Archive for category The Noble Pursuit

Depression is Normal, But The Stigma Shouldn’t Be

I’ve made no secret of my depression, or my ADD, or my imposter syndrome, or my fight with my inner critic and the self doubt that I face regularly. I share and am open about it for one simple reason – it’s a part of the human condition that need not be stigmatized. That we can no longer afford to stigmatize. That we all must learn to overcome, whether for our own good, or for our family, friends, or coworkers.

Depression hurts, everyone. But it is a normal part of the human condition.

While we should all learn to understand and accept it, depression shouldn’t be normalized as persistent as it is soul crushing. It causes unnecessary harm to everyone who suffers through it, and those who surround them. I know firsthand what it has done to myself, my wife, my startups, and indeed the world over the years. So much personal and social value has been lost and so many opportunities have been missed, while I have been mired in that fog of darkness. In that cold, dark, lonely, fear filled nighttime of the soul.

When we have the knowledge, the science, and now the awareness to improve the lives of so many as well as the richness of society as a whole, why don’t we do better? Why don’t we solve the mental health crisis once and for all, for everyone, individually and collectively?

The first ‘why’ is the stigma, which is why I’ve been open about it for so long. I had conversation with ADHD Coach Pete Quily at Northern Voice in 2007, and his insights and encouragement showed me the need and helped me connect it as one small but mighty aspect of  my life purpose — to heal, unify and orchestrate a #betterworld. In whatever way, small or large that I can.

While fighting my own depression and other personal demons I have… ugh, what a terrible word. Our “demons.” How we exaggerate them and eviscerate our own godliness. Language is so important but even I misuse it frequently, even when sharing deep life long learnings that are part of every one of my days.

These aren’t demons. They’re not even challenges. They are things that happened, or often things that didn’t happen. Things for which I associated negative emotion and through the experience of which I made incorrect assumptions based on that negative feeling and mindset. You see, we each get to choose what events, words, deeds and misdeeds MEAN to us. This is at the core of Buddhism – mindfulness, presence, prayer (setting intention as well as manifesting through the “power” of your God) and most especially, psychology and psychiatry in treating depression.

This is where the Serenity Prayer really hits a home run as a global, cross religious truism:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

What a powerful sentiment. Amazing truly. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a core set of operating system instructions for our interactions with each other and ourselves. Just as with the golden rule:

Do unto other’s as you would have them do unto you.

Regardless of your beliefs or religion or culture, participants in a civil, harmonious society know these sorts of statements to be true.  Maybe we should transcend the boundaries of the concept of civil society and strive for a “harmonious society?” Might that be possible, that we could strive for something even greater than civilization? Given what we have attained so far, it might not be such a bad idea to strive for an even higher model of interaction for society.

The point here is depression is normal. We need to be able to talk about it, and empathize with those going through it. We need to improve how we facilitate people discovering their own solutions. We need improve the distribution and acceptance of all evidence based solutions that produce real results. IMHO, we need to urgently work together to get beyond this tremendously costly societal challenge whether we want to sustain civilization or transcend it in the creation of a Harmonious Society.

If the internet has been declared a fundamental human right by the UN, access to knowledge and all forms of healthcare, especially mental health care in all its approached, should also be foundational rights for all humanity. Literally, this is for the good of society. This is for your best interests as well as mine. It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up. In today’s interconnected, interdependent society, if everyone is better off, I am better off, not lesser for it.

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, so let’s start simple. We all must accept and appreciate that depression is a normal part of the human condition.

If you care about someone or something, or if you want to create something – art, a startup, a movement, a family, anything really, you will face struggles. You will be challenged. You will need to overcome adversity. You will have to learn from others and figure things out on your own.

You will lose. You will make mistakes. You will have people say mean things to you. You will face acts of God. You will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad people may do bad things to you. You will feel mad about it. You will feel sad about it. You will undoubtedly face a moment where it will be easier to escape or wallow in the darkness then to face it, then bouncing back – learning more and taking the next action you need to take in setting your mind, and the world right in the face of it.

The thing is, as I’ve found, you not only get to choose what it means to you, you get to choose what to do about it.

With love, knowledge, care, and the support of friends, family and society, I see a day where no one need dwell in depression excessively. Where depression is normal, but suffering alone in it is not. Indeed there are lessons that come from depression too as you may have found in some of my thoughts in this post today. So it will still arise and persist, it just needn’t persist for long. For all these reasons and so many others, this is why I have found so much personal freedom and liberation and power in “The Four Agreements“.

Be impeccable with your word
Don’t make assumptions
Don’t take things personally
Always do your best
 — Paraphrasing Don Miguel Ruiz

We’ve got a long way to go towards a fully harmonious society. Maybe 50, maybe 100 years, or maybe never. Or maybe something really bad happens and our leaders, and our society as a whole, wake up and start taking right actions and following the principles of the eightfold path and the teachings of their own gods. Maybe then, we can all be better off in a #betterworld.

But let’s start simple, let’s accept that depression is a normal part of the human condition, but stigmatizing it isn’t and should not be any longer. More so, let us all commit to do whatever we can to help more people find a path through it so they can get the most of life for themselves and for the betterment of each and every one of us.

Let's lift each other up, out of depression and into a better society.

 — Please comment and share this post if anything here strikes a chord for you. If this post is interesting to you, you might be interested in my work on The Noble Pursuit, or on what we have started to do with Rysing Tyde. —

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Winning The Future: A #Badgeless SxSW 2016 Recap

Winning the Future
While I have often gone to Austin for SxSW over the past 9 years to speak about the future with thought leaders from around the world, speaking on the future was literally my purpose this year. While I was #Badgeless again, I was also speaking at two different unofficial events, the W2O Pre-Commerce Summit and Talentnet. While I was ‘working’ constantly from when I arrived on Wednesday through Friday evening, I was still able to get a great sense of the festival itself, how it’s changed and what it’s future looks like — more on that later, or skip down if you are looking for my perspective on SxSW itself.

The Future of… 

I’m finally getting comfortable with being called a futurist instead of giggling at the titular comedy of the role. I’ve definitely put my 10,000+ hours into inventing the future over the course of my life, maybe even 100,000+ hours. Even back in High School I tried to get my manager at Wendy’s to add onion rings to the menu after I cooked some up using ingredients we had on hand.

I could have simply focused on writing and speaking about the future, but I have just as often taken a run at manifesting my visions as a serial entrepreneur and now a social entrepreneur. While I have been early to market often, every single concept has later proven itself valid – from local content networks, to conversational intelligence, to human powered search, to customer experience design, to content marketing, to information appliances, to reinventing comments and more recently to reimagining work.

At the W2O Group’s Pre Commerce Summit, I participated in a panel, literally titled “The future of…”  My role was to focus on organizations and society, which is what I’ve been researching for the last several years. While a few of my comments were apparently controversial, such as my prediction that 50MM jobs will be gone forever within 5 years due to automation, AI and robotics, many were inspiring. When asked what I suggested the audience due to prepare for the future, I took the conversation into a very human direction – to love, self love specifically. You really need to listen/watch…

Facilitated by Mike Edelhart, I was joined by Julie Borlaug of the Borlaug Institute and Kush Parikh, CEO of PayByPhone. I was really blown away by all the great work Julie is doing to end hunger around the world, and more impressed by her practical yet forward thinking approach to this important work. If we were to see more people like her working towards social good, I think most of our problems would be solved by now.

You can view video of the panel here at the 1 hr 28 minute 30 second mark. From the feedback it was one of the better panels of the day.

A full recap of the pre-commerce Summit was posted by my good friend Lionel Menchaca.

