A Business Technology Place

Work for something bigger

“Work for a cause, not for applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed just make your absence felt.” – Unknown

I pinned these words on my board at work because they describe a work ethic I see in some people. I admire colleagues that create work as an extension of themselves rather than an object that is simply sold for purchase. These are workers who approach their craft thinking about relationships, processes, and flow. They understand and realize they are a single player in a team sport. They recognize the value that all team members bring to the effort and they don’t value their own work higher than what others contribute.

Technical skills such as programming and configuration are important. But technical skills are replaceable. There is always another programmer for-hire to write code. But real value is added when we create work with the customer in-mind more than our individual gain. Real value is added when we step out of our own box to help others be successful because we genuinely want to see them succeed.  This is what it means to live for a cause and to express an ideal bigger than ourselves.
Onward and upward!

My Labor Day Reflection

Labor Day is a tribute to the contributions American workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. The US Congress designated the first Monday in September as a holiday in June of 1894. On this Labor Day, after completing a do-it-yourself home fix-up project, I reflected on my day-off from work.LaborDay

A look behind me.

I appreciate past relationships with co-workers and managers because the experiences with them shaped and molded my professional career. When I think about my past teams, I am reminded about interactions, coachable moments, managerial decisions, and putting laborers in the right job to contribute to team results.

I appreciate my first manager who hired me after college graduation. He gave me a chance. He extended trust and let me establish a work routine. I appreciate the manager that removed me from an assignment when I was failing and repositioned me to an assignment where I could both succeed and mature. I appreciate the co-worker that approached work with zeal and creativity. Her example opened my mind to see new possibilities for work assignments and inspired me to reach higher.

A look ahead of me.

Can I help others achieve more by using my experience as a guide? Can I improve team output by examining job assignments and organizational layouts to make sure that laborers are in the proper assignments and working on the most important tasks? Am I building team unity?

To contribute to my portion of the team load I need to make sure I’m still learning and continuously improving through self-inspection. One of the reasons I write each week is to reflect on events and ideas that shape my life journey. I believe that my achievement come as the result of the collective effort of those on my team. I must carry my weight on the team by being prepared.

So happy Labor Day to you and me. The fruits of our labor are sweet tasting. But the journey of our labor is not yet complete.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: LPHR Group via Creative Commons

Three unspoken words

“I don’t know”

There they are. Three words that can be hard to say for many professional workers and managers. But why is that? Do they make us vulnerable? Do they expose us to judgement? They can be interpreted as a sign of weakness and a threat to our credibility. After all, we are expected to be subject matter experts, leaders, and managers. Can we admit that we don’t know the answer?

During some recent reading, 13 Fatal Errors that Managers Make by Steven Brown, I found this concept linked to the idea of personal accountability. Brown’s thought is that an important aspect of accountability is being able to admit that we are not all-knowing. He points out that a mature manager will admit that they don’t know the answer to a problem/question and then recommend potential sources to find the answer to the team. In this way they help to guide and encourage the team to find the solution while at the same time showing a level of emotional maturity.Keep Calm I dont know

An important lesson.

The same concept can applied to non-managers as well. I’m reminded of an assignment early in my professional career. At the time, I was an intern in College working as a network administrator for a corporate network. There was a problem with a system (I don’t remember the exact details) one day and a service ticket was assigned to me. I spent a couple of business days trying to resolve the problem through a variety of techniques but I was not successful. Since I was now late on resolving the issue, my manager questioned me about my approach to solving the problem. I replied by explaining to him all of my theories and subsequent failures. Essentially, I was trying to show him my thought process and problem solving skills. My manager quickly informed me that my perseverance was admirable, but the customer was not able to perform their function. He coached me that it’s OK to admit that we don’t know the answer to a problem. The real trick is to know where to go find the answer.

Oh wait, no worries, “I’ll just Google it”.

Google didn’t exist when this happened. I’m glad it didn’t. The experience taught me a valuable lesson and definitely made an impression on me. Looking back, over 20 years later, I can see how it molded some of my professional and managerial style through the years. Many of the successes I’ve had during my career come not from what I knew, but from knowing who knew the answer. That creates collaboration, teamwork, and mutual respect in a professional environment. I still aim to show show perseverance for solving tough problems. But I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t the answer right away.

What are we really learning at conferences?

Are conferences worth our time?
I spent the last two days at Digital Summit 2012 conference in the Atlanta area.  As today neared the closing session, I was reflecting on some notes I had taken and I thought “what am I really learning from all this?” Certainly it’s a question that attendees, presenters, sponsors, and booth marketers ask themselves at conferences. Was the conference worth the cost, energy, and time spent?Digital Summit 2012

The classic answers.
– It’s a chance to network and find out what others are doing in my industry.
– It’s a chance to listen to speakers talk about how they have solved problems we all face.
– It’s a chance to find leads and prospective clients.
– It’s a chance to find new ideas to help us solve problems.

