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Disruptiveness matters

Have you read Mark Zuckerberg’s Building Global Community? From the title, you may think that “Global Community” is a new product…otherwise he would have used the phrase “Building a Global Community” or “Building Global Communities.” It’s not a product, it’s his vision. Zuckerberg is creating his own vision about where he wants the world to be in the future and how he sees Facebook as being part of that world. This is an excellent way of thinking ahead as it provides people (Facebook users, Facebook employees, Facebook stakeholders..) with a vision, with an idea of what these actors can do to make a favourable circumstance happen.

This is a time when many of us around the world are reflecting on how we can have the most positive impact. I am reminded of my favorite saying about technology: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.”

This is where now political institutions in Europe (mainly referring to governments of various levels of governance) tend to fail: lack of vision. Lacking vision means providing lack of certainty and this is the key variable to keep analysing when working towards getting people’s trust.

Photo: Unsplash http://bit.ly/2mrDf7j

The electorate is volatile and it is the responsibility of governments and “political managers” (I love this word and I will talk more about it in the future”) to make sure that decisions and policies serve “a vision” instead of a temporary set of desires.

Brexit is one of the most evident case of the theory I explain above. 52% of the people in the United Kingdom voted “Leave” and they day after “What is the EU” was among the most looked for items in Google in the UK. Still, nowadays we see how that decision was made out of complete lack of vision. This 52% just wanted out without knowing “how” to get out and what exactly they were getting out from. At this regard, I invite you to read this beautiful piece by Andy Bodle 68 dumb-f**k reasons for leaving the EU.

Now, why am I making this comparison? Because big tech successful companies like Facebook, Google or Tesla are instilling trust in people simply by providing a vision. It is that simple. But then, how do they go about making that vision a reality? They create that vision and play all the necessary scenarios backwards in order to see which are the necessary steps to make it happen. This is actually the very core of successful entrepreneurship, but why is it so hard to apply this (in theory) simple principle to politics? A couple of visionary leaders in these terms can be seen in specific business-hubs like Dubai, Singapore and Shanghai. Of course, these cities are not a leading examples in the field of human rights and democracy however they created wealth out of nothing simply by playing this “backwards-scenario game.”

Another writer I particularly appreciate in this field of work is Dan Sobovitz, whom in his most recent article he says “..popular trust in digital service providers and #BigData is higher than the current trust in political institutions (which is dangerously low), sometimes even higher than our trust in our own cognitive ability.” I agree with this statement. Politics is bound to make people happy, but people want everything now. This goes into contrast with building and providing society with a vision on the long term.

Moderate politics in Europe is failing in this game, which is causing an absurd rise in populism. The basis of populism, as recent history teaches us, is the exploitation of people’s uncertainty. The idea of a united, free and prosperous Europe is a solid vision and it is the categorical imperative of the European union to provide this vision against the destruction that populism and short term nationalism is bringing.

Recently, I called EU communicators to stand their ground and I want to reiterate this invite by advocating the defense of this vision of Europe, which remains the most ambitious political project in human history and a Union of benefits for its citizens when they stand together.

It’s crazy to think that big tech companies are achieving this trust from the people, but I see no shame in taking inspiration from it and apply these principles to the political domain.

 

 

 

Categories: Misc

I had a lot of fun at the EU Studies Fair last week. For me it proved a very fruitful event for both students and professionals who are trying to get a foothold in that lions’ den that I call “Eurobubble jobs.”In my experience this can be quite a daunting challenge, but if it has been a journey that I think it is worth blogging about.

The most frequent questions I got:

  1. I’m a student. How do I land an internship?
  2. I’m an intern. How do I move from “intern” to “employed”? 
  3. How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

Let’s get down to business.

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How did I land my first internship? It was 2010, a terrible time for job hunters. With a sluggish economy, in the middle of the worst crisis that Europe had witnessed since 1945, graduating between 2008 and 2012 was probably not the easiest time to lay the foundations of your career. Basically, there were no jobs around and all whether it be businesses related to politics, economics or communication, unpaid internships were really all that was on offer.

As a totally broke “economic migrant”, I could hardly afford unpaid work. I remember that together with a friend of mine at Maastricht University, we strategically worked our way towards getting a paid internship.

Firstly, we sent (literally) hundreds of spontaneous applications to all kind of businesses we thought might be interested in our profiles, not only in Brussels but in cities around world. I even remember getting an offer to go to Tbilisi to work for a think tank which I seriously considered doing – I really needed something.

