Romance

We live in a world that values the transactional. Never forget the romance of the relational.

Photo by Jasmine Carter on Pexels.com

Transactions

We do transactions better than ever. Inputs flow into output. Anywhere on the globe. We dispatch to you at a click of button. Immediate execution. Global marketplaces whizz products to meet needs. Once and done. Efficient, seamless, smooth and ultimately forgettable.

Our homes are full of the products. Our fridges are full of the food. Our phones are full of the opinions. Our feeds are full of the acquaintances. Yet our hearts are a little empty. What we gain too easily we can lose just as easily.

In our focus on transactional efficiency, our embrace of the market and our love of the machine metaphor, we might just have forgotten that there’s magic in inefficiency.

Relationships

Relationships deliver more than transactions. The barriers are lower. The trust is higher. The value is far greater. More importantly the experience is underpinned by the faintly frustrating ever-inefficient frisson of romance.

Romance is inherently inefficient to our transactional world. If you fit, be together, says the transactional view of the market. If not, don’t. Except that’s not how we see relationships, relationships are seen through the hope, the meet, the exploration, the struggle and all the work to sustain a relationship through the ups and downs of life. Much of this work is uncertain, costly and ongoing. The work of relationships isn’t over until you stop working to make them work.

Love at first sight is extraordinary but the romance comes from the difficulty of bringing together the star struck lovers. The meet-cute might appeal but the romance arrives after a lot more work and a lot more investment by all concerned. Relationships take work and that work is where the romance lies.

Most importantly, our transactional world makes things more efficient by fitting everything into standards, categories and averages. Nobody has a satisfying relationship with an Everyman. We want to be seen and loved for who we are, even with our own peculiar bundle of challenges, difficulties and outright flaws. The first romance of a relationship is seeing another distinct from the crowd and the hope that they might too see you. The grand romance is that a relationship continues despite its imperfections.

Customers are great. Fans are better. Acquaintances are pleasant. Friends are better. Advice is useful. An advisor is better. We place our trust, our hopes and the messy work of growth in the relationship choice.

As efficiently as modern digital platforms execute the transactions of our lives, they also highlight that transactions are not enough. We hunger for relationships because in their inefficiencies we are seen as unique and we find romance. That recognition and discovery is the human heart of our lives. No machine is recreating and sustaining that experience.

What relationships do you need to foster?

Freedom From Consequences

People yearn for freedom and talk about it a great deal at the moment. However, much of that discussion confuses what freedom means. Freedom means the ability to choose, not the freedom from consequences.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee

In the sophisticated philosophy of Kris Kristofferson’s country music song, for those with nothing left consequences are irrelevant. Choices are unconstrained. As the song goes, ‘Nothin’ ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free’

A tree falls. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

However, most of us have something to lose. Our position isn’t that precarious. In that difference falls the obligation to look to the consequences and to look out for those who can’t make choices or can’t deal with consequences.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Freedom is the ability to make choices and wear the consequences. Consequences are how we grow. Despite the many contrary views with respect to politics, speech or actions, this much vaunted ideal is not an absence of consequences. If you aren’t prepared to wear the consequences of your choices, then you aren’t exercising freedom. Freedom is not a luxury. It is a burden you work to sustain and that improves you in the process.

Consequences Fall

Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that you toast in champagne. On the contrary, it’s hard graft and a long-distance run, all alone, very exhausting. Alone in a dreary room, alone in the dock before the judges, and alone to make up your mind, before yourself and before the judgement of others. At the end of every freedom there is a sentence, which is why freedom is too heavy to bear.

Albert Camus, The Fall

As Camus highlights, choices have consequences. Words have consequences. Actions have consequences. Your choices will be judged. Someone bears the burden. Where that burden falls will depend on your community and your position in it.

Freedom is what you do with what is done to you

Jean-Paul Sartre

If you can’t see or don’t feel those consequences, you should ask yourself a hard question about what that means. Are you externalising the consequences of your action on others? Is your fame, prestige or privilege protecting you and exposing others whose position is more precarious or who have fewer choices? Or is it that you are in an authoritarian or paternalistic environment, and your freedom means someone else is calling the shots as to where the burdens fall? Because freedom from consequences may well be no freedom at all.

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

Thomas Paine

The modern freedoms we debate are relatively recent concepts in human affairs. They are hard won and sustained by the efforts of many across societies developed to support them. We are free because of our community, not in spite of it.

