open mindedness

Note! I found the text from this post below while cleaning up some folders. It was a text I wrote to post as a blog post almost exactly 3 years ago but somehow I never posted it… I think I wasn’t pleased with it or didn’t think it was of value…. or just too pretentious.

Either way, while reading it back I figured I would post it. Perhaps more for myself than for anyone else as it is a strong reminder of what I hold dearly and something that was also clearly challenged in the last year and a half of pandemic enforced reclusiveness. Replace some of the topics mentioned with ‘vaccination’, ‘covid-19’ or ‘lockdown restrictions’ and it is still just as, if not more, relevant…

The schizophrenia of modern-day open mindedness

(original date 23-08-2018)

I think I’m pretty open minded. I believe everyone has a right to an opinion of their own, is free to adhere to their own religion (and profess it!) and have their own preferences.

But is that enough?

A month or two ago I came across a notice in a local supermarket about an iftar meal being organized for Ramadan open to all who wanted to experience meeting other people over a dinner after sundown. It was organized by the local Muslim community in a community center in my neighborhood. I went and had a great night. Talking to people, having a great meal and while there I got to talk to table neighbor Sukran who happily answered all the questions I had while explaining the traditions surrounding Ramadan, the Muslim faith and most importantly: her interpretation of it.

The thing is, I am not unknowing. I have always had a strong interest in history, culture and religion. Spending several months on a kibbutz in Israel after graduating high school and even studying Religious Science at the University of Groningen for a few years before ending up going into IT (yeah, I know, not the most logical step and a whole different story in itself). This interest though in other people and belief systems has never left me and I continue to read many books about these topics.

My interest with religion, politics and believe systems has always been twofold:

1). What makes that people believe or come to their convictions and what drives them internally;

2). How does what people believe and the culture they live in influence what they do, their surroundings and their choices.

History is speckled with examples of this and there are lots of books, ideas and theories about this. Somehow though my interest has always been not so much with the overall bigger picture, the various cultural groups as a whole…. but with how individuals are affected by and operate in this. You could say I’m interested in the little story.

For instance it is easy to say things like “Those southerners all like trump because…“ or “Those Brits are for Brexit because…” or “Those Muslims think like this because…” but in general these groups do not exist as such but are divided into many subgroups with subgroups with….. individuals. And those individuals are influenced by many internal and external factors and almost never homogenous.

A right to your own opinion doesn’t exclude you from having a duty to try to understand someone else’s opinions

So back to the iftar meal. I had a great night and I wanted to ask many more questions of Sukran because I loved how she talked about her faith. Not because she told me things that were new to me about Islam as such but because her interpretation and way of talking about it (in philosophical metaphors that I had never heard before) intrigued me. I didn’t know though if it would be appropriate to ask her if I could meet her again.

After all, here I am all ‘Dutch’, atheist, in a short-sleeved t-shirt with 3/4 length trousers and open toe sandals (forgive me it was one of those brutally warm summer evenings) and there she was with a head scarf and full-length garment to cover her arms and legs and a very deep religious conviction. So I was hesitant…

Low and behold though, at the end of the evening, while I was still deliberating how I could extend our acquaintance, she asked me if we could exchange phone numbers as she had enjoyed the conversation just as much and would love to meet again for coffee. And that was when it hit me.  Why had I even felt inhibited to ask her? What held me back while she had been friendly and open to all my questions all night. In fact, we had a great exchange about all kinds of topics, not just religion (like diets which we both perpetually struggle with). Why did she see no problem in asking me while I was unsure if I could, simply because I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate? It also opened my eyes to how little contact I have with people in other ‘believe systems’. Whether it is religious or politics or otherwise…

So I realized that although I think of myself as open and tolerant, there is still a lot to be improved. And that made me wonder what was causing my self-image to be so off.

