Social Business

Thorny Issues

Disruption is here. So they say. And as more and more parts of society get disrupted, disruptions themselves are getting disrupted too. Technology has brought alive possibilities that were once farther than Pluto. But those possibilities have brought with them aspects that haven’t been thought of, as much as they should be. And that is proving to be more than just a mere thorny issue!

The delivery boys of Flipkart and Myntra are on strike. Obviously their operations have been disrupted and material that was to have been delivered stay piled up in warehouses. The operations of Flipkart, a poster story of success that disrupted traditional distribution models, with employee friendly policies and such else, suddenly finds itself amidst bad press. Those that are privy to finer details at Myntra and Flipkart will perhaps be able to complete the story, for I know whatever little from the press.

In a poignant piece titled, ‘The Last Mile Boys” the Indian Express walks you through a day a in the life of a delivery boy. One read made me present to how impervious several of us (me included) are, to what it takes to bring some ‘delight’ customers like us. The clamour for better “User Interface” is definitely far higher and gets more hits than the attention the realities at the unglamorous ends the pipe require.

Come to think of it, this isn’t something that the Flipkarts and Myntras of the world have introduced. Contract employment is euphemism for ‘second class employee’ status and ‘filthy class’ treatment, amongst most corporate for decades now. From Apple to Nike, marquee names have dark circles that are ugly in this respect. The collapse in 2013, of the Rana Plaza perhaps marked an important point in history for such practices.  It is indeed true, that this has put food on the table and kept aspirations for a better life ‘someday’ alive for several underprivileged populations that signed up for it. Sometimes knowing fully well, what it takes.

Vivek Patwardhan, someone who I have immense respect for, has been blogging consistently on these topics. In his own irreverent style makes a telling point, in this blogpost on the Flipkart & Myntra issue. In fact, several. He leaves you with a few striking questions about a general mindset that permeates the corridors of several corporates : The seeking of disproportionate benefits for one end of the pipe and bringing alive extreme problems.

Speaking of extremes, serendipity got a stirring piece by NYT columnist Anand Giridharadas on my screen. It is called “The Thriving World, The wilting world and you“. I went over it a few times for the weft and warp of the arguments and more for the fundamental provocative message it holds. Anand Giridharadas, speaks of “Extreme Winners & losers”. We are no longer content with winning. In fact, its become (or is fast becoming) binary. If it isn’t EXTREME winning, it is classified as ‘losing’.

Any form of ‘extreme’ will obviously require responsibility, balance and degree of conscience to thrive for a reasonable time. He says, “Some of us  have the feeling of living in one of the most extraordinary times in human history; many others around the world have yet to see those times benefit them in any tangible way; and still others are watching their lives get worse day by day — sometimes, perhaps, so that ours can get better.”

Its not as though we don’t know or our conscience doesn’t poke around a bit. Corporates and individuals have ways of dealing with this. With projects on Corporate Social Responsibility, personal donations to causes and such else, we aim to deal with the guilt that arises out of knowledge that we are part of the system that perpetuates these wrongs. Anand reminds us that generosity is not a substitute for justice. And that we may not be as virtuous as we imagine ourselves to be. The quest for extreme wins keep our need to preserve the game as it is and soften the blows by doles and donations.

“I have heard too many of us talking of how only after the IPO or the next few million will we feel our kids have security. These inflated notions of what it takes to “make a living” and “support a family” are the beginning of so much neglect of our larger human family.” That to me is the line that points to the core of the issues at hand.

Almost a decade ago, commencement speech by Tom Brokaw at Stanford wrapped all of my attention. At different points in our history, he pointed out, we have felt as though we have stood at the edge of time’s precipice, poised to change the world. And yet, in our quest to do better we have often ended up far worse although it appeared we did make progress. Impairing the human condition, maiming mother Earth and sometimes destroying the very foundations of dreams and aspirations of generations that followed. There is one line from his speech that has stayed with me.

“You live in a world of personal computers and search engines, e-mail and network, capacity and storage, research and retrieval, entertainment and commerce. But it’s also important to remember that it will do us little good to wire the world if we short-circuit our souls“.

And that is precisely what we must remember. For an ecosystem to flourish, every part of the ecosystem must stay healthy. One trampling over another creates an imbalance that will wreck the whole place.

Technology makes new possibilities alive for all of us. Most of the delivery boys of Flipkart and Myntra are adept at using their smartphones for a variety of things. These smartphones provide a window , nay a ringside view, of all that happens in the world.

As it connects more and more glass, panes of transparency are fast replacing concrete black walls. These glass walls get more of us wanting to truly participate and ask new questions. Questions that emerge from this new information and the new opportunity to have free flowing conversation with similar people across the world. There is a new world of aspiration and action that is fast emerging.

