Impossible Things with David Terrar S1 E15
DAVID TERRAR [00:00:58] Hi, this is David Terrar, and welcome to Episode 15 of Impossible Things to David Terrar and for any newbies I’m gona explain the fact why the hell it’s called Impossible Things. Well, it’s partly to do with Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, where any sufficiently advanced technology seems like magic, and partly because we like the fact that the queen in Alice through the Looking Glass talks about doing 6 impossible things before breakfast. So we love the impossible. And I’m delighted to say that today’s guest is an old friend, Luis Suarez, who somebody will know as the Founder of the No Email movement from way back in 2008 when he was at IBM. So, Luiz welcome to the show. Tell us a bit about what you’re doing now.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:01:45] Hi. Hi, David. Thanks for having me. It’s a great pleasure. Boy, that’s like a trip down memory lane right 2008. Gosh, I’m late. Yeah. That long already. So. Yeah. So a quick introduction to my name is Luiz. I’ve been working in this collaboration, social networking space, learning online communities and everything else now for 23 years. I worked for IBM for 17 of those years. I did 3 years on my own. And for the last nearly 4years, I’ve been working for this firm called panagenda, where we focus on data analytics for collaborative environments. So the way I describe it briefly is we help customers understand the data they produce when they collaborate. And boy, it’s been a wild ride, those 23 years. I can tell you that.
DAVID TERRAR [00:02:34] Brilliant. The no email thing was basically you were highlighting the fact that too many of us were kind of trapped inside of our inbox. And actually, there are lots of other ways we should be collaborating with different types of back then it was enterprise, social networks and different ways we could do things using public services. Tell us a bit about that.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:02:56] Well, you know, you mentioned you were we were trapped. I would say that we’re still are.
DAVID TERRAR [00:03:02] Amazingly, we are.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:03:03] I mean, this is like if you look in to, you know, and you talk to different people, they would tell you that still the number one tool that they use have work to communicate or collaborate with people is through email right? Which is a bit sad because, you know, as good as email is as a system, we keep abusing it left and right. So when I started in 2008 that No Email movement was essentially, let’s think first what we need to use email for or what we would want to use it for and for anything else, you know, like improving collaboration and becoming more open and more transparent, more public in terms of what we do. Let’s find something else that is more effective. Find it. And at the time indeed was enterprise social networking tools. Nowadays probably would be messaging and chatting apps. But the essense are still there. So the whole idea for me when I started was basically, you know, you talked about the impossible things right at the start of the of the broadcast. That was exactly it. You know, the impossible is can you imagine a corporate world without email? And I’ve been doing that since 2008, right? So when people tell me they do still use email, I say, yeah, about two emails a week, sorry, a week, a day. So that’s 10 a week, roughly, right. By those people who insist on sending email, because that’s the only way they communicate with the rest of the world. Everything else has moved elsewhere. Everything else is going through “ESN” so is going through various different collaborative messaging, chatting apps and everything else. And frankly, 2020, I don’t think that we’ve ever had it’s so easy to give up email and move into much more effective collaborative tools. The reason why we haven’t done it to me confirms that it’s never been about the technologie, it was being about our mindset and the bad habits that we have inherited over the years in terms of how we work. So when people tell me don’t you get tired of doing no email and advocating about it. And I said, look, once you see the light of coming back from vacation to 3 weeks of vacation and having zero emails, that’s as good as it gets, you know. And I still keep telling people to me, if you want to collaborate, if you want to communicate with me, you need to find better ways of doing that.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:05:20] I think I agree with you. And if and I think if you’d spoken to both of us back in 2008, we’d be kind of horrified that we’re not further forward. Here we are in 2020. But let me change tack slightly. When I spoke at a really interesting event yesterday called The Digital Work Distruption, you had the first presentation and I had the last presentation. And that was about the present and future of work and all of the implications for the organisations. So tell us a bit about that and what you said yesterday.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:05:54] Well, my presentation, just that it was essentially give a little bit of a state of where we are when thinking about distributed work, how I make a distinction between remote work and distributed work. How remote worked to me as a power struggle between how I misspoke. So those people who work from home. And they said that they do remote work. They know that their power “sounds where” usually with their manager setting up the office. So I make a difference between that remote work and distributed work where we are all distributed. We are all using all of these digital tools to get work done because we have all being locked down to a certain degree with the pandemic and people are working away from the traditional office. Even though is that we used to report to the office. Right. Or that we used to interact with. So my presentation, just that it was like, you know, what’s the state at the moment of distributed work? Are we there yet in terms of the workplace, in terms of that digital workplace? And the notion was to perhaps give her a bit of a short introduction as to where we have been. So there have been lots of studies and research over the last few months in terms of how we seemed to be a bit more burdened and burned out an overloaded because we keep sending more email. And we do have this obsession with doing online meetings for everything. So somehow my message yesterday was that we need to stop trying to mimic the office environment online. It just doesn’t work like that. And I tried to introduce what I call a DNA leadership as a hashtag, which is asynchronous, distributed, networked leadership, where we all start thinking about how we use all of these various different social networks and online communities to do a lot of their vast majority of the work that we do, which can be done asynchronously. And the notion there was essentially to also share practises, some practises that people can do today that I know, you know, if you were to “attend a presentation” and if you were doing enterprise social networking tools for the last 10, 15 years, you would tell me, Luis, I know this already. I know, I know that, you know, but do you practise it because the actual thing that I’m saying is that everyone is obsessed with back to back meetings. The Zoom fatigue. Everyone is sending lots of email. Everyone is using messaging and chatting apps. But we’re not doing enough or working out loud. We’re not doing enough of listening. We’re not doing enough of building community beyond the wrong group is. So, yes, you all know the story, but how much do you put that into practise for your day today? So my presentation was a live feed off of saying if we want distributed work to work, we need to think different and do different. And that was essentially my presentation.
DAVID TERRAR [00:08:50] And it was a great start to it, a great day. But yeah, I mean, you know, lots of people talking about the fact that, you know, over the last 6 months, we’ve all been kind of forced into this amazing experiment where the pandemic has meant that organisations suddenly got pushed into letting everyone work from home in a matter of days or a week or two compared to if they were doing that as a traditional enterprise and plan out as a project to take months to plan it. And then it would be a long term thing. They had that to get employees’ life working from home this week, raising. I mean, the technology held up. Suddenly Zoom became, you know, that standard or in a brilliant position where you know what we’re talking about meetings and they’re Zoom. It’s “the Hoover”. It’s amazing. The early part of it, we had wall-to-wall meetings because we all tried to kind of replicate the world of work in new virtual world. And some of that is useful. But a lot of it, isn’t.
DAVID TERRAR [00:09:57] Well, it’s perpetuating what I call the cult of busyness. So pretend that you’re busy versus being effective. So and what one of the interesting things that you have mentioned, which I also mentioned and just this presentation, is that if there’s one thing that the pandemic has done. Is it has confirmed that when people were thinking about digital transformation and a bunch of others were trying to find all sorts of various different business reasons to, you know, justified and convince others and senior management and everything else. And we always had “bank” those responses like, you know, we don’t have resources, we don’t have funding. We don’t have, you know, enough competencies. We don’t have enough digital literacies or whatever. So they were coming up with what I know now are excuses. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna be very blunt about this. There were all excuses because the COVID 19 pandemic has basically shown us that it’s about motivation. It’s only an exclusively motivation, because within a matter of days, our housing and entire organisations of thousands of employees all going online, working online. Why? Because they’re happy motivated. It’s that simple, you know so whenever someone sits and what I mean is that the genie is out of the bottle. So when we start maybe handing back to the office, if we ever go back to that, we can no longer hear from people that we kind of do digital transformation because we don’t have the funding or we don’t have the resources or we don’t have the competencies. No, “we already done it”. So so the thing is how do you build from there? You know, how do you become better? In terms of learning what works, what doesn’t work. in terms of how people adjusted to these new behaviours and this new ways of doing things online and everything else and how it transforms entirely the way we work. I mean, one of the things that I told yesterday that I haven’t said too often, but I’d done the reason for that is because I didn’t want to upset a lot of people, especially those who are very keying on working for the office. Is that working distributedly will always beat “the pants” out of working from the office. So all of these things about face to face interactions, brainstorming, creativity, whatever they are, nothing compared to distributed work. And the reason why distribute your work will always be better is because distributed work forces you to document stuff, to open up, to become visible for every single interaction that you do. So from a knowledge management perspective, from an institutional knowledgecapturing, knowledge sharing, knowledge retention. Distributed work it’s depends of everything you do at the office. I’m sorry. And if people don’t seem to understand that, look at their data now, you know, all of a sudden we have got everyone going online. Everyone is into various different tools. Everyone participating and sharing what they have been working on or what they have been doing. So they are now right in their work. They are showing up work. Whereas before in the office, hardly anything got documented online.
DAVID TERRAR [00:12:58] You combine that with the extra flexibility of not having the commute time and converting that into actual contact with people, although it’s virtual contact, hugely more productive “and that’s a huge change”. I mean, yeah, I mean, we’re not going some organisations will try and go back to the way it was. Most of them will realise actually that’s not a sensible thing. And there’ll be much more flexible in terms of this. And one of the one of the words you use it a few times yesterday and was talked a lot yesterday is trust. You know, it was actually in a lot of corporate organisations were very wary of doing this kind of thing because of a lack of trust with their employees. Hang on, theyjust realised that it’s happened and they need to worry about it because people actually do the work.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:13:48] And the thing that is super interesting from what you’re saying now is that the reason why people did not trust employees and I’m talking about managers that did not trust in employees when they were working from home, for instance, was because they didn’t see themselves. They didn’t experience it themselves. They didn’t have firsthand experience of what the struggle is of working from home and all of a sudden have your two or three year old toddler interrupting you in the middle of a web meeting. So they all feel like, you know, my employees work from home and they do the laundry to do the shopping. They attend their kids and everything else that’s supposed to work. So I cannot trust them. Well, hello. Yes. You can trust them because that’s actually work. That’s actually life, right. And what happens is that flexibility allows you to dedicate that their time that you need to do for work and the time that you need to do for other things. So if anything, because we have all been exposed to this, this is another genie out of the bottle. Right. The fact that if an employee now when when we start returning into the office, if we start returning to the office, which is still hard to say. Right. But if organisations that start saying, hey, you need to come back to the office, if an employee says, no, I want to work from home home, the business is going to have a tough challenge to say no to that because they know what it is like working from home. The tools are there. The processes are there. The capabilities are there. Everyone has got the experience better or worse, but they all have the experience. So eventually it’s gonna turn into a done brutal exercise where management needs to start trusting their employees more. Right. And to me, there’s an underlying message here run with trust. And a confirm is that for many, many years, maybe decades, we have been measuring productivity by presence, not by results. And this is what trust is all about. You know. You trust your people because you see them, not because of what they produce. And now when we all distributed, we actually have to start trusting people by what they produce versus what they look like when they come to the office.
DAVID TERRAR [00:15:49] You know, I mean, we both worked for IBM and IBM is not like this, but I’ve worked for some companies where the presence thing is a big deal, actually now working late, working weekends. That’s the way you get noticed and you get the promotion track. How crazy is that?
LUIS SUAREZ [00:16:04] Well, it is that “is contact busyness”. You know, where you will grow up on the ladder of a management chain into a senior executive positions was to show that you work, to show that you work harder than everyone else. Not that you were more effective than everyone else. Right. And, you know, one of the things that I’m grateful for is, you know, I worked on IBM like you did for 17 years and you did a bit longer.
DAVID TERRAR [00:16:29] No, I’m on 9. You beat me.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:16:31] Okay. So the thing is that I start to work remotely. At the time, “it was remotely” because my manager was at the office, in 2001. And actually, over the last 19 years, I’m starting to see that transition of people away from being present at the office to actually deliver results. And what we have now with the pandemic is its culpability. Now, “a scale’s” to everyone. And and it’s all about. It’s whole about, you know, eventually that transitioning into how you show results and outcomes and deliverables versus where you look like, right. And this is where it gets crazy because I have done lots of research over the last few months with the pandemic. You know, when you’re locked down you have the tons of time to read. And and I’m starting to see a lot of research confirming that we are more effective, working, distributed. Why? Because we have got fewer distraction and interruptions. We do a lot more deep work. We actually spend more time focussing on the task at hand versus being wandering around all over the place. And eventually we feel a lot more engaged, a lot happier and a lot more involved. Why? Because we are at home. We are in our sacred places. We don’t go to the places where we hated it. I mean, this is one of the things that I find confusing, right. Before the pandemic. There were that general vibe that when you were go into the office, so we came into the office, it was a horrifying experience. You would be 1, 2, 3 hours commuting. When I work from… When I used to work at the office back to 2000, 2001, my commute was 5 hours every day, back and forth. The thing is that because I no longer have to do that, you realise that you gain tons of time to do all the things to do stuff for yourself, with your family, you know, with your friends, and you hang out more in your local communities as opposed to going to the office. And I say, what I find interesting is how before the pandemic, we used to hate go into the office. Let’s be honest, we used to hate it, right? No matter their free snacks, no matter their free lovely things that I could with the office we hated go into the office. We need to be honest about that. Right. The pandemic forced us to do something completely different, which is work from home. It took us a while to adjust to it. I would say that we still are still adjusting to it, right. But then we realise and, hey, is not so bad. It’s not so about sharing meals with my spouse or with my kids. Put them to bed and see them going to bed. It was before I was commuting on my way to do that while they were sleeping. Right. All sort of those different thing. And this is what surprises me, as we’re starting now to open up our gang and slowly head back to the office. People are crazy about going back to the office. Hello? “You to go back to” the place that you hated before the pandemic. Come on. Come on, come on. Something is going on there that, you know, saying, you know, like a bit of an exercise of honesty there. You know, either you hate it or you don’t, but you can’t love and hate that place that you go to work.
DAVID TERRAR [00:19:43] It is interesting. But the important thing there is that, as I talked about an interview I did last week with “JP Minga Swami” where he said that one of the one liners that was, you know, work stopped being a place you go but it was something you did, which is remarkable. I mean, interestingly, the when we’re talking about this work, like better work life balance that you’re talking about there, which we’re all getting value from, which is great. It’s great to see the big corporations recognise the importance of this and lots and whether it’s in Facebook to “Seamans”, talk about about how they’re going to be more flexible with their employees. It’s a really good example because they’ve publicly said we’re not going to think about time spent in the office. We’re only going to focus on business outcomes now. And isn’t how come it took this long to to get to that change of mindset? But it’s really one of the advantages of the crisis is that it’s only in a crisis that real change happens. And there’s lots of societal things going on as well, as well as the work stuff.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:20:47] But here’s the thing that is interesting. Here’s a thing that’s interesting when you’re mentioning about what Seamans system and, for instance, on that press really that we all know about, because we have all read it because it’s a very bold move. There is a key word in there that is mentioned that hardly anyone is talking about. Yes, they’re going to start measuring outcomes on results versus presence on everything out, but also in that press releases is mentioned very nicely that we want to trust our employees. We trust our employees. So here’s a no brainer. People for organisations that do not trust your employees. So what do you think is going to happen when you trust your employees? That employees are going to go into labour. The employee is gonna work now harder, more effective because you are trusting them to do the good job. When you were not trusting, then that’s a lie. Who cares? You know, my boss doesn’t trust me. Why would I care about doing any kind of work? Whereas now with that kind of move and bold move is like we trust your people. Then you go, okay. What I need to deliver because they are trusting me. My goodness. Of all people they’re trusting me is right. So it would be silly for organisations not to understand that flexibility and how it plays in their favour. Right. Never mind the cost savings about no longer having huge office buildings or whatever. Which was too hard to see how that plays out. Right. But the idea here that we are enabling people to be their best selves on their terms, not on their company terms. I mean, for a number of years. And, you know, that have always been talking about businesses turning into people centric, right. Versus documents centric, versus vendor centric, versus whatever. To me, this is it. This is where you put people right at the centre and you start looking up to their needs and right now, their needs is only to have a place that is safe, that it feels good. Where I can do my work and unfortunately, given where we are now, that place is my home place. So what JP mentioned on last week’s session and I actually watched it as well, was something where we are finally making the transition of a stop thinking that work is a place that we go to. And it’s actually more for mindstate. It’s a state of mind, right? It happens in here. So I work where I am at the moment. Right. And frankly, for the vast majority of knowledge workers, we do have no other tools. We do have the technology. We do have the capabilities. We do have the connectivity, the accessibility. The broadband not obviously equally distributed across the whole world for sure, but we’re getting there. And front line workers…
DAVID TERRAR [00:23:27] If I may because we only got 5 or 6 minutes left. And I wish we had like about three hours to talk about this and talk about all the things that we that we come against today. But there’s one really important one that we haven’t mentioned up to now. And it was in that Seamans’ press release, you know, the word leadership. Right. Wow. One of the most cool aspects of all this is the fact that we need a different kind of leadership going forwards to make this more effective.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:23:53] We do. I mean, there’s one thing that we have seen with a lot of businessed now a days and never mind in the political sphere or societal is here, is that we’re going through a massive crisis of leadership right now. Right now, what’s happening in there is that we’re all starting to realise how we need to think different around leadership and how we have looked into it. Right. And how when we start questioning, here’s what you do with it. Here’s how you portray it. What we need to realise is that we need to do different. That’s what I mentioned just when I talked about distributed leadership and network leadership. Right. It’s about thinking how we need to let go that command and control, top down hierarchical. And we need to understand that leaders are servant leaders, their emerging leaders. They are there to enable people to do their best, not to be the hurdle. And and that’s a huge transition, right. Because the first thing that we realise about this is that leadership, the first thing that they know is that they’re going to lose control. They no longer have the control. I want to keep telling them this, I’m sorry, but you never had the control. Control has always been an illusion that you have put on your mind. You cannot control employees. You can only facilitate and enable them to do their best.
DAVID TERRAR [00:25:11] It comes to the old business as usual. The old command and control. Knowledge is power. Kind of mindset when we’re way beyond that. We need a new business as usual. That’s all about an open mindset and sharing. Working out loud. Yeah. And the leader, as you rightly say, the leader has to think. I work for them. Not they work for me.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:25:31] Right. And here’s the thing and you just said it so nicely in there. Right. It is about how do you invoke a completely different way of behaving? It’s a different set of habits and behaviours and everything else. And it all starts by having leaders understand that we don’t want to compete with them. I mean, I don’t think that anyone wants to get rid of managers and leaders. We just want them to be better at what they do. And right now, they’re on. So far, they have been doing a lousy job. Why? Because they have not open up. You know, I keep telling people from a good number of years that the main difference between a manager and an employee beyond summary, bonus, whatever, is essentially the access to knowledge. Managers usually have more knowledge that employees. There you have got technology, they have the Internet and social and digital tools. That difference has gone. Why? Because we all thrive in this free flows of knowledge, right? Knowledge flows freely. And as a result of that, employees are starting to make better decisions because they have more information, which means that you changed a lot the role of the employee. They become more of a leader now. But at the same time, you also shift the drawl of the traditional manager and leader, because now they realise that they no longer have to answer the stupid questions that come forward. Now, they would have more time to work in the real complex problems that they have within their organisation because their employees are freed up to do more or their own thing. This is also what I mentioned just in my presentation, that there’s one thing that distributer work has done with the pandemic, the digital tools, is that it has forced all of us as employees to leap forward one step and take a bit more ownership on the work that we do and become a bit more of the leaders that we never felt where we were because we were told that we were not made of leaders. But maybe we are. Maybe we didn’t explore that possibility. And that’s what’s happening right now and how we’re redefining that leadership role. Right. And I mean, just today, under the presentations, John husband was there and, you know, both both good mates of John husband and key key coin. Why Key in 1999 said 21 years later, we are seeing that transitioning into a wiki called society where we thrive for networks and communities as the new operating model train. It’s exciting times. You know, it’s really exciting times because we have I feel that we have for the first time the unprecedented opportunity to define what we want work to look like in the 21st century, not trying to mimic what we haven’t done in the past, but yet the future.
DAVID TERRAR [00:28:08] But I also think there’s something that you started with at the start of this session where a couple of minutes left now, and that’s there’s an awful lot that we’ve learnt in the enterprise collaboration space from that 2000 period to now that we must lose and we need to teach everyone those best practises to be more effective going forward “is that it?”.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:28:29] Which is why I’m going to be sounding very repetitive, very tiring, very obnoxious to tell people what we have been doing for the last 15 years because we can not forget that it’s our chance to get it right. And it doesn’t negate everything else. It doesn’t contradict everything that has been doing. So if people want to continue using messaging and chatting arms be areto, people want to continue using, abusing email or whatever, they can do it. But, hey, there is a brighter world out there, right. And that world of the enterprise, social software is eventually promoting that kind of openness, that kind of transparency, that kind of like open, massive knowledge sharing happening across the board. Communities are practise enabled by them. And eventually you realise that we work in different scales, you know, from the individual to teams to networks to communities. Right. Or if you want to put communities and then networks, I don’t care. But its that scale? So far, we’ve been doing individual and teams. So my type of advice is look beyond look beyond into networks and communities because they are the ones who are going to get us there.
DAVID TERRAR [00:29:34] That’s so true, Luis. And the other thing I’ll tell us and our audience is that Luis and myself and all of the other speakers at this conference yesterday. We’ve all collaborated on a kind of a manifesto for how we how we do this going forwards, which we hope to publish in the next few weeks.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:29:50] Yeah, absolutely. And that would give a bit will be like a good guiding principle in terms of what people can do and tune in and not so much talk about it, but do more of it kind of thing.
DAVID TERRAR [00:30:02] That’s a great way to end. Lewis, it’s been fantastic. Thanks.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:30:05] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
DAVID TERRAR [00:30:07] Brilliant.
LUIS SUAREZ [00:30:07] Take care, see you soon.
DAVID TERRAR [00:30:10] An awful lot to unpack, there are loads of really good advice from Luis. Lots of things to do with the future and present work. Actually, next week on Episode 16, I’ve actually got one of the other speakers from yesterday’s conference, a woman called Dr, Erica Jacoby, who’s gonna be talking about the organisational implications of this. She’s actually a PhD in organisational design. So tune in next Wednesday. See you then.