Nine toxic behaviours that we must all keep at bay

By Neil Patrick

Many self-help books and coaches talk about the dangers of toxic people. We should distance ourselves from them they say. Better still remove them from our lives. I'm not so sure about this.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Just how would you go about removing a person from your life I wonder? Like your boss, or a colleague or a family member? Short of committing illegal acts, it all seems a bit tricky to me.

There's a much more realistic alternative option I think. We all have some of these toxins within ourselves. And it’s a much more practical proposition to change ourselves than attempting to change or remove those around us.

So not only should we be alert to toxic character traits in others, we should also try to purify our own system.

I am not here to preach or claim I am above criticism. I can count at least two or three traces of these toxins within myself. I don’t quite need a Betty Ford Clinic-style detox I hope, but relentless alertness to them and removing them is a sure way to purify ourselves I think.

And just as toxins in others make them destructive and debilitating to be around, toxins within ourselves don’t just erode our own strengths, they drive a wedge between ourselves and those we want to have productive and happy relationships with.

Here're my top nine poisons and how to detox from them.

1. Control

Controlling people think they know everything and the best way to do anything. They’ll never give anyone else a chance to contradict them, express a conflicting idea or influence their opinions. Learn to value and listen to the opinions of others. Don’t try to find fault in their views, but seek to find ways to improve their ideas.

2. Arrogance

Confidence and arrogance are totally different things. Confidence inspires; arrogance intimidates. Arrogant people always think they know best and feel superior to others. Remember to celebrate and show more enthusiasm for the success of others than your own.

3. Victims

Negatively charged people see themselves as perpetual victims. Victims look at their own situations and mistakes and seek to find others to blame, from their boss to their staff or their customers. Take ownership of your own life and change to adapt to the world around you. Don’t expect the world to change to suit you.

4. Envy

Those infected with jealousy don’t feel pleasure when good things happen to you. They can't appreciate it when others achieve success or move forward; they feel that if anything good is going to happen, they deserve it more than you. The success of those around you should be just as important to you as it is to them. Help others succeed as a matter of course. Sure, not everyone will reciprocate, but which is better a whole heap of goodwill, or a whole heap of indifference?

5. Lies

Liars are impossible to rely on. You can never know what to believe. You can't trust their promises or their statements. They will lie to you about others, and they will lie to others about you. Likewise we should tell the truth, always. Even if it’s bad news, sharing it now, is better than hoping it will disappear and be forgotten. It won’t.

6. Negativity

Some people are always suspicious of everything and everybody. Negativity destroys relationships, and spending time with negative people makes you feel the world is a much worse place than it actually is. My mantra is this: trust everyone and disappointment is a risk. Trust no-one and disappointment is guaranteed.

7. Possessiveness

Consumer culture relentlessly nags us to want more, achieve more and possess more. Sure, desire and ambition can be good things. But it turns toxic when people want everything for themselves and when possession, rather than doing or being, becomes the focus of their life. Aspire to success not as a way to have more for yourself, but as a way to be able to give more back to others.

8. Judgmentalism

Making a judgment and being judgmental are not the same thing at all. Judgments are objective and based on discernment, while being judgmental is just about criticism. Judgmental people are poor listeners and communicators and always too quick to jump to conclusions. Seek to understand before you seek to judge. Then consider how something can be made better.

9. Gossip

Gossips see themselves as being interesting because they share fascinating information about other people. And the more sensational this is the better. They do it because they secretly believe that their own lives are less interesting or deserve more privacy than those of others. They make little distinction between speculation and fact. We all talk about others – that’s natural. But if we bad-mouth someone, we can fully expect that those who hear this criticism will suspect that we will do the same to them.

So personally, I’m not about to remove anyone from my life. I’d much rather try and make others’ lives better by forever striving to become a better person myself. It'll keep me out of jail at least.

Any thoughts on what I should add to round this up to make a top 10?

Why politicians won’t solve the jobs crisis

By Neil Patrick

Politicians simply don’t get the nature of work in the 21st century.

Let’s just dismiss the idea they just don’t care because they’re too busy looking out for themselves. The more worrying evidence suggests that they don’t understand the nature and pace of the evolution of technology. And how this is reshaping the world of work.

