Things I did in 2018

Several new and interesting things, in fact…

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Every year I try to do some kind of reckoning, and looking back they take on quite different forms. This year, for instance, did not include a lot of travels, something that used to feature heavily. But other interesting events have occurred, including some firsts.

  • Had a third child. 2018 in our family has been marked by a sub-par pregnancy, but with a perfect resolution with the birth of our third daughter on 22 December.
  • Gave management consulting. Last year’s uncertainty in the work sphere was replaced by several engagements with the SDA Church in Denmark, giving consulting on communication, GDPR, and organisational change.
  • Founded my own company. My foray into consulting culminated with the founding of the company Deja-vu, with a couple of clients. The experience was worth it, even though the ambitions have been put to rest for now.
  • Started a new permanent job. In October, my networking paid off with a job offer from Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest financial institution. I’ve had a great start in an good position with nice colleagues and interesting challenges.
  • Left Camerata. After nine years in Denmark’s best amateur choir, it was time to call it quits to spend more time with my growing family. I did put in a final Passion of St Matthew in spring, and while sad to leave I am happy for the many memories and the extra spare time.
  • Saw Chess in live performance. This musical has been a personal favourite for many years, but it was the first time I got to see it live, which was quite an emotional experience.
  • Became a member of Mensa. Almost by random, I decided to go for a test and was proud to be offered membership. I have not quite figured out how to use my membership, but while trying to be humble about it, it is still a nice recognition.
  • Took a family holiday in Sweden. We filled the car and went for a wonderful 20-day summer holiday to our neighbouring country. It’s a very grown-up thing to do, but we had a great time, and the memories will stay with all of us for years.

All in all, a good and eventful year, and I look forward to an interesting 2019. Happy New Year!

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How to run a globalized dictatorship

Iran’s recent foray into Denmark is a good example of rogue states gaining confidence on the world scene, oppressing their people abroad and not just at home.

A month ago, our family went to Jutland for the weekend. We made an early start, leaving mid-morning. That proved to be a good choice, as the afternoon saw all transport links out of Copenhagen shut down in a massive police operation – an unprecedented move in usually peaceful and orderly Denmark.

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Authorities have been tight-lipped about the incident, but today they revealed that the incident was allegedly part of a plot by Iranian intelligence to assassinate an exiled activist, living in Denmark.

Oppressing your people abroad

This follows other similar examples from this year. There was Russia’s poison attack on double agent Sergei Skripal in England in March. And just this month we saw Saudi Arabia killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their own consulate in Istanbul.

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In all three cases, the regimes behind the actions are denying everything. Not surprising – I would probably deny it too if I was caught red-handed in something that ludicrous.

The overarching trend here is an audacity from doubtful regimes in playing their power games not just at home, but on the world scene.

erdogan.jpgWhen Turkey’s President Erdogan campaigned for more power to his office last year, he did so also among the Turkish diaspora in Europe, causing a major row with the Netherlands, who didn’t want foreign campaigns on their turf.

But Erdogan has stated in clear terms that he does not feel limited by national borders. In 2011, for example, he said to a gathering of ‘Turkish Germans’: “You are part of Germany, but you are also part of great Turkey.” Mind you, these are German citizens, living in Germany.

The golden age of dictators

For much of the 20th century, dictators could oppress their own people and pretty much get away with it. It was the golden age with memorable figures like Idi Amin, Muammar Gadaffi, Juan Perón, Ferdinand Marcos, and Augusto Pinochet.

All of these were eventually overthrown, of course, but many remained alive, living well in exile, with the aid of the funds they had stashed away in overseas banks.

By the turn of the century, however, things were changing. When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, it was the first time that a former government head was detained in another country for crimes committed in his homeland. And war criminals from Rwanda and Yugoslavia were being captured and prosecuted by international courts.

Adding to that, the money game has become more difficult, as Switzerland has ceased to be the safe haven for dictators that it used to be.

No safe place

For a while it seemed like we had the upper hand on dictators. The world was smaller, and they had fewer places to hide.

But now, at least some of the dictatorships have learned to play the globalization game. Where there is arguably no safe place for a dictator, there is also no place for the subject of a dictator.

In the old days you could at least defect, and then you would be (relatively) safe. Today, for those unfortunate enough to be born in countries like Russia, Iran, or Turkey, if you dare to speak against the regime, they will hunt you down, wherever you are. Even in Denmark.

Why I’m a seventh-day adventist. Lowercase.

Towards a more thorough understanding of identity.

Recent events in the Seventh-day Adventist Church have left me and many others question their relationship with the organization.

But my faith is about more than just the organization, which led me to think about a way to explain the different aspects involved, and how the sum of these dimensions makes up our identity.

For this purpose, I will split religious identity into four dimensions:

  • Theological: The faith, the credo, what you believe.
  • Liturgical: The practices and traditions involved in corporate worship.
  • Ecclesiastical: The church structure and organization.
  • Socio-cultural: The habits, traditions, and common memories which define a subculture.

There may be ways to measure these in a scientific manner. For now, however, I will stick to a gut feeling. And this chart illustrates where I currently stand on each of these, on a five-point scale:

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A higher number denotes a higher level of fidelity to official or mainstream Adventism. Let me explain my reasons for each.

Theological

I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and I share the Apostolic Creed with my fellow Christians in every other church.

Furthermore, I identify strongly with the two themes implied in the name “seventh-day adventist”: the blessing of a weekly day of rest on Saturday, and a belief in the physical return of Jesus to earth to restore humanity to a glorious future.

I also share the traditional Adventist core of the four S’s: the Sabbath, the Second coming, the Sanctuary, and the State of the dead. So far so good.

As for the 28 fundamental beliefs, I may have issues with a few, hence the score 4 and not 5. But my faith is strongly rooted in the traditions of Adventist theology, and will continue to be so.

Liturgical

My upbringing and my heritage has been shaped by the worship traditions of Adventist churches in Denmark and the US. This worship style is well-known to me, and for the most part I like going to church.

But worship style is also in upheaval. I have seen – and helped – the spread of praise worship, which is different from my childhood experiences. On the other hand, I have come to appreciate the liturgy in the Danish Lutheran Church through many years of playing and singing.

So I am not fixated on one style, hence a 3.

Ecclesiastical

This is really the pain point right now. And as I’ve stated previously, the actions of the current General Conference leadership go against their protestant roots and traditional Adventist theology on the role of the church.

If the church as an institution has a special, sacred, prophetic place, then that church is Rome. But Reformation thinking rejects that claim. There is indeed a sacred place for church – but church as in people meeting together, with every person a minister.

One strain of thought in Adventism holds that the Adventist Church has a unique position as a “remnant” of the few righteous. I do not share this thinking, and strongly reject that salvation is unique to one particular version of Christianity.

This also means that I feel no obligation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church as an institution: it is no more sacred than its actions. In the current climate, this is a 1.

Socio-economic

I know people who cling to the subculture of Adventism and eagerly support many of its activities, but only half-heartedly participate in actual worship activities, and never profess their faith publicly.

I’m probably more the opposite.

I have a lot of memories and shared experiences with people in the church subculture. But my life has moved on. I don’t talk about Vejlefjord (academy) all the time. I don’t particularly love church properties, except for their function and occasional slight nostalgia. And my close friends are not necessarily centered around the church, as they might have been previously.

I do celebrate and appreciate the Sabbath, but to me that’s not subcultural but theological, and an essential part of my faith.

So as the subculture has come to mean less for me, this is a 2.

Conclusion

This explains why, as stated in the title, I identify as a seventh-day adventist (lowercase), but not so much as a Seventh-day Adventist (uppercase).

The adventist faith and theology is important to me. But the things around it, all the man-made structures, are less important, and in times like these they are dispensable.

Where do you stand on the four dimensions?

Need to know or nice to know?

You don’t need to read this article. It may be nice, though, if I do a good job.

Frustrated business person overloaded with work. Credit: http://www.lyncconf.com

With ever-increasing amounts of information, it’s a dilemma we face many times every day: Do I need to read this email, or can I skip it? Should I forward this to my colleagues? Should I cc my manager on this email?

It’s not a new dilemma, either. Ten years ago, I did research for my MA thesis on internal communication in an Australian branch office of a large global corporation. And an important worry for them was noise. Not physical noise in the office, but the daily clutter of too much information, and a fear of not getting the right information.

