Homo Imitans. People do what we do, not what we say

The human body has two circulatory systems, the veinous and the lymphatic. They are connected, but largely independent.

Hi Leandro Herrero's latest book, Homo Imitans, reminded me that the body corporate also contains two circulatory systems, the hierarchy and the networks. And, while each plays an important role, the networks – rather like the lymphatic system of the body – have incredible power which is underestimated, if not ignored, in most organisations.

This is a mistake, says Dr Herrero, describing the two systems as 'World I' and 'World II'. His book is mostly about World II, with the occasional nod to the enabling and encouraging role of World I in enlightened organisations.

His fundamental thesis (building on his earlier Viral Change book, which I reviewed here) is that people are more inclined to change their behaviour by copying peers that they respect than commands from on high. And, since behaviour is the only thing that counts when it comes to real change inside organisations, this is where (change) management should be focusing its energies. Dr Herrero gives due credit to authors of social networking books which cover a lot of similar ground, but his talent is in directing his thoughts and guidance slap bang into the heart of organisations that want to change but don't know how. It is also, very occasionally, a 'sell' for his Viral ChangeTM practice, should you not want to go it alone.

Influence travels through networks completely independently of the company hierarchy and, in many cases, without the hierarchy even being aware of what's going on. In an organisational example, we saw it when Greg Dyke left the BBC after the stink around the 'sexing up' of the Iraq dossier – the crowds of staff, some in tears, seemed to appear out of nowhere but they were actually galvanised by the internal network.

In a non-corporate example, the recent rioting and looting in England came about largely through social networking and many people caught up in it were simply copying others who appeared to be 'getting away with it'. (The book contains a very useful 40-page annex which describes in detail many examples of social contagion with references to Dr Herrero's source material. It's called The Human Condition: a guide for the perplexed.)

All of which brings us back to the title of the book (Homo Imitans, if you've forgotten). We see what others do and we copy them. If others who respect or like us, see us doing something in a new way that makes sense to them, they copy us. If just three people copy what 'someone like them' is doing, then it's clear that such a social infection will quickly reach epidemic proportions.

The trick espoused by Dr Herrero is to find those key people in organsiations, wherever they are, and persuade them that a new way of behaving is good for them. (Obviously, it has to be good for the organisation, otherwise there's no point in doing it.) Much has been written about finding such 'champions' but less has been written about focusing on their behaviour.

Words alone are not enough. Dr Herrero likes to collect "Don't do that" posters which usually have little effect but can actually encourage whatever it is they're trying to stop. ("ABUSE OF STAFF WILL NOT BE TOLERATED", etc.) People will respond much more readily to what others do than to what they say.

The book is rich in structure and entertaining in style. It hammers home its messages and suggests new practices from a variety of perspectives. Each chapter reinforces what went before but, maybe because I've spent the the last 35 years as an enthusiast of behavioural psychology and the last seven deep in social networking, I felt I'd well and truly got the message before the end. Nevertheless, I notice I've still made margin notes right up to the last page.

I particularly like his encouraging penultimate paragraph:

"Viral ChangeTM … doesn't depend on behavioural sciences, network theory, social sciences, storytelling and leadership studies. Or even us as consultants!"

Leandro Herrero provides a wealth of persuasive examples and evidence which will help you make the case for socially-driven behavioural change in your own organisation.


Business Writing

A few months ago, I was asked to distil business writing skills into a 30-minute presentation followed by lots of practice. The delegates were managers and team leaders in a large British company. (Not IT or environment, as it happens.)

After much deliberation – cutting is so much harder than adding, I got the presentation down to a core of nine slides:


You can get it/download it from SlideShare.

Hopefully, you'll find the tips helpful but, if you want more, please drop me a line – my name [at] tebbo.com is easiest.

Managing Brand and Reputation in a Social Media World

Last week I co-presented a BrightTALK webinar on the impact of social media on branding and reputation for an audience of media and marketing professionals.

