Fruitful Seminars: Making Social Tools Ubiquitous

Lloyd Davis, Leisa Reichelt and I have been spending a lot of time plotting just lately, and the result of our machinations was the creation, at midnight in a semi-derelict Gothic mansion and with the help of a bolt of lightening, of Fruitful Seminars. The three of us will be putting on a number of day-long seminars on various Web 2.0 subjects over the next few months, starting on 27 June with my session, Making Social Tools Ubiquitous:

Many companies have heard that social tools, such as wikis and blogs, can help them improve communications, increase collaboration and nurture innovation. As the best of breed tools are often open source, it is easy and cheap to experiment with pilot projects. But what do you do if you don’t get the level of engagement you’d like? And how do you progress from a small-scale pilot to widespread adoption?

This seminar, run by social media expert Suw Charman-Anderson, will take a practical look at the adoption of social tools within enterprise. During the day you will be lead through each stage of Suw’s renowned social media adoption strategy and will have the opportunity to discuss your own specific issues with the group. You will have access to one of the UK’s best known social media consultants in an intimate setting – with no more than 9 people attending – that will allow you to get the very most out of the day. By the end of the seminar you will have a clear set of next steps to take apply to your own blogs or wikis.

Perfect for CXO executives, managers, and social media practitioners who want to know how to foster widespread adoption of social tools in the enterprise. Perhaps you have already installed some blogs or wikis for internal communications and collaboration, but aren’t getting the take-up you had hoped for; or have successfully completed a pilot and want to roll-out to the rest of the company.

We’re keeping the sessions very small, with a maximum of nine people attending each one, so that everyone has the opportunity to fully take part in discussions. Sessions will be quite practical and participants will be able to really get into the nitty gritty. I think that’s something that’s really missing from conferences and the bigger workshops – you don’t get the chance to really get down and dirty with what’s relevant to you. I want people to come away from my seminar with a really clear idea of what they are going to do next, and how they are going to do it.

Registration is already open – it’s very easy to sign up and payment can be made by PayPal or cheque/bank transfer. The fee includes lunch, tea and coffee.

Any questions? Just ask!

UPDATE: We’ve also now got a Google Group mailing list for news, announcements and discussion of Fruitful Seminars topics and events. The group is open to everyone, so do join up if you’re curious or interested.

The New New Journalism

Last night, Kevin and I went to the POLIS/LSE Media Group event, The New New Journalism, a panel discussion with Charlie Beckett, Founding Director of POLIS; Tessa Mayes, campaigning investigative journalist; Bill Thompson, journalist, commentator and technology critic; and Julia Whitney, Head of Designs & User Experience at the BBC. Nico Macdonald chaired.

I’m always wary of anything around the subject of how journalism is changing, particularly if it’s called “The New New Journalism”, but Nico assured us that that was irony. Unfortunately, it did rather set the tone for an evening of hashing over old ground and getting distracted from the real problems that journalists face. Whilst an introduction to each panellist’s thoughts is up on the website, one could probably summarise it like this:

  • Charlie Beckett: Optimistic and positive, although not quite sure how we get from where we are to where we could be.
  • Tessa Mayes: Over-enamoured of investigative journalism and distracted by concepts of The Truth and Objectivity.
  • Bill Thompson: Interestingly pragmatic, believing that the market will always want journalists and will find a way to pay for them whilst also acknowledging that journalism isn’t a necessary part of society.
  • Julia Whitney: We need to pay more attention to user experience and design, it’s all one big ecosystem.

Charlie was by far the most hopeful, saying that new technologies brought with them great opportunities, particularly for creating a partnership between journalists and the public. He said we need more networked journalism. He also pointed at some local blogs, such as Kings Cross Local Environment. But although he painted a fairly rosy picture, he also said that he wasn’t sure how things would pan out, or how we’d get to his vision of a networked future.

I found Bill’s comments interesting. He’s not just an entertaining speaker, but he’s also very thought-provoking, especially when he talked about how, when you get right down to it, society doesn’t need journalism to survive. It’s something that bugs Kevin and me – this sense of entitlement that many journalists have, the attitude that they are owed respect and a living because they are journalists. It’s an attitude that is massively out of proportion to reality.

