Book of the Month: Rebels at work

Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within

By Lois Kelly, Carmen Medina, and Debra Cameron

 I wish I’d read Rebels at Work years ago. It’s aimed at all those who have great ideas and struggle against the complexity and inertia of a big company to get them implemented. It’s about leading change from within a company, getting your ideas heard, building support, and how your personal approach can help (or hinder) the process.

I recognised a lot of the concepts in Rebels at Work, but seeing them put into words and in context gave me many “aha” moments, starting with the matrix of past, present and future thinking. True rebels will be future thinkers while large organisations are likely to exhibit the characteristics of “present thinking” – focusing on organising, rules, structure, processes and reaching goals. This contradiction can lead to frustration for rebels, but the book goes on to give you ideas to address it.

One big lesson the book brings up several times; the timing of launching your big idea. Don’t do it in the first moment you think of it; do your research, and build support first. I’ve seen this go wrong for a number of people who have had great ideas but earnt themselves a reputation of not being serious enough to get things done. I don’t think that’s been a failing of mine – but I have definitely underestimated how much people like the status quo and don’t want to change.

There’s some interesting research throughout the book, the report that got me was the 10% tipping point; research shows that if 10% of a group believe in an idea the majority of the people will adopt that believe.

Book of the Month2

One of the strengths of the book is the focus on interpersonal skills, there’s a whole chapter on handling disagreement and conflict. They provide strategies and even sample texts to help change the discussion instead of asking why ask “how might we reduce the risk?”, why forces the argument, how brings people onside.

There is a chapter focusing on “rebel self-care” which talks about the signs of burnout and reminds you that you can walk away, an truth that’s hard to remember when you’re in the middle of change and believe you’re making things better.

Even with this chapter I think the authors underplay how hard the rebel’s role can be and how damaging it can be, I suspect their answer might be “walk away before that happens”.

I got the recommendation for this book via twitter sometime last year, I started reading it then – almost crying with recognition! Then life happened and I was busy with other things, and only came back to finish reading it this month. It’s a great guide for those trying to change companies from the inside, so a big thank you to Luis Suarez.

Creativity Inc

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 17.37.28This was the best non-fiction book I read in 2015, hand’s down. I bought it because I heard Ed Catmull speak at the Dublin Summit and liked what he had to say. I add notes as I read, and this is my most annotated book. I was texting quotes from it to a friend – who has now bought his own copy.

In part it’s the story of Pixar, but from that there are distilled lessons for business leaders of all sorts. There’s a touching afterword titled “The Steve We Knew”, which details how Steve Jobs worked with Pixar, and shows not just the level of commitment he had to the company but the enjoyment he got from Pixar and how much he learnt from them.

In someways Pixar is a special case; it’s a highly creative company with a string of movie hits. Those movies have been chock-full of technical innovation, but it’s the story arc, and the “realness” of the animation that has won them fans, earnt the dollars and won the awards. They are relentless in their pursuit of quality, and take unusual steps to achieve this;

  • On the ground research; animation teams experience first hand the real life environments they’ll need to create on the screen. The makers of Brave had archery lessons, and a chef made ratatouille for the makers of Ratatouille.
  • Honest feedback; movies go through multiple rounds of feedback on every aspect of the film, from the story itself to dynamics of animation. Often the focus is on pinpointing what is wrong rather than prescribing a fix.
  • Trust; while the process might seem messy, the direction is right and the quality story will emerge from the messiness.
  • Open Communication; anyone can talk to anyone.

This creative DNA has meant that the company was more willing to test ideas on how to work. The feedback loop on the creative output could be re-engineered and applied to the creative process and then to the company culture. The result is some real lessons for businesses.

I think the most powerful idea is that if you have the right team, then the chances are that they’ll get the ideas right. This is so often overlooked in companies where the emphasis is placed very strongly on process.  It’s backed up by the ideas of hiring people smarter than you, and people with great potential to grow.