The lead presenter was Cathy Pittham, MD of the European arm of global PR company, the Racepoint Group. (Its chairman, Larry Weber, is something of a new media marketing guru and has been writing books on the subject since before most of us knew it was a subject.)

I went to Cathy because I felt she’d have far more practical advice to offer than I possibly could. After all, I was a bit of an outsider to marketing and PR – mainly an observer or a victim, depending on your point of view. So it ended up becoming ‘her show’ with me asking questions on behalf of the audience.

As we went through the preparation, it became clear to me that operating effectively in the social media world requires many of the hard-won skills from the traditional media world. It also needs a cultural shift by all participants towards openness, giving genuine value and two-way engagement.

Nothing new there, I hear you say. Which is true. Which is why the presentation focuses primarily on what good stuff and processes can be nicked or adapted from tradtional PR and Marketing activities.

As we discussed the powerful combination of traditional and social media techniques, I desperately wracked my brain for a suitable parallel. All I could think of was a nuclear chain reaction, which is triggered by combining two volumes of fissile material to make a single ‘critical mass’.

Which is what led to me slipping this final image into the slide deck.


The webinar (BrightTALK calls it a webcast)  lasts a tad under 45 minutes, unless you skip from slide to slide to make it quicker (and jerkier).

The social media world changes all the time but we hope that this presentation will offer you a durable ‘framework’ for your own planning.

Interactive Infographic: How To Handle The Media

Since 1988, Martin Banks and I have been running media skills training courses. Early on, we introduced an ‘architecture’ for the process. We drew it on flipcharts for a few years then, in 2004, we formalised it and started giving it out as part of our wallet-sized plastic business card. The model acts as an ‘aide memoire’ for all who’ve attended our training.


A few weeks ago, I was rummaging (as you do) some infographics – pictures that speak well over a thousand words – and took a shine to the interactive variety, where the graphic responds to the user’s actions.

I’d just been doing some training work with the Racepoint Group and, coincidentally, one of its US staff Kyle Austin wrote a blog post: Are Infographics the New Slide Shows?  Good point, I thought, having just taken someone through our ‘architecture’.

So I set to work to convert our flat image into something a little more lively. It’s aim is to refresh the memories of those who’ve attended our training and to give others an appreciation of how they might set about handling the media.

The first attempt was an animated .gif file with text boxes to expand on each element of the image. Horrible. Boring. Sequential. No user interaction. Didn’t lend itself to the web. Etc.

I wanted an interactive infographic that would work in more or less any browser and not depend on the presence of JavaScript, Flash or any other kind of plug-in. Just HTML and CSS. (I’d done some simple stuff before, here and here, so I was optimistic that it could be done.)

The second attempt was a graphic that the user could mouse over, highlighting image elements and showing the relevant text in a nearby box. The size was determined by my computer screen, which was a bit stupid because many of the people I’d like to share it with might have a smaller screen – an iPad for example.

So I reworked it with the iPad in mind. The hover can be achieved with a finger, even on the smallest graphical element. And while I was resizing everything, I added drop shadows and rounded corners to the text boxes.

If you’re interested, the end result is at How To Handle The Media


I hope you enjoy it.


PS If anyone wants the gory technical details of how to do this sort of thing, I’ll pen another post. Just ask.

On Style Guides

Neville Hobson blogged today about writing-style guides. And, for those of us with a passion for the written word, we can't get enough of them.

The average business person, though, probably has a different view. This is the essence of the comment I wrote on Neville's post:

People in business want to communicate effectively. Unless they can gather their wits in the first place, then no amount of style is going to rescue them.

Assuming they have got through the wit-gathering stage successfully, they then don't want the hassle of reading fat style guide books. They'll end up confused and worried. Their focus could easily drift away from what they're trying to write to how their writing will appear to the erudite. What matters is how it appears to their target audience.

You're right to distinguish between informal 'social' writing and 'business' writing (thankfully, you've avoided 'academic' writing) but it's probably better to encourage people to shed their inhibitions, than to create new ones.

The bottom line for your readers is, "Don't be intimidated by grammatical rules and the like" and, "Your value is in knowing your subject matter and how it benefits your audience".

