Hidden in the Snow: Reflecting on Downtime and our Deepest Relationships

Charlotte in Snow: Myers Park Awaits Another Round

Charlotte in Snow: Myers Park Awaits Another Round

CHARLOTTE, NC. February 2014, by 

As the South dusts off from our latest brush with snowmegeddon, I’ve been reflecting on what the unplanned down time made possible. If you’re like me, your Facebook usage shot up several hundred percent last week.

Trapped indoors, there wasn’t much else to be doing.

But rather than finding myself wasting time, the fate so many fear with social media, I found I was learning lots of things from (and about!) my friends, rekindling relationships that had long been important to me. But here’s the kicker:  those relationships never really stopped being important. They were just crowded out by other, newer relationships. Distance and changes in lifestyle were contributing factors of course. We age. We have kids. They grow up. Sometimes we grow up a little too. But the depth of our long-term friendships is always there, under the snowcover of our hectic day-to-day. It took me a little cabin fever and a browser to realize that.

Social networks are new and mysterious things for most people. But they can be great places to connect and reconnect. Here are some things I’ve learned about connecting on places like Facebook and Twitter and blogs, much of it reinforced last week:

  • Making connections (old & new) can take just minutes a day
  • Let people know you are there, listening .. and interested; “likes” and comments on posts are good ways to start
  • Respect other people’s time and space; be gracious if they offer to share it 1:1 with you
  • If you’ve made a connection and there’s more to discuss, Facebook Messenger seems less invasive to me than texting because it doesn’t imply/require an immediate response, but it’s more immediate and personal than email or DM’s
  • If you’ve agreed to try connecting 1:1 live with an old friend or a potential new colleague (via phone? skype?) choose a bitesize window .. a “time box” .. that accommodates their needs, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes to compare notes
  • Have a plan. Why are you connecting? What happens next?
  • Keep it light. Always schedule a fallback time, and don’t get discouraged on reschedules or cancels
  • Most people .. including my own friends, extended family, and colleagues .. are spread unevenly across social platforms; knowing how/when to find them is quite an art; it calls for being flexible and patient

If you network, much of this is second nature. Doing it online can complicate the situation greatly, if you let it. Or it can be a fascinating place of discovery, a place you go to learn.

In Charlotte, the white stuff is mostly gone. Melted snow was coursing through downspouts in no time, signaling a rapid return to normal ..

Melting So Soon: Back to business as usual?

Melting So Soon: Back to business as usual?

Back to work. Back to school. Back to never enough time for what’s important.

Our past relationships are still out there. Many new ones await. They can be as deep and as valuable and as important as ever. And to me, renewed connections with old friends via social is a much more powerful force than we stop to realize. A few minutes to share a smile with a friend is such a small reinvestment on the years of friendship, support and insight we’ve gained from them in the balance. Relationships require some investment, after all.

Making time is making a space for possibilities.

A gift .. hidden in the snow. Who knew?

Featured

Trouble in Social Media Paradise: Is Anybody Listening?

Who is on the receiving end, if anyone?

Who is on the receiving end, if anyone?

CHARLOTTE, NC. September 2013, by 

One thing you can count on with Twitter: everyone on it has something to say.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be there. But there may be trouble in paradise:

Social media consultants and PR folks: look around. Many early adopters have grown fatigued, and are increasingly absent. Take a deep breath, and ask the hard question: Is anybody listening?

To me, factoring in social media’s rapid evolution, its not too soon for it to be having a mid-life crisis.  Gartner, the industry think tank on technology trends, would call it the trough of disillusionment, a predictable window of second thoughts.  Enterprise 2.0 advocate Andrew McAfee would be quick to point to technology adoption cycles that run 10 years or more. Even so, our collective excitement over social media’s breakthrough in marketing and PR is increasingly ecclipsed by a vague realization that maybe we were wrong.

Does social media matter in the scheme of things?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Social media continues to post user gains on Twitter and new platforms like G+ and Instagram. Perhaps it’s only natural that newcomers bring the same bias to their marketing communication that they had in traditional web and broadcast media. Key word there, of course, being broadcast. It is the bane of those who seek to engage, and it’s a trend that’s clear to see in a typical Twitter stream. Even Twitter chats aren’t immune. You may find social interaction and friendly banter. But examine the content.

Do aphorisms outnumber personal perspectives?

And what do we know about our audience? Do we have one? Hopefully, we’re speaking to a community, or at least a group of loosely connected but interested stakeholders. If not, our tweets are simply flying off into thought space (and arguably, outer space) undirected and ill-focused, in hopes that somebody, anybody, might notice.

