Category Archives: purpose

Thinking about improving the connective tissue of organizations

Even though I’m a recent hire, people often come to me to find other people in the organization. It’s a powerful way to create value. I’m not the expert they’re looking for, but I can point them in the right direction.

I want to not only to improve my networking capabilities, but to build this knowledge into the organization so that it transcends me. This reduces my direct influence, but strengthens the organization and makes more things possible. Improving the connective tissue in organizations increases efficiency, effectiveness, and happiness. A fully-connected organization allows people to bring together the best talent and the best resources no matter where they are, and it enables people everywhere to develop their full potential.

Little steps matter. Relentless improvement matters. How can I help make that happen?

  • I can teach the processes I use to find experts and resources. This enables more people to do what I do, and provides a platform that people can build on.
  • I can map the different communities, groups, and people for the subjects people often ask me about. Making the map visible brings people together.
  • I can cultivate communities and make them the go-to point for requests. Communities can reach a lot more people, bring in fresh talent, and form more connections. Vibrant communities also mean that individuals aren’t points of failure in the network.
  • I can provide feedback to our toolmakers and cultural influencers. Again, the more things we build into the framework, the easier it will be for more people to make things happen.

It may seem counter-intuitive to spread valued skills, especially if the organizational model is that knowledge is power and scarcity creates job security, but I need to create exponential value. Instead of accumulating and holding skills close, I want to push as much value as I can into the structure and into other people. I want to braindump everything I’ve learned and am learning, opening it all up so that other people can take the next step.

I want to see this smarter, truly globally-integrated workplace become reality. I need to help lots of people know more than what I know and do more than what I do.

I can help make that happen from where I stand and with the levers I have (and build). I’ll get even better as I learn more about different parts of the organization, respond to more requests, and find ways to align my work even better with the organization’s strategies. What we learn here can help other organizations and networks, too.

It’s a worthwhile goal. I’m looking forward to seeing how the adventure will unfold!

Reflections on passion: Don’t let your job get in the way of your career

“We criticize senior management when they focus only on short-term issues, allowing quarterly results to interfere with longer-term developmental needs. We should be equally tough on ourselves when we allow our jobs to get in the way of our careers.”

- a consulting client quoted on p.25 of

Million Dollar Consulting
Alan Weiss, 2009 (4th ed)

(Disclosure: The book is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

In my two years an at IT specialist / consultant at IBM, I’ve been lucky to have excellent engagements that helped me develop my skills and create real value. I have a great job, and I’m sure it will get even better as I learn how to consciously build a career. What kind of career do I want to grow into?

I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. I want people to be able to contribute their talents from anywhere in the world, and I want to help organizations get better at finding and tapping those skills. I want to reduce the friction in collaboration and make it easier to get leverage on time and effort. I want to increase the serendipitous connections and innovative cross-pollinations that come from diverse conversations. When people can connect with others who are passionate about the work that they do, energy spreads and is reinforced, and people can make things happen faster and more effectively. People are happier, too.

The past two years at IBM have been almost a perfect curriculum for this. I started out by building systems with social components. Then I moved into providing consulting services to our clients, sharing the lessons we’ve learned about strategy and adoption. My current engagement is an even better fit for my passions. Now I’m learning even more about tapping the strength of a global organization, finding experts and resources in response to client needs. I’m not only building training communities and facilitating global conversations, I’m describing how we do this and working on training other people on how to make the most of these social networks.

In addition to that, I’m helping develop leadership training materials around virtual communication and connection. This has multiple benefits. The better we get at leading online through virtual presentations, meetings, and collaboration, the more effectively we can share help our globally distributed workforce develop skills, learn from insights, and create value. The better we understand how to do this, the more we enable people in far-flung places to step up and lead from wherever they are.

It all goes back to that passion: helping people connect and collaborate.

Looking ahead, how do I want to develop this over the next few years? What do I want to grow into once we’ve done the heavy lifting of training a thousand specialists around the world?

I want to figure out how social tools can help us transform our processes and interactions, and what those processes and interactions look like. I’m doing a little of this now, experimenting with and documenting how we use the tools. I can’t wait to see what this will be like years from now, as the tools improve and the culture adapts. I’ll get better and better at seeing patterns, suggesting improvements, documenting practices, helping people change the way they work, and measure the results. I want to create value both inside and outside the company.

