The disconnected leader


I want to share  some thoughts that have come to me through a journey of helping companies learn how to connect at a level that is not transactional in order to bring them gently into the ‘socially connected’ world of the Internet. A subject that terrifies most CEO’s and their Boards.


I have a certain advantage that you may have when spending time around companies, as a consumer, supplier and stakeholder. I can feel people’s emotions, I can read what really matters to a company between their words. I am driven by the emotional intent and experience of companies and how they treat their followers and customers.   I know I am not alone on this sensitivity.


30 years of my life has been spent within tech, helping companies to use it for improving their company and the experience of people that interact with them. I therefore love the ‘new connected world’. ‘New’ to me in 1998, perhaps new to some more recently.


Let’s look at the way businesses have changed since the advent of technology and whether technology has been used to bring us closer to the companies and people we buy from or whether we are in fact all more disconnected.


Companies have been led by CEO’s to automate, remove the customer from the people in the organization, to ensure time is saved for the company rather than for us the consumer, of course the consumer sometimes wins, but the intent was the companies driver in this investment. Technology has been used to be more efficient, to compete at a lower cost, to go global. Some have placed their phone based customer services in other countries, to save costs. They have learned to manage shareholders, they have learned to ‘manage’ the input of staff and pay salaries. They have served themselves, and let’s not be naïve, they have had to build all this infrastructure in order to compete in an economy that is driving down costs.


What they haven’t learned is to us technology to actually care about the customer, and even more than this, to care about the wider community that exists around them. This is the part that Ibelieve is letting them down now in the ‘war on trust and loyalty’.


In the pre-tech days, the face to face times, businesses used to have to listen to the customer, they had to talk to them, build rapport; care about the wider implications of their products and services. We even have examples of how companies during Industrialization had to care about the education of the and health of the community, to ensure that they had a good workforce to recruit from locally. Now many companies are global, we they chose where to spend our ‘caring money’,we call this ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’.


Over the past 15 years I have been astounded by the lack of empathy and listening that large organisations show toward the people they want to sell to. They have totally lost sight that business happens at an emotional level. They way they treat a customer and treat their supply chain, impacts the sentiment we all hold about them. I rarely hear a good word said about a Bank, a Utility Company, a Retailer or any company that we end up buying our products from. So incomes the opportunity for the outliers! The companies that creep in with a different culture and a different solution to the same problem, focused on the problem a consumer has not on the service they want to sell! These outliers work at an emotional level, listening to the needs and culture of the ‘new consumer’.


No one can work at a pure practical level. Work has taken over our lives and we have to accept that emotion enters our being in everything we do. Highs, lows, confusions, stress, joy, impatience, fear, excitement, boredom, trust, distrust. There are very few things we do in life that doesn’t involve an emotional reaction, even if we have learned not to show these things, or even acknowledge they exist.


Try thinking of a time when you were making a decision to buy anything, from a paper clip to a computer, from a car to a house, from a business flight to a holiday. The thought processes you had were driven by emotions of hope, efficiency, organization joy, excitement combined with the fear of making choice. Think also of the time when you had buyer remorse, regretted a decision you made, what caused that? What could have stopped that feeling?


I have spent 15 year evangelizing the subject of a ‘connected world’ ‘my own mantra is ‘Connecting Hearts’ as I sense the real need to get people to connect at a deeper level than the brain, mind and wallet.


I thought that if I could influence the marketing department, then I could get this understood, help them to socially connect online. I then thought if I could influence the Customer Service Department they would care in a ‘modern way’, then I realized if I could get to the CEO of a business, he would see the light and change the culture of customer interaction. Now I see the problem is even deeper, it is about leadership internally before you can even see the external opportunities (and threats). Let me explain…


I recently re-read a part of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple’s Biography and he tells this story… when Apple were preparing to launch iTunes they looked to build a partnership with Sony to acquire the rights to music. Following many meetings they soon gave up on that idea. The write Isaacson says that the reason for the decision to cease this relationship was that while Sony had all that Apple needed, the departments within Sony were at war with each other, each trying to protect its own interests and no one had a clear set of intents for the company, a sense of purpose, vision or future, so it was impossible for them to make a strategic partnership, that as we all know, could have changed the course of history for them and Apple.


Recently, I helped a company to consider the benefits of building a ‘Community’ for their clients’. I ran a workshop that would explore this and help the team who would be involved see the benefits of this.  What I discovered was a shock. While they speak of caring, seek to support their clients and they are built on family values and togetherness, the people themselves within the company felt very disconnected from one another.  What became clear as we looked into the companies intent was that none of them know what is was or felt connected to it. Each person had their own agenda, values and intent, but it was only by coincidence and good fortune that any of them shared the same sentiments of ‘why’ they existed as an organization.


These moments are like pure gold to me, the opportunity for people to come together and work as one, with the shared beliefs, values and intention. This is the basic starting point for any companies that seek to build community and expect to join up to the external world. Even communicating online as a company would seem disjointed if the ‘communicators’, the ‘thought leaders’ could not agree their shared intent and shared goals for their clients to benefit from.


It is impossible for a company to evolve into the socially connected world if its leaders and staff are not connected and caring about one another. True community starts at home, ensuring that our workforce loves their day and loves what they do and dare I say cares about each other as a starting point to caring about others.


I see many companies looking to evolve their customer engagement strategies, seeking to embed Twitter and FaceBook into their communication, this is a step forward, but if the people communicating for them online are not emotional about what they do, then it is a task, and the receiver of that communication feels that.


Emotion is a HUGE part of business life, embracing that and building on the emotional level of all those we interact with would truly connect us all. Kindness and love creates a chemical bond through the release of Oxytocin and serotonin, to me that must be the most powerful company strategy of all. Now that is my next Blog….. are you ready for hormones! I guess as a women I would hope you are!

Why SME’s are seeking communities

84% of our SME’s are micro/small. They employ less than 9 people and are multi tasking, multi skilled and stretched. They need friends, they need collaboration and they need to be able to trust.

Recently I have been approached to advise on community building by companies that I banged on and on to about the need for this when Ecademy was seeking support from larger stakeholders in the economy to help the micro and small businesses that they now realise are critical for growth, 2, 3 , 4 years ago they were not interested, now they are. These are large companies who now sense that they need to create communities, not assume the needs of an SME are all about business.

