Honesty, Urgency and Optimism

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Warning – This post contains honest and personal views with a sprinkle of optimism towards the end and is the culmination of years of frustration and self motivation. No single conversation or person triggered this but merely the collective build up of mediocrity. If you are offended by this then stop reading and move along or skip to the end and read the last section – you’d probably enjoy it.

I’m not generally a political person although there have been times when I’ve thought about putting my name forward to be a councillor or MP. But the current system really puts me off and i believe I can affect change more where I am than in those positions. I often look at elected members and politicians and say “If only they could be more honest and provide a greater sense of urgency” This applies to anything and everything really, however what happens when you know that some are being honest and are trying to create a sense of urgency – what happens then! Well most of the time and this maybe a bit of a stereotype, people jump on them and try to smash them down for telling the truth or not being sensitive enough to the current situation – but I admire and respect those people and we should celebrate and hold them up as leaders more often, instead of reinforcing the status quo.

THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY….

It really frustrates me, when other people, the media, or advisors or whoever it is decides and makes the decision as to whether I’m mature enough to cope with the truth, to respond to it in a meaningful way and to take that truth and to do something with – to motivate me to change a behaviour or to challenge and have a proper debate/discussion about what should happen.

I know that generally speaking the majority of people aren’t really able to cope with the “big truths” and prefer to sit within a bubble of ignorance as it simply makes everything about daily life flow that little bit better. But this doesn’t deliver the sense of urgency required in some situations.

One of the problems I see is that generally speaking most people think and believe that someone else will solve the big problems and all will be fine…they won’t even have to hear about how close we all were to near certain doom or the end of the world…It has been a successful formula for movies for a long time – James Bond, Mission Impossible, Terminator to name a few…

You know the routine – the general public are completely unaware as the hero battles near impossible scenarios and through personal trauma and tragedy to at the last-minute save the day – it certainly makes great viewing with a bag of popcorn and a beer on a Saturday afternoon…but real life isn’t like that…well I’m sure there are the extreme situations where governments are working behind the scenes saving us from Armageddon every other day, but we need to look a bit closer to home and start thinking about the urgency required locally to save our communities, families, friends and ourselves from going into thermal nuclear meltdown.

Now I’m more of a person which would rather fight and go down then simply sit there and watch the world crash and burn around me…I’d rather sink to the bottom of the ocean on a boat then drown 1″ under the water…

I guess what I’m saying and sharing is that – how bad does it have to get for people to get engaged, at what point to people stand up and say – i’m going to do something about this.

I’d like to think I was a good person who broadly speaking tolerated a range of things, I don’t think I could tolerate the people who stop necessary change from happening…people who continue to protect out dated ways of working, people who protect capable people and ignore vulnerable people. People who claim they speak for others when all they do is speak for themselves, people who write policies which support nothing but outdated traditions and reinforce processes that protect themselves and no one else. I just don’t know if I could tolerate the mediocrity around it all, but yet I guess I do and I guess that is what motivates and pushed me to continue working – I actually believe that I can change things – perhaps not alone – I do believe in people and the power of humanity to do the right thing.

I watched a TED Talk video featuring Simon Sinek called How great leaders inspire action – I’ve linked to this before on the blog and the thing that struck me when i watched it again is the Law of Diffusion of Innovation by Everett Rodgers

I’ve seen it and heard it before, I’ve quoted it in meetings before – but something else struck me today in the context of the wider change happening in society and the service changes happening across the public sector.

How are we actually helping people connect to the changes to facilitate a faster adoption rate?

Rogers defines several intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt or reject an innovation.

Factor Definition
Relative Advantage How improved an innovation is over the previous generation.
Compatibility The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life.
Complexity or Simplicity If the innovation is perceived as complicated or difficult to use, an individual is unlikely to adopt it.
Trialability How easily an innovation may be experimented. If a user is able to test an innovation, the individual will be more likely to adopt it.
Observability The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

If i take these 5 areas, it pretty much sums up why the public sector (broadly speaking) is failing to create a sense of urgency and engaging residents, citizens and service users. We simply fail to articulate or even do any of the above, not on purpose, but because the system doesn’t really promote it…other are breaking this down and GDS are an example of this.