If you can speak clearly, then (IMHO) you're ninety percent of the way to being able to write well.

(I will confess to a small amount of editing as I read through the above. The version on Neville's blog was straight off the cuff.)

Media Skills 101 (reprise)

First of all, apologies for radio silence. I’ve been on holiday. Very nice it was too. We hired a motorhome and stayed at four sites in Dorset. We hired the highly specced and almost new vehicle from Ferndown-based Abacus which turned out to be a very professional company. Highly recommended if you fancy that sort of holiday.

Before I get stuck in to blogging again, I thought you might be interested in some posts I wrote over five years ago about handling the press. While a lot of the press appears somewhat emasculated these days and the new media folk are largely more kindly, the suggestions I made then are no less valid for shaping your outlook and approach to the media of any kind.

Unearth, Write, Polish, Share

Well, the die is cast. It took a while but my new life is well and truly sorted out. The idea that I'll spend the rest of my working life helping others to be better communicators feels really good. The ego's parked and the doors are open for business at Tebbo Towers. Actually, the 'Towers' is a joke. I live in a bungalow.

Before I say anything else, I have a ton of 'thank you's and I hereby grovel if I've left anyone off the list. These are to people who, wittingly or not, have helped me gather my thoughts this year: Adriana Lukas, Al Tepper, Anne Marie McEwan, Brian Smithson, Cathy Pittham, Dale Vile, David Terrar, David Topping, Euan Semple, Luis Suarez, Marjolein Hoekstra, Mark Chillingworth, Martin Atherton, Martin Banks, Matthew Pudney, Nick Spencer, Robert Norum, Ronnie Simpson, Sophie Morrow, Tim Lawes, Tom Foremski and Tracey Poulton.

In different ways, whether it was feedback or inspiration, every one of those people has edged me closer to an understanding of what services I should offer and what my website should look like. Along the way, I've tried to give some value back to some of these people. It's been unevenly distributed and, for that, my apologies.

Tom Foremski deserves special mention for his understanding of the role of the organisation in new media terms. His slogan "Every Company Is A Media Company" may still be ahead of its time, even though it's already four or five years old. 

I take the view that we are in a period of transition: some organisations buy into Tom's story and they're out there delivering real value directly through (mainly) new media. Others are holding back and still getting their stories out indirectly through traditional journalists and bloggers. Yet others have a mixed model. No-one knows where this will end. I'd like to think that the value of real journalism will become appreciated once more. But maybe the checks and balances will come from the more responsible parts of the social media world. We'll have to see.

In the meantime, with the help of Tom and others, I have been lucky enough to construct a life that is based on one thing: enabling skilled communication. And, whatever the evolving shape of the media, these skills are universal and perpetual and they apply to other spheres of our lives.

If you have a moment and you're interested getting help with unearthing and sharing your valuable stories, then please drop me a DM, an email or give me a call. The details are on the website at http://www.tebbo.com/. I look forward to hearing from you.

Social networking: an authoritative guide

What does ‘social networking’ mean to you? Loads of users freeloading on the company bandwidth? Opening gaping holes in the corporate firewall? Having to support a raft of new software over which you have little control? Or boosting employees’ innovation and productivity? Or something else?

Whatever you think, whether pro or anti, you might find a new book by IBMer Rawn Shah a convenient guide to the massive array of options that face you and your organisation should you be considering its introduction. And, if you’ve already taken the plunge, you’re likely to extract even more value from his words. The book packs 350 pages’ worth of information into just 162. It’s a dense, but highly structured, read. Fortunately, while IBM/Lotus gets the odd look in, the book is bigger than that. It is called ‘Social Networking for Business‘.

Shah slices and dices business social networking, looking at the various types, uses, cultures, participants, leadership styles, monitoring metrics and more. Most of the chapters do what they say on the tin, so to speak, but the final one on ‘Social Computing Value’ falls strangely short. It seems to be more a reprise of the whole book than a particular focus on value, which is a shame. And why wasn’t it called ‘Social Networking Value’ to reflect the book title? (Could this have been a last minute rename from ‘In conclusion’? Because that’s how it reads.)

