Conversations swirling lately, mostly about not-a-whole-lot, but then there are kernels of wisdom, little things that prove that the earth is moving underneath you, that the ants haven’t stopped marching, that invisible forces continue to act unabated.
While I shudder at the sound of the phrase, the concept is worth investigating, mostly because, as with most things of import, I had similar serendipitous conversations lately about the same concept, not suprisingly with a subtly different thrust. Let me lay out a few quotes to set up my thoughts on this:
A respected, well-known employee is a credit to their employer, just as working for a high-profile company reflects well on the employee. Forward thinking companies should encourage and reward personal brand development.
The message: Guard your identity and don’t mix it up with your company’s identity. Otherwise, you risk being “disappeared” if you leave your job or get fired.
So now here’s where I diverge.
After the Mena vs Ben deathmatch at Les Blogs (an historic moment for civility online), Ben received some interesting feedback from someone who worked for a rather large software company (no, not Macrosoft, the other one). We’ll call him Mr Cog (I won’t name names since I honestly forget who it was that talked to him). Paraphrased, Mr Cog’s point was this:
You’d better shuddup because what you say and how you behave represents your employer.
Since Ben does work for a rather large media organization in the UK, this was rather disheartening to hear. Out of a fear that his words might insult someone who would attribute it to his employer and consequently risk his livelihood, he should go mum? What an awful way to ruin a person, let alone an employee!
Sure, it’s not unprecedented for employees to get fired over their after-hours activities. Given that, Mr Cog has a case. Just maybe he was looking out for Ben’s well being. Conventionally, what each of us does, in some small measure, reflects on our employers. Yeah, duh? Ok ok, but given serious reflection, one begins to realize how disempowering and debilitating this attitude — and the resultant fear — really is.
So you want my take? No, probably not. But I’ll tell you anyway. Here’s the punchline: I don’t represent my employer, who I choose to work for represents me.
Ok, let me explain, because it sure sounds more dangerously egocentric than it needs to: I represent me. I represent me in the work I do, in the thoughts I write down and publish, in the conversations I have with other people, in the mistakes I make, in the Flickr photos I post. Though I’m commonly referred to as “a Flock guy”, that’s only relevant because it’s one of the projects that I choose to spend my time on (and yes, they also happen to pay my rent).
But because I choose to work on Flock, how good it is represents me since it’s my work and my intelligence (or lack thereof) that show through in the final result. And so fundamentally I’m responsible for how good or how bad it is, now and over time.
This statement is true for each one of us who works at Flock. There are no weak links. If Flock does indeed suck, it’s up to the individuals who are collectively represented by this group project to collaboratively remedy it (ideally with the support of our community). We each have providence over our own work to a fundamental level: working in open source guarentees a paper trail in the commit log. And so what we each put in is documented, recorded, added to the collective, public record.
So let’s get down to it. Whatever you want to call it (I’ll pass on “Personal Brand Development” thank you very much — I’m a person and don’t need to be branded, but to each their own), the old command and conquer hierarchy is changing and dissolving. The playing field is not just being pulverized, it’s being opened up to the fans to come and participate, much to the dismay of the coaches and referrees. In a worldwide Cluetrainian orgy, it’s now the employees who speak first for themselves and second for their employer. Even better, first for themselves, second for their friends and social network, third for their employers.
Here it is: I have a voice (have always had a voice, figuring it out how to really use it recently) that I should never be afraid to exert. I speak for me and I’m the only one that I can rely on to speak for me and to authentically represent me. My employer understands that my silence would reflect more seriously upon them and the culture they’re creating than anything I might eventually say. Yes, it’s a big messy and wonderful catastrophe, but in the words of dotBen,