It’s time for you (and your firm) to realize your “Practical Genius”

Practical Genius” is one of those rare books that can change you. Make you think differently. Alter your course in life.

It can help you bring to life a simple, powerful idea:

“When you are a fully realized person – authentic and entirely visible to the world – you are capable of exceptional accomplishments in your work, in your community, and among your friends and family.”

What if you brought your whole self to work? What if your firm enabled its workforce to be “fully realized”?

You can. And they should.

The book

While a great book may have a few good ideas, this one has fifty. Specific techniques for identifying your goal and your assets. For building a network and marketing yourself. For creating an environment to sustain your genius.

Seth Godin, who’s encouraged millions of people to aim higher and “make a dent in the universe,” wrote the blurb on the cover:

“Positive, insightful, and generous, this book will go a long way to helping you realize that genius is a choice.”

I love that phrase. “Genius is a choice.” Gina Rudan, the author, does more than write about it. She lives it.

The author

I first met Gina two years ago in a class taught by Keith Ferrazzi. After the course, we exchanged contact information but that was it. I vaguely remembered she said was coaching people. She didn’t strike me as a coach (whatever that means – too pretty? too nice? too outgoing?), but I didn’t think much about it.

Then I got an email from her about her blog and her company, Genuine Insights(“Interesting,” I thought.)

Then I saw she had done interviews with people like Daniel PinkSuze OrmanEva Longoria(“Hmmm. How did she manage to meet those people?”)

Then I found out she created TEDxMIA and spoke at TED Global(“What?! Wow, that’s impressive!”)

And, most recently, she launched her book, replete with videos, books signings, promotional events. (“This lady is unstoppable.” I thought. “I can learn so much from her.”)

Now I see why Seth Godin would write a blurb for someone he didn’t know and hadn’t heard of. Because after reading her book, he saw that Gina is doing exactly what he talks about. Trying to make her own dent in the universe. Successfully battling the lizard brain. And shipping. And shipping. And shipping.

You and your firm

In realizing your practical genius, you may create a new career like Gina did.

But you may not have to. Many firms, particularly large, global enterprises, already have an amazing array of people and opportunities. It’s just been too difficult to connect the two. And that’s where firms can do more.

As I wrote in my first post:

“…the essence of good management – of leadership – is to make jobs fulfilling. That this is the best way, by far, to increase productivity.

…Gallup was right in asserting that increased engagement at work boosts productivity. They said disengagement costs $300 billion in the US. I think they’re off by a factor of at least 3.”

And so it’s in companies best interests to help people realize their practical genius. To teach people the skills they’ll need to build relationships across the firm, shape their reputation, and gain access to opportunities that allow them to bring their whole self to work.

You’ll need to take the first step. To want to make a difference. To accept that before you can change the work or change the world, you may need to change yourself.

While genius is indeed a choice, it’s one that requires the courage to try and sometimes fail. The hunger to learn while sharing what you know. The willingness to help others while being humble enough to accept help.

It’s not easy but it’s worth it. For you – and for your firm.

Top 10 signs your social business effort isn’t about business

When it comes to using social tools and practices in the enterprise, it’s easier to preach than to practice. Easier to evangelize than to change how people work.

Ask yourself: Is your social business effort about business? Or is it about you?

Top 10 signs 

How many of these signs are familiar to you? (Alas, I scored 6 out of 10.)

  1. You’re the most active user of your social business platform.
  2. You’ve made “Social Media” a part of your job title.
  3. You’ve said “Not now, kids, I’m working!” while tweeting.
  4. Most of your time at work is spent on “raising awareness.”
  5. The link to your blog is in your email signature.
  6. After a presentation, you immediately check your Twitter mentions.
  7. You refer to social business conferences as “the circuit.”
  8. You know your Klout score. (And you’ve tweeted it.)
  9. You’re already thinking about the book you’ll write.
  10. You Google yourself – a lot.

Striking a balance

Sure, part of the job is using and promoting new capabilities. It’s interesting and exciting. And much nicer than dealing with changing people’s behavior. With regulations. With measuring results.

But it’s a trap. Focus instead on changing the work. If you do that well, there will be plenty to tweet about.

A simple guide to integrating your social business platform

Recently, I sat with a group of experienced social business practitioners talking about integration. We were each describing how we wanted our vendor to integrate with systems and data we already had.

And it was chaos. Or, more accurately, Babel.

Because we couldn’t understand each other. We were all using the word “integration” to mean very different things, describing it as both essential and to be avoided. As something requiring hardcore engineering and not requiring any.

Finally, though, we came up with a simple framework. A guide that can help you think through what you need – and what you want to avoid – as you pick a platform and integrate it into your firm.

Why is integration important?

