I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few years discussing how organizations can more effectively engage with the communities to which they belong. And one of the things I often mention is the role of a community ambassador—a person who represents the organization or brand in communities outside its own walls.
This month, I’m playing a bit of a community ambassador role myself. I wrote an article entitled The Innovative Power of Communities that appears in the July Edition of T+D Magazine. The magazine is a publication of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), an association with more than 38,000 members in 100 countries.
I haven’t historically been a part of the training and development world, but I’m hoping this article becomes the starting point for a conversation with folks in this field about how we might enable our organizations to better collaborate with the communities that they interact with.
Check out the article, and let me know what you think.
Last week, I watched The Power of Introverts, an excellent TED Talk by Susan Cain (she also has a book out on the same subject called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).
In her talk, which has been viewed almost two million times since it was posted last month, Susan makes a compelling case that the open, collaborative world we embrace today is not always set up to harness the best work from introverts.
As we’ve moved toward more open office plans, collaborative processes like design thinking, and into a digital world now dominated by the word “social,” Susan wonders who is looking out for the introverts? Should introverts feel guilty about wanting to do their thinking and working alone? And can introverts do great work in group settings?
I spent more than a decade working in the inherently collaborative world of open source software. I regularly lead brand positioning and strategy projects as open, collaborative, social exercises involving entire communities of people in the process. So Susan’s talk made me ask myself a tough question:
By emphasizing a collaborative, social process am I risking leaving introverts—and their best ideas—behind?
It’s no secret that I am a life-long introvert myself. I am much more comfortable writing or reading a blog post in my living room and discussing it via comments or Twitter than I am sitting and talking about it with someone over coffee or, worse, at a social gathering like a party or a conference.
So I get where Susan is coming from. Deeply.
In her TED Talk, she at one point pleads, “Stop the madness for constant group work.” When she said this, it hit me pretty hard. The first thing that came to my mind was the one gazillion design thinking ideation sessions I’ve either run or participated in over the last 7 or 8 years.
I’ve personally never had much trouble speaking up during ideation/brainstorming sessions. But I also suspect I am a relatively mild introvert compared to others I know. I started to wonder what the hard-core introverts were thinking during these sessions (and if you were one of them, feel free to tell me below in the comments).
Did they feel like they were being talked over by extroverts? Did they feel like they were out of their element, or needed more time to process their thoughts before blurting them out and having them recorded on the wall? Would they have preferred to contemplate on their own instead of thinking socially as part of a group?
Then another thought stuck me: I’ve met a lot of software engineers over the years, and while not all of them are introverts, many of them are. Frankly, I don’t think too many extreme extroverts could stand to sit in their office and stare at a computer screen all day. But for some introverted software developers, this is bliss.
Yet open source software is developed in a collaborative, social process… run in many cases by introverts.
Why does that work?
For me at least, the answer comes down to the difference between virtual and in-person collaboration. Open source software developers do much of their collaborating online. Often this is because they are geographically dispersed around the world. But I’ve also seen developers sitting two feet away from each other communicating via instant messages or email.
Online collaboration has two key advantages over in-person collaboration for introverts:
1) It allows them to avoid stressful in-person social interactions.
2) It allows them to take their time, contemplate, and think deeply before responding.
Over the past two years at New Kind, I’ve personally been doing less and less in-person design thinking ideation sessions, instead hosting more open, collaborative sessions online. Sometimes they are efforts like the hackathons I’ve run for the Management Innovation Exchange that involve hundreds of people collaborating from all around the world. Other times they are client projects where the collaborating happens via Basecamp or another online tool.
I’ve found I enjoy facilitating sessions online much more than in-person sessions, and I think it suits my personality better. Because the collaboration happens asynchronously, I can take my time crafting thoughtful responses and generating ideas. I can wait until I’m in the right frame of mind to participate, and most importantly, I can work with others, yet be alone at the same time.
I suspect some of these same advantages also translate to participants in online group sessions as well. And for this reason, perhaps many introverts are more comfortable in collaborative projects online than in person. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen emerge from online collaborative exercises come from people who usually remain completely silent in meetings.
In many cases, online collaborative projects provide the best of both worlds—you can collaborate and build off the ideas of others, but still take the time to process your thoughts before you add them (and as a special bonus, you don’t have the stress of in-person social interaction).