It is here that the seams of what was stitched up ages ago will go under strain.  It is at the seams that the thorny issues will hurt most.

Even as this transformation is taking place, we have it in us to give it shape to help it become what can be better off for all of us. After all, human ingenuity, imagination and intelligence will ultimately triumph in areas that it trains its thoughts on. It is a matter of what we keep our focus on. Of course, disruption will keep getting disrupted.

New clues

Some years ago, I chanced upon a book. The chancing was a large dollop of serendipity that came in the middle of a casual conversation. Sometimes, serendipity can throw at you what years of careful preparation doesn’t.

When I did nestle the book in my hands for the first time, the promise that it held within was wrapped thick in 95 theses that seemed rather simple to read.  It didnt reveal, at first look, the scale of influence it would end up having on my line of thought and more importantly the direction of my search, as I continued a restless waddle on the digital thought waves of the new world.

That book is The Cluetrain Manifesto. The entire text is here

the cluetrain


The book is a delightful read and made a comprehensive case of the line of thought for the internet in the new world.

“The Cluetrain Manifesto is a set of 95 theses organized and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what is suggested to be a newly connected marketplace. The ideas put forward within the manifesto aim to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organizations. In addition, as both consumers and organizations are able to utilize the Internet and Intranets to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the manifesto suggests that changes will be required from organizations as they respond to the new marketplace environment” – Wikipedia.

It was about the internet. It was about how it was going to impact our lives. It was about what it meant to live with the new tools that appeared on the horizons of the connected world and in a flash, got a permanent presence in homes and offices!

The book was published in 1996 and chance brought me to it more than ten years later.  The predictions of the quartet comprising of Rick Levine, Doc Searls, David Weinberger and Christopher Locke seemed not only praiseworthy but were prescient in the sharpness of the observations.

As I read, and re-read, recommended, spoke of, wrote about, designed work and programs with these, my own ideas morphed beyond the book. Yet, the book and the ideas in the book remained significantly important. To me, proof of someone in the digital space (and slowly extended to any and every domain) was worth their salt, was an appreciation of the central themes and ideas in the book.  They could disagree with the idea or even dismiss it.

But if they didnt know about the book or were ignorant of the core ideas it contained, well, they had work cut out for them. You may say thats extreme, but thats how important I see this work to be.

There is reason for me to bring this up now. Two of the authors Doc Searls and David Weinberger have come together to write “New Clues“. For the times that we are in now.  I have been reading and soaking it up. There remains work to be done. A ton of it.

“It’s something between the noise of a rocket leaving the launchpad and the rip of Velcro as you undo a too-tight garment” they write. Amidst 121 other new theses. In a format that introduced the original idea.

From the times of the early internet things have emerged. Our realities and context has shifted enough for us to stand on a ledge, a precipice of sorts. A precipice that has emerged where there was a solid ground just a while ago. A new narrative is required. New conversations are so needed.

I am sharing this with you, so that the next time we meet or chat, our coffee will be richer with this new conversation. About the new clues.

The puzzling maze that our connected world provides, is filled with an array of possibilities, dilemmas and such else that it needs new narratives to navigate. Narratives that we will script. The ‘New Clues‘ will help.

Am tired of social

I am getting a bit tired of ‘Social’.  ‘Enterprise 2.0’. ‘Social Learning’.  And labels of that nature. Every conference has speakers waxing eloquence on it and its magical prowess of transforming organisations. The usual smirks by those that dont agree and the vigorous nods by those who do, follow. I used to be another who vigorously nodded. Now, my nod is less pronounced, if at all.

The power of what essentially is ‘social’ hasn’t diminished one bit. In fact, it has only gotten augmented by all the conversation about it. But there is something that just isnt right. Infact something is wrong, when you realise that nothing is changing on the ground.

Some poking around the ground and some conversation later, these are my thoughts.

a. ‘Social’ is not a set of a skills. Its a way of working. Its a mindset, in my opinion. Sure, it does help to have  set of  ‘social’ skills that can be built over time. In the absence of a fundamentally different mindset however, we begin to use these newly acquired skills of using social tools, using the mindset that fit a different era.  It is easy to mistake familiarity with these tools as presence of a social mindset. It can be jarring.

b. This means, significantly unlearning (and sometimes dismantling) what we are so used to doing as routine and approach work, learning and life, ground up. Jane Hart wrote very interesting post about ‘Fauxial Learning‘ a while ago. It is a pointer to how and where the conversation must move to : helping people see value in fundamentally different areas.

c. Our focus and our conversations revolving around  ‘outcomes’ and how seamlessly we reach there will be far more fruitful. More often than not, thats going to involve fundamentally redesigning work. That is tough work. It is just not technology. It requires change processes to be deployed over time. But thats the work that needs to be done.

