Just how much disruption is good for us?

By Neil Patrick

There's a lot of  fog in Uber world...

This year, Yassen Aslam and James Farrar, have been busy taking on the might of Uber in court. Their grievance was that as Uber drivers, they were denied basic workers’ rights: no minimum wage, no sick pay, no paid holiday. An employment tribunal judge, Anthony Snelson, heard the case over several days in July, where they argued that this classification was both wrong and unfair. And yesterday at the end of the hearing, the judge agreed.

There has ensued a great deal of jubilation from other Uber drivers, trade unions and the political left. Personally I am also pleased at this ruling. But not because I am opposed to disruptive businesses per se. We need innovation in business, but this needs to be balanced with legal and statutory interventions which curb the tendency of new business models to become exploitative long before regulation catches up with them.

Business do what businesses do. They seek profits and growth. If we seek to regulate them such that they cannot innovate, the result is inevitably a bureaucratic free enterprise devoid climate in which progress and growth are suffocated. Think USSR and all those grey apartments and Trabants.

Self-employment is the biggest jobs growth trend in recent years. And I have jokingly referred to it previously as ‘self-unemployment’. But in this case, we are not talking about a new breed of Bransons, Trumps and Zuckerbergs, we are talking about people at the lowest levels of pay who are being forced by the absence of better options to take whatever they can get.

Such people are not hot-shot entrepreneurs. They are just people trying to feed their families. This is the terrible reality of the current gig economy. Business models like Uber grow fast because they design out the costs from traditional business models, leveraging scale and IT investments to provide a product or service cheaper than the competition. And much of this cost is cunningly passed to their workers.

It’s not unlike the off-shoring revolutions of the last 25 years. At first everyone is enthusiastic because, it drives down prices. And Uber make much about giving people freedom, flexibility and choice. But the reality is this is all PR spin. If you are paid even the new higher minimum wage in the UK, you will earn just £288 for a 40 hour week. Yet Uber was not even paying minimum wage. And it passed much of its costs to its drivers.

Uber position themselves as a plucky underdog, providing jobs for people on their own terms. It’s nothing of the sort. First Uber has a market cap of $50bn making it more valuable than Tesco and Barclays combined. Second, Uber manage their drivers just like employees. They are interviewed, disciplined, and submit to Uber’s rules just like any employee.

As Aditya Chakrabortty wrote today in the Guardian (rarely my favourite source), “For some Britons, self-employment doubtless means freedom. But for others, it means the freedom to be exploited, deprived of rights – and to be underpaid. According to recent research from the Resolution Foundation, the typical self-employed Brit is now earning less than when John Major was prime minister.” (that was 1990-97, in case like me you can’t remember dates).

This isn’t really the future. It’s the past. A regression to a world where labour exploitation is revived, cloaked in a bit of high tech ‘innovation’ and pitched to the world as progress.

There’s a world of difference between a self-employed person who is truly independent and a self-employed person who is freelancing through a global mega-corporation. The former is free to truly work on terms that they decide. The latter has no such choice.

It’s time that disruptive businesses thought a lot more strategically about their impact on the people that they use. And this judgement is going to force them to do that. It’s a small but significant step in the right direction.

Why take the flak for the politicians?

By Neil Patrick

Politicians won't like this post. At all.

Whether its Trump vs. Clinton, Brexit or Remain, gender politics, millions of people every day are busy making themselves enemies online by taking a stand for their political beliefs.

Do we really want to lose friends and make more enemies by doing politicians' dirty work for them? If you do, that’s fine. Stop reading this right now, because you’ll probably hate me when you have. And I really don’t want that to happen. Honestly.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is good to stand up for what you believe in. UNLESS it’s your political views AND you are doing it in public. Then we make ourselves targets for everyone who doesn’t agree with us.

And in the online world, one thing is a sad fact of life; many more are quick to attack than are quick to praise.

But I’m not talking about the morons who troll people. If we are adults, we should be able to take trolls in our stride, regardless of how venomous and threatening they appear.

No, I am talking about others we are connected to online who just like us are good, decent, honest people who mean well. They just don’t share our political views. That’s all.

If your social media presence in any way involves anything other than chatting with family and close friends, there are lots of things which could go on a list of don’ts. And we’ve mostly seen these many times before:

Don’t abuse others. Don’t criticize people. Don’t be a bigot. Don’t be racist, sexist, ageist or anything else which ends with ‘ist’.

Don’t be cruel. Don’t endlessly advertise yourself. Don’t share junk.

Don’t ignore others. Don’t be unkind.

Basically, don’t be an ass.

If you have intelligence and integrity these things are pretty obvious. And they are as much sensible rules for life as online behaviour.

But there is one thing that isn’t on this list which I think should be:

Unless it’s your job, don’t discuss your political opinions in public online.

We all have our political views. And I know some very fine people on social media who do this a great deal and have a lot of followers.

But the problem is that when we discuss politics online, for every person who agrees with us there will be most likely one or more, who doesn’t.

Do you wish to alienate yourself from them just because you have different political views? Some of my best friends over the years have completely different political opinions to myself. And we have enjoyed many fierce debates together.

But these are people I am close too. People whose opinion of me is based on long-standing relationships based on mutual trust and respect. People we have these close relationships with will not suddenly spurn us because we don’t agree on a political point.

These people have a multi-dimensional relationship with us. That relationship is usually a rich and mature tapestry of intermingled life events. They are based on much more than a single online post, comment or tweet.

By contrast, many of our online contacts are brief and fleeting. Often people who will see our social media content know little or nothing about us. But the moment we share something political, we risk alienating ourselves from almost everyone who has a different opinion.

Yet in every other respect, these people may very well be good, decent, folk with whom we would otherwise have a positive and productive relationship with.

If you really cannot resist expressing your political opinions online, then do it through DMs with those who you trust. There you can freely express your views without the world seeing and judging you.

As the US elections approach their conclusion, I see many tweets supporting or condemning one or other candidate. Some I agree with. Some I do not.

But if I express my opinions on social media and in public, I am pretty sure that at least some of the people I am connected with will disagree with me. And for many, such disagreements are terminal to the relationship.

And it never needed to be like that.

Have your political views. Pursue your political causes. Vote and support the politicians you think deserve it.

Just don’t do their dirty work for them and risk your friendships for a political cause.

Because ultimately our friends are more valuable to us than any politician.

The secret of influence everyone forgot

By Neil Patrick

Go and take a look at your Twitter feed. Do it now.

Scroll down the tweets in your feed and look at the little icons beneath each tweet.

Notice anything?

I'm willing to bet that most tweets you see will have zero shares, zero likes, zero comments.

No-one sees or is interested in 99% of their Twitter feed. This fact is a problem for the posters. And an opportunity for everyone else.

The explosion of online content (and the platforms’ manipulation of it for their own ends) means that only the very highest profile people and most active posters get much engagement with their social media output.

And this simple fact is in my opinion the most overlooked opportunity to create online influence.

This isn’t a marketing or media blog. So why am I bringing this up?

Because this current state of play is a huge opportunity for anyone who wants to build influence online. And online influence translates to offline influence more than ever.

If you are serious about your career, how much better placed are you if the internet recognises you as influential in your profession?

You’ll have a bigger network. A more authoritative voice. And the ability to help others.

Notice the last point. Help others.

Not ourselves. As the global marketing director of one of the big four global consulting firms once said to me about her firm’s social media,  "We have too much media and not enough social".

She summed up the situation perfectly. Her firm employs thousands of the best and brightest minds globally. Their daily production of expert and insightful material posted online far exceeds what I could produce in a year.

Yet when I looked at the social media influence of even the most active and established people people at her firm, almost none had achieved any significant online influence.

They were all putting high quality and interesting content online. But no-one cared. Their impact was virtually zero. It was because they thought that merely creating and posting things online was the whole task.

It isn’t.

Online influence is the outcome of positive interactions with other people, not fire and forget. And as Dale Carnegie wrote in 1936, "You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you".

So if you want to be influential online don’t follow the herd. Show your network that you care about them more than yourself. It is actions more than words which determine how others see us.

Decide who the people and organisations are that are potentially valuable to you. Put all of them onto a Twitter list. Call the list something flattering, such as ‘My favourite people online’.

Forget your main Twitter feed. Instead when you go to Twitter, go to your list and you can see what all of your important accounts are tweeting.

Share the ones you like. Better still add a positive comment.

This task takes no more than about 10 minutes a day.

Do it daily and the people you want to build a relationship with will notice. Sooner or later they will reciprocate. At the very least they will remember you and think well of you.

A similar approach applies to Linkedin. Last night as I was going through my new invitations to connect on LinkedIn, I came across an invitation from a lady who was a singer/songwriter. On the face of it, I have no reason to connect with such a person. Nonetheless I accepted.

But I also sent her a message thanking her for connecting with me and offering to introduce her to someone I know who is influential in the music biz. She was thrilled at the unexpected offer.

How often have others done a similar thing for me at our first encounter? Hardly ever.

Which is the whole point. In the space of 10 minutes I had been able to help out two people. Perhaps the introduction will be fruitful. Perhaps not. That is up to them. But this simple gesture of goodwill cost me nothing. For me there are no downsides.

In itself, this gesture won’t change my world. But because I do such things almost every day, I accrue goodwill from an ever increasing number of people. And that cumulative goodwill does amount to a great deal.

Almost daily, I am approached by others with requests for help. Offers of collaboration. Business enquiries. And even the postman must be confused by the number of packages that arrive from all over the world, when people send me things as gifts of thanks.

Recently I met with a director of one of the world’s biggest recruitment firms. At the end of our meeting, he said, "I follow you on Twitter - that’s how I knew about you". I was somewhat embarrassed that this fact had escaped my notice. He had noticed me, but I hadn’t noticed him.

But if he had ever engaged with me on social media, I would have certainly noticed.

If these anecdotes still don’t convince you, I have one final argument for adopting this approach - it’s a great deal easier and much less time consuming to be kind to others online than it is to create a new piece of content that goes viral.

And if you want a guide to social media, the best book about it was written in 1936. It was called simply, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.

‘Nuff said.