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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been two months since my last posting on this blog. My shame is palpable. I’ve been loyal to my blog for about 10 years. Why the lapse? Well, I confess, I have been having impure thoughts and I’ve been seeing another. A temptress. Yes, I’ve been led astray!

The truth is, as an experiment, I’ve recently turned my attention to the alluring and sexy offer to “Publish a Post”, which as many of you may know is the third of three options that LinkedIn offers users on its Home screen.

The first of these choices, “Share an Update” creates a timeline feed which old-school LinkedInners* might say brings the site a bit closer to FaceBook. Maybe so, but most of the content I see there seems to keep to the original work-career-networking direction of the site. True, this means there’s an inordinate amount of self product or company promotion, but ’twas ever thus.

The second choice on the home page is to “upload a photo”. This does feel more millennial and looks like an invitation to share one’s (business?) lunch, or (office?) wild-night out, or (team-building?) Grand Canyon pic, or (cheesy and miss-attributed) Ghandhi/Einstein/Twain quotes rather than anything else.

The third one, however, is more intriguing. A Post, on LinkedIn, is something like a one-off blog entry. Now that the LI groups have declined in both purpose and point, this is probably the strongest area on LinkedIn to serve as a platform for Thought Leadership. You should probably check out what you see then you click on “Pulse” (in the “Interests” drop-down menu on the home page), and if you click on  the word Pulse when you get there, you can tailor the feed to follow people or topics that interest you.  While there, you could model some of the more rampant influencers in LinkedIn and start to think of your own content.

Both sites – WordPress and  Linkedin – offer you access to analytics and stats on how many people are reading what you have written. The dashboard for WordPress is quite detailed but focuses more on where in the world your readers are, which is less interesting than who. LinkedIn, to its credit, gives you some data on who has ‘liked’ and who (if anyone…) has ‘shared’, and when. In my case and so far in the experiment, the LinkedIn posts seem to reach more people, and you can embed a video, while WordPress allows much more creativity in design, layout and links.

But I needed to explain to the blog my guilt. Absolution follows.

_____________

* another confession, I just made that term up. In fact, I’ve made up more such terms than you’ve had Link Dinners. LIers could be another one, but I don’t think it would catch on)

As part of a current project to revisit the Personal Development aspect of the Henley DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) programme, I’ve been forced to start to think about the concept of paradox. Let me tell you – it’s painful, mind-twisting stuff. And I blame my mentor, Professor Jane McKenzie for everything!

So, what is a paradox, and why does it matter for the DBAs? Good question. Answers on a postcard please. In the meantime, here is what I think.

First of all, a paradox must be both self-contradictory and not self-contradictory and it must be (or appear to be) both at the same time. When it is, it isn’t. And when it’s not, it is. Commonly cited examples of this include the Liar Paradox. A logic paradox sets up a kind of warp-speed oscillation, whereby you have to jump instantly from one side to the other as soon as you have comprehended either.

It’s rather like in the diagram below (maybe you see a smaller box in the corner of a room, then you see one large cube with a cube-shaped chunk missing (or vice versa), but you cannot see both simultaneously):

Box illusion cube

The cube illusion doesn’t usually occur to us as a paradox, though, because there isn’t a pressing need for us to understand one way over the other. We can grasp that it’s both, and neither. The sky does not fall on our heads. In fact, without a conflictual aspect or consequence, most paradoxes – like sleeping dogs – should be let to lie.  We’re often quite unaware of the paradoxical nature of much of our perception and sense-making. The sorting out and sifting of all the possible double and contrary meanings happens mostly at an unconscious or habitual level – leaving us free to get on with the business of  whatever we think our business ought to be. Paradox matters only when we are involved in some kind of change or learning process.

In the pure sciences such as mathematics paradoxes have been seen as non-axiomatic and can exist only in theory (in other words, in the imagination) and not in reality. That doesn’t prevent paradox being talked about a lot by mathematicians. Paradoxes appear a lot in philosophy, too. The eye, our organ of sight, can never see itself. In fact, the one thing none of our senses can do is sense themselves. And a statement such as “today is the only day that is not different”  is self-referentially impossible because if it’s true that today is the only day which is the same as the others, then it instantly becomes different, which instantly makes it like all the others, so not different, which…

Near the beginning of the 20th century Bertrand Russell infamously dealt with paradox in mathematics by means of a the deus ex machina  of the hierarchy of logical typing. Is the set of things that are non-cats itself a member of the set of things that are non-cats (i.e. a member of itself)? No, was the answer, because a set is always of a higher logical type than its members. This is very useful, as it turns out that this is why it is logical not to eat the packaging of your pizza but the contents inside, even though the package says “pizza”.

