Two hundred and thirty four posts on from 8 October 2011, workessence is standing down. It may be temporary, it may be permanent, I haven’t decided. I used to love writing here, but of late that excitement has dwindled and I haven’t been enjoying it. I’d always told myself that if that happened, I’d take a break.

My blog originated on the Posterous site six years ago. I remember hesitating to publish my first post, concerned that my satirical take on a workplace consultants’ dysfunctional curry might lead to my being ostracised. I then realised that even though I’d pressed the button, no-one actually knew it was out there – and so there began my exploration of social media, to try and build a readership. I got ostracised anyway.

The “flat blog” as a form feels flatter than ever. It has been swamped by the deluge of unfilterable dirge bubbling from every crevice of LinkedIn. I’m sure that the level of mediocrity attained is far from what David Weinberger envisaged in the Cluetrain Manifesto when he said that blogging meant “writing ourselves into existence”. To paraphrase a line from The Incredibles – when everyone’s a blogger, no-one will be.

Over the years I’ve connected with and met some amazing people, and learned how to break out of the restrictive networks imposed by professions with inspired gatherings such as the Tuttle Club (thank you Lloyd and Anke) and ConnectingHR (thank you too, Gareth and Doug). Yet I’ve also learned to be careful what I wish for: I willed so many more people to participate in social media, but now just want most of them to leave. I still tweet (happy tenth birthday Twitter, by the way – you have been amazing) but with far less frequency than at any time since I really started in 2010. In professional terms it’s lost much of what made it so endearing and enlightening, but conversely seems to have found a worthy meaning and purpose best illustrated by the #tweepathon this weekend, captured in Michael Carty’s affectionate post. That said, I’m staying on Twitter, and staying connected.

Within the blog, I’ve exhausted the inclination or need to talk about millennials (no different from the rest of us), engagement (a lost sock), robots (if they have jobs, we’ll have different ones), productivity (a fish looking for a hook), the war for talent (for when there’s absolutely nothing else left to say), work being something you do and not somewhere you go, trust (it’s both), open plan offices (where all journalists should be made to work, just for the hell of it), smartworking (a consultant fabrication), the tyranny of cool (a sterile airbrushed hell), professional bodies (self-defeating prophecies)) and any other issues that are only issues because we talk about them relentlessly. If we stopped, they’d go away.

However I’ve concluded over these years of working it out through the blog that creating fantastic workplaces – for, and because of people – has never been more attainable if we would just stop over-complicating, over-analysing and obfuscating. It’s simple, it really is. If that’s my one conclusion from all the effort, it’s been worthwhile.

Of all the stuff I’ve written, I’ve enjoyed – and am most proud of – the stories. While they’ve been appreciated by people for whom I have a lot of respect, they haven’t been read nearly as much as the more obvious “fast food” opinionated rants. They need time to consume, and time to digest. If the site started disintegrating before my eyes, bytes tumbling around me, I’d save the stories first and not bother with the rest.

As Sartre’s detached character Antoine Roquentin says in Nausea, “one has to choose, to live or to tell”. I’m giving the telling a break. Thank you for reading, and for being part of my journey – without you, this blog would have been nothing.


11 thoughts on “unworkessence

  1. I hope you return Neil. I’m sure I haven’t read all your posts, but a good few. And they were a ‘good’ few. Maybe now you can write a book? “A philosopher and a poet walked into a pub…” I could make several comments on your points about social media, but maybe another time (I agree that Twitter is great; also, it is very difficult to get useful content onto, and out of, LinkedIn now…since ‘they’ have taken away control from ‘us’. Groups were useful – now they are ruined due to changes).

    Why do any of us write? I have certainly considered this question. Because we can, and we enjoy it? A good enough reason, perhaps. Because we want to be listened to, and to feel important? (Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame). Because we want to change things? – as you said, short rants get read. Only a few take time to read long blogs and papers with real content. Fewer still go off and use that content to ‘do’ something. Because we want to teach – to pass on what we have learned to others? Now there’s a purpose for writing which pre-dates social media by a few millenia!

    How have we taught for generations? Stories. Your point about the stories being the bits you really value is therefore not surprising. We sometimes over-formalise stories by calling them “case studies”, but they are essentially stories. Fables perhaps? – stories with a lesson embedded.

    I hope you write more stories my friend. Maybe a book of the workessence blogs, poured into a pan, simmered and reduced down with a dash of chilli…

  2. Neil – thank you for always being challenging in your blog posts, and giving me material I can refer to in my talks. Thank you for widening my vocabulary – Google is often used after reading your blogs. Thank you for encouraging me to write. Thank you for giving me the WWNS principle – What Would Neil Say?

  3. Well Well. The end of an era? A great way to sign off. Hopefully not for ever. There needs to be a medium for thoughts such as yours. But maybe the current narrative is tired as you say. I can certainly relate to everything you have said here. Maybe we should all make an effort to tell less, listen more. Maybe, god forbid, meet more and share in person. Who know’s. Perhaps a cue for that long overdue lunch? 😉

  4. I don’t “like” this at all… and I respect it & will very much miss your insights, your beautiful prose & the things that you write which have given me so much pause.

