more like people

helping organisations to be more like people

Writing #MoreLikePeople/ Practicing-what-I-preach

As I approach the half-way point in Draft 1 of Anarchists in the Boardroom, I wanted to reflect on the various ways I was experimenting with applying the ideas of this book to the writing processes, and to my own working habits in the process…

‘How would I write a book, ‘more like people’’ I asked myself?

NZ sunset

I thought you’d like a picture. Here’s one I took in NZ…

The simple answer was of course, ‘I could write it in any number of different ways, just like people would!’

…Which is fundamentally true. This book is not about outlining one-size-fits-all solutions. It makes a lot of suggestions, and highlights the principles that underpin them, but it doesn’t say ‘This is what more like people means, full stop!’

But since writing this book is my current working life, I figured it was important for me to be playing around with what the principles meant for me, during this project.

So what have I done?

Writing social media into the book

Rather than pretend the meta-level of ‘people discussing the themes of the book’ is separate from the book itself, I’ve included a section in Chapter 1 about continuing an online conversation while it is being read. It talks about the #morelikepeople hashtag, and the upcoming website URL, and encourages people to find others who are reading it, to share insights and things that parts of the book make them think about.

I’ve also included the Twitter handles of the people I mention in the book who have them, immediately after their names, so readers can reach out and connect with them directly when they are reading about their ideas or their stories.
If I can pull the book away from being ‘the central hub’ for these ideas, but can still use it to help connect people, I feel like it’ll be a positive step towards making the things I’m writing about happen.

Crowdsource everything!

Well, not everything, but I’ve been keen to ask a lot of questions on Twitter and Facebook throughout the process. These questions have included:

  • What of the following subjects are you interested for me to write about today, and why?
  • Do you know any good resources about [blank]?
  • Who would like to read the chapter I just wrote about [blank]?

The 1st time I asked which chapter folks were keen to read, there was a strong response for Chapter 7, which relates to hip-hop culture and innovation.

So I wrote it.

Having the extra boost of knowing that I was writing about something (more specific than the book itself), that interested people was a good motivator and helped get me over the hump of starting a new chapter.

When I asked for resources about ‘professional culture’, an old activist friend from my teenage years suggested a book by Jeff Schmidt that has ended up playing a significant part in Chapter 2.

Don’t get stuck to a certain approach if it’s not working

After the success of asking people what they wanted me to write about the first time, I tried it again… but when Twitter decided I should write Chapter 9, I realised that I wasn’t really in the right headspace to write Chapter 9…

So I dropped it.

Trying to write about something I didn’t have the energy for that day was a lost cause, so I did a bit of introspection and decided I wanted to get into Chapter 2 instead.

I followed the energy. In my experience of writing – or basically any more creative or non-linear endeavour – if you have any choice in the matter at all, always work with what you’re excited about in the moment. It will inevitably come out much better than whatever else you could have been doing with less enthusiasm in that time.

Debate everything!

Twitter’s also good for floating quotes and hypotheses.

A Re-Tweet or three, or a couple of ‘Favorites’ is often a good indication you might be on to something.

Silence might imply letting it drop, or trying again later, as there’s always a luck-of-the-draw aspect to Twitter…

You might also end-up starting an argument with someone who will either help you sharpen your thesis a little, or make you re-evaluate it a bit…

The ever-argumentative @kidecono (previously @andyvglnt, who I also have done some less-adversarial stuff with in the past) is usually good to bash big ideas around with. His opening salvos are often along the lines of ‘bollocks!’ or, on a more diplomatic day, ‘That’s a logical fallacy.’ Most recently, we threw around the respective values of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ world views… It all got a bit ‘meta’ at some stage, but he definitely pushed me to avoid becoming too one-sided in my approach.

This is really valuable during a writing project, where you’re inevitably fixed at a desk, mostly alone, for hours and days on end. Being challenged is a great gift, when it is done constructively.

Find circles of helpful ‘editors’

In the same line, I’ve been gradually sourcing a list of people – some of whom are people I’ve interviewed or quoted, others people who’ve shown an interest – to offer critical feedback on draft chapters.  Sometimes they are broadly supporters, at other times they’re people I have disagreements with.

I email each Chapter to a handful of them, and see who gets back to me.

If one or two reply with some detailed thoughts, the chapter inevitably improves. If more do, it’s that much better. Diverse opinions help to fill a writer’s personal gaps.

