We need less talk about innovation and more about mediocrity

  “The only way to get mediocre is one step at a time. But you don’t have to settle. It’s a choice you get to make every day.” – Seth Godin

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In my last post I named innovation as the most overused word of 2014.

It’s consistently misapplied to things that really aren’t innovative at all. Plus there’s now a surfeit of Labs , Accelerators and Hubs that have turned innovation into an industry all based around – umm –  being innovative.

But as self serving as the innovation industry is becoming there’s a much bigger problem.

Ever since I made THAT comment about drones – I’ve been asked more about the return on investment of innovation than I have in the past 10 years.

So what makes us question its value? Why do we apply scrutiny to people working in innovation in a way we don’t to other functions like Operations, IT, Communications, HR or Finance?

Maybe it’s human nature to pay a lot more attention to new things whilst ignoring the waste we build up around us.  When things have been around forever we stop noticing there are almost always better ways of doing things.

Here’s an example:

Something new:

Bromford announce an Innovation Lab with a fairly modest investment (four full time colleagues at a cost of less than 1% of total surplus). But despite only being a few months old we’ve had calls to externally publish our business plan, targets, costs and outcomes. The leadership of Bromford has been called into question for allowing such apparent waste.

Something old:

There are 1700 housing associations registered in the UK. So that’s 1700 CEOs. And probably about 5000 boards as each HA seems to have at least two or three. That simply cannot be efficient. But no one questions it.

Now expand that thinking.

Across the NHS, which is at breaking point even though it employs more people than the entire population of Estonia.

Across Local Government , care  , support and the welfare to work sector.

Now include the funders , think tanks and all the industry bodies.

Virtually all of them will have their own network of offices with their own IT, Communications, HR and Finance functions. Most were built with pre-digital thinking and with little thought about collaboration.

And if we looked closely at those hundreds of thousands of organisations with their billions of pounds of funding we’d be able to deduce three things:

  • One third would be excellent – and have a high capability and confidence when it comes to innovation.
  • One third would be average – although they think about innovation they only occasionally transform thought into action.
  • And one third would be absolute rubbish.

So I’ve a plan. Let’s continue to challenge the self proclaimed innovators.

They should publish their outcomes and their costs.

They need to lead the way when it comes to transparency.

But why let mediocrity off so lightly?

  • Let’s start questioning the organisations that exhibit no commitment to innovation.
  • Let’s challenge the publicly funded bodies where innovation is not addressed in their strategy or values.
  • Let’s see what resources organisations are allocating to disruptive thinking.

And let’s ask them whose responsibility it is to act upon bright ideas from the public and their staff – and ensure they get explored.

Mediocrity isn’t an accident. Let’s declare war on it.

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20 Signs You’re Probably Not Working For A Social Business 

Social-Business-Textbook

If innovation is the most overused word of 2014 , then “social business” must be the most misappropriated term.

Every other organisation I come across is claiming to be one. But what does it mean to be a social business?

Altimeter Group defines it as:

The deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organisation to drive business impact.”

Indeed Brian Solis has written about the need to distinguish the two:

A social business is more than social media and the Likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et al. Yet, it’s a term that’s often confused with social media strategy. But, there’s an important difference between a social business and a social media strategy.

Social business is a philosophy; a way of business where social technologies supported by new approaches facilitate a more open, engaged, collaborative foundation for how we work.

 I also really like this description from Andrew Grill

A social business is an organisation whose culture and systems encourage networks of people to create business value.

I’m lucky as I get to talk about social business with lots of people , and the ones who ask my advice almost always mention culture as the main organisational barrier to the adoption of social and digital technology.

We all want to be a social , collaborative business. How do we know when we’ve achieved it?

