Twitter Time

My pal Rochelle was up visiting me. Well, actually, she was attending the A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium (aka, the Latornell), and staying over at my place to keep from driving back to the city. This meant I got all the benefits of attending the conference by debriefing her before she went upstairs for bed. Gotta love it!

We covered a lot of ground in two nights of intense discussions. The conference was very science based, and Rochelle is more interested in program design and development, as well as presentation delivery and creative design than pure science. That being said, there were some highlights that made her sit up and notice, tweet about and learn from.

Rochelle hob nobbing with conference attendees. Lucky Commander Hadfield!

Rochelle hob nobbing with conference attendees. Lucky Commander Hadfield!

Much of what she shared intrigued me as we bounced from topic to topic. I’ll leave many of them for her, such as “How to deliver a brilliant science based presentation”, or “Story Mapping and its future”. But what I can’t leave alone is our discussion about Twitter!

There were 900 delegates at the three day conference, and if you look at the Twitter feed, you’ll see very few people were talking about it. https://twitter.com/ADLatornell. But the number of tweets is not my concern. It is the notion of tweeting to get messages across to the public, to interested parties, to clients, to whomever. Twitter is a powerful tool in the arsenal of social media that can really, truly make a difference.

What I find most intriguing about Twitter is not its agility or its impact, but rather its enforced brevity. 140 characters. That’s it. If you have something you want to say, share or promote, you have 140 characters with which to do that. And that’s all.

Pause for a moment. Consider something you have recently written. How long was it? If it was a memo, did you ramble around before you got to the point? Did you provide an introduction, a body and a conclusion? Most importantly, was it more than 140 characters?

Ro sat in my armchair and we brainstormed ideas about communications and how her writing has changed since the advent of Twitter. Or rather, since she started using Twitter. Suddenly, she has to consider her own brevity. Twitter demands that you capture the essence of your ideas in a few sentences, but also direct the impact of your message so that readers or followers will sit up and take notice. She’s been able to focus and refine her writing to ensure a punch, a story, and an impact.

I’m working with Natural Resources Canada right now. The language of science and policy in that organization can be long winded and complex. Yet to be successful and make a difference with the readers and listeners, I need to be able to engage new communities within the broader public with those science based projects and campaigns. My own stories and how I share them need to be revisited. There are lessons hidden in those 140 characters that I haven’t found yet! But I’m trying!

(p.s. – this is 520 characters)

My Twitter ID (or, my Blowfish impersonation).

My Twitter ID (or, my Blowfish impersonation).

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Decision factory worker or freelancer?

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail’s Report on Business had an interesting article about decision factories, by Harvey Schacter. “We associate factories with blue-collar work. White-collar workers – today’s knowledge workers – operate out of offices and laboratories. But Roger Martin, a professor and former Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says they also are factory workers, toiling in “decision factories.”

Martin says that when a company announces layoffs of 5,000 or 10,000 people after years of building up that knowledge corps, what is astounding is how few consequences these big layoffs appear to have on the organization.

He’s right, of course, simply in the sense that the impact of those lay offs doesn’t reverberate throughout the halls of those companies for long. In short order, the gaps are filled and the same quantity of work resumes.

Two inhabitants of a decision factory...and a bear.

Two inhabitants of a decision factory…and a bear.

What is the message here for those of us who work in the consultation and facilitation industry, and don’t work in these large “decision factories”? It might actually be a good message, to be honest. I run my own business. I work closely with clients to run workshops, facilitate meetings, and provide educational and soft skill training opportunities. I deliver services for these decision factories, and those services don’t stop being required just because staff numbers are reduced. Perhaps that’s one of the joys of being independent. One company may not need me full time, but a lot of companies need me part time.

Martin continues with these thoughts about the decision factory workers: “Their raw materials are data, either from their own information systems or from outside providers. They engage in production processes – called meetings – that convert this work to finished goods in the form of decisions. And they participate in post-production services: following up on decisions.”

Decision factories require the services of someone to help them better engage in their production processes, and to ensure they have the right skills to participate in post-production services. Meaning there will be a demand for both the facilitation end of my business, and the training end of my business. This is definately a win/win for me!

I admit, there are times when I look at friends who have “real” jobs, those that come equipped with a dental plan, a pension, paid vacations and regular pay cheques. And there is a certain wistfulness that I feel when I think about their work week…imagine, working the majority of your time Monday through Friday? Being a freelance consultant means a high degree of uncertainty and down time mixed with mad, frantic work weeks. It means waiting to hear from clients, and then racing hard to produce for them. It means not paying your bills until the end of a project, when you get paid.

Then I think about my usual Monday mornings, where I walk the dogs to get the newspaper, and I sit in my kitchen, listening to the CBC and reading the Globe and Mail, finding articles like the one by Mr. Schacter this morning.

The view from my home office...note the guard dog on the chair!

The view from my home office…note the guard dog on the chair!

