Podcast Ep21 – Bernie Mitchell – How To Make Social Connections Online

This is the twentyfirst in a series of podcasts where Judy interviews people who have a track record of successful collaboration.

This series is for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of real-life collaboration, especially collaboration among creative, intelligent, free-thinking individuals who are geographically dispersed. The interviews go well beyond the obvious, as metaphor master Judy Rees explores the hidden thinking that inspires collaboration that works.

Judy:   Hello, and welcome to the collaboration dynamics podcast. With me today, I’ve got Bernie Mitchell. Bernie would you like to introduce yourself and say the kinds of things you do?

Bernie:   The kinds of things I do is I avoid job titles. I’m very enthusiastic about blogging and podcasting and things like the sharing economy and most importantly collaboration. So, I feel I’m in the right place.

Judy:   Excellent. That makes a perfect starting point to ask you, when you’re collaborating at your best, you are like what?

Bernie:   This comes from a little workshop that we did together Judy where without even thinking about it I said, I’m like a dolphin. Never thought about that in my life before, I feel like a dolphin.

Judy:   What kind of dolphin?

Bernie:   A really good looking one. [Laugh] Going back to the workshop, it’s that they are sort of thinking and aware but they’re gliding in and out of the water and when I’m sitting in front of my computer and collaborating and jumping in and out of Trello and things like that. It seems like that kind of swishing things around but constantly moving in one direction, hopefully in the right direction.

Judy:   Thinking and aware and gliding in and out.

Bernie:   Yes.

Judy:   And jumping in and out of Trello.

Bernie:   Yes, or whichever app we seem to be using at the time.

Judy:   Is there anything else about that dolphin, when it’s jumping in and out like that of whichever app?

Bernie:   I think it’s steering itself but it’s also a part of a group of people. There’s a synchronicity there, that’s the word I’m looking for. And if you were here in the room with me now, I suddenly noticed making an up and down motion with my arm to announce the movements.

Judy:   The movement is the up and down with your arm. Steering yourself, that dolphin and there’s a synchronicity. Is there anything else about how that synchronicity works given that you’re online, you’re on your computer, you haven’t got the people in the room with you half the time.

Bernie:   Can I give you an example of what happened yesterday?

Judy:   Go ahead.

Bernie:   I connected with someone online about a topic in a book and then I connected with someone else online about that topic and we started talking on Twitter. I listened to a podcast and it turns out the person we connected to online is in Europe and looking for a place to stay in Paris. So, then I jumped to contact three people in Paris who were exactly the right type of person, saying can you get this person here.
Someone I’ve never met is travelling around Europe and they need somewhere to stay in order to get to Belgium to meet someone and through the whole sharing economy, we share, do you know this person here, jumping onto Facebook, messaging Twitter, couple of emails. In about an hour they’d gone from, I was going to sleep in a railway station to my train gets in at this time, I met my car share at this time and then I’ll be off to Belgium like I was supposed to be doing and I’ve saved half the money.
I think the key to that was, I didn’t just jump on line and do that, it was all those relationships. I met those people in Paris, Argentina, New York and they’ve worked on this project, and this project, and this project. We were all connected to be able to communicate really fast and, I know this sounds a bit cheesy but the trust was there. For someone to say oh, you can come and stay at my house tonight if you’re travelling and it just so happened they were all interested in the same topics, even though they’d never met, it worked really well. That’s my dolphin experience.

Judy:   That’s really interesting experience because it combines so much of the online and the offline experience. There’s people you’ve met in the flesh and there’s people you just know about online and you have relationships with both.

Bernie:   Yup.

Judy:   Because people that don’t live that kind of life, I suppose would find that surprising.

Bernie:   If you go back even 10 years, the thought of even putting a photo of yourself online was really weird. My dad still says, what are you using your bank on your phone for? You could get robbed, and that kind of stuff. I think a group of us are really, really comfortable with that and it creates a flow. We’ve got something else to worry about somewhere. The internet and that type of connecting is like air or water. If that sounds okay?

Judy:   In what ways like air or water? Essential, presumably?

Bernie:   Yeah. I missed the trick now. I was trying to link that back to the dolphin thing. We’re immersed in it, that’s where I am. We’re immersed in it to extend the metaphor. It lubricates us and feeds us but we’re surrounded by it.

Judy:   The dolphin is immersed in it and the dolphins presumably immersed in it. I’m guessing there are other dolphins.

Bernie:   Is it a school of dolphins do you have?

Judy:   I don’t know. I know that’s there’s not normally just one is there?

Bernie:   No, they don’t hunt alone because they hunt.

Judy:   The school or the shoal of dolphins are all immersed in that connecting.

Bernie:   Yes.

Judy:   Is there anything else about that connecting that’s like water and they’re immersed in it?

