Reclaiming Conversation and Culture

1998 isn’t that long ago; ok it’s 18 years but it was the first time I visited San Francisco.  It was then  the most beautiful, vibrant, engaging and creative city I’d ever clapped eyes on.  When I think of the place I think of great punk rock bands like Rancid, Jawbreaker, Green Day, the fantastic City Lights bookshop, Amoeba records in Haight Ashbury, Sushi Castro, Zeitgeist, Citizen Cake…the list goes on.  I now have family living there so I drop in from time to time but rarely find myself as excited as I was back in ’98.

The gentrification of San Francisco is driving the creative and artistic side of town out to more affordable areas.  The hip areas are now inhabited by the equally creative technology professionals.  In 2010 I visited a café that made a big impression on my fist visit and was horrified to see that the life had been sucked out of it.  The place was full, but the majority of patrons were alone and gazing like Zombies at their MacBook Air’s or iPhones.  I struggled to reconcile the almost morbid atmosphere with the loud, brash and irreverent establishment I’d encountered 12 years earlier.

41ixPNQCjeL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Bit by bit over the last few years I’ve begun to make a connection.  Anybody who visits this site will know that I enjoy Nicholas Carr’s writing on how evolving technology is impacting on us, and not always for the better.  I recently finished reading Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age and reckon it could be one of the most important books published in the last decade.   There is far too much in the book to discuss in this piece but I’ll address a number of areas that resonated with me.

Take this quote from a young man who would rather talk to someone via text message as it gives him the best chance of editing himself.

“Someday, someday soon, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

Horrifying.  But today there are countless teenagers and young adults who no longer have the ability to sit down, look somebody in the eye and have a good old stoush over something that’s bugging them.  Instead they prefer to sit in different rooms and sort out their issues via sms or Whatsapp.

Turkle conjures up other remarkable quotes from people whose interactions have changed dramatically as a result of technology.  Here’s another clanger:

“What would be the value proposition of disagreeing with each other face-to-face?”

Somehow I don’t think that Sherry Turkle went off and crunched the numbers on the “business case” for that one.

People are no longer comfortable sitting on their own in a quiet moment and digesting various aspects or issues in their lives.  Instead they tend to reach for the phone and go to Facebook, twitter or a news feed.  This has led to “a loss of empathy and a diminished capacity for self-reflection” which seems to inhibit our creativity.  Turkle supports this with a quote from Picasso who said that “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

Having worked in some very high-pressure environments with self-styled creatives I’ve rarely witnessed something genuinely ground-breaking or unique being produced.  More often than not the end-result is stock and no different from the competition, and that’s largely down to the fact that the people have very little time to themselves to think in an “always on” professional environment.

Many people feel that one of the primary benefits of being able to readily access information online is that they are no longer obliged to practice and learn things off by heart.  They no longer look to read passages of text or news articles in depth preferring to scan and get the general gist of the content.  It’s a practice known as “grazing”.  The main problem with grazing, according to Turkle is that “it makes it hard to develop a narrative to frame events.”

Turkle introduces the reader to a graduate student who noted that relying on e-memory meant that she did not retain enough information to contribute to a class discussion when she left her computer and notebook at home.

“Having access to information is always wonderful, but without having at least some information retained in my brain, I am not able to build on those ideas or connect them together to form new ones.”

There are some tasks in life that require embodied learning, and nobody wants to have to Google CPR on their iPhone next time some next to them has a heart attack.

With the advent of blogging and online news many find themselves as equally

Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle

drawn to the below-the-line comments as much as the actual article itself.   The comments are more often than not a mix of sagacious comment, encouragement and downright nastiness.   I don’t have any access to research on below-the-line commentary but have noticed that there seems to be a direct relationship between nastiness and anonymity.   The ability to remain anonymous through technology seems to dehumanise and leave people feeling that there is no need to be accountable for anything they say.  For this reason I tend to avoid below-the-line commentary, and whenever I feel the urge to have a peak will only read those where there’s a full name displayed.

In a discussion with a lecturer in MIT about a lecture where students were able to comment electronically about the content presented the lecturer said that “anonymity flattened out the discussion…Real people have real concerns and interests…But once the questions are turned into a flat stream of questions and comments without faces…you end up not caring about them.  You care about a question when you know whose question it is.  A question that doesn’t come from a person – it’s only half a question.”  Food for thought then for online editors in the media.  Is there any real value in enabling below the line commentary, and if you feel there is why not adopt a standard whereby only genuine people with rigorously verified identities are able to comment.