Being tolerant should be an active deed, not an excuse to turn away from difficult discussions

As said, I don’t think I’m a bigamist or discriminatory. I think of myself as open, tolerant and more than willing to listen but all of these are passive attributes. It’s easy to say you are tolerating of other people’s religions if you live in a country where religion is mostly a private affair and where less than 50% of people even classify themselves as being religious. It is also easy to not respond to others’ political statements when it’s not ‘your president’ or your ‘governments decision’ or your kid using the word for gays as a swear word in a conversation…. But is that really enough? Is just accepting that ‘that’s their opinion’ or ‘their choice’ enough? Or should we all have a duty to at least seek out to understand why people do or think differently, actively ask questions and try to have a conversation?

I think that real open mindedness is not passive it is active. It is being not just willing to listen but actively seeking to understand and be understood. Not necessarily to agree but to better learn the reasons for the other persons position or statement while also explaining in an open way to them your point of view. It is amazing to see, when you talk to people and really ask for- and open yourself up to their position, how limited your own perspective often is. Like when I talked to an English friend just after Brexit who I thought was against Brexit but who turned out to have voted to leave. I had not expected it and was aghast as I couldn’t comprehend why he would vote to leave while being wholly dependent for his work on open borders. Talking to him though, I could see his point for choosing the way he did. It didn’t mean that I agreed with it, but it certainly taught me there were many more nuances to the story then I had thought until then. Plus, it showed me quite clearly how limited my own understanding of the whole situation was.

Only through conversation can we avoid polarization

But doing that: asking, talking, learning isn’t easy. Because asking for – or discussing someone’s reasoning and thoughts behind their political opinion, their religion or their preferences is starting to become more and more a taboo.  And social media and the internet seems to play a big role in that. The medium just doesn’t really lend itself for balanced and open conversation. Instead, it is like standing in a crowded hall full of strangers and vague acquaintances and yelling your opinion to a friend or acquaintance on the other side of the room. Instead of having an open conversation, people feel put on the spot in front of a large audience of friends and strangers. Having to yell their response across the room with no visual cues from the other party and a large audience of people who butt in and start reacting as well. The result often is that what comes across are short sound bites, memes and statements which are often seen as nothing more than a declaration or defiant ‘take it or leave it’. Even if that was never intended. Resulting in bitter fights, stale mates and troll responses. Or worse…. In people shutting off and unfriending each other. Polarizing opinions on both ends with little or no room for understanding or time for reflection.

I get the feeling that people feel they need to have an opinion on everything so that when someone calls them out on something they are ready with an answer right there and then because not responding is automatically making you look like you agree or don’t have a clue. Leaving less space for people to simply state: “I don’t know” or “I’m still figuring it out”.

Because it is easier to not know then to accept to disagree

Worse yet is hearing how certain topics like politics or religion are no longer discussed anymore when meeting friends or family. Out of fear of starting a family feud or finding out that you really don’t agree… It seems it is easier to not know than to discuss and then accept to disagree. As if we can only function if we agree on all fronts or avoid having the conversation at all. Since when is that the case?!?

All that worries and bothers me. It bothers me to see it in others, but even more to recognize it in myself. I’m doing it too and it’s having a bad effect on me. Social Media is great but not to discuss politics, religion or sexual preferences. That doesn’t make them taboo though, it just means that if I talk to someone and one of those topics comes up, I prefer to have that conversation in a different way. A way that doesn’t include ‘shouting at the top of your lungs from one end of the room to the other’ but allows you to see, feel and experience all the subtle elements of verbal, non-verbal and direct communication.

And it’s not easy to fix. But perhaps by writing all this out I will make others understand why I sometimes ask things you would normally not expect me to ask and that it is not to judge but to learn because I strongly believe that:

if we don’t talk about the hard stuff how can we make it better?

So did Sukran and I have coffee together in town? Yes we did, several times already. We even brought our mothers together! Live is all about meeting each other, and nothing beats that real live experience.

Oh and as side note… why am I posting this on my work blog?

Well apart from this being very important to me from a conscientious point of view this doesn’t only pertain to things like religion, politics and preferences. It applies just as much to the way we work. As someone who’s work it is to get people in different organizations to work together across organizational, cultural and language borders this avoidance to tackle the difficult conversations is something I’m starting to see seeping in more and more in enterprise collaboration too.

image source:

'Twas the night before Xmas…' (in a social age!)

