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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.

Toward an initial framework for developing best practices for the use of online social networks in organizations

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

As part of my doctoral research, I conducted qualitative research with people who had experience with using online social networks (OSNs) in their workplaces. The aim of the research was to develop a starting point for a framework for developing best practices for the use of OSNs in organizations.

The results of the qualitative inquiry identified a number of suggested best practices for organizations considering the use of OSNs. The elements presented below are intended to help serve as a starting point for organizations.

The elements have been grouped under the categories of strategy, listening, communication, guidelines, training, diffusion and measurement. As the usage of OSNs becomes more prevalent, and more history with OSNs is examined in future research, this set of suggested best practices can be extended and clarified over time. Below is an initial framework for consideration.

Strategy
Planning for OSN implementation should tie back to the organization’s strategy, goals and objectives. To this end, it is helpful to align the level and type of OSN planning to the planning culture of the organization overall.

“Align the strategy with the culture – if the culture is open to it, trial and error may be fine; otherwise it can be a disaster.”

Organizations that are more structured and methodical in their planning will likely benefit from a more structured approach to developing and rolling out an OSN plan. For this type of organization it will make sense to develop a concrete plan with reasons for using OSNs, and expected results. For organizations that favour a more iterative or adaptive approach to planning, starting with a tentative OSN strategy that can be adapted as needed may be the best approach, making adjustments as learning takes place.

“Don’t try to over-plan an approach to using OSNs. The most important thing is to start using the technologies, play with them, and figure out how to use them as you go along. Otherwise you can end up paralyzed by over-planning and losing valuable time relative to the competition.”

As noted above, the key is make sure there is an alignment between the planning style and activities that the organization uses overall, and to fit the OSN planning efforts into that style.

Listening
It is important to scan the environment and observe what is being done currently with regard to OSNs. This scan should include looking at what the competition is doing, as well as what is being done in other types of organizations and industries. It is equally important to understand what the behaviour and needs of the organization’s customers and stakeholders are. This will be helpful both in terms of not re-inventing the wheel, but also in terms of fitting an appropriate OSN approach to the needs of key stakeholders. It is important to research where the intended audience currently spends time, so that the organization ends up adopting the appropriate tools and platforms to reach that audience most effectively.

“Listening is a key activity that should be a goal of an OSN strategy. It is critical to be listening to what is being communicated by customers, and by competitors.”

Another role for listening is being aware of the fact that OSNs are not merely broadcast media, but are also an important means by which customers and other stakeholders can communicate with an organization. Missed messages represent missed opportunities. One suggestion is to have a “designated listener” on staff, someone whose job it is to monitor developments in the social networking arena, as well as monitoring actual communications from customers, stakeholders, collaborators and competitors.

Communication
A communications strategy for OSNs should be part of an overall coordinated communications strategy for the organization. As OSNs represent a unique medium, they require a unique approach to communications. In particular it is essential to be regular in communicating and to have engaging, relevant and value-rich content that meets the needs and interests of the audience. It is suggested that a professional communicator be used to design the communications strategy.

“Focus on quality not quantity. Focus on the experience you are creating for the customer. Focus on being a real person and being available to help… Ensure that what you promote is what you are.”

The importance of being authentic in OSN communication has also been emphasized in the qualitative interviews. The OSN representation of the organization should be in alignment with the brick and mortar organization.

Guidelines
It is important to develop guidelines that govern the appropriate use of OSNs, confidentiality and disclosure of information. These guidelines should be supplemented by training of all staff. As one respondent noted, it is useful to keep in mind that there is nothing fundamentally new about OSNs; they are just an enabling technology the same way a telephone and a fax machine were. It can be helpful to look at how the organization has dealt with other new technologies in the past, since there may not be a need for entirely new strategies, policies or guidelines. Though policies and guidelines can help mitigate negative consequences of using OSNs it is still necessary to have a plan for handling negative results, accidents or missteps.

“Need pre-planned answers and rules for interactions before negative comments and situations are encountered. Have a policy for negative situations and make sure everybody understands it. Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Be clear that social media leaves you open to detractors, so have a strategy in place for handling this.”

Establishing written corporate policies and procedures from both an employee and departmental perspective is recommended. A good starting point for this effort is to look at the existing policy frameworks the organization already has for items such as security, access, usage, confidentiality and see if these can be adapted for OSN usage, rather than coming up with a whole new set of guidelines.

Training
In order to effectively use OSNs, organizations need training on best practices for OSN usage, both for new hires and for existing employees. For example, it can’t be assumed that all employees know how to use OSNs or how to use them effectively and in agreement with company policies. It may be worthwhile to create a controlled task force for the first several months to convey valuable information to employees on how to use OSN tools and what employees need to know about representing the company on OSNs. Employees need to know they are representing the company at all times on OSNs and they same rules apply online as offline. OSNs are a tool to help empower employees as advocates of a brand or an organization, but those employees need to be trained to know what the appropriate behaviours are.

Diffusion
Earlier in this study, the role of early adopters in the diffusion of new technologies was discussed. The role of champions and influencers in a roll-out of OSN usage is very important. It is critical to identify these people within the organization – as well as in other stakeholders such as customers or collaborators – and to encourage these key people to assist in rolling out the usage of OSNs. Tying performance measurement and reward systems to the successful championing of OSNs in the organization would be a good way to attract and motivate the appropriate champions inside the organization.

Measurement
Management should set expectations and measurable goals for OSN usage. For example, what percentage of the time will the employee need to utilize social media to meet sales and referrals, against the total actual sales and referrals generated in a specific time period. Consider having audit and compliance measures implemented via neutral third-party vendors who can monitor, evaluate and measure productivity and feedback from a client perspective. Most OSN activities should have some sort of customer conversion as their ultimate goal. Conversion does not have to mean a sale, but some sort of action that is desired on the part of the audience. It could be clicking though to a website, signing up for a newsletter, or simply asking for more information. With the desired conversion in mind, a better social networking strategy can be developed. All marketing campaigns that make use of OSNs should be able to be tracked and measured for success. Not all metrics surrounding the use of OSNs need to be hard and analytical though – a blend of hard and soft metrics, such as anecdotes and success stories, can be very valuable.

“Focus on basic success metrics. These need not be too analytical. If you are putting out good content, and it is reaching the right people, that can be sufficient. Anecdotal results and good stories are just as important as hard metrics.”

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.

Gathering competitive intelligence at trade shows

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 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.

A mid-career doctorate… are you crazy?

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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.

What leaders can learn from primate behaviour

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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.

What everyone can learn from actor training

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A few years ago, following up on a dream from my youth, I went to study acting in New York. I was fortunate to have been accepted into the Stella Adler Studio for a 12 week course with Maureen Megibow, and I made the most of it by taking all the additional training I could get my hands on. Famous for producing talents like Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro and Martin Sheen, the Stella Adler Studio is one of the great old New York acting schools, and I quickly realized that I had made a wise choice. In terms of technique, Adler’s version of “the method” has always struck me as being a lot more accessible than many of the other variants. With Adler technique, the focus is on “what does my character want?/what is in the way?/what will he do about it?” In short, I don’t have to relive the death of my childhood dog to play a father paralyzed by grief at the loss of his child. It’s make believe – get it?

Rob Duncan and fellow cast members in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings

Rob Duncan and fellow cast members in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings

After I returned from New York, I was able to draw on my actor training in a number of ways. The first was through acting itself. I was quite pumped up by all my New York acting experiences, and was able to get cast in both short and feature-length films, as well as a play. But perhaps more interestingly, I was able to use the training and coaching I got in a number of useful ways.

Actor training made me a better teacher, speaker and manager – and can help you. Consider these examples:

Developing stage presence: Theater training helps you understand your body as an instrument of expression. You learn how you move, which of your mannerisms and habits help you express yourself, and which are a hindrance. You also learn simple tricks like understanding where the light is in a room and how it is (or isn’t) hitting you so you can get into a position that makes you look less like a shadowy goblin!

Hitting your marks: Another trick of the trade is working with marks. When you do stage and film work, everytime you move, you are aiming to land on a particular spot. Most of the time, the mark is literally marked on the floor with a masking tape “X.” The same is true in giving a presentation or teaching a seminar. By scoping out the venue, I usually like to work out a few choice spots to stand, where the lighting is good and the audience gets a good view of the screen if I am using one. Masking tape is usually part of my gear, but I have also used pennies on the floor in a pinch. The idea isn’t to remove sponteneity, but rather to have some guidelines of where to come to a rest – this actually frees you up to be more spontaneous!

Exercising your voice: I worked with great coaches like Roger Simon and did a masterclass with Andrew Wade from the Royal Shakespeare Company who showed me how to treat my voice like a muscle and exercise it, so that you can actually relax more, and project farther at the same time. Roger has a great workout where you power up your voice in 20 progressive increments, with a view to “smashing the lightbulb across the room” with the final one. Both Roger and Andrew were great for clarity and enunciation.

Learning how to improvise: I trained in improv at the Gotham City Improv, and it is an incredibly valuable skill to have in the workplace. Improv at its best involves creating a hilarious shared story with a group of people – a story that moves fast, never misses a beat, and ends up where nobody predicted! The trick with improv is to understand that when the story comes to you for input, all you need to do is move it along a tiny little bit – you don’t have to hit a grand slam or deliver the knockout punchline everytime! Removing that anxiety from yourself lets you be a more effective and giving team player. Sometimes you just have nothing, so you simply offer up something like “…and then she jumped on the bus and…” and toss it over to another team mate. The key is to keep it moving, and then when you least expect it, you’ll say something hilarious. Will anyone who was in our class ever forget the substance known as “boil matter?”

An early film poster from my ongoing "Before he was Famous" days!

An early film poster from my ongoing "Before he was Famous" days!

There are many more lessons to be drawn from acting training, including the power of intention, making bold choices and growing a thicker skin. But no matter what you do as a profession, I highly recommend heading down to your local community center or night school and taking a class in acting or improv. It will enrich your life and career in ways you never anticipated, and you might just have fun! To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about theater in the workplace, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

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