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Our new book – Improv to Improve your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 4 Comments »

Now available on AMAZON!

I was thrilled to be involved in this collaborative writing project, in which co-authors Brent Brooks, Rick Crain, Leah Henderson, Jim Hogan, Vanessa Lowry, Deborah Thomas, Scott Williford, Mark Wyssbrod and I all contributed chapters. Working from the “ten commandments of improv,” each of us wove a chapter story about how the techniques of improvisation have helped each of us in our business careers, and how they can help you. The ten commandments of improv that are woven throughout the book are:

Book: Improv to Improve your Business

Book: Improv to Improve your Business

Trust.

Agree on stage.

Listen.

Don’t be funny.

Avoid questions.

Be average.

Stay in the moment.

Mistakes are good.

Make others look good.

Have fun!

It was terrific to work with such funny and talented co-authors, and I know that you will find this book as much fun to read as it was to write! Watch for Improv to Improve your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation on Amazon early in 2011. Advance media enquiries and booking speaking events on this topic can be arranged by emailing me at greatcapes@gmail.com, or following the contact tab on this page.

Are we in the middle of a visibility mania?

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Too obsessed with being seen?

Too obsessed with being seen?


The other day, I was parsing through my usual daily inflow of free webinar offers, machine-gun Tweets and other digital bombardments, and I found myself wondering whether we have drifted too far away from a fundamental focus on providing something of value to a customer, one customer at a time? Are we in fact in a visibility mania?

The dominant discussions out there seem to be about being located, ranking high in searches, and using social media for outbound ‘reach and flood’ marketing. But where do you take people once they have found you; what is the unique value you provide that makes them want to go for their wallets? There seems to be very little chatter out there about getting better at what we do, providing more service, having a true dialogue with customers, and learning from them how to provide more value.

Here are a few ideas on how we can return the focus to the customer:

  • Have a ‘Designated Listener’ on your team. The DL is there to pick up on what customers are saying, thinking and needing. This doesn’t have to be only using social media. Get out there, listen in person, use MeetUp to schedule a fun gathering for some dialogue, invest some time in a solid back-and-forth with a single customer on Facebook or in person.
  • Take your marketing local and in-person. Have some events where people can actually meet you and other customers live. I am picking up on some real fatigue out there with purely electronic relationships and social media. Let’s not forget the power of a handshake and a face-to-face chat. Bring in a speaker to stimulate some dialogue and let the discussion take off.
  • Make use of surveys and focus groups. Yeah, I know, major yawn. But these old standbys are still great ways to find out what is on customers’ minds, what is bugging them, how they like to be marketed to, and how they would in fact go about searching online for a business like yours. What keywords would they use – why guess?
  • Feature customer blogs on your site, both the complimentary ones and the grumpy ones. Invite a customer to be a guest blogger, or to be part of the design and customer service team by creating an online community that they can join. Hire a team of customers to meet with the company for a week, and tap into their insights and suggestions.
  • Competitive Intelligence by Rob Duncan

    None of these ideas are new and revolutionary, and many were in my second book, “Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical,” but they are still valid, and could help us return to doing more listening and less talking.

    I am interested in your thoughts! Please feel free to weigh in here, or by email. To explore having me meet with and speak to your team, please feel free to be in touch anytime via the contact tab on my website.

    Why good leaders have to leave the teams they build

    Ideas you can use, Speaking 1 Comment »

    Leaders come in two broad flavors: 1) self confident ones, and 2) insecure ones. The self confident ones build teams, empower those teams, develop leadership within the team and then move on to their next challenge. The insecure ones micro-manage, insert themselves needlessly into processes, and cling to their authority role under the guise of being ‘indispensable.’

    The best leaders have one overarching goal: to make themselves dispensable. They achieve this through a number of tactics:

    • Hire good people – better, smarter, faster than themselves wherever possible.
    • Performance manage the weaker performers, while putting the bulk of their energies into the higher achievers.
    • Create a culture of experimentation and innovation, where trial and error are celebrated.
    • Promote the achievements of everybody on the team, while taking minimal credit for themselves.
    • Support the team from the background, letting others take center stage.
    • Consciously develop team leadership by pushing responsibility downward, and developing everyone’s leadership ability, not just that of their clones.

    It may seem counter-intuitive to try to make yourself dispensable, but that is exactly what the best leaders and team builders do. In my first book, Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn, I interviewed the captain of the Europa, a 400 ton tall ship, who had started his career in a one-person rowboat, and who explained his philosophy of becoming a leader:

    Captain and crew of the tall ship Europa

    Captain and crew of the tall ship Europa

    I personally never ‘sought command.’ I started my career in a small boat, where you are the skipper by default. Over time, the boats got bigger, I got older, and my experience grew.

    The lesson here is that leaders need to build and empower teams, and then move onto that ‘bigger boat,’ so they can do it all over again. The smart organizations are the ones who recognize the need for good team builders to keep moving and growing, leaving a legacy of successful teams and newly-developed leaders in their wake.

    Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

    Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

    To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

    Can we have a single, unified, authentic online persona?

    Book Review, Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 5 Comments »
    One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher

    One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher

    In her inspiring book, One Person/Multiple Careers, Marci Alboher (a lawyer-turned-journalist/speaker/writing coach) argues that we should be unleashing, rather than hiding, the multiple career identities that many of us have. Marci’s book was the first place I heard the term “slash careers” as a description of the multiple career trajectories and multiple income streams that so many of us have. Almost everyone I know is a something/something else.

    So okay, I’m going to finally do it. I am a Speaker/actor/writer/trainer/manager/consultant/sailor. How hard was that? In the world of online social networking, it seems to be exceedingly difficult. Most people I have talked to are very ardent about keeping their various “sub-personas” very compartmentalized. Facebook is for friends/family/partying (ie. never friend the boss…), LinkedIn is for corporate life, Twitter is for… hmmm – don’t have an answer for that one yet.

    A friend/colleague and I kicked off this year by agreeing that this should be a year of authenticity – that we were going to move our various sub-personas into greater alignment, and care less about what our various “markets” think.

    This got me thinking about social networking, and how I have most of my actor/writer/sailor connections on Facebook, whereas most of my consultant/manager/trainer connections are all on LinkedIn. My speaker/author friends are one of the few crossover communities that are on both. Could I bring all of these communities together?

    Pink shirt guy

    Pink shirt guy

    As a first step, I unified all my profile images into one of my acting/speaking headshots – pink shirt guy. Before that, I was the Mr. scruffy actor/sailor on Facebook, buttoned-down Mr. Corporate on LinkedIn and pink shirt guy on Twitter. Though not all-encompassing, pink shirt guy probably does the best job of capturing the kinds of enthusiasm I feel for speaking to groups, acting on stage, a great day managing a team, teaching a course I am passionate about etc.

    I used to also have separate Web pages (Speaker, Actor, Sailor, blah blah blah). This was beyond tedious, both to maintain, and to be forever thinking about the “message” that was appropriate to go out to separate communities/markets. So I scrubbed all that and am unifying everything here under one umbrella. It’s a work in process, but a step in the right direction – toward an authentic, 360 degree view of a whole person.

    How about you? Do you have multiple personalities online, or have you been able to unify things? Are you still cautious about the self/selves you reveal to the various communities/markets you operate in, or have you decided to chuck it and present one face to the world?

    I would really be interested in your thoughts, so please weigh in here with a comment or contact me directly.

    To explore having me speak to your group or team about authenticity, social media, or other topics please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

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

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    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

    Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking Comments Off
    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!

    Don’t brand yourself, be yourself!

    Ideas you can use Comments Off

    Rob Duncan, brandless

    Omigosh, I left home today without my personal brand – the horror!

    So, do I like, have to be genuinely myself until I get my brand back?

    Does this mean the “Innovation Catalyst” can just be the grumpy guy at Starbucks who liked everything better the old way, and isn’t in the mood to catalyze today? Is that such a a bad thing?

    At their best, personal brands reflect the very pinnacle of ourselves. They are emblematic of our best qualities, and to some extent, the person we would like to be. They are that version of ourselves that we would immediately be drawn to at a networking event.

    The dark side of personal brands is when they become a mask, a lie that prevents us from being authentic. Several weeks ago, I wrote here about the importance of not spreading one’s selves too thinly, and the need to present a unified, authentic persona to the world.

    If you are finding yourself consciously thinking about your personal brand too much – to the point maybe where you are asking yourself which of your market segments will be at the pub tonight – you may need a brand holiday. Here are a few ideas:

    • Anti-brand yourself. Come up with the most self-deprecating, hilariously negative personal brand that truly reflects the worst angels of your nature. Strut it out for a day. You may actually enjoy being that person…
    • Try on a totally different brand. Convene a focus group of your friends over pizza and beer, and let them come up with your new brand. Focus in on the ideas that happen after the beer has been flowing, and test-drive that new brand for a week.
    • Go brandless. Just introduce yourself as so-and-so, and leave the elevator speech at home. Use active listening to learn all about the other person, and let your own identity emerge naturally as the conversation flows. Hmmm… I can see brand-burning parties cropping up all over!

    So there you go – some old-fashioned ideas from the Innovation Catalyst, who is taking brand holiday of his own today!

    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.

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