My little interpretation of a time honored Christmas poem. Enjoy the Holidays everyone!TwasTheNightBeforeXmas

KLM: Surfing the social media tidal wave

Earlier today KLM, the biggest flight operator at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam experienced problems after a software update. It caused their site, booking systems and other operations to fail and caused lots of delays and disruption at their main hub, Schiphol Airport.

I’m not flying today but noticed it because of an article on a Dutch news site. Now in general I wouldn’t really have paid much attention especially as I read the article several hours after it had been posted and the disruption had already been cleared and services resumed by then, but one line intrigued me:  [translated from Dutch]

“….Travellers can contact KLM through its social media accounts Twitter or Facebook. There will be employees there that can check in customers online or book flights.”

Now a major international company taking their online reputation and social customer service serious during a major services outage isn’t new but to specifically offer operational help (like booking or check in) through a Facebook or Twitter account is not something you see often. The reason being that in order to do that on a large scale you need a totally different skill set then for simply answering a customer service question or responding to remarks or complaints.  Traditionally most companies still see the role of a social media department mostly as a communications / marketing endeavor and hire their social media staff accordingly. Thereby limiting the reach of their social channels.

From experience learned during the 2010 Iceland volcano eruption that caused worldwide mayhem in the aviation industry and a major boost in social Media use, KLM instead chose to create a Social Media department with people from all sides of its operations: “… a dedicated team creates synergy by sharing their expertise from a varied background including communications, e-commerce, customer care, ticketing, marketing, operations and cabin crew” [source]. Thereby making it possible to quickly and autonomously react to possible problems and easily involve other departments (volunteers) when needed.

And that meant that when their own IT services went down today they could immediately react and go beyond the normal realm of social media customer service and offer services that would otherwise not have been available.

They described their social media strategy and the process of how that came to be in this 4 part blog series. I can certainly recommend reading it as it is a really good (and entertaining!) read for all those interested in how big corporations tackle the ever expanding social media tidal wave that is hitting them.

Paving the way for others, KLM is certainly among those facing it head-on.

#StuffIBMersSay: testing IBM's social elasticity

A while ago I wrote a blog post about a twitter meme that was going on where people were tweeting funny things IBM’ers had said with the hashtag #stuffIBMerssay. It became hot real fast and got over 3000 tweets and retweets before it died out after about a week. In my post I did that first day when it all started I stated “ps. Seeing a perfect opportunity here for IBM to use it’s new Analytic tools to analyze this social phenomena!” and well, it seems they have.

I knew they were working on it but hadn’t seen anything made public about it yet until I saw a blog yesterday from Keith Brooks with a link to the research report IBM did on this, the official research page for the meme and an interview with the researcher. It’s really interesting to read and I can see how analyzing this kind of social meme’s can help understand sentiment and feelings within organizations as well as how the rest of the world perceives an organization.

But what this impromptu phenomenon and IBM’s response to it showed best to me is that IBM really is striving to be a truly social organization. Being a social organization isn’t just about providing the tooling and ‘talking the lingo’, it is about recognizing and empowering the individuals within the organizational eco-system so that they can leverage their strengths to get the organization to a next level. That also implies allowing yourself to be viewed through the eyes of those individuals both for the good as well as for the bad and both on the inside (employees) as well as on the outside (partners, customers, contractors, etc). A daunting thing to do, especially when it happens unexpected, unplanned and uncontrolled, which is exactly what happened here. The fact that over 75% of the people who participated were from within the IBM organization itself and that they felt save to tweet about this and inject a lot of humor and banter without feeling they were harming the IBM organization or their own career shows a remarkable openness and engagement. I think that is exactly why this whole thing grabbed me the way it did back then…. and still does!


Nicely said but the real proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say and for me that proof was that seven months on, the two people who unleashed it all, and whom I’ve been closely following ever since, still proudly list “Working @IBM” in their Twitter profile 🙂


Especially had to smile while reading this:

“Second, the qualitative analysis suggested that contributors to the #stuffibmerssay thread were also able to poke fun at the bureaucratic nature of a large global enterprise. We termed this “the Dilbert effect” where tweets served as satirical observations of how the processes within a large organization could be bewildering.”

