Archives for category: Keeping it Real

Do not worry about overdoing the mince pies. Chances are you are doing something very healthy this month-long celebration of Christmas, a “festive Season” in which most of us get to come off social media more than usual and are forced to be actually social. Call it face-to-face in a Facebook Age. 

In April my new book about what I call Social Health will be published. Fully Connected: Surviving & Thriving in the Age of Overload looks at the whole business of connection and its discontents in modern society. In organisations, in culture, in everyday life.

Fully Connected takes as a starting point the idea that people, be they wearing professional, personal (or indeed party) hats in their lives, have far more coping strategies and tactics around physical and mental health than around anything to do with their connected health. We need a system, and that system I’ll be publishing, is Social Health.

But you can steal a march. Start by making an early 2017 New Year’s Resolution to treat your diary as your body and aim to control 80% or more of what goes in it….start to notice over Christmas who you see because you love them, or who you reconnect with because you like them, or who you meet who tells you something interesting and who you feel you trust. Start to think about what you do and don’t read, watch, hear, because you are overloaded. Start to think about ways you can bring some order to your department or organisation just like you do with any other kind of New Year’s Resolution.
And start, whatever you do, to get off Facebook, or ay social media you overly rely on as your main way of connecting to other people with for a bit. Never mind the echo chamber, the reinforcing of stereotypical ideas, the algorithm-chosen messages and advertisements. There is no substitute – and I mean no substitute, even if Skype is an adequate proxy when needs must – for face-to-face contact.

Using your 5 senses to smell, see, touch, taste, hear in the company of another person, other people, to experience them fully and not in 140 characters or in carefully edited picture postings, or any other kind of ‘sharing’. That is one aspect of Social Health.

Hexagon Thinking….coming soon in my book Fully Connected

This Christmas, this party season, whoever you hang out with, be yourself with them, not an off duty avatar. Bring yourself to the party and don’t overshare the pictures afterwards. In other words, be Fully Connected.

In the new year you can see where I will be speaking about the book on @juliaconnects on Twiter.

Good Health is good for you, we all know that. A quick high intensity exercise burst at the gym, or a run, or a good night’s sleep – these all do ourselves ‘ the power of good’. Up until the middle of the last century having good health really meant staying alive, and not dying young: the “Spanish Flu” pandemic 1918-19 which killed many more millions than the First World War itself showed how a common bug which has low mortality can rocket around a population weakened by poor nutrition, bad sanitation, the spreading effect of mass mobility and a factor like war. 

But in 1945 after the Second World War something changed. The UN was created and with it a new body, The World Health Organisation. They wanted to create a world which was healthy enough not just to survive life but to thrive in it. The original definition is interesting, not least because it still stands today:
“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of injury and disease”.

One word stands out for me: the word “social”. We have come a long way to understanding and practicing good physical and mental health and well-being, but social well-being? Today we have not just a physical obesity crisis – 20% of the world is on course to  be clinically obese by 2025 – but we have a different kind of crisis and deprivation: Information obesity, time poverty and network blockage. 

We are officially in the Age of Overload. Those in control of their schedules and diaries are regarded as infinitely richer than those who are not. Networks are for many people an overwhelming tangle comprising work-related and purely personal databases, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp in a permanent cacophony of addictive sharing rather than a set of trusted relationships who can guide us through the thickets. The MIT psychology Professor Sherry Turkle has written about how conversation is being sidelined by a new condition: “phubbing: the art of talking to other people but with your eyes on your phone”.
The modern fitness revolution was kick- started by the actress Jane Fonda in 1982 with her famous workout video. Something interesting happened the same year: TIME magazine named ‘The Computer’ as its celebrated ‘Person of the Year’. This year, next year, we need a new kind of fitness, one which has been made necessary by the very computerised technology which keeps us all connected – fully connected – all of the time.

We need to know how to switch off, how to manage information overload better, how to connect better face-to-face in a Facebook world, and how to build networks which are not a tangle of virtual tubes but real relationships. We can start with learning how to treat our diaries like our bodies – only putting something in which we feel is good and healthy for us.
Here, then, is my definition of a new kind of health: Social Health: “To maintain a balance of activity, mindset and connections which enhance well-being and productivity”. 

I’m writing what I hope will be the blueprint for Social Health in the home, the office, the corridors of policymaking. Our behaviours have changed substantially around physical and mental health. The next big push needs to be Social Health. 

“Fully Connected: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Overload” will be published by Bloomsbury early 2017.

A few days before Christmas, the doorbell would ring. A tall slightly stooped figure wearing jeans, a beanie hat, some kind of checked shirt, and looking earnest and intense would be on the doorstep. My brother Joss would embrace me in a surprisingly strong bear hug before striding purposefully through to the kitchen.

He never stayed long. He was social, booked elsewhere, but also dutiful to family and even though we were relatively new family – I knew him for just over half his life and just under half of mine – he made time for me and our other brother and especially our children.

We would exchange fast updates as I brewed the strong coffee we both liked on the stovepot, getting to the heart of things by the time we heard the familiar bubble and hiss. What did this or that behaviour in a fellow beloved relative mean? We were great cod psychoanalysts, he and I. We loved dissecting anxiety, motive, the murky depths of psyche.

Shortly after he would be off, planting three carefully chosen presents wrapped and labelled in his trademark spidery handwriting. Birthday and Christmas rituals were conducted absolutely punctually by “Uncle Joss”.

The absence of his presents under the tree, like the absence of his actual presence, remains a slow doubletake of surprise: I took the idea of his permanence entirely for granted. I think I still do. But he died just under a month ago. I thought I had all the time in the world to get to fully know him.

Why did I only meet him twenty years ago? It’s a story familiar to many: We shared the same father but not the same mother. Everyone makes their own arrangements in love and life. It was more minor intrigue than drama when his existence was revealed to me when I was thirty. I don’t know why, maybe because the minute I met him in a pub in Soho in the mid 1980’s he was strikingly familiar: he looked absolutely identical to our father, even more so than my other older brother, Andy.

Despite his wry sense of humour he radiated intensity and angst. He was a worrier. A perfectionist. A planner. He was restless. He had a big moral code. He liked the trivial and the deep, equally. He did not believe injustice, bigotry or social inequality should be tolerated. He wanted to change things. He believed in the power of literature and theatre and creativity to help make change.

He devoted his life to directing theatre, writing about drama teaching, and to a theatre company he founded called Present Moment. He brought to blazing contemporary light ancient and abandoned plays, musicals, breathing new life into classics. He used theatre to bring the present moment alive.

He kept up a relentless pace in his life. He was always off in Birmingham directing, writing to deadline, buying rights to a forgotten play to produce or off to Key West or New York. He read voraciously. He liked Patti Smith, being upgraded at airports, shopping at John Lewis, cycling out and about in Crouch End, and a nice big gulp of good wine at our local Italian. If I was stressed he would provide his trademark reassurance by phone: “Keep breathing deeply”.

He is gone but he was here and made his mark and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful to have known him for what turns out to have been too short a time. I’m grateful to have watched him grow in stature in his field, and to watch his children and grandchildren flourish under his tender loving care.

He was not, in some of his last words to me, “ready to go yet”. But fate had other plans. The last few weeks were hideous and painful and wrong and like a runaway train, but they were also full of love and closeness. The family was there. In the present as it slipped into the past.

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Today I’m interviewing four people for two jobs – and each of them have come to us on a personal recommendation (sorry, headhunters). All of them have come via our networks – we know people who know them. In particular, one has come because I asked someone in exactly the industry we wanted, if he could recommend someone from his network – and he did.

Not every job can and should be recruited for in a closed network way. But actually, meritocracy is at work in the networks: What sociologist Mark Granovetter famously called “Weak Tie” theory, more than forty years ago, namely that you are more likely to get a job through word of mouth and friends-of-friends than via traditional recruitment.

Anyone can get to hear about jobs if they are well networked. But there is something else. Someone has to recommend you (generosity) and someone has to ask  about you (getting). And at the heart of this A-to-B process is an exchange of knowledge.

Knowledge Bartering works far more widely than job searching or job giving. Every time you speak to someone you are giving –  whether you realise it or not – some kind of intelligence they may not have, or may not value. Your conversation could change their perspective or their luck.

Likewise, asking for knowledge is as important as giving it, something we sometimes feel squeamish about. This is the “Give & Take” era of reciprocity as written about so well by Adam Grant of Wharton Business School.

Get out there. Get asking. Get giving. Right now, I’m back to the recuirtment. Know anyone  smart out there?

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