Today in the UK, self-employed people represent the fastest growing sector of employment. 

These people exist completely outside the politicians’ bubble. But politicians do little or nothing to support them. After all, very few will become big enough in the politicians’ term of office to make any impact on either employment levels or the treasury’s income.

The politicians therefore have little incentive to pay attention to this change. They see the future as a world which is somehow a newer, shinier version of the old one. A world which is big, bold and full of promise. It makes them feel like they are being visionary. The architects of a better future society.

So, they get busy implementing big, “important” projects . They like big things after all. But the 21st century world is a fragmented one. And it’s getting smaller not bigger. Microchips will soon be just one atom and ultimately subatomic. (Yes. Look it up). Big corporations are being nibbled away by much smaller faster moving competitors. And devolution is showing that people want smaller more local governments, not bigger more federal ones.

But the politicians carry on making uninformed and anachronistic decisions about the things that shape every aspect of our lives and how companies and individuals function. Don’t believe me? Here are just three examples.

There’s no recovery in jobs, at least not the type of jobs government understands.

In June, the Office for National Statistics released figures which show that flexible working is at a record high in the UK. The headline figure from the ONS is that 14% of the UK workforce is now either working full time from home or use home as a base. This represents a 1.3 million increase over the six years since the onset of the recession.

Total jobs growth in the same period was around 1.8 million. In other words, over two thirds of the UK jobs created since the recession began have been self-employed or based at home.

Note to government: This is NOT the future of work...
Source: Wikipedia.  Credit: Chris Brown

The Government is claiming this as a victory for its legislation. They want us to believe their foresight has enlightened bosses in helping employees find a better work life balance.

In an interview,  Co-Chair of the LibDem Parliamentary Party Committee on Work and Pensions and a Deputy Government Whip, Jenny Willott said that: "Current workplace arrangements are old fashioned and rigid. Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees will drive a cultural shift where flexible working becomes the norm and is not just for the benefit of parents and carers."

But government legislation isn’t what’s driving this change.

Clearly, this is spin. It's not government policy but in fact the explosion of homeworking that is driving Britain’s rapidly expanding army of freelancers and micro-businesses. The recent increase in employment levels is almost entirely down to a huge surge in the numbers of people who are self-employed.

In the last quarter of 2013 alone, the number of people identified as self-employed rose by a staggering 211,000 while the number of employees fell by 60,000. There are now around 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK. 

These people aren’t working from home as an alternative to going to work in an office for an employer. There is no office and no employer, so employment legislation is of no use or relevance to them. They are doing what they do in spite of what the government is doing with regard to flexible working, not because of it.

Technology is an enabler for small business but a nightmare for large organisations

Start-ups and small businesses reap huge rewards from the tech revolution. Digital media enables immediate and fast deployment of a whole range of powerful tools from video conferencing to online sales platforms.

But transitioning big bureaucracies from paper based systems to digital ones is very different. It’s a huge, complex and expensive task. As a result, we can be pretty confident that when a new government digital system actually goes live after running millions over budget and being delivered late, it still won’t work properly.

Recently, the think tank Policy Exchange reported that the UK public sector could save £24 billion a year by offering the UK population universal fast broadband and migrating all Government information and services to digital platforms.

One of a handful of politicians who do get tech, Nadhim Zahawi is quoted as responding to the report by saying: “The internet and technology is shaping the way everyone interacts, transacts and reacts and has been doing so for at least a decade… well, everyone, that is, except government.”

There is movement of course, but it is painfully slow because the Government knows just how complex, expensive and disaster prone these transitions actually are. And when reducing government debt is a priority, such initiatives have pretty low appeal.

But the good news for government is that if they shifted their attention to the small business sector, things are much less scary and there are lots of quick wins to be had. But this involves breaking the habit of thinking big and instead thinking small…

Like the relatively simple task of getting fast broadband available everywhere in the country. Not only would this transform Government services, universal fast broadband is simply the single most important piece of infrastructure the UK could introduce.

So if home working and digital technology is the future, why is the government looking to invest in 20th century infrastructures?

One of the most extreme examples of how governments make bad decisions around the future of work is the high speed rail network approved in 2012 connecting Manchester and Leeds with Birmingham and Birmingham with London. This is known as HS2.