Secondly, we screened a database of alumni from MU and looked at what they were doing. We also contacted them to see how they got their first jobs, and asked if we could get some tips and recommendations on which direction in which to move. Finally  we took the plunge and headed to Brussels for a couple of nights just to check out what these alumni were doing and see where people hang out after work. It was during those nights that we realized that public affairs is not all about knowledge (seriously, it’s actually only a small part of it). That’s when I realized I needed to change my mindset.

 85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge. Carnegie Institute of Technology.

To cut a long story short, we dared. We dared making the extra step to make sure we covered all possible angles in what was a pretty desperate search for employment, leaving no stone unturned. Eventually I got a paid traineeship at Bruegel which then turned into a job…but not after getting a few hundreds rejections from all other businesses. Rejection is bound to happen. If it doesn’t happen it means you are not setting yourself the ambition you deserve. You are just playing safe, away from disappointment but also away from opportunities.

Ergo, 1) be daring, 2) don’t give up no matter how many rejections you get and 3) cover all possible angles in the way your present yourself to the market.

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How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

In the Eurobubble there is no real straightforward way to do this. But if I was forced to set out a clear-cut method to look for jobs it would be probably be something like this:

  • 25% of your efforts have to be around generic applications and letters of presentation. These will give you an overview of what is out there, how companies, businesses and institutions are structured and the way they publish vacancies. It’s the mandatory background on the environment you are trying to enter.
  • 25% should be on highlighting your social, extracurricular skills, passions and interests. This is a game of inches. For that one job in the bubble you applied for, trust me, there will be 100, 200 or 500 more people with similar profiles fighting for it. How can people decide to hire you over someone else? Most of the time, it’s what you don’t expect that will catch somebody’s attention. It might be a particular experience you have shared, an unusual language you speak or a common passion (whether it is photography, travelling or rock music) with your examiner. Don’t leave anything relevant behind when you present yourself.
  • 50% of your time should be on targeted and strategic approaches. These are direct, tailored and personal e-mails, handshakes or comments that hint at a potential ” meeting” or “a coffee” to follow up a conversation.

They shouldn’t be about jobs or employment but they should casually and in the least intrusive way possible propose an encounter where you present yourself as “a person” before being “a professional.” Why 50% into this? Because it will take you much more time to approach 5 people with this method than approaching 20 companies in a speculative fashion.

Surprisingly, this is where most young professionals fail, in my opinion for one main reasons: The overdigitalization of our interactions is creating a society where human interactions are scary or even unknown. People born after the late 90s already jump into this world where interactions and dialogue are fully digital among peers. People born before that back to the 70s have more flexibility since they experienced this change and can apply both interactive methodologies. (I’m 31 and find myself somewhere in the middle). This is not an outcry against digitalization. It is just a fact of life.

On top of this, there has been a substantial change of values among generations. I’m generalizing here, but I confidently see how the generation of our parents had completely different values based on prosperity and stability (whether this was financial, societal, geographical or marital) while the current youngsters value freedom, experiences and independence on all fronts. More and more of us are not as fussed about buying houses, nor cars, nor getting married nor crave that lifelong job contract that our parents so desperately want us to get. So, why be shy, right?We have learnt to be more flexible and ready to adapt. But it is important that we exploit this flexibility.

As a sort of experiment, but also as a work management filter, when people ask me for a meeting, a reference, a favour etc., I always give them my phone number straightaway and say “Call me whenever.” Out of these people roughly 5 % call me while the remaining 95% don’t follow up, forget or come up with written excuses for not making things happen. In my experience, that 5% who reached out to me over the phone were successful in starting a business, organizing a conference or getting a valuable contact. That is because they want to be champions in what they do and they do what they gotta do with no excuses.

There is one more point I particularly wanted to get across the people I talked to during the event. In my opinion Brussels is like bodybuilding: It’s not for everyone. I’m not saying that you need special skills to come here and land an EU sphere job, but not everybody is ready or willing to play the game. What I’m saying is that the Eurojobs (in the wider sense) game is not 9AM to 5PM. It’s actually from 5PM onwards.

Do you want to get a confortable 9 to 5 job in an office and be happy with that? Cool. You can do that anywhere in the world from San Francisco, to Milan, from Kuala Lumpur to Dakar. Why choose Brussels?

