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.
My theme this week is organizational openness and transparency and today I’d like to highlight a fantastic example of an organization that has built a culture with openness at its core: Mozilla.
Most of you probably know Mozilla as the organization famous for its open source Firefox web browser. But what you may not know is that open source is more than just a technology decision for Mozilla; the open source way is deeply ingrained in every aspect of its culture.
Last week, Mozilla Technology Evangelist Paul Rouget wrote a post on his blog entitled Mozilla Openness Facts. In it, he attempts to capture as many examples of openness in action at Mozilla as he can.
Here are just a few of the examples Paul shares (read his post if you want to see the rest):
1. An open door office policy: open source contributors are welcome to drop by Mozilla offices and hang out. In fact, Paul notes that he first met current Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs (before he joined Mozilla) when Gary visited the Paris office where Paul works.
2. Transparent financials: Sure, many companies publish their financial results publicly… because they are public companies. Mozilla isn’t, but still does.
3. Open meetings: No strategy behind closed doors here. Not only are many of Mozilla’s meetings open to the public, they often post the phone numbers (and even video conference URLs) on their wiki.
4. Public product roadmap: Want to know Mozilla’s future technology direction? No need to hire a private investigator, you can find the product roadmap on the wiki too.
Not all of these examples are unique to Mozilla and some of them are simply a part of being a responsible member of the open source movement. But what is unique is that someone took the time to catalog the openness examples.
It’s a fantastic idea, and perhaps something that every company that bills itself as open should attempt to do in a public forum.
I reached out to Paul to ask him a few questions about openness and what motivated him to compile the list of examples. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
First, I asked him about some of the challenges that come with openness and transparency. One of the points he made that resonated most with me is that “being open is not a passive task.” It isn’t enough just to make information open—you must be active about helping people find it.
“Open meetings are meetings where anybody can come. But you have to promote these meetings. Make sure the contributors hear about them. Same for mailing lists and IRC channels, open channels, but you need to find them… Just keeping the doors open is not enough,” says Paul.
Paul also pointed out another crucial lesson of organizational openness, that being open doesn’t mean everyone has the right to vote on everything.
“Being transparent and open doesn’t mean we are a democracy. We listen to everybody, but we believe that the most skilled people should make the most important decisions. And you don’t have to be an employee to be a decision-maker.”
Finally, I asked him why he took the approach of “showing vs. telling” in writing the post (which I loved, very esse quam videri). Here was his response.
“I was trying to define openness. I failed. Much easier to show. Everybody is talking about how transparent and open they are. Even big and closed companies. I say b$%^&*!t, they are not. They just use openness as a new buzz word and a new marketing thing. If you are open, show me your meeting notes, show me your source code, let me be part of your team conference calls, let me look at your metrics, and let me work with you.
I wanted to show that being open is much more than just being open source.”
Well shoot, that sounds a lot like what we are trying to show with opensource.com:)
Nicely done, Paul. Nicely done, Mozilla.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
On opensource.com, we often talk about the benefits of an open, collaborative approach, and I see new stories every day that help showcase the benefits of an open organizational model.
But for public companies, the benefits of an open approach are often overshadowed by the risks. During my time at Red Hat (a publicly-traded company for much of my tenure), our approach was traditionally to “default to open,” sharing as much information as we could, both inside the company and with the outside world.
Yet, as a public company, there were many financial and legal obstacles that stood in the way of openness. It was challenging to find the right balance between being open with our thinking and information, yet respectful of the legal and financial responsibilities that come with being a public company.
So it was with great interest that I read Scott Weiss’s recent post about corporate transparency on Ben Horowitz’s blog (also posted at AllThingsD). Scott is now a general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, but was previously the CEO of IronPort, an Internet security company that was acquired by Cisco in 2007.
In his post, Scott talks about making the decision to build an open culture at IronPort, despite the risks:
“…the more that I thought about it, the more I believed that sharing absolutely everything would create massive advantages and that we should live with whatever consequences resulted.”
So he went ahead and did it. Yet, as soon as IronPort began to prepare for its IPO, the company was forced dial back the transparency. I’d encourage you to go check out the post for the full details of how they handled this transition. But the key takeaway at the end of Scott’s piece is one that I could not echo more strongly.
