Saturday, February 1, 2014

Travel Social Network Log - Final Posting 40 Days in 40 Seconds!

Well I'm now home and signing off from my little 'Slogging' Experiment. For those that have followed us from day 1.... I hope you enjoyed it. For those that have just joined now here is a 40 days in 40 seconds highlight real:

I couldn't sign off without a final Sidebar comment:

Final Side-Bar – Travel and Social Networking Closing Perspectives

I created this Social Networking Travel Log (SLOG) to bring a sightly different perspective to the traditional travel blogs by placing people and social connections above places in my reporting. For the most part this has worked, though the “the Organised Tour” parts of the trip did provide less opportunity for new social connections, which I guess is an observation in itself. I also wanted to link the experiences of the past 40 days of travel to a business context, in this case the “social business” context. I will aim to do this in this final posting.

I should start with why I had wanted to write a blog like this in the first place. Some of you may be thinking “what has holiday travel got to do with business?” My response is that the words “Social” and “Business” were previously unconnected, but what about today with all the social media/networking tools? The line separating work and pleasure is getting muddier all the time.

I am an avid traveller and have been fortunate to be able to travel for both work and pleasure, I do however have some friends and relatives that don’t really share this interest (they are in the minority). They appear to have a comfort zone that they are unwilling to move beyond. Even when they do travel, they do not return with the same delight from the experiences as those of us that love to travel. In the workplace we see many people like this. They have found their comfort zone, where they can perform competently, if not necessarily with distinction. They tend not to change jobs or roles too much. In some way we could see them as the “keepers of the status quo”; the signposts of the culture and “how we do things here”. As I said these people tend to be a minority. I have many friends who in their early lives had not been able to afford to travel extensively, but once they start, they just can’t get enough. These are people who may initially appear like the ‘stay at home’ types but once given the opportunity, their minds are broadened and it can change their whole perspective on life.

I was fortunate in by early career to have a Research Director who came to us after a distinguished academic career across Europe and the USA.  He immediately identified how insular we were in Australia (largely due to distance and this was pre-Internet days); and he went about changing this by facilitating greater overseas travel amongst his research staff, even if this meant foregoing the standard business class for overseas travel for economy class travel. We weren’t complaining! In essence this Research Director became the broker for new work experiences and perspectives for a generation of researchers, and I for one am eternally grateful. My Research Director was a ‘Catalyst’ for change. In many business situations staff may find themselves drawn into the status quo. It’s convenient and comfortable. Sometimes it takes a broker, in the form of a catalyst, to awaken the explorer in us. Others seek out these experiences, without the need for such a catalyst. In a travelling context I’ve always admired those that were able to travel the world on a shoestring. They will no doubt be taking risks that many of us are not comfortable with. But their reward is the life experiences that many of us will never have. Of course not all experiences are positive, but even the bad ones are memorable and ones we can learn from.

I believe that the majority of people are open to broadening their minds and moving out of their comfort zones to take on new experiences. Sometimes it just takes that catalyst to make it happen. I’m also convinced that those that travel bring a greater appreciation for cultural differences when they return to the workplace. All workplaces create the opportunity for conflict. We strive for conformity and consensus through building strong bonds but as the saying goes “It's often the ties that bind us that also blind us".  As network scientists we will often preach the need for balancing cohesion and diversity. I think from this trip, particularly the middle eastern part, I have learnt a better way of expressing this…and that is “tolerance”. By this I mean that we need to respect that there will be strong communities that we will not always share a common view with. We can waste a lot of time trying to achieve a common view, a consensus if you like. The challenge of the “social business” will be to thrive without the discipline of top down control. From what I have experienced in the middle East, the vast majority of the people we met were looking for an amiable co-existence, not a domination of one over the other (which the media would have us believe). It is even too much to expect that such disparate groups will ever trust each other. But what they can do is develop a level of tolerance for their neighbours that at least mean that they can still live a productive life.  For the social business there will also be inevitable differences that will need to be addressed through peer level negotiation and not destructive conflicts.

Effie our Israeli guide mentioned it several times. While we could see where his allegiances lay we could also see he was trying hard not to be overly judgemental on the other faiths. Effie also made the early comment (in jest) that the problems in the Middle East could be resolved by getting rid of CNN and similar press agencies that like reporting on only the extremist positions, that inevitably result in a drop in the Tourist trade (which is happening now).  It certainly was our experience that the general public are much more tolerant in their views than what we would have believed before we came here. This is where I believe that social media has a part to play in balancing the views of the traditional reporting agencies. The Internet facilities we have seen in Israel and Jordan are as good, if not better than we would see in Australia. Lets just hope that tolerance for freedom of speech could be the same or better. We can translate this situation to a business context as well. How many of you have experienced work cultures that reward “towing the party line and labelling the outspoken as dangerous?” I have met many mid level and senior executives that have felt politically constrained in speaking their own minds, in the name of conformity and consensus. Tolerance is about making your views known but being able to live with opposing views if the situation calls for it.

From a generational perspective I see the Gen Xs and Gen Ys as much more avid travellers than my own baby boomer generation, largely driven by the greater opportunities and affordability that now exists. In the Middle East, the cultural traditions are being challenged in the same way that previous generations have done, but perhaps at a faster pace? I reflect on Riad’s comments about his own children. He is about the same age as me. His marriage was arranged and he is looking to have at least a strong say in his children’s marriages, but he sees that he will be fighting an uphill battle, which I think he grudgingly accepts. Armed with more open, global experiences; and with it broader minds and cultural tolerances, I look forward to this generation driving the Socialisation of Business practices into the future.

It may sound like I’m suggesting that the Middle Eastern cultures are starting to modernise along the lines that we are familiar in the Western world; and that this is a good thing. With respect to women in the workplace I think this is true. Riad had mentioned that he was not supportive of the more extreme Muslim treatment of women in the workplace. I recall when teaching a knowledge management course to students who were mainly from the Middle East and being informed by some of the women in the class that they were not even permitted to be in the same meetings as men, let alone share knowledge with them! On the other hand I think we can learn a lot from those cultures that value trust relationships as I wrote about in the Side bar “Selling Networks”. Riad joked that one of the main products from small villages in Jordan are children. He has seven of his own and comes from a family of twelve, so he has many cousins. I too come from such a culture and have a large extended family. Family networks start as trusted networks by default and of course some will degrade to different degrees. In the Middle East, as in China and other parts of Asia business is still conducted through such networks. It can move surprisingly quickly, as I have indicated earlier. Western world business practices, in the absence of such networks, have tried to substitute with formal legal mechanisms. While these mechanisms are a necessary evil when it comes to scaling up an enterprise, we should always be mindful that “trust will trump contract” any day.

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