I have seen this play out in subsequent jobs, and I have also seen good and bad strategies for getting it right. So here’s a quick low-down:

Three types of information

  1. Need-to-know: This is what you need in order to do your job correctly. Legal requirements, changed market conditions, customer information, etc. You can’t perform without this.
  2. Nice-to-know: This is not technically necessary, but it will help you out. Knowing the long-term corporate strategy will make you perform better, but in the long term. Reading success stories from other departments may boost your engagement and loyalty, but it won’t be measurable on the bottom line.
  3. Noise: This is neither. A poorly communicated case story or irrelevant details from other departments, for instance.

The problem is, of course, that the lines between these three are blurry, and poor decisions in determining the relevance of information often lead to an excess of noise.

How to decide

In the case of LEGO Australia (my MA thesis), there was a growing comprehension of the issue, which is a first step. An email training programme had helped people think about the receiver’s perspective when deciding whether to send an email or not.

While it may reduce noise, deciding on behalf of others is also risky. You can never adequately determine the needs of the other person, but your past experience with them can help you, and the more you work with people the better your chances of deciding correctly on their behalf.

This gives you essentially two choices: let the manager decide, or let the employee decide.

  1. The manager decides. For this to work, the decision needs to be reliable. But even if it is, the power relation carries a risk of people feeling left out, leading to low engagement. I’ve seen teams where everybody felt the manager was withholding information. Whether it was true or not, it was not good for morale and collaboration.
  2. The employee decides. On the face of it, an opt-in approach empowers the employee to make his own decisions, boosting morale and capabilities. But it greatly enhances the risk of noise, or of important information being left out. Actively training people in this task can help, but it may not be enough.

A mixed approach

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be either-or. The point is to use different channels for different types of information.

When I was Chief Editor in Maersk Line, I managed the global mass-communication channel to employees. This was a great tool for nice-to-know stories. People could opt in and read what they wanted; my job was to present the stories in an appetizing, simple, and correct way, and make sure it was in fact nice-to-know and not noise.

But it was not great for need-to-know information. First of all, it was pull, not push, so people had to actively seek it out. But secondly, nobody was expected to read everything – it they did, it would become noise from sheer scale. For need-to-know we relied instead on push channels: email, team and townhall meetings, manager cascades, etc.

So if you want just one takeaway from this, here’s a simple rule of channels:

  • For need-to-know, use push
  • For nice-to-know, use pull
  • For noise, don’t.

Vive la résistance

There is intelligent life in the White House, after all. What about Silver Spring?

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Yesterday’s op-ed in the New York Times was one of the most interesting, and heart-warming pieces of news recently. Yes, you heard me right.

nytimes_opedInteresting, sure. An anonymous senior White House official points the gun at President Trump, essentially saying: we know he’s amoral and erratic, but we are working behind the scenes to contain the damage and counter some of his worst tendencies. Trump has responded in his usual manner, shouting and threatening on Twitter. The circus continues.

But what makes this heart-warming is the fact that even Trump’s supporters are aware of the reality. Even if you blinded yourself to believing in the man, this op-ed shows us that there are still people in power who want to work for what’s best for the country.

Things may not change overnight, but this gives me hope.

Church politics gone sour

I have previously mentioned the ongoing political theatre in the Adventist Church, which I am a member of. And I have compared General Conference President Ted Wilson to Donald Trump – not for his morals, but for his ignorance of the limits of power, and lack of respect for democratic institutions.

Next month, the church’s world leadership will meet for their Annual Council, and following last year’s failed attempt at forcing unity, an inquisition-like setup of oversight committees is once again on the agenda.

Where is the op-ed from within the General Conference office?

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We probably won’t see that, but I have to believe that not everyone is happy with the president’s warmongering. It would not surprise me if – like in the White House – a large group of church officials are silently playing along, but doing their best behind the scenes to mend some of the wounds which the president’s actions are creating.

Silent majority

The president can be a Democrat or a Republican, a Conservative or a Liberal, I don’t care. But a president should not be authoritarian and despotic, whether he is president of a country or a church.

Yes, Trump got elected. But I still believe in the American people. I choose to have faith that a silent majority of Americans cannot abide this man’s values and actions.

Similarly, I choose, for now, to have faith in the Adventist Church. I have to believe that a silent majority cannot abide by the divisive, un-democratic behavior of its highest elected official, but have hopes and intentions that transcend political games.

The Management Blind Spot

Wake-up call: Your team members probably know less than you think they do.