Shifting times

When the world was totally offline business people conducted their business locally and spent time networking in their local pubs, Golf Clubs, wine bars. Networking was a critical aspect to trade. Ask any Bank Manager from the 1970’s and 80’s and they will vouch for the Friday night early drink in the wine bar where the business community shared their week and did deals. Trust was gained in those places. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s people became disconnected, business believed automation was the key to the future and expenses and time spent ‘socialising’ in business reduced. This was to the detriment of trust and well-being of business people. Now we live increasingly online, in fact the Millennial Generation (the 18-30’s) spend on average 6 hours a day online. They seek the same emotion and the same experience that the baby Boomers achieved offline in the 70’s through to the early 90’s. Empathy is what they want. Take the Bank Manager in the past, chatting to them in the wine bar, being their friend, sharing their thoughts, sharing their life journey.

Finding our anchor points

It is incredibly scary out there for an SME now. Knowledge sharing online to make the right decisions for business growth has become their business anchor. Trust toward people, as an individual has become their personal anchor. Who they trust is not about an institution, an Information Hub, it is about individuals within that build their trust as a honorable friend. Connections aren’t just a potential client, they are people who will share skills, support when things are tough, celebrate when things are good.

SME’s want a watering hole, just like employers within large companies have at work, somewhere to gossip, chat about their day, share that they are going on holiday and then share that they have learned, a new piece of knowledge. This is how they build brand equity and social capital in their company.

Communities are about all the people and their lives

Building a community is just what it says,- it is a community, not a Network, not a utility. Communities are about all the different people and their lives. Births, deaths, marriages, parents dying, kids getting married. Business is their empowerment and their engine to do the things they want to do for their families; success in business gives them self esteem, self-belief and the energy to achieve more. Being connected provides self esteem and the peer recognition drives them forward and gets them through the darker days, which all SME’s have. The roller-coaster of emotions for an SME are by the hour, by the most recent communication they have had.

Communities are created by joining up the dots in people’s lives and making sense of all the noise that is going on out there. The Internet is exhausting, challenging, scary and wonderful. It is new, it is frantic, and it is open, random and supportive. It is not closed, selective and controlling in the way that large companies operate, it is not about Institutions that control and seek ROI, it is about the networked economy.


I am loving the new zest for help in this area of business, the need for engagement, the need for trust the need now driven by the large companies, Micro Business owners, SME’s should all feel proud that they are now seen as the engine of our economy and I hope I am witnessing a shift toward action and not just words.. watch this space!


The Digital Economy and You

On the 27th February 2013 I spoke at the Enterprise M3 LEP Annual Conference, I wanted to share this speech here with you. In this blog, I share the concerns I have with the SME’s across the UK and the transition they are not making fast enough toward the implementation of Digital Skills.

In 1998 it was very obvious to me that the world would change massively with the Internet.

I created a community online called Ecademy, our strap line was ‘learning, networking and business development’

We created the 12 e-commandments and built a community of business people that wanted to embrace the ecommerce world.

In 2001 the bubble burst and the Internet in the UK changed. The growth and the dominance of the Internet went into the hands of a few. Our community became an SME community and we grew to 650,000 members in 200 countries. Our members relied on us passing skills through to them to help them adjust to this incredibly disruptive medium. LinkedIn came along 4 years after we started, followed by FaceBook, and then came Twitter, by then the world had changed, but only a few really understood the change.

The shift into digital excited me as it allowed start-ups and home working and we now see that there are 4.8m businesses in the UK, 20 years ago I think there were around 1 million. These start-ups have started in a Digital Economy and they have in most cases used the social channels to communicate, digital technology to sell and market and digital processes to build their infrastructure. They are not engaged with the traditional modes of communicating. Government are feeling this, traditional Networks are finding this and Business leaders are feeling this.

The youths we see starting businesses bare little resemblance to the way you and I created our first business, they are lean, fast, innovative, digital and rely on friendship and the viral world of the social networks.

The opportunity for distribution of ‘ecommerce’ wealth between the SME and Corporate world is in danger of being lost. We are seeing many thousands of traditional businesses fail, many that had strong legacy and brand loyalty but they could not connect with the new consumer.

The Digital Economy is worth 9% of the retail spend, £68.2bn is spent online but I fear that the majority of UK SME’s are not gaining. In fact are even large UK companies gaining as they should?

Amazon alone is worth 21.4% of the online entertainment world with a reported income of £4.5bn in the UK and Google with an income of £3bn.

SME’s are failing to capture the opportunity, retail is changing but so is the provision of services and skills. It is not just the retailers that are hurting. Anyone in a supply chain, the business to business markets are also hurting. Knowledge is free now, ensuring you are part of that free sharing is critical so you can learn to “Give your knowledge away but sell your expertise”. Creating the funnel of engagement and trust is important to all businesses.

I am using the statistics from, the UK Charity that supports the need for greater digital skills.

This month we have seen the amazing launch of Superfast Broadband in Surrey. An enormous project providing the region with the most inclusive Internet policy in the UK.

My fear is that in this region we are not fully equipped to drive on these roads and maximise the opportunity. I am not convinced we all have the Mindset for Digital.

I fear that rather than being Open to new things and people – we remain Closed and lack innovation.

Rather than having systems and the comfort of digital in our lives that enable us to accept the random nature of information flow and people we continue to select and remain focused on our ‘old methods’, our old connections.

Rather than being supportive in our intent to one another, seeking to share and collaborate, the culture of the social web, we continue to focus on controlling outcomes, people and markets, yet the power is now on the edges, within the people. People to People, not business to business our business to consumer.

We call this Internet Culture leadORS – helping people to become Open, Random and Supportive, rather than Closed, Selective and Controlling. A networked mindset, rather than an Institutional one

I am a Surrey based SME. I rely on the economy to grow to ensure that businesses can invest in Leadership Development and Community Building , coaching Boards to transform. We are all part of one ecosystem. If the economy does not embrace this Digital Revolution then I suffer, you suffer, we all suffer.

Schools, Colleges, parents, employees, business leaders, housing associations, networks, local government. We all need to care about the economy growing, and I believe Digital Skills are critical to this growth.