As a management consulting professional I’ve observed how technology has diminished organisational relationships both internally and externally through diminished conversations and co-ordination.  Turkle doesn’t delve as deeply into the world of work as I had hoped but then again she could get another book out of that topic alone.

The author isn’t anti-technology and acknowledges that it’s here to stay but it’s well worth examining how it is affecting how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the world around us.  How we deal with its impact on our creativity and relationships will take time and could be addressed in a fashion similar to how we deal with issues like speeding traffic or alcohol.  Handle with appropriate consideration, respect and care!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

What’s In a Name?

Lamnos-logo

So, what’s in a name?  A number of people have asked me recently how I came up with the name Lamnos for my business.  I didn’t want the name to sound like I’d lifted it from someone else.  Also I’ve always found myself cringing at the names of technology and consulting companies that sound as though they’re named after characters in crappy sci-fi movies.

Place has always been important to me, and I figured that if I was going to work in the consulting space for the rest of my life I may as well come up with a name that sounded organic and that I could live with – never mind my clients.  I looked into the history of where I’m from in North County Dublin, paying particular interest to local townlands that I hadn’t come across before.  I also had a look at the area my mother is from in East Galway.  Nothing was grabbing me until I was out on a run between Malahide and Portmarnock.  I’ve spent a good chunk of my life admiring the sea views along that stretch and if there’s a better view on the south-side of Dublin, well I haven’t seen it.  A mate from Belgium visited in the late nineties and was convinced that the vista was more spectacular than those he’d been admiring on the French Riviera a few weeks beforehand.

I’m a keen sea-swimmer and love looking over towards Lambay Island on a sunny day as I swim from High Rock to Low Rock or Portmarnock Beach.  I was disappointed but not surprised that someone else had got to the name Lambay Consulting before I did.  I decided to dig a little deeper to see if there was anything else associated with the island that would appeal.  Reachrainn the Irish name for Lambay seemed a bit of a mouthfull.  On reading a history of the island I discovered that the ancient Greek writers Pliny and Ptolemy were familiar with the island – how they were, I don’t know – and referred to it as Limnus or Limni.  From this I engaged in what James Altucher would crudely refer to as “idea-sex” , took the “Lam” from Lambay, added the “nus” from Limnus, dropped the “u” and added an “o.”

Lamnos! Voila!

Lambay as seen in the distance from Malahide
Lambay as seen in the distance from Malahide

Learning from General Petraeus (Part 3)

The “customer experience” approach was necessary if the U.S. army were ever going to get the Iraqi people to trust them.  It’s an approach that goes back a long way as Jean Larteguy’s novel The Centurions illustrates.  The novel focuses on the experience of a number of French officers captured by the Vietminh at Dien Bein Phu in 1954.  According to Thomas Powers the French had a similar approach to the Americans in that “they believed that firepower, mobility, and professional soldiering would beat any ragtag army of guerrillas.  But Pierre Raspeguy, the hero of The Centurions if there is one, listened to the Vietminh in Camp One and absorbed their rule number one. “You’ve got to have the people on your side,” he said, “if you want to win a war.”

The People Are the Prize

In The Insurgents Fred Kaplan tells a story that describes the typical U.S. army officer mindset prior to Petraeus’s ascent. During a TheCenturions_covertraining exercise carried out in 1991 a captain and his officers were to enter a village in order to capture a sniper who had killed one of the soldiers.  “The captain had decided to accomplish this mission by storming the village before daylight, guns cocked, pounding down doors, dragging the local men out of their houses, locking them in handcuffs, and interrogating them harshly, all while their families watched in horror.  Of course he came up with nothing.”  When the British officer carrying out the review informed him that his approach was the type that alienates people and creates more insurgents the captain blurted “Lookit!…My job is not to deal with this people thing!  My job is to kill the enemy.”  It was an approach that was apparent on the ground during the first four years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. General Jack Keane, one of Petraeus’s main sponsors, said as much to General Ray Odierno on the outskirts of a cordoned off village in 2003: “What’s going on here Ray? We’re breeding an insurgency here.  We’ve got to see the people as part of the solution.”