Here are 20 signs that we’re probably not there yet:

  1. Internal meetings happen behind closed doors rather than being distributed and networked.
  2. You are doing nothing about email. You just add more of it everyday.
  3. People have to seek permission to have a social media presence.
  4. You can only talk about work stuff on social media. You can’t be human.
  5. You measure followers , fans, likes and web hits rather than relationships.
  6. People put time in the diary to “do social media”.
  7. Your social media accounts switch off at 5pm and weekends.
  8. You don’t turn internal reports into publicly available blogs , videos and infographics.
  9. You think it’s job done as your CEO has a twitter account.
  10. There’s no evidence of social removing hierarchy.
  11. Most of the people who like your Facebook page work for the company.
  12. Social media is treated a channel of its own rather than part of an integrated whole.
  13. You just promote your own organisation rather than being a generous sharer of other peoples knowledge and content.
  14. You borrowed someone else’s digital services plan and copied that rather than think of your own.
  15. Your Comms team runs social media. Because it’s just a Comms thing.
  16. You still say things like “Not many of our customers use Twitter”.
  17. You still say “Our customers are quite elderly – they don’t use social”.
  18. You don’t know who are the influential members of your social community.
  19. You don’t follow customers and potential customers back and get to know them.
  20. Your organisation still exists in departments –  HR, IT, Operations. Knowledge is sorted accordingly. Compartmentalised. Siloed.

Truth be told – very few of us work for a truly social business.

We are all on this journey together.

What would you add to the list? I’ll add any suggestions to a special Haiku Deck!

Managers are waste: Five organisations saying goodbye to the boss

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“Until there is a monumental shift in the leadership dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then the debate about the need for an office (in the traditional sense) will be a long one.”  – Tracey Johnson commenting on Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

For lots of people the traditional office – a place many go to simply to attend meetings and do emails – has become toxic.

But many readers of my recent post thought I was overstating the problem, believing if we tackled those two big time wasters it could be restored to a former grandeur.

I personally favour more radical solutions – as alluded to by Tracey in her full comment here.

Emails and meetings, together with outdated reporting and approval systems, are part of a wider hierarchical culture that is at odds with the onset of truly social business.

One of the barriers to adopting more transformational ways of working is often not the executive leadership of the organisation but the point at which it can all start to go very wrong.

The manager.

Management is the greatest inefficiency in any organisation.

Many of you will be familiar with the work of Gary Hamel – but it’s worth revisiting his examples on management waste in the context of the death of the office.

Typically a small organisation might start off simply – one manager and 10 employees. 

But as it grows it will often keep this ratio and sometimes reduce it. So an organisation with 100,000 employees will have at least 11,111 managers. Because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers.

And that’s before you go near management related functions whose entire function is , well , management.

It’s very easy to make yourself busy as a manager:

  • The one to ones and appraisals.
  • The team meetings and management meetings.
  • The reports you have to write and the reports you have to read that other managers have to write.
  • Authorising peoples annual leave and expenses or explaining why you won’t authorise peoples annual leave and expenses.

You could fill up 40 hours a week with just being a manager.

This multi-tiered management model piles inefficiency upon inefficiency. Decision making slows. People become less empowered.

Unsurprisingly, a number of organisations are now exploring the manager-less organisation. And it’s a trend that will only grow as social technology enables very different ways of working, both across the organisation and even across sectors.

One of the biggest has been Zappos, the online shoe and clothing store, who have adopted a system called holocracy - which replaces top-down control with a distribution of decision-making.

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Here’s how Tony Hsieh  (who was CEO before they all gave up job titles) describes his vision:

“Research shows that every time the size of a city doubles, innovation or productivity per resident increases by 15 percent.
But when companies get bigger, innovation or productivity per employee generally goes down.
So we’re trying to figure out how to structure Zappos more like a city, and less like a bureaucratic corporation. In a city, people and businesses are self- organising.
We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work, instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Rather than by managers,  Zappos is being run via a series of self organising teams. Instead of going up the chain of command, decision-making is entrusted to groups of employees, called circles.  People can assume whatever roles they want within these circles to focus on the task in hand.

Whether it’s successful or not – it marks a shift in how large organisations are dismantling long established models to encourage greater agility and innovation.

Here are some other organisations that are worth looking at:

Valve

Valve, the video game developer , have a culture built on the premise that there are no managers, with each colleague able to choose the project he or she is working on. Don’t like the project? Fine , just get up and move to one you like. Valve also have a wonderful employee handbook which is a must-read.

Medium

Medium, the blog publishing platform, have adopted a philosophy of “No people managers. Maximum autonomy”. Adopting a form of holocracy, people can build versatile roles for themselves that speak to their whole skill sets — rather than just a single ability.  This goes against the standard , and completely wasteful , practice of recruiting for roles rather than people.

