Category Archives: Musings

Eleven random facts: my Liebster Award (part II)

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A couple of weeks ago I got nominated for a Liebster Award. Cue fireworks – although the picture above has nothing at all to do with me receiving the Liebster Award; it’s just a nice one I found going back through my Flickr – which is a good thing to do as a starting point if you ever get asked to list random facts about yourself.

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Mad dogs and teleworkers

Walking my dogs
A policeman took my name and address last Wednesday – my dog was barking at his horse, and I was on the phone. Usually I avoid calls when I’m walking the dog, precisely because you can’t concentrate on two things at once, but this was a work-related call, and I’d been trying to get hold of the person concerned, and I just thought I’d take two minutes “out” to deal with it.

So I was sat on a bench, engrossed in my call. I didn’t notice the crowd that had gathered round my “cute” dog. An old lady, a couple of mums with buggies, a few toddlers and children – and the policeman on his horse. My small Schnauzer was in the middle, terrified – barking blue murder at the lot of them.

A few years ago I saw a woman in a business suit crossing a tricky road while talking loudly on the phone. She had two small children with her, on scooters – also trying to cross the road. The combination of work + busy road + toddlers wasn’t good – but then she probably didn’t plan it that way.

We have the technology to work where we like – and that flexibility makes work a lot easier. But work and the “real” world don’t necessarily mix – all too often, unconsciously, we rely on strangers to look out for us.

After a while, my policeman softened. There’s been an increase in complaints about the behaviour of dogs in this area, he said – and a lot of dog owners are constantly on their phones. The situation is “out of control”, he said. He seemed genuinely despairing.

As businesses downsize and remote working becomes the norm, who’s really picking up the tab?

Note: Teleworkers are (still!) defined in the Collins English Dictionary as “people who work from home using equipment such as telephones, fax machines and modems”.

Photo: This Year’s Love

Why peer recommendation works – my Airbnb experience

Beaching it up in Barcelona
Last month I went to Barcelona with my sisters and a few close girlfriends. The trip was pretty special as I’m about to get married – so this was what you might call a “hen” do. We didn’t want to run around wearing matching pink tracksuits and bunny ears (and I left my “L-plate” and plastic white tiara at home), but we did want to have an amazing time without spending a stupid amount of money.

When it came to sorting a place to stay, Airbnb was the obvious choice. I’ve used the peer-to-peer rental site quite a few times in the past, and they’ve always delivered great places at reasonable cost. So I started carefully sifting through the 400+ apartments (that would accommodate our nine-person party) currently listed on the website. As you can imagine, the whole process took some time so I was thrilled when I finally settled for a place which ticked all the right boxes: central, comfortable single beds for all (no doubles or sofabeds), decent dining area, at least two bathrooms, beautiful decor in traditional Catalan Modernist style.

I paid in full (Airbnb requires full payment in advance to reserve any property), emailed the apartment details to my friends, and started looking forward to a wonderful long weekend in Spain. Imagine how I felt when, the day before we were about to leave, I got an email from the apartment owner offering apologies and saying the apartment had been rendered inhabitable by the previous tenants (aka: trashed).

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Who else remembers The Blue Note, Hoxton?

I was born and raised in West London so the East was an alien land. Once I traipsed all the way over to the Scala cinema in Kings Cross for a party and walked back to Hammersmith with my sister. Not having Google Maps in those days, we worked our way home by reading the postcodes on street signs (NW = bad, WC = good).

In the 1980s, a school friend moved to Old Street and all we could ask was “Why?” We knew it was somewhere close to Whitechapel Road – and that was the cheapest property on the Monopoly board, right?

But then my centre of gravity changed. I got a place at City Uni and moved into a flat in Angel. My London compass swung round: after a childhood on the East-West District Line, the North-South Northern line became my axis.