While an organisational change project is nowhere near as messy as trying to counter insurgency it’s noteworthy how many of them falter as they disregard the people involved.  Throughout the course of my own career I’ve seen change initiatives falter and peter out as a result of an arrogant “Let’s Invade Poland and show them who knows best” mentality that gives little or no consideration to those on the ground.  If leaders do not have the foresight and skill to build up a groundswell of opinion across the board that what they wish to do is a good thing for all concerned they are in trouble and can expect their own little insurgencies.

Present Shock

Continuing with the organisational change theme many change managers will be aware that nowadays with shorter business cycles and executives focused on delivering good news to the City or Wall Street every quarter there is little or no focus on delivery in the medium or long term.  There seems to be no focus on the future, it’s now or nothing.

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff traces the shift in focus from the future to the present to the “anti-climax of the  Millenium.”  In the recently published Present Shock (2013) he tells us that “something did shift that night as we went from years with 19’s to those with 20’s.  All the looking forward slowed down.  The leaning into the future became more of standing up to the present.  People stopped thinking about where things were going and started to consider where things were…In the financial world, for example, an investment’s future value began to matter less than its current value.  Just ten weeks into the millennium, the major exchanges were peaking with the tech-heavy and future-focused NASDAQ reaching its all-time high, over 5,100 points.  Then the markets started down – and have never quite recovered.  Although this was blamed on the dot.com bubble, the market’s softening had nothing to do with digital technologies actually working (or not) and everything  to do with a larger societal shift away from future expectations and instead toward current value.  When people stop looking to the future, they start looking at the present.  Investments begin to matter less for what they might someday be worth, because people are no longer thinking so much about “someday” as they are today.”

0313_PresentShock-XL
Present Shock

In their own way some members of the U.S. army seemed to be aware of this phenomenon and were able to relate it to their own precarious situation in Iraq.  Major Joel Rayburn , who served under Petraeus acolyte and counterinsurgency enthusiast H.R. McMaster in Tal Afar in 2005, is credited with this gem: “You know, house guests are like fish…They stink after two or three days.  We’ve been in Iraq for three years now, and we’re starting to stink.”  Petraeus supported this militaristic version of present shock when he stressed that “every army of liberation has a half-life before it becomes an army or occupation.”

A globalised and social media dominated society exacerbates this sense of present shock.  In The Accidental Guerilla David Kilcullen describes this phenomenon when he writes of the impossibility for governments and organisations to achieve “message unity” due to the fact that “under globalised conditions the media space is a domain, an ecosystem, or even a battle space, filled with dozens of independent, uncoordinated, competing, and conflicting entities rather than a single actor or audience…almost all of them outside the control of governments and media corporations.”

Long-Term Commitment

This need for an almost immediate impact must be balanced against an equally important need to demonstrate long term commitment as the population are unlikely to support the counterinsurgent unless they are sure that he is going to hang around until it’s all over.   The population are worried about retribution for collaboration with the occupier.  The dilemma was spelled out by one intelligence officer in Iraq when he said “we secure a town but after we leave, some of our informants are killed by the insurgents; that is a problem.”

David Gallula
David Gallula

Lieutenant Colonel David Gallula served in China, Greece, Indochina, and Algeria for the French Army.  His book Counterinsurgency Warfare is regarded as a classic of the genre.  Here he describes the dilemma encountered by the occupied population as both insurgent and counterinsurgent battle for hearts and minds.

“Contact with the population, is actually the first confrontation between the two camps for power over the population.  The future attitude of the population, hence the probable outcome of the war, is at stake.  The counterinsurgent cannot afford to lose this battle…The battle happens because the population, which was until recently under the insurgent’s open control and probably still is under his hidden control through the existing political cells, cannot cooperate spontaneously even if there is every reason to believe that a majority is sympathetic to the counterinsurgent.”

For change managers it’s worth considering how to build trust in the communities they are working in and also how to protect those who support their initiatives, especially if the project is in danger of being shelved.

