1000 Heads

Helping brands’ stories travel further and faster
  • Mail
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • foursquare
  • linkedIn
  • instagram

The hidden value of flippancy

by Andy Stretton on 04 July 2012

On Monday, Molly rightly told us to let your people be themselves in social media. But around 90% of conversation occurs offline, so how do these strategies apply to more general internal communications? In my experience within technical teams, the smartest people doing the best work often have attitudes that could easily be misinterpreted as flippant, sarcastic, grumpy or unprofessional.

When faced with a situation like the one in the Dilbert strip above, a weak manager will use management speak or blindly preach positivity without the stats to back it up. If the person in question is in a knowledge-based role, both of these approaches are likely to fail. They essentially represent a broadcast approach to internal PR.

1000heads always say “Don’t try to change the conversation; change what you do”. So how does that work internally?

You may believe that, as that person’s collaborator (or line manager/co-ordinator in old-speak), the habits you are imposing are efficient. But ask yourself instead: where is the line between flippancy and disruption? Are you missing an opportunity to embrace a new, more effective approach? Creativity was defined by Arthur Koestler as the defeat of habit through originality – and you have to be creative in order to produce a good flippant comment. How do you unlock that creativity and embrace change? After all, we live in a world with ever more ways of accomplishing the same thing.

It comes back to measuring the right things. You have hopefully hired a logical, creative problem solver; all of the things you crave from them – professionalism, punctuality, politeness, efficiency – are by-products of them being able to solve a well-defined problem. Taking the obvious example above, if getting more out of your suppliers is one of your employee’s measurable deliverables, then personal hygiene is essential.

It’s not easy to throw out your established way of doing things however; it’s also risky unless you do a lot of experimentation and pick the correct rules to break. So let’s look at an example:

Mat Wall is a software architect, not a project manager. He was brought in to run the Government Digital Service last year. The Government probably thought that they had brought him in to cut their IT budget, but he is actually attempting to change the whole way the UK civil service works. His first act was to abandon the dress code in the department and to cancel all of the Minister’s meetings with their established IT suppliers. Next he took the minister to Silicon Valley on a road trip. Together they met the founders of a set of major open-source projects and social networks. Now they are rebuilding the government IT portal direct gov using entirely open-source technologies for a very small fraction of the original cost.

The key point is not that the cost is lower, but that the system will be more effective. Government IT will be user-centric and digital by default because they have changed the yardstick by which they measure effectiveness. Furthermore, they are not “Harry Potter Developers”, believing that new tools will solve the problem by magic. They are not swayed by their relationships with salesmen. They have clear, cold logic behind the technical choices they make. The platform of choice (MongoDB) allows you to store all of the signed documents from the legacy processes. This in turn saves thousands of lines of code and enables them to introduce the new website, piece by piece, in an agile way.

So why not try out some of these outcomes-based agile techniques? It’s not a process-less revolution, just a different way of working. If you want to know more, I highly recommend the Agile Lean training SCRUM product owner course. Who knows, maybe you’ll even start making a few flippant comments of your own. They are a pretty efficient form of communication, after all.

This entry was posted on and is filed under Social business . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.