The experts disagree!

Interesting the difference between what Millington and Spinks think about the future of community.  Spinks thinks that every single company will have one.  I posted before that I think that's kind of ridiculous - I think every company does have one, just because a company is a group of people with something important in common.  But I don't think that anyone will be paid to manage those communities.  What matters to me is those companies who want to hire a professional, or a team of professionals to run theirs.  

This morning Millington tweeted the exact opposite -   asking how many branded communities we're members of, or would care about based on the stuff we own or use.  Obviously, I agree with Millington more.  I think that there a bunch of companies that could benefit from communities that won't ever invest in them.   I think there are a bunch of companies who really couldn't receive serious ROI but will spend the money because they buy the hype.  

But there is definitely a sweet spot - companies (both current and to be created) that will be able to leverage community really well, and currently don't.  My own company could be doing a lot better in this regard today, but doing community is expensive and until we can lay out a specific ROI for it, beyond just ticket deflection, we're never going to get the opportunity to try.  


books - Building the Bridge As You Walk On It: A Guide for Leading Change, Robert E. Quinn

Building the Bridge as You Walk Out On It is kind of a terrible name but the premise makes sense when you start reading. The book is about how to lead change in organizations. I originally came across it about five years ago when I asked a group of people at a conference for ideas about resources because I was about to launch a major project that would migrate a community I managed into a new space. It was huge change, following on the heels of a major corporate acquisition and the community was in a really bad place - they were confused, worried that they wouldn't be supported much longer and I knew I needed help.

The main focus of the book is the idea of building consistency and reliability into your plan. It's a lot harder than it sounds. It also requires quite a bit of emotional work. In general, I think this book is longer than it needs to be, after a while the examples got a bit repetitive and I wasn't picking up anything new. But as a general resource and something that goosed me in the right direction, it was perfect. I recommend this for anybody who is unsure of how to lead when the path is changing.

CMX Summit, 2015.

CMX was today.  I was there from about 8am to 4pm.  The event continued for another hour or so, and then there was (is) a party afterward.  I hit the wall and had to come home.  The chairs were horrible, and it was uncomfortably warm in the venue most of the day - the kind of thing that would have been fine 20, or even 10 years ago.  Not for me now. 

That said, the content was great.  I'm really looking forward to sharing a couple of the talks with my team once they are published, and will definitely go back and watch the ones I missed this afternoon.  I think that part of the heat issue was that they had to be pretty close to capacity upstairs, and over capacity downstairs.  I'll be a little surprised if they don't upgrade the venue next year.  But if it's at the same place, at least now I know that the real chairs are on the balcony and I can plan to dress a bit more flexibly.  Usually, it's too cold and I end up freezing.  I dressed with that in mind. 

My favorite was Jen from Moz - a story similar to my own.  Community Manager, got cancer, worked through chemo, expanded her team after the fact.  I liked quite a bit of what she had to say and will implement some of it on my own team.  

It's interesting to me, after ten years doing this, to go to these events.  Often times I'm the voice of experience and don't learn much - which is fine.  I *am* the voice of experience and I'm happy to share what I've learned.  But today I learned a few things, walked away with some solid ideas, and met some great people.  I am always really happy when all of those things happen.  


Solving problems is a skill.

The Martian.  Everybody is talking about this book and the movie.  I want to say that I really loved how the movie went the extra mile to establish that it's all about problem solving.  It's obviously a huge part of the book and the movie, but I think it's really helpful for young people to see that laid out as a lesson at the very end - break it down, work the problems. 

I think it's a fun movie that captures the spirit of the book (if not the breadth of the problems in the book), the educator in me likes that tag a lot.  I loved the Hunger Games books for the lessons they were able to successfully sneak in about the completely false nature of reality television.  Kids need to hear this stuff, and this kind of media is a great way to deliver the lesson so it doesn't feel like a lesson.

CMX is this week.

I am excited about CMX starting tomorrow. It's been a long time since I've been to a conference that's pure community.  I've always loved Community Leadership Summit but missed the last couple of years due to illness and then my wedding.  

