisation to a Model II organisation (ie from defensive, unilateral control to productive mutual learning).But Enterprise 2.0 tools alone cannot do it, he says."Sustained interventions" are required, as Chris Argyris long ago worked out.Even the best social media tools are no substitute for these interventions.But Web 2.0 gurus never seem to talk that much about these necessary transformational interventions.I do hope more people will look into the kind of things that Chris Argyris, Peter Senge, Bill Torbert and others have been doing in organisations – it might be the additional fuel we need to really start a fire… ;-)Argyris has done a lot of work looking at the behaviours that (sadly) predominate in Model I organisations, and the defensive routines that keep them there – even though most people will espouse positive ‘Model II’ values, and even believe they are following them.If Argyris’ stuff is too dense, there’s always the book "Discussing the Undiscussable – A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace" by William Noonan.I’ve been meaning to blog on this topic since at least January, but every time there’s a little gap in my schedule, it suddenly evaporates…Cheers,Matthew

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  26. Argyris was one of my motivations when I got all of this stuff in the first place Matthew and I agree that it is not about the technology. Trouble is a lot of the advocates for Web 2.0 have never experienced life in a big organisation and the challenges that go with it.

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  27. I had a very wise old headmaster at my grammar school in Stoke-on-Trent called "Mr Baynan". He had an expression which i find myself frequently quoting:

    It’s the evil five percent who spoil it for the rest of us.

    In my 55 years of being involved in wide variety of careers and lifestyles, the "E5P" are always there. The rules and controls that are meant to guide us in any particular context are therefore always more draconian than they need to be for the majority of us: they are designed to deal with the E5P. It’s a pareto effect that increasingly more effort is required to deal with an increasingly small and difficult fraction of the population. Even the E5P has its own E5P and so-on ad infinitum.Speaking as a maverick who found success (if not much satisfaction) working in the old coal industry in the UK, I felt I was always confronting constraints that were not meant for me because, after all, I’m one of the good guys. NOT, I imagine, from the viewpoint of those whose careers I had to leap-frog in order to achieve my ambitions.I think that I would be classed as a liberal, free-thinking, fair person (?) yet I’m vehimently opposed to the view that global warming is man-made. So if you’re a pro-carbon tax hippie then, no doubt, you would put me in your E5P whereas I would place your most outspoken protagonists in mine.I don’t think we should condemn those in control because they feel threatened by their own particular E5P’s. I guess we just have to accept the inevitabilty that they will introduce broad-brush control measures because they feel they can’t take the risk of allowing the minority to dominate.

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  28. Thanks for the comment Jeff. I wouldn’t disagree with the need for constraint maybe just who decides where it should be exercised and why. In the video I posted yesterday I talk about the disabling effect of the tone in which constraint is manifest and the underlying assumptions of who is constraining whom! Some times the most damaging E5P’s are managers!

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  29. Why are many people (including myself) hesitant, if not afraid, to speak up their mind, share their views? I totally agree it is not about the technology. It is (unfortunately) much deeper. I think some of the reasons are the same as the obstacles to learning that many adults and organisations face. For example:- the presence of fear, anxiety, or other stifling negative emotions (amongst others: fear of being ridiculed, criticised, "earmarked" in different ways, fear of having to give up or change some fundamental assumptions or beliefs, fear of the anxiety and uncertainty which often accompany any "unlearning", fear of "career limiting moves"…)- a general culture which previleges and rewards "advocacy" (as in pushing one’s argument, making a point) considerably more than "inquiry" (as in being genuinely curious and interested in exploring others’ as well as one’s own thinking)- a social, educational, political, and business environment, which is predominantly focused on finding and fixing problems, flaws, mistakes, culprits, (in short deficit-based) rather than noticing and amplifying what is good, functional, positive, already working well (in short appreciative)- a society which constantly looks for and upholds primarily spectacular "heroes" of all sorts (fashion, sports, politics, business,…) and rarely if ever celebrates "ordinary heroes" or "simply human" heroes- A very strong bias for action over reflection, short term problem solving over understanding and exploration, competitiveness over cooperation or co-creation.

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  30. Euan’s timing for this debate is spot-on. Here in the UK, we are facing a national debt of eye watering proportions and the inevitable cuts in public spending will affect us for decades. Inevitably some cuts will be misplaced, while other opportunities to make legitimate savings will go unnoticed.I know from working on public sector projects that there are thousands of dedicated (if worried) Government employees who see ‘corporate’ wastage at the coal face every day. When coaxed in conversation, these people come up with hundreds of excellent, practical and do-able ideas for improvement – but don’t want to air their views within earshot of management (‘I don’t want to be the one to complain’, ‘They won’t listen to someone at my level’, etc.).This reluctance to be heard will cost us dearly but, until management stops seeing their staff as a threat to their reputation (I’m the boss – I can’t have them showing me up as lacking ideas) and move towards a more open dialogue (I’m smart enough to employ smart people around me), we will be left with the silent majority of cost-cutting experts. A touch of Nero fiddling? (And I don’t mean MPs’ expenses).

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