Treehouse-1

Treehouse , the online interactive education platform, have not only adopted the #NoManager philosophy but have also combined it with a four day working week. Over 90% of employees voted to adopt a manager less structure (the other 10%, presumably, were managers) with the rules of the new organisation being written by collaboration on a Google doc.

Gore

And it can be done at really large companies. At  WL Gore –  a multi-billion dollar company with 10,000 staff, people choose their own bosses – or “sponsors” as they call them.  There are “no chains of command” and instead associates communicate directly with each other.

It’s interesting to contemplate why the public sector – most of which requires far more radical transformation than the likes of Zappos – has not explored the #NoManager principle.

Social media has distributed knowledge across countless networks. On Twitter , for example, you can connect and learn from anyone. The unlikeliest people can become leaders, knowledge sharers and super-connectors.

Exactly the same thing will happen in organisations as people seek out people who inspire them rather than who manages them on a structure chart. And just like social media , you will not be able to control it.

The traditional manager , just like the traditional office, has to adapt or die.

Robot Revolution: Our disappearing jobs and the future of work

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“Imagine a pair of horses in the early 1900s talking about technology. One worries that all these new mechanical muscles will make horses unnecessary.

The other reminds him that everything so far has made their lives easier.

Remember all that farm work?

Remember running coast-to-coast delivering mail?

Remember riding into battle?

All terrible.

These city jobs are pretty cushy — and with so many humans in the cities there are more jobs for horses than ever”

Humans Need Not Apply –  C G P Grey

Sometimes the threat to your industry is not the one that is directly in your line of vision, but the one at the periphery. You might not even recognise it as a problem.

The social housing sector is a good example , believing as it does that planned welfare reforms are the single biggest threat.

10 years from now that sector will look back and see it for what it was – a minor external distraction.

The real disruptive influences will be a rapidly ageing society , a pace of technological change that it failed to embrace , and the disappearance of the jobs that employ their tenants.

People aren’t dying as much as they used to.  And the robots have arrived to do all their work for them.

The rise of the robots is articulated brilliantly by CGP Grey in Humans Need Not Apply. In it we are reminded that those horses never did find new jobs. The equine population peaked in 1915 – and it was all downhill from there.

Worryingly it makes the point that us humans are now the horses – and the new jobs that are being created are not a significant part of the labour market. This has potentially dire consequences. Not least for social housing.

We already know that levels of unemployment are disproportionately high among social housing residents. Many housing associations do work around increasing employability and volunteering – usually as a sideline rather than as part of core business.

But getting people into work only solves half the problem. Many of those jobs – often low paying and part time – simply won’t be around for much longer. They will be the first to get automated by the bots.

From driverless cars to drone deliveries – the potential impact is enormous. But this is not a mainstream topic of conversation in health , housing and social care. Indeed – if you do talk about it you are likely to be dismissed as a bit of an oddball.

Who is doing the joined up thinking about what happens in communities where less people are working?

If there’s a criticism of this line of thought  – it’s that it focuses on the negatives rather than the wonderful opportunities.

Baxter. Works 24hrs a day. No sick leave.

Baxter. Works 24hrs a day. No sick leave. Doesn’t look at Facebook.

Take Baxter, who was created to take manufacturing duties from humans. But , the creator Rodney Brooks has contended that the robot won’t lead to lost jobs. On the contrary, he believes Baxter could be the salvation of workers, who would otherwise succumb to Chinese competition. Indeed , the International Federation of Robotics has reported that the one million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs.

So what are the jobs in our communities that need protecting? And how could we deploy technology to retain vital local services?

Helping those living with dementia patient -Paro

Helping those living with dementia: Paro

And then there’s Paro , a therapeutic robot that is used widely in Japan but is now being tested by the NHS. Paro allows the benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in care facilities. Far from being a toy, Paro stimulates interaction between patients and caregivers and has been shown to improve relaxation and motivation.

How could this new breed of companionship robots help communities at risk of isolation and loneliness? How could we combine real world active networks with these sociable robots?

Instead of ignoring this , or dismissing as science fiction – it’s time we brought the conversation mainstream.  We need to start racing with the machines rather than ignoring them.