Dogma

Petraeus took command of operations in Afghanistan in July 2010.  This time he was unable to work the miracles he had in Iraq.  According to Fred Kaplan this  was down to the primitive nature of the country, which had a scattered and rural population which the corrupt Karzai government could only govern through political patronage, a primitive economy which arrested the rise of an entrepreneurial class, and a long border with Pakistan whose leaders were assisting the rules-for-radicalsinsurgency.  Kaplan points the finger at Petraeus for being over-prescriptive in the application of counterinsurgency doctrine when it really only was “a technique and not a grand strategy.”  Through hubris and inertia Petraeus, he feels, allowed the counterinsurgency doctrine to become a one-size-fits-all universal dogma.

How many leaders have ruined organisations or projects because of their overriding and toxic belief that there is only one way to get things done?  On that final note it’s worth remembering what the political activist Saul Alinsky said of dogma in Rules for Radicals (1971).

“I detest and fear dogma.  I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on.  That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic.  Dogma is the enemy of human freedom.  Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement.  The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.”

The Customer is Now in Complete Control

Social Media

You may be humming and hawing over your organisation adopting a social media presence. You’ve seen an injudicious tweet smash the reputation of well-established businesses, ruin the electoral chances of a candidate in the Irish Presidential elections and scuttle the commercial prospects of an otherwise solid film on opening weekend. With this in mind, why risk it?

It’s virtually impossible to manage the message given the top-down industrial model practiced by business and politicians for generations is now dead. They are no longer in control of the message. The electorate and the customer are.

In The Accidental Guerrilla David Kilcullen, counterinsurgency theorist and adviser to General David Petraeus during the Iraq War troop surge of 2007, wrote of the impossibility for governments and organisations to achieve “message unity” due to the fact that “under globalised conditions the media space is a domain, an ecosystem, or even a battle space, filled with dozens of independent, uncoordinated, competing, and conflicting entities rather than a single actor or audience…almost all of them outside the control of governments and media corporations.”

Previously a good PR would be able to nip a problem in the bud. The problem according to media theorist Douglas Rushkoff is that “now there’s no bud, just pollen.” Try controlling that Alasdair Campbell.

Douglas Rushkoff
In Present Shock (2013) Rushkoff explains that in the past feedback used to follow after a decent interval. A company could launch a product and see how it did over an entire season. The gradual feedback would help it to adapt and plan for the next season. Nowadays feedback is swirling around minutes after launch. In How (2007), Dov Seidman, a management consultant who specialises in designing ethical business practices, writes that in the United States ”40% of teens and young adults share their opinions during viewing , right afterwards, or on the same day they see a film…Instant communication can build an almost immediate national consensus about a film, creating an instant hit or dooming it to a quick DVD release almost before opening weekend is over…in other words you no longer define yourself in the market; the market defines you.”

The problem with this according to Douglas Rushkoff is that “when feedback comes instantaneously and from all sides at once, it’s hard to know how people are reacting to what we are doing – or what we’re doing that they’re even reacting to…any single Tweet can mushroom into a cacophony. Ideation, corporate culture, development, production, branding, consumer research, and sales all become part of an iterative, circular equation where causes and effects can no longer be parsed. When feedback comes through the cycle in that uncontrollable way, it’s like putting that microphone next to the speaker amplifying its own signal. All you get is screech. You don’t know where to stand to make it stop.”

The only time I give two hoots about my utility supplier is when they don’t do their job. I don’t care about their great stories and what Stephen in accounts is doing at the weekend. And this is the thing, we don’t really care about you or your messaging until you offer us something interesting or upset us. Once you upset us we go online and bitch about you to our mates. If I find out that you’re pumping raw sewage into a river or that you’ve lied to me about where your trainers are made I’m going to complain, then I’m going to tell my friends, and then everyone on Twitter.

One term that has always bugged me is “Customer Delight.” I love Financial Times journalist Lucy Kellaway’s quest to get rid of what she calls “Management Guff” or more simply “bullshit” from the commercial lexicon. Her annual “Guff Awards” column is always an entertaining read. Companies feel that they “delight” customers by providing service that exceed their expectations. This is a bit extreme. Fine, I’m going to be satisfied if my utility supplier does their job and fixes my meter when they say they will, but is it really going to move me as much as a Neil Young, Bob Dylan or Clash album? No way. Will a company providing an excellent payments service cause me to jump around in raptures like the Irish rugby team did when they won the Six Nations Championship last Saturday? No, and it never will – anyone who says otherwise needs to get a grip. If I’m not thinking about you, you’re probably doing a good job.

According to Rushkoff the pattern of engagement is almost entirely peer-to-peer or horizontal. Consumers or constituents after the initial rant aren’t interested in having a conversation with the organisation, but with their friends. This doesn’t mean that you go off-line and stick your head in the sand as there’s far too much at stake. A large organisation can engage online to help solve a customer’s problem. For instance, after a recent twitter rant about my broadband, my utility provider engaged with me and helped resolve the issue with minimum fuss.

Smaller and more niche outlets such as specialist bike shops or watch makers can use vertical engagement across social media to engage consumers in a way that larger businesses can’t. If Jimmy’s Bike Shop is one of the main outlets selling Felt or Cervelo bikes and I’m an enthusiast, then I want to know. I’m going to engage online about various models and other accessories and again I’m going to let my mates know too.

Dov Seidman feels that the best strategy for companies in this transparent age is to be ethical and “walk the talk”. It’s fine to tweet or blog about innovation and new products launches, but do so in a way that assists the consumer in making an informed choice. Rushkoff agrees and says that “instead of simply responding to feedback from consumers or constituents, institutions contending with a peer-to-peer mediaspace must stop “messaging” and instead just give people the fact and fuel they need to engage with one another in a manner that helps everyone…this means abandoning communications as some separate task, and instead just doing all the right things that you want talked about.”

In 2011’s Irish presidential election campaign Seán Gallagher presented himself as an independent candidate and downplayed his history as an active member of Fianna Fáil – the party whose actions many hold responsible for Ireland’s current economic woes.

Gallagher – a driven but likeable sort – was coasting to victory three days out from the election before being ambushed on RTÉ’s Frontline by Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness about a cheque that Gallagher allegedly received from a business man for a Fianna Fáil fundraiser. This coupled with a “tweet” which came from a twitter account seemingly linked to Martin McGuinness’s presidential campaign put Gallagher under inordinate pressure on live television and he buckled. It was later discovered that the twitter account was not connected to either McGuinness or Sinn Féin.

It’s obvious that a decision was taken in the early stages of Gallagher’s campaign to practically bury his Fianna Fáil background. In today’s information age it’s virtually impossible to suppress anything and sooner or later Gallagher’s active involvement with Fianna Fáil was bound to come to the fore. More transparency from the outset allied to what was otherwise an impressive and positive campaign would probably have seen Gallagher home.

Richard Moore, his press advisor, moaned after the toothpaste was out of the tube about the tweet being “earth shattering,” but once Gallagher hit the front the next to unbearable scrutiny of his past was inevitable, and the coyness about his political heritage inexcusable. That tweet may have been in fifth-class mail but it was going to arrive sometime. It was enough to sway the Irish electorate, who got busy on Twitter and Facebook, and Gallagher having been destined for a long stay on the big screen was relegated to an early DVD release.

Simon Geraghty of Dot Dash, A Modern Marketeer

“The modern marketeer has to be one part-journalist, one part-strategist, and one part­-grafter.”

-Simon Geraghty

Towards the end of his time working with O2 Simon was torn as to whether to continue working as a marketeer in the tech sector, returning to the agency world where he had cut his teeth for the initial six years of his advertising/marketing career, or else striking out on his own.   He had noticed in focus group after focus group that a large number of businesses were crying out for marketing help in the digital space.   They may have had nice websites but were unsure what to do with them next.  This was the only market research he needed to be convinced that there was a business in delivering these services to smaller business on an outsourced consultancy basis.

In summer 2011 in the middle of the most severe recession Ireland has experienced in over a generation he decided to set up his own business.

Why set up your own business now?

There are a lot of benefits in setting up your own business but I guess the biggest one is getting to shape something in your own image. You get control over all aspects of the business: company namelogo, website, pitches, networking and sales; that was really refreshing after working in the corporate world for so long.

You also get to put your own ideas into practice. Ideas aren’t that easy to come by, and it’s always better to regret something you have done rather than something you haven’t…. Getting a redundancy settlement also helped!

What does Dot Dash do?

We offer outsourced marketing services to the SME market.  The ideal candidates for Dot Dash are principally companies with less than fifty employees who don’t currently have an in-house marketing department.  Our main focus is in the digital and social media sphere.  We do a lot of work with companies who already have websites, and want to up their publicity through improved search engine rankings, particularly via their social activity, thereby improving sales. It’s about helping them optimise the content, keeping their website fresh, and making sure it’s easy to find.

How are the traditional agencies managing the transition to the digital age?

It’s a time of massive change for them and different agencies are coming at it from different angles.  Public relations companies are tapping into the blogging aspect as a means of communicating out to the press.  The below the line businesses are seeing their traditional “by-mail” business transform into an email-based business.

The creative agencies have no choice but to be more au fait with the digital space and move away from grabbing a still from their TV ad and start to build campaigns where digital is no longer an after-thought.  The media agencies are the front runners in driving spend down through the digital channel, however trading desks at the leading social and search companies. I think there is a blurring of lines between the agencies, those that are tackling the changed environment head-on will thrive while those that don’t will start to fade away.

How do you see the marketing space evolving in the coming years?

There are going to be significantly more outsourced opportunities for marketeers.  We’re already seeing a pattern of some of the larger brands beginning to run their Irish marketing out of the UK.  As a result there’s also a noticeable trend of bringing in local experts on a project by project basis rather than have them as full time employees. Ultimately, I believe the enterprise clients will run their main message out of Europe or the UK, and have out-sourced partners to run their local campaigns.

Dot Dash isn’t currently pitched towards larger enterprise clients, our target market is the smaller businesses that want to publicise themselves but do not have the capacity to hire somebody for that function on a full time basis.

What tools do you need to do your job?

I keep investment in tools to the minimum as the less I pay for them, the lower the fees I charge my clients.  I use WordPress as a blogging and web-design tool and have a designer who is proficient in adapting the available themes and skins to my clients’ needs.  TweetDeck and HootSuite are great for managing a number of social media accounts at one time, but I think there’s a need to develop a more all-encompassing dashboard for businesses. This tool would look after content curation, response, and the overall community monitoring piece.  For my own office based needs I use a lot of Google products (calendar, docs, gmail).

Companies are looking to tap into and leverage free tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook but often don’t have the time or the expertise in how to engage meaningfully with them. Dot Dash will show companies how they can use these powerful tools to publicise their businesses.

Ireland 2012, austerity, doom and gloom in the newspapers. How do you find it as a place to do business?

There’s a good energy out there.  A lot of people have tuned out from the negative message although you wouldn’t know that to look at some of the newspapers.  But I think day-to-day anyone who is running a business just has to get on with it.  People in the start-up space are rolling up their sleeves and are looking to do it for themselves rather than moaning or waiting for the banks and the government.  There are an enormous amount of great conferences, networking opportunities, and forums that people can tap into and energise themselves. The Archie Talks series is a great example of this type of event.

What do you think is the main difference between our current recession and the one in the 80’s?

We now have the ability to serve a more global market, whereas twenty years ago we would have been quite insular and have been reliant on the local market. The physical limitations imposed by being an island are no longer the constraints they once were.  It is now much easier for businesses that are manufacturing or creating software to tap into markets globally.  this provides opportunities for partners who work with these sectors.

There is also the enormous growth in Web 2.0 sector locally as an employer (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter still to come). As long as we can keep our keen Corporation tax levels in place then the ability to attract and keep these HQ’s in Ireland will continue, this in turn will yield enormous dividends to the economy on a whole range of levels.

As a child of punk rock what are you listening to now?

I find reggae is great background working music, as well as old soul and funk.  I’m also enjoying Ty Segall, Jacques Dutronc, Tinariwen, Deerhunter along with some of the newer psychedelic stuff coming out of the States at the moment. The National is as mainstream as it gets for me.

Watching?

I’m really enjoying Bored To Death with Ted Danson and the guy from the Hangover, as well as The Wire (I finally got my hands on the box-set).  I’m waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones and Walking Dead to come out and am about to start streaming Empire Boardwalk.

Reading?

I’ve a voracious appetite for anything that’s written in the digital marketing and technology space and I spend far too much time reading Mashable, Wired, The Next Web, Fast Company, Inc and TechCrunch.

