Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ambition is a dirty word

Sarah Lay wrote this and it's brilliant. It's brilliant because it's true. All of it, from beginning to end.

My move to GDS has been greeted by a number of different reactions and comments. Some have been cutting and have hurt. Some have left me almost breathless with their kindness and belief in me. Some have been uncalled for, some have misunderstood entirely what my job role will be and who my stakeholders will be also.

I have found it very interesting. I have found that in the main, it is women who have been breathtakingly kind, positive, and fierce in their congratulations and vicarious excitement. This may be because I do not have as many male friends as I am used to having, I don't know. It may be because there is a perception among some men that I have stepped outside of the normal promotional path and somehow 'jumped the queue'. It may even be a complete lack of understanding of what I do, how I do it, where I do it and how well I do it - I couldn't possibly comment.

But there is a marked difference.

We are sold on the fallacy that women are evil to each other in the workplace. We are fed tales of horrendous female bosses who are cutting, sarcastic, box people in, never praise, lock the talented in a box and take all their credit. Just like the word ambition, there are so many negative connotations, stories and 'legends' which swirl and grow.

In my experience, they are not true. I would not describe any of the women I know as lonely, unfulfilled, without children or husband or family, as isolated or unhappy. Instead, I see a group of women who mentor when the men wont do it, who pick up the slightly knocked about and shine them up a bit, polish them, listen and send them on their way. I see women who listen, make time to nurture, who balance the requirements of being part of a family (they don't run them the same way they run organisations, or Departments or Sections), with the needs of the slightly nervous and timid, balanced with having a whole hell of a lot of fun for themselves.

I look at them, and I see women who are not ruthless. Not negative. Not soft. Not alone. I see empowered, in control, magicians with time who balance all the needs of everyone around them and manage, most of the time to do the impossible - be happy. Not all the time, not all the people, not all the requirements and needs, but most of the time.

I don't know any man who is happy all of the time, do you? So why do we expect women to be? We do more, are more, have more than we have ever had before, and slowly but surely more of us are accepting that it is okay.

But believe me when I say, none of us are going to be getting anywhere on our own, without help, support, nurturing and mentoring. Say the word nurture to a man in a work context and I suspect you'll get a slightly panicked response. Say it to a woman and there will be no blinks.

That's not to say, women are better than men. They're just different. But in my very short experience in life I have had as many awesome female mentors as male and they have brought very different things to the table.

But the women, to the last, have never tried to undermine me, cut me down, mocked me, ignored me, patronised me, pushed my buttons or locked me in a box. I am sad to say those accolades all sit in the laps of the men I have reported to in whatever capacity over the past 10 years. I may have been lucky and I may be about to be forced to eat my words in the next 10 but if today is stupid assumptions about women dispelling day then that's my contribution.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

JFDI > evaluation != lack of innovation

It's late. I'm tired. But this needs writing.

JFDI died a little when some people decided it wasn't the way to do things - too much rushing in, not enough evaluation of impact. Then we tried to work out how to evaluate impact and it all went quiet.

Well. I've come to my own conclusion and it's working out okay, I think. It's this. JFDI has its place. It really does. Experimentation leads to people using LinkedIn for slightly offball reasons which yield some excellent revenue results. When someone came to me and asked if I thought it was a good idea, I told her it was kickass. I didn't _know_ it was kickass but it made my tummy do that little jump of excitement it does when someone says something awesome - so off she went and it worked.

I could have said no. I couldn't set pre-emptive performance indicators on her actions. I could have decided that it was time ill spent and asked her to focus on the already not inconsiderable successes in social media she'd achieved. But that's not what this is about.

JFDI is not rushing blind. It's using all the informed knowledge you have amassed and at any given moment someone suggesting something and you using all that knowledge and experience to say yes or no. You might be wrong. Part of that momentary decision needs to be a risk analysis on that. Time invested, money invested, users time wasted. But, still, I believe there is a place for saying yes, go for it, lets see what happens.

On the flip of this, evaluation is necessary. Not as necessary as JFDI but still nearing vital. How do I know the experiment on LinkedIn worked? I can't tell you because it's not something as ridiculously simple as advertising a job post there and I'd have to be pretty dumb to not know how to pre-emptively set evaluation of success for that.