“I believe it was much healthier to set the default to full disclosure while we were private. When you prepare for an IPO, it’s definitely a high-class problem to have to work backwards with concrete reasons to withhold information from the employees. And when that time comes, they totally understand.”
Scott’s right. People totally understand. When you level with them and share as much information as you can by default, then apologize and explain why when you can’t share a piece of information, in my experience, almost everyone will be cool with it.
So if you are working for a company that is thinking about going public one day, and the more conservative folks in your organization are using this as an excuse for not having a more open, collaborative culture, show them Scott’s post.
While complete openness might never be possible in your organization, a respectful, thoughtful default-to-open approach may give you the benefits of an open culture while minimizing the risks.
[This article originally appeared on opensource.com]
In my last few posts (here and here), I shared some tips for collecting and synthesizing the brand research you will use to design positioning for your brand. In this post, I’ll share three approaches to designing brand positioning I believe will work for the majority of brands:
• The lone designer approach
• The internal community approach
• The open community approach
Each of these approaches has strengths and weaknesses, and they can also be mashed up into a hybrid that better suits the culture of your organization.
The Lone Designer Approach
Are you a small organization or an organization of one? Perhaps you are attempting to position a website or simply get a small company off the ground on a foundation of solid positioning. If you found during the research phase that you were doing most of the work yourself and don’t want or can’t afford to bring others into the positioning process, you may be a good candidate for the lone designer approach.
The lone designer approach is exactly what it sounds like: a positioning process run by one person alone or by a very small group. The advantage of this approach is that you have complete control over the process. You won’t have to spend much time arguing with others over the exact words in your brand mantra; you won’t need to conduct time-consuming collaboration sessions; and you will only go down rat holes of your own choosing. The lone designer approach can be very efficient and is the least resource-intensive of the three approaches.
The downside of the lone designer approach is that it gives you no head start on rolling out your positioning to your brand community. By making your positioning process a black box and revealing only the finished product, you are taking some risks. First, the positioning you design might not resonate or, worse, might be ignored because you didn’t include input from others beyond the initial research. Second, you may have trouble getting others to help you roll it out or take ownership over its success because they had no role in creating it.
Usually I recommend the lone designer approach only to small or new organizations with no access to a preexisting community of employee or community contributors who care about the brand. If you already have a community of supporters around your brand—even if it is small—strongly consider one of the other two approaches (internal community or open community).
The Internal Community Approach
You understand the powerful impact that engaging members of your brand community in the positioning process might have on your brand. You believe your organization is progressive enough to allow employees to help with the brand positioning process. But you just don’t think your organization is ready to open up the brand positioning process to the outside world. If this sounds like your situation, the internal community approach might be the best option for your brand.
The internal community approach opens up the positioning process to some level of participation from people inside the organization. It may broadly solicit contributions from every employee, or it can simply open up the process to a hand-selected group of people representing the employee base.
The internal community approach to brand positioning is a smart, safe approach for many organizations. It makes brand positioning a cultural activity within the organization, allowing you to collect a broad range of interesting ideas and begin to sow the seeds for future participation in the brand rollout down the road. In addition, it can become a compelling leadership opportunity, helping develop future leaders of your brand as well.
While this internal approach is still community-based, it is usually perceived as less risky than an approach involving external contributors. You might find it easier to sell the internal approach to executives who fear opening up the organization to the outside world or think doing so will give the external community the perception the organization is confused or doesn’t know what it is doing because it is asking for help.
The Open Community Approach
Even though I’ll be the first to admit that it is not right for every brand, the open community approach is by far my favorite approach (as you can probably tell by now) and is a very effective one for ad-free brands. The open community approach opens the positioning process to contributions from members of both the internal and external brand communities. Running an open community brand positioning project is similar to running an internal community one. Both approaches have the advantage of bringing in a variety of viewpoints.
