I’m always thinking of ways in which I can post things that are interesting and, hopefully, useful to those of you who take a little precious time out of your day to visit my blog. I’m a big fan of quotes and, rather than throwing a few out here and there – at least for right now – I just discovered my friend, Euan Semple has a nice collection of them on his website. So, I thought I would share them with you.
I find there is much wisdom to be gained from well-selected quotes of famous, and not-so-famous, people. Euan’s are really good. So, please take a moment and click on this link. You won’t regret it. My thanks to Euan for sharing his latest update of the page on Facebook.
Here’s one of my favorites: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
I worked for over two decades at a very large (and exceedingly ponderous) corporation. Actually, I worked at three of them without every leaving the location I originally hired in at. Although I worked at a company called Rocketdyne, it was a division of Rockwell International when I hired in. It was later sold to The Boeing Company and, in 2005 was purchased by United Technologies and became a part of its Pratt & Whitney family.
Each one of these organizations were not only capable of, but repeatedly dabbled in a level of bureaucratic numbskullery that I still find hard to fathom. I have yet to have it explained to me – at least in a way I can understand – why large for-profit organizations engage in activities that are guaranteed to hinder their ability to perform well or that cost far more than is reasonable. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone who’s directly involved in them can explain why it’s so, because I’ve never known anyone who said it was their job to slow down or squash anything . . . yet that’s exactly what happens in many instances.
The other day I watched a video shared with me and others by Euan Semple. I would link to the video, but it’s been removed by the user. I guess it was meant to just make the point for Euan mostly. Anyway, shortly after looking at it I came across a three-year-old email I had sent to a colleague. The video Euan shared was made by a student. It’s quite simple and shows how many of the social sites this college student wished to go to during the course of a day were blocked by the school’s policies. Maybe you’re thinking that isn’t such a bad thing, but I’m of the belief that people should be trusted first, as most are trustworthy. Should they betray that trust, then there might be consequences based on their situation. Spending 15 minutes on Facebook catching up with friends and family is not the same as spending an hour or two trading stocks online or visiting pornography sites. Wholesale domain blocking does not exhibit any level of trust at all and tends to alienate the majority of people who want access when they need it, but will not normally abuse the privilege.
Now to the rediscovered email. I’ll let it speak for itself. The episode which sparked it is not terribly important in my opinion, though it was important enough for me to memorialize and share it with a colleague whose mission was (and is) to steer the organization from simple-minded, one-size-fits-all policies and procedures. This is, I think, what it evidences. I hope you don’t think it too petty of me to point it out. I think this approach still dominates the thinking of the corporate world, as well as academia, as evidenced by the video Euan shared. What follows is my email.
I don’t know what to make of this. Well . . . actually, I kinda do. It’s kind of funny, yet somehow a bit infuriating. Allow me to explain. As you may or may not recall, the men’s room near my cubicle was recently finished and re-opened. One of the features they installed is those waterless urinals. I’ve only seen them once before, and each time I go in I make note of the name of the company – thinking to find them on the Internet so I can read something about the science behind them. Also, each of the urinals has a bee painted on them and I wanted to see if I could find something quickly about why (though I suspected I already knew). At any rate, I finally remembered to investigate both (after several weeks of forgetting as soon as I got back to my computer) and found what I wanted and decided to just click on Google images as well. The first picture was of a urinal with a fly – not a bee – painted in the sweet spot.
I decided to take a close look and clicked on the picture. Although I was able to see the picture, even open the full-size image, the website it was on (which appears in a lower frame in Google images) was blocked by Websense. What I find remarkable, ironic, asinine, stupid, foolish, and probably a dozen more useful adjectives is the category they chose to block it under – “Tasteless”. Tasteless!!!! Is there some sort of absolute scale on which that quality can be measured? It was probably the name, but what if the website was about caring for infants or puppies or god knows what? This I find not a little insulting. What children they think we are! Let’s not forget the further irony that I could, for all their blocking, see the image. Perhaps I should sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Here they made an attempt to insulate me from something as tasteless as this, and I was nevertheless forced to look at a painted fly in a vitreous porcelain urinal due to the incompetence of Information Technology and UTC Policy. I hope I recover. I hope I can sleep tonight.
There! I got it off my chest. Please realize this email was sent approximately 3 years ago, so some things (like Google’s positioning of images and their associated sites) have changed. If Euan’s friend’s example is any indication, however, other things haven’t changed at all. I don’t think this bodes well for any organization seeking to do its best work. My experience says it hinders creativity and innovation, as it blocks people from following leads and decreases whatever chances might exist for serendipity and loose ties to open up new avenues and approaches to solving problems.
Euan Semple is a friend of mine; at least in the sense we are “friends” on Facebook and we are “connected” and have engaged in an email conversation on LinkedIn. I also follow him on Twitter and read his blog (somewhat infrequently, I must confess). I know he’s read my blog at least once because he commented on a post of mine. We have not yet met face-to-face, nor have we had an actual conversation where we could hear each other’s voices (each others’ voice?), say . . . over the phone or with Skype.
This morning I came across an item on my Facebook wall from him. It was a link to a video of his Do Lecture, shared through his blog, “The Obvious?”. I don’t see too many things from Euan in Facebook, so it caught my attention. I clicked on it to open a tab with the link so I could view it later. Many times I don’t end up viewing the item I’ve set aside, but this time I did. I’m very glad too. You can listen yourself here.
Euan is probably best known for his introduction of forums, blogs, and wikis to the BBC and now spends his time advising organizations on how to integrate these and other “social” applications into their businesses. You can learn more about Euan from his blog or from his website.
As I’m writing this I see one of his friends has commented on the original Facebook post. She says she finds his talk bitter sweet, because he says what she’s been saying too . . . to no avail. I have to admit to feeling the same way, though I did manage to get some traction in changing the organization I spent nearly a quarter century with.
Euan clearly knows what makes an enterprise tick. He also is keenly aware of the numerous ways in which traditional organizations and management waste time and energy and, actually, hinder progress in most every enterprise that’s built on the traditional, hierarchical business model we’re all so familiar with.
I strongly suggest you listen to his lecture yourself. It’s only about a half-hour and it’s quite enlightening and entertaining. He’s a wonderful storyteller. I actually took some notes while I was listening – which is not like me at all – and here are some thoughts that stood out. I’d sure be interested in hearing any of yours.
Euan points out that fear of messiness is troubling. I forget his exact word, but I wrote down the thought it triggered for me, and that was fear of messiness stifles creativity and, therefore, innovation. In addressing the fear that using social media would get out of control, he reasonably points out we still need middlemen to make sense of all the data and information out there. I have heard the people I believe he’s talking about referred to as curators or gardeners. He goes on to point out what we don’t need are gate-keeping middlemen who add no value at all.
He makes quite a few points about culture and how best to deal with the inevitable resistance and fear one encounters when even talking about social media. One of them is a reference to the concept of Trojan mice, i.e. unobtrusive, small things that generate change through their adoption and use. Another comes from one of the few slides he used with words – “Easier to build a tool for the community than a community for the tool” – though he expresses a bit of distaste for the way many view communities. Here he points to the difference between conscripts and volunteers and, for me, invokes the value of emergence, that communities spring up from recognized, shared needs and desires, not from the dictate of management.
I think my favorite thing he talks about is the dreaded ROI argument; one I was beaten about the head and shoulders with for many years, both in terms of knowledge management and later regarding the use of social media (which I have argued elsewhere is what KM is really about; surely the kind of KM I’m most interested in!) to connect people. In a sense, it’s what the entire lecture is about, but he offers up what he calls a Scotsman’s tip about ROI – “Keep the I really small and no one will give you shit about the R”. I got a kick out of that.
So, please take a half hour of your time (plus however long it took you to read this far) and check his lecture out. It’s quite good. It helped me get to know Euan a little better, as well as reinforced my thoughts about so many things I don’t know where to begin. It is, indeed, bitter sweet for me as well.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.