Do you want to build a career in the field of international institutions, relations and affairs? Then Brussels is the place for you (together ex aequo with Washington, Geneva and the city of London). But that “career” is made of a lot more than sitting in the office in front of your desk. It’s a lot about shaking hands, going to conferences, making yourself known on social media, blog, talk, chat, explore, fail, learn and start over again and this is the part that is not for everybody.

Many people have the capacity of doing this, but this is likely not everybody’s vocation. The same way that people have the capacity to prepare for a fitness competition and to train every day, diet seriously, follow a coach, a nutritionist, and a physiotherapist, but not everybody is meant for it. Personally, I am addicted to both the institutional communications/relations game and bodybuilding but this is just me.

To summarize the key piece of advice I gave at the Euro Studies Fair…. it all comes down to following your true vocation which doesn’t depend on what your family or friends or society tells you to be. It is about what you want to be or become, taking risks, being laser-focused on a goal, and willing to pursue it no matter what it takes to get you there. You are hard wired to follow the path towards the completion of your goal. Now get out there and make things happen to achieve your goal in life because ain’t nobody gonna do it for you. I’m up for coffee or protein shake whenever you like.

Peace.

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said this a couple of days ago

This statement reflects on a problem that communicators advocating in favour of the European union have to face right now. I’m not referring in particular to communication professionals working for the institutions, but mainly to those who believe in the European project and work in communication, in Brussels and beyond.

I fully agree with President Juncker’s statement: we are not proud enough of what we have achieved. On the other side though, I see lack of courage  when it comes to showing this feeling of pride and to counterattack populist arguments, fake news and groundless political campaigns aimed at destroying or undermining one of the greatest political projects in human history.

This, in my own experience, brings up to the surface a couple of issues:

  • Bubbles (not only the EURObubble) are too self-complacent. I define bubbles as cities or areas of cities that gather professionals working in the same field. Bubbles are echochambers where people have the same mindset (not necessarily they just think alike), which makes it hard for them to see what the world outside that sphere think.

I am a frequent attendee of conferences on communication, democracy, human rights and I see how, in Brussels, these debates are useless when the line-up of speakers is made of people that all share the same view or belong to the same societal stratum and are ergo unable to bring aglobal perspective to the discussion table. Instead, they like patting each other on the back by self-acknowledging their membership to the intelligentsia. Clearly, things are going the opposite direction over the past two years…and 2017 doesn’t seem to be more promising.

We are losing the communication battle with citizens outside of big cities, and still, we are not realizing the power we have in our hand to stand our ground and defend the European ideals now, when it matters most.

  • Self-complacency makes you a softy. Instead of fighting back, as President Juncker does and proposes, we get scared. I believe this is the time to stand our ground and use our skills, our arguments our knowledge to advocate for the benefits, the goodness and the founding principle of the Union. What the EU has achieved is tangible and it cannot be taken for granted.

The Social Media Team in the European Commission are applying these principles well. You can go on their Facebook page or Twitter account and see how they rebut wrong arguments, fake news or questionnable data. My call if for all those communicators who believe in EU unity to do the same on their personal accounts and not to shy away from populist digital campaigning. It’s not easy, I know. But we have the chance to act and make our contribution to a great cause. Let’s make our skills count.

Managing a big social media campaign or  event is very similar to preparing and managing a sport team. In my experience in sports and professional communication, it is impressive to notice how many similarities come up within these two different playing fields. I disagree with this article and here is why.

Whether you will be curating national elections, the Eurovision song contest or the next World Cup, you need to prepare well in advance. Whether you are managing a team or a community, you can never consider your job as “done.” A community is never done. It is built, maintained and bred. Exactly like a sports team that finishes a league then starts another one and so on and so forth.

The “pre-season” is all about training and getting ready, getting fit and understanding your goals and potentials. No matter what, the better prepared you are, the better your performance is going to be. Even if things take an unexpected turn, your preparation will make a difference in how you play the game. You can either train for your success or complain for your failure. That’s all up to you as a coach or as a communication manager.

The tough part of analyzing your goals is to understand where you need to stop dreaming. Don’t take this as an obstacle but take it as realistic management. Any team knows at the start of a season whether they are fighting for the title or to avoid relegation. Understanding that, means understanding your budget, your means, your players, your competition. This “reality check” is necessary to help you better manage your resources: Are you prone to attack or to defend? Are you stronger on visual content and SEO or rather copyright and public relations? Understand your strengths and weaknesses objectively and use them to make the best our of your long-term goals.