The more the time we spend on discussing features of the next “new, improved, shiny social too” we are going to be that much more longer away from fundamentally impacting organisations, by leveraging social.

So there. Am tired of the noise around ‘social’. Am tired of the wrappers that announce ‘social’. The wrapper mistaken for the toffee can cause more damage to what the toffee is perceived to be.

I understand that we have to go through this phase too. Its just that I am impatient for it to pass, ushering in a time when we debate our dilemmas on the way our social mindsets are evolving.

Boxing the boxes

Daniel McCallum may not be a name that rings a bell. But for anyone who carries a title on the business card, has a boss and a bunch of people ‘reporting in’, saying a word of thanks to McCallum is long overdue. Way back in the 1857, he put together the first org chart, as its called now.

They went on to become much popular and more widely adopted much later, in the early twentieth century As an employee of the New York and Erie railroad company, this was his way of ensuring the trains didn’t run into each other. His principles of management were simple. He lists six and I quote from Wikipedia.

First. A proper division of responsibilities.
Second. Sufficient power conferred to enable the same to be fully carried out, that such responsibilities may be real in their character.
Third. The means of knowing whether such responsibilities are faithfully executed.
Fourth. Great promptness in the report of all dereliction of duty, that evils may at once be corrected.
Fifth. Such information to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.
Sixth. The adoption of a system, as a whole, which will not only enable the general superintendent to detect errors immediately, but will also point out the delinquent.

About the core principle of management, he summarized:  All that is required to render tho efforts of railroad companies in every respect equal to that of individuals, is a rigid system of personal accountability through every grade of service”.

Do take a minute to go over words and phrases above. ‘Sufficient power’. ‘faithfully executed’. ‘derelections of duty’. ‘evils may at once be corrected’. ‘point out the delinquent’. Pause for a minute and think about these. Do they sound like belonging to another age? Well, they do to me.

Clay Shirky in his book ‘Here comes everybody’ makes a pointed reference to point number five. Go over point five again and you will realise how far we have come, and why many forms of ‘social’ still continue to be unpopular within the confines of the boxes in the hierarchies, while enveloping influence across society. Suddenly many things become clear.

Much change is upon us, isnt it?  So much has changed since the first trains started chugging. And modern day digital tools have made it pointedly easy for people to converse, come together, organise themselves and create meaningful stuff sans the need for a hierarchy. While quoting the Arab Spring movement, Occupy movement could well seem cliched, you cant take away the fact that they all flourished without an established hierarchy where power and authority was formally devolved. Nevertheless these have been successful.

Hierarchies though continue to thrive. Within the boundaries of corporations and business. They have their place as well. The pain begins when hierarchies are seen as the only form of coming together, sometimes seemingly in blissful ignorance of how other forms of community, coming together and creating value are emerging and thriving.

What is clearly emerging though, is this.

1. Even within well established hierarchies, beneath the solid and dotted lines, and the well stacked ladder of boxes, ‘influence’ is getting fresh new soul. Influence always peeked out from the boxes through individual competence. Every organisation has some folklore of some junior manager who was sought out for advice when a specific problem came up. But for ages, the title on the boxes could simply override competence.

Only now, people have found new ways of sharing thoughts and engaging with each other. Conversing, collaborating and meaningfully engaging. And that means that the good old junior manager who was sought out to fix the problem, has a more definitive chance of influencing a wider set of people across the organisation! Across industry. Influence is fast moving out of the box to those that really are able to engage and contribute in a meaningful way.

What does this mean in the modern day?
a. The ‘occupiers of the boxes’, (they perhaps have earned it or have had it thrust upon them) must thus move beyond the authority that the boxes bestow and strive to earn real influence. That is a whole new language. This also consciously means unlearning and relearning the language of the modern day world. This is the challenge for leaders of our present day.
b. Real influence comes with sharing of expertise, connecting people and helping people solve problems. Modern social tools offer an opportunity to scale this to exponential levels, in only one learns the proper usage and adoption of such tools.
c. In the connected world, boundaries are meaningless. At best, they serve as administrative requirements. In the modern day, influence is garnered by going well past organisational boundaries and collaborate. Oftentimes the walls of the big box in which the many small boxes sit themselves are fusing. Influence is moving beyond the organisation

Box the hierarchy. Throw it into a corner. Talk like normal people do. Without the weight of the designation on the business card. The next time we meet, talk to me as you. Without the box.

