Kindled Meme

– exploring the purpose of connection

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Hunting for culture – the crumbs you leave

Im one of those people that goes digging behind the ‘why’ of people and companies – I go hunting to find out what drives people and to get a sense for the energy and vision behind the people who formed and joined a company – especially in the stellar companies – the ‘gazelles and the ‘born globals’ –  businesses that have found a place to make an impact.

I blame Henley for my behaviour. We spent a lot of time assessing the values of our NGO in South Africa and also assessing local charities – how they message and connect through common values with their target benefactors. You could call it branding – but its deeper than that – its not look and feel – its about finding the beliefs.

I look into a lot of tech companies because – whether through chance or design – this is the area I grew up in. But Im not so interested in the nut and bolts of these firms (I’ve seen a lot of tech come and go in my career – its always changing) and I’m more interested in the culture and people in the tribe.  I want to know about the story as much as the growth, success, potential – because its really hard to get behind ‘a cause’ if the purpose isn’t clear to me.

So Im the one that heads straight to the ‘about’ pages on the website to see how do the people communicate themselves.

Are they focused on their product, waxing on about their organisation or talking about how their customers are the heroes in their story, with a passion for the external world they operate in.

I want to see the latter.

When I look at this info I see the companies in three groups:

  • The companies that talk product and ‘org’ – but they are closed – its all blah and grey messaging
  • The companies that tell you who are the founders – the generals in control – they have a bio and the people are impressive
  • The companies that have a human feel – as if the company is a living organism – showing all the folks onboard and telling a story.

What I want to see is some Organisational Openness – and find some real people.

This stuff is quick to get a grasp of. There are pictures – some people smile and some look sinister or earnest. Are they suited-and-booted or are they dressed for the Social Era – are they Gen Y or Gen X, or do they have a scruffy old chairman with woolly eye brows and a suit bought in a department store in the 1980’s. Are they post-academia open-shirted or california-tanned with teeth-too-white: “I micromanage-myself-as-well-as-all-the staff”.

This visual stuff is while Instagram is so powerful – it captures a thousand words.

We need clues as to who you will be doing business with and the more info I get, the closer I am to a connection and an understanding. But not everyone is ‘open’ and maybe they are actually doing me a favour – telling me to back away from the fence. “Don’t look in, James!”

I have a friend who runs one of the ‘closed’ companies – there is grey blurb on the company and why it is great – but no staff profiles – no people story. I asked him why he does this and he thought about it. It was down to the dot com bubble days – when staff were getting poached.

“If I tell people who we have and why they are good – recruiters will call them up.”

What I hear is “The only reason my people stay is becasue I keep them so busy they don’t have time to look anywhere else for employment.”

My staff are resources, a number of FTE’s. Churn is expensive but inevitable – its really not a great place to be… a “Bleak House” – where the “War on Talent” is actually the war to suppress our own staff and just keep them reliable and efficient.

Engagement comes from eliminating substitutes.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the guys who are open – and say something good about their folks in “140 characters or less”.

The first time I really appreciated a company doing this was looking into Innocent – the smoothy company. At ‘school’ we were looked into the Innocent acquisition by Coca-Cola and I was hunting around looking for clues around the companies cultures and beliefs (Surprisingly, they are a good match).

On the Innocent website they listed all their staff – show their emails and super-brief bio. Friendly and relaxed as you would expect and there is no hierarchy shown in the staff pic’s – founders Richard, Adam and Jon all listed alongside the rest of the teams (with their emails).

Innocent also did a great thing that Ive not spotted anywhere else yet – they also have a page for the people who have moved on and left the fold. Most HR folks know that the way you treat your leavers sends out strong messages to the rest of the staff – innocent grab this principle with humour, warmth and transparency – wishing their staff well in their onward journeys – often literally – there are lots of antipodeans in amongst the West London workforce.

Its was all part of the Innocent story – it was the ethical start-up spirit they had.

Are you making it easy for people to work with you – being open and transparent?

Or is strategy about winning? Are you a Prussian General with lots of medals – demanding respect and scaring off the Talent poachers?

Here are three of my favourite Open Organisations.

37 Signals


And one a bit closer to home….


Its not rocket science – its a choice.

Which way do you roll?


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#SpreadTheCheer – reduce the tax

Starbucks is making a good case for testing customer loyalty right now – their tax-paying practices have made a ding into goodwill and  sentiment –  with the UK ‘bashtagging’ captured here by Mashable.

I used to see Starbucks as a big success story – the magic of Howard – the corporate culture and power to the barista to make a difference.

But right now its gone all out of shape for them in the UK – no cinnamon latte for me this christmas time.

The picture above is from the big screen in the Natural History Museum in London over the weekend – it went wrong – the message is clear – they are in a pickle – and not doing well in handling it.

But how would we play it differently if we had the master keys to the corporate bean grinder?

In Ana Canhoto’s recent post on customer loyalty she shares the following:

According to this paper, while customers with a strong relationship with the brand may be more forgiving, when they do complain publicly (e.g., on website), they also exhibited a heightened desire for revenge (e.g., tell friends about the problems they experienced) and avoidance(e.g., cut interactions with the firm). This desire is not only more intense than that of other customers, but also lasts longer.

It is a bleak picture.

Once emotionally committed customers complain publicly, they seem unable to let go – love turns into hate, and patronage seems lost!

Right now Starbucks would kill to get the love back again – forget growth – just rewind the clock would be nice – keep their heads down. Maybe play it differently.

It’s also interesting in the age of Big Data just how the impact would have been observed from till receipts. What was the algorithm they used to decide how much tax they should propose paying? What is the value of the customers they have lost for good (Outraged switchers) vs those that could be pacified by seeing a tax-offering vs those that ‘just don’t care’.

Just how did they price that impact to brand and come up with the sum for a self-declared tax offering?

So how do we know who is actually playing nice in this game?

I’d like to see an infographic that shows where the cost of a coffee goes to – shown as ‘swigs of the drink’. How many gulps go to ingredients, how many on consumables, how many on staff costs, how many to profit and the masterful use of corporate cross-charging. At the moment Starbucks corporation tax is no more than the froth on top of a very flat white – or the grits in the bottom. I also want to see the end to end supply chain – but lets park that for now…

I’d like to see all the coffee chains shown in the infographic – all in a row – let’s see how they compare visually and how many are contributing to UK Plc. Some caffeine transparency.

Unfortunately the CFO of the company paying the most tax is unlikely to do his professional standing too much good – the tax-minimising Starbucks guys have mastered the art by any boardroom metrics.I wonder if the CMO can evidence brand goodwill for being a better corporate citizen and justify the tax paid through improved brand sentiment?

In fairness though, all corporates are up to the same game – they all get the same wizened advice from the Big 4 – it’s Deloittes that advise Starbucks if memory serves me – what a shower of despicable specimens

But maybe I painting this unfairly – is this just about business?

Isn’t strategy about winning for the firm?

Arn’t these guys managing Starbucks just being good custodians for the shareholders?

What would you do differently if you were in their shoes?

How would you #SpreadTheCheer this christmas?


Twitter feeds you need: but why?

Last week the The Observer – one the UK’s higher integrity newspapers – put out a list of the top twitter people to follow – it wasn’t based on ‘number of followers’ or klout, or any other vanity metrics – it simply asked a group of 50 notable UK twitterers who do they like following most. The list is here.

You can read it in many ways – as a source of new people to follow yourself, or as an insight into what makes the UK influencer people tick.

Looks like me –  I like him!

The first thing that is striking, is how people connect with people who are ‘like them’ – we have a tendency to ‘like the same’ – if you walk into a room of strangers we gravitate to people that feel familiar – they call it ‘homiphily’. Turns out Twiter is no different. Look how Gary Barlow follows hardworking and successful male celeb’s (‘status’ homophily), and how Diane Abbot identifies with people that are challenging the status quo and leading change for good and social justice (‘values’ homophily).

‘Like finds Like’.

The list has surprises too – did you know Alain De Boton (philosopher) sees Derren Brown as “One of the cleverest people of our time”?.


But beyond this, the list also offers a view into peoples perceptions of what makes a good ‘twitterer’ – and raises questions for how business uses twitter?

What do we see?

The best way to see this is with a word cloud – bigger the word, bigger the theme – capturing the key adjectives and benefits people got from following their ‘favs’.

So what do we find?


Why did the mushroom have so many followers on twitter? …..because he was a fungi to be with.

In the UK we like funny – people being funny, people sharing humour, people ‘who crack me up’. But Funny is not just being a clown. We see ‘funny’ people are also human, inspiring, and admired. But this is the UK too – the country that is fuelled by quirky humour like the Boosh(@noelfielding11) , Milton Jones(@themiltonjones) and the Peep Show (@aroberwebb, @readdmitchell) – we can like the humour to be idiosyncratic, outrageous, and disturbing.

Have you read the tweets of @thetonypitts and @meganamram – its all so wrong! But funny.

This light hearted – yet much appreciated – side of twitter is at the core of twitter charm and way more ‘powerful’ than you’d think. In a busy life we know where to find the relief when we need it.


Thought Provoking, a sharp-mind with humility. As Jane Bruton says of @tonyparsonsuk “Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking. The wise man of Twitter.”


People like to see skin in the game. As Jay Rayner says of @marinaoloughlin “She’s endlessly bitter, cross and enthusiastic in equal measure.” Is it the passion and the willingness to stand out that people like?


This was a surprise for me – so many people enjoy info on restaurants and recipes. Are tips for the perfect night out or guidance for a dinner party the greatest gift we can give? Whether it is Boy George appreciating @katemagic as “a raw-food guru who keeps me up to date with delicious recipes and the latest super foods” or Gizzi Erskine gushing of her foodie tweeps “We bonded over our love for Jewish food”, “She’s also a big foodie and has an amazing, creative eye.”


In a world when people are questioning “the meaning of it all”,  following people with a passion and a cause is a big hit. Seeing people in the zone and self-actualised is a valued thing. David Rowan talks of @indy_johar’s “insights into changemakers that matter”, Matthew Ryder talking about Adam Wagners passion for human rights; or Mariella Frostruspps distress and appreciation of the human plight shared by @vitalvoices


Its social media right – and so its ‘social’ – it not a broadcast channel – it’s meant to be engaging right? Derren Brown talks about “the sins of arrogance and relentless self-promotion”. Thats not good twitter behaviour. But there is a wide appreciation for people who ’embrace the medium’ – whether its gossip, banter, trying to kick off conversation or just sitting back and watching the glitterati nattering away – its all very human – way beyond the 140 character limit. A very enlightened person told me to watch @wossy – he’s the best at it.


Share great content. Links to news, events, food. Lucy Siegle depends on the practical advice from @higgledygarden “I’m a novice gardener-grower and this is my Twitter support” Peston acknowledges that its @lindayueh that he is depending on and Gaby Hinsliff and Peston both recognise the work of @faisalislam and how he creatively transforms dull economics into an engaging stream of informed knowledge.

So its a cloud its not a list

If I made it a list you could look at the top three ‘big-do’s’ and discount the rest. And that would be a mistake.

There are many insights to be drawn from the language people use to capture the value they see in twitter. Its not as simple as a top 3 best practices – there is a need for many voices and styles to make it a great place. If a list meant we discounted the importance of any one of these value-points we miss the chance to be different and stand out.

But what about Businesses on Twitter?

So did you notice the absence of any Business brands on the list. No ‘brand’ is close to our hearts – but should I expect there to be one?

Maybe its too big a challenge for a company? Can a business be funny, commmunicate its humanity, wisdom, mind-moving insights, valuable resources and sense of connection with people? Or should we always expect a gap between what is valuable to us “IRL” and what we get from a company? But a business is still a social organisation, right?

Who can we empower to be the face/voice of our business on twitter? (Everyone in the company is the face/voice of our business.) Does anyone get given the permission to be the ambassador for the brand? (Everyone we employ is the ambassador of the brand.)

But we aren’t seeing this shine through on the tweep list today – or maybe they are just under the surface. Not in our top three, but somewhere close behind.

@callyrobson tweeted this morning: “10 yrs ago many business owners didn’t “believe” in the Internet. Now I just hear same about #socialmedia #yawn”

So maybe a business is full of individual brilliance but collectively a bit lost at sea in Social Media. Businesses are not yet something worth following, and we’re still waiting for them to switch on and step up and woo us.

There are couple of exceptions that do it for me. Innocent (now owned by Coco Cola) have always had an edge. But also look out for Sonar6. Ive had the need to review a lot of companies in the HR software space in the last year and these guys are the only ones that can communicate with engagement – look at their FB page, their CEO’s videos and their cup-cake competitions on Pintrest. I don’t know what is in the Auckland water – but its refreshing, funny, intelligent and no doubt the reason behind their recent evalution and acquistion. They have a voice and its memorable.

If the principles of Dale Carnegie still stand (they do) we want to know-like-trust people. There are many of types of trust but the type businesses really needs is “affect” trustan emotional bond and care for the wellbeing of the other – customers that forgive the brand if it screws up, and customers that champion brands through referral – customers that want us to succeed.

This only comes following some kind of meaningful social tie or connection.  Maybe it can come through good Social Media dialogue? (I think so).

Can business be humorous and personable? Well @tomfishburne makes a start..

Is the Observer List useful? Yup…

The great thing about this Observer list is there is some learning to be had from it – it gets into peoples minds and then lays it out for us to understand.

Its not a ranking based on followers or K+ updates. It has real and rich subjective value and a good snap shot for someone to form a recipe – bake a cake – or mix a cocktail – called “An engaging Twitter voice”.

They say that twitter is like a big dinner party – be interested in others too – dont just shout about yourself – be engaging – be helpful – be memorable.

Companies can come to dinner parties too – invite the knitted yogurt pot of Innocent or ‘Crazy Mike’ from Sonar6 and Im sure it will be memorable. But the rest of you really should stay at home.

If you want to check out some of the great people on this Observer article have a squizz at this list. There are some very engaging, eccentric, distrurbing, inspiring, rude, funny, informative, opinionated – but also very loveable tweeps there. Voices people believe in.

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Millennial Permission

Last week Blackberry reported its quaterly earnings and it made for painful reading – revenue in Q4 of $4.2 bn, down 25 per cent from $5.6 bn in the same quarter of  2011 – and market share is now 9%, down from its peak of 21% back in 3Q 2009.

As my twitter friend @andrewarmour commented:

“Number: 1000. Approximately how many business days took for RIM’s share price to fall from its 2008 high of $140 – to today’s $14.”

Grim, but its not all bad news – the annual UK Superbrand ratings have just come out – Blackberry are still up there at number 23 in the Business brands – but clearly there is a gap between perceptions behind the brand and the actions and choices people are taking in buying the offering.

No one ‘owns’ their market but the Blackberry diversion from greatness is spectacular. That said, Nokia must be grateful to them from the diversion from their own plight as the sands shift for some handset makers.

We live in interesting times.

Lessons from the Hoff

A few years ago Reid Hoffman – the builder of LinkedIn and Paypal gave some great advice to new business grads at a talk at Stanford: Go and get yourself a job at a failing company. The lack competition for the flop business unit means you get into a position that gives you the experience you need as a leader and manager – hiring, P&L management, planning software distribution – all the experience you need.

Hoffman got his first break at Apple in the eWorld product group but later went to Fujitsu, knowing the programme he lead was screwed. Whilst the business failed Hoffman got his strips in General Management, and so could evidence to the VC’s he was safe hands for their money. Very smart move by the big guy.

Disrupt yourself before we do it to you

With Blackberrys fall from grace and dead – or aged – wood being culled, the CV’s from future leaders should be flying through the doors. Its a smart and strategic move to work there – not many other folks would want to be in a sinking ship – job competition is low – Blackberry is a great place to look for a break right now.

Anyone fancy a challenge? Would you buy a stamp – and stick your CV in the post?

Anyone fancy ignoring Blackberry’s focus on its laggard corporate sector and start flirting with the complex world of consumers whims – and potentially the huge growth in serving a youth segment. Leveraging the mass adoption of Blackberry Messenger by GenY, the millennial generation, the digital natives and call upon the loyalty and permission these users have granted you to serve the next generation of social communicators?

I would say that everyone should want what Blackberry has – but persistently fails to understand – the next wave of loyalty and more than a lifeline.

Sure you have to discount handsets – your disrupting your own business model – but isn’t thats what innovation is?

Sounds fun to me.