Open Thinkering


Tag: Hugh McLeod

Running with the wolves

The price of being a sheep is BOREDOM. The price of being a wolf is LONELINESS. Choose one or hte other with great care.

This gapingvoid cartoon from years ago has really stuck with me during the ups and downs of my career.

I find working in (most) hierarchical organisations boring and stifling. It’s not always all bad, but the more hierarchical the organisation, the more limiting the walls of the box of your job role. Being a sheep sucks.

On the other hand, going it alone is anxiety-inducing and lonely. During the short time I was a solo independent consultant, it was only the opportunity to work with other consultants (big shout out to Bryan Mathers) that kept me going.

So I’m thankful and grateful that I’m part of a co-operative and get to work with other co-operatives. It’s like hunting in packs, or running with the wolves. Except more friendly.

This post is Day 49 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

Jesus as a Social Marker? (or, How to Build a Community)

This is a scheduled post whilst I’m on holiday in the UAE – my apologies if I don’t respond to comments straight away!


In my last post I highlighted Hugh McLeod’s work on Social Objects, pointing out just how useful an idea and way of conceptualising the world it is. Hugh does, however, go one step further in the form of ‘Social Markers’. He gives many examples in this post but Example F stood out for me:

“After a year of personal trauma, you decide that yes, indeed, Jesus Christ is your Personal Saviour. You’ve already joined a Bible reading class and started attending church every Sunday. Next thing you know, you’ve made a lot of new friends in your new congregation. Suddenly you are are awash with a whole new pile of Social Objects. Jesus, Church, The Bible, the Church Picnics, the choir rehearsals, the Christmas fund drive, the cookies and coffee after the 11 o’clock service, yes, all of them are Social Objects for your new friends to share.”

The implication is that Social Objects work within your particular circle as anchors around which to have discussions. Outside that circle and when dealing with strangers, Social Objects serve as Social Markers as a kind of shorthand. “I’m a Christian” serves as three-word way of expressing a whole worldview, expected way of acting, and (perhaps) engenders a level of trust.

That certainly seems a persuasive argument from a secular point of view as to the utility of churches in the 21st century. But I’m not really interested in whether or not the sacred can be classified with the profane in the realm of Social Markers; what I’m interested in is the concept of Social Markers and to what extent they can be explicitly agreed upon in advance. In his post, Hugh uses the example of well-known tech blogger Robert Scoble who, he believes, acts as a Social Marker:

“When I visit San Francisco I am always surprised how often the name of my friend, Robert Scoble comes up in random conversation, unprompted by myself. Why is that? Why is he so well known? Is his blog REALLY that good? Is he REALLY that smart and interesting?

Well, I could give a whole stack of reasons to explain why I think Robert’s success is well-deserved. But one major reason that his blog’s traffic is so high, and his name so well-known, is that his personal brand has somehow managed to become a Social Marker inside the Silicon Valley ecosystem. The same could also be said for Mike Arrington, Paul Graham or Mark Zuckerberg. Dropping their names into random conversations allows people to quickly and efficiently contextualize themselves.”

And, of course, as soon as someone become a Social Marker, they’ve got it made. People position and, to some extent, define themselves in relation to the Social Marker. They have an opinion on them/it, they have a relationship with the Social Marker – as does the person they’ve just met. These relationships with the Social Marker are then bridged forming a new connection based upon common ground.

Social Markers are nothing new and people have attempted to find some form of commonality, presumably, since the dawn of (human) time. Where it was probably more useful in the way of life preservation, it’s now a handy way to establish yourself as a node on a network and gain instant social cachet. In both examples the use of Social Markers is method of positioning.

So, you want to be a Social Marker? Easy. Do this:

  1. Decide on something you’re interested in. Find out what it’s called. If it hasn’t got a name, make one up. If it’s new, take every opportunity to explain to others what it is.
  2. Become known for that thing. This can be as easy as expressing an interest in something, asking people to share examples with you, and re-sharing them back (in a curated form) with the wider community.
  3. Tell people what to do with your stuff. Share this, amplify that. Seth Godin is awesome at, essentially, instructing people how to share his ideas and brand.
  4. Big up other people.When people use your ideas, express something you find useful, or share what you’ve created, collated or curated, thank them. Celebrate the formation of a community around an idea.
  5. Don’t charge fans Social Markers are, naturally, usually paid for their opinions and work in their area of expertise. Don’t charge the fans to make money, charge the people who want bespoke work or publishers. Don’t milk the community dry.

Who do *you* know who’s a social marker?

Image CC BY-NC-SA nathangibbs

Social Objects and the importance of sharing.

This is a scheduled post whilst I’m on holiday in the UAE – my apologies if I don’t respond to comments straight away!

Invest in sharing

“The most important word on the internet is not “Search”. The most important word on the internet is “Share”. Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA. We use Social Objects to share ourselves with other people. We’re primates. We like to groom each other. It’s in our nature.” (Hugh McLeod)

Sometimes you read things that coalesce previously disparate thoughts you’ve had and package them up in a way that is usable. It’s my hope to do that both here and at Synechism Ltd. (indeed, you can hire me to help you do so with the latter). My favourite writers are those that help me find a lens on my Quinean ‘web of beliefs’ so that I understand both myself and the world I inhabit in ways that are useful.

Hugh McLeod, of gapingvoid cartoons-on-the-back-of-business-cards fame, has evolved from a cartoonist to an excellent writer in the mould of the above. In a recent post, entitled Social Objects are the future of marketing he explains what he means by the term ‘Social Object’ and how such items can connect people.

“Things change because of people interacting with other people, rather than technology or design really doing things to people.” (Mark Earls)

We’re all geeks, points out Hugh, as “we’re all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves” – and those things that make us excited “act as Social Objects within a social network of people who care passionately about the stuff.” He cites the Apple iPhone as an example, but points out that almost anything can serve as one.

What interests me is that Google seem to have recognised that search is almost like a utility: we expect it to be there and work properly. Search, in an of itself, is not very exciting. Where do we share the things we find interesting? Social networks! Is it any surprise, then, that Google+ has emerged? Google earns the majority of its money through advertising and social networking is where the advertising money’s going – just ask Facebook.

So if we want to gain traction with projects such as Purpos/ed* we’d do well to employ the following 5 Principles of Social Objects that Hugh has drawn up:

  1. You should be able to define the social object your service is built around.
  2. Define your verbs that your users perform on the objects.
  3. How can people share the objects?
  4. Turn invitations into gifts.
  5. Charge the publishers, not the spectators.

In a world of social networking, people have to have something to talk about to connect them. Stand out from the crowd and stop endlessly re-sharing and retweeting other people’s stuff. Create your own!

Image CC BY-NC Shira Golding

* We’re having a bit of a summer break with Purpos/ed – there’s a cadence to engagement that we want to respect.