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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Facilitation and Collaboration

I watched a “professional facilitator” absolutely waste 16 person-hours. The opportunity made me so mad, it took a while to figure out what I think.

Here’s what I think:

Unless you are working by yourself, you need enthusiastic buy-in from your team to get superior performance.

Taking time to get everyone on board is usually well worth the effort, and has often lifted my results beyond anything I understood when we started.

Facilitation is a set of tools and processes, which have little value unless the facilitator has a strong commitment to a result. Someone showing off their process is entertainment.

A facilitator who has a strong commitment to the results is an important part of the team. A facilitator who has an overriding commitment to facilitation is lost.

She who writes the agenda controls the meeting.

What do you think?

Learn about  Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Best Behavior

Jack and I were wasting time talking about how just when you create an overwhelming advantage, the game changes, rendering your advantage obsolete, from dinosaurs to asynchronous warfare. We looked at various leadership behaviors and the philosophies behind them, The Golden Rule, a little Game Theory, even Seth’s Game Theory.

Seems like the farther these theories get from practice, the more complicated they become. I suspect that is so when they don’t work, the inventor can say, “See, you missed paragraph 124, line 5!” as if that means anything.

We agreed that best behavior had to be small enough to be readily understood, easily applicable when we don’t know all of a situation, and communicable and believable by the winners in the organization.

Can’t be harnessed to a fantastic super-belief, has to make sense to the winners you meet.

Can’t be harnessed to a false ideal that doesn’t pay off regularly.

Can’t favor one side over another.

The success of this behavior has to be self evident to most observers.

Here’s our answer: Always behave as if a superior force is coming into play shortly.

When you have a process that works under those circumstances, you have something worth expanding.

Check out Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Real Ruling Class

A couple years ago, I was invited to speak at a law firm about the advantages of blogging. People had questions and I had stories so we were doing pretty well. Finally, one associate who wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, said it was all hopeless. It was not legal for lawyers to blog! Disarray.

After that I worked with a handful of lawyers at other firms who didn’t know blogging was illegal, and they used social media to develop relationships and a lot of business.

A year ago I was working with some investment professionals about the advisability of blogging to improve their businesses. One of the less gruntled (and less successful) professionals couldn’t dissuade his group, so he finally dropped the “L” bomb. Although it had worked previously, this time he was judged a motley fool.

When a lawyer was advising his doctor clients to create an agreement that said patients could not discuss the value of service received using the internet, my car mechanic told me there was a law against that...something about “go take a flying garbled at a rolling donut.”

What started this post was a meeting I attended yesterday where a member of the government gave an impassioned explanation of why intelligence agencies could not benefit from social media tools. Since no one else in the room knew the facts, he was allowed to proceed with his opinion.

Yesterday I overheard a building inspector yelling at a maintenance worker. “Don’t call me until this has been looked at by the elevator man and the electrician!” Now there’s someone committed to providing a good solution.

I’m starting to see how many rules are made up by people who are covering their weakness, uttering magical thinking to hold back new opportunities. These are often middle-of-the-pack functionaries, scrambling to hold a disappearing advantage, who don’t use the tools being considered and don’t intend to figure out how they can best be applied. They have little interest or impact on improving performance. Before computing took over some of the repetitious drone work, they had secure positions. Now they are trying to get that back.

That same day, I was privileged to see Steve Wozniak keynoting at FOSE. The recurring theme I heard was how people develop expertise by making things, often on their own time, to understand how to apply new technologies.

That was the same story I heard five years ago, about the founding and implementation of Intelliwiki, the intelligence community’s collaborative intelligence tool. One of the founders, a green screen mainframe jockey, decided he would invest a free half day every week until he learned how to build and use one social tool. By his second session he had mastered several tools and was ready to launch his prototype.

Our previous computing era was “enterprise.” The current era I guess could be “cloud,” although people on the outside keep calling it “something 2.0.” If you want to provide value in this era, it won’t be by making up rules, withholding permission, or criticizing social tools. You have to build something. 

Learn about  Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16. 