Cards, badges and trinkets

Every conference, breakfast / lunch / dinner interaction, round table and other professional meeting usually left me with a few things. An array of thoughts, usually. If I was lucky, a bouquet of ideas. At other times the chance acquaintance of a someone who had a wavelength that matched and was generous with the sharing. These obviously happened on my lucky days. How I wished it happened in all conferences.

But there were two ubiquitous results from every single conference.  One was a guilt ridden memory of having indulged in the dessert a tad more than what I could afford. (sigh)!  Another was a clutch of business cards from fellow attendees.

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of some spring cleaning, I unearthed many stacks of business cards, collected with a fervour matching a fanatic, from a slew of conferences over time. Were they another form of paper , like say currency, I could sit across the Sultan of Brunei and give him a complex. That much. Unfortunately, these were plain business cards.

At the moment of exchanging cards, each business card was pregnant with an opportunity for a conversation and an exchange of ideas. But now, in the midst of the spring cleaning, the silent sighs announced the still born scene sans melancholy. Passing around business cards suddenly seemed a meaningless ritual.

Of course, they carried a logo, a designation, a name. But obviously, these were dead cards. Devoid of a voice. People had moved companies. Or companies had moved addresses or moved company themselves : morphing into new conglomerates or disappearing without a mention. If that were the case with companies and their addresses, less said about titles and telephone numbers, the better.

The cards made people and their positions seem yawningly ancient. ( If you have been to enough conferences, I can safely bet that you would have had the experience of someone telling you, ‘this is an old card. Am transitioning into a new role’, even as he/she is presenting the card to you).

It didn’t take a long while for it to dawn on me that my business cards would have similar antiquated positions in several stacks in peoples homes and offices, bristling with the ignominy of having been ignored! The people that really desired to talk to me, found me nevertheless. So was the case with people I wanted to connect to. We spoke. We continued the conversation. On twitter. On the blog. On Linkedin On Facebook. On Pinterest. On Google Plus. Most found the good old mail box!

The ‘distribution’ of business cards, it became obvious, was a static activity incoherent with the order of the present day world. A ‘in-the-moment’ world, where I am almost always available for a conversation. I just had to make known where I am most available! (Unlike business cards, I could have different places that I would point people to, in different contexts and situations).


Upon a whim I decided to stop using business cards and thought of a badge and a baggage tag as an alternative. The #TechHR14 conference organised by People Matters was the ground for experiment.

The result has been more than merely ‘interesting’. Of course, a certain degree of novelty would have perked the eye. Twitter friends loved it! 🙂
Sunder put it out on twitter  later in his fabulous video of the conference as well, and the rest of history is still happening.

There were some interesting conversations on the sidelines though. Here they are. Three of them. Awesome reasons. Read on.

#1. A friend on seeing the badge spoke of ‘immersive connection’ that looking up the twitter handle and a conversation would lead to versus, a ‘passive connections’ that one more business card in the bag will have. It sounded so profound that I felt strangely proud!

#2. A complete stranger, a fellow conference attendee, complemented me on the badge. Proceeding to give me a low down on the history of business cards and them being more a preserve of aristocracy, and how with one action of mine I had helped reiterate the message that the internet doesn’t tolerate hierarchy. It sure sounded as though I had single handedly won a war or something.

#3. Yet another friend, spoke of how my wearing my twitter handle as ‘my identity’ was a massive thing and he couldn’t imagine doing it. I was convinced I had won the world championship in some sport!

Before these read as rotten fatuous self praise, I must confess that these didn’t occur to me at all before these people said it. Truth be told, I was just solving a problem of business cards piling up! Of course, I nodded in knowledgeable agreement and thanked each of them. They were all right and sounded so solemn.

But I was more than merely impressed that this had struck a chord. If you would put me behind a pulpit asking me to deliver a ‘victory speech’ it would go like this :  “People, this is 2014. There is global warming that is leaving a gaping hole somewhere up there. The internet is breaking down walls and ways of working. All the feedback that have come my way has only reinforced the belief that the era of the business card and what it stood for is clearly in the past…..”

Of course, I’d be silent on how some folks felt that it was plain wrong (‘bordering on arrogance’) to assume that most people would be on twitter and would want to connect with me on twitter. ( ‘Business cards provide options’, was also heard!). For now though, that argument isn’t going too far with me. Will keep you posted. Also, at the end of this conference, I still have a clutch of business cards to sort given to me by people. I only have the satisfaction of not having given out any.

That day, much after the conference, I was checking in at the airport. I didn’t realise that my shirt continued to sport the badge. An old lady with a quiver in her voice that didn’t energy and curiosity, was seated next to me at the airport She was visiting her grand kids in Mumbai she said. We spoke about the weather and such else. After a while, she asked, ‘what is that trinket pinned on your chest’?

Now, it had been a long day. I was tired. I took a moment to gather my energy and wondered where I should begin. She wasn’t in any mood of waiting though. With a smile and mischief filled half wink said, “Whatever it is, it looks good. I haven’t seen it before. Besides, its close to your heart”.

That settled it well!

Keeping count

We were all set to get into a meeting and the phone rang. I had a few minutes. I picked the call to hear a lady with an impeccable accent speak.  She cut through the basics as only accomplished professionals can. “We work on getting you more followers on twitter” she said.

In another few minutes of conversation, it was widely apparent that she not only knew what she was talking about but was also good at speaking about it. It boiled down to this: For a fixed fee, my follower count will magically increase. It was a tiered approach. Different fee for different slabs!

I was more than intrigued for several reasons. For one, she gave me stats about my twitter account that I hadn’t quite bothered to keep up with.

Second, ‘enhancing follower count’ was a ‘business model’ that merited an outbound call to an individual (and not a brand). After all, getting marketer friends to think and talk beyond buying ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ on Facebook and Twitter has been an uphill trudge of sorts.

But to an individual?

An individual buying more followers (“Grow the follower count inorganically” as the lady put it) seems very creative but doesn’t cut much respect. This of course is my perspective and I can frankly do with some education here.

Forgive me if this sounds clichéd and you can’t help letting go of a yawn. I come to twitter to learn. That learning is from conversations. And benefiting from all the stuff people around the world are sharing on a continual basis. The follower count and all the statistics thereon, matter much less, relative to all that I am garnering from the place. It is a fantastic market place of sorts filled with rich conversations often blossoming into relationships and influence beyond borders.

Short cuts come with compromises.

“Isn’t it easy”, I asked her, after recovering from the initial surprise, “for anyone to click on the “followers” you are promising to get, to figure out that most of the followers are eggheads”?  Or at best, a smorgasbord of flotsam and jetsam. Or people with absolutely no relation to what I tweet about usually. Isnt it a sure fire way of destroying reputation? Wasn’t it flirting with disaster?

By now, I guess she realised, that there wasn’t much of a point to her continuing the conversation with me. “Look, who has the time to click into your follower list and verify?”, she said with mild irritation. “And lots of people are doing it”. That was the last straw. Of course, I know people who are doing this to themselves. It saddens me, but then, who am I to judge.  Perhaps a few calls like this one went lured them or tipped them over. Whatever! I hung up soon after, thanking her for the midweek lesson and politely told her that I have no names to offer her as ‘leads’ (after she asked).

The ask on twitter is simple, it is to give! It is to participate in conversations and exchange ideas. Or at least that’s how I work it. If there is an interesting point of view or a conversation thats on, I relish and jump in. Irrespective of follower count.


From Hugh MacLeods @gapingvoid Daily Cartoon for March 10, 2010

Euan Semple wrote a fantastic post on ‘agency’.  The stuff that he didn’t write about there, is that it takes time to build relevance and agency. It takes hard work. Buying your way into ‘relevance’ doesn’t work. For in most cases, it so easy to lose what you build when word spreads!

Another fantastic post that I came across some time ago is this.  Do give this a read. It is about crafting your story. Not just the story, but to live a life that is worthy enough to tell that story with pride!

The lady was right. I dont have the time (and more importantly the inclination) to peer into anybody’s follower count to check if we should chat. A point of view, a pointer to a resource with respect and fun is nevertheless going to get me and most people started on a conversation.

I guess the classic ‘goals & measures’ debate applies. The goal in some quarters is to ‘have fun / influence / learn etc’ on twitter. Sometimes that gets measured through follower count. In the melee to get more “followers” the goal of being ‘really successful’ in twitter is missed. And slowly the primary goal becomes increasing the ‘follower’ count and voila, the measure has morphed to become the goal. When measures become the goal, mayhem follows.

Am not sure if there is anything more than a sustained enthusiasm to evolve and revolve around sharing and being of help in the stream. Wichever stream. Followers and reputation will happen, with engagement and relationships over time. “Pay to magically grow your twitter followers” doesn’t quite add up in my mind. At any point in time, it can singularly ruin a reputation.

I am sorry if this post takes a ‘holier than thou’ hue. Thats not my intention. To experience a marketing campaign that attempts to lure people down the wrong road (or so I think) raises a few heckles in me.

Sometime later, I read this “Eulogy for Twitter” (with a subtitle which read “The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight.”) and this response to it on Slate. Of course all via twitter.  I thought again of the impeccable accent and the call. Several things began to fall in place.

Now that the rant is over, here’s wishing you a fantastic week ahead. May we all work at the arc of possibility and create futures that we can be truly proud of.

A connected world beckons

A new year invites us ahead. A year is just behind us. The segway days always proffer an opportunity to reflect and gather ourselves towards renewal. 2013 was fabulous. Like most other years. O Henry’s fantastic line “’Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating” settles it for all years.  Nestled in the whorls of the smiles, sobs and the sniffles there were lessons to be learnt and songs of the heart to be heard.

The present day world is called a “Connected World”. Not without reason. Conversations in the digital space have ushered in a level of exposure and transparency to our lives that have never been seen before. These conversations have set the tone of dreams and aspirations in a ever so profound way, in far off places. Including the deepest recesses of our hearts. This piece by R.Madhavan captures it well.

We no longer are content with ‘what was the case’ driving the present day agenda. Heck, stuff that is labelled ‘what is possible’ is something that we seek to dismiss, if it doesn’t match up to what we hear as possible from around the world. In our restlessness for change and progress, we have crossed frontiers that we didn’t know we could and more often than not, have discovered frontiers that we didn’t know existed.

Examples of the Arab Spring may sound clichéd and are too often touted.  I am fresh from a trip to Egypt and conversations with people on the ground there, has had a profound impact on me at many levels. At the core, irrespective of culture we are all the same!  The connected world is a ‘big’ ‘small’ ‘bad’ ‘good’ place. Infact, fit whatever adjective you would want to fit in there and it would work.

The connected world, is what we make of it, and what we give space for. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat and a zillion other ideas moved from being just swell ideas to ideas that also paved the way for fat bank accounts. Every single round of VC investment in ideas provides the way for chatter and a load of more noise on what perhaps the idea can do. Of Course, there are after effects too.

But for the discerning, who can cut the noise out and listen deeply, what stands out is what was well known : The ground is shifting. Only now, it is shifting far faster. Even before we get to comprehend a shift fully, one more is well underway.  Examples galore. Large chunks of people are getting introduced to the internet through their mobile phones, completely by-passing desktops. I hear that the robots are coming and that they will pretty much do everything that you wanted them to do. Thus changing the several industries (including the Indian IT industry)! That driverless cars will do to chauffeurs around the world, what mobile phones did to Kodak.

Infact, several aspects of the present portend the shifts that are coming at us furiously. Like Amazon selling 426 items per second on Cyber Monday. Or the realities that 3D Printing is bringing. MOOCs. Apps. Oh my, the list of course, is endless

All of them makes me stop and ponder with wonder. On the world that was, that is and that will be. So filled with possibilities and potential.
At a very personal level 2013 provided me with fantastic opportunities to interact with several thought leaders across the board, in person. Listening and sharing ideas. For which I will be forever grateful.

Equally rewarding was when my travel took me to small towns and villages. Places where people haven’t experienced the bright sparks of wisdom that emerges from Twitter. Or Google Plus. Or indulge in the incessant chatter of friends and family on whatsapp and watch cat videos on YouTube.

Their lives without smart phones or 3G connectivity, runs on old world wisdom and a basic person-to-person connect.  And as the farmer who owned one ox as his prized possession, narrated his hopes for the future over a shared meal in a remote contour of the country, I was reminded that confidence and hope for the future are not a function of tools and possessions.

When when his wife, after serving two more ladles of rice with a large smile, spoke with an effervescent matter-of-fact ease, about walking three kilometres, one way, for a pot of water, I didn’t know what to say and stared emptily in silence.  The labourer in Dharavi who lives in a home that is as small as a Nano yet labours away to make small utensils as a route to his big dreams taught me the power of momentum from concerted action.  The social worker who walked away from being a five star chef to taking care of destitutes on the roads of Madurai showed choices dictate consequences.  These stories are as endless as the advancements we are seeing in the connected world. I could go on, till it is 2015! Or more.

2013 was the year that I met as many people who have been remarkably confident with far less, as those that have been meticulously despondent with much more. Perhaps the biggest of learning’s for me has been that love, hope and happiness is ready currency and always shareable. Something that my daughter teaches me daily!

If you are reading this, you are privileged in so many ways. (And no its not about how profound the contents on this blog are 🙂 ). The quest therefore, thats kept me up many night is this: “how do we spread this privilege around?”


We, all of us, have the unique privilege of holding the reins of possibility. Of connecting two different worlds. Infact, of many different worlds. I totally loved it when Gautam Ghosh, tweeted that networking is not saying ‘here is my business card but asking ‘how can i help’? That outlook and approach can leave the world a far better place. How can we bring people together? Shrink the worlds, so to speak.

Earlier today, I sat with a piece of paper and stared aimlessly into the sky. Scripting the hopes I harboured for 2014. Heres what I had scrawled.

  • From seeking happiness to spreading some. Ditto for love and hope
  • From being insanely competitive in a very limiting way to being profoundly co-operative in an ever so expansive way. From hoarding to sharing.
  • From running fast to running meaningfully.
  • From holding court in conversation to more holding the space for other people to converse.

I wonder what you make of these.

The tools that the connected world offers are stuff that world hasn’t seen much of before. To imaginatively deploy these for purposes far beyond what they seem to offer is where the opportunity for the future lies.

J.P.Rangaswami writes in his blogpost here “We have to remember we’re human beings. And as human beings, one of the most powerful things we do is to have covenant relationships, not contract ones.
Covenant relationships have tacit components to do with trust and sacrifice and vulnerability and forgiveness.
We need to learn how to model all this, this ability to trust and to make ourselves vulnerable, this ability to sacrifice, this ability to forgive, in the systems we design to conduct business. Because those abilities are what make us human. And business is conducted between humans.”

That could well be as good as it can get stated.

So, heres wishing us all the power to go beyond the obvious, open eyed and curious. Aware and thankful for the privileges that we have been bestowed with. And looking for the first available excuse to spread some cheer around. Lets get to work. After all, as Gibran said, “Work is love made visible”.

Influence in the new world!

“So are you influential?”. She asked me. Over dinner. We were finishing, thankfully. She had been pointed to this by someone and she couldn’t believe it all.

A long conversation ensued and that set me thinking about influence. What it was, and more importantly what it meant to me.
If you look at Influence as the capacity to shape someone elses thought / action / way of working etc etc, that sits pretty much what I think too. Influence during the ages has come with birth, physical prowess, thought, power etc.

In the digital age, as with everything else, influence and what it means to be ‘influential’ is getting (re)shaped. Brian Solis put this report out on the rise of ‘Digital Influence’ and that resonated with me.

In my mind, at the centre of it all is this spectre of being able to and willing to SHARE. This propensity perhaps is the single largest factor that shapes influence or rather, has the potential to alter the scales substantially.

Essentially, if you do are aware of a few aspects about any topic (which any person with a job and a salary usually is ) and if you know a few others who know more or less about the same topic ( which again, most people do), you have the power to share.

The question is more about the willingness to share the same with the rest of the world who may (or may not) need it. To some of us the sharing comes naturally. To put key aspects of our work and life on to the public stream of conversation, and to most willingly connect people.

To several others, “sharing” needs to be cultivated in the modern digital way. In all my conversations with several senior leaders in various organisations the ‘sharing’ doesn’t happen for want of intent, but more a fear of ‘how it will be read’ and the associated ‘fears’.
One way of working around this is to “Work Out Aloud”. John Stepper in this blogpost outlines the essentials lucidly.

Steve Boyd’s posts here and here are important perspectives that you may want to consider.  Every so many times, “lack of time” is cited as reason. I don’t doubt that people are busy, but thats no reason for getting ready to work differently and connect in the modern day world. To be able to share.

Last week, over an interaction Thiagi talked about building course content on the go, in another context : “Learning to build the plane even as I am flying it” he said. It immediately struck me, that perhaps thats the perfect metaphor for the ways of working of several of the projects that we have completed. Projects that got done, simply because of the connection to very generous people who didn’t hesitate to share!

The key aspect of this is to weave it into work. Make sharing, asking and bouncing of ideas on digital and other platforms as the new normal of working! That statement is from personal experience.

The benefits are enormous. The collective learning, inclusion and most importantly effective knowledge management will get benefits many times the quantum of the effort required.

Here are five aspects to remember if you are still thinking about jumping in and writing. Or tweeting. Atleast, this is what worked for me.

a. Share your dilemmas. Ask for help. You may not get any right away, but eventually you will
b. Help people with dilemmas, people who explicitly ask. Infact, do this as step 1
c. Remember you don’t need to have all answers. A ‘point of view’ will do and if you could point in the direction of people who have a point or two, will be equally treasured
d. There is nothing called a right opportunity. Get started somewhere. Generosity begets generosity and gradually a virtuous cycle of sharing and connecting ensues
e. Most importantly, play with it! Sometimes you get the results you wanted in a jiffy. Many other times you are left clutching an empty conversation. But then, there isn’t anything called an ‘empty conversation’!


