Avoiding flying upside down

11 May, 2011

I’m a big fan of the the West Wing, my wife and I must have watched it from beginning to end at least five times. It probably should come as no surprise then that after some reflection on what is going on at work this quote from the West Wing popped onto my head:

I was telling Josh Lyman about a friend who just got his pilot’s license. He told me the most remarkable thing. He said a new pilot will fly into cloud cover. There’ll be no visibility. And they’ll check their gauges, they’ll look at the artificial horizon, it’ll show them level, but they won’t trust it. So, they’ll make an adjustment and then another and another… He said the number of new pilots who fly out of clouds completely upside-down would knock you out. My office will make arrangements for me to endorse you in the morning. You keep your eyes on the horizon, Mr. President.

Three years ago we set out to create an environment where our members were connected to each other through series of communities of practice. These would enable them to share ideas, collaboratively solve problems and create opportunities to learn from each other. The problem is in recent months I haven’t been thinking about social learning or communities of practice, I’ve been thinking about technology platforms,  social media, marketing and brand exposure and building an audience. As a result while a little progress has been made on the  original goal it is not nearly as much as I expected by now.

How did I end up completely inverted?

Just like the pilots in the West Wing there has been not any single event that caused me to make an abrupt change in direction, instead it has been a series of tiny corrections as key staff left, new staff arrived and priorities shifted. This happens in all businesses all the time and these subtle shifts can be incredibly damaging; unlike when a conscious decision to change direction is made, we often think we’re still heading the direction we were originally. Because each shift is so small and often unrelated to the previous shift we don’t implement the controls that we do when we make a decision to go down a completely different path; simply because we often haven’t realised we are on a different path!

The only constant in any organisation is change, which means trying to achieve a long term goal is going to take persistence and commitment but more importantly it requires the team driving the change to keep their eyes on the horizon and ensure that the subtle shifts which are made to accommodate changing circumstances do not push them off course completely. If they do see this happening, they must stop and make time to question the new direction, the impact it will have on the old objectives, whether or not the original objectives should still be pursued and if they should; how will they be achieved in the new environment.


So what makes an awesome team?

10 September, 2010

For the past 2 years I have been lucky enough to work in a most excellent team. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and as it happens Helen, Zaana and Alex have all recently had opportunities to move on to bigger and better things.

While super cool and exciting for them, it has lead me spend quite a bit of time wondering what exactly made our team such a great group to work in, and what can I do to make sure it continues? After having this stuff floating around in my head for a week or so there are the key qualities I have identified that have helped our team to work so well.

Shared big picture objectives

One of the most common barriers to effective team work that I have observed is diverging objectives within the team. When one team member believes option A is the best direction and another  believes option B is best conflict can quickly bubble to the surface. Even when an agreement on the direction is reached lingering animosty or personal agendas can remain. If they do these will gradually undermine the achievement of the objectives the team is working towards.

Fortunately in our team each of us had a very similar long term vision, which meant each time we sat down to solve a problem, we were all working in the same direction. Of course we often disagreed on the best way to approach the problem, but agreeing on the long term objective enabled us to look at each solution on its merits rather than getting bogged down debating how the problem fits in with conflicting objectives.

Complimentary skill sets and interests.

Part good fortune, part good design. We each came from different backgrounds and  had a different set of skills.  While all four of us had similar interests we  tended to favour a slightly different aspect of our work. This was great for brainstorming and problem solving as we each came at a situation from a different perspective.

This really was the ideal situation, not only did we all agree on where we were headed, but we thought about each situation differently, which meant in any given scenario, we would be able to come up with several approaches, to the situation, discuss the pros and cons and agree on the best solution or take a combination of each of our ideas.


If there is one thing I struggle to deal with it is secret squirrel types. You know the ones, they know what is going on but like to keep it under their hat, or the manager who works away with their boss on the 3 year strategy meanwhile treating their staff like the proverbial mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed nothing but bullsh… you get it). Fortunately this was not a problem in our team, twice we had a manager’s role open in the team. During the recruitment process we talked amongst ourselves about it, were open about if we wanted to apply, and kept everyone in the loop. It was great as it meant these situations did not descend into some sort of competitive mess and it ensured that if one of us did decide to apply for the role, that everyone was supportive and on side.

Mutual Respect

This has to underpin all of the above, each of the other three ingredients lead to sharing of ideas, debate and discussion but none will matter if the team members do not respect each other.

So there we go four ingredients for an excellent team. Now to the question of how do I keep these ingredients alive in whatever version of our team continues, I’m, not sure how it will pan out, but it is sure to be interesting!

Bashing your head against a wall doesn’t always leave a bruise

3 March, 2010

I spent much of the second half of last year seemingly bashing my head against the proverbial brick wall. My objective was to get two online communities off the ground, I started from scratch, with nothing more than a general direction and a list of some people inside and outside of the business to talk to.  It frequently felt like I was on a fool’s errand, off on a wild goose chase, seeking a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow… ok enough of the clichés, it felt like it wasn’t going to work.

I spent an enormous amount of time and energy telling people about these communities, inviting them, showing them around and being super excited about them even though in most cases the members themselves didn’t seem to particularly care.

By the end of year I had started to make  progress, both were beginning to show the first signs of life…. then came Christmas and all of those signs vanished. Both were dead, or so I thought.

An amazing thing has happened in the last few weeks, momentum has returned, leaders have been identified and they are running with it!

The point that really brought it home to me, came up in a community leaders meeting this morning. Two of the members had been talking since the last meeting and decided that the community really needed a community charter!! My first instinct was to say “where the hell were you 6 months ago!!!!!?!” (see this post for what I was trying to do), but on reflection it occured to me that the community wasn’t ready for the structure of a charter, it needed time to grow  and to create it’s own identity, now after several months that is beginning to happen.

We’re only seeing the green shoots of life, but it is happening and that makes me smile. So to all of you community builders, persist, keep talking to your members and as long as you have laid the foundations you will see the rewards.

10 things for ’10 part2

19 January, 2010

The other day I kicked off my 10 things for ’10 learning list. The idea is to give myself a learning task list,  otherwise I just spend all of my time reading about football and formula1! I listed my first 5 items the other day, now on to the rest of the list.

The secret sauce of collaboration

Ok, I know there is no such thing. Fostering collaboration is what my job is all about. So reading what lots of smart people have to say about collaboration seems like a good idea. I have a general idea about this, my experience says find areas of common interest and common need and point people in the right direction… although it rarely works out like that. I’d probably like to develop a clearer framework for thinking about fostering organic collaboration and encouraging people who should collaborate but don’t know how.

Learning about learning

This one is another long termer. In part it is about revisiting a lot of the stuff I studied at uni, but also about diving deeper. I did my degree full time, while working full time, as you can imagine this load only allowed me to dive to a certain depth (think the toddler’s pool). This year I’d like to make it into the big pool, even if I only stay in the shallow end.

How to write

I used to love to write, so much so in my year 12 English assessments at high school I managed 2 A+’s and an A (I missed out on the plus by a couple of points and am still irritated by it!!). Back then I loved to write, but now I seem to find it more of a burden. I’m happy to write conversational stuff like this, as it is just guff that flows out of my brain, but I want to put a bit more effort into the process of writing to see if I can come up with some things that are more substantial.


I love getting things done. I hate it when I look back on a week and think ‘what did I do this week?’ While in reality I probably did quite a bit, it often doesn’t feel like it.  There are a bazzilion (this is accurate, I have counted them) GTD tools, systems and processes out there, over the years I have tried a few with varying levels of success. This makes it to the list to I can see if I can find ways to improve what I do and quiet that ‘you’ve not done enough this week’ voice.

Latte` Art

This is potentially very sad, but I think our Espresso machine is about my most favourite possession!  I’ve been working at home a lot over the past 6 months or so, it has it’s pros and cons, but without a doubt the best pro is I get ot make my coffee every morning!! I have got to the point where with it I reckon I can make a pretty mean latte` (I’m sure if you gave me one of those commercial jobs I would fail miserably!), but  I have never managed to make latte` art work. It makes it on to the list.

So there we have it, my #10thingsfor10 learning list. Over the next year or so I’ll blog about each of the topics and how I am going. Hopefully this will prove to be a fruitful experiance.

