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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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Notes from conversations: Conscious competence

Politeness

I’m going to start off with a story about embarrassing myself, because it’s something worth thinking about, I learned a lot through it, and it shows you that I’m human and there are many things you can teach me. <laugh>

Jeff invited me to this talk, and I was really looking forward to it. I had been somewhat frazzled that afternoon (oy, paperwork!), though, and by the time I arrived at Rotman, I realized I didn’t clearly remember what Jeff looked like. I couldn’t pick him out of the rapidly growing crowd. I did, however, see a few other people I recognized a bit (including Darren from the summit I’d attended the day before), and after some reintroductions, we sat near the front of the audience. (More on this later; see “The best seats in the house”)

Darren brought a number of friends over, so the seats in front filled up quickly. I kept looking around, but I didn’t see the people I was looking for – Jeff, who had invited me, and Sabrina, who I had met on the subway last Monday. I suppose it would’ve helped if I had a clearer memory of their faces – another argument for using a smartphone for taking people’s pictures and associating them with my address book records. ;)

Jeff walked up to me and reintroduced himself (thank goodness!), and promised that we’d get together afterwards for coffee or tea so that he could pick my brains and introduce me to his other guests. Then it was time for the session to start. =)

Over tea later that evening, Jeff told me about possible generational differences in etiquette, and how he had been surprised (but not offended because he was expecting these generational differences) that I hadn’t sought him out–or lacking that, saved seats for him and the other guests. In retrospect, it would’ve made sense for me to stand near the back and look for him (or look obviously lost, in which case I’m sure he would’ve found me easily). He asked me what it looked like from my perspective, and I told him about the interesting conversation I found myself in with the folks I’d met at the other event, my understanding that he’d probably be really busy as an organizer, and how I wasn’t sure how many other guests he had invited or who they were. =) It all worked out quite well, although I’m sure I must’ve blushed quite a bit.

There, Jeff – it’s not that Generation Y isn’t aware of these things. It’s mainly that I’m a little fuzzy-brained when it comes to people’s faces, and that I trusted we’d meet up some way or another during the event – which we did, thanks to you. =)

The best seats in the house

I like sitting in the front row, near the center aisle – the best seat in the house for most lectures, seminars, and other events. This usually means that I need to arrive early, which also allows me to chat with other early-birds, the event organizers, and the speakers. Even when I arrive late, though, I sometimes still squeeze into a seat near the front if the talk hasn’t started yet. There are usually a couple of empty seats there, and I still get a great view.

There are several benefits to sitting in front, and you should consider these the next time you’re attending an event. =) Here are a few of my reasons:

  • People who sit in front tend to be really interested in the topic. I can’t count the number of great conversations I’ve had with people, just chatting with people around me before the start of an event. (Yes, I still think of myself as shy. I figure that other people are shy too, so talking helps people settle into the event a bit.)
  • I’ll probably think of a question for the talk, and it’s easier for organizers to see me and hand me a microphone if I’m near the front or near an aisle–or sitting front-and-center, a real keener!
  • I can help influence the energy of a speaker or of the room. I love actively listening to sessions–being interested and enthusiastic, reacting to what’s being said, keeping my body language open and encouraging. As a speaker, I also really appreciate it when other people bring a lot of energy to the room, too.

    Story: I was going down on an escalator at a research conference and a guy on the other escalator waved to me and told me (quickly) that he wanted to talk to me. After he doubled back and met me at the other end of the escalator, he explained that he was giving another session soon (I told him it was one of the ones I was looking forward to). He asked me to sit in the front row. I was surprised by this request, so I asked him about it. He told me that he really appreciated my energy and enthusiasm, and that I made it easier for him to speak! So next time you’re in the audience, think about the fact that you can influence the speaker, and through the speaker, the entire mood of the room. =)

  • I’m in a good position to overhear interesting questions asked after the session. =) I like standing on the periphery of the crowd that usually gathers around speakers after their sessions. People ask all sorts of interesting questions, and I learn quite a lot from what people are interested in and how the speakers respond.
  • Sitting in front keeps me more engaged.
  • I’m not just looking at the slides or hearing a voice come out of the speaker system. I’ve got a full view of what’s going on. Hey, if you had rink-side tickets to a game, wouldn’t you take them too? =)

Conscious competence and knowledge sharing

We talked about the Johari window, or how learners progress through:

  1. unconscious incompetence – when you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. conscious incompetence – when you know that you don’t know
  3. conscious competence – when you need to pay attention in order to do something, and
  4. unconscious competence – when you can do something without thinking

Jeff shared how he had used this concept when applying for the position he currently has. The discussion reminded me of the challenge of expertise: it’s difficult for experts to share what they’ve learned because they’re no longer conscious of what they do and they find it hard to explain all the steps. (Try explaining something you know how to do to a five-year-old.) When you’re unconsciously competent in something, it’s difficult for you to teach it to other people because you don’t think about all the things you do in order to achieve a result. People can still learn by observing you, and if you think about things and consciously break them into smaller steps, you can still teach other people, but it takes effort.

This discussion reminded me of one of the things I recommend to organizations interested in blogging and other forms of knowledge sharing. People are often interested in these tools as a way of sharing expertise, and they hope that they can get subject matter experts to blog or contribute to a wiki. I think that a much more practical and effective way to approach this, though, is to encourage learners to share what they’re learning. Not only do they get the immediate personal benefits of understanding topics more clearly as they take notes and find ways to explain things, but they also help other people learn and build their own reputations at the same time. Get the newbies to do the sharing, with subject matter experts reviewing things for accuracy and clarity. Everyone will learn more. Going back to the Johari window – you’re enabling the consciously competent to teach the consciously incompetent who want to learn, and in the process, you help everyone move forward.

Tied in with that idea of knowledge sharing, then, is the reflective practice of blogging or writing what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how you can do things better. That conscious, continuous attention to improving competence is one of the key effects that regular, intentional blogging (or wiki-ing, or whatever else) has on a person’s skills. Jeff was initially discouraged by the thought of trying to find an hour each day for blogging, but maybe if he spent an hour each week telling stories into a voice recorder (or his Blackberry) or writing down his weekly review, he’ll start enjoying the benefits of this approach.

The conversation also reminded me of another reflection I posted: “If you can’t, do. If you can, teach.” I shared with them how I’m always trying to teach myself out of a job, sharing as much as I can of my conscious and unconscious competencies so that other people can learn and so that I free up more of my time to focus on things I don’t know how to teach yet. For some people, this is a scary thought because job security means differentiating yourself through knowledge or expertise, not trying to bring everyone up to your level. For me, I think that greater security and fulfillment comes from helping lots of people grow, and because I also get to practice my ability to learn and share, I’ll have plenty of things to keep me busy. =) I create more value and I have more leverage on that value by sharing with others, and that means more opportunities flow to me and other people as well.

Speaking of conscious competence – it’s really cool that Jeff consciously develops his social networking skills. He’s curious about the way I do it, too. I’ve blogged a fair bit about social networking, and I’ll keep posting my notes as we all learn more.

Plenty of other notes about technology adoption, social bridgebuilding, storytelling, and things like that, but I need to work on some other stuff first. More to follow!

More random notes from last night’s conversation

  • Spam haiku – Jeff has the book
  • Richard Florida – I hadn’t recognized the name, but I remember reading The Rise of the Creative Class.
  • Jeff – Story about Bell landline problems, difficulty with system, running outside and talking to a Bell technician who helped fix it
  • Gregory told us about this London restaurant that projects dishes and uses a touchscreen table.
  • Writing and reflection
  • Diffusion of innovations as applied to career resources
  • Brand and clarity

Notes from conversations: Ushnish Sengupta, consulting

Ushnish Sengupta was interested in exploring social media consulting. He picked my brains over hot chocolate at the Bluestar Cafe. Here are some rough notes from that conversation:

