Category Archives: barcamp

Win-win-win: The power of asking

The problem with conferences is that I always, always run into scheduling conflicts. I really, really wanted to go to the two talks about communities, the two talks about culture, one talk about perception, and of course I have another session to run on information overload.

Six sessions, three time slots. Aiyah. You don't need a CS degree to know that's a problem.

So I convinced Mike and Quinn to merge their talks on culture. Then I looked for the people responsible for the meta-community talk and asked if they could merge with Ryan's talk about building communities. They agreed!

I couldn't merge with Mike's talk - thematically different, and I'd probably run a long conversation - but hey, that was a great win. All the people who merged said it would be a good idea because they needed less than an hour. Everyone else gets a nice panel. And I learned that if you ask, people will probably say yes.

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Building a community

@BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

Terrific idea! Ryan McKegney identified the top 1% in his RedFlagDeals.com community, rewarded them with stickers and other stuff, and encouraged them to evangelize. Great! Also, you have another 1% who want to get more involved. As for the 1% who are jerks: do things in an open and fair way. Also, keep in mind that there's a negative response bias in large online communities. People who disagree with something will be the loudest. Takeaway: You set the tone for the site, because you are such an integral part of the community.

Random notes: Alan Hietala talked about bridging multiple communities in World of Warcraft. Event planning for MMORPG. Heatware - independent reputation system. Jason: no one makes the first post, so you seed.. but dependency? .. Also, start with existing communities.

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Starting your own business

@BarCampEarthToronto, Brooke Gordon, serial entrepreneur

  • Business plan. You are trading money for value. You need to be able to clearly articulate what you are translating money into. If you can't articulate that clearly to friends and family, you will never be able to do that for investors or customers.
  • Find a mentor. Ask your professors who they know. Go to your local business development center. Find people who have started their own company. You'll be shocked at how many people will spend half an hour talking to you. Camaraderie. If you ask for help, you will find help. You'll probably find someone who can share with you best practices.
  • A business is a business is a business. Get yourself an accountant. Make sure that you're following all of the business rules that apply to the industry. Find out what all the tax rules are and the task breaks are. There are some absolutely fantastic R&D tax credits that people don't know about. I tried doing the books myself when I was starting out, and that's a mistake, at least for the first time. Make sure that your accountant knows small business. Whatever you get, make sure you ask for a receipt. You must have copies of receipts. Keep good records of things. That's what your accountant is there to help you with - your industry. Any time you ever hire someone, interview them, and interview more than one person. Do your due diligence. There's a lot of risk, but there's so much reward. You want to mitigate that risk. When you're doing that mentorship, ask around. Do not ask a corporation. Ask other people who have their own business. Ask for referrals and references. Ask!
  • Do a lot of time at first with your wording. Value proposition. Your company name is an important thing. Try and think about things like common misspellings, pronounciation misspellings, how you want to be perceived. Everything you do, you test. Whatever you choose to do, write it down, go and tell someone. Take someone out for coffee and say "Here are my thoughts; what do you think?" Constantly ask, ask for genuine feedback, and ask for honest criticism. People you trust care about you and don't want to see you fail. Other people aren't going to give you that feedback. Good or bad, thank them for it, and take it to heart.
  • Don't use your name as your company name.
  • There are free seminars that you have access to that you wouldn't believe. Go to learn and listen and connect. Be very open to that and continue going. There are lots of things out there for free.
  • Government grants and loans for people under 29!
  • Check out TD and Royal Bank for programs for small businesses. They can mitigate their risk if they act as advisors. Don't discount your bank.
  • Networking. Part of the reason why Dana and I met. Bag design. Women's networking group.
  • BNI. Business Networking International. Givers gain. When you go to a networking group, don't just talk - listen. Introduce yourself not just with your name, but with what you do.
  • "So, tell me about your business." You can tell a lot about a business by how well they can articulate their value. "What do clients of yours look like?" Keep thinking about how your clients might be good clients for them. That's what networking is.
  • For example, our value is phased implementations for projects.

Know what your value is. Know what your customer looks like. Create scenarios. Find out what a typical customer looks like, so you can tell other people what you look like. Make sure that you get involved in networking. Get those government resources.

Dana: Clients.

  • People respond when you're not aggressive or overbearing. Your product is not impressive. Treat people as people, not sales.
  • Keep a client database. I used to work for a customer-relationship management system. I missed it when I started my own business. I love Sugar CRM, which is online and open source. Get something so that you can keep track of your clients. Schedule your followups. That way, they don't only hear from you when you're asking for money. You want to show that you care about them. Make sure your clients feel valued. Send an actual paper thank-you.
  • You don't want to be too close to your client also, because sometimes you have to say no. You really should say no. A project that you thought you should've said no will drag you down and kill you. If you have that feeling, don't do it. Or get really good specs.
  • Get a lawyer to review your contracts. Do not do this yourself.
  • Put everything you can on paper before you implement it.
  • Protect yourself with sign-offs.
  • Don't go into business with friends, if you can help it.
  • Go through scenarios in order to mitigate risk.
  • Engineering entrepreneurship and education at McMasters! Experiential program. ALWAYS take notes and offer to do the first draft. Then get your lawyer's intern to look at the stuff for you. Ask lawyers what you've missed.
  • Outsource your overflow capacity.
  • Know enough to know if the people you're outsourcing to do good work.

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Of BarCamp and conversations

People who have never been to a BarCamp probably have no idea what to expect from this un-conference. In fact, I get the feeling that the BarCamp *I* go to is very different from the BarCamp that everyone else goes to, even if we're all going to BarCampEarthToronto.

I think my way is cool, and I think you should try it out. =) Here's what I get out of BarCamp and why I think it's tons of fun.

For me, BarCamp is all about conversation. I start with the assumption that as a whole, everyone else knows more than I do about anything I want to talk about. My sessions are not presentations, but roundtable discussions. I'll structure them a little bit to give people something to work with, like the way I talked a little bit about Enterprise 2.0 or shared some of my networking tips. The value of the session doesn't come from me, though, but from the participants.

My job is not to tell people answers, but to share a few stories and ask lots of questions. I turn Q & A onto its head by saving more time for questions than for speaking, and asking more questions than I answer.

This also allows me to adapt to people's interests on the fly. In the middle of hallway conversation, I've said, "Hey, I'd love to have a larger conversation about this," run off to find a marker, and then added the session to the grid. I think it's okay not to be an expert on something just yet, to not have a slick well-rehearsed presentation.

I think this is so much more fun than treating BarCamp as a self-organizing series of traditional presentations. I'd rather say, "I feel like talking about ____" and see who else wants to.

Conversation. For me, BarCamp is all about starting conversations. It's fun following up with people, too. Just finished a BBQ with a few people I met at BarCampEarthToronto - that was great fun!

I'll blog about this more when I'm more coherent, but yeah. Conversation.

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Tom Purves, Enterprise 2.0 overview

I'm at Enterprise2.0Camp right now. Tom Purves gave a good overview of what Enterprise 2.0 is and what it means for businesses. "Social media" is fine for Web 2.0, but it raises eyebrows in business. Tom suggested "tacit media" as a better term, and went into more detail.

Bryce Johnson pointed out a difference between barcamp.org wiki and usabilitycamp.org wiki - barcamp wiki was where organization happened, whereas usabilitycamp wiki happened after the organization. Tom shared something from Office 2.0: "A blank wiki is a room without chairs." (Esther Dyson)

Comments: Seeding a wiki can affect how it goes. Any best practices? Tom suggested deliberately making small mistakes, which encourages people to look for how to edit it. Another person points out that this also lowers the psychological barrier to entry - things don't have to be perfect. There are social issues, though, such as implied permissions. Bob Logan pointed out that you can't design emergence. Alex Petrov noted that you can't predict innovation if you're going bottoms-up. Tom acknowledged the loss of control, but talked about unorganizations that emerge as well.

Another person explicitly distinguished between innovation and collaboration. Innovation is never really been successful without some sort of direction, he continues. A wiki is like a blank piece of paper, which is difficult to work with. Tom replied that collaboration is a good stepping stone toward innovation or the dispersion of innovation. The first person continued that R&D expenditure has no correlation to the performance of the company. Innovation is a very different function than collaboration. Another person talked about skunkworks and the possible value of having a skunkworks wiki, which could be a very powerful tool. Greg Van Alstyne supported Tom's point that innovation requires diffusion and adoption, and differentiated innovation from invention. You have to see it happening in a network. The person beside him talked about emergence and levels of complexity.

Another person talked about the nature of a corporation as a tree structure, push instead of pull. You have to fuse them together. Tom wondered if wikis need critical mass, and if the software isn't as good as they thought.

Deb brought the conversation back to the empty wiki. Anything successful has at the core of it a real problem, so that people have a motivation to do whatever. Carsten pointed out that it needs to be appropriate. Bryce brought up the idea of voice. Tom agreed that different kinds of media fit different tasks. Brent Ashley pointed out that there's a certain constituency of the population who are going to be involved. So we need to draw out the people in the organization who would be good adopters of these tools, so that the tools will be built by people who care about it. Tom agreed absolutely. Firestoker saying: "Learn to stop worrying and love your 1%." Rohan said that the key is to make sure that something there is important. People don't want to be left behind. As long as what's on the wiki is a hobby thing, then they're not going to go there. Jevon of Firestoker: A moment of crisis. Work gets done and operational efficiencies come into play. In that moment of crisis, it's a chance for leadership to let go and give up some of their silos. It's after that point that we see innovation and collaboration really come into play, because that's when people trust the space. Carsten: I think what makes collaboration unattractive is the lack of integration. The browser is the great equalizer. [But it's not integrated into the applications that I live in, like Outlook]. Maybe the wiki is not all that appropriate or practical.

Jevon: Story about Big 5 banks. They had computers in managers' offices, but no one was reading e-mail because computers were handled by their secretaries. Then the CEO sent the final paper memo, and then everyone used e-mail.

Person: If you build technology that does not conform to the way people behave, no one will use it. Noted problem with signup wiki. UX experience is the story. The experience of using a device should complement what you want to use it for.

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Random Emacs symbol: char-property-alias-alist - Variable: Alist of alternative properties for properties without a value.

“What are you planning to do in 2009?”, or thoughts about #lifecamptoronto

I'd been meaning to hold a lifehacking-oriented BarCamp since early last year. Timing is particularly good over the next two months: January is when most people make their resolutions and goals for the year, and February is when most people abandon them. By sharing best practices and support, we might be able to inject that extra little bit of energy people need to get over that hump... and by sharing our goals with each other, we can deepen our connectivity as a community.

Here's a snippet that shows you just how powerful this is:

What are you planning to do – no matter how large or how small – to make the world better in 2009?

One of our Ferrazzi Greenlight thought leaders, Mark Goulston, M.D, recently asked this at a networking meeting of high level lawyers, financial advisors, CPAs, and consultants. Mark noticed something interesting happening: People could recall, almost to a man, what others said their 2009 mission would be. Meanwhile, after having been together five years in this group, they still had trouble remembering who was in what profession! Elevating the conversation to something that truly inspired them connected them in a way that professional small talk never could.

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone

(Check out their discussions, too!)

One of the best things I did during the holiday season (and quite possibly one of the best networking things I've done in the past year) was to send out my updates and ask for people's goals. It sparked wonderful conversations with many of the 200 people in my initial list. If people e-mailed me their plans, I added notes to their address book records so that I could remember their goals. Knowing that about people made me feel much closer to them, and I'm actively looking for or keeping an eye out for things that can help. Based on that great response, I'm now slowly expanding it to my LinkedIn and Facebook contacts as well.

I'd like to do this, but on a bigger scale. I want to start experimenting with facilitating networking events - not the schmoozy, sleazy type of networking events, but something positive, filled with energy, and packed with hacks for making your life better. I want people to come together, learn a whole bunch of useful tips, share what they're passionate about and what they want to make happen, and meet people who can help them make those things a reality. I want to create an environment for maximum serendipity.

So here's what I envision:

  • People will submit their goals and tips before the event, on a website that helps people identify people they might want to meet up with.
  • It'll be a brunch event, because morning's a great creative time and we need excuses to drag ourselves out of bed (relatively) early on a Saturday or Sunday morning
  • There'll be coffee, tea, and morning snacks, sponsored by smart companies interested in people interested in developing themselves, personal development coaches, gyms...
  • Everyone's nametags will have a number and their first and last names on them. The number will be cross-referenced with the website list, to make it easier for people to get back in touch with each other afterwards. Maybe like the way speed dating is set up...
  • The event will have an open mike where people can share their goals and their tips. If people find the tip helpful, they can write the person's number down to thank them later. If people can help with the person's goal, they'll raise their hands and shout out their number. The person at the mike can write down that number and try to bump into those people during the rest of the event.
  • The rest of event will be for networking.
  • After the event, people can use the website to look up people's web addresses or e-mail addresses. Alternatively, people can drop their contact slips into a box. I can encode and send out lots of connecting e-mails in case of a match or partial match.
I'd like to make this happen in January or February. I need:
  • co-conspirators who can help me plan the event, since I'm new to event-planning
  • a target date
  • a website - we can start with something like eventbrite or a wiki page
  • lists of people possibly interested in attending
  • lists of people attending
  • a bright and sunny place where we can have a brunch event with a sound system, depends on number of people
  • sponsors, or someone who can help me learn to approach sponsors (after we figure out how big the event will be)
You know it'll be interesting. Let's make it happen. =) Or borrow the idea and make it happen in your own city - that would be awesome too!