Three Keys to Building a Successful Community

One of the questions we get frequently is about setting up a community and what does it take to be successful.  There are three things that come to mind that every successful community should do.  The first concept relates to context.  What is the community about and what kind of organizational actions does this community support.  Is the community an internal announcement type environment or is it a community that will interface with your customers about new products and services? Is it a community that you do production or operational support activities? Is it a community in which you can do training and education functions?  If you were to look at some of the most successful communities out there, such as money matters and your health matters, these communities focus around education and training.  They are trying to get a community of people with similar interests to talk but the primary goal there is still education and training. That’s the context of the environment. So this first step is to make a conscious decision of exactly what your community is going to focus on.  Probably the worst thing you can do is try to be all things to all people and therefore create mass confusion for the users as well as the administrators of the community.

The second item that comes to mind is content.  There are not too many communities out there that you can create one element of information and all of a sudden the community takes off by itself.  That really doesn’t happen except in the vendor demonstrations.  The most successful communities have created an environment where they streamline a constant flow of communications.  These could be entries announcing training events, communications of new products and services, or support help.  We see many examples of successful communities that have this steady stream of information.  As an example, the cloud community provides a constant flow of informational bookmarks and education and training opportunities.  Additionally, we publish our newsletter, announce new services and communicate our core strategy on a regular basis.  This creates a situation where a steady flow of content and information gets folks coming back and tuning in.

The final area that we should think about is how to engage the community.  It is one thing to post a lot of content and information and it’s another to create an engaging form of communications.  Community engagement can come in the form of badges or some form of Gamification.  Engagement can come in the form of how you publish and what you publish.  You want the conversation to invite opinion and comments.  This blog is a great example of how we invite different opinions and provide a different perspective of what’s happening with management and the newest technology.  The basic idea is to get people involved and engaged at a high enough level that they want to keep coming back over and over again.  Maybe even contribute a comment or two as well.  Communities offer this same type of opportunity.  So keep in mind that if you want successful communities then remember context, content, and engagement.

Too Much Talent Can Be Harmful to your Career

Is that possible that having too much talent can be harmful to your career?  Sounds kind of fishy but let’s dig a little bit deeper.  Instead of jumping into the business side, lets look at sports at ask the same question can you can have too much talent.  I have mentioned before that I played High School golf and walked on to my college team golf team at Columbus State University.  Like many people, I was good at golf but not great.  I would say the bottom third of that team was good and the top 10 were great golfers by any standard.  In fact, we finished third in the NCAA Championship that year.  However, none of the golfers on that team ever made it to the PGA.  People that make it to the PGA, I am going to classify them as world class athletes.  That gives us three classifications good, great and world class.  With the advent of social media, I thought it would be fun to look back and see how these good and great golfers turned out.  Many of the great ones played on the mini tours while most of the good ones went on to college and into business.  Looking back after thirty years, it seemed like the good golfers were just as successful, if not more so, than the great ones.  Of course, that could be just me being bias that I was never any good.  Oddly enough another research report came up and shed a bright light on my observation.

This research study focused on Baseball players.  Like the golf break down, many baseball players that played in high school and college were good.  The great ones got drafted by major league teams and moved into the farm leagues.  The odds of getting drafted were less than 1%; which basically, means that 99% of the baseball players were good but not great.  How about the world class and making it to the majors?  Somewhere between 5-10% of the great players actually make to the big league and become world class.  You can see the odds are slim, just as they were when I played.  Now, it wouldn’t be all that interesting to compare the MLB players with the drafted minor league players or the good players (non-drafted).  The most interesting comparison was between the good players not drafted and the great ones that were but didn’t make it to the majors.  It turns out that after 10 years, the great players make 40-50% less than the good ones.  Looking at the incomes of these two groups the less skilled baseball players were better off than the ones that excelled.  That seemed to match up with my informal review of my team mates. Why?  The reason is that most athletes are hard headed and never want to admit that they don’t have the talent.  They seem to stay in the minor leagues or mini tours barely scraping out a living.  The good players realize they won’t make so they go on to college, choose a career and then apply the same work ethic to the business side.  That delay in getting into a career is costly for those with great talent.

