Technomania – do you have it?

I have had a couple of days away from technology, well almost. My diary has taken me out and about with horses which has left little time for checking out emails, tweets and Facebook posts. I admit I have still been able to check them and reply but it has only been a couple of times during the day rather than every 10 or 15 minutes.

But my obsession with technology goes further than just wanting to keep updated 24 hours a day. I think I am starting to have a weird desire for new technology – which I believe is called technomania.

So why do I think I have technomania?

Well, first I got an email about the chance of grabbing Google Glass at a cost of around £800 in May or June. Rather than think ‘that is a bit expensive, I will wait for the price to drop’, I was trying to work out whether I could convince my other half that it was a good idea to buy them. I was hoping he would see it as a possible investment opportunity. I know they are still in development and so waiting is likely to be the more sensible option but I really am obsessing about being able to try them out.

What next? I recently came across the Poken. A sort of modern-day business card that is ideal for exchanging details at conferences, and for collecting people’s details for the future. It is a really neat idea and I have owned one for a couple of months. I love it. But there aren’t many people currently using them which sort of makes it less useful!

Then there is my hobbies, pastimes and interests. I am happy doing them and reading about them. But I am also always looking for how technology can support them. I have so many apps on my iPad it can’t be healthy. And not only that, but I love being able to find a new app that I can test, try or use. I feel the same way about new social networks. I have to be there to see them, try them and make a decision about whether I will use them all the time, sometimes or probably not again.

You can debate whether it is a good thing or not but I wonder how many people are becoming technomaniacs. How many of us want to try out the latest gadget? How many want to test apps, networks or new ideas? I definitely know of one person that does.

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Thinking of others or ourselves?

It was back in the 1980s when a dog-eat-dog attitude was valued at work. The key for people was to be better and more successful than anyone else and at whatever cost. There was nothing to be gained by working in a team this was the era of working hard and playing hard. It was about making money, more money than your neighbour and having more things.

When I first started work as a newspaper journalist in the early 1990s that sort of approach to work was what mattered. If you are working day after day in such an environment then it can really have an impact and shape you and your outlook on life. I have always been quite an ambitious person so this led to me being very single-minded about things. I was focused on results and getting where I wanted to be. I had no consideration for people and recognising how my behaviour impacted on them, it was of no consequence.

Now I am in a position where I can reflect on my early years and what has changed. Changed around me but also how I may have changed. I reached my goal to be the head of a communications department but at what cost? Ok so I can’t go back and rewrite any of the wrongs that I may have done in the past. What I can do is recognise that you only get the best from your team when they have the ability to be creative, feel supported and are trusted to do their job. They will do it their way and I have accepted in recent years that even though it is different to the way I may do it that isn’t a bad thing. My role has to be about being supportive particularly if things are going wrong, but also to help people to be motivated to do their best. I don’t get things right all the time because like everyone I am constantly learning.

The other key thing now is to be able to use the position I have to help other people. I was really interested to hear about how universities are putting mentoring programmes in place for underprivileged students. The aim is to help them network and learn so hopefully they will be in a better position to find a job when they graduate. It is a great idea and a real way that people who are working in different professions can support the new generation. I have been hugely impressed by the social media apprentices of the Juice Academy in Manchester and am privileged to be involved with them. So, I am now thinking that I might be able to support communication students from challenging backgrounds. The only thing I need to do is find a university operating that sort of programme.

It is all a long way from the dog-eat-dog 1980s of my formative years but that is definitely a good thing. I wonder how many other senior professionals particularly in communication roles are providing that sort of mentoring and support. Perhaps we can all take stock and do a bit more to help those around us.

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Wide awake for creativity

I heard recently about some research that stated people needed to have a short nap in the afternoons to be at their best all day. The researcher said that it should be a nap of between five and 20 minutes every day and if you could do this every day then within three weeks you could train yourself to wake up after the required time.

The reason for doing this snoozing was to power down for a short time and then emerge refreshed for the rest of the day. It sounded really interesting and although I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve it the reason behind it was clear.

We are all looking for ways to improve our productivity at work but more importantly to be able to think differently, try new things and above all develop innovation and creativity. While a short nap may help by recharging the batteries what it won’t be able to do is encourage the creativity. So what can?

For me there are a few things that can support creativity in the workplace. Obviously, you need to have a majority of the right kind of people within the team. The people I mean are those who are interested in trying new things, who like to come up with ideas and will think in different ways. You need a majority that have this mindset so they can then spread their enthusiasm to others in the team.

Modern companies will provide an environment where innovation and creativity are rewarded. Even when things might not achieve the right results the fact that new techniques or products are tried will be given praise. There will inevitably be things that fail but there may be others that don’t and those can help to transform any business or company. Each attempt receives equal praise and support.

To harness ideas you have to make sure that everyone in the team feels able to share their views. From top to bottom everyone’s views should be considered as equally important. The best idea may come from one of the most junior members of staff and if they don’t feel able to speak then the development will never be known. Innovation and creativity is a real team effort and can’t be the exclusive playground for the managers or team leaders.

Remember creativity and innovation can be contagious. Once you have started to try new things and look at things differently you can’t stop. If something works then great as the rest of the team will feel the desire to look for what can be the next big thing. You are then on a cycle that should ensure you are productive, creative and on top of your business. So, nap or not there are things we can all do on a daily basis to get the culture we want.

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Can we be more connected?

I am becoming increasingly desperate to own Google Glass. I keep hearing about the developments and apps that are becoming available and it makes me want them even more. As the year started I mentioned the prediction that wearable technology would become more important this year. I still stand by that, and the developments in smart-watches and other items are already attracting a lot of interest.

So, how much more connected can we be? I have to admit to having a desire for the new bluetooth enabled toothbrush that is likely to be available this summer. It can provide you with charts on how you have cleaned your teeth and monitor your brushing progress. Some may say why would you need that? But then it also has achievements that you can get and these could be a great way to encourage children to clean their teeth. The price tag is likely to make it too expensive for a mass market.

I became aware of new developments in dog collars that are now meaning we can have pet related wearable technology. It seems nowadays that there is no item that can be without integrated technology. All kinds of electrical equipment from kettles to refrigerators are already benefiting from some elements of the new technology. I suppose we are only limited by our imagination and creativity.

I am sure there are developments that will be launched this year that can make us even more connected either to software or to each other through social networking. Many people will sigh at the possible developments but I can’t wait to see what arrives. Some will disappear but others, particularly those that can make our lives easier, will remain and become commonplace.

Is this just my inner geek coming out? Are there any technological developments you would like to see?

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Back to school?

The results of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) State of the Profession Survey for 2013/2014 revealed some interesting results. Of course there was a lot about salaries and redundancies, as well as the issues of concern to both members and non-members. One element stood out for me and that was the result that 94 per cent of respondents said that PR being considered a profession was important to them, and in the same report one in three people said the biggest challenge to PR in the next five years will be an expanding skill set required of them.

However, there were also indications that people struggled to get to grips with the professional ambition and there was a low-level of focus on academic or professional qualifications. So why is that? What is stopping communication professionals from developing themselves and keeping themselves very employable?

There are so many ways that you can get involved in training and development without having to commit to expensive and time-consuming courses. With the growth of MOOCs (massive open online courses) there is a chance to dip into a wide range of subjects that have an impact on communication from psychology and anthropology through to the growth of Google and leadership. Taking advantage of them just requires logging on and investing a bit of time and best of all for cash-strapped PR professionals most of them are free.

Technology has brought some great opportunities from being able to network through Twitter, Facebook and Google+ through to taking advantage of webinars and other discussion forums. I regularly participate in #commschat on Monday night at 8pm (GMT) on Twitter which has been a great way to learn about new things and share knowledge.

Of course for CIPR or PRCA members there are lots of training opportunities that exists. I have taken part in the CIPR continuous professional development scheme for more than 10 years and it has been a great way to focus my mind on what I want to achieve and how I need to develop. All it has required is an investment of time and the rest is available through the Internet and by getting involved in some of the local CIPR activities.

With all this available why are people not taking advantage? Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day activities of surviving, working, making ends meet and also trying to have a bit of rest and relaxation that we fail to think about how to invest in ourselves. In these challenging years where finding work is cut-throat it is short-sighted for us not to ensure we are learning and developing ourselves.

To read the survey results check out this link

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Broadcast or conversation – has the decision been made?

The way social media is being used by organisations is something I am very interested in. Social media was added to the communication toolbox around five or more years ago and a lot has happened since then. In the early days, it was new, untested, unknown and the easiest way to deal with it was in the same way as other media – just push out information. So what has changed in 2014?

For some organisations finding a way to move from broadcast to communication is quite challenging and not easy to achieve. There are many reasons for this; from the concern about the risk of opening up, issues about who manages social media channels for an organisation, and of course the inevitable time that is going to be taken up being involved in conversations. I can understand all these reasons but five years and counting can we really remain in broadcast mode?

In short I suppose we can, but when your organisation faces a crisis or some critical issue then remaining in broadcast mode will not satisfy the increasingly tech savvy public. When the banks faced a technical glitch they were criticised for not responding quickly enough to the questions they received from customers using social media. The easiest way for any member of the public to ask a question to any company or organisation is through social media. And whether you are listening or not they will continue to ask questions and make statements about the service or goods you provide.

There is always a concern about the style and tone that corporate entities use on social networks. Many large institutions have struggled to be able to adapt to the informalities of the new channels of communication. But as many have achieved it we know it can be done.

Is it then really a realistic position to take to move onto Twitter, Facebook etc but only use them in the same way as sending out a media release? This is surely taking the social out of social media.

For as many problems and challenges that there are for organisations there are more opportunities and benefits. Building trust and confidence in the service you provide has to be a critical issue for public sector communicators and obviously for those with something to sell increasing trust can mean a boost in sales. Social networks provide a way to have direct communication with those interested in your organisation and all at the touch of a button. Used well it can create advocates for your work, share vital information, and provide a window into the less obvious activities of the organisation.

In 2014 are we going to see the end of social media feeds that just broadcast information? If you have been operating as broadcast is that a decision that can remain or is this the year to make a change?

What advice do you have to help organisations make the move from broadcast to having meaningful conversations on social networks?

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Are we living in a panto?

I am a keen observer of the events around me. This includes how people act, how people interact and how society evolves and develops, or doesn’t. In recent months I have become increasingly aware of something that appears to have taken hold particularly within the media. It is also evident in wider society and it shows no likelihood that it is going to go away, disappear or be replaced by something else. What is this thing?

It seems that we are now living in a pantomime. There are the good people and the bad people. The good people are always good and the bad people are always bad. Bad people do bad things, well…because they are bad. Good people obviously are good and try to make sure the bad people don’t hurt or impact on them. This is the same for organisations. They are either good (paying their tax bill and helping customers) or bad (just after the profit at any cost).

There is only black and white, no shades of grey. In reality the world is made up of shades of grey and we are all a combination of good and bad things. Good people can, and often do, do bad things. Bad people have been known to do good things.

I am not going to talk about specific incidents or issues. I don’t need, to the phenomenon can be seen every day of the week in some way or other. Open the pages of a newspaper, turn on the TV or radio, and there will be some story about something that has happened and who is to blame. They key element of any incident both natural or man-made is who can we blame. Who has to take responsibility and how can we make them pay?

Was this the case many years ago? I don’t think so. Things happened and it was accepted that there is not always someone to blame – the ‘acts of god’ were just part of life. I wonder if this meant that there was a more analytical approach to things, more of a desire to understand what had happened and more chance of learning. If we are constantly looking for someone to blame is that where we are putting all our effort? Has that stopped us learning and developing our society?

Next time we are watching some events unfold perhaps we shouldn’t just scream our ‘boos’ at the person we see as the villain and instead we should try to understand and analyse the situation.

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