On this page:

Risks, personal brands, and findability

I started the day with an interview for a course on social media education. The team sent me a list of follow-up questions an hour and a half before the call. They were surprised when I quickly posted an entry answering their questions. I figured that if I jotted a few thoughts down, they could use that to dig deeper during the follow-up call and it could be raw material for a future blog post. From experience, I know that it can take a while to think of great follow-up questions. The more cycles we can have in an interview, the better.

I was particularly interested in the discussions around risks, personal brands, and findability. The interviewers asked me what I thought the biggest risk was given our social media guidelines. Instead of naming, say, information leakage or corporate embarrassment—although there are plenty of stories like the ill-conceived prank at Domino’s that went viral—I told them that the biggest risk I see is that people might not participate enough. I think it’s a huge risk. First, lots of people are intimidated by the idea of sharing publicly, and they don’t want to risk embarrassment. This might lead to a widening gap between the people who can take that first step to share (and who grow more comfortable and more connected by doing so), and people who don’t take that step (and who get less connected in the process).

That intimidation and fear is often because of all the emphasis we put on personal brands. People think that they need to package themselves and present a perfect face. I’d rather focus on content: exploring new experiences, deepening my understanding, and figuring out how I can help other people learn. I pay a little attention to “branding” in the sense of consciously choosing parts of my online identity – a good picture that I can reuse no matter what hairstyle I have, and no Comic Sans MS anywhere ;) – but I don’t worry about being perfect. I have typos. I’m learning. I change my mind. It’s okay. It’s much more effective to focus on learning more and helping people more than it is to focus on how I want people to remember me. My parents always say, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”* For personal branding, it’s also like that: do good stuff, and your reputation will follow.” (* Of course, you still need common sense and good habits, like frugality.)

Besides, a brand is about a consistent, enduring experience, and you don’t have that at the beginning. You get there eventually. It’s like startups: you can come up with your positioning on day 1, but all the posturing about being the best in the world won’t do you any good until you deliver on that promise enough for people to trust you. You have to have history, and you can’t have history unless you start.

Which brings me to findability. One of the questions the team asked me was how people should tag themselves so that they’re more findable. It’s like search-engine optimization for people, I guess. It’s useful in a crowded marketplace, but you’re better off focusing on other things when you’re starting out. If you focus on doing good stuff and helping people find out how you can help them, that leads to you becoming the go-to person for all sorts of things. It’s not about you tagging yourself “web2.0 social awesome”, it’s about other people and how you help them. Don’t worry about being findable. Focus on being worth finding.

If you do want to get more networking value for your time, think about the connectors in your network. You probably have at least one. You know, the people who are always introducing people to other people? Help them get to know you and how you can help other people. This is good because connectors frequently answer requests for introductions, and if they can connect someone with you so that you can solve that someone’s problem, everyone wins.

Anyway. Social media education. Your biggest challenges are fear, apathy, and inertia. Focus on encouraging people with role models, stories, coaching. Tell people and show them by example that it’s okay to learn, to experiment, to try things out.

A philosophy of sharing and a truth about teaching

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-29 Thu 08:00

/Neal Schaffer thanked me for teaching him the zen of Slideshare. He confessed that as a consultant, he still finds it occasionally difficult to give away what he knows. Here, I explore my philosophy and why tools are an afterthought./

I want to give away everything I know. I want to push what I’ve learned into the system. I want to make my current self obsolete. In the process, I push myself forward.

I like connecting people, and I love strengthening the infrastructure that enables connection even more. I like delighting people by solving problems, and I love building tools so that people can solve their own and imagine new possibilities. I like helping people improve, and I love helping them develop their own practice of relentless improvement.

I want to be invaluable. I would hate to be indispensable. What I work on is much bigger than I am, and I would hate to put it at significant risk if something happened to me. Not only do I want to be replaceable, I want other people to be able to do even awesomer things than I have.

Even though I keep trying to teach and automate myself out of work, I can’t keep up–opportunities open up faster than I can turn them over to someone else.

So here is one of the Truths I aspire to:

*If you can, teach. If you can’t teach, do.*

This is why I write notes on as much as I can. This is why I share as much of that as I can through blogs, presentations, and other tools. The more I can push out into the universe, the more I can learn, the more I can share, the more we all can do.

Don’t wait until you retire. Share now. You’re going to forget important details an hour from now, so start writing.