A common mistake I see an sports at an amateur level is to start a league without proper athletic preparation. The same things applies to campaigners who focus too much on the first quarter of activity and end up with no content after a few months. Nothing kills your community more than scattered content. No preparation is equal to branding suicide.

Training

Things are not always as planned. That’s why campaign management is pretty much like a game or a race. There are things you can control (your training, your sleep, your nutrition, your tactics) and other you can’t (your competitors, the weather, the judges or referees). Having said that,  don’t be afraid to fail. You can make mistakes in monitoring, reporting and assessing your strategy.

The important thing for your sustainable institutional communication is not to ever make mistakes, it’s impossible. It is about how you react when things don’t go the way you expected. Your ability to get hit and keep moving forward. We can all make mistakes but it is through such acknowledgement that we can work together and build a more solid and effective communication strategy as campaigners.Play_and_react

Reporting is not the end of your task. It’s actually the beginning of your next goal. The insight you have got about your physical performance and the performance of your team is the starting point of your next competition, not the end of your current effort. Reporting and making a reality check on where you are physically is the only way to improve ahead of your next challenges. The same way, when you run  a communication project, it is essential to keep learning about the influencers in your topic, about the demographics of your conversations and about the actual reach and impact of your work. At times, it is better ti take a step back and see things from a distance instead of keep going an narrowing our prospects. This will help you refine your strategy for next big things to come.Evaluate

Network creation should be one of your goals. A network where you, as an institution or a business, are identified as a reliable and important source of information and expertise is a an expression of success. This type of image and brand takes years sometimes but the benefit of maintaining a solid positive aura, whether you are a captain, a coach or communication expert, are greater than you may think. In the era of continuous digitization of relationships and interactions, it is the hand shake, the speech or the informal coffee that make a difference in brand building. Hardly you will be seen as a mentor if lacking this very specific, and ever more important skill.

Synergies

Photos credits

Olympic weights © markomarko40 – Fotolia

Rugby,Placcaggio © massimhokuto – Fotolia

groupe au rugby © ALAIN VERMEULEN – Fotolia

The strategy of football © rafikovayana – Fotolia

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_theory

Over the past couple of days, I attended “Politicians in a communication storm, an event organized by the Media Directorate of the European Parliament focusing on recent communication issues, in particular:

  • Social media and trust: how to overcome myths and propaganda
  • What we’ve learnt from the US elections, Brexit and the peace process in Colombia
  • Politics and millennials

Apart from the outstanding networking opportunity (the attendance list was both huge and very diverse) it was good to make the point of the situation in European communication, challenges following Brexit, the (highly unexpected) Trump election and the current political crisis Europe is stuck in. The main lessons from the day:

“Brussels comms” is a bubble and doesn’t want to change: Autumn is “Comms Conf Season” in Brussels: EuroPCom, NATO SMIO, media4Democracy just to mention a few. Out of all the people in the panels I attended, there was neither a Brexit campaign manager, nor a Trump communication advisor or similar. These are huge conferences, but only displaying people that think “in the box” or “in the bubble.” That was a big let-down. The communication of EU institutions, whether we like it or not, is stuck in its own arrogance and instead of learning from winners, these gathering of communication professionals are more keen on listening to those who lost massively (in this case we had speakers from the Guardian and the Washington Post who supported Bremain and Clinton), whose only arguments are hypothetical scenarios (“If millennials had turned up to vote, if Florida voted differently, if Wales voted differently etc…). All these speculations are pretty useless and feed the bubbleS (whether we are talking about Brussels, London or Washington) with their own pleasing content. Talking about echo chambers….

Look East: For decades, Europe looked at itself as the second best in digital communication after the US. Well, it’s time to think again. South East Asia, the Middle East and South American institutions are using social media way more strategically and way more audaciously than in the old continent ( as presentations by Nestor Eduardo Chiliquinga Mazón, Secretary-General of the Andean Parliament and especially by Hiren Joshi, Social Media Advisor to India’s Prime Minister showed).  Especially the work of PM Narendra Modi ahead of his latest election has been absolutely outstanding and daring…and most importantly, successful. EU comms is too stuck into its own communication protocol, but this approach is making Europe lag behind in the latest communication trends in times where we need to urgently get closer to the citizens, not further. East Asian governments seem to set the bar very high in disruptive communication. Lots of things to learn from them.

