Good morning! I’m writing this from the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Florida. I’m here for the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, which is a fantastic invitation-only conference of IBM’s best and brightest (and the occasional newbie like me who manages to sneak in). ;) I figured I’d do my weekly review before heading over to the convention center, as my evening’s probably going to be too full to write properly. Besides, morning pages are fun.
The last week had been a blast. I attended the IBM Best Practices conference in Palisades, NY, and I presented on “How to Blog Your Way Out of a Job… and Into a Career.” I really enjoyed sharing my experiences with blogging with the thirty or so people who showed up. Everyone was so open and friendly! And I’m glad that people enjoyed my presentation, too. I ended up winning Best Paper at the conference, and the organizers said I’d received over twice as many first-place votes as the next in line did! So I’m really happy that I managed to pass on so much value at my first proper conference as an IBMer.
Even more awesome than winning Best Paper, though, was having the opportunity to learn from more than a hundred people who were passionate about their work and about improving the way they work. One of the terrific things about conferences like this is that you can get so much energy and enthusiasm and encouragement from all these extraordinary people.
I’m also really glad that I had to attend sessions I ordinarily wouldn’t have chosen and joined conversations I never would have started over e-mail. For example, the keynote speeches from the Rational folks got me thinking about measuring value and measuring adoption. I think that’s one of the key benefits of face-to-face conferences. With a virtual conference, it’s just too easy to let “real work” take you away from sessions you’re not sure about. With a virtual conference, you don’t have an excuse to chat over food with people you might not otherwise have met, and you don’t have as many opportunities to form new friendships and renew the ones you had.
Good stuff. That was my last week – jam-packed with conversations and lessons learned from both the formal sessions and the informal chats. Very good stuff.
This week promises to be even better. The Technical Leadership Exchange is an even bigger conference, and I have a full schedule of sessions I would love to learn from. Although I need to revise my presentation extensively because I learned so much last week, I’m looking forward to starting conversations, too. Whee!
My day began with S011-LED: Essential Problem-Solving Skills That Will Shorten a Project, by Dick Orth. One of the key things I took away from that session is that being a facilitative leader is hard but worth it. When you make decisions as a group, you get a lot more buy-in and you can get better answers. Consensus-building increases exposure and risk, and a leader’s role is to facilitate the discussion and mitigate the risk.
Another interesting technique I picked up was the Fist of Five, when people hold up five fingers to indicate full agreement, four fingers to indicate that they mostly agree with something, three fingers to indicate that they can live with something, two fingers to indicate that they have minor issues, one finger to indicate that they have major issues, and zero (a fist) for a flat no. This technique works best in an established team where people feel comfortable about sharing their opinions, and not quite so well in a new team where people might not feel at ease with disagreement.
It was interesting to hear the international perspectives from the audience. One of the audience members pointed out that in China, this technique might work with employees from multinational companies, but not with state employees because of their sensitivity to hierarchy. The audience member also noted that this technique can be used with small companies, but not with the founder present.
Another audience member mentioned that building consensus, especially in Asia, is easier when you focus on the positive. Asking for suggestions for improvement can be less confrontational than asking if anyone has any objections. Asking people to e-mail their private comments also gives other people opportunities to share what they think.
Dick Orth walked through two models for problem-solving: a process-oriented model and a change-oriented model. The process-oriented model focused on generating lots of possibilities with many people, and then developing and narrowing them down with a handful of people. He noted that large groups take a long time to narrow a list of items down, so this should be handled by a smaller group. The change-oriented model focuses on the future state, the current state, and the gap between the two. Both models can be used together, with brainstorming used to identify the future state and the prioritized possibilities, the current strengths and issues, and the actions for moving forward. Dick noted that brainstorming the strengths is a great way to get everyone involved and energized, and that no narrowing down is needed for the strengths.
I took advantage of the break to go to a different session. Dick Orth was interesting and I was looking forward to the case study, but there was another workshop that I wanted to learn from. I explained it to Dick before his presentation, so I didn’t feel so bad disappearing. Still, those were pretty interesting two hours, and I learned a lot. =)
I attended Networking: a Workshop in Getting the Most from the TLE, by Jim De Piante. The session was about becoming more comfortable with networking and learning how to network more effectively. The key takeaways that more people need to hear are: everyone is a born networker; focusing on helping other people is a great way to get into the mood to network; and the best way to be interesting is to be interested.
It made me wonder how more people can feel the thrill of making a connection between two other people. Maybe a conference or workshop could have a speed networking event and challenge people to make connections between the people they’d talked to. How would something like that work? Hmm…
His model of building relationships has three steps: create a relationship, cultivate a relationship, and help. What I found interesting about that is that Web 2.0 tends to invert this process. You’d start by helping people, directly or indirectly, and other people can then choose to cultivate that relationship with you. Funny, innit?
An audience member asked if networking wasn’t something that needed to be self-serving. I think Jim handled that question well, pointing out that there’s a little bit of self-interest, but it’s altruism that really builds strong relationships. For people who feel negatively about networking because they’ve run into self-centered networkers or they think they need to be self-centered, I recommend two books: “Love is the Killer App” and “Make Your Contacts Count.” Both talk about the importance and benefits of reaching out and looking for opportunities to help people.
Jim also mentioned Stephen Covey’s point about emphatic listening. He was careful to add that he was not advising people to fake interest, or to exaggerate signs of interest. The trick to emphatic listening to actually be interested. When you meet someone, you’re looking for common ground. On that ground, you can build common experiences, and on those common experiences, you can build a shared understanding–hence the value of small talk.
I found the idea of looking for common interests to be interesting. I know it’s accepted wisdom, and I encourage people to make it easier to find common interests by sharing more about themselves. What I find interesting is that people’s interests still provide me with many opportunities to connect. First, I enjoy the exercise of applying ideas from one area to another. Second, I enjoy matching people within my network and carrying ideas back and forth, so if someone’s interests aren’t a match for me, they’re bound to be a match for someone in my network (or my future network). It all goes into my head (or my database, if I’ve been diligent), waiting for some future connection.
I have more to write, but I also like sleep, so – tomorrow, then!