Digital technology allows us to build trust through the Social Channels like FaceBook, Twitter

  • Digital enables us to create a thought-leadership position online
  • Digital allows us to reduce the cost of doing business
  • Digital allows us to increase our markets to exporting opportunities through building global networks and transitioning our skills and products to the online world
  • Digital allows us to give our knowledge away YET sell our expertise.

Consider these statistic however…

  • Only a third of SME’s have digital presence
  • Only 14% of SME’s in the UK sell online (30% on Norway)
  • 65% of UK citizens use Social Networks,
  • 18m have used Social media to connect with a brand
  • BUT only 1% of SME’s are selling via the social channels
  • A staggering 23% of SME’s when surveyed said they needed training on BASIC Digital skills

SME’s have gone social, but haven’t gone social business.

The issue is that the progressive businesses in the UK are disconnecting from traditional forms of communication, the Government are finding it hard to engage with SME’s, the FE Colleges are finding it hard to engage with SME and Local Government are finding it hard to engage. Perhaps you are finding it hard.

Communication online is vibrant, instant, meaningful and contextual. It is the new way of ‘being’, virtual communities are replacing communication links that businesses relied on in the past.

In 2011 I authored the Digital Business Britain Manifesto to seek a solution to the Skills gap and bit by bit I am partnering, creating and assisting with this challenge

In Oct 2012 we launched the Digital Youth Academy to bring a low cost solution to the recruitment of Digital Talent – Digital Youth Academy is now licensed across the UK and I am thrilled to say Guildford College are one our first 10 colleges to provide a Social Digital Apprentice to you

Through the company ‘leadORS’ we have created Employer Courses and Coaching programs for Staff and Board Directors and we are working with the networks and LEP’s across the UK to find ways to support the Digital Agenda locally under the Digital Business Britain Campaign.

Additionally we are working to create a kite mark on Digital Citizenship to ensure that all children in schools have learned the importance of social capital and reputation not only the safety issues of online.

The UK Government claims that 8% of our GDP is from Digital commerce and implementation. (Google Connected Kingdom report with Boston Consulting Group)

They have the aspiration that it will rise to 16% of GDP by 2016

I wonder what the aspiration is in Surrey and Hampshire? In all the LEP Regions across the UK

I am thrilled to say that I am aware that Surrey Connects, Enterprise M3 and Surrey Chambers cares and together we will work with SME’s who wish to embrace and transform in order to develop their business in the digital economy.

We have to make sure that SME’s benefit from the explosion of digital channels and digital technology

This cannot be done without SKILLS, Coaching and desire

What about you, what percentage of your income is digital, what about your clients, are they vulnerable, are they HMV, Clinton Cards, Jessops, Woolworths or a business like them?

23% of SME’s export – do you? Online 45% said they exported

Having a Digital Mindset at Board Level ensures you embrace this new era on business

The aspiration is that in the UK 16% of our economy will be digital. Will this be the monopolies or will this be you?





Engaged beyond The ROI – the growth of Community Families Pt1

In this first set of words for my book, working title …. Engaged beyond The ROI – the growth of Community Families, I seek to show the journey that leaders have to go on, scene setting at this stage..

The journey into the social world online is without doubt the toughest journey for companies and their senior executives. The word ‘social’ is the opposite of ‘work’ and the mere use of the phrase ‘social media, or social engagement’ can close minds and create debates that are so frustrating to the converted who are trying to evangelise and even more persuasive to the executive that they are right to stay away from this world.

This is not a surprising reality, after all the 90’s and 2000’s were progressive years for business when they learned to automate and process everything. Creating a perfect world where the staff didn’t actually need to talk to a customer. The promise if ecommece that gave the hearty Sales Director the formula and permission to remove the costs of sales people and place machines between them and the customer. Let’s even go a stage further, they thought, let’s place our Telesales and Customer Sales people in another country and then people really will think twice about whether they want to talk to us!

For decades business mentality was driven by scaling, globalising, automation, corporate branding and disengaging, profits were tough to achieve as competition grew due to the global marketplace and so costs had to be reduced. Customers want to pay less, so they should get less, a sane argument that worked. Worked until, that is, when the Customer had a powerful voice and became a broadcaster whose opinions, experiences and desires could be shared spontaneously, speedily and without empathy for the companies financial juggles and the power of the consumer online took over the company branding.

Technology is the friend of the Board if Directors when it keeps pace with the demands of the marketplace, not when it serves only the shareholders and emotions of the Board. The perfect world of automation being met with globalisation and distribution infrastructures was in deed just that, perfect. The technology could serve the company profit targets, and without the way of sharing consumer experiences to the mass, the Board could remain in a joyful level if blissful ignorance that their desires for disengagement was hurting the customers. Customers could not cluster unless they joined ‘user groups’ or formed a lobby. If I was unhappy with a product, some service or attitudes of a company I was a lone voice and the effort of complaining often deterred me from bothering. I just chose not to repeat an experience, and so, perhaps customer churn was higher, but the execs slept at night blaming the market, not themselves for this churn.

I am being cruel here, a huge generalisation to make a point, but I am sure you can empathise as a consumer and perhaps as a supplier to what I have written. My motive for these words is to show a step change in business and society that is causing the wisest of Boards to scratch their head, rather than lengthening the arm between the Executives and the Consumer, technology is now shortening it, Executives are now being told to engage, care, listen and be ‘social’. One can only empathise that this is painful and incredibly tough, and no wonder the majority are waiting and waiting and praying that this will go away and that technology will once again serve them and their needs to close their office door and be the thinkers, not the talkers in their company.

My empathy sits with the Executives, the leaders of industry who already have enough pressures and whom want their senior teams and contractors to keep them away from the coal face. Yet, they observe some of their Peers being progressive, almost celebrity in the way they collect followers and share so freely, I wonder if they call them idiots, people with much too much time in their hands, or whether they curiously wonder ‘what do they know that I don’t ”
This article serves to give an insight into what those that ‘know’, might just know because they took a leap of faith and started to interact, and when they did, they then really did know. As the Chinese proverb goes, ‘to know and not to do, is not yet to know’.