Indicative of that view was a comment from one of the journalists in the audience that even if people didn’t trust reporters, they still need them. That comment alone speaks volumes about what is wrong with journalism. Arguing that standards set journalists apart from mere citizen journalists and bloggers, but then arguing that a measure of those standards – namely, the trust of our readers and viewers – is immaterial, is itself a measure of the double standards rife within the industry.

It would be an overly simplistic reading of Tessa’s argument to say that she represents the attitude that journalists are owed a living, but she was attempting to elevate journalism to a lofty cultural standing as if it was like opera, classical music or the works of Shakespeare. She argued that the pursuit of The Truth was a noble and necessary goal for professional journalists, as if the hundreds of words written on tight deadline were somehow in the same vein, or even had the same goal, as Plato’s Republic.

These arguments go beyond rationalisations for the profession and actually strive to become justification for state or civic support of journalism to shore up its broken business model. It raises journalism to such a position that state support becomes necessary because it is “too important” to be left to the tastes of the public and the pressures of the market. However, whether or not this was Tessa’s intention, the cultural argument takes journalism down a post-modern rabbit hole that doesn’t address the issues that face journalism and journalists: Dwindling audience, dwindling trust and dwindling revenues.

Julia’s comments I thought were interesting, but in many ways were a little lost in journalistic navel gazing that went on. One point she made that was interesting was a quote from a study of teen attitudes towards sex ed information. (She thought it was a Harvard University study but wasn’t sure about the sourcing.) The teens assessed the validity of the information based on the quality of its presentation.

But overall, I don’t think that the arguments we heard last night have moved us on very far from a discussion that I participated in at the LSE in February 2005, called The Fall and Fall of Jouranalism (notes from Mick Fealty).

The straw men put forth last night, some from the panellists, but many from the audience, included:

  • The one about quality, wherein journalists apparently are the only people capable of producing quality content. Obviously this is a selective definition of ‘journalist’ which doesn’t include any of the tabloid hacks.
  • The one about the truth, wherein everyone gets sucked into a pointless philosophical discussion about whether or not the truth is exists, and if so/not, what should we do about it.
  • The one about technology being subservient to information, which is really code for “geeks and designers should be subservient to journalists”

But there are a lot of monsters under the bed that didn’t get discussed at all:

  • Integration. In an ideal world, integration would mean cross-discipline teams learning about each other’s medium and finding ways in which they can work together to best tell a story and engage their audience. In reality, this is too often about senior management in the legacy business fighting to retain their primacy and pushing digital staff and managers aside. Online journalists often have their digital experience deemed irrelevant because it’s not seen as “journalism”, but production, which legacy managers believe can be taught to anyone.
  • Dysfunctional management. I made this point at the very end of the evening, that much of the problem in news organisations is down to broken management structures and dysfunctional management techniques. Bad decisions are being made by people unwilling to listen to those with the knowledge, but who are several paygrades down the food chain. Good journalists do not always make good managers and, ironically, are not always the best communicators.
  • Owning change. There’s way too much squabbling over who owns the change in news organisations. There’s not enough emphasis on what that change is, and too much focus on turf wars.

Unless we start honestly addressing these issues, journalism isn’t going to go anywhere. We’re not going to solve these problems overnight, because they are self-perpetuating. Bad managers don’t just suddenly learn how to manage well. Bad decisions and policies don’t just suddenly come good. What’s needed is a radical shake up, but who in the industry has both the nous and the political weight to do it? Who’s got the brains and the balls to turn round to senior management and tell them they are doing things wrong, and can get them to listen? There are some very talented and smart people chipping away at the problem, but I don’t know if they can make a significant difference before it’s too late.

Great Journalism: Nina’s to blame for the global credit crisis

I meant to post this yesterday after listening to This American Life’s episode dissecting the global credit crisis: The Giant Pool of Money, and now with Jeff Jarvis’ praise, I know I’m not the only one who thinks that this was a stellar example of good journalism.

Last week in Princeton, we talked about what makes good journalism, what is the difference between information and journalism. Listen to this episode, and I think it’s clear. They tracked major events over the last seven years that brought us to this point and made sense of global capital markets in a way that I just haven’t seen or heard done. They also brought human voices to the story that showed a great deal of nuance and some of the choices that were made by bankers, mortgage brokers and home owners. They also told the story in an engaging, compelling way that held my attention for the entire hour. If you want to know how we got to where we are now, listen to this. It’s an hour well spent.