Coping Community

Tea as a Coping Strategy. Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

We all have our different coping strategies. It is important to recognise that some making it easier for others to cope and some don’t. Let’s all make it easier for others to cope with the challenges of this world.

The Diversity of Coping

Sunday night, I was in a conversation about what I had on this week. As I started to list all the things I needed to do this week, I realised that I was a little overwhelmed by it all. One of my coping strategies is focusing on one thing at a time from the most important to the least. Pulling it all together in a long list made it harder not easier for me. I recognise for others the list is the greatest coping tool of all. On other occasions where the tasks have been more methodical & routine, I have made a list just for the dopamine hit of ticking them off.

We all cope in different ways at different times and for different challenges. Having a wide range of coping strategies matters because it offers us a tool bag that we can swap and change when things are not working. As challenges drag on and get deeper or more complicated, our initial coping strategies can cease working or become unhealthy. My caffeine addiction is much stronger now that making myself an espresso coffee is a regular part of by daily breaks.

Coping Community

We need a range of coping mechanisms because one person’s coping can be another person’s source of stress. We need to take account of others and make sure that our coping is constructive for the wider community around us.

Venting can be an effective way to manage stresses. Just expresses our frustrations aloud can diminish them. However, it is important to note that this can be a cause of stress to others, particularly when our venting exposes new issues, adds to uncertainty or can suggest that we are off-balance when others are counting on our support or stability. We need to vent in ways that are constructive and positive for the wider community around us. That includes on social media.

Many people have control as a coping mechanism. Being more controlling might provide psychological satisfaction in a time of uncertainty. However, it is likely to intensify and magnify the stress for those who experience our control. Losing autonomy over one’s work and circumstances is rarely a positive experience and it is worse in times of uncertainty. If control, is a coping strategy for you, ask yourself what is the minimum you need, what autonomy will you grant and how might you mitigate the worst excesses with transparency, measures and systems to reinforce trust.

When life is overwhelming, it can feel easiest to retreat. To withdraw into our own world and shield ourselves from all the buffeting. Retreat can be time for meditation and recovery. It can also be a time of abdication, abandonment, and depression. The further we are from the world the easier it is to lose context and to lose the path forward. An alternative is making choices on where we will re-engage the communities around us and ask for their help to manage through our challenges. Just one friendly ear or one helping hand can make a significant impact on our ease through challenging times. Being able to rely on a whole community can be transformative.

Not all coping is equal. Consider with care how your strategies enhance your outcomes and those of the community around you. We all need ways to better manage the challenges together.

Where am I going?

We are all not going anywhere. However, today’s stasis may just hide the beginnings of the journeys to come. The next journeys will be of community and change.

Storm brewing. Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

I don’t go anywhere. The study is my workplace. The local grocery stores are my only journeys. The next suburb seems like a wild & reckless adventure. Whether in lockdown or not, I don’t move as much and travel seems beyond conception. I have never been more located in place.

What I have lost is not the movement, I have lost the distraction of that travel. The frustration of the commute can be replaced with a walk around the block better understanding the neighbourhood after 20 years living here, discovering its secrets and coming to know those who are doing the same. All the early mornings, airport waiting, plane trips and transport, is now replaced with reflection, conversation and time to ponder the future. I am no longer distracting myself with rushing from A to B.

Reports suggest there may be waves of resignations to come as people consider anew what matters most to them in their work. Power imbalances at work have not shifted but labour markets have changed with the lack of international movement. There are other changes afoot as work attire is less formal, there is more personal discussion and we expose more of our lives. Back in 2020 I remember a commentator remarking that perhaps we better understand the Roaring Twenties now that we have had our own global pandemic to bring the importance of others and fragility of our lives to our attention. Our present time has its own real issues to address. Perhaps we will see our own Roaring Age to begin to address them. Our present stasis may be masking the real and enduring movements to come.

For now, I don’t move. I work and I talk and I find others who share an interest in change. My experience tells me that these conversations lead to communities and that communities lead to action. My world is changed more by those with whom I am meeting and working than by any journey up the Amazon or to the icy edges of the planet, however fragile those systems may be today. The work I need to do is not out there. It is here and with others.

The next journey is one of community and change.

