We need more rubbish on the internet.

I was listening to a Jim Rohn tape the other day in which he talks about giving presentations and knowing that only some of the audience will respond well to what he says. Most of the audience will be mildly interested and some will be what he calls “the perplexed”. He says that he loves doing the talks even if only a small group are what he calls “believers” because much of the reason for speaking in public is to aid his own learning. To say things clearly, to say them in public, to say them over and over again.

This is even more true online, some people will respond positively to what you write, many will wonder what the hell you are on about, but lastly, unlike usual face to face etiquette, online there are likely to be some who feel entitled to have a go at you. We all know that disapproving, censorious tone that people adopt when they are ranting about the amount of trivia on the internet and the iconic “I am having a coffee” tweet. The problem with this holier than though attitude is that it makes people nervous of being trivial. The fear not being “important enough” to say what they think in public. They worry that people will think them arrogant for expressing themselves and sharing their thoughts. They opt for the safe option and keep quiet.

This dynamic is even more true in the workplace where the risk of having views and sharing them feels all the more extreme. The problem is that if none of us are brave enough to share none of us get to learn. If that aha moment you have just had about a safety valve on an oil rig seems too trivial to mention the rest of us don’t find out. If your gut feeling that sub prime mortgages are a bad idea seems too contrary to the “smart” people around you you keep it to yourself.

Our tendency to judge and to silence weak signals in our systems is one of their greatest weaknesses. Judgement and disapproval come too easy to too many of us. We need to encourage more noise to make sure we don’t bury the signal. We need more of us being brave enough to think out loud and to do it over and over again – even if some think it is rubbish. We need more rubbish on the internet. We need more rubbish at work

8 thoughts on “We need more rubbish on the internet.

  1. What does it say about our business culture that people are unwilling to express their deeply held beliefs in case they look foolish but happy to put down the opinions of others? Maybe they aren’t the same people and we are back on the subject of bullies and the voluntarily oppressed?


  2. Hey Euan – I think another guy called Stepper has a phrase for this – he calls this Working Out Loud and it covers a number of aspects you mentioned above.

    I suppose great minds think alike 😉


  3. Maybe we just need more great networks like Culturevist (launched by Matt Partovi) – so there feels like there’s more support out there, when people (like me!) do start to take risks by speaking up, making changes that many people know are needed but no-one wants to take responsibility for.

    Maybe such networks can help us all feel more brave? (And less isolated).

    I like Barry Oshry’s call for each of us to ‘be a force for what is missing in your group’.

    When I first came across Culturevist’s credo -‘You’re an activist in your own organisation. You care so much about your organisation’s culture that you’re pretty much willing to lose your job for it’ – I went to a meeting the very next evening, as it was a rather wonderful surprise to see someone saying anything like that!

    It seems a surprising number of people felt the same way.

    Though maybe we could be going at all this from the reverse angle too: is there a way that we can shame those organisations that make the most egregious attempts to shut their staff up online, to block improvements or whatever? A prize perhaps…?

    Kind of like what http://worldblu.com does for democratic workplaces, but in reverse… 😉

    By the way, here’s one example of a ‘gut feeling’ that someone felt they had to ignore – and because of that, history was changed with disastrous consequences. (Perhaps not one you’ll particularly want to hear – it certainly came as quite a surprise to me!).

    Interviewed on Oprah, the air ticket agent, Michael Tuohey, who checked in 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta (with his high-priced one-way ticket) said:

    "I got an instant chill when I looked at [Atta]. I got this grip in my stomach and then, of course, I gave myself a political correct slap…I thought, ‘My God, Michael, these are just a couple of Arab businessmen.’"….When the second plane hit, he knew his instincts had been correct. "My first reaction was, ‘I was right. This guy was a terrorist.’"


    I wonder what would’ve happened if he’d gone with his gut instinct (and had Atta pulled over for checks) and not felt he must go along with the prevailing politically correct orthordoxy?

    Possibly we’d have a much less divided world, and some major, bloody wars avoided…? Even the Charlie Hebdo attack today might not have happened…


    1. It does take people supporting each other as you suggest. Even those in senior positions. It is never "organisations" who ban stuff it is someone within those organisations, for what they presumably think are the right reasons.

      Totally agree about following intuition. It is something we are so conditioned not to trust. We need more people to get over their fears of stating the obvious.

      As you know what motivates me is enough people waking up and working stuff out is the only way to prevent not just terrorism but all of the other big scary things facing is these days.


  4. Two of the recognised "symptoms" of suppressing weak signals (or critical thinking) in ours systems are ‘Groupthink’, where everyone settles on what they believe to be a consensus position or opinion, which has not been optimised through critical debate, and ‘Survivorship Bias’, where overly optimistic beliefs prevail because of the silence or invisibility of contrary evidence (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias). Hence, yes, bring on the rubbish, bearing in mind that what may be rubbish for some is gold dust for others…..


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