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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?

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.

Using facebook to create an innovation community

Ideas you can use 1 Comment »

I am currently completing my doctorate in the area of collaborative innovation through online social networks. One of the “living experiments” I am watching is the effort by BCIT’s Applied Research Liaison Office (ARLO) to create an online community that brings together students, industry and faculty. What ARLO has done is set up a Facebook fan page (http://www.facebook.com/BCITARLO) and endeavored to populate the community with a healthy mix of students, industry people and others who are interested in applied research and innovation.

ARLO Facebook Page

ARLO Facebook Page

As with everything experimental, there are both successes and challenges. Some of my observations so far are:

Challenges:
- Getting members to sign up, and to stick around.
- Achieving the right mix of participants.
- Keeping the content fresh and appealing.
- Getting members of the community to interact with each other.
- Moving beyond the surface contact nature of Facebook.

Successes:
- Increased awareness of the ARLO office and what they do.
- Stimulated the creation of a student-led consulting group.
- Opened a two-way communication channel with the market in a medium they like.

Is Facebook the right medium to create this type of community? Only time will tell…

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

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