Starting 2010 with a Bias for Action

It’s the New Year, and there’s no time like the present to embrace all the things we spent 2009 talking about. Trouble is, there was lots of talk in 2009. Talk full of buzz words. Some claim that we’ve begun talking in circles. Maybe so. But in the process, we’ve laid an important foundation.

Look at it like this:

Meaningful, sustainable change starts with an informed conversation. Together, it’s easier to frame the future, to find the best path forward.

In 2009, via blogs and chats, we began to frame that future.

In many ways, 2009 had to happen. It’s not entirely clear how, but we survived it. We realigned our cost structures, built our networks, and learned how to interact using social media.

Now, with scarcely time for a breath, the hard work begins anew. Let’s start 2010 with a clear mindset. Here are four key themes, resolutions to guide our collaboration efforts:

  1. Bias for action. The key step in breaking the talk cycle.
  2. Bias for engagement. Moving away from the Web 1.0 broadcast model of communicating, toward a more valuable 1:1 exchange that builds relationships.
  3. Bias for learning and discovery. I’ve posted on the need for a learning culture, not only increased higher priority for education, but renewed focus on critical thinking and semantic clarity. If we succeed, the prize is a knowledge renaissance.
  4. Bias for change. None of the above will matter if we continue to cling to the past. Our risk-averse cultures are often biased to resist change. To move forward, we need to embrace it.

What does action-oriented collaboration look like? Here are some case studies in virtual community that seek to use engagement and discovery to drive new solutions:

  1. Look for some immediate changes at #smchat. Building on insights from 2009, we’re brainstorming how we can drive even more value for members. Thought leadership and emergent insight have been the core of our value stream. How can we leverage that?
  2. We’re at an inflection point for exciting things w/ #ecosys, our pilot project on public engagement to drive social innovation.
  3. Take a look at what’s happening at govloop. Over 20,000 voices from across government are self-organizing. Ideas are everywhere.

Let me know if you know of others.

2010 will be a time of culture change and new paradigms. We don’t have much choice. So strap in and hold on. We’ve got some work to do.

On Semantics: When Ambiguity is the Enemy

Asking for directions at the Tower of Babel must have been quite an ordeal, with everyone speaking a different language.

I guess they had organizational silos way back then.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and we still can’t get through a day without debating simple words and phrases. The latest roadblock: unpacking the overused and often misleading term “social media”. In general, the confusion often comes down to context, ie., how or where the words are being used. And as I’ve posted previously, in a virtual world, context can change quickly.

The fundamental question is this: Do you care if people understand you? I’ll go out on a limb here:

Our messages get misunderstood, if not ignored, when we’re not careful in choosing our words. It’s worse if we fail to consider what filters our audience may use to interpret them. Collaborators today have no choice but to recognize: ambiguity is the enemy.

The answer lies in renewed focus on semantics, the study of what words and phrases mean. Language is an inexact science. Fundamentally, it requires interpretation. And as message volumes increase and the rate of exchange accelerates, we need to get better at mastering it. Fast. Let me throw out some areas for focus:

    HURDLE #1: MOTIVATION

    1. Try to be clear. Ok, it’s a stretch: it’s more fun to be trendy and cryptic. Twitter’s 140c limit is a great excuse for short cuts, substituting all sorts of phonetic (“sounds like”) spellings due to lack of space. But if it means you can’t be understood, re-group. Simplify your message.

    RESOURCES

    1. Dictionary. Don’t be shy. Save time debating. Look it up.
    2. Thesaurus. Are you stuck? Look to thoughtful lists of related words, aka synonyms. Stuck on a word that is causing endless debates? Find a better one.
    3. Learn the etymology. If you’re (still) stuck, check the dictionary or other sources to learn the origins of a word, what it’s fragments mean, and the history of how it’s been used. When getting it right really matters, this level of digging can really help.
    4. Authoritative SME’s. Use your favorite search engine, Wikipedia or Twitter to find experts. Try searching relevant hashtags. Reinventing wheels is a great exercise in creativity, but reinventing words and their meanings slows down collaboration. Find a source everyone can agree to.

    CRITICAL THINKING

    1. Domain. Everything that’s related to the topic you’re talking about.
    2. Understand Domain Boundaries. So you’ve got a domain. Where are it’s edges? What’s “in scope” vs. “out of scope” to your discussion? For important, longer-term collaboration, getting this right up front is important.  If it needs to change midstream, spend a little time letting everyone know and agree to the boundary change.
    3. Set Context, and try to hold it. In simple terms, this means staying focused on the topic at hand, keeping within the domain boundaries specified. This may be the single biggest “critical thinking” skill that virtual collaboration forces on us. It’s a challenge, because different contexts often imply alternate cultures, goals, and semantics. Pay attention to that. Starting a dialog? State the context. “Today we’re focused on  X in the context of Y.”

    ADVANCED APPLICATIONS: FOCUS AREAS

    1. Knowledge Management (KM). Since the mid-1990’s, a business practice focused on the identification and capture of the critical insights in an organization. By most accounts, this is evolving with the help of social media. Follow: #km #kmers
    2. Controlled, Shared Vocabulary. This is important where organizations or ecosystems need to agree on enough key words that its worth publishing the definitions to “lock them in”. Very helpful for structured collaboration in a specific, closed domain. (Note: We may need to find a more open-ended alternative for virtual collaboration, that allow working semantics to evolve in open domains, with vocabulary that is “guided” vs. “controlled”.)
    3. Solution Language. Often, a group can get traction through starting to frame the end state. In the process, common ground is established, and key terms emerge. What will a solution look like? How can we describe it? Who will be the major players, and what will be the outcomes?
    4. Taxonomy & Folksonomy. A taxonomy shows how words or topics relate in a “top down” hierarchy. Important in biology. Once important in classifying knowledge. Current importance debated, mostly by folks in KM. Not to be confused with folksonomy which is how words or topics are now getting tagged, forming an unstructured, crowd-sourced, “bottom up” view of topic relationships. A great current example of this is the use of hashtags on Twitter. These are created in a random fashion, but gradually gain acceptance (or not) among folks that see value in them. SME: @StephLemieux #taxonomy
    5. Ontology. This is the workhorse of describing relationships among abstract words, ideas, objects or topics. Requires more rigor, but it’s often worth it. Useful in framing complex domains or topics. Similar constructs sit at the core of conventional design methods.

    Yes, there’s a lot to this. That’s why its hard. And why its important that we get it right.

    Do you want to help fine tune the above definitions?  Watch for these definitions in wiki format, so we can work together toward a baseline of semantic concepts for virtual collaboration. If you already know of one, super, let’s not reinvent it ..

    Meantime, let’s focus more on what it takes to be understood. It can make our days go so much faster. I’ll try to hold up my end. Will you?

    Enterprise 2.0: Can we get there from here?

    Most would say Enterprise 2.0 is a future state: a time when people inside corporations are connected and engaged, a world where social media has taken hold. That’s how I like to frame it. Arguably, with cynics in the majority, progress will be gated by historical inertia in business, with deep organizational silos and a crowded graveyard of failed management “silver bullets”. Without a doubt, to overcome  an industrial management culture that is over 100 years old, we face a difficult journey.

    We must ask: “Can we get there from here?”

    On TUES at 8 pm ET, starting 9/29, we will premiere the #e20ws workshop. This session will be highly interactive: (a.) we’re going to work to attack the challenges in corporate social media adoption, and (b.) we’re going to produce useful ideas that you can bring back to your office. We’ll run this alternate weeks, so plan for 2nd and 4th Tuesdays (follow-on sessions: 10/13, 10/27, etc.).

    Here’s our agenda, to get the conversation started.

    • T1. Goals, Objectives, Framing
    • T2. e20 Challenges of Silo Culture.
    • T3. e20 Standards, Alignment and Diversity of Thinking.
    • T4. e20 Engagement (n:n).
    • T5. e20 SM Technology (intro).
    • T6. Next Steps.

    For more background reading, check out core principles of social media, provided by #smchat.

    There won’t be time in one session to complete the above agenda; we simply want to lay the ground work for future discussions. I’ve hosted other “#chat” groups, (#smchat, #ecosys) and I think you’ll find the conversations are fast-paced, insightful, and a good source for networking with thought leaders.

    I hope you’ll use the opportunity to engage, learn, and network. In fact, just by being there you’ll be participating in the social media experience.

    I look forward to working with you on this.

    Chris Jones (@SourcePOV)
    Consulting Principal, SourcePOV, Cary, NC

    Twitter Gets Down to Business: Unlocking 1:n Collaboration for the Enterprise

    Companies seeking to innovate want to spark collaboration, but the path is often elusive. Twitter is positioned to help change this.  It’s founders have recently started talking about opening up microblogging in the commercial space, per a recent interview w/ Biz Stone.

    But first, there’s a hurdle.  Companies must start to trust employees to communicate openly on shared topics inside the firewall. In theory, that shouldn’t be so hard. It simply means employees must exercise judgment, as has always been required, deciding when email, phone or (heaven forbid) face to face meetings would be more appropriate means to share something. But because the new mode of communication is out in the open, the bar is raised. Judgment will be even more important.

    Point made. I believe employees will see the value of 1:n collaboration and will step up to the plate.

    When execs and IT realize the water is safe? That’s when Twitter (or micro-blogging tools like it) will start unlocking doors.

    What is 1:n (or “one to many”) communication? We’ve all been buried by emails and convoluted distribution lists that would have been far better served as an “open wire” dialog or chat.  It’s the input that creates your opportunistic “oh, I didn’t know that was happening” response.  Today only Twitter can efficiently spark that electronically in real-time.

    I believe Twitter and solutions like it will have an evolutionary impact on communications when they begin to take hold.

    Given the chance, most want to help drive an innovative idea or solution. They seek to get their ideas in circulation. 1:n communication is the better mousetrap.

    Not to sound impatient, but why wait?  Security in the corporate setting was solved long ago.  Granted, when information is going outside and across the firewall, who uses Twitter and definitions of “safe ground” for tweet content is a bit more complicated.   There have been some great posts on the ‘spectrum’ of corporate views on how to interact with the public using Twitter including Marketing, PR & Customer Service guidance.  This aspect is evolving.

    But let’s not sacrifice the internal work group benefit to wait for the external Marketing & PR side to catch-up.

    It’s time to get down to the business of effective 1:n corporate communication. Twitter represents a powerful new medium for more effective enterprise collaboration.

    Become an advocate for change in your organization.  Help take the “social” out of Social Media by putting it to work on important business conversations.  That leg-up will give Twitter the chance to work it’s collaboration magic in the enterprise.

    Start brainstorming with your colleagues, how could you leverage “1:n” communication to solve business problems?

    (Thanks to a blog post by George M. Tomko with a comment by Nigel Legg, where portions of this post first appeared as a comment; you guys got me thinking on an important topic !! CJ)

    Twitter’s Missing Link: use of Hashtags (re: Context)

    The first time people see Twitter there’s a negative reaction. I felt it too. There are too many people talking, too few people listening … and way too many haters.

    It looks like lots of noise.

    To make Twitter useful, we need to better understand and more consistently use the scheme for relating tweet content to topics. It’s done with a special tag for tweets, called a “hashtag”. These are simple key words that you and others define, typically on the fly. Over time, as the most common hashtags gain popularity, people start to watch who is using them, and to see what those people are saying. The hashtag basically serves to index your tweet for anyone else who might want to find it.

    How does it work?

    It’s easy, really. Just put “#” in front of any word that describes what your tweet is about. Most are placed at the end, especially if they don’t fit in the flow of your tweet, but they can be placed anywhere. You can use as many as you want. Just keep in mind you’re limited to 140 characters for each tweet. The shorter the hashtag, the better. And it needs to be sensible enough that others are likely already using it, or would think to search for it.  For example, try tweeting:

    Why doesn’t Twitter have a user manual? #twitter #socialmedia

    then search, first on #socialmedia and next, #twitter.

    You can use Twitter’s Search, but most eventually opt for a free 3rd party Twitter application like TweetDeck, TweetGrid or Seesmic that will let you define search criteria in columns. This let’s you ‘watch’ specific tweet streams without lots of repetitive typing. As your experience evolves, you can quickly change the hashtags you want to follow.

    Another benefit? The rate that people post to hashtag streams is considerably slower than the public timeline. With the pace more reasonable, the conversation is easier to keep up with.

    The social media marketing (#smm)  implications are significant as well.  Once you identify hashtags that are relevant to your product, company, or brand, tweeting to your target hashtags increases the chance that potential customers will see it.

    But the silver lining may well be global networking.  One day (soon) someone will respond to one of your tweets with helpful insight, and it will be someone you previously didn’t know, quite possibly from across the planet. You see, watching hashtags happens without relation to followers. All of the sudden, the world is your stage.  You could say (or tweet):

    Where else (besides #Twitter) can you message the world and get answers? #communication #paradigm

    Twitter is what you want to make of it. Just be sure to put a hashtag or two in your most important and insightful tweets.

    Sans hashtag, chances are your tweet is going to be lost in the Twitterverse. And that is a very large space indeed.

    See you online.

    Chris (@SourcePOV)

    Twitter: A New Communications Paradigm

    Lot’s of interesting data and buzz about the growth of Twitter, in spite of the apparent indifference among teens and the more predictable roller coaster of Hollywood opinion.

    see Blog by Paul Dunay (where following comment was 1st posted)

    For me, it’s refreshing, at long last, to see a technology like Twitter achieve massive adoption without ‘fad’ status. I find it reminiscent of the internet ca. 1996, it just appeared in the mass market one day and we never looked back.

    Twitter is an evolution in global communications. Where else can you message the world and get answers?

    It is a paradigm shift.

    It is changing PR. It is clearly impacting news media, marketing & customer service.

    And perhaps most important – it’s a brand new playing field for global collaboration & innovation.

    We’re all early adopters, and need to keep that in mind. Folks are still learning how to tag & search (the magic sauce is effective use of the ‘hashtag’), and the word needs to keep getting around. I’m amazed that Twitter can grow like it has and still be stable .. well, most of the time. As long as Twitter can keep up with growth, I see good things ahead.

    No one ever said change would be easy, especially on this scale.

    Expect more bumps.

    But I don’t think the habits of Hollywood stars will be the drivers on this one –