This high speed rail network will enable people to save time moving across the UK. Some journey times such as Manchester to London are expected to be reduced by almost 50%. 

HS2 Railroutes
Source: Wikipedia   Credit: Cnbrb

But by 2033, when the project will allegedly complete, how many people are actually going to want or need to make such journeys at all? By then it seems a safe bet that current technology trends will likely have developed to a point where such journeys are too expensive, too slow and too prone to disruption if not on the train journey then in the travel to and from the stations?

June 2013 saw the original projected cost of HS2 rise by £10bn to £42.6bn and, less than a week later, it was revealed that the DfT had been using an outdated model to estimate the productivity increases associated with the railway, which meant the project's economic benefits were massively overstated.

Peter Mandelson, originally a major advocate of HS2 when the Labour Party was in government, declared shortly afterwards that HS2 would be an "expensive mistake" and also admitted that the inception of HS2 was "politically driven" to "paint an upbeat view of the future" following the financial crash. He further admitted that the original cost estimates were "almost entirely speculative" and that "Perhaps the most glaring gap in the analysis presented to us at the time were the alternative ways of spending £30bn."

Boris Johnson similarly warned that the costs of the scheme would be in excess of £70 billion. The Institute of Economic Affairs estimates that it will cost more than £80 billion. Incidentally, that figure is pretty much the same as the entire GDP of New Zealand…

But there are non-financial arguments too to conclude that HS2 is a really bad idea. HS2 is not designed for the world of 2033, when it will be complete. It’s designed for a world in which people travelled to meetings. A world in which businesses were big and business was managed via top down command and control hierarchies and nationally dispersed teams.

Thanks to the politician’s disconnect with the reality of 21st century work, the UK is now saddled with a hugely expensive white elephant that will almost certainly end up costing even more than the worst case projection so far of £80 billion. And deliver far fewer benefits than even the most cautious estimates.

It really is time for our leaders to ditch their big ideas and start thinking small.

Are our employers and institutions ready for the New Machine Age?

By Neil Patrick

Researching for my post on the zero marginal cost society led me to the great work of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. They have painted a dazzling picture of the digital future and described the changes that people and society need to make in order to prevent being left behind. I think the potential is bright too, but today as the dog days of summer retreat, I’ve got a nagging feeling about one thing…

MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have coined the term and titled their book, The Second Machine Age. It describes an almost utopian future. It’s a very uplifting vision of how technology holds the potential to fill the world with more possibilities than we can even imagine.

I featured Andrew McAfee’s great TEDx talk here a couple of weeks ago.

But can this vision be realised? Technology frees us up to achieve more than we ever could have dreamt of, but will organisations be able to keep up? After all, apart from the goods and services we consume, most of us rely on organisations for one other very important thing…our jobs.

People, organisations and societies have to keep up with the speed of technological change

The Second Machine age will require constant change, delivering at speed, innovative thinking, fast-paced learning and cross functional collaboration like never before.

So my worry isn’t with technology per se. My worry is that the pace of technological change is moving so fast that people cannot keep up. Let alone corporations and society as a whole. And if organisational thinking can’t keep up, how on earth can organisational culture?

The future’s here, ready or not

Brynjolfsson and McAfee paint an optimistic picture of the future. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, they profess that we will realize an immense bounty in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and near-boundless access to cultural items that enrich our lives.

They admit that amidst this bounty will also be wrenching change. Professions of all kinds, from lawyers to truck drivers will be relentlessly downgraded and delisted. Companies will be forced to transform or die. But will they spot the need to transform quickly enough to respond? I think it's safe to predict that some will and some won't and will suffer the consequences. Recent economic indicators already reflect this shift; fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits recover.

But will organisations and employers keep up?

I don’t doubt the guarantee of technological transformation. What I doubt is the capability of organisations to transform fast enough to keep up. Let alone institutions and legal systems…

On the one hand technology is enabling things to be made and done faster and cheaper than ever before. At the same time, this speed is outpacing people’s ability to extract enough money from the system to live.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee recognise that to adapt, society must change rapidly. This includes revamping education so that it prepares people for the next economy instead of the last one, designing new collaborations that pair brute processing power with human ingenuity, and embracing policies that make sense in a radically transformed landscape.