Social Collaboration in Berlin


That title could be misleading. Let me hurry and add, almost a month ago I was in Berlin. At this Social Business Conference  . While we got to share our story, it was interesting to get a perspective of how organisations in Europe and America seemed to be faring on Social Media. It appears that most of us are on the same boat! 🙂  More on that later.

I have had numerous conversations on Enterprise Collaboration with hordes of people over the last few years on this topic. Every conversation has left me thirsty for more. This conference was no different. It gave a key-hole into whats happening in different organisations in different continents but more importantly triggered a few thoughts on what we perhaps could do. I have always held conferences that did precisely in great stead. All the sharing that takes place is extremely contextual but to craft an action plan to suit my context is a fun-filled challenge.

John Stepper’s  blog post gives a super snapshot capture here of the conference. .

As I sit with all my notes from the conference and think here are some ‘thoughts’ (random ones) that stand out.
1. Most organisations that are in the same sea, as far as Social Collaboration is concerned. Some are ahead, some behind. The seas are rough and there is no sight of land. Yet, everybody is in this passionate mode of search and discovery! Ok. So much for metaphors.

2. A majority of people who came in for the conference were either from Internal communication, IT or Social Media / collaboration. Folks from HR / change management seemed a pronounced minority. Introduction of such technology is about change management and OD as well. The absence of ‘Change’ people by itself tells a story! ( I was reading this , ‘change management’ or rather a lack of it, stood out as a hypotheses)

3. One of the answers that I have been searching for, out of my own curiosity, is this: Who is asking for these social tools in an enterprise? In this conference, the answers were mixed but there also was a preponderance towards “our IT team has found an interest in this”. (The more I think of social tools, in particular, the more I realise the need for stoking this conversation and seeding the idea in different groups outside of IT as well. Collaboration starts before the cradle!

4. Conversations around Social and Social Tools have a tendency to meander around the features, the plausible benefits the tool could bring and the good that would arise out of using that tool / technology. The other conversation that occasionally pops up, but usually a very intense conversation, is one that focuses on the culture and context. Organisations like MAN, Ikea, Novozymes and others had me go wide eyed when they shared stories of culture and community being the central themes on which Social Collaboration rides on.

5. If there is one fundamental shift that I have learnt to embrace in my mind at the end of this conference it is this : Images score over letters. Video score over paragraphs! The importance of video and the dominance that it has ( and consequently, the hold it would have on the future ) was something that I have read about and heard different people speak. But after this conference, I am a convert.

6. Players in the Social arena including Jive, Tibbr, Zyncro, Yammer and others were all there. Each has a niche and features that can dazzle a keen eye. Some are better than the others and am not going any further on that. For now. AND, the struggle to build adoption and make this a way of life seems to be universal. Ultimately, it is not the tool. It is in how and what we want to use it in.

7. At the core of making it work in various organisations, seemed to be weaving it into mainstream ways of work ( and not as an ‘optional extra’). Easier said than done but all it takes is some imagination. And that is something that was a common thread across all the ‘success’ stories. The use of ‘badges’ to incentivise the use of such systems were also showcased by a few other peers. I have had misgivings of that approach, but it seems to have worked for a few organisations.

8. The other learning that sits pretty in my head now is that Enterprise Collaboration System have a long gestation period before pay offs. Assuming that people will take to it because of the pervasiveness of ‘Facebook’ and ‘twitter’ etc outside the firewall is disproportionately erroneous. There needs to be several concerted coordinated ways of weaving this into work and helping people embrace a new way of working. Yes, it’s a new way of working. Not another initiative. And no, there is no such thing as ‘over communication’!

9. It was super fun to anchor a session as well. And oh yes, I loved the conference format. I have attended several conferences, but the opportunities to learn through and from interactions with each other was woven into the format seamlessly here! It was good fun. Many congratulations to the WE-Connect team!


10. Meeting all the wonderful people including Philipp Rosenthal (pictured in action above) , Frank Hatzack Nathan Bricklin, John Stepper, Bonnie CheukPaivi Raity, Wolfgang Jastrowski, Edward Krebs, Cecilia Scolaro, Bryan Barringer and all others were all superlative in sharing their thoughts either from the stage or at their world café break out areas or at the breaks for tea! I am making a grave mistake here by mentioning a few here and not mentioning many. Its been a month and I am not getting any younger. My ageing memory plays effortless truant. There were several others and most of them are here in this Twitter List! I cant thank them enough for the sharing.

Now there remains a horde of things to be done! Armed with the new friendships and ideas, there is adjusting of the sails and more work to be done. As always, am in the market for conversation and ideas! 🙂