Adopt or Adapt

Thoughts on the future work culture

adaptFor the past several years I’ve been involved in many discussions, training session and workshops regarding the adoption of social smarter work. And this is serious business. Companies around the world are spending large amounts of time and resources trying to get their organizations to work in a more productive, transparent and effective way.

But there’s a problem. In most cases we’re trying to address this as if it were just another in a series of technological advances. We install corporate social networks, new collaboration solutions and advanced messaging and meeting software. After installation we provide training into what and how these technologies operate. Then we begin to measure the extent to which our employees are using the new tools. And all of this we call adoption.

But maybe we should reconsider this. Let’s look at a couple of definitions.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ― Mark Twain

Adopt – to make one’s own by selection or assent

Adopt, that pretty much sums up our efforts. We strive to get people to choose to use the new way of working versus their old way.

Adapt – to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.

I believe that today’s workplace and certainly the future workplace is full of different conditions and a new environment in which to do business. This isn’t about retooling technology, it’s about rethinking work cultures.

Now don’t get me wrong, technology is certainly an enabler of the adaptation, but using the technology is not the goal. The real value comes when we adjust ourselves to a new way of working; to evolve from the ineffective and overused habits of email, meetings and reporting into the new way of working using mobile, social and cognitive practices designed to free us to do what we were meant to do.

I just read an interesting article on the National Geographic website regarding adaptation. It states:

An adaptation can be structural, meaning it is a physical part of the organism. An adaptation can also be behavioral, affecting the way an organism acts.

I believe our future way of working will constitute both the physical adaptation (new tools, work hours, reporting structures, etc) as well as the behavioral adaptation (how we fit work into life, the revival of creativity, curiosity and risk in the workplace, etc.).

Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 53

June 2

I’m not sure it’s fair to title this “The Immobile” any longer. In the past 53 days I’ve progressed to walking, carefully taking stairs and automobile travel. I’ve abandoned my walker (after being asked by an elderly woman outside a grocery store if she “could help me”) and leg braces. I’m using a pair of canes and getting around nicely. I’ve been told I should be back to normal (able to handle air travel) in early July. So thanks to everyone, especially my manager, Ron Denham and my VP, Pam Chandor for their support during this time.

immobile ipadBut for this posting, I’ve reflected on how my work has changed since I’ve been unable to “get around” like I used to. Other than lacking the personal face-to-face, it really hasn’t. My role as Storyteller usually requires in-person visits and speaking engagements, which I have missed. But the ability to work, communicate and interact with customers and sales teams has been awesome. And I have to give full credit to IBM for their support and development of outstanding collaboration solutions.

When I was bed ridden, I had my laptop, iPad and iPhone all available to me and with them I was able to participate and contribute to our business efforts. Our social networking, IBM Connections has kept me in touch with what is going on. The use of IBM Verse and IBM Sametime keeps the communication channel always open. And our Smart Cloud platform of these components, including web meetings, desktop sharing and fully collaborative document editing, has made me truly be “at work” anywhere and anytime.

I’m anxious to get back on the road and visiting our clients and sales teams, but I have to admit that being “immobile” has not meant being “out of touch”. Quite the contrary.

So if you are a corporate employee and reading this, imagine for a moment what it would be like if you were “immobile” for an extended period of time. Would it just be an endless stream of email and phone calls? What about the interruptions of the day for therapy and doctor visits? Would your connection to work suffer because you don’t have social tools that allow you to contribute at your convenience? Would you be getting emails on your phone and having to get back to your PC before you could actually do any work?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Contact me or check out this link for more information on how you can maintain your creativity and connectedness, regardless of the circumstances.

Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 11

April 21


Can you decipher the line above?

At one point in my career I worked at Lockheed Georgia where they build C-5 and C-130 aircraft. I worked in the Engineering group producing technical manuals for these airplanes. What I learned quickly was that every aircraft differed from the previous ones. Most of the differences were minor, such as an improved avionics component, while others were more significant. In both cases the differences required unique documentation and instructions for the specific tail number.

We kept copies of documentation on all the aircraft. If you know these airframes you know they have an extremely long lifetime. And these planes were very complex. Jus the documentation required to be physically on the aircraft weighed around 300 pounds. If at any time, one of our planes had an “incident”, we would often be called on to recreate the documentation on board to assist in the investigation.

I remember times when a high profile event would occur and we would gather not only the documentation but also those individuals involved in the design, construction and manufacture of the plane.

During “the Martian” story, there were a couple of instances that required a look at historic technologies and techniques.

