I love being in teams. I’ve just always been that way. Through childhood, then especially playing rugby as a teenager and in my twenties, and then at NixonMcInnes where we managed to assemble a special team. I’d almost always rather do work and play activities as part of a collective.

And like many people, I love especially those moments and periods of time when the teams I’m part of somehow reach that higher level of performance. When everyone is contributing their particular strengths, giving everything they’ve got, and the whole thing is working together fluidly.

Those moments when you look around you and you’re inspired and driven on by your teammates. And you suddenly realize that the individuals have become more like a single entity and you’re part of it. Yes it’s hippy-sounding and it’s also true and tangible. You must’ve experienced that too. Playing in a band, dancing in a club, organizing a brilliant event, whatever.

What prompted these thoughts was that I was at the dmexco show in Cologne, Germany these last few days. An unusually high quality event. Enjoyable to be part of and impressive in scale. (Most noticeably, not soulless in the way that the large scale trade shows have become – and better than anything in London of the same scale in my experience).

And these thoughts of teams are prompted by how our team came together to put that on.

Before the event our design and marketing team worked particularly hard to make a richer, more engaging platform than before – so some great foundations were laid and our goal of going further was established too. And then over the two days of dmexco our German commercial team just blew me away with their attitude and results.

In my favourite moments during the show one of two things was happening:

– sensing the same without communication

Every time I thought I was going to need to suggest to one of our guys that there was a person nearby who looked interested in chatting, as if by magic a team mate would sense the same thing and engage. Sometimes this was a lot more subtle than it might sound, and that was the inspiring, exciting bit. And the initiative, the proactivity to keep the whole thing functioning – the bin being emptied, screens being fixed, laptops being swapped. None of this is glamorous or difficult. But normally there’s friction in the need to spot, communicate, in the egos about who does what, that stop the flow.

– total contribution

Total effort all out. And ego-less. Our longest serving German team member gave out flyers and quietly supported from the edges. Our CEO gave product demos. Our head of client services lost her voice from talking to customers and prospects. Our young marketers shape-shifted into a salesperson and an IT / AV guy. And – to a person – our front-facing commercial guys worked so bloody hard. They smiled and they chatted and they won. Two days, everyone on their feet, extended periods of complete focus on other people, limited or no breaks. Our team gave their all.

All of this makes me wonder how we can do this over longer more stretched out periods of time. And across the boundaries of sub-teams. Our whole company is one team, after all.

Because I’ve experienced this team flow in a 60 minute new business pitch, in a half day workshop, over a two day show and – outside of work – in an eighty minute game of rugby.

Given that the teams I work with are located between 3 offices and working on programmes that can last weeks or months in quite different regions, the question I’m left with is can this state be designed for, given those constraints?

Can we reach this level of work zen and unity over an extended period of time, longer than 48 hours? Or is there just something about that compression of time and that essentially physical, face-to-face experience that best suits these moments? The reality is that very often we feel like we’re a long way off this smooth, satisfying state.

And what are the ingredients? What conditions create the right environment for this to happen?

At the heart of this team experience was one person – Susanne, our marketing manager for the DACH region. She was the axis at the heart of the whole endeavour, from deliberately planning the event into her budget in December 2013 to being the last person in the event hall, waiting for delayed delivery guys to show up. The playmaker. The conductor. The team captain. Not in a strategic armchair, but working like crazed person in the thick of it.

And secondly, there was a complete sense of shared purpose, and I think our team in this instance wanted to prove themselves, too. We all knew what the goals were. Shared purpose. And we wanted it.

I love teams. I wonder what else is present when teams of people reach their full potential and put on their best performances?

Authenticity and values not wanted

An email from why of the more senior people in my network. Currently in a top role at an important organisation:

A funny thing happened to me today that I thought you would appreciate.

Out of curiosity I accepted an invitation to go and talk to someone about a job. I’ve no intention of leaving [current organisation] but sometimes do accept these meetings.

I spoke to the guy and he noted I had all the skills and experience and so on. He went on to say – rightly I hope – that it’s clear that to me ‘authenticity’ is an important thing and that I’m ‘values’ driven in my leadership.

I thought he was paying me a compliment!

He then said that he felt that these could be challenging traits when working in senior role in a publicly listed company.