Pixar always looked to improve, so even with a string of hit movies and good growth figures when managers got a sense that the company culture was tilting away from their vision they held a “Notes Day”, designed to collect specific improvement points for action. The day itself was compulsory, and it was opened by John Lasseter, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, sharing the feedback he’d received about his own behaviour. This radical honesty set the stage for more openness. After the event there were more than a dozen specific ideas to implement, but much of the value came from the event itself. It served as an explicit re-inforcement of the company’s open culture and commitment to honest feedback.

Catmull’s love of the company he founded, and his belief in it’s continued success shines through every page. He seems very aware of the impact of his style of leadership and his decisions and very focussed on building excellence into the company, the output and most importantly the people.

In the final chapter called “Starting Points”, Catmull summarises the learning points from the book and adds this caveat “I know that when you distill a complex idea into a T-shirt slogan, you risk giving the illusion of understanding – and, in the process, of sapping the idea of its power”. The ideas, though, have potential as mantras for managers and employees. He talks about how imposing limits can encourage a creative response, which is true, although the story behind this that is related in the book shows that it needs to be tempered with some common sense so that the limits don’t kill your team. His comments relating to risk are instructive as well – it’s not for managers to prevent risk, but to make it safe for to take them. The attitude to failure is a positive one “It’s a necessary consequence of doing something new”. If the leadership of your company said that and demonstrated belief in it, what might you achieve? Another favourite and one that I’ve put into practice “Be wary of making too many rules”, you can spend a lot of time making rules to prevent something that almost never happens. It’s better to focus on building the behaviour you want and address issues individually.

But my favourite, one that I would put on a t-shirt is “Protect the future, not the past”.

This book is on my “favourites” shelf, partly because it validated some of the things I’ve already been thinking about working with creative professionals. I was fascinated to have a glimpse inside Pixar, the style of writing is conversational and easy to digest, and there was a lot to learn.

I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That

I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That
Ben Goldacre

This is a romp through Dr. Goldacre’s analysis of weak claims and poorly reported science. He argues that journalists should cite, and link to, the sources of the research behind the headlines. He also argues that we, the unsuspecting public should know how to read scientific studies for ourselves, and we should question the reports rather than swallow the conclusions whole.

So if you’ve ever read a science-y headline and thought to yourself “that doesn’t sound right” this book is for you. It takes a look at scientific method and points out some of the pitfalls in constructing a good experiment and in the process gives some pointers about what to look for when evaluating a scientific story;

  • Who funded the study?
  • How well was the experiment designed?
    • sample size
    • scientific method; was there a simple
    • testing a single hypotheses
  • Cherry Picking the data; does the report use a small group of reports to prove a point rather than all research?

In the past three weeks three cases have popped up in social media that prove the need to both hold journalists to a higher standard and to educate us all.

(1) Proving nothing; A Swedish family ate organically for two weeks, and tests showed a drop in the concentration of pesticides in their urine.

So the family had their urine tested for various pesticides on their usual diet, then ate organic food for two weeks, then tested the urine again. Their urine was tested daily over the two weeks and by the end there was almost no pesticide in the urine.

Note that “organic” doesn’t mean pesticide-free, so the family could still have consumed some pesticide with their organic meals. The article doesn’t report on whether that was tested for.

Which the article calls a ” staggering result”. No, not staggering, school level biology. You could do the exact same test with vitamin C. Give people a high vitamin C diet for a month, then remove vitamin C from their diet. Hey presto! No vitamin C in the urine.

This report hits the trifecta; small sample size, poor design, funded by a supermarket with a range of organic foods. Essentially this “experiment” simply proved that the Swedish family have well-functioning kidneys.

(2) Faked Data; There was a really interesting study done on the attitudes to same-sex marriage. It concluded that conversation with a gay surveyor/canvasser could induce long-term attitude change. The study seemed to be well constructed, with a good data set supporting the conclusion. The optimistic news was widely reported late last year when the study was released.

But when scientists started digging into the data, and trying to replicate the results something didn’t stack up. The study has now been retracted by one of the authors, it seems there will be a further investigation.

It’s not always the journalists at fault.

(3) We’re easily fooled; Daily dose of chocolate helps you lose weight.

Before you rush out to buy a week’s supply of your favourite chocolate bars, it’s not true.

But it turns out that it’s rather easy to generate the research and result to prove this, and extremely easy to get mainstream media to report on it. As John Bohannon proved in setting up this experiment and the associated PR.

So there can be flaws or outright fraud in science. Journalists can, on occasion, twist the story to deliver the headline. And we, the public are ready to believe reports that re-inforce our own opinions, and we’re too ready to believe good news about chocolate.

Turns out if it sounds too good to be true we should ask more questions.

Many of the articles in this book are already published in the Guardian, and if you want to read more on bad science Dr. Goldacre has his own site with the helpfully short title; Bad Science. He campaigns for greater journalistic responsibility on reporting science, for using the scientific method to test policy decisions, and for better education on scientific method.

He’s right, on all three.

The Social Employee

The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work
Cheryl Burgess, Mark Burgess

The Social Employee goes beyond theory and discusses examples of social media success in detail. This book is packed with ideas.

Most of the easy to find articles and books on social media focus on the success of a social media campaign, it can be difficult to imagine how you could do something similar in your own company or industry. The reasons are often simply that your company is not organised to accomodate social practices, and your employees are not ready to be active in the social sphere on behalf of a company.

In The Social Employee the writers have spoken to some of the biggest companies who have made social work for them, often in the more challenging area of business-to-business. They look at how a company changed their organisation, activities and business culture to deliver business results.

The IBM example points to an expansive use of social media inside and outside the company; an enterprise social network, blogs, hackathons, adoption programme and digital jams. I believe the major reason for their success in an early decision to trust employees. This was backed up with good training and tools, but that act of trust makes a difference for employees.

Dell was an early adopter, and motivated by wanting to be closer to customers “We wanted to feel that customers were walking the hallways” according to Cory Edwards, Director, Social Media & Corporate Reputation at Dell. To do this it was essential to empower employees, and have built a comprehensive training programme for all employees to understand social media. This is seen as so important that CEO is active in the training programme community.

There are examples from Adobe, Cisco and SouthWest, with SouthWest being the most employee centric.

The final part of the book looks at steps a company should take in establishing themselves in social media effectively. There is a short discussion of tool for internal use but more time is spent on building communities, content strategy and building engagement and relationships with customers.

I found the company examples more useful than the theory or the analysis, it was really interesting to see how companies had evolved a presence in social media, and how much of that came out internal change. Challenging but effective.

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson

The way most people work – with defined work hours and a defined location – was developed to support an industrialisation of work. In a time when it made sense for a company to centralise their workforce. That time has passed, but the habits of that workplace have persisted; most of us work 9 to 5, in an office, surrounded by colleagues on similar schedules.  We have the technology and the communication tools to work differently but it rarely happens. When I read Scott Berkun’s book “The Year Without Pants” I really struggled to imagine how that freedom of work would apply in a large traditionally bureaucratic company, “Why Work Sucks” starts to answer that question.

The big challenge to traditional thinking about work is the myth of time. In my last job I was on a forty hour contract, but that time quota is irrelevant. What matters is whether I got the job done – it’s time to focus on results.

In the words of Ressler and Thompson “In a results-only work environment people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done”.

Reading the examples in the book I did find myself mentally resisting the concept of a results-only work environment (ROWE). I kept thinking “but we need people in place for tasks” (I had in mind the publication of quarterly figures), then I realised that the final clause of the statement covers that. If there are tasks where people really do need to all be in one place then that is what will happen – if you have the right team and the right leadership in place the team will organise around the work. In fact this is exactly what had happened in my old team; they knew very well what they needed to do and sorted out their availability together.

And if you don’t have the right team in place? ROWE seems to uncover the non-performers; if you’re managing on results rather than time those with lower results become very visible, very quickly.

Ressler and Thompson are now consultants working with companies to introduce this concept, having made a success of it at Best Buy. But Best Buy famously killed ROWE last year saying they needed “all hands on deck” and employees in the office as much as possible to “collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business”. In the discussion around the decision the CEO expressed a view that ROWE only worked with a delegation style of leadership, I don’t think this is true, but it does point to one of the big challenges of ROWE; management.

If a manager only has to manage on the basis of where everybody is for the forty hours of their contract plus an annual look at progress (which is true in many large companies) then the job is pretty easy. But if you’re working in a ROWE as a manager then you must know the content of the roles in your team, and the abilities of the team to assess progress on a daily or weekly basis. You must be able to set direction and you must be able to hold people accountable much more regularly than under traditional systems.

Under ROWE a lot of HR’s role disappears, if people can work whenever they want (as along as the work gets done) there’s no need for holiday leave or sick leave policies. If the results are being assessed constantly that whole annual performance assessment process can also disappear. In fact a lot of processes are put back in the hands of team managers.

And back to that leadership question; I think ROWE can work well for a variety of leadership styles; democratic, affiliative, coaching or pace-setting leaders should find it easy to adapt. An authoritative leader may find it harder, as they lose some control of how things are done. A coercive leader will probably fail in a ROWE, but since this style is best used in times of crisis it should be a rare style in a functioning company.

I think there are some contexts when a pure ROWE won’t improve overall performance – anything that has a high personal service or very high urgency probably won’t work well. But that’s a relatively small proportion of work done today, so why are so many of us working in sucky environments?

The book is a good read, interspersed with some good examples from people working in a ROWE. As a manager I tried to focus on results and give my team as much freedom as possible to organise their work, but I still found I had a lot to learn about my attitude to time as I read this book. I missed any real discussion on the changing role for managers, although to be fair that may be in the follow up book “Why Managing Sucks”. I also found it a tad too optimistic – there was little examination of when it might not work or what might need to change across the company to make ROWE work. I still closed the book wishing I’d read it much earlier in my managing career.

The Year without Pants

The Year Without Pants; WordPress.com and the future of work

Scott Berkun

Scott Berkun is a consultant who got the rare opportunity to implement his own advice, he told WordPress they needed a team structure, and then worked for a little more than a year  as a team lead. In “The Year Without Pants” he writes about his time there, and examines how we work – and how we might work in the future.

I’m a WordPress fan, I’ve used it since 2007, so I should probably issue a disclaimer with this post. But although I know the tool I knew very little about the company that is said to power a fifth of the web and is behind 48% of Technorati-rated top blogs.

The whole philosophy of WordPress is to build an open source content management system that would be easy to use, intuitive, and give plenty of content options for users. Or as they say “WordPress was born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system built on PHP and MySQL and licensed under the GPL.”

The company operated as a loose federation of freelancers working remotely, recruitment is by a “build something” test, work is chosen by individuals who post their builds directly, communication is via online tools – and in a brutal display of transparency it’s all logged and searchable by everyone. The company culture is a meritocracy where co-operation is rewarded. It’s a place where you can make something cool and see it in use the following day.

It sounds great, so what problems needed solving – why was a consultant called in?

  1. limited scalability; as long as everything is going through one leader it’s hard to grow, WordPress was 58 employees when Scott Berkun joined. It was time to distribute some responsibility.
  2. limited attention given to bigger complex problems; as long as everyone chooses their own work problems needing 3 or 4 brains will probably get left behind.
  3. loss of consistency; with programmers creating their own solutions not everything worked the same way, sometimes two tools were developed with similar functions, sometimes the way one thing was built made it hard to re-use later.

The tough challenge that founder Matt Mullenweg entrusted to Berkun was to address these issues without disturbing the great parts of the company’s culture. Berkun’s advice was to introduce a simple and loose team structure – and he got to see this implemented by working there.

The job offer Berkun signs includes a creed for how to work at WordPress and begins “I will never stop learning….” and ends “Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable” it’s a powerful and inspiring statement. He enters the team learning, as all new starts to WordPress do, the ropes of customer service, although his service delivery is a fraction of his colleagues. It’s a great place to start in a company – you hear the challenges  your customers face first hand. He then goes on to form a team made up of people he’s never met, and prove that a team working together, and working intensively can solve bigger problems – and ship.

I work in a big company, one that would be a machine bureaucracy under Mintzberg’s model, so about as far away from WordPress as you can get. Even so I read the book looking for what would work for us, what lessons were transferable.

  1. Meetings
    Berkun is damning of meetings “most people doubt online meetings can work, but they somehow overlook that most in-person meetings don’t work either”. WordPress uses asynchronous online tools for a lot of communication leaving people free to work on other things and uses Skype when that makes sense. The company also sponsors week-long meetups, where teams pick a project and ship by the end of the week.
  2. Team Size
    4 people. This is the level where productivity is maximised. I recognise this, and want to avoid the temptation in future to build “representative project teams”, instead try cutting the work up and get the teams small and productive.
  3. T-shaped Skill Sets
    Look for people with a broad skill set with one area of deep specialisation, if you choose complementary “deep skills” you can build a well rounded team with high flexibility.
  4. Measurement and Gaming the System
    We are guilty of the “what gets measured gets done” mentality, which means long discussions on KPIs, lots of reports and multiple dashboards. Berkun points out that “what’s get rewarded gets done”, and gives the example of rewarding programmers based on lines of code rather than what the code does.

There was also one statement I found affirming about the power of laughter. I’m pretty sure my team laugh at me every day, so I might have cracked this one. Berkun says “Laughter… is one way to build intimacy, something every healthy team needs.” This might be the thing I agree with the most, it’s amazing how much laughing together can help build a team. The shared jokes also help in the tough times.

For me this book is a really interesting insight into the world of WordPress, I’m an even bigger fan – I almost want to work there.

Social Media is Bullshit

Social Media is Bullshit

BJ Mendelson

It’s rare that I find myself challenged by a book, agreeing with much of what it says and laughing out loud on my morning commute; this is that book.

BJ Mendelson’s stated audience is entrepreneurs and leaders of small business. Those who he sees as being victim to a deceptive social media industry. He has no beef with using social media for personal entertainment – but he points to a growing hype that if believed could be destructive to a company’s balance sheet.

For example, for a while the Dell story of making money from a twitter account used to sell discount items made headlines. The  magic number quoted was 3 million USD in revenue. Sounds like a lot of money – certainly more than in my account. But compared to all of Dell’s revenue in 2009 it was tiny, how tiny? Here’s a graph showing the revenue from twitter vs all the other revenue for Dell.
It turns out that the revenue via twitter is utterly dwarfed by the revenue from all other sources (61 billion USD). It was less than half of one percent of their total revenue. But Dell is a business so what did they get out of the social media? Mendelson points to a PR value; more than 13 million entries in Google’s search. (Note; a search for “Dell Twitter” now scores over 400 million search results).

Of course a large company can afford to try something in social media, and Dell has the klout in the business world and the advertising budget to make a success of their attempts. Which is Mendelson’s point; a lot of social media success stories are supported by large advertising budgets and the support of known brands. For a new brand or a small company social media probably isn’t the easy solution to marketing.

Mendelson is also pretty harsh on Facebook, pointing to its cloning or acquisition of ideas and its political activism against privacy restrictions (the book was written prior to PRISM). He argues that it’s redundant to build a Facebook fan base, since these people will visit your website anyway. Better to build a website with good content rather than to hope they’ll see your post in the 30 minutes it’s available in their timeline. If it even appears in their timeline, posts apparently only reach 16% of your fans.

There are of course good uses for social media by companies, Twitter has become a customer service channel for many companies. And Facebook is being used as a web platform for a number of cafes here in Amsterdam reasonably well. They do run the risk that the platform could disappear in the future, but for now it’s a free tool, free hosting to get a simple web presence out there. But it’s certainly not the solution to all marketing problems that some sell it as.

So what would good marketing look like? Start by making a good product,  make your product easy to use, get people behind your product via traditional media, improve your product using customer feedback. Not rocket science really.

I have said for a long time that you should use social media to achieve a business goal, and measure that goal; not fans or likes. Which is why there isn’t a simple play book for using social media.

Mendelsons’ book stands out as a refreshing, somewhat cynical take on the social media industry.

Going APE – Guy Kawasaki’s Guide on How to Publish a Book

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book

Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

APE by Guy Kawasaki takes a hard look at publishing in the digital era, from the point of view of someone who’s tried both the traditional and the digital route. I occasionally dream of writing a book. I have at least 2 novels and one business book in my head, but the level of work required to get from ideas in my head to a published book selling in bookshops is daunting, so I was hoping for practical steps – with a dash of inspiration.

APE is exactly that. The three sections cover the practical things you need to think of to write, publish and promote your book, always in an encouraging way. Here are the best bits;

Author

Screen Shot 2012-12-23 at 10.49.13 AM“Vomit it out”, yes he really says that. Guy Kawasaki outlines a process for writing your book, asking the pertinent questions about a story, a pitch, creating an outline and doing the research. But the next step is to “vomit it out”. Which is about dumping all your ideas onto paper, knowing that the writing will change (possibly several times) before you get to publishing stage. To do this you must turn of your internal editor, that voice in your head that asks “is that fact correct, is that spelling OK, didn’t another writer already say this”.

Get your ideas on paper in an approximate structure – start with that.

Guy Kawasaki then crowd-sources feedback and advises writers to do the same, sure we’re not all going to get a million people to comment on Google+, but most of us could find 5 or 20.

The other best advice is “write every day”; every writer I know says this, and tries to make it part of their day.

Publisher

There is a warning about the amount of technical information at the beginning of this section, and it’s a warning to listen to. The chapter is full of information on tools to edit, publish and distribute your work. I have to admit I did skim read the tool specific elements, I’ll go back and read them more thoroughly if I need them.

There is also a lot of detailed advice, things I’d never thought about;

  • make sure the cover of your book works in a thumbnail format, including being able to read the name of your book
  • chose a publisher name that is not your own name, show a little creativity
  • test your e-book on multiple devices, I naively thought the formats would work across platforms, but in the e-book world that’s not true.
  • pricing strategies and platform tools – with a helpful table of how commissions work per tool.

This is also the section where I had the biggest “aha” moment; I was half reading and half thinking “well this will be out of date by the time I get my act together and write a book” and then realised – actually that wasn’t true, or at least it’s potentially not an issue with digital books.

Entrepreneur

How can you promote your book? My mother is a writer, and I aware of hard she works to sell the book – and how little the publishing company does to help her – so I was curious to see what advice Guy Kawasaki came up with.

He talks about catalysing reviews, and does it – I am reviewing this because I responded to a tweet, and I know my audience is tiny compared to his twitter followers, but a lot of blog reviews means an increase in search rankings.

He has some other ideas that are more fun – offering a book cover in exchange for the receiver posting a photo of themselves with the book on social media. Creating an infograhic, which is akin to a viral ad, likewise creating banners and buttons for people to add to their blogs or website. He did both for Enchantment.

My one quibble was in a much earlier section. He mentioned that if he has books on sale after a speech, about 20% of the audience will buy, but “there’s no way that 20 percent of the people would have gone home and purchased my book online”. Perhaps not, but if your event has a good wifi connection 20% of your audience may download it before you finish speaking – what if there was a timed code for that so that they got an event related cover on their ebook.

There’s much muttering and hand-wringing about the demise of books and the challenges of publishing. Yet the mechanics of publishing and distribution in the digital age are low effort, the hand-wringing is really about the transformation of an industry. It is undergoing its own revolution, meanwhile people are still reading.

It still comes down to writing something people want to read. So, am I put off or encouraged by this book? Encouraged – have a more realistic idea of what it will take.

APE is currently on sale on Amazon and only Amazon, for the first 90 days after publication (from 10 December). Here’s the direct link to APE.

Keystone Habits

The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg

My mother was right; making your bed every day is a good idea. I think her reasoning was to do with keeping the house tidy, but it turns out there’s a better reason to do it.

Making your bed is a “keystone habit”, the sort of habit which will spill over into other good habits.