I agree that this is needed. What I struggle with is the idea that persistent ideas and attitudes left over from 20th century top down command and control structures can possibly evolve fast enough to prevent giant chasms opening up between technology and policy and culture.

From the time I have spent teaching business in universities, I took away a lot of learnings. And one of these was that the smallest unit of time measurement used in the management of educational institutions is a year. And that's just far too slow to keep up with the world of tech.

But educational institutions are not alone in being slow to change. Commercial businesses are so focussed on day to day and week to week revenues, that the medium and long term changes they need to make are deprioritised. And this makes them vulnerable. And this will leave many people exposed to redundancies, lower incomes and longer periods without work.

Our organisations have got to embrace this new economic reality or they will die. And one way they can do this is to hire more people who understand what's going on and how to capitalise on this new economic era not be crushed by it. And this creates a whole new world of economic winners and losers.

Who will respond and who will not?  That's the most interesting and important question I think...

Andrew Keen’s interview with Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee here may help you decide for yourself:

Why Linkedin is stuck in the 20th century

Yes I know. It’s a provocative headline. Sorry LinkedIn. But note I didn’t call this “Why I hate LinkedIn” (which I don’t) or “Why you should quit LinkedIn” (which I don’t think we should). But paradoxically, I do think LinkedIn is saddled with a 20th century take on the careers world. And this is why.

It all goes back to how LinkedIn was originally conceived. And that was largely as a tool for recruiters and headhunters to find people with particular skills and experience. Founders Jeff Weiner and Reid Hoffman recognized 11 years ago that the internet had yet to make much impact in the vast global business of recruitment and networking. And that the potential for an online platform that could assist this industry was immense.

It was launched in May 2003, three months before Myspace, one year before Facebook and three years before Twitter. And it reflected the world as it was then. Not as it is now.

In this post here I talked about the zero marginal cost society and the things we need to do to have a chance of career survival in it. The pace of technological progress is outstripping the abilities of humans and society to develop fast enough to keep up. And that’s a problem.

But let’s get back to why I think Linkedin is stuck in the 20th century.

It’s simple really. Linkedin mandates that we can only be one thing in our professional lives. We can only have one career and can only be specialists in one field. Of course I know that we can display all sorts of competencies on our LinkedIn profile. And sometimes this solves the problem. But not always.

Let’s say for example you are both a copywriter AND a chef. Not an unlikely possibility in this age when neither of these occupations pay especially well for most people. You can put both things on your profile. But you are immediately forced into a compromise. Are your a chef or a copywriter? Your networks for these two areas of your life are virtually completely separate. The skills for both have few overlaps. And the result is that you are forced into a compromised profile, in which you cannot shine neither as a writer, nor as a chef.

Linkedin only allows any of us to have one profile. That’s it. We cannot be more than one thing at one time. It’s like the old Russian proverb which says, ‘If you chase two rabbits, you’ll catch neither”.

This may be a constraint for us, but it suits LinkedIn’s business model and their main customers (recruiters). It also is a throwback to what I called the "world of ones" which I described here. In essence, the world of ones is a 20th century hangover in which everyone was expected to serve one career, one employer, one partner, one monarch and one God. And today, Linkedin wants us all to be just one thing at a time in our careers.

The zero marginal cost society, the second machine age, or the third industrial revolution, call it what you will. But the 21st century world requires adaptation,flexibility and rapid skills acquisition from its people. This means that overlaps in our career activities will become more and more of a necessity.

Not the one label, one specialism box that LinkedIn wants us all to fit neatly into. That’s a 20th century viewpoint and one which I think is passing its sell by date fast.

I suspect that one reason that LinkedIn wants things this way is to try and keep its network clean of imposters and fake profiles. That’s good for the whole community.

But it’s not helping the increasing numbers of us who are trying to succeed in more than one field simultaneously. Those of us who have more than one competency. And those of us who are attempting to build a wider and more diverse skill set to try and have a chance of becoming flexible and multi-skilled enough to survive in the 21st century.

And that's why I think LinkedIn is out of date already, just ten years or so after it's creation...

Ironic isn't it?

If you have any thoughts about this topic, do please share them in the comments below.