#Reorg Everything: My Talentnet Keynote

Reorg EverythingWhat is the Adaptive Economy? Why do we need to #Reorg? What should be our focus? Here’s the premise…

The pace of change isn’t just fast, it’s accelerating. So many things are changing that we can no longer look at a single facet as we did at the dawn of digital and then networked computing. It’s not just the gig economy, the collaborative economy, the on demand economy or the green economy in isolation, it’s all of that and more, requiring a more holistic approach. As Darwin taught us long ago, in this fast changing world, it’s the quickest to adapt that survives.

Fundamentally we must first accept that the market is no longer a battlefield. It’s an ecosystem. Leading and winning in an economy that is oriented around creating the greatest amount of shared value is very different from one in which you are seeking to capture the most amount of profit for the organization and its shareholders. This is why I propose we need to #Reorg everything and serve the market.

How do we do it? By adopting new mindsets, methods and measures, most especially in my view of embracing some form of self management. This requires you to focus on creating alignment across the ecosystem, developing greater agility and creating a culture of accountability. We must also become more proactive and predictive.

The enemy we face today in organization’s, besides fear of change itself, is three fold – budgets, bonuses and bozos. In the real time transparent world in which we live, we need to go beyond the sort of budgeting which requires us to accurately predict future market dynamics.Being more agile enables you to adapt to the market’s needs more easily. With a culture of accountability, you will increase trust such that you will also empower more people to make spending decisions across the organization. This has been proven out and more thoroughly developed through Morningstar and several other participants of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table.

For those with the courage to move towards more of an ecosystem based strategy and operating model, there is a massive opportunity to lead the market and seize the lion’s share of the profits to be had. The more trusted a company becomes, the lower the cost of sales, the higher the likelihood of becoming the employer of choice and the higher the switching costs for partners and customers alike.

So much more to come on this in the weeks/months ahead. I’ve been running towards this future through my software company and it’s latest product Will Someone, a community collaboration tool. I’m furthering that development while going more public with the insights I’ve developed to help build a better future for all, by design.

You can hear more about the Adaptive Economy in this audio + slide deck from my keynote presentation, #Reorg Everything. I presented this for the first time on Friday March 11, 2016 in Austin TX as the keynote for the Talentnet conference in the offices of HomeAway.

We are building on this even further now, taking the work that went into this keynote and starting to write a book on the Adaptive Economy. If you are interested in contributing, have questions or want to talk about it more, please let me know in the comments.

Unofficial SxSW: #Badgeless #FTW

Wherever you went, Obama and Trump were the topics of the day.  Which I’ve been trying to avoid recently. From talking to Lord Chadlington at the W2O Pre Commerce Summit, I discovered that most voters seem to break for the winning candidate in the final 48 hours. So I realized I want to invest my time this election cycle in getting out the vote. All of this talk between here and now is important, but to make the maximum impact, I am changing my focus and I hope you join me.

There were many conversations like this that mattered deeply. Talking with Kyle Ellicot about Wearable IoT World and their new efforts in Asia while hanging out at one of the best venues of SxSW hosted by Heather Meeker Haas and her team at Zendesk; hearing more about the plans for Techfugees from Mike Butcher; getting judged as unworthy for my super casual weekend in Austin style (t-shirt/shorts) twice; hearing more about Anne Greenberg’s ideas in VR; learning about some of the Digital Transformation work my former Deloitte Digital colleagues are doing; pitching a new idea to solve some big problems; and so many more amazing people and projects that can’t all be reflected here.

The big story out of SxSW as you have heard elsewhere is VR everywhere. From Robert Scoble announcing he’s leaving Rackspace to be an EIR at Upload VR to VR experiences seemingly in every major brand activation. One of my favorite unofficial events of this year was the New York Times VR Event programming, where I was able to pick up their Google Cardboard viewers and finally experience journalism in VR. It was truly life changing. In watching their story on the refugee crisis, and standing in the middle of a UN food drop, I felt the future. The amount of empathy you can create by immersing someone virtually into someone else’s shoes is massive.

In fact, when I returned home, I shared that refugee food drop with my Mother in law who was visiting, who was equally blown away. Trouble being, she isn[t going to put the cardboard together and get in a swivel chair to make the most of the 360 degrees, so it’s still a bit too much friction for current fidelity. When Kristie tried it out, she got nauseous…

As I explained often at SxSW, despite these current challenges, I see a huge future for Augmented Reality, beyond the entertainment and experiential potential of Virtual Reality. To get all buzzy, I believe there is a huge opportunity in crafting contextualized collaboration in Augmented Reality with cognitive assistance. Or in other words, Immersive Collaboration. What does it mean? That’s a vision of the future for another day…

SxSW: The Festival & It’s Future

Obviously, having the Obama’s speak at SxSW this year was a big win for the organizers. Even still, people were talking about whether it jumped the shark or not. I think it’s constantly changing and as long as it attracts great people, which it will continue to do for the foreseeable future, it will continue to thrive.

Just prior to SxSW 2016 I spoke about this to a report reporter for this article for AdWeek. While she reflected my quote accurately, it was missing some context. I had also told her that like any event or place or time, your experience is dependent on what you make of it, who you spend time with and what you choose to focus on. What makes it worth while for me is that hundreds of friends and other visionary leaders from around the world fly into Austin for the conference or to be there #Badgeless like me. Unfortunately, until the SxSW leadership makes the conference content more accessible, I am choosing to go #Badgeless and enjoy the city of Austin fully.

What could SxSW do to earn my conference registration fee? Maybe they’d get it with reserved session seating (IMax does it here in SF and most/all theaters in London do it). Maybe they could just sell less tickets and/or shrink the diameter of the geography upon which their venues are spread. I go for the diversity of topics being covered (and the music, the BBQ and again, the people!).

This year I noticed that many of the parties and other events were not as crowded and the lines weren’t as long. I have to attribute this to a density of brand activations, both official and unofficial. There was just so much going on at every time slot you couldn’t possibly get to all of it. I tried a couple of times and was generally unsuccessful each time I tried.

This is where Scott Beale’s early advice to me about getting the most from SxSW still rings true. “Wherever you are be there. Make the most of it. You could be anywhere else, but you are where you are until you are ready to go somewhere else.”

There was also a noticeable changing of the guard, with a whole new generation of SxSW participants on the scene and many of my peers now staying home – some with ‘real jobs’ and some with new babies. I made a few new friends, and deepened some existing relationships. More importantly, I was able to get some validation on my work and now have a few new projects and prospects moving forward.

Conclusion

It seems one of the most surprising things people found with my vision of the future is how human centric it is. Many were taken aback when the key advice I gave to the W2O Group event was to practice more self love, to not tolerate bozos and to fully embrace diversity.  As I discussed the coming destruction of millions of jobs, people were really taken aback when I suggested that the job of the future might just be that of “Citizen”.

It’s clear from the state of the Presidential race here in the U.S. that we are at a major inflection point in history, with the soul of our country and indeed of the world on the whole at stake. It’s one of the reasons I was personally getting so agitated on Facebook and becoming such an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, but even he doesn’t fully grasp how we can support the rise of conscious capitalism and move us to a more prosperous future for all people.

I should point out here that I don’t have all the answers either, I do know we have the means if we have the will. I do know that we can let go of what has been to embrace what can be. I am also an ardent believer in finding that whatever we dream we can achieve, so therefore asking the question is it realistic will always result in the answer yes, in time.

Many thought I was pessimistic and peddling doom and gloom when I talked about the fundamental changing nature of work and looming job destruction. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am at my heart and in practice an optimist. I believe our future is quite bright, but I also am able to see the curve in the road ahead and want to make sure we prepare for it. Because of the Internet it is a distinct possibility that we will solve many of our collective social challenges.  But also because of the internet, we face some stiff competition. Particularly from entrenched interests and the powerful few who manipulate the system for personal benefit unfettered by a broader concern for their fellow man.