If you consider yourself an introvert, I’d love to hear about your experiences participating in collaborative projects online vs. in person. Do you agree with Susan Cain’s assessment that collaborative group projects are not designed to get the best out of introverts? Do you find yourself making better contributions and contributing more in online projects? Or are online collaborative groups just as bad for you as in-person sessions, and you’d rather just work completely on your own?
I’d love to hear what you think.
A new book comes out tomorrow entitled Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by MIT professor of economics Daron Acemoglu and Harvard professor of government James A. Robinson.
In the New York Times Magazine yesterday, Adam Davidson wrote a great piece about it. I pre-ordered the book and look forward to reading, but in the meantime, the New York Times article hints at some key conclusions the authors reach. From the article:
“…the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy… when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help… If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer.”
A relatively simple concept: Nations that give citizens opportunities to improve their lives—to create value for themselves—give them the incentive to create value—both for themselves and for the nation collectively.
According to the summary on the authors’ website, the book highlights examples of the theory in action around the world and throughout history, “from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa.”
So how might this theory apply to the study of how organizations can build passionate and sustainable brand communities? If we think of brands as nations, what might make them fail or see great success?
Michael Porter wrote a now-famous piece in HBR last year entitled Creating Shared Value that to me articulates the business equivalent of the principle. Here is how Wikipedia describes Porter’s concept of creating shared value:
“The central premise behind creating shared value is that the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent. Recognizing and capitalizing on these connections between societal and economic progress has the power to unleash the next wave of global growth and to redefine capitalism.”
I think there is a strong connection here, and I would frame it as simply as this:
Brands (and nations) that exist only to extract value from their communities are, in the long run, less competitive and less sustainable than brands (and nations) that exist to create and share value with their communities.
Think about the brands you interact with on a daily basis:
– Which of them are clear value extractors (i.e. they unabashedly exist in order to extract as much money as they can)?
– Which of them are extractors in “shared-value clothing” (i.e. they hide their true selves behind a veneer of shared value)?
– Which of them truly create and share value with the communities that care about them?
If you are like me, some specific organizations immediately come to mind when you see the three categories above. Humor me for a second as I remix the quotes I shared from the New York Times article earlier, but putting them in a brand context:
“…the strength of an organization’s brand community is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average community member shares in the overall success of the organization and community… when an organization prevents the average community member from profiting from its work, no amount of PR, advertising, or charitable giving seems to help… If organizations give even their average community members some shot at becoming more successful — through providing innovative products, experiences, and connections to new people or opportunities — those community members will do what it takes to make themselves, the organization, and the overall brand community richer.”
I suspect that organizations interested in building passionate brand communities have a lot to learn from Why Nations Fail.
And I’ll let you know what I personally learn once I’ve had a chance to read it.
Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.
How to find brand ambassadors
Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.
While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.
After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.
Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.
Creating brand ambassadors from scratch
If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.
Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.
Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand
You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.
You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.
As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.
Brand ambassador philosophy
Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.
Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.
Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.
Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.
Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.
So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.
If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
A few weeks ago at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara my friends at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX) announced the Management 2.0 Hackathon.
The hackathon is a large-scale collaborative effort where folks from all around the world are joining together to develop a set of innovative management hacks that might help fix what is broken about the way our organizations operate today.
Over the past few weeks, almost 450 people have signed up. So it looks like it is going to be a lot of fun.
Today it is finally time to get started. If you haven’t signed up yet and are interested, it is very easy—just go here to create your account, then review the orientation materials and head straight to the Sprint #1 instructions.
If you want to get a taste of what we are covering in Sprint #1, here’s a video introduction to the sprint from Gary Hamel.
Over at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX), part of my role as Community Guide is to test some innovative ways to work with MIX community members to reinvent the culture and structure of management within their organizations. We like to think of what we are doing as hacking management.
It was in this spirit that earlier this year we piloted our first ever MIX Management Hackathon. A management hackathon is a short, intense, coordinated effort to develop useful hacks (innovative ideas or solutions) that can be implemented by organizations to overcome barriers to progress and innovation. We recruited a team of 60 volunteers from around the world to join us.
Our goal with this hackathon? To deeply and quickly explore the concept of communities of passion. What are they? How do they form? What hinders their growth? And how can we overcome these barriers? By the end of the Hackathon, we hoped to develop a solid set of management hacks: “source code” that could be used by anyone interested in overcoming the barriers preventing their own organizations from becoming communities of passion.
As it turns out, our hacking went pretty well. Two of the hacks collaboratively developed by members of the MIX Hackathon team were among the 20 finalists in the recent Harvard Business Review/McKinsey Management 2.0 Challenge on the MIX (see Free to Fork by David Mason, Jonathan Opp, and Gunther Brinkman and Massive Storytelling Sessions by Alberto Blanco, Alex Perwich, Jonathan Opp, and Tony Manavalan).
So we took the collaborative process a step further and wrote a report with our findings, which was just published on the MIX last night (you can read Polly LaBarre’s blog post announcing the report here).
If the subject or the process sounds interesting, you can download the report as a PDF here.
Or, if you’d like to participate in a hackathon yourself, you are in luck! We just announced a new Management 2.0 Hackathon here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara yesterday.
I want to thank the each of the members of the Communities of Passion hackathon team for their meaningful contributions. I’d also like to do a special shout out to those who took the time to collaboratively author this final report, which I believe will be a helpful resource for anyone interested in enabling communities of passion in or around their organization.
MIX Hack Report Authoring Team:
Josh Allan Dykstra
MIX Communities of Passion Hackathon Contributors:
Sinan Si Alhir
David R. Koenig
Juan (Kiko) Suarez
Earlier this year, some of you joined me for the Communities of Passion Hackathon Pilot over on the Management Innovation Exchange. It was a really great experience—I met some wonderful folks, and we did some pretty interesting hacking (I’ll share the results of our work later this week).
Today, here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, the MIX announced a brand new hackathon, which we are calling the Management 2.0 Hackathon. In this project, we’ll be exploring how we can harness the principles of the Web to build organizations that are fit for the future.
Sound interesting? If you want to learn more about it, go read the announcement on the MIX here, then sign up and join us! It’s going to be a lot of fun.
In the last month, two new friends of mine took the time to write reviews of The Ad-Free Brand on their blogs.
I thought I’d take a few minutes today to say thanks. As someone who reads a lot of books, I know that it is a big investment of time to read someone’s book. But then, on top of that, to make the time to collect and write down your thoughts to share with others is really meaningful.
So, in saying thanks to Eugene and Terri, I thought I’d share a bit about each of them here. They both do great work, and if you enjoy reading what you see here on my blog, you might enjoy hearing more about their ideas and projects as well.
First, a few words about Eugene.
I met Eugene after writing about his work leading the Wikimedia Strategic Planning project (articles here on the MIX, Fortune, and opensource.com). I was truly blown away by the open, collaborative approach that he and Philippe Beaudette of the Wikimedia Foundation took to the project, involving over 1000 volunteer contributors in the effort.
Over the past few months, Eugene has been hard at work building his new company, Groupaya, which often works on massively collaborative projects like the one he helped the Wikimedia Foundation run. Here is the positioning statement from the Groupaya website:
“Groupaya specializes in helping groups, be they teams, organizations, networks or nations, more skillfully work together to create their desired future.”
If you are interested in learning more about the the sort of projects Groupaya is working on, you can follow their blog here. And if you happen to live in the San Francisco area, consider joining them to share ideas at one of their informal Thursday brown bag lunches.
I met Terri Griffith through her contributions to the MIX Hackathon Pilot project (which we just finished, I’ll be sharing the final report on it in the next week). Terri is a professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, and takes a particular interest in what her bio refers to as the “technology of work” (a phrase I loved).
As it turns out, she and I were both working on writing books at the same time, and her new book The Plugged-In Manager was just released a few weeks ago. I read the book a few days after it came out and the concepts in it really resonated with me. Here’s what I said in my review on Amazon:
The Plugged-In Manager is one of the most thought-provoking and *current* management books I’ve read in years. Terri Griffith’s position as professor of management at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley puts her in an ideal location to learn from and connect with some of the top management innovators in the world today.
There is nothing traditional about her worldview. Terri marries some of the core principles that define success in a world shaped by the Internet–transparency, sharing, collaboration, rapid prototyping–with a deliberate and repeatable approach that current and aspiring managers can use to ensure they make effective decisions in a rapidly-changing landscape.
A few particular strengths of this book: 1) it provides a set of well-designed, repeatable practices that will allow managers to quickly and easily begin to put theory into practice 2) it shares detailed, personal stories from managers at some of the most innovative organizations in the world, including Zappos, Nucor, IBM, Cisco, and Intuit 3) It includes a series of scenario-based assessment tools that will allow you to test how well your current approach matches that of the “plugged-in managers” she has researched. Quickly learn how far you’ve come (or how far you have to go).
If you are looking for ways to be a more effective manager in an Internet-enabled world, spending a few hours reading this book will be an excellent investment of your time.
The best 21st century brands won’t be built on advertising alone. Here’s why:
Ask Delta Airlines.
Or ask BP.
The problem isn’t your marketing. The problem is that, when it comes to your brand, your customers aren’t just listening to you anymore; they are listening to everyone who is talking about your brand.
You know this.
But if so many people are aware that the world has changed, why has the way most organizations allocate their marketing and communications time and money not changed?
My advice? Instead of focusing only on customers and prospects, take a more holistic approach where you engage all of the people who care about your brand: what I refer to as the brand community. (I spend a lot more time sharing ways to do this effectively in The Ad-Free Brand.)
In a world where every person on the planet has the power to change the fate of your brand (whether they spend money with you or not), the brand community has to be seen as more than just customers.
For some more from me on this subject, check this out:
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
One of my business partners at New Kind, David Burney, is an exceptional facilitator of design thinking sessions. David introduced me to design thinking and the work of IDEO (where many of the concepts behind design thinking were developed and applied to the business world). David taught me everything I know about facilitating projects and sessions using a design thinking approach.
At the beginning of any design thinking project, David shares a set of rules that help get every participant on the same page. The rules apply to everyone (including executives) and help create an optimal environment for creativity. If you are planning to run a project using a design thinking approach, you might want to consider sharing these rules with your group before you get started. I’ve used this list many times, and I promise, it really helps keep things on track.
1. Avoid the devil’s advocate: The devil’s advocate is someone who (purposely or accidentally) shoots down the ideas of others without taking any personal responsibility for his actions. The devil’s advocate often begins his objection with the phrase “Let me be the devil’s advocate for a second…”. The devil’s advocate often intends to be helpful by pointing out flaws in an idea, but ultimately this focuses people’s attention on what won’t work rather than exploring unexpected ways that it might work.
2. Make agendas transparent: Every participant should make their personal agendas as clear as possible.
3. Leave titles at the door: No one person’s ideas are worth more than anyone else’s.
4. Generate as many ideas as possible: During ideation, you are not trying to generate the best ideas; you are trying to generate the most ideas.
5. Build on the ideas of others rather than judging them: If someone else has an idea you like, build on it. If you don’t like an idea, share another one rather than critiquing.
6. Stay on time: Don’t let your ideation session spiral out of control. Each ideation session should be timed and should have a clear ending point.
7. State the obvious: Sometimes things that can seem obvious reveal great insight from their simplicity.
8. Don’t sell or debate ideas: Selling and debating ideas takes time away from generating new ideas.
9. Stupid and wild ideas are good: Sometimes the craziest ideas lead to the best ideas.
10. DTA stands for death to acronyms: Avoid acronyms—they are exclusionary because people who don’t know what they stand for will quickly be lost. If you must use an acronym, write what it stands for somewhere everyone can see it. Keep a running list of all acronyms used during the project or session.
11. Always understand in which stage of the process you are: When you are ideating, you are not critiquing ideas. But when ideation is over and you begin the process of selecting the best ideas, you’ll need to discuss the merits of each idea in a more traditional, analytical way.
12. Play is good, have fun: The more fun you are having as a group, the more creative ideas you’ll generate.
If you’d like to learn more about design thinking and how you can use it in your projects, I recommend any of the following books.
From the amazing team at IDEO:
– The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
– Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley
– Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown
Other great books to consider:
– The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin
– Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Thomas Lockwood
If so, you can find more tips about how to employ a collaborative approach to building brands in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).