Really we have three options:

  • We start to reimagine communities and what meaningful work and play looks like in the future. We begin long term planning building from the skills already in the community. We embrace technology and develop local frameworks that enable people to do better things.
  • We forget the idea of work in abundance and start an argument for a Universal Basic Income (in essence – we guarantee every citizen a flat basic allowance, which would be unaffected by any earnings they gained on top of it).  Matt Leach has written an excellent post on this concept , which admittedly would take huge political will to achieve.
  • We do nothing. And we stumble into a world of disappearing jobs and fail to imagine a better future. We are left with increasingly marginalised communities with reduced income, less active lifestyles and all the resulting health problems. 

Truthfully we need more than a robot revolution.

We need a revolution in the way housing , health and social care approach their work.

A shift away from siloed approaches where we might be ignoring the real threats – as well as the many opportunities. We need a radical vision for connected communities and a network of innovators and entrepreneurs to help drive us forward.

This will be painful as it means challenging a lot of vested interests, breaking through the ‘sector think’ which has existed for decades.

None of our organisations are special. None are irreplaceable.

We have to think and act very differently if we are to avoid a future where humans need not apply.

Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

“We literally followed people around all day and timed every event [that happened in the office], to the second.

That meant telephone calls, working on documents, typing e-mails, or interacting with someone.

What we found is that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted

was about three minutes.” - Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California

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If you are working in an office today you will be interrupted – or you will interrupt yourself – every 3 minutes.

And what’s worse is it will take many of you up to 23 minutes to recover from that distraction.

If your boss lets you – go home. It’s the most productive decision you’ll make this year.

Here are four reasons why the office should have died by now:

  1. UK workers spend a year of their lives in meetings. If you work in the public sector it’s even worse – with nearly 2 years waste clocked up for every worker.
  2. You spend another year of your life commuting to and from work. At a total cost of about £50,000. 
  3. You spend about 60% of your time on email.  That’s about 4 years of your life.
  4. The office doesn’t have great long term prospects. Only 14% of UK workers want to work in a traditional office environment in the future.

And that’s before we go near writing reports. Around 90% never get cited anywhere and 50% of them are only read by the authors and commissioners.

So that’s 7 years off your life and and financial costs of at least £50K.

Only long term smoking can compare to the corrosive effects of the office.

But it gets worse.

You’re highly unlikely to ever have a single creative idea at work as detailed in the graph below:

Creativity

Most people simply don’t have the time to be creative at work. They are too busy shovelling email and being bored in meetings.

Personally speaking my best ideas come not only when I’m away from the office , but when I’m as far away from it as possible.

The initial outline of what will become our online customer portal was done on a beach in Egypt. The first Power Players was developed and written in a bar in Jamaica. The concept of the Bromford Lab was initially sketched out waiting for a boat in Bali.

Bromford get the best value of out of me when I’m nowhere near them. And your employer probably does too.

So why do we all turn up at the office?

Well – there’s a wonderful scene in the original Dawn of The Dead where two characters observe the mass of zombies circulating an abandoned shopping mall.

“What are they doing? Why do they come here?” asks one.

The other replies “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

And it’s this - a memory of what we used to do - that explains why we are locked into a pattern of coming to a place to sit at a screen and do emails.

That – together with a failure by organisations to trust in people and take advantage of social technology.

One of the major benefits we’ve found of launching the Bromford Lab is we are encouraged to throw off the shackles. We haven’t created new rules for meetings – we’ve eradicated the need for them altogether.  We’ve eliminated reports by updating blogs and social sites on a regular basis. We are killing email by using more collaborative forums like Basecamp, Trello, Whatsapp and even Snapchat.

I find it amusing that the question most often asked of the digital evangelists is “how do you find time to use social media?”

The people I know who are the most social are the people who (coincidentally?) call less meetings, send less email and demand less reports.

Think of the leaders who are not regular social users, who scoff at the idea of digital leadership,  and I think you’ll be close to identifying the problem.

But social leadership is more than being on LinkedIn and tweeting when you go to a conference. It’s about considering the strategic use of social technologies and the broader change to your culture.