I want to not only connect people, but also help other people connect people more effectively. I’m doing a little of this now by directing people to communities and sharing tips on how to reach out, but it would be amazing to help hundreds or thousands of connectors add more tools to their toolbox. It’s like working on the connective tissue of an organization. The better we get at this, the faster and more effectively we can respond to the changing environment.

I want to help people get that Aha! moment. This is why I love learning about communication. Good questions and good explanations open up new horizons of possibilities, simplify complex issues, and energize people. I can get better at this through practice and through learning new skills.

IBM is an excellent laboratory in which to learn about all these things. Even tasks that don’t seem to align with my passion end up being related to it, as I’m good at drawing connections to things I like. If I was forced to do work that drained me and I couldn’t flip it around and figure out the kernel that’s related to my passion, I can see myself exploring this passion independently. After all, you shouldn’t let your job get in the way of your career.

How does your work support your passion? If it doesn’t, what could?

Microsoft evangelism – tempting!

I had hot chocolate and a terrific conversation with
John Oxley, director of community evangelism at
Microsoft Canada. He told me about Microsoft evangelists. It seems
like such a terrific fit! And the phrases he used – finding heroes,
telling stories – resonate with what I want to do. I’m looking forward
to exploring that opportunity. Perhaps we can co-adapt. I’d love to
work on skills that they’d find useful, and they can adapt the job
description to take advantage of my background and interests.

I was glad to hear that they’re coming around to seeing people as
people instead of just as consumers. ;) I love how companies are
gaining faces. They may have lost Robert Scoble, but they’ve learned
the importance of having human connections! John said that they’re
moving more towards thinking of relationships, which is one of the
things I’ve gotten really interested in.

In the course of the chat, John asked me what languages I program in.
I rattled off a few – Emacs Lisp leading the list, of course. He had
seen my resume online, so he knew that practically all of my
experience was with free and open source software. I told him that was
because open source was how I could work on things that mattered, even
as an undergraduate in a Third World country. I loved learning from
other people’s code, and I still do. Microsoft won’t—can’t!—make me
spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about open source. =)

What about IBM? If I can do Enterprise 2.0 evangelism, then it would
be tremendously exciting to get in on the ground floor and help shape
the technology. I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing IBMers through
blogging and social bookmarking, and that kind of a connection isn’t
just something to walk away from! I also really, really enjoy mashing
together all the Enterprise 2.0 services. =) If IBM can help me make
*just* the right career for myself, then they’ve got dibs on my brain
for taking that chance on me and giving me all these wonderful things
to play with.

IBM doesn’t quite have an evangelist track, though. I’ve been advised
to look into technical pre-sales or business analysis. If Microsoft
comes up with something that’s an even better fit for my interests and
goals, I’ll consider them. After all, they have “evangelist” as a
proper career path! =) I really want to be around lots of other people
who do what I do or want to do, and I’d love to go to conferences and
summits to meet other developers and evangelists.

John asked me what I wanted in a position. I want products and
services that I’m passionate about and people I love working with. I
want to get out there, meet people, and help them succeed by
connecting them with other people I’ve met, showing them tools they’ll
find useful, and supporting them as they figure things out. I want to
always be learning something new, always be playing around with
something cool. The more I learn, the more I can give to more people.
I want to be part of the community, and I want to help start
communities elsewhere. I want to bridge worlds. I want to tell stories
about the cool stuff other people are doing, and what people can do.

I like the picture John painted of evangelism. I’m going to do
something like that. What company I do it with depends on a number of
factors: the specifics of the career, how I feel about the company’s
solutions, the connections I have, the testimonials of other people
within the organization… I’m looking forward to sorting that out
next year! If I go with Microsoft or another company, that’s okay – I
think I’m creating enough value for IBM to make my fellowship more
than worth it, and I’m going to keep ties with them. =)

Here’s a sample job ad for the “enthusiast evangelist” position John
mentioned. This isn’t for Microsoft Canada, but it gives a good idea
of the kind of work involved.

Come join the team that is changing the way Microsoft is connecting
with influential end users as an Enthusiast Evangelist for the EMEA
(Europe, Middle East and Africa) Headquarters. Our connection with
“influential end users” lies at the center of Microsoft’s continued
long term success as a platform company.

Candidates will be young graduates coming from a technical, marketing,
media or other appropriate background and can prove to have a deep
passion for technology. Participants must have excellent English and
interpersonal communication skills.

Candidates are strategic thinkers, able to balance individual
creativity with working as a team and will have a high degree of
customer and partner focus.

We have created for you a program called MACH (Microsoft Academy for
University Hires). Of this program, the candidate will participate in
the Marketing programme which is a two-year international graduate
course that will make the graduate familiar with the marketing culture
at Microsoft.

The first year is structured academy training, and the second focuses
on career development. The programme is for participants with less
than 18 months of work experience. Though challenging, they equip the
participants with the skills and know-how required for a rewarding
career.

Required Profile

  • Passionate about digital lifestyle and rich consumer experiences across different mediums and technologies.
  • Individuals may come from either a technical, marketing, media or other appropriate background.
  • A deep strong understanding of this end user community proven by participation in online communities and/or user groups.
  • Flexibility in regards to work schedule and travel.
  • Solid understanding of the competitive products (hardware and software) and how to differentiate Microsoft from its competitors.
  • Strong communication and negotiation skills.

Candidates are born communicators with a passion for, and solid
knowledge of the influential end users, the blogosphere and online
media and most things that are part of the Digital Lifestyle.

The candidate will need to show the potential to develop strong
leadership and program management skills as well as cross group
collaborations skill and knowledge of the field.

To be successful, this candidate will need to show pragmatism and
willingness to roll up the sleeves and get the job done!

I’d love to talk more with people in both companies doing the kind of
stuff I want to do so that I can get a better idea of what it’s like.
But yeah, exciting times…

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The magic of helping out

Magic Johnson believed that if he helped everyone around him get what they wanted out of the game, then winning would always follow. And so would his own rewards, in their own time and of their own accord.

- From the Winner Within, by Pat Riley, coach, Miami Heat, as quoted in Business is a Contact Sport, by Tom Richardson, Augusto Vidaurreta, and Tom Gorman.

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Random Emacs symbol: next-file-list – Variable: List
of files for M-x next-file to process.

Life!

Since childhood, I have had a gift for working with computers. For a
while, this seemed like the perfect fit for my life. My grade school
teachers were not surprised to find me interested in computers in high
school. My high school teachers were not surprised that I took
computer science in university. One of my university teachers told me
I’d do well in “hard” computer science and encouraged me to go for a
master’s degree, maybe even a PhD.

But I am also awakening to a gift I have with people. I want to reach
millions and millions of people over generations and generations. I
want to lift them up, inspire them, share my experiences with them.
I want to tell their stories and help make their dreams come true.
This is what I want to do with my life.

I don’t want to wait until I’ve made my money before I do good. I want
to get out there and live and love and do and write and speak and
share. I will keep my needs simple, my schedule flexible, and my
overhead low so that I can spend as much time as possible developing
myself and other people.

I belong to the world not just as a mind, but also as a heart, and I
will make a life that allows me to express both.

So, concretely, how can we make this happen?

  • I want to repay the trust the university has shown in me by finishing my master’s degree and doing well.
  • I want to set up a newsletter and topic-focused blog that inspires people and shares tips with them.
  • I want to write best-selling books. The second book will be easier than the first, so I should really just sit down, pull out material from my blog, do more research, and make this happen. Hey, maybe even before I’m 25. ;)
  • I want to be a totally awesome professional speaker. That way, I can reach *lots* of people with not only my message but with my communication style. It’s also a good reason to meet people around the world.
  • I want to set up an organization for generous connecting.
  • Lots more!

How can I make this self-supporting? I want to get as quickly as
possible to the point where I don’t have to worry about my expenses so
that I can follow these crazy ideas for free. Then I can build up my
crazy idea capital, and then we’re off!

The best way for me to do that is not to plan for retirement at 60
with a slow-and-steady savings plan, but to take advantage of my crazy
ideas, train my intuition, and get better at going from crazy idea to
reality.

If I open my mind and look for ways I can create value for other
people (like my networking business cards that list my favorite
networking books!), then I’ll probably be able to create enough value
to make the kind of life I want.

(Crazy idea! Trust in coincidence by having business cards with random
stuff on the back. Moo cards does this with Flickr photos. Why not do
that with whatever you currently want/have? I think business cards
should be short-run and current. That way, they’re more than just a
static piece of contact information, and you’ll have reasons to keep
giving people your cards and for people to keep reading yours! Maybe I
should start date-stamping my business cards… Ah, now there’s a
great idea…)

Right. That’s the ticket. I should keep a notebook of all these crazy
ideas. Probably a blog page *and* a paper notebook. Probably part of
my Moleskine. And I should go and make those crazy ideas happen, like
advertising on my laptop or tweaking my business card, etc.

I don’t mind giving the ideas away. I get terrific feedback. In fact,
if other people pick up the idea and run with it, that means I get to
train my crazy-idea sense for free!

Remember the movie Phenomenon? I want to be that guy, overflowing with
lots of ideas and improvements! I want to be someone you tell about
the cool stuff you’re working on because I’ll be enthusiastic about it
too, and I *might* just go “Hey, what do you think about trying out
…?”

Simon’s fantastic at designing systems from scratch. I’m good at
thinking about how to improve something that’s already there, finding
things to smoothen, noticing things that are missing… Come to think
of it, even my computing background points to this. Why do I love open
source development? Because I can build on what’s there! Why am I
totally addicted to Emacs? Because it indulges my crazy-idea thing!
Whee!

So I want the ability to explore all these crazy ideas even when I’m
working. I have lots of options in terms of the type of job, too.

  • A high-margin job that will train me up and take advantage of what I can do well and the crazy ideas I can come up with – marketing and sales, maybe?
  • A job that develops my skills even though it requires more work and concentration, such as writing. But not for long.
  • Something that pays for my expenses without demanding any mindshare, such as waiting tables ;) (Can’t do that on my work permit, though!)

Right. Getting a better sense of what I want in life. There we go. Does that sound like a plan? Let’s make it happen. =)

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The Secret

On the walk back toward Greg’s Ice Cream for post-sushi dessert, Simon received an invitation from Shane to join him and a few friends for The Secret, a motivational video about the power of positive thinking. Although I had been looking forward to getting to know Richard and the rest of the folks over ice cream in
the continuation of Quinn’s birthday party, I also felt that it would be good to join Simon for this. It was a good decision. Not only did I have the unexpected pleasure of reconnecting with Bryan Pickle (whom I had met at one of Mike Fletcher’s parties), but the video was thought-provoking.

Not that the ideas proposed in the video were new to me. I take it practically for granted that you see what you’re looking for. The video was flashy and fast-paced, although you’ll probably want to skip the pretentious first sequence and mentally edit out some of the more over-the-top effects. Despite the distractions, though, I managed to still my mind enough to attend to the video, collecting stories, gleaning insights, and reflecting on my own experiences.

There was a short lull after the video ended, then everyone else dug into the almost-forgotten fruits. I stayed still, turning the thoughts over in my head, permitting silence to fill in the gaps and listening to how I felt instead of immediately putting things into words. This was perhaps strange to the friends who were there. Shane asked me if I
didn’t like the movie. Lara agreed that everyone could probably find examples of experiences that fit, and the conversation went on – but still I kept quiet, reflecting.

A few hours earlier and I could have channeled the energy of passion and excitement into the discussion, matching the tone of Shane and Lara’s voices, but I was in a serene mood. I haven’t yet connected with either Shane or Lara on that level, when the silences are comfortable and one speaks when moved to. I’ve been that way with Quinn, and Jed, and Simon – yes, Simon has his calm moments, hard as that may be to believe. <laugh>

Serenity. Those who know me primarily for my enthusiasm and who have mainly seen me on the sugar-high I get on life usually worry the first time they see me in one of my calm moods, and even those who know me well often ask me if I’m feeling down. (Trust me, if I were feeling down, you’d know!) Serenity is that quiet stillness within me and the space I create in order to discern.

And now, hours later, I have a better understanding of how I feel.

I agree with the gist of the video: the mind is powerful, our attitude shapes our life, and our feelings and intuition give us a good way to sense how well we’re doing.

However, thinking about it, I’ve come to realize that it is not the full secret of my life. What thesecret.tv describes is not my philosophy or my way of living. There is something different, something missing…

Ah. Here is a gap. The video focuses on receiving, but does not describe the great joy I have in giving. The video describes visualizing a goal, but I also love discerning a path. The video talks about uplifting the self, but my desires go beyond myself.

In order to serve, I must take care of myself, of course. I can’t help people if I am miserable; joy comes from joy. But I am confident that if I listen and extend myself, the universe will nourish me. It always has.

I do not need to manifest anything into my life. Happiness is not something that is in my future, a puzzle with jigsaw pieces that I have to find and assemble. It is simply now. I have an abundance of opportunities, and my job is to explore them. It’ll be *tons* of fun!

I ask the universe for some things, but in general the I come across opportunities before I even know to ask for them. If I am to receive anything, I ask for the discernment to see the best things to do at a moment, the beauty in each instant, and the ways to help people explore their potential.