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Ten years ago, I wrote my MA thesis on internal communication at the office of LEGO Australia. I made theoretical as well as real-life discoveries, and my recommendations to the management were well received.

One key finding especially has followed me ever since: what I then dubbed the management blind spot.

It’s not rocket science, it’s social science. And even if it sounds like common sense, I’ve found that the issue is quite pervasive.

The Downside of a Strong Leadership

At the time, LEGO Australia had a very strong leadership team with highly effective weekly meetings for sharing key insights across the board. Every member of the leadership had a great sense of where the business was going.

This made it so much more striking that the feeling did not reflect upon lower levels. One employee told me: “There’s no way we can interact with one another. I assume that the leaders get together and then they share.”

But confronted with a lack of cross-company interaction, a member of the leadership told me: “I don’t understand that, because I work with every part of the company.”

Team leads play a crucial role in sharing information with their teams. But since they are embedded in both the leadership team and in their own teams, they become blind to the perspective of their own teams, and sometimes wrongly assume that their employees have the same knowledge as themselves.

Oblivious or Machiavellian

I’ve seen this situation play out again and again, where especially senior leaders are oblivious to the lack of knowledge at lower levels – knowledge that they themselves are gate-keepers of.

(In one case I have even suspected a manager of actively preventing a free flow of knowledge, for whatever reason.)

Assuming a well-functioning hierarchy, the situation is difficult to avoid. Obviously, the more senior you are the more you should know across the businesses, and conversely less of the details.

But as a manger you should never forget that often your team only knows what you tell them.

Was Blind, But Now I See

What should managers do about it? Most importantly, they should acknowledge their own blind spot, and work actively to mitigate the pitfalls.

My recommendations to LEGO were:

  • Identify key relationships and interactions between teams and engage these people in dialogue.
  • Set up a “huddle exchange”, where employees on a rotational basis join the team meetings of teams outside their own, to learn more about the business.
  • Increase informal interaction (social events, lunch, etc.) to make people more comfortable with each other across teams.

Today I would add that in a less hierarchical, more matrix-like organisation, the issue would be less prevailing, or take a different shape.

Finally, I should add that too much knowledge can be time-consuming, of course not everyone needs to know everything. Need-to-know is a separate topic I will explore later. The point here is awareness: you should know what you know and don’t know. And as a manager especially, you should know what your teams know and don’t know.

This post also appears on www.deja-vu.net.

If Content is King, Platform is Galactic Emperor

As Facebook and others amass power, open standards and free flow of content play second fiddle.

Do you remember RSS? Ten-fifteen years ago, the web was all about open standards. Yes, we’d had the browser wars as an early sign of big players showing muscle, but essentially the Internet was about content. ICANN and W3C set the rules, and we followed, because that was our ticket to ride on the World Wide Web.

With the rise of Web 2.0 in the mid-00’s, new services allowed us to easily publish, share, and aggregate. Blogging was the medium of choice, and the glue holding everything together was RSS.

The big power-shift

This made sense in a world where content owners were still in power: legacy media outlets were happy to embrace RSS, since a universal syndication protocol made it easy for readers to access their content. And for those of us with blogs, it was the way to get our messages out there, alongside the New York Times, or whoever people had decided to follow.

Today’s media landscape is different, however. The days are long gone when I would check Google Reader constantly, second only to email. Social media, and Facebook in particular, have become the content hub of choice, and this is where we get our daily (or hourly) feed of what’s new.

All hail the profit

But another thing happened. Ads.

As Facebook and Google grew, the had to develop business models that made them profitable. And in order to display ads effectively, they have to keep users in their own universe as long as possible.

This may be the real reason Google Reader was discontinued. It is certainly why original content posted on Facebook or LinkedIn is featured more prominently than links to stuff hosted elsewhere.

It is also the ultimate thinking behind Facebook’s recent decision to discontinue support for third-party tools to share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles.

Big is Bigger

They do this because they can. In 2018, the platform owners are in power, and anyone producing content operates at their mercy.

You see the same thing playing out with Netflix or Booking.com; distributors who have grown so big that they now set the rules.

For anyone who had illusions that the Internet would make the world a more free, open, and democratic place, this is punch in the gut. The tides may turn again, but for now we’ll have to play along.

This means posting your content across platforms, creating separate versions for each. And you’ll do this manually, for even though there used to be open standards that could help your content flow, the giants have effectively killed that dream.