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Accessing tacit knowledge and building pathways for two-way learning

Posted: - Modified: | connecting, web2.0

… Contacts are of very limited value in this changing world — the name of the game is how to participate in knowledge flows.

… Large contact databases don't particularly help in this quest and, in fact, can subvert our efforts to build the kinds of relationships that matter the most.

… Accessing tacit knowledge requires a learning disposition and an ability to attract, rather than simply reaching out.

… This often requires discussing publicly the issues you are wrestling with so others can become aware of them and seek you out if they are confronting similar issues. This can be very uncomfortable for most of us, because we are reluctant to expose provisional ideas and acknowledge that we are struggling with developing those ideas.

… Do you engage in these types of practices? What lessons have you learned in terms of being more effective at accessing tacit knowledge? What could your company do to encourage and support these kinds of practices?

John agel and John Seely Brown, Networking Reconsidered

Tacit knowledge: what we know but have not yet captured.

I think a lot about tacit knowledge, both sharing and receiving.

I need to share. I can’t help but share. I find meaning and passion in the act of sharing what I know and what I am learning. I work on converting tacit into explicit knowledge by writing things down and sharing them as widely as possible–usually, on this blog. I map my thoughts so that I can see an overview and find gaps. I write, I sketch, I speak. To speed things up, I’ve offered to mentor people. Questions help me access tacit knowledge. Other people’s perspectives help me learn even more.

It takes a village to raise a child, and the Internet is my village. Where there are gaps—the challenges I’m figuring out, the questions I haven’t even formulated yet, the things you can’t find on Google or in books—people step forward and share what they’ve learned. People are generous with their insights. Strangers pass through; some stay, become friends, move on. I remember the IBM ad of all those people teaching a boy, a metaphor for Linux. When I saw that ad, I thought: that is me as well.

Why does this work? Reciprocity? The serendipity of search engines and random connections? The asymmetry of communication? Reciprocity perhaps explains why people who have learned something from me—or from their own mentors—take the time to share their insights. Search engines mean that the knowledge flow doesn’t disappear with the end of a conversation or the geographic limits of physical interaction. Asymmetry means the network isn’t limited by my energy or courage.

I read a lot. I’ve read many, many books on networking. Inspired by those books, I used to set networking goals for myself. 300 “active” contacts that I’ve reached out to in the last six months, and so on. Now I don’t count. I just share.

I have not yet read a book that made sense of this new way of relating. We do something today that could not be done easily in the past. Not with this scale, not with this reach. There are many like me, and tools make our world even more densely connected.

There could be more. I need to find out what I’m doing right so that I can help others learn. I want to find out what we could do even better.

What are the key points of difference?

  • Motivation: I’m strongly motivated by gratitude and possibility: gratitude for what I’ve learned from others, and the possibilities of what we can do if I can help other people build on the foundations of what I’m learning.
  • Focus on creating value: I give first and freely. I’m more interested in how I can help other people than how they can help me. My own goals are straightforward and take time. Helping other people lets me learn more and get even more value out of my experiences.
  • Value: At work, I create value based on my adaptability, my workflow, and my network. None of these derive power from scarcity of information. In fact, the more I share, the better things get.
  • Tools: I focus on tools that scale easily. Writing is searchable. Sketches are quick and expressive. Recorded presentations and slides can be engaging.

How can I connect with people who are learning about sharing and help them share more effectively?

How can I connect with people who are curious about sharing and help them learn more?

(Hat-tip to Aneel Lakhani for sharing the link on Twitter!)

Visual notes – Gary Vaynerchuk and Democamp Toronto 24

Posted: - Modified: | democamp, entrepreneurship, notetaking, passion, sketches, web2.0

Funny aside: When Jay Goldman handed Gary Vaynerchuk a bottle of water, Gary offered it for sale. Little things like that reinforce story.

Key take-aways: Passion and patience are everything. Hustle. Out-care others. Offer good stuff. Pay attention to everything. How do you scale? By trying.


Notes from the demos and the pub, before I broke my fountain pen:


Explanations for scribbles upon request, or when I can make time for it! =)

Wild success and social networks

Posted: - Modified: | connecting, ibm, social, web2.0

Every so often, I have these moments when I realize: This must be the future. It’s here!

On Wednesday, I received an urgent request for a Web 2.0 strategy and intranet design expert for a 5-week engagement in Europe. A $10M deal hinged on our ability to find such a person before the end of the week. The project team had already asked the usual groups, and everyone was fully booked.

I knew that we needed to cast a much wider net than just the people I knew. I summarized the request and posted it to our Web 2.0 for Business community inside IBM. I asked people to respond on the discussion thread, e-mail me, or contact the person who had sent us the request. The program manager for the deal found the discussion thread and posted some more details, and we asked people to send him their résumés.

The response was amazing. People stepped forward. They passed the opportunities along to their social networks, diversity groups, and communities. After a flurry of e-mails, Sametime instant messages, and discussion thread posts, we found a lot of strong candidates. The program manager contacted the top candidates and put together a package for the client. Along the way, I got to know lots of people with just the right skillset we were looking for. Suzanne Minassian-Livingston was right: IBM is like an amazing candy-store full of talent.

Problem solved, thanks to Lotus Connections Communities and strong social networks within IBM. I would never have found or thought of all of those people on my own, and it would have taken us too much time to work through the normal e-mail chains in networks. Not only did we solve the problem, we also created a powerful success story that showed the client the value of Web 2.0 on the intranet.

Hooray for IBM, Lotus Connections, and social networks!

Comedy and self-promotion

| entrepreneurship, marketing, social, web2.0

We headed out for taco salads and soup at the Easy Restaurant on King Street after our last class of improv comedy. My three classmates and the teacher were all deeply into the Toronto improv and sketch comedy scene. I was the lone non-comedian, and I got a fascinating glimpse into that world.

They talked about the awkwardness of telling non-comedians about your interests. When the conversation turns to what people do, they feel that people who are outside the comedy scene just don’t get it, saying: “Oh, you’re a comedian? Tell me a joke.” One of my classmates said that this was probably why practically all her friends are also in the comedy scene. I wonder if they also have problems with the echo chamber effect that we see online, when people end up talking only to people like them.

They talked about the challenges facing the Toronto comedy scene. There are lots of stand-up rooms in Toronto where people can practise their material, but attendance is hit-or-miss. If you liked a specific comedian, it was hard to find out when and where they’d perform next. Shows were better publicized, but individuals were hard to track. I asked them if it was a matter of marketing. To me, it seemed obvious: if you were starting out as a stand-up comedian or an improv comedy performer, why not make it easier for people to find out when you’d be performing next, and share your adventures along the way?

They reacted strongly against the idea of self-promotion. To them, the idea of an amateur having business cards, a website, or a Facebook fanpage smacked of pretentiousness. It was okay if you’d done a number of well-received shows, or had some kind of national profile. If you were just starting out, you needed to know your place.

I found that really interesting because we run into the same social norms against self-promotion in different business cultures, and it can get in the way of connecting.

I think people do want to keep an eye out for teams and people they like. Facebook’s use of “Fan” might turn people off, so they’d need a more neutral space that can keep track of teams, individuals, shows, and locations. It would be a natural fit for Facebook integration, calendar exports, RSS feeds, and mailing lists. You could probably build the whole thing using out-of-the-box Drupal and the Content Creation Kit. Data entry would have to be done manually for a while (listings from Now Toronto and from the major venues?), but it might eventually grow into something that people can update on their own.

I don’t see people paying to use a service like this, but it might be supported by advertising (and perhaps a share of ticket sales, if you have an e-commerce system tied into venues’ ticketing).

In terms of marketing, you’d probably approach venues that don’t have event lists, as well as teams and individuals. Teams and individuals would be your primary channel for marketing. You could also offer a badge for venues, teams, and individuals in order to advertise upcoming shows, and pre-designed flyers (like what Meetup now does), and provide webpages for people who don’t have their personal sites set up yet. Posters near established comedy venues would be good, too, and hand-outs given to people in line. Business cards might be interesting too.

A business idea for someone who’s really interested in the comedy scene, perhaps! =)

The man who should’ve used Connections

| ibm, web2.0

Wow. There are some seriously talented IBMers out there.

This is the latest installment in “The Man Who Should’ve Used Connections”, by Jean Francois Chenier (a project administrator at IBM Japan). He created it using Anime Studio, Garageband, and iMovie.

When I grow up, I want to do things like this.

Public speaker worried about losing control? Don’t have lectures – have conversations

| speaking, web2.0

Public speaking is the greatest fear people have, and losing control seems to be the greatest fear that public speakers have. Like the way that companies have to adapt to social media’s effects on brands, speakers have to adapt to the reactions that spread like wildfire through social tools, reaching people far outside the auditorium’s walls.

This fear of losing control is interesting, because I love turning that speaker-audience relationship upside down. It’s incredibly more powerful and more fulfilling than lecturing, and you’re going to love it too.

Jeremiah Owyang posted great tips on how power is shifting to the audience, and how speakers can develop social media strategies to adapt. He said:

Critics would suggest that monitoring the backchannel is counter intuitive to what a speaker should be doing: focused on presenting. Yet, I’d argue that some power has shifted to the audience –and with that comes responsibility of the speaker to respond to the power shift. As a speaker… I feel empathy and at the same time am scared this doesn’t happen to me. The best way for speakers to avoid this revolt is to make sure that they be aware of the changes in power shifts and develop a plan to integrate social.

I’d love to hear from you how speakers should respond to the power shifting to the audience, I know there’s a lot I can continue to learn in the craft of speaking. What should speakers do?

I love giving people power, and that’s part of why I love speaking. I love learning as much from people as they learn from me. I love discovering where we can go together. The word “audience” bothers me because it’s too passive, just as I hate being referred to as a “consumer”. So here’s the unconventional perspective that makes it easy for me to ditch my slides when I want to, embrace the backchannel, and have conversations instead of lectures:

A speech is the start of a conversation, not a one-way street. It’s not about advertising your company. It’s not about building your reputation. It’s about helping people learn something, understand something, or be inspired to do something. It’s about starting a hundred or a thousand conversations. It’s about discovery.

The speaker’s work is important. When you speak, you give abstract concepts names, flesh them out, and make them real. When you speak, you can weave different threads into stories that help people understand. When you speak, you can help people figure out what to do next.

The participants are the ones who do the real magic. If you can inspire people to think about what you’ve shared and build on it, if you can help them understand a complex topic and act on what they’ve learned, if they go on to share that with others… fantastic!

Your role as a speaker is to set the stage and enable people to succeed. You’re there to serve them, not allow them to bask in your presence. ;)

So for your next talk, flip your perspective around.
Realize that presenting is a privilege, and work on living up to it. Create as much value as you can. Look for ways you can learn from people. It may take some getting used to–learning how to wait in silence was tough for me, but it’s essential for drawing out questions!–but it’ll definitely be worth it.

But wait, you think, that’s all very good if you’re facing a small group, but what about a large session? I find that I can have a conversation-like atmosphere with around 300 people if I step away from the podium, use a lapel mike, warm up the audience a little beforehand, and have fun. I’ve given keynotes to larger groups before, and when you’re in an auditorium with a thousand people, that does get tough.

You can still have a conversation with thousands of people. You might not do it with interruptions from raised hands, but you can do it on your blog by posting your material before or after your session. You can encourage people to post their thoughts and comments in a backchannel, and periodically review that (maybe during your water breaks?) to check the pulse. You can keep the conversation going by giving people a link to your presentation or related blog post. (If you don’t have a blog yet, you should definitely start one.) In fact, the more people are listening, the more important it is that you have some kind of conversation going. If you’re off track, you’re wasting a lot of people’s time. If you’re not listening, you’re wasting a lot of people’s insights.

Okay, maybe not all sessions can be this interactive, but far more of them can have this magic than most people would think. I’ve had fantastic afternoon sessions even when I was the last person on the agenda after a full day of talks. I’ve spoken after lunch, after awesome speakers, after boring speakers. The challenge I’m currently working on is figuring out how to facilitate this kind of energy during teleconferences with people from different cultures. (People from North America and Europe tend to jump right in, while other people tend to be quieter, but maybe other techniques can help!) But there are far more opportunities to have these kinds of conversations that most people realize, and I hate watching people squander those opportunities on lectures. (Unless they can be as inspiring as the TED talks!)

Try it out – you’ll feel awesome when you build listening into your speaking. You might be wondering how you can manage listening to people while talking at the same time. Let your body deal with listening to people’s body language in the room. Pay enough attention and you’ll find yourself physically mirroring little things about the audience – tension, interest, understanding. Can’t read and speak? Read the notes during your water breaks and course-correct, or have a buddy in the audience give you cues. And when you pull off your first wildly interactive session, when you were totally in the zone and everything just flowed, you’ll feel such an amazing buzz.

Personal connection and a trip to the dentist

| web2.0

A personal connection can make going to the dentist a lot of fun.

I like going to my dentist. Part of it is because I get paranoid about my teeth, running to the dentist at the slightest hint of a cavity. Part of it is that my dentist’s office is pleasantly quirky, adorned with well-shot portraits and oil paintings of a pet poodle. (I kid you not.) It’s a little like getting to see his personal side.

The office manager knows me by name, reads my blog(!), and laughs about my own quirks: the virtual assistants who call her to schedule, reschedule and confirm appointments; the varied interests she reads about; the ways I handle my health coverage. (I think I’ll revert to the standard plan next year.) The dentist jokes about technology and asks about my trips. Sometimes the assistants chat with me about graduate school or life in general.

I like getting e-mail updates, hearing about the different things that are going on, checking out the pictures they’ve just posted.

Imagine if more companies and more services made you feel that they knew you as a person… =)

And for businesses: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to be real. Those personal characteristics make it easier for people to relate to you.

(Note: I’m not getting anything for this post, although I like to imagine that my dentist is extra-careful when drilling because he knows I blog. ;) )