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Rob Duncan now booking speaking engagements and seminars for 2011

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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….

An actor repairs…

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Stella Adler Studio, NYC

Stella Adler Studio, NYC

I just survived my first week at that amazing actor’s bootcamp known as the Stella Adler Summer Conservatory. It was an incredible week, with class after class of intensive training from the people who (literally in some cases) trained Brando, DeNiro, Ledger and others.

Now, I am no longer a young athletic man, but the highlight for me had to have been surviving and actually really enjoying the 2 hour dance/movement class late in the week. Sure, I sweated, and was none too inspired during the “let your glutes dance the Vivaldi across the room” exercise, but hey, I had an awesome time. And furthermore, I can now say that I have, on at least one occasion, danced while sober!

Stella Adler Studio is a great training ground for those who want to act as a profession, and for those who know they could use a little more “performance” in their day-to-day lives.

When I stumbled out into the sidewalk at the end of the first week’s classes, I felt 10 feet tall. I was standing straight, walking from my pelvis, holding my throat clear, and breathing deep. When I ordered my iced quad expresso at the Starbucks, people turned and looked as my new voice reverberated around the walls!

When I got back to my place, I had a good long soak, and reflected on the changes that had happened in me, after only a week. I felt stronger, more centred, and more assured of the fact that I am fascinated by acting and want to make it an even bigger part of my career.

We’ll see what next week brings…

Do you know your customers anymore?

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

The “do-not-do” list for good leaders

Ideas you can use 1 Comment »

I had a very enjoyable breakfast chat this morning with my good friend Alejandro, and the subject of a “do-not-do” list came up. Unlike a to-do list, the do-not-do list is a reminder to ourselves of the things that we either don’t want to be doing or shouldn’t be doing.

Do-not-do list

Do-not-do list

This got me thinking about leaders, and the many things they should not be doing. I wonder if all leaders shouldn’t keep their do-not-do lists handy at all times. What would be on such a list? Here are a few ideas, and I hope you will weigh in with your own comments and additions:

A do-not-do list for good leaders

  • Do not do anything that one of your staff could do. Hoarding the work and failing to effectively delegate is a critical flaw, especially for new managers. It may be true that you can do the best job on several tasks, but that isn’t why they pay you the big bucks. Your job as a leader is to apportion the work fairly among your staff, to develop and stretch the talents of your team, to have your eye on the big picture, and to lobby for your team’s success. The first question to cross your mind when a new task comes in should be “Who else could do this?” If you have more than 3 items on your personal to-do list, you probably aren’t delegating enough – time to reassess and reassign.
  • Do not be a perfectionist. Delegation is one of the scariest things a manager does, as it often flies in the face of what got the leader promoted in the first place. Leaders often progress upwards because they are very hard on themselves, and are sticklers for producing good work. It can be gut-wrenching at times for perfectionists to release a task to someone else, knowing what they will get back is only 80-90% of the quality they could do themselves. Get over it! It is much easier to help refine the work of a dozen team members who have made a good effort at a dozen tasks than it is to hoard the work and add it to your growing to-do list.
  • Do not micro-manage. Nobody likes being micro-managed. Leadership is about engendering and modelling trust and accountability. Be clear on what the task being assigned is, how it fits into a bigger context (why it is important), what resources are available to help get it done, and when it is required. Then GO AWAY! You can check in if you sense that something is going off the rails, but otherwise, just back off. We hire highly-qualified and motivated people who are good at what they do – let them do it, without interfering or being overly controlling. When you micro-manage someone, you are telegraphing the message that you don’t trust them to get things done, which is very unmotivating, and is also a poor use of your time.
Rob Duncan at the Helm

You can't steer the boat and micro-manage it too

What do you think? Feel free to comment on this post and share your own “do-not-do” items.

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

What leaders can learn from primate behaviour

Ideas you can use 1 Comment »
baboons together

Another day at the office

I find primate behaviour fascinating, with its tribalism, social relationships, grooming rituals, quests for dominance and power plays.

In many ways, the organizations we work in are mirrors of primate life.

baby baboon

Yum, melon rind...

I recall being at the Brooklyn Zoo a few years ago, catching a break from the heat and watching a troop of baboons act out their daily routine.

At the centre was the Boss baboon, all alone, surrounded by heaps of melon pieces and rinds. He had all the food to himself, and no other troop members would go near.

After a few minutes, one or two of the older baboons would go up, pick a few nits out of the Boss baboon’s fur, and generally groom their way closer to the food.

After some appropriate grooming, these inner circle baboons were allowed to help themselves to some melon.

Emboldened by this display, a baby baboon ran into the inner circle and – not knowing about the grooming rituals – grabbed a piece of melon rind and wandered away.

baboon fight

Oops - looks like I violated a protocol...

The resulting outburst was fearsome! The Boss exploded in a rage and everybody literally went ape.

The baby baboon shrieked and darted up onto the safety of a ledge, and kept shrieking and shaking as if to say: “What did I do wrong???”

Good question. What are the organizational lessons here?

  • Learn the social norms before helping yourself to the food. There are established patterns of social interaction in all organizations, and we ignore these at our peril.
  • Pick some nits before picking fights. Everybody likes being groomed, and a well-intended kind remark helps build social cohesion and strenghtens relationships.
  • Don’t freak out if you make a mistake or two. Nobody was going to hurt the baby baboon who made off with the melon rind. It was sufficient to scare the heck out of him, and help educate him on the norms of the troop.
  • Learn from your mistakes. If you keep repeating the same behaviours that freaked out the troop, sooner or later someone is going to sink their fangs into your backside.
  • Remember, it’s all about harmony. When everybody feels comfortable and relaxed, we can all get back to work.

What do you think? Feel free to comment on this post and share your own “primate lessons”.

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.

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!

Leadership lessons from the 2010 Olympics, part 2

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Rob Duncan in front of the Olympic rings in Coal Harbour

Rob Duncan in front of the Olympic rings in Coal Harbour

As the games unfold, I can already see a few things that were obviously done right, and could be emulated by other leaders. Here are a few ideas:

Early warning: Vancouverites were warned early and often that nothing would be as normal during the run-up to the games and while the games were on. This extended to closing traffic lanes, which was done on a seemingly random basis in the weeks before the games started. The message was clear – get out of your cars, take transit or stay home! Leaders who anticipate disruption can smooth the way by feeding the warnings out there early, and by lowering positive expectations, as was done in the case of traffic control.

Creative catastrophising: By putting every negative outcome out there as a possibility, in the bleakest possible terms, from traffic gridlock to cost overruns, the real events can only pale by comparison. In my west end neighbourhood, we were expecting to be invaded by a quarter million people swarming our streets and taking over our cafes and restaurants. Buck up, get out of town or huddle at home was the message. In the end, there have only been a few more people here than usual, traffic is lighter if anything, and I have had no trouble getting a coffee from my favourite haunts. By allowing maximum catastrophic thinking to take root, people end up pricing-in the worst outcomes, and can only be pleasantly surprised by reality.

Appealing to collective pride: I haven’t met a Vancouverite yet, who hasn’t responded to the call to showcase the best aspects of our city and country. In my famously antisocial neighbourhood, people are actually smiling at one another, and having the small, pleasant, inconsequential snatches of conversation at streetcorners that I associate more with New York than here. In the last few days, I have seen people stooping to pick up bits of trash off other people’s lawns, and a sense of civic pride that I haven’t seen for a long time. I suspect all leaders can gain by making major challenges into a point of collective pride!

Please feel free to weigh in with your opinions and ideas. 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.

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