I have searched for an analogy to compare the step change that is occurring within business to show that Business has had to adapt before. The best one I can share is some thing I witnessed in the 1980’s and 90’s. Customer Service and the birth of Customer Service Departments. I joined the Technology Sector when I was 19 years old and a strong memory was posters that donned the walls with a Lions Head and the words “Customer is King”. Throughout my induction I held this in my mind, however, as I went from Department to Department the feelings toward the customer varied enormously and the expletives used to reference them were not always favourable. I soon learned that the only place that really cared about the customer was the Sales Department and the Customer Service lady, who had been employed due to her kind, calm and caring attitude. So, the Customer was not King throughout the organisation, a cultural change had to take place, led from the top to ensure that company value was truly met.

The transparency and openness of the socially connected, networked world is a similar challenge. At best we see a few people employed to engage and listen to the Social Networks, fearing that a problem could go viral, or perhaps sharing some great news that could end up in a transaction. There are few companies that can say they have gone social. Until the Leaders of the Company experience the benefits and insights of this connectivity then the culture of the organisation with still remain in the automated, transactional world of closing sales and marketing. The barrier to this new world is the term ROI. Executives, Shareholders and Sales people are always asking ‘if I do this, what is the ROI?’ A virtually impossible question to answer, yet, a question that is so valid.

to be contd..

2012 – Celebrating the Year @DigitalYouthAC -DYA launched

What an extraordinary year for the Digital Youth Academy, from conception in 2011 to delivering in 2012 of UK’s first Social Digital Qualification to provide both a pathway into work for our Born Digital Generation and provide the skills so desired and needed within our businesses.

I am incredibly proud of what has been achieved by the DYA Team and our Delivery Partners and look forward to a year head when we will see hundreds and hopefully thousands of young people find meaningful work, leveraging them for their inherent skills.

So, indulge me, I would love to share the journey so far, which I am pleased to say is also Blogged along the way!

11th March 2011 – I published and launched the Digital Business Britain Manifesto,

18th March, I blogged about the vision of creating an Apprenticeship that would leverage the Born Digital Skills of our youths and in doing this help our SME’s across the UK – read the Blog HERE

Through the period from March 2011 to October 2012 DYA was given Funding by a Private Investor to support the investment required to build the UK’s fist Social Digital Apprenticeship, with the tasks and learning all held within an E-learning Zone, complimented by a Youth Enterprise Community enabling us to teach our ‘students’ how to Business Network.

The Digital Youth Academy Team was formed and the website launched with a strong Board of experienced Directors, a fabulous Senior Management Team and a team of support staff that have been energetic, willing and creative. By October 2012 we were ready to launch in the House of Lords, which was the pinnacle of my career so far and I am very grateful to our Chair Janette Faherty OBE for achieving this for us. And to Lord Jim Knight for being our excellent host. Link to our Launch Blog 

Since the summer of 2012 we have been visiting and licensing Further Education Colleges across the UK to ensure we achieve great coverage so SME’s can access the resource of a Social Digital Apprentice and it was with great excitement that one of our first Apprentices, Ashleigh (Donna can you add full name) joined us at the House of Lords to share her experience and joy along with her inspiring employer Gail Thomas from The Virtual PA Company , the best part of this was when Ashleigh said to her that she has enjoyed adding her value to the businesses and seeing the ‘old fashioned way of doing marketing’. This highlights so perfectly that our Born Digital Youths think and do very differently and are so critical to embed into businesses now.

You can see 2 video’s on YouTube where Ashleigh, our Social Digital Apprentice and Gail Thomas her employer from VirtualPACompany share their experiences

At the end of 2012 we are proud to now have 8 Colleges and two Training providers  in our team of partners, well distributed across the UK and throughout 2013 we will sign up at least another 15 to complete our Channel Goals and ensure good access for Businesses at a local level.

Much of my year has been spent spreading the word about the need for Digital Transformation and Social Media Marketing at seminars, conferences and events across the UK. I have also networked within the Government Departments to continue to lobby and raise the importance of this on their agenda’s.

We all do our bit, there are many great Campaigners in the UK about Digital Skills, Go ON UK with Martha Lane-Fox launched in the Autumn this year and their voice adds great weight to this agenda. I wad thrilled to read Ed Vaizey MP announce that the investment in Superfast Broadband across the UK can only be financially monetised if we embed Digital Skills and also hear Rt. Hon Dr Vince cable, Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise announce at the Association of Colleges Conference in November that “the priority within BIS was meaningful Apprenticeships, especially Digital”.

I have learned a great deal by coming into the educational world of Further Education. It has been a rewarding and eye opening experience which inspires me to work even harder in 2013 an achieve even more.

So what about 2013?

Next year the DYA Team will launch further qualifications to help our Youths into employment and to help Employers understand this critical skills for their business through a new Employer Certificate in Social Digital Media, We will continue our plan for growth in the channel and further the cause to create demand at an employer level.

Apart from the DYA Team and the FE Colleges and Training Partners, we have some amazing friends that are helping us that I would like to thank. I have had the most unbelievable year of networking and meeting new people through introductions by very kind supporters.

I would especially like to thank Fintan Donohue and his Gazelle Team, BNI-Europe, The Chambers of Commerce, Ecademy Members and the FSB for the support at all our Partner launches . Clearly the business networks care a great deal about the digital skills of their members and their commitment is starting to shine through.

Finally, thank you to the Employers and the Apprentices that we have started to work with, it is fabulous to hear your success stories and know we are all making a difference. Each day you prove that the work is worth while and this is fantastic for the DYA Team to  know.

This leaves me to wish you a prosperous Digital New Year! One that is happy, full of growth and leaves you feeling that all your hard work and connecting was worth while.

with love

Penny xx

Could 2013 be the year you monetise your online brand?

I cannot believe that 2013 will mark my 15th year of being committed to providing Digital Skills to business. The journey has been fast, exhilarating and has taught me the power of tenacity, choice and how to work with open minds. I have chosen not to work with closed ones! That is another story, a life decision that is very liberating.

In 1998 I created a community online for business people to connect. Ecademy was often referred to as ‘the place people did their Apprenticeship in blogging and connecting’. I ran training courses, set up a Digital Coaching organisation and had many hundreds of 121s with people who were adapting to the connected, transparent world of the Internet. Now, I am spending my time helping young Born Digital Youths to get meaningful employment in businesses like yours, where they can manage and run your digital activity and ensure you are set-up and engaging and growing your business online.

A quote I love to use to create a light bulb moment for business owners about the importance of the Internet to business, is one I heard used by Sean Parker, the Founder of Napster: “We used to live on farms and we manufactured food, we then moved to the cities and manufactured products, now we increasingly live on the Internet and we need to manufacture data”.

