The Perils of Facebookisation

My good friend Dr Gary Sharpe at Blue Dog Scientific coined a term the other day in a conversation with me.

It was “Facebookisation”.

He didn’t need to explain what he meant. It’s the spread of trivial, egotistical, self-obsessive social media content creeping out of Facebook and into other and often mainstream media.

It’s the idea that we are all celebrities and should try and emulate them.

Except, most celebrities are hardly good role models at least in social media.

At first, I gave it little thought. It was a nice term though and I mentally filed it away for future use.

Then this morning I saw a Huffington Post newsfeed that Michelle Mone, new Tory peer, successful entrepreneur and founder of Ultimo had recieved a Twitter backlash for "bragging" that she’d been given a ministerial car and driver whilst on an assignment in connection with her unpaid work for the government. (she’s working pro bono on the DWP’s work on stimulating entrepreneurialism).

Apparently, Michelle or more likely her media team, quickly took the tweet down and tweeted this in her defence:

At a time when Jeremy Corbyn’s authentic voice and humble, consultative, non-ego-centric approach is drawing millions of supporters especially amongst the young, we have to question whether the “Look how rich and successful I am” approach to personal branding is really valid in the 21st century.

I suspect this approach just inflames the rage of those who rightly or wrongly feel that ‘the system’ has dumped them on the scrap heap. Does presenting ourselves and showing people how wealthy and successful we are really enable them to achieve amazing things with their own lives?

I'd argue it does not because the faulty premise is that all any of us need to succeed is motivation. And because that is free, we can all access it from within ourselves.

But the real barriers to success are not insufficient motivation. They are things like education, access to resources, contacts, creativity, innovation and know how. Without these things, no amount of self-belief and aspiration will deliver success.

The other key requirement is personal credibility.

Humility, empathy and modesty are in my opinion at the heart of personal credibility. Bragging, narcissism and displays of wealth, influence and success are not.

Even if they are presented with a big grin and 'motivational' message.

Why this blog sucks…without you!

By Neil Patrick

I am writing this post three years after starting this blog in September 2012.

In conjunction with Twitter, it has connected me with countless amazing people around the world. Even though I have never met most of you face to face, many of you have become friends, collaborators and even clients.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement, generosity, contributions, ideas, criticisms, and kindness. Without this, I would have given up long ago.

Anniversaries are the natural time when we reflect on what has passed and what lies ahead. I had absolutely no idea what would happen when I started this blog. I just knew the world of work was transforming so fast that many people were at risk of having their careers and later lives wrecked while they were busily going about their jobs. And untangling what was going on was both a mystery and a fascination for me. But most of all I wanted to try to do my bit to help people avoid these dangers.

As the daily traffic here grows to over a thousand hits a day I would tentatively venture to say that this blog has been a minor success.

But it still sucks quite a bit. And one reason is that I have failed to get enough of you to share your views.

Every day when I go to the comments to moderate them, I usually find the same junk. Here are a few examples:

So what? It’s just spam after all. And the appalling grammar is quite hilarious - so thank you for amusing me so much spam people! But I know that some very good blogs have closed down because of this deluge. My filters thankfully block most of it for me. And what’s left I just delete when I have finished laughing my head off.

But as I have explored more and more aspects of the 21st century world of work, the more I learn, the less I realize I know.

I am also acutely aware that many people who read this blog know far more about some of these topics than I do. At the very least, we all have experiences which would illustrate or refute the views I record here. None of us can know everything.

So I have a humble plea. Please help me make it better.

When I read other writers’ posts I often find the comments even more interesting and informative than the original article. And I want that to be the case here too.

I am not after your money. Just your minds!

I think blogs should be catalysts for debate, not soapboxes.

I want this blog to become a community, not my personal podium. Please comment and tell me what you think. I am just as happy to be contradicted or proved wrong as applauded.

There is no advertising on this blog and I make no money from it. And I want it to stay that way.