It’s time we take accountability for our messages. Ultimately, I think we’re experiencing growing pains as we learn a new way to communicate. Here are a few things we can do to put the social back in social media:

  1. Listen. It’s harder than it sounds. Watch people and hashtags that matter to you, and get into their flow. What’s being said today? Is it anything new that deserves a response?
  2. Focus your energy, responding to ideas that resonate. Many in the stream seem intent on outwitting colleagues with ever more clever tweets. Are we competing to be heard? Or adding value? Take ownership for helping with noise control.
  3. Tweet something that matters. Even if it means waiting.
  4. Tweet with personal insight. That’s what social media is about. Quotes and aphorisms can inspire, but that shouldn’t be all we have to say.
  5. Say “No” to broadcasting. Period. It’s a very 20th-century approach. It’s all TV and radio had to go on. Target your thinking, and be prepared to enage when someone responds.
  6. Use hashtags for context and relevance. If you can’t give your tweet a hashtag to associate it with a topic or audience, just maybe it’s not of value to others. Sobering? Perhaps. Hashtags help you think about your focus, and they increase the chance your tweet will reach someone who needs to hear it .. beyond the limit of your current followers .. which extends the half-life of your message.

Props to Su Wilcox for her tweet at #smchat #socialchange this week that inspired this post, as she advised: “make it clear somebody is listening”

As it happened, I was.

Are a significant number unplugged from social media?

Are a significant number unplugged from social media?

Twitter tells me I’ve tweeted over 27,000 times. I’m sure there are a few broadcast tweets in the mix. I’ll own them. But I’ll also challenge you to find them. There aren’t very many.

To me the ability to connect and engage with like minded people is the magic of Twitter, and social media in general. When I turn to Twitter, I’m focused on making an impact in specific ways, with a specific audience in mind. I’m not hashtag OCD. I’m bent on making a difference.

The alternative to broadcast? I call it “social intention” – a force that transforms broadcasting into purposeful sharing. It’s more than semantics. Two-way interaction is the core of social’s paradigm shift.

So think about it. And I mean, this time, really reflect. Go deep. I’d love to know your thoughts.

And there’s one more thing you can count on: I’m listening.

Chris aka @sourcepov

Keeping Up with the Flow: Why Feedly Changes the Game

CHARLOTTE, NC. March 2013, by

As you may know, I’ve been exploring the flow of insights across organizations for years. It’s at the core of effective collaboration. As I’ve shared at conferencesblogs and now in softcover, more often than not, that critical flow of insight is blocked.

On the Web we have the opposite problem. Here we have the freedom to read and write any content we like. Insights can flow rapidly. But in terms of content like blog posts, it can be incredibly difficult to keep track of it all. The deluge of insight overflows the levies of our day to day attention spans.

There is  too much content, and it never stops coming.

Haw River, NC - feedly in the flow of insights

Haw River, NC – feedly in the flow (of insights)

Feedly changes the game because it recognizes the problem. It knows our time is limited. So it helps us move past the okay stuff so we can get to the good stuff. And if all the content is good? Feedly lets us quickly get to the next level, identifying the good stuff that’s most relevant. To me, that’s a game changer. Here are the Feedly features that made me sit up and take notice:

  • Rapid and seamless integration with Google Reader. Since I was already signed-in to chrome and G+, I simply had to tell Feedly to sync with Reader and it happened in a matter of minutes.
  • Rapid update of feeds. Quickly add or drop the content you want to receive. All you need is the blog URL.
  • While mobile, a “swipe” browses and/or marks posts as read. Beautifully mirroring the turn of a magazine page, we can scan headlines, drill down to read an article, or move on .. quickly.
  • Dynamic categories (for tracking relevance). This is where power surfing begins to leave paper magazines behind. With tools like Feedly we can bookmark and tag on the fly, helping us connect new ideas with our own, using categories to index what’s important to us, even as what’s important evolves.
  • Save for later. Let’s us flag posts that need another read, a share on Twitter or G+, or a response.
  • Multiple-device sync. Feedly on the browser and mobile work together.
  • Valuable content: anytime, anywhere (aka, another “win” for mobility). Where once our idle moments (elevators, subways, concert lines) were venues for checking Facebook or our Twitter feed, now we can read deep and important content on the go as well, all of it real time.

In a world where everyone pushes content, it’s time to focus on context, finding and adopting more powerful tools (like Feedly) for tracking what’s important. Who decides what’s important? Look in the mirror. With these tools in hand, it’s easier to filter and to focus, connecting related ideas with our own, unlocking opportunties for more engagement which can ultimately lead to new thinking.

