“Shiny and new” isn’t always enough

shiny carWhy is it that we often forget this? Not everyone loves a new phone, new house, new restaurant. While there are positives that can come with each of those things, they also require us to change out habits. My new phone has new button placement, new sounds, different dimensions; and all of these are things that will mean I have to change. We all have areas where we are more or less resistant to change, and at some level we know that.

The thing about phones and houses is that we (usually) don’t keep the old one hanging around while we get used to the new one. We make the switch and deal with the consequences. I’m not convinced it is that we understand that life moves on and we need to adapt. Mostly, we do it because we can’t afford the consequences. Maintaining two phones or two homes is costly, both in terms of actual dollars and in terms of time.

These same rules and logic apply when thinking about processes or software. Maintaining multiple modes is costly. Sometimes it is necessary, in order to give people time to adapt and change their existing habits. It is also important to consider that the cost is largely borne by the person doing the maintenance. The people using the systems don’t always realize the same benefits, and so it is harder for them to rationalize a change.

How do you deal with this?

  1. BEFORE you change something, consider if both sides gain. Net-net works; net-zero is OK; net-loss doesn’t work.
  2. Make sure you clearly outline the new way of doing things.
  3. You might have to clearly outline it more than once. Remember – not everyone understands new things the first time.
  4. Have patience, and explain the benefits to the other person. This means you need to translate what’s in it for them (see #1).
  5. Provide a transition period, and let folks know that it is time-bound.
  6. STOP facilitating. After your transition period, if you continue to allow the old process, it is unlikely to die.
  7. Recognize your role/contribution to any frustrations or confusion that occurs.

Rarely is there a situation where everyone else is out to get you or where they are all truly lazy. Remember that “shiny and new” can be intimidating. And that we all get used to routine, and sometimes take that turn off the freeway on Saturday even when we aren’t planning to go into work.

Nothing groundbreaking in here, no citations or hat tips. Just good ole thinking out loud.

Less blogging is more; at least for me

lessAfter a stint of furious blogging (well, for me anyway), I’ve been finding it hard to do a post at all. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I’ve heard it argued that if you give yourself the goal of posting once a week, you’ll find something to say. But I’ve watched others who make it a regular habit, and I would have to say that not everything they post really needed to be said. Maybe for them it did – I guess I shouldn’t really judge their efforts. But for me, I want whatever I write to be worthwhile. I don’t want to create a post just because I promised myself I would.

Yes, there is something to be said for consistency of timing. I would prefer to be known for consistency of (or at least above average) quality. I hope to limit the number of times someone comes to read my blog and thinks, “well, that was sure a waste of time”. No, it is unlikely that all my posts will be relevant or helpful to everyone who reads them. But if I don’t personally think I have something to say, then I’ll abstain.

That is what has been on my mind for a long time now. I felt like I was ducking a responsibility. and then my great friend Trisha Liu shared a Tiny Buddha post about respecting ourselves, listening to our instincts and NOT doing things just because we “should”. And I’m voting for affirming myself on this one. Waiting till I feel I have something worthwhile to share. Respecting myself, and therefore also my audience and their time.

Thoughts on working out loud

Any of you who follow Jeff Merrell (or me, on Twitter) by now know that last week, I participated in a WOL week as part of a graduate class I’m taking at Northwestern University. It was an interesting study in the benefits of working out loud, as well as how different platforms can serve different purposes and effect where the discussion goes. I missed part of the memo, and also started before the rest of the people in the program. So instead of doing my WOL in the program community, I took mine to Twitter. And once our class was onsite, many more from the class joined in the Twitter conversation. Jeff was posting stats, and the competitiveness of people came into play. We were trying to have more connections between us and others, and make sure our names showed up large enough that people could see. It would have been great fodder for a behavioral study! Jeff also created a Storify from most of the Tweets from days 1-2. Kind of fun to look back and remember how things unfolded.

In terms of what I’ve learned by practicing WOL, even for a short time:

  • I absolutely got some new ideas or perspectives on what I was thinking about.
  • It was also a great way to keep track of what we were discussing so that I can look back now and remember – online note taking.
  • And while I understand there is at least one study showing that old-fashioned note-taking (on paper, with a pen or pencil) is better for retention, I think there is something to be said for any activity where you actively paraphrase what you are hearing or capture an idea that is sparked by the discussions going on in a classroom.

Another takeaway – my team at work are going to try combining written and video WOL in coming weeks to see what impact that has. I’m hoping it will spark some more fraternity, as well as help me (us?) be less self-conscious about video posts. Perhaps we’ll even develop a model that we can share for use within other work teams. I’d love to make video a bigger part of what we do internally as a company, especially since I suspect it would help with building trust to facilitate more and better global collaboration.

Who are the real experts?

I’ve read a lot of posts about imposter syndrome, and theories about why so many people feel like they aren’t experts. But something I don’t remember reading about is how ludicrous this is at a time when there are so many people spouting off about things they know little or nothing about. A great example of this is the recent measles outbreak, due in no small part to a celebrity who didn’t do a good job fact checking and convinced a whole lot of parents that vaccines were very unsafe. She has since retracted her statements, but that is akin to newspapers running corrections on p10, or someone being released from prison after being found innocent – the damage is already done, and most people will never notice.

So why is it that many of us are so reluctant to embrace their inner expert? Are we afraid? And if so, of what? Many people are found out to be wrong, and rarely are they ostracized for it. In most cases, it is understood that new evidence has been found that sheds a different light on the facts. So they change their story and go on. Or cling to what they believe, assuming the next study that comes along will vindicate them. And so I ask again, what are we afraid of?

There are many examples of politicians and others saying absolutely ludicrous things, with a majority of the world looking on in disbelief, and yet those same people go on to represent us and make a lot of money doing so. There are also staggering numbers of people who don’t believe in undeniable facts – things proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Given this, we can’t possibly be afraid we’ll lead people astray by acting as an expert. Can we?

Come on folks, we live in a world where there are people who think reality TV truly is reality. It’s time to own your expertise! Recognize that no one is perfect or has all the answers. We are all learning together, all the time, and we need your expertise as much as the next guy’s. Tell us what you are good at, and why, and how we can be, too! And we’ll believe it, especially if you do. Or we won’t. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter if we believe you. If you’ve given honestly of your experience, it will matter to you, and to the people for whom your special expertise is most important.

Who are the real experts? We all are. Find what you are expert in, and embrace it!

Is trust the key to improving collaboration (in an ESN)?

To set the stage here, I’ve started a class in a graduate certificate program at Northwestern. It focuses on learning and organizational change, and as part of the class, we are required to write a series of three posts on a topic of interest to us individually. My original plan was to just post my first blog internally to the site we use for school and then post subsequent ones externally. But a little birdie reminded me that sometimes it is helpful for others to see the whole process, so here I am, starting my own external blog. About time, perhaps? Anyway, here it is, with some minor editing for a different audience.

Supporting an enterprise social network is my day job, so I naturally do a lot of thinking about what I can do to help build engagement. We’ve done well, but appear to have hit a plateau. Many people I talk to seem focused on the platform – if it only did this, if we could only change that. I think I was in that same place mentally for a long time when I first started in my current role. And to be fair, I still go there sometimes. But being in class – doing the reading, listening to people talk and ask questions and poke holes – I keep hearing references to trust. And actually, I heard it in a community managers’ webinar I attended recently. Our speaker (Michael Sampson) mentioned that if people don’t believe that what they say will truly be heard and seriously considered for action, they stop really trying to collaborate. At that point, they instead pay lip service to the process. And I recognized my frustration with certain supposed collaborations in that statement of his. I can see times where I’ve pretended to collaborate because I saw the end was already decided; or others where I’ve been frustrated because I thought that it was an honest collaboration and put a lot of time and energy in, only to find out that my input was ignored. So in terms of what I am working on here, I would define trust as a lack of fear – fear of judgement, fear of repercussions, fear of disappointment, fear of being ignored.

Because of this, in my series of posts for class, I want to focus on trust. I’m looking for a variety of articles, books, blogs, etc. that reference trust in relationship to collaboration and social networking. My goal is to hopefully tease out what it takes to build trust within this context. I’m certain the answer will be, “it depends”, and so in the end what I hope to come away with is a new series of tools. Perhaps I’ll be able to start to craft a playbook. I know that when companies feel or genuinely find that they’ve hit an engagement plateau they are often all too willing to use the tool as a scapegoat. Setting aside any personal feelings I have for the platform, I know that focusing on the tool is missing the point. Sure, having a “better” platform could help move the needle a few percentage points. Good design and excellent user experience is important, after all. But in the long run, people need to want to participate, to feel safe participating, and to feel that participating will help improve work in some way. Removing a false barrier, an excuse, isn’t really going to make a significant, sustained difference.

I’ve already spotted a few good references in our textbook, and in one or two other articles. But I really want to dig in and flesh this out. What things can be done to build trust in a way that frees people of the fears they have about collaboration? I’m very curious to hear of any great resources that I should be including in my quest.