While I've had my head down doing my job for the last few years, things have changed, in a good way.  There are a lot more of us, many generally accepted best practices that have been developed over time, and better ways to quantify value.  It'll be nice to see that in action after so long away. 

Pruning is good.

This morning Millington tweeted this: Have you ever joined any kind of group that didn't look successful? Neither do most people. Establishing a sense of momentum is a process.

Yes, yes, yes.  Smaller is better. It's better to be a little overstuffed than a little empty.  

This is the shortest blog post ever.  I'm ridiculously busy trying to catch up after taking so much time off and expending so much energy on altMBA.

books - The 20 Minute Networking Meeting, Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez

The 20 Minute Networking Meeting has probably been the most practical, useful book I've read in years. As an introvert I've always had a really hard time going to events where I don't know anyone. As a 43 year old trying to grow my career, I recognize that I really need to get out and "network". This book was hugely helpful to me as it laid out really clearly how to conduct a brief, effective business meeting with a stranger.

It's formatted around the idea of meeting in an executive's office. I'm not sure that I'll ever do that. I don't discount the idea, but it's not something I've ever seen in my field. The big thing that I've gotten from this is that I need to be much more focused in my elevator pitches - both around who I am and around what I want to do next. I was really embarrassed in retrospect after reading this book and remembering weird conversations I've had at events, where somebody was really trying to help me, and I had no clue how to respond properly. Now I know, and I'll keep working on refining what I have to say on those topics.

The day I finished the book I saw an essay go by on the web (I would link, but I can't find it now, it might have been Harvard Business Review) about reading a room. The gist was this - when you walk into a an event where you don't know many people, you can skip the ones who are futzing with their phones (obvious signal they want to be left alone for now), and skip the tight conversational groups (obvious signal they are engaged in conversation on another topic and may not welcome an interruption).

The people to look for are the ones who are alone or in groups of two or three that are chatting lightly, but standing facing out into the room, instead of facing each other. These are people who are open to an approach. Of course that all makes perfect sense once I see it in writing, but it really never occurred to me. The next night I had an opportunity to go to an event, I had been invited by a very generous connection in my industry, and I hadn't wanted to go initially, but said yes because I felt I needed to. It was a two hour event and I decided to go, and be prepared not to eat, and meet as many people as possible.

The food thing may just be a personal thing with me, but I figured that if I didn't eat I wouldn't risk wearing food on my clothing, needing to touch up lipstick, or having both hands occupied (food and drink) and being unable to shake hands. So that's what I did. I introduced my self to about 8 different people over the course of two hours, mostly my approach was "Hi, I"m looking for people to meet." I ended up having a great time and am now looking forward to my next event. I HIGHLY recommend this book to people, executives or not, who want to increase their group of contacts and aren't sure how to start.

Do all companies need communities?

There's a conversation happening right now about whether or not all companies can benefit from communities.  It's interesting to hear other points of view on the topic, and as much as I think communities are the future for a lot of companies, I don't think they actually would benefit everyone.  

I guess if you want to put a really fine point on it, if you call all of the employees of a company a community, then yes, every company has and would benefit from one.  I'm thinking of communities of the type I might be paid to manage.  I said that there were companies in manufacturing that might not benefit, and someone responded about a community to improve efficiency or safety.  And that's true, to a point.  If you want to have a Kaizen type process (and you probably should if it's applicable) and your organization is huge, it might make sense.  But if you're standing on a line pulling extra bits off of injection molded plastic and that's all you do all day, realistically, a community isn't going to do you much good, or even be something you want to participate in.  What is there to discuss?  

I was thinking further about jobs I've had - I dispatched tow trucks while I was in college and several years after.  The job is pretty straight forward and simple, once you are trained and have been doing it for a year or two, there aren't a lot of surprises.  My workplaces were generally very friendly, lively places, and I loved that job.  There was a definite community of dispatchers/drivers, but it just happened, and it would be weird to hire somebody to foster that, possibly even off-putting.  

So I guess if you want to be really broad and say every company is a community, and every company benefits from that, OK.  But I think if we're being pragmatic about it, it doesn't make sense for there to be a person assigned (or hired) to run it.  