So please get involved and help me make this blog a better place for all of us.

Thank you.

Is your career a liability in disguise?

By Neil Patrick

This week, the shocking revelations about Volkswagen's emission testing fraud and the consequent collapse of its share price prompted me to think about balance sheets. Not corporate ones, but career ones.

We all have a career balance sheet. Do you really know the condition of yours?

Initial estimates suggest that Volkswagen could be liable for around $18bn of fines from its emission test cheating. Investor sentiment has tanked and around $30bn was wiped off its share price value within two days of the scandal becoming public knowledge.

In an instant, Volkswagen's balance sheet has been trashed. The reputation of perhaps one of the most trusted brands in the world lies in tatters. Yet I'd argue that Volkswagen could have seen this coming, they were just not paying enough attention to things that accountants never measure or show on a balance sheet. Things like culture, values and reputation.

I know that many people glaze over when accountancy language is used, but stick with me. This post isn’t about accountancy. It’s about something much more important to most of us. Our careers.

Most of us think about our jobs and finances from a profit and loss perspective. In other words, if our income exceeds our outgoings, we feel like we are doing well. And vice versa.

We rarely think about the balance sheets of our careers. That is, our career assets and liabilities.

But for 21st century career survival, a balance sheet perspective is now vital.

So what has changed?

In short everything. What the VW story illustrates is how even the most successful organisations can group think their way into catastrophe. The financial collapse of 2008 was the same situation. The dot-com bust of 1997-2000 was too.

These collapses were all based on fundamentally flawed balance sheets. Put another way, the assets were overvalued and the liabilities were undervalued.

Individuals are no different. But employers rarely consider their employees to be true assets. The hard truth is they are viewed as a cost from which employers seek to extract the most value they can. And I am sure I am not the only one who frowns with suspicion every time I hear a CEO say ‘Our employees are our most valuable asset’.

So employers typically adopt a profit and loss perspective when they think about their people. Investments in their people assets are rarely made for the long-term benefit of the individual, they are made with a view to the short term ROI for the organisation. In other words the things which impact their profit and loss not their balance sheet.

This was more or less fine in the 20th century, when we could reasonably expect to have a long and rewarding career with perhaps just two or three employers over the course of a 40 year career. But as average job tenure continues to fall, as skills become redundant ever faster and as individuals leverage increasingly tight incomes through borrowing, the nature of critical career assets has fundamentally changed.

What is a career balance sheet?

Of course it is statement of your career assets minus your liabilities. And the remaining balance is what I call career equity.

We cannot assign strict monetary valuations to these things, so accountants will doubtless lose interest at this point. But we can weigh up the balance between our assets and liabilities. And make a fair judgement about whether they are rising or falling.

These assets and liabilities are quite different to what most people imagine

Because they think about us from a profit and loss viewpoint, our employers encourage us to do the same. This can be fatal. See where the group think risk is?

Conventional thinking dictates we think of our career assets as things like skills, qualifications, experience, salary level. But they also include our creativity, our ability to adapt, our leadership skills, our communication skills, our professional network, our reputation, the amount of goodwill our network has towards us.

There’s a ton of stuff which is immensely valuable to us individually but which our employers will view at best as of secondary importance to us getting our jobs done well.

Conventional ideas about liabilities would cite things like poor employer references, short job tenure, periods of unemployment, haphazard career moves. In the 21st century, career liabilities include student debt, health problems, limited professional networks, obsolete skills, immobility, limited digital know how.

Employers do not measure or manage these things for us

They don’t. Because they see little immediate value to themselves in them. The paradox is that getting an outstanding appraisal, being promoted, earning big bonuses actually encourages an illusionary perception that we are doing well. We might be if we take a purely profit and loss view. But if we take a balance sheet view we almost certainly are not. If all our time and energies are directed at pushing things up on our career P&L, then we are doing very little to directly invest in our career balance sheet. And that’s the bit that matters to us most. A weak balance sheet or one which measures the wrong things makes us vulnerable.