So apparently what we’re looking for in our corporations is inauthentic leaders with no core values…

Dear oh dear.


I really don’t know what to say. Is it any wonder?

New adventures, new perspectives

Two things to share, both pretty exciting:

  1. My new adventure
  2. Meaning 2013 lineup

1. My new adventure

We’ve announced a whole raft of exciting changes at NixonMcInnes, including me joining Brandwatch (‘whoah! YAY!!!!’), a company I’ve been a fan of for a long time, as Chief Marketing Officer in a global role based in NYC. So a very exciting new adventure for me and my family that blends my experiences, talents and values in a really interesting new way.

My brilliant colleague Max St John is taking on the MD role at NixonMcInnes, my co-founder Tom Nixon is returning in a Founder role, and Jenni Lloyd will be providing continuity as a board director looking after products and services. (I will continue to be a fan and shareholder, but will be inactive day to day).

To get the whole story, read more on the NixonMcInnes website.

2. Meaning 2013

Blimey, if that wasn’t exciting enough, check out the Meaning 2013 line up now.

photo (1)

We have:

  • A pirate
  • A rogue economist
  • A story-teller
  • An activist
  • A startup MD
  • An artist
  • A co-operativist
  • A rebel CEO
  • Plus two more to be announced over the next two weeks.

This is the place to come to if you believe that business can be better and want to get inspired, get practical insights and connect with likeminded people. Last year was AMAZING.

Our numbers are growing by the day, and I will be there in my last moment as a regular NM-er, so it will be special for me too.

Tickets go up in price on Monday, so grab ’em today.

See you out there in the wild 🙂

Join us at Meaning 2013

At NixonMcInnes we work to change the world of business. Big mission for a small company, and to reach it we have to think about ways to intelligently expand our reach.

It was with that mission in mind we decided to put on an ambitious event that would bring together the people who we believed shared our view of the future of business.

We called that conference Meaning, and about a year ago 10 incredible speakers inspired and challenged the 300 of us in the Corn Exchange, Brighton. It was a brilliant, fun, inspiring day! (Do enjoy the videos if you have the time.)

If you follow this blog because of my book Culture Shock, then Meaning is the equivalent in an event form 🙂

And now it is that time again.

This year we have gathered a Pirate, a rogue economist, an artist, a social entrepreneur, a storyteller, a cooperativist and a provocateur to lift us, to help us see, think and feel differently.

Pretty cool mix!

I am extremely excited about how these guys will connect with the second Meaning audience on November 8th. We are based in our home city of Brighton, a city with an international reputation for being different, 20 minutes from London Gatwick airport, and 60 mins by train from London.

These speakers are part of a new generation that is shaping what business can be in the 21st century. Here we can learn from them, support them, connect with them. Most importantly, we can find our own ideas and answers, and go on to create more positive change in our own organisations.

This year we’re not starting from a standing start, and already 100 people have grabbed a ticket.

So if you’d like to give yourself a day to reconsider what business is and can be, to gather new perspectives and connect with interesting, different but likeminded people, then join us.


And as a new experiment we have 3 hands-on workshops delivered by 3 top-notch Meaning speakers where attendees can learn directly from the experts about making Behaviour Change, Workplace Happiness and Storytelling work in their businesses. Take a look at these workshops:

Mary-Alice Arthur – The story dojo: how to harness the power of storytelling
Alexander Kjerulf – Happiness is 9 t 5; how to create happiness at work
Prof. Karen Pine – Do Something Different; behaviour change in organisations

2103 speakers announced so far…

Umair Haque – rogue economist and Harvard Business Review writer and author
Mary-Alice Arthur – storyteller, author and Art of Hosting steward
Rick Falkvinge – founder of the Pirate Party political movement
Mikel Lezamiz – director at Mondragon, the giant Spanish co-operative
Anne-Marie Huby – CEO of JustGiving
Honor Harger – artist, curator and creative director at Lighthouse
Lee Bryant – social technologies visionary

So, if that sounds like your bag, we hope that you will join us on November 8th (or for workshops the day before too) and be part of this group of people intent on making business better.

Book your ticket today. I’ll see you there.

Digital Transformation

I just wrote this and put it on the NixonMcInnes blog, because it is talking about the work that we do and want to do more of, our current mission I suppose.

But it belongs here, too, with you.


We are at an interesting point.

The World Wide Web is nearly 25 years old. Google is about 15 years old, and Wikipedia about 12. Mobile phones have been commercially available since 1983, and there are now gazillions of them and not just in the developed world, of course.

This stuff has been around a while now.

Today Amazon no longer only sells books and running shoes – it now sells the building blocks of its own ecommerce infrastructure to others, it develops hardware in the Kindle and is developing an ecosystem all of its own. It isn’t sitting around, cosy in its little digital world. It is busy disrupting the status quo in publishing, entertainment, in digital infrastructure and in retailing,

Activists in Turkey, and before that in the so-called Arab Spring, now use digital networks to get videos, photos and notes about police or government brutality out to the rest of the world.

Here in the UK, an elite team called GDS is seeking to transform government digital services, attacking the highest volume transactional websites in the UK – spreading user-friendly goodness, bringing the best of digital practice to government departments, departments that ran the British empire for hundreds of years.

Communities that have never and will never physically meet raise funds for people in need on Reddit, through Kiva and to get projects off the ground via Kickstarter.

And my dad, soon to retire as a state school teacher after 30 odd years, has been given an iPad, as has every student in his school. What is education like in a world where every person in a classroom has a tablet at their finger tips? Where the greatest universities in the world publish their courseware on the web freely? (See also: Sugata Mitra).

This is the new reality.

You know this. So what. It’s all a bit yada yada, perhaps.

The point is this. We are at a point where digital practices, behaviours and business models are disrupting pretty much everything – education, business, politics, civil society, and so on.

And some organisations are natively digital – those we laud and congratulate loudly. “Well done Facebook!”, “Bravo, Twitters!”, “Go Mumsnet!”. And those guys are great pioneers.

But the most fascinating question for me is what will it take for organisations steeped in and born from the last century or before to make a digital transformation, when their successes were born of old models and practices?

That’s hard. That’s interesting.

Is it classic reinvention story, like Lou Gerstner tells of his transforming IBM from hardware to services in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Can you achieve it through acquisition, perhaps, this digital transformation?

And in the end, who will make it? Now that’s going to be really interesting.

  • Will the US Treasury and the Bank of England move with the times, and will the dollar and the Euro still be suitable?
  • Will state governments resist a great atomisation, a fragmenting into digital tribes and physical small communities?
  • Will schools work more like co-working spaces?
  • And how on earth does an 80,000 person multi-national corporation transform when so much around it is in flux? Who will be on the inside and the outside, how will rewards happen, how will intellectual property be handled, what does leadership look like and who will the shareholders be?
  • And what is like to be a person or a team or an office in all of these places – what is like to have the ground moving under your feet, to have to adjust to things that are profoundly different to before, to be so challenged?

Digital transformation.

This is a big ask of us as individuals, with our habits and norms, let alone a big organisation.

Yet the challenge is we have to bring these large complex organisations with us. And what a great challenge to tackle, in service of a better world.

And it is tempting to divide these things – to see the rise of technology and the rise of a new business consciousness as two separate things, but I really believe that they are innately connected. That transparency, openness and the rapidity of the digital world is a powerful catalyst for the rise of employee ownership, for participatory leadership and new networked organisational structures. I guess that’s what Culture Shock is about.

That is what we’re up for at NixonMcInnes. To help positively transform the business world, with digital transformation as the catalyst.

Culture Shock links #13

Hey there – here’s the lucky 13th instalment of interesting progressive business bits and bobs that caught my eye recently.


Companies that Mimic Life: The New Profit Leaders

Fascinating but fairly densely written report and outcomes, looking at this idea of ‘Companies that Mimic Life’, which on its own is a really interesting premise.

We’ve seen other codes emerge in traditional business as the source to everlasting brilliance – In Search of Excellence, Good to Great and so on.

What is interesting to me is the investigation of biomimicry as a source of possible business advantage or helpful patterns.

Have a proper dig around it, but for now here’s the study’s key takeouts:

In general, we see five distinct attributes of firms that mimic living systems. Not every company in the global LAMP index ® is a perfect exemplar of these, but each fits the model in important ways and displays best living asset stewardship (LAS) practices in their respective industry/sectors.

  1. They are highly networked to facilitate feedback and information exchanges within the firm and without. Many of these networks are informal, self-organizing consortia of employees, suppliers, and customers. When you layer these networks over one another and the firm’s chain of command, you get a structure that looks much like a double helix. 7
  2. They manage by means (MBM), understanding that people and relationships are the primary means by which they build network capacity and create value. 8 they strengthen and empower employees by practicing servant leadership. 9 they also give employees decision-making authority in their areas of competence and hold them accountable for results.
  3. They optimize their use of physical resources by “closing the loop” so the waste of one process becomes food for another. 10 in doing so, they aim for factor efficiencies by producing more value for customers with less input of energy and materials.
  4. They are exceptionally open in the ways they share information with employees and in their desire for stakeholder feedback. They know such openness builds trust, learning capacity and adaptability.
  5. They nurture the larger living systems of which they are a part (nature, society, markets) because they understand the inherent connection of all life.

If those aren’t 5 enormously exciting characteristics they you can call me Esmerelda and dress me up as a show pony. LOVE IT.


New clues to Wikipedia’s shared super mind

I have been using Wikipedia as an example of what we can achieve for quite a while now, and even in the past few weeks, working with groups of reasonably sophisticated digital people (whatever that means).

I feel that many of us use Wikipedia as this hardly noticeable resource every week, maybe every day, and quite naturally spend little or no time thinking to ourselves what an incredible edifice it is. To me, Wikipedia is just the earliest prototype of what is possible now that we are living in human networks with tools that allow us to pool and direct small amounts of effort and large amounts of collective intelligence. Wikipedia FTW!

But the word I used was edifice – like a monolithic structure of old, more Stonehenge than bee hive.

So I love that academics, like the author of this paper, are examining the dynamics and patterns of Wikipedia to find new answers. Answers that reveal the super-organism-ness of Wikipedia, the vibrant social system that seems to power it.

The actual academic paper is gobbleydegook to me but this short article about it got me excited, particularly this quote:

“The big result is that the Wikipedia behavior is what we call non-finite state,” DeDeo says. “It’s constantly generating new patterns of behavior that haven’t been seen before.”

One possibility, he says, is that the unbounded source for these behavior patterns in Wikipedia is shared between people – it’s the product of everyone’s mind. “That’s what’s really exciting,” he says.

I really believe historians will look back and chart Wikipedia as an early pioneering example of a new way of collaborating that went on to change our world.



IT Departments Have Become Completely Useless

If you’ve read Culture Shock, you know that I put one of 8 chapters towards the role of Technology in progressive organisations, a quality I call ‘Tech DNA’ with the basic idea that in the best 21st orgs technology absolutely isn’t a department, and is instead an interwoven part of everything the organisation does.

Fundamental to achieving this interwoven tech in organisations requires nothing short of a revolution in traditional IT departments and IT thinking on behalf of everyone outside the IT dept.

What is interesting about this short piece is that the author sees an emergence of Chief Digital Officers and Digital functions in organisations, running in parallel to CIO and IT functions which I recognise and you probably will too. He questions how this will play out. Will they merge? How?

It’s straightforward stuff, but you may find it useful.

The big question for me is ‘what will it be like when the sexy Digital gang have to take care of or distribute responsibility for the big, ugly, mustn’t-go-wrong technology stuff?’ How do we upgrade the infrastructure of large complex orgs to a 21st century state of fitness? (Remember the RBS-Natwest bank technical issues, rumoured to have been due to outsourcing of IT for a vast legacy system?).


Crown of Win

Related to the above, a great guy I know called Toby has been implementing Culture Shock-type ideas with his IT helpdesk team.

Here’s his team’s blog, with photos of their weekly ‘Crown of Win’ to reward achievement in a funny, silly, non-financial yet somehow meaningful way. And in a way that might not completely fit with their org’s wider culture.

This crown of win is part of a wider family of simple ideas like Zappos Reply-All hat and NixonMcInnes’ Sword of Win.

Nice to see people actually doing stuff, though 🙂 I remember a takeout from our Organisational Change course last year as being ‘you change an organisation’s culture one meeting at a time’. Easy to deride the ‘small’ stuff, but it matters. See also: aggregation of marginal gains.

Nice one Toby and team!


To finish, a really nice review of Culture Shock by Marc Abraham – thank you Mark!

So yeah, please keep sharing links and spreading the good word,

– Will