No. Someone decided to bend the rules slightly. And why does evaluation have to be positive anyway? I can say before actioning something with surety that it will be either a success, not a success, or a bit meh. If it's a bit meh, examine what went wrong, see what could be improved, re-implement, come back in 3 months time. If a success, yattah! If not, bin it. Lessons learned, move on. But without any measurement of outcome, how do I get to the lessons learned bit? If I never learn any lessons then what on earth is the point of doing anything? No one gets it right 100% first time.

Ah. But then we are talking about local government and public money. Not getting it right first time can result in job loss, public ridicule and all kinds of such mayhem. So we must temper all our innovation, our testing, our ideas and our curiosity. We have a responsibility to do so to the people we serve. And yes, we do serve them, they pay our wages.

So that momentary decision? Which needs to be momentary or else you're taking way too long and the digital world has moved on without you? Bit more tricky. Suddenly a lot more tricky. But if you made that decision in seconds, I'd argue it was too fast, and if you made it in days you were too slow. You've got hours and minutes to assess all the risks, dangers, opportunities and potential successes before you say go on a new idea.

Be quick or be:
avoidably contacted

No. If you can't evaluate fast enough, change something. Change your idea of evaluation, talk to your performance team. Because if you're flying on the seat of your pants without your performance team, my friend, you are doing it wrong. They need to be the JFDI'ers best friend. But you're going to have to explain to them why the evaluation matrix which didn't include blog evaluation 6 months ago needs to do so now and to do that, you kind of need to a) know where they sit b) know how to talk to them and c) understand they know more about evaluation than you could ever hope to.

JFDI > evaluation != lack of innovation.

Just be quick.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Grit and grind, baby

While I was growing up, neither of my parents worked. Various reasons. 

My first job was as a paper girl, at 14, carrying the Sunday newspapers back when you couldn't fold them barely to get them through the letter box. Paper list telling me who gets what in one hand printed on a dot matrix printer. Mint and white stripes.

My second job was as a Saturday girl in a bakery. Cleaning the bakery. Lots of lifting heavy stainless steel bits to get into other bits with big mixing blades. Lots of stainless steel counters. Toilets and cake baking studios. £10 for the mornings work, starting at 8am and finishing at midday. The same bakery my mum used to send me down to with 40p in my pocket to get a wholemeal loaf fresh out of the ovens - so fresh it was almost unspreadable.

Then I left school.

During college I worked at weekends at a local supermarket, shelf stacking and on the tills, sometimes standing for 9 hours in the cigarette kiosk, often working 12 hour shifts. In the previous jobs I'd had so little clue what to do with the money that I'd simply spent a pound on the luxury of a weekend newspaper for myself (back then there was no internet and knowledge cost a lot of money - even if it was a return bus fare to the nearest town to go to the local library once a week) and the rest would get used by my mum when she was short. Which was often.

The supermarket money funded new clothes. A novelty. Music, cassette tapes an even bigger novelty. Cigarettes and the odd drink here and there - for some reason because we knew we could get served, we always just ordered halves and never actually really got drunk. 

Off to university. Grants and overdrafts and credit cards because no one explained that a loan would be cheaper. No help from parents - what on earth would they help with and by that point mum was a single parent anyway. First year = debt. Second year = working 5-9pm every week day doing data entry and then 10pm to 3am Thursdays to Saturdays in a local nightclub behind the bar.

Leave university. Fail abysmally. You can guess why, right?

Get a job. Doing data entry at the same company but 9-5pm and then still working at the club but now 10-3am Thursdays to Sundays, supporting two of us on my two jobs, paying the rent, paying the bills, luxury in life being able to afford 10 proper cigarettes instead of smoking roll ups - my secret treat once a week and hidden from the non working partner.

Leave university. Go to London. Temp. Get a permanent job. Get promoted. Take voluntary redundancy. Temp some more. Do admin, do data entry at Loot at weekends, do admin during the week. Get taken on permanently, then apply for promotion and get it. Become a Probation Service Officer and hate it. Back to temping, back to admin.

I have never, not once claimed any kind of benefit. I got into a complete and utter mess with money while a student and just after and I have paid every single god damn penny off. My credit rating has one, count them one, late payment in 3 years across 7 different credit accounts (catalogue, try being a fat person and not shopping with La Redoute and Simply Be).

I have done whatever I needed to do, to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head. I consider myself lucky that I have never had to resort to anything illegal to do so. Instead, I have never turned work down, have never been too proud to take a job, and have used my typing skills to feed myself and often others too. 

