Twitter isn’t dying and HR blogs are very much alive and kicking

(Be warned, long read)

Every so often the conversation comes around with the value of blogging / social media for individuals / the value of Twitter or LinkedIn and the likes. And so it was last week that Richard Westeney wondered if HR blogging has had its day? Well known economist and commentator Umair Haque wrote about similar recently too.

The discussion itself has been interesting to see. So here’s my tuppence.

One of the oldest (and there’s a distinct irony in calling social media an old thing) edicts of social media has always been that you make of it what you will. There are plenty of ways to ensure that you don’t get value from social media and it seems lots of people experiment with how this plays out for them.

A while ago I recall David Goddin only wanting to follow the magic number 150 to see what level and quality of conversation he was having on Twitter. More recently Luis Suarez wrote about how he unfollowed everyone on Twitter and his insights are pretty fascinating.

So, you know, it happens. People’s individual experience of Twitter gets the better of them, they stop having the same initial experience they enjoyed and then wonder how many others are feeling the same.

And through it all these things remain to be true:
1) if you’re following a lot of people, it’s going to be really hard to keep up with any decent level of conversation on Twitter. Your timeline will be full of tweets from everyone and very regularly need to be refreshed just to keep up. That’s not interacting, that’s just watching a roadshow or carnival taking place.

2) if you’re not getting the right kind of conversation for you, you need to change the people you’re connected with. I do this regularly and almost without prejudice. I still follow some people who I connected with years ago, and there are some who I stopped following a while ago, and there are others who I’ve connected with more recently. But I keep a tight watch on it. It’s my timeline.

3) HR blogging isn’t saturated. Sure it’s hard to cut through the noise, but blogging isn’t about everyone being found for their written voice. If you get heard, people will take an interest. I know many practitioners who tried it, and for various reasons they stopped. Equally there are a good many who persisted and they contribute regularly to the space. If you’re not enjoying the blogging scene, maybe a broader appreciation of the writing available needs to be taken.

4) one of the things I’m constantly aware of I my writing is to not just rehash old content or previously voiced opinions. So I shake things up with my blog. I write about things that are different and with little care about how well it might be read. It’s my blog to share my thoughts. I am one person who thinks lots of things. Y’all should be grateful I don’t blog about tennis here more regularly.

5) as connected technology grows, and more and more people are finding different ways to show their moxie, it means naturally that those voices find a stronger voice in different places. Many bemoan LinkedIn publisher, but there’s one thing you can’t deny, and that’s that people want to write. Not enjoying the quality of writing? Just follow those whose writing you do enjoy.

6) I’m very comfortable that good content will find its way to me. I don’t need to follow everyone to find great content. I follow enough people that great content finds its way to me.

7) Twitter isn’t dying. Your experience of it may be. They’re not the same thing.

8) one of the things that most practitioners don’t do enough is share their actual practice. Instead they opine and moan and promote and rant and express. Which is all fine in this world of expression. Except what tends to be of incredibly great value is sharing actual practice. That’s where people can learn and develop their thinking.

9) I follow a range of people who help offer me different perspectives and thoughts. I also follow plenty of media outlets and niche accounts too. They all add up to my collective experience. I don’t rely on Twitter to only give me consistently good conversations. If I’m not experiencing that, I seek to make that better for me.

I read Richard’s piece and kind of rolled my eyes to be honest. Oh, another HR blogger saying things aren’t like they used to be. How very unique and different. I read it though and appreciated his honesty in his writing and how it resonated with many others. So this is my offering to that same debate. My experience of Twitter, blogging and social media in general is different because I relentlessly keep it interesting for me.

What is Performance Consultancy?

In the world of L&D there has been a move to talk more about this concept of performance consultancy, and it’s an interesting concept. The LPI even run a masterclass where you can learn the skills needed for being a performance consultant.

Essentially, if all L&D is about improving performance, so says the concept, therefore all L&Ders should be performance consultants not L&D consultants. In other worlds, this is sometimes called business partnering.

I get it.

Except, it’s quite a challenging assertion.

