The one with the wrong era

I envy Don Draper… (from Mad Men)

Not just for the good looks, creative talent and his very attractive wife but for the fact that he worked on Madison Avenue in the 60s. It looks such fun – drinking, smoking, lots of socialising and even someone who takes your hat and coat in the morning to hang them up. OK not so much the hat but you get my point.

If I think back to when I was kid, my Dad worked in a senior purchasing role in Civil Engineering. He went to every sporting occasion he wanted (and saw Gareth Edwards go over in the corner in the mud), fought off gifts at Christmas and his expense account was a thing of beauty. Not a code of conduct or an ethical sourcing policy in sight!

I have come to conclusion I live in the wrong era!

These random thoughts were pinging around my head earlier this week but were brought into sharp relief by a blog post written by Gareth Jones. It’s called ‘Conversation is the new currency’ and it makes some impassioned and fairly bold assertions about the value of conversation to organisations. I am fortunate enough to know Gareth and his commitment to this topic is unwavering even though I on occasion drive him nuts with my requests for evidence or case studies.

Having read through and reflected on his post I have come to conclusion that I firmly disagree with Gareth (and not just on the fact that conversation is potentially the biggest source of business value) but specifically on it being the new currency. It is my belief (and I have no evidence or case studies either) that conversation is the oldest currency in organisations. What we are trying to do now is replicate something that used to exist in the past but has been lost in the waves of change, productivity improvements, downsizing, technology, expansion, relocation and globalisation.

If we go back to my Dad, he regularly went to the pub with his colleagues and stood around and chatted – not because they were on a corporate retreat, a team building day or because it was being paid for by the business – they just went to the pub. Business networking was not a load of uptight people exchanging business cards (or adding each other to Linkedin) it was Round Table which entailed a good deal of partying, dancing, travelling and some significant community and charity work. His dinner suit didn’t only come out for awards dinners and the people he did business and worked with became his friends (and one of them my godfather).

I do agree with Gareth that we need to focus on communication not on engagement. In the same way that Chris Shambrook talked about the need to focus on performance and not result. We need to consider how people are going to feel connected to the people they work with not just get a score of how many of them do. However you go about achieving that I think it’s worth bearing in mind that all we are doing with social media (and other solutions) is trying to replicate the oldest of situations – a group of people standing around talking.

As for me, I’m off to dream of being Don Draper…or maybe just to dream of Joan. Have a great Thursday everyone!


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5 responses to “The one with the wrong era

  1. Nice post. And damn it! I was gonna tell Gareth I disagreed and you beat me to it! Long before social media ever existed and (insert religious being of choice here) willing, long after too – conversation will be vital. It is indeed a currency older than the Roman Sestersii (sp – I blame Asterix).

    Great to see another link to Chris’ talk – it’s a belter!

    Chat soon 😉

  2. Perhaps you and Gareth are both right from different perspectives.

    Conversation is as old as civilisation. Maybe it is civilisation. It surely correlates very closely with engagement. I think there is evidence that suggests (Robert Putman, “Bowling Alone” that engagement generally has declined dramatically over 40-50 years or so for a number of reasons including:
    1. People living further from their place of work
    2. People not eating together either as families or at work or socially (I remember the dinner parties and suppers our family and friends enjoyed.)
    3. People watching TV – and this is the most direct, immediate and tragic correlation. I watch a lot of TV myself, but I am very worried by its toxic effect. Putman shows in the USA just how bad it is. The result is that fewer people go to Church, Mosque or Temple or join things like Round Table, or The Lodge, or Rotary, or Lions etc. Fortunately many still do, but those who do not miss the opportunity to contribute to and gain from the welfare of their community. Good news seems to be that young people seem (no evidence!) to me to be connecting more both virtually and really. The internet and coffee culture seem to bring great ptentialand teh art of dialogue is being slowly re-learned.

    So many of the generations that were born 1945-1975 have not experienced directly at work the benefits of conversation. In that context conversation is a new discovery and the point is that it is a discovery, not an invention. (It was sex that was invented in the 1960s with the pill, as I recall. Maybe that replaced conversation for a while too).

    So maybe conversation is like love, “The newest and the latest thing, the oldest and the greatest thing.”

    Thanks for creating this conversation!

    • Spot on:

      “So many of the generations that were born 1945-1975 have not experienced directly at work the benefits of conversation.”

      Again, spot on:

      “Good news seems to be that young people seem (no evidence!) to me to be connecting more both virtually and really. The internet and coffee culture seem to bring great ptentialand teh art of dialogue is being slowly re-learned.”

      Although i dont think its just the youngsters! Seriously, i think a lot of the folk in the 1945 – 1975 birth pool are responding to the opportunity that some of this social stuff creates to converse – I know i am and many like me including the author of this ‘ere blog, Mr Jones himself!

  3. Great post Rob – my Dad and yours had the same journey!

    Actually, I think you and Doug have misinterpreted my message. Of course conversation is not new, Duh!

    I replied as such to Doug’s comment on my post. But its become a dying art in organisations. Its being ignored. People are not allowed to express their honest view, like they do down the pub. The content of conversations is only tolerated in organisations as long as it tows the line and is positive. I wont repeat myself here, but the point i was making is that the social era is forcing this point out into the open – just as the arrival of the internet forced the customer conversation into the open.

    As for it being the greatest opportunity to build business value, well there is no misunderstanding there – we do disagree lol 😉 Im working on limited evidence so im expecting your take on it. However, despite the evidence being slim, there appear to be those companies who are achieving amazing results through enabling open, transparent conversation – taking the good and the bad on the chin – creating a sense of confidence amongst the rank and file to share their view openly, raise issues etc and ultimately go on to do more positive things like collaborate for the corporate good.

    What comes out of this approach – collaboration, new ideas, learnings, mistakes etc – are the things that create the business value i talk about and I will grant you, they are not “conversation”. However, without this open, honest, free and transparent conversation, the other things do not flow.

    THAT is my point 😉

  4. Pingback: E-mail Killed the Chat Show Star « T Recs

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