The folks who had replied on Twitter with interest in Chapter 9, for example, are part of the circle who I will ask to feedback on Chapter 9, when it’s ready… so even though I didn’t take their suggestions on at the time, I’ve kept them in the loop and I’m sure, if they have a chance to reply, it will help the book to be better than it was…

I’ve also had my wonderfully helpful friend and colleague Paul, Tweeting me a constant array of both relevant links and quotes, as well as feedback as he reads the draft chapters… which has sometimes sparked conversations with others, as it’s all happening publicly…

Think about your own working habits

I’ve always known I’m not much of a morning person. Even when I wake up early, it’s unlikely I’ll be in anything like peak shape before about lunch time. Yet, each day in the writing process, with an intense discipline, I was at my desk by 9am!

Eventually I realised that, while I was at my desk, I wasn’t accomplishing very much for the first few hours there… After lunch, things would usually pick up, and I’d happily write, with minimal break, til 8 or 9 or 10 or…

This meant that various bits of things – household stuff, nice times with Jen, leaving the house for any reason at all (!!!!) – often slipped off the agenda for the day…

Retrospectively, with no boss here to tell me otherwise, this seems like a no-brainer, but like so many ingrained habits, it took me a while to figure out that ‘I don’t need to write in the mornings!’

The ‘internalised boss’ had been telling me otherwise. There was no practical reason for it, but I was doing it anyway. In the guise of ‘self-discipline,’ I was conforming to the very systems I was writing about alternatives to… [insert ironic comment here]

Today I started to push myself on this. I slept a bit later, did some exercise, made a good breakfast, then got into emails and other miscellaneous bits of work, before sinking my teeth into the book…

It’ll take some practice to fight off the vaguely workaholic notions I sometimes seem disposed to, but when I do, I feel better, and when I feel better, I write better words…

So that’s it so far…

I’m not sure if this is too specific and self-employment-relevant to be useful to folks in organisations, or if you might draw some parallels from it, but I felt it was worth putting out there!

In the spirit of the post, the book, and the values I’m trying to live in the world, let me know if you’ve got any other ideas about how I could apply the approaches of this book to the writing process!

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Posted in accountability and flexibility and learning and social technology and Uncategorized.


8 Replies

  1. Hi Liam

    Great post. It’s far from being too specific and self-employment relevant. I have found reading this hugely relevant to lots of things I’m doing and planning at present, and I hope I remember to return for a re-read.

    I really like your description of how you have written social media in to the book, I love the idea that books can help to connect people (and conversations). Having a hashtag seems a great way to go. Now that I’ve been tweeting for a couple of years I’ve finally grasped the value of a hashtag for rallying conversation as opposed to setting up a separate twitter account for whatever the big project is. (I think the hashtag is the alternative, the twitter account is the organisational branding route.)

    Your approach to crowd sourcing is helpful to think about. As someone a little trapped in organisational mode I don’t think I throw things out widely enough, so feel inspired by what you’ve done and hope I can develop that habit (without of course getting stuck if it’s not working).

    I smiled at the irony of your ‘internalised boss’. Your conflict around when you should be working reminded me a little of some diversity training I did years ago which suggested that people who work better later in the day should be encouraged to work different hours (I’ve never been employed anywhere that has a way of managing that.) However despite working for an organisation which doesn’t even have flexi time or a home working policy, thanks to the trust and attitude of my manager, I spend my time working in places and times which suit me (and of course don’t result in me not being available for meetings etc.). So today I worked all day in a coffee shop, which I find to be an environment in which I am most productive if I have writing to do. This probably takes some confidence, which perhaps other people might not have, as well as a good relationship with my manager. For me it creates a great balance between being and employee and having all the benefits that brings, and having some control over where and when I work on days which don’t require me to be in a specific place at a specific time. It aids my creativity and wellbeing, but if I stop to think about it I’m aware that I’m not working within the rules. The rules are naff. I’d hope that I could apply many of the ideas in your book without worrying too much about the written and unwritten rules – that could be a good test of things! Look forward to reading the finished product 🙂


  2. Hi Lorna –

    Excellent! Really glad I wasn’t just talking to myself with this one! 😉

    One of the themes in the book is about how anyone within even the most entrenched bureaucracy can find ways to ‘hack’ parts of the established system, rather than waiting for it to crumble, or waiting for change from on-high… so finding ways around the existing rules is a big part of that.

    Organisations can easily have such a disempowering effect on people, making us forget what might actually be in our control, if we think laterally, and breeding a sense of conformity that makes it seem impossible to challenge or undermine ‘the rules’…

    I think a lot of the ‘solutions’ to our organisational problems will at least begin as ‘hacks,’ and will hopefully, gradually, get picked-up by the power structures, once everyone else is doing them already 😉

    Thanks for your story and for contributing!


  3. Hi Liam.

    This is the first post I’ve read about your book.

    I appreciated the idea of the “internalised boss”. I have a similar problem ref “taking time off on weekdays” – although I’m often working at weekends.

    I’d be interested in joining your circle of helpful “editors”, if it was ever relevant for me to do so. (I realise this could be “a Bad Idea” as my perspective is from outside. However we do overlap in many ways, and in much of our thinking.)

    I was interested to read your page saying – “We are about people, the institutions that serve them, and working to improve communications and relationships between the two.”

    I think that explains the weird simultaneous overlap and divide we have experienced in our exchanges of ideas in the past.

    When you talk about top-down issues in NGOs you are talking about it from the perspective of people within a top-down organisation.

    My interest in top-down issues is with regard to relationships between institutions and the people that they are “serving” (often people like the people I know). My complaint is that the institutions “serve” in an outdated, top-down way instead of connecting through the available communication technology and having “collaborative conversations” before, during, and after any help/service/intervention they provide.

    I applaud your approaches to writing the book – but – regarding social media I confess in advance that I see comparatively few of the tweets of people I’m following unless they actually tweet @Pamela_McLean. However I am now subscribing to your blog and have a better chance of noticing that.

    Wishing you every success with the book itself and the ways you are going about it.

  4. Hey Pam!

    Thanks for reading and commenting – glad the internal boss idea made some sense… I’ve used it to explain various bits of mine and others behaviour at different times… I’m pretty sure I gleaned it from somewhere, but couldn’t say where…

    I definitely work from the perspective of helping to change things from within a system… While I think our modes of organisation are entirely dated, I know there are many, many people inside those systems that are imagining better things… A lot of what I’m trying to do is help people in those positions to find the part of the trad orgs that they, personally, can help make crumble, and replace with something else…

    RE: the term ‘serve’… I haven’t updated that page in ages, and partly agree that it might be dated… however, I think orgs, in the structured sense, should only exist to serve people and causes, like any other tool would… rather than serving themselves, as self-perpetuating machines, as is so often the case.

    The people within orgs shouldn’t be as divided from those ‘they serve,’ as is often the case (which is one of the biggest problems w/ so many NGOs/voluntary orgs). I think a more organic line around those inside and outside is a necessary piece of the change…

    I guess I still think ‘service’ can be a collaborative notion, with less fixed roles…

    Would be great to have you cast an eye over some of the chapters, if you had time! Will give it some thought and send you something in the next week.

    RE: Twitter – it’s the nature of the medium – there’s always the luck element – you never know who will see it, and never know who will respond.

    Thanks for the kind words!


  5. Hi Liam

    Crowd sourcing works for me 🙂 It’s a very helpful stimulating way of adding stuff to the mix, and I think your point about checking your working habits is a great one (note to self, check my work habits). I don’t have anything to add to your approaches right now and I will think on about that.

    I would like to reference you in a talk I’m giving in Ohio this September please? You and I share some similar views and I’m always looking for chances to point people to other interesting people. If you’re OK with that I’ll mention you in the #morelikepeople context.

    Keep up the good work, Doug.

  6. Hi Doug!

    Thanks for reading and am glad to hear the ideas made sense to you!

    I would of course be happy – and honoured – for you to reference me in a talk! Is there anything I can provide that would help at all?

    Drop me an email if there’s anything I can offer 🙂

    If we don’t talk/tweet before, good luck in Ohio!


  7. like pam, this is the first post i have read about your book! sounds like you are tackling the hydra of a socially-sensitive multiple-perception reading of your book 🙂 good luck!

  8. Doing my best, David 🙂

More Like People is an association of freelance consultants, facilitators and trainers, working primarily in the voluntary, community and campaigning sectors in the the UK and elsewhere.

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