November 1, 2009

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Weekly review: Week ending November 1, 2009

Plans from last week:

  • Work
    • From plans:
      • Facilitate idea lab
      • Develop more training material. Slow going; have been working on Idea Lab things. 
      • Connect with people throughout the organization
    • Also:
      • Filled in more details for my personal business commitments review
      • Reviewed the report for a conference I helped organize
      • Did some SecondLife training for an upcoming
      • Did some awesome LotusScript + analytics hacking
      • Attended Dan Roam’s terrific Back of the Napkin teleconference at IBM
      • Renewed my social insurance number
      • Did some preliminary analysis of Idea Lab results
  • Relationships
    • From plans:
      • Organize lunches with friends Two lunches planned for next week, semi-work-related
      • Practice reaching out to my network Sent e-mail updates out to some people based on conversations
    • Also:
      • Helped J- with her costume
      • Handed out candy for Halloween
      • Got a great e-mail from my mom regarding small dreams
  • Life
    • From plans:
      • Finish my skirt Almost there. Pinning up a hem took ages!
      • Delegate flyer review and menu planning
      • Create a simple animation Bought a Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch, looking forward to drawing at work
    • Also:
      • Got back into the swing of reading and blogging (yay routines)
      • Learned that I probably just need to get a business bank account if I want to do business under my own name
      • Turned up the intensity of my biking to make it more exercise-y, yay

Plans for next week:

  • Work
    • Give talk on “Remote Presentations That Rock” (if you’re in IBM, ping me for details)
    • Get my visa application sorted out
    • Create community guide for training
    • Organize handouts for training
  • Relationships
    • Tidy house and prepare lots of meals
    • Help make house routines even smoother
  • Life
    • Finish my skirt and start on pants
    • Clean up the back yard
    • Wake up before 6 every day

Comedy and self-promotion

We headed out for taco salads and soup at the Easy Restaurant on King Street after our last class of improv comedy. My three classmates and the teacher were all deeply into the Toronto improv and sketch comedy scene. I was the lone non-comedian, and I got a fascinating glimpse into that world.

They talked about the awkwardness of telling non-comedians about your interests. When the conversation turns to what people do, they feel that people who are outside the comedy scene just don’t get it, saying: “Oh, you’re a comedian? Tell me a joke.” One of my classmates said that this was probably why practically all her friends are also in the comedy scene. I wonder if they also have problems with the echo chamber effect that we see online, when people end up talking only to people like them.

They talked about the challenges facing the Toronto comedy scene. There are lots of stand-up rooms in Toronto where people can practise their material, but attendance is hit-or-miss. If you liked a specific comedian, it was hard to find out when and where they’d perform next. Shows were better publicized, but individuals were hard to track. I asked them if it was a matter of marketing. To me, it seemed obvious: if you were starting out as a stand-up comedian or an improv comedy performer, why not make it easier for people to find out when you’d be performing next, and share your adventures along the way?

They reacted strongly against the idea of self-promotion. To them, the idea of an amateur having business cards, a website, or a Facebook fanpage smacked of pretentiousness. It was okay if you’d done a number of well-received shows, or had some kind of national profile. If you were just starting out, you needed to know your place.

I found that really interesting because we run into the same social norms against self-promotion in different business cultures, and it can get in the way of connecting.

I think people do want to keep an eye out for teams and people they like. Facebook’s use of “Fan” might turn people off, so they’d need a more neutral space that can keep track of teams, individuals, shows, and locations. It would be a natural fit for Facebook integration, calendar exports, RSS feeds, and mailing lists. You could probably build the whole thing using out-of-the-box Drupal and the Content Creation Kit. Data entry would have to be done manually for a while (listings from Now Toronto and from the major venues?), but it might eventually grow into something that people can update on their own.

I don’t see people paying to use a service like this, but it might be supported by advertising (and perhaps a share of ticket sales, if you have an e-commerce system tied into venues’ ticketing).

In terms of marketing, you’d probably approach venues that don’t have event lists, as well as teams and individuals. Teams and individuals would be your primary channel for marketing. You could also offer a badge for venues, teams, and individuals in order to advertise upcoming shows, and pre-designed flyers (like what Meetup now does), and provide webpages for people who don’t have their personal sites set up yet. Posters near established comedy venues would be good, too, and hand-outs given to people in line. Business cards might be interesting too.

A business idea for someone who’s really interested in the comedy scene, perhaps! =)

Connecting in a large organization

In our conversation last Wednesday, Lesley shared how social network analysis has helped her team and the other teams she works with. The analysis showed which people were connected to everyone else (and who could either be bottlenecks or brokers), and which people were outliers.

This network knowledge is typically not a surprise. Lesley told me how she had shown her team the unlabeled graph, and they guessed right away who corresponded to which nodes. But the graph is a good way to get the idea out there so that you can start discussing it and changing it. Do people on the periphery need to connect better? How can you lighten the load on the hubs? How do you help people eliminate middlemen and communicate more effectively?

Lesley shared some of the ways she has adapted to her informal role. When she helps people answer questions, she connects people so that they can talk to each other without needing to go through her all the time. She keeps as complete a mail archive as she can, because people ask her about projects she long since left. She helps her team members learn more about effective e-mail communication and other workplace skills.

Lesley’s like many of the connectors that I meet within IBM. There are a lot of boundary-spanners who connect different parts of the organization (and different parts of their team, who need connecting as well!). They recognize the value of doing so, and other people do too. In fact, they often serve as the go-to people for others. They want to make their knowledge part of the organizational memory, but it’s hard to capture.

I’m growing into one of those people, and I’d like to scale up even more. I’m one of an increasing number of Web 2.0 connectors who work as publicly as possible, sharing on our internal social networking platform. I want to build organizational memory in the process of doing actual work. I want to develop organizational connective tissue in the process of reaching out.

I document as much as I can of the work that I do, and I try to do it as close to action as possible. For example, one of my ideas helped us double our community sign-up rate, so I spent some time writing it up and sharing it with others. I could probably speed through my task list if I didn’t balance doing with writing about it. But sharing deepens my understanding and gives me time to think about other “What if?”s. It helps other people work more effectively. It gives them something to build on, and I get to learn from the improvements that other people share. It helps me scale up connecting, too.

I suspect this sharing is the key reason why I can help connect the dots even as a relatively new employee. Experienced connectors tell me of the trust and the relationships they’ve built from decades of project work in different countries. I don’t have that yet, but blogs and public speaking do interesting things in terms of connections. It’ll be interesting to see where we can take this, and what other people can do with these ideas.

I’m passionately curious about how connectors can be even more effective, and I think that social tools can make a huge difference.



Our neighbors are really, really into Halloween. This is their front yard. They just loved scaring the heck out of the trick-or-treaters, and they did it quite effectively by jumping at them when the kids least expected it. Young kids they generally left alone (or apologized to after the kids started crying from fright), but any teenagers trick-or-treating were fair game. <laugh>

We gave them permission to decorate our front yard as well. Here’s one of the props they added:

In Canada, even the zombie babies need to keep their ears warm.