Don’t let this detract from the usefulness of the book, especially to those responsible for introducing and supporting social networking, and that has to include IT, even if it is actually only driving it in two percent of cases. Someone has to understand all the nuances of the various approaches and options, and it strikes me that IT needs to be influencing, making sure that wise choices are being made. This book is a road map. It’s highly business focused and parts of it will annoy some of the social networking gurus who favour anarchy over traditional business processes. The truth is that you really need both, but you need a guide to how to balance them successfully. This book lays out the issues clearly, although you occasionally have to wait a few pages between the upside and the downside of certain things – the danger of community managers being management stooges or the possibility of users ‘gaming’ the metrics, for example.

The tables in the book are very useful, as much for their structure as for their content. This is where the slicing and dicing takes place most evidently. The author identifies six types of social media experience. He then identifies the players (owners/leaders, visitors/members and sponsors/organisation) and how they might benefit from each type. He maps the experiences to five leadership styles. He takes a look at different models of social tasks (idea generation, co-development, distributed human computation and so on) and identifies the beneficiaries, how the information is aggregated and the styles of experience and leadership. All the time his narrative provides depth and illustration through real life examples; fifty in all.

After a while you start to wonder whether we’re turning into cyborgs – half machine and half man. We’re being used to do stuff the computer can’t do then pop the outcomes into the machine where they can be pored over, analysed and linked. Sure, they can help the business process through more rapid decision-making but they also create a mirror of those parts of our brains that we’ve chosen to make public. We can change jobs but part of us remains locked in the machine. Sorry, getting carried away there. That was triggered by the chapter on content creation, generation, tagging, filtering and so on.

You’ve probably heard enough to know whether this would be a welcome addition to your bookshelf. This blog post merely skims the surface of what is a sober analysis of the issues you and your organisation might face when deciding whether to introduce a social element either internally, externally or across the boundary of your organisation. It doesn’t stop with the mechanics and the players; it gets into soft stuff like culture and motivation and hard stuff like measurement and metrics. It goes into the hows and whys of implementation and the likely take-up by different kinds of participants.

It’s an intelligent and well-written book. Because of its density, you’ll need to set aside more time than normal for reading 162 pages. At the end of it though, you’ll know better than most, exactly what social networking is and how to make the most sensible decisions for its implementation in your organisation. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the content or not. Shah has done an excellent job of parsing the possibilities.

Moving to a new app? Mind the data trap

If you're anything like me, you're always on the lookout for
software that will improve your life in some way. It might help you communicate
more effectively and more widely or simply get you through the work week more

You frequently alight on something new, play with it for a
bit, then decide that it's not for you. Probably because the user interface is
too clunky or maybe it's missing some favourite features of an otherwise
inadequate existing system.

The search goes on. And you put up with the restrictions of
what you've got.

When you find the right product, you then have a bunch of
decisions to make, not least of which is "how easy will it be to

If you're talking about a move from one screencasting tool
to another, for example, the move is relatively straightforward. Your old
screencasts will still work, so introducing the new tool is largely a matter of
learning how to use it. And, if others are to use it, to boil the instructions
down to the essentials, in order to cut down the 'time to value'. They can
always pick up on the finer points as they go along.

If you're talking about a system that requires you to move
legacy information into it in order for it to become useful, then you have to
seriously consider whether the promised benefits are worth the effort. The
effort, of course, will vary according to the export/import capabilities of the
software. Some software vendors make a point of being able to import their
competitors' data, in which case you could be in luck. However, if your
existing vendor is a smaller player, you may be denied this, unless it provides
a standards-based export mechanism.

As an example, I've just spent many hours looking at
Microsoft's OneNote.
It held out the promise of organising my life and the information in it. But,
for this promise to be fulfilled, I had to a) learn how to use it and, b) move
enough of my life into it to keep the Tebbo show on the road. a) took a few
hours, but b) took many times that. The time consumed was my own. It wasn't the
sort of thing I would have done on the company shilling, in case it was wasted.