Becoming

The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of thing become, because he is. He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, not is he fearful of the next moment.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey (gendered language in the original)
Photo by Micah Boerma on Pexels.com

Nobody is perfect. A desire for purity of anything is ultimately destructive, if not murderous. We need to recognise that being human is a process of becoming. We are every changing and perfecting ourselves a little more into the next moment.

With the rise of ideological and social conflicts in the last decade, we have seen the rise of a new standard of perfection. If you do not meet that standard you are to be reviled, excluded or forgotten. One only need look to the 20th century to see how standards of perfection become tests of purity, murderously so.

Demands for purity in any form is an ethos that is ultimately anti-human, however ideologically appealing it may be. Every human society, every human organisation, and every human is imperfect. Degrees of imperfection vary but nobody is perfect.

Capabilities are better than competencies because they are an open ended standard. Conversations are better than speeches because they allow of correction of errors, learning and evolution of the discussion. Hypotheses can fail. Practices can adapt. Decisions can be reversed and bettered. People surprise us with potential. We can get better.

Human Becoming

We are human becomings, to borrow a phrase. Our pasts are always inadequate for this moment, some times grossly and some times slightly. Purity brooks no difference. The test has been failed. You are and cannot become more. Only those who have held themselves out of the fray in some hermit existence or who are shaping the standards have a hope of going on.

What we are matters less than what we might become. We can forgive ourselves our inadequacies, only if we are in the continuous effort to improve. We need to take action. We can’t fear action because we might be imperfect. We need to take action because we are imperfect. The process of doing is how we learn, get feedback and do better.

We can’t excuse inaction or action because we are imperfect. Our imperfections aren’t an excuse to harm others. We need to build our plans to mitigate our flaws. We need to act with integrity, compassion and care. We can’t assume perfect execution. We need to get on with doing what we can, recognising that nobody is perfect, including us.

moments changing each instant
into the next change,
each change tied to the next.
To be human is to have
a sense of being within self.

Simon J Ortiz, Becoming Human

Only the past is changeless, immobile and gone. We must be ready and willing to do the work in the next moment. If we wait for us or for the moment to be perfect, then life will disappoint us. Worse we will disappoint others.

Look upward. Neither firm nor free,
Purposeless matter hovers in the dark.

Thom Gunn, The Annihilation of Nothing

The Inner Critic

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

Many of us are our own worst critics. We must learn to work through this resistance. We must focus on the work, not our internal voices.

A Harsh Critic Whose Always Around

Perfectionism. Self-doubt. Negativity. Depression. Hostile environments. Work we don’t enjoy.

There are lots of ways we can end up critiquing too harshly our work and our contributions. The harsh inner critic can be devastating to our confidence and our output because that critic never goes away. It can be exhausting to battle and inner critic on a daily basis in every task.

Steven Pressfield in his books on art and creativity describes the Resistance. Pressfield’s concept is all those activities we engage in that get in the way of our work. Battling these barriers is a key part of any work.

Some people are blessed with the confidence to never have a second thought around the quality of their work. For others, this doubt can be terrifying and a major barrier to progress. Importantly, it can be devastating to productivity as the excess research, the unwillingness to share work out loud and to ask for help can make achieving anything much harder.

Share and Reflect

A recent article in Inc magazine highlighted the advice of Harvard Professor Susan David in situations like these. Prof David encourages people to get perspective on their work and to reflect on the underlying causes that might be able to be changed.

If you struggle with even that distance and reflection, I would recommend sharing your work with a trusted group of friends or colleagues. Often you discover that the flaws you see aren’t as bad as you think or are fixable. When we are overly harsh, you need the feedback of others to bring some perspective and to make constructive suggestions of how to move forward.

Do The Work Anyway

Never let the people who say it can’t be done interrupt those actually doing it

Popular aphorism

The key point in all this advice is that you don’t have anything to build on unless you do the work. We all have to press through the sense that nothing is better than a bad effort. The opposite is true as Jodi Picoult, author, reminds us:

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

Often our fears of the difficulty of the work and its quality are overblown. When we actually start, it is easier and better than we think. If not, at least it is a start and we can build from a start. That building can be our further work or inviting others in to help. Whichever path we choose we can’t get there until we start.

Sometimes the challenge or the addition work to be done is not obvious until we have a starting point. Starting can make clear that research is required or different work needs to be undertaking in preparation.

