Le temps a de nouveau filé [fr]

[en] Some musings in French. Chalet, sick cats, writing in French vs in English, the US elections, where I'm at, and a silly video in English you can watch.

Pas de nouvel article depuis deux semaines, malgré mes bonnes intentions. Alors je m’y colle, sans avoir de projet spécifique, parce que pour écrire, il faut écrire. Et je m’y colle en français, parce qu’il me semble que j’écris surtout en anglais. Et parce que je me rends compte que je me censure bien plus en français.

Grand Muveran

Mes articles les plus personnels, je les écris en anglais. Je parle bien plus volontiers de mes douleurs et de mes difficultés dans cette langue. Mais pourquoi?

D’une part, mon “public perçu” est différent en français ou en anglais. La plupart de mes clients sont francophones. Même s’ils comprennent bien l’anglais, notre relation de travail est en français. Les médias qui à une certaine époque me sollicitaient régulièrement sont francophones, aussi. En français, je me sens Romande, je me sens plus surveillée, voire jugée, qu’en anglais. Je  me préoccupe plus de ce qu’on peut bien penser de moi en français qu’en anglais.

Il y a peut-être une dimension culturelle sous tout ça. Le français, pour moi, c’est la Suisse Romande, avec tout ce que ça charrie de “balaie devant ta porte”, “occupe-toi de tes oignons”, “ça ne regarde personne”. Se mettre en avant c’est mal. Parler de soi c’est mal. Il faut rester professionnel. Qu’est-ce qu’on a le culte, ici, à mon grand désespoir, du mur entre le “personnel” et le “professionnel”!

Et voyez ce que racontent ces mots: “personnel”, ça vient de personne. Au travail, on n’est pas “personnel”. On est “professionnel”. Un rôle, pas un individu. J’ai réalisé il y a quelque temps que ce mot, que j’utilise pas mal professionnellement, est certainement source de plein de malentendus. Parce que quand je dis, par exemple, “présence en ligne personnelle“, je pense avant tout à l’aspect humain, “de la personne”, avant la question de savoir si le contenu que l’on partage touche à la sphère privée ou à la sphère professionnelle. Et là aussi, un autre mot qui nous embrouille: “privé”, ça peut être par opposition à “professionnel”, mais aussi à “public. Les connotations changent.

Bref, je n’aime pas trop montrer mes failles en français. Peut-être parce que c’est ma langue principale de travail, peut-être parce que c’est la langue du lieu où je vis, peut-être parce que moi-francophone a des peurs que moi-anglophone n’a pas. On sait que langue et culture sont liées; ce qu’on sait parfois moins, c’est que langue et personnalité le sont également: grand nombre de bilingues sont aussi biculturels. C’est peut-être mon cas.

Chalet dans les arbres

Alors, qu’est-ce que je vous raconte, dans cet article que j’écris pour écrire?

Je reviens d’une courte semaine au chalet. Le programme, c’était quelques jours de congé (parce que je cours, cours), peut-être ski au glacier, un peu de bûcheronnage dans le jardin, et puis bosser, et bloguer — avancer dans tout cet empilement d’idées qui se pressent dans ma tête sans atteindre mon clavier.

Eh bien non. Foehn, donc pas de téléphérique (et franchement même pas envie de sortir du chalet avec les branches qui tombent des arbres et les tuiles qui s’envolent).

Mais surtout, urgences vétérinaires, avec Tounsi qui a fait une étrange crise dans la nuit de samedi à dimanche, vomissement, grands mouvements quasi spasmodiques des pattes arrières, sur fond d’autres histoires de pattes. Soucis neurologiques? Intoxication à la couenne de fromage à raclette? Adieu sommeil du week-end, et trois vétos en trois jours (y compris le Tierspital à Berne) pour tenter de tirer cette affaire au clair. Tounsi semble à présent remis, mais que d’inquiétude: il ne mangeait pas, ne buvait pas, ne bougeait pas. Dans le doute, on a arrêté ses calmants quelques jours, et repris aujourd’hui. Bref, je le surveille de près, pas idéal pour se concentrer sur autre chose. (Et il y a encore la cécité de Quintus, qui semble brusquement s’aggraver certains jours sans que je comprenne pourquoi; aujourd’hui son “bon” oeil le dérange, il se gratte, il ne voit rien, il se cogne, s’encouble — aussi parce qu’il n’est pas très stable sur ses pattes arthritiques. J’ai peur qu’il perde le peu de vision qui lui reste. Je le vois vieillir et je me demande comment je saurai que sa qualité de vie s’est trop détériorée pour que ça vaille la peine de continuer.)

