Speaking Superkskills

SuperSkills at 3 Monkeys – some more thoughts and writing a second book


Early start today to talk about the SuperSkills idea, at 3 Monkeys Communications in Soho.

If you attended – thanks very much and here are the slides (which strictly speaking I should have posted beforehand). For more detailed notes about the detail of the talk, take a look at the post from TEDx last week.

Super skills at 3 monkeys

View more presentations from Antony Mayfield.

The main change from this presentation’s debut at TEDx Brighton last week was to add a little about the business or management context for thinking about SuperSkills. Moving on from some ways of describing this I’ve used in the past, I talked about analysing the impact of social web on a business across four areas, with the acronym LOOP:

  • Long term: What are the strategic implications of the web for the next 5 – 10 years. How will it affect the classic PEST elements (Political, Economic, Social and Technological) in the organisation’s environment.

  • Operational: Here and now in the next 12 months where can social/web tools support operations such as marketing, customer service, sales, research, product development, HR etc.

  • Organisation: How will different teams be able to work together on social web related projects? How will information and insights be communicated quickly around the company?
  • People: What are the issues that the social web raises for our people? The line between public and private is blurring,

The feedback from both this talk and the TEDx one has been very positive (please do let me know if you have any criticisms, constructive or otherwise) and I’m going to start developing some of the ideas in a book now. Watch this space for more new son that front.

The main things that people have been positive about (other than the Gotham font) are:

  • The idea of investing time in learning tools like Twitter, to develop literacy.
  • How effective the Pomodoro technique can be.
  • Thinking about social networks as productivity tools at work.
  • Developing different approaches to work habits and workflow.
  • The importance of always-on sharing

Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts on the subject – it ‘s really useful in working out how a book about this might work.

Public notebook

TEDx Brighton notes on my talk

* * Updated: I have posted the video at the foot of this post * *

These are the notes and links to accompany the talk I gave just now at TEDxBrighton (I will add the video to this post once it is available).The opportunity to give this kind of a talk was one I was really excited about, because it gave me the excuse to focus on a subject I’d been thinking about for a while and develop some ideas.When we talk about the web as a distraction, about information overload, about fears and doubts we are not alone. But rather than blame the web, or tools like Facebook, Google or Twitter, we should think about how we can learn the skills, habits and self-discipline required to tap into the web?s power to help us to do things faster, better and with greater impact.

To gain the most from using the web we need to think about how it is best used. This applies to everyday life, especially to knowledge work, or the knowledge-based elements of our working lives.

There are three sets of skills/knowledge/literacy that it will be useful to develop in ourselves and our friends and family:

  1. Networks: An understanding of how networks work, how to build and care for our personal networks and the ability to bring the resources and knowledge of networks to bear in our daily work.
  2. Sharing: Comfortably, instinctively sharing our knowledge, efforts, thoughts and needs with our networks.
  3. Focus and flow: Using our attention in different ways at the right times and designing workflows which take and put back into our online networks at the right moments.


Through the web we effectively have access to the sum of human knowledge and almost two billion minds. It arrived in our lives comparatively recently and we are still figuring out the ways in which it can be used.

The opportunity is almost too big, the web is almost too big. In fact it unsettles us, stirs up feelings of fear, doubt and uncertainty. My work has often involved helping people to get a grip on the scale of change they are facing in their company/industry/profession. This has sometimes involved experiencing the downside of the whole messenger shooting thing.

Emotional reactions are very understandable. Maybe it is a kind of grieving for the world we knew, grew up, created our success in, and like grief you have to expect shock, anger, denial, bargaining etc. Maybe it is a kind of shock of the now, a discomfort with how quickly things are moving with technology and its effects on society.

The other problem we have is we fixate on platforms, like Facebook, Google or Twitter and use them as proxies for the complexity of the web.

It would be better to recognise that these are access points to the vast network of networks that is the web, the web that is connecting up all of humanity, all of our knowledge, increasingly all of our objects.

There are many, many tools to access our human social networks and the machine network of stored knowledge and content.

That Facebook map…

I’ve been a bit infatuated with the map of 10 million pairs of connections on Facebook recently. I blogged about it recently and refer to the image three times during the presentation. Do read the original post on the Facebook blog – interesting in all sorts of ways…

Learning to read Twitter & digital literacy

Looking at my own use of Twitter, I realised that using Twitter was a complex skill that I had learned over 40 hours spread over about 18 months. It was a bit like learning to drive, or play a musical instrument. It took time, it took experience. I talked about this in Learning to Read Twitter and a WOMMA webinar called Do you speak social? (you can see the slides and hear the audio by following this link).

The idea that learning to use the web well would require a whole different set of skills was one that I was introduced to by a mentor whom I have never met or even spoken to, Howard Rheingold, a pioneer in the web and education.

Howard talks about five ?digital literacies, including “crap detection” and “attention literacy“. You can watch him give a longer overview of this idea in a video of Howard talking at Reboot Britain. You can see some of the writing and videos from Howard I’ve found useful in my Diigo library tagged howardrheingold .

What are the superskills we need to make the most of the web

“Social media” is a misleading term in some ways, as it makes us focus on the medium and not the network, not the potential to use the network as a way of doing things more effectively.

John Hagel eloquently explains in his brilliant book The Power of Pull and in this O’Reilly video interview (if you want the short version), Twitter is a “serendipity engine” – it allows you to access implicit knowledge, information with perspective and context that people have in their heads.

Twitter – like many social web tools – allows us to do the things that make us human only more so. We can build and manage larger social networks, be in the company and minds of friends and contacts regardless of geography, so we can hear when they need help, when they might want to offer it, when they know about an opportunity that would be just the thing for us…

In layman’s terms, when you use it right, the social web makes you lucky. You find the right knowledge, the right people, the right conversations, the right deals, the right products, faster.

Superskill #1: Networks

The first thing we need to learn, the first superskill we need to learn is networks. I should say ?networking?, but in the UK that carries some slightly negative, grubby connotations.

We need to understand some things about networks and we need to be able to do some things with networks.

Christakis and Fowler, in their book Connected, have a very useful set of five rules about networks. They explain how networks are affected by you, you are affected by networks, and by bits of networks you can?t see. They also explain how networks seem to have a mind of their own, they act like a swarm, as a?superorganism.

It is hard to get your head around, it feels almost mystical, but it is a useful insight to grasp, that you both have freewill, make choices that affect others and are also swayed in ways you don’t understand by the network, which is doing its own thing.

Beyond that conceptual element of networks, it helps to have an understanding of how networks work from your perspective. It helps to have an idea of what yours looks like, while accepting that you can?t see all of it.

Your network is a superskill and an asset. You can?t control it but you can affect it. If you manipulate it cynically it will be less effective. If you don?t care for it at all it will be less effective.

What we realised for corporations and networks was that they had to understand, be present and be useful. Those principles hold true for people as well.

Ideas like karma, like paying it forward, like not being a selfish git, all come into play.

Think of your network like a garden. Think of social network tools as ways of doing more faster, keeping connected to a larger network of contacts, increasing your ability to connect with the right people at right time. But not the sole way of being connected of course.

Thinking about how to be useful in your network brings us the next super-skill…

Superskill #2: Sharing

Sharing is something we learn early on, we encourage it in our children, and then spend some time curtailing and disincentivising later on in life. We go from sharing everything to steadily enclosing more and more of our stuff, our knowledge and resources from everyone else.

In the business world I began my career in there was what I felt a fantasy of the value of your intellectual property. People copyrighted and trademarked and signed non-disclosure agreements for all sorts of nonsense that no one else could care less about.

What I realised later on was that most stuff we created in our daily work had more value being shared than being protected.

My favourite example of what happens when you share instead of “protecting” your ideas and?knowledge?with copyright or demanding an exchange of data (email addresses etc) before you can see something is the What is Social Media? e-book I wrote at iCrossing. See this post for the full story.

The more I thought about it the more I discovered things I was not sharing, or not sharing well.

The web means it is easy to share without creating a burden for others, to put stuff out there and let it be found by people it to whom it is useful.

Organisations and especially knowledge workers should develop the habit of sharing by default, of deciding what not to share rather than deciding what things they will share. This will make the web a richer place and will the release value of information and content that otherwise would remain forever unrealised.

Superskill #3: Focus & flow

Focus and flow are the business end of this set of superskills – they are about using the web to get more done, to get stuff done faster, to get it done better.

Focus is about using your attention well, knowing when to focus it tight in on a single task and when it is useful to be diffuse and open to your network.

Related themes and thoughts that are worth looking at if you are interested in this are when?Stowe Boyd talks about “flow” and Howard Rheingold talks about Attention Literacy.

You might be aware of the idea of flow in work or sport when someone reaches peak performance. You need to be able to focus to reach this, and when you do it is a wonderful thing.

The web can be distracting, though, distracting to scale of infiinity. It was one thing our scholar forbears had to put up with the distraction of fleeting thoughts or hunger, and our recent working ancestors and selves had t put up with the distraction of colleagues in open space offices and telephone calls. But what about when everything is the distraction? Poor us.

Two things I use are the Pomodoro technique and a really good to do list. The timer starts and anything else that occurs goes on the list.

Well we need to learn the skill of being able to focus rather than blaming the tools.

The flow I am talking about here is also “workflow”, something talked about most often by web designers and other technical folk, it is something we should think about in relation to our own work. In a networked world where is the value to be realised in writing a report, sharing an interesting article, creating a presentation?

I’ll use the example of writing a presentation as an example. As you will see though, you might apply the same approach to many forms of knowledge work, from writing a report or proposal to doing some research for a meeting.

The tool focused way of writing a presentation is what I used before. I would sit down and open Powerpoint, Keynote or whatever and start using the web tools (Google, Delicious etc.) to go looking for new information which I might include. Usually I wold be looking for data, images and examples to support my case.

It was a bit like cooking with a recipe, but without having shopped for all the ingredients and checking I had all the utensils in advance. Even though the shop is justa round the corner I?m going to incur ?task switching penalties? and slow everything down y working in this way.

It was kind of the same with presentations. I would embark on writing one and I could take – well, I could take as long as I would like. The focus was the delivery of the presentation to a room full of people and I could work slowly for days and nights and then desperately in the hours before the presentation.

It was wasteful in so many ways. My time, but also in terms of the attention from and usefulness to my network that it represented. I wrote about my own re-thinking of workflow around a presentation in a blog post recently.

What does it mean?

So there we have it. I’ve ranged from how the web is changing the world through to how to write Powerpoint slide decks. From the sublime to the ridiculously everyday.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We need to understand and master both the high level and the mundane in order to really understand the revolution we are living through and make the most of it. Or we can leave it to our children and our grandchildren to work it out – your call.

We will learn these superskills eventually, as a species. But the choice all of us have now, is whether to let the web happen to us, or to take the initiative and the opportunity that lies in front of us.

Let’s focus on the tools insofar as we need to learn them but not lose sight of what is happening and what the opportunities are to get things done smarter and better.

Here are the slides…
TEDx Brighton: SuperSkills


The ROI of personal networks (especially LinkedIn)


Image: An email from LinkedIn prompting me to tell my network what I’m up to…

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who told me that over the past year that had learned how to use LinkedIn and that they reckoned that they could directly attribute several hundred thousand pounds of profit to it. Not vaguely, not hypothetically – they knew exactly which items on their balance sheet were the result of doing things because of and through that social network tool.

They were a fiftysomething avowedly non-techie businessperson in a service industry and I found their account of their experience very useful, as it had the fresh perspective of someone outside of the connected world I most live in.

They were of course highly successful in their field already, and implicitly understood the importance of personal networks in business.

Their nightmare scenario in business was missing out on an opportunity because they weren’t in the right place at the right time, that they weren’t front of mind when someone in their sector was pulling together a short-list for a contract or similar. What Twitter was doing was helping them to increase both their presence and profile in their personal network and their ability to listen to the needs of their connections and contacts.

These were some of the points they related which stuck with me…

  • Paying attention to what is happening: They weren’t a compulsive checker of what was happening on their LinkedIn account, they used a weekly email update to see who was doing new things, connecting with someone else, saying interesting things or asking for help on status updates.

  • Light-touch presence: They update their status every now and again, but had grasped that in LinkedIn less can often be more. I agree with this, which is why I don’t connect Linkedin to Twitter. In Twitter I am much more chatty, and when the mood takes me update several times a day or even hour. In LinkedIn that’s not useful – I leave status updates there only when something significant has happened, or I am travelling somewhere that I think I might meet others from my network or I am looking for input on a particular project or issue. They also mentioned that changing their photograph or updating their profile details every few months was a useful way of keeping (sociologists would call that a phatic expression – the online equivalent of waving as you pass or saying “hi” briefly).
  • Being useful to their network: As well as answering obvious business opportunities, they stressed the importance of connecting others who would be useful to one another, when they spotted an opportunity. This connecting behaviour is a classic networking approach, and one that leaves everyone feeling positive toward one another. Often it can also result in direct or indirect commercial benefits for the connector.

LinkedIn is a productivity, networking super-charger: It’s not just about LinkedIn, of course – it is about understanding your personal networks and how to behave, to be useful in them. Tools like Linkedin accelerate and augment our ability to successfully work with our networks, in them, through them. But the real, underlying superskill as I’m calling it at the moment, is all about networks.

Brilliant Noise

What am I up to?


You’re overdue an explanation, so here it is…

These are interesting times – in a good sense – for me, as I close the chapter where I was employed at iCrossing, and indeed the the section of the book – to extend the metaphor – where I have been employed by others.