Most L&D practitioners are expert in what they do and what they know. That’s why they’re doing the work they do. What they tend not to be experts in is how to provide consultancy to the organisation they’re part of or working with.

It requires a very different approach to the work we do, and arguably is completely alien to most L&Ders. Sure we know how to help a business function take various forms of knowledge and transform it into a learning solution of some description. Some of us are even learning how to use digital technologies to deliver learning in ways which are different and unique. Some of us are taking life even further and designing learning solutions which are supportive of self-directed and autonomous learning.

Being a performance consultant asks for a different approach to what L&D is used to. It requires us to revisit how we approach the design of solutions by changing the way we understand the problem we’re presented with. Instead of approaching it and thinking ‘how do I create a learning solution to help fix this’ the approach needs to be ‘how can I support you to create a solution which you develop yourself’.

It means saying – a learning solution might be what’s needed to help with your problem, but actually you might need to consider a mix of solutions such as internal comms, performance management, transparency of information and changing the way you run your meetings. A learning solution might help support how some of that happens, but those other options mean that we need to be savvy about how to have conversations that are focused on performance improvement. By proxy you’re also probably taking care of L&D / engagement / management / leadership needs, but it tends to be correlational as opposed to causation.

This approach kind of causes issues for practitioners who have specialisms. For example, if you’re an Instructional Designer, and that’s the work you do, why do you need to have conversations about performance? (Answer: You don’t, that’s not your role). It also causes angst for practitioners who provide quite niche content. For example if you’re a Customer Services Trainer, does what you provide support performance? (Answer: It does, and suddenly you need to learn a whole new language about performance support once your training has been completed). And if you’re an internal practitioner, it means that your world of operating from learning needs analysis is fundamentally changing to being one where you have to learn how to consult with business leaders on what their operational world looks like, because that’s where the performance support is needed – not in the learning environment.

As we are starting to understand more and more, the world of L&D is being turned flip upside its head. Many practitioners are feeling lost in this new world, others are carrying on with their heads firmly the sand, more are arguing the toss about why they need to bother, and others are trying to learn about this new world so that they can support learners in ways that make sense for them.

I’ll be honest with you fellow L&Ders, it’s a seriously challenging time for the modern L&D / OD practitioner. I don’t lay claim that I can do all of the things written about in these spaces. I do take the time to understand the various positions and where I need that personal support is when I rely on those in my #PLN (Personal Learning Network). They help me to understand concepts better, and help me to know how I can use that thinking to inform solutions I think can be developed and delivered as well as those which I can’t and shouldn’t do anything with. Where possible, I apply the thinking and challenge needed which supports design and development of learning solutions which are focused on performance support, and focused on delivery of learning solutions that meet a clear learning and business need.

Diets, new year resolutions and change

I recently finished reading Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish. It’s a thoroughly insightful book on how to cultivate a positive life by making observations and doing research into just what helps us to live a fulfilled life. How we choose to define that is a big existential questions which I don’t think really matters in this context. What does matter is that he shares some great insights into how people can live happier lives and feel positive over a longer period of time.

One of the pieces he picks up on is our physical health. There are two key pieces which I think hold a lot of relevance for this time of year for no other reason than many people set themselves the task of establishing new year resolutions. I stopped doing resolutions a long time ago. Mostly because I learned that if I wanted to make something happen, starting it arbitrarily in January makes little sense. If I can do it and start the process now, then why wouldn’t I?

The first piece Seligman shared about our physical health is that most diets fail. They fail because the weight lost while on the diet is normally regained within the first year after that weight loss, so we decide that a) the diet failed and b) we need a new diet to try. The goal of weight loss, though, is a good goal. Clearly if you’re overweight your overall physical health isn’t likely to be at its best, and you’re likely to develop further health complications because of this. As we’re told, repeatedly, goals are important for success and happiness.

What we know is that it’s not just having the goal which is important, but it’s the achievement of the goal which is important too. We fulfil self-esteem / self-confidence and so many personal qualities with achievements. Which is why sometimes it’s important to break a goal down into smaller goals that help us achieve the bigger goal. We can take small steps of success, which when done together create a wealth of achievements. It’s important not to fool ourselves into thinking that achievement of a small goal is anything more than that. We set big goals for a reason.

