Step away from the sound-bite, Sir!

Ever since Facebook introduced the ability to make a short status update look more interesting by putting it in big text on a pretty colour background, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to put up short provocative posts.  And many of these posts provoke quite a lot of discussion – I suspect that’s the aim, to increase FB reach by tricking the algorithm into thinking the original poster has created something of value to the other platform users. After all, loads of them responded, didn’t they?

And, to a large extend, the algorithm is right.  More responses does mean the audience think the post was worth commenting on. Even if, as is often the case, to say it’s utter bollocks.

I would love to be able to say that the problem is that both the algorithm and the people commenting are rewarding behaviour they don’t really value. Because no-one sees value in truncated click-bait provocation with no thinking behind it, do they?

Except that’s not the case. As far as Facebook is concerned, pretty much ANY interaction with the platform is good. Unless it’s a baby with a nipple in its mouth, but that’s a whole other issue. Because people doing stuff on FB are people it can show ads to. WE are the product folks, never forget that!

That the algorithm rewards crap posts is bad enough. But the worse thing is that the people who respond are ALSO rewarding crap posts BECAUSE THEY LIKE THEM.  Posting sound-bite nonsense is serving a certain part of the FB community by giving them something to pontificate about.

Facebook is a great place to have a go at people, and to demonstrate our superior intellect/financial position/business acumen/spirituality/consciousness/general worthiness (select all that apply). So people posting poorly-thought-out click-bait are providing us with an opportunity to make ourselves look good.  And the fact that we get to do it at the expense of someone a bit dim – well, that’s even better, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a lot of very good conversations on Facebook (and other social media), where we‘ve been able to fully explore a controversial subject in quite some depth.  Most of those discussions have led to me understanding more about the world, and the shallowness of my previous grasp of the topic.  So I’m not saying there’s no value to arguing on Facebook (though it must be said that Mrs H disagrees – frequently).

But very few of those meaningful conversations have started from a brightly-coloured sound-bite click-bait post.

When the opening post has some depth (even if it’s deeply erroneous, in my world-view), those who bother to read it tend also to have sufficient depth of appreciation of the topic to bring cogent arguments to the discussion.  There’s less ‘yah-boo’ and ad hominem, and more reasoned and courteous argument – which is, in the end, what changes minds and informs debate.

The danger is that we become so used to the click-bait stuff, and get so much fun out of scoring silly points in a shallow and divisive argument, that we leave ourselves insufficient time to think deeply about anything.  And that harms the whole of society.

So please think before you respond to a click-bait provocation: would my time be better spent finding someone to engage with who can actually be bothered to develop a cogent thought?

I suggest that we all start right now to boycott all posts that seek to distract us with psychedelic  backgrounds and pithy, but essentially empty, sound-bites.

Living the dream?

I just read The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly – it’s a nice little tale of a business that wakes up to its role in helping the people who work for it to be the best version of themselves they can be.

The way they do that is by appointing a “Dream Manager” whose job is to help employees to first dream up, and then realise the things they really want from life.  In the story, that’s everything from owning their own home to simply having a proper Christmas.

It got me thinking – maybe the real reason organisations exist is not, as I have thought up until now, to help people bring their talent to the world, but simply to help them be happy.  Of course, they can probably be happier if the work they do is intrinsically meaningful, but perhaps this ‘dream manager’ approach is a good way to deal with those who find themselves having to do mundane work.

What do you think?

What are organisations really for?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – I think modern organisations – especially corporate ones – have forgotten what they are really for.

History of organisations

Back when people started to organise into collaborative groups, aka tribes, the purpose was initially strength in numbers. Over time, individuals gravitated to the tasks they were best at; and the tribe came to rely on them to get that task done. Whatever someone had a penchant for doing, so long as the tribe found that activity useful in some way – including pure entertainment value – the tribe would adjust itself to allow ways for each person’s special talent (or Genius, in my lexicon) to be used as fully as possible.

As tribes became cultures, and then societies, and then economies, they became too large to operate as a homogeneous whole, and they split into smaller units, each with a need for certain tasks too be carried out, and opportunities for those with a penchant for those tasks to provide value by doing them.

The first real commercial organisations were the crafts guilds, providing a way for talented people to learn a trade and bring their value to the world. From these came small businesses, with a Master taking on Journeymen and Apprentices – still with the purpose of making it possible for the individuals to bring their genius and value to others.

Rise of the Company

Then, at a certain point in history, mechanisation meant that if someone made a large investment in machinery, it was possible to generate more value from the same number of workers. And that was when the focus shifted from collaboration aimed at helping the individual’s talent reach the customer, to organisation aimed at getting the most from the machines in which the owners had invested their capital. Getting a return on capital took over as the primary concern; capitalism had arrived.

For a long time, capitalism played a valuable role in fuelling human development, and made significant contributions to improving mankind’s lot. The returns expected by the owners of the capital seemed justified, given the contribution they were funding to a better life. People stopped dying of preventable disease (in the developed world at least), and life-spans grew longer.

Shareholder Focus

Somewhere along the way, some bright spark had the idea of getting lots of people with money to each put in a bit of capital to buy machinery, build factories, develop new products, all in exchange for a share in the company – in the form of share certificates. So now, instead of one beneficial owner with a clear vision of what the business is there to do, there are multiple owners, who may or may not agree on its purpose.

Add to that the fact that these multiple owners then worked out that if you could get a nice return from a share in one business, you could probably do even better with shares in several. So each owner’s focus became less clear too – a recipe for confusion about what each business was supposed to be achieving.

Trading away purpose

And then another bright spark came up with the idea of an “exchange” where you could sell your shares, so now investors could easily get away from their involvement with the companies if they became irksome to them, or if things started going a bit pear-shaped. And yet another bright spark came up with the idea of putting your spare money (capital) into a “fund” that someone else would run, investing your money for you, in lots of different companies. And finally, a whole bunch of bright sparks came up with the idea of “derivative” investments, so they weren’t even investing in companies at all!

At every stage, ownership and control moved further away from any connection with what the business was actually for. Investors are no longer nobly contributing to something they want to see getting out into the world, they are just too far removed from what’s actually going on inside the companies. The only way they can know if their money is being used effectively is by the amount of profit they see getting paid out as dividends. The profit motive has now usurped the proper purpose of a business.

Real purpose

I believe if you go back to the origins of organisations, the proper purpose of any organisation, whether commercial, public sector or charitable, is to enable those who work in it to use their skills, talents and unique genius to make the world a better place for some group of other people – whether that’s by designing and building smart motor cars, by putting on amazing and amusing entertainment, or by providing the wherewithal to bring clean water to communities in the developing world.

And my question is: how can this true purpose retake the primacy that the profit motive usurped?