I know deep down in my soul that change happens in an instant despite the glacial pace at which we observe it. Humans can literally do anything we want to do, so why not make the world work as it could for the benefit of all instead of just a few? I know that I am best off when others around me are better off. I know that working together we can make a #BetterWorld intentionally, by design.

The first challenge is one of belief. The second is one of communicating the vision. The third is activating enough people to support new behaviors and beliefs. This is what I have been working on for all my life, but particularly over the last 3 years, first with Alynd and more recently with Will Someone. This is why we are beginning to build out the Rysing Tyde as a community organization to lift all people to their greatest potential in this Adaptive Economy, in this world where work is based on gigs instead of traditional employment.

Winning the future isn’t going to be easy, but as a species, humanity can not only survive, it can truly thrive if we only find our way past our conditioning and socialization to see what can be instead of staying focused on what is. The road ahead is going to be bumpy for most of us, but for those with the courage to make the big shift today, there is a tremendous opportunity at hand.

Chris Heuer is a futurist, a serial entrepreneur and a community organizer. He consults with startups and large organizations that want to behave like startups on strategy, marketing and product development. If you’d like Chris to help your organization navigate its journey into the future, contact him today.

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A Week of Progress, Hope and Friendship in DC

Washington DC
What an awesome week in DC. As an IBM Futurist (influencer, amplifier, thinker, whatever), they often invite me to attend various conferences and events to learn, to ‘report’ via social media and to help stimulate conversations with the participants who are usually IBMers, customers and potential customers. This trip was part of the #NewWayToWork tour they are producing, so they pay for the travel expenses and I get to just be myself and speak my mind. They ask for some pics and tweets, which I would do anyway, and they promote my work in support of the broader social media amplification of the brand and their forward thinking positions. More on the event this week in a little bit, as I want to recap what made it so awesome for me and my projects personally.

The New Way to Work event was just one of several highlights as I made the most of the travel opportunity to talk to more people about my community collaboration software, Will Someone. I was also working to line up some strategic consulting gigs, to fuel more development of the software, to host a kickoff BrainJam for We Are the Solution and spent time catching up with old friends and making new ones.

I started the week off by diving into the great community that Nicole Patrice has formed over the years, including her colleague Ross Buntrock, who was gracious enough to let me stay on his couch for the one night not covered by IBM. They are working on something that is simply stellar, but nothing to share about it just yet. I got to catch up with Cyrus Radfar who was in town from SF, out on the road like me meeting people to help grow his company, Kapuno. Then we had this sumptuous fall meal that Nicole prepared and great conversation for hours over some great wine with a bunch of folks in town for a Nature Conservancy event, many of whom are an integral part of the Summit community.

I’ve started privately sharing information on the first major project we are working to undertake surrounding We Are The Solution, the non-profit community organization we have recently launched. I was particularly inspired and found great hope in talking to Wayne Price, the original Summit documentarian, who is just an awesome human being, who just happens to live in the East Bay, not too far from my home. Then I got into a great conversation with Margot Machol about her upcoming book where she interviewed something like 60 entrepreneurs and their mothers. Apparently, they all share what I was fortunate to have, a mother who instilled a deep belief that we could do anything. I think she’s going to be doing some cool things hopefully with Blab now that I introduced her to the concept, but still lots to discuss ahead of the book launch.

Before heading off the next morning to a meeting with my old friend, advisor and hopefully soon to be team mate, Thomas Vander Wal, Nicole, Ross and Rick were gracious enough to listen to my vision for Will Someone and the broader ecosystem we are building. Thomas and I reviewed our nextgen plans for Will Someone, caught up on life, other work and our usual reminiscing about what we tried to create in 1999 around conversational intelligence with Conversal. After our conversation, I had a chance to go have lunch with one of my fraternity brothers and finally eat at the new Exchange, our old college bar.

Rushing from there back to the hotel and being stymied by a few administrative snafus, I finally got into my room in time to interview Doug Foulds as part of my new #CXDNow series on Customer Experience Design. This is something they are paying me for, sponsoring the show, so I was a bit anxious before the show and a bit more when we kept hitting some technical challenges during the show, but as usual, it worked out great. 

With only a few moments rest, I took care of some other work and took an Uber into Georgetown for a super high quality entrepreneur networking event. Tons of smart people, quick chat with Nicole to introduce her to someone working on cool related tech, a connection for one of my Wearable World mentorees and a great conversation with several other startup founders. I was hoping to go down to Fatoush to relive the late night mumchie quashing Fatoush Gyro, but apparently, its closed now, so I just ate some Kebobs and headed home to get some work done and get some rest.

New Way to Work DC - Chris Heuer and Mark Babbit in Marketing Track

I woke up refreshed to head to the US Institute of Peace for the IBM New Way to Work Event. At the last minute the day before, they asked myself and Mark Babbit to participate in a fireside chat format event on the marketing track. Really grateful for having a chance to spend more time with him, he’s wise, smart, cool and just a great guy to hang around. Apparently we did a pretty good job, you can see a pic of us and the graphic recording that was made of our discussion below. When people were leaving, they were apparently quite impressed and amazed at how rich the workshop was. That it wasn’t just a typical sales pitch, but instead a real conversation with inspiration, solid strategy and even tactical advice. Several remarked that they were kind of bummed about how tough things had gotten but were feeling energized and inspired to go back to work and create change. #GoalAccomplished

After the event, we had a great lunch with Mark and Adriana Zegarelli where I learned how organizations thrive by going “Beyond Budgeting” from our other lunch mate Steve Player, Steve is a super smart guy who is also a fan of the work of Doug Kirkpatrick and the Self Management Institute. I then headed to a couple of meetings with my friends at the US State Department down the street to catch up and talk digital diplomacy. It turns out that the Gov2Gov event that Lovisa Williams and I hosted in 2009 with Dominick Campbell and our ‘special friends’ in the Canadian Embassy over in London inspired a thing of its own, the Digital Diplomacy Coalition. So cool. I so often think I’ve accomplished nothing in my life so far, but this week I was reminded of all the ways I really have made a contribution to the world which really has me psyched for all the great stuff to come. After catching up with Lovisa, I was able to reconnect again with Archana Poddar who also works at the State Department and get her insights on a few projects I am developing. Awesome people working to make government better.

From here I ran into the evening, first with a stop for happy hour Oysters at the Old Ebbits Grill with Mark Babbitt, then for a quick catchup at The Hamilton with my old boss from the US Mint (wrote a bit about her and my time there recently), and finally to catch up with another one of my fraternity brothers, Andrew Keenan to talk life, politics, beers and social activism. Afterwards, I stopped by my favorite DC restaurant, Zaytinya, shhh don’t tell anyone how great it is. Then off to the hotel to get all the video editing for #CXDNow now and publish the blog post.

With only a few hours sleep, I headed off to Busboys and Poets to host the first BrainJam for We Are The Solution. Almost 10 years ago, we held one of the first BrainJams in DC. We had several people cancel, but with the 5 of us who were there, including Todd Tweedy who was at the first one, it actually worked out quite well, with everyone getting something meaningful. There is amazing power in our focus question – “What are you trying to accomplish? How can I help?” It proved itself in DC, and I can’t wait to see more of them happening in DC, across the country and even around the world.

Special thanks to Todd and Audience Machine for sponsoring breakfast. Kathy Chamberlain for letting us know about all the other great things already happening in DC that is similar, including the Social Enterprise DC group. Ricardo Abella for participating and sharing his story. Special thanks to Alexandra Long, who was at the IBM event the day before and gave me inspiration to keep going, to let me know that my stories and insights were making a difference. Even greater still, for her volunteering to help create the Journey Map for We Are The Solution that we are building as one of the practical how to segments of the #CXDNow series.