The other piece is really fascinating. Medical science tells us that if you are overweight, you have an increased chance of health problems and are at higher risk of various health conditions because of being overweight. However, what is less well known is that if you are overweight and live a physically active lifestyle, you are just as likely to live a healthy life as someone who is ‘normal’. Or, said another way, if you’re a ‘normal’ person and are not physically active, you are just as likely to have health issues as someone who is overweight.

Go on, think about that for a bit.

This isn’t a dismissal of the need for overweight people to not lose excess weight. It’s supportive of the importance of being physically active regardless of your body size. How do you define physically active? The NHS website tells us

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active daily and aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities.

That’s approximately 20-21 mins of daily activity including anything from swimming, walking, cycling, mowing the lawn, doing the hoover, taking the stairs, going to the gym, playing weekly football, and so so much more.

It goes on to say that

For any type of activity to benefit your health, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer.

And finally tells us that

Crucially, you can hit your weekly activity target but still be at risk of ill health if you spend the rest of the time sitting or lying down.

At a personal level, change is hard. Change often only happens when something significant takes place. Moving home, a family member dying, a new job, emigrating to another country, getting married, getting divorces, having children – all these are big life events that mean we have to adapt and learn new ways of doing things. We make them successful (in the main) because we don’t have a choice about reversing that decision.

As you set out this year to change your personal world in whatever way you think you need, go for it. Set a clear goal and make it happen. Where it makes sense, create mini-goals that help you achieve the bigger goal. Celebrate your achievements and share your good news with others. And most importantly, if you’re setting a goal to lose weight, be mindful that it will require a complete lifestyle change. If that’s not what you want to commit to, then it’s better to start a physically active lifestyle as you’re more likely to be healthy than doing nothing else.

Blog reflections of 2015

I write a lot on the blog. In 2015 so far I’ve written 71 blog posts (including this one). I write so much that sometimes I forget what I’ve written. You see, I don’t tend to write for longevity. I tend to write to just say things. I think things, sometimes there’s clarity in the thinking, and sometimes there’s not. My blog is my space to just share what I’m thinking openly. There’s a lot written in the online space about working out loud, thinking out loud, failing out loud and other things about open sharing. I tend to think that anyone who blogs is by virtue of blogging, doing all these things in various forms.

I do watch my blog stats as it’s interesting to see how the blog ‘performs’ as such. There’s one thing for sure, there’s no guaranteed way to get blog hits. Some writing attracts more views than others, some writing attracts more comments than others, and some writing attracts few views. There are too many people who will claim that certain writing goes viral over other writing. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Interestingly, in 2014 I wrote 116 blog posts, so for some reason this year has been slower on the blogging front. I have experimented with writing on LinkedIn and on Medium, but it’s interesting to see how much less I’ve written. In 2013 I wrote 119 posts, so I’m on some kind of decline in writing. Maybe I’ve said enough on most topics. Maybe life is happening in other ways. Maybe I’ve been focused on other things. Maybe I’m getting bored of blogging.

Over the last 3 years, then, I had 20,900 views in 2013, 25,200 views in 2014 and I should hit above 17,000 in 2015. According to that, there seems to be little correlation with number of views and number of blog posts written. I wrote very similar numbers in 2013 and 2014 but had a difference of nearly 4,500 views. That should give an indication to anyone who wonders about the relationship between regularity of writing and views.

Of everything I’ve written in 2015, these are the posts that have been most read:

I’m not a pro blogger. I don’t write to get paid, I don’t have sponsored content and I don’t write professionally for others. It’s not because those things aren’t of interest to me, they are, it’s more that I don’t blog for those things. Anyone who’s heard me talk about my ‘third place’ in my positive psychology sessions will know that for me, blogging is where I can just be me.

Blogging has offered me, and continues to offer me a great way to connect with a real variety of people. I thoroughly enjoy the social side of blogging and that’s one of my main motivators in writing in the social space. I get told I have influence, and I can see why that may be seen as the case, but in truth, my writing is small fry compared to others. My numbers I’ve shared above are quite humble compared to others whose writing gets read and shared far more widely than mine does. As I’ve said above, I don’t blog to get hits, and it is hopefully helpful to share that there are others whose writing gets far better stats than mine might perceive to.