IMG_4874-768x576The first was the use of hexadecimal encoding to represent ASCII characters. The rudimentary communication method required something simpler than a 26-character alphabet.

As for the opening line in this post, it’s HEX and you can convert it at this web site.

The next instance of old knowledge becoming new knowledge came when Watney dug up the old Pathfinder vehicle. Upon discovering his intentions, the NASA team immediately converged on the Johnson Space Center where they still had a working Pathfinder in storage. But more than that, they called together all of the remaining Pathfinder original team members. It’s that old knowledge that could not be easily replicated.

The great thing about knowledge is that it always remains knowledge. It may become less relevant or seemingly outdated, but it’s still knowledge. And in some cases, as we face new challenges, that old knowledge may be extremely helpful in providing a perspective that is unknown to those attempting to address the challenge at hand.

Promoting a social business culture not only assists in finding new knowledge, it can also be instrumental in uncovering and revisiting much needed old knowledge.

I believe future IBMer’s using our social system will be able to investigate the decisions we made, the process we went through and the discoveries we encountered. This old knowledge will be instrumental in helping our successors face the challenges of their day.

Or maybe I’m just being an old guy.

Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 6

April 16

immobile-social-crap-300x200When you’re working with other people, communication is key. As we work today, most of us have a variety of available options. And when I’ve asked people why they prefer one method to the other, the response is usually around fit or function. But I think there’s more to it.

In The Martian the original team on the planet would radio back and forth with Earth. Based on the speed of light, this causes a time delay of 12 minutes. So an answer would appear 24 minutes after the asking.

I can imagine this results in taking some time in framing your conversation.

I think email is like that. It gives you a sense of completeness, a form that can be reviewed, stored in draft, mulled over until you’re finally satisfied to send it. The turn around time can be lengthy, obviously not because of speed of light, but more affected by complexity of day. But we accept this delay knowing the email conversation is a structured, well-accepted means of collaboration.

After being left behind, Mark Watney had to figure out some way to communicate his existence. There was NO communication channel. Through creativity and clever problem solving on both planets, Mark was able restore to service the Mar’s Pathfinder that had a camera and ability to send images. At first it was a matter of posting a binary question on a sign with “yes” and “no” signs on either side. When the Pathfinder relayed the picture of the question, Johnson Space Center personnel would remotely direct the rover camera to the left or right…giving Mark the answer. The binary interface was awful and time delay was huge, but it was communication.

In today’s world I would guess an instant message, use of emoticons (single character to represent a larger message), chat or maybe even a tweet would be comparable. It gets the job done but it’s difficult to be the container for an expansive conversation…or so we think.

Mark Twain once said, “Sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” When communicating, it’s imperative to not lose the message in the medium. You have to think a lot about shortening a message to its bare essentials.

Some of my first communications with my team after the accident came by way of chat message. Attempting to relate a complex story in a few phrases was challenging. I spent a lot of time reading back what I had written to make sure it was meeting my intention.

Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 3

April 14

immobile-300x279Recently I saw the movie “The Martian” starring Matt Damon. If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t think what I have to say will spoil much, but it also won’t make much sense. So I encourage you, even if you don’t want to follow this series of posts, check out the movie. It’s worth the time to watch.

The premise of the movie is a Martian storm causes an emergency evacuation of a team of astronauts on the planet. During the exit, Astronaut Mark Watney, is injured, lost and assumed dead. To save the rest of the team, the remaining astronauts blast off to the awaiting Hermes command ship for the return to Earth.

But Watney is alive and the remainder of the movie is about the challenges that arise and Mark’s creative response to each situation.

Last week I had a home accident that resulted in the tearing of the quadriceps tendons on both knees. I couldn’t stand or walk. On Friday, repair surgery was done. Because both knees are out at the same time, recovery and therapy can take from 10-12 weeks. That’s no travel and only in the later weeks will I be able to get around on anything other than a walker.

My role in IBM involves a lot of travel, customer meetings and speaking engagements. All of that has changed for the next 84 Earth SOLS (The term sol is used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on Mars).

Since I will not be able to function like the rest of the IBM Worldwide team, I will have to learn how to “Get to Work” for the next 3 months using the tools I have.

In the slightly altered words of Mark Watney, “In the face of overwhelming odds I only have one option. I’m going to have to (social) the (crap) out of this.”

During the coming weeks, I will be posting my observations, challenges and experiences to this situation. I am extremely excited about how this is shaking up my viewpoint and how these new perspectives are going to generate new work experiments and ideas that can assist each of us work smarter.

As always, let me know your thoughts.

Have you figured out what your audience’s “chairs” are?

In 1996, the movie Phenomenon was released. It starred John Travolta and Robert Duvall. I have to admit to not being a big Travolta fan, but I’ve really enjoyed Robert Duvall over the years.

The main theme is about an individual, George (Travolta) who is strcken by something “unknown” and develops an bizarre abilities.

Early in the movie George (Travolta) is trying to win the affection of a new lady in town. She happens to be an artisan creator of wicker chairs, which are said to be pretty uncomfortable. So George offers to let her sell them at his store. And they sell out almost immediately. She’s thrilled and continues to create more and drops them off at his store. Unknown to her, George is buying all her chairs

The scene that struck me was not as relevant to the main story line as it was about relationships. It’s in a bar and some locals are discussing George’s situation. Doc (Duvall) is present and offers some advice:

chairsBaines: That’s all. It’s not like he really knew stuff. Just studied hard at chess and made us think he was changing but he never really changed at all. Ain’t that right Doc? He never really got any smarter. Doc?

Doc: Baines (pause) How’s your lady love?

Baines: We uh, we broke up.

Doc: Really? That’s too bad. Now George, he’s got a love at his side and she’s sticking with him. You know why? Because he bought her chairs. Pretty smart to me. Did you ever buy Lisa’s chairs?

Baines: (laughing) Gosh, Doc’s really drunk tonight.

Doc: Every woman has her chairs. Something she needs to put herself into, Baines. Ever figure out what Lisa’s chairs were and buy em? (pause) Nope. But you’re right about one thing, George hasn’t changed.

This is great relationship advice. Both personal and professional. And as a someone who has a chance to share a message with an audience, it’s essential.

If you ask successful speakers about the audiences with whom they connected and why it went so well, I would wager most will state “an understanding of the audience” would be one of their responses. Yes, you can spout facts and figures that are impressive and insightful, but unless they are relevant to the audience, it’s a waste of time.

Remember…every audience has “chairs”, something they care deeply about. And most likely, they’ve given you the honor of speaking because they believe you have something interesting and relevant to say about their “chairs”. Don’t disappoint them. Show you know and care about their “chairs”.

And as someone who has been honored to be married to the same lovely woman for 38 years, it’s good relationship advice as well.

Find your inner squirrel

I have a lot of trees around my home and have a great time watching the wildlife. Throughout the year I observe squirrels either hiding or seeking the food stuffs they depend on to survive. I had heard they aren’t as good as one might expect in storing and retrieving, so I did a little research and was amazed.

According to an study done at Berkley, a squirrel can remember 300-400 triangulations to locate the food they’ve hidden. In contrast, a human can only use 4 or 5 points to locate something they’ve tucked away. Maybe that’s why they say our digital folder structures should never go below 3 or 4 levels deep.

And with all of that, the average squirrel only locates 25% of what it’s hidden. What does that say about the human’s potential to find the stuff we’ve hoarded away?

So in respect to my inner squirrel, I created this presentation and post:

Enjoy…and happy hunting!

The 10 Commandments of TED Talks

I recently discovered a book titled “How to Deliver a TED Talk” by Jeremey Donovan. Now for anyone unfamiliar with, I warn you…once you go, there’s no turning back. To quote Jeremey, “TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to amplifying electrifying ideas from the domains of technology, entertainment and design.” And in the process, TED has developed a reputation as a hub and home to some of the best speakers and presenters on the planet. TED talks are a maximum 20 minutes long. And some of the best are under 10 minutes. But the content and delivery is often so engaging that you literally lose track of time. That’s why I offered the warning in the first place. But I’ve never regretted a minute that I spent listening to new ideas or experiencing new stories on Anyone familiar with TED and my material will attest that some of my best stuff is based on content originally discovered on TED. But this isn’t meant to be a TED commercial. Like Jeremey, I believe we can all learn not only from the stories, but from the storytellers.

TED has garnered its exceptional reputation by carefully selecting and vetting the talent they put on stage. And part of that defining process is what is known as the TED Ten Commandments. I had never seen them before and I recognize that a few of them may not easily translate to our own presentations and sales methods. For that reason, I’ve arranged the list in an order that I believe to be from the most relevant to our situation, down to those very specific to TED’s purpose.

  1. Thou Shalt Reveal Thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
    If you’ve ever pitched to someone and their response was “I’m not interested”, it was because you weren’t interesting. If you’re not exciting, they can’t be. BTW…everyone in the room wants you to be interesting. So it’s up to you to deliver. Record yourself and then listen. Would you find yourself interesting? If not, rework and repeat.
  2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wonderous New Thing, or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
    No one really wants to hear “if Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest”…unless they work for Facebook. Most everyone knows that. What your audience wants to hear is something unique…something fresh…something that makes them think.

Tips to enhance your Social “Signal to Noise Ratio”

Often people think that when you move to using social business practices, you’re just going to divert the mass of your inbox into some social stream. I was recently asked by a client for some tips (best practices) around social business…specifically around the concern for “a lot of junk showing up in the newsfeed”. Here is what I sent her.

NOTE: My response reflect how I use my enterprise social solution (IBM Connections)

Network with the people who have knowledge you can use (who you invite) or who work with you and can leverage your knowledge (who invites you).
If you go after numbers in your network, the noise level can cause issues.

Follow the people with whom you have specific relevant interest or current business need.
In IBM Connections you can network with someone and/or you can follow them. Our CEO, Ginni Rometty, doesn’t accept network invitations, so she’s not in my network. Yet I can “follow” her which notifies me of her social actions. I follow pertinent executives and I also use the “follow” feature for people on current projects that I want to keep focus on. When the project is over, I just “unfollow” them.

Tune your listening to what you’re trying to accomplish
In the “river of news” (our status updates), we can select to see the items from:

  • “I’m Following” (Updates for people and things I’m specifically following and responses to my own content),
  • “Status Updates” (From my network, people and communities) and
  • “Discover” (Updates outside my network, but suggested based on analytics, popularity, etc.)

This allows me to dial up the “signal to noise” ratio to meet my immediate interests.

If you find people or subjects too “noisy” and of little use, un-follow or un-network them.
Don’t think it’s a personal thing. It’s business. It’s your time. So use it wisely and don’t let the noise makers clutter your listening.

Use @ mentions only when necessary.
In IBM Connections, we can include an @ mention (ie. @Louis Richardson) in posts. These generate a notification to the person mentioned. This can be in the river of news or if preferred by the individual, it can generate an email notification of mention. In either case, it triggers a “look here” type action. Historic email is cursed because of these and social can likewise be abused. So change the way you communicate and only call specific attention to someone when you must….not when you can.

Change your thinking (and culture) from “Why should I share this” to “Why shouldn’t I share this”
Open conversations and sharing should be the default. Our current transaction based systems, like email, IM, etc. have taught us to limit the people to whom we send the message/answer/idea. That’s because from the receiving end, our inbox is a “to do list” that we don’t own. Social sharing is more about making information and ideas available…when needed. So sharing socially is not an imposition, it’s an open invitation.

As for what you post, if you find it interesting, it’s likely others will as well.
Again, you’re not imposing, you’re making it available. So post freely. I often post material that I think I’m probably the only one that might be interested. I do it so I can find it again when I need it. On many such occasions I’ve been surprised how many people have used and appreciated that material. Don’t try to figure out why it’s important or to whom it would be important…just put it out there to be discovered.

If you have other recommendations, please post them in the comments below. Also if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to assist you in finding the answers you need.

I wish I had a pencil and a piece of paper

I have a daughter, Brittany, who is currently loving life as a professional illustrator. But when she was 5 years old, we took her to Chattanooga, Tennessee and visited a popular attraction, Ruby Falls. The 145-ft. falls are in a cave, so the trip down builds anticipation. Upon arrival to the viewing area, the lights are turned out (which in a cave means pitch black) and music begins playing. Then the lights are turned back on and the falls are bathed in rich colors.

Amidst all the music and hoopla, I overheard my daughter simply say, “I wish I had a pencil and a piece of paper.”

She’s an artist and the majesty of what she was seeing, in her mind, could only be captured if she could but put it down on paper.

A similar event happened to me this past week at IBM Connect 2013.

I have always had a passion for the promotion of creativity in people and in our businesses. I have long believed that people are the center of our business and to connect with people we must reach them on their emotional level. I believe pictures are more powerful than words. I believe stories are more impactful than statements of fact. I believe in focusing on the “why” more than the “how” and “what”.

As I sat through the Connect Opening General Session, I was well impressed with the thought and product leadership being expressed on stage. Our product teams have done an awesome job in putting us in the market lead and our management team is working hard to make sure we leverage that leadership to help our customers succeed. And it is that leadership that has secured Kenexa as part of the IBM family.

When Rudy Karsan, Founder of Kenexa, took the stage…that was when I had my “I wish I had a pencil and a piece of paper” moment. As it turns out, I did. I had my iPad and Twitter, so I immediately reported on what I was hearing.

rudy tweet

Here is what he had to say: