#consolidating your #online #persona and skills #management

HowStandardsProliferate_viaLinkedin

Today, I posted online the latest chapter of the “political and advocacy marketing tools” articles, as I announced before:

Published (in Italian) “05 Comunicazione come atto negoziale – parte seconda (BOZZA)” http://www.dirittodivoto.com/portal/dirittodivoto-com-section/ddv-strumenti/71-05-comunicazione-come-atto-negoziale-parte-seconda-bozza #BFM2013 #BSN2013 #SYNSPEC

In Italian (to be followed soon by something more extensive in English), as the previous articles in that series were in Italian (each one included also a link to the English version).

Actually, I was impressed: in few minutes, over 30 people visited the link.

Less impressive an email message sent by a “social media marketing company” offering its services: probably, they did not get the point of the article πŸ˜€

As I always said to my customers when delivering change management services: I can help you to identify what needs to be changed, define a roadmap for the transition from where you are to where you want to be, but… from day 1, I need to be clear that you have to own the results, and be involved within the process.

So, in my view, social media experts should either be on staff, or be advisors to staff- and, in both cases, as I do expect that an expert will eventually move elsewhere, maybe for a new challenge, as social media is part of corporate communications, their role must include a certain amount of coaching and knowledge transfer: they are not delivering a result, but a transition and the ability to cope (to an extent to be agreed) with relevant changes.

I had promised to deliver in October a new article in this series, along with a new way of delivering my daily selection of multilingual news (that you can read Mon-Fri on @robertolofaro – the digest is available the following day on http://robertolofaro.com/blog).

Actually, that latest article has been waiting to be released for a couple of years, as I was involved in activities where the article could be misinterpreted- the nuisance of being a multi-stream person (somebody was kindly suggesting “polymath”, but that would be too much- let just say that I am curious, I have multiple interests, and see connections where others don’t- for a long time, if ever).

At last, as I had planned to converge on the release of a mini-book in Italian covering those articles (available soon on Amazon and Kindle), I saw that it could be released without further delay.

I wrote “latest”, but I should add “last”, as I plan, from now on, to write on that subject just in English.

Over the last few months some of my “frequent readers” saw that I gradually streamlined my online presence, i.e. I pulled the plug to most of my domains, added some (e.g. dirittodivoto.com and theatralis.net) to my main domain robertolofaro.com, or created/reactivated connections to various wordpress.com “publication sites” (in the past, I tested the concept with nlschap.wordpress.com and robertolofaro.wordpress.com), including of course my own blog (robertolofaro.com/blog is actually redirected to wordpress.com) and the newest member of the family, wodeshudian.wordpress.com (for the time being, weekly posts on my Chinese language and culture learning journey).

At the same time, I made more continuous use of my other profiles, mainly to keep consistenly in touch with my network (so, @robertolofaro, linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro, facebook.com/robertolofaro, profiles on internations and EmpireAvenue, and of course Klout).

It is funny: I knew that I had managed to be more or less consistent in my naming of profiles on each social network, but today I signed up to review the latest book from Guy Kawasaki on social media.

Why? So that I can add a review and, if I like it, suggest it to my network- I stayed away from the details of social media, as I think that there are influencer that set the trend, and people expect you to comply with what is trendy- almost everybody want to be different but not too different: online business is frankly more risk-averse than you can imagine.

Actually: I was reminded of this “inconvenient truth” today, while reading the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, with an article reminding of how we celebrate the heroes of technology- but only after a while, and often to that end we build a mystique a little bit (or a lot) detached from reality.

When did I start first “testing the waters” with the Web? In the early 1990s, as soon as an American colleague&friend that I was working with in Parma told me about the newest technology to connect knowledge, followed in 1995 by attending a seminar on Network Information Retrieval in Milan, through the good offices of a former classmate who was working at the University of Parma.

I liked to see the “hyperlink” concept converted into reality through the WWW, and also within companies (what was called “Intranet”) it seemed to be a more efficient way to keep bits and pieces of knowledge and IPR visibly interconnected (in most larger companies, the nightmare is that everybody shares the design, then everybody “evolves”, and you spend, not just in IT, too much time trying to play catch up- instead of focusing resources on doing something that generates value).

At the same time, in 1994 I had “revamped” my interest in International Political Economy (that had been quite useful to support my business activities on number crunching for senior managers, a.k.a. DSS/EIS in the 1980s-1990s, and business intelligence since the 1990s), but in a more structured way, by spending two summers in London (and a fateful one in Gothenburg- hence, my presence on a Latvian website :D).

Let me be frank: I always stated that I am a generalist (on activity/project/budget management and negotiation, including ancillary issues such as risk and governance), with a focus on cultural/organizational/technological change and a technological expertise on technologies to support decision making.

