Category Archives: braindump

Braindump: On face-to-face and online social networking (xpost)

An author wants to set up an interview with me because sheís working on a paper on what can be done through face-to-face networking that canít be done online.

Hereís what I think:

Most people strongly feel that face-to-face networking is much better than online social networking. A paper that focuses on what can be done through face-to-face networking that can’t be done with on-line social networking will find it hard to say anything that hasn’t been discussed before. If you want to get attention and create value, you can teach people how to effectively blend on-line social networking with their offline social networking.

How can people use online social networking tools to make it easy to identify people they want to get to know, make the initial contact, find common ground, keep in touch, maintain their network, and make introductions?

People have heard a lot about how online social networks are limited and often a waste of time. What they need is guidance on how to use these tools effectively, and how to make it worth the investment of time. As more companies explore telecommuting as a way to cut expenses and reach more globally-distributed talent, people need to learn how to connect and stay connected at work and in life.

Hmm. Let me explore that, because I get a whole lot more done with online social networking than with offline ones, and I find virtual networking to give me better results Ė and surprisingly good serendipity Ė than offline networking events.

Why I like online networking investments (blogs, presentations, etc.) more than offline networking investments (networking events, lunch, coffee):

  • Works for you even when youíre sleeping
  • Can start with other people getting value from you right away (people finding answers on your blog through search engines, etc.) Ė jumpstarts reciprocity
  • Reaches a much wider network with little additional effort
  • Allows people to efficiently get a sense of your depth and breadth (often more than you can pack into a five-minute conversation)
  • Makes it easy to stay connected (asymmetric connections possible; not dependent on both peopleís time and inclination)
  • Supports greater value capture (itís easier to copy and share an answer sent through e-mail than to remember what you discussed, type that up, and then share it)

Where offline networking is still useful: hearing from people who donít share online

What I would recommend to people who are starting out:

  • Ditch the mindset that online social networking is much less effective than offline. Donít be limited by your preconceptions.
  • Share what you know. Give as much knowledge away as you can. Create as much value as you can.
  • Be real. Donít let the fear of imperfections stop you from sharing.
  • Build bridges. Make it easy for people who meet you offline to discover your online self. Make it easy for people who come across one of your posts to discover the others.
  • Experiment. Stick with things for a while before you give up, because it takes time to form a habit. Focus on immediate personal benefits so that you donít get discouraged if youíre not immediately popular. Figure out what works for you.
  • Learn from others. Find someone you admire and learn from them. Ask questions. Share what you learn from them.

Braindump: What I learned from our virtual leadership conversation

Around 20 people joined us for a conversation about Smarter Leaders, which was organized by Jack Mason in the IBM Virtual Analytics Center. Rawn Shah and I gave introductory remarks, and then we facilitated small-group discussions. I focused on the need for smarter leaders at every level and what we could do to help people develop as leaders.

What did I learn?

We know what can help: identifying characteristics of effective leaders, focusing on leadership instead of technology, collecting and sharing success stories, compiling a cookbook that focuses on needs instead of toolsÖ That part is just a matter of doing it, and there are lots of programs already underway.

Is it going to be enough, or are there other things we can do to break through? If it took e-mail ten or so years to become part of the corporate culture and enable all sorts of opportunities, can we wait that long for connected leadership to become part of the way we work?

We tend to have a culture of waiting for permission instead of experimenting (and asking for forgiveness if needed). This means that lots of people are waiting for their managers and executives to participate in this.

Me, Iím all for people taking responsibility for leadership at any level. We might not make big decisions, but we can still make a difference.

What am I going to do based on what I learned?

Iím going to take a look at the characteristics that describe IBMers at their best. Iím going to figure out how to develop those characteristics myself, and how other people can develop them.

Iím passionate about helping individual contributors build and demonstrate leadership. Iím neither a manager nor an executive, and I donít want to wait for everyone at the top to ďget itĒ before the benefits can trickle down to everyone else. So Iím going to keep poking this idea of leadership until more people can identify with it and ask themselves, ďHow can I be a smarter leader?Ē.

What are you going to do to spread be the word about smarter leaders? =)

What worked well? What could we improve further?

  • I really liked being able to help bring together all these interesting people. It was like going to a real-life conference.
  • I finished my part in time (short talk!). =) I forgot some of the points I wanted to make, but it was okay because Iíd already shared them in my blog post.
  • I did a good job of picking on people to get the ball rolling, and the conversation can get even better if I can figure out how to bring more people into the conversation.

  • Small-group virtual facilitation needs to be tweaked further. I felt conscious about people being outside my vision, so I turned my avatar around, but it still felt strange to have my back to a speaker. We didnít organize ourselves into a circle because it wouldíve taken time to position people, and the spatial audio mightíve been weak. I like the way that our Second Life meeting environments sometimes have auto-expanding chairs.
  • My audio was clipping because the sound was set too loud. I should definitely do more audio tests before the sessions.
  • My sketches turned out pretty well on the screen of the Virtual Analytics Center. =) Simple and easy to see from any part of the auditorium.
  • The auditorium turned out to be too small to accommodate breakout groups. One of the breakout rooms had audio running, and we couldnít figure out how to turn it off. The big gathering area was a good place to have a discussion, though. Teleporting buttons would be a great way to get people from one place to the other without wasting time navigating. (Ooh, teleporting buttons with visual feedback for intuitive load-balancingÖ)
  • The indicators for who was currently speaking made large conversations so much easier. I want that on all of my teleconferences. =)
  • Text chat still beats speaking in turn when it comes to getting lots of stuff out. Itís odd to mix it in, though. It feels a little weirder than having an active backchannel during a phone conference. I think itís because you can see people, so you feel more of an urge to talk to them instead of typing.
  • The web.alive folks definitely need to add a way to save the text chat!
  • The virtual environment can capture all sorts of interesting data. I wonder what kind of research can come out of thisÖ

Lots of good stuff!

Thinking about what people remember

While thinking about identities, personal brands, and what people remember, I thought it might be useful to think about what people probably remember about me:


Presentations are probably the clearest time I present a ďbrandĒ or a slice of myself, because I focus on a single topic and I write a bio that highlights relevant aspects. At work, on my blog, and in life, I can bring out more complexity.

I started thinking about this when someone asked me how one makes the shift to talking about identity when people ask about their brand. When I thought about the question, I realized people donít really ask me about my ďbrandĒ, they just figure it out.

People find happiness and energy remarkable. One of the tags people added to my profile at work is ďhowcomeshesalwayscheerfulĒ. <laugh> Ditto with energy Ė people are surprised by that. It seems like being passionate about your work is a rare thing. Iím going to work and live as if these things arenít rare, assuming instead that everyone can be happy and energized and passionate about what they do. =)

Happiness, energy, and passion donít fit neatly into the idea of consciously building personal brand. Happiness doesnít work well when youíre being happy just because youíre the happy person. You donít say, ďHey, happiness would be a good brand for me, so Iím going to be happy.Ē You just are. You can focus on the bright side of life, but thatís more about you and less about what you want people to think of you. And happiness doesnít mean that you need to hide the sad parts of your life, because those challenges help you grow too.

The cross-over between different parts of my life (such as Emacs people sharing their insights into my hobbies) is totally awesome, which is why I like sharing the complexities of who I am instead of boxing myself in with a brand.

I like working this way. I like being myself, seeing what people find valuable, and then building on those strengths so that I can use them to help more people. Instead of thinking of this as one-way, like personal branding is often seen, I think of the conversational development of identity. It doesnít spring full-formed from my solitary thoughts, like the way someone might deliberately develop personal branding. It emerges as I interact with people and the world, and as I reflect on what Iíve learned.

Thanks to @saradelekta for prompting me to think about this, and to Bernie Michalik for the comparison between identities and personal brands!

Thoughts on presenting: I love the backchannel

One of the reasons why I like presenting online more than presenting in even the best-equipped halls is the text chat that participants can use to share what they think. I love it. I think itís incredible how, through talks, I can provide a space for people to come together and discuss something theyíre interested in, and I can listen to whatís important to them and what theyíve learned.

The value I bring to a presentation:

  • a key message
  • next actions
  • a short, energetic, engaging presentation
  • other stories and insights as they come up during Q&A

The value I receive from a presentation:

  • new insights from the conversations
  • new connections
  • the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from sharing

Itís a lot of fun. I hope I can help more presenters get the hang of the backchannel!

How to brain-dump what you know


  • Youíre going to need it. Why solve things twice? Write things down.
  • You can save yourself the time it would take to explain to lots of people.
  • You can save other people time.
  • You improve your understanding and your communication skills.
  • You can build your reputation.
  • You can meet interesting people and find new opportunities.
  • You can train other people to do your work. Replaceable = promotable. Also, you can move on to other roles without feeling stuck or guilty.


  • Just write. Paper notebook, big text file, blog, wiki, wherever. It doesnít have to be organized. Just get things out of your head. Rough thoughts, doodles, step-by-step instructions, solutionsówhatever you can. Donít get into trouble, of course. Strip out sensitive information. Thereís still plenty to share.
  • Plan for search. Number the pages of your paper notebooks and keep an index at the back. If you use a blog or wiki to store your notes, try using your tools to search. Add extra keywords to help you find things.
  • Be lazy about organization and refinement. Your notes donít have to make sense to other people in the beginning. If other people ask you for that information, then you know itís worth revising and organizing. Build links when you need them.
  • Share with as wide an audience as possible. Even if you donít think anyone would be interested in what youíre writing, who knows? Maybe youíll connect the dots for someone. Put it out there and give people a choice.
  • Write, write, write. You may catch yourself writing about something for the sixth time in a row because the past five times didnít quite capture what you wanted to say. This is good. The more you write about something, the more you understand it, and the better you can communicate it to others.
  • Keep a beginnerís mind. Write earlier rather than later. Write when youíre learning something instead of when youíve mastered it. Experts take a lot of things for granted. Document while you can still see what needs to be documented.
  • Think out loud. Donít limit braindumping to the past. You can use it to plan, too. Write about what you plan to do and what youíre considering. Youíll make better decisions, and youíll find those notes useful when you look back. Other people can give you suggestions and insights, too.

Other notes

Many people use these excuses to avoid sharing:

  • Iím new and I donít know anything worth sharing.
  • Iím an expert and Iím too busy to share.
  • No one will read what Iíve shared.

If youíre new to a topic, awesome. Sharing will help you learn better. Also, as a beginner, youíre in a good position to document the things that other people take for granted.

If youíre an expert, sharing lets you free up time and enable other people to build on your work. You can make a bigger difference. Youíre probably an expert because you care about something deeply. Wouldnít it be awesome if other people could help you make things happen?

Donít worry about people not reading what youíve shared. Youíll get the immediate personal benefit of learning while you teach, and you might find it handy later on. You can refer other people to it, too. People can find your work on their own months or even years later, if itís searchable.

Share what youíre learning!

Thanks to Luis Suarez, John Handy-Bosma, and John Cohn for the nudge to write about this!