  • It’s about asking yourself if you started again in 2014 whether you’d have that meeting, require that email or need that report.
  • It’s about re-evaluating your business and the way you operate in a world that is permanently connected.
  • It’s about asking yourself whether you need to physically see people in front of you to trust they are doing a good job.
  • It’s about designing out 7 years worth of waste.

The death of the traditional office and all the trimmings can’t come too soon.

The future of work is less about a physical place and more about social business: the value you bring to your network,  the trust you inspire in people and the way you share knowledge to make things happen.

Let’s bring it on.

Throwback: Our Social Journey (So Far….)

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Your life story is being told by the digital content you produce 

One of the downsides of our digital lifestyle is that we simply can’t retain the information that passes through it.

I couldn’t tell you what I tweeted last week, much less a year ago.

Digital storage is changing our memories. We don’t need to remember specifics anymore – we know they are in the cloud somewhere. Searchable if we want retrieval.

This has risks, as we forget the experiences and learning that shaped where we are today.

Last week I was reminded by Timehop that I’d missed the 3rd anniversary of Bromford on Twitter.

Timehop – in case you don’t know -  is an app that sends users a daily reminder of moments from their social media past. A digital flashback.

It isn’t a new app but popularity has been boosted by trends like  Throwback Thursday (or #TBT) in which people share memories from across the social web.

It’s quite a novelty for people like me. I get reminders of photos I don’t remember taking, never mind posting.

But 3 years of Bromford as a social business? Is that all? It feels like a lifetime..

I’ve met more new and fascinating people in the past three years that I did in the previous 10 – and that’s purely down to professional (and unprofessional) use of social networking.

We should never forget our journey and the people who helped us on our way.

So this post is my personal digital throwback. A timehop through the past three years that brings together some  significant posts and slide decks.

Christmas 2011 – Our first baby steps

This post in which I picked my Bromford highlights of the year sees the emergence of key themes I still bang on about today. Losing the fear factor. Digital leadership. CEO visibility. I’d say transformation is nigh on impossible without those three things.

Spring 2012 – A Social Future

This was a key date – for me personally and for UK Housing. The Northern Housing Consortium hosted what would be a pivotal Social Media conference. It was chaired by Nick Atkin – who I didn’t really know at that point. It’s very easy to criticise digital evangelists like Nick and others but I think people should remember what the sector was like before.
Siloed. Lethargic. Bureaucratic.
The sector really only cared about the big associations – some of whom are now almost invisible in the post-digital world. Nick and the guys at Halton Housing have been genuine disruptors in that sense.
 The conference was also the first to open its doors to (shock, horror) non-housing people like Helen Reynolds.

Summer 2012 – Our first social media birthday

“12 months ago – nobody had access to social media at Bromford. Today everybody does. Unrestricted.

My hybrid work/personal twitter account @paulbromford was created exactly 1 year ago. Our Facebook pages opened 1 year ago. Our 1st blog appeared 1 year ago.

We still have no policy as such. There is no big list of rules. It’s a system run on trust and common sense rather than rules and procedure”

Think that says it all. But you can find more in this post capturing the six lessons we learnt in our first 12 months.

Christmas 2012 –  Myths from the year Housing went social

This attempted to sum up learning - and bust some myths. Here’s my favourite:

“Myth: Our Customers Are Not Online

I knew this to be false when a Customer Board Member emailed me to say they didn’t have internet access. People are online,  but they often choose not to tell their landlord. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are online. A customer recently told me they didn’t need broadband as they only ever used Facebook. Although I don’t deny that exclusion exists – the emerging issue is digital literacy and confidence rather than lack of access.”

Spring 2013 – 20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social

Originally presented at Housing Goes Digital – this slide deck represents my greatest learning: Keep it simple. Keep it short. Make it fun.

With nearly 90,000 views it’s also my most successful post about social media – by far.

Summer 2013 – Five Unexpected Benefits Of Being A Social Organisation

This post , for Comms2Point0 , gives an overview of the cultural change that has happened at Bromford.

Here’s a quote:

“You Start Talking Like Normal People

Social transforms the organisation’s tone of voice.

Our workplace language has been developed through years of formality – the daily grind of reports and emails. And without us knowing it we passed our jargon on to our customers.

But if you start talking like that in the social space – you look a bit odd. Real people don’t talk about Stakeholders and Efficiencies.

