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Need to build and motivate great teams? Book Robert David Duncan for keynotes, seminars, coaching and training

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Do you want better performing teams?  Do you want to perform better? Contact Robert David (Rob) Duncan, who can help you and your teams be more effective – in terms of cohesion, collaboration, competitiveness and social skills. Rob is also a Certified Management Consultant who can roll up his sleeves and get actively involved in improving your organization’s performance. A longtime college educator, Rob can work with your organization and continue to add value long after the keynote address.

Featured talks and seminars: 1. Team Intelligence; 2. Competitive Intelligence; 3. Collaborative Intelligence; 4. Social Intelligence.

1. Team Intelligence: Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn – a foreboding calm…

What were the secrets to building a great team on a gruelling 3-month sailing voyage around the dreaded Cape Horn? Join Rob for a first-hand account of a life-changing tall ship voyage through stormy seas and interpersonal strains that ultimately led to a rounding of the “Sailor’s Mount Everest.” Told through stories and pictures, with the keen insights of a skilled management consultant, Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn will leave your team inspired, engaged, and ready for their next challenge!

2. Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical Techniques to get the Edge

What can you do in the next 15 minutes to give your firm an unbeatable lead over the competition? Join competitive intelligence expert Rob Duncan for an entertaining, fast-paced and informative look at a war chest of tools that can be employed cheaply, quickly and ethically to gain a sustainable edge. Drawing on his book “Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical”, selected as a Best Business Book of 2008, Rob will leave your group raring to go on these simple and effective tactics.

Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams

3. Collaborative Intelligence: Enhancing Innovation through Social Media

What do you do when your customer is suddenly the head of your design team? “Harness it to your advantage,” says social networking expert Rob Duncan. Rob’s recent doctoral research confirmed that online social networking is breaking down traditional boundaries between companies, competitors and customers. Intelligent collaboration is the way of the future, and Rob Duncan can explain in straightforward terms why LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and other collaborative technologies are going to drive business in the future, and why you need to be there.

4. Social Intelligence: Building Socially Smart Teams for Winning Performances

What do improvisation, active listening, the reading of micro-expressions, networking and acting technique have in common? They all relate to the growing field of social intelligence. Defined as ‘a person’s competence to comprehend his or her environment optimally and react appropriately for socially successful conduct,’ social intelligence is needed more than ever in business. Join Rob Duncan, New York trained actor and co-author of the book “Improv to Improve Your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation” on an engaging journey through some simple, easy to use and powerful techniques to build social intelligence in your teams.

Contact us for more information at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Work together to win!

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How social networking is moving us from competition to collaboration

My new e-book, “Collaborative Intelligence” is now available for download through Scribd at this address: http://bit.ly/XbhV6y

Collaborative Intelligence

I wrote the book as a companion piece to my recent doctoral thesis on collaborative innovation through online social networks. The book presents a set of interviews that share the findings of my research in easy-to-digest, bite sized pieces.  In short, people are using online social networks in very interesting and collaborative ways, and smart organizations and their leaders are learning how to harness this power.

My doctoral research among 500+ LinkedIn users and a dozen CEO-level executives yielded some very interesting findings. Over six in ten users said they use LinkedIn to exchange ideas and expertise, which confirms that LinkedIn is far more than just a prospecting tool or online contact manager. Most users indicated that they had more connections with people in other organizations than before they started using LinkedIn and that they are now much more connected to both customers and competitors. Six in ten users rely on their LinkedIn network to help them answer questions and solve problems, and say that their network has allowed them to be more innovative in their work.

Through my research, I learned several lessons that I think are very useful to people in all kinds of organizations, for-profit and non-profit alike. Here are some of those lessons:

Keep the secret sauce, but share the rest

We have grown used to operating environments where it is extremely important to guard competitive advantages by keeping secrets. The widespread adoption of social media means that there are fewer and fewer secrets. My research has shown that the vast majority of LinkedIn users I surveyed are connected to people in other organizations, and they rely on these inter-firm networks to share information, come up with new ideas and jointly solve problems. Lines have been blurred between competitors, and between customers and the organizations they buy from. Smart organizations understand this, and are attempting to harness this increased interconnectedness, rather than trying to restrict it. Imagine a world without secrets. It is coming rapidly due to social media. Organizations can focus on protection, and fighting infringement in every jurisdiction around the world, or they can prepare for a post-secrets landscape, and find better and more innovative ways to keep customers.

The more minds on the problem, the better

Teamwork and social networks are nothing new. Guilds, for example, have existed since pre-industrial times. More recently we have seen communities of practice and knowledge management as attempts to gather and share expertise. Guilds have been described as groups that are drawn together through similar interests and shared passion for a topic. Sounds like a LinkedIn Group, doesn’t it? Similarly, there is nothing new about social networks, as they have always existed. You only have to watch the HBO series “Rome” to see the power of alliances and connectedness in a historical sense. In recent decades, research on social networking has pointed out the importance of weak ties; that someone who is weakly connected to you may actually be more helpful to you than someone who is strongly connected to you. How perfect is that for social media, where we may never have met someone we are connected to?

Online social networks: way more of a good thing

So the key with online social networking is not that it is a new concept, but that the technology is now freely available to build networks on a massive scale with minimal effort. Unlike communities of practice that tended to focus around a specialized job area, and attracted people of a similar profile, today’s social networks can contain vastly different individuals, from CEOs to artists, allowing a radically greater knowledge base and sources of new ideas and innovation. How do you consciously make use of this pool of talent though?

How to be a collaborative player

We all win when we share our knowledge and expertise with others. Being a good collaborative player online often involves a shift of mindset from “What can I get?” to “What can I give?” By freely sharing our accumulated wisdom and knowledge through various online groups, blogs and social networks we all gain by learning more about how we look at problems and solutions. Ultimately, the more we share, the more we become innovative, elevate our professions, and most importantly, improve the service we provide to our clients, customers and each other!

 

The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving – doctoral thesis (2012)

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My mid-career doctorate: can it really be finished?

For those of you who have been kindly following my progress toward my doctorate – ups, downs, triumphs and challenges – here is the latest news.

Finally!

It is done!!!

Words that every grad student dreams of saying someday. Earlier this year, my thesis (below) went to external reviews, final edits and approval by the university. I was officially awarded the degree of Doctor of Business Leadership on October 1st. Once again I have to thank all of the hundreds of people who helped me along this journey.

Sharing the results

The best way I can think of to thank everybody who helped me along the way is to share the thesis and the results below. The study involved a comprehensive literature review, a quantitative survey of over 500 LinkedIn users as well as a dozen qualitative in-depth interviews with senior-level executives. In addition to the findings and analysis, contained in the thesis, there is also a starting framework toward a set of best practices for organizations wishing to harness the power of online social networks while mitigating some of the potential risks. So, here it is!

 

The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving

 

I am available for interviews, speaking and training on this topic…

Please feel free to get in touch with me to learn more about my research, findings and thoughts on this topic. I am pleased to see that the thesis and its findings are already getting some attention worldwide, and I am more than happy to be interviewed on the topic or to work with groups and organizations to develop keynote addresses, seminars and training related to this area.

Click here to visit the university library site that has the thesis abstract, other information and a link to view or download the actual thesis document. I hope you find the information useful!

Celebration time!

 

Suggested citation formats from Google Scholar

MLA:
Duncan, Robert David. The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving. Diss. 2012.

APA:
Duncan, R. D. (2012). The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving (Doctoral dissertation).

Chicago:
Duncan, Robert David. “The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving.” PhD diss., 2012.

Collaborative Intelligence by Rob Duncan: book preview

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

Collaborative Intelligence: How to liberate minds and transform enterprises through social networks

After doing all the research for my doctorate and writing my thesis (“The role of online social networks in inter-firm collaborative innovation and problem solving”), I swore I would never do anything requiring that kind of effort ever again! So here I am, a few months later, hard at work on a new book that captures my key findings and presents practical ideas on building collaboration through social media in a format that is brief, readable and useful for people at all levels, in all kinds of organizations. Clearly I am incorrigible…

The book, “Collaborative Intelligence” is due to be published in late 2012. As a teaser, I am putting a brief summary of a few of the book’s ideas below, so readers can get an initial sense of the contents.

Intelligence matters!

Collaborative intelligence: the more sensors, the more signals you pick up

Collaborative intelligence: the more sensors, the more signals you pick up

There are many forms of intelligence that relate to business and organizational life. Teambuilding intelligence, competitive intelligence and social intelligence are just a few. One of the most important, yet least understood, is social intelligence. Loosely defined as the ability to correctly assess your surroundings and act appropriately, social intelligence involves sensing what is going on around your enterprise, both inside and out, making the correct inferences about the signals being received, and then responding in a way that leaves your organization better off. The increased pace of change, thirst for innovation and the democratization of knowledge have resulted in an environment where understanding the environment and reacting to it effectively and quickly are critical. Looked at as a whole, we can think of these organizational intelligences – teambuilding, competitive and social – as collaborative intelligence. Your use of social networks can either enhance or diminish your collaborative intelligence.

A challenge: Grab a piece of paper and quickly map out all of the signals that your organization receives from its environment, both external and internal. Don’t overthink it – just scrawl away. Can you see any signals that aren’t being received that would be useful? Are there any existing signals that you could be capturing and organizing more effectively? Is everybody in the organization equally able to pick up on useful information and signals, or is this function quite centralized?

Keep what you need, and share the rest

We have grown used to operating environments where it is extremely important to guard competitive advantages by keeping secrets. The widespread adoption of social media means that there are fewer and fewer secrets. My research has shown that the vast majority of LinkedIn users I surveyed are connected to people in other organizations, and they rely on these inter-firm networks to share information, come up with new ideas and jointly solve problems. Lines have been blurred between competitors, and between customers and the organizations they buy from. Smart organizations understand this, and are attempting to harness this increased interconnectedness, rather than trying to restrict it. Imagine a world without secrets. It is coming rapidly due to social media. Organizations can focus on protection, and fighting infringement in every jurisdiction around the world, or they can prepare for a post-secrets landscape, and find better ways to keep customers.

A challenge: What is your organization’s “secret sauce,” the one thing that would drive you out of business if it were known to the competition? What percentage of all your organization’s knowledge does that secret sauce represent? One percent? Ten percent? Of the remaining knowledge, what aspects could you trade with other organizations for your mutual gain?

The power of many individuals

Collaborative intelligence penguins

Collaborative intelligence: the more minds on the problem, the better

Teamwork and social networks are nothing new. Guilds, for example, have existed since pre-industrial times. More recently we have seen communities of practice and knowledge management as attempts to gather and share expertise. Guilds have been described as groups that are drawn together through similar interests and shared passion for a topic. Sounds like a LinkedIn Group, doesn’t it? Similarly, there is nothing new about social networks, as they have always existed. You only have to watch the HBO series “Rome” to see the power of alliances and connectedness in a historical sense. In recent decades, study on social networking has pointed out the importance of weak ties; that someone who is weakly connected to you may actually be more helpful to you than someone who is strongly connected to you. How perfect is that for social media, where we may never have met someone we are connected to?

Online social networks: way more of a good thing

So the key with online social networking is not that it is a new concept, but that the technology is now freely available to build networks on a massive scale with minimal effort. Unlike communities of practice that tended to focus around a specialized job area, and attracted people of a similar profile, today’s social networks can contain vastly different individuals, from CEOs to artists, allowing a radically greater knowledge base and sources of new ideas and innovation. How do you consciously make use of this pool of talent though?

A challenge: Jot down the names of people in your organization who are super-connectors. It shouldn’t be too hard: If you needed someone to brief the team on Twitter, who would you tap? What about LinkedIn or Facebook? Do these people know each other? These individuals need to be aware of each other so they can work together to help the organization harness the power of “edge connections,” those networks that employees are tapped into in their own social lives. Support them with time to work together to identify other people who are highly connected and let this group develop a connectedness approach for the organization.