How about the business world?  We see similarities.  In a recent study of students that graduated during a recession have a huge disparity of income versus students graduating during a boom time.  Having a delay in getting started into a career has a huge impact after a number of years, just as we saw in the sports area.  In this case, the problem isn’t an issue of talent but rather of bad timing.  However, we have all seen people get moved out of roles because they weren’t skilled enough only to land on their feet somewhere else.  These people seem to move around to different roles until they get a perfect fit and then their career accelerates.  I remember working with a fellow years ago (Not in Telecommunications) who just like what we were doing.  While I may not have enjoyed it, I made sure I worked very hard while he sort of slacked off. He then moved into another role that he liked and he quickly moved of the corporate ladder.  Eventually, he had to apply his talent but he was smart enough to know when to hold them and when to fold them.  Stupidly, I played every hand and lost in the end.  I didn’t know what sports people knew.  You may have to decide when to be good, when to be great, and when to go all in and become world class.

Promotion, Progression, and Rotation Are All Critical

Came across an interesting article that talked about how much more educated our counterparts are overseas.  We are not talking about a little bit more advantage but a rather large gap.  I think the United States is not performing very well when you take a look at this from the Business Insider.  “The results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which are being released on Tuesday, show that teenagers in the U.S. slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and analyzes the data in the U.S.”  It’s not just education but work ethic as well.  We continue to fall when you compare work ethics across the board.  We simply are failing in our education and teaching a solid work ethic to ourselves and our younger generations.

However, when you review workers 10, 15, and even 20 years later you see something interesting.  We catch up.  No, I only wish we somehow get more educated or that our work ethic gets dramatically better.  We do not but what does happen is that we get experience.  You see, the overseas culture is to do what you are told and patiently wait until the person leaves or passes away.  The next person falls in line.  It is actually looked down upon those that push for more responsibility, new roles, progressions, or even transfer to another organization.  Forget about moving to another company, the culture doesn’t work that way.  We on the other hand are constantly looking for new challenges, new roles, and new responsibility.  We will walk away if a better opportunity presents itself.  The result of this mobility and perhaps desire to improve ourselves results in far greater degree and diversity of experience.  This diversity of experience, responsibility, and knowledge makes us more valuable to the company.  So perhaps instead of asking what’s in your wallet, we should be asking what roles are you doing this year that’s different from the last.  If you can’t answer that question, don’t worry there is someone smarter and working harder to take your job.

What’s In Your Bucket?

Take a moment to reflect on your career and all of the things that describe that career.  Now imagine two buckets; one green and one red.  In the red bucket, I want you to symbolically place all of the aspects of your career into this bucket.  What items will or has defined your career?  Think in terms of the items found on your LinkedIn Profile, Resume, CV, Biography etc.  The one caveat is that the red bucket only contains the items that you have limited or no control over.  What things that define your career would fall under this category of limited or no control?  Let’s start with the most obvious; the job title.  I have had 4 of them and not once did anyone ask me what title should be used to describe what I do.  All of this is left up to HR to decide.  Yet, this single element is on every career representation from business cards to online profiles.  Executives with great job titles will tell you that these don’t matter which should be your first clue that they are very important. What about your role and responsibility?  Do you have control over that or did the business unit look and define what was needed to reach its goals and objectives?  Can you change your role whenever you want?  I imagine the answer is no.  What about the projects you work on?  Do you get to pick them or are they assigned?  Wow, there seems to be a lot of things filling up the red bucket where we have very little control.

The good news is that there is another bucket; the green bucket.  In the green bucket, we are going to place all of the items that represent our career that we do have control over.  These things can’t be taken away, they can’t be demoted or promoted, and they can’t be altered due to the climate within the HR or leadership organization.  So what is an example of something in the green bucket?  How about your four year degree?  Once you have it, no one can take it away from you.  Even if your manager is a Georgia Fan, they can’t alter the degrees from Georgia Tech.  There are plenty of things that can go into the green bucket such as books, publications, conference proceedings, Ted Talks, patents, etc.  Newer methods such as blogs, twitter, and LinkedIn conversations could also be placed into the green bucket.  These items are owned and controlled by you and no one can change that.  So why separate career defining elements into two buckets?

I want you to think of some famous and world class experts in business and technology.  Not the ones our Lake Wobegon HR that tells us that everyone is world class, but real experts in the field.  Let’s start on the business side.  Who are the experts?  How about Jack Welch, Harvey McKay, Mark McCormack, or even Steven Covey?  Let’s take Jack Welch, is he famous because of his red bucket?  Do his job titles, roles, responsibilities or projects make him world renown on leadership?  No, it’s the green bucket.  He is one of the leaders in leadership due to his books, blogs, articles, interviews, and speeches.  He took his ideas, innovations, and concepts to the world to evaluate and the world said, yes.  How about the technology side?  This time let’s avoid the top of the class like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and instead look more toward the middle of the pack.  How about a Don Tapscott or Andrew McAfee.  Dr. McAfee works at MIT do you know his job title?  How about what classes he teaches?  No?  How about committees or students?  No?  Then why is he known throughout the world as a Collaboration and AI expert?  You got it; the green bucket.  He has written books, blogs, Ted Videos, Twitter, Facebook and of course, academic publications.