Feed your attendees…and give them objects to engage: The most shared photos of the event were of the beautiful and delicious cupcakes, the organizers were distributing to participants. You may think this doesn’t really relate to the event, but guess what? The event’s hashtag #PICsocial trended in Belgium, Spain and Sweden. The end justifies the means and using hooks to raise visibility always pays off.

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Kudos to the colleagues at the Parliament for organizing this. I hope the experience will be repeated in the future.

The 2016 Mr. Olympia was a terrific bodybuilding contest, definitely the best in years. Not only because of the insane line-up of athletes who walked the stage in Vegas but also for the overall media attention (which grows significantly every year) and a huge drama element. Two top competitors (Dennis Wolf and Kai Greene) dropped out last moment for different reasons and Kevin Levrone, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, came back from retirement…at age 52, after 13 years of inactivity and after going through a number of complicated surgeries.

Now, this is not the first time a famous athlete comes back from retirement. We have seen this in football (Paul Scholes), basketball (Michael Jordan), rugby (Andy Goode), swimming (Michael Phelps) and others… if it wasn’t for the way Mr. Levrone came back. Firstly, we are talking about 13 years of inactivity, not a few months. Secondly, we are talking about a 52-year-old man competing against athletes half his age. Thirdly, the marketing and communication around the comeback was spot on.

Kevin Levrone has been incredibly smart, subtle and humble in his communication, in a way that, no matter his ranking on stage, he would come out as a winner. At the end of the day, he shone through (deservably) as an absolute legend, and a true inspiration for us all. I met him at FIBO 2016 and told him “Thank you for the inspiration you’re giving to athletes who love this sport” and he replied “Thank you Sir.” It’s that modesty that made me realize what kind of value I was witnessing.

He kept humble. Kevin has been very active in his social media during the build up to the Mr. Olympia. Still, he never, or hardly ever, showed his condition and progress. We had to wait until 10 days before the show to see his arms and only the day before the contest he showed his torso and legs. He worked in the dark and shone when it mattered.

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Photo Credit: The Official Kevin Levrone Facebook page http://bit.ly/2fMdmzQ

He honoured his commitment. There’s a place in life to think about your purpose and your goals. But this time doesn’t count for anything unless you get things done. Only after the show, Kevin talked about all the insane physical issues and injuries he went through in preparation to the contest. He had no excuses, nor he tried to lower expectations to the fans. So many athletes blame injuries for mediocre performances and career drawbacks but Mr. Levrone didn’t and talked about his tough time only after competing and in a very composed and objective manner. Injuries and accidents happen to everybody but it is the way you manage these difficulties that define whether you are making a great career or not. I believe this applies to all aspects of life. See below what he posted:

I’m posting this pic because it shows the date and time I had my 2 PRP knee treatment. Bottom line is I committed to competing before I started training hardcore. As my training progress I found it was impossible to squat due to quadricep tendinitis in my left knee. So I trained around it the best was I could. Everyone knows you need squats to build the mass. By the time I had my first and second treatment we were within 9-7 weeks from the Olympia. 2 choices I had one to give up and use this as an excuse or stay committed like a man not complain and do my best no matter what they say about me. Well I feel I made the right choice and will never regret going onstage because I’m not a quitter at heart. Good thing is it’s going to get better and eventually I’ll be back 100%. If you guys are suffering from tendon pain look into this treatment it works. Looking forward to my recovery. I’m confident enough that if I walk on stage 100% or 50% I am still Kevin Levrone. You have to experience it all, your failures and your triumphs is what produces the character to NEVER GIVE UP. Stay tuned SHAAAA BOOM!

This is truly inspirational and it’s hardly about the sport of bodybuilding. It’s about building a legacy, a career and an example. What he showed can be applied to all careers and goals we want to set. Head down and working towards your commitments is what makes people of value.

It was fantastic to meet the guys at the Digital Camp programme in Varese (Italy) yesterday. The formation is organized by Varese News an incredible local media outlet that every year organizes the Italian Festival of Digital Journalism. We talked about the European Commission’s social media activity with a focus on the Joint Research Centre, the challenges of science and institutional communication and bridging the gap between citizens and policy makers through social media.

These “kids” have incredible talent and will certainly go places. I was happy to see that these students want to make a difference at the local level, in a country where (including myself) everybody is leaving to international business and politics hubs to build a career. This is a good and positive spirit with our local authorities should invest in.

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Categories: Misc