So fitting with one of the tweets I quoted back then!

@FlemChrist: I swear that guy writing the Dilbert cartoon works here. #stuffibmerssay


Always wanted to be a Redbooks writer?

redbooklogoAs most of you know, there haven’t been many Redbooks published for the last few years for the Collaboration software of IBM as documentation has moved more into Wiki’s. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities to be become a Redbooks author. One of them is to join a Redbooks Thought Leader Residency. Those do not produce a Redbook but aim to produce series of blogs on specific topics. Some of which will eventually be combined into an actual Redbook.

I was really excited to be on one of those residencies (the first one for ‘Social media and Social Business’) last December and have been writing for the IBM Social Business Insights blog since then. A great experience as it gives you access to information and opportunities you would otherwise not have.

So why am I writing all this? Well because there is room for more bloggers on the team and there is going to be a second residency in August! So if you feel you have something to say about ‘Social’ and aren’t afraid to voice an opinion then don’t hesitate and apply. From experience I can say it’s worth it!


iPad: One year on

Got a Memolane reminder of tweets from a year back this morning and noticed this one:

I can’t believe it’s a year already! And more importantly I can’t believe how important it has become since then.

I use my iPad more then any other device, and take it everywhere. It allows me to quickly read my mail, check things online, write blogs, read books, relax by playing games (Mahjong & Wordfeud, I’m no hardcore gamer), Skype with my friends and check my social streams. But it does more. It allows me to follow my favorite podcasts, serves as a wakeup alarm, keeps my groceries list, tells me what weather to expect and allows me to take snapshots of quirky situations I get myself in (and post them!).
It has literally penetrated every inch of my life.

I can’t do without but at the same time it is also causing me to spend way more time ‘connected’ then I ever was. Don’t get me wrong, I love being connected but I also love unwinding and right now I’m thinking I don’t get enough of that.

So when the iPad3 (or ‘New iPad’) came out I stood in dubio. Should I or should I not… Apart from the better screen & camera it had more or less all functionalities my old iPad had… Eventually I decided not and used the money I had set aside to buy a fantastic new camera. An old fashioned one as in: ‘it doesn’t come with an internet attachment’, and I love it. It allows me to look at the world differently, not just from the perspective of ‘this would make a funny Instagram picture!’ but as in ‘wow, what a beautiful composition’.

(First attempts one day after getting it. Still getting the hang of it and absolutely an amateur…)

So will I never go for the iPad 3? Oh I will probably. I know myself and as soon as I see a valid reason for it (like my battery life expectancy going down lately) I will most likely upgrade. It is my favorite piece of equipment as I said and I can’t do without but just a better camera or a retina screen is not enough to win me over right now. Especially as the quality of pictures I can take with my new camera is so much better.
But most importantly because it’s time I spend a bit more time offline…


Deleted tweet and heated discussions

Ok, this one just rubbed me the wrong way.

Yesterday I followed a heated twitter discussion between @MatNewman and @APACloud (Andy Pattinson – ProQuest) on Lotus Notes vs Google Mail.
I’m always interested to learn what makes/breaks the products I work with so I followed the twitter exchange although I must say it all got rather direct… (nasty?)

What I mostly got from it was that it wasn’t a real discussion. Mat, asking (in his own unique enthusiastic way) for substantiation on some statements about Lotus Notes vs Google mail was replied with  statements in which he was called a lunatic and on crack.

Regardless of the form, I think it’s always important to keep the focus on the topic, not on the person.
So, although I must admit I was a bit annoyed by the unwarranted insults (even if meant in a jokingly way), I couldn’t help but wonder whether @APACloud actually had anything to say on the topic (Google Mail vs Lotus Notes) or was just trying to get out of a discussion he wasn’t up for but doing it the wrong way (getting a bit childish instead of admitting he had just made a rash statement he was not about ready to have a debate on).

And to test that I asked him to elaborate a bit on his claims about Gmail being so much better then Lotus Notes. Something that was asked by @MatNewman as well but just didn’t seem to be getting an answer.







