Notes from Mentors: Technology evangelism

Here are notes from a conversation I had with Ian Irving on technology evangelism.

Ian Irving had plenty of stories to tell about the time that he was
helping companies adopt Lotus Notes. As a technology evangelist, his
job was to not only show people how to set up their e-mail
infrastructure, but also to help them adjust to the cultural changes
facilitated by these technologies. He told me how he would switch to a
new, unfamiliar office every week with the mandate to find the key
influencers and help them adopt e-mail. He also told me how different
companies had different cultures that either helped or hindered this
adoption, and had similar problems that motivated the exploration of
possible solutions. Although companies believe their business problems
to be unique, a consultant with a wide variety of experiences can
create much value by seeing patterns.

One of the key things he did as a consultant was to translate the
technology into human terms. “I was a talker to suits,” Ian explained.
Technologists have a tendency to focus on the software or tool, and to
try to give as much information as possible. Ian consciously developed
the ability to talk to business people who had other priorities and
perhaps less technical backgrounds. It was important to realize that
they didn’t need to know all the technical details, and that
overwhelming them with data would be counterproductive. Recognizing
his tendency to over-communicate, he adopted the habit of asking
people what level of information they needed, and frequently checking
if he’d said enough.

His experiences helped me remember that with all the fuss about Web
2.0 and the next generation workplace, it’s easy to forget that
similar widespread changes have happened before. While e-mail and
intranet instant messaging are now entrenched in company culture, they
weren’t always that way. Stephen Perelgut
told me how he once conducted a workshop for people learning how to
use Lotus Sametime, IBM’s enterprise instant messaging system. Like
other technologies such as the telephone, these things were once new
and disruptive.

The conversation with Ian Irving helped me
learn more about one of my favorite professions. I’m glad he shared
those insights with me. And to think that that conversation came about
just because I wished him a happy birthday the other day… People are
amazingly helpful! =)

Try sitting down for coffee with one of your role models. You’ll learn
a lot, too!