The last 15 years of being a ‘digital entrepreneur’ have taught me many things:

1. The power of social capital
2. The mindset for this new connected world
3. The power of being nomadic and having all my data in the ‘cloud’

I have also seen the six stages that people go through around the subject of ‘going social’ with their business

1. I don’t care
2. I do care but I fear it
3. I no longer fear it as I am doing it a little bit
4. I am enjoying the progress I am making. I just need to find time to do more.
5. I am all set up and creating content and connecting, I have others working with me.
6. I have embedded habits and no longer think about it, it just happens and I can now see business being won thanks to the brand and connections I have online.

I wonder what stage you are at?

I would like you to consider that you have an asset in your business that is called Social Capital. As networkers you know that the more people you engage with and support, the more people engage with and support you. Your business has a social reputation based on your values and likability. The new connected world demands that we invest in relationships and are more open, random and supportive. After all, the ‘social world’ that is inspiring so many start-ups and growing so many businesses across the world is based on friendship. Friendship in business is a mindset, not a task. It requires us to act differently in the way we embrace and run our business. We have to inspire, share and lead not only our staff but also our ‘followers’.

I heard an excellent quote the other day, “Give away your knowledge but share your expertise”. This sums up the conflict that many people have about open blogging and ‘giving away’ their thoughts and skills. When you are a friend, you trust and create, trust through sharing information, contacts and thoughts. This is a hard thing to do when you share openly with strangers online. How do you measure that you get a financial return?

In the Spring next year I am launching a Thought Leader programme to help 10 people become Industry Thought Leaders. I am fascinated by the affect that writing my Manifesto for Digital Business Britain and lifting myself above an industry and commentating had on me as a business owner. Since doing that I have created four companies and gained some great investors. My social capital is paying off now and in my own way I am making a difference within the digital skills gap.

So, as you closed the door on 2012 and planned next year, did you consider your mindset for ‘being social’?  Could you to move from an online ‘unsociable’ attitude if that is what you have and become a friend online.

For fun you can answer 15 questions, a bit like Myers Briggs and find out if you are Closed, Selective and Controlling, or whether you have the mindset for this online culture of being Open, Random and Supportive. Take the questions here

Wishing you a very successful 2013 and I hope to cross paths with you online or face-to-face.

with love


Growth through Innovation, Localism and our Born Digital Generation

This week I have had the privilege of speaking at two excellent events:

I thought I would share what I wanted to get across to these audiences in this weeks Blog, I have also embedded a video interview I did with North Herts College and their Goldsmith Centre that serves local businesses with skills and Apprentices.

I listened to a speech by Steve Jobs several years ago on YouTube, it was his Commencement speech to young people joining Stanford in 2005. It now has over 7.5 million views.

In his speech he says something very poignant, and that is the power of creating dots in our lives and eventually getting to a stage in life when we can see the relevance of our experiences and challenge. My belief is that this is true so long as you understand yourself and the internal passions and visions that drive you, so long as you listen. Within our local communities we have many dots being placed on pages every minute of every day yet it is hard to join the dots of individuals together, living separate lives with their own issues and challenges and tough to amplify the results of this mass voice. But what if you could? What if our dots were shared and through random connections and serendipity, created via the socially connected world online, we sped up the joining of dots and the relevance of the conversations and problem solving that so many stakeholders in a community are trying to do, but as individuals or as unconnected companies and institutions are failing to achieve as fast and as ‘joined up’ as we could.

Thirty years of being inside the Information technology world and I finally fell in love with it in 1998 when I started an online community. I observed and in my own way created a place where technology became a humanitarian tool. Serving humanity, not just business profits

Now we see the development of communities online, life has moved on a long way since Ecademy was Founded in 1998. 4 years later LinkedIn was created, 6 years we saw the emergence of FaceBook and 8 years later, Twitter.

People want to work together in order to feel a sense of belonging, despite seeing a growth in self-employment and a growth in start-ups. I see the community of 2.8 million sole traders as a new form of ‘corporate’, however the Individual is now connecting through choice and in their own way creating change- being change-makers. The last 20 years has seen a growth of around 3.5 million companies registered at Company House, clearly this is no coincidence to the growth of Internet access and skills.

So what are the barriers that I see stepping into the local agenda jobs, employment, homes and the spoken desire for innovation?

Working as individuals in an economy requires a mindset of collaboration and a reduction of power-houses and control. I learnt this myself when I became a small business start-up and I witnessed the transformation in people that leave the Institutional world of employment and need to create their own supply chains, reputation and brand. This shift of mindset toward ‘collaboration’ tests the fabric of industrial Britain, the Institutes and the people who seek to control rather than support. This, I believe, is the challenge in our economy and I have evidence from the barriers that I have faced and overcome when seeking to bring a solution to market.

Over the last 20 months I moved into the Education Industry, into the Local Agenda and began to observe the barriers that exist when you work within the culture of ‘fearing risk’, having complicated processes and regulations and having no perceived reason to see the need to innovate to happen fast.

As entrepreneurs, risk is part of our life, in our waking and sleeping moments. We learn, over time, to cope with that emotion and the vulnerability of innovating and being ‘change-makers’ in society. Few have the financial buffer for error, but they are not regulated, controlled and they know that without innovating, they will become extinct pretty quick.

Listening, networking, collaborating and constantly learning and testing has to be the mantra of most entrepreneurs. The engaged small business owner may spend a lot of time online connecting, but in doing so they randomly learn, meet and hear new things and new people that move them forward. To most skilled surfers the listening and sharing is as critical as posting and broadcasting and engaging. Listening allows you to notice your outliers and prepare your business against attack or extinction.

As an entrepreneur you also learn to see the gaps, the lose threads between processes that you can fill. Problem solving is a key skill as an entrepreneur, perhaps sometimes re-inventing the wheel, but the wheel is often very different to the last, it just performs a similar function. It is right and correct that entrepreneurs do these things as they are driven by creating change and making money.

So the 15 years of running a community of business owners taught me a great deal about mindsets. Many business people joined Ecademy very green behind the ears as far as the self-employed world was concerned, Corporate Refugees we used to warmly refer to them as, the community welcomed in new people, shared, cared and became friends with them. The ‘business man’ learned to be a friend not a colleague’ and he learned that his social intention and brand was as critical to his success as his business skills, and this resulted in a breed of modern business people who have a ‘network’ mindset, not an ‘institutional’ one.

