Still in Love with Tech

A few weeks ago, I was quietly seated by a window in a noisy Cambridge Chipotle eating my burrito bowl.  It was a warm, sunny day and I was watching MIT students buzz between classes and enjoying the farmer’s market set up in the tents nearby.

I remember saying to my friend that I was sure I was the oldest person on that block that day by ten years.

I snapped this photo to capture the memory. It was more than the warm, sunny day and the activity, it was the “tech community” that I wanted to preserve. It occurred to me in that experience, that there is something unique about the type of individuals who are drawn to tech.

Tech is a big tent that extends to every race, religion, gender, ethnic background, age, and sexual orientation. Yes, of course we can argue about how career opportunities, advancement, and access to capital is still subject to the same prejudices as other industries, but the basic mastery of the skills– when it comes to 0’s and 1’s– is blind to human differences.

Spending time walking around MIT, and recently attending events at UCF, as well as participating on our Data Science board, I realized I’m still as much in love with tech as I’ve ever been.  I attended a Data Science Summit yesterday on the UCF Campus where more than one panelist and speaker made the comment, “This is a great time to be alive.” The inference was that there is so much possibility right now with the technology we have at our disposal, it’s almost as if so many of us who’ve been in this field for our entire careers have been waiting for this exact moment.

For that reason, I decided to reclaim my time with the ITSinsider blog.  I’m going to start writing about the areas that I’m interested in. It’s where I started a dozen years ago here on the web, and it led to some interesting places. Hope you come with me for the ride.

Are Social Practitioners and Evangelists Truly Different?

My friend, Alan Lepofsky, has always made this point, “Social people are different.  The rest of the world is not like us.” Ironically, Alan and I get into the most hair-splitting among our pro-social circle of friends, but I’ve come to understand he is absolutely right about this. “We” are a different breed.  The online spirit of generosity, kindness, sharing, transparency, a first-instinct of collaboration is unique to a small tribe that discovered and advocated for social technologies in the enterprise. When we try to introduce these tools to our friends, our family, new clients, other colleagues, it falls flat.  It’s “2.0 adoption” all over again. It’s made me wonder if we truly are different. Are our brains wired differently?  I’d love to test this with a social scientist. My hypothesis is we have a “giving” gene.

My French friend, Cecil Dijoux, whom I’ve come to know via the social web apparently sees the same phenomenon.  In this video, he refers to us as “Asbergers” which he picked up from the Silicon Valley HBO series where it was meant to be “weird.” Of course, Asberger’s is a serious condition on the Autism spectrum, but I grok the sentiment. “We recognize each other by the way we think and talk.”

It’s unusual to want to change the world, or to pursue a purpose with passion at work. It’s counter-intuitive to behave in a way that benefits a group vs. our own self-interest (exclusively).

I’ve always believed there were more of “us” than “them” if only we could get the message out to the rest of the world about the freedom and joys of working socially. Effectively, once you start working this way, it changes your worldview. You become more empathetic, less self-serving. Lately, I’ve become cynical. I never thought I’d lose my faith in humanity to do the right thing, but as the years go by, the more I think I simply just want to connect to the other “giving gene” people.

If you know what I’m talking to about, let’s connect. We may not be able to change the rest of them, but if we add more nodes to our team, we will have meshed together our own social network of like-minded, giving people. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Stop ‘Yer Sobbin’ – Texas Remix

So, I feel compelled to blog a little this weekend addressing the angst that is circulating around the social web on the death of e20/social business/etc.  I’m not going to dazzle you with brilliant insights on what’s happening, why things are difficult, why change has been hard to do.  I’ve chronicled a lot of these details on this blog over the years.  Having really been at the epicenter of some of the largest organizations who have been working on social transformation, I’ve been able to bear witness to all the challenges in doing this important work.

The recent negativity that occasionally pops up on the landscape does not deter me in the least.  It  just makes me feel bad for those who are giving up or moving on to more interesting or perhaps financially rewarding pastures in the technology landscape.  It shows me they weren’t in it for the long game.

More importantly, I’d like to to stop grousing about what hasn’t worked, and start thinking again about what can be.  How powerful this idea of social renovation and renewal can be to fix so many things that are broken in today’s enterprise.  I ran into an old friend recently and couldn’t help myself, but get preachy.  I told him to think about what he wants in life.  Think about the opportunity, the voice he has in the market and how he could make a real difference on systemic change if he wanted to. You really can’t change the world if you’re only a little interested.  Some people are just not interested at all.  And that’s okay.

But, if you’re one of those people who are in it for the long game, in it for the reasons that web 2.0/social drew you in originally, I urge you not to get discouraged.  Stop listening to the haters and the bitter “social change deniers.”  There are many, many, many people around the world who have a positive outlook and are inspired to deliver on the promises of how new thinking, organizational reboots, and liberating technology can truly move the axis and deliver stellar results.  It’s still early in this game.  Be part of the solution.