Personally, I “pushed” since the mid-1990s the use of the web as a decision support tool, and knowledge dissemination is part of that (marketing and influencing are, again, secondary skills).

So, web technologies are both a complement to my “decision support” side and the generalist role.

Recently I was asked what I think that are the key issues in project management, and my answer was simple: prioritization and communication.

The former requires the ability to “crunch numbers”, “spot trends”, “assess impacts”, “identify risks and opportunities”, etc.

The latter implies that the first set of skills (plus whatever “formal elements” you inherit by the methodology that is trendy within your environment) is then used to generate messages that are useful to keep the relevant audience(s) involved.

Yes, I know, many give lip service to “stakeholders”, but I prefer “audience”- as way too often a stakeholder is associated with a “milestone” attitude, i.e. “communicate to keep at bay, then let us work”.

In decision support and business intelligence since the 1980s, I never had the luxury of saying, as it was back then customary in IT (and sometimes still it is) “ok, now we agreed on a plan, see you in X months with the results”.

Reality changes, business reality affects even the best laid plans (to say nothing about the “seat of the pants” superficial variety trying to apply tomorrow lessons of today), and this is the difference: if you think about your stakeholders as an audience, you have to do what anybody trying to attract and retain an audience (including customers, the paying version) would do- keep them in the loop.

In some cases, this imply getting in touch with them routinely (or even everyday), in other cases it just implies giving them a sign of progression: if you are a “generalist” activity/project manager, you will have anyway to identify the appropriate “keys” to use in each environment- I am always skeptical of fancical articles that present “THE” management approach.

Example: if I have to work with people who are “primadonnas” with high visibility, I think that you would agree that it could be at best quixotic to work with them as if they had just graduated and knew nothing about business life (personal life is something else)- unless your aim is to have most of them resign (sometimes that is just the purpose, so that you can build a new corporate culture and ethos that isn’t built around few gurus and their followers fighting with the followers of other gurus to get a larger slice of the resources).

The title of this post is “consolidating your online persona”, so I will skip the reasons of my “convergence strategy”, except to say that I had, after my experiences over the last couple of years in Italy, and since 2004 in Italy and European Union, with an acceleration since 2008, simply accepted that there is no escaping from a local reality: nobody invests on knowledge, but everybody wants to reap the benefits, once the investment is done.

So, I had a plan to work through it until end 2015 or 2016, a plan that is partially visible on my Linkedin profile (the “business writing” and “change seminar” bit, and the list of books that I published so far- all available for free reading on Slideshare.net/robertolofaro – but you can also read it on paper or Kindle, see the links- obviously, not those are not for free, except once every three months #BerlinDiaries and, soon, the book on political and advocacy marketing).

For the time being, my books (at least on Slideshare) reached an aggregate of around 50,000 readers (do not worry: in the “free” economy, my publishing activities… finance just the running costs of my Italian banking account- as it was a nightmare to open up one when I re-registered in Italy in 2012, I will keep it for a while :D).

Obviously, my purpose was to add some depth to my CV, as it is just a summary, but it contains already too much, and therefore I got tired, since 2008, of being told that it was fake or “padded”- but I learned a lot worth sharing.

My choice to drop posting in Italian about the integration of social media, other online activities, and offline marketing and organizational activities is simply because I had already decided few years ago that there was no point in trying to convert that into a business, and I saw that anyway the best that I can get locally without joining a local “tribe” is… more reasons to stay on hold and keep advising for free.

I think that writing about the use of social media and their impact without writing about the environment where those activities are carried out is an example of “tunnel vision”- and therefore I think that my “specializations” in change and number crunching for decision making can only benefit from a continuation of my “applied research” activities and online (eventually offline) knowledge sharing.

As for the “generalist” part… I obviously disagree with an article that was posted yesterday by the leading Italian business newpaper, on “career planning” (which, incidentally, more than once within the article was turned into “carrier”: probably, the journalist used to write about the telco industry :D), an article focused on pushing the idea that you have to “specialize” while already in school, and keep just on that, as there is neither need nor demand for generalists.

I think that a pure generalist has the risk of assuming to be a generalist, while instead (s)he is just being superficial, and therefore I routinely said to those that I found able to become a generalist to keep a “specialist kitchen garden” in their own skills toolset or interests (if you want to read more about that, go on Slideshare.net/robertolofaro, and have a look at the short book called “#SYNSPEC”, about synergies and specializations in business).

A pure specialist has a couple of key risks: becoming obsolete, and turning into somebody who, having an hammer, sees each issue as a nail (something quite common in business- look at IT, or how many companies got overexposed on financial derivatives).

Obviously, in our complex society probably most of what can be delivered requires a blend of specialist skills- but this is where you need a “bridge”, a specialist who can turn into a generalist and understand the perspective of other specialists.

If you watch TV, way too often you will see interview to entertainers, writers, poets, economists, philosophers, industrialists etc. who are specialists in their own fields, but for whatever reason (hubris) admit their ignorance about a specific subject (it can be solved: read and listen to those who know more about the subject), and then… start lecturing on how this or that can be solved in 1-2-3 (yes, like in the old funny movie set in Berlin in 1961, right before the Wall was built).

Unfortunately, in our society, way too often those generalists who should able to make specialists work for them (a.k.a. political leaders) take for granted that something silly said by somebody highly visible isn’t silly, and waste time and effort on focusing the political discussion around rubbish- sometimes, for months, before their come to their senses (again: sometimes this is intentional, just to show how gullible their opponents are- but it is a self-destructive game, that just undermines the confidence in the system).

Yes, sometimes this is intentional (nothing better than a quarrel about nonsense uttered by somebody famous stretching for months, to divert attention from what you really need to do), but, again, way too often it is a case of means turning into ends.

So, should you become a specialist in social media? Frankly, when it was an exoteric subject, it might have made sense, as you had to be an “evangelist” to get listened to by those having access to the purse.

As with any technology that impacts on decision making and that is used by those making decisions (it isn’t just President Obama using Twitter), I think that it is more appropriate to have a mix of skills- if, then, you want to be a twitter specialist, fine; but if you want to turn any communication need into a twitter opportunity, that’s tunnel vision.

I think that, eventually, it will happen (but earlier) as it happened with pen and paper: centuries ago, “writing” was a specialized skill, and highly educated people with highly visible roles could read, talk, listen… but writing was something that you delegated to somebody else, a “technician”.

When I started working, in the 1980s, the same applied to the typewriting maching, and until few years ago many managers had secretaries and assistants reading and writing email messages (sometimes even text messages on their mobile phones!) on their behalf.

Therefore, following the advice of that article (the American psychologist who specializes in “career planning”) and turning yourself into a Twitter expert is fine only if you keep your “generalist antennas” alive, and sense when it is the right time to start transitioning toward something else, instead of clinging to Twitter as if it could be something that has the same “cachet” πŸ™‚

Personally, I dropped few of my more technical skills for few simple reasons: you have to use them continuously (e.g. writing instructions to access data stored in databases, using a language called SQL), the consolidation of the industry into few players generated an increase in updates (implying that you have to spend more to keep up-to-date), and I wasn’t “married” to a specific product (if I were, I could be a “specialist” on that- but that wasn’t my role), and therefore the three elements joined together made impossible to keep all the technological hands-on skills alive that I had collected through my career and that, once in a while, were part of the reason why I was involved as a project manager, analyst, or a mix of that and more.

To say nothing about competing credibly with increasingly cheaper and more focused product-experts.

In the end, “consolidating” my online persona was a step in that direction (focus on content, not on the tools used to deliver it), as I assume that, whatever you do, the only smart choice is to consider that you will have to learn for the rest of your life, and that, therefore, the time that you spend in school or at the university should be focused on something that allow you to… learn to learn, while giving you the basics in a specialization, specialization that you have to get ready to drop, alter, switch when needed (why not, turn it into a hobby!).

For the time being, I had to alter my plans, and therefore the online refocusing was useful also to help improve and update one of my “specializations” (number crunching for business), check another (organizational/cultural/technological change), and improve the third (the online part), while writing books and checking the latest updates on industries I worked on, regulatory and methodology trends, etc.

It all helped to expand the “connecting-the-dot” effect between those specialization and my “generalist” side.

Anyway, my objectives shifted to simply funding my writing and knowledge sharing activities by doing something as close as possible to what I could do using those skills: enough of (formal, informal) interviews with innuendo about a brilliant future and continued “promotion” of a fence-sitting attitude- a decade of zero-sum games (or even less) is more than anybody should bear.

Obviously, in the process, I might even acquire new skills (e.g. I used Coursera to, at last, start using R- as soon as I will have “routine” with a visibility of at least 6 months, I plan to resume that, and try some “business number crunching” models to give a formal structure to some approaches that I developed, improved, adopted and adapted across my career, and proved to be useful- so that I can transfer them to somebody else, instead of having to be involved :D).

I prefer sharing something worth reusing, than sharing experiences on how time can be wasted by being on a permanent waiting list while others sort out their own relationship with demons that they invoked and try to prove to either exist, or not exist (it reminds a lot the discussion, few centuries ago, on how many angels could dance on the head of a pin).

The picture on this post? Well, it was shared on Linkedin on Wednesday 29th, and it was appropriate as an outline of what in reality hyper-specialization is creating: when you have too many specializations and no generalists acting as bridges, each attempt to unify generates more specializations…

Have a nice Halloween week-end!

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