Tounsi convalescent

Dans un autre registre, les élections américaines m’ont pas mal secouées. Pas américaine, comme vous le savez, mais j’espérais vraiment la victoire de Hillary Clinton. Et j’y croyais. Depuis, j’ai l’impression de regarder un accident de train au ralenti. Je m’inquiète pour les USA et mes amis qui y vivent, mais aussi pour les répercussions que cette présidence risque d’avoir sur le reste du monde, et aussi pour ce que ça dit de notre tissu social, parce qu’il ne faudrait pas penser que ce sont ces tarés d’américains et que nous, dans notre petite Suisse bien rangée, on n’est pas aussi en plein là-dedans.

Et puis il y a moi. Je m’inquiète un peu pour moi, aussi. Parce que même si j’ai maintenant le sentiment d’avoir retrouvé ma direction professionnelle, même si les affaires reprennent, ce n’est pas “assez”. J’ai des projets, j’ai des pistes, mais j’ai des freins, aussi. Voilà que débarque le censeur, parce que c’est pas bien de montrer ses doutes. A plus forte raison si on est une femme, à qui l’on ne pardonnera aucune de ses fautes, comme le veut la règle.

C’est aussi pour moi une des grandes tristesses de cette élection américaine: voir, de façon tellement flagrante, les poids et mesures différents qu’on applique aux hommes et aux femmes, et voir aussi à quel point tant de monde y est aveugle. Même quand on leur met le nez dessus. Tous les arguments qui contiennent “c’est pas du sexisme”, “c’est pas parce que c’est une femme”, “je fais pas de différence”, “c’est une femme qui le dit alors ça peut pas être misogyne”.

Oh, on a fait du chemin. On a des égalités inscrites dans la loi. Mais culturellement, bon dieu… on est encore loin du compte. Racisme, idem.

Allez, pour finir sur une note un peu plus amusante, après m’être remise de ma stupefaction après le visionnement d’une vidéo de youtubeuse star sur le thème du vidage de sac, j’en ai rapidement fait un petit Facebook Live à ma sauce. J’ai bien ri en le faisant, et j’ai encore plus ri en le regardant. C’est en anglais.

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A Patchwork Post From The Chalet [en]

[fr] Plein de choses en vrac. Y'a des liens qui mènent vers des trucs en français.

I keep falling into this trap. I don’t blog about something because there is something else, more important, that I should blog about before and haven’t got around to writing.

In this case, it’s the fact that just over a week ago, I finally got to see Joan Baez live on stage. I’ve been listening to her since I was seven or so. I know most of her songs. I’ve always listened to her. And a few years ago I decided that I should really go and see her live soon, because, you know, she’s not getting any younger, and at some point people who spend their lives touring and singing on stage might decide that they want to stay at home and paint instead.

Joan Baez at Paléo

And she was coming to Paléo, in Nyon, just next door. I think I cried during the whole show — not from sadness, just from too much emotion. I was glad to be there that evening, because it was the evening to witness, with Patti Smith and Robert Plant, too. Isn’t it strange how somebody can be such an important part of your life (the soundtrack of many of my years, like Chris de Burgh) — and yet they have no idea you exist?

If you’ve never listened to Joan Baez, just dive into YouTube.

During the drive to the chalet a story came up on the podcast I was listening to which is exactly about that. The Living Room, a story from the podcast Love + Radio, which I’m going to add to my listening list as soon as I have a good enough data connection.

I finished reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, after devouring “The Psychopath Test” these last weeks. It’s a great book. Anybody spending time online should read it. It’s important. With great power comes great responsibility, but we the people on Twitter and Facebook are not aware of the power we wield. The power to destroy lives. To get the gist of it, use 17 minutes of your life to watch Jon’s TED Talk.

