Our “What If” Syndrome

‘What if’ can drive us to great discoveries and inventions. It can also block everything. Especially when we’re taught that all our actions are scrutinised.

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Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist and this is not a scientific article. Although it is a pretty clever article, I have no facts, surveys or statistics to back this up. Just a bunch of (life)experience, common sense, and a lot of absorbed stories about Why we need to socialise our businesses. It doesn’t come from nowhere. But, what if I didn’t write this article.

If there is one dominant feature that separates man from beast.., it’s the ability to ask the question; What if?

Think about this for a minute.

What if we turn that log into an axle and put some wheels on it?
What if we pre-slice that bread?
What if we come up with a philosophy that inspires a more engaged work force?

What if…

An animal never asks “What if?”. It just does what it needs to do. It doesn’t second guess. When it sees a threat it runs, when it sees a pray it attacks (albeit sometimes very calculated).

It doesn’t wonder, what if that snake is quicker than me? It attacks, experience might provide some caution, or tactic, but it won’t stop and wonder about all the possibilities of this life choice.

On the other hand, we humans do it all the time, in almost everything we do. Many great inventions and discoveries were conjured up this way. People asking questions like, what if the earth revolves around the Sun. That would make a lot more sense when looking at the heavens.

If nobody would have ever been able, mentally, to ask that question, we’d still be throwing stones at the other monkeys. Then again, some people are stupid enough not to ask the question and just do, and then the digital world amplifies our thoughtless act. Some learn the hard way that taking a moment asking ‘what if?’ is a very good thing.


Next to the wonderful stories where we invent stuff like electric light or the iPod, we also tend to limit ourselves by the question. In fact, with our current digital lives we enhance the subconscious notion of what might happen if we take a certain action. It often leads to second guessing. Something that can be useful, but not always is.

For some, this is a way of never taking any risk. Pondering about every eventuality and getting stuck on the worst-case scenarios will grind everything to a halt.., and very effectively so.

Insurance commercials, for instance, are experts in lettings us know what will happen if you do not have their insurance. What if you fall down the stairs?

We are trained to do so. In the office and outside the office.

Surveillance State

On a greater scale, our current surveillance apparatus makes us overly self-aware. We know “they” are watching. They admit they do. It is no longer hidden, it’s no longer covered up.

Of course we hear news about censorship in Islamic or communist countries like Iran or China. But in our wonderful western world they are a little more, let’s say… strategic about it.

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Under the umbrella of terrorism we (and I do mean us all), we now have mass-surveillance on all citizens. And not just in the US.

Western-Europe also has its Big Brother mechanism well in place, and it works very close with the NSA, doing exactly what it is told.., like a good little dog.

The problem with this all-out surveillance is that it does not discriminate.., sure, you have an extra flag if you are a Muslim, or when you’ve enjoyed a vacation on Cuba, or even when you visit Boing-Boing (read the article at your own risk).

No, it applies to everybody.., no exception. Whether you are decent hard working white collar suburban Christian, or a Mosque visiting single dad with a beard, it really doesn’t matter.

The worst thing is.., the system doesn’t even do what they ‘promise’ it is supposed to do. It doesn’t prevent terrorist attacks. I think the events in Paris are testament to this point.

Besides.., if I were a terrorist and I wanted to communicate with my fellow conspirators.., I’d just get a postbox and send a letter.


This is the cause of the actions.

Glenn Greenwald opens his TED Talk with the anecdote of somebody being filmed, without his knowledge, while dancing in a room. The moment he realises someone is filming he stops, embarrassment ensues, the video is posted on YouTube and the odds are that person will never again dance like he’s alone in a room ever again.

This is the effect the awareness of mass-surveillance has. We no longer ask the question; What if somebody is reading this email? We know they do. And therefore we censor ourselves, we don’t speak our mind and we don’t write that email.

And this is not about sharing information about building a bomb.., no, much much worse.., this is about you expressing your displeasure with the current head state for example. Somebody who was elected through a democratic process. Somebody who can be impeached by that same democratic process. It’s about being a dissident.

Greenwald goes on saying;

A country is not judged on how it treats its citizens, it judged on how it treats its dissidents.

So, what if they did found out you were even thinking about this.., you better not. In North-Korea people are taught that their divine leader can read their minds. It sounds far fetched.., but the people of North-Korea are (mortally) afraid to even think bad thoughts.

Thoughtcrime is very real.

This is the world in which we all live.

The Office

This post was intended to be about working in the office, and how “What if…” could prevent you from expressing a great and innovative idea that just might save the company in the long term.

Instead it took a bit of a darker turn.., and now I am wondering if it is even relevant that somebody in some office is able to share a simple thought. Especially in the greater scheme of things.

Then I think.., yes it.

In fact, it just might be the most important thing at the moment.

All For Profit

This “rant” came about, in part, by an article written by Brian Solis; “Companies Profit When Customers Suffer“. And I’m gonna spoil it a little bit, but at some point he explains why shareholders take something that is working pretty good, and which leaves customers and those working with the customers quite happy, and break it. Simply because more short-term profit can be made.

Read the article for a more in-depth explanation.

So, here are some Wall Str. shareholders asking the question, What if we fire the CEO, and replace him with somebody who can be our puppet?

That was the wrong question to ask, but it makes them richer, and that, my friends, with so many things, is the bottom line.

And yes, this is what drives most behaviour in your office too. However misplaced, however short-sided or stupid it is, this is the reality in which we live.

Turning it Around

One of my major concerns is the attitude people adopt because of this retarded way of conducting business.

Employees in the above mentioned company were probably quite content. And the company probably had a pretty good employee engagement and retention. When stuff works and customers are happy, employees are too. It is not complicated.., really.., it’s not.

Turn that around, create unhappy customers and you’ll end up with unhappy employees.., there goes your engagement and retention, and your chance of having a solid and healthy company for the long-term.

To me, this is sad.

Chances are, this is also from experience, and I’m sure everybody can relate, when you have a good day, you bring that home. When you have a bad, that too comes home…

When you have a job which provides an above average amount of good days, you will become a more positive person. You will bring this home, you will bring this back to your local community, your family and friends. This positive outlook has the potential to change the world.

Turn this around… and you create a society where nobody cares.
A society where nobody feels the need to stand up and do what’s right.
A society where nobody stands up against the bullies of the world.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke

Bloodhound SSC – Being a Social Business at 1000MPH

To have a team reach it’s absolute full potential, you need to set the right environment. Bloodhound SSC does this perfectly.

A little heads up; This is about social business, but also about cars and about speed. I like social business and I like cars and speed, so, an excellent combo I’d say.


Building a complex system usually takes more than one person. Building a new car for instance takes multiple designers and engineers, a team. This team has to work closely together to create an end product which is reliable.

When you choose to build a car that has a 1000bhp, can top 400km/h (250mph) and still be able to be driven daily in great luxurious comfort, you’d need an exceptional team and unlimited funds. Volkswagen Group did this with the Bugatti Veyron (a car I absolutely love and admire). And yes, in case you didn’t know, the Veyron is a very impressive Volkswagen.

However, all the engineering was done in-house, and all the financing was provided by Volkswagen, in essence, a select team was given the task of building a million Euro car with epic statistics, in a closed (and secret) environment.

Yes, we get to the Bloodhound in a minute. But first:

The Land Speed Record

The current Land Speed Record, the highest speed achieved by a wheeled vehicle on land, stands at a blistering 1227.986 km/h (763.035 mph).

Andy Green (or Wing Commander Andy D. Green OBE BA RAF) is the undisputed fastest man on the planet, and I do mean ON the planet. He holds the record. In fact, he broke his own record with a second run of the ThrustSSC in 1997. The first and only man to go supersonic on land.

People have moved faster, for instance, the SR-71 Blackbird still holds the record of fastest (manned air-breathing jet) aircraft at 3,529.6 km/h (2,193.2 mph), achieved in 1976. Funny side note, in 1903 Wilbur Wright hold that same record with 10.98 km/h (6.82 mph).

Back to the ground. Speed has enticed mankind throughout history to go faster and faster, especially motorised speed. Drag racing has always been popular. From winning a drag race on the street with a stock Chevy in the 50’s to the fully electric cars (like Black Current III) with their tremendous instant torque. Even a fully electric Tesla 4-door saloon out-drags a Ferrari 458 Italia.

However, racing for top speeds is a totally different ball game (or car game). A drag race usually cuts out after 1/4 mile. To reach a top speed, you’d need a lot more space and a lot more power.

For the sake of perspective; Back to the the Bugatti Veyron. The SuperSport reached 431 km/h (267 mph). It has 1200 bhp. Getting the car up to 250 km/h (155 mph) is easy, it only takes 270 bhp to do that (a Ferrari 328 GTB from 1986 had that much power).
No, it’s the second half of that speed which requires the other 1000 bhp. See, the faster you go, the more friction you create and the more air resistance you have to push through. And that can reach epic proportions.

Now imagine almost quadrupling the speed the Veyron achieved (as a production car). And imagine what it takes to reach 1609 km/h (the magic 1000 mph).

I just wanted to set the scene and give you an idea what it takes to achieve what the Bloodhound SSC team has set out to do.

Bloodhound SSC

SSC-frontEnter the Bloodhound SSC. Currently being developed and build somewhere near Bristol, in the UK, by a 90 people strong team of amazing variety.

Now, I can write many a page about the technical details and the mind numbing figures of this project, but you can read all about that on their site. You can also watch the video below for a digested version. So, no extensive technical stuff.

