Twitter, the NHS and other stories

The US healthcare debate and the UK's backlash with the We love the NHS campaign has finally prompted me to join the Twittering masses.

I've been keeping an eye on Twitter for a while now - any communications tool that can mobilise the country in support of our most simultaneously loved and loathed institution deserves some attention.

There are several things that strike me.

1. Even though it looks like it's aimed at nine-year-olds, it's companies that use it most. It suprises me that so many professionals, academics and media personalities take it seriously. (OK, I'm not really surprised about the media personalities.)

2. Its best use seems to be to let people know about something really interesting that they don't know about yet. Why, then, so many people use it to tell their friends what they had for breakfast is beyond me. (But they do - oh yes they do.)

3. It's got tremendous potential as a democratising technology - a free and open platform for anyone to have their say in 140 characters. Basically it promises many of the things the internet promised and didn't quite deliver back in the dotcom days. I love it when people take hold of a technology and turn it to their purposes (so often it's the other way around!) and Twitter's use as a campaigning tool is particularly interesting.

So, I've decided to venture out there into Twitterland, tweeting as my professional self to share links and ideas that might be of interest to people who care about similar things - social enterprise, media, the NHS, unemployment issues, homelessness, good employment practice and such like.

You can find me at

Don't worry, I've only posted one thing so far and I certainly won't be bothering you with what I had for breakfast.

The value of mentors

I'll be honest, I've been flagging lately. There's no real reason for it - everything's been going exceptionally well with the Poached pilot.

We're into the second half and Chris G has put together a really high-quality design programme for our two new, enthusiastic design trainees. I'm getting help and support from my trainees, who are all staying on beyond their original writing and communications programmes to gain more Poached experience. And there are a few commercial opportunities that I'm pursuing (with some high quality help from some of the people I most want to work with).

I've also recently won agreement from my current full-time job to go part time. What a relief! Finally I'll be able to devote the time to Poached that it needs to move to the next level.

But none of this seemed capable of lifting me out of a bit of a slump. I don't mean to sound ungrateful - it's just a fact.

Mentoring magic
This week, however, I think I've broken out of it. Business in the Community has managed to match me up with a mentor and just the first meeting with him has given me a renewed sense of purpose, achievement, and confidence. We're very different. He works for National Rail and basically manages railway lines. Years of experience, hundreds of staff, massive budgets. But we both think we'll get a lot out of this relationship.

Certainly, for me, it's having someone with business know-how who's committed to me for a few hours a month. I can talk through my difficult issues, test out different approaches, and draw on his vast knowledge. I don't feel like I'm putting too many demands on his time because he's already dedicated it.

There's also the power of having someone hold you accountable for the things you set out to do. Most of the time it's only me who'll get annoyed at myself for letting something slip and, of course, when time is tight it's always the longer term planning and development that gets pushed aside for more urgent matters such as training programmes and funding applications.

Immediately I'm reviving discarded business and project plans, going back to my original pilot project proposal and realising how far I've come, and planning out the market research and benchmarking I've been meaning to do.

Unofficial but invaluable
I've been very lucky recently to have several people step in as unofficial mentors, such as Emma Courtney who never fails with encouraging words and her questioning spirit and a new contact, Robert, who I met on that scary leadership programme I told you about. He's insisting I build my networks and contacts and checking up to see if I'm doing it.

Reciprocal support
Of course, in theory I know the value of mentors because I've been trained as one and I am one to many of the people I work with, but it's not until you receive it yourself that you realise just what a force for success a good mentor can be.

More about mentoring can be found on the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation website.