Going Rogue: Taking a Leap of Faith – in Humanity, the Social Web, and the Brilliance of Marshall Kirkpatrick

So, I’m alone again, naturally.*

I have been letting friends know over the past few weeks that I resigned from my incredibly great new position at 7Summits.  It was not them; it was me.  The more I got into the thick of the work, I realized I am far too independent for a real day job.  The past few “jobs” I’ve had at nGenera (now Moxie) and even with Dachis Group via the Social Business Council enabled me to work independently, tracking the market and educating the non-believers.  This is the real work that I love.  Although the affection for all things social is chilly these days, I believe in the market phenomenon more than ever.  I’ve been extremely fortunate to bear witness to some of the mind-blowing step changes that have taken place organizationally in some of the largest enterprises  in the world.  Yes, the pressure is on to deliver shareholder (and institutional) value, but the Trojan mice have been unleashed.  There is no turning back.  The benefits of the social revolution inside enterprises will deliver all the benefits my curmudgeonly EI brethren are seeking, as well as mine for making life on the planet better.  Like my friend Sameer says,

So, I may be racing (slowly) on a different track, but all lanes lead to the promised land that early “2.0 evangelists” were originally so pumped up about.  I know many who still are, in fact.  The passion around doing this has just taken on a more mature, more focused pragmatism.  Yet, I urge you, dear reader, to do a little soul-searching like I did over the holidays.  Do some reading on the Aaron Swartz tragedy.  It sobered me up and realigned my priorities.  Is it so wrong to want to change the world?  I don’t think so.

littlebirdThe good news is I can rest on a big data set of evidence that supports my ability to influence the conversation on what is happening in Social Business. (More on the #socbiz label in another post).  When I was interviewing to work with RWW (another gig that was just not for me), I met with Marshall Kirkpatrick at SXSW in 2009.  Sitting at a table in the noisy Austin Convention Center, he showed me a brilliant software tool that he developed to help him uncover who the influencers are in any category. Presumably, he used this to do his world-class reporting.  I remember being slightly afraid of him, but also in awe.  When Marshall finally left RWW last year, he put plans in place to launch Little Bird.  Little Bird is a powerful social media tool that identifies the “experts that most experts trust.”  He’s received great press coverage and VC backing from Mark Cuban.  The tool is really powerful and I urge anyone trying to find category influencers to sign up for the free trial.

As it turns out, according to Marshall’s algorithm, I’m the “expert” that most experts trust in Social Business.  I occupy the #1 position among the top 500 insiders on Social Business. Now, before everyone unfollows me on Twitter, I’ll qualify that by saying, what Little Bird does is something analogous to Google page rank.  It’s not that I’m the brainiest or most knowledgeable person in Social Business, it means that the most knowledgeable and brainy experts in Social Business are connected to me.  And there are a lot of them!  I celebrate every expert in this category and wish only for continued success of everyone in the space.  That actually includes the vendors.  Hence, you can see why I feel the need to maintain an independent voice in the market.

So, after I slogged through my soul-searching exercise over the holidays, I decided to put my science-based faith in the social web with its labyrinth of interesting nodes to ensure I won’t starve as I set out to be an independent blogger/researcher/advisor/solopreneur again.  I am looking at  a few interesting projects – one that is not even squarely in the social business space, but has a lot of appeal to me as a researcher in a bustling vertical market undergoing a lot of innovation.  I’m also working on the business plan for a startup that has me simply jazzed.  But, in the meantime, I need to pay the bills.  I’m openly accepting all offers for project work in my sweet spot.  I’m particularly interested in case studies and interesting stories about how social technologies are being applied to create big changes in the enterprise.

Finally, The ITSinsider blog will once again be tracking new players, technologies, and developments in the biz too.  I hope you wish me well, and that you too come around to #myPOV which is, of course, to #changetheworldFTW.  🙂


*How alone am I really?  LinkedIn tells me I am connected to 14,673,066+ professionals and 41,500 new people since Monday.  If I can’t find project work, then this whole social thang is a cruel ruse.  The odds are against it.  

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Working Out Loud*

It occurred to me recently that my blogging has all but slammed to a screeching halt.  Since the Council was bought by Dachis Group, I’ve barely managed to blog at all, and my tweeting has wound down considerably, as well.   This is not to say I’ve slowed down with social engagement, in fact, it’s the near opposite.   I man the command center at Council central on our Jive and Socialcast social sites, and I monitor Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook as well as our Dachis Group Yammer account all day.   I have a persistent chat going all day with my assistant on Skype, and I’m generally monitoring the social web for keywords I’m tracking via Google alerts.

I’m just not sharing a lot externally with my e20 neighbors outside of the Council, save for what I manage to post on Twitter or share via Facebook.  So, ironically, the social web has turned me anti-social.  I’m less transparent than I’ve ever been since I started blogging in 2006.  This is a peculiar and sad state of affairs, because I certainly know more now than I knew when I was blogging avidly.

All that being said, I am going to attempt to get back to blogging.  We debate a lot of important issues inside of the Council that deserve to be exposed to an external audience.  Another way we’re going to attempt to do this is via our new Podcast series that I announced this morning.  Of course, I have to respect the confidentiality of the members’ work-specific related issues, but the general trends we’re watching and trying to make sense of would benefit by some group discussion.

So consider this a short re-introduction.  I have a number of posts I’ve been mulling over.  I won’t waste a lot of time perfecting them, but will make every effort to stimulate some conversation.  Stay tuned.

*Work Out Loud is a great theme coined by our member @thebryceswrite

Social is as Social Does

One of the greatest joys of owning your own business is you get to break the rules when it’s warranted.  We have a hard and fast rule about Council membership that states only large enterprises can join with more than 10K employees.  Chris McGrath of ThoughtFarmer referred Ephraim Freed to me when we were first getting started.  I took one look at the Oxfam America website and immediately told Ephraim, “You’re in.”

In two different business contexts I’ve been asked recently what my personal goals are for my career.  In both instances, I simply stated, “I want to change the world.”  Now, that always merits a chuckle or a smirk.  But, the truth is, I’m serious.  In my small way, I think I can add to the collective voice of individuals who want to create a better “customer experience” living on our planet.

Today, Craig Cmehil is running a 24-hour marathon to raise money for Doctors without Borders.  I’ll be doing a segment at 11am ET on the Council, and I’ll be having a bit of fun with Dennis Howlett on “Enterprise 2.0 is a crock” at 1pm ET.  Please join us and do some social good today, and think about the larger implications of connecting a social planet.

Video of my interview with Ephraim.  (Sorry for quality; recorded on Skype.)