Towards the end, Nicole Patrice was able to join us and serve as a living breathing human example of the sort of impact we had previously with Social Media Club by inspiring people all over the country to convene their tribes, to embrace our mantra, “If you get it, share it”. Hearing her tell everyone about her experience traveling around the country and connecting with local SMC chapters, was a big part of my realization that while what I hoped to create didn’t fully manifest, what SMC produce was not only meaningful, but a beautiful expression of my original intent.

By the time I had finished sharing a full demo of what we built with Alynd, she had already introduced to me to three of her Summit friends. From Busboys and Poets, I headed over to Teaism for lunch with my dear friend and former coworker Sacha Cohen. After getting back to the hotel, I ended up connecting with one of Nicole’s suggested contact’s, Tyler Kellogg, who traveled across country helping people in a similar spirit of what I have been striving towards, but in human to human contact at a very personal level. You can hear more of his inspiring story here from his TEDx talk in Greenville.

So then it was off to the airport and onto the plane where I wrote up the highlights of this crazy week in DC, the epicenter once again for a massive change in my life. A week where I have truly lived my true purpose for this life, a life that is much more important then my experience of it, but which is also just pretty amazing, filled with amazing friends, crazy big dreams of a better world and the sort of hope that we can be the change we want to see, and ultimately see that change manifest in the world.

The time is now. You too can make a difference. So what’s stopping you?

Over the coming weeks, perhaps you can join us as we host more BrainJams in support of We Are The Solution. Check out these dates and if you can, come help us help you to make the world the best it can be, because while WE face many challenges, we are the solution to it all. If you are interested in helping, simply comment here or head over to the web site and subscribe to our Newsletter and we will invite you into our Slack group.

  • San Francisco – October 22, 2015
  • London, UK – October 30, 2015
  • Dublin, Ireland – November 5, 2015 (during Web Summit)
  • Bilbao, Spain – November 18, 2015 (during EEC)

 

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Guiding Principles are the First Necessity – #TEDatIBM

Imagine A Better WorldCan you imagine a world where we could have such great trust in society that you no longer cared about your privacy? While some may already feel that way today, most of us could never imagine such a world, especially given what we have experienced over the past decade. At last year’s TED at IBM event, Marie Wallace addressed the challenge we face today in a brilliant speech with a very practical, evidence based solution in her talk, “Privacy by Design”. Her talk is where my belief that we should abandon hope of any true privacy was replaced by hope that there was a vital, and indeed better way.

In light of this year’s theme for TED at IBM being “Necessity and Invention”, I thought it important to revisit her talk and illuminate this topic from a fresh perspective. When it comes to the matter of privacy, Marie’s talk grounded me in the realization that our guiding principles are the first necessity. The theme, according to the conference web site reflects our common wisdom on the subject:

“Necessity is the mother of invention—or so we have been led to believe. We cannot help but suspect that our needs to create and to shape the world around us run much deeper than simple pragmatism.”

It’s true, it’s not pragmatism that is at the root of our inspiration to invent in my view, it is our ability to be imaginative, our ability to overcome challenges we face, our desire to not only survive, but to thrive. It is something innate in our very being. It is the unique combination of a bias towards action, a sense of greater purpose and a belief in our personal ability against all risks that drives many of us to invent. To create. To struggle against ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune […] and by opposing end them’.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, particularly in the last century, absent a sense of true social responsibility, systems are designed and goods are brought to market out of a necessity that benefits a few at the expense of the many. All too often, it seems that data is being used to manipulate society broadly, and you specifically, instead of empowering us all.

Marie starts her talk with what I believe is one of the most powerful and important concepts of our modern era. It is also apparently from the Pope’s remarks last week during his US tour, a zeitgeist moment where many others are coming to this same realization. The idea that we can create a world by our own design, intentionally, not by inheritance or accident. As with the many lessons on life itself we have learned, we can choose to let it happen as it unfolds or we can direct it. So why not take an active role in shaping the world we’d like to see, and manifest it through thoughtful design. Today more than ever, this power is in our hands, not merely in the hands of a powerful few. But we must exercise it, not abdicate our rights out of a sense of helplessness. It’s a matter of intention and attention – do we want to create systems that are intentionally good for all, or to allow others to create systems that are used to manipulate us. Do we want to give attention and support to organizations and systems that are using their resources to manipulate us? I think not.

It is Marie Wallace’s central premise, that “How we approach privacy, will have the single greatest impact on [our future society].” It not only establishes the expectations of every human relative to their role in the market, but also their role in the work force. Will it continue to be based on suspicion and absent any meaningful degree of trust? Or could it instead be more trustworthy as a result? She and I agree in this case, it could be the latter, but it will take time and greater attention from us all in shaping this better future. As she said in her talk, “The reality is it doesn’t have to be like this. And I don’t think we want to live in a world where it will be like this.”

The alternative, is potentially pretty scary, to even the least educated of us on this subject, and perhaps even to the apathetic if they were to see how their data might be used to manipulate them instead of empower them. One of the examples she mentioned was relative to an organization learning from their data analytics that you had a problem with body image and this was used to sell you diet pills. Countering that approach, what if the system was open and transparent with you, and showed you the insights it generated and gave you options, not just taking advantage of your emotional state. It suggested healthier recipes, encouraged you to take a walk or to uplift your spirit and confidence. These are all possible with data analytics, but only if the controllers of the data and the insights are emboldened with positive intentions for you and society, instead of being motivated to sell you the most expensive diet pills on which they would make a profit.

Marie pointed out that even if you control your data with do not track and other mechanisms, there are still data leaks from one system to another that can provide companies with data you do not want them to have. Recently I was given a demo of a new product that did a deep personality profile on me based on my public social media presence. It developed a profile of my emotional state, and also my psychographic drivers. For many this is the holy grail of marketing, being able to tailor ads based on psychoanalysis to understand what motivates me and hit my ‘hot buttons’.

Indeed, there were a few things it suggested about my personality that were troubling, and many of which were flat our wrong because of how I have been managing my public image on Twitter proactively, and because of some recent #tweetfight I had. This is all data in the public domain, so I don’t necessarily have a problem with it, but I am concerned, as Marie is, about how others with less scrupulous intentions may use it. As a marketer, I am concerned about how a snapshot like the one it produced does not represent the whole of the person, and how even such advanced data analytics can still get it fundamentally wrong by basing such insights on a snapshot instead of the whole me and the deeper insights that would come from having a REAL Relationship with me.

Many will tell you that we need to accept all of this data is already out there and this is simply beyond our control. So the solution is to turn it off, to take ownership of our own data and to block advertising through our devices, as Apple recently enabled with the latest iOS update. But this is not a complete picture of the reality we face. As Marie points out, the current state is really a ‘privacy spaghetti’, or perhaps a ‘spaghetti monster’. We need to go to the root of the challenge and rethink our approach to this important topic from the ground up.

Which is exactly what she did in the IBM case study she shared on how they applied analytics to their vast trove of data generated from one of the oldest Enterprise Social Networks in existence. Instead of thinking of management and the employees as separate interests, she took the perspective of providing maximum value to all participants, not just the management. In taking the Privacy by Design approach, they built the foundation of their data analytics program rooted in privacy as a guiding principle that would rule all decisions and actions that followed, before writing a line of code.

In undertaking the project to better understand their employees, the IBM team embraced three core guiding principles. In my view, the pre-requisite before the invention.

  • A commitment to transparency and openness.
  • Embrace simplicity and ease of use.
  • Focus on personal empowerment.

By making these guidelines simple to understand and visible to all, they gave trust to gain trust. By giving employees actionable insights that would help them improve themselves as a principle benefit, and enabling them to choose whether or not to share those insights with others, it changed the dynamic of the relationship for the better in more ways then one. Still, management was given access to the aggregated analysis to understand the important trends, challenges and opportunities, but did not unnecessarily reveal the private details of a uniquely identifiable individual.