When you’ve got this kind of urge inside you, then tools are easy. Writing on a computer lets me capture more words than writing by hand. Drawing lets me express concepts that are hard to describe with only words. Blogging lets me reach more people and make my notes available to searchers. Presentations let me learn from people’s questions. Sharing those files takes me a minute or two, and lets me reach even more people.

Tools are not the focus. Sharing is.

If I can teach the parts I understand well enough to teach and automate the parts that are repetitive enough to automate, we can focus on the interesting, novel, challenging possibilities. We can move forward so much more. I’m only here for a short time. We all are. Why waste it? Why waste the future?

Six steps to make sharing part of how you work

This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

People often ask me how I find the time to write, blog, or give presentations, so I’ve put together these tips on how to turn sharing from something that takes up extra time to something that saves you time as you work.

Sharing is intimidating. You might think that you need to master blogs or wikis before you can make the most of Web 2.0 tools to help you share your knowledge and build your network. But even if you never post in public, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to make a bigger difference through sharing.

I’m not going to tell you to start a blog today. Here’s a six-step program to help you save time by making sharing part of the way you work, even if most of what you work with is confidential or lives in e-mail. Give it a try!

Step 1. Review your e-mail for information that you repeatedly send people. Do different people ask you the same questions? Are there links or files you find yourself always looking up and sending? Are there common problems you often solve? Save time by filing those messages in a “Reference” folder so that you can easily find them the next time someone asks that question or needs that file. Save even more time by rewriting your notes so that you can easily cut and paste them into new messages.

You can use your e-mail program to manage this information by saving the e-mails in a “Reference” folder that might be subdivided into more folders, or you can save the information in directories on your hard drive, encrypting it if necessary. The key change is to create a virtual filing cabinet and put useful information in it.

This virtual filing cabinet can save you a lot of time on your own work, too. I often find myself searching for my notes on how I solved a problem six months ago because I have to solve it again, and my notes save me a lot of time.

Step 2. When talking to people, listen for opportunities to take advantage of your reference information. Now that you’ve got an virtual filing cabinet of useful information, keep an ear open for ways you can use that information to help people more efficiently. When people ask you a question you’ve answered before, give them a quick answer and promise to e-mail them the rest of the details.

When you look for ways to reuse the information you already have, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get a lot more benefit from the effort that you’ve already invested.

Step 3. Reach out. Now that you’ve saved time and helped more people by sharing the information in your virtual filing cabinet when they ask, you’ve got a better sense of which notes are very useful. Take a moment to review your files and think about who might benefit from learning from that information. Reach out to them, sending them a note about what you’ve learned and why it can save them time. It might lead to interesting conversations and good opportunities.

For example, let’s say you e-mailed one of your coworkers an answer to his problem. Think of other team members who might have run into the same problem, and send them a short note about it too. If you do this judiciously, people will feel grateful without feeling overwhelmed by e-mail.

Step 4. Prepare and take notes. Now you’re getting lots of return on the time you invested into organizing your existing information, and you’ve got an idea of what kinds of information help you and other people a lot. Proactively write down information that might be useful instead of waiting until someone asks you about it, because you might not remember all the relevant details by that time. In fact, take notes while you’re working instead of leaving it for the end. File those notes in your virtual filing cabinet as well, and share them with other people who might find this useful.

In addition to helping you save time in the future, writing about what you’re learning or doing can help you think more clearly, catch mistakes, and make better decisions.

Step 5. Look for ways to share your notes with more people. By now, you’ve probably developed a habit of looking for ways to take advantage of what you’re learning or doing: writing and filing your notes, retrieving your notes when people need them, and proactively reaching out. You can stop there and already save a lot of time–or you can learn about sharing your notes more widely, helping you build your network and increase your impact.

Proactively reaching out to people who might find your notes useful has probably helped you develop stronger working relationships with a small investment of time. However, this is limited by who you know, how much you know about what they’re working on, and the timing of the information. On the other hand, if you share some of your notes in public areas where people can search for or browse them, then you can help people you might not think of reaching out to, and they can find your information whenever they need it.

You don’t have to share all your information publicly. Review your virtual filing cabinet for information that can be shared with everyone or with a small group, and look for ways to share it with the appropriate access permissions. You can share different versions of documents, too.

For example, I share public information on my blog because blogs make it easy to publish quick notes, and search engines make it easy for people to find what they need even if I posted those notes several years ago. On the other hand, there are many notes that I post to internal access-controlled repositories. Sometimes, I’ll post a sanitized version publicly, and a more detailed version internally.

This is where you can get exponential return on your time investment. If people can find and benefit from your notes on their own, then you can reach many more people and create much more impact.

People may not find and use your information right away. Keep building that archive, though. You’ll be surprised by how useful people can find your work, and by the number of opportunities and relationships you build along the way.

Step 6. Review your organizational system and look for opportunities for relentless improvement.

You’ve collected useful information from your e-mails and conversations, organized that in your virtual filing cabinet, reached out to people, and shared some of your notes publicly. Congratulations! You’re probably getting your work done faster because you don’t waste time solving problems again. Your coworkers probably look to you for answers because you not only help them solve problems, you do so in a timely and detailed manner. And you might already have discovered how helpful your notes can be for others you wouldn’t have thought of contacting. What’s next?

Review your virtual filing cabinet. Can you organize it for faster access? Can you fill in missing topics? Can you identify and update obsolete information? Look for opportunities to improve your process, and you’ll save even more time and make a bigger impact.

Want to share your experiences? Need help? Please feel free to leave a comment!

 

What if sharing knowledge could make a difference between life and death?

Are there types of organizations where knowledge sharing is a matter of life and death, and what can we learn from them?

Travis Cord and Harold Jarche write about the social components of military training. Travis shares:

The formal pilot training course consists mainly of an instructor and student flying a specific lesson which the student learned as much as he could in the 1 hour flight.  It is expected that you take the lessons you learned in the air and share it with all your classmates, because there is no way to learn everything in the 1 hour flight.  It was never a good thing if one student knew a critical piece of information and the rest of the class didn’t.  The saying was always “Cooperate and graduate”.

This kind of knowledge sharing is critical in the field, too. It may be a struggle to get people in conservative organizations to share, but there are clear situations where sharing helps others and helps you.

Medicine is similar. Sharing knowledge and effective practices can save lives. In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande writes :

… the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely.

He describes how distilling shared knowledge into checklists (that include quick conversations between the surgeon, nurses, and anaesthetists!) can prevent missed steps and coordination errors that might have fatal results.

You might think that if you share what you know through a presentation or blog post, you still won’t save a life or make a big difference.

I think of it this way: sharing can help me make a bigger difference than I can on my own. Sharing also helps me helps other people make a bigger difference than they can on their own. Who knows, maybe through the magic of compounding knowledge, I can fit two or more “lives” into this one life that I have. Not as dramatic as saving a life, but it can still help build a better world.

So my question is: what if sharing knowledge could make a difference between a bigger life and a smaller life? My answer is yes, so I do.

Understanding analytics for personal blogs

Dan Zarrella’s talk on the science of blogging (#blogsci; my sketchnotes) was an interesting data-backed analysis of what kinds of behaviour were correlated with views, comments, Facebook shares, and Twitter retweets. It inspired me to take a look at my Google Analytics. Here are some highlights, what I think about them, and what you might look at when you’re reviewing your own statistics.

Browser Visits Percentage Worldwide usage share (Nov 2010)
1. Firefox 5,812 44% 23%
2. Chrome 3,396 26% 9%
3. Safari 1,620 12% 6%
4. Internet Explorer 1,414 11% 58%

Browsers and operating systems can give you a clue about what people are like. For the top four browsers people use, non-mainstream browsers are twice as popular as they would be considering the whole Internet. We’re definitely geeky over here.  I used to see a lot of browsing from Emacs w3m, which is why I looked into source-ordered stylesheets and I minimized the need for Javascript. Looks like people have shifted (or have changed their user agents).

49% of visits came from people on Microsoft Windows, 24% from Linux, and 19% from Macs. Hi to the iPhone, iPad, Android, iPod, SunOS (really? cool!), Blackberry, *BSD, UNIX, and Symbian, and Playstation users, too!

Take a look at your visitor statistics to see what people are using. Then you can decide if the average screen resolution will let you play with a wider layout, if you can take advantage of Flash, and so on.