And yet, psychologically, socially, zoologically and aesthetically there are some nice paradoxes of identity and we do seem able to bend, twist and break Russell’s rule when it comes to social interaction. In fact, it may be necessary for us to do so. One famous example is the Ship of Theseus, which is the ancient question of whether a wooden sailing ship which over time, piece by piece, has every bit of wood, every rope and every scrap of sail replaced is still the same ship? A more modern and terribly funny equivalent is “Trigger’s Broom” from the British sitcom “Only Fools and Horses”:

I suppose one of the tensions present in the identity paradox is that between permanence and change, and this seems one of the interesting aspects for the DBAs as they are there on the course precisely because they wish to attain both, and this is surely contradictory. There are others they will find – the dichotomy of perceived gaps between “research” and “practice”, or “rigour” and “relevance” (and so on… and on) which social identity via membership of practitioner or academic communities prizes and demands. These sorts of paradox are experienced as real mainly because the oscillation between one side and the other is made possible by the passage of time.

No doubt it’s a paradox that will resolve itself – sooner or later. In the short run, a person is free to enlighten themselves and shake off the need to resolve a paradox at all (better to dissolve it through awareness), while in the long run – as Keynes reminds us – we’re all dead. This last view I take to mean that we should relish living in the present, not that we should feel helpless or gloomy about it.

“If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” William Blake

 

iPhone 4 import September 2013 009

Subject: Group Announcement – A total mystery [160317-005516]

This was the subject line on my message (see “Message #1, below) sent to the Linkedin Group help center this week. What was my total mystery? Well, something and nothing, really. I had written an announcement for all members of one of the Henley groups I run, sharing a bit of information/updates and a request to take part in a short survey on Graduate attributes.

In the old LinkedIn Group area, this would be sent to everyone in the group via email (unless they had opted not to receive such up-dates) and posted as a discussion. But under LinkedIn’s improved group area (notice I have ironically resisted putting quotation marks around the word improved. A sort of double irony, if you like) it is LinkedIn that decides how many of the group should get it. Since I never received my own announcement to the group I’m the owner of via email, I wanted to find out who did.

So I wrote to them to ask. Surely they would know.

Little did I know I’d be entering the Twilight zone…. below is the short exchange I’ve so far had with Ravi. He has what at first sight seems useful job title, but I failed to find the specialism useful. See what you think.

___________

Message# 1 (sent by me)

Member (03/17/2016 10:39 CST)

Issue Type: Groups

Subject: Group Announcement – A total mystery

Your Question: I’m the group owner for “Henley Business School – post-experience”. We have almost 9,000 members. I have just written and sent an announcement. So far, so normal.

Then you’ve made it weird.

I get a message telling me you (LinkedIn) have decided which members will get this as an email. Who? Who not? Why? How would you know? How do I know who? Huh!?? Since I have not received my own announcement as email, I conclude that LinkedIn thinks the group owner is not interested in their own announcement! So, please let me know how many of my group were sent this message. Please, please, please do not include in your reply a stock message along the lines of “we’ve passed this great feedback on to the team developing this part”, as no-one thinks this about LinkedIn any more. Sadly.

Thanks, Chris Dalton

_________

Message #2 (the reply)

“LinkedIn Response (03/18/2016 06:50 CST)

Hi Chris,

Thank you for reaching out to me.

When an Group announcement is sent, it will be sent to all the members on the Groups. We do not sent it to specific members.

Can you please send us the email you have received from us regarding the announcement.

I look forward to hearing your response in order to further assist you.

Ravi

Consumer Support Specialist”

______

I have to say here that I wasn’t really expecting them to fix the issue, just re-assure me who was emailed, and why. What was their rationale? I had drawn a blank there, but Ravi’s answer had also drawn a little bit of ire. I know that this isn’t completely reasonable as I’m writing to someone who is employed at a non-decision-making level of the company, BUT this is an online, technical organisation, one with a reputation built on building reputation. So…

_______

Message #3 (my reply)

Member (03/18/2016 09:10 CST)

Hi Ravi,

Thanks for the response, which I’m going to have to say I don’t fully understand – for the following reasons:

It didn’t answer my question (which was, by the way, who in my group were emailed the announcement I made?)

According to your own web site, not everyone in the group is sent the announcement. I know this partly because I haven’t received it via email, and partly because there is a message reading:

“You sent an announcement. You can send another one
in 6 days.

You sent “Newsletter from Henley Business School – post-experience,” Mar 17, 2016. We’ve figured out which members of the group are most likely to open and be interested in announcements like this, and sent it just to them.
The announcement was emailed to 7,764 group members.”

From this I would deduce that you DO send it to specific members, and not to the whole group. Which is annoying. “We’ve figured out…” How?

Chris

________

Message #4 (the template reply, which prompted this post)

LinkedIn Response (03/19/2016 01:22 CST)

“Hi Chris,

I’ve sent your information to our product team for consideration. When many of our members ask for the same improvement, they try their best to get it done. However, due to the large number of suggestions they receive, they usually don’t provide a timeline.

In the future, you can send suggestions to us by clicking any  “Feedback” link on the right side of your homepage. This will send your comments directly to the appropriate team. You can also keep up with the latest product news and enhancements on our official blog, http://blog.linkedin.com, and check https://members.linkedin.com/we-heard-you for additional feature updates and fixes.. It’s our way of keeping you informed on all the exciting work we’re doing behind the scenes.

Again, we appreciate the feedback and believe that together we can create great products for everyone!

Regards,

Ravi

Consumer Support Specialist

______

I have to note that LinkedIn is not devoid of a sense of irony, as they have included in their stock responses suitably placed “inverted commas” around the work Feedback.

I give up!

Road to Singapore poster

Along with some colleagues from Henley Business School in the UK, I’ve been in Malaysia – just across the water from the island of Singapore – for five days now. The picture above shows us greeting the new Executive MBA students here on the University of Reading’s Malaysia campus. OK, no it doesn’t.

Coming to the end of my first visit to this region, I just wanted to share some photos of the facility here, which is pretty stunning. We’re close to the rapidly growing Malaysian city of Johor, in a district called Iskandar. The campus location is called “Educity” and is a purpose-built collection of buildings and grounds dedicated to various universities. Reading is joined by the universities of Newcastle and Southampton, as well as various Malaysian schools. The territory around Educity is a building zone, with many apartment blocks, and luxury estates going up. “Watch this space” is the sub-text. It’s also a pretty amazing building, with plenty of space and lots of designed-in facilities for study. Eventually it is hoped that 3,000 students will be studying here, with Henley Business School leading the way…

Below is a short gallery showing the huge Learning Resource Centre, the atrium, coffee shop, MBA group and various other aspects.

 

Notes from the road

Henley winter Jan 2016 1

The photo is Henley in winter, but I’m now down here in Johannesburg for a couple of PD workshops. It’s a pleasure to visit somewhere in the middle of its summer when you’ve escaped somewhere else in the middle of its winter. I missed the local heatwave experienced by Henley South Africa before this trip, and I find the big Jo’burg sky mainly warm – invaded from time to time by giant, warm storm clouds which bring downpours that drench the city. A welcome change to the drought conditions of last year.

Time for a short catch-up, in no order and with no order, here are some recent thoughts:

  • Art             I was recently listening to a programme on Radio 4 in which Phil Jupitus (a well-known comedian and TV personality in the UK), who was revisiting various texts and books that have influenced him during his life. One of the recordings featured (an honorary degree acceptance speech by artist Richard Demarco)  included this line:

“Using the art, the language of your art, each one of you, you can make society… well. You can make the life of every single individual you meet, better. you can give us hope in the future.”

  • “Make society well.”      Demarco was addressing artists, but there is no reason why this sentiment does not apply to management and managers. Very few organisations are concerned first and foremost with this question of societal wellness, except obliquely and usually disastrously in terms of material growth.
  •  Speaking of artists and their art, Bowie has left the building         One of the world’s truly influential creators has died. It turns out, based on reading even a localised view on social media, that everyone has their relationship with the music of Bowie over the years and in what is being presented as a series of reinventions of persona. I admire him because I don’t think these were contrived re-inventions but just new inventions. He used the world around him, behind him, ahead of him, to invent – which is what artists do. We will also be discovering new sides and aspect and meanings in his work for many years to come, which is another sign of a great artist.
  • Are you being served?                   When I come to Johannesburg I usually stay in a decent business hotel in a place called Rosebank. One reason I like it is because it’s just a two-block walk (Jo’burg is not set up for the visitor to explore on foot) from the hotel to a large shopping and eating area, resplendent with several shopping malls, food courts and outdoor cafes and restaurant zones. I happened to have some time so I walked around the large, modern mall and wandered into a pharmacy (drug store, actually) like Boots called Dis-chem. A large, well laid-out shop with many aisles and some pretty interesting products on sale (crutches?). I bought some travel ear-plugs for the air journey home (cost, 24.95 rand, about £1) and took it to the check-out. This is where is gets surreal. The store, not busy with customers, had one of those low corridors that lead to (tempting products on racks all the way along) down to a series of check-out cashiers in a line. A long corridor, and a long line of cashier positions. 24 in fact. But the odd this was that there was no queue, but there were 12 people sitting, waiting to take the non-existent queue.  12 staff doing nothing (except chatting to each other). Cashier numbers 1 or 2 must be the only ones ever to see any action, but whoever is down at position 10, 11 or 12 must have NOTHING to do all day…! What’s more, there was also a supervisor. Supervising the 11 people not having to deal with the customer. What’s even more, the unsmiling assistant to rang up my purchase looked angrily at my 100 rand note. “Haven’t you got something smaller?” “No, sorry.”  Pause. Calls to the supervisor. Some serious talk. Supervisor asks the other 11, in general. Glum looks. One person, reluctantly, offers to break my incredibly large note (it’s about £4). I look around the store to see whether these people couldn’t be gainfully employed elsewhere in the store. But no, almost every aisle has another staff member packing, stacking or walking around. I estimate about 22 staff visible in the store, and about 6 customers.

Tower_of_Babel

With more than 400 million registered members worldwide (over 19 million of whom are based in the UK), LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking web-site. Quite a success story for a California company set up in 2003. It now operates in 24 languages and in over 200 countries – which is basically just saying “we’re on the internet…”

The company employed 500 full-time staff in 2010 but now has 9,200 employees, which hints at a story of rapid expansion. LinkedIn had an IPO in 2011, and year-on-year revenues (growing at 37%) for Q3 in 2015 were $780 million, the majority of which comes from what the company somewhat enigmatically calls “talent solutions” (this may mean charges made to headhunters, recruiters and search companies). This stat is the best indication of the real reason why everyone is on LinkedIn; to further career prospects via personal branding and network reach. And there is no doubt that LinkedIn has always been on to something in that regard.

LinkedIn has not liked to be too gimmicky. I think this actually endeared it to the baby-boomers and Generation Xs that were its primary users in the early years. Against MySpace and Facebook, LinkedIn felt reassuringly un-trendy. Generally, it has remained quite conservative in what it innovates or in what it changes. One feature of the site which has been around for a long time has been the Groups function. There are over 2 million groups on LinkedIn, and Business Schools in particular made good use of them as a constantly and self-refreshing database of contacts, as well as a forum for discussion and announcement. It was all working OK. Then, over the summer, the company made some low-key announcements about some radical changes it wanted to introduce to that groups area.  In August, the company announced that “the Groups team has been working on some really exciting new improvements that will change Groups dramatically.”  They weren’t kidding about the drama.

In October this roll-out reached the UK, and pretty much flattened every group owner’s enthusiasm for the Groups function. None of the changes made added up to anything better than what was there before. The new User Interface (UI) removed all ability to get an overview of what was going on in any of the groups you are a member of. It also removed the useful quick overview of any admin needing doing for group owners and managers. Existing groups were re-labelled as “Private and unlisted” as default, so no-one could search for them and new members were only by invitation. The only alternative was “Standard”, which can be searched for, but which (unbelievably) allows existing members to admit new members. For an alumni group, this is not healthy and also allows spammers to work their way into the groups. Then, the character limit for new comments or discussions was reduced from 4,000 to 1,000, presumably to suit a more mobile use of LinkedIn for Groups (perhaps they are looking to accommodate more Generation Ys or millennials?), so people can not expand on their thoughts as much.

I’ve no doubt that the Groups function on LinkedIn needs looking at. There are too many small or redundant groups, and quite a few that are too big for any member to make an impact within (no use being the 543rd comment in a discussion thread), but LinkedIn’s changes, and the strange way they’ve gone about it, have infuriated the community of moderators. Postings to the discussion threads in the official LinkedIn Moderator Groups have been pretty unanimous in voicing (in 1,000 characters or fewer) the frustration, and a lot of owners are openly asking each other for good tips on where else they can take their online groups for hosting.

It’s too early to say whether this is going to damage LinkedIn other than in terms of the small dent in its groups reputation. The site is now so enormous that few people/managers can afford to ignore it completely as a showcase, and it remains a good avenue to find and keep up with colleagues and potential network contacts, but they have managed to take much of the fun out of running groups. The Henley post-experience group had 8 sub-groups, all of which are now stand-alone spaces. I doubt these smaller groups will survive with any life in them, as a new member now has the task to hunt down and join each in turn, and spend most of their day clicking and scrolling to find them and see whether anything new is happening (which, when it turns out it is not, results in them not even bothering to check).

IMG_6151

This week I was able to follow up being present at (if not part of) the recent #mindfulnation report launch at Parliament by attending a meeting to promote the work of one of the four areas of research and practice highlighted in the report – mindfulness in the workplace.

The venue for this event was Shoreditch, an area of East London adjacent to the City, at a place called Second Home, a place for young and small businesses to interact. It was to be an evening meeting, so I took the coach from Oxford into London in the late afternoon. It got stuck in traffic coming in. Really stuck. As we crawled along, the girl next to me on the bus, a drama student, eventually worked out that she was going to miss her 6:30 appointment to collect her complimentary theatre tickets for a 7 pm performance. She was very stressed, poor thing, and made repeated calls to friends and family to see what they would say; but none of that could change the speed of the bus in the syrupy traffic. I, too, was going to be late. But then I remembered that I was heading to a meeting about being mindful, and that this was a great opportunity to choose to notice all that was going on in the present It was annoying, yes, but not permanent. I decided to let the annoyance be what it was. The rest of the crawl felt a lot easier, and the observant feeling remained with me all the way onto the Central Line and out from Liverpool Street station through the fascinating side streets to reach Second Home (how vibrant the City and East End were at 7:30 in the evening!!).

I arrived as Jamie Bristow, who alongside Tessa Watt and Sarah Post was one of the leads in the research behind the report, was introducing things in more detail. There were a number of different speakers who gave a fairly broad range of commentary on the possible benefits of introducing programmes of guided mindfulness in the workplace. It was a full room, so I sat at the back and took in the interesting set of speakers.

Some had an external perspective as business practitioners, others were living and breathing (no pun intended) mindfulness as trainers, consultants or coaches. Everyone was at pains to point out the danger of “McMindfulness“, or the commodification of the concept to the point of watering-down practice to homeopathic levels of awareness. By contrast, others wanted to declare a distance from any, and I quote, “woo-woo” associations of Zen meditation and navel gazing. Clearly, there are already several versions of “it”, when it comes to the it of what mindfulness is. Or isn’t.

Though the interest in mindfulness for mental health and well-being that is the primary colour of its application and study in hospitals is present in the workplace stream, too, here that was just a hue. The background colour here is that organisations should  employ mindfulness as a tool to deliver a very specific set of benefits – in other words, measurable results in terms of productivity, profitability and cost control.

Having completed the main report, presumably the next steps for Mindful Nation UK will involve following up on its main recommendations which, as stated in the report, are aimed at policy initiatives sponsored by government departments and ministries. This is, of course, a good thing but I wonder whether commercial enterprises can be influenced by government health messages in quite the same way as for the NHS or the criminal justice system. Workplaces are diverse, independent and widespread and difficult to herd. On the other hand, they are also interdependent when it come to looking out for ‘the next big thing’ in profit boosting or development to bring competitive advantage (even though, by definition, competitive advantage cannot be achieved with something everyone has access to). There is no doubt that mindfulness is on an upward trajectory and momentum right now; it’s seriously sexy. This is partly because awareness is intrinsically a good and beneficial thing for learning and living, but increasingly (at least for a while) also because many companies will want to adopt programmes for training (i.e. productivity) purposes because it’s what everyone else is doing.  This will make it very big business.

This energy was evident in the short break-out discussions in the room after the main presentations. I sat in on the group discussing “how to make the business case for mindfulness” but as I listened to the various answers and responses to this (and the inherent worry that if you can’t show hard, bottom-line evidence of its efficacy) three questions occurred to me:

1. Is mindfulness an “it” that can be packaged up and sold in this way? Isn’t the nature one of being, not doing? It’s precisely this benefit of not needing to be taught (the phrase ‘mindfulness practice’ is often used as a signal or trigger for practitioner groups to sit and think in a certain way. A lovely, peaceful and connected way, but surely awareness is not only this).

2. When we ask about the business case for mindfulness, haven’t we got the question the wrong way round? We seem to be trying to work out how mindfulness can contribute to the success of the organisation, making whatever criteria you have for measuring success in the organisation the aim. What if, instead, it were those criteria that ought to be in service of a greater awareness (or mindfulness, if you prefer) of the way the world is? I think this would enable many companies to rethink what they do in terms of, for example, sustainability.

3. How could an organisation “be” mindful? What would that look like?

It’s going to be an interesting process following this movement. The people are great, and inevitably interested in following their curiosity. Right now, before it has got to being its own brand, Mindful Nation UK should resist the temptation to have all the answers. The time for real discussion was too short in Shoreditch, so I hope there will be a chance to contribute over a longer period.

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