So you start talking you do in real life. Because social is real life. And your customers will love you for it.”

Winter 2013 – How social helps us cross organisational borders

This post – on the rise of super-connectors – points to a future of new possibilities. A time where we have moved beyond talking about social media and concentrate more on social business. This is what I find most exciting about the new world – where our organisations are a lot less important than the networks they inhabit.

Summer 2014 – How to be a social media superhero

This brings us up to date with lessons from #powerplayers14 and a fun analysis of social media behaviours.

That’s my personal Timehop.

Here’s to the next three years!

Our Twitter only recruitment: An update

It’s two months since we announced our Twitter only recruitment so I thought it was time for an update. We’ve been pretty much overwhelmed by the number of people who registered an interest in the Lab.

We had over 14,000 views of the material and are still getting enquiries. The follow up conversations took a lot longer than we thought!

People have questioned me on whether this is actually a more complex way of recruiting than the conventional model.

The answer , undoubtably, is yes.

Just like comms and marketing , recruitment used to be pretty simple. You broadcast your message and waited for the bite. Then you reeled it in.

Social media – and social recruitment – are not about broadcast. They are about the conversation , the slow burn of relationship building. People challenge you. People suggest ideas.

You question whether what you are building is right.

In a conventional recruitment no-one would dare challenge your ideas. They know that expressing dissent is the first sign of a troublemaker.

But in a social recruitment, where chats are conducted away from the shackles of forms and questions and personality tests , the relationship gets democratised.

Welcome to recruiting through the network.

I want to publicly thank everyone who took time to speak to us. Your input has been invaluable in shaping the pipeline of the Lab and the way we go about making the network operate. Thanks to everyone who has shared the material about the recruitment too – your support is incredible.

So what have we learned?

  • A lot of people want to work with us in some capacity but not in a full time role based in the Midlands. Only a few people expressed an interest in full time work for one employer and this has led us to reshape the idea of three roles.
  • There was a lot of interest in doing some work at mutually agreed times and the development of a retainer based – or time limited – relationship.
  • Peoples skills and experience are a lot wider than the rather narrow confines I put around Data, Design and Digital

So the challenge for me over the past few weeks has been to redesign something that makes use of the great talent that is out there in the network.

So what are we doing?

Firstly – we’ve decided we really need a full-time design role – and it’s the one that lends itself least to remote working. So we’re going to advertise this role for two weeks only with interested applicants going through the existing Bromford recruitment approach. You can find details of this role here. People who previously expressed an interest were given an exclusive preview but new applicants are welcomed. Give me a shout if you want to chat about it.

Secondly – we are developing opportunities for people that have a specific expertise that we need coaching in.  These are likely to be commitments of a few days of  time spread over a period between 3 months and a year. These will be available to people regardless of geography. The bulk of the people who expressed an interest first time around fall into this category and will work with me to shape it.

Finally we are developing a way that we can commission the services of people on a one-off basis. So for instance – a problem enters the Lab that we don’t have the skills to host and we need to bring in the network to do it for us. Many people suggested this might be done on a more creative basis than simply employing someone . For instance , we could develop an incentivised challenge to solve a specific problem.

This is an incredibly exciting time for everyone involved in the Lab.

Thanks for your support!

What Uber, Comms Hero and HouseParty tell us about the future of the conference…

(A version of this post originally appeared on 24Dash – go visit them as they’re great!)

Marco Rubio Speech On Innovation At Uber's DC Offices

2pm 11th June: London grinds to a halt.

Cab drivers have downed tools for an hour.

Uber, a smartphone app that offers an easy and cheap taxi booking service, has rolled into the UK. Our taxi drivers, required to do training of between 4-7 years, are understandably outraged at this tech startup rocking up and suggesting services can be delivered in affordable ways that are more tailored to the customer.

The howls of anguish from the striking drivers were heard all across Europe. But far from highlighting the cause of taxi drivers it served only to promote Uber itself- which saw an 850% increase in subscriptions.

The hackney carriage – a tradition dating back to 1654 – faces potential disruption.

Plenty of howls of anguish in Manchester too this week as the annual housing conference rolled into town. This year though the conference had an Uber-like startup to contend with.

