Not being afraid of the shadows

Shadows

A favorite read of mine is Luis Suarez, perhaps known most as the life-without-email guy. But as readers of his blog will tell you he is much more than that. He personifies (my opinion) the emergence of the networked worker. Including coming to grips with the dark side of that transformation.

This most recently came to light in his post “There can be no resilience without transformation.” In this post Luis hits head-on his struggles with the social web and he does it in his own personal, passionate style. And this is why I think reading Luis is so important. No one can question Luis’s participation in the social web, nor his commitment to the potential it provides. He is a skilled and thoughtful practitioner who is exploring and learning by doing. His role at IBM also puts him in the middle of all of the dynamics and politics and ambiguity that the transformation into networked work creates. He chooses to be in that position – rather than, say, being a consultant or academic looking at things from the outside. I respect that. A lot.

Not that consultants or academics have a lesser role in this dialogue. Outside perspectives and research help us make sense of things. But this comes mostly in hindsight and sometimes at a maddeningly slow pace. I bookmarked a recent research paper exploring the different user archetypes that emerge in enterprise social software platforms as organizations put them into operation. The two types? Contributor and reluctant user. Now, I understand the value of establishing the fundamentals and seriously appreciate the hard work that researchers do to confirm what may seem obvious (in what new change is there not some division between those who contribute and those who reluctantly join in?). But the process, by design, is slow and deliberate.

Meanwhile Luis – the positive deviant – openly shares the highs and lows of someone trying to make it all work. His “Transformation” post is amazing in its honest reflection about coming to grips with walking through the shadows. We writes:

People nowadays are just putting check marks on their massively ever growing to-do lists that they have tweeted, plussedfacebooked, linkedined and what not, so that they can move back into their real work: the one that doesn’t require critical, constructive thinking, engaging, conversing, caring, or helping others and so forth for that matter. Essentially, people are back to what has gotten them to the stage of being androids: their meetings and email Inboxes. Those wonderful hide-out places where you can just get by, good enough, pretending you are working, when you know you aren’t. But, hey, that’s what your boss wants you to do, right? Why change? Why bother? Why trying to look for new, better, more effective ways of working if your boss and your senior management / leadership team(s) keep accumulating fatter and fatter bonuses anyway? You know, you are just sitting inside of your own little mental cubicle, your own comfort zone, that one that doesn’t require you to think much in order to go through 12 to 14 hours of hard automated work each day for who knows what business value.

And that, my friends, is from an enthusiast. There is more here than just calling all of us knowledge workers out. Luis identifies systemic issues that routinely emerge as innovations begin to gain traction; namely, old habits and approaches get overlaid onto the new ways of doing and begin to smother them. The “checkbox” mentality of being productive by making sure you Tweet, post, etc. entirely misses the point of social being about connections, relationships, learning, and absorbing different points of view. As does the focus on thinking about your digital presence as brand, which I have written about here. And the disturbing uses — commercial and political — of socialbots — which aim to either disrupt human connections or create some substitute for them (synthetic hamburger anyone? Have we lost all judgment?).

Later in his post Luis bounces back and re-energizes:

And this is what it is all about, folks: transformation and our ability to shake up everything we have been experiencing and living over the course of the last 150 years and realise that in order for us, knowledge workers, to survive in today’s corporate environment, the sooner we adapt to living the values and philosophy of Social / Open Business and how they apply to how we work, the sooner we will finally transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live. And that’s just so important.

Now, this may all seem like echo-chamber chatter among technology enthusiasts. Maybe so. But I see it more as a walk through that self-doubt we all experience at times when we are in the midst of something that we think is important. At times we need to tap back into purpose: Why are we doing this — and honestly, are we on the right path given our purpose?

To have creditability in my book, you need to go through this type of honest reflection and come to grips with the darkness.

photo credit: m4r00n3d via photopin cc