I never once looked at my parents and felt disrespect. I never once felt scorn. I never once judged. Conversely, I never considered that that was a life that I wanted for myself, not one which I would have.

Instead, I have worked. Hard. At whatever I was lucky enough to be able to do to earn a wage, more often than not, not a decent one.

Is there a point to this post? Are things different now? Does drive and determination count for nothing? Who knows. But I know where I'm throwing my chips.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Pinterested irritations

I've got dragged into a conversation which is not suitable for 140 so here it is in long form.

Pinterest was, until last week, something I'd been banging on about for a year. I'd also been using it - to plan group holidays, to find weight loss inspiration and clothes to fit in when I'm smaller, to collect wise words and bits for my bike I adore.

Last week, the entire world suddenly went - 'Pinterest is awesome!'.

I had a conversation with a male friend last week which amounted to 'I had a dabble but it's 'too fluffy' for geeks like me'.

The inferences there are many. a) I am not a geek like him. b) it's for girls.

So when I saw the instagram floating around as linked to in the previous post I was annoyed. No, pinning is not just for girls, no it's not just about recipes and no it's not fluffy either. It's a useful resource for sharing and collaborating on design influences whether you're a web designer or trying to do an interior design for someone and want to share colour swatches with them from pinning paint swatches.

It's a brilliant way of sharing inspiration and smiles, of sharing with the world your hopes and dreams or keeping them private if you want to. It's very visual, something you'd have thought would appeal to boys as we are famously told boys do pictures and girls do words when it comes to certain things.

But no, What feels to be a predominantly female userbase find a social network all to themselves and it's dismissed in two words - fluffy or recipes.

Forgive me if the thought that now the world knows about it it will be covered in adverts and spam depresses me - but I'd rather be misunderstood and left to enjoy a lovely creative shiny space than have it descended on by idiots who can only ever see social media as a 'tool' and not something to be played with and enjoyed. Points are given, of course, for the ability to do both and not annoy the hell out of me.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

It's not about recipes damnit!

My antidote to the donut meme doing the rounds:

Twitter - I am eating a donut. Or is it doughnut? Whatever, I'm eating it.
Facebook - I'm eating a doughnut LOL I'm covered in sugar but my boyfriend says I musn't lick my lips. LOL.
Foursquare - Serve the best doughnuts evah.
Instagram - There's something slightly weird about this doughnut - look!
Youtube - This is my cat. Chasing doughnuts on a string. So cute.
LinkedIn - I sell doughnuts. I can sell doughnuts to anyone you ask me to (they've probably never even eaten a doughnut)
Pinterest - I want to make doughnuts that look just like this, look at the way the light falls on the crystallised sugar.
Last FM - I'm listening to something by a band who've cited The Doughnuts as an influence. They're crap.
Spotify - I'm listening to The Doughnuts and they absolutely rock.
G+ - I'm going to talk about doughnuts. I'm not sure what the point of writing here about doughnuts is cos I'm so confused by whose circle I'm not in but that whom I've got within mine I can't work out who I'm telling about doughnuts in the first place.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

SFX Weekender: Series 3 2012

I tend to remember in snapshots so this is a collection, if you like, or windows into my SFX weekend. Quick explanation: I'm a geek but a tech/digital geek, my other half is the sci-fi/fantasy fan boy of the two of us. However, after this weekend, I'm not so sure that's still the case.

Brian Blessed

I have never seen Flash Gordon, I didn't see his Everest programme. But somehow, this loud proud Yorkshire man managed to keep my undivided attention for an hour which involved Pavarotti impressions, the expected Gordon's ALIVE echoing through the 'shed' and the massive laugh. In fact the laugh and the voice and the singing are so voluminous that you get a sense he's larger than he is so when he said he'd climbed Everest I sort of boggled a bit. Turns out, he's all beard - he's quite skinny under there. And so he should be because as he explained in his Q & A masterfully unguided by poor old Jordan Filey (who eventually simply gave up trying to stem the stream of consciousness emitting from Brian's mouth and just let him get on with it), he's 1st reserve to go up on the ISS.


'Sick of this getting old thing, you're only as old as you are' he says. Well, quite. Had to leave early due to snow warnings and needing to get back to 3,000 waif and stray animals and for a centrifuge training session this morning. He left us with words echoing in our ears which I have to paraphrase as I can't remember the exact words 'you are all unique and you all have one thing which you are brilliant at, excel at. Find that thing and live the adventure and don't let the bastards get you down'.