So why do I tell you about this green bucket?  Because 98% of you will spend the next 30 years focusing on the red bucket.  You will be told that you are world class sprinter but you will never go to the Olympics to prove it.  Your manager, leaders and HR will tell you that you are the best of the best to ensure that you stay focused on the red bucket.  For these groups, the red bucket is all there is.  Do you find it odd that most speakers for the last five years are either executives or external speakers who are green bucket winners?  No internal experts are allowed or provided the opportunity.  It’s time to remove the blinders and see what it really takes to be world class.  The best news is that you control it.

Are We Making Programming More Complicated

When I started, oh gosh here we go again.  Pipe down!  When I started developing code we had the awful programming language of Assembler.  I almost failed this class in College but managed to escape with a barely passing grade.  Let’s be clear, it was hard.  You had to manage everything.  One could say is was too complicated for the average programmer.  Of course, there were plenty of what was called back then, 3rd generation languages like COBOL, Fortran or RPG.  Later, we started to see 4th generation tools that allowed non-programmers to develop code that while not perfect, did the job.

Over the past decade, I have been using a product that developed websites in SharePoint called SharePoint Designer.  The product allowed you to do some very simple or very complex development tasks.  Depending on your needs, you could bring in an expert or have a generalist come in and get the job done.  However, the newest release of SharePoint Designer took away the visual interface.  In other words, they removed the GUI interface or WYSIWYG as it is commonly referred to as.  Why?  I get it that most of your development tools are moving this direction including WebMatrix which is the replacement for Frontpage (Also removing the WYSIWYG).  I took a look at some of the SharePoint development boards and what I saw was rather interesting.  The praise for removing the functionality was more along the lines of getting rid of amateur programmers.  Comments like, “Now, we can write code the correct way” or “it means more work for me”.  The development community seems to be accepting the change not for increased productivity but for ensuring employment.  Is that what we have become?  Maybe we should build a wall around the development community.

Now, one can say oh that’s just one example and that’s Microsoft so it’s an anomaly.  True, but I was taking some of our Role of the Future training that focused on Hive, Pig, MapReduce, and Yarn.  These are Big Data development tools and frameworks.  What struck me was the usage of notepad editors and Linux OS command line interfaces.  Things we used back in the 1980’s.  After 30 years, we still use complex methods to develop code?  Since it’s an election year, my mind has to race over to conspiracy theories.  Could it be we are making programming more complicated in order to keep it for ourselves?  Maybe I should have stuck with Assembler.  Surely, I would have learned it by now no matter how complex it was.

Make it easy on your users with Layering Input

One of the techniques used at RetireWithLess is called layering input.  Google does this with its search engine.  You start with a simple search phrase and once you see those results you can click on the menu to limit your search to just images as an example.  You then can limit it further by asking to see only the “png” files.  Hence, the idea of layering input.  You want to allow the least amount of input from the user in order to get something of value.  At RetireWithLess, we use this principle by allowing you to start with four fields to get about an 80% retirement planning result.  We could have done it in three fields but we also wanted a balanced screen.  However, you can get a more accurate number by going to the profile and configuration pages to provide a better or more precise set of factors like social security, pension or monthly expenses.  You may also go down another level and actually adjust your allocation percentages on the assets page.  While not fully baked, we are thinking of dropping down one more level and allow you to enter and track your accounts.  Remember, this whole project is to replace my DIY retirement planning spreadsheets and I do this one the last one.  The whole point is the deeper we go the more accurate the conclusion will be.  For most folks, a 90%-95% accuracy is close enough but for others, they want more.

When Experts Are Needed

So I guess I lamented programming professionals for not being open to less skilled folks getting into the industry and the barriers they are putting up in my last post.  One of the most important aspects for any business leader is to know when you need an expert and when you can get by with average talent.  Take my old car for instance.  I have owned a 1985 Nissan 300ZX for the better part of my life.  My first one was purchased in 1989 and since then, I have had several of them.  I truly love working on this car and doing things like adding a new stereo, replacing shocks, or replacing the frame bushings.  With the Chilton Books, manuals, and YouTube, I have found that I can do just about anything.  Or so I thought.