Bernie:   Is there anything else about that connecting that’s like water? You could go for, when water’s running down a mountain or something it just changes direction, it’s sort of always moving in one thing but it kind of fills in the cracks and always finds a way down. That type of analogy would fit there for me. And you could also build upon the flow. I think flow’s a really important element.

Judy:   What kind of flow?

Bernie:   Do you know that cute little phrase which is about meditation which is, you should meditate for 20 minutes a day unless you’re really busy and then you should meditate for an hour. In the last year, I’ve gotten really into meditating and whenever I wake up in a panic I always go, oh, I’ve got so much to do, I’m going to sit and meditate and it levels everything out and then almost by magic, things fall into an order and I’m calm and off we go into the flow.
Not wanting to sound too much like a self-help guru, to access the flow you need to calm down first. When the waters are calm, it’s very easy for the dolphins to dip in and out of it and maintain their trajectory. But if it’s a really choppy sea and everything, it’s best to stay underneath the water or stay home.

Judy:   What kind of things causes choppy water like that?

Bernie:   I take it that’s not a meteorological question. To date, my answer is, like we were talking before we started recording, the one thing, trying to do too many things at the same time is like hitting the frog at the fair on that machine. Things become choppy.
I work for someone at the moment who insists on having, quite rightly, they insist on having one thing finished before we start the next thing, which I found really hard to do but it’s actually a really effective way to work. So, starting 25 book posts at the same time doesn’t work for him. Having one finished can push it through the production line. So, if I make his water choppy, when I start too many things and don’t finish them.

Judy:   You make his waters choppy when you start too many things and don’t finish them. When you start things and don’t finish them, what happens to your waters?

Bernie:   They become very, that’s not a question you ask an old lady isn’t it?

Judy:   [laugh]

Bernie:   They become very cloudy. Conversations are used up. You know the snow globe thing? When you shake it up and you can’t see anything and then when you leave it and it’s calm? It’s actually, even though a part of me is going, oh, I need to do more, do more, quicker, quicker, faster, bluh, slowing down actually gets more delivered in a much more effective way.
A friend of mine, Lisa, said, she was doing a talk and she said since she started drinking more herbal tea and less espresso she’s realized that slow is much more effective than fast. She was making a joke obviously but she was talking in a business context, how we’re obsessed with doing everything quicker and faster. I agree with her and her experience.
I think it misses the foundations and the connections that are available.

Judy:   One of the things, I’m curious around all of this, we’re talking before about the fact that you and I both have a thing about connecting people and ideas as part of what we do and I’m wondering about the relationship between doing lots of things at once and connecting people and ideas. For you, is there a relationship between doing lots of things at once and connecting people and ideas?

Bernie:   Do you mean doing lots of different tasks at once or working on lots of projects at once?

Judy:   I don’t know, it could be either. I don’t know how it is for you, I’m just curious.

Bernie:   If I’m at an event or a conference, without even thinking about it, I’ll walk through and I’ll grab people and say oh you need to speak to them, you need to speak to them. People have sometimes complained that I introduce them and then run away, which I kind of did on purpose a little bit because I wasn’t quite sure of what to say. So, now I just say, I’m going to introduce you to them right way, is that okay?

Judy:   [laugh]

Bernie:   No one ever says, no it’s not because…

Judy:   That would be rude.

Bernie:   That’s my get out thing. But, putting people together and then being a bit of a foil and then running off, I read a lot of people’s blogs so it’s very easy to say, oh, I read your blog about this and your blog about this and that’s where you should connect. So, they don’t end up talking about the weather or their journey down. They end up talking about vaccines in Africa and how mobile technology can enhance that process. There’s that element of running through and connecting people very quickly.
Not to overthink it but I spend a lot of time trying to think of connections in projects. A way to explain that would be repurposing content in a project. We did this podcast in ’02 and how can we turn that into an e-book and a blog and a slide share that offers accurate data to where it’s going. So, it’s not just photocopying it in different ways, it actually serves that audience better than a podcast would serve that audience. Not just because of the method of deliver and then how can we attach that to an event thing or something else that’s going on in the market.
So, that comes back to spotting connections between projects and people.

Judy:   That spotting connections between projects and people, that can happen when the dolphin is immersed in the connecting and is steering itself and thinking and aware and jumping and out and gliding in and out.

Bernie:   Yeah.

Judy:   And there’s that synchronicity. So, all of that can happen all at once.

Bernie:   We extend this story, one thing happens when it jumps up and another thing happens when it goes down. So, like if I spend too much time at events, I get really, really exhausted. There’s a bit of introvert thing going on there, so I can only be up so many times and then I have to go and hide again and recharge and look around at life with what I’ve gathered. Look around at what I’ve gathered, sorry.
So, this kind of thing, this having at the moment is, I call it a project. Do you know Working Out Loud Week?