Did we win?

A panel ably hosted by Paul Cornell (I think) about whether sci-fi/fantasy is now so mainstream we don't need to push any more for its acceptance in the UK.

The discussion was fascinating but I wanted to say something to the panel but failed on the bravery roll so here it is. Yes Dr Who contributed to it though I also agree it is now a 'family' show rather than being terrifying. Yes I agree Russell T Davies is a genius and he did the right thing in almost introducing sci-fi by stealth. But that's not where the tipping point came from, I don't think. I think it came from a period of time where almost every single person on a carriage back in the early 2000's had a certain hardback book open. Where almost everyone I knew had read or was reading Harry Potter and where for the first time in as long as I can remember, people queued at midnight for a book. Just a book. A bit of paper with some words printed on it.

That tube carriage reflected the demographic of this weekend. All ages, predominantly white but not all, and equal gender split. I believe the most important demographic swing of recent years when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy is the gender shift. I remember a time when it was seen as a predominantly bloke thing to read sci-fi/fantasy or to watch sci-fi/fantasy films. Not any more. The viewing figures for Being Human are what they are, the viewing figures for Dr Who are what they are, the success of the X Files was what it was because of it's fundamental  ability to appeal to both genders. We're half the population, we're half the income and you finally gave us something we could believe in, becomes fans of, love and adore.

You gave us New Who. And it was the gateway drug for me and a whole tonne of other girls too. So thank you, for that, but please understand this too. Don't ignore us. Ask us on to panels, ask us to contribute. And finally, read this lovely post from my friend Julie and understand this: how much money has that one woman spent on sci-fi and fantasy in her life? Keep all of us new girls and you're coffers will indeed be bulging. It's worth it in the long run because keep us engaged, keep us interested and give us something to talk about and spend money on and we'll be with you for a long old time.

Eve Myles

Funny, inspiring, humble and gives good interview - such a lovely lovely lady. Well okay pints of wine indicate perhaps not a lady but you know...

Just a minute

Involved verbal sparring of such epic proportions between China Meiville and Joe Abercrombie that half of us got left behind and the other half just sat open jawed. Paul Cornell coralled with aplomb and much humour and...I don't laugh much. I have a slightly silly but also leftfield since of humour and I was eye leaking at some points from laughing so damn much. It was childish, intellectual, silly and random and summed the weekend up perfectly. Simply epic.

The other bits

Pontins. Well, it's Pontins. If you're expecting luxury, you're in the wrong place, go stay in a static caravan or a cottage. You can't beat it for staggering distance back from the fun though and once we'd worked out how the heating worked, we were dry and warm if not a bit sore from the sofabed. Yes, it smelt for a while but once it had dried out it got better, and the logistics of checking in and the signing queues aside, the space worked really well. There were bottlenecks on the Friday but that seemed to reduce on the Saturday. There weren't enough seats but there simply wasn't enough space to add more. Pat Sharpe can't DJ for toffee but can for pretty girls which was a bit uncomfortable in places. I think dancing girls might need to cross with increased female attendance in future - the complaints and mutterings where more this year than last.

The food was dire, the queue for it more so. There really weren't enough staff and all of this I lay at the door of Pontins themselves and not the SFX team because they also host Hard Rock Hell there who eat and drink the same amount as us geeks do and it was nowhere near this bad when we went to that event.

The maps discussion was circular and badly moderated but turned out okay in the end. We didn't get a single autograph all weekend but we didn't much mind. We sucked at the Blastermind quiz but enjoyed it immensely anyway and the Awards ceremony excelled past years for the brilliant acceptance videos (but I also think that surely next year more stars are going to have to make the effort and actually turn up because it's actually getting insulting now that people wont). The production from the SFX lot is getting better every year and as per every other year their responses to tweets and questions were patient and helpful.

All in all I enjoyed this weekender much more than last. There was more 'intellectual' discussion perhaps, more passion and fire, more entertaining interviewees? I don't know. I loved that the chalet locations meant we didn't hear thumping music until 3am. I loved that the sunrise was beautiful. I loved the costumes and the friendliness. I loved being invisible to a lot of people, I loved the random acts of kindness. I loved the feeling of being able to just be silly and geeky and childish and it not being remotely frowned on.

My only complaint, really seriously only complaint?

Wi-fi. Seriously, really seriously, can you lot sort a wi-fi booster or something for next year or bring your own?