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A mid-career doctorate… defense completed, it’s safari time!

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use Comments Off

Earlier this month, I went into the final of 3 defenses of my doctoral research on the role of online social networks in interfirm collaborative innovation. After 3 years of hard work, it all finally came down to one presentation…

Into the pressure cooker…

After 3 years of toil, it all came down to 90 minutes. I was given 60 minutes to present a summary of my thesis paper, focussing on results, conclusions and recommendations. This presentation was to the entire faculty of the business school, as well as some other doctoral students who were due to present during this round also. The final 30 minutes was a chance for the audience to ask questions and challenge me to defend various aspects of my research and the choices I had made in terms of methodology and so forth.

Getting closer...

Bloodied but unbowed…

One of my mentors who has been through the process explained to me that the defense reviewers have to try to poke holes in your work – that’s their role. With that knowledge in mind, I went into the encounter ready for some heavy sport. I felt reasonably confident, but also nervous enough to be on my toes. After presenting for an hour, then fielding their questions for 30 minutes, all the students including me were asked to leave the room. As I gorged on cakes outside, I was sweating bullets while trying to make casual conversation. After an eternity (really about 20 minutes) we were invited back in for the verdict – I had passed, but had several suggested changes to make to my thesis before submitting it for external review.

Treehouse in Kruger Park

Still a few hurdles, but getting closer…

I will continue working on the thesis while I travel around South Africa. This is probably the most significant milestone to have passed on the way to the doctorate, and for right now, it’s Safari Time!!

A mid-career doctorate… into the defense!

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One of my favourite lines from a movie is from “The Pursuit of Happyness” when the Will Smith character asks the guy with the fancy sports car two questions:

“What do you do, and how do you do it?”

"What do you do, and how do you do it?"

"What do you do, and how do you do it?"

It’s something I say to myself all the time when I see someone who has a life I kind of envy. Interestingly, its also the most common question I get asked about my mid-career doctorate. Now that the insanity argument has worn thin, and people have seen me chug through the past 3 years, to the point where my dissertation has been drafted and I am heading into my thesis defense this month, the questions now are more along the lines of “How did you do that?” Well, wait – I’m not done yet! There will still be a lot to complete, but I am hopefully getting closer.

I encourage anyone who wants to dust their brains off and have a good cerebral workout to consider tackling a doctorate in an area they are passionate about. The later in life the better, because the more life you bring to the table, the easier and more fun it will be. Here are a few tips that can make the journey easier:

  • Support of family and friends. You will be stealing attention and vacations from these folks for several years – try to make it as painless as possible, be in the moment when you can, and make it up to them when you are able! 
  • A supportive employer. Doing your doctorate in an area that can benefit your own development, as well as that of your organization, is huge. Combining these elements with an employer that supports people development gives you a terrific advantage. 
  • A topic you are really passionate about. Trust me on this – you will be bored silly by your topic area after you have lived with it for 3+ years. If you start out being half-hearted about your topic, you probably won’t make it. Don’t adapt your interests to a mythical job market – if you are passionate about pirate ship culture and adaptability to change – then that’s what you need to research!
  • Great thesis supervisors. I have been incredibly fortunate to have very helpful, extremely responsive supervisors. You can enhance your chances of getting good supervisors by researching previous theses they have supervised, and finding supervisors with a genuine interest in in your research area.
  • A university that is built for mid-career studies. My university, the University of South Africa has been doing distance-based education since 1946, making it a real pioneer. Nelson Mandela is among its many famous graduates. The School of Business Leadership is consistently ranked among the top 3 business schools in the country, and was the first school in the world to offer the Doctor of Business Leadership degree. This kind of experience means they have learned the hard way, so you don’t have to!

Well, that’s all for now – please wish me luck on the defense!

Gathering competitive intelligence at trade shows

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 1 Comment »
 Here’s a fast, cheap & ethical competitive intelligence tip for you:
 

Trade shows are awash in valuable CI

Trade shows are awash in valuable CI

Trade show intelligence gathering

Trade shows are an excellent source of competitive intelligence (CI), both human and written. Attending a trade show with a calculated view to obtaining CI can be a very cost-effective exercise. The key to trade show intelligence is first to determine what our intelligence objectives are. Once we have decided what specific pieces of intelligence we desire, we can formulate a plan of attack, identifying likely sources of CI as well as who will be responsible for obtaining each piece of intelligence.