Judy:   No.

Bernie:   It’s by a guy called John Stepper and Simon I can’t remember your name and it’s about, something you’d be very interested in, is how we… I’m scared now that I’m going to present it inaccurately. If we work out loud, like people blog about what they’re working on, it might be internally in a bigger company like Salesforce or Deutsche Bank or it might be in the kind of environment that you and I work in like co-working in associate way. But we tell people I’m working on this and I’m finding this difficult and then other people dive in. As a community we all learn and find out how we can help other people in a supportive collaborative way rather than a I’m going to hire you to make my website type way.

Judy:   Interesting idea.

Bernie:   If you Google Working Out Loud, lots of stuff comes up and there’s a hashtag on Twitter, which I’m not going to be able to find now.

Judy:   We’ll find it. Go on.

Bernie:   I’m trying to make the connection between, look for the point of connection between those two projects for the people because lots of people, when I’ve been involved with things people have said, oh you should connect with these guys and it’s been a nice idea but it hasn’t really been the right kind of fit. It would take the focus away from what each party is trying to achieve. So, just because two people in the food industry and are in the meat industry, there’s a big difference between an organic farmer and McDonald’s. While they are probably doing the same thing, it doesn’t really work for them to collaborate.
There is a point of collaboration between these two projects, which I have yet to find. I’ve only been looking for two days, so it’s okay.

Judy:   The two projects being iCollDay, so that’s International Collaboration Day which is about co-working spaces.

Bernie:   Yeah.

Judy:   And Working Out Loud Week.

Bernie:   There’s two Working Out Loud Weeks this year. One is on at the moment at the time of the recording and the next one’s I think the 15th of November and the object is of whole movement, which is really unattached, it’s not like there’s some 2,000 pounds membership to pay, it’s just like it’s thrown out there and given away. I love things like that. People start meeting in groups and Working Out Loud together.

Judy:   Points of connection seem fairly obvious but are they interesting points of connection? Presumably one of the reasons people use co-working space is so they can do a little Working Out Loud.

Bernie:   They do. Some co-workings, even in our co-working space it’s easy to… I’ve been living in one for the last two years and some days I go in and don’t talk to anybody, which is really naughty of me and other days we just sort of sit around talking and working out our problem together. I’d like to have more of those sitting around working out a problem type of things.
In the collaborative ways it’s really hard to ask for help, even though we recommend for other people to do it. As I’ve worked in more and more openly collaborative situations and using software saying can you help me with this is the last thing I intuitively want to do but things have moved much faster when I’ve said, can I have some help here please? I know I give this impression of knowing everything there is to know but actually I don’t really.

Judy:   [laugh]

Bernie:   And often people go, oh, me neither, I thought I was the only one that didn’t know how to switch that on in Google Calendar or export a document from Word to wherever you need to do it.

Judy:   It’s so funny, I’m absolutely in the same kind of thing. The thing that is absolutely stressing me out at the moment, at the time of recording, I feel like I could not possibly share that online. It would just be too awful to do that. [laugh] Even though it is a purely software problem.

Bernie:   Yeah.

Judy:   [laugh] How embarrassing can it possibly be to say I can’t send an email from Adobe Reader through a corporate system which is obviously some kind of magical firewall designed to defeat the unwary. I don’t feel like I can say that on social media. Because asking for help is just too hard.

Bernie:   One of the biggest searches that you can do on Twitter, I read about this in a book, is anyone know how? If you type Anyone Know How To into Twitter, millions of things will come up there.
Twitter keeps on changing. I’m trying to reconnect with people on there because I used to be connected all the time on there and ask that sort of thing to people, does anyone know a good app that does this? Does anyone know a good thing for this? Does anyone know where to find a vegetarian restraint in Soho? That type of thing. I use it less and less for that and a group of us have been talking and we miss that banter.
It was people that weren’t necessarily in the same location or industry but we were just interested in each other. I know a lot of those people I’ve learned stuff from over the years just by reading their stuff and following links in it. They’re in an industry that I’d like to know about but I wouldn’t trust to read about it in a paper. I like them and I’m going to find out what they do for a living.

Judy:   You were saying that kind of feel of just being able to ask, you’re not doing it much anymore?

Bernie:   I’m okay with asking but my corner of, because Twitter is huge, my corner of Twitter seems to have lost that element. And part of that I wonder is I used to spend a time with marketers who were all online being inbound and social and now I spend more time with techy, sharey, economy product people who need to market their business but don’t like the internet unless they’re building stuff on it.

Judy:   [laugh]

Bernie:   Or they don’t like talking to people.

Judy:   Then what happens?

Bernie:   Part of that, I’m going to chicken out of your question a little bit, but part of this why I think it’s got quieter as well is people have started using a tool called Slack, which connects to things like Trello, Basecamp, and Asana and a lot of technical things so a lot of that conversation has come, my environment has come off of Twitter. We used to use Facebook a lot, which is a really bad idea, we used to use Facebook groups to chat in and all of that has come off of.
There’s one link where at least 70 people are working on it every month and we would us Slack now and it’s way more efficient and it connects to Google Drive and Docs and stuff like that and collaboration goes on there and it’s definitely better. But, that means we’re hardly ever online socially.

Judy:   Because Slack is explicitly a work thing.

Bernie:   Yup.

Judy:   That social piece needs to be in there for work to actually happen I suspect, because you don’t have that dolphin synchronicity if you don’t have the social chat?

Bernie:   That happens in Slack. So, I work in three teams. In one team there’s like 7 people in it and we’re all in different parts of the world like Japan, the States, Spain, U.K. and Sweden and we are very social in there. We will work in a co-working space or on our own. We’ll say leaving my desk now, we’ll take photos of our lunch and that’s how… I’ve only met two of these people ever and I’ve been working with them for two years.
But that’s how we connect and I probably know more about some of them then I know about some members of my family because we have this water cooler banter in this Slack channel every day. We share links to books and videos and stuff like that.
The other (25:42 Unknown) channels aren’t quite so social. I think other people have things going on in there but they’re not quite as water cooler-y. We’ll use that, if that is a word.

Judy:   It is now. You’ll be entered into the dictionary, first use of the word water cooler-y.

Bernie:   Water cooler-y.

Judy:   [laugh] As an adjective. When all of that’s how you do collaboration, earlier on you mentioned that one of the things that was important about all of this was trust and I know from talking to people who are nervous of the internet and of social media and that sort of thing, and they read about things like Twitter mobs and that guy who made those unfortunate comments about women in science and was hounded out of his job and so on and so forth. I think oh, no, I can’t reveal anything about myself online. If you had a quick tip for them, what would it be?

Bernie:   I’m trying not to say, just think about what you’re saying because it’s a bit obvious. It would be to look at what your core values and stuff are. I saw Simon Sinek speak in London and someone asked him a question how do you know what to say? He says, because I only ever talk about stuff that I know about or like and that’s it. I don’t really need to prepare because I have the answer to everything that you ask because I’m really passionate about it.
So, maybe if that guy is passionate about, I’m not real sure where this story but I imagine if he’d got hounded out of his job, he said something detrimental to women in science, and so if that’s his view, that’s his view. Maybe, I don’t agree with that, but maybe he shouldn’t have said that, or he should have thought about opening his mouth or should have thought where his… What does he value most? Working with women in science he doesn’t like and getting a pay check every month or maybe he should move somewhere where it’s better. Don’t put yourself in that situation.

Judy:   Talk about things you know about and things you like.

Bernie:   I like that phrase, I’m still working out how to position it. I think it’s an ongoing balancing act, really but, the (28:37 Unknown) said it as you probably know is that if you don’t stand for anything, oh, I messed it up. You’ll fall for anything if you don’t stand for something.
This really helped me with blocking. The people I was really interested in were the people with a firm opinion and I didn’t always agree with it but they were open, honest, vulnerable, and had an opinion. The people that were kind of saccharin, middle of the road, daytime TV safe were just not interesting to read anymore, so I’m not sure if this is answering your question Judy, but that’s where I’m at with that.

Judy:   Okay, lovely stuff. Now, I feel we’re coming to the end of our time. If people want to find you on Twitter or wherever, what kind of people should contact you and how do they track you down?

Bernie:   The easiest way to find me is to type BernieJMitchell, all one word, into Google or Bing and that will bring up my website and LinkedIn and Twitter. The best way to contact me is on Twitter which is @BernieJMitchell.
Who should contact me? I’m really interested in people, not in a commercial sense, but really interested in people who are collaborating and joining together and finding that intersection of like tech and cities and communications. That’s the element I’m really interested in in the whole sharing economy bubble. Because I think there’s an intersection rapidly developing of people just being a bit more mindful of how we treat our planet and how we use our tech to that.

Judy:   Tech and cities and communication and the sharing economy.

Bernie:   Yeah.

Judy:   Fabulous. Well, thank you very much indeed for playing along with this interesting game and sharing your thoughts on the whole thing. I hope lots of interesting people move in your direction as a result.

Bernie:   I can see my email filling up already.

Judy:   [laugh]

Bernie:   Thanks very much. I’m enjoying your podcast Judy.

Judy:   Right. Thanks very much indeed.

Bernie:   Bye-bye.

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