I was playing golf with a person who I never met who happened to own a 1955 Chevy that was really cool.  He had the big slicks in the back and great flame paint job.  You could have put this car in the Grease movies and it would have fit right in.  His interior had been redone and I noticed something odd.  The seats were wrong for this car.  Yea, they looked great and had matching fabric but something didn’t fit.  I may be the only guy that could have looked at those seats and immediately known they were wrong.  Why?  They were from a 1988 Nissan 300ZX.  I know this because I have a pair sitting in the garage along with new leather seats covers that I can’t install.

I have tried and tried to install these seat covers but they need an expert in upholstery to understand how to make them look perfect.  All the books and videos in the world won’t change the fact when you have to think on your feet and still deliver a perfect product; average skills won’t do.  It took me a week to just get the head rest on so there has to be a secret here that only years of experience would handle.  While average skills work great for most jobs, sometimes you need an expert.  The trick is knowing when and admitting it.

Best Advice When Going or Speaking at a Conference

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share some of my experience in conference speaking.  Warning, unintended braggadocio statements to follow.  Between 1999 and 2007, I took the opportunity to share information and research about a specific technology.  In my case, this was Metadata which is basically data about data.  Over the years, I did about 41 speeches and some I actually got paid for.  The travel opportunities took my wife to places we would never have gone by ourselves.  Anyway, this group asked me to give them some advice on things I learned along the way.  Not wanting to give the same advice you could get from a Toastmasters meeting or the Interweb, I keep my comments to just five items.  I’ll save four of them for later but I will share the final piece of advice here.

One of the things I noticed when I went to these conferences is that people travel in packs.  You see the same people from the same company eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Usually this group pairs off into the different sessions but at break time, the pack forms again.  They each carry a sign that says don’t talk to us and stay away.  The funniest is when they take selfies to share with folks back at the office and in the background are the same people that went with them.  Why?  Does the manager, say now be sure to take this opportunity to get to know your co-workers?  Well, yes that is what happens.  Of course, we also hang out with people we know because strangers make us uncomfortable.  This can be the worst possible thing you can do, especially if you are a speaker and hope to have repeat performances.

My simply advice is to meet people.  Meet the people in your session before and after your speech.  Meet people at the lunch table and during the breaks.  Yea, we know.  Networking is good for us.  I thought you were going to share something of value in this post.  Hang on…  In my first couple of speeches, when I was terrible and spoke like a Baptist Preacher throwing hell fire and brimstone.  I met a few folks.  Here is a short list and the impact they had on my short speaking career.

  • I met the CEO of Boing at a lunch table.  Within 8 months, I was speaking in front of his Executives at an Executive LwD.  Not to mention a job offer.
  • I met the European counterpart to the conference organizer at my night session.  Within 12 months, I had offers to come to England, France, and Germany.
  • I met the same type person but was from Australia.  Within a couple of years, I would be flying to Sydney all expenses paid.
  • I met a nice lady who seemed very unassuming but had a few kind words to say.  With a year, I would be writing a monthly column for the industry magazine.  She turned out to be the editor.

I could go on but you get the picture.  Hanging out with your coworkers may help you back at the office but if you want to really succeed drop them at the cookie line and start networking.

Is My Data Secure at

The simple answer is yes.  In fact, no data is actually moved outside your device.  Currently, we don’t use cloud storage or any external data storage to handle your information.  The information you put into the application is stored within the browser in something called Local Storage.  With local storage, web applications can store data locally within the user’s browser. Before HTML5, application data had to be stored in cookies, included in every server request. Local storage is more secure, and large amounts of data can be stored locally, without affecting website performance.

What about in the future?  In the future, we would like to add the option of storing your data in the cloud so that you can share the information across devices.  This way, you can see the same information on your laptop as you do on your mobile phone.  We will do everything to keep this data safe, secure and most importantly anonymous.  We will never ask for names, accounts, passwords, or anything of that nature so rest assure, your data is secure.

Importing Net Worth Information into the App

If you are like me, you track your net worth in an Excel spreadsheet.  We have been doing this since 1988 and it’s interesting to see the chart and associate life events to the ups and downs.  Entering all that data into another application can be tedious but we have created an easy to use form that will load it up for you.

There are four field that you can enter.  The first two, age and year you started tracking, are used to establishing a starting point.  Yes, we could have used your current age to calculate these but this is more fun and ensures we start at the right place.  The next two fields are for your assets and liabilities.  These fields are comma delimited which means we use a comma to separate the years.  Let’s put in a simple example.  Suppose you have been tracking your net worth for 5 years.  Here is what you could put use as input.

Age: 40
Year Started: 2012
Assets: 10000,20000,30000,40000,50000
Liabilities: 2000,5000,5500,6000,5200

From here we can import the data and create five net worth records.  Of course, you can change the values and add comments on the net worth table view.

Simple right?