After many years of using organisers of various kinds –
ideas processors, outliners, mind mappers, databases and others, such as Lotus Agenda (1992) and Octave's
Web (1989) – I was
reacquainted with OneNote on a recent visit to Microsoft. It was incidental to
the briefing, but it will become more ubiquitous with the arrival of Office 2010. Perhaps I'd
dismissed it before because of its simple notebook-like interface. Or maybe I
didn't like the 'container' approach to content elements. Whatever the reason,
ignore it I did.

Yet, it does what so much of the other software fails to do:
it provides useful capabilities using a familiar metaphor. Everyone can
understand notebooks, sections and pages. And, on those pages: text; drawings; images
and hyperlinks. Getting stuff in and out is simple, in the main, but if it
isn't then add-ons and third party tools are available to help. It has some
shortcomings but, for me, the important thing is that it held out sufficient
promise that I gave up a huge chunk of weekend and holiday time to get my data
in. (Context: I already use Office Pro.)

Moving to new software is never easy but learning to use it
is often the easiest bit. The hardest bit is if you have to move heaps of
legacy data across. You can consider yourself successful if the systems and
people around you don't notice the change.

Mind-mapping with MindJet and MindGenius

Ever since Tony Buzan started popularising mind-mapping in 1974, it's had a bit of an uphill struggle to reach the mainstream. Over sixty commercial applications are available for the PC, the Mac and the web. A sprinkling of others are available for the Pocket PC, iPhone and BlackBerry. And you'll even find open source and freeware versions.

So mind-mapping is an industry, albeit a bit of a niche one. And the products/services keep on coming. October saw announcements from two well-known players, MindJet and MindGenius, which suggested that the mind-mapping world has yet to run out of puff.

MindJet has blended communications and mind-mapping into a single web-based collaboration service with Catalyst. Its premise is that most so-called collaboration tools are actually communication tools, completely lacking an application at their heart with which participants can engage. It feels, with some justification, that a mind-mapping application is exactly the right thing for this. It's useful, easy to understand and the nodes can activate files inside their own applications.

The counter to this might be that a generalised voice-video-IM-screen-sharing communication service allows you to run whatever applications you like at the desktop. Either a scribe can do updates or, more clunkily, control can be passed between participants.

The second announcement of the month fits the latter category. It is a desktop application. MindGenius claims that, with an addressable market of 400 to 500 million English-speaking users, it can focus uncompromisingly on improving the mind-mapping experience for this particular market. And it does a good job. Information entry is slick, navigation can be through the graphical image or through a separate 'outliner' pane (called Map Explorer) and any notes attached to the selected entry are visible in another pane. It offers smooth two-way integration with Office applications such as Word, Excel and Project.

Mind-mapping started out as a very personal thing. The aim was to enable you to take notes effectively, learn quickly and plan easily. When personal computers came along, outliners grabbed our attention first, then the more graphical mind-mappers came along. As screens got bigger and resolution improved, so the visual mappers came into their own. But most people were either ignorant of the technique or they saw nothing wrong with sticking with paper and coloured pens.

Once the vendors twigged that they could be used for project work and for effective communication, the brakes came off and MindJet, MindGenius and others offer some good tools for facilitating projects from inception to completion. They also offer varying degrees of data exchange with other applications.

The thing to watch out for is how many brain cycles are consumed with actually operating the application as opposed to getting something done with it. Ideally, you want the program to more or less fade into the background while information is quickly transferred to the screen, moved around, navigated and absorbed.

Bearing this in mind, of the two applications mentioned, I must confess to a slight leaning towards MindGenius.

Am I qualified to comment? Well, I started using mind-maps in the mid-70s and wrote a mind-mapping program in 1981 which, incidentally, is still being published today from somewhere deep in Colorado. I've been using my own program habitually for 28 years and others as and when they find their way into my computer. If you'd prefer to follow a couple of subject experts, then I'd recommend Chuck Frey and Vic Gee.