Finding ‘meaning’ at work

Meaning 2012 logoYesterday I went to one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve ever attended – Meaning 2012, put on by the fantastic Nixon McInnes in Brighton.

The conference’s tagline sounds fairly innocuous – “for better 21st-century business” – but, boy, did it deliver, with a wonderful range of speakers, who all had tremendous stories to tell, insights to give and messages to send out.

Power of small actions

From propaganda gardening, via jeans with their own personal history, to mutality together and a hexayurt, the cross-section of inspiring stories was a wonder to behold.

But if one message came through over again and again throughout the day, it was the power of small actions having a large and positive effect.

Karen Pine told the story of a man who was taking part in her Do Something Different programme and a simple, spontaneous 15-minute walk led to the most profound changes in his life (for the better).

Meanwhile, Indy Johar cited the example of Rutland Telecom, who started as a tiny group determined to improve one village’s web connections and now offer the fastest county-wide broadband in the country.

And as for Pam Warhurst’s rallying cry and her Incredible Edible project in Todmorden – well, you wouldn’t say ‘no’ to her, I can tell you.

The stage at Meaning 2012More than subversion

At every turn, there were countless examples of people having a great idea and just going off and doing something about it. Forget bureaucracy or red tape – it’s all about trying to make an impact in relatively small ways.

But one thing was clear – this is not about subversion. The fact that this conference happened in ‘sandal-wearing, lentil-munching Brighton’ shouldn’t be seen as a reason to dismiss the topics debated as being ‘trendy and liberal’.

Meaning is all about about doing small things to try to take (back) control and put people and honesty at the heart of business.

As Alexander Kjerulf cited in his talk yesterday – the two most important things about work are meaningful results and the relationships we have at work and if we don’t value them, why do we bother in the first place?

Why we need to reward proper writing and content again

Journalist typingHow much would you pay a reputable writer/journalist to write something for you, if you’re publishing online?

If you’re one of the new breed of comment-filled, blog-style portals, such as The Huffington Post, XOJane or others, the answer is very little to bugger all.

After almost a year, reports vary as to how successful AOL’s launch of The Huffington Post in the UK has been, but AOL has shut down a lot of its separate named channels, ie Entertainment, to funnel everyone to HuffPo’s equivalent. (Visit the AOL UK homepage to see what I mean)

What’s in a name, you may ask? Maybe nothing, but what has changed is the use and, some might say, abuse of journalists. Where before people used to pay for a writer to craft some carefully-honed words on a subject, now HuffPo very rarely coughs up. Apparently, it’s a kudos thing to appear there.

Admittedly, things had been going downhill for a while with many writers being asked to drop their rates for online work, but this has taken it to a new low.

But the Huffington Post isn’t the only one to blame. XOJane – the sassy, edgy, online successor to Jane Magazine – is soon to launch a UK version and, rumour has it that journalists are being tempted with the offer of writing a ‘post’ (an article by any other name) for just £30.

Without wanting to sound all Linda Evangelista about it, who’d want to wake up and write for that frankly-insulting amount?

Adapt or die?

There are those people who say that writers should just ‘man up’ and accept that the world of work is changing and adapt or die.

To them, I say, fine. There’s nothing wrong with adapting, but it helps if others adapt with you. A good contributor is good, no matter where their content ends up (offline, online, broadcast, etc). If someone spends time doing something, the least you can do is reward them commensurately for their effort.

Yes, there are thousands of amateur, part-time, bored bloggers who are happy to contribute their thoughts for nothing, and, if that’s the case, let them do so.

But if a trained, experienced professional who knows what they’re doing offers their services, do the decent thing and respect them for their knowledge and ability.

Is the internet really that different?

However, the overriding argument for rewarding someone properly for their labours comes with the visibility of the work.

Admittedly, very few people have worked out how to make money out of internet content, but that doesn’t mean the quality should be any less good than the paper variety.

In fact, there’s an argument that brands and organisations should spend more on online content, because it doesn’t disappear at the end of the day/week/month.

By that I mean, once a magazine has been read, how often do you go back to an old issue and hunt out a specific article. Exactly. It’s gone.

With web content, although it can be expunged, it tends not to be and is often left published in perpetuity. High-quality content reflects superbly on your brand and encourages users to think better of you, rate you as experts and be more trusted.

The corollary is fairly obvious. Poor writing, video, images, etc, make you look bad. Who trusts a site that consistently publishes mistakes, terribly-argued comment or sub-standard pictures and film?

Just because you publish a lot, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s quality – probably more so if you don’t pay for it.

It takes a while, but quality content (and often I mean writing) genuinely does win out. Everyone may think (and tell you) they’re a writer. Only a small proportion actually are.

Why reaching the digitally excluded is more important than ever

Older woman on a computer
CC image courtesy of Simon Vorgrimmler on Flickr
Amid all the bad news, there was a positive story today, as new figures reveal that the UK economy is the most internet-based of all the G20 countries.

The internet now contributes to 8.3% of the UK economy – roughly £2,000 per person – and that figure is set only to rise.

By contrast, today sees the start of Age UK’s annual myfriendsonline week – an event geared around helping older people discover the social side of the internet (Admission: I work for Age UK, so I have a vested interest).

While the two are not inextricably linked, the ever-increasing importance of the internet to our economy – 13.5% of transactions were carried out over the web in 2010 – makes the number of people who don’t have online access even more shocking.

There are currently 8.2 million people in the UK who are digitally excluded (of which 5.7m are people in later life). This number has dropped from 10m in 2009, largely thanks to the efforts of RaceOnline and its associated partners, but there’s still a lot to do.

Of these 8 million people, there will inevitably be some deliberate refuseniks, who want nothing to do with it, but, at Age UK, we know there are consistent common reasons that, specifically, put older people off getting online. They are:

1. Not knowing ‘how it works’

2. Lack of confidence

3. Worry about ‘doing something wrong’

4. Safety and security issues.

There is also a fear that once they learn how to use the internet, it will take over their life and they will ‘waste time’, rather than doing ‘real-life activities’, such as socialising.

The benefits of being online seem obvious to those of us already here and who are tech-savvy, but imagine how you’d cope without it now.

Try to think of a world where you don’t have a smartphone – just one that makes calls and sends texts. You have no laptop at home or no PC at work – no social media, no emails, no ecommerce. Scary isn’t it?

That’s why it’s so important to help those people who aren’t online make the jump.