The reason we were so focused on integration is because it’s the key to making your platform relevant.

As Sameer Patel writes:

“when it comes to different strands of collaboration, I lean towards the kind that calls for injecting the needed business context that makes collaboration purposeful…[where] meaningful events can be drawn in from an organizations BI, CRM and other Business Applications that provide the needed context that often invokes collaboration in the first place”

In short, you don’t buy a social business platform for blogging and tweeting. You buy it so you can change how people work. And to do that, you need to integrate it with the systems and data that people already use.

3 classes of integration

Yet many practitioners have found this kind of integration to be expensive and complicated while making upgrades difficult.

So is integration bad or good?

The key is to recognize that there are different kinds of integration and that they vary wildly. They differ in terms of work is required. The level of technical complexity. The importance in driving adoption and business value.

They each have their pros and cons, and you have to choose wisely.

Complex vendor integration

Each social platform vendor typically targets a small number of popular enterprise  systems for deep, complex integration. Systems like Sharepoint and Outlook or SAP and Salesforce. The goal is seamless data exchange and 2-way interaction (e.g., saving Outlook mail as a social platform discussion or presenting Outlook calendars in a community site).

Pro:  Choosing a platform that’s well-integrated to a widely used application in your firm can be the fastest way to make your social business platform relevant and useful. It’s extremely difficult work on the vendor side but relatively straightforward for the customer.

Con: It can be hard to evaluate the quality of a vendor integration without using it. Every vendor may integrate with Sharepoint, for example, but only some will let you search documents by content or save to Sharepoint directly. Those details can make a big difference.

Custom integration

If your vendor integrates with a handful of common applications, what do you do with the 100s or even 1000s of other applications in your firm?

You can still integrate them, but you’ll have to do most of the work yourself. Most social business platforms allow some low-level access (or APIs) to their functions and data. That’s what makes them platforms instead of mere applications.

Pro:  APIs make it possible to have your platform interact with almost any system you already have. That means your social business platform can be relevant to almost any workflow in your company.

Con: The work required is complicated and expensive. And each extra line of  code is a bit of burden you have to carry with you for the life of the platform.

Simple integration

Finally, there’s a broad but shallow class of integration that involves almost little or no code by the customer. This class includes simple ways to share any internal or external website. (Think of the little “t” or “f” you see on every web page for Twitter and Facebook.) Or simple hooks that let you navigate easily from your social platforms to other apps and back again.

Pro: These mechanisms are easy to implement and easy to use. And by making it convenient to share any website, the social business platform can be much more visible across the firm.

Con: This kind of integration won’t meaningfully change workflows. But convenience and ubiquity can dramatically improve adoption.

Your most important connection

The next time you’re thinking about integration, think carefully about the kind of integration you really need and want.

  1. Identify the handful of most important platforms at your firm and examine those vendor integrations thoroughly.
  2. Review the APIs but defer using them (and incurring a maintenance burden) until you have a successful, mature implementation of your social platform.
  3. Look for simple ways to integrate (website sharing and small hooks between applications) as these are easy ways to drive adoption.

And know that all of this will change in 6 months. With each release, the vendors can significantly change their integration strategy and capability

So, in addition to investigating the 3 classes of integration, your most important integration work might be with other customers.

Their experience in the field will be your best guide as to what works and what doesn’t. What to focus on and what to avoid. And that can be key to accelerating the changes you hope to bring about.

The best social business platform

There are plenty of people analyzing social business platforms, comparing features, roadmaps, and companies.

They’re all missing something.

As you embark on a social business effort, there will be more vendors and their products will look increasingly similar.

Your most important platform won’t be any particular product. It will be the community of customers who use it.

The vendors don’t have the answers. The practitioners do.

This past week, I was at JiveWorld along with over 1000 other customers and prospective customers.

I heard from dozens of companies like T-Mobile, Pearson, McAfee, Yum!, and Avon. They’re all using Jive to truly change how they work. And they provided compelling stories with real measures and real ROI, covering literally millions of users and millions of dollars.

Yet many more companies were struggling with a wide range of challenges and questions. Many attended a Bootcamp session where I spoke about ways to bootstrap your social business efforts and Claire Flanagan talked about what she’s learned in her fantastic, multi-year social business effort at CSC. (That’s me in the photo with Gia Lyons and our makenaizou).

The questions afterwards, though, weren’t about Jive or technology. They were about people and culture and business practices.

“Where do I start?”

“How do I deal with cultural and organizational issues?”

“How do I get people to change behavior?”

“How do I generate measurable commercial value?”

If you’re looking to the vendor for help here, you’re looking in the wrong place. Even the best professional services group won’t have the deep experience that comes from being on the line and living through the challenges over time. (And even if they did, you wouldn’t want to pay them each time).

Your own peer support group

Whatever vendor you choose, the best support you can get is from other customers you know well enough to call.

There are some great customer networks out there. In addition, though, you can and should complement your existing network with a peer support group.

A peer support group is small, typically 3 to 5 people from other firms. And it’s intimate. It goes beyond making connections to building deep relationships. Beyond sharing best practices to caring for and helping your peers.

Too many people wait for the vendor to broker such connections. Why? You can start now.

Reach out to customers in your city. Meet regularly in person while you interact frequently online. Understand who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish. Share what’s working and not working. Help each other. Make it personal.

When facing the hundreds of challenges that every social business effort faces, it helps to have friends. Building personal bonds in a peer support group is the best way to dramatically accelerate your learning and increase your chances of success.

Good karma at a conference?

Normally, I wouldn’t think such close, personal cooperation across companies would be possible. But the JiveWorld conference was unlike anything I’d ever attended. The difference was more than just great content. Or the great venue.  Or the entertainment. (No link. It was in Vegas, after all.)

The difference was the attitude of the customers.

People there genuinely like the company and it’s product. They like the people that work there. And – here’s the most important part – they like and want to help the other customers succeed.

JiveWorld felt like a real community. A network of people who care about the success of the overall movement as much as they do about their own firm. People who are fully invested in changing the work – making it better for both companies and the individuals in them.

That sense of community is an opportunity for you.

It’s your platform. It’s your strength. Build on it.

Want to accelerate change? Embrace the org chart

The biggest barrier to enterprise change isn’t technology or regulations or the traditional hierarchy. It’s uncertainty about who decides what.

Particularly in companies pursuing social business projects, you’ll often hear “I’m not sure we can, so we’d better not.”

Removing that uncertainty involves an ironic twist. Because even as social business efforts try to flatten the hierarchy, they also need to embrace it.

“We too often mistake the way we decide for the way we work.”

In a post from the early days of the social business movement, Bertrand Duperrin articulated the difference between the goals and needs of enterprise 2.0. The goal involves changing the way people people work. But the need is for those changes to become implemented and institutionalized. And for that, decisions need to be made.

Are we allowed to put this data on our profile? Can we formally adopt this change to company policy? Does the workers’ council need to approve this? How will we get the resources we need?

These questions (and hundreds like them) all need answers before changes can really take root in an organization and become the new way of doing things.

The work itself may become more network-based and less hierarchical, but to get answers to questions like those above, you need decisions from specific people with specific responsibilities.

No middle management, no change.

That’s one of the reasons why there are limits to grassroots efforts.  As much as you need to build and engage a tribe within your organization, that tribe tends to hit a brick wall when it comes to things that traditional hierarchies do very well like sign a contract or pay a invoice.

Yet top-down support has its limits, too. While support from senior management is helpful, the necessary decisions tend to be made further down the org chart. And the messages and influence of top management tend to get diluted as they’re cascaded down the ranks.

To change the work, you need to be close to the work, to understand it, while also having the authority to allocate resources and address policy issues.

And so it’s middle management that you need to embrace.

An example

Do you want to change how HR works? Or IT or Operations or Sales? You need people in those divisions who can affect both policy and resources. Not just the CEO and not just the grassroots. But people in each area who can make decisions.

One proposal, particularly useful at larger firms, is to establish collaboration boards at the division level. These include people with both a passion and a knowledge for the work – not just the boss but line managers within the division – organized in a simple governance structure with a few specific responsibilities:

  1. deciding on the problems the division is trying to solve: e.g., reducing service calls through increased crowd-sourcing of answers or increasing role proficiency via communities of practice)
  2. agreeing on roles and responsibilities within the division: identifying who, in addition to the grassroots volunteers, will be made accountable to participate in solving the selected problem and be mandated to make further decisions
  3. agreeing on measures
  4. monitoring progress and making adjustments

While the words governance and collaboration don’t often go together, structures like these collaboration boards at the right levels can clarify who decides what.

“Can you have your hierarchy and network too?”

This may seem at odds with the spirit of social business efforts. After all, they’re typically associated with a self-organizing, emergent, network-style of getting things done. And so Andrew McAfee, author of “Enterprise 2.0,” tackled the question: “Does or should the network render the hierarchy obsolete?”

His straightforward answer was “No.”

Rather, the new form of management is “a fantastic complement” to the more traditional ways of getting things done. “You don’t have to abandon roles, job titles, and chains of command.” In fact, you need those things to implement the kinds of changes the social business movement is after in the first place.

As Bertand Duperrin also said “enterprise 2.0 is the ally of a hierarchy that want itself to be agile and efficient.”

Don’t fight your ally. Instead, use it to accelerate the changes you want to bring about.