These socially connected business people were open, accepted random people and conversations and were supportive to other people, they dropped their closed, selective and controlling mindsets that their ‘institutionalized’ world had taught them, that had been a survival mechanism in the regulated, processed, hierarchical and share-price driven world.

So my biggest shock and our biggest challenge now is to create the attitude of collaboration between stakeholders who share the ‘localism’ agenda. The Housing Bodies, the Colleges, the Business Networks, the Councils, the local businesses and the schools, who all play a part in creating growth in a defined area. I am in awe of the individuals that I meet, but their roles and defined tasks do not allow for a shared approach to community needs.

Take the Digital Youth Academy as a case study, that we have launched to ‘connect the Born Digital Generation’ to business.

This was born from a few words I put on a page in January 2011 through fear that UK plc was not grasping the Digital Skills Agenda, those words became a Manifesto for Digital Business Britain  , supported by Mark Prisk MP, Business Minister at the time, now Housing Minsiter. I wrote 8 pledges for what was needed to leverage the digital opportunity that exists for UKplc. The current contribution toward the GDP for the Digital Industry is reported as between 5 and 8%, depending on which reports you read, with a Government aspiration to rise to 15% by 2015. This cannot happen without digital skills and a digital mindset throughout an organisation. I was thrilled this week when Ed Vaizey, the Communications Minister, announced that the vase investment into superfast broadband is potentially wasted if we don’t have the skills in the UK to leverage the digital opportunities.

To further the cause of my Manifesto I conducted a survey and wrote a White Paper on the Exploitation of Social Media by UK SME’s in the summer of 2011 and set out to bring a sustainable solution to market.

I looked at the local stakeholders who were required to bring this vision to reality, who would gain and included them in my White Paper , I met them and sought to find a way that all the players in the local economy would play their unique part in solving 2 shared problems.

1. The need for greater adoption of digital assets and channels by businesses
2. The need to realize and provide a career pathway for our unemployed and under utilized Born Digital Generation.
➢ Those kids born into the digital world and are so comfortable with it that they didn’t realize you weren’t!

To achieve the above we needed to

1. Create a qualification in social digital media
2. Ensure it was funded so that a Youth could become an Apprentice and get work based experience
3. Find a channel that would find, support and place those youths into local businesses, the Colleges
4. Create the itch and desire for businesses to see the opportunity that lies within the social digital world
5. Create the fear if they don’t adapt and digitally transform their costs and their marketing they would be threatened, we have enough evidence of high street brands that didn’t.
6. Create the desire for these youths to be the business solution to this fear
7. Find the funding of £500,000 required for the first years R&D and trading
8. Ask the business networks in the area to tell their members that they can now recommend a low cost, sustainable solution to the social digital skills gap
9. Work with the local authorities or LEP’s to fund events and get behind the need to Digital Innovate their region
10. Create an e-learning system and bespoke Youth Enterprise Community for all educators and Youths to access.
11. Create a solution to the need for Boards and Business Leaders to learn the subject and create their Board level strategy in order that they know how to use the resource of a Social Digital Apprentice, a Digital Coaching Solution

Quite frankly the need for innovative, open minds, collaboration and shared values and vision was enormous, the number of meetings, encounters, connections and volume of work tested our energy and our tenacity, not all were productive, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet your prince, however, many frogs make a Prince in the end!

And… we did it! The Digital Youth Academy now has licensed Colleges in many towns and cities providing Social Digital Apprenticeships to business, our challenge now is to sign up more colleges to achieve National Distribution.

INNOVATION can be done if we all find one vision and cease holding on to the tasks that we live with day in day out and realize that things can be done differently and they can be done together and they don’t threaten the business that takes part, in fact it strengthens, connects and sustains it within the community.

I believe in shared values and shared problem solving in order to innovate. I also believe that our Born Digital Generation can help businesses transform their thinking and their processes. Be less complicated, less processed and less task driven. To be more creative, more engaged, more innovative and more human.

The shift now, due to the connected world is ‘relationships first, tasks second’, how people and organisations engage with others will become increasingly measured and monitored, and maybe this is the shift in the power and leadership in companies, I have witnessed 30 years of business leaders being autocratic, controlling and hierarchical. This is a big shift if I am right.

I love the quote from Little Prince that states

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea

Innovation can only happen with a clear vision, open minds and good relationships based on trust. Many times I have sat in rooms with people that have pre-conceived ideas of what they want the results of a meeting to be, closed in their mindset, controlling in their management, paranoid about sharing and as a result innovation does not take place.

IF you are in danger of standing in the way of innovation as you fear risk, have a closed mind, want to divide up the tasks instead of motivating the troops by a vision and you fear sharing with other stakeholders, then you are in danger of holding back not only yourself, and your business but society.

I would like to leave you with one thought from this Blog….

Hire one, two, three Born Digital Youths into your organizations and give them a problem, allow them to connect through the social media channels and allow them to be a friend to people rather than seek to achieve tasks, watch, learn and see what magic can happen around you and your business.


Digital Skills are critical to leverage the vast investment into superfast broadband

The Manifesto for Digital Business Britain, published in 2011 stated clearly that Digital Skills were becoming a critical issue to the UK SME’s and their ability to survive and grow in the Digital Economy.

In a report released two days ago 30th october 2012  Superfast Britain? Myths and realities about the UK’s broadband future Superfast Britain?, by Huawei, they state that Digital Skills are critical if we are to exploit the investment being made into Superfast Broadband”

Victor Zhang, chief executive, Huawei UK commented: “We live in the information age and access to broadband for businesses and individuals has never been more important… this is reflected in their recent £1.3bn investment into the UK, in deploying national broadband networks and the technology of which a considerable proportion will be used to deliver superfast broadband connections and services.”

Quote from the report “Since 2010 the British government has become increasingly convinced about the merits of superfast broadband as a vital tool for kickstarting economic growth, bolstering productivity and providing jobs. It also hopes that by rolling out significantly faster connectivity it can revitalise how education, healthcare and other public services are delivered. To make this a reality, the government has committed to delivering “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015”.

At the Huawei Broadband Forum Event Ed Vaizey Communications Minister said: “We need to make sure people have the right skills to take advantage of the uplift in speeds”.

According to the Press Release HERE  the report states that … “progress is often blocked by a shortage of suitable digital skills, institutional resistance to change and unreformed processes. Deploying superfast networks will not by itself resolve these problems”.

The Digital Youth Academy is aiming to solve some of these issues for our business sector, by providing Born Digital Generation with a pathway into work through the UK’s first Social Digital Apprenticeship, we aim to create a sustainable and long term solution for the implementation and transformation of businesses into the Digital Economy at a local level, licensing through Colleges and reaching employers through our Employment Engagement and Campaign. By providing a e-learning system Digital Youth Academy can keep the curriculum for learners cutting edge and their Youth Enterprise Community helps our Social Connected Generation learn how to apply their inherent skills in a business context.

I have been committed to the skills of SME’s in this space since 1998, my journey of 14 years running Ecademy and seeing the midset change that has to take place to ‘go-digital- and -go-social- I am so delighted by this report and the endorsement by Ed Vaizey of the reality of our lack of Digital Skills and the need to raise our game. I hope that many realise that this is not just about technical skills however, the mindset for the transparent, open and connected world is far more difficult to understand, businesses are failing to adapt as they do not really understand that this is a philosophical shift in business as well as an IT shift to connectivity and cloud. This is why our Born Digital Generation are the entrepreneurs of the future and will make the most incredible change to business providing the leadership of businesses embrace their differnence and dont try to Institutionalise and control them.

My plea to Business leaders is thus “please consider your leadership and the impact you have on attracting Digital talent. Don’t just treat this as an IT project”.







Launching Digital Youth Academy at The House of Lords 11th October 2012

On Thursday 11th October 2012 the Digital Youth Academy officially launched in the House of Lords, thanks to Lord Jim Knight who hosted this event for us, we had over 60 guests, all from companies that support and desire a better country for our Youths. Thank you to those who came and showed such amazing commitment to this solution.

I have written below the speach I gave and hope that in your own way you can support our vision and dream of helping the Born Digital Generation be respected and acknowledged as an incredible asset for business

Thank you

Penny Power – HOL Speech – 11th October 2012

Welcome everyone.  It is such a pleasure to see you all here, thank you Lord Jim Knight for hosting this and for providing us with so much support.

The Digital Youth Academy

This incredible journey started in March 2011, so to be here today knowing that we are currently changing the lives of a few young people but have the vision and belief that by this time next year, we will be changing the lives of many thousands, is quite amazing, and over the next 10-15 minutes I want to take you on our journey, reflecting to give you context, and looking forward.

What is our vision?

Our vision is that DYA will act as the link between born digital young people and social media challenged business owners to their mutual benefit.


  • The social digital impact on business is tremendous, which can either grow or destroy businesses depending on their skills and foresight to innovate or ignore what is happening.
  • Currently the Digital Industry makes up 8.3% of the economy contributing £121bn to Britain’s revenue.  By 2016 the Government’s aspiration is for it to be £225bn
  • This will not happen without the right skills and emphasis to help businesses adapt

In a study I carried out in summer 2012:

  • 23% of UK businesses export
  • 47% of social digital responders exported – ONLINE people

Google’s Boston Consulting Report found that:

  • If a business uses the internet, it grows at 4x the speed of those that do not.

How can we at DYA help to create a STEP CHANGE in Britain’s economy?

Through innovation, engagement, resources, skills and commitment to the importance of social digital media and the internet.

In March 2011, I published the Digital Business Britain Manifesto with an 8-point plan to shift the minds of British business toward the critical aspect of Social Digital mindsets.  Critical to the growth of digital assets, channels and products in this economy are the skills within.

Having worked within this industry for 15 years and pioneered the first Business Social Network in the world, I have learned though experience, painful lessons and through leadership, that if we do not have the resource of SKILLED workers within our businesses that can ‘think digitally’ we will not survive, yet alone thrive

The business world is changing.  There are many companies that have not adapted fast enough to the delivery of digital channels to market nor gained the trust and engagement online of the modern consumer, such as Clinton Cards and HMV, and even the small consulting firms who have had to adapt to the fact that so much of their knowledge is now available for free.

As an economy we now LIVE on the Internet.  We used to live on farms and we manufactured FOOD, we moved into cities and we manufactured PRODUCTS, the Industrial Revolution was a game changer in business, and now we live on the Internet and we need to manufacture DATA.  In fact, it can be argued that DATA is the new Manufacturing opportunity in this country. CREATING DIGITAL ASSETS

We also have to accept that we live in a global marketplace, considering the fact that a website can be created from India for a fifth of the costs of hiring UK Coders, so how do we help them to be lower cost?  We teach them to strip out costs, use the Cloud, be more efficient with their business processes and engage and build trust online.

Trust online

Trust globally in businesses is down from 53% to 47% and in the:

  • UK from 44% to 38%
  • For CEOs it’s deteriorated from 50% to 38%

The good news is that:

  • trust in regular employees has risen from 34% to 50%
  • and in ‘a person like yourself’ from 43% to 65%

The message is clear – it’s people that count.

  • The old ways of transactional thinking are over.  The business community needs to learn that online working requires a different mindset, moving from the traditional.

This is a huge leap, the leap from:

Suspect, Prospect Customer to the Stranger, Friend, Follower

The process of Know me, Like me, Follow me philosophy that underlies all DYA teaching.

Now let’s look at the born digital generation

O2 report that Young People’s digital skills are valued at £6.7billion by UK businesses.  They acknowledged the generation who have grew up with the internet and pledged to support and encourage young people to showcase their digital talents.


The Office of National Statistics believe the 16-24 years olds are “The most connected generation”, however they are unconnected from work – 1.1 million are unemployed.


A resource of minds, attitudes and skills that are currently seen as a PROBLEM TO SOCIETY rather than an asset.

They have grown up digital, they know no other way.  They don’t think like us they don’t act like us, they are not us, yet, they are our next generation and maybe, just maybe, they are not impressed with us either!!

We mutually have to learn to respect.

Consider what we might seem like!

We may appear over-complicated,

over processed,





disinterested in the way we should contribute to the world and make it better.


So how did we find the solution, what are we doing about this opportunity for this country, for our business leaders and for our youths?

  • We talked to youths – Young people loved social media but did not see this in a business context
  • We dreamt of a way of creating a qualification that would be attractive to young people and to businesses and creating a new role within businesses to provide jobs
  • We held workshops with both young people and businesses


Then we dreamt of a way of inspiring employers

  • We met employers of all sizes, from BT, O2, Dell and Ryman, to Eagle Radio
  • We surveyed businesses, 59% said YES they would employ a Social Digital Apprentice
  • We ran employer focus groups:
    • They had a BIG itch ‘every time they saw FaceBook or a #tag!’
    • They didn’t know where to go for a sustainable solution that empowered them to grow the skills internally
    • We had fantastic support from employer bodies; FSB, BCCI, Ecademy, BNI.  London and South East Manufacturers Group who are actively promoting this to members.


DYA was created as a channel to bring these groups together and to create additional partnerships

  • We saw Colleges at the heart of local economies.  So, we talked to College Principals and were thrilled by the support from Fintan Donohue and the Gazelle Group of Colleges who are now our partners.
  • Our first DYA local academies have started in Middlesborough, Peterborough and Hertfordshire with the next phase in; Lewisham, Liverpool, Derby, Oxford, Guildford and Nottingham.
  • We are also partnering with like-minded training companies such as Avanta and other organisations such as Frontier Coaching and TWP Solutions, our Business Development partners.
  • We developed the first ‘product’ – the Social Digital Apprenticeship at Level 2, with support from EDI/Pearson.  This is mainly delivered through innovative online learning and where students access our ‘Community’.  Our next products are en route; Pre-Employment, Level 3 and employer courses.
  • In 2013 we are planning to go global – lots of interest in other countries.


We wanted to work locally, the localism agenda, collaboratively

  • We talked to the Chamber – they supported us and made introductions, invited us to talks
  • We talked to BNI
  • They loved the thought of promoting this to their members, providing a local resource, committing to this cause
  • We talked to FSB and to LEPs
  • We talked to Housing Associations
  • We knew that we could all share in one vision and all have our unique part to play.  We knew that we needed to help embed the Colleges in the hearts and minds of businesses, creating stronger links between them.


The Team

Janette Faherty, Albert Wright, Helen Richardson and Thomas Power have supported the dream and helped to connect us, build the team and enabled what is being launched today.  We have recruited a fantastic team led by Russell Butcher – Justine, Simon, Donna and Dawn.


The Future

So today we want you to support our dream, to change the lives of thousands of born digital young people AND improve the performance of UK plc.

The Challenge 1000 campaign

One thousand young people into 1000 jobs by 2013.  And that is just the UK.


Penny Power




Did Sir Tim Berners-Lee give birth to a new form of business when he gave birth to the www?

In 1998 I apparently became an entrepreneur! I had an idea, found the resources and then set out to make a difference and build a company.

In 1998 I was a small business owner, not an entrepreneur. Several years later I became an entrepreneur.


In 1998 I apparently became an entrepreneur! I had an idea, found the resources and then set out to make a difference and build a company.

In 1998 I was a small business owner, not an entrepreneur. Several years later I became an entrepreneur.

Like many of you, building a business as an owner is done as much through passon and commitment to creating change and making a difference as it is through skills and ability. IN 1998 I didn’t have the skills but I had the passion, drive, tenacity and a vision.

My vision was that the world could now be connected, in real-time, on demand, through personal choice. It was a new world where individuals could build personal brands and personal networks. A world where the ‘good’ rise to the top, not those who manipulate, lie, abuse, focus on monopolistic behaviour and greed.

A distributed world, where ideas are shared, innovation saves companies and behaviour changes because the connectivity of the world highlights those who are not good to be in business with and highlights the integrity, values and ethics of people. Through online search, we can see what is written and share about others and decide if that person suits our own values. What an amazing revolution in business to be part of.. and we are all part of it, together.

So, the spirit of a 21st century ‘connected’ entrepreneur must be a different. they must have different values and drivers, or do they?

Have you seen a change in the types of ways people are growing their businesses because of the connected world? Are you different. Would you have been an entrepreneur now if the Internat did not exist.

Did Sir Tim Berners-Lee actually give birth to a new form of business when he gave birth to the world wide web?

I suggest he did, yet, outside of the connected world, when I step into the offline world, the cold, 20th century offices of large organisations that are hierarchical, challenged by time, managed, controlled, task focused and greedy, I sense we have so so far to go.

We are now needing a leadership change, the technology is here, its presence is known, #tags are common place, FaceBook pages are everywhere, Agencies are making their squillions o campaigns, but does it make us trust brands, want to do business with large brands, do they step into the B2B world and enjoy engaging with the small guys.

I have never been prouder of being an entrepreneur as I am now, all around me, everyday on Ecademy I witness the spiri of 21st Century Entrepreneurialism, focused on sharing, collaborating, working together on shared visions. Ensuring that values are central to leadership and communication.

Last night as I watched the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics I saw the history of UK wealth and progress, my father was in awe of the world class show, sitting next to me and as the Industrial Revolution was depicted with the tall Mills coming out of the ground my dad turned to me and said ‘the dark satanic mills”, it made me shudder, I thought about how hard those days were for those who were not part of the shift, the loss of air, the loss of green fields. That was progress then. progress now is that we can return to being in control of our own lives, work for ourselves, share our success with others rather than control them, sit in our homes if we wish and work via the Internet, not be judged on how many staff we control or the size of our wealth. Wealth can be discreet and can be created to make a difference to many more than just ourselves.

I feel it is a good time to be an entrepreneur. When I meet people just entering the self employed world following redundancy, or young people, who cannot find jobs I say grab the opportunity to build your brand and your future, enjoy it, drive it and lets ensure the values you hold, knowing that being Open, Random and Supportive with others is actually more fundamental to business growth than many have yet discovered. Those people still in those ‘dark satanic mills’ of the 20th Century ways of business, when they wake up and see the air we are breathing, oh boy, their respect and desire to learn from all of us will be wonderful.

Do you feel like this? Am I talking sense or am I an idealist who senses more than the reality is proving… will this shift take a whole generation?

warm regards
Penny Power
Founder of Ecademy, Digital Youth Academy and Frontier Digital Coaching
Helping you build social capital in your business and life

Follow @pennypower

I support:
Digital Business Britain Manifesto