conference InspirationApril

Inspiration April – Installment #1: F5 Expo

I’ve coined the fourth month of 2010 “Inspiration April” as I’ll be attending a pile of events from which I plan to glean gems and insights. It’s my cross-pollination in action.

Today was the first installment – I attended the F5 Expo. Here’s a quick summary of my experience and insights:

Experience first…

1. Wearing jeans was the best decision ever. Spent a good chunk of the day on the floor because of lack of seating.
2. I mind mapped on my laptop instead of on paper. I was able to keep up to the speakers and love that my notes are ready to be shared with my colleagues. I added light bulb icons to my key insights which helps me quickly filter when I’m looking over them (e.g. for this blog post).
3. I kept trying to connect to the wifi that didn’t exist (really? at a conference about social media etc?) and ended up draining my battery. Next time I’ll kill the wireless or use it more sparingly so I don’t end up forlornly plugged in along a random hallway.
4. Loved the suggested questions for when we’re meeting people during the day (ask what social media sites they’re on, share your Twitter handle). Very useful tip for other events to break people from the same-old “what do you do” intro.

On to the insights…

1. Tod Maffin was incredible. This is the second time I’ve seen him speak and he outdid himself with a very raw and thought-provoking keynote. My biggest take-away was when Tod asked the question how we, as managers, can reverse the damage our multi-tasking demanding world is inflicting on employees. He meant it literally, pointing to brain damage caused by multitasking, which I must investigate further. One solution was to create a culture where it is okay to ask for help. It’s not something typically encouraged at work and it was sobering to think of the unintended negative consequence on culture when managers don’t. Another great solution is to be crazy. He showed this Apple commercial as inspiration.
2. At the Social Media and Metrics panel, I liked the POST acronym used in approaching social strategy (reminds me of learning-related projects). Here’s more info on POST from Forrester.
3. I session-hopped over to Cloud Computing where I heard about something called the Patriot Act and how it affects what we can legally do ‘in the cloud’ here in BC. There is much talk in the learning world about cloud-based LMS‘ but this was the first time I had heard about any kind of legislation that might restrict options. More research necessary here.
4. One neat idea from the Video Marketing panel was a choose-your-own-adventure style video. We do this with e-learning already, but typically with graphics/text scenarios. I think this would translate really well to engaging employees in the customer experience. The other tidbit here was that we’re moving away from the lone viewer at their computer to more of a ‘living room’ experience. I think we need to be mindful of that dynamic inside organizations with future media productions.
5. The final keynote of the day was Malcolm Gladwell, who talked about how the internet beautifully takes advantage of the strength of weak ties, but how it lacks the necessary ingredients for true revolutions: strong ties and trust. It reminded me of what many folks, such as Chris Brogran, have been talking about. How we can start the connection online, but to really make it matter we have to connect in person. Then there was the recent video from Craig Newmark who is pondering the online trust problem. I also loved how Malcolm said that we can’t have both anonymity and trust, as while anonymity allows freedom of expression, it doesn’t facilitate freedom of action. I think that carries over into organizations. It’s hard to take action from anonymous information, but when you can get the right people face to face you have the opportunity to start working towards a new direction. Like this example from the brilliant folks at Anecdote.

This wraps my first installment of Inspiration April. Thank you to the people I met at #f5expo who added to my experience!

8 replies on “Inspiration April – Installment #1: F5 Expo”

Thanks for posting this, Amanda. It’s great to get the retrospective of someone who was there after watching it live on Twitter today.

I had no idea the Patriot Act affected how we do things here, but I suppose with such a huge American market for our services that it would only make sense. As someone who’s very particular about information provided to anyone who might share it with the US Government, it’s really disconcerting.

Tod’s brilliant. I think we both attended his Board of Trade talk on the Facebook generation and his message seems to be very much the same – be authentic, engaging and human and things will be fine.

I’m sorry to have missed Gladwell and some of the follow-up questions. The crowd seemed to be amazing and fairly brilliant for networking and engagement so I’m sure that was fantastic. Weak ties – not sure he’s written on that yet, but it’ll probably be the next book if it hasn’t appeared in the New Yorker yet.

“Another great solution is to be crazy. He showed this Apple commercial as inspiration.”

Tod Maffin did not ask anyone for help before he had his mental breakdown, which is probably how he came to realize that pride and keeping fears and insecurities to yourself is not a good idea.
He also learned that by sharing his own personal history of addiction and mental illness he’s able to earn about $5,000 each time speaking to an audience that listens passively and never questions the statements he makes.
How is Tod coping with his problems these days? By taking medication? Did anyone ask?
What is the message that Tod intended people take away from watching an old Apple commercial? That it’s OK to be crazy?
When is it good “to be crazy”? And when is it not?
Tod speaks of “Taking back the crazy” but never explains what that means or even what his definition of “crazy” is.

You need to ask yourself, Amanda, how much of what Tod Maffin says makes any sense at all.

Amanda, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really loved Tod’s talk… I absolutely resonated with his perspective that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, and the stigma around asking for help. The reality is that you can’t possibly do more than 1 thing at once well. It’s kind of like having a conversation with someone and 1 person is talking but the other is looking through you and thinking about something else. Sure they’re physically there but completely mostly disengaged and not adding optimal value to the conversation. I have worked with many different types of organizations and it’s crystal clear that people associate asking for help with incompetence, which is completely backwards if you want to drive innovation, creativity, engagement and the like. I have seen people end up isolated, alone and trapped because of this powerful stigma…… Tod nailed this perspective.

I also liked Malcolm’s talk as well but one thing that kind of stuck out for me during his talk is this… I interpreted his perspective of social media as being counterproductive to building trusting relationships with people. I would disagree with this because what social media does is enables people to easily access an absolutely huge global and highly flexible network. Social media is not an end all be all though…. if you think using social media on its own will build trusting relationships, this WILL NOT happen. This is where I agree with Gladwell. However, if you use it as a tool to start the conversation, then transitioning the relationship building to more intimate methods (e.g. face to face meetings) then it can be extremely powerful. Twitter has enabled me to build absolutely incredible relationships with business partners, potential clients and current clients. Without it, the strength of my network would be significantly lower than what it is today.

Jeff, I’m with you on Social Media starting the conversation. It’s done amazing things for my own network as well, but it’s because I took it to the level I have by taking conversations offline where I can.

That social media can be so many things – weak ties, strong ties; information-sharing; conversations; calls to action – is why Gladwell’s talk is so controversial, I think. Even seeing how people who were at F5 are from so many social media backgrounds and perceived the event in so many different ways, social media is anything but elementary.

Thanks for your comments, Jeff and Dave. I love how you described it, Dave: “It’s done amazing things for my own network as well, but it’s because I took it to the level I have by taking conversations offline where I can.”

I think that was the essence of Malcolm’s point. It’s okay to take advantage of the weak ties the online world facilitates beautifully. But if you want to start revolutions, you have to sit down and break bread, and turn weak ties into strong ones.

On that very point, Marc Stoibler discussed whether people were hurting environmental efforts through social media. I don’t recall him using the phrase “weak ties,” but he may as well have. People think that starting a Facebook group is impactful, but it’s just giving people the satisfaction of clicking and connecting – they don’t realize how weak that connection is.

That was great to watch – thanks for sharing. Marc’s stories from the Army example on are exactly what Malcolm was describing as ‘strong ties’. Interestingly enough though, Gladwell used Iran and Obama as less-than-positive examples of social media/true revolutions (describing them as “a mile wide but an inch deep” – and I don’t know enough about Iran to comment intelligently). It’s the brick-by-brick building of trust and commitment that are required for social change.

Also, I think that the other idea presented here without being stated is the myth that it takes huge numbers of people to create change. From both Marc’s examples and Malcolm’s speech, I’d argue that you just need a handful of 50ish of the right strongly-tied, committed people. How would that mental model change our approach to the revolutions we are trying to create? Food for thought.

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