My reading of this book coincides with the unleashing of online fury over the killing of Cecil the Lion. It has disturbed me deeply. I feel an urge to dig through my archives and see what my reactions to Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco were, because I remember the stories. I’m worried of what I may find. I will be watching myself closely in future.

I also find myself shy in speaking up against those piling on against Cecil’s killer. Oh, he has done wrong. And I have no love for hunters, and no love for hunters of big cats. But what is missing here is proportionality. And I am scared that by speaking up I will find myself faced with a wall of “you’re either with us or against us”, ie, if you don’t join the mob then you’re defending the killing of lions. Just the way last year I was accused of “encouraging pedophiles” and whatnot because I was opposed to a stupid piece of “anti-pedophile” legislation. To some extent, I feel like I have let myself be silenced. Parallels to be drawn with the harassment episode I went through earlier this year (more on that, someday, probably).

This interview of Jon Ronson for On The Media also gives a very good summary of his book.

(My only gripe with Jon Ronson and his book is that a blog is not a post, dammit!)

Two local newspaper articles made me react today on Facebook (they’re in French). One about “the ideal age to conceive” for women, and one about a carer who got bitten by a Komodo dragon at the Lausanne Vivarium.

The first made me jump up because alongside statistics saying “if you want three kids you should get to work at this age” we find things like “you still have a 40% chance of conceiving at 40” and “don’t worry, it’s still quite possible to have children after 37”. Well, at 40 your chances of success through IVF are more around 10-15% — I’m curious where that “40%” comes from, and what it’s supposed to mean. Certainly not “4 attempts to conceive out of 10 succeed” but more “4 women out of 10 who are ‘trying’ (define that) succeed”. Another topic that’s keeping me from blogging about other stuff, because I have so much more to write about not having children. Well, you’ll get it in tidbits, it seems.

As for the second, well, I was expecting a “scare” piece. “Look, the dangerous animal.” Or “look, another negative story for the Vivarium” (which was running out of funding a couple of years ago). To my surprise the article was really good (edit: wow! they seem to have changed the title!), with the carer explaining how she was actually responsible for how the animal had reacted, and that showed how affectionate she was towards it despite the bite. I realised that reading the title had prepared me for “bad journalism”. But going back to it, the title was quite neutral: “Vivarium carer bitten by komodo dragon”. And so I wonder: how could the title have been better? Tricky.

Up in the mountains, in my chalet with almost no data connection, it’s easy to slow down and “do nothing”. A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to consciously try and do less things in parallel, both on a micro and a macro level. Monotask more, multitask less. Try and keep my number of “open projects” under control. My podcast-hopping brought me to the “Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp” episode the other day. It really drove home the fact that my brain needs downtime. Bored time. And probably a holiday (I haven’t had a “real holiday” (= with no work to do) in much too long, and I’m starting to feel it. How did that happen? I thought I was over that.) So now, I’m paying more attention to where my phone is, and trying to keep it more in my bag and less in my hand, more in the other room and less just next to me.

That’s it for today, folks. My plan is to write again tomorrow. Or the day after. Let’s see if it materialises.

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The Simple Life [en]

I’ve been at the chalet since December 29th. I like it here. I’ve been “down” 5 times: once to see a new client in Zurich (more about that in the weeks to come), once to bring a car back to Lausanne, once to get my nails done, once to get an MRI done (wrist, nothing too bad), and once for a foundation board meeting.

Chalet et Grand Muveran

My life is simple here. Few possessions, few activities, few people, few responsibilities. The Paradox of Choice in reverse. As I’ve often noticed in the past, freedom is in fact in all that you can’t do.

That’s why people go away on holidays. There’s stuff to do on vacation, of course, but there is so much more from the daily grind that you can’t do.

Here I eat, take care of the cats, go skiing, buy food, fool around on the computer with my slow 3G connection (when I’m lucky, otherwise it’s Edge, or nothing), do some work, sleep.