For more see: www.dotdash.ie

Q&A with Jonathan Campbell of Social Talent

In 2008 Jonathan Campbell returned to Ireland following a stint heading up an international recruitment firm based in the Cayman Islands.  He’d worked as a recruiter for his entire 14 year career and had agreed to set up Select People, an offshore recruitment firm, with Corkman  Vincent O’ Donoghue.  A month after they started Lehman Brothers collapsed and six months later their business was on the verge of going under.

They took remedial action, cut sponsorships and subscriptions to job boards, and stopped advertising in the local press.  They discovered that the only jobs that companies were willing to pay a fee for were those that were very difficult to fill.  Candidates for these roles were unlikely to use job boards or respond to newspaper ads.

Out of necessity Campbell, who has always had a keen interest in technology, started to experiment with LinkedIn and bit by bit he learned to find candidates using online technologies.

So what happened?

The economy forced us to change and we changed.  All of a sudden we realised that this worked.  We didn’t need our own database, we didn’t need to advertise, there was more than enough information online to help us to network, get a lead, and find somebody for a job.  We started making placements and we started surviving.

If things hadn’t gone south in 2008 do you think you would still be doing what you were doing?

Yes.

And you wouldn’t have eventually moved towards social recruiting?

No, I wouldn’t have needed to.  I may have dabbled in it perhaps but most recruiters and most business that are making money don’t change.  They’ll usually wait for something or someone to kick them in the arse.

You’re spending more time training other companies on how to use online technologies to recruit than actually recruiting.  How did that happen?

I enjoy networking and at various events and meetings I started telling other recruiters what we were doing as a business.   They listened to us because as an Irish company not recruiting in Ireland, and focusing only on the offshore market, they felt we weren’t a threat. At the time most of the agencies we were talking to were either letting staff go or closing down.  The market shrunk by 60% in Ireland alone during 2008 /2009.

As they realised that what we were doing was working they asked us to teach them how to do it.  When you’re a recruiter and running your own business you don’t have time to do anything else but place candidates.

In 2008 if someone had shown us how to do this as opposed to slowly learning over 2 years and making loads of mistakes before we finally got it right we’d have happily paid money for it.  In the end it was obvious that there was a business in training others how to use online tools to recruit and we decided to create Social Talent.

What is social recruiting?

Social recruiting is simply using online technologies to recruit more efficiently.  There are two components.

1.  Finding information online, using online tools that leads you to headhunt candidates at a very low cost.

2. Using the same online tools to brand and build an awareness of yourself as a recruiter within a market or niche so that you are known as the “go to guy” for legal jobs in say Toronto.

Previously most of that stuff would have been outsourced, you would have to slowly build your own database, or you would have had to hire your own marketing person. These were the kind of things that only rich companies could afford.

“Social” is the buzzword or “catch all” phrase  that is thrown about, but along with using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter social recruiting also involves using webinar software, improving how email is used, better document storage, and better marketing techniques

 Are the days of traditional agency recruitment over?

No they’re not.  Mass advertising and marketing methods to attract candidates no longer work.  They have been on the wane over the last decade.  Putting an ad online gets applicants but the wrong ones.  In fact if you put an ad in a newspaper there’s a good chance you won’t get anyone.

10 years ago newspaper recruitment advertising died and we all moved to job boards.  Anybody could put an ad on a job board so agency clients all of a sudden could go to the exact same source, pay the same fee, and get the same candidates coming to them.  The benefit of an agency is not just the supply of those candidates.  It’s the supply of the right candidate at the right time, vetted with authority, and it’s also the networking that that person does in the industry and the knowledge that person builds up on that industry.

The big threat to the recruitment agency model at the moment is LinkedIn.   LinkedIn view agencies as a competitor.  They offer a completely different product set to corporates and have no interest in the agency model.  They sell services to agencies by telling them that they can save agency fees by doing it themselves.

The problem is that as an in-house recruiter who has to recruit sales, legal, technology, and engineering people, having a million names doesn’t get the perfect shortlist of five people who will come and interview with you, and crucially the one person who is going to take that job.  The recruiter’s job is to disseminate down to that perfect shortlist, knowing who to look for, knowing the skills, and the right questions to ask.  Those fundamentals aren’t going to go away and will still be here in twenty years’ time.

 What are your views on social media and privacy?