Looking at your most popular pages can tell you what people want to read about. The most popular pages in November were my blog homepage, a blog post from 2008 on outlining your notes with Org, my Emacs-related posts, and a post on recording ledger entries with org-capture. Orgmode.org is the top referring site, beating Twitter, Facebook, EmacsWiki, and Drupal.org. Emacs rules. ;)

Use your popular pages list to learn more about what you’re currently doing well, and do even better at it. If you’re surprised by the results because your favourite pages aren’t on it, look for ways to make it easier for people to find and link to your content.

Your traffic sources tell you if you should focus on links, searches, or direct traffic. On my blog people come in fairly evenly from referring sites, search engines, and direct traffic (28-31% each). Aside from my name, other keyword searches tend to be fairly technical: error messages I’ve written about, and Emacs and Drupal-related questions. Some people come looking for visual notes, though, so that’s fun. =) Other people might get different results.

If you see more searches, you might consider writing more about that topic and working on being easier to link to. If you don’t see a lot of direct traffic to your blog homepage, think about whether your domain is easy to spell. I registered LivingAnAwesomeLife.com and sashachua.com to make it easier for people to get to me, as my name is hard to spell. Domain names are not free, but I think of it as an investment in potential conversations.

Do people return regularly? 40% of visitors in the last month have been to this site before, and they spend twice as long on the site than new visitors do (3 minutes instead of 1.5 minutes). I think that’s encouraging. 112 people have been to this site more than 200 times. (Hi mom!) 20% of visits were after another visit on the same day, so I might look into increasing my posting frequency from once a day to twice a day.

Do you have regular readers, or do people leave and never come back? Think about whether you meet the promise your site makes. All the search engine optimization tricks in the world don’t matter if people come, get disappointed, and leave. Do people come more often than you post? Consider posting more often, so there’s something fresh for people when they come.

Even if you’re writing a personal blog and not doing it as a business, you can learn interesting things from your statistics. Don’t let the numbers stop you from writing about whatever you’re interested in, though. Get that knowledge out of your head and into a form you can work with. And if you’re just starting out and your numbers are small, don’t worry. Everyone starts somewhere. =) Being boring, making missteps, and experimenting with doing  better are all part of the process. Add analytics to your blog, and then start using the data to help you experiment!

Things I’m learning about sharing other people’s knowledge, or why you should show me what you’ve been meaning to teach others

Many conferences don’t record sessions or share videos promptly, so I was delighted to find that the Emacs Conference 2013 was not only going to be recorded but also livestreamed. Jon (the venue contact) even brought a small camera for recording close-ups. Since the zero-budget conference didn’t have a professional videographer, I volunteered to process the videos and get them out there. I also took sketchnotes and shared them during the conference itself.

It’s important to me that people who weren’t able to make it to the conference can still learn from it. So much knowledge evaporates into nothingness if not shared. Besides, it  would be wonderful for people to get a sense of the people in the Emacs community, and that’s something that’s hard to pick up from just slides or transcripts. I had selfish reasons, too. I wanted to be able to go back and remember what being around a hundred Emacs geeks is like. (It was awesome!)

It took me 8.5 hours spread over a week to process and upload the videos from the conference. It was an excellent use of that time, and people have been super-appreciative. I’m planning to transcribe John Wiegley’s talk on Emacs Lisp development because it was full of great tips. I may transcribe the other talks (or coordinate with other people?) if that’s something people would find really, really useful too.

There’s a lot of good stuff in people’s heads, and most people are really bad at getting things out there where other people can learn from them. There’s the fear of writing or public speaking, of being wrong, of not being an expert, of embarrassing yourself. I write a ton, and I’m comfortable giving presentations. (Both skills are really useful introvert hacks.) It’s easy for me to share what I know, and I’m learning even more each day. So that’s good – but it might be even more interesting to pick other people’s brains and help them get their thoughts out there. I suspect that even if I spend the rest of my life sharing just what other people know, that would still be a great way to make life better.

I’m getting the hang of amplifying the good ideas that people have, helping them reach more people. Sketchnotes, videos, transcription, writing, podcasts and video chats, screencasts, blogging, visual book reviews… I get to indulge my curiosity, help other people learn, get conversations going.

