Learning more about interviewing

David Ing let me tag along on a client interview for a Smarter Cities engagement. He and Donald Seymour interviewed the CIO and other staff of a region in Ontario. In the afternoon, David gave us a crash course on Media and Entertainment to help Donald and another consultant take over that area of responsibility. It was fascinating to watch their easy rapport and interviewing style. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Working in pairs makes interviews much easier. When David interviews, he usually asks someone else to lead the conversation. He asks the occasional question and focuses on recording notes, staying as close to the actual words as possible. This frees him from having to think about processing the words. He does this instead of recording the interview because listening to the recording would require lots of additional time.
  • Keep the conversation-setting presentation as short as possible, so you can focus on the conversation.
  • Don’t plan too much up front. Let the conversation take you to where it needs to go.
  • One-slide summaries with the question structures nudge the conversations in the right direction and help you ensure you cover everything of interest.
  • Capture notes on your computer to make it easier to share those notes with others.
  • Working with one client can be seen as self-serving. Working with several client organizations and bringing them together to learn from each other—that has a lot of value.
  • Hollywood is a strange and interesting place.

David, thanks for sharing!

More reflections on code and consulting

I catch myself talking and writing about consulting as if that’s the way for me to help organizations be more collaborative, as opposed to coding, which is productive and fun but which might have limited effect in terms of changing most people’s experiences of a company. In a way, I’m right. Other people are more likely to seek out and listen to consultants for ideas that they wouldn’t ask an IT specialist or web developer about, and the experiences and skills of consulting would help me understand the complexities better.

Sometimes, when I’m frustrated by internal hurdles to organizational flexibility, I envy other people’s roles. For example, Anna Dreyzin, Luis Suarez, and Rawn Shah get to work on improving IBM and sharing insights full-time. Isn’t that awesome? People tell me I help make a difference too, but it feels small compared to the difference I’d like to make.

But then there’s the joy of coding, the rightness of it, the value of it. Who’s to say that I’m not helping improve the organization’s capabilities, even from here? If I connect, collaborate, and share what I’m learning along the way, then I show what a possible future could be for organizations and the people in them. My work might not directly advance the goal of helping people work together better, but my work might be towards another goal I haven’t recognized and articulated, and there’s value in indirect contributions towards collaboration.

Maybe the model I’ve been using to think about the fit of work has been hiding something from me. Seeing fit as the vector projection of the organization’s objectives and of mine, to see what value we can capture and what value we waste, I can see the directness of contribution, but neither the value of indirect contributions nor the multiplicity of goals.

This realization matters to me because it hints at another goal, which might be to help people make a difference from wherever they are in the organization. That’s one of the things social media changes. I have a soapbox that isn’t circumscribed by my role. In the process of reconciling my love of development with my urge to more directly work on organizational culture, I’m learning things that can help me talk to and about the everyday evangelists of collaboration: those whose roles might not directly relate to helping their organizations be more collaborative, but who transform the way they and other people work by experimentation and example.

And as Torsten Wagner pointed out in e-mail (thanks!), bringing the tools and insights of one field to another (say, programming to consulting) can lead to something awesome and even revolutionary.

So I can guiltlessly enjoy building systems and mentoring developers, confident that this also fits into my big picture. =)