But this state does not last. I’m already starting to make connections here. I’m starting to know people. I go to the café in the village which has great chocolate cake and wifi. I’ve been through this when I lived in India: within a few months, I’d reconstructed for myself a life full of things to do, of people, of meetings, and activities. That’s how I am — I cannot remain a hermit for very long.

At the end of the week I’m going back to my city life. I’ll miss how easy it is here to talk to people. I’m not from here, but I feel like I fit in. I like the outdoors. I like my clothes comfortable and practical before pretty. I don’t need a huge variety of restaurants, shops, night-clubs, or theatres to make me happy.

I know I’ve already mentioned it, but my life slows down when I come here. Even with an internet connection. I try to bring this slowness back into my life in Lausanne, but it’s difficult. Specially as things will be a rush next week: I’m hosting a WordPress meetup workshop on Tuesday evening, then there is Lift, then I have a friend visiting, then I’m coming back up here 🙂 for a few days. The week after that will see me back in Zurich…

As I write this, maybe what I get here (or elsewhere on holiday) that is hard to get in Lausanne is long stretches of time with no outside commitments. No meetings, no appointments, no travel. Just weeks ahead with nothing else to do but live and ski.

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Here Comes Everybody: Journalism and Ease of Publication [en]

I’m reading “Here Comes Everybody“. I’m taking notes.

In the chapter “Everyone is a media outlet”, Clay explains very well what is the matter with the journalism industry. (He has since then co-authored a report on the future of the news industry, which I need to read.)

In a world where everyone is a publisher, journalism is becoming an activity rather than a profession — activity which can be carried out both by those employed by the news industry and the “amateurs” (oh heck). A profession serves to solve a hard problem, that requires specialisation. Reproduction, distribution, and categorisation are now orders of magnitude easier and cheaper than before: professionals are no longer required for these activities.

Look at iStockPhoto and professional photography: the price of professional photography not so much due to the incredible quality of the professional’s work, in many cases, but comes from the difficulty of finding the right photo. iStockPhoto helps solve that problem, so the photo now costs 1$ instead of 500$, can very well have been shot by an amateur, and be no lesser in quality than a more expensive, specially-commissioned professional one.

As it has become easier to publish, public speech and action have become more valuable and less scarce, just like the ability to read and write became more commonplace with the invention of movable type, and scribes lost their raison-d’être.

Journalism is a profession that seems to exist because of accidental scarcity of published material due to the expense of publishing in the physical world. Scarcity (and therefore cost) is not an indication of importance: water is more important to life than diamonds, but that doesn’t make it expensive (The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith).

When everybody had learned to read and write, and scribes weren’t needed anymore, we didn’t call everybody a scribe, we just stopped using the word; reading and writing is ubiquitous and so not rare enough to pay for, even if it’s a really important skill. Scribes as a profession died out.

As for music and movie industry: the service they performed was distributing music and movies, but now anybody can move music and video easily and cheaply. The problem they were solving does not exist anymore, and so they are trying to maintain it by turning on their customers and trying to make moving movies and music harder artificially.

Because it’s so easy to publish, making something public is less the momentous decision that it used to be. The general criticism of the low quality of online content has to do with the fact we are judging “communications” content (conversation, often) by “broadcast” content standards of interest and quality. We look at Facebook statuses and think “was that really worth broadcasting?” — not realising that it was never intended for broadcast in the first place. It was not meant for us. If you eavesdrop on a dining hall conversation at the table next to you, doubtless you’ll find it uninteresting, but you won’t think “why are they speaking so loud I can hear what they’re saying?”

There used to be a distinction between communications and broadcast media, which has now broken down. Broadcast is one-to-many, a one-way megaphone which attempts to reach as many people as possible of a target audience. Communications, on the other hand, are two-way conversations for specific recipients, one-to-one. Now we also have many-to-many, communications tools which enable group conversation. There is a continuum between broadcast and communications rather than a sharp break neatly following the lines of the technology used (TV/radio vs. phone/fax). Communications and broadcast are mixed in the same medium, and we make the mistake of judging communications by the standards of broadcast.

