Be genuine and genuinely care for your neighbour’s pace on the way to change

A lot of conversations, in general and also on this blog, are exploring past reflections and previous conversations. I am in one of these iterations about Alignment and authenticity.

I’ve said before that -for me- authenticity is essential in what we do, when we engage with others, because that genuine approach shows the real us and helps others develop trust with us (and I’ve also stated elsewhere that ‘TRUST is the truth‘).

However there is one exception to this principle: the pace. Pace of language and of motion.

Courses on communication remind us to mimick the other person’s behaviour, tone, body language to subconsciously create a positive rapport with that other person. And that is very true (though I usually don’t pay conscious attention to this). And as much as that is true, the pace of how we talk, and the pace of what we think and do is really important to create a fertile ground.

I’ve learned in that recent management training course (where I discovered my contribution statement for what I bring to the world) that:

“One step by 100 men is greater than 100 steps by one man”

And so it derives that to achieve this one step taken by 100 men, we need to adapt to others. We may have our own personality and our original ideas, but if we are to achieve any stage of common sense-making and action, we need to slow down (or occasionally speed up) the way we talk, think and act to level with these other people we want to take on the journey with us.

We must care for the pace of our neighbours. Because ideas will not come really into fruition before their time…

Ideas don't blossom before their time anyway (Credits: QuoteAddicts)

Ideas don’t blossom before their time anyway (Credits: QuoteAddicts)

This means that while we can’t force things to happen (ish), we can prepare the ground for it by mirroring the pace of language, thought and action of the people around us.

I tend to be very quick in many things we do. I even talk fast. And I’ve had to come to terms with that, particularly when I’m facilitating. I still have much progress to make in terms of adapting to the pace of action of people around me, and adapting to their thought model. But the road to real change emerges from the combination of all our little trails together. When we converge and align we start taking a direction that is much firmer and stronger than the one we were on.

That is my very modest ‘shoot‘ for this week: remain genuine to your ideas and who you are, but connect to the pathways of others by adapting to their pace. That is an effort worth investing in.

Alignment (Credits: Aftab Uzzaman / FlickR)

Alignment (Credits: Aftab Uzzaman / FlickR)

What’s coming up for you?

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The 50-cent and 2-second immortality syndrom

I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, I want it NOW!
Old-timer Queen (of England, but not the monarch, the band) was already onto it: We want things to happen too quickly, in life and at work…

‘Make that website work by next week’, ‘Get our social media strategy functional by next month’, ‘get our team to influence policy by next quarter’, ‘make sure that multi-stakeholder platform is fully operational in 10 months’, ‘show me impact on 50 million lives in 5 years’.

It’s insane!

The dictatorship of pace goes even up to the 30-second elevator pitch and the 2-second attention span that affects us when browsing our tweets…

But our collective delusion doesn’t stop there.

We also want to leave an immortal impression of our passage on Earth. We go for the 50 Cent ‘bling bling’ approach, with the information systems that have the most complete panoply of whistles and bells, the KM strategy that everyone around or yet to born always awaited, the research agenda that will change the face of the planet, the network that will solve everyone’s problems, the development project that will be scaled up ‘till the end of times…

Should we not slow down and take a bit of perspective? (Credits: Jsome1 / FlickR)

Should we not slow down and take a bit of perspective? (Credits: Jsome1 / FlickR)

Woooow, hold on a sec here!

I can understand the conscious or unconscious quest for immortality and leaving traces behind, which Milan Kundera described so well in the eponymous novel.

I can also understand that people want to move fast – I’m not the most patient of earthlings myself. But combining eternal glory and glitz with light speed is just about as mature as a five year-old thinking the world is his/her royal court.

And yet, fast bling bling impact drives the reality of much knowledge management in development.
The tyranny of development ‘projects’ and their limited lifeline pushes us to promise unrealistic impacts; the crowning of complexity has stirred up a cohort of concertation networks and multi-stakeholder processes (great idea) that should all work out at soonest and remain sustainable for ever (oh oh, unrealistic thinking and not even justified); the big-bang KM strategies of development organisations hold all the promises that information filtering and the reinvention of the wheel (which is not always bad) will be erased once and for all; the increasing pace of our social media world seems to condemn slow work, and partnerships should deliver now, regardless of whether or not they are based on solid foundations…

Yet the best development success stories among us are slow, organic, civic-driven developments, from the Grameen Bank to Ushahidi, from Paulo Freire’s popular education to the biggest NGO in the world – Bangladeshi giant BRAC – from Digital Green’s participatory video work to communities of practice like KM4Dev.

Immortality is perhaps not best achieved through fast bling bling, not even through slow shine, but through the seeds of change we plant in each other all the time, carrying, reshaping and expanding the collective wisdom that has brought us up to where we are now (remember the shoulders of giants?)…


  • No, that website won’t work by next week. Even if I killed myself setting it up, it would take time to train people, it should have taken time to consult them in the first place, and it will take time to generate and content and keep pumping more of it into the site, around a solid content strategy;
  • No our social media strategy will not be functional by next month, because it takes weeks  to try out social media, months to find the right people at the edges of your network and years to develop great content and strong engagement around it;
  • No, our team will not influence policy by next quarter because policy-makers have to deal with many different items at a time (of which research evidence is only one by the way), and it will take our team a couple of years to have built a good rapport with policy makers and to be able to start influencing policies;
  • No our multi-stakeholder platform will not be fully operational in 10 months because it will take everyone two to three years to understand each other’s language, perspective, agenda, to grapple with it, agree with a common direction and start effectively building  something together (and we’re not talking about funding the platform beyond project funding if that’s the set-up, which takes additional time);
  • And finally, no, we won’t be able to show impact on 50 million lives in 5 years because impact is very difficult to trace, we cannot really anticipate tradeoffs of our initiative just now and because quick demonstrable, quantifiable indicators have nothing to do with the real quality of life, happiness, connectedness, empowerment and freedom that people enjoy, they’re only crass over-simplified proxies that hint towards that.

And so to the people that Freddie and his Queen fellows addressed in their tune, here’s what my mates from Radiohead have to tell you now: Hey man, slow down!

And please forget about that cheap rap joke… Even if you go for bling bling, remember: speech is silver, silence in golden. Rub it in 50c.

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Of serendipity, introverts and extroverts, social media and shooting the ambulance…

Once again signals converge to a particular direction in my flowing web of interests. Serendipity… That really might be the master word of social media – or shared media. Indeed this morning I come across this recent blog post by Antony Mayfield about social media being shared media – a rather inspiring term to describe catch-all ‘social media’. It comes at a very timely moment as me and my colleagues are putting together a social media guide about African knowledge on climate change adaptation. And we are trying to find a better term for social media, at least to question this cumbersome catch-all phrase.

So there’s this kind of serendipity – the ‘pregnant women serendipity‘: a selective look at the world as with pregnant women spotting pregnant women all around them because they are more alert to it than your average earthling.

But then there’s another kind of serendipity the ‘simultaneous inventions serendipity‘ – related to the phenomenon of inventions bubbling up and appearing around the same time in various places, something that Antony Mayfield (déjà vu?) also blogged about in passing reference (Antony, enjoy this, I probably never will refer to you twice in a blog post again!). Social media make this kind of serendipity much more obvious and expand it through the phenomenon of trending topics/conversations.

In that second serendipity avenue, there’s been a lot of talk recently about introverts vs. extroverts and the fact that social media seem to stifle the participation of the not-so-socially-comfortable among us. In my sphere, it all started around a few articles on team building, creativity and introverts: ‘5 reasons to hate teambuilding‘ (a recent blog post on HR career success), ‘Groupthink‘ (an article by the New Yorker) showing that brainstorming leads to fewer ideas than with people thinking independently, ‘Woz on creativity: work alone‘ (on the excellent Brain Pickings site) and the more recent ‘overcoming the introvert factor: communicating climate change in an age of uncertainty‘ which triggered a little conversation with my mate Michael Victor from the Challenge Program Water and Food.

Introverts and extroverts, two approaches to express ourselves, on social media and in life (credits: Alphadesigner / FlickR)

Introverts and extroverts, two approaches to express ourselves, on social media and in life (credits: Alphadesigner / FlickR)

I certain recognise that introverts should be considered carefully in conversations and that not all group-think is good, but when it comes to social media I argue that it is a false argument to hold them responsible for extroverts feeling sidelined by ‘communicators’.

In my view it relates to the pacing and approach in thinking, writing (or developing) and sharing behaviours:

  • Thinking: When we mention ‘social media’, most people think of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the ‘viral’ element that they support very effectively. But viral sharing is only one of the characteristics and approaches of social media. Of some social media. In their nature, wikis favour collaboration therefore more reflective work than just viral sharing; Delicious stacks, Pinterest boards, FlickR galleries and the likes feature collections of content, they have been thought through and by definition offer a longer shelf life than a tweet or facebook update. What beats all of this though, much more considerably: blogs really do encourage slow thinking space and offer a place of choice for thinkers. There is a whole variety of think-pacing dynamics in social media. as mentioned in this post ‘KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space‘.
  • Writing: In fact, I would even argue that thinking before you write makes you more likely to write quality content and to attract interest in social media. If anything, introverts should thus be able to find more value in social media than fluffy extroverts. Or perhaps more to the point, both can find their place and space in the shared media world. There are different dynamics at play. There are different ways of giving birth to our ideas and the variety of social media caters for our different styles. It has to be said, though, that blogging and perhaps to a lesser extent other social media interactions change the way we think and write, but I think for the better, following the rules of knowledge ego-logy: to be loved, you must come up with good stuff.
  • Sharing: The other side of the equation is the social side of things: how readily do people engage with one another and share their ideas and information? Extroverts will meet people as they breathe and share readily. Introverts might find this more daunting. Yet again, the (partial) anonymity that a computer or mobile phone screen offers in our social media interactions breaks barriers to share. This very interesting and challenging blog post / essay shows that even pathologically shy people can find their niche on Facebook (and it does argue convincingly that it doesn’t make people more prone to fight their shyness, but that’s another discussion). More to the point: social media are all about the network you build and interact with. Regardless of its size. You first tend to engage with kindred people. I cannot believe that introverts cannot connect with others, with the benefit of breaking down the barriers of physical interactions.
Bearing this in mind, yes we need to pay attention to using social media in a way that does not single out introverts (or simply thinkers) and their progressive and slower-paced approach. Perhaps we need to develop more opportunities for training and coaching on the use of these social media. But criticising social media for sidelining introverts is like shooting at the ambulance: it is targeting the channel not the person using it, it is misguided, over-simplified, not to mention the strait-jacketting it suggests, by putting all introverts and extroverts in one same bag. And perhaps judging social media in that way is simply a lame excuse for some to not write and share… There’s still people out there thinking that knowledge is power too…
So extroverts, please come out of the ambulance and show that you can prove cliché-hunters and lazy naggers wrong because I know you can 😉 I used to be an introvert too…
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