This resulted in a significant upside, the sort of upside that many of us have long been trying to prove to those who would choose to exploit the data instead of protecting and empowering individuals. According to Marie, “Demonstrating openness and transparency builds trust and it allows our users to engage more openly and freely with us and share more data. And more data means more value for them and for us. It’s a virtuous circle.” In short, their approach to Privacy by Design deepened their relationships with their employees. Instead of merely providing the other stakeholders with analytics, these deeper relationships provided increased engagement with interested employees that enabled the accomplishment of even more valuable outcomes.

To my original question – Can you imagine a world where we could have such great trust in society that you no longer cared about your privacy? I’d like to believe we could, by facilitating such transparency that we all knew what was available and where we had control over how it was being used. I’d like to intentionally design such a world, perhaps with you through my new community movement “We Are the Solution“. But in order to abandon my hope or interest in defending privacy, I first need greater confidence that unscrupulous people and companies who value profit above people are not able to use my data, or any data, in a manipulative way.

As you are probably keenly aware, this is not the world in which we live today. But it is a world we could design and build together if we choose to do so. As Scott Swhwaitzberg posits in “Trust me… there’s an app for that” the combination of technology and transparency can make this world a reality. But first, we need to ensure that no corporate desire trumps the guiding principles of our shared values across society. This is why the first necessity is to embrace a common set of guiding principles. This is why we must support organizations who share and operate under such values with our hands, hearts and wallets, and deny such support to those who don’t.

Watch Marie Wallace’s talk, “Privacy by Design” on YouTube, and visit the TED at IBM web site to learn more about the upcoming event.

DISCLOSURE:

Like many of you, I love the inspiration and big thinking that comes out of TED. It’s why I helped to produce BIL back in 2008 and why I spoke at BIL again in 2014. It’s a part of who I am, which is why I attend TEDx whenever I can (and hope to speak at a few next year) and why I was so grateful to be invited to TED at IBM last year and will be attending again on October 15, 2015 as their guest. This post, while not required of me in exchange for my invitation, was written as a part of the IBM New Way to Engage futurist program of which I am a part and is being promoted by IBM through that program. While they are paying to promote it in social media, the words above are completely my own, except as otherwise quoted, and do not reflect the position of IBM.

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Building Our Future: A Blueprint for Leading in a Connected Society

Note: This post outlines our plan for a video project / documentary we are producing while in Austin next week.

Building Our Future: A Blueprint for Leading in a Connected SoceityMany of you, like myself, have spent the past several years, or decades perhaps, focused on inventing and building our future. Through our own personal experiences, challenges and insights we’ve made decisions about where we wanted to invest our time and energy and what outcomes we wanted to produce. For some, it has been a movement. For others, a family. For others, building a business to solve both small and large problems. For others, its been about manifesting a vision of something never before imagined possible. And for others still, it’s simply been about getting by in an increasingly fast paced, overly complicated and increasingly connected world.

While we are on one hand still fighting poverty, injustice and inequality, we are truly standing at the dawn of an even more incredible future then we might have even imagined just a few years ago. In fact, my Alynd Co-Founder Rawn Shah made the point during our Work Hackers Salon the other night that the Renaissance could be considered a failure due to the limited participation it produced in the upside of the prosperity and knowledge it generated. His point was, can you imagine what we are capable of within our connected society today, where we have access to each other and so many enabling technologies? Indeed, a new age of enlightenment is already underway, but the era ahead of us can be even more spectacular then we can even imagine.

This is why I want to bring people together in painting a picture of what we want our tomorrow to look like and sharing our blueprints for how to build it. The real challenge is, how do we look past how things are and begin to make them how they should be? Can we transform large slow moving conservative organizations or are they beyond hope? With a sense of unease coming from a perception that both corporations and governments are failing humanity, and a market that is seemingly unfair and out of balance, how can we break free from what we have always known to create a better tomorrow? What are the most important things for us to understand? Where should we invest our most precious and limited resource, our time?

So next week in Austin, we will connect and have conversations with the many great people who are leading us towards this future. We will seek to discover more about their own noble pursuits and see if we can determine how we can each find the courage that it takes to lead others into this future with us. While George Bernard Shaw famously said “all progress depends on the unreasonable man”, Building Our Future is not a solitary act, but the collective actions of millions spread around the globe. In the connected society of today, perhaps he would have said “all progress depends on the connected man’s ability to gather others for collective action.”

This is post is an introduction into the idea behind “Building Our Future”, to bring together leading futurists, entrepreneurs, executives, influencers and those who are on the front lines, leading us into a better tomorrow within our deeply connected society. There are of course, many worthy areas for discussion, but we’ve identified a few key topics that we believe to be the macro-trends around which our collective future is being built.

So next week in Austin, from Friday March 7 through Monday March 10, 2014, we are gathering the leaders and the tribes who are already in town for that big interactive conference. We will be hosting round tables on each of these topics (links to come shortly) and interviewing leaders with visions of the future and stories of transformations to share. You can request an interview time slot using this form – be sure to explain what topic you want to address and a little more on your story. For the round tables, we will be using the same format we did for the Social Media Clubhouse in Austin in 2010 – in short, a handful of featured speakers/guests and other subject matter experts in the audience to lob in questions and participate on a more limited basis.

We are still seeking sponsors/investors in this project. Our goal is to collect as much footage as possible while in Austin from conversations with the people who are building our future, so that we might be able to create a long form video/documentary that we can release in a few months. We have different sponsorship levels available from $2,500 to $25,000. Only $10,000 gets you a co-producer credit, a small one hour meet up on Saturday or Sunday and a room at the Echo Studio, which is being held at a beautiful bed and breakfast just off of South Congress about a mile from the convention center.

More info to come on the bigger story behind this idea shortly, but if you have any questions, please feel free to email echostudio@adhocnium.com

Many thanks to Sponsors Echo, Ancestry, Alynd and many other in-kind sponsors for their support of this effort. [disclosures: long time friends with Echo, for who I am producing this event; my wife works at Ancestry.com and Alynd is my new startup we are previewing next Sunday, so it is still just a family affair, though that will change shortly with your help]

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Social Business Isn’t Dead, It’s ____________

Social Business Isn't Dead, It's Just MarketingHere at IBM Connect 2014 in Orlando this week I’ve had a epiphany. Or perhaps, I should say that I have actually come to face the facts I have long known to be true, yet tried to forget. Or rather, I tried to ignore the facts by imbuing my support for the bigger idea that is Social Business, with a greater aspect of my soul, and my aspiration for improving humanity. Yes, I still have aspirations for a smarter planet, a smarter workforce, a smarter city and a smarter, more informed citizenry (h/t to our friends at NPR as well as IBM there). But Social Business was barely ever alive, so it isn’t dead, it’s just a marketing slogan.


No, this does not mean that I am disavowing my claims from my earlier post, “Social Business is Dead, Long Live What’s Next”. So, if you are one of the zealots hoping I have had a change of heart, you will be disappointed by what’s written here, yet I will encourage you to read on despite our disagreement. I suspect we agree more then you may even know, yet are still clinging hopefully to the symbols of these two words and the higher meaning it portends.


What I have come to realize by listening to sessions here, talking to consultants, asking analysts and speaking to real world users of the suite of technologies IBM calls Social Business  is what many have known all along, and what few evangelists are willing to accept: Social Business isn’t a solution to a company’s problem; it is an aspiration. Hence, the need for such energetic and strong willed evangelism. As I came to realize long ago, great products aren’t sold, they are bought. Which is why advertising is the tax companies pay for incomplete or poorly designed products. (let’s leave aside solution selling from this discussion for now please, as that is different)


When I recommended to my colleagues at Deloitte Consulting, at the start of my job in early 2011, that we pursue Social Business as our focus, instead of Social Media, it was based on an assumption I had made and an understanding that social media was the realm of creative and communications agencies more then consultants. It was an assumption that I now realize was only partially correct,  which was based on an incomplete understanding of the facts I used as the basis to make that recommendation. Yes, I made that decision in large part because of the marketing muscle and might that IBM was putting behind Social Business as much as their prior success touting eBusiness, but it’s also based on what I learned from advocating and educating people about Social Media.