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Social Tools Allow Ridiculously Easy Group-Forming [en]

More notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Both markets and organisations imply costs (transaction costs in large groups, labour required to maintain organisation). There are activities which simply don’t happen, because their cost is higher than their potential value both for markets and organisations. This is where social tools step in: they lower the cost of coordinating group action, and allow new forms of activities to appear.

Stuff that we find normal in 2013: if you stage a public event, photos of it will most certainly be made publicly available (through Flickr and the like) even if you do not hire a professional photographer or mandate people to collect photos. The social tool provides a cheap way for any person taking photos of the event for their personal satisfaction to add them to a public pool that anybody can draw from, through spontaneous tagging.

Under the Coasean floor: activities that are valuable to somebody but too expensive to be taken on in an institutional way, like aggregating amateur documentation of the London transit bombings. People have always had the desire to share, and the obstacles to sharing are now gone, so it happens.

When transaction costs are high, hierarchical organisations are the least bad solution for group action. If transaction costs drop a little, large organisations can afford to become larger, and small organisations appear where there were none, because they are now “cheap enough” to put in place. But when tools arrive which make transaction costs plummet, all kinds of group action which were impossible before are now happening outside of traditional organisations, in loosely structured groups, without managerial direction or profit motive.

Group undertakings: sharing, cooperation, collective action — by order of increasing difficulty.

Cooperation is more demanding than sharing because it requires changing one’s behaviour to synchronise with others (who are also doing the same thing). Conversation is an example. This makes me think of something I wanted to say about Facebook groups: groups where all that happens is people “sharing” stuff don’t take off. Sharing doesn’t really create a sense of community like conversation does. So if one wants a community of people, one must encourage conversation, which is more difficult to achieve than simple sharing. Collaborative production (cf. wikipedia, a potluck dinner, a barn raising) is another form of cooperation, more involved than conversation.

Collective action goes a step further, ambitioning to change something in the world, creating shared responsibility by tying the group and individual identities together. Action is taken “in the name of”. This comes with a share of governance issues, especially the larger the group. The shared vision of the group needs to be strong enough to keep the group together despite the tensions arising from individual disagreement on specific decisions.

Seb Paquet: ridiculously easy group-forming. This reminds me of an O’Reilly book that I read during my year in India (I read a number of O’Reilly books there, purchased in Indian editions and therefore compatible with my student’s budget): Practical Internet Groupware. It was an eye-opener, and much of the stuff in there is still true nearly 15 years later.

Says Clay Shirky (quoting!):

Ridiculously easy group-forming matters because the desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct that has always been constrained by transaction costs. Now that group-forming has gone from hard to ridiculously easy, we are seeing an explosion of experiments with new groups and new kinds of groups.

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Delivering Happiness: A Book to Read on Running a Happy Profitable Business [en]

I have just finished reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh. It’s a much “lighter” read than “Here Comes Everybody”, though the lessons it delivers are just as profound. Whereas Clay Shirky’s book has points to make, supported by stories, Tony Hsieh’s is the story of Zappos and his own, making points along the way.

When I was working at Orange during the end of my studies, I used to say that if I ever ran a business, it would be unsustainable because my first priority would be to make it a good workplace, which cared about its employees. Zappos seems to have achieved that, and at the same time managed to be sustainable and profitable. It’s not a “despite that”, either. It’s pretty clear that what has allowed Zappos to survive and be profitable is it’s concern about treating people well — both outside its walls and in.

I see echoes of my quest over the last years in Tony’s interest in happiness. What makes us happy? How can we organise our lives and businesses to have more of that?

My distaste for much of the corporate world has all to do with the fact it values profit over people. The story of Zappos shows us it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to create a workplace where there is a higher purpose than profit, where profit is a means to preserving the culture and “tribe” of the company.

Reading “Delivering Happiness” has moved me a step further towards understanding the importance of brands. For me, the word “brand has a distasteful ring to it, because I guess it’s so often associated with a certain type of marketing and hollow messages. Seeing brand as the external flip side of company culture actually makes perfect sense, and might help me develop some of my thinking about my own brand (I know I have one), the eclau brand, the Going Solo brand, etc. A brand doesn’t have to be artificial.

If you’re interested in an inspiring story of building a business based on trust, values, personality, growth, happiness, purpose, transparency, and authenticity, read this book. You won’t regret those few hours of your life. And buy an extra copy to leave lying around at work.

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Occupy et les Indignés [fr]

[en] A rant about the "translation" of the Occupy Movement by "les Indignés" in francophonia. Not the same movement. Occupy is a verb. "Indigné" is a state, an emotion, with moral undertones.

Ça date, Occupy, je sais. Vous qui connaissez plus d’une langue, vous avez déjà remarqué comment on perd parfois tout dans une traduction? Lost in translation. Etonnamment, le français n’a pas d’expression équivalente. En tant que bilingue français-anglais, je vois régulièrement ce phénomène à l’oeuvre dans les traductions de titres de livres ou de films, qui passent très bien en anglais et plus du tout en français. (Je ne parle même pas du doublage, qui a le don de transformer une chouette bande-annonce anglo-saxonne en un truc qui ne donne absolument pas envie de se pointer au multiplex.)

On a donc “Occupy”, aux Etats-Unis, et ici en Europe, en tous cas en français, on parle des “Indignés“. Quelle horreur! Je me fiche personnellement de savoir si les deux mouvements ont une origine commune ou non, toujours est-il qu’on les trouve “assimilés” ou “équivalents” dans les médias et donc, par extension, chez l’homme de la rue. La traduction française de “Occupy”, c’est “Indignés”.

Personnellement je n’ai jamais pu avaler ça. Les connotations sont si différentes! Comment les mouvements qui se rallient derrière ces deux noms peuvent-ils identiques? (Et qu’on n’aille même pas essayer de jeter là-dedans les émeutes de Londres, qui n’ont franchement rien à voir.)

“Occupy”, c’est un verbe. Occuper. Une action. Un impératif. “Occupy Wall Street”, c’est un slogan quasi militaire. L’Occupation, ça vous dit quelque chose? On va occuper les lieux. Il y a une prise de pouvoir, ou du moins une volonté de possession. On est là et on réclame notre place.

Etre “Indigné”, au contraire, c’est tout au plus un participe passé (par nature passif). Ou même, un adjectif. C’est émotionnel. C’est un état. Ça parle de ce qui se passe à l’intérieur de nous, et non de ce qu’on fait. On s’indigne, c’est super, et après? Aucune chance que je me retrouve là-dedans. Il y a une couleur morale, jugeante et passive dans ce mot.

Les mots qu’on utilise changent la façon qu’on pense. On sait qu’il y a un lien entre langue et culture. On peine à penser des choses qu’on ne peut mettre en mot.

“Occupy” et “les Indignés”, ce n’est pas la même chose.

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My Interest in Organisations and how Social Media Fits in [en]

[fr] Ce qui m'intéresse dans ces histoires d'organisations, et le lien avec les médias sociaux (du coup, aussi des infos sur mon intérêt pour ceux-ci).

I found these thoughts about organisations at the beginning of Here Comes Everybody fascinating: organisations and how they disfunction are a long-standing interest of mine, dating back to when I was a student with a part-time job at Orange. My initial interest was of course function rather than dysfunction. How does one make things happen in an organisation? What are the processes? Who knows what? It was the organisation as system that I found interesting.

Quickly, though, I bumped my head against things like processes that nobody knew of and nobody was following. Or processes that were so cumbersome that people took shortcuts. Already at the time, it seems I displayed a “user-oriented” streak, because my first impulse was to try to figure out what was so broken about those processes that people found it more costly to follow them than come up with workarounds. Or try to understand how we could tweak the processes so that they were usable. In reaction to which one manager answered “no, people must follow the processes”. I didn’t know it then, but I guess that was when I took my first step towards the door that would lead me out of the corporate world.