Both can create valuable brand advocates who will be helpful down the road. The open community approach just takes things as step further and allows people outside the organization to contribute as well. The benefit of this approach is that it can usually form the beginning of a constructive dialogue with all the people who care about your brand—not just those who work for your organization. It can help you build relationships based on trust, sharing, and respect with people in the outside world. And it can save you money and time by revealing flaws in your positioning much earlier in the process.
The downsides of an open approach? If the project is poorly organized or badly communicated, it really will realize the fears of some executives and show the outside world you don’t know what you’re doing. An open positioning approach requires a deft, highly skilled, effective communicator and facilitator. It requires coordination between different parts of the organization that are in touch with the outside world to ensure communication is clear and consistent.
But although the risks of opening up your positioning process to the outside world are higher, the rewards can be much bigger as well. By transparently opening a relationship between your brand and the outside world, you are embracing the future of brand management, accepting the role of your brand community in the definition of your brand, and proactively getting your community involved in a positive way.
You are beginning a conversation.
I believe almost all great brands are built on a foundation of great positioning.
I feel so strongly about positioning that one of the core elements of this blog is a series of brand positioning tips I learned over the years as an eager student of classic brand positioning.
Sometimes great positioning is led by a branding genius such as Scott Bedbury (who helped grow the Nike and Starbucks brands); sometimes a great leader and communicator with a very clear vision (like Steve Jobs at Apple) drives it into the organization; sometimes people stumble on great positioning by pure luck; and more and more often, organizations are developing positioning by collaborating with the communities of people in and around the organization who care most passionately about the brand.
This last way is the ad-free brand way of developing brand positioning.
1. Great positioning helps people understand the brand
The best brand positioning is always simple and clear. The greatest product or organization in the world won’t be successful if people can’t or don’t bother to comprehend why they should care about it. Your story must be able to break through the clutter.
2. Great positioning helps people value the brand
Getting people to understand the brand is the first step, but no less important is ensuring they value the brand. The best brands stand for things people care about or desire.
3. Great positioning helps people identify with the brand
Once people understand and value the brand, they must also understand how they fit in and how they can engage with the brand. They need to see some of themselves in it.
4. Great brand positioning helps people take ownership over the brand
It may sound like a brand’s worst nightmare to lose control and have the brand community take over. But the most self-actualized brands of the twenty-first century allow the communities of people surrounding them to take some ownership of and responsibility for the brand. Essentially, the brand owners become in command and out of control of the brand.
In 1981, when Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (the book that really defined the discipline of brand positioning) traditional advertising was still a dominant force. In fact, as you glance through their book, you’ll notice that most of the examples they use to illustrate positioning concepts are classic advertisements or advertising campaigns like the Avis “We’re #2, so we try harder” or the 7-Up “Uncola” campaign.
In the book, Trout and Ries define positioning as follows:
“…positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”
The Trout and Ries definition is a perfect way to achieve the first three of the four benefits above; it helps people understand, value, and identify with the brand.
Where the Trout and Ries model of positioning is all about what you do to the mind of the prospect, ad-free brands are less interested in creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds and more interested in creating meaning for a brand with the help of people’s minds.
By giving the communities of people who care about a brand some ownership over its future direction, we begin to build relationships based on trust, respect, and a mutual exchange of value.
Where 21st century brands will really shine is by mimicking the open, collaborative, meritocratic model of the open source software movement (and the Internet itself) in their positioning work. In my view, without beginning to engage the communities of people who care about a brand as co-owners, classic brand positioning by itself will continue to be less and less effective as traditional advertising and PR continue to be less and less effective.
The secret? Marrying those classic brand positioning principles to a 21st century way of collaborating with the communities of people who care about a brand. By doing both together, we’ll be able to build stronger, more resilient brands than ever before.
Last week, Google Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg resigned after almost 10 years at the firm. While the comings and goings of tech industry executives aren’t typically that interesting to me, I found this news fascinating for a couple of reasons.
First, Rosenberg says that one of the things he plans to do is write a book with ex-Google CEO (and current Executive Chairman) Eric Schmidt. The subject? According to an article in the Mercury News, they’ll be writing about “the values, rules and creation of Google’s management culture.”