Oh, who’s Nina? No income, no asset mortgages or what one of the interviewees called ‘a liar’s loan’. The programme explains how Nina was born, the messages from the market that encouraged these loans. It’s a complex story but told so lucidly that you might just understand global finance after it’s done.

links for 2008-05-22

links for 2008-05-21

Going Solo: Suw Charman – When Passion Becomes Profession

My talk was about how to find a balance between your work and the rest of your life when you’re a freelance, something that’s especially hard when you’re passionate about your work:

Notes from Urs, and Jaap’s notes start at 8:51 in the CoverItLive box.

I’d never given this talk before, but I really enjoyed it, and I hope I can give it again at Going Solo Leeds, in September.

Going Solo: Round-up

Friday was a brilliant day – as one of Steph’s advisors, I’ve seen just how much hard work she put into organising Going Solo, and I have to say that it was all well worth it! I had a fun day, met some really cool and interesting people and, even though I’ve been a freelance for ten years, I still learnt a lot of useful stuff. I think Martin Roell was a highlight for me, and I very much enjoyed the panel I moderated on how to set rates and negotiate with clients – always a tricky subject.

The presentations up on Daily Motion, photos up on Flickr, plus notes by Urs and Jaap. And if you like the look of all that, and are feeling a bit disappointed that you didn’t make it to Lausanne, then you’ll be happy to hear that Going Solo is going on tour! The next Going Solo is going to be in Leeds, early in September this year – the exact date and venue are yet to be announced so subscribe to the Going Solo News mailing list and you’ll be the first to know.

Going Solo: Stowe Boyd – From The Far Side To The Dark Side: A Crash Course In Business Realities For Soloists

Made a fast transition from thinking “Oh, I’d like to go freelance” to finding a niche to work in. That’s not easy or simple. Being a soloist is not for everyone. The undertone of a lot of my presentation here is that you may not actually be suited, intellectually, emotionally or in skillset to be a soloist. In which case, you should plan to discover as quickly as possible if that is true. Start with an escape plan, “If this doesn’t work by such and such a time, I will have three plans: hire someone else to do my stuff, or sell the business, or take a job offer.” When you get on a boat you have to have life vests and rafts, just in case the boat doesn’t work.

It is terrifying. It’s frightening to jump into this and have to deal with everything at once. It’s like falling down an open elevator shaft. Best cure for the fear you have is, on one hand your escape plan, on the other creating advisory relationships with people who are successful freelances. Not just an occasional chat, but in depth relationships, and you try to take what they say on board. Create a mentor/protege relationship, and if they give advice, really try it. It’s like the relationship you might want to make in a dojo, learning a martial art. When you don’t have experience, just do what the sensei tells you. Without you, it is like falling down a lift shaft.

It’s about business. You need cash in hand to start up, you presumably have a planning time frame, and during that time, squirrel money away to support you in the beginning. Approach this as a business, build a spreadsheet, know how much money you need and what you’re going to spend it on. Know how you are doing, what your burn rate is, and whether you can afford to take a trip to a conference.

Like a business, you have to have all three things working for you. Natural tendency is not to have all three, so if we’re going to be successful we have to work against our natural type and push ourselves to do things that don’t seem natural:

– performing the work and enjoying it
– networking skills, meet people, explain who you are
– money: selling yourself, invoicing.

If you sell something you can deliver and then hire someone else to do it for you, you’re not a freelance anymore, and that’s fine – it’s a good way out.

Some people are good at invoicing but aren’t good at networking, so never have enough work. Can be dangerous, because end up enslaved to the clients you already have. Can become a slippery slope as they demand more and more of your time, and it becomes like you’re employed but get no benefits of employment.

Examine your character deeply. Understand what you are naturally like, and where you weakness is and address it.

Have a plan for how your business is going to work that suits your character and how that all fits together. Branding, how you deliver value, your ethical moral stance, how you interact with clients. Has to be all of a piece, has to work together.