Community 101 - Meet the community where they are.

So you've built your space, and conversations have started happening.  What next?  You have great ideas about what the community should do next, but you need to pause and think about it.  You have to meet the community where they are.  Keep an eye on that space.  What conversations are happening with more frequency?  Now is when you build more spaces, when a specific type of conversation has spiked in the general area, make a new one to host it.  Leave the general area alone and let it continue to grow new conversations as well.  Eventually, you'll have multiple spin-off spaces that have grown organically, and instead of people saying "hey, where's my stuff?" you'll have people thanking you for giving them a dedicated space.  

Meeting the community where they are can mean a lot of things, it can be around topics, it can be language or culture.   You can offer ideas of where you want to go, but sometimes they will turn in a totally different direction from what you expect. 

Community 101 - To build, or not to build?

Introducing, an occasional series.  Community 101 - most of these are lessons I learned the hard way, and I'll share them here so maybe you don't have to. 

When you first launch a new community there has to be some sort of proactive build out on a platform, whether that's message boards, mailing lists, or a social site, but you can't build too much.  Build too much and you'll have a ghost town.   It's a fine line to walk.  Too little and people will wonder if the lights are on.  Too much and people will think it's been abandoned before it got started, and it will be abandoned before it gets started. Funny how that works.

The biggest mistake new community managers (or worse, companies trying to build a community space without a community manager) make is building out too many spaces for conversation.  Even if there are disparate conversations expected, they should all be in one space to start.  Because it's not about giving people a space to have a specific conversation in isolation, it's about giving people a space to have conversations. period.  Think about it, if there's nothing on a site, are you going to be the first to post in the empty space?   If you do post something on a busy page with other conversations that you aren't interested in, you're likely to come back more often if there are updates being made, precisely because it is busy. And being busy is more likely to draw more people who might be interested in your conversation.  

It makes sense if you think it through, but most people don't when they are first starting.  It feels counter-intuitive.

Why altMBA?

cross posted from my altMBA feed -

I feel like it’s the end of summer camp.  I’m exhausted and happy to have my free time back for a while.  I’m sad that it’s over and that while I’m sure I will keep in touch with many of the fantastic people I’ve met here, it won’t be the same.

Why would you want to do this program?  I don’t know.  For me it was recognizing a need to change a few things and also recognizing that I didn’t really know how to do it.  Understanding that I’m capable of pushing beyond my current boundaries but not understanding where my leverage is.

This was hard.  Hard to find the time, hard to find the words, hard to accept constructive criticism.  Hard to give constructive criticism so often.

But I did find the time, the leverage, the energy to do all of it and I’ve made some big changes in how I approach my career and in how I will make decisions and set goals for the rest of my life.  The biggest change in me was finding that I actually do have skills in a couple of areas I had never considered before.

It was really scary to be put in a place where I had to do work of a type I’ve never done before, mostly because I’ve always avoided it.  Being in a place where I had to deliver something or risk disappointing my cohort was hugely motivating.  The short time frame for these projects also helps – I didn’t have time to think.  I just had time to *do*.

It’s worth it to me.  If you have a feeling it might be worth it to you, go for it.  What do you have to lose?

books - The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

The True Believer was the second book I pulled out of the altMBA box.  It's also the fifth one I finished.  I'm not sure I can say that I liked or enjoyed this book, but it is interesting.  I had a really hard time reading, and finally just had to set a goal of reading 10 pages a day until it was done. 

The reasons I had a hard time with it are:

  • It's a manifesto.  No plot, no story.  It's hard for me to lock in to a book of ideas in this way.
  • It was published in the early '50s, and makes reference to a lot of different movements in history that were absolutely alive for Hoffer, but happened 30 years before I was born.  He was writing with an immediacy I do not feel, and making references to things that would have been common knowledge in American culture at publication, but aren't now. 
  • The writing is extremely dense, which is a good thing in my opinion, but can slow things down. 

There were lots of interesting passages that I marked as I was reading.  Here's one, to give you a flavor of the text -

If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable.  One has to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine.  When some part of the doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate and obscure it.  Simple words are made pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message.  There is thus an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.  He seems to use words as if he were ignorant of their true meaning.  Hence, too, his taste for quibbling, hair-splitting and scholastic tortuousness. 

I think there's a lot of truth in that.  I also think there are a lot of people who would find that offensive.  It was an interesting choice for altMBA reading, and I'm still not quite sure why it's here.  I did see a major parallel between this work and a passage in The War of Art.  Pressfield argues that the artist and the fundamentalist are the same person, but at different stages of history.  The idea is that if there is money and freedom and artist will make art.  If there are restrictions in a culture, a person with artistic energies will focus them on changing that culture rather than the art itself. 

All in all, I'd say that this was an interesting book and worth the effort.  I'm sure there will come a time when I recommend it to a specific person for a specific reason, but I cannot today say what that reason would be. 

What story does your community tell?

ABN analysis - Assets, Boundaries, and Narrative.  That was tonight's project, and the penultimate one for altMBA.  The idea is to take a look at a business or organization that has to make a decision and do an analysis of what they have access to or own, what constraints are in place that can't be moved or worked around, and what is the story that organization tells itself about it's mission, its past, and its future. 

I chose to do libraries for my project, because we were supposed to choose something that is unfamiliar.  If I was choosing something familiar, I'd think about the communities I'm working with today, of course.  What do we have?  What will we never have?  What should we try to be in the future? 

I'm too tired to answer any of those questions tonight, but I'll sure think about them.  :)


What skills do you need to be a Community Manager?

I'm catching up on old stuff I bookmarked to read later.  Today I was looking at a post that's a couple of weeks old from the Community Roundtable, about some early trends in their annual survey.  Specifically that these are the things that CMs consider to be the most important skills, and how they spend their time:

• Listening and Analyzing
• Promoting Productive Behaviors
• Empathy and Member Support
• Member Advocacy
• Community Strategy Development
• Measurement, Benchmarking and Reporting
• Evaluating Engagement Techniques
• Community Advocacy and Promotion
• Communication Planning
• Writing
• Data Collection and Analysis

I think that's interesting and pretty accurate.   Since I'm not doing front line community management any longer, some of these things don't apply to me as much, but some are bigger parts of my days (strategy development, data collection and analysis).  I think out of all of them, writing is the one you can't teach.  (By that, I mean as a manager, not as an educator.) A bad writer is never going to be a good community manager.  People may be more or less interested in doing the other stuff, which could make or break a decision to do this as a career, but writing is the basic skill that you need to start, and what I always look for first if I'm making a new hire.  

What am I missing?

Today I discovered that something horrible had been happening around me for years, and I never noticed.  Specifically, my cat's teeth have been quietly rotting away.  The vet removed six of them (at $150 per tooth, essentially) and he's probably going to lose a few more over the next couple of years. 

I feel terrible about it, horribly guilty that he has probably been in some kind of pain for a long time now and I never knew.  Could I have done anything different?  I have no idea.  If his behavior changed because of it, it evolved over time and I never noticed anything. 

So why am I putting this here, in my professional blog?  Because I wonder how many other things I haven't noticed, that have slowly evolved out of place in my career.  What skills have slipped?  What should I have been paying attention to and didn't?  What should I notice now, before it's too late?  It's hard to ignore the things that come flying at you every day, but sometimes you need to, to pay attention to the things that aren't screaming for attention.  I suspect the quiet things are often the more important ones. 

How many skills do I need anyway?

I spent an INSANE amount of time this weekend creating this three minute video for one of my altMBA projects.  I've never done anything like it before.  I'm pretty happy with it, except the part that it's basically just my head floating in space.  Next time I'll use a bigger font and get a foot farther away from the camera.  It was actually kind of fun once I figured out the tools.  I'm sure I could do another one in under an hour.  The big question is, do I want to?

The assignment was to create a video, talking directly into the camera, to change someone's mind, so I did a pitch for why companies should consider creating a community to support their products.  After reviewing all of my takes yesterday, the biggest thing I came away with is, boy, do I sound like I'm from LA. 

Why Community?

books - The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

This is an interesting little book.  Pressfield argues that "Resistance" is what causes us to procrastinate doing the things we should be doing or making the art we want to create.  The book is in three parts, defining resistance, becoming a professional, and finding inspiration. 

He shares his ideas in small anecdotes and stories, and defines Resistance as everything from procrastination to drug use to issues in family relationships.  He gets into the idea that some people may have an interest in you not succeeding - their own resistance can become yours. 

He defines becoming a professional not in terms of pay, but in terms of showing up to do the work regularly, rain or shine.  I think that is a great point - if you want to be a professional writer, you're going to have to show up and do the work as a professional writer before you sell your first book. 

The last section is a little more philosophical.  He talks about finding inspiration, recognizing when you need to go looking for it, recognizing it in whatever outfit it happens to show up in.  You might not find it where you think. 

I really enjoyed this one.  It's a nice, easy read with some deep ideas to convey about the difference between art and craft, inspiration, and just getting the work done.  I highly recommend this if you're a person who gets inspired but then stuck on projects on a regular basis.  This book can help you look for strategies to get around those roadblocks. 

More isn't always better.

There's been a bit of a resurgence in news stories about how people who work fewer hours are more productive, and then the rebuttals that say they were only more productive because they knew people were watching and it was novel, but when people aren't watching any longer they slip back into old habits. 

I'm not going to argue for a shorter workday here, mostly because I'm lucky enough to be able to define a great number of my days, working remotely, guarding my schedule so the meetings don't continue to multiply like rabbits and coat hangers.  It means I'm a better worker when I work remotely, because I can fit in a trip to the gym or a nap when it makes sense to do so, rather than around the edges of my day, or worse, not at all. 

But it also means that some of my work days run really long.  Aside from a trip to the gym (a nice 2.5 hour break) and a shower a few hours later (a nice 45 minute break), I've either been doing work work or class work.  I was sitting here looking at the next book I have to read, wondering what to write tonight, when I realized I'll be more productive tomorrow if I'm actually rested.  So I'm off to bed with a moderately trashy novel instead of a business book for the first time in weeks. 

Enjoy the silence.

I've been thinking a lot about the power of silence in the last 24 hours.  It's the topic of an essay I wrote last night for an altMBA project.  The project was specifically about using silence as a technique in sales, which is not a thing I've ever done (sales, not silence).  A member of my cohort who is a lawyer talked a bit about how he learned to use it in legal negotiations as well. 

My examples come more from the emotional and teaching realm - trying to find the right way to prod a person and then back off if I want to draw them out or help them through a crisis.  That tension is actually easier for me (as long as I'm not emotionally involved in the crisis) than the tension in teaching - in giving an instruction or an assignment, knowing full well the person who I'm trying to teach doesn't know how to approach the problem, and creating an environment where it's OK to fail (even though they don't want to), and then waiting for them to do it.  So hard for me. 

What was interesting to me is in reading other people's essays this afternoon, is the huge gender difference in the responses.  The men who get it are lawyers and sales people.  The women who get it are...all of us.  The other men couldn't give a concrete example from their lives.  They could talk about the idea, but not the execution.  I wonder how much of that is a cultural thing - women are expected to be quiet while men are expected to be proactive and speak.  I'm trying to think about how I can be more conscious of silence in my meetings and negotiations in the future.   It's a good thing to be aware of, at least. 

What are my blind spots?

I've been learning a lot of lessons about empathy in the last few days.  I certainly fail at it more than I'd like.  A bunch of us have been working on projects which should have included empathy from the beginning.  I noticed it immediately, because I am the target audience for the discussion at hand, and found some of my peer's work to be downright offensive.  Some of it was so bad I had to stop reading it, because need to maintain respect for these people in a professional sense.  

From a distance it's kind of funny to watch people defend their blind spots.  We see it all the time in politics and religion.  It's hard to watch people who think they know what is best for you personally, and who are dead wrong about that, double down on their decisions.  It's good to remember, if somebody points out a blind spot you have, chances are you actually do have it.  Being at either end of this equation is really uncomfortable.