From Yemen to Yorkshire

IMG_20130325_125339I recently watched the film Salmon fishing in the Yemen. I don’t know what the pull to this film was as I’d not heard others rave about it; it didn’t catch my eye when it was a trailer at the cinema and fishing is not my thing. It was just a punt but there has not been a film that has made me think about things like this one for a while.

In summary, the story is about a Sheik from Yemen who has the money to do what he wants which is to be able to fish for Salmon in his home country; a land where wild Salmon don’t live and where the climate and geography are not on his side. So he enlists fishing expert Ewan McGregor to make it happen. McGregor doesn’t believe it is possible as he lives his life by statistics and science. Facts tell him Yemen is not the place to make it a reality. But the job is too good a deal for his employer who put him on the job anyway, expecting results.

In short, he has no belief that the project will happen and goes through the motions waiting for the moment when the concept is proved a pie in the sky project and he can return to his normal job.

The key part of the film was when the Sheik takes McGregor fishing in Scotland. He asks him if he is religious. McGregor says he has no use for religion as he relies on science, statistics and project management. The Sheik then asks him, as a keen fisherman, when he will catch his next fish? McGregor can’t answer. McGregor admits there are times when he catches no fish at all. The Sheik asks why he fishes if he can’t be sure he will catch anything? He suggests McGregor must have faith to believe that there will always be another, perhaps bigger fish.

And that was the point at which Ewan McGregor engaged with the project in Yemen.

I’ve never been religious either, but I do think that you can have faith in an idea or people to deliver something that on the face of it appears not achievable; Leeds – Best City in the UK for example….Salmon Fishing in the Yemen etc….Leeds United winning the top footballing honour again. It’s about possible and probable. Either way, I think these things just need a spark to ignite them, a thing to get people talking about them; in a way that makes people see them differently and sign up…cos actually that is the best place to be…having a go.

Sometimes we need to do stuff because it is the right thing to do. And I see the need for SMART targets and sensible use of taxpayer’s money, course I do, but there is perhaps a dilemma for some in going with a gut feeling or doing things differently. So that’s why I’m excited about some of the projects that are coming out of the Civic Enterprise Initiative in Leeds.

A key task of the commission on the future of local government was to take the concept of ‘Civic Enterprise’ and test its practical application across a broad range of services to identify genuine opportunities for new ways of working between the public, private and third sectors.

I’m working with some folk in Leeds at the moment and we are on a bit of a suck it and see journey. There are about 10 people who have volunteered to explore what the benefits of becoming more social media friendly might be….to test the practical application as it were, to see how working more sociably might improve things. They have signed up to learn some new skills based on social media which might help them back in their service areas to better connect and bring people together so they can involve more people in how services are delivered.

These 10 folk are supporting each other and sharing what they know and the skills they have. And they need encouragement to maintain the faith in what they originally got involved for. We need people like the Sheik in the film to remind us that sometimes we need to try new things to see if they work.

We don’t know exactly where we will end up but I have a good feeling there will be some good outcomes and we will have fun getting there. @Recoveryleeds is one of these projects; about awareness and linking up the support services that help people on their recovery journey around drugs and alcohol. Watch this space for more information.

And these projects are not just about making employees happy, although that will be an added benefit – we need to maintain the motivation, enthusiasm and drive to do something that is sustainable and which can then be rolled out wider. I’m hoping that part of that journey will be the people involved will become able to tell their stories like Julie, Victoria, Dylan and Angie have done in the talking heads section of this blog.

This will help us in our aim of becoming a more social media friendly place to be.

As always, thoughts from any organisation or individual are welcome on this blog. We are interested in what others are doing to become more social media friendly or making their work place a more sociable place to be, and happy to share your thoughts or ideas too.

Phil Jewitt
Senior communications manager
Leeds City Council


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
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9 Responses to From Yemen to Yorkshire

  1. greyone1604 says:

    Hi Phil

    This is one of the projects that make me sad that I only have 21 more working days at Leeds, but not sad enough to make me change my mind! It is really exciting and challenging stuff, not only the project itself [I probably shouldn’t call it a project] but the whole ethos behind it. I would have loved to have worked on it with you because the vast majority of your blogs accord with my views and way of doing things! I think between us we could have made some significant changes in the hearts and minds of our colleagues.

    At a recent Adult Social Care Information Management & Technology SLT meeting we were discussing why our colleagues would not engage with our attempts at social media, many ideas were discussed. Personally, I think the block is the culture step change. I believe that our colleagues genuinely perceive that social media is currently stuff they do outside of work, it is not and cannot be work related and has no place in the workplace. That is the challenge, to change the mindset to make being truly social transcend work and social. I am sure that you will find the ‘keep my work and personal life separate’ group well subscribed! Let’s not underestimate the size of the task ahead, it is massive, but once those trojan mice are engaged, are fanfaring the benefits of being truly social and actually shwoing the benefits and the fun derived from being engaged, the snowball will start to roll, quickly gather pace and grow.

    Good luck, I know some of the people that you have involved and I am sure that bringing being truly social to Leeds City Council will be a success. I look forward to reading all about the culture change and benefits that you achieve in future blogs.


    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks for this comment Graham. I will be sad to see you leave. I’ve also found out this week that 2 more of the people who have been supporting the sociable organisation idea will be leaving as part of the initiative to reduce the workforce at the council.

      I hope you and they will be happy in new ventures. It worries me though when lots of people leave an organisation, that unless appropriate adjustments are made, the remaining staff struggle with two things, loss of skills and experience of those leaving, and secondly the expectation that extra work will be divvied up for those remaining.

      I’m really hoping that promoting, and better understanding and then implementing the principles of being a more sociable place to work will be something that might bring a sense of togetherness and help us get through this. Why would we not want to work together better or be better placed to serve the people of our city when they need it.

      People tend to come together in tough times, whilst that shouldn’t be the catalyst for people to do good things – if it makes it happen then I say lets get this party started.

  2. Fiona says:

    Thanks Phil, again thoughtful Insights into the ideas of being more sociable and where it could take us. Opening up ideas about different and creative thinking………much to digest!

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Fiona, I think all people are generally sociable, it just needs the thing around which they have a common purpose to show itself or be created. It may even be making that first move to make a phone call or go and talk to someone rather than send an email. It may even be to make an effort to learn something new about their colleagues, where they work, join a staff group or offer to share a skill.

  3. johnpopham says:

    I’ve made this point elsewhere recently in the context of digital inclusion, but I think it applies here as well. I am a big believer in “seeing is believing” and leading by example. I think people’s behaviours can change when they see others doing something different which then gives them the confidence to try it for themselves. I also agree that there is a gap between what people perceive social media to be for (having online fun with their friends) and what they think is acceptable at work. And people using social media at work can be a key part of the process of transforming the work place into somewhere people really want to be rather than turn up out of obligation. So, lead by example, make the practice of the leaders of the move into social media high profile and visible, and, most importantly, make it fun!

  4. Phil Jewitt says:

    Thanks John, you don’t know how much comments like this make a difference.

  5. Such a good idea. I’m aware that I don’t highlight colleagues and other people who have become enthused about social media as a result of my various efforts. This may be partly perhaps because of my thoughts that this meansproducing full-on case studies (groan.) You’ve inspired me to think more creatively about it: cheers.

  6. Phil Jewitt says:

    Thanks Karen. Glad there was some inspiration here for you. The Talking Heads section of this blog is where we will provide more examples by those creating #socialglow and sharing how they are working more sociably.

  7. Pingback: New direction for the sociable organisation | The Sociable Organisation

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