At the time, I argued that we needed to call it SOCIAL media and not new media, and not, as my friend and respected colleague Steve Rubel argued, to just call it media. My reason was that we needed to accentuate and call attention to what was different about it: it was social, involving people sharing, and participating in conversations in public spaces. It has taken about seven years since those arguments in my opinion to reach the point that we can actually mostly just call it media now (though I am not opposed to calling it social media), but surely that realization has been evident for many months if not longer to many of you.


Perhaps with Social Business, the cycle has accelerated and we have reached the point where extra differentiation or attention on the social aspect isn’t needed even faster then before. The one thing I keep hearing in the keynotes, in the hallways and in my discussions with leading analysts is that most of what we are talking about is just BUSINESS. It was always intended to be about the new way we should be doing business. It was abut leaving behind the exploitative ways of old to embrace more efficient, more effective and more human aspects underlying the engine of our economy.


To this end, we do need a label, a symbol or a banner to rally behind; hence, we do need to call it something. That was really the point behind my Social Business is Dead post, to seek out and perhaps discover a better phrase. But none have materialized, and no appropriate alternatives that encompass the ideals has been suggested yet, though several exist which are at least partially true. This is why I don’t mind if we keep calling it Social Business. Or, that you might call it the Postdigital Enterprise. Or, if we talk about operating in the collaborative economy. 


There are probably few things I wouldn’t want it to be called, but my mind is mostly open. It’s a big transformation for the world, and that requires a big tent where thinkers and pundits and leaders can connect the proverbial dots and go about letting people see it as they do from their perspective, calling it whatever makes the most sense to them.


Leaders, particularly in large, conservative, publicly traded companies are not ones to buy something because they’ve been told it will make them feel better, they want solutions to their problems and clear proven advantages that will help them grow profitability and market share. But still, some very smart people I have met and have known still think a social business is one that participates in social media spaces effectively with their customers, responding to tweets that might otherwise tarnish their reputation if they aren’t there fast enough. Truth is, as it has been designed, social business is much more then that – it is, as several speakers yesterday said proudly, “not something you do, but a way you are”.


As I talked with colleagues here this week after I realized Social Business isn’t dead, it’s a marketing slogan, there was some head nodding and some very light resistance – but not much. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and while it may be off-putting to some, it is actually just a label applied to a view of how the world should operate for the benefit of everyone, where organizations work to create shared value for our society. One society, under god, with liberty, justice and equal opportunity for all.


And in that spirit of freedom, I won’t mind if my colleagues and friends keep calling it Social Business, as even I do from time to time. But I will be on the lookout for a better symbol and phrase for the foreseeable future. Because as those speakers has been saying, and as I have been hoping, its more then a set of tools, its a way of being that is different than most managers in the old world can even comprehend.


That is worthy of our efforts, and worthy of marketing dollars to help shift that change, but its also worthy of us going way beyond the marketing, the messaging and the dogfooding, to find ways to help more leaders wake up to the new world order. It requires us to convene conversations that really matter like the one I had with Rudy Karsan in the press conference after Monday’s opening general session. (will share audio shortly)


What it takes is more conversations like the one we will be hosting at our next Work Hackers Salon later in February with Charlene Li at Altimeter Group’s Hangar. If you are in the Bay Area, I hope you can make it to talk to us about the fight of our lives, the fight for defining the future of work and ensuring it has a bigger soul that will drive an even bigger wallet.

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All I want for Christmas is a Rockstar Developer

Wells' Christmas TreeI still want peace on earth too, but in order for me to contribute to that lofty goal, what I really want, well, what I really need, is to find a lead engineer to join Alynd as a cofounder who can code in their sleep and solve complex problems with elegant poetry.  As long as I am asking Santa, I might as well ask for the stars and the moon, right? It is after all, the only thing I really want this Christmas, though I will take it as a New Year’s present too of course! Or even Valentines day if I must, but it would break my heart if we haven’t found true love by Valentines day.

Here’s the kicker, and the present that I can offer the universe to even out this very selfish, business related Christmas Wish. Up until now, my company has really been focused on finding and locating our team mates in the bay area, but the war for talent, even at the startup level, is so fierce, Bill Sanders, Rawn Shah and I have decided that we are going to build a next generation organization ourselves. So instead of centralizing everyone in the Bay Area, we will work as a virtual, distributed company. As such, I am seeking a rockstar developer / lead engineer who will be able to work from home, somewhere outside the valley from across the USA and even up in Canada.

After speaking to my friend Chris Kenton of SocialRep.com and learning how he operates his distributed development team, I was fascinated. When I read Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants, I was becoming a believer. When even my friends and ‘family’ asked me to fill this particular role and complete our MVP before they would invest in Alynd, I realized it was time to rethink our approach to recruiting for this position. You see, other startup friends, recruiters, venture capitalists and even our advisors have not been able to help us find someone – in fact, many are in the same situation themselves. With bay area developers asking for and getting $200k each, even those with barely any real world experience, it just makes establishing a headquarters for operation here nearly impossible. It is truly the big leagues, a near equivalent of professional sports. So unless you are the code developer equivalents of Lames, Wade and Bosh, or participating in one of the incubators, its really tough.

So we decided to look at things differently. We realized we should be ‘dogfooding’, not only with our own Alynd Software as a Service, but with the networked organizational and operational structure we see as the future of business. So recently we began to explore what that organization would look like, and it seems like the smart choice is to find team mates to join us who had a balanced, happy life already, who could contribute value to our company from wherever they were happiest. Then, as Chris Kenton does with his SocialRep team, we could get together every 4-6 weeks in person somewhere for a sort of ‘sprint’ in agile terminology.

Recently, Bill and I traveled to Tucson to do the first of what we are calling our regular “Alynements” with Rawn, working for 4 days together focused on how we were going to operate our private alpha release and early sales cycle. We talked product road map, debated the merits of different facets of our ‘big story’ and bonded a bit more too. I can’t wait to actually use our software for the next one we will be doing in February.

Hopefully, if I get my Christmas Wish (perhaps with your help if you forward this to a friend) we will be able to make someone else’s Christmas a little brighter too. So who are we looking for, besides someone awesome who lives outside the Bay Area?

Ideally the right person will have had some bad experiences working inside companies that struggled to build a positive culture and had difficulty collaborating across boundaries inside their traditional silos. They will be frustrated with the state of the current tools we have been given for collaborating and communicating as part of work, and they even realize that social technologies aren’t quite doing it right yet. Having some experience building social software, for individuals, small teams and large enterprises would be a huge plus though. Prior experience working in a startup would be a must, as is crazy proficiency with virtual team situations, as well as having a very dynamic, questing disposition. More details and a link to apply can be found over here on Social Media Jobs.com.

Given that Alynd hasn’t yet raised any money, though we are on Angels List and hoping to do so in early 2014, the right person would ideally be working the next several months largely for equity with a minimal salary to start, moving up quickly as we grow.

One thing that is essential to understand is that we really need someone who can not only manage themselves, but someone who can see problems and opportunities before they arise, and move towards them without needing us to tell them – a true self starter. In this sense, there are two ways we could go with this position, a rockstar full stack developer who can spit out code as easily as rhymes; or an engineering team leader who can build out a team while still actively contributing to the codebase. Ultimately we need both…

So it’s Christmas eve day, and while I am here with my wife’s family enjoying some rest and time together, I am still of a singly focused mind – how do we bring the vision we have for Alynd into the world? What can I do to make us successful? How can I give this great gift to the world?

Simple. I need one thing that you, my friends, colleagues and family can give me. All I want for Christmas is a Rock Star Developer. There has to be someone living in the US, who is the perfect fit. Please share this and help me find them.

And then enjoy the rest of your Christmas with your family and friends, like I am going to do for the next 36 hours. See you on Facebook in the meantime with everyone else…

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NOTE: I want to make a special request to encourage female engineers to submit their resume’s for consideration. We believe that the success of our software will ultimately require a truly diverse team, from different genders, religions, cultures and backgrounds. Why will become apparent should we interview you.

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The Employee Centric Corporation and the Birth of the Employee Agreement

Nurturing a New Idea, The Employee AgreementToday (Friday September 20, 2013) I am in New York City participating in the Work Revolution Summit. While I have many professional and personal reasons for participating, not the least of which is our new Social Business SaaS company Alynd and our desire to fix what is most broken with work, I am here focusing on one big, yet simple idea. That the shift in the balance of power we are experiencing as consumers in our relationships with brands will soon be coming to our work lives and the relationship we have with our employers.

More specifically, I believe it is time for us to go beyond the constructs of the employment agreement and begin to embrace a new vision for an employee centric corporation. A simple, yet profound movement in this direction is the creation of an employee agreement that makes plain the more important aspects of the employee-employer relationship from an employee centric point of view, instead of a liability limiting corporate perspective.

The employee agreement is designed to make visible each employee’s purpose at work, defining who they are, what they can uniquely contribute and what they expect to be doing in the time they devote to the corporate mission. This should not be written in legalese, but in easy to understand, plain English. It should be openly and transparently shared internally with other employees, and in some cases, perhaps even publicly. It should be written in such a manner so that every other employee may not only understand their purpose and motivations, but also understand their strengths and what activities they personally expect to be doing at work each and every day. If you have every participated in a team sport, this may sound familiar to you, it’s what we do to win – work together, aligned towards our common goals in mind, body and soul.

If you are an individual change agent who wants to ignite this part of the Work Revolution but don’t know where to start. Here is something you can start today, right now in fact. The concept of the employee agreement starts out as a simple post to your intranet, employee forum, social network or blog that answers the questions: Who am I? What unique value can I contribute? What is expected of me? and Why am I here?

This isn’t a new concept, it is a new call to action for doing something meaningful about it without requiring permission or systemic change. Bill Jensen, change agent and thought leader on the future of work has long called for a New Work Contract. From his perspective, he sees the new work contract as an asset revolution. Employees (aka humans) aren’t just resources to be managed, but their time, attention, and ideas are assets. With the new work contract, like all assets, employers must respect the intrinsic value of those assets and provide a proper return to their investor.

In Bill Jensen’s “Work 2.0: Ten Year Report”, he found that business is “at war with its workforce”. Executives may not feel that this is the case, but ask any cog in the machine that is a big corporation and they can not only validate this sentiment, but provide story after story from their experience that supports this finding.

It may be hard to remember, but it wasn’t always this way.

In the not too distant past, the corporation served a central and lasting role in people’s lives. At the birth of the industrial era, there were ‘company towns’ built literally to house the employee population near factories and provide for their needs. As recently as the 60’s and 70’s, there was the notion of the ‘company man’, where an employee invested their entire lives working for one company that helped them develop both personally and professionally. They looked after each other with the utmost loyalty. The employees looked forward to getting their watch and their pension plan on retirement, when they could finally relax and move to Florida. More recently, this has become less and less true, while many employees continue to hope for the best.

Over the past few decades, there has become an increasing understanding that we are each CEO’s of our own careers. In the modern world, we each need to take responsibility for our prosperity both professionally and personally. Of course, there is still professional development opportunities in many companies, where they pay for training with important skills, send key employees to conferences to learn the latest techniques of their profession, and may even put them into an executive MBA program – if they have been recognized as being ‘management material’, and are willing to exchange a few more years of their life as part of the reimbursement. Unfortunately, for the average employee, they don’t see these sorts of opportunities for growth. Instead they go through the motions of setting professional development goals when that time of year comes around, telling their managers what they think they want to hear instead of telling them what is really in their hearts and minds.

Indeed, many professionals have taken this advice to heart and left their corporate jobs in pursuit of greener pastures. During the dotcom boom, as with the “forty-niners” of America’s westward expansion, many courageous souls left comfort and security behind to pursue a chance to strike it rich. Over the past few decades, an increasing number of knowledge workers have taken their careers and their futures into their own hands to become independent consultants, to spend more time with their families, to start their own businesses, to begin early retirement, to serve their communities, or to pursue their other dreams.

In short, there has been a great migration of the best and brightest talent away from the corporation. The idea that employees might have jobs for life is now a distant memory. They have lost faith in the corporation as companies and their leaders have proven they don’t really believe ‘that people are their greatest assets.’ Worse, most leaders have created strategies and policies that prove they don’t trust their employees as far as they could throw them. This challenge is perhaps more localized to the US, but the pace of this migration is increasing as more and more talented professionals realize that many of their so-called leaders are incompetent at best and sociopaths at worst.

As corporations have demonstrated their preference for at-will employment, many of their leaders have also clearly said they care more about shareholders and their personal bonuses then they do about the well being of their employees and the markets they serve. This is natural of course, because just like Pavlov’s dog, they will act in the manner in which they are rewarded and avoid the behaviors which cause them pain. Even though competitive strategy guru Michael Porter has pointed out the need to think about prosperity over profitability and shift our focus to creating shared value, it’s not a topic that has reached many boardrooms.

Further to this point, we have read recently that many corporate leaders see people merely as a ‘cost’. To some, they are merely resources, and not recognized as human beings. For too many leaders in the elite towers of power, ‘human resources’ are fungible, easily replaced by less expensive, and less experienced, humans, thus enabling greater profitability (and ensuring their personal bonuses). While people may be equal under the law and god, they are not fungible, each is unique and each brings a unique value to the work they perform, and to the dynamics of their teams. Just ask any manager that has tried to hire a skilled replacement for one of our aforementioned workers that promoted themselves to CEO of their own career.

At the same time we have seen incredible gains in productivity over the last several years. While they are surely driven in part by technological advances and other gains in global market efficiencies, I believe that there is another driver. There is a fear among those who remain in the corporation, who have not yet realized they are their own CEO, that the proverbial axe may fall at any moment, leaving them without an income and without security for themselves and their families. They have less resources, but put in 120% effort in order to keep their jobs, and hopefully get a promotion and/or a raise, which often times simply doesn’t come. Worse, some of these individuals do not have ‘new world skills’ as they have been too busy working as cogs in the machine, sustaining the status quo, and trying to look after their loved ones, their communities and their own personal interests.

These symptoms unfortunately speak to a more fundamental unraveling of the status quo of the socioeconomic foundations of our society that is creating a future that few senior executives are able to comprehend, and to which even fewer will be able to adapt. Meanwhile, individual employees are being forced to adapt to a world of constrained resources and increased expectations. Over the past several years, their personal technology became vastly superior to that provided by their employers. So they started bringing their own devices to work, raising expectations and demands on their IT departments. Douglas Neal and John Taylor of Leading Edge Forum identified this “Consumerization of IT “as an emerging trend over a decade ago, and yet many corporations are still in reactive mode, with many treating it as if it is a foreign and unworkable concept.

Now there is not only more access to thousands of channels of entertainment, but access to more information, from media outlets, from trusted friends and from familiar strangers. All available on demand, in real time. The advancement of our connected society has been reaching into all organizations, of every size, from every sector. Still, few corporations have been quick to embrace the idea of becoming a connected company or deploying social business technologies. Even as their customers, and the dollars they provide as their wellspring of life, demand it of them.

As Dell Hell and many other examples since has shown, this demand is not one to be taken lightly. Corporations have been forced to respond, with few prepared or willing to embrace it as an opportunity, and the majority being reluctant to even consider its impact on operations beyond the use of social media as another marketing and support channel. Even still, brand managers are perplexed with their new roles in a world where they fear that the consumers control their brand, and their jobs by proxy. The truth is that this idea is a misnomer. Consumers don’t control the brand, but they do help shape it, and they have a greater degree of influence on how others perceive the brand then ever before. Ultimately, the corporation controls whether or not they are delivering on their promise and whether or not their marketing and communications efforts are an accurate reflection of the reality of the brand experience. This is what has actually changed. The market will not be deceived through false statement and exaggerated claims in a connected society. In this way, both the consumer and the corporation share control of the brand.

Fundamentally, in the market itself, we have recognized a shift in the balance of power from companies to their customers. If a company, or a disgruntled customer service representative unhappy with their employer, treats a customer poorly, or has a policy that is clearly unfair, that customer is likely to turn to Twitter or Facebook or their blog to complain. Whether they have 5 or 500 or 500,000 followers may indeed change the speed and nature of the response, but increasingly, they may actually get a response that is different than if they had called the company’s customer service line, waited on hold for 30 minutes and gotten nowhere.

While we haven’t seen this shift occur widely in the employer – employee relationship just yet, I contend we stand on that precipice. This is certainly the case in Silicon Valley, where rising salaries, benefits, flexible work schedules and seemingly outrageous perks are the norm. In fact it has gotten so ridiculous that it is nearly impossible for new companies to recruit top programmers in the valley and many are actually considering setting up development in far away cities. Of course, the developing world sees this as an opportunity, with outsourced software development being performed in Russia, China, Poland, Chile, India, Phillipines, and other far flung corners of the globe.

The war for talent is a complicated issue. The need for corporations to win this war is obvious. If you are to compete in a world where invention and intelligence are your best weapons for winning market share and earning the trust and loyalty of customers, it is a war that must be won. Hence the win at all costs approach of the largest companies in the largest markets, and the very visible way in which top talent is disproportionately rewarded.

But it’s not all about perks and cash. For an increasingly growing number of employees, it’s as much if not more about connecting with a deeper purpose in their lives. As with consumers who are making purchase decisions based on how green or socially responsible a company is, employees too are now choosing employers who are more closely aligned to their purpose and their interests. Those who realize they are the CEO’s of their own careers, but who dislike the multitudes of hats they must wear as an independent contractor, are seeking enlightened employers where they can earn a good living while living true to their purpose. Organizations who are realizing this and building organization structures and policies to attract and retain top talent are winning. Dave Gray in his book The Connected Company calls out many examples; among them well known names like Amazon, Semco, Nordstrom, SAS and Whole Foods.

While not all corporations are able to adapt fast enough to this changing world, there are some simple steps that can be taken in the right direction. An invaluable first step is recognizing the importance of purpose at work, and nurturing employees to find and connect with what matters most to them. There is no place where this reality is seen more clearly then at Zappos, where they cultivate individuality by helping employees realize as much happiness and success in their life away from work as they do at work. While many more, like my former employer Deloitte do this through sabbaticals and integrating community service opportunities via paid volunteer programs and pro-bono services, there are other simple ways this can be accomplished.

As mentioned at the onset, there is a very simple step that anyone can take right now towards bringing their purpose to the forefront of their work. It requires no permission, and should not require forgiveness. First, you must do the somewhat harder effort to get clear about what your purpose is, so you feel it as your truth as much as you can intellectualize and rationalize it. Then you merely need to share your purpose with others inside, and potentially even outside of your company. Share it on your internal employee profile, across the enterprise social network, in speeches at all hands meetings, and most especially in more intimate settings with the teams on which you work.

This is something I did personally while working at Deloitte Consulting, and it really felt incredibly liberating. While I can say that it shocked some, it also generated a great deal of trust and respect for my willingness to be transparent, and to be so clear in declaring my purpose for why I was working at the firm. I made it clear and stated plainly that I had taken the job at Deloitte for two reasons. First was a matter of urgency, I took the job to advance their social media and social business efforts because I needed the money. After several years running a non-profit community organization, it was time to find financial security, pay off my debt, and get into a position where I could once again become an entrepreneur.

But money alone was not my purpose, just a reason and an impetus. What moved me to choose Deloitte over several other options was a desire to have a front row seat to the great restructuring that would allow me to understand how large, traditional organizations were adapting to the great restructuring being forced on them by the advent of our connected society and widespread market adoption of social technologies. More importantly perhaps, was getting a chance to help them with that transition, to convince them of the necessity and opportunity. While a few scoffed at these statements and fixated on my stated financial need, those who came to know me, who heard the passion and truth in my voice, realized that it was a deep desire to be part of the change I have long sought to see in the world.

In this way I earned the respect of many, particularly the large millennial work force at Deloitte. Not only for the higher purpose I had communicated, but for my willingness to state it so clearly and openly. Regardless of what your thoughts may be on the recent millennials at work discussion, I can tell you with absolute certainty that what they and all other members of our work force want is to be told the truth. They crave someone who will shoot straight with them and not pretend that a challenge or unpleasant fact is untrue when it clearly is. They also crave leaders who can inspire and support, not managers who will nitpick and obfuscate.

I did more then declare my purpose at work though, I also declared what I did well, and what I did poorly. I made clear who I was, as a human being, as a member of the industry I helped cultivate and as an employee of the firm. It gave me back a great deal of energy I would have normally wasted, because I was able to be myself and not pretend to be what I thought others expected of me – I didn’t waste emotional energy being someone I was not. While in some cases it didn’t necessarily serve my better interests, it freed me to live my truth, to give my best and to find greater meaning everyday. It also kept me connected with that purpose on a regular basis, staying focused on why I was there everyday, enabling me to get through the rough days and really celebrate the great ones.

This experience got me thinking about the nature of the employment agreement, and how it defined the legally necessary aspects of the contract designed to protect my employer, and how little of the employment agreement was designed to serve my interests. In fact, while I negotiated a salary that was to my liking, none of the other terms of that agreement was negotiable. The rest of it, from intellectual property assignments, to sick leave and benefits, was a take or leave it proposition as it is in virtually all large corporations. Now, to be clear, Deloitte has awesome benefits (really) and there was little I would seek to be changed in that regards, so I willingly entered into the agreement with a full understanding of its terms, even the few with which I disagreed. This point is being raised relative to the general nature of the employment agreement itself rather than a complaint with the one I signed.

Ultimately, what I realized was that the shift in the balance of power, the war for talent and the coming changes to the structure of the corporation will necessitate that the employment agreement, and how we enter into it, will change too. While corporations will fight back saying they can’t efficiently manage different contracts with different terms for each of its employees, the current state of compliance by fiat will not survive as it is in the future of work. Soon, I hope, we will reach a tipping point where there is a true balance of power between the employee and employer that is more the norm then the fringe.

The employee agreement expects the employee to fully and deeply answer the questions “Who am I, why am I here and what value can I offer others with my time, experience and ideas?” By making the answer visible to others, and enabling them and their employer to enter into a truly two-way relationship, the employee will not only be better aligned with the company, but also with other employees. In this way, while they are getting their work done and contributing their unique value, they are also able to connect more directly and consciously with their purpose for entering into the agreement, increasing their level of engagement, increasing their value contributed and decreasing their emotional energy wasted.

While the idea of the  employee agreement template I suggest here is a simple one, where we collectively go from here, remains to be seen. In fact, I look forward to your thoughts and comments here so that we might together begin to redefine the employee-employer relationship. If we begin to take these small personal steps, we can all begin to better see our colleagues at work and improve our collaboration with each other. In this way, through these straight forward but powerful questions, we might not only be able to make our work more meaningful, but we might just find a better path to living our lives in alignment with our unique purpose.

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The Entrepreneur Perspective on #WorkRevolution

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The #WorkRevolution Has Begun, Literally

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