    I hope to see you – in some different form perhaps – back, sharing the world as you see it.. because others less thoughtful and interesting will fill the void otherwise.

    Go well.

    Julie x

  5. You fucking rock and your writing here is mind blowing at times.

    I get why you’re pausing/ceasing though.

    Good shit never just keeps going, it has to stop to preserve its integrity. You’ve done that.

    Whilst you’ll be missed, you’ll never become passe, tired, plastic or bollocks. What a great move.

    Good luck with your Snapchatting and use of Yik-Yak.

  6. I too have enjoyed and been challenged by your blogs Neil but understand why you’re stopping.

    A couple of years ago when I got nagged to finally try Twitter and I had recently started my blog – I felt like there was a furore of activity going on with some fascinating people writing, sharing and discussing up a storm about transforming HR. I loved being part of that and felt I gained a huge amount of learning and information from people like yourself (as well as Perry and Julie in the comments here!).

    I too feel that that storm has subsided. I think we might have explored what it takes to transform so just have to get on changing our workplaces now. Perhaps in a while you’ll be back when we start sharing the success stories of change, rather than complaining about what needs to change.

    All the very best and hopefully will still you on Twitter…..

  7. Neil

    Don’t let the b******s get you down!

    In repost to your post:

    Linkedin – The land of the perpetual CV is broke beyond repair I agree!
    Millennial – I’m a 48 year old one, but that sets me apart, some of us just are different!
    Engagement – Those who can do, those who can’t don’t – thank God!
    Robots – Someone will always be programming them so they are not really ‘true’ robots
    Productivity – Everything is bite sized, real productivity comes from depth!
    The War for Talent – The cream will always, and I mean always rise to the top!
    Smart working – You either do, or you don’t. let the luddites die I say!
    Tyranny of cool – As the epitome of cool I don’t see how you could have a beef!
    Professional Bodies – In military parlance it’s always been about capturing ground!

    Fantastic workplaces are achievable, only by the thoughtful considered creation and distribution of ideas and thoughts by agitators such as yourself.

    My tuppence is pull up your socks (even the lost one) and tell the naysayers to get lost, and return to your rightful place as a fulcrum of thought!

    Disgruntled from Scotland
    (Iain Murray)

    • Iain (and Neil, who started it…)
      I wish it was as easy to make sense of these important subjects as you have suggested!

      “Millennials… Engagement… Productivity… The War for Talent… Smart working…”

      There *is* something (a kernel of knowledge) in all of these defined terms – keep hold of the baby, and by all means throw out all the grey bathwater.
      But let’s not dismiss all the research, reasoned argument and writing about these subjects in a few throw-away lines though.

      There is one soundbite which I think *is* worthy of use – “it is all about people”. Whereas, most of us (me included) in the “workplace” discipline were trained to think about “stuff” (not people). Buildings, fit-out, furniture, facilities, etc.

      Workplace design and management will not be fully effective until “workplace” professionals get a better education in the social sciences, and start to think from a people-centric viewpoint. As others above have said, I was similarly encouraged by the rise and intermingling of HR and Property/FM, forming a new more people-centric Workplace thinking.

      Whilst one cannot assume that all HR professionals necessarily think this way, it is probably true that most do, far more than those of us who were trained in “stuff” (architecture, buildings, surveying, engineering, etc.).

      I hope that this HR/Property mix will continue, and we will eventually see more truly multi-disciplinary education and training, at degree, post-grad and post-experience levels, which starts to give workplace professionals of the future a rounded knowledge (which, in truth, most of us didn’t get at the start of our careers).

      There are many subjects which do not get through to many Real estate/FM professionals:
      – leadership, trust, organisation studies, management theories/models, HR management, organisational development, organisational psychology, sociology… all solid subjects grounded in decades of research… and “all about people”.

      Sadly, much of it is locked away in subscription-only academic journals, and even if you do have access, much of it is as dry as left-over toast.
      But, there are a few of us trying to dig out the best bits, and repackage them in readable and accessible form…. trying anyway.

      • Thanks Iain and Paul….. I’ve been in this business for a shade under 25 years and since my earliest networking within the discipline its always been about people. In the days of the group that called itself Think Tank with characters such as Roger Reeves, Martin Pickard, Richard Collis, Richard Evans, all we ever focused on was people and service. I’m struggling to understand how we are now talking about this like its something new. Maybe we’re just talking about it on a wider scale. Its a good thing of course. But its not a revelation.

        • Not a revelation, but a gradual move towards HR (people) and not so dominated by Finance (cost).
          20 yrs ago, your Think Tank may have been at the start of this. But in ‘business as usual’ it was all about saving money. FM was driven by cost savings – and there were savings to be made.
          For many years now, FM has had few savings left to be made. The discipline of “workplace” has truly arrived, and we are all looking at how FM/workplace can make people more effective (away from cost, towards added value, at last).
          You may have been talking about it 20 yrs ago (many of us were) but its now evident that at least some organisations and their leadership ‘believe it’ – that good spaces and services make their organisation more effective.
          That said, I’m sure that there are still many organisations out there pushing FM down the cost-reduction path, not seeing the bigger picture.

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