A friend of mine is a new IBM consultant who wants to learn more about and develop a reputation in social analytics. I thought I’d share some tips on how to learn and build a reputation along the way.
Pick your field carefully. Another mentor of mine said that emerging technologies offer the best opportunities. In a new field, it’s easier to not only catch up, but even distinguish yourself. In mature fields, it’s hard to compete with people who have years of experience. Even in mature fields, though, you might be able to find niches where things are rapidly changing.
Read. Read everything about that topic that you can get your hands on. Learn how to speed-read if you don’t already do so. Don’t worry about words you don’t understand or concepts that are too complex. Gradually, as you absorb more information, more of the things you’ve read will make sense to you.
Stay up to date. Find the key players in the space that you’re working on. Check out their blogs, their presentations, their tweets – whatever you can get that gives you more information. Set up searches and alerts so that you can find new material as it gets published.
Use bookmarks to organize your research. You’re going to immerse yourself in a flood of information. Use social bookmarking systems like Lotus Connections Bookmarks or Delicious to keep track of interesting things you’ve read, and to organize resources into your own categories. That way, when you need to find something again or if you want to send someone a link, you can quickly get it along with related resources.
Collect examples of ideas being been applied to real life. If you’re interested in Web 2.0 and financial services, you need to be able to tell stories about innovative companies and the results they’re seeing. If you’re interested in social analytics, find case studies where analytics has led to increased collaboration and productivity. Learn about pitfalls and challenges, too. There’s no substitute for experience, but awareness is a good start – and that can help you brainstorm opportunities for you to get involved.
Write notes and look for ways to explain ideas in simpler terms. Summarize what other people have said. Link to resources people might find useful. Share examples and the principles they demonstrate. Share your notes on a blog. Make presentations and volunteer to speak. This helps you understand a topic deeper and build the beginning of a reputation.
What can you write about? Write about what you’re learning and why. Write about the mistakes you made and how you solved them (or are trying to solve them!). Write about how you’re learning and from whom. Write about the resources out there. Write about the things you’re finding out. Write about the connections between your topic of interest and other things you know about. Write about what you want to learn next. There are plenty of things you can share, even as a beginner.
Experiment. Can you try things out yourself? Apply the ideas to your own life and share the results. As you build credibility, you might be able to convince your team to give a new practice a try. Share those results, too. Come up with ideas and try them out. Use these experiences to convince people to let you work on projects.
Volunteer and expand your responsibilities. Make sure your manager, your mentors, and your coworkers know what you’re interested in learning or doing. Volunteer to help with projects or presentations that need to be done. Ask your manager to help you structure a way to learn on the job.
Learn. Share what you’re learning along the way. Experiment. Volunteer and expand your responsibilities. You can go from being a newbie to being known in surprisingly little time, but you need to get out there and make things happen. Good luck!
I was talking to an independent consultant who wanted to get better at using social media to expand his network. I suggested that he put together articles and presentations that he can share with his contacts (mostly executives) that are useful and that they would probably share with the right people in their companies.
Thinking about this, I realized that imagining the ideal scenarios can help people recognize the value of investing in sharing knowledge or building a social media presence. You can say that sharing is important, or you can imagine a story that goes like this:
CEO of small business: Oh! It’s an e-mail from __. He always sends me useful information, so I’ll take a look at this one. Hmm, this whitepaper looks like something our company could learn from. Let me send it to the director in charge of that.
Director: Hmm, an e-mail from the VP, I better read it. Ah, an article that looks like it will help with one of the challenges I’m currently working on. Hey, this guy has some great tips. I wonder… Oh, he has a website with other articles and presentations! Great. I’m going to flip through the presentations that look immediately useful. I should probably bookmark this site so I can come back to it later. Hey, he’s on Twitter. Let me check out what he posts… He’s got an upcoming seminar – that looks interesting, maybe I’ll attend. I think I’ll follow him on Twitter so that I can hear about other updates. Hmm, maybe he can do some consulting for us for this project – that would save me a lot of time, help me get the results I need… (and if he’s as good as he seems to be, I’ll look like a star).
Someone else searching on the Net: Hmm, I need to learn more about ___ if I’m going to be able to deliver those results. Oh, here’s an article that might be useful. Those are good points. Let me save this. I wonder… ah, he has other articles and presentations. Those are useful too. Let me read them… I wonder if he’s available to do some consulting. Oh, look, he’s in Toronto too. That makes it easier. I should give him a call.
Think about what success looks like. Tell yourself a story about what could happen. It’s probably less about just increasing the number of your followers or posting at least one blog post a week, and more about actions and results. What’s that story? Walk through it in your head, check if it’s plausible, and identify the pieces you need to build in order to make it happen. Doesn’t investing in those pieces make more sense now that you can see how they’re related to your end goals?
That led me to think about the ideal stories I tell myself. When I write for my blog, this is what I hope will happen:
Me: “Ah! Now I understand things a little better. Let me go try that and see what happens. … Yup, that works, and here’s how I can make it even better.”
Someone: “I need to figure out something. Let me search… Hmm, that look interesting, let me try that. Hey, that works. Oh, that looks useful too. And that one! And that one! I’m going to add this to my feed reader. … Oh look, another post from Sacha. She reminds me that it’s possible to be cheerful and have fun doing awesome things. =) Hmm, I know someone who might find this useful too…”
Someone: “Can you help me with __?” Me: “I could’ve sworn I’ve written about that around here… Ah, there it is! Here’s the link.” Someone: “Awesome. Thanks!”
What are the stories you imagine, and what do those stories help you learn about what you can do to make them happen?