Realisation: Remote collaboration was the engine behind my engagement during my years with IBM

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

It took me a year to get sufficient perspective of the fifteen years I spent with IBM to realise just how much of my engagement and energy had been generated from the transparent collaboration and networking I had experienced with colleagues around the ENTIRE world.

Not that I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it’s not until now that I have realised just how much it really meant to me.

Missing your colleagues

When people say “I miss my colleagues” they usually mean “…in my office”. Of course I miss the colleagues in the offices of Malmö, Kista and Gothenburg too. But the unique was the colleagues in offices in Paris, London, Newcastle, Bristol, Milan, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Singapore, Bangalore, Raleigh, Auckland, Atlanta, Toronto, Madrid, Washington, Zürich, Vienna, Brno….and all the folks who had their offices at home – way ahead of COVID-19. All these colleagues, I have worked with, had dialogues with and shared experience with over many years, many without ever meeting live. Who were my colleagues, albeit remotely, via keyboards, phone and screen. And via Connections.


Yes, Connections was the arena where we mingled and collaborated, as available time allowed and as was needed, by own needs or those of others. Then it was called IBM Connections and was fantastic. Now, it’s called HCL Connections and develops faste and better than in many years.

What is HCL Connections? Imagine merging all kinds of professional tools for collaboration and networking into a single one. In addition, you do it inside the firewall with everybody showing up by their real names. No trolls, no hate, no additional risk of leakage of intellectual capital. Imagine merging the capabilities of LinkedIn, LinkedIn Groups, Dropbox, Zoom (both meetings and chat), Google Docs, WordPress, Trello, discussion forums, suggestions boxes and a tool for simplified publishing of web pages (a wiki, that is, if you know the concept). ALL of this, TOGETHER, with a SINGLE flow of updates in order for it all to work together so you only need to log in once and can easily move and link from the one to the other. It all comes together. And, in addition, with the possibility of collaborate also with selected external people – but not as widely, of course. Finally, the information is presented for you based on what you have previously showed interest in (like on Facebook), not all the irrelevant overflow that others try to heap onto you.

Amy, Jessica, Derrick and the others – who all helped each other

As when Amy developed her client presentation in plain view of all about 400.000 colleagues, with support and ideas from several of us, both people she knew already and others, like Jonathan in Newcastle, who I knew but not her. Who later shared her completed deck with all those colleagues again, for anyone to re-use or get inspired. So that, some weeks later, I happened to witness Anders, a colleague in Stockholm use one of them at a seminar, completely unaware of me, one of the spectators, having contributed to that specific slide.

Or like when I needed to correct a couple of files in Adobe Illustrator (which is NOT for free) and Jessica Ramirez in USA offered to help and fixed the corrections in her spare time over the course of a couple of days.

When Derrick sold transformation services in Shenzhen and found a Swede capable of delivering them, on Connections, which resulted in eight months of extremely enriching work for me in China.

When a colleague in Japan volunteered to help me split pages in a PDF, but a colleague a few desks away instead tipped me off about a freeware to use to do the same thing.

All the times I held web meetings with new hire consultants to help them understand the dynamics of being a consultant in a world-wide organisation or with leaders to make the4m realise why and how they and their employees could help each other – and others – as I did.

Ar as when I finally met a colleague from Atlanta who I had collaborated with remotely for four months (or was it six?) and she told me that she had a better connections with me than she had ever ha with colleagues in “the next cubicle”.

All the times I have received and given help in big or small things, gotten inspired and ideas from what unknown colleagues had published online on topics of my interest. Learned, grown and “met” all kinds of exciting and friendly colleagues of mixed backgrounds and experiences.

You can experience the same inspiration

Usually, as I wrote earlier, it’s the people you miss. With Connections there were so many more of them, with so many more perspectives and ideas.

With this insight, I’m even more passionate about contributing to others getting the possibility to get inspired and engaged in the same way as I did during my years at IBM.

If you’d like that chance, or even better, want your staff to have the chance of getting more engaged, mor inspired, more innovative and more productive – both within teams and across the entire organisation – just get in touch. My partners and I can help with both the platform and the transformation work in the organisation (which is essential).

By the way, HCL Connections comes both as a cloud service and to run on own servers if you prefer to.

If you want to know more, just reach out.

I have three accounts on Twitter. Should I?

I use three different accounts on Twitter. It’s not too much trouble, since I can handle them all in the free version of Hootsuite, but it would be easier with just one, of course.

Some people argue that you should use one twitter handle only, because you are one person and your handle is your Twitter representation of that single person.

My reason is simple: I don’t expect Twitter audiences to be overly interested in me as a person, but hopefully in the content I share. Therefore I use:

@thesocialswede for content primarily on communications, marketing, user experience, transparent ways of working, social tools and intranets – in English only

@Bjebeje for the same topics but sometimes in Swedish or for content I don’t expect to be relevant for non-Swedes

@peterbjellerup for more personal or random content

As I expect people to follow me on Twitter because they appreciate my tweets, I don’t want to disappoint or surprise them by suddenly mixing in stuff that is completely irrelevant for them. I don’t want to contribute to the chaotic noise on Twitter. My separation of Twitter handles is intended to provide my followers with interesting content on topics they care about, not to force them to get the full Peter Bjellerup story.

Relations with personal friends and acquaintances, I manage through Facebook, rather.

What do you think on this? Is Twitter about us as persons or about our content? (with the exception of celebrities, of course. But for us normal folks)

4 great reasons not to write headlines or tweets like this one

I too, have read the research claiming that headlines/tweets promising a list with a set number (figure, not in text) of <reinforcing adjective> things to read/to do (or avoid) to produce some desirable result.

Here’s why they rather turn me off, than on.

  1. Everybody else does. I’m not questioning the research saying that clicks increase. But what works well when a few people do it may not work as well when everybody does
  2. How original do you look really, when you keep using the same formula over and over?
  3. It tells me that clicks is what makes you tick, not sharing great knowledge or spreading bright ideas. You’re merely a crowd pleaser, regurgitating what you have read elsewhere, in list form – or at least, that is what your headlines tell me. If you’re the Real McCoy, it’s a pity your headlines scare me away
  4. If I feel this way, how many others do too? If #3 actually applies, can you afford the risk of turning clickers away this way?
Please, next time, give me a question, a surprising fact, an intriguing expression, a double meaning, a pun, a chocking insight or just a plain, simple statement. Anything but a list of “X creative ways to bend a banana”

Social Streaming Music, adding another dimension to the social web

I admit it, I’m a Spotify addict.

I have always loved listening to music and have a rather eclectic taste, I think. My Spotify playlists contain a great variety but with a certain lack of Death Metal, Opera and Country. If you find that among my playlists, I blame my kids.

Probably the first music service I used was Pandora and I still love the concept of the music genome project, but when faced with copyright issues a couple of years ago, Pandora chose to exclude all of us outside of the US from using their service.  I strongly suspect Pandora management regret deeply today that they didn’t persist in the fight to cut through the legal rigmarole. By excluding the rest of the world, they left the field free for others to build their strength and later to attack Pandora on their home turf.

Instead I use:

All of them are more or less straightforward internet radios, but Spotify is more. They have managed to get embedded in social networks left, right and center.

First and foremost, there’s the Spotify integration with Facebook. Provided my friends and I have linked our Spotify accounts with Facebook, I can “eavesdrop” on their playlists and get inspired by what they are listening to right now. Becoming aware of the music taste of your friends adds another dimension to the friendship. It helps you discover new music and artists, and get reminded about some that you have forgotten about too.

This way, I have both discovered and rediscovered great music. I have also found an old friend from high school who is the first to display a more eclectic taste of music than mine. He has opera and heavy metal too.

On top of that, you can send – of course – links to both tracks and playlists to friends and followers on both Facebook and Twitter, and within Spotify itself of course. There are independent sites for sharing playlists and recently Spotify have taken the venture into the platform space and open up for others to write apps within the infrastructure itself. On top, they have added, even more recently, a player for embedding on websites to play Spotify tracks within your site, as I saw on Mashable the other week.

What will be next?

Hopefully an agreement with some of my old heroes; The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa.

Social is something you are, not a tool you use

We’ve got all the tools implemented, but people don’t use them! What’s wrong?

Unfortunately, this is not too uncommon a statement. Organizations buy and install software for internal collaboration, pay the bill and then pray that staff will find them and use them just because they are there.

Sure, some curious enthusiasts may find the new “cool tools” but you will not reach widespread adoption for a very long time unless you supplement the social enablement with changes to the way the organization works and with communication and motivation for the employees.

Watching several sessions from IBM Connect in January on Livestream triggered me to summarize some input from there and adding some of my own.

The mindset you should encourage carries a set of characteristics:

Show trust in others to earn trust by others (and be worthy of trusting, of course) – Guy Kawasaki

All positive, productive relations and social interactions are based on mutual trust. The fastest way to gain the trust by others is to start displaying trust in them. This goes for companies trusting their customers (generous return policies to encourage trying of products as in Guy Kawasaki’s examples) as well as executives trusting their associates with not misusing the openness of social intranets.

Default to openness  – Chris from Lowe’s (sorry, I didn’t get his family name)

Is there a good reason to keep “it” under wraps? No? Then work “out loud” as Lowe’s called it. Let others see what you’re working on and what you have achieved. Save your documents as public files, make your bookmarks public, update your status frequently. If there is no reason to keep it to yourself, you may just as well let your work speak for you. And, you never know who may stumble over it and be able to help you improve it or get unstuck. At the same time, your work may be useful to someone else, increasing efficiency and maybe inspiring to new and better ways of doing things.

Default to “yes”Guy Kawasaki

Being positive pays back. If you respond positively when others ask you for help or favours (within your capacity of course – because not delivering on promises is not good for building trust). If you help out when you can, your network will help you out when you need it. Maybe not exactly the same person you helped out the other day, but since your positive attitude has been on public display, your “karma-account” will be positive.

Dialogue, not monologue

Monologues may communicate your experience or view to others, but they aren’t great for building relations. Just how popular is the guy at parties who keeps talking about himself and listens to nobody else? Just like offline social life, being social online is a matter of listening and responding. It’s a new medium for behaviours man has cultivated for centuries.

What’s so disturbing about the new option in Google Search?

For a week or so, there’s been hoards of tweets and posts by people being upset about the new feature in Google Search results: the possibility of including search results powered by your network (in Google+, that is).

The criticism seem to fall into one of the following categories – or both:

  • It’s unfair to include only Google+
  • Search fundamentalism

Before looking closer at these to I have to state: the more I’ve read, the more puzzled I have become. What’s so bad about an option to get a little help from your friends by boosting your search results with their experience and activities? After all, they are more likely to share your interests than all the other folks out there. Friendship is usually based on having something in common, isn’t it?

In our social intranet, we have similar concept, which we regard as an advantage: “Your friends are your filter”. Faced with an abundance of information, it’s usually a good help to have get a helping hand to find the trees in the forest.

Particularly as you really don’t need to be active on Google+ once you have created your network there. Just get an account, add people to your circles and off you go. They don’t even need to accept your following of them like they would have to on Facebook. Topping up, the search results is based on their activity, not yours. So you can just idle and inject their results if you want to. Or not, if you so should choose.

Let’s look instead at the “unfair” argument.

I thought Google wasn’t a public service, but a business. Just like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are. If the same possibility was available to Facebook, they wouldn’t have thought twice about doing it. And would anybody have been surprised? They are not known for acting like your local charity. Rather, I’ve been hoping for Google as the challenger with both muscle and brains to be able to finally challenge the overwhelming dominance by Facebook on the social arena. Facebook getting some serious competition is a good thing.

Also, as stated earlier, once you’ve opened an account and added some folks to your circles your ready to roll…and can keep interacting with your friends on Facebook if you’d like to.

Let’s turn to the Search Fundamentalists

Their argument is that adding “your world” to the search criteria distorts the search results compared to the ones generated by the pure search algorithm. Apart from the ability to turn off the “your world”-option, I’ve had more sympathy for this argument. Many of us still remember how sponsored search ranking caused the downfall of Alta Vista (had to search my memory for the name actually). It would be stupid by Google to fall into the same trap. But are they? The network results are clearly indicated as such and the sponsorship is unpaid, made by people  by your choice. And… once again… you can easily turn it off.

Finally, just a couple of days ago, I came upon the final nail in the coffin of the fundamentalist way of thinking, a blog entry in C-net “Why Google is ditching search“. It brought to my attention what I already knew, but hadn’t thought off: that search results rankings are already distorted, but not through Google selling ranking, but through people engaging SEO services.

So, case closed – at least in my book. I will keep using the Search and your world option most of the time and now have one more reason to add interesting people to my circles weather we know each other or not, as long as they seem to post interesting stuff.

I love my network

It’s strange. I live my working life in the midst of what might be the world’s richest enclosed source of knowledge – the IBM social intranet. I don’t know for sure if it is the richest, but if anyone is ahead it cannot be that many. And yes, I wrote enclosed to exclude the public internet.

Yet, I find myself not looking for information as much as before. It’s there allright. I can search it and I get suggestions for interesting information based on my actions, tags I have used and that have been used to categorize me, communities I’m a member of and knowledge I have shared myself. I can even reduce the “content noise” using my friends as a filter (although we don’t use the expression friends, but the more neutral network contacts).

But in many cases I just ask.

I have actively and generously invited people to my network. Maybe even because we don’t claim to be friends but just contacts, we can be more generous in connecting. Currently I have built a network of 933 colleagues around the world, in all sorts of professions and at various levels of the hierarchy. Varying levels of activity too. The more the merrier is my parole. I have written it before, and I keep repeating my mantra: You never know who you can help or who can help you.

Well, last week I gave a keynote speech at a client workshop on Knowledge Management and went on to listen to their presentations and participating in discussions and breakout sessions for the rest of the day. Towards the end of the day, I was asked a technical question about if IBM Connections, the star of IBM collaboration software, could be implemented in a certain way. I didn’t know the answer.

At 18:45 (6:45 PM for you Americans 😉 I wrote the question on my board on the social intranet and then we went for a delicious dinner supplemented by a very nice Amarone (thank you very much, guys). Back to my room after dinner, I found that a colleague in Canada had written that he didn’t know the answer, but recommended me to ask another, named, colleague in USA (unknown to me). So I asked my question again – on this third person’s board – and did some other work in my hotel room. A short while later I checked and found that a fourth person (unknown to me too) had responded to my question on the board of person #3. I added a follow up question, got a swift reply by #4 that was followed after a while by a confirmation by #3 of what #4 had responded.

Within 4 hrs 10 minutes, my question was answered thanks to two, completely unknown helpful colleagues and a third who knew who to ask. (I did notice, though, that we shared some network contacts). The next morning I could supply an answer to the client and hopefully moved us closer to an interesting deal.

Referring back to my post on ROI for social intranets I just wonder, how do you calculate  the value of helpful colleagues like these?

Today I had a similar experience where I let this image speak for itself

Volunteers offering practical help within two hours
Thanks to Keigo and Jonny

So what’s the morale of my story?

We can talk forever about documents, repositories, structures, software and features. The bottom line is: It takes people to collaborate. You can never predict what people might need, nor what people may know. And even if you have access to the most magnificent technology imaginable, collaboration is a matter of corporate culture. It’s a mindset.

Folders is where knowledge goes to hide

I hate folders. I hate the typical folder structure of most operative systems. I waste time building the structure, I waste time thinking of where to store things. And when I try to find them again, I waste time again trying to remember in which folder I finally did put them and often have to resort to searching. And time is to valuable for me to waste and I guess that goes for most of you. I guess my structuring challenges are not unfamiliar to many readers too.

Thank you Google for Desktop Search!

And so far, this has only been about my own hard drive. Not in social websites.

This is why I get the chills every time someone asks for a possibility to create folder structures in collaborative environments. If a single person can’t sort out his own document storage and retrieval in a folder structure, how do they suppose that an unhierarchical, loosely knitted group of people will succeed? Rather, it would be as easy as finding stuff on someone else’s hard drive, don’t you think?

Enters tags. I love tags as much as I loathe folders.

Why I love tags? Because tags are defined by each user to fit their own needs and their own way of thinking, not the view of the few. Tags are flexible and quick to respond to new concepts and trends instead of representing old news. Finally, because tags can be used across all kinds of content (at least if you have a comprehensive collaboration ecosystem, like a good social intranet) thereby linking people with shared files with social bookmarks with blog entries with wikis with discussion forum posts with …. you get the drift. By searching on one tag, I can get a complete view of all the knowledge and expertise on that topic, irrespective of how it’s documented or who has it.

But, asks the fainthearted, aren’t you overwhelmed by masses of shared files or social bookmarks? There’s no structure! And I say: Filter by tags, my friend. And when you still have too many to choose from, filter further until you find what you look for. And if you still don’t find it through filtering, they are, unlike in folders, all visible and you can still scan them without having to open one folder after another, guessing your way down the structure.

For tags to work properly there are only a couple of prerequisites:

  • A good type-ahead feature when you are tagging – presenting already existing tags – plus people who have the patience to wait the split second needed for the type-ahead suggestions to appear
  • A uniform method of tagging across the collaborative system: either separated by space (multi-letter-expressions-need-to-be joined-by-hyphens-or_underscore) or comma separated
  • Users who understand the benefits of tagging and therefore do it
  • A decent feature for searching by tag

A couple of tagging hints:

  • When thinking of which tags to use, think of which words and expressions you would use when searching for what you are tagging
  • Use spelling versions, typically both American and British spelling, or else your item may only be found on one side of the Atlantic (if you’re using English, that is)
  • Language? I don’t have any strong view, but if the item you’re tagging isn’t in one of the “big languages” it’s probably a waste to use tags in any other language. People who find it won’t understand it anyway. Unless, of course, you are bilingual like me and you tag for yourself.

Finally, a good collaboration environment should be equipped with powerful search features (often turbo-powered by tags) and make extensive use of suggestions and associations to inspire you and make you discover useful stuff related to people you know or items you see.

Uppmuntra anställda som engagerar sig i sociala medier, det tjänar både företaget och samhället på

Häromdagen tipsades jag om en artikel i CSR i Praktiken om att användare av sociala medier tar större samhällsansvar. källa Kan det verkligen stämma?

Tja, utan att värdera eller verifiera undersökningen bakom artikeln är det ändå inte svårt att föreställa sig att det nog kan vara så. Alltsomoftast brukar jag referera till den feelgodkänsla jag ofta får på Facebook, Twitter och min arbetsgivares sociala intranät. Men det borde väl inte förvåna att folk som dras till sociala mötesplatser, på nätet eller på stan är mer medkännande än de som håller sig för sig själva. Eller?

  • Sociala medier är just det – sociala – man umgås, exponeras för andras åsikter och känslor, delar med sig av de egna
  • Mycket går ut på att dela med sig och att ta del av vad andra delar med sig av, att svara på frågor, att bli hjälpt av andra (särskilt tydligt på intranätet)
  • Avstånden minskar, du får med lätthet och ögonblickligen inblick i livet på andra sidan jordklotet – och upptäcker ofta att det egentligen inte är så olikt ditt eget

Den andra delen av artikeln handlar mycket om min arbetsgivares attityd till de anställdas engagemang i sociala medier – vi uppmuntras. Jag låter den tala för sig själv men kompletterar med lite information av intresse: Av IBM:s över 400.000 anställda är åtminstone 200.000 medlemmar på Facebook, cirka 25.000 twittrar och 17.000 bloggar. Det blir en exponering som varje marknadsförare drömmer om och som får varje kriskommunikatör att darra. Självklart blir siffrorna slående stora i och med att företaget är så stort, men kontentan blir allmängiltig; det är bara att gilla läget. Att hantera det. Gärna så som IBM har gjort: med en tydlig policy, med hjälp och coaching och med att tydligt kommunicera företagets värderingar.

I sammanhanget kan det nog ändå vara bra att kika på denna sammanställning av aktiviteter på sociala medier som gjort att folk blivit nekade jobb (i USA, såvitt jag förstår), att se över sina integritetsinställningar och att tänka noga efter vad man publicerar var. Intressantast av allt är att 95% av de tillfrågade företagen kollade upp kandidaterna på sociala medier. Och, i ärlighetens namn, den rekryterare som inte kollar ditt CV mot LinkedIn gör ju tjänstefel egentligen.

Social Media B2B in action

Social Media B2B in action.

This article shows how IBM has been at the forefront for a long time, although it may not be widely known or appreciated. Another tale-telling story is this clip with Jon Iwata, IBM Senior Vice President Marketing and Communications from the Kenneth Owler Smith Symposium 2010 on how companies and their communications staff must adapt to make the best out of the great potential – for success as well as for disaster – of employee activity in social media and the blogosphere.