Category Archives: web2.0

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The problem with personal branding

One of the problems with personal branding is that we tell people that they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We scare people with stories about college students posting inappropriate pictures, employees complaining about their bosses, and search engines remembering everything. Then we tell people that they need to be on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and their own blog if they’re going to have a chance in today’s job market.

And we wonder why people don’t make the most of these tools.

I think the cautionary tales we tell people are interesting. We tell people to remember that search engines have a long memory, so you shouldn’t post complaints about your work or drunken pictures of you at parties. I think that’s focusing on the surface and not the roots. It’s not about keeping rants offline. It’s about getting better at focusing on the good stuff and taking responsibility for shaping your life.

Here’s the difference:

Personal branding tip: Don’t gripe about your work on your blog.

Life tip: Figure out how to make your work better so that you don’t want to gripe all the time. Accept that there will be times when you want to gripe and being frustrated is part of learning. Focus on the positive.

Also:

I think people are getting stuck, not because the tools are hard to use, but because people don’t know what to share. We can talk about how personal branding and social networking are great ways to build your reputation and demonstrate your expertise, but many people don’t feel like they’re experts.

I care about this because thanks to connection and opportunity compounding, the gap between the people who get it and the people who don’t get it will get wider and wider unless we do something.

In my case, that something includes demonstrating that you don’t have to be an expert to create value. That you can admit you don’t know something and you want to learn. That you can make mistakes and deal with your weaknesses. That you can build on your strengths and interests, and that the path from mediocre to good is worthwhile. That you don’t have to have a “voice” right away and you don’t have to sound like a polished writer. That you can be human.

When we tell companies to be human, we don’t mean that companies should use toilet humor or lie. We mean the best part of being human – connecting authentically, being real. We should encourage people to be human, too. I don’t want people to think that they need to be these polished and carefully-controlled brands. (Particularly considering we’re telling companies that they don’t control their messages!) I want people to find and share their best – as well as the seeds of what could be great. I want to build a world where people don’t have to worry about the rough, unfinished parts of themselves. I want to build a world where people can learn out in the open if they want to.

I think under-sharing is more of a problem than over-sharing. Yes, it’s a good idea to think before you post, and there are plenty of examples of failure. There’s that occasional exhibitionistic streak—the rebel in us that likes to shock others—that we need to rein in. But the bigger and more interesting challenge is that people don’t know what would be good to share, what other people might find useful.

Sure, thinking about personal brands can help you figure out what you know that other people might find useful. Truth is, practically anything can help someone out there. I’m often surprised by what people pick up from what I do – even little things like the way I use [  ] and [X] and [-] in my weekly review. So there’s a ton of things you can share, and the fun challenge is prioritizing so that you can get more valuable things out first. When you think that way – starting from a position of abundance and opportunity, rather than from a position of fear and anxiety – things get much easier.

So: Stop worrying about personal branding. Focus on what matters. Share. Create value. Don’t worry about whether you’re on all the right social networks and you have a complete profile with lots of recommendations. Start figuring out who you are, what you know and do, why it matters, what you can share, and how you can share it. Don’t worry about whether you look good. Focus on how you can help others. Everything else flows from that.

On getting started with collaboration

The hardest part of collaboration is getting started.

In the days and weeks and months before you have a critical mass of people on board, your progress can seem very slow. There’s a lot of resistance. People don’t trust your new initiative. They don’t see the value in changing their behaviour. They don’t see the value in working with you. I see that resistance a lot, whether I’m coaching groups on new collaborative tools or helping organizations learn more about changing business trends.

Building a new collaborative initiative is like making a big snowball. You start with a tiny core. You roll it around and around and around in the snow. Then suddenly it starts picking up new snow easily, and it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets easier and easier to roll. But in the beginning, you have to be very careful about using light snow and smoothening it into the right shape.

Here’s what I’ve learned from coaching individuals, teams, communities, and organizations on collaboration:

Find your champions. Don’t be discouraged if adoption is slow. In any group, you’ll find people who adopt new ideas earlier than others and people who influence other people’s opinions. Find those early adopters and influencers, help them make the most of your new tools, and collect and share their success stories. They will inspire other people to explore, and their examples will help other people learn.

For example, when I help a team learn more about wikis so that they can easily create a web-based knowledge repository, I don’t expect that everyone will contribute to the wiki right away. I look for the one or two people who already organize and share information for the group, and I work with them so that they can use the wiki to organize what they know. If other people find it handy, that’s a bonus. These early adopters and influencers help us convince the rest of the team to read the wiki. Over time, others may be inspired to edit and contribute to the wiki themselves.

Focus on immediate personal benefits. As much as possible, show people why your initiative is worth their time and effort. If you conduct a survey, share the results. If you build a discussion forum, make sure someone is responsible for answering questions. If you want people to read your blog, focus on sharing things of value to them. Help people get value from their participation as quickly as possible.

For example, when people start blogging, they often feel discouraged because they don’t get comments from other readers. That’s the kind of social benefit that comes later, after you’ve developed your network. I help people focus on saving time by using a blog as a professional notebook for remembering solutions and ideas, and I help them see that the practice of writing helps them improve their communication skills. Without that immediate personal benefit, many collective initiatives fizzle out.

Make sure you build compelling personal benefits into your initiative. Personal benefits will motivate people to participate, and then they’ll be able to take advantage of the collective value of their participation.

Fully participate in the conversation. Make it easy to give feedback, and show people that you’re listening. Keep people up to date as you act on their suggestions. Ask questions and reach out.

For example, IBM regularly runs large-scale Jams, which are brainstorming discussions across all of IBM. Seeing decision-makers participate in, respond to, and act on the suggestions raised not only energizes the discussion, but lays the groundwork for even more discussion and action in the future. On the other hand, traditional suggestion boxes that stay locked and unacknowledged can sap morale. As you collaborate with others, show people your progress and the results of that collaboration.

Find your champions, focus on people’s immediate personal benefits, and fully participate in the discussion. Good luck!

Large team challenges

What collaboration challenges do large teams face? Here are the key problems I often hear from people, organized in a rough flow of how teams encounter them within each category. Can you help me improve this list?

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Assets and knowledge

  • Large attachments: People feel this particularly strongly in IBM because the system imposes “mail jail” if your mail database goes over a certain size, and it can take hours for people to archive and reorganize their mail in order to accept the attachment. The problem is exacerbated by large distribution lists that include people for whom the attachment is not relevant. Costs: Wasted time, increased server storage costs, increased bandwidth costs
  • Knowledge maps: Assets are scattered in different repositories and websites. People don’t have an overview of the different information sources the team uses, what to find where, and what to look at first.  Costs: Wasted time figuring things out again or answering FAQs, duplicate work, duplicate storage, time spent answering FAQs
  • Getting knowledge out of people’s heads: When teams start building their knowledge maps, they often realize that much of the knowledge their team relies on has not been written down. Costs: Wasted time figuring things out again or answering FAQs, duplicate work, increased risk of project delay or failure if a team member becomes unavailable. This challenge is usually broken down into:
    • Expertise mapping: Without a shared understanding of team roles, the team can suffer lack of coordination and duplicate work. Even with a rudimentary expertise mapping system such as a list of people and their roles, new team members can begin to find people who may have the assets they need. Without an expertise map, team members must rely on a few well-connected managers or team members to find people, and the process of personal referral can take time.
    • Products and assets: The next step after expertise location is asset-sharing. Without an asset repository of deliverables and working documents that people can reuse, team members may need to keep reinventing the wheel.
    • Experiences, ideas, tips, and best practices: If people can invest in examining and improving their processes and tools, they can share these tips with other team members and contribute towards emerging best practices. Without this kind of reflective practice, however, team members may waste time and miss opportunities due to ineffective or obsolete processes.
  • Managing turnover and risk: As new team members come on board and other team members leave or become unavailable (vacation, retirement, sickness, etc.), the team needs to adapt. Without documented processes and easy-to-find assets, new team members can’t work as effectively. Onboarding effectiveness also affects  morale for both new members and existing team members. If team members become unexpectedly unavailable, the project could fail or be significantly delayed. Costs: wasted time, missed opportunities, less flexibility

Interaction

  • Meetings: With an increasingly globally-distributed workforce, teams need to learn how to use virtual collaboration tools more effectively. Telephone-only meetings can lead to limited interaction or disengagement. Face-to-face working sessions can incur significant time and financial investments. Costs: Wasted time, travel costs
  • Teambuilding: Without traditional team-building events, team members may not feel as vested in their team’s success, or as comfortable collaborating with people they rarely or have never met. Costs: More friction in communication and teamwork, less effective work, less trust, limited growth opportunities
  • Communication: Multiple one-way broadcasts can be overwhelming for team members, who may end up ignoring newsletters and other e-mail. Without broad feedback channels, team leaders risk having limited insights and lack of buy-in. Costs: Lack of communication and shared vision, duplicate work
  • Peer-to-peer communication: Without a way to communicate with the larger team without being overwhelmed, members may end up collaborating with only a handful of people. They don’t benefit from other people’s experiences or shared resources, and other people can’t build on their work. Costs: Wasted time, duplicate work, more limited growth opportunities

External

  • Working with people outside the team: Team members often need to work with people who may not have access to the team’s resources. This collaboration typically involves lots of e-mail. New collaborators may not be aware of the project history or assets. Distribution lists go out of date or are not consistently used. No one has the complete picture of the project. Costs: Wasted time, frequent miscommunications
  • Working with people on multiple projects: The problem of coordination is exacerbated when team members juggle multiple projects. Making sure that new collaborators receive all relevant, up-to-date information can take a lot of time if the assets and project decisions are scattered among lots of messages in people’s inboxes. Costs: Wasted time, frequent miscommunication
  • Publishing externally-facing information: A team often needs to provide overviews and other information for other groups. Without a single up-to-date collection of information, team members need to find and send the most relevant information each time it’s requested. Costs: Wasted time, inaccurate information
  • Regularly coordinating with other teams: A team may need to regularly keep up to date with the work of relevant teams, without being overloaded by updates. Cadence meetings take time and can be difficult to schedule. Without a record of the discussions and other ways to share updates, team members may struggle to identify relevant news in a time-effective manner. Costs: Duplicate or incompatible work, leading to wasted time

Does that resemble what you see? How can we make this list better?

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Goal: Map the challenges, look for teams that address these challenges well, make preliminary recommendations based on their practices, and  then help teams identify their priorities and next steps

I’d like to build the post-connector workplace

In a large organization, there are two ways to create great value: you can know a lot, or you can know a lot of people. Even within formal hierarchies, there are connectors who influence without authority. As organizations take advantage of social networking tools, connectors can keep in touch with more and more people.

Even new hires can be connectors. It’s a great way to get all sorts of interesting opportunities.

It can be tempting for connectors to try to hang on to that power. They might introduce people to each other, but not share their organizational knowledge of who’s where.

Me, I want to build the post-connector workplace.

I don’t want the power that comes from being the relationship or information broker. I don’t want to be the perpetual go-between. I want to build what I know into the foundation, so that everyone can use it. For me, that means building strong communities and knowledge maps.

Why?

Even connectors who can remember thousands of people are biased by recall and limited by their networks. Passing a question through personal networks take time and result in a lot of duplicates. Networks that depend on connectors lose a lot when those connectors leave.

I’d rather look for new talent than just refer people to the people who come to my mind first. I’d rather build the capabilities into the organization so that everyone knows where to go and how to connect. I try to share everything I’m learning, and I work on connecting dots in public instead of in private.

It’s not about how many followers you have or how influential you are, but about how well the organization and the world works even after you move on.

Thanks to Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the nudge to think about connectors!

Around the watercooler

I attended a virtual watercooler session for the IBM CommunityBuilders community yesterday afternoon. It was great hearing from other people who are also figuring out how to help others use social networking tools to build community. We’re dealing with many of the same issues: encouraging adoption, facilitating participation, keeping up to date. One of the incredible things about working in a huge company like IBM is being able to tap a breadth of perspectives and learn from so many people around the world.

There’s been such a big shift over the past few years. The questions we get from clients and coworkers alike used to focus on what and why and how, like “What’s Twitter? Why would anyone use it? How do I get started?” We still get questions like that, but more interesting questions have emerged. Now that enough of the tools and enough of the culture has taken root, we can start looking for interaction patterns. We can look at how communities and teams use combinations of tools, how that influences their processes and results, and how the discussions flow.

There’s so much that still needs to be explored. I want to help figure out how we can more effectively connect and collaborate, and that work is just beginning.

Braindump: Social media advice for events

If this is something you’re attending:

  • Figure out the hashtag people are using to talk about the event on Twitter. Share what you’re looking forward to, connect with people who are going, and start the conversation.
  • Blog about the event, linking to the site and to other people who are talking about it. Connect with other people who are going.
  • Take notes and share them on your blog. Link to your notes on Twitter. Send e-mail following up with contacts, including a link to your notes.

If this is something you’re organizing:

  • Pick a hashtag, promote it, and link to it on the conference webpage.
  • Keep an eye out for people, tweets, and blog posts related to the conference. Link. Consider using hashtags.org
  • Consider asking for blogging volunteers. Link to their work.