More recently, and I think I haven’t yet got around to blogging this, I have remembered that my initial very “cluetrainy” interest for the internet and blogging and social media really has to do with improving how people can relate to each other, access information, and communicate. The revelation I had at Lift’06 (yes, the very first Lift conference!) while listening to Robert Scoble and Hugh McLeod about how this blogging thing I loved so much was relevant to business was that it pushed business to change and humanised it. Blogging and corpepeak don’t mix well, blogging is about putting people in contact, and about listening to what is being said to you. As the Cluetrain Manifesto can be summarised: it’s about how the internet changes the way organisations interact with people, both outside and inside the organisation.

That is what rocks my boat. Not marketing on Facebook or earning revenue from your blog.

Again and again, when I talk to clients who are trying to understand what social media does and how to introduce it in their organisation, we realise that social media is the little piece of string you start pulling which unravels everything, from corporate culture to sometimes even the business model of the organisation. You cannot show the human faces of a company that treats its employees like robots. You cannot be “authentic” if you’re out there to screw people. You cannot say you’re listening if you’re not willing to actually listen.

Of course, there is the question of scale. I’ll get back to that. Personal doesn’t scale. Radical transparency or authenticity doesn’t scale. But your average organisation is so far off in the other direction…

I’ve realised that my interest lies more with organisations and forms of collaboration and group effort than with social media per se, which I see first and foremost as a tool, a means to an end, something which has changed our culture and society. I find ROWE and Agile super interesting and want to learn more about them. I have a long-standing interest in freelancing and people who “do things differently”. I’m interested in understanding how we can work and be happy, both. I’m also realising that I have more community management skills than I take credit for.

In the pile of books I brought up with me to the chalet, next to “Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do” by my friend Euan Semple and books around freelancing there is “Delivering Happiness“, the story of Zappos, and “One From Many“, the story of VISA, the “chaordic organisation” — and “Rework” (37signals) has now joined the ranks of the “have read” books in my bookshelves.

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La pile de livres aspirationnelle: se construire un champ des possibles [fr]

[en] About the aspirational pile of books that I brought to the chalet with me.

Note: comme la plupart des billets que je publie ces jours, celui-ci a été écrit hors ligne durant ma petite retraite à la montagne.

Je suis au chalet, avec deux chats et une pile de livres, de quoi lire pendant probablement un mois. Une bonne douzaine. OK, un mois en ne faisant que lire.

J’en suis au premier bouquin que j’ai pris sur la pile. Entre-temps, j’ai quand même passé une demi-journée à trier/organiser mes photos (j’ai pris mon disque dur externe exprès) et je suis maintenant en train de rédiger mon 7e (septième!) article pour Climb to the Stars en quelques heures.

Pourquoi diable monter tant de livres pour quelques jours seulement? Je me suis posé la question. Je me la suis d’autant plus posé qu’on a abordé récemment avec Evren la question de la pile aspirationnelle de “choses à lire plus tard”. Je ne me leurre pas: cette pile de livres est totalement aspirationnelle.

Précisons tout de même que j’ai loué une voiture pour ma petite retraite à la montagne, ce qui me permet de ne pas trop me soucier du poids excédentaire de mes aspirations.

En fait, ce à quoi j’aspire, avec cette pile de livres, mon ordi plein de photos à trier, et mes doigts pleins d’articles à taper, c’est aussi le choix, le possible. Je veux être ici au chalet avec le choix de mes lectures, et non pas limitée et contrainte par un choix fait avant de venir.

Alors j’amène plus de livres que je ne peux lire. J’élargis un peu le choix. Je me laisse la liberté de suivre mon humeur. De butiner. C’est ce que je cherche un peu, ici loin de tout.

Chez moi, c’est un peu la même chose. Il y a dans ma bibliothèque plein de livres que je n’ai pas vus. Dans ma DVD-thèque (oui, encore, je sais) plein de films et de séries à regarder encore. Dans mon étagère vitrée, une bonne trentaine de thés.

Je veux être dans un contexte où j’ai le choix. Je peux sur un coup de tête lire ceci ou cela. Les habits et les chaussures, c’est sans doute la même chose — et les réserves dans le garde-manger.

Mais si on a lu The Paradox of Choice, on sait que cette liberté, ce choix ouvert auquel on aspire, eh bien il peut aussi être contre-productif. A trop devoir choisir on se fatigue. Trop de possibilités, ça angoisse.

On n’utilise qu’une petite partie des choix à notre disposition, et le reste pèse sur notre conscience. Ça me fait penser à cette étude où l’on demandait aux gens de planifier leurs menus sur un mois, et on comparait ensuite avec ce qu’ils mangeaient réellement. Pas trop de surprise: les menus “réels” étaient bien plus répétitifs que les menus théoriques. On croit qu’on va vouloir de la variété, mais en réalité, on aime aussi la répétition.

L’autre chose à laquelle ça me fait penser, cette histoire de pile aspirationnelle, c’est la bibliothèque d’Umberto Eco, dont il est question si ma mémoire ne me fait pas défaut dans “A Perfect Mess“, le parfait livre-compagnon à The Paradox of Choice cité plus haut. (Si c’est pas dans A Perfect Mess, c’est peut-être dans The Black Swan, autre livre indispensable.)

La bibliothèque la plus intéressante, c’est celle qui regorge de livres encore-non-lus. C’est elle qui contient peut-être le livre qui va bouleverser notre vie, mais qu’on n’a pas encore lu. (Plus j’y pense, plus il me semble que ça vient de The Black Swan, ce que je raconte.) Le potentiel pour le changement radical réside dans ce que l’on ne connaît pas encore.

Bon, ça rime à quoi, tout ça? Dans cette pile aspirationnelle, il y a plusieurs niveaux:

  • on aspire à un état où l’on aurait lu tout ça
  • on aspire à une liberté de choix qui, poussée à l’extrême, serait paralysante
  • on aspire à une vie où on aurait le temps de lire tout ça (le livre comme métaphore du temps de libre — même si on sait qu’on se prive activement d’avoir le temps de faire tout ce qu’on ferait si seulement on avait plus de temps)

En résumé: quatre jours au chalet, ce n’est pas assez!

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Here Comes Everybody: Organisations and Transaction Costs [en]

[fr] Je lis "Here Comes Everybody" et je blogue mes notes. Un deuxième chapitre fascinant (en tous cas pour moi) sur les coûts organisationnels.

In an effort to be a better reader, here are some notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Making a decision inside a large unstructured group is hopeless, as you’ve most certainly experienced if you’ve found yourself caught up in a spontaneous “dinner party group” of 15 people or so at the end of a conference (a larger group is more complex). What ends up happening is that somebody steps up and seizes power, either by dictating a venue and giving marching orders, or proposing a decision-making process for the group. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet that some group members will get tired of the situation and head off in their own separate sub-groups, in which it was possible to reach an agreement for action more easily. (I personally usually end up playing “friendly dictator”.)

“More is different” (Philip Anderson, 1972). Aggregates exhibit novel properties which their components did not have. Scale changes the nature of things. This is super important.

At some point of group size, it becomes very costly to maintain connection between each member of the group, and so the “everybody interacting with everybody” dynamic of a small group breaks down. Add more employees to a late project and it will make it even later, because more people involved means higher cost of coordination for the group (Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). But it’s an inevitable problem: large groups have to be managed in some way, and that’s why people gather together into organisations.

A hierarchical structure simplifies communication between organisation members, but also requires resources to maintain itself. This means that job number one of any organisation is self-preservation, as if it breaks down there is no way in which it can fulfil its stated mission.

Preserving the organisation requires work, and comes at a cost. It’s worth it as long as this cost is lower than the gain from having an organisation (i.e., the organisation allows us to do stuff that would not be possible in an open market of individuals, who would all have to independently agree on how to work together: higher transaction costs).

The Coasean ceiling (Ronald Coase, 1937, The Nature of the Firm): when the organisation grows so much that the cost of managing the business destroys any profit margin. There is a cost whether your hierarchy is flat or deep: if it’s flat, each manager has more subordinates, and so has to spend more time communicating with other people; if it’s deep, there are more layers, and information has to transit through more people.

The first org chart, probably: Western Railroad (McCallum, 1855 or so). It’s a management system designed, amongst other things, to produce “such information, to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks, that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.” No wonder the head so often seems disconnected from the hands and feet in the organisation!

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