This is good. This means I don’t have to stress out about being original or being an expert. I can be a conduit for other people’s ideas and lessons, while inevitably creating something of my own along the way. I’m sometimes divided on this. Shouldn’t I use my 5-year experiment time to pursue my own ideas instead of just channeling other people’s thoughts? But I learn so much by helping people share, and I get to see the interconnections among so many different things. And then ideas bubble up – things I haven’t read or heard, things that I do differently that I notice only when people ask – and these ideas demand to be created and shared. The choice isn’t one or the other. By helping people share what they know, I can get even better at making new things. =)

Anyway, on to lessons learned:

What worked well?

  • Sketchnoting and sharing during the conference itself: Great way to help people in person and online. Because there were lots of abstract topics to cover and I was helping with technical issues as well, my live notes were pretty text-heavy. I edited the sketchnotes after the event in order to add highlights and extra information. Tech-wise, I used WinSCP to upload the images in the background, and then used NextGen Gallery’s rescan folder feature to pull them in. This meant that I didn’t have to fuss with web server errors.
  • Using multiple tools for recording my presentation: I remembered to set up recording audio on my phone, recording video on my tablet, and recording my screen using Camtasia Studio. The audio recording worked, and both video recording and screenrecording failed. (Sigh.) But at least there’s audio of the keynote! I might recreate the presentations if people think that’s valuable.
  • Copying the conference videos before leaving the venue: Soooooo much faster than downloading them over the Internet
  • Volunteering to handle the videos: Because otherwise it could take forever (or it might not have happened). Besides, I really like Emacs, and helping out with this is a good way to build the community.
  • Setting aside time to follow up: It was great to have the space to work on this here and there instead of getting caught up in other work.
  • Splicing in secondary video: Jon took close-up videos of many of the presentations, which I added using Camtasia. This was great because the screen was difficult or impossible to read over the livestream.
  • Separating rendering from publishing: In the beginning, I used Camtasia Studio’s YouTube support to publish videos directly to the Internet. This broke after the first few videos, so I used to save the videos from the error dialog and then upload them myself. When I switched to producing the MP4s directly, then uploading them to YouTube using my browser, uploading was around five times faster. Uploading videos through my browser also allowed me to process the next video instead of tying up Camtasia Studio during the publishing process.

What would make this even better in terms of sharing knowledge from conferences?

  • Doing a livestream tech check and having guidance for speakers: The keynote wasn’t livestreamed because we had technical issues, and many of the presentations were unreadable because of the glare from a white background. Coordinating with the venue to do a technology check beforehand might help us avoid these issues in the future, and it’ll also tell us what we need to work around when we prepare our presentations.
  • Asking the venue organizer which files had the livestream video: The livestream videos were confusingly named with a .ps extension, but Alex found them by using the file command.
  • Bringing a personal video camera and a tripod: That might make travel a little more difficult, but it’s good to have more video backups, and the quality might be better too.
  • Editing the videos using a proper video editing tool instead of Camtasia Studio and Windows Movie Maker: Might be more reliable, as Camtasia occasionally crashed.
  • More hard disk space: I can move processed videos to secondary storage knowing that I have YouTube or Vimeo as a backup.
  • Bringing a large USB drive to conferences: Great for efficiently transferring files between computers. (Good old-fashioned sneakernet!)
  • Making sure Camtasia Studio doesn’t crash next time I want to record my presentation: This probably had something to do with not having audio sources. If I can reliably reproduce this and figure out how not to reproduce it, that should be good.
  • Learning how to cut: Editing to pick out highlights or make things flow more smoothly can help me save other people time and make information more accessible to people who can’t sit down and listen to something for an hour. I’ve done a little audio editing to remove ums and ahs before, but it might be interesting to do more radical cuts. I don’t particularly enjoy doing this yet because I vastly prefer visual/verbal learning over auditory learning (and used to regularly fall asleep in class, although I managed to graduate somehow!), but maybe that’s just a matter of practice, familiarity, and material. We’ll see. After I learn how to cut, maybe I can learn how to make audio and video even more engaging with music and effects. Someday!

I love it when evolving skills and interests come together coherently and become a platform for going from strength to strength. I started blogging almost eleven years ago as a way to learn more effectively, and now I see how I can scale that up even further. I wonder what this will look like in a decade.

Here are a few ways you can help me get even better at sharing what you and other people know:

  • Ask me questions. =)
  • Teach me what I should ask you so that I can learn a lot from you.
  • Suggest ways I can organize or share things even more effectively.
  • Tell me where I’m on the right track, and what “even better” might look like.

This is fun!

Related: