Collaborating Using Whole Sentences

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Lego style

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Lego style

“There are two kinds of people in this world…”

That’s a line from an old Clint Eastwood movie and it sounds like the start of a corny joke, but bear with me and you’ll learn a bit about helping people think strategically about business and technology.

There are two kinds of people in your enterprise … Noun People and Verb People.

Noun People speak the language of Things.  Things like software and hardware. Applications, laptops, tablets, firewalls, protocols, routers, switches, phones, networks, portlets, databases, etc, etc.  Noun People are solution oriented.  They are typically passionate about supporting the organization and are eager to provide all the tools and infrastructure appropriate to the enterprise.  They know what it takes to support a business.  They can describe which gizmo does what, its total cost of ownership, how fast it runs and whether or not it can interface with the gadget.  Noun people are frequently in IT.

Noun People are Important and you can’t run your business without them.

Verb People speak the language of Actions.  Actions like manufacturing and selling.  Innovating, developing, motivating, purchasing, merging, planning, collaborating, analyzing, managing, etc, etc.  Verb people are results oriented.  They typically focus on moving the enterprise ever forward; to make it bigger, better, more successful.  They understand what it takes to run a business.  They know how to  turn ideas into actions, create treasure from trash and even sell balloons to porcupines.  Verb People are typically in “the business”.

Verb People are Important and you can’t run your business without them.

So, if you have some of each kind of person, then what’s the problem?  The problem is the communication gap.  Noun People don’t speak the language of  Actions and vice versa.  We’ve all seen it.  Look at your last set of business requirements for the big new software application you’re planning.  Do they really make sense?  Look at the new “field of dreams” collaboration suite that’s just been rolled out.  Whatever will you use it for? 

This concept does not shock or surprise many people.   Typically, I get the sage nodding of heads all around the table when I describe this – no matter which kind of person they are.  This is especially evident in the area of collaboration (enterprise social software, unified communications, business video, social media, etc).  Collaboration tools (nouns) have been deployed for many years now without clear connection to business imperatives (verbs).  Likewise, businesses have been desperately looking for ways to improve, accelerate, grow (verbs) without an appreciation for the capabilities, architectures, infrastructure (nouns) required to achieve their vision.  

So what’s the solution?  The trick? You must find someone who can craft whole sentences using the Verbs and the Nouns.   Perhaps this is you, perhaps it is someone outside your organization who has the tools and experience to do so.  But collaboration solutions must never be deployed without a clear business imperative (it’s lacking the verb).  Major business initiatives should never be started without a clear understanding of the opportunities for enhancing collaboration (it’s missing a noun). 

This is not as easy as it seems and I’ll tell you more about the process for making the connections in a later post.  For now, pay attention to the language in your planning and strategy meetings.  Are there any Verb People in the room?  Any Noun People?  If you have some of both, do they understand one another?  Are they even listening to one another? 

A good translator can transform the conversation.  How’s your grammar?

tin cans with broken string

"What we have here is a failure to communicate"

Quotes from:

7 ALIGNED Principles for Effective Leadership

Virginia Tech - Dept of Management building“Bachelor of Science in Business, Major – Management”

 … That’s what my diploma said.  But in 1983 we were in another “Great Recession” and entry-level management jobs were almost impossible to find.   With a little help, I found a role as a programmer for a textile company in my home town and began my years as an individual contributor.  Over the next 14 years I went through 3 industries, 4 companies and 8 managers.   Though they didn’t know it, during this entire time I was studying those managers.  I analyzed their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.  I was determined that when my turn came to lead, I would have mastered the techniques and be more than ready. 

When I finally got that first opportunity as a manager, I had sixteen direct reports.  16!  A bit daunting, but I knew I could handle it.  I knew how the perfect manager should behave.  How they should treat their staff.  How they should communicate.  I began to apply all that I had learned. 

It was a disaster. 

My staff hated me.  The team was in an uproar.  Goals and deadlines were vague memories.  And I was completely at a loss as to what I was doing wrong.  Thanks to two great mentors and some serious introspection, I began to see the issue.   The problem was not the implementation.  You see, I was treating my staff exactly the way I wanted to be treated.  I was the perfect manager – for me.  The problem was the in the assumption.  The way I wanted to be treated was not the way they wanted, or needed, to be treated.  Thus began the first of my seven principles of leadership – Attune.  Attune yourself to the needs of the team and its members. 

Over the years, I continued to learn and refine my style.  I became a good leader – or so I’m told – and others began to ask advice.   My best advice is to understand that a manager’s job has many aspects, but the most important one is leadership.  To be a good leader, I believe you must be ALIGNED – aligned with your team, your mission, your peers, your management and your own values.  Below are seven principles that I believe can help you focus on your effectiveness as a leader:  (more…)

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 10:59 am  Comments (8)  
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Collaboration Calculus

Why is it so difficult to incorporate new collaborative processes and tools into an organization?  I’ve recently been observing a small team in a Fortune 500 company as they wrestle with this Calculus is the study of change...question.  They have the necessary tools at hand, plenty of technical knowhow, and they uniformly express a desire to build community within their geographically dispersed team.  But they are still struggling to get things moving.  What more could they possibly need?

Collaboration initiatives fail for a variety of reasons.  The problem is typically multifaceted and unique to the situation.  However, I believe there is a central theme that can help break down this complex equation.  In short, collaboration requires participation.  My friend and colleague, Joe Moran, recently postulated in a discussion forum on Cisco Community Central at a key principle that he calls the Participation Theory.  He set this up as a simple equation that I think gets to the heart of the matter.  I’ll let him describe it here:

Ultimately, I think participation in any activity is tied to what I like to refer to as the: Participation Theory (PT).  Broken down simply as:  

Likelihood of Participation (LoP) = Reward / Effort

Now, of course that oversimplifies things immensely because the perception of Reward (R) and Effort (E) will vary significantly from individual to individual.  Ultimately, I think if we spent enough time we could come up with a core set of variables that would serve as common inputs to determining the weight of each factor.  Perhaps basing it off of Utility Theory or other like decision theories.  Of course we would need to factor in global variables which widely impact a given population, such as everyone within an enterprise.

However, in its simplest form when LoP > 1, we participate.  When LoP is < 1, we don’t participate.  If LoP = 1, then participation may be intended, but follow through is not certain.

So, the Reward must be greater than the Effort required to participate.  When true, collaboration happens.

Sounds simple, but if you read the follow-on comments in the discussion, you will see that there are a variety of other variables that make up R and E.  Things like Inertia and Availability and Awareness and Time to name just a few.  (more…)

Innovation Velocity – Developing Agile Innovation Leadership through Gaming (via InnovoFlow – Freedoms to Innovate)

Accept the Absurd game cardI’ve been working – on and off – with an exciting startup in London called Innovoflow PLC. They have a fascinating view of innovation and the necessity for development of a supporting ecosystem (i.e., framework) in organizations. They have developed an “innovative” way to help executives and other stakeholders better understand how this works using business gaming. This creates a safe and effective way to learn more about innovation and to experiment with ways that the pieces fit together to permeate enterprise culture and to create lasting value.

I’m pleased be permitted to re-blog one of their early posts describing some of the theory and mechanics of this approach. For more information including an excellent white paper or to contact my friend and sometimes colleague/partner Simon Evans, please visit

Innovation Velocity – Developing Agile Innovation Leadership through Gaming

Celebrity Endorsement game cardThe Problem with Innovation

It is a truism that armies tend to continue to fight their last war and need to go through bitter learning experiences before they can understand and adapt to the new, emergent rules of conflict.  Present innovation thinking is constrained by legacy successes achieved within a context of unsustainable economic market growth patterns and obsolete models.
This recession is heightening a natural fear of risk and failure, which combined with a perception of increasing innovation difficulty (as highlighted by the Boston Consulting Group reviews in the past couple of years), is encouraging management caution toward innovation. This is reducing leaders’ ability to recognise, understand and manage the full range of options available, and this is slowing the pace of innovation (innovation velocity).
We need some new tools to help us deliver approaches to innovation that better suit the emerging realities of the 21st century environment.

Introducing Gaming as a Tool

We propose to use gaming as a tool in this context… Read More
via InnovoFDevelopment Team game cardlow – Freedoms to Innovate
Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Going Viral in the Enterprise

SisyphusHow can you tell if you are succeeding in your campaign for adoption of new enterprise collaboration tools?  How can you define that magic moment when you can breathe a sigh of relief and say “That’s the tipping point.”  Metrics maybe?  Sure, they are important, but for me it’s when some idea goes viral on your network.  Viral, like the Old Spice guy or the BPGlobalPR twitter feed, but inside your organization.         

More about that in a minute.  First, it’s obvious that user adoption for collaboration tools is becoming a hot topic.  Rightly so.  Even with all of the transformational capabilities at our disposal – wikis, blogs, microblogging, social networking, folksonomies – and the money we are pouring into them, we are still held captive by the ” inertia of the inbox”.  Try as we might to espouse and adopt the benefits of social media or web conferencing we still find ourselves caught in lengthy email threads with a dozen or more people – most of whom wish they weren’t on the CC list.  Personally, as a Collaboration Solutions Architect, I am overwhelmed by a sense of irony (or hypocrisy depending on my mood) every time I exceed my inbox quota.  Solving this is a huge challenge and opportunity.  The benefits are apparent but not easily measured.  I’ll write more on User Adoption in a later blog, but until then I highly recommend you look into The 2.0 Adoption Council.   You should also see Gil Yehuda’s blog and his white paper titled “Framework for 2.0 Adoption in the Enterprise“.         

Angry GooseNow, back to the importance of going viral.  The first time I experienced information that “went viral” was in 1997 at a major pharmaceutical company.  (The term “viral” actually meant something entirely different in that time and place!)  A visionary in the IT department sponsored a system on the intranet for idea collection and harvesting.  (more…)

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm  Comments (8)  
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“Social” Perspective on the 2010 Enterprise 2.0 Conference

Raise your hand if you attended this in 1994.

I give it a B+.  That’s my initial reaction when people ask about my first trip to Enterprise 2.0.  I always grade conferences based on my level of enthusiasm when I leave.  I’ve been to some conferences that scored “C” or even lower.  I once awarded an “A+” for the Second International World Wide Web (WWW) Conference back in 1994. I still have the T-shirt and, yes, I know it’s sixteen years old and should be in the rag bin.   

Dozens of people have already blogged extensively about the E2.0 conference. Their articles range from overviews of the whole event to notes taken right on the spot during the conference sessions and keynotes.  By and large they’ve done a much better job than I could, so I’m not going to waste precious keystrokes repeating them.  I will, however, provide a list of some of my favorites at the end of this article.  Instead, I’d like to entertain you with some thoughts about the “social” aspects of the conference.  By “social” I don’t mean social networking or social media or even the very social IBM boat party which, I hear, was quite the event.  I’m talking about how the leaders in the field of “social computing” – movers and shakers in the industry – act and interact when they are put in close physical proximity of one another.     

First, let’s look at the demographics. While the ballrooms echoed with the term Millennials (another name for Generation Y), actual sightings were extremely rare. I would even say that the GenX-ers comprised only about 50% of the audience (if any of you have real numbers, I’d love to hear from you). The rest of us were Baby-Boomers or, as Rick Ladd so aptly named us, the BooMillennials – Boomers who adopt the best practices of the Millennials. What can we read into this? I can only speculate, but here are some possibilities:        

  • In these cost-constrained times, the older you are, the more likely you are to have a travel budget – or a huge number of frequent flyer points.
  • Millennials don’t value physical conferences. They do all of their meeting online and create sardonic vlogs about the “old folks” who feel compelled to travel.
  • Hopefully and importantly, there are a lot of Boomers who understand the value and importance of this new way of working. They recognize that organizations must evolve to embrace these tools and practices to invigorate collaboration and innovation. Fortunately, many of these BooMillennials have achieved positions of respect and authority in their organizations. They nurture the seeds of change.



My second “social” observation was the new dynamic of presentations. Up to now, presentations have generally been (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 10:09 am  Comments (1)  
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“Controlled Falling”.  An odd name for a blog that’s mostly about Collaboration, Innovation and Risk Management.   I spent a lot of time thinking about this and believe it’s a good fit. Consider…

It is often said that “walking is controlled falling.”   You’ve seen a toddler learning to take those first steps.  They have a clear objective and incredible determination but they spend a lot of time with their bottom on the floor.  Fortunately for them they don’t have far to fall and have a bit of natural resiliency.  There are some rough tumbles though, and some tears.  It’s important that someone create a good environment without sharp edges, hard surfaces or tripping hazards.  And they get better with practice.   Soon, with each step, their foot seems to catch them just in time.  The whole body begins to align – arms and head for balance, eyes for threats, hands to catch (just in case).   

So it is with recent attempts to enhance Collaboration and Innovation in the enterprise.  So far there seems to be a lot of falling.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Like the toddler, we wouldn’t achieve our objective without a few setbacks.  Given time, we’ll start to put one foot in front of the other and gain a little control. Of course, we want to minimize the damage (aka Risk Management).  There are a number of things we should do to reduce those “sharp edges, hard surfaces and tripping hazards”. Basic things like focusing on business objectives instead of technology; starting with a strategy and an architecture; and implementing a user adoption program.

But there’s a problem with this perspective. Successful organizations cannot be content with being a toddler. We all see that the rules have changed. A common mantra in business journals is “innovate or die”. Collaboration is an imperative for the savvy executive – whether they be IT or business. Novel technologies are emerging faster than we can grasp them. One directory lists 2830 Web 2.0 applications in 175 categories! Organizations cannot afford to toddle in this new environment. Real success amidst this rapid change requires that we become more like a stunt-person than a toddler.

Really? A stunt-person?

Think about it. I’m not talking about a daredevil who takes foolish chances. I’m talking about the professionals. Stunt-people practice. They learn to fall gracefully. They take chances – sometimes big chances – but these are based on knowledge, experience, and a careful understanding of their environment, capabilities and goals. They have a plan. They manage the risks. And the smart ones know when to walk away.

Our organizations must develop these skills. We begin by creating collaboration and innovation ecosystems. These are environments where the occasional fall is acceptable and sometimes planned. We must nurture the staff who have the proper knowledge and experience and sheer intestinal fortitude. We acknowledge our limitations and reach outside to the experts when we don’t have them in-house. Finally, like the professional stunt-person, we control our environment and manage the risks by implementing a comprehensive governance program around our collaboration and innovation initiatives.

We are falling headlong into an uncertain future. It’s obvious to me that enhancing collaboration, facilitating innovation and managing the associated risks are critical activities for our survival and success. So the trick is to control that fall – to do it with grace and skill. If we work at it, then someday it will be as natural as walking.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fear of (Blog) Commitment

I’m finally taking the next step in the relationship.

My relationship with Social Networking, that is.  This next big step is starting my own blog.  I have an intimate understanding of the commitment required for tools like Facebook, Twitter and Yammer and enjoy those casual encounters.  But blogging?  Sure, it looks easy and everyone seems to be doing it, but I’ve been very deliberately putting it off for years.  It’s obvious to me that I shouldn’t start blogging unless I’m truly committed to putting fingers to keyboard every week or so at a minimum – willing to string together thoughts of more than 140 characters.  This is certainly the advice I give to others.  Even when I’ve built and managed blogging tools, I have coached senior executives NOT to start a blog because they aren’t passionate about it.   I explain that if they start and don’t keep at it, then they will lose credibility with their staff, many of whom have their own blogs and DO find the time to write about things they know on a regular basis.

That’s the trick though isn’t it.  Writing what you know.   Writing about your passions.  Mine?  To name a few – Collaboration, Innovation, Risk Management, Environment, Home Renovation – all of which are hot topics right now (ever heard of HGTV?).   It’s easy to think there’s nothing new I could offer.  After all, even if I read all day, everyday, I wouldn’t be able to consume all of the information that’s being posted about these topics.

But friends and colleagues keep asking me for the web address to my mental musings.  They want to know what I think about things.  It is good that those who know me well also trust my insights and opinions.  They want to know what I  find relevant and what I feel about this opinion or that commentary.  In some cases they want me to be their filter – to help them sort through the masses of information or offer a shortcut solution to their problem.  It can be a bit daunting.  I wouldn’t want to let them down.

BSA Project SOAR patch from 1971Fortunately for me there’s a lot of history to draw upon.  I’ve been developing collaborative solutions since before the term “intranet” was coined; working closely with a firm specializing in innovation; managing risk before Enron; working for environmental change since Project SOAR in 1971; and remodeling houses before HGTV aired its first show. 

The fact is we all have something to offer.  Perhaps a wealth of experience.  Or some new or different way of seeing things.  Maybe the ability to listen and assess when others are busy talking.  There are times when something that seems incredibly obvious to you will be the “Eureka!” moment for someone else.   So here I go, starting my blog.  Finally taking that big step.  Making the commitment after years of flirting.   It feels right.

Take a minute to consider your own situation.  I assure you that you have something to offer.  Start collecting a list of topics.   Pick a good blogging tool (most are free, and easy).  Experiment a bit.  Then, when the time is right and you are comfortable with the situation, take the step – hit the publish button.

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 11:02 am  Comments (1)  
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