Implementing a collaborative intelligence strategy: liberating the individual

One of the worst things most organizations can do is to prohibit the use of social media in the workplace. Doing so telegraphs several very unfortunate messages to employees:

  • that you will steal time from your employer given the opportunity
  • that you are distractible by nature and will fool around rather than work
  • that the people you know are of no value to our organization as customers, potential employees, sales facilitators, goodwill ambassadors or idea generators

Smart organizations understand the power of their employees’ own networks, and that these edge connections can be extremely helpful to the organization provided the right structures and guidelines exist. Check out my post here for a suggested framework of best practices around the conscious use of online social networks in organizations.

Encouraging collaborative behaviors: leadership begins at the bottom

Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams

Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams

Your staff at all levels should all feel empowered to serve as what I call Collaborative Engagement Officers or CEOs. My research has shown that the vast majority of LinkedIn users are connected to counterparts in other organizations, including both customers and competitors, and that they make use of these connections to help solve problems and generate new ideas. Add to this the fact that the most connected person in your organization may be the newest hire or somebody who isn’t even known well by the top leadership, and you have the ingredients for a shift away from top-down style management. The true locus of power has shifted from the top of organizations to being more diffused among highly-connected staff at all levels. So where does that leave senior management? Smart organizations will create cultures where engaging with networks is a part of the daily routine, and will scope out expectations of social network usage clearly in order to minimize risks of communications mistakes and manage the amount of time spent on social networks as opposed to other duties.

Transforming the enterprise: goodbye to hierarchies and silos

So what are the benefits of embracing a networked staff and promoting the development of relationships beyond the walls of your organization? Here are a few:

  • improved customer service and customer input
  • greater access to innovation collaborators
  • reductions of the inefficiencies caused by silos
  • better staff engagement with the organization’s mission, at all levels
  • enhanced serendipity through a more varied mix of minds and approaches
  • speedier and more nimble competitive responses due to improved signal sensing

So these are a few of the ideas that will be explored in Collaborative Intelligence. I hope you will read and enjoy the book when it comes out!

Social media is… so NOT social!

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

Doing real things with real people is more fun!

My Klout score has stopped rising lately, and has begun a mild correction downward. And yet I’m having more fun, doing more things with real people and accomplishing way more. I am immersing myself in scene study work with some great acting partners, and enjoying speaking to groups of real-live people. I wrote a feature length movie screenplay in 2 weeks.

So what’s up?

Well, I’d never describe myself as any kind of canary in a coal mine, but the inescapable fact is that I am bored with social media. The less time I spend engaged in social media of any kind, the happier I am. Taking a complete pass on Pinterest for example, was a sign of good health to me.

Stella Adler Studio Summer Conservatory

Rob Duncan is doing real things with real people


This isn’t the first time I have noticed this. I wrote about it here some time ago when I had returned to theater training in New York. Mind you, it’s not unusual that I would be an early exit candidate, since I was both an earlier adopter and did a doctorate on the topic of social media (the latter a guaranteed recipe to kill an interest in anything…).

So am I part of an early wave that is starting to walk away for good? Or am I taking a well-earned vacation? Time will tell. Just the same, I won’t be lining up to buy any social media stocks for the long term.

Here are a few things to consider doing as the weather improves, kind of a spring cleaning for the brain:

1. Have a cleansing social media fast. Stay off social media for a week or more at a time. Yes, it’s scary. Start with 2 hours and work up to whole days gradually, so you don’t go into sudden withdrawal.

2. Spend a week unsubscribing from updates, feeds and emails that no longer interest you. It’s amazing how many of these things still stream in, yet we don’t think to hit the instant unsubscribe button.

3. Be social, don’t just “do” social. Join genuine, real-world social events. Take a class, put on a play, join a team, see friends. If you’re really Jonesing for online connections, use things like Meetup to line up real face-to-face events.

4. Honor your solitude. Take some time to reflect. Cultivate a sense of enlightened exclusivity. Be less available.

5. Take yourself private. Stop over-sharing every little thing. If it’s a marketing tactic, trust me, it’s not working (you heard it here).

6. Keep social media as a treat – like ice cream. The odd time I pass through Facebook and LinkedIn (okay, Facebook) these days, It’s actually fun to see what people are up to.

So my challenge to us all is: step away from the screen, put the gadgets down, and go out and play. With real people!

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

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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… 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!

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