Take the time to quiet the inner critic. Bury their voice in the effort of the work. No work is perfect. After all we are only human. The power of being human is the ability to seek some perspective on what you have now achieved, whether alone or with others. That insight will shape what you do next.

Authenticity and Trust in Enterprise Communities: Chat with Rebecca Jackson and Ben Elias

Building on my recent post on the new Post on Behalf of feature in Yammer, I chatted with Rebecca Jackson and Ben Elias, two Microsoft MVPs, on authenticity and trust in enterprise communities. Both Rebecca and Ben have great insights into the background to the feature and when and how to leverage it.

My key takeaway remains that the power of Yammer is employees engaging each other to create value in the organisational strategy. Make sure your use of Yammer is working to that high value end.

From Anger to Action

We live in frustrating times. Anger can motivate change, but only at a personal level. Anger can bring people together but as we have seen collective anger is more likely to be dangerously destructive than constructive. Anger at others is rarely constructive. It might be time for us to focus on the work of change over the angry tone.

A tiger is not angry. It is hungry and purposeful. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A Lot of Reasons to Be Angry

We all have a lot of reasons to be angry at the moment. Civil society is much less civil. We aren’t tackling some of the greatest challenges of our age from climate, to race, to economic exclusion, to a pandemic and more. Much of what constitutes political leadership around the world at the moment is either calculated spin or stoking of these fires. We can’t be surprised that activists are angry and that anger means extreme actions.

In more usual times, I pride myself on my equanimity. That attitude has been a strength to enable me to get results in difficult situations when others have set out to rile me or others. Being the calmest person in the room can be a source of authority and also offer options to see what those who are lost in anger cannot.

‘What about this circumstance makes you angry at yourself?’

a question to ask yourself in moments of anger derived from the work of Charlotte Joko Beck

Of late, I have been angry a lot more than I want. Frustration has been boiling over at others. If I am honest with myself, I am angry at myself more than the world. The last 18 months have been frustrating and exhausting. We have swung between fatigue and the many daily efforts to survive. A lot of people have needed a lot of help and support. Few things have gone to plan. There are parts of our daily work lives which now feel like swimming through treacle. I have wanted to do more and better in many domains of work and in personal and family relationships. I’m frustrated and angry because I don’t feel like I have done enough. Another part of me, knows I have done what I can in the circumstances.

From Anger to Action

An angry mob is rarely a constructive agent of change. Revolutions might begin with a lot of smashing things up. After that we need to get down to the work of building sustainably different future.

Anger can be the starting point for your change. However, you are far more constructive if you build the changes and your daily actions from hunger and purpose (like our tiger above). Refocusing your attention on these key matters helps you from getting distracted by the negatives of anger or frustrated to the point of abandoning the fight.

Moving beyond anger to constructive purposeful action is critical if you want the help and collaboration of others. Nobody has effectively collaborated in anger. There’s too much risk and energy for it to be sustainable. Uncompromising emotion doesn’t make a great platform for constructive change. Leaders of groups of people need to help that group find its hunger for action and a purpose to guide that work. Hunger and purpose are far better and more productive guides than any fiery emotion.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we need to take some self-care. We need time to reflect on what matters to us and the changes we want to see in the world. We can get a lot more done going step by step after those goals, than shouting and smashing things.

Two Yammer Networks and Two Yammer Uses: POBO arrives

Yammer has now released its new post on behalf of other feature (‘POBO’). This feature has been controversial. My advice to anyone is that POBO doesn’t mean the world will end. I might personally prefer it wasn’t used it but in many network use cases, the feature will have value. This post will explain why.

What is POBO?

Posting on behalf of another is a feature of many social collaboration tools, particularly those like Workplace by Facebook that are focused on supporting the needs of employee communication professionals. As the phrase explains it enables someone, usually an communications profession or an assistant, to post on behalf of another person on the network, usually a senior executive.

The logic of the feature is that many senior executives are busy and reluctant to post. However, they can be influential in sharing messages and fostering engagement. Delegating their network activity to a team member is a way for those messages to be shared and engagement to happen.

The critics of POBO rightly point out that employees value genuine leadership engagement. The uplift in adoption from leaders’ participation in networks is a reflection of their genuine commitment to the network, its conversations and actions. People want to see leaders connecting, sharing, solving and innovating with them. POBO risks undermining that for not just the leaders who use it, but potentially creates suspicion on all interactions.

Using POBO is a decision on a spectrum for any community. There are risks and rewards. Undoubtedly, genuine leadership engagement is better. If leaders only delegate through POBO, the community will be weaker.

The Two Yammer Networks

Much of the energy around POBO is that it separates the difference between two ways Yammer Networks are used. Some Yammer networks are employee communication tools. Other networks are platforms for employee collaboration and leveraging the talents of the organisation to support strategy.

I have previously described the difference between a Yammer network run for communication and Yammer networks run for collaboration. The value of the latter is much greater and it is the basis of the work I do using the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration. With the exponential value potential of collaboration, I struggle to see why organisations do not work to make that happen, but I understand that may traditional organisational cultures do not support employees and leaders to have the freedom and safety to connect, share, solve and innovate. If the culture of the organisation is hostile to collaboration, you have a much greater challenge than launching a Yammer network to achieve collaboration.

Each organisations understands just how deeply they can commit to Yammer as a platform for collaboration. The more you have done so, the less value POBO offers. If your Yammer network is purely for communication, then the risks of POBO are much less and its use cases more evident.

Two Yammer Users

The average low engagement user of Yammer will never turn their mind to who posts a post. The feature is largely irrelevant to their experience of Yammer. To them, Yammer is another organisational communication tool, a place to go to get information on the organisation or the work of their colleagues who choose to work out loud.

Much of the energy around POBO comes from the most passionate users who are committed to personal engagement in Yammer networks. This group of passionate champions power community in your Yammer network to the ends of connecting, sharing, solving and innovating. This small group in your network are the employees who will help you realise the value of collaboration across your organisation.

Yammer is platform for organisations to leverage their talents to deliver their strategy. One thing it does incredibly well is help you filter the whole organisation to find those who have the capabilities and talents to drive collaboration in the organisation. Yammer acts a filter for yammer champions. These individuals tend to be passionate, committed members of the wider organisational community. These individuals bring critical network skills that can benefit your organisation well beyond Yammer and often outside of the organisation into stakeholders and the wider community.

Having worked with Yammer networks and in the global Yammer community for a dozen years, I can testify that these champions are diverse and talented bunch. There are few patterns to determine who gets the bug of helping their colleagues to connect, share, solve and innovate. The power of Yammer networks is to help you find these people and more importantly to help them find each other. I get extraordinary support, learning and capability from the global Yammer family that I have met through advocating for and working on adoption of this product.

You want to find these people in your organisation.

Expose Your Intent

Make your intent obvious. The world aligns around those who show intent. You never know who can help you realise your goals.

For many years, I have passionately advocated for working out loud and open ways of working. My logic is simple, they work better and I have had personal experience of the differences sharing your work can make. Today, I wanted to focus in on the power of sharing your intent.

Expose Your Intent

Photo by Vicky Tran on Pexels.com

Somewhere through late childhood and early years of work, as our lives become more competitive and demanding, we develop a sense that our intent should be hidden for our best effectives. Some time people will outright advise us to keep our goals secret. Other times we learn from the behaviour of others. We start to fear that others want to frustrate our efforts. We start to believe that we can better achieve our goals through secrecy and manipulation.

The easiest way to achieve your goals is to align other people around that goal. Rarely, is that changing other people’s intent. Mostly, it is finding people who share the same intent. Finding the aligned is like looking for a needle in a haystack, unless you share your intent publicly.

When you are public about the intent of your work, you discover most people are indifferent. Very few people will go out of their way to stop you. Most people who discourage you would discourage any attempt at anything. They can see the challenge and not the opportunity. Both groups will be outweighed by the potential of finding those who can help or can help connect you to others.

The commonest reaction I get to sharing the intent of my work is for someone to say ‘I didn’t realise that’s what you wanted to achieve’. Often that is followed by ‘I can help.’ If someone declares or shows their intent to frustrate me, at least I know who to avoid in future.

Make Intent Real

A second benefit of putting your intent out into the world is that it makes it real. When we declare the goals of our work it helps make that goal tangible to us. Ideas in our head have a habit of shifting and becoming vague over time without the benefit of being shared and acted upon.

Nothing keeps me more honest to my intent than someone saying ‘Hey, Simon, you said you were writing a book. How is it going?’ Putting your intent out into the world enables others to help by holding you to account in little and big ways.

Find something you want to achieve, big or small. Share it with one or more others. Be surprised by the differences you see.