Well maybe. My experience is that groups of people from the same organization tend to hang-out with each other and not network all that much. As I look around a room when speakers are talking, I see a large percentage of people checking email from work and not really listening to the speaker.  As with most everything we do in life, we get out of it what we put into it.

There are different conference formats.
If you have never attended a BarCamp you should so that you can compare different conference styles. I have twice attended Product Camp Atlanta for product managers and marketers. These conferences are less structured, often with participants voting on the topics to be discussed. Participants are encouraged to become part of the presentations in a knowledge-share and discussion format. Sales pitches are discouraged and can be “booed” by participants.

Now I’m not promoting BarCamps over the traditional trade show conferences. I’m just pointing out various styles. Whether the conference is full of vendor booths, speaker sessions, or collaborative learning groups, we still get out of it what we put into it.

Digital Summit had a few recurring themes.
If I had to summarize all of the presentations I heard at Digital Summit this year it would be: Use data to measure how people are interacting with your brand so that you can influence them take some action (purchase, share, converse).

Nothing earth shattering with that statement. It covers some the basics of marketing. But as you would expect at a digital marketing conference, there was heavy emphasis on analytics, advertising, mobile, social, and search. I found some speakers engaging and others not so much.

A few specific thoughts that I think are worth repeating include:

  • Michael Loban of InfoTrust saying that “what gets measured get’s done”. Loban talked about data existing in context. Marketers should understand the data in context and find what is actionable.
  • In a talk about mobile development Jim Zimmerman of Thuzi discussed the importance of navigation in mobile design. It should be simple and clutter free. Consumers won’t navigate burdensome sites on a mobile device.
  • Tony Haile of Chartbeat gave a unique presentation because he didn’t use any slides. He made the content of his speech engaging and relevant. One key thought from Haile was that real-time data is useless unless you setup your organization to respond quickly to events. The idea of the adaptive business is to create fast tactical responses to achieve better results. He used Toyota and the US Marines as examples of this concept.

It’s our professional game.
At the end of the day, conferences are about making connections with people in our professional game. Just like a professional athlete works to sharpen their skills, a professional knowledge worker must do the same.

I’ve coached youth athletics for almost ten years and one thing that is a must for any coach wanting to stay on top of his game, is networking with other coaches to trade knowledge. It usually involves exchanging ideas on different drills to run for certain skills.  That’s the same concept as sharing information at a conference. Fresh ideas and new insights.

So what are really learning at conferences? We’re learning to stay connected with people. We’re learning to share knowledge. We’re sharpening our skills because the next time we play our professional game we want to score more.

So let’s score more. In fact, in your professional game you can run-up the score. If you were at Digital Summit 2012 or have other thoughts on professional conferences I’d like to hear from you.

Book Review – Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Poke the Box by Seth Godin is a quick and easy read. While some may confuse it with a motivational type book, Godin’s points are a bit deeper. The two word summary is

Start Something.

Godin says “I’m merely encouraging you to start. Often. Forever. Be the one who starts things.” Starting things is like poking the box to see what will happen.The manifesto is a call for people to shed excuses, fear, and procrastination and to pursue their ideas. That’s certainly not a new principle. But Godin states his ideas in a clear, concise, and easy to understand format that worth your time to read.

He gives examples of individuals and organizations to backup his statements that people need to push forward with their ideas. One such example was the first Starbucks didn’t sell coffee and wasn’t the company we have come to know today. It sold coffee beans. But Jerry Baldwin’s idea to get started led to the suggestions from Howard Schultz to offer traditional espresso beverages. Godin’s point is that “Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action”.

This leads to the argument that one of the top reasons that people don’t initiate work is fear of failure. People and organizations let the fear of failure paralyze them because failure is viewed as a negative event. Again, not a new idea, but tolerating failures because we can learn from them, because it makes us better, or because we can adjust and move forward is usually just given lip service in our society.

Godin goes deeper into the idea of initiating work by touching on cultural norms of conformity. From schools, to churches, to corporate america, we are trained, encouraged, and rewarded for staying within set boundaries. I could directly relate to this concept and previously wrote about it in a post entitled are you crazy enough to create change?

I recommend this book for your library. It’s a simple concept, yet can be so difficult to master.  If you are a manager of people, encourage them to poke the box. If you are an team member then start your ideas. Godin says “soon is not as good as now.” Go!