Now at this point I kind of got that he really wasn’t up for it and I was about ready to leave it at that when he replied my tweet saying (something like) “Perhaps we could do a call on this, would love to elaborate”. Surprised I accepted.


I was genuinely up for it as I love to get the perspective of someone else. I only have limited experience with Google Mail so having a chance to talk to, and get the perspective of, someone who claims having used both professionally, as well as knows something about Salesforce (a topic I’m also interested in) was something I wouldn’t pass.

Notice how I included every tweet form our little exchange except that one in which he invites me for a call?

Well guess what, this morning, reading back the exchange (yes I do that sometimes) I noticed he had actually deleted that particular tweet. Apparently it was just a way to get out of the discussion and to shush me up. So I expect no call on this and to be honest after this, I’m not even up for it either.

Next time, be a man and just say you’re not up for the discussion.

Repost IBM Insights Blog: Food For Thought – The New Player on Stage

I recently started writing for the IBM Insights blog As part of a team of Redbook Residency bloggers. The aim is to write about anything having to do with Social Business or Social Media. To keep track and a personal log of it all I will repost the blogs I write for the Insights blog on my personal blog as well.

Original Publication:
Original publication date: February 22 2012

Food For Thought: The New Player on Stage 

by Femke Goedhart, Business Consultant, Silverside
So here’s a thought…. At this year’s Lotusphere, IBM’s annual collaboration and social software conference, during that all important Opening General Session (OGS), Who was the real star of the conference?? 
Was it the band ‘OK Go’? Or Michael J. Fox with his inspirational speech? The IBM executives sharing plans for the upcoming year?  The people demonstrating it all?  Or the customers telling their success stories? Or was there another star to this show….. the audience? 
It is interesting to see how social media has changed the role that people are taking while listening to someone on stage. They are no longer a passive audience, waiting to be impressed. They are active participants using social media to hype the event and their fellow audience members, updating those staying at home and in doing so broadcasting their personal expectations, experiences and opinions to the world – effectively becoming a presenter themselves.  
They are far from uninformed either. Social media exposes any news with lightning speed and search engines allow users to quickly proof check any statement made. The audience no longer is a passive listener; it’s a fiercely regarded critic and a channel to reach a much wider audience. A 5,000 man audience in the room easily reaches a hundreds-of-thousands-strong audience outside. A power not to be ignored! 
And a power to be utilized by those on stage as social media is also quickly leveraging the power of peer-to-peer recommendations. An enthusiastic commentary on social networks by the audience members often does more for creating a positive vibe around a product announcement than any official reporter or analyst could ever hope to accomplish with their articles. 
But the audience is also a fickle player to include in the play; one that generally has a short attention span and has a nose for set ups and over-embellishings. One that wants to-the-point information, real demonstrations, interaction and involvement. And one that can make or break an event, a speaker and an announcement. 
Something that was clearly shown at last year’s Lotusphere OGS. The audience did not like the lengthy customer panels and made that abundantly clear on twitter and other Social Media channels – bringing the overall sentiment on the OGS down to an absolute low. Only after a bright new face – Brian Cheng – entered the stage to do demos did that sentiment change — instantly elevating Brian to a Twitter celebrity. However, by that time, some damage had been done.  
It must be hard sitting back there watching all this going on, knowing that there is little or nothing you can do to change it. The scripts are set, the show is staged and you can’t just break into that. At the same time you can’t ignore what’s going on either.
 imageSo this year was different. IBM clearly listened to the critiques and tried to accommodate that all important new member of the cast. Shortening the length of the OGS, dividing it up in short sound bites, acknowledging last year’s missteps, involving the audience as much as possible  and using lots of graphics and live demos to keep people’s focus on the stage instead of on their Twitter streams. Even showing an actual representation of the audience sentiment of the event as it was going on.
And it wasn’t just in the OGS where this was felt. Instead of being afraid of the social backlash that had occurred the previous year, IBM embraced the challenge and invited the audience to be even more ‘social’. Setting up Social Lounges where people could learn how to use social tools, offering communities and apps to connect to other attendees and by actively promoting the use of hashtag #LS12  and showing those Tweets on blogs, Web sites and at the event itself. 
Not just involving the audience, but effectively making them stakeholders in the success of the event.
To unleash and actively stimulate thousands of internet savvy critics to comment on your work is a bold move to take. But Lotusphere this year showed it can work. The opening session was highly appreciated resulting in 3 positive trending topics on Twitter that day. Sentiment was definitely up and it set the stage for the rest of the week. Being heard and being taken seriously meant that the audience, that all important player, was part of the team once more.  
So what is the future of this? This new player to the stage is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Not just for major events like the Lotusphere OGS but within daily business as well. People are utilizing internal as well as external social tools more and more as a medium to not only update their friends of what they are doing but also to gather information, discuss things going on and to gauge opinions. Broadcasting their feelings to their audience and connecting to people and sources both inside as well as outside the company. They are no longer just contributors or consumers of information; they are becoming the main distributors as well.
Ignoring it is dangerous, controlling it often impossible… or is it?

The fear of the unknown and a loss of control is what is holding back many companies in really addressing this. But with millions of people joining social networks each day, it’s a force that can’t be ignored. And even though the company might not be so far, the people often are, branching out on public networks and forging connections to co-workers, customers, friends as well as competitors, building their own audience as they go. It is time to catch up and start talking. Because if there is one thing social media has made clear, it is that individuals love to be part of a social team/network….So isn’t it about time you define your stage team and make them a part of that?Watch the Lotusphere 2012 OGS. Registration required.

Social consolidating: Facebook buys Instagram

It was just announced that the popular social photo network Instagram was bought by Facebook…

Wow! With that Facebook is doing yet another major buy in social Media land. I can’t say I’m happy with that. Yes I Facebook and yes I like it but what I like most about social media is that it allows me to pick my networks and contacts for each of the situations I operate in. My contacts on Twitter aren’t necessarily the same as on Instagram or on Facebook or on LinkedIn or on Google+ and neither is the content I share across those channels. I’d like to keep it like that. Different situations warrant different posts.

So when two of my favorite social networks merge….. Yeah, I don’t like it.

I think Facebook got that message too as Mark Zuckerberg announced in his post that it is their plan to keep it completely separate and keep all current options (like posting to Twitter) intact but for how long that is…we’ll see.

I just hope we don’t end up with a Social Media landscape that is completely dominated by just 2 or 3 major players  that control it all and I’m going to make it my goal to keep supporting those independent players out there. I don’t hate the big boys, I just think we need a lot of smaller players out there to keep the big boys in check.

Yellowverse world wide social challenge yourself challenge!

I LOVE running… when I do it. The problem is: I don’t do it enough. There simply doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do so and well… I’m way to attached to my laptop / ipad / MacBook / smartphone screen. I know I’m not alone in that and I need some motivation to get going again. So when I was talking to Garett Wolthuis (@GarrettWolthuis) last Wednesday night at BLUG and discovered he was the guy who wrote an amazing blog of his personal achievement of running a 5k last November a plan grew.
We challenged each other. Literally! We set a date: The weekend of May 19th and made the agreement to each run a 5k in that weekend and to motivate each other to train for that.
It is not about the time, it is not about the distance, it is not about the place it is about setting ourselves a challenge, motivating each other and sticking to it. And as we got talking we got some others involved too who are either going to be running or doing a hike. So yes Garrett, Paul, Kathy, Eileen and Steve and anybody else who wants to join; you don’t know it yet but I am going to keep you to that pledge as I need that stick behind the door to do this 🙂

Great idea? Well lets see, I need some serious training to get back in shape and I know that I will need you guys to help me do this. A social experiment? You bet! What better way to test the strength of the social idea in our community then to use it to motivate each other through Social Media to do a physical challenge.

So this is day 1. And I am heading for my first #YellowverseRun training run. It is going to be a challenge I’m sure but I’m up for it knowing I’ll have some supporters who will kick my butt if I don’t and give me an encouraging (virtual) arm around my shoulder when needed.

It’s time to man up and start doing, social running here we go!