10 things for ’10 – part 1

19 January, 2010

Hello and Welcome to 2010!!

I wonder if my posting will be a little more regular than it was in 2009? Time will tell. I’ve decided to kick of the year with a to-do list of sorts. I’m a big fan of lists, every Monday morning, I flick back through my diary and my emails and figure out what I want to get done during the week, inevitably the list is far longer than what I can hope to achieve but it helps to keep me on track, and moving forward.

In this style I’ve decided to write my 10 things to learn in 2010 list. Like my weekly task list I possibly wont achieve every item, but I am going to give it a red hot go. The is is made up of a mix of work interests and personal interests, some seriousish, and some just plain fun. So far I managed to come up with 5, I’ll post the second five this week, if anyone has any ideas about what should be in it let me know!!

On to the list (I’ve not numbered them as I think they all have equal importance.


I’ve had ‘project management’ training on my Learning and Development schedule for 3 years now. I don’t harbour any desires to be a full time project manager, but there is plenty that can be taken from project management frameworks and applied to normal everyday work. Why Prince2 and not PMBOK? Simply our company is implementing a Prince2 framework… seems like as good a reason as any.

Design Thinking

This phrase has appeared all over the place in the last 12 months. I must admit for most of the last 12 months I dismissed it as yet another bullsh!t bingo buzz word that would disappear soon enough. Well it has not disappeared yet and from the little reading I have done it seems an interesting concept, more investigation and understanding is required.

Managing Complexity

I’m not even sure if that is the correct term. Simply put this is a phrase I have heard quite a bit around the traps and I don’t know much about it at all. It seems Dave Snowden is the place to start I saw this video he posted last year, so far that is all I know.

Taking decent photos

I’ve had a quiet desire to learn to take great photos for a few years now. Over Christmas, my lovely wife gave me a great book that covers a lot of the basics, you know all that stuff that we normally let the camera figure out, aperture, exposure, white balance etc. I want to understand how all of those things come together to create the final image.

Driving a race car

This seems a little odd, but isn’t as as out there as you think. I got hooked on iRacing.com over Christmas, it is an online racing simulator. If you listen to their marketing it is as about as real as you can get without either buying a race car or spending $190K on one of these. iRacing has an enormous amount of detail in the physics, tracks, cars and set up options. From what I have found in my first 3 weeks, it is bloody hard! You really do need to understand about how to drive a car fast, that is picking the right line through corners, breaking while maintaining momentum and getting on the power without inducing over/under steer. It is great (albeit very nerdy) fun but to do it well will require lots of learning – so it makes it to the list.

Oi You Lot! Collaborate Now!!

30 October, 2009

If only community building were so simple! I’ve spent the last couple of months working on the first two of what will hopefully be many online communities for our members. This has proven to be a bit of a  challenge for a few different reasons,  the one I want to talk about now is the concept of collaboration. For me and the other guys in the team at work, collaboration is what we do. We encounter a problem and we either turn around and say “hey waddaya reckon about this” or if we’re not in the same location, we jump onto the wiki or instant messenger (or lately google wave) and throw ideas around. If no one in the team is free we jump on twitter and say “hey tweeps waddaya reckon?”. Collaborating to get stuff done is intrinsic to what we do. Sure if we are on twitter we might not be quite as specific as we would be in the office but we still talk about what is going on with the twitterverse.

The thing is not everyone does it and (amazingly) not everyone wants to do it. For many people they don’t want to collaborate, they don’t want to participate they just want to be fed the info they need. I guess most people fall into this category but I admit to being caught off guard at how disinterested some people are at jumping on the collaboration bandwagon. So what the hell do you do about it? These are my thoughts… time will tell how effective they are.

Find people who ARE collaborators!

Well duh! I know this one is stating the bleeding obvious, but I reckon the best way to help people to learn how to be collaborators is to watch it happening around them. If the group we have at the moment is not loaded up with collaborative types then we should find some to help get the ball rolling.

Start with easy opportunities for collaboration

In one of the communities, my idea was that the community would collectively write a community charter. It didn’t happen. So I re-jigged the approach and organised a few phone hookups to discuss what they thought should go into the charter. During each session we also used a webinar to record notes, which helped to fuel the discussion. These sessions gave me with heaps of insight into the needs and wants of the community. I’ll take that away and turn it in to a draft of a charter, then ask the community to provide feedback. By adopting this approach the community members are commenting on something they have already contributed to which means it isn’t as scary, as hard or as time consuming as starting with a blank page.

Change the environment

This is kinda the same as the last point, if the members are not really jumping onto the online environment to collaborate, give them a chance to chat somewhere else. It could be like that example: a phone hook up, or even better if it is possible, organise an f2f meet up. Something as simple as catching up for a coffee can be enormously beneficial to encouraging collaboration.

Ok so that’s my thoughts. They are all pretty much following the conventional wisdom. So waddaya reckon?


Sitting at perfection station and watching the trains go by

29 October, 2009

I can be a picky bugger. I like things to work exactly how I planned and I get more than a little peeved if they don’t. That’s the main reason I’ve not posted anything on this blog in over two months. As always life takes over and the blog gets neglected, that’s cool everyone’s blog gets neglected sometimes. The thing is once I decide that I want to write something I feel the I need to change the world with one blog post.

Inevitably I’ll write many many drafts, which funnily enough wont change the world, so I don’t post them. Then I start getting pissed off about not coming up with anything ‘good enough’ and before I know it, two months of work, conversations and learning have drifted past with no reflection or analysis.

The thing is in the last two months I’ve worked on some cool things, encountered some big challenges and are now spending lots of time thinking about what the next step is. Surely stopping a few times along the way to record where it was going would have been a good idea.

So there it is, “release early, release often” sound familiar? I’ll try to apply that mantra to my blog… maybe I’ll actually learn something.

UPDATE: In true realease early release often fashion… I hit the publish button before I proof read this! It must be fate 🙂

Charting a course to community awesomeness!

27 August, 2009

I’m cheating on my blog posts again! But I wrote this for one of my recently kicked off online communities and thought it might be worth posting. What do you think? Am I on the right track? I will be very interested to see how the community members respond.


I have been saying from the beginning of this project that one our key objectives for the community leadership group will be the development of a community charter. The charter will be vital to the community’s success. It is your (the community leaders) opportunity to agree on what you want this community to be. You will make this community into the thriving place that can create opportunities and provide support to yourself or other members. The thing is, this will only happen if you make it happen.

Some questions to think about:
• What is that you think this community stands for?
• Why is it here?
• When we promote it why would people want to join it?
• What can we bring to the community?
• What do you expect your fellow members to bring to the community?
• Most importantly what can you bring to the community?

Now you’ve have think about that let’s look at what this charter will actually look like. The great thing is that every community is unique so every charter will be unique, but I have a couple of thoughts to get us started. First I reckon we must keep it short; we don’t need anything that rambles on for pages and pages (like this post does!). I propose the following three sections.

Community Purpose

An example might be “to provide an environment for North Melbourne supporters to discus the horror of 2009 and how awesome 2010 will be”

The community will…

“Hear North supporters concerns about our list and provide constructive criticism for players that perhaps might seek new opportunities at another club next year”

“Help to generate opportunities for North supporters to car pool to games (and then donate the money to the club to set up a fund to lure Garry Ablett and Lance Franklin to Arden St)””

The community members will….

“Not be too harsh on players who have under performed”
“Will be supportive of other members and provide constructive advice”

Ok so clearly I have been a bit silly with my examples, but I hope you get the idea. Under each section we use bullet points to outline why the community exists, how the community will aim to support or provide value to its members and how the community’s members will provide value to the community.

So what is next?

There is a new tab at the top of the screen called Charter. It simply has the words “Community Purpose” on the page.

I would like as many of you as possible to click on edit on that page and add a bullet point describing what you believe the community’s purpose is.

Editing is anonymous so no one else will know what you have added. Please don’t remove anyone else’s points, just add to them. Don’t be afraid, all ideas are valid, the more ideas we have the better the result.

If you want to comment on this to tell me that the whole thing is a stupid idea, suggest another section of the charter or anything else feel free to comment under this post.

Next week we’ll work on the next section and keep refining over the coming weeks till the leadership group as a whole agree that the charter represents what we all believe this community is about.

Businesses on Twitter

14 August, 2009

I was asked this question in relation to our corporate twitter account on LinkedIn today

Mick – Great idea but do you have any examples of this being used in a business context before and the value it could bring?

My response got kinda long so I decided to post it here 🙂 Enjoy!

There are hundreds of examples of businesses using twitter to achieve a whole range of objectives. The two most common objectives businesses set out to achieve via twitter are to raise their brand’s profile or provide proactive customer service. Proactive customer service, where an organisation ‘listens’ to the conversations happening on twitter for mentions of their brand and steps into help is becoming more and more common.

The best local example of proactive customer service using twitter is Telstra BigPond (twitter.com/bigpondteam). The team at BigPond search twitter for people talking about Telstra and BigPond products and offer to help.

Sometimes this is as simple as answering a question, other times they will ask the person with the problem to send their contact details via direct message (a private message between two twitter users) so it can be investigated further.

In many cases a twitter user will simply complain about a problem with their Telstra service to their friends and a BigPond representative will contact them directly and offer to help them solve it. In the US, Comcast (twitter.com/comcastcares) have been very successful with a similar system.

Many organisations are using twitter to distribute news and information to their customers; many AFL football teams are doing this very effectively. I particularly like twitter.com/northkangaroos… but I might be biased!! Other examples include twitter.com/SouthwestAir, twitter.com/jetblue, dell.com/twitter, twitter.com/gimmecoffee and twitter.com/5senses

Others conduct competitions to raise the profile of their brand. Two weeks ago I won an LCD TV after participating in a promotion run by Kogan Technologies (twitter.com/KoganTech), as a result I told my 460 followers all about my new Kogan TV.

These are all great examples of how businesses are using twitter for their brands, but there are infinitely more examples of individuals using twitter to find, share and discuss information relating to their work on twitter.

One example occurred this morning. I read your comment and thought to myself ‘hmm I can think of a couple of good examples I wonder what else is out there.’ I asked the question on twitter and was alerted to Southwest Air, Jet Blue, Gimme Coffee, Dell and Comcast.

Another example came up a couple of weeks ago during the Knowledge Management Australia conference. I was not able to get to Sydney to attend the conference but much of the content is directly relevant to my work at CPA Australia. Traditionally I would have just missed out, however using twitter I was able to search for the tag #KMAus09 and follow the key points that were being made at the conference. A tag is simply a word that users tweeting about a common topic include in their tweets. You can view the search results for #KMAus09 here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23KMaus09.

Following the conference on twitter was not as good as being there but it was better than not being there at all and provided a useful insight into the issues discussed.

Getting them talking

25 June, 2009

Part four in my ‘Getting an online community off the ground’ series. Today I’ll chat about Content.

Over the last week or so, I have blogged about finding great people to join your community, then having a chat with them to encourage them to join the community. In many ways getting them into the community is the easy bit; often people, if encouraged will sign up to an online community, the trick is getting them to come back a few times a week.

The people we have targeted to form the core of the community know their stuff and are eager to participate so we’d best make use of them! The community is all about the members so we can get them to do some of the planning. Ask them to debate the core purpose of the community, ask them to agree on the community’s rules of engagement. This can be confronting, at this point we are releasing some control, we’re no longer producing a product for the market to simply consume, we are letting the consumers shape the direction. While it is scary it will be helpful for a couple of reasons, firstly it will give those core people that you want to hang around something to talk about which is critical to keeping their attention. Secondly it will help them to develop a sense of ownership over the community. Finally it will give us an important insight into the needs of the people we are trying to engage.

It is great to hand the keys over to the community but  it is really important to stay involved in the discussion, this is our community and while we are working to help the community members we are not going to be able to meet the needs of everybody. Get involved in the conversation, talk about the motivations for creating the community and listen to the responses of the community members. If a suggestion can not be implemented, explain why and try to work with the community members to come up with an alternative approach. This is important work, it is laying the foundations that the community will be built upon so we need to get it right.

Throughout this process the most important thing we can do is listen, this will help us to understand the needs of the community, which will help us to identify the content that will bring people back. Understanding the content the community members are interested in will influence, the links we post, which discussion topics or members are featured and what events we run.

Next up – Events!

%d bloggers like this: