Meritocracy, Pauline Ores and the multi-dimensional IT Professional

30 09 2008

Yesterday, I started reading “Crowdsourcing: why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business”, by Jeff Howe. I did not actually buy the book, it was given to me as part of the attendee package at the IBM Social Media event I attended 2 weeks ago at Ogilvy & Mather.

The book has good insights, covering the emerging reputation economy, where, contrary to conventional economics, rewards are often not measurable by dollars but by the desire to contribute to a worthwhile cause or just the “sheer joy of practicing a craft” and get some peer recognition for that. I like this quote in particular:

Crowdsourcing turns on the presumption that we are all creators – artists, scientists, architects, and designers, in any combination or order. It holds the promise to unleash the latent potential of the individual to excel at more than one vocation, and to explore new avenues for creative expression. Indeed, it contains the potential – or alternately, the threat – of rendering the idea of a vocation itself an industrial-age artifact.

Many years ago, I had a manager who told me that he could not give me a good rating in my annual assessment because I had done 3 totally different things that year: started as a Unix Admin, moved to a Performance Engineering role, and ended the year as a developer. According to him, you had to pick one role and stick to it, as nobody could do more than one thing really well. Needless to say, I couldn’t disagree more with the previous argument. It would be ok if he thought that I tried 3 different things and didn’t do particularly well in any or some of them, but saying that nobody can do that, and recommending anybody to be a one-dimensional professional sounds very Fordist to me.

Some people ask me why I blog about apparently non-work related subjects, such as vacation trips, soccer, or Moleskine Art. I wish I could blog even more about things not related to Web 2.0 or social media or conferences. We all have multiple vocations. I know IBMers who are great photographers, parents, writers, cooks, graphic artists, actors, athletes and scientists, and there is no reason for any of us to strangle those vocations to focus solely in our current professional role. In fact, both our careers and our workplace can greatly benefit from being more multi-dimensional. As work becomes more virtual, global and dynamic, and the pace of change accelerates, we all need to be more like Da Vinci and Marco Polo than assembly-line workers.

Furthermore, Web 2.0 and Social Media are leveling the professional playing field. Two quotes by Pauline Ores (who is the IBM personification of Social Media Marketing) during the O&M event caught my attention:

1) In the Social Media world, the most powerful person is the one who shares the most.
2) Control in Social Media is like grabbing water: the stronger you grab, the less you hold. There’s a right way to retain water, but not by being forceful.

Disclaimer: that’s my recollection of what she said, so don’t hold her accountable for the exact words :-)

Not too long ago, knowledge workers had incentives to hold what they knew close to their chest, as a way of keeping their employability. The more they kept to themselves, the more their company and fellow employees would depend on them. This happened because the distribution of information was very inefficient, and the higher up you were in the food chain, the more channels you had to be known by others.

In the YouTube age, where everybody, anybody can broadcast themselves inside and outside of the firewall, the advantage of saying things from a higher hierarchical post had shrunk considerably. According to Howe, a meritocracy is now in place, where the only thing that matters is the quality of the work itself. If you believe you are the Subject Matter Expert in SOA, Internet Marketing, z/OS or Performance Engineering, you need to make evidence of that widely available. An increasing number of people won’t care much if your title says “The know-all see-all tech guru” or “Executive <something>”. If you know it, it should be made evident by the crumb trails you leave behind you. Your knowledge needs to be searchable and discoverable (not sure if those words exist, but you catch my drift).

Sacha Chua
is one of the best examples I see of that trend. I learned a lot from just observing her working habits over the last year or so. Ten years ago, a recent hire direct from University would be years away from being known and respected across the enterprise. By sharing what she knows and what she does to the extreme, she is arguably more influencial than others with many years of job tenure. This is not a generation Y thing, as I see her more as an exception than the rule even among her young cohorts, and there are many boomers and Xers like her at IBM and elsewhere.

The one line summary for this post: If perception is reality, you only know what you share.

Minor update: fixed a typo in the final quote.





On Wi-Fi access, panels and building on your strengths

29 09 2008

Last week, I joined a panel at the Toronto Tech Week, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, with the theme “Online Social Networks Go To Work”. I got there early in the morning to catch Alan Lepofsky, former IBMer and now at SocialText, speaking on the use of wikis for the Enterprise. It was a good session, I enjoyed his casual style, and he mentioned IBM a few times in his session, as he still does in his blog. As the workplace becomes more dynamic, and employee-for-life is becoming a thing of the past, the new HR approach of treating former employees as alumni makes total sense.

Just before Alan’s session, I tried to get a wi-fi connection, so that I could twitter from it live, but this is what I got instead:

No attendee Wi-Fi access, only exhibitor access, and with a steep price tag. I complained last week that the wi-fi access at the Javits Center in New York was spotty, but for a convention facility who claims to be the #1 in Canada, “inviting, inspiring, innovative, incomparable”, they clearly need to do something about Internet connectivity, as one can easily think about 4 “I”s that are not as flattering as those.

I found my own participation in the panel to be quite flat, but in retrospect, I don’t recall any technical panel I attended lately to be memorable. Bernie Michalik, via Twitter, brought my attention to this gem from Dan Lyons (formerly known as Fake Steve Jobs):

Was at the EmTech conference at MIT today and suffered through a panel led by Robert Scoble with four geeks (Facebook, Six Apart, Plaxo, Twine) talking about the future of the Web. No prepared remarks, just totally random conversation. Basically they all just spewed whatever came into their heads, at top speed, interrupting each other and oblivious to the fact that an audience was sitting there, glazing over. A few people got up and asked questions and the geeks did manage to (sort of) address one or two but then they forgot about the questioners and just started rambling again, talking to each other and forgetting about the audience. It was like watching five college kids with ADHD and an eight-ball of coke trying to hold a conversation.

Jeremiah Owyang, from Forrester Research, wrote a comprehensive post on how to moderate conference panels, but I don’t think it’s even a question of better moderation. Asif Khan, a very articulate facilitator, did a fine job on that. What’s really missing in most Web 2.0 panels are two things:

  • Distinct points of view: Frankly, I feel like watching Beavis & Butt-head when I see a panel composed exclusively of evangelists/early adopters/Enterprise 2.0 vendors. Panelist A says “Social Networking/Crowdsourcing/Long Tail/[place your favourite buzz-2.0 jargon here] is the way to the future” and Panelists B, C and D say “cool”. To have a meaningful discussion going you need to have some disagreement there. Put doubters and visionaries/futurists/dreamers face-to-face and then you can uncover real insights.
  • Flattening of the discussion space: Having so-called Subject Matter Experts on stage and an audience attending passively most of the time is the total opposite of the Web 2.0 Architecture of Participation approach. I don’t think anybody can actually claim to be an SME in Web 2.0 or Social Computing. We are all learning, making mistakes and getting it right from time to time. Furthermore, people in the audience may have more interesting things to say than the panelists. But then you have a logistic problem, similar to the fame conundrum described by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody: it’s not practical to have everyone in an audience having its slice of airtime. Ironically, what seems to be missing is exactly a two-oh-ish type of moderation, the enablement of crowd participation by other channels. Allow panelists to state their position briefly prior to the event, then allow potential attendees to get questions in advance. I’ve seen people using post-it stickers, emails, Twitter, SixGroups and Crowdvine for that, but all are kind of cumbersome to use. Google Moderator looks like a promising tool to serve this need. I’d like to try it out the next time I facilitate or participate of a panel.

As usual, the intent of this post is not to throw cheap shots at the MTCC or the Toronto Tech Week organization. They both play fundamental roles in positioning Toronto as a premier destination for large and relevant events, and there’s definitely much more to praise than to criticize in what they are offering Toronto. I have high hopes that the Toronto Tech Week will grow to be a major global event a few years from now. To have a more balanced view of what people thought of the event, check out this Twitter search.

In any case, I’m considering giving priority to standard speaking engagements rather than panel participation in the near future, as the latter is definitely not my forté.





Top Web 2.0 Expo Keynote Videos: Dan Lyons (Fake Steve Jobs)

25 09 2008

Okay, this is the last of my top keynote videos. This talk didn’t have any real insights, but it was very entertaining, so it is good for a Friday post. See the video:





Top Web 2.0 Expo Keynote Videos: Irene Greif (IBM) and ManyEyes

25 09 2008

Irene Greif’s presentation on ManyEyes was actually a great success. You know that, as I work for IBM, my opinion on this is biased, so I’ll be short and just point you to the feedback other attendees have provided at Crowdvine. The live example visualizing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s testimony to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee was very compelling.

Here’s the video:





Top Web 2.0 Expo Keynote Videos: Genevieve Bell (Intel) and the other Internet

25 09 2008

Genevieve Bell is not your typical energized keynote speaker, but she’s got a great message, and a distinct sense of humour. With extensive international experience, she shows that the flat world is overrated. The Internet may not be what you think in other parts of this planet. Enjoy:





Top Web 2.0 Expo Keynote Videos: Clay Shirky and Filter Failure

25 09 2008

I had great expectations about Clay Shirky’s presentation, as his book “Here Comes Everybody” has plenty of interesting insights and was one of the best books I read this year. So I was a bit underwhelmed by his presentation, but maybe that’s my problem, not his :-) . In any case, it’s still a good talk, and has a Canadian flavour to it, by using the case of Ryerson student Chris Avenir, who was threatened to be expelled from school for creating a Facebook study group. You may like it better than I did, so here it is:





Top Web 2.0 Expo Keynote Videos: Gary Vaynerchuk on Building Personal Brand

25 09 2008

Gary is one of the most entertaining speakers I’ve ever seen. You may not like his message, but you gotta admit he’s got passion. But it’s better to hear directly from him:








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