relative change: we don’t actually have a good track record of doing things better and the things which stand out as innovative – are not really that innovative but are the best within an overarching system

compatibility: we don’t have a particularly good track record of making things easy to be integrated into people’s lives, we tend to focus on getting people to fit into our processes. We should understand that things happen in people’s lives and we are part of their processes not the other way round

complexity or simplicity: we always over complicate things as we try to make things bigger, more single system focused and that simply drives complexity – we need to break things down, remove complexity and get back to the purpose and outcomes

trialability: as a sector we have a pretty good reputation of thinking we can’t let anyone access anything until it is perfect and then when people complain then have to wait months or years for those changes to be resolved – an obvious solution is to offer a beta solution, a prototype of even design and develop with people and then iterate.

observability: this comes right back to the honesty and urgency thing – we aren’t very good at getting people to see changes, we aren’t very good at admitting that something is different. Comms and marketing people do this all the time, however they can only do it if they have something to communicate and market.

Earlier this week I read an interesting post by Jane McGonigal titled The Hard part is the fun part where she basically provided the contents of a speech she gave at Miami University to around 4000 students, outlining a challenge – a game and I thought it was such a great way to think about the next few years and thought it would be good to share it with you.

I recommend reading the whole contents of the speech and the game itself, but i want to share this bit with you here:

You’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here today, and your reward is that from now on, you get to choose your own adventures. This is a wonderful power to have. You are now officially in charge of your own destiny. And you’ve earned it. So please, have fun with it. Enjoy everything. Even the hard parts! In fact, especially the hard parts. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a game designer, it’s that the hard part is the fun part. We need a good challenge to have fun, to feel alive, to unleash our strengths, to turn strangers into team mates and allies. This is why we play games – sports, videogames, all games. We play them because nothing makes us happier or stronger than tackling a tough challenge that we choose for ourselves…….

…..I try to remember this when things aren’t going so well in my real life. I try to remember that tackling tough obstacles is what we choose to do for fun when we’re bored. If you play any game or any sport, you’re like me. You crave the hard part.

We can all play this game together – we can all help each other, we can all send up our paper air planes for each other to catch and to inspire each other – I see it already on twitter and in unconferences and #camps…keep doing it as we have a hard time ahead and your words help keep me going.

So my virtual plane message is this:

#advicefrom2017 Stay honest, be brave and smile – reflect on where you have come from – you changed the world.

What would you write, who can you inspire.

Thinking, being alone and saying thanks

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Ok, so I am often accused of thinking too much and sometimes I think too much about things which may not seem important to most people, but what isn’t important to you or others may still be important to me – this blog has developed into a place where i can share my thin king regardless of whether anyone actually agrees with it or makes sense of it, I wrote this blog to release my thoughts, to capture them and to time stamp them…this process allows me to move on, to reflect on what I have seen, heard or experienced. Without this blog I’d probably and in all serious have a serious problem.

However this post is not about that, it is about one thing I have come to learn recently – that sometimes when you think, you often push yourself into isolation and into a lonely place, especially if your thinking is so far removed from your peers, friends, colleagues and even your organisations and that you need people around you to help your realise you are not alone.

Now I’m not suggesting my thinking is that far removed from my current employer, well not now anyway…although it used to be and it was the reason why I had planned on leaving and seeking pastures new, pastures where my thinking could develop and grow and be challenged by others in constructive ways and not through ignorance.

It is in this loneliness that you start to seek out likeminded people and seek new opportunities, for me I found other blogs, other twitter folk but more importantly I found real people who were prepared not just to listen to me, but to challenge, to nudge and to encourage my thinking and to help me realise that not only is it ok to think differently but it is also part of the role of a leader to encourage people to share their thinking and to find new opportunities and to shape new futures.

I’m going to acknowledge 4 people, they are not the only 5 people who have helped shaped my life but I want to say thanks as they have stopped me feeling alone and have encouraged and challenged my thinking – in no particular order:

One such person who contributed to my journey and his contribution can not be under estimated is Martin Howitt. He put up with sitting directly opposite me for 2 years, day in day out…I don’t remember getting much real work done but I do remember thinking, drawing pictures, reading frameworks, researching, talking, discussing, more talking, listening, lots of listening, reflecting, conducting thought experiments. It really was the best 2 years of learning and self discovery I’ve done in the last 20 years.  I want to say here that I respect Martin a huge amount and if it weren’t for his friendship, I would have felt even more alone at a time when I felt very vulnerable as a person individually and professionally. For this I say thanks.