Privacy on the web is a myth.  You can modify your Facebook or Twitter settings as much as you like but someone out there will always find a way to bypass them and get your data.  Rather than worrying about your privacy you should be worrying about the quality of the information that’s online.  If you have a Facebook profile that only shows you drunk at the weekend that’s your choice but make sure you also show photos of you in a business context and include information about your success at work.  When someone does eventually find your drunken photos they will hopefully be only a tiny part of your overall digital profile, the majority of which is you being a really good professional talking about what you do and networking within your industry.  I see online profiling as an opportunity and privacy is a myth.

Even if you don’t have an online profile?

Everybody has an online profile whether they like it or not.  A friend of mine who doesn’t have a Facebook account and barely returns texts wagered me that I couldn’t find him online.  I found his photograph online on a trade magazine website.  He was at a golfing event with one of his clients.  His name, job title, and employer were listed at the bottom of the photo.  That’s enough for me as a recruiter to say “that’s a guy who could do this job as his title is right, his industry is right, and I know his name.”  That’s enough for me to track him down, contact him, and ask him if he’s interested in the job.  So whether you like it or not you are online, your profile is out there.

 How is Ireland as a place to do business in 2012?

Ireland infrastructurally isn’t bad but it needs a big improvement in the area of wireless access to the internet.  It’s not as ubiquitous as it should be.   People should be able to get high speed access to the internet everywhere in Dublin.  Time magazine cited it as the one big let-down of Dublin as a city to visit.

Otherwise Ireland is fantastic.  We have a bustling venture capital sector that we never had before and Dublin is almost unique among European cities in that it has this culture.  Some of the world’s most successful business people now have venture capital operations based in Cork, Kerry, or Dublin and are willing to invest heavily in Irish companies that could be the next big start up.

It’s the home of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, PayPal, and Microsoft.   You can rub shoulders with senior executives from these companies at local conferences; people that you would usually only be able to rub shoulders with in Silicon Valley.  In fact it’s the Silicon Valley of Europe.  On Monday we met with an organisation about funding our international expansion.  We were able to have an informal chat over coffee with three successful entrepreneurs who gladly gave us great advice for free.  You can’t do that in many other European cities.

That’s a different take on the landscape to what we’re fed by the media.

The newspapers are always talking about what the government are doing.  Who cares what the government are doing.  It’s what people are doing that matters.  Who can we talk to?  What knowledge can we get?  You can do more yourself because you can talk to somebody who has set up a €200m company from scratch who’s the same age as you over a pint of Guinness.  You don’t get that anywhere else.  There are loads of these people in Dublin.

Any views on the recent Netflix launch?

It’s great that for €6.99 a month you can theoretically watch unlimited movies and TV shows.   It’s a low enough price for people who usually illegally download movies to pay out.   I‘ll happily pay it and feel comfortable that I’m not infringing any copyright law.

I strongly object to having to give out my credit card details for the free trial.  I don’t like giving out my credit card details unless I’m definitely paying for something.  Also they have very poor content on the site.  I went on the other night and found a load of 8 year old movies.  If you are going to launch a product you have to make sure it’s ready and offer the best service possible.  It’s a missed opportunity as many people won’t come back to the site for another year because of the poor content.

What are you listening to at the moment?

I listen to very fast dance music – HedKandi compilations and anything by Groove Armada – when I’m working, which drives my colleagues up the wall.  Florence and the Machine’s new album, Ceremonials, is excellent and I love Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters.

Reading?

I’m reading Free by Chris Anderson.  Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin is dated but it blew my mind.  It took a recession for people to take notice that marketing has changed irrevocably.

Watching?

I’ve just finished the first series of Homeland which was great.  I thought Drive was fantastic, very artistic looking with a great soundtrack.

Thank you Jonathan.

You’re welcome.

Umberto Eco on e-readers

In a recent interview with Stephen Moss of the Guardian Umberto Eco  states that though most die-hard readers will always prefer the “physicality” of a book he’s not opposed to them in principle.

“He has called books “the corridors of the mind” and recently co-wrote an extended love letter to the printed text called This is Not the End of the Book. But that does not make him a digital counter-revolutionary. Indeed, to save having to carry a bag full of books, on this trip he has instead brought along an iPad with 30 titles downloaded. He nevertheless stands by his contention that this is not the end of the book. Reading devices are fine for long journeys and have advantages for reference books, but committed readers will always crave physicality – “not just Peter Pan but my Peter Pan”, as he puts it.”