Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Plane Talking

A parliament of rooks assembled in the fig tree at the bottom of my garden this morning.  They were a noisy bunch.  Like Italian litigators, they seemed to home in on the most fragile looking of the group, looking for ways to destabilise them, with one bird clearly dominant and inciting the rest to intensify their actions against the weakling.  They seemed to be doing it for sport.  It is all too easy to see human characteristics in the natural world around us.  However, even discounting the desire to anthropomorphise them, we are not dissimilar to birds: we migrate to easier locations when times turn tough – witness the well known UK names, both organisations and individuals, who are now based in Switzerland; we are territorial (often evidenced in Company politics and neighbourly disputes); some of us have strong nesting instincts; others have cuckoo-like tendencies (leaving the work  of ensuring their legacy to hardworking colleagues), we can make astounding music (I am listening to some exultant choral music as I write this); etc... I could go on for a whole blog on the subject.  However, I want to consider one aspect - Socialising.

Many birds are social – this can be for self-protection, there is often safety in numbers. I have worked in organisations with fear and blame cultures, where there is a tendency to try to hide amongst colleagues, in the hope of not being singled out.  This amazing YouTube clip shows starlings in flight – they almost seem choreographed into an exuberant twilight dance, but in fact their swarming is an effective way of enhancing individual security from predators such as hawks:

Most of us feel safer walking in a group down a dark alley at night, as opposed to being the sole pedestrian making our way through a rough neighbourhood.  There are more productive sides to being social than simply increasing personal safety.  Over the past few months I have worked for an organisation that has locations across the UK and beyond.  I have undertaken significant travel (usually flying – how like a bird I am).  Probably sometimes to the horror of my fellow passengers, especially those stuck beside me, I have taken advantage of the opportunity to chat with a huge number of people as I have jetted across the UK.  I have been:

·         fortunate in that I was there at the right time to provide support and advice to some who needed it;
·         able to introduced individuals to others working on similar matters in different organisations, thereby enabling all to gain a greater understanding and better outcomes;
·         inspired by a fellow passengers’ experiences, and hence expanded my own proposals, by building in new ideas (into strategic plans and White Papers) that were ignited in me through talking to others;
·         told confidential information about people and business strategies (we all need to be careful about what we say to whom!);
·         able to add to my list of experts and contacts across a wide range of sectors and disciplines;
·         told some wonderful jokes and anecdotes;
·         fortunate in meeting people with shared areas of interest and greater expertise than I, who have been able to help me with my concepts and work; and
·         given potential leads and contacts which will be beneficial in the next stage in my career.

One of the things that really make people stand apart from other creatures on the planet is our ability to communicate effectively.  Admittedly, one of the things that also make us stand out on the planet is our inability at times to communicate effectively, resulting in war, confusion and distress.  However, I think language is wonderful; I have a passion for words and their effect.  I know that I am fortunate in that I don’t mind speaking with people (in fact I really enjoy doing so) – which is odd given how painfully shy I was as a child.  I am now firmly of the opinion that if you don’t make the effort to talk with people you’ll never reap the benefits that are available.  It strikes me as amazing how little individuals in one part of a business speak to those in another division - often even when they work in the shared space of an open plan office; cross divisional communication is not encouraged.  I know that I am unusual in that, when I hold monthly team meetings, I frequently include a representative from a number of other business areas (such as Finance, Marketing, IT or Customer Relationship Managers), so that both my team and they can gain a better understanding of what is occurring across the organisation and can share priorities, find ways of collaborating and enhance co-operation.  My chatting to people on aeroplanes and in airports takes this desire to understand and make connections to the next level.

Social Media is a relatively hot topic in most of the big corporates, as well as in the Media, at the moment.  Most of us are still figuring out what role it should play in our lives and businesses.  Clearly I am a fan, given the networks I am involved in (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ to name but a few).  I have met new people through a number of Social Media routes over the past six months.  This blog has resulted in people approaching me.  I have established genuine friendships through Twitter and similar social networking sites, where I now know individuals both on and offline.  One of the most memorable and enjoyable ways of broadening my contacts and horizons occurred last week.  I spent a balmy day on a narrow boat travelling along the Regent’s Canal in London.  We started from Limehouse Basin and made our way through numerous locks, before mooring at Camden.  The canal-side vistas were wonderful and so too was the sense of camaraderie.  Glenn Le Santo, the captain and owner of the boat (as well as being a respected journalist, talented artist and Social Media expert) was brave or foolhardy, in that he tweeted for crew and four of us were recruited on a first-come-first-served basis.  He had only met one of us before.  The five of us were deliciously different, but had a shared sense of purpose and openness to meeting and sharing experiences with others.  As we got to know each other we also discovered that we perhaps had more in common than at first appeared.  I had met one fellow crew member, for perhaps four minutes, at a tweetup earlier this year.  I was delighted to discover that he was coming on board – he is considerate, highly entertaining, artistic, adventurous and has had a breadth of experience that makes him a delight to talk with (he also picked up the skills of opening locks swiftly and was an excellent and patient tutor).  The other three were new acquaintances for me, but I soon discovered that they too were gems.  One, a calm yoga specialist, who looks ridiculously younger than her age, was candid about experiences that she and her children had been through that helped me put some of my own issues into perspective.  The remaining individual had taken advantage of being made redundant to establish his own business, focusing on Social Media, and it was a pleasure to hear his success story in these difficult times.  Once we arrived at Camden a steady flow of Twitter contacts, attracted by the #FMSB hashtag on Twitter, came and joined us on the tow path for a chat.  Again, I met new and diverse people, some of whom I am now in regular contact with.  It will be good to watch and help their businesses flourish.

Don’t underestimate the benefits of being social – whether on a plane, a canal bank or via the internet and mobile connectivity that is available to us now.  I am sure there’s a good reason why the symbol for twitter is a bluebird – it’s a great reminder that at times it pays to be bird-brained.

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