Another person who has also played a huge role is my current line manager Tony Parker. When a line manager believes in you, trusts you, empowers you and reminds you that you need to “step up” to the challenges ahead and you can’t rely on others, I can truly say it makes a huge difference to how you see work. Everyday is exciting, regardless of the context you work in, you don’t see the future budget position as a negative but instead you see opportunity to be involved in what will be the most significant shift and change in the future of local public services in generations. This is priceless and when you know your thinking and your judgement is valued it makes all the difference. For this I say thanks.

Another person is Catherine Howe from Public-i. Catherine much like Tony has shown me a level of respect and trust that I often question “how did I earn this respect and trust?” But I know that she has challenged my thinking, stimulated my thinking, validated my thinking as well as believing in me enough to allow me to work for her for a period of time and to learn and experience new things. I respect and admire Catherine a lot, she is simply the kind of person I can spend hours and hours talking and listening to (There are in fact many people in this type of list ) It is important to me to thank Catherine for the opportunity to explore a new style of thinking, to look at something from a different perspective. For this I say thanks

The next is actually a group of people. My team at Devon Russell, Matt, Sam, Patrick and Tim. They are a great bunch of people, they have helped me learn what it means to be a manager, a leader, a facilitator and most of all a critical friend. They make me proud as they are positive, enthusiastic and most of all passionate about what they do and helping to challenge the organisation in how it manages it web and digital presence. They make coming into work enjoyable, fun and most of all I feel part of a team. For this I thank them all.

Last but certainly not least is my wife and family, whom without their love and support none of what I do, think and care about would be possible. On the bad days and yes there are some, they know how to cheer me up, on the good days and yes there are many of those, they enrich it even more with their fascinating stories and tales from their days at school or out and about. But the most important thing they do for me is love me for being me. For that I say thanks.

I guess what I want to say is that sometimes you will feel lonely and you will feel isolated but there are many people who you can connect with who can help take that loneliness away.

As for organisations, the challenge for them is to stop people feeling lonely, to stop those people who have been thinking feeling lonely, those people who are having great ideas feeling lonely and those people who can’t or won’t say anything for fear that they will left alone, from feeling lonely. We need to encourage people to tell their stories, to stop feeling lonely and to keep thinking.

 

Working with @curiousc and Co @Public_i

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I’m very excited to announce that from the end of this month (w/b 27th February 2012) I will be working 2 days a week for a fixed period of 6 months with the lovely folks at Public i as the Citizenscape product manager.

Why am I doing this?

Well that is a good question, I didn’t need to look for additional work, nor was I actively seeking to leave the council, in fact I’m very happy working at the council and we have lots of work to do and push forward as well as some of the additional things that I’m trying to push forward with Sarah Lay like the new Content Strategy Community, all of that will still happen as I’m not working alone and have lots of amazing people to work with to help make these things happen.

But I see this as an opportunity to experience a different culture, different ethos and working with people who are trying to solve a problem I care deeply about – the impact and opportunity of social technologies on democracy.

I’m already doing lots of things in my spare time so volunteering wasn’t ever an option here and I do love working on a variety of topics which are actually at their core linked around a set of common issues:  empowerment, engagement, social capital, participation and of course “digitalness”.

What will I be doing?

First and foremost I’ll be working with the development team and the rest of the good folk at Public I on helping them improve the overall user experience and focus of the Citizenscape product.

I’ll be providing constructive disruption and challenge and hopefully help make it a solution which helps the democratic process evolve.  Obviously 2 days a week is limiting so it will be a challenge but one that will also be a great learning curve for me as well.

The CitizenScape pages  state a set of assumptions which I feel are a good starting point to focus my thinking around the product – are these assumptions still correct for example.

The assumptions behind Citizenscape are simple:

Council’s should not be building social networking sites themselves – there is already a lot of activity online. Local Authorities need to connect to that rather than starting from scratch

You need tools that reach out and exist on the sites that people are already visiting – not waste your time trying to get them to visit you

The social web encourages co-creation and participation – this makes it the right place to start to engage people in democratic debate

On the whole they are still valid..but how does this actually translate into real life…

It is important for me to state up front that the product doesn’t quite work yet, I mean it does work technically, but in terms of the real opportunities I think it has some way to go.

The current version does make me think whether or not I could achieve perhaps 70-80% of the output within some free products like pageflakes or netvibes…that isn’t to say the existing product is poorly made or developed because it isn’t but the challenge is trying to build or create something that is actually still hard to articulate and explain even with the assumptions listed above.

In addition to that another challenge will be to either accept that aspects can be replicated on free platforms and move onto understanding the real value of the remaining 20-30% or increasing the opportunity of the whole product.  I’m not sure what the answer is yet but that is something I’m looking forward to working on over the coming months – whatever the answer, it has to be sustainable.

Will I succeed?

Who knows, I’m lucky to have such an opportunity and to be able to explore this in such a “low risk” environment…I won’t know until I try, It may not work out, or it may work really well…

I want to thank Catherine Howe for allowing me this opportunity to start with and for believing in me enough to allow me to temporarily adopt one of her projects and help steer it forward…that in itself is an honour and a privilege.

All I know is that along the way I’ll be learning, sharing my thoughts and thinking here on my blog.

Children are the best teachers…

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One of the many joys of having young children is that they can teach you so much – how to enjoy simple moments, how to express yourself through dance and how to skip along to just about anything. One of the most interesting areas my children teach me most in is about how human behaviour has changed around the use of technology.

The look on my sons (7 & 5) faces tells me so much when I try to explain that when I was their age, or even a bit older – I had to wait over an hour to “hopefully” load a computer game called manic miner on the ZX Spectrum.  For them it seems to take “forever” to wait for Angry Birds or in fact any game that shows the words “loading” on the screen before you can play it….Oh and the fact trying to explain that I had to use a “cassette tape” to load the game is even more amazing…You’d think I was almost from another planet.

I personally notice this more when my children interact with my mother – not that my mother is technologically ignorant, but I do notice the difference in the language my children use and the expectation they have around specific devices or situations – e.g. every phone is assumed to have a touch screen and is connected to the internet.

A  recent example of when my children made me laugh as well as taught me a new perspective was when my youngest son Finley, who is 5 years old, came home from school one day and walked up to me as said:

“You know on the computer at school, the screen you go to, to ask questions and find things, that is called google” he then did a little dance and then turned back to me with a big smile and said “google, that is a funny word isn’t it” and continued his little dance accompanied by a very infectious giggle.

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever done is actually think about the word google…listening to my son, got me thinking that actually it is a funny word, but up until then it had only ever meant “search” to me….

Another example was when my oldest son Ewan, who is 7, started telling me some very interesting and quite detailed facts about sharks, whales and other sea creatures.  When I asked him if he had found these out via google or the internet, he replied “No Daddy, I didn’t use the computer, I read it in my Ultimate Book of Knowledge”. This made me chuckle at first, I must never assume anything, also it was naive of me to think that the only place children learn is the internet – books, yes real printed books, play a very important role in the development of children (as my school colleagues and library colleagues would testify)…As a parent, I have to let my children help me understand where the balance is…

Sometimes we have to remember that not everyone see’s the world as we do and that we stand a better chance of communicating with people if we start to appreciate the world as they see it and understand how particular things could play a role in that world.

As I say to my children often, everyday is a school day.

To cc or to not cc

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I actually think email is amazing, it is actually quite mind-boggling to think that information I type into a message is received by another person within minutes, anywhere in the world…So I don’t have any issues with email as such but it does have its problems.

One of the most annoying things in my view is the use of “cc” ,  It would seem that not everyone uses it in the same way.  My understanding (i could be wrong of course) is that the use of “cc” is to ensure that those people who are included in the “cc” field are included “for information” purposes and are not being asked the questions related in the email.

However with the emergence of social networks and forums etc, is the “cc” field actually still a valid field to use. If you feel someone ought to be made aware of a communication and feel that there is a potential for them to contribute then why don’t we just include them in the main message.

I know it isn’t really a problem and it doesn’t even matter to most people…but on days when you need to prioritise your mailbox, those messages where I am not the primary intended receiver then I will leave them for another day.

I guess just another reason why we ought to rethink our use of communications technologies.

Ok rant over…