Much of the work of planning a trade show CI mission can now be done in advance using the Internet. Most trade shows have websites which can be mined for useful information such as who will be speaking as well as a map layout of where each competitor’s presence will be located. We can often find photographs of specific human targets we may wish to approach for human intelligence efforts.

The intelligence-gathering team

In approaching a tradeshow for intelligence-gathering purposes, team organization is very important. There are several different roles to fulfill:

  • Team leader: responsible for planning, organization, setting intelligence goals, determining specific targets, assigning specific intelligence objectives to field operatives, communicating final results
  • Field operatives: responsible for obtaining specific pieces of intelligence, through physical collection, observation and human intelligence
  • Analysts: Responsible for obtaining pre-trade show intelligence gathering, collating and analyzing intelligence gathered from field operatives

The reality for many of us is that we are a “CI department of one,” and will have to perform all of these functions alone. The alternative may be to hire students from a school that teaches market research and CI, who are often thankful for paid entrance to a useful trade show. In any event, careful consideration of each of these functions is necessary in order to carry out a successful trade show intelligence-gathering mission.

Planning the mission

The role of the team leader is first to plan the exercise, which involves determining what intelligence is desired and which trade show it makes sense to target for the intelligence. Once a trade show has been selected, online research and/or printed marketing material is helpful in terms of refining and selecting our targets for the intelligence we require. Often such specifics as lists of exhibitors, floor layouts, speaker biographies and the like are available. This is useful because it helps avoid unnecessary wandering around during the trade show itself.

The next task is to assign specific pieces of intelligence to the person responsible for gathering it. Each piece of required intelligence needs to be defined in terms of how it will be obtained. In the case of human intelligence, we need to determine who will be targeted and what approach will be used. The conversational hourglass approach to elicitation covered in the next chapter will be useful here. For other intelligence, other approaches will make sense. Perhaps we want to get a look at the features of our competitor’s soon-to-be-released product, and there may be printed material or demonstrations available.

One of the exploitable vulnerabilities companies face at trade shows is that it is usually the enthusiasts who are selected to staff the booths. These can be people who are too junior to know what should be kept secret, or sales people who are eager to promote the products to anyone who might be interested, or product development experts, who can be lured into detailed discussions of the features that they are proud of.

Executing the mission

At the trade show itself, particularly multi-day events, we should begin by doing a sweep of the facility, gathering everything that is available in terms of printed materials and giveaways, from all the relevant target companies. This “snag and bag” operation can often yield plenty of the intelligence that we wanted. Taking the gathered material away and analyzing it can help us to refine our approach and targets for the next wave of intelligence-gathering. At an out-of-town trade show, a hotel room can serve as a command post where gathered material can be sifted through, and plans can be adjusted based on what can be extracted from the material.

In general, the less face-to-face interaction we rely on to obtain our intelligence, the better. Anything we can gather by indirect means like printed material, observation or overhearing is a bonus, since it makes it far less likely that our intentions and activities will be unmasked. This multi-wave approach to gathering intelligence allows us to use the riskier tactics, like human intelligence sparingly, thus minimizing the chances of being seen to be snooping.

A three-wave approach to a trade show intelligence-gathering mission can be summarized as follows:

Wave one

  • Plan the overall mission
  • Determine the required pieces of intelligence, and the targets or sources for the intelligence
  • Make a first pass of the trade show, gathering everything that is being given away at the target booths
  • Analyze the gathered material and see if some of the required intelligence is there
  • Refine your requirements

Wave two

  • Conduct human and observational intelligence
  • Analyze this intelligence to isolate any remaining gaps

Wave three

  • Conduct final intelligence to gathering any remaining intelligence required

 

Rob Duncan's book on CI selected=

Through careful objective-setting, planning and execution, trade shows can be an extremely cost-effective way to gain strategic competitive intelligence. More on this topic is available in my book “Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical”  which can be obtained through the Media and Books tab on this page.

The core business of a good manager

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Rob Duncan in South Africa
10,000 miles away, my team is doing a great job!

The other day, someone asked me what the core business of a good manager should be. It was an excellent question, and one that I feel a great amount of passion for. I took a few moments and tried to distill my thoughts into a brief set of principles. So here goes – my list of the things a good manager must do well:

1. Work with the senior executive and the team to set the team objectives.

2. Organize the right people to tackle those objectives.

3. Listen, teach and coach. Don’t micro-manage.

4. Remove barriers to success for the team wherever possible.

5. Absorb a lot of the noise and stress from above and outside so the team is freed up to achieve its goals.

6. Report on successes and challenges, objectives and outcomes.

I am interested in your lists and thoughts as well. Please get in touch and let me know what you think. Feel free to comment here or be in touch with me privately via the Contact tab on this page. I am also available to speak to your teams and groups on this topic – one that I am very passionate about!

A mid-career doctorate… data in hand!

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use 2 Comments »

Getting closer...

I recently wrote here about why I chose to start a mid-career doctorate on collaborative innovation through online social networks. Some of my motivations included: doing original research on a practical topic I was passionate about; gaining a true leading edge on some of the subject matter I work with, speak and write about; and giving my brain a great workout.

I have recently reached the stage where I have gathered all of my primary research data, and I can now report that this is definitely one of the most satisfying stages of the effort! I have now successfully done a survey with over 450 LinkedIn users, in-depth interviews with a dozen senior executives, and received qualitative input from many other online social network users.

Time to crunch some data

Though much analysis remains to be done, it is incredible to reach the stage that I call “data freedom.” With a long, multi-year project like a doctorate, the entire effort comes down to whether or not you will be able to gather the primary data you need in order to test your hypotheses and contribute new knowledge to the field. What this typically means is you invest 2 or more years of slogging through exhaustive background research, problem definition and methodology design, all the while keeping your fingers crossed that your primary data gathering approach will work.

LinkedIn, my major data source

With a fast-moving research area like online social networks, the risks increase over time. Using LinkedIn as my major data-gathering platform has always been my plan, yet I had to wonder what would happen if LI got bought out, shut down, or otherwise changed so much that it wouldn’t be a viable source for my data.

Hence the major sigh of relief! I now have all I need to finish my dissertation. I could head off to a cabin in the woods or a garret in the city (and perhaps will…) and bang out the last 2 chapters of my thesis without needing to rely on anyone or anything else externally (except for the advice from my great supervisors.) To be blunt, LinkedIn could vaporize tomorrow, and I could still finish my work (though I sure hope that doesn’t happen to my favorite site!!).

Seclusion to write...

Another exciting part of this phase is getting to see the data itself. I can already see lots of rich information and findings in what I have gathered, and this spurs me on to finish up and start getting the knowledge out there where it can help others!

As always, I am interested in your thoughts! Please feel free to weigh in here with a comment about your own journey through mid-career education, or other ideas. I can also be reached at rob@robduncan.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Is it time to start curtailing our personal social network habits?

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 1 Comment »

When was the last time you looked a flesh and blood human being in the eyes and said “I hear you?” If it has been more than a day, that is too long.

As part of the research for my doctorate, I asked people whether they were growing tired of online social networks, and were planning to reduce their levels of activity or number of networks in the future. In a sample of over 400 people I was intrigued to see that fully one-quarter agreed that they were feeling this way.

Taking a break

It’s ironic, because a few weeks later, I find that I am one of those people! This may sound strange coming from someone who chose to do a doctorate focused specifically on online social networks – and someone who spends a lot of time speaking to audiences on the topic. Let me explain.

I recently started some acting training to add to and refresh my speaking and acting skills. The schedule has been fairly demanding, and has involved learning and rehearsing scenes from some of the great plays of all time, including Shakespeare, Ibsen and others.

Not only do these plays deal with timeless themes of great human and social importance, they are also not that easy to memorize. Over the last week and a half, I set to learning my lines in the evenings.

The first night, I had the TV on (24/7 Law and Order being one of the cooler perks of NYC), and started to read. During commercials, I would leap up, round into the other room and check Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, emails etc. The next morning, It wasn’t that easy to recite “Two households both alike in dignity…In fair Verona where we lay our scene…” from memory. Something had to give.

All my Sons by Arthur Miller

The second night, I left the TV off, and things improved quite a bit. I was able to really focus and get deeper into the lines, characters and themes of the plays. Still, I couldn’t shake the social networking habit.

The third night, I left everything off, and an amazing thing happened. This incredible sense of quiet, absorption and peace came over me. I was deep in great stories about heroes, villains, quests, tragic flaws and all the other fabulous chemicals of drama. The next morning, I also had nearly nailed the prologue from Romeo and Juliet. 

Stella Adler acting class

This was all happening against the backdrop of spending intense face-to-face time working with my wonderfully talented classmates, trying to achieve something together that was stretching, shared and artistically large. 

Needless to say, I eventually broke (speaking of tragic flaws) and checked my social networks. As always, there was fun and meaningful news on Facebook, and useful dialog on LinkedIn, but really, what was all this stuff on Twitter and Buzz? Sure, some fun news from classmates and friends, but mostly stuff about software I know nothing about, etc. etc. Why was I letting that stuff get in the way of spending quality time with Falstaff, Prince Hal, Torvald and the others?

Falstaff and Prince Hal

So as of today, I have decided to let my Twitter account go dormant for a bit, and will be turning off Buzz. In my online social network world, there are now only two big dogs for the time being - Facebook and LinkedIn. I want to free up some personal disk space for real human interactions. I wonder if many of us should have a similar conversation with ourselves?

I want to hear what you think! Please feel free to weigh in here with your comments. To explore having me speak to your team or group on social networking, drama in the workplace and other related themes, please get in touch with me at rob@robduncan.com or via the contact tab on this page. Oh, and if you crave the sweet sounds of silence, please follow me on Twitter and Buzz….

Do you know your customers anymore?

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Terminal City Club Vancouver

Terminal City Club Vancouver

I was part of a really enjoyable lunch and learn today in beautiful Vancouver, Canada hosted by SMEI at the Terminal City Club. I was asked to kick off the discussion by saying a few words on the theme of “Your customers have moved. Do you know where they live?”

I decided to start things off by broadening the discussion into the larger question of whether we even know our customers at all anymore, given the sea change in consumer behaviours that has occurred since the widespread adoption of social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

For example, do you know which online networks they like to hang out on? Do you know how they like to be communicated with? Do you understand what new levels of interaction they expect to have with your organization? Do you know when you are bugging them and driving them away?

 Part of the challenge is learning to listen again. Listening is possibly the most important sales skill out there, but how do we “listen” effectively with all the new media that is out there?

It all starts with some key, foundational principles. So here follows a bit of a manifesto for success in the new virtual neighbourhoods where our customers live.

  • You need to genuinely enjoy meeting and helping people. If that’s just not you, find someone else to look after your digital communications post. It takes all kinds to make a business succeed, and if you are not happy networking offline, online tools won’t change that reality.   Hire an intern or new grad from a local college or university. These social media natives are very well-equipped to be your eyes, ears and voice on social media. Many will appreciate the chance to make some bucks on the side while still a student. 
  • You need to be in it to help others. Blasting out endless Tweets about how great you are is not working, and is actually driving people away. In a recent study I conducted, one-quarter of the respondents indicated they are getting tired of social media and are considering scaling down their participation. The mood out there is in flux, and if you are not helping, you are annoying. You need to think in terms of “giving” not “getting.”
  • You need to build communities. This is an old idea that still has legs. Start a LinkedIn Group for your customers. Let them help each other, and let them give you input on your products and services. My research is showing that people want to be able to rely on their online communities for assistance in solving problems and coming up with innovative ideas.
  • You need to learn about the new cultures. This means listening before talking. Ask a lot of questions. Use tools like LinkedIn Q+A, LinkedIn Groups, and online customer surveys. Identify and befriend the “alphas” out there and learn the rules and protocols of engagement. Have a casual focus group over pizza and beer (be sure to invite me…) Watch how your competitors are handling the same environments and situations.
  • It’s not just about the tools! Sure there are lots of great tools out there, many of them home-grown success stories. But at their best, tools are simply extenders and enablers of existing behaviours. If you are doing the wrong things to begin with, cool tools just magnify your mistakes, and the consequences of them. Make sure your fundamental behaviours are sound before throwing caution to the wind and potentially alienating your customer base.
  • Become a trusted advisor. Freely offer your expertise and advice. Be a regular contributor to LinkedIn Q+A, and invest a half hour every morning helping people without expectations of a favour in return. Blog your own ideas, don’t just coat somebody else’s thoughts in your own wrapper and blast it out – editorialize at least! Make sure you would be on your customer’s “Top ten most helpful people” list.” Thought leadership is brand leadership.

How’s that for a set of starting principles? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this, and your additions to the list. Please feel free to weigh in here with your opinions!

PS. Some cool “Canadian” tools to check out:

StepRep (www.steprep.com) from Vendasta Technologies – helps you monitor and manage your online reputations

MashedIn (www.mashedin.com) also from Vendasta Technologies – builds trust by showing people how they are connected to you

HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) -  manages, monitors and analyzes multiple social media presences

Flowtown (www.flowtown.com) – builds social media profiles from a simple email address

To explore having me speak to your group or team on this or other related topics, please feel free to be in touch with me at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

A mid-career doctorate… are you crazy?

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use 1 Comment »
Doctoral gown

I admit it, the cool threads are part of the appeal

I am nearing the end of my doctorate in business leadership. My research is focusing on the role that online social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook etc.) are playing in fostering collaborative innovation and problem solving across organizational boundaries.

My hypothesis is that people are increasingly forming relationships through social networking that cross the traditional boundaries of organizations. Customers are now networked directly with product designers, and R&D engineers are Facebooking with their peers in the competition. Companies are sharing problems on LinkedIn Q&A, and people outside the organization are jumping in to help and add ideas. Is all this true? Ask me again in a few months…   

In this series of blog posts, I will chronicle my journey through the process of starting, working on and (touch wood) completing this mid-career doctorate. I am hoping this series will help those who may be considering more education at a mid-point or even later in their careers.  

Throughout my progress toward this degree, others have asked me (as I have asked myself many times) “Why would you do this? Why put yourself through the torture when you don’t need to? You’re already established and doing well.” These are all valid questions. My sailboat is sulking down at the marina wondering why we never go out anymore.

As I move through the process of writing my final two dissertation chapters, I sometimes reflect back on why I chose to do this, this behemoth project that has disrupted my life for almost three years, sucking up countless vacation days and vast amounts of mental disk space. Thinking back, I know I had my reasons. Here are a few of mine and a few more general reasons:

  • Enhancing your ability to add value. This is especially true of the newer breed of executive style doctorates. These applied degrees allow you to focus on an area that is applied, practical and immediately relevant to your work situation or those of your clients. In my case, I had often wondered how silos form and persist in organizations, and what can be done to stimulate increased collaboration. Then I became engrossed in LinkedIn, and interested in ways to foster collaborative innovation and… Shazam! – I suddenly knew I had found my research topic. My research is not only something that I am passionate about, but something that is useful in my work as a manager and professional speaker. 
  • Dusting off and renewing your prior education. In mid-career, your past education can grow stale. I have a solid MBA that has opened a lot of doors for me, but let’s face it – that education, though timeless, dates from the pre-Web era. It’s time for a major new credential, not just a handful of one-off courses.
  • Giving your brain a huge mid-life workout. Brains work differently as we age. Accumulated experience and repeated sound judgements (and mistakes) all add immensely to your situational processing power, but you may not be able to flash-memorize a calculus equation the way you could in your twenties. Tackling a huge intellectual research challenge in mid-career is like deciding suddenly to do your first ever marathon out of the blue. Survive it, and you’ll learn that you still have big guns.
  • Regaining the leading edge in terms of content. You had it once, but have you found yourself struggling with multiple remote controls on the sofa, and dreading the next major advance in television technology? Do you honestly know what blu-ray is? Have you downloaded an iPhone app? A doctorate gives you the chance to focus on something that is extremely timely, to become an expert in it, and to add new knowledge to the field. How many people do you know with a doctorate in the hottest new thing? Exactly - and with a 3-6 year typical time to finish a doctorate, you can can carve out some interesting lead time over the competition.
  • Turning age perceptions on their head. To a large extent, being out of date is a lifestyle choice, and probably not a smart one. You are only as old as your thinking is, and clobbering a hiring committee or board over the heads (in a nice way of course) with a newly minted credential in a leading edge area is a great way to steer the conversation to more interesting things - like what you can do for them - rather than dwelling on the unspoken question of whether or not you can relate to, and function in, the modern era!

 

Rob on boat

Where I'll be after graduation!

As this series progresses, I will share some thoughts on areas such as choosing the right kind of program, choosing a great topic, integrating your research and your work-work, and others. In the meantime, please feel free to weigh in here with a comment about your own journey through mid-career education, or similar thoughts. I can also be reached at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Interviewees needed for doctoral research on social networking

Doctoral research 2 Comments »

I would like to interview managers and executives who have consciously encouraged the use of online social networks in their organizations. This is for my doctoral research looking into the use of online social networks like LinkedIn. If you would be willing to be interviewed by me for around 30-45 minutes, I would be hugely grateful. I will share the interview questions with you prior to the interview, and your responses will be kept confidential unless you wish otherwise. I will also be pleased to share a synopsis of my findings with all who participate. If you are willing to take part, please let me know at greatcapes@gmail.com and I will be in touch with further details and to schedule an interview time. Many thanks!

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