Many of the activities we do each day are governed by habit, it enables our brain to go onto an automatic mode while we get up and out the door in the mornings. Each individual habit means little by itself, but together they form strong patterns. Patterns in our daily life but also patterns in the neurons in our brain. So the automatic behaviour becomes harder and harder to break.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.30.20 But if you can change one habit, you’ll disturb the whole pattern and notice changes in other habits. There will be matching changes in your brain. Really. In one of the cases discussed in the book a woman, Lisa, (who smoked, overate, didn’t exercise, and struggled financially), decided she needed to quit smoking in order to achieve her dream of trekking in Egypt. The changes in her brain chemistry showed the “habit” centre continued to light up, but as she stopped smoking another area in the brain believed to be involved with impulse control also began to light up. As she shed her “bad” habits that became stronger.

could making your bed every day change your habits?

So our habits become so ingrained that they’re part of our brain chemistry, that’s why they’re so hard to change. But if you can change one habit your brain adapts in a way that makes it easier to change subsequent habits. The habits that will do this are the keystone habits. Making your bed is a habit that will make you feel just a little more organised about your day, a little happier, and ultimately more productive.

The book explains the formation of memory and habit, how we need a trigger to change a habit. It also goes into detail on how marketers have used this habit formation to get us to buy their products; Pepsodent taught Americans to brush their teeth, based not on health benefits but on removing a naturally occurring and harmless film that forms on your teeth.

It’s a fascinating delve into how our minds work, and how we could “reset” the bad habits by making tiny, incremental adjustments, one habit at a time.

image DAY 11 ~ where you sleep /Ainslie/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Revolution 2.0

Revolution 2.0; The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir

I heard Wael Ghonim speak at the Dublin Web Summit last week, and before he’d finished talking I’d purchased the Kindle edition of Revolution 2.0; the power of the people is greater than the people in power – his memoir of the uprising in Egypt.

About a day after the conference I’d finished reading it, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s the story of a growing political awareness of the author, a revolution in a country that had had the same ruler for decades, and the huge power unleashed by social media.

Ghonim applied his marketing skills to build a following by;

  • making sure he connected with similar groups to build momentum,
  • using the language of his audience (the language of Egyptian youth rather than formal Arabic)
  • asking the community for their input, and acting on it
  • including and linking to content from similar sources
  • integrating online and offline by promoting and supporting other protests including the silent stands

His account also points to some online dilemmas, although the Internet started out with the possibility to remain anonymous, that’s not really the case any more and Facebook requires a real person to be behind admin accounts. But if you’re inside a country where the state of emergency has existed for decades or where the state security machine is active against dissidents you want to remain anonymous. Ghonim countered this by having a supporter based in the US listed as the real person, while a small group of activists had the password to the admin account. He also discusses some tools used to disguise where you’re posting from. I suspect that government security teams around the world will study Ghonim’s book, and the relevant social media accounts in order to be ready for the next revolutionaries using social media.

It’s very much an “on the ground” account.The writing is raw, it was written quickly so that the launch would co-incide with the 1year anniversary of the 25 January protest, and as he concedes at the end of the book, outcomes are still unclear.

There is much discussion around the impact social media has in a revolution, is it the beginning of a brave new world? Yes, and no.

Yes – for two reasons; firstly, it enabled smaller disparate groups to connect and start to see the scale their actions could have. Secondly, at least initially, social media took the place of a free press, reporting – almost in real time – the events on the ground. This reporting went global thanks to Egyptian expats who translated some of the content, countering the official press accounts.

No – at a certain point, probably around the first large scale protest on Tahrir Square on 25 January, the real world took over. Without this the social media conversations could be ignored or dismissed by the government.

Social Media acted as a catalyst, sparking a revolution. But it was the men and women on the streets who made the revolution, without their courage to act it was a theoretical discussion.

I was left with deep admiration for the author, for taking his commercial skills a dose of courage and building a foothold for the revolution. A sadness for all those families who lost someone in the revolution, and hope. Hope that the future is brighter.