HouseParty - an unofficial fringe – had parked its (mini)bus just over the road.

Much like Comms Hero, it would be easy to dismiss HouseParty as a bit of inconsequential fluff. A bunch of malcontents fiddling around with social media and shiny tech whilst Rome burns.

But both formats deserve closer scrutiny. Both have super smart business brains behind them in Asif Choudry and Matt Leach. Both have got the sheer balls to deliver something different in a market starved of original thought. And both show an implicit understanding of their customers.

Comms Hero was developed after speaking to Comms people and asking them what they would design if they could create their ideal event.

HouseParty has evolved through social media connections and captured the imagination of people who would never have thought of attending a housing conference. Additionally it’s been co-designed by Esther Foreman a social entrepreneur who also happens to be – guess what? – a real life housing association tenant.

And they are new and achingly cool. Whereas the annual CIH conference has roots in a tradition starting back in 1931. On that basis it’s unfair to compare and contrast the three. But anyone who has attended them, or followed their social media feeds, will do so.

Let me be clear. This isn’t an attack on the CIH, an organisation I have huge respect for and who employ some inspirational people. Neither is it a ringing endorsement of Comms Hero or HouseParty – concepts that are taking their first awkward baby steps into the world.

But the fact is the annual conference , and public sector conferences like it , have to change.

You can’t blame the CIH. The public gets what the public wants. And, if we’re honest, the UK housing public wants an annual sideshow to the real business of getting together and having a chinwag and a few beers.

The conference this year certainly had a unified message: We need more social housing and we need more money. We need more of the same. Impassioned stuff and I, optimistically, hope it’s heard.

But at £525 for a one day non-member ticket you’d expect passion at the very least.

How attractive would this be to people in the top 5 of the digital Power Players list. People like Anne McCrossan, John Popham or Helen Reynolds? Sole traders who could help the sector be much better than it currently is.

How attractive would this be to a tenant?

Comms Hero has undercut its rivals by a good £100. HouseParty offered an innovative ‘pay what you can afford’ option.

Much like ‘affordable’ rents, our conferences need to consider their purpose, pricing and accessibility.

Thom Bartley has made the brilliant point that it’s now cheaper to fly to Amsterdam to see a 3D printed house than to pay to go to a housing conference and hear someone talk about it. We all know that housing has to revisit its purpose but that also involves a restatement of its values.

This is less an issue for the CIH than it is for the sector itself.

In reality neither Comms Hero nor House Party are competitors to traditional conferences – they offer something different. But just like Uber,  Spotify and Netflix they are bringing the question of customer value into the spotlight.

The annual conference, just like black cabs, will be around for a good while yet. But if nothing else the new kids on the block have made us consider “would we do it this way if we started again?”

And that’s always a pretty good question to ask.

The #PowerPlayers14 Awards at #HseParty14

POST UPDATED 25TH JUNE
Winners of people choice awards at House Party:

Social Media Campaign:  Winner: Adrian Capon for #HousingDay. Runners up: Council Home Chat , Real Life Reform

Best Blogger: Winner: Colin Wiles. Runners up: Thom Bartley, Jules Birch

Rising Star: Winner: Michala Rudman. Runners up: Cheryl Tracy, Thom Bartley

Social Superstar England: Winner: Nick Atkin. Runners up: Asif Choudry, Lara Oyedele

Social Superstar Wales: Winner: Brett Sadler. Runners up: Keith Edwards, Michala Rudman

Digital Innovation of the Year: Winner: Jayne Hilditch for MyTVH. Runners up: Muir Group for  digital sign up , Halton Housing for digital deal.

Super Connector of the Year: Winner: Anne McCrossan. Runners up: Nick Atkin, James Caspell

Comms Innovator of Year: Asif Choudry

Digital Innovator of Year: Matt Leach

POST UPDATED 25TH JUNE

After the excitement generated by #PowerPlayers14 we’ve decided to reflect on peoples contribution to digital housing one final time this year at House Party in Manchester on 24th June.

This is a time of huge change in the public sector and the importance of social and digital technology has never been so important.

Despite the success of #powerplayers14 – the housing sector still has a mountain to climb in embracing new ways of working and thinking. Once you open the door to social media you have begun to change the nature of your organisation. There’s no going back.

We are now turning the spotlight away from the list itself and towards the difference that has been made.  These are awards for the people and organisations who are doing something new and making a difference.

The categories for this year are:

Social Media Campaign:  Which campaign has most effectively used digital to promote social housing for social good?

Best Blogger: Which are the posts you just HAVE to read?

Rising Star: Which newcomer (or nearly newcomer…) has made a powerful mark in #ukhousing for their use of digital?

National Social Superstar: We’ll have winners for Wales, England , Scotland and Northern Ireland. Who are they and why?

Digital Innovation of the Year: Which person or organisation has used digital to really make a difference for their customers? What have they done differently?

Super Connector of the Year: Who’s the person who has most effectively used digital to break down barriers between sectors?

Anybody can make a nomination. All you have to do is to state who you are nominating, the category & the reason. You can post your nomination with a comment in the blog or use Twitter with the hashtag #powerplayers14.

This is completely crowdsourced – nominations can be made up to 5.00pm on the 24th June.

Winners will be revealed during the House Party dinner on Tuesday evening from 7.45pm by Paul Taylor and Boris Worrall. Shirley Ayres will also be presenting some special awards.

This being a socially savvy event all awards will be virtual and tweeted out to winners live!

You can follow events via the hashtag #hseparty14.

We look forward to hearing the nominations!

Paul, Shirley and Boris

 

The Top 50 Digital #PowerPlayers14 in #ukhousing

 

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You want to get to the list don’t you? 

Hold on. It’s coming.  

Before you look at the Top 50 influencers please read this guest post from Shirley Ayres who kindly agreed to collaborate with me on #powerplayers14.

For me…it sums up perfectly what it’s all about….

When the first Power Players 50 list was published I was surprised and complimented to be included.The list was intended as light hearted fun but the interest generated in who was included and why sparked a very lively debate.

I was delighted to be invited by Paul to collaborate on the #powerplayers14 list and we agreed that we needed to widen the criteria. We accept that Klout is an imperfect algorithm so added in scores from PeerIndex. We also invited public nominations. You can read the criteria we used here.

We wanted to create a different kind of list celebrating the diversity of people with an interest in housing who are using social media to connect, inspire and challenge.

We were particularly keen to encourage nominations for people working in and around the sector and we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity. 140 different people were nominated.

Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.

Influencers select, share and create content around topics which attract diverse audiences and offer real opportunities to drive action and effect change.

At a time when the housing sector is having to redefine their core mission and purpose, online engagement can amplify voices and offer alternative views to those presented by the mainstream media. Influencers are passionate about their interests and have invested time to grow and develop trust with those following on their social networks.

We all have access to a wide range of social media tools. It’s what individuals do with the tools that is important. Shared experiences on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and  blogs are valuable in earning trust over time.

Possibly the term power players is a bit of a misnomer in this context and a more appropriate term is super connectors. The housing sector is at an early stage of recognising the potential of social media to make new connections which are not limited by sector boundaries. It’s a potential for new collaborations , with the active involvement of customers in the development of new services.

Becoming a social business often requires a cultural mindshift which goes beyond thinking that social media is just a communications channel. People increasingly expect that organisations will not just reach out but also listen to them. The nominations for power players represented a cross section of people who are building connected communities and and modelling how social technologies can creatively help housing associations build new networks.

I believe that we need more opportunities to inspire staff and people who use services from across housing, care, health, charities and social enterprises to collaborate in exploring how to embed digital innovations as an integral part of the support available within every community.

Power players are by nature engagers and connectors who understand that social media is about connecting with people.

If we are battling for hearts and minds we need ambassadors who understand the issues at every level of the housing sector and are able to contribute to debates.

This list represents the new world of housing associations

 

So that’s the list! Congratulations to everyone who was nominated.

A diverse range of people and interests.

There are substantially more CEOs present than last year – a sign of social being taken more seriously?

Notably 7 of the Top 10 are women.

We’d love to get as many of your thoughts, congratulations or disagreements as possible in the comments below.

Do you agree with the list? Any omissions? Who should get special mention at the House Party awards for significant contributions?

Over to you….

Update: If you would like to follow a Twitter List featuring all the final 50 click here. Thanks to Jarrod Williams for this.

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