So it’s quite possible to have a booming career P&L and a weakening balance sheet. And a weak balance sheet can be fatal whether it’s an investment, a corporation or our career. And because the performance measures and rewards that employers typically use encourage more of the same behaviours, we can find ourselves sleepwalking into career balance sheet erosion or even career bankruptcy.

As long as employers persist with a short term P&L perspective on employee value, employees run the risk of their career balance sheets being weakened.

Just remember this. It’s almost guaranteed that your employer doesn’t see you as an asset (despite their nice words to the contrary). They see you as a cost.

Provided your value to them exceeds your cost, generally, they will be happy and reward you. But those rewards mostly appear on your P&L, not your balance sheet.

If you really want to grow your career balance sheet instead of your P&L, it’s time to think very differently and that's probably not in the way your employer wants.

Could a robot do your job?

The endless rise of tech is one of what I call the “six pillars of job destruction”. The others are globalization, demographics, monetary and fiscal policy, educational lag and digital communications.

These subjects have been central to this blog for the last three years. And at times, it felt like I was a voice in the wilderness.

So imagine my delight last night when none other than the BBC’s prestigious programme Panorama, broadcast a 30 minute prime time documentary titled “Could a Robot Do My Job?”

Better still, a couple of my primary research sources, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT and the authors of “The Second Machine Age” were the star guests.

The programme set out exactly how and why technology is killing jobs. It also illustrated how technology creates new jobs.

But here’s the rub. The jobs created by tech are totally different to the ones destroyed by it. Which means those who lose their jobs as a result of technology are largely unable to switch.

That’s not the most critical point though. That’s the fact that the pace of technological advance is endlessly accelerating. The programme explained quite clearly how the pace of technological advances in the last five years has astonished even those who work in technology. In case you want to know why, it’s because human learning is linear (1,2,3,4,5 etc), whereas computer tech advances exponentially (2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc.)

If as individuals we are struggling to keep up, then pause for a moment to consider the pace at which our educational systems change. I know from my time in the academic world that our educational institutions evolve very slowly. The smallest time unit of educational schedule planning is a year. Courses are designed and implemented over 2-3 year time frames. Core texts are often over 5 years old.

Critically, this is why humans will lose the race. Worse, there are few feasible solutions available. There is a new breed of young tech entrepreneurs and specialists (mostly in their late teens and twenties) and these young people will likely ride these waves of disruption with ease. But for just about everyone else, the worst is yet to come…

For what it is worth, my take on this is that the critical career assets we can acquire are:

  • Clear understanding of how technology is impacting our career field
  • The rapid acquisition of skills which are in keeping with these developments
  • The building of global personal professional networks
  • Positioning ourselves ahead of the change
  • And last but not least, career choices which are most likely to be most resilient to the threat of tech - these are jobs which involve large amounts of non-repetitive tasks, human interaction, creativity and manual dexterity.
None of these will provide complete protection, but they will give your career the best possible change of surviving the tech tsunami.

The dark side of work hard, play hard attitudes

By Neil Patrick

There’s an enduring notion that a “work hard, play hard” culture is a good thing. I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard that description bandied around by employers. It’s presented almost as a badge of honour.

But somewhere along the way, a basically positive notion has become corrupted. The idea that we should enjoy work is fine. The idea that we should have great and enjoyable relationships with our colleagues is fine. If we can work and play together, we all benefit.

But there’s a dark side to this because in realty, drinking is the default substitute for play. The dominant forms of social interaction in the west almost universally involve alcohol consumption. Don’t get me wrong. I like a drink. I regularly enjoy a beer and chat with my friends and business contacts.

But as more and more professionals find themselves working harder, the natural compensatory reaction is to play harder. And that often means drinking harder.

When I looked at the available data, a troubling picture emerged. The people that we often place our greatest trust in also have some of the highest rates of alcoholism. I’m talking about doctors, dentists, lawyers, senior executives.

In the UK, doctors are three times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than the general population. Experts are calling for urgent action to tackle the "significant challenge" of rising levels of alcoholism and substance abuse among professionals.

Health professionals have issued calls for the UK government to help the burgeoning mass of professionals who are functioning alcoholics.

Research suggests 15-24% of lawyers will suffer from alcoholism during their careers, while the British Medical Association estimates that one in 15 healthcare professionals will develop an addiction problem.

If you ask the man in the street what an alcoholic is, they'll generally say a down and out, but 96% of people with addictions are employed and working most of the time.

Within my own circles, I have professional friends who have developed liver cirrhosis from alcohol abuse. And it’s not funny. They have become like ghosts of the people they used to be. Frankly they have become not just unemployable, but more or less incapable of doing any sort of work.

Had this health damage been caused by hazardous physical working environments, their employers would have been sued. I'd argue that these people are victims of culturally hazardous working environments. Critically, I know that their excessive drinking wasn’t caused by their joie de vivre; it was mostly a reaction to stress at work and drinking as a routine part of their work.

It’s high time employers think long and hard about what they really mean when they brag about their work hard, play hard culture.

Why social selling is not advertising

By Neil Patrick

I have a slide which I use in almost every social media presentation I give. It’s this:

I am looking forward to the day that I can ditch this from my slide deck. That’s the day when everyone has learned that social media isn’t a sales platform.

But I fear that this slide is going to remain in use for a long time to come.

I’m not about to say that social media is a waste of our time and money. It’s not. Far from it. It just should never be used to try and sell people things. It’s a great way to build goodwill, to share information, to get noticed, to have our say and to build communities.

Why isn’t that enough guys?

I get huge value from social media. Because of it, I make great and valuable connections with amazing people all over the world. These wonderful people help me out on a daily basis. And I try to do my bit to help them out in return. Am I going to abuse those relationships by telling them I’ve got a great offer for them? Hell no. I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick.

It helps me get my voice heard. It saves me a shedload of money on marketing. Google adwords at £1.80 a click? No thanks.

Social media keeps me up to date on who is talking about things I’m interested in. It allows me to easily follow the thoughts and ideas of people I look up to. It allows people to connect with me and tell me what they think.

Almost every day social media brings me astonishing opportunities that I’d never have if all I did was use it to try and flog stuff to people.

Social media gets me clients and business all the time. But that's not because I advertise, it's because they come to like and trust me. They choose if and when they want to do business with me. I don't presume that they will want to. Or pretend that I can second guess when they will want to.

That’s a pretty amazing heap of valuable benefits I think. Am I going to chuck it all away by naff advertising to people? NO WAY.

So please sales people please stop abusing the goodwill of the people you want to be your friends online.

'Nuff said.

Why you will fail to have a great career (Part 2)

By Neil Patrick

My earlier post with this title got a lot of hits when I tweeted it the other day.

A few days ago I also set out some thoughts here on why it’s a myth that the young are technologically superior to their parents. And I mentioned the H word, “hipsters”. Deliberately actually, as at the time I was reading the pre-publication version of a new book by my friend and author George Verdolaga.

George has insightfully and engagingly set out how our society creates two basic types of attitudes and behaviours. George has labelled these groups “Mavericks” and “Hipsters”.

I enjoyed the book so much that I volunteered to write about it on this blog to help George reach more people who might benefit from, or be interested in it. It’s called “The Maverick Effect – How to be a daring innovator and effective change maker”.

My wife read it also and despite being a very different personality to myself she loved it too!

If you’d like to obtain a copy, it’s available now at Amazon here.

The book was written for anyone who has ever felt excluded, discounted, discriminated against, ridiculed, or bullied.

Within its covers is an explanation of so many aspects of society, attitudes and behaviours that I think it will be of interest to a very wide audience. Moreover it provides valuable help for anyone struggling to overcome prejudice, discrimination or alienation.

More than that, if you are or know someone who is experiencing such agonies, the book actually describes how this state of affairs can be turned into a catalyst for such people to not just overcome these traumas, but to achieve really amazing things with their lives.

After I’d read it, I was delighted to interview George about the book and the ideas within it. Here’s the transcript.

NP: So George, what’s The Maverick Effect basically about?

GV: It’s a book that’s designed to teach people how to develop the confidence necessary to be a winner in life and at work

NP: How did you come to write the book?

GV: I decided to write it when I finally came to realize that the challenges that I was going through were not designed to keep me down but to give me the strength & resilience to overcome life’s obstacles and achieve whatever I’d set out to do. And then when I saw the earlier lives of famous people (which I’d written about it my book) they all went through the same kind of difficulties I did and that’s precisely what enabled them to achieve the level of success that they attained. They had the hunger for success and that’s really the key differentiator between people who are successful and people who aren’t.

NP: How can we tell if we are a maverick or a hipster?

You’re a hipster if you’re careful not to rock the boat and like to just go with the flow. Popularity and being on-trend is important to you. Mavericks on the other hand tend to be disliked or misunderstood and they sometimes have these ideas that are considered “strange” or “totally out there”. They don’t have a compelling urge to be followers. They have strong personalities that may turn people off initially but at the same time they do have a magnetism that draws others to them, even if it may be for the wrong reasons, mostly because they’re passionate about their ideas no matter how radical these may be. You’re a maverick if you’re not afraid of rejection or scorn and don’t mind being regarded as an outsider. Mavericks can be hard-headed and stubborn but they also know with absolute certainty that one day they’ll be proven right.

NP: Is our category pre-determined by personality and genes, or are we free to choose it?

GV: People definitely have a natural personality but that can be influenced by upbringing and life experiences. In other words, we may each have a natural disposition but that can be tempered by what we learn and what we see around us. So choice plays a big part in our life outcomes. It’s not just about personality, in other words.

NP: Do you have a sense of what proportion of people fit might into each category? Are there differences by age, location, gender etc?

GV: I would say that between 90% - 95% of the population are hipsters that just choose to go with the flow and not disrupt the status quo and 5% - 10% of the general population are visionaries that lead the other 90% - 95% who are only too willing to follow them. There is no difference between age, location or gender as Mavericks tend to come from different parts of the world.

NP: How does this phenomenon manifest in the workplace?

GV: Most people tend to fall in line and go hipster. The few that don’t and become outspoken get quickly labelled as trouble-makers. Some of them are in fact misfits but a few really are mavericks. They’re meant to either rise up the company ladder or most likely start their own companies. Mavericks are usually outspoken and don’t follow rules very well as they like to make up their own. Companies are usually hidebound places that are tough to change from within so mavericks either have to leave or learn how to dance (so to speak) until they eventually get their way.

That’s why in my book, I show mavericks how to walk two worlds, the one they see in their heads (the future) and the one they have to currently live in. For mavericks to really influence the world and get their way, they have to win the respect and admiration of the hipsters (who will end up joining their cause and eventually promoting them so they can make that “I- found-them-first” boast) so they have to be just a little bit subversive enough to be sexy (ex. think jazz or rock and roll when these were new and readily embraced by teenagers wanting to rebel against their parents’ tastes) enough to draw attention to themselves but also mainstream enough to be able to attract a followership. It’s a fine line that one has to walk.

NP: Your argument is that mavericks eventually change the world, but that hipsters perpetuate the status quo is convincing. Yet doesn’t this imply that the greatest short term rewards are from running with the pack?

