The Hyperthinker by Philip Weiss

New thinking for the Internet age

  • Networks, IABC and How to Excel in Disruptive Times

    Networking has become a very important skill in our work as communicators. For many year, I have been personally involved with many organisations and networks, one of them has been the focus of a great deal of work. It is IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators, of which I am now Chair for the Europe and Middle East region.

    The network has been very useful in helping me meet interesting people, introduce clients to peers and learn new skills. In fact, it was through IABC that I met several authors who helped me get my publishing contract with Gower for my book. Coincidentally, (hrmm) “Hyperthinking” will hit the shelves of every good bookstore near you by the end of the month. 😉

    IABC also put me in contact with several clients. However, its most important benefit is that it has served as an open communication channel for a variety of people who bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. It has also helped me engage with many EU officials in an open and informal way.

    The organisation is a volunteer one so it relies on the goodwill and enthusiasm of members to get things done. In exchange, members have access to a wide network of professionals. Less obviously, members also gain access to a great learning environment where they discover the daily workings of large company structures and associations (which often run a bit like NGOs).

    Next week the organisation’s leadership will meet in Paris for what is called the EMELIEuropean and Middle East Leadership Institute. This meeting is both a get together of IABC’s leaders and a learning opportunity. The theme this year is disruption – a theme I am very familiar with. At work, it is a by-product all the new communication technologies we encounter and use; but it also occurs in everyday life as it permeates everything we do. As an organisation IABC will explore ‘How we can Excel in Disruptive Times’ .

    Joining this kind of network is often a long term engagement and, in a sense, you get out as much as you put in. The learning, networking and the understanding you gain from being involved in such an organisation is great if you want to keep your mind open to new ideas and meet new people that care about improving the communication profession’s standards.

    To experience the network, join the Belgium IABC network at iabc.be (we helped create it). Also, visit the IABC EMEA blog for more information on what’s coming up: http://europe.iabc.com/

  • Failure is the only option

    Right from the start of the meeting Fadi Bishara @Fbishara, a Silicon Valley veteran, hit the nail right on the head with this one liner. The secret to the Valley’s success is that people have ‘permission’ to fail.

    This was at a networking event in Brussels organised by the Cluster “Software In Brussels” to bring entrepreneurs together and get a few ‘experts’ to share words of wisdom. Alongside Fabien Petitcolas, Director of Innovation at Microsoft Europe @MSEurope and Patrick Crasson @PatrickCrasson from Benovate, I shared the concept of hyperthinking as well as my personal experience as an entrepreneur.

    My main point was that being a successful entrepreneur in the 21st century requires a new mindset. Interestingly some of these values, defined in the hyperthinking concept, come naturally to entrepreneurs because they are drawn to innovate and think creatively to start something new.

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  • Interview with Luke Brynley-Jones about SocialCRM Brussels 2012

  • Social CRM event in Brussels – Wed. 26th September

    Next week, there will be an opportunity for communicators to dig deeper into the challenges and opportunities created by the rise of social media.

    This conference created by Luke Brynley Jones – @lbrynleyjones, founder and blogger of oursocialtimes.com, is taking place in Brussels for the first time on Wednesday 26 September, for more information go to: Social CRM 2012.

    The name itself raises questions that marketeers are dealing with everyday. What is the impact of social technologies on our marketing, and how can we adapt our strategy to make the most of these tools? More practically, how can move to a ‘social’ form of CRM, where a brand can connect to its customers through a multiplicity of channels?

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  • Virtually Real Brussels

    Brussels – An international hub and city with the most events and congresses in the world, second only to Washington DC, has decided to further promote its image as an international player with the help of an organisation called VisitBrussels. Over the summer, they organised a three day event showcasing Brussels to associations, positioning it as an ideal place to hold your events, set-up your hub and tell your story to the EU crowd.

    Inspired by the TEDxBrussels bug, which is clearly infecting everyone in Brussels these days (see my previous post about Hyperthinking at the EU – Should I stay or should I go), they also tested the format of the 18 minute all-inspiring presentation. Despite the small (unTEDlike) size of the audience and the relatively informal atmosphere, it seems to have worked quite well.

    I was invited to make a presentation on ‘Virtually Real Brussels’, or how the nature of events have changed and why associations need to think about how events should be part of a global story that lives from tweet to street. This is a trend that we are increasingly seeing with our association clients is the realisation that we have an opportunity to rethink (dare I say ‘Hyperthink’) the way we approach events. Often they are seen as an end in themselves, the ‘big moment’ of the association, forgetting that much of the work and effort that goes into these gatherings can be wasted without careful planning and thinking about how it extends into the virtual world. After all, the essence of an event perpetuates through the networking and storytelling that continues long after the meeting has ended. It is also an opportunity for associations to explore other ways of doing things and making their communication strategy more effective as well as less expensive.

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  • Should I stay or should I go?