Now that is a book I’d like to read. Google is in many ways an ideal case study of the open source way as applied to management practices, and, while many have written books about Google already (notably this one by Bernard Girard and this brand new one by Steven Levy), I’d love to see Schmidt and Rosenberg’s take (and I hope we can corral one of them for a webcast on opensource.com when the book comes out).
I’m especially interested in their view of how the existing Google culture changed (or didn’t change) during their tenure. Especially since it has been reported that Rosenberg’s top-down management style didn’t mesh well at first with the existing engineering-led culture.
But what I find to be the even more interesting question in the short term is, with Rosenberg leaving, who will be the new face of openness at Google?
Last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced in a post on his blog he was stepping aside and Google co-founder Larry Page would take on management of Google’s day-to-day operations as the new CEO. Although Schmidt is staying on as Executive Chairman for now and will continue to have an ongoing role in the company, many including myself, were surprised by the news.
I see Google and Red Hat both as fantastic poster children for openness as a successful business strategy. I’ve written many times about how the open source way deeply impacted our work at Red Hat even beyond building software. I’ve also written about Google and the open source way, and pointed to this famous post from Google’s Senior VP of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg explaining Google’s commitment to openness.
But what does Google’s management change say about the open source way?
Before you answer, here are a few things I’ve read this week and found interesting:
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Last week I received a heads up about a new web application launching today from a company called BetterMeans with an impressive goal: to build the infrastructure (processes, technology, governance, etc.) to make an open organizational structure like we talk about here on opensouce.com a reality.
From their website:
BetterMeans.com is a web platform where people can start and run companies in a new decentralized way.
- Teams self-form, self-organize, and self-manage using an issue-tracking tool
- There is no management class, only natural hierarchies.
- Leadership emerges organically by users earning other users’ confidence
- Compensation is based on contribution
- Strategy and ideas are crowd-sourced
- There’s full accountability and transparency. Relationships are built on trust.
- Ownership is distributed
- Capital allocation and decision-making are decentralized
If a traditional company was a network architecture, it would be client-server.
We’re building a platform for peer-to-peer companies that are more agile, resilient, and innovative.
The video below explains what they are doing and why.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
My first blog post went up today on the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX).
The MIX is the brainchild of Gary Hamel, author of one of my favorite management books of the last 10 years, The Future of Management, and the guy who the Wall Street Journal ranked as the most influential business thinker in the world.
The thesis of the MIX is that management itself has been a fantastic innovation— the “technology of human accomplishment” to use Hamel’s words. Yet for all management has done to improve the world we live in, it is technology invented over 100 years ago, and old skool management practices are becoming increasingly outdated in the modern world (Gary Hamel explains this all better than I do, watch his short introduction to the MIX below).
The MIX is an open, collaborative effort to reinvent management built around 25 management “moonshots” (see the full list here). In addition to Hamel, there are some amazing folks contributing to the site, including famous visionaries like Terri Kelly of W.L. Gore & Associates and John Mackey of Whole Foods.
But perhaps the most exciting part of the site for me has been to see that it is built as a meritocracy of ideas, where anyone can add a story, a hack, or a barrier. And many do. I’ve seen some amazing ideas as I’ve begun to participate in the MIX over the last few months and can’t wait to point some of them out in my role as a Moonshot Guide.
In particular, I’ll be tackling the moonshot “Enable communities of passion” building on my experiences at Red Hat and here at New Kind as we continue to build a company around the concept of being community catalysts.
So if you have ideas for things you think I should cover, drop me a line, I’d love to hear them.
Over the last few months, the battle to define the meaning of the word “open” has intensified into one of the more interesting brand positioning exercises I’ve seen in the technology industry (if you aren’t familiar with brand positioning and would like to learn more, consider starting here).
Google Goes on Offense
Think back to 2009 and the state of the smartphone industry. The iPhone had completely redefined the entire market, while Google was just beginning to see traction with Android and looking at a long struggle to catch up with Apple.
While most other smartphone makers were attempting to catch up playing by Apple’s rules in the market Apple defined (usually a losing strategy in the long term when the leader has a solid head start), Google took a different approach—they tried what now looks to me looks like a classic repositioning strategy.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]