The lift shaft at Angel tube station was the deepest in London and when you stood on the narrow platform, the trains would thunder in from both directions. The next stop down was Old Street. In 1992 my friend Dotun Adebayo told me he was starting up a publishing company there, in Hoxton Square.

Where?! I went to Dotun’s new office and all there was in the middle of the square was a great big rubbish dump. Most of the buildings were run down or derelict. In one corner there was a little club called The Blue Note, a tiny, trendy beacon of things to come.

Fast forward twenty years and wow, how it’s changed. You can’t move for clubs, bars and business start-ups. This part of town may have been immortalized in Nathan Barley and mocked by the Shoreditch Twat, the Hoxton Fin may be the epitomy of naff self-consciousness, and the world’s first popup shopping mall beyond parody, but the continued success of this area defies the critics.

Shoreditch House is one of the best members’ clubs in London with its own swimming pool on the roof (open air pools more decadent in London than LA – mainly because you can’t actually use them). Google and Microsoft have set up offices by Silicon Roundabout. Heck! There’s even a Pret on the once-shabby Great Eastern Street. Shoreditch, you’ve come a long way, baby! It’s a damn shame I’m now back in West London.

Disclosure: My short story, Hoxton Babylon, was published in Westside Storeys (Xpress, 2003)

Rory Sutherland and social cues

 

Nice little interview with Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy in which he dismisses traditional market research practices because of what he refers to as “social cues”.

 

These cues are the influencers behind instinctive, subconscious decisions which are made at or very close to point of sale. For example, when given a choice between two restaurants, we’re more likely to choose the one with 30 people dining in it than the one with three.

 

“Marketers have developed a system of consumer understanding which is actually blind to the most important influences on human behaviour”, says Rory.

 

Oh dear. Does social media help uncover these influences? We can assume it has the power to do so. But, as ever, it’s up to us to read and interpret things in the right way.

Monkeys with coffee pots

You may well have seen the new UK ad from Costa Coffee; it took a while to filter through to me (hehe) out here in coffee-obsessed Tel Aviv.

 

Actually I’m not doing coffee at the moment, but I am quite partial to monkeys, and this cute ad made me smile, especially with the Bill Nighy voiceover.

 

Of course, I’d have preferred it if one particularly diligent monkey managed to stick with it and come up with the ground bean goods, but this must be an example of those unfortunate times when the elusive wisdom of the crowd is quickly subsumed and altogether trampled upon by the deluded mob.

 

If that one monkey in the middle hadn’t started throwing stuff, things might have turned out better.

 

This is the sort of anarchy many managers fear when they let the staff lose on Twitter: see Monkeys with Typewriters: Myths and Realities of Social Media at Work to help allay some of those fears!

Show me the money! Where are the social business case studies?

Earlier this week at the Social Media World Forum, David Terrar was asking if any of us could name one company with a co-ordinated, coherent, holistic “social” approach to corporate communications.

Zappos? Cisco? Dell, maybe? A German bank that David mentioned… [NB: There are also examples like WL Gore – companies that are “social in essence”]

The problem came up again yesterday at the SOMESSO/ Headshift Social Business Summit: where are the fully-integrated case studies?

A central plank of 90:10, David Cushman’s new project, is investing in new, social, businesses. Such a great idea!

I wish 90:10 all the best. And I’d love to hear more about any other investors dedicated to backing social start-ups.

Lord knows, we need them.

Anxiety dream

This is an anxiety dream I had last night. I’m sharing it here in case anyone is good at interpreting dreams! 

Noam and I are living in some weird warren-like commune/ community/ educational institution. It’s underground, but not deep, just covered – inside a mountain, I think. There are hoards of people moving through the corridors, and lots of meetings going on in dimly-lit rooms. It’s like a mix between my old school (Holland Park) and some other place: with lots of long glass-sided corridors and childlike artwork on the walls.