A Cappella music and Pentatonix

Sometimes I go off piste on the blog and talk about things completely unrelated to what I normally bang on about. Like this one.

I’m a fan of the a cappella band Pentatonix. Many of you will remember the epic base tones and high tones of the cooler than cool Boyz II Men. Here’s a little reminder of who they were >>

And just because I’m a big fan of the US chat show host Jimmy Fallon, here’s one of him with The Roots singing We Are The Champions and you may recognise a few famous people helping him out.

In recent years, I’ve come across Pentatonix. In fact this was the first piece I remember watching of theirs >>

The level of skill and ability in that video just took me away. The two doing beats and sounds (Avi and Kevin) have epic ability. They clearly practise hard and it pays off because they lead the vocalists so well.

And when you hear the three vocalists (Mitch, Scott and Kirstie) do their thing, it’s just a pleasure to listen to. Sure they’re just covering popular music of the ages, but they’re doing it completely a cappella.

It’s when you start to watch and listen to their recent stuff like their version of Daft Punk, which is a medley of Daft Punk songs that you realise their ability. There are no musical instruments being used. None. Even Boyz II Men with their talent couldn’t resist and ended up using instruments in their songs.

Just watch this. Then re-watch it to see how much talent they have >>

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’ve watched this video. It’s just a sheer joy to listen to.

It’s taken them some time to break free of just doing covers, as talented as they are, it’s hard to sell just covers. So I was quite pleased they started to release their own songs and here’s one they did called Love Again >>

They haven’t hit mainstream yet because they haven’t quite got the right marketing backing and management to boost them onto modern media channels as we might be used to with other talented artists. They’re totally out there, though, on the iTunes and the Spotify and tours and the rest of it.

With anyone that shows talent, one of the major elements of success is who decides to sponsor you. These guys are helping the sound system company, Bose, to show off the quality of the system. When you’re next in a electrical shop and they have a Bose set up to display, go check it out and you’ll be able to watch and hear these guys do their thing. That’s how good they are. Unfortunately I can’t find a link, so you’ll have to trust me on this and check it out yourselves.

That’s it, nothing more to see here, just some love for a really talented group. Oh, here’s another of their original songs, Can’t Sleep Love >>

Resilience and Humour

There’s lots of good advice available on how to maintain your resilience for your wellbeing. It’s a topic I keep coming back to. With regular talk of the world moving at pace, that we live in a VUCA world, and one where technology is forcing new behaviours for the workforce, concern about wellbeing has never been higher.

I listened to Dave Coplin recently, he’s a smart guy over at Microsoft and speaks very well about the potential of technology and how it can truly help us live better lives. At the same time he cautions us to not be beholden to technology and be far more purposeful about our use of tech in day to day life. If in the moment tech won’t help you have a better experience, then you should probably seek to just live the experience.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Dave’s talk was his humour. He’s clearly giving many talks and he has found very good ways to display great humour on a topic which is seriously interesting and insightful. Most good speakers do this. They find good humour that you can join in with and help alleviate some of the seriousness.

Laughter, for people, is an oft taken for granted thing. Recently I shared a TED video by Prof Sophie Scott and in the talk she shares that children laugh far more regularly than adults do and adults more than the elderly. It’s an interesting insight and one that bears further thinking. I agree with Sophie that I don’t think we find less things funny as we age, more that our humour becomes refined as we age, and so the things we find funny is dependent on our experiences, what we choose to find humorous and how acceptable we think it is to laugh at various things we experience.

It’s the good feelings we have when we laugh, though. The rush of things like endorphins, the release of stress, the belly aching, the aching jaw, the relaxing of the body. All of that strengthens the body’s natural resilience in being strong. It also really helps with our mental health and in providing those mental reserves to persevere or to find moments of personal balance and maintaining self care. One of the most common myths of people suffering depression is that they don’t find things funny. That’s not true, they can if they’re not in the grips of depression. Being depressed doesn’t tend to be persistent all the time, there are times of raised feelings, and in those times finding humour is an important self care element.

In the workplace, we have good relationships with many people. Some may be friends, some may be people we can have good banter with, and others will be people we just enjoy the company of. When I facilitate workshops and sessions, I always try and build in elements of humour. Not fun necessarily, but certainly ways for people to have fun together or join in some collective humour. I do that because when we experience humour collectively we are better able to have tough conversations. As a group, there is often a need to galvanise and create strengthened feelings. I use humour and good feeling conversations to help create a strong sense of team.

On workshops where I talk about positive psychology, I often use humour to help people understand that there is value in laughter and in smiling. As well as the social benefit of building relationships, there is also the personal benefit of providing that self balance and perspective of humour.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to talk about that resilience is a topic we don’t talk enough about and we should become far more conversant in. There is a regular need and demand in organisations for people to be productive and achieve things. As well as striving for places that support wellbeing, part of that conversation has to be about how we support the resiliency of our people at work.

Too much of a good thing?

I read a paper recently published by Adam Grant and Barry Schwartz entitled ‘Too Much of a Good Thing: The Challenge and the Opportunity of the Inverted U‘. It’s a long read, and it’s in academic speak, so if you do, take the time to digest it. It’s an interesting one that takes the time to examine some of the work claimed by positive psychologists and evaluate the extent to which we should take heed of the approaches/techniques suggested.

There are a few key concepts that the authors use which are central to the piece. The first is what they call ‘nonmonotonicity’. ‘Monotocity’ says that if you do X activity, and it brings benefits, the more you do, the more you benefit. The authors argue that with the techniques advocated for by positive psychologists, when you carry out the techniques you reach a peak after which continued practice brings deficiency or lower benefits – ‘nonmonotonicity’.

The Inverted U is an illustrative way to understand this concept as highlighted in the image below.

The Inverted U curve

What the paper helps to provide thinking on is that when we talk about use of strengths in day to day life, we have to be mindful that used in excess our strengths can start to hinder our performance / wellbeing. The paper talks in more detail about what this looks like, and I do encourage you to read it to understand how this plays out.

Or you could have a chat with Ian Pettigrew who does a lot of work on strengths based coaching.

It’s a useful bit of reflective thinking to help provide some balance to the many pieces of advocacy and seemingly relentless push for positive thinking, positive living and positive stories.

This isn’t about moderation of happiness either. It’s about finding the right levels of activity which produce longer lasting feelings of positivity and are supportive of wellbeing overall. As we know, no one activity is beneficial without being part of a whole. Our bodies and minds are complex systems and require us to develop whole being approaches to improving our wellbeing.

And I present caution that this paper doesn’t just confirm ‘common sense’. It presents a useful way to consider what are the effects of carrying out particular behaviours in their extreme and how they negatively impact on performance/wellbeing.

The challenging thing about finding your right levels of activity is that it ends up being quite the journey to go on. It’s not about one thing over another, and it’s not about trying one thing one time. Life persists because it has a natural habit of evolution. Life evolves because of natural iterative processes. If we want to be more determined in living positive and better lives, it takes time and effort to find practices, techniques and stuff that works for us as individuals.

When I deliver talks on positive psychology I’m always careful to not position it as a model which can make you feel infinitely better about love, life and the universe cos it’s just not about that. No model or way of thinking can offer you that. Used together, with other models/theories/thinking, that’s how we develop and understand more about what we need to be our best selves.

Positive psychology is quite clearly about how to live a well life. The techniques, models and the theory itself is useful, but it has its limitations. If you’re dealing with particular traumatic experiences, or very difficult life circumstances, it’s not the right support you need. It can form part of the support, but is not enough by itself. If someone is being discriminatory, hurtful or abusive, positive psychology can’t provide you with the tools to fight that or to prevent it from happening. It can help in the support once you’re free from those things, but isn’t particularly useful for dealing with them.

I’m glad to have read the paper. It’s helped to provide me with clarity on what happens when we overuse our strengths. I’m also now better considering on how to speak with clarity on what positive psychology is useful for, how it can support wellbeing and how the techniques have clear and specific purposes.