    Before leaving for the mass migration that takes place every summer in Brussels, Place Flagey (the up and coming new creative hub of Brussels and incidentally where the ZN offices are located) was the scene of something unexpected. The European Commission organised an event to celebrate it’s educational exchange programme called Marie-Curie.

    In a rather inspired move, they connected the usual format of a big get together with the increasingly successful TED format, joining hands with some members of the TEDxBrussels team to give it the famous 18 minutes touch!

    I had the opportunity to attend the event and get my own 18 minutes on stage, on the subject of Hyperthinking and how shifting paradigm and creative thinking are the key tools to building a successful career in the 21st century.

    Check out my presentation in this video:

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  • The Frozen Paradigms of Brussels

    <Last week I was invited to speak on a panel at the European Public Affairs Action Day. The topic of discussion was key trends in EU lobbying. As the introductory speeches began, I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts and I tried to think of some key insights and messages that would at least get a discussion going.

    The setting was a conventional hotel venue populated with people in ties. So this was definitely not TEDxBrussels, but the turnout was good considering Brussels’ then arctic conditions.

    I started by saying – rather dramatically – that we were living through a massive Black Swan epidemic (looked around to see if the word meant anything to the audience). In other words, we lived through a series of highly improbable events which had a significance impact – from the financial crisis to the Arab Spring and the never ending Eurozone crisis.

    Recently, we witnessed Wikipedia shutting down for an entire day out of protest against SOPA. The effect: a new form of lobbying was unleashed and SOPA was dropped the following day by one of its main sponsors. This is just the latest in a series of events demonstrating the growing power of NGOs. A power which developed out of their innovative use of new technologies to campaign and perhaps underlying societal trends.

    The key trend I want to emphasise is how incredibly slow the ‘Brussels Bubble’ has been at recognizing and adapting to these changes. In my speech, I stated that around 90% of organisations in Brussels still campaign as if nothing had changed in the past 50 years (I can’t claim to have the hard data supporting this figure but no one challenged it).

    In a less forward statement, I told the audience that the fear of change, lack of innovative spirit and courage deficit was shocking and that our community needed to change attitude and mindset. I also suggested that corporate members were beginning to put increasing pressure on associations to see a change in approach – and not just to get ‘more for less’ as some suggested. They want to see different outcomes and different campaigns, they wanted to see value for money and want to see something to change.

    Many Brussels associations have embraced the mindset of the Brussels Institutions and only see the limitations on what they can do. Thus they fear change even more than the institutions they are trying to influence. Paradoxically, the more they resist change, the more frustrated their member companies become and the more critical the situation becomes.

    Alfons Westgeest, from Kellen, built on my 90% stat to launch into a weather analogy describing the Brussels frozen paradigm – which I must say I rather liked.

    The discussion that followed touched on a range of different subjects and some sceptics said this was a naive view of things. I talked about how some industries, such pharmaceuticals, were experimenting with new approaches despite challenging legal constraints and a conservative past (see vaccinestoday.eu to see some of the work we did with them in action).

    However, I was also reminded of how much Brussels needs more inspirational and ground breaking initiatives such as TEDxBrussels.eu or Solve for X, an initiative Google recently launched to solve some of the worlds seemingly insurmountable challenges (www.wesolveforx.com).

    In the face of a cold wave, Brussels could do with a healthy dose of sunny optimism.

    For communicators who want to see change in Brussels and in the EU, the starting point is to be willing to do things differently and prepared to take a risk. Once you are open to experimentation and innovation, the extraordinary tools and networks brought about by the internet can be incredible opportunities. If you want to find out how to do that, just drop us a tweet 😉

  • Dance your Paradigm

    At last month’s TEDxBrussels, John Bohannon shared a brilliant thought with the audience. Why use PowerPoint to make presentations when we can instead use dance to convey difficult scientific concepts, or any other story for that matter? This refreshing and inspiring idea shows the value of crossing disciplines and generating new ways to understand complex questions. Steve Jobs was famous for his unique understanding of design and technology. According to his biographer, Walter Isaascson, Jobs saw himself at the crossroads of the scientific and liberal arts world.

    This ability to constantly shift from one mindset to another enabled him to imagine and produce revolutionary devices such as the ipod, iphone and the ipad.

    If we want to see the world differently we need to be able to switch paradigms rather than be stuck with one mindset. By crossing disciplines and frameworks we can revisit existing information with a fresh perspective. This is what hyperthinking is about.

    The ability to shift our vision of a problem in a very deliberate way and explore it from varied perspectives can create the ‘eureka’ moment needed to understand how a falling apple is key to planetary orbit or understand why the finger is the ultimate tool to experience a tablet.

    Dance your PhD is a concept formed from the merger of two worlds, dance and science – two worlds rarely seen together. It may simply be helping us (I mean the non-scientists) understand complex phenomena because we are entertained and open to the experience. As opposed to jargon infested PowerPoint slides. In addition, by creating the choreography for the presentation, scientists can explore their subject, develop new insights and express them. Dance could lead to a monumental scientific breakthrough and curiously win someone a Nobel Prize with a choreography award.

    After the success of his presentation at TEDxBrussels, John Bohannon was approached by people from different sectors to help them create a Dance Your PhD concept for entirely new subjects. Maybe Europe’s leaders needs a “Dance your EURO” spectacle to get their heads around what is going. Whatever it is, I am sure we’ll make a song and dance about it.

    You can watch John Bohannon’s presentation below:

  • Soft paradigms and bright kids

    Ivan and Natasha playing chess

    It's tough being smart 😉

    Last week I was reading an article from the Harvard Business Review by Heidi Grant Halvorson curiously entitled: The Trouble with Bright kids.

    I enjoyed the ‘takeaway’ from the article, which I quickly shared with my own children Ivan (11) and Natasha (8).  The short of it is that kids who believe that their success is due to them being smart, tend to perform worse, when facing challenging problems, then kids who believe that they succeed because they work hard.  This was demonstrated through experiments with children in a classroom environment.

    I can see the importance of this as I have often come across very intelligent people who are limited in their abilities because they fear being ‘caught out’.   They are either afraid of appearing less smart then they think they are or of damaging their public reputation.

    Soft and hard paradigms

    In the hyperthinking system, I further develop this notion as part of the problem adults encounter as they grow older.  Their preconceptions, prejudice and preconceived ideas become more entrenched.  I call this a ‘hard paradigm’, when the paradigm we use to understand the world becomes increasingly rigid and changing it can be a genuine problem.  Children, on the other hand, start off with ‘soft paradigms’, that only become harder as time passes and their confidence in their own abilities is strengthened.  This is particularly visible with languages and technology when comparing how adults face learning in contrast to children.

    These fields are often perceived as incredibly challenging, and some adults form the conclusion that they are simply ‘not equipped or gifted’ to acquire these skills.  Children, on the other hand, have no such reservation and will always pick up new languages if sufficiently immersed in the environment it is spoken – the younger the easier it seems.  With technology (computers), children again have no fear or resistance when learning how to engage with these devices that sometimes have a deeply off putting quality for adults.  They play, they try, and the ‘thing’ responds.  This provides them with an endless source of entertainment and by playing, they learn.

    The difference, in my mind, is that adults have ingrained preconceptions of what they ‘should’ know and what their abilities are.  Once they feel they are struggling with a new mental skill, there is a natural inclination to give up early.  Especially when the learning might reveal how little they know about their field of endeavour.  We don’t believe it is about hard work – or ‘hard play’ as some children see it.  When faced with a new language, children learn best when they simply try through repetition or trial and error.  Adults on the other hand tend to over analyze the language, try to fit it in an existing paradigm and struggle to make this work.  This is (in part) why learning things that seem to come effortlessly to kids are a massive struggle for us, grown-ups.

    The lessons from the HBR article (and other articles by the same author) is that almost any mental skill can be learned.  Provided we allocate time, effort and practice to develop that skill.  Second, our own perceptions about our abilities can be a hindrance to our learning, thinking of ourselves as smart can limit our capacity to learn and embrace challenges.  Instead of thinking of ourselves as smart (even if we are), we need to believe in our ability to ‘work the problem’.  We should relish spending time and energy trying to solve problems and make it one of our core skills.

  • It’s a beta thing

    As I am getting started on this new blog, I thought it might be good to share a few thoughts about the approach we are taking. We already have a ZN blog on which I post from time to time, so this blog is there for me to focus on the topics I am more directly involved with and a place for me to experiment with new tools.If you have been following ZN and hyperthinking for some time you will know that we have always been trying new tools and new approaches to see what works and what doesn’t. In addition, I am working on a new book on hyperthinking that will be published some time next year by Gower Publishing. This means I am writing the different chapters of the book and rethinking some aspects of the concept. I have also been updating some of the examples I have been using in my previous ebook and in my presentation.Therefore, this blog will be used to share some of the insights I encounter through this journey and share my thoughts on experiments with new tools.

    When discussing how best to share these thoughts and experiences with Jeremy from our team, I was trying to figure out which tools to use and how to best use them. As you can see, a variety of media assets will be linked to this blog. I use twitter though not regularly, am experimenting with podcasts with audioboo, putting together mobile videos and started a google+ page on hyperthinking in addition to my own. At the moment, it isn’t getting much traction however I would like to use google+ as a discussion tool instead of twitter (I shared my frustration with twitter on last week’s podcast).

    In todays world of never ending development cycles we have become used to the idea that a product, website or technology tool is in a state of ‘permanent beta’. Meaning it is always work in progress and a new and better version will come along to improve on the previous version. In this spirit, I see this conversation as a permanent learning process where I share some ‘draft’ thoughts with you, first to have an outlet for them and second to get some input from you to help me take them further.

    So stay tuned and watch this space for more ‘beta thoughts’…