Ten Day Rule: I’m going to only be able to bill for ten days a month, and have to do all the other things that I need to do in the rest of the time. The rest of the month, however I spend it, also includes all the non-billable stuff like going to conferences, email, admin, etc. Much of that should be me marketing my thinking in order to get people to ring me up and ask me to do work for it.

You have to therefore divide the money by 10 and that’s your day rate. But you need those ten days, and to start with you won’t get it. You will also have to vary depending on client, so some pay more, some pay less.

Important thing: No Assholes Rule. Have been screwed over by clients, but as I’ve got older and less tolerant, have learnt a simple model which works for me. When they screw you over once, you quit and you never work for them again. Learnt painfully that forgive and forget doesn’t work. Once they’ve rationalised this evil thing, it gets easier for them every time. It doesn’t get better if you try again, so cut the loss, get away from them and find someone else to work for. Try to discover as fast as possible if people are, in fact, not nice. Initial engagement is a day or two days, and during that time I check them out – do real work for them, and I deliver that’s something that’s of value, but I can also decide if I want to go forward with them. If I have any inclination there’s a problem, I can back out.

Even though I’m filtering, I still end up in a situation where I have to let people go. One company, at the end of the first year, gave me a document with a NDA and non-compete clause as part of the stock option deal. Said he wasn’t going to sign it and said goodbye to the stock.

Get it in writing – write it down from the very beginning. Have an open discourse about what their expectations are, what their money expectations are. Don’t put it off – this is business. If possible, get a signature, and definitely try to get at least 50% of the money in advance.

Have published a blog post which is called “How I roll”, which is philosophy of what I’m doing and how to do it, things like “If I’m travelling then I will not live off hotdogs; If you want receipts ask for them in advance”. Very helpful to clients, gives them an idea of your expectations. Not everything should be negotiated from scratch with each client.

Look for client engagements in which there’s a strategic level of involvement. Have clients I’ve worked with for three years or more. You have to determine in your work based on what the duration should be. Make it seem that what you’re doing is as similar as possible to what they do. So, when working with a start up, talk about what it’s like to be a founder, actively looks for equity in a company.

Combos. A good metaphor is that you are an independent musician with a career as a a soloist, but that doesn’t stop you playing in a group. Get into a combo model. Your independent brand is very important, but sometimes it’s fun to get together with people. Fun to pull other people together to help clients. Can make it much easier to have a holiday if you have a group of people working together.

Am interested in equity, working with start-ups, often don’t have a lot of capital, but do have equity. “Advisory capital” – investing time in a company and would like to get a reward. Haven’t got anything big, but did get a cheque big enough for a car, but do have a pile of stock and some companies are looking very successful. But like a VC, I’m then looking at opportunities to see if they are going to make it, it’s not just how much money are they willing to pay me today. That may not work in every sector, and in some areas/sectors/countries it might even be prohibited, but it’s an interesting idea that almost anyone might be able to contemplate.

Main recommendations:
– Have an exit strategy. Some of us will be freelance until we die. Other people have other different endgames. Are you ever going to want to walk away from your consulting practice and what sort of a walk-away is that? Acquisition? Turn into a business? Transformational interim period and get a job? But start with those goals in mind. Get a business plan in which you have those deadlines in mind. It’s really not for everyone.

Q: How do you organise yourself?
It’s very variable. At the moment I’m on a tour to see a number of clients and go to conferences, but still in contact with clients in the US. Not partitioned, but does become neater when at home, when I’m more regimented in my life. I’m productive in my morning, so don’t want to pollute my mornings with interactions with humans. By 4pm I’m non-functional but can still do email. When I’m travelling, I’d prefer to have three half-days in the afternoons, but ends up being one and a half days in a lump.

Q: ?
The first skill is always being able to do your job. The second skill is networking, and that is where you learn new stuff, and the last skillset includes getting the money, sales, closing the deal, writing and getting the contract signed, paying your taxes – back office stuff. A lot of people are great at negotiating what they do, but they’ll never get the contract signed so they never start.

Q: You mentioned advisory capital? How do you decide that? Do you decide or do they?
It’s a combination. I’ve been very public about it, so they may have heard about it and I talk about it very openly about it from the beginning. Have to be very choosy about who to pick. I look for a team that’s got a great idea and a good team, and they’re just missing one thing – me. So it’s a very peculiar circumstance. But that means there aren’t many of them.