It’s not hard to get outside – but outside isn’t pleasant: I scrabble around, find a doorway and see a vast, Styxian landscape in front of me; the air is scorching, dry and hot. There are huge rubbish heaps everywhere with people clambering over the heaps, all carrying out some kind of terrible, manual work. The point of their work is unclear. There’s sea, and a beach, but it’s all polluted, contaminated.

Then there’s a third place, a garden: above ground with manicured lawns, topiary, statues and deep, cool ornamental ponds to swim in. Some of my older women friends are there, sitting on the edge of the pools, with their bare feet dangling in the water. Somehow, if you dive right down to the bottom of a deep, dark pool, it connects with the warren-like commune below. 

Someone gives me a cup of bright pink ice cream and I’m compelled to go outside into the Styxian landscape to buy more. The ice cream affects my ability to move or talk, but I want to eat it. I’m slurring my words and fighting to move.

I’ve no idea what time it is, or whether it’s day or night. At one point I’m in an airport with a group of people. We’re trying to catch a plane, but I can’t work out what airline we’re meant to be on. Then the dream cuts back and I’m in the commune/ warren again.

I try to tell Noam what was happening. I try to warn him against eating the poisonous pink ice cream and I can see he’s trying to understand what I’m saying but he can’t because the words won’t come out of my mouth properly.

Just then, I notice that the corridors and rooms of the commune are dotted with hundreds of discarded, empty, ice cream pots. Look (I want to shout) – everyone’s at it!

Some random thoughts that passed through my head yesterday: 50 airlines are changing terminals at Heathrow (wow, that really is a big aiport); my watch is broken (again); Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl is pretty grim (but Lila likes it); my friend is working way too hard on her micro-finance business in China; China has a choice to follow the West or pursue a different path of growth (if the former, we’re doomed); two bags of landfill rubbish from our little household every week seems way too much and that’s just one small household; this Baileys is out of date but it tastes okay.

Photo: sea turtle

Why black will never be my uniform

An oasis of colour on a cloudy London day – this gorgeous cake shop in Covent Garden is enough to brighten anyone’s mood. Which reminds me why it’s good not to wear too much black in winter – or any time of year, in fact. Especially if you’re trying to motivate and inspire the people around you. If you must have a uniform, pick a colour!

10 questions about social media in organisations

1. How relevant is Metcalfe’s Law to social networks?

2. If we apply modern neoevolutionary principles rather than C19th, deterministic ones, accidents and free will have an important part to play in social evolution. Does social media enable these and, if so, does social media therefore enable social evolution?

3. How instrumental is social media in creating less hierarchical organisations?

4. How are social tools changing our behaviour, if at all?

5. What is the long-term impact of the type of self-organisation identified by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody? (We can blog on WordPress, customize our Myspace page, set up a community on Ning…)

6. Are we seeing a new type of hero emerge and, if so, what does that signify? Craig Newmark, Lauren Luke, Barack Obama and (our local hero in London) Lloyd Davis – all these people built businesses/ careers by building a community first.

7. As various factors (environmental, social, political) push for an end to the consumer age, does social media have a role to play in bringing other values to the fore (or does it simply accentuate consumerist values?!

8. How realistic is Jamais Cascio’s idea of the participatory panopticon – can we attempt to control surveillance through sousveillance? Does the Twitter/ Carter Ruck/ Trafigura episode prove we’ve turned a page, or simply that the censors will pay more attention to Twitter next time round?

9. What do we think of the UK Conservative Party’s attempts to embrace the social web? David Cameron has talked about storing NHS records on Google, his advisor Steve Hilton (partner of Google’s Rachel Whetstone) has coined the phrase post-bureaucratic age, former New Labour new media advisors like MySociety’s Tom Steinberg have swapped sides…?

10. We could argue that the many-to-many structure of social networks enables a ‘long tail’ of human opinion to be heard. But can any diverse, ‘bottom-upness’ be sustained, or will it be back to ‘business as usual’ once the Web 2.0 dust has settled? Can the durable Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) ever truly be inversed?