For anyone that takes learning and the learning organization seriously, that’s a huge step forward. The critical feedback loop can now be closed.

Insights flow "like leaves on a river" - David Bohm

Insights flow “like leaves on a river” – David Bohm

Organizations will continue to grapple with their collaborative barriers. Often they must settle for little more than a trickle of insight. Meantime, out in the open spaces, we’re getting better at flood control.

Props to Mack Collier and crew for the Feedly tip at #blogchat.

So go ahead, blogosphere. Let the insights flow. Now, at long last, I’m ready for you.

Words That Matter: Wittgenstein and Senge on the Power of Language in Critical Thinking

Language, like the culture it derives from, plays a subtle but powerful role in how we interact with others. Yet we are so completely immersed in it, we scarcely give it a second thought.

Early in the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein brought focus to the critical importance of language in the context of knowledge, philosophy, and science. One of the more powerful and accessible claims he framed was this one:

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 5.6 (1921).

It may seem overstated at first glance, but let’s unpack it.

If we reflect on how we think about, evaluate, and come to understand virtually anything, we realize that the running voice of our conscious thought sets practical boundaries. We can contemplate problems and solutions in our mind only to the extent we have words to describe them. Our vocabulary either limits or unlocks our ability to describe what we see. Our command of grammar and ability to construct descriptions of abstract concepts works the same way.

Our command of semantics is a central to critical thinking.

Language literally bounds our possibilities.

Wittgenstein thus underscores a compelling argument for mastery of the original liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic – skills that we might better grasp today in the modern context of reading and writing – but his message is clear: the tools of language are essential to the thinking person.

Now let’s apply those ideas in the social and collective contexts.

What happens in a team setting?

Carefully articulating a new idea for ourselves is only half the battle. As collaborators we face the more difficult but critically essential task of explaining this idea to others. What words do we use? What language will our audience understand? And if we’ve followed good practice by ensuring a diverse group of collaborative stakeholders, the bar has been raised even further: what subset of our shared language will be most effective to ensure common understanding across a diverse team?

From my experience, the most common failure in team settings is mis-communication of ideas, most readily observed when group members freely, often unwittingly, talk past each other. In a fervent effort to make a point, we default to arguments grounded in our semantics of origin. So what happens? IT folks will talk technology. Accounting will talk about margins. Sales will talk about customer problems. Educators will talk about pedagogy. Academics will talk about epistemologies. With heightened energy, the vocabulary grows increasingly parochial and inaccessible, and the steeper the organization’s silo walls, the more entrenched the participants tend to be, and the more difficult language barriers are to cross.

No wonder finding common ground can seem like a pipe dream.

So intentional collaboration places clear demands on semantic foundations. Defining key terms often helps. Project glossaries can go a long way.

Another strong approach (referenced previously in this blog, and elsewhere) is that of a solution language. The idea is to create common ground on the output side. We can define terms for the proposed solution set(s) that are literally grounded in a new language that is embraced by all. It is an extraction from the contributors’ source languages, an amalgamation of pieces and parts to create a viable whole. As the solution language is built, common ground is established in the process. In so doing, collaborators become more aware of their context of origin, better described as their comfort zone. With time and energy, many will see how cultural and linguistic boundaries can impact their collaborative engagement.

Peter Senge in the 5th Discipline, observes:

In dialog, people become observers of their own thinking.

then cites the work of the late physicist David Bohm, who researched collective learning among scientists. Bohm believed that we, as individuals engaged in collaborative dialog, can:

“… begin to correct incoherence in our own thinking. A kind of sensitivity develops that goes beyond what is familiar … (exposing) subtle meanings that lie at the root of real intelligence.”

Senge and Bohm share a deep sense for the requirements for team-based learning. Senge himself devotes many pages to language, and the evolutionary steps through which individuals must navigate to achieve value from a shared, collective learning model. Often, it means suspending bias inherent from professional education and what is often years working within a given specialty.

Thomas Kuhn’s thinking on the challenges and demands of paradigm shifts peers from these lines.

Wittgenstein’s foundational messages ring true throughout.

It’s easy to imagine ourselves standing before the locked door of critical thinking. We hold the keys in our hands, but remain dumbfounded about how to use them. When we attempt to collaborate, we stand before the same door with others, but we’re still at a loss; perhaps it’s even worse, arguing the course of action.

Language, like culture, is a profoundly rich, integral aspect of our social existence. I’ll summarize it like this:

Language is the master key to unlocking effective collaboration, opening the door to possibilities of what we can accomplish via intentional, purposeful dialog with others.

We can cast all this aside, broadcasting our views to the world at will. We can choose empty words with casual intent to impress, or use caustic words that serve only to bully, blame and obscure.

People do it every day.

The price? It’s a fundamental failure to be understood, preempting an exchange of ideas that could have emerged into something more. That spells disaster for progress in any language.

Critical Thinking, the Series: Learning to ask “Why?” again

If intentional collaboration is the productive exchange of big ideas, then philosophy is an important foundation. From Socrates to Aristotle to Kant to Kuhn to Senge (and a host of others in between) there is a rich heritage of thought on the pursuit of understanding, with a host of cognitive models to help us work on the hardest problems.

For those willing to do the work – and it truly is work, no silver bullets to be found here – improving how we search for knowledge is central to all manners of collaborative solutions, framed alternatively as innovation (in the commercial context), or emergent outcomes (in the context of complexity). That puts intentional collaboration on the critical path to solving virtually all critical social, commercial and public sector issues.

The stakes are high.

Ultimately it comes down to a decision: are we willing to embrace and foster the hard work of critical thinking?

I’m neither philosopher, nor academic. But if Socrates, arguably the father of critical thought, were to give a guest lecture at a local college, I’d be on the front row with my laptop, taking notes.

At some level, I think I’ve always had a hunger to understand.

But even with a healthy bias for learning, it’s easy to lapse into a mode of passive acceptance. We’re deluged with so much information, it seems increasingly natural to tune much of it out. But where do we draw the line? Are we losing our intellectual edge? What legacy are we leaving for future generations?

Critical thinking may be our last line of defense. We need to unpack it and understand it, and frankly, we need to get better at it.

Let me offer a working definition:

“Critical thinking is the skill set we use to challenge our initial, surface observations of a topic or insight, enabling a rigorous understanding of root causes, relationships and meaning.”

The rigor that goes into critical thinking is among the main reasons we struggle with it so. It’s hard work. And it takes more time. Deep learning requires more than just surface observation or memorization of fact, which has implications in many important areas, ranging from business to education.

Let’s recap some subject domains – past and present – where critical thinking plays a key role. This list will serve as a guide for subsequent posts, as I did in my 2010 culture series. I’ll update this outline and add links as we go in the months ahead.

  1. Philosophy (posted 5/21). How we think. Our rational minds use principals of logic every day to solve problems, but we pay little heed to the dynamics of reason, and the role our mental filters play. Tracing the heritage through Socrates, Aristotle, .. (ok, it’s a long list).
  2. Language (posted 8/16). How we communicate. Language is the essential foundation for framing our inquiries and our proposed solutions. Our words matter greatly, but we give them so little thought. Foundations in Wittgenstein.
  3. Metaphor (posted 8/31). How we find common ground. The power of metaphor in story and discourse has been central to our social learning process since we began to converse with our parents. Are we trained in the art of story telling? Is the intentional use of metaphor a lost art? A look at Lakoff on an important topic.
  4. Knowledge Frameworks (10/31). How we attack ‘the problem of knowledge’. This post will trace two evolutionary threads over the last 2500 years. Both are rooted in antiquity, but their most recognizable branches are empirical science and rationalist philosophy. The two roads diverged some time ago. Can we contemplate the paths coming back together?
  5. 21st Century Kant: Complexity (1/22). How we adapt. We’ve learned some behaviors of complex systems, but how can critical thinkers make sense of what seem to be increasingly unsolvable problems?  Can a new semantic analysis of Kan’t Categorical Framework provide any insight?
  6. Public Education. How we learn. This is doubtless the most fertile ground for this discussion in the modern day. Few argue the importance of teaching critical thinking, but to what degree are teachers able to foster it? What level of command should high school graduates possess?
  7. Business. How we innovate. There’s a raft of challenges in the commercial space, where inertia from our past successes has led to an endemic lack of critical thinking. What skills must executives employ to get ahead of the curve? (I’ve expanded on approaches for workplace at Talent Culture, and found a useful innovation frame started by Pat Lefler at Blogging Innovation).
  8. Thought Leadership. How we inspire. From academia to corporate enterprise to the political realm, our leaders want us to follow them. But do their messages makes sense to us at a cognitive level, or are we simply responding to emotional appeals?
  9. Collaboration. How we engage. We need to unlock new ways to interact in teams, bringing the potential of networked critical thinkers to bear on difficult problems. How do we get there? (see also Design Thinking)

No wonder there’s energy on critical thinking from all sides. There’s enough research in this framing for the balance of 2011. At this point, we will definitely spill over into 2012.

As we explore the depths and the many dimensions of this topic, we’ll need care to navigate the chasm between keeping it simple (aka accessible) versus the demands of academic rigor. Both are important.

Challenge me to strike the right balance.

As always, your comments and tweets will help expand and enrich the conversation. I look forward to them.

Barriers to Twitter Adoption: Unlocking a new Communication Paradigm

Some people believe, as I do, that Twitter has the power to fundamentally enhance our ability to communicate, accelerating access to both people and information. By most definitions that would make it a paradigm shift. Others, perhaps the majority, remain skeptical.

Let’s dive a bit deeper, to see what we might learn.

Twitter simplifies communication, removing barriers of time and place. Without the overhead of email, conversations can spark around the globe. Every contact can be a source of inspiration, a new collaborator, a potential customer.

Where else can you message the world and get answers?

Many have seen the potential of Twitter and are running with it. From custom news feeds to social activism, from blog promotion to chats and book clubs, from corporate promotion to a new era of participative journalism. Access to people and information appears to be accelerating.

So what’s the problem?

No issue, for the brave. On the surface, it seems easy, and it can be. If you’re able to multitask across dozens of threads. If you have unlimited free time. If you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish during all your waking hours. Ambitious? More like impossible. Not enough caffeine in my latte for all of that. Control of the world’s information feeds is NOT the goal. Our families like to see us from time to time, and there’s this useful notion called ‘sleep’.

Still, my instincts tell me we’re leaving significant value on the table. The fundamental question for me remains:

What are the true barriers for adoption of the evolving Twitter and social media paradigms, and what can we do to unlock new levels of collaboration?

On WEDS 12/15 at 1pET, #SMCHAT will be joined by Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio, CEO of oneforty.com and co-author of Twitter for Dummies. It’s part of her sweep of Twitter Chat’s for the TFD #BookTour. A true ‘early adopter’ herself w/ +70,000 followers, Laura has been at it longer than the rest of us. Let’s ask her to join us in brainstorming our hardest open questions:

  • Q1. Engagement. New rules include need for authenticity, clarity of intent, agreed semantics, less broadcasting & more listening. What else?
  • Q2. Influence. CW says numbers don’t matter, but marketers know eyeballs equal hits. What are dynamics of smart social network building?
  • Q3. Saturation. With so much info streaming in, Tweetdeck can barely keep up. Hashtags are imperfect. How do we manage the deluge of ideas & when is enough, enough?
  • Q4. Convergence. Apps & options keep proliferating, adding to the confusion. Should there be convergence to fewer tools, or is integration a better path?
  • Q5. Upside. Time for your crystal ball. Will twitter growth plateau, or will there be mass market adoption? What role does culture play?

The New Year is approaching. What better time reflect on the “State of the Social Network?” Let’s use the 90 minutes with Laura to good advantage. They’ll go fast.

Bring your questions and ideas, and join the conversation. It promises to be a good one. (click here at the appointed time)

Help me plan our time. Which of the topics above resonate the most for you? In which dimension(s) do the most significant barriers lie? Leave a comment, let’s discuss it.

Election 2010 and Social Media: What are impacts to campaigns, results, and the future of politics?

As election 2010 winds down at the polls, analysts on all the networks are scurrying to forecast results, identify trends, and discuss what it all means.

It’s difficult not to speculate: is social media playing a role in 2010?

SM gained considerable attention in Obama’s successful 2008 Presidential bid, in much the same way that television made a big splash in politics in 1960. Any communication channel that reaches the masses in new ways almost certainly has some impact, potentially even changing the rules. And the general consensus is that the impact extends beyond the U.S. to other corners of the globe.

With that said, what is the nature of the impact? Is it lasting, or a flash in pan?

On WEDS 11/3 at 1pET, #SMCHAT will explore these questions with some rigor, to get at the underlying dynamics. We will discuss the nature of SM impact to date and ask ourselves what may happen in the future.

By way of framing, here are the questions for our next live chat:

  1. To what degree can campaigns expect to reach additional and/or undecided voters?
  2. Can the younger demographics of Facebook drive material differences in election results?
  3. Realistically, can voters be swayed by sites, blog posts or tweets?
  4. Do non-profits share a politician’s goals of fund-raising, community building and focused messaging? (looking for synergies, lessons learned)
  5. As Government 2.0 and the Open Government initiatives move to reshape government collaboration and accountability, will there be a ‘pull through’ effect that drives more online, interactive campaign strategies?
  6. Will voter engagement via SM be a long-term game changer for politics?

If you have opinions, insight or additional questions, please post that here, or on Twitter. You can join the live conversation using Tweetchat at the appointed hour.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts and have the chance to discuss them.

Hope to see you at #SMCHAT.