Monday, July 18, 2011

The New Normal – Asynchronous Organizations

Years ago I was 'invited' to a weekly staff meeting at 8:00 AM Monday mornings. Eight people in a room for an hour – the equivalent of a person-day of time invested. Don't get me wrong – the meeting had useful, even important content and we all heard it together (the donuts were fresh too). When done we could carry our coffee cups back to our office and begin the day.

Convenient since we were all in the same location, but unfortunately travel could not begin before 10AM Monday nor could client meetings – almost without regard to the urgency of the need.

As technology improved and costs decreased, the meeting changed a bit to include others not physically present – staff off-site for travel, client meetings, or in other offices (the 5:00 AM West Coaster meeting from home was a classic). However, it continued to occupy all participants simultaneously.

Now in my organization there are 5 key individuals, no staff meetings, and a greater degree of communications, planning, and coordination (volume of donuts, however, is sparse). This is an asynchronous organization – it has no central office, locations in three states, and each individual is strategically engaged and briefed on all projects.

Updates, output, project results, and other such results documents, are copied to all 5 key people when written. As needed a phone call between two of us will cover updates, problem solving, scheduling, idea exploration, and closure on pending items in under an hour. Before lunch notes from the from the meeting – and action items – are distilled and distributed.

The success of the communications is based on the receipt not scheduling, each individual can access and respond when best able to do so. An asynchronous approach.

How does it work in practice? Recently I was suddenly called away for a family emergency and had a presentation scheduled later the same day. With a two minute call on the run to my partner Dick, he could step in with all program resources and the presentation concluded to enthusiastic applause.

Cory Doctorow in his book Makers describes a future world with a much greater degree of coordinated independent activity – a truly asynch environment in which business can successfully operate and thrive. Individuals satisfying consumer needs and getting results individually or in concert with others adding value as well.

The New Normal is being built on this foundation in reality – not as fiction. Look around and you can see the growing evidence.

Do you see it too?
Check out Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16.

Friday, July 15, 2011

School Of Blogging

Fred Wilson of AVC – Musings of a VC In NYC has a great post, The Fred Wilson School of Blogging. He has old truths and new ideas, and details to check to make sure I am doing them.

Then I started to think about my School of Blogging. I’ve convinced a number of smart people to start (and continue) blogging. I think that Fred is more expert, my posse more experimental, discovering and implementing new things with every post.

I don’t think my school requires “rules” as I am already busy with my day job. Targets or milestones are better things for me to measure against, because once I have achieved them, I can go on to other things.

I experienced the awesome power of infrequent blogging during a previous project, and afterward set a goal of two posts per week. That was pure declaration. I didn’t know if I could, or what they would be, but either I could do two a week or I couldn’t. Turns out I have.

Next question was, “What is a blog post?” Early on a reader sent a comment, “I understand your short posts better,” so that became important.

I figure the target is ten sentences/five paragraphs. If I go longer or shorter, fine, but the target is ten and five.

What to write about? That is my biggest challenge. I have ideas all the time, so to harness some, I decided to write all my ideas in my regular notebook, red ink when I have it, so I have an inventory. It’s not uncommon for two or three ideas to come together for one post.

Keith Richards noted how when he admitted to himself he was a song writer, he became a sharper observer of what was around him. Still a player, but now also an observer.

I want to be positive. I proved to myself a long time ago, there is no solution in the negative, or at least I don’t have much interest in being a part of it. I find that when I am upset, if I take some time and look at what I’m upset about, I can often find a positive expression, which often leads to the value of the post. Ted Anderson writes, “Wartime is only, the other side of peacetime”

I also want to write about things that really happened. I can convince myself of way too much theoretically, and if I describe something that occurred, I won’t forget something basic, like gravity, which has been a loud limiter for many theoretical builders.

Finally, I was sitting in the audience at the Web Managers Roundtable when Jim Sterne asked, “Do you want to control the platform or the conversation?” I thought it was an excellent question, along the lines of Dana’s distinction about journalists and publishers. I decided to syndicate off my own platforms to other outlets. I personally choose to emphasize outlets where I have been a member, held office, or performed, so I imagine I’m posting to a familiar audience.

What are some of the targets or milestones you’ve made for your School of Blogging?

Check out Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16.

Client Newsletter Evolves to the Blog

Can you recall the fanfare when an organization first introduces their newsletter? Ideas for stories abound; writers volunteering to contribute; a robust list of potential topics and content grows almost by magic. A real event – like Spanky, Darla, and the Little Rascals putting on a show.

Fast forward about a year and some of these newsletters have evolved and matured to become a vibrant communications tool, by informing, keeping it visible, and aiding the marketing effort. At the other end of the newsletter spectrum are the ghosts of newsletters past – the energy has drained and the production is a burden.

Why the difference and what lessons can be applied to the company blog?

Successful newsletters have common traits:
  • Clear purpose & mission
  • Targeted, specific audience
  • Focus
  • Reliable schedule
  • Valuable, useful content
  • A person with passion 'owns' it, is responsible for it, and it is now part of their job.
The same traits also apply to blogs. The most obvious addition to the newsletter list is a blog post is single topic and through technology, the reader can contribute thoughts and feedback as comments.

Think of this as a one-on-one written conversation repeated many thousands of times. Good conversations impart value in the form of information – great conversations contain relevant views and thoughts – exposure to a perspective rather than merely reporting.

For example, take a look at the Zappos blog - in addition to product info, the writer shares personal thoughts as well. As an internet-based seller, this helps to develop a relationship with the buyer and supports the Zappos goal of wildly satisfied customers.

Does the blog support Zappos? Do you get useful info and greater confidence in shopping with them. Are you influenced by the Zappos guarantee or by the writer's personal thoughts? Both!

Blogging is serious work. It is not a casual activity. As a company blogger you are offering a personalized view of the organization to clients and customers, one topic at a time.

How often do you write blog posts? Frequently enough for the reader to look for the next one...for our blog, we do two blogs per week from each writer - this is right for us. Whatever the frequency, be reliable and consistent so your readers will anticipate when the next one will appear.

Be ever vigilant that the blog does not become a ghost, like newsletters of the past.

More? Check out Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Blog?

Guest Post by Dana Blankenhorn

Dana Blankenhorn
I first met Dana Blankenhorn when I left enterprise software and was building an open source company. He was blogging about open source and two out of three of his posts I had to implement immediately. He was my teacher-from-the-cloud for over a year. He is still the only person I know who is a full-time blogger. I subscribe to his Buzz and sometimes see ten good posts in a day. We are fortunate that Dana will be on our panel at Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9.  

There are three reasons for blogging.

To advertise yourself. As journalism. As publishing.

Corporations have a habit of seeing "advertise yourself" and thinking "marketing" or "selling." That's wrong. Advertising yourself means bringing people inside your process, letting them meet your key people, helping them understand how you work, what it would be like to do business with you. If you want to market, or sell, in a traditional way, do it in a traditional way -- buy an ad. That's not blogging.

The difference between blogging and journalism is a paycheck. Journalists work for people who buy bandwidth by the gigabyte. That means we do what our editors and (ultimately) our publishers tell us to do. We follow the format. We advocate and associate ourselves with whoever the readers are, as defined by our bosses. We become the advocates for our readers, and the knowledgeable experts about them for our advertisers.

Publishing means making a market. It's advocating and organizing a place, an industry or a lifestyle. It's identifying both buyers and sellers, and creating an environment in which they can meet, understand one another, and do business. Anyone who thinks it's anything else is an amateur.

So if you want to blog, know who or what you're blogging for. If it's for yourself, do an honest inventory. What would you do for nothing? What drives you, motivates you, makes you want to get up in the morning? That's what you write about. You make yourself the only choice for knowledge about that one thing, whatever it is. And if you want to make a splash in the market, you stay focused. Opportunity will, in time, find you.

This lesson took me a long time to learn. For decades I let myself be identified purely by my publisher's interest, not my own. I was Newsbytes, I was Interactive Age, I was NetGuide, I was ZDNet. This was a mistake. I was, and am, Dana Blankenhorn. That's my product, that's my brand. I'm fortunate that it turned out I'm the only Dana Blankenhorn out there, because the etymology of my first name is Polish and that of my last name is German. If you're Joe Smith building a brand will be a little harder, but only a little. Figure out what makes Joe Smith tick and be "Joe Smith the Cuckoo Clock Guy" or "Joe Smith the Anime Guy." Whatever.

Can a corporation do this? I would argue that a corporation that doesn't do this won't stay in business. Figuring out your identity as a business, what makes you unique, what makes you special, is the only way to business success. You want to be the only choice when people want -- whatever it is you decide you're offering. The best caterer in Decatur? The best value in sump pumps? The biggest inventory of Toyotas in the Southeast? Whatever. That's what you are. Be that.

And don't be limited by media. I'm a writer. My blogs are written. But there are many other media available through which you can build an audience. Can you get your message across best through a podcast? Through video discussion? Through creative videos? Use whatever medium comes most naturally to you.

The key word is naturally. Be yourself. Be human. Be approachable, a little vulnerable. Tell stories. That's what makes any medium compelling, and that's what you're playing at here. If you can't do that, if you can't be that, you can live without blogging. Just remember that your marketing, your sales pitch, and your branding all have to do, through others, what you can do yourself through blogging. Make the people you want to impress see you as the only choice.

Check out Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16.


Monday, July 11, 2011

QR Codes

Aol. gave out T shirts with a one foot QR code (one of those square black and white bar-codes that looks like a maze) on the front.

I was wearing mine when Jeremy, a cashier at Trader Joe’s, snapped a picture with his phone and showed me the website that came up, while he was ringing up my order.


Sunday, July 10, 2011


Somehow the smartest guy in the room always seems to be setting the goals and projections. Unfortunately, in many cases he is the only one who realizes he is that guy. Everyone else however, knows he thinks that he is, because he will never get tired of telling them.

When the guy setting the goals and expectations really is the smartest guy in the room he usually doesn’t remind everyone, he lets them find out over time. I can think of 2 smartest guys off the top of my head, both of them in telecom.

The first one was a national manager for corporate sales for a large wireless carrier. Why he sure had a successful sales career that he made sure we heard about. It hadn’t lasted too long, but he was absolutely proud of it and it landed him a management position in the current company. He followed a path that led him to the position he had when he told of his sales exploits. He got moved into a non-position once his true talents were discovered. Still works for the company, it’s just that no one actually knows what he does.

The second was even better, he made sure that along with letting everyone know how hard he had worked in sales that he was the 3rd employee in the company, that he was the 3rd employee of the company, did I tell you he was employee number 3. Success was assured as long as your dedication to the job was as important as air to a drowning man (I swear I didn’t make that up). He’s still employee number 3 and the company itself is sinking under the unrealized expectations of the smartest guy.

The real smartest guys, don’t have to explain how good they were, but how good their employees can be. The best will find themselves and the rest will be slotted somewhere below them. The real smartest guys will find a way to help the guys slotted below the best guys be successful and be productive enough for the company to be profitable. Not only will the company be profitable, but that will make it a great place to work.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The opposite of love is indifference. At least with hate I’ve been noticed.

I was working at a large tech meeting, observing the different sales folk. The most successful ones, the ones creating interest, were scrambling to support the meeting, ostentatiously taking action to move the meeting forward. They had people inquiring about what else they could offer.

There was another group, “legends in their own minds,” either by virtue of their organization or their perception of themselves. They were standing back, smirking, judging, uncomfortable.

I asked one of the lurkers what he did to support his golf habit? “I’m with BIGCO,” he replied.

Last time I checked, BIGCO had over twenty offerings. I didn’t care enough to ask a second question. I had work to do.

I have occasionally ridden with the welcome pressure of great marketing, but it is fleeting at best. More often I have to do my heavy lifting without it.

Best to plan on supplying my own impact.