That’s right I have struck out on my own. Thankfully, I have still got a good relationship with my former employer, so much so in fact that they remain a client of my new venture, which means I still get to work with my colleagues there. Brilliant.

It was hard to leave, as I think the company’s just entering a fascinating phase – becoming part of a major publisher is amazing, an apt illustration of the disruption and mixing up of the marketing industries that I wrote about for iCrossing in the Brands in Networks e-book.

However, there comes a time in your career when it feels like now or never for going on the adventure of starting your own company, and that time, for me, is now.

My new company – Brilliant Noise – is in its very early stages, so forgive the bare bones website and web presence for now.

I’m founding it based on two lessons I learned during the past half-decade at iCrossing:

1. I love starting things…

I read Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start before the iCrossing adventure began, and it served me well. Even though I was within a growing company – at the time, Spannerworks, which was soon acquired by iCrossing – starting the Content & Social Media team, felt like a start up. It was utterly new for me, the company and at the time, the market.

Actually back then – when we had to write What is Social Media? to explain what this new thing was,, we weren’t at all sure that “social media” was a term that would stick at all. But it did, and now it is just as popular, mis-used and simultaneously understood and misunderstood as “public relations” the discipline from which I had come.

Anyway, there was a thrill in having that blank sheet of paper, and the sure knowledge that although no one around me knew exactly what it was going to be, I had to do something pretty quickly to earn my keep. In starting afresh, I have that feeling once again – and I love it.

2. The most effective way to do it is to do it…*

Brilliant Noise is going to be a consultancy, but also a do-tank – it’s an idea I’d been mulling for a while. Not unique – others use the phrase in a variety of ways – but definitely different. I could have thought about Brilliant Noise as a kind of analyst house or think tank – but what the iCrossing experience taught me was that to create new things – even conceptual things like frameworks, models, strategies – you have to be in the game, getting your hands dirty, trying stuff out.

I’m thinking of Brilliant Noise then, as an exploration vehicle, a way of doing valuable work for sure, but wherever possible in areas of media and business that are uncertain, unchartered. Projects underway at the moment range from the expected – marketing strategy, training, etc. – to the fiendishly unexpected (I cant’ say otherwise you will be expecting it).

As well as client work, one of my first projects is to write my second book. This will look at applying the web and social networks in the workplace, where Me and My Web Shadow was mainly about our personal lives.

Anyway, that is where I’m at what I’m up to. 2011 begins with excitement and trepidation in equal measures, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you think there might be scope for us to work together get in touch and I’ll give you specifics of the kinds of services I’m offering. (Available, I’m also for weddings and barmitzvahs, insomuch as those occasions might require digital strategy and innovation expertise….)

* It’s one of my favourite quotes – from Amelia Earhart.

Public notebook

Facebook planet


This image has been on my computer desktop and on my mind since I saw it in December. High time I shared it here, really.

It’s a data visualisation of 10 million pairs of friends on Facebook and where they live in relationship to one another, created by an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team. Read the original blog post in full – it is fascinating stuff.

As Ian Tait points out, what’s amazing is that there is no map underneath, and yet you can pick out the shapes of the continents.

Interesting too are the gaps – China, Brazil and Russia are underrepresented, perhaps due to the fact that other social networks are more prevalent in those territories (RenRen, Orkut and Vkontakte respectivelY).

Via Broadstuff. Reminded by Crackunit

Public notebook

Optimising for attention: what media and marketing need to focus on in 2011


Here’s a prediction for you (why not, it is New Year’s day).

In 2011, media and marketing will move beyond optimising for platforms and start optimising for attention.

Following a thread of thinking prompted by Sam Michel’s comment earlier on today, I came back to the thing about our repeated mistake of focusing on platforms instead of the things that matter (outcomes, patterns, trends, consequences, behaviours).

Search engine optimisation (SEO), social media, display ads, PR, creative, content, all of these things are too often presented in oppoisition to one another, when really all distract from the central task in hand, winning in the great attention markets of the web.

The only disciplines I wouldn’t include in those would be things would be user experience and community management, both of which, when practised with awareness of networks rather than fixating on a single website or platform, are growing in importance in the digital mix. It amazed me that toward the end of 2010 we were still talking about the relative merits of PR and SEO, as if effective communications

Let’s not waste too much time on playground tactics (no rabbit in a hat tricks) in 2011. Begin and end your thinking about success online with attention: serving it, winning it, earning it.

And with that, here’s some 12 year old hip hop to kick off the New Year. Keep it, er, real…