It means a high degree of job satisfaction and personal control. I take my time to wander to the office, pour a second cup and plan my week. I’ve got a change management presentation that I need to edit, an environmental health workshop on data accessibility to plan for, and a proposal for a new leadership course to prepare. In between, I will make time to get my snow tires on, I’ll get my hair trimmed, and even have lunch with two business “colleagues”, who are really friends first, then business associates.

The view from my "office" at the Toyota dealer, getting on my snow tires!

The view from my “office” at the Toyota dealer, getting on my snow tires!

I don’t worry about downsizing or lay offs, and any decisions that I don’t like will be my own, and not some imposed on me by senior management…because I am the senior management in my company. As Roger Martin, suggests, I am not an order taker, but rather a choice maker. And that works for me.

Facilitation possibilities (or finding the magic)

“The great leaders are like the best conductors – they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.” (Blaine Lee)

I was asked to facilitate a meeting for Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa at the end of September. It wasn’t my regular project work, but a request to provide facilitation for the corporate services section, under the direction of the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM). I have done some work previously for her, and was delighted to continue.

A previous NRCan session with positive outcomes

A previous NRCan session with positive outcomes.

The purpose of the meeting is immaterial here…other than to say it involved budget cuts. Honestly, there are few discussions nowadays with senior managers in the federal government that don’t involve budget cuts. This one was going to be a bit “ouchy”, however, because none of the Director Generals (DG’s) or Directors were aware that they needed to make these cuts before the end of the fiscal year.[1]

I prepared an outline for the day’s discussions. That outline was approved, but I was prepared for some last minute tweaking. The night before the session, I received an e-mail from the ADM’s contact. She had indeed changed it, but it was not too substantive, and I could easily adapt my plans. However, the next morning, there were more changes…in fact, the ADM arrived with a completely revamped outline. Call me flexible (or stupid) but I nodded and said “No problem” when asked if I could manage the changes.

The session started with a presentation by the ADM, and the silence was deafening. You could actually feel the energy snapping through the room, as people realized what lay ahead. Despite how the media portrays public servants, these directors and DGs care very much for their work and the staff who report to them, and the personal lives of these individuals were their priorities.

My years of facilitation experience has helped me to think about my participants as individuals with lives and loves, connections and experiences. Each person in the room has his or her own story, and that story transcends the office or the boardroom. I knew that in this group of senior managers, there is an individual who aspires to be a personal trainer. Another one would like to run a sailing business. Still another would like to spend her time as an elementary school teacher. My challenge for this session was to find out more about them as individuals, and to use that information to help them explore creative ways to address their budget issues.

He may look like a wine connoisseur, but in his spare time, he works for the UN!

He may look like a wine connoisseur, but in his spare time, he works for the UN!

How this activity came to me, I will never know. But there I stood, in front of a room full of senior managers, and I asked them to think about what they, as individuals, were good at. Not fishing or skiing or balancing a budget, but rather, if they did a personality test, what would the results indicate? I explained that as a facilitator, I was a conscientious observer. I paid attention; to every detail of discussion, activity, appearance, because all that minutiae had value. I needed to actively listen, watch, analyze and synthesize constantly, so I could help move the discussions forward. I asked them to look inside themselves and share what they knew to be true. Here were some of their answers: 

  • I am an innovative thinker who can come up with creative “out of the box” ideas that can stand critical scrutiny.
  • I am a fixer. Show me a problem, and I’ll come up with ways to fix it.
  • I am a cheerleader. I can bring people together, rally a team to move forward.
  • I am a bargainer, I can find and make deals.
  • I’m a visionary. I can see past the problem and see the opportunities.

They came up with almost 20 different roles, and I wrote them up on the flip chart. I then asked them to look at the list, and (without considering who was associated with which role), to shape together three small groups that would have a complementary set of skills to address the budget discussion that the ADM had introduced. When they were organized in those groups, they knew they had the right mix of thinkers, visionaries, fixers and others to make decisions.

Ro, employed by the Ontario Science Centre but obviously possessing the skills of a fine barista.

Ro, employed by the Ontario Science Centre but obviously possessing the skills of a fine barista, using all her energy to make me coffee!

All of a sudden, the session that was initially daunting was doable, and outcomes were achievable. The tables vibrated with intellectual and emotional energy. They looked at one another differently – not as directors, but as fixers or visionaries or creators of options. It was empowering for all of them, and made for a new way of tackling challenges.

Thanks to the powers that be that allowed me to stand helplessly in front of a group of strategic and powerful thinkers, and gift me with this idea. Learning to look past job titles and roles is often not a simple task, but it is worth remembering that we can all contribute something other than what we have listed on our business cards. That is where you will reach beyond the notes to the magic in your players.

Look beyond the notes. Find the music in everyone!

Look beyond the notes. Find the music in everyone!


[1] For any federal public servants reading this, allow me to put you at ease right now. Throughout the hours of this discussion, no individuals or positions were eliminated.