  • The first tip I gave him was to blog. I think it’s a good idea for consultants to keep a blog because it’s an easy and nearly-free way to help establish credibility and build connections. The blog can contain success stories, articles, lessons learned, announcements of upcoming events, tips, tidbits, and other pieces of information that can help both potential and existing clients. Besides, it’s awfully hard to do social media consulting if you’re not immersed in the space and you don’t have a presence.
  • Business cards: I told him about putting pictures and interesting conversation hooks on business cards, showing him mine as an example.
  • Ushnish was interested in potentially getting a PhD looking at consulting services and similar areas. I recommended that he check out services science. A recent conference we both attended (CASCON) had a number of sessions about the topic, so I suggested reviewing the proceedings to find people and topics of potential interest. I also recommended that he get in touch with people like Kelly Lyons – she’s currently doing research in this field.
  • Twitter backchannel: He asked me how the City of Toronto’s Web 2.0 Summit went. I told him about the interesting conversations that happened in real life and on the Twitter backchannel, and suggested that the next time he’s at an event, he should find the tag that people are using and tune in to search.twitter.com for some lively conversation.
  • Professional networking: He asked me which professional social networks I’m on. I told him that I’m active on LinkedIn and I use it to connect with people so that I can find out about changes in e-mail addresses and positions. He asked me if I was on Plaxo. I told him that I never got into Plaxo because it started off with a bad value-proposition for people who entered their data and that it had been fairly spammy. I haven’t looked into Plaxo Pulse in detail, but LinkedIn and my personal addressbook handles most of my needs.
  • Multiple networks: He asked me about being on multiple networks and how networks become popular and then fade away. The key things I shared with him were that ideas and skills tend to be transferrable between networks, and that an external profile such as a personal site or blog is important because it ties all the networks together. I also told him about something I picked up from Rahaf Harfoush’s talk on the Obama campaign: produce a piece of content and then distribute it through different channels.
  • Partnership: Ushnish asked me if I preferred to work with people I know well or if I preferred to work alone. I told him that I definitely prefer to work with other people because I learn much more in the process. I also told him that I actually enjoy working with people I don’t know that well yet, because it gives me an opportunity to develop a new relationship and spread the skills. If I’m asked to give a presentation, I often look for ways to enable other people to give the presentation, perhaps with a little coaching from me. I want other people to develop wonderful skills, too.
  • Teaching as I learn: The point on partnership segued into a discussion of how useful, fulfilling, and effective it is to try to teach everything I know how to do. I recapped some of the points from “If you can, teach; If you can’t teach, do“.
  • Event management: I told him that I’m interested in learning more about hosting external events in 2009. Alex Sirota does a lot of events for the New Path Network (which Ushnish belongs to), so I might see if I can use some of those events as models.
  • Address book: Ushnish was curious about how I manage my network. I told him about my wonderful addressbook setup (automatically tracks who I send mail to, automatically inserts notes into my mail), and the visualization improvements I’d like to make. I also told him of my plans to try porting some of these ideas to Drupal so that other people can experiment with them.
  • Social media and change management: I told him about the spectrum of social media consulting, and that organizational change plays a large part in it.
  • Rough notes: We ended the conversation with a homework assignment: he’s supposed to blog the lecture he was also going to that day, and perhaps the notes from the conversation as well. I reassured him that rough notes are fine, and that he’ll make things clearer and clearer as he writes about them again and again.

What did I learn?

  • I seem to have learned something about social media consulting after all. =) Hooray! I need to package that into some kind of internal blog post and presentation so that my coworkers can make the most of it.
  • I should find a way to package up these social networking tips into a blog post, a presentation, and maybe an event.
  • In an alternate future, I could probably keep myself very busy building and selling tools for making all of these things easier…

#hohoto conversations

  • I put “Sacha Chua, @sachac, livinganawesomelife.com” on my nametag because putting “Sacha Chua, @sachac, sachachua.com” felt a bit repetitive. It made a number of people smile, although some people asked me if I was no longer working with IBM. I told them I’d gotten an alternate domain name for my blog because it’s a bit easier to spell.
  • Kristan Uccello pointed me to the red glowsticks near the stage. I stuck one in my hair. That and my white blazer made me slightly easier to spot in the club, although it was still quite, quite packed.
  • Ian Irving told me about some Twitter data analysis and visualization he’d like to do. I promised to send him some information about Many Eyes, Wordle, and other visualizations.
  • I introduced Elena Yusunov to Patrick Dinnen, who regularly spends some time at the Center for Social Innovation. Elena is interested in social media for nonprofits, and would like to check CSI out. I should get Elena and Jane Zhang together for coffee next week. Also, I should check out those capoeira lessons.
  • I told James Walker about the Drupal hacking I’m having a lot of fun with at IBM. =) I also told him about hacklab.to after he mentioned that he occasionally drops by the Center for Social Innovation to hang out and print stuff.
  • Saleem Khan mentioned spampoetry.com.
  • Eva Amsen mentioned that she’d heard about me from Jen Dodd and Michael Nielsen, and that she was one of the organizers of SciBarCamp. I think she’d have a great conversation with Elena Yusunov about organizing events and about social media for nonprofits. She also explained the meaning of her Twitter ID, easternblot – it’s a biochemist secret handshake thing.
  • Sunir Shah asked me if I’d been to Toastmasters lately. I haven’t, but I might try exploring some of the downtown clubs with him after he’s done with house-hunting.
  • James Woods said he’d been to Mauritius, and he found it interesting to hear unexpected people fluently speak French. Gabriel Mansour mentioned that Sameer Vasta had been to Mauritius recently.
  • Gabriel Mansour told me about http://cupcakecamp.ca, which looks interesting. I promised to e-mail the details to Greg Frank, who is interested in cooking but doesn’t bake much.
  • David Crow’s 15-month-old daughter is getting quite good at sign language, and tends to string signs together like sentences.
  • Adam Schwabe turned out to be the guy doing my usability test this week. We talked about the challenge of finding out what other people are doing when it comes to Web 2.0 at IBM. I promised to send him info about our upcoming Web 2.0 for Business community call, and to connect him with a few people. (I actually talked shop at a party; meep!)
  • Brent Ashley’s on his third ultra-mobile PC. He handed down the rest to his two daughters. Reminds me of the way my dad goes through Swiss knives…
  • Kieran Huggins should definitely look into getting one or two external flashes. They’re portable and they really make a difference in pictures. For photography awesomeness, buy glass (lenses) and light (flashes). And practice, of course, which he obligingly let me do.
  • Mike Miner runs into all sorts of interesting stories as a producer. He wants to go to Africa or South America.
  • Pete Forde’s planning a dinner party. I’m looking forward to it!
  • Bryan Watson can dance swing! That was lots of fun. I may have accidentally stepped on someone’s foot while finding this out, though.
  • I promised to e-mail David Crow and Jay Goldman about volunteering to help out with events so that I can learn how to organize external events.
  • I caught up with or met a whole bunch of other interesting people. =) (Hooray! I’ve been in Canada long enough to have old friends!)

… I feel like a gossip columnist with all these names in my blog post. Odd!

Also, I need to port my BBDB-auto-hyperlink-to-people’s-blogs-or-websites code over to Org mode. Ah, Emacs…

Creative encouragement and following passion

Over lunch at the Craft Burger at Yonge and Bloor, Stephen Brickell and David Ing gave me advice about life, careers, and all sorts of other great things. (I’m such a lucky newbie!) Here’s a story from that conversation that I knew I just had to share with others.

Photo (c) 2007 grendelkhan (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License)

Stephen told me about the advice he had recently given Philip, his 18-year-old son. Philip had initially thought of taking engineering in university, probably because that was what he felt his parents wanted him to do. Stephen and his wife reminded their son that while they were happy to give advice, it was ultimately Philip’s decision, and he should take full responsibility for it. Stephen also shared how people who find and follow their passion end up doing much better than people who just focus on the money.

After a lot of consideration, Philip realized that he was really interested in horticulture. He worried that he’d regret taking horticulture instead of a more promising (and lucrative) career. What if he made a mistake and it wasn’t his passion after all? He didn’t feel that it wasn’t a university-type course, and he knew that his parents strongly wanted him to go to university.

Stephen told him that with global warming and other changes, food is going to become even more important – and an expertise in horticulture could very well be a way to make money. He also encouraged Philip to keep an eye out for opportunities to connect studies, entrepreneurship, and other things. For example, Philip enjoyed the culinary arts course he took in high school, and he could combine that with horticulture and entrepreneurship by growing restaurant-quality herbs in a greenhouse.

What I liked was the creative encouragement that Stephen gave. We’ve all heard advice to “do what you love and the money will follow,” but Stephen went one step further and helped Philip imagine concrete ways to make money doing what he loves.

What if Philip made a mistake and horticulture wasn’t what he really loved to do? Stephen reassured him that even if it was a perfect fit for him now, there’s still a chance that he’ll change his mind, grow out of it, or discover something new–and that’s okay. When that happens, Philip can just figure things out again. (And he might be surprised at how much of his skills he can transfer over to whatever new field he becomes interested in!)

I liked the way that Stephen made it clear that it’s okay not to figure everything out the first time around, and that life is about continuous learning.

What about university? Stephen said that he wanted his son to attend university because it would expand his mind. That said, Philip could go to university later, or take a business degree, or learn about all of these things later. Horticulture seemed to be a better fit at the moment, and the credits that Philip could earn there would be recognized by partner schools.

I liked the way that they had clearly thought out reasons for university, but they weren’t tied to the convention of university immediately after high school.

I’m glad Stephen shared that story with me. I asked him right away if I could share it with others, and he was happy to agree. There are a lot of interesting things in that story that I’d like to learn how to do well, particularly when it comes to encouraging others to find their passions and create opportunities.