GV: Yes, you’ll definitely be rewarded in the short term by running with the pack but you’ll be forever invisible. Geniuses aren’t discovered because they did their best to blend in and not rock the boat. They become celebrated because they dared to challenge existing truths (ex. ‘the world is not flat - it’s round’) or dominant groups. You can certainly escape being bullied or ridiculed by shape-shifting to fit in. But you’ll most likely be average the rest of your life. Being a powerful and influential maverick requires hard training, much like military boot camp. If you don’t pay the price and go thru this tough apprenticeship, then your brilliance won’t shine through. You’ll be like a raw diamond… nothing but pure undeveloped potential.

NP: What advice about jobs and work choices would you give to A) mavericks and B) hipsters?

GV: Mavericks would make great inventors, pioneers, explorers, scientists, engineers and inventors. They like to create things from scratch and go to uncharted territories. Hipsters would make great museum curators, newspaper reporters, TV news anchors, editors, film critics, trend forecasters, salespeople and marketers. They like to look at other people’s work and then deconstruct, critique or promote this.

NP: You mention that businesses which are most successful are genuinely different. But doesn’t this also mean that they have a higher failure risk simply because they are in uncharted waters?

GV: Businesses that are innovative are able to minimize their failure rate by testing products before they launch these to market. If companies don’t test and simply launch new products they will experience failure more often that’s for sure. But you don’t have to be a pioneering company to experience failure. You can be a copycat business and still fail. Being first has nothing to do with failing. Not testing your product or service – and not being attuned to what your target market wants – has more to do with failure than being first to market or simply being different. People like different. But there’s a way to do different that ensures success.

NP: Companies want to retain and grow their talent; how can your ideas help them do this?

GV: Feedback is important. I think that few people can work effectively in a vacuum. Training is also important. When the economy (or a company) is in a downturn this is usually the first thing (training) that gets thrown out the window. Bringing in outside speakers/trainers who can see the forest for the trees is often a great idea for bringing fresh ideas into a company that may be getting stale or too set in their ways. And leadership training implies not following the herd but leading it. So when everyone else is cutting their training budgets and slashing costs, you’re doing the opposite and investing more and more in your people in order to build loyalty.

NP: Thank you George! I’d just like to add that the book is a really great and easy read. And I know from experience that writing plainly is much, much harder than it sounds!

GV: Thank you Neil, it’s much easier when you are doing something you love.

I’d like to thank George for providing me with the advance copy of the book and for taking the time to answer my questions about it. Totally recommended reading!


If you wish, you can connect with George here:

Website :

George Verdolaga is a prolific author and speaker. His two biggest passions are teaching and helping people to get out of their own way so that they can reach their personal, career, or business objectives as quickly and painlessly as possible.

George was the president of the Westdrive Educational Foundation (WEFI) and served as the administrator and program advisor for both the elementary and pre-school departments for ten years. He continued his involvement in education by volunteering as a grade three Teacher at the parish religious education program (PREP) of St. Andrew’s Parish in Vancouver’s East Side community for ten years, with his wife Maita. Both of them are also active members in their local church.

In 1999, George established Flowform Design Group, a residential interior design company. When the recession of 2008 hit the global economy, he saw many people get laid off and attempt to get back on their feet by blanketing the entire city with their resumes and receiving no callbacks. As a result, George created the ‘Sitting Pretty’ Home Study Course, based on his experience of successfully finding work in places like Manila, Milan, New York, and Vancouver in as little as eleven days by talking directly to decision-makers who had the power to hire him on the spot.

After the 2008 recession, many twenty- to thirty-year company veterans found themselves out of work and unable to land a new job. As a result, George wrote The Contractor Lifestyle to show careerists how they can have jobs for life by adopting an entrepreneurial mindset while they work for other people. More recently, he created The Job Farmer where he shares the most effective way to find work—or get business clients—by “farming” rather than “hunting”. George wrote his third book, The Maverick Effect, to show potential innovators and change-makers that their earlier hardships prepare them for the leadership role that they will assume later on in life.

George has been president of various business associations and has sat on the boards of several non-profit boards including the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDRF). He currently serves as a mentor at the Multicultural Helping House Society and AIESEC UBC which is an international business organization for university students.