Here’s where we head back to Social Business.

A Joint Effort

With their multi-disciplined team the project needs to cover all eventualities which arise from building such an incredible machine. There is of course a lot of experience, not in the least from the pilot, Andy Green. But, pushing into the unknown is always difficult and potentially dangerous.

And not one person can think of everything and solve every problem, no matter how brilliant. Thoroughly depending on the team around you takes a lot of trust. It even takes more than trust, it takes courage too.

The courage to ask a question, to express a worry or simply let somebody know that you just can’t solve the problem. Failing to do this might result in disaster when the rocket kicks in at 350 mph and takes over from the jet engine (because obviously you need both to get to 1000 mph).

Now, don’t go and take this for granted, because most of us will not do this. Most of us even had a very hard time raising our hand in class to express we didn’t understand what was just explained, I never did, and I won’t accept that my other classmates understood everything on the first go. But no hands were raised, ever.

This translates into the working environment too. And it is more than just the conditioned behaviour of not risking exposure. In the adult version we can add peer-competition (protecting what you’ve got), and fear of reprimands. Managers in general do not like to be corrected or hearing about problems, and in some cases they wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

Corporate Culture

Or lack thereof… My guess, this is what they’ve got absolutely spot on at Bloodhound SSC. They needed to create an environment where every member of the team can reach hers/his full potential. This might not even have been a concious decision. When searching for the right people, and you have the right attitude, you’ll be able to select people with a similar attitude.

And I’ll bet that anybody who doesn’t fit the team, has to big of an ego, or simply doesn’t deliver what was promised is simply ejected (unless that person can be taught and shows plenty of progress).

My point is, this project would fail miserably in a classic corporate culture. Unless it is driven with (near) unlimited funds by a dedicated elite team of engineers, like the Bugatti.

Third Party

Unlike Volkswagen being able to build a lot of the parts in house, and having whatever they need build by specialised companies at great cost. Bloodhound SSC needs a lot of help and charity to get all the parts they need.

The Bugatti Veyron cost a staggering €25 million to build, yet the price tag was a mere €1 million. This showed very much the intend of the car maker, and what it takes to be so extreme.

Bloodhound SSC is far more extreme, therefore they need a lot more outside help. Income the sponsors and the partners. There are a lot of them.

Not only do they provide materials, they often need themselves to go above and beyond their comfort zone.

For instance: Rolls Royce provides the jet-engine (three of them actually), this is not a huge problem, these engines come from a Eurofighter and have reached their end-of life. Plus, they can be used pretty much as is. So, it’s material and ‘standard’ expertise they provide.

On the other hand, Jaguar provides an engine which is used to pump the fuel for the rocket (yes, they use a V8 Supercharged F-Type engine as a fuel pump). But a standard engine just wouldn’t do, it would tear itself apart under the unbelievable G-Forces created by the acceleration. So Jaguar had to rebuild the engine to specifications well beyond their usual line. They build three.

This takes commitment. And again something that the project itself exudes.

The Right Stuff

Everything about the project is just spot on. Even all the engineering they do, the little (and big) inventions they make are shared. Nothing goes to waste or is kept behind close doors. They can’t afford that, they need all the help they can get.., and they don’t want to, because they see the importance of the ground breaking engineering they do.

They do use some classified military stuff which they can’t share, but everything else is open source.

They also invite schools to participate, and educate whoever wants to listen. They want to share, they want people to be involved, not just for publicity sake (if at all), but for inspiring young people (and old I guess) to take an interest in engineering and science. Trying to get a new generation excited enough to brake the amazing record they are about to set.


When you think about, the philosophy created for this epic project is scalable to any project. I brake it down into three sections;

      1. You need the right people on your team to get the job done. And you need to trust them to a) do their job and b) ask for help when needed
      2. A culture that inspires trust, support and willingness to collaborate
      3. Excellent relations with partners (outside the project team), fill in the gaps by selected expertise (devoid if ego or hidden agendas).

This is where you want to end up as a company. To create purposeful teams where and when you need a specific output. These teams are either hand picked by a thoughtful and selfless leader, or put together by volunteers who see themselves fulfil the tasks as required.

But in order to do this, and I know I sound like a broken record, you need a culture which supports and encourages this behaviour. If you do not have this, nothing will ever happen.

Then, when your core team does the magic, have the ability to draw upon any speciality within the company to get smaller parts of the whole fixed. Here’s where a solid ESN comes into play. When communicating about your project, co-workers who are interested might choose to follow the progress. And when a specific problem arises and a question is asked, chances are somebody outside the project team is able to answer the question or solve the problem.

The theory is not difficult. Implementing it is.

Having a common interest, a common drive to reach a goal none could hope to reach on their own is a fantastic way to achieve this level of cohesiveness.

So inspire your employees to be confident, challenge them. Give them a reason to go out on a limb, to raise their hand when they have a question. And above all, support them when they raise an issue or fail trying something out of the box.

Your business can hit 1000 mph too.

The video below is made by Chris Harris on Cars, one of my favourite car channels on YouTube.

Moving Social Business Forward With #E20S

Last week we enjoyed the first Enterprise 2.0 Summit in London. With 78 attendees it wasn’t a big event, but, as far as I’m concerned, it was a successful conference. Now we look forward to the 2015 Paris edition (3-5 February).

Last week we enjoyed the first Enterprise 2.0 Summit in London. With 78 attendees it wasn’t a big event, but, as far as I’m concerned, it was a successful conference. Now we look forward to the 2015 Paris edition (3-5 February).


This conference is the latest in a long line of #e20s conferences and meet-ups spanning already 6 years.

The first being during CiBIT in Hannover in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, Frankfurt was the lucky city. In 2011 there was no conference, but in 2012 the Enterprise 2.0 Summit returned, and was held in Paris, where it returns annually since.

@DT at #e20s
@DT at #e20s

The London event came about because David Terrar (CXO of Agile Elephant) saw the value in organising a Social Business event in London. Being a returning visitor and panel member of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit David already had close relations with Kongress Media, the long term organiser of #e20s.

The two teaming up to make the London event happen made perfect sense. Lucky for us, now we have two events. The next #e20s in London is already being planned, and will take place 22nd October.

Community Driven

Attending the 2013 edition of the Paris event opened my eyes to a wonderful community, and this does make sense. Social Business (or Enterprise 2.0, read Lee Bryant’s article about naming this shift in business) has to be, per definition, a socially driven movement. It’s simply too big to go at it alone, or to hog any information you have. Besides, you’d have the wrong attitude if this would be your plan.

This reflects on the events, before, during and after. Sure, it takes money to organise such an event, and there are sponsors and tickets need to be sold (get yours).., it is a business too. Next to the wonderful content, I feel the community is what makes attending worth while.

And for me personally, this means I can get out of it what I need. If I have a question, I can tweet it, or ask a speaker. There usually is a solution, or at the very least you’ll have a good discussion.


Although the field of Social Business is not new, ‘we’ have been transforming businesses for over a decade, the convergence of socially accepted changes and technology is driving this digital transformation to new heights.

And despite the fact that we sort of figured out the formula to have a successful change on a company wide scale, things are changing, we are learning and we are progressing.

These events are important, the story needs to be told. I still feel Social Business has the potential to change our world, and the more people are aware of the possibilities the better.

Of course, we have to take care not to become complacent, that we simply repeat what others say and take this movement for granted.

I don’t believe this is happening.

In this field technology never stops, the various software companies are always looking for that next edge, and start-ups are always working hard to get into this space. Microsoft and SAP are main sponsors of the Paris event, showing there is great interest from larger companies, plus, it shows that this 2-day conference is taken very seriously.

In London MindLink and Knowledge Plaza show that smaller companies also have great interest in the conference.

But the professionals also look to advance the field. Sure, reputation and personal advancement play part, but this happens in conjunction with finding new ways to approach projects. People like Dion Hinchcliff and Lee Bryant push the envelope, and are more than willing to share what they learn.

Is it worth it?

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 11.05.25Yes, everyone I talk to says it’s a great event. It’s unique in its class, especially when you add the MasterClass, a premium choice held the day before the conference. And looking at the line-up for Paris, well, you could do worse.

You could make it a three day event (add a couple of days to enjoy Paris).

In fact, I believe this conference is a must for pretty much anyone, but mainly for those seeking a way to bring their business into the 21st century. Attending this conference will certainly give you a good birds-eye view of what Social Business is about. And with two days, it will be overwhelming, leaving you wondering where to start, if this “thing” isn’t to big.

This is a good thing.

The evolution of a business is never a small thing, and should never be taken lightly. And it doesn’t matter what size your company is, we take it one person at the time, so it’ll just take longer.
But, you will realise it is necessary, that you should give this proper attention. And you’ll also realise that you cannot do it alone, that you need help.

Advertisement, kinda

I know this post smells like a big commercial, and in part it is. On one hand I do have a vested interest in the conference (although not a huge, or financial one), I am a part-time member of the Kongress Media family, and I really do want these events to be successful.

But my interest stems from becoming part of this amazing community, where I’ve met so many wonderful people already, and made some great friends.

And, most importantly, I feel strongly about the message, and I do advertise that as much as I can. Everybody should be aware of the fantastic possibilities once you start adopting Social Business practices.

So, take a look at the conference agenda and the masterclass , make up your own mind (and register today). I promise it’ll be worth it.

If you have any questions.., please do ask. I’d be happy to answer them, and if I can not, I’ll tell you who can.