APQC Process Conference

This week, I started in Vegas with huge SAP TechEd conference, then moved on to Houston for the much more intimate APQC Process Conference, attended by 150 of so quality practitioners who are focused on process. I arrived too late for the first day’s sessions, but caught up with people at the reception, then gave the keynote this morning on how we need to change incentives for knowledge workers within the social enterprise:

This is an area that I’ve been pondering over for quite a while, but the first presentation that I’ve done explicitly on this topic. I’m going to do a separate post on this including all of the research pointers to open it up for more discussion; for a technology geek like me, looking at HR issues such as employee incentives makes me feel a bit out of my depth, but it’s been tapping away at my hindbrain since I first started talking about social BPM more than seven years ago, and I’m intensely interested in some of the research that can start to make its way into enterprise process software.

We had a full 25-30 minutes of Q&A after the keynote; there is a huge amount of interest amongst this audience, and a lot of related experiences to share.

I had the huge pleasure of hearing Jack Grayson, founder of APQC and productivity guru, speak about his ongoing work as well as his skydiving experience at the age of 90 (!), and he graciously gave me a tour of the Houstontonian conference center and the adjacent APQC offices that he has helped to build over the years. Impressive and inspirational, although a bit intimidating to follow onto stage.

Keeping focus long enough to blog right after doing a presentation can be a bit challenging, but I sat in on the joint APQC/ASQ breakout session that I attended just after the keynote, discussing their research linking quality practices to quality performance and presented by Travis Colton. Quality measurement systems tend to be related pretty strongly to process improvement and BPM initiatives, and this was a much more detailed view of the process of quality management (as opposed to quality within the enterprise processes) than I usually see, and some interesting points. He finished up, quite by coincidence, with a bit on employee incentives for quality; interesting how much my message from earlier seemed to resonate with a lot of people who I talked to as well as showing up in other presentations. You can see more about their research and results here.

The final session of the day (and the conference) was a wrap-up led by Elisabeth Swan, a process improvement consultant. She applied her background in improvisational comedy to tease out the main themes from the breakout sessions based on post-it notes that people had created during each session, and give an opportunity for people who attended the sessions to speak up about what they heard there. Good interactive wrap-up, and an opportunity to hear about all of the sessions that I missed.

APQC holds a knowledge management conference each year as well as this process conference, plus a number of webinars related to productivity and quality improvement.

Going Paperless On A Small Scale

Earlier this week, I linked to the Paperless 2013 website, a vendor-sponsored initiative that encourages businesses to cut paper, ostensibly for environmental reasons. The products featured by the sponsor vendors – Google Drive, HelloFax, Manilla, HelloSign, Expensify, Xero and Fujitsu ScanSnap – can certainly assist with this, although I run a completely paperless office using only one of those (Google Drive), and that one only in a secondary role. The interesting part was a conversation that ensued with another small business owner, although she was primarily interested in going paperless with personal documents (which I have also done), which made me realize that most small businesses are a bit clueless about how to go about this in a secure and legal fashion. I’ve been involved in large-scale document scanning projects since the 1980s, and I’ve gathered a lot of ideas about how to do this on a scale suitable for organizations of any size, so I thought that I’d lay out a plan suitable for small businesses.

Keep in mind that although I run a single person business, it’s incorporated, so I have the same paperwork requirements as any other private company: invoicing, payroll, government filings, income tax and all. I also do some amount of document collaboration with other small businesses, as well as for some non-profits with which I’m involved.

Here’s how I keep paperless:

  1. If I receive a document in electronic form, I leave it in electronic form unless I absolutely need to print it.
  2. If I generate a document, I leave it in electronic form unless I need to physically sign it (such as a contract) or take it to a client meeting (since many of my clients have not embraced the paperless way). This is not just Microsoft Office documents, but any document including things such as invoices, which I generate from my accounting software (QuickBooks) directly as a PDF and email to clients: I keep a copy of the PDF invoice, but it is never in paper form in my office. Services such as Freshbooks pride themselves on offering electronic invoicing, but you don’t need to switch if you’re happy with what you have, just install a good PDF generator and send it via email.
  3. If something is in paper form but I can get the electronic version instead, I do. Although my bank doesn’t provide electronic bank statements for commercial accounts, many other banks and service providers do. Most of my monthly expenses receipts, including travel and telecommunications, arrive in PDF, since most airlines, hotels and car rentals will email a receipt to you if you ask. My most common question at a client site when they hand me a huge printed document or presentation is “can I get that in electronic form”?”
  4. As a last resort, if I receive something in paper form (or have to print it in order to sign it), I scan it and shred the paper as soon as possible. This is the crux of most document imaging projects, but in reality is a fairly minor part these days if you do most of your communication electronically and can keep paper out of the mix altogether. Yes, it’s legal (more on that below). Since my volume is very low, I use an inexpensive Epson scanner that I picked up at Costco, and the software that came with it. That’s fine for a few pages a day, but anything more than 10 pages at a time gets tedious because it doesn’t have a sheet feeder. I would highly recommend a sheet feeder if you have a backlog of paper to convert, or if you regularly receive large paper documents. For smaller receipts when I’m travelling, I snap a photo with my iPhone, back it up to the cloud, then destroy the paper document.
  5. I use automated backup to replicate everything offsite. This eliminates the risk of losing documents, and allows me to access documents from my netbook when I’m travelling.
  6. I use online backup/sync services for shared content management when I collaborate on a project with other small firms and independents. Even if I were working with people in the same office, I would use the same methods since there’s no need to own your own servers.
  7. I manually maintain retention policies on the electronic documents, and delete them appropriately. In Canada, that means I need to keep all corporate and tax-related documents for six years past the end of the fiscal year: I just deleted my 2006 files and shredded the paper files, since that was the last year that I kept any paper records. For any files with a retention policy, I keep them in dated folders so that I can quickly purge them without having to search through files; this means a bit of electronic reorganization at the year end, but it takes only a few minutes.

The result: I have no paper files in my office, except for a small pile in my in-tray waiting to be scanned. No filing cabinets, no boxes of documents in storage. As an added bonus, I have offsite backup, which most people with paper files don’t.

Quelling the nay-sayers:

  • “I don’t like to read on a screen”. Get a bigger/better screen, or dual monitors, and a tablet for taking it with you. Cheaper in the long run.
  • “It’s not secure”. Back everything up offsite, not just locally, in case of a physical disaster (fire/flood/theft). I use Jungle Disk (a division of RackSpace), which encrypts my data on the desktop, then uploads it to an encrypted Amazon S3 bucket. I hold the key, not them, so they can’t decrypt my data. My backup runs automatically, so I don’t need to do anything to make this happen.
  • “It’s too hard to create electronic documents”. Get a good PDF printer/document assembly application. I use CutePDF Pro, which allows me not only to generate PDFs from any application that can print, but also to assemble multiple PDFs into a single document, rearrange pages and other functions. This is useful when I need to append a timesheet to an invoice before sending to a client, or to concatenate all of my expense receipts to attach to a monthly expense report.
  • “I can find things easier in my filing system”. Easier than searching through full-text documents? I don’t think so, unless you have a really trivial number of files. Learn how to use search capabilities of your desktop environment (built into Windows, for example), install a third-party search utility, or (if your company is large enough) use a shared content management system.
  • “I need to keep these paper documents for legal/regulatory reasons”. Probably not. Most government taxation bodies have long accepted digital copies (scans of paper, or original digital documentation such as an invoice received as a PDF) in place of paper – what they refer to as “electronic record keeping”. You can see the Canada Revenue Agency’s take on this at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/tpcs/kprc/menu-eng.html, and similar policies exist for the IRS and other agencies. The Canada Labour Code has similar requirements for human resources records. You may need to research for your type of documents in your jurisdiction, but electronic record-keeping is most likely allowed.

If you’re starting from ground zero of a paper explosion, this might seem a bit daunting. Keep in mind that you can do this on a day-forward basis, since many of your old paper files can be shredded as they pass their 6th birthday: just go paperless starting today (or from the beginning of your fiscal year) and let the old paper cycle out over time. If you really love it and want to get ambitious, you can start doing some back scanning, but it may not be worth it. When I started in 2007, I was already keeping everything electronically that originated that way, but added in scanning of expense receipts (my biggest single paper volume) and government documents, which was not a big change. I still didn’t start scanning contracts for another few years, since they’re big and I don’t have a sheet feeder, but eventually went back and scanned all of the old ones just to clean out the last of the paper files.

A lot of these ideas, of course, are not limited to small business, but form the core of any ECM initiative. Things get more complex when you add in automated business processes to move those documents around between people, but the basic concepts, motivations and nay-saying are the same.

Legalizing Equity Crowdfunding In Ontario: A Panel

Following Darren Westlake’s keynote on equity crowdfunding in the UK, Cindy Gordon of Helix Commerce moderated a panel on whether equity crowdfunding should be legal in Ontario, with panelists Peter Aceto (CEO of ING Direct Canada), Brian Koscak (Chairman of the Exempt Market Dealers Association of Canada and a partner at Cassels Brock & Blackwell), Richard Reiner (partner at CC Stratus Capital), Adam Spence (Founder of Social Venture Exchange) and Darren Westlake (CEO of CrowdCube).

Blogging panels is always difficult, and I won’t try to attribute comments to specific people, but here are some of the points covered [my comments in brackets]:

  • Crowdfunding isn’t just for startups; it can also provide significant benefits to small businesses looking to expand or take on new initiatives.
  • Crowdfunding works well as seed funding to get a startup to the stage where it can be considered for larger funding sources such as venture capital.
  • The share structure will need to be considered fair to the early crowdfunding investors and to the later venture investors, in terms of control, returns and liquidity. [This is a major issue.]
  • Social and environmental companies have difficulties with access to capital, and may benefit greatly from crowdfunding. [Many small investors will follow their conscience in crowdfunding investments, as has been seen with Kiva microfinancing.]
  • Canadians are early adopters of financial technology (ATMs, web banking, internet-only banks) and are likely to accept equity crowdfunding quickly.
  • Social media, including some aspects of crowdfunding, encourage/reward transparency. [If you’re going to be successful in raising funds through crowdfunding, be prepared to willingly expose the inner workings of your company.]
  • Crowdfunding would make it feel normal to invest in startups, and tax incentives for small business crowdfunding would support this significantly.

There are some crowdfunding approaches already being tried out in Canada, including debt/bond/co-op structures such as with ZooShare, which provides co-operative investment into a plant that turns Toronto Zoo poo into biogas. ZooShare’s scheme requires that you join the co-op as a member, then can buy community bonds that pay interest over seven years. Obviously, allowing for equity crowdfunding will greatly expand the opportunities for investment, since not everyone want to join a co-op to buy bonds in order to invest in interesting opportunities.

We’re going to be doing a table exercise on benefits and concerns of crowdfunding, then the conference wrapup, so this will probably be the last post from this Technicity conference on crowdfunding. I’m not really an entrepreneur any more – I’ve done two startups in the past, but currently just operate as an independent – but I have a lot of friends with Canadian startups that could benefit from crowdfunding, and I’m fascinated by any intersection of social and business.

Relationship-Driven Customer Service At American Express

Jim Bush, EVP of world service at American Express, delivered a morning keynote here at PegaWORLD to talk about customer service, and how they’re transforming it to provide better value to their customers. 93% of those surveyed say that companies fail to exceed service expectations, which is a complete disconnect with the fact that companies that provide superior service will get 13% more customer dollars because of that. They looked at a new customer service paradigm to deal with the business realities: multiple integrated service touchpoints; experiences benchmarked across industries; consumer choice; increased regulatory scrutiny; and better-informed, more powerful consumers through social media and other means. The customers are back in the driver’s seat in most consumer-facing businesses.

AmEx responded to this by deciding to service customers, not transactions. That’s an important distinction: a specific incident (whether positive or negative) needs the context of the entire customer relationship in order to understand how to best address it. They now consider service to be not a business cost, but an investment in business growth, and focus on respecting and deepening the customer relationship. To do this, they reconstituted their service organization as World Service, with the goal to enable, engage and empower. No small feat, considering that their 20,000 customer care professionals handle hundreds of millions of customer interactions in 22 markets, 15 languages and eight engagement channels.

They have moved past the granular measurement of “how did we do on this transaction” to the net promoter measurement of “would you recommend us to a friend”, which changed how they think about the customer relationship. In fact, they have just trademarked the term “relationship care”.

I’m in the middle of reading United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media – a fantastic and funny read about one man’s journey through a customer service nightmare (and if you haven’t seen the “United Breaks Guitars” video, get on over to YouTube right now) – and one of the points that author Dave Carroll makes in the book is that managing customer service on a transaction basis tends to make companies ignore what they think are statistically insignificant events such as a specific bad transaction with a customer. That, in short, is exactly how not to treat a customer if you want to foster a relationship.

Thinking about the customer relationship rather than just servicing a specific transaction puts AmEx on the right track towards service innovation. They’re also looking at engaging customers through the channel of their choice, from paper to telephone to SMS. If a 162-year-old company can do this, every company has the potential to do the same, and yet many continue to put their head in the sand on turning their customer service around to actually serve the customer in the manner that the customer wants to be served. To serve the global citizen, AmEx combines relationship care with channel convergence, integrated technology, and a global scale with borderless solutions. Through that, they want to turn indifferent (although satisfied) customers into promoters and advocates for the brand. Not many of those customers will end up with the AmEx logo tattooed on their arm, but a single voice can go a long ways these days.

Oh yeah, and they use some Pega software.

What Price Integrity?

As an interesting follow on to the previous session on blog monetization, I attended a panel on maintaining integrity on blogs when you do advertising or promotions on your site, featuring Danny Brown, Gini Dietrich and Eden Spodek. A lot of this is about transparency and disclosure; one audience member said that she writes paid reviews on her blog but that although you can buy her review, you can’t buy her opinion: there’s a fine line here. This is particularly an issue for lifestyle bloggers, since they often receive offers of free product in exchange for a review; this might be seen as being less of a “payment” than cash, although it still constitutes payment.

When I write a product review here, I am never compensated for that, although arguably it can impact my relationship with the vendor and can lead to other things, including paid engagements and conference trips. That’s quite different from being paid to blog about something, which I don’t do; I’ve had offers of payment from vendors to blog about them, and they don’t really understand when I tell them that I just don’t do that. Of course, you might say that when I’m at a vendor’s conference where they paid my travel expenses and I’m blogging about it, that’s paid blogging, but if you’ve ever spent much time at these conferences, you know that’s not much of a perq after a while. In fact, I’m giving up potential paid time in order to spend my time unpaid at the conference, so it ends up costing me in order to stay up to date on the products and customer experiences.

By the way, my “no compensation for blogging” doesn’t go for book reviews: it is almost 100% guaranteed that if I write a book review, the author or publisher sent me a free copy (either paper or electronic) since I just don’t buy a lot of books. I currently have a backlog of books to be read and reviewed since that’s not my main focus, so this isn’t such a great deal for either party.

The key advice of the panel is that if you do accept free product or some other payment in exchange for a product review, make sure that you remain authentic with your review, and disclose your relationship with the product vendor. In some countries, such as the US and the UK, this is now required; in places where it isn’t, it’s just good practice.

I was going to stay on for a session on webinars but the speaker seems to be a no-show, so this may be it for me and PodCamp Toronto 2011. Glad that I stopped by for the afternoon, definitely some worthwhile material and some food for thought on monetization and integrity.

Blog Monetization

The next session that I attended was Andrea Tomkins talking about how to make money through advertising on your blog. She started with ways that blogs can pay off without direct monetization, such as driving other sorts of business (just as this blog often drives first contacts for my consulting business) and leveraging free trips to conferences, but her main focus was on how she sells ads on her blog.

She believes that selling your own ad space results in higher quality advertising by allowing you to select the advertisers who you want on your site and control many of the design aspects. Plus, you get to keep all the cash. She believes in charging a flat monthly rate rather than by impressions or clicks, and to set the rates, she looked at the rates for local newspapers; however, newspapers are very broad-based whereas blog audiences are much more narrowly focused, meaning that the people reading your blog come from a specific demographic that certain advertisers would really like to have access to. Andrea’s blog is a “parenting lifestyle” blog – a.k.a. “mommyblogger” – and she has 1,300-1,400 daily views, many of whom are local to her Ottawa area.

She started out charging $50/month/ad, and bumped it for new clients as well as an annual increase until she reached a sweet spot in the pricing (which she didn’t disclose). She doesn’t sell anything less than a 3-month term, and some advertisers have signed up for a 12-month spot. Her first advertiser, who is still with her, is a local candy store that she and her family frequented weekly – she felt that if she loved it so much, then her readers would probably enjoy it as well. She approached the store directly to solicit the ad, although now many of her new advertisers come to her when they see her blog and how it might reach their potential audience.

She controls the overall ad design: the ad space is a 140×140 image with a link to their website, with the images being updated as often as the advertisers wish. New ads are added to the bottom of the list, so advertisers are incented to maintain their relationship with her in order to maintain their placement on the site.

She also writes a welcome post for each advertiser; she writes this as her authentic opinion, and doesn’t just publish some PR from the advertiser since she doesn’t want to alienate her readers. Each advertiser has the opportunity to host a giveaway or contest for each 3-month term, although she doesn’t want to turn her blog into a giveaway blog because that doesn’t match her blogging style. She also uses her social network to promote her advertisers in various ways, whether through personal recommendations, on her Facebook page or Twitter; because she only takes advertisers that she believes in, she can really give a personal recommendation for any of them.

Before you call a potential advertiser, she recommends understanding your traffic, figuring out an ad design and placement, and coming up with a rate sheet. Don’t inflate your traffic numbers: you’ll be found out and look like an idiot, and most advertisers are more interested in quality engagement than raw numbers anyway. Everyone pays the same rate on Andrea’s blog; she doesn’t charge more for “above the fold” ads or use a placement randomizer, so sometimes has some new advertisers (who are added to the bottom) complain about placement.

A rate sheet should be presented as a professionally-prepared piece of collateral coordinated with your business cards, blog style and other marketing pieces. It needs to include something about you, the deal you’re offering, your blog, your audience and traffic, and optionally some testimonials from other advertisers.

Handling your own ads does create work. You need to handle contacts regarding ads (she doesn’t publish her rates), invoice and accept payments, track which ads need to run when, set up contracts, and provide some reporting to the advertisers. Obviously, there has to be a better way to manage this without resorting to giving away some big percentage to an ad network. She also writes personal notes to advertisers about when their ad might have been noticed in something that Andrea did (like a TV appearance) or when she is speaking and hence might have their ads be more noticed. She does not publish ads in her feed, but publishes partial feeds so readers are driven to her site to read the full posts, and therefore see the ads. She has started sending out a newsletter and may be selling advertising separately for that.

This started a lot of ideas in my head about advertising. I used to have Google ads in my sidebar, which pretty much just paid my hosting fees, but I took them out when it started to feel a bit…petty. As long as I get a good part of my revenue from end-customer organizations to help them with their BPM implementations, it would be difficult to accept ads here and maintain the appearance of independence. Although I do work for vendors as an analyst and keep those parts of my business completely separate, with appropriate disclosure to clients, it is just as important to have the public appearance of impartiality as well as actually be impartial. An ongoing dilemma.

Psychology of Websites and Social Media Campaigns

I arrived at PodCamp Toronto after the lunch break today; “PodCamp” is a bit of a misnomer since this unconference now covers all sorts of social media.

My first session of the day with Brian Cugelman on the psychology of websites was a bit of a disappointment: too much of a lecture and not enough of a discussion, although there was a huge crowd in the room so a real discussion would have been difficult. He did have one good slide that compared persuasive websites with persuasive people:

  • They’re reputable
  • They’re likable with personality
  • They demonstrate expertise
  • They appear trustworthy
  • You understand them easily
  • What they say is engaging and relevant
  • They respect your time

He went through some motivational psychology research findings and discussed how this translates to websites, specifically looking at the parts of websites that correspond to the motivational triggers and analyzing some sites for how they display those triggers. Unfortunately, most of this research doesn’t seem to extend to social media sites, so although it works fairly well for standard websites, it breaks down when applied to things such as Facebook pages that are not specifically about making a sale or triggering an action. It will be interesting to see how this research extends in the future to understand the value of “mindshare” as separate from a direct link to sales or actions.

My New MOO Cards

Those of you who have met me in person have probably seen my business cards: plain on the front, with the necessary information, and a Hugh MacLeod cartoon on the back:

Hugh MacLeod cartoon on business card

These StreetCards cards have served me well for a couple of years, but as my current stock declined, I thought it was time for a change. Coincidentally, an invitation from MOO to try out their cards landed in my inbox, and I took advantage of their offer for 50 free business cards.

MOO loves color and images, and of their many options for business cards, I selected to have photographs from my Flickr collection printed on the back (I could have also uploaded the photos directly, or imported from Etsy, Facebook or SmugMug). This meant combing through almost 7,000 photos to find my 50 favorites, probably the most time-consuming part of the process; next time, I’ll probably just select 5-10 faves and have them repeated over the print run. I could have also selected from their patterns (like some amazing ones from the UK Science Museum) or colored text options for the back of the card, but I liked the idea of something that was a bit more personal.

I entered the text for the front of the cards, which allowed me to select a variety of layouts, fonts, alignment and text/background color: completely easy interface, and a preview of the final design. I selected the MOO Green card stock, which is made of 100% recycled post consumer waste, is recyclable and biodegradable, and was manufactured using wind power. I felt virtuous as I clicked the Next button.

The order was pretty fast, they had the printing done within a couple of days, and even though it was shipped from the US to Toronto, it only took about a week via USPS. For those of us in Canada receiving goods from the US, USPS is hugely superior to most courier services since they handle the duty and customs brokerage, so there are no extra fees to pay on receipt.

MOO business card box MOO business card box (open)

The unboxing of the cards reminded me of how a playful yet customer-focused organization works: the cards were in a box that included two little dividers labeled “Mine” and “Theirs”, so that I can take the box to a conference, hand out and receive cards, and store them all in the handy box until I am back in my office. They also include a hilarious “Buzzword Challenge” game on a card, inviting you to use such phrases as “data-fluffed” and “future-retroactivate” at your next meeting to see how long it takes before someone asks you what they mean.

MOO business card dividers MOO Buzzword Challenge

The cards themselves are lovely. The recycled paper has a slightly rougher texture than a standard business card, but a fairly clean white look, and holds the colors of the printed photographs well.

MOO business card (back) MOO business card (back)

The verdict: I’d order MOO cards again. I like the use of color and images, and the ability to customize. At around $0.50 per card, they’re a bit pricey for business cards but about the same as the StreetCards that I was already using; I hand out so few business cards each year that it’s worth it to make each one a bit more memorable. As an independent, I can make my business cards look as I please rather than having to follow corporate guidelines, but I’ve also seen people with social media positions in larger companies use the mini MOO cards for their Twitter, blog and other social info that might not be on their corporate card.

Disclosure: MOO provided me with a free order of 50 business cards. Next time, I’ll be happy to pay for them.

PegaWORLD: Medco’s Business Transformation

Kenny Klepper, president of Medco Health, gave a keynote on their business transformation, and how Pega has played a part in that. Personalized medicine is at the core of their strategy; that concept, plus their rapid change and growth through acquisition makes business agility a critical competency. They are looking at how to make medicine smarter through delivering pharmaceutical care as well as ongoing genetic research, particularly for patients with chronic and/or complex conditions. Since poor management of chronic and complex diseases leads to $350B in excess healthcare costs each year in the US, getting a better handle on this is important for the patients, for healthcare providers and ultimately (given the new healthcare bill in the US) on everyone in the country via tax burden. This isn’t about reducing care: it’s about making sure that the right people are getting the right care in order to prevent future problems.

Shifting focus to agile enterprises, he talked about the necessity of agility in order to address changing requirements, and to reduce operating expenses. He sees high operational expenses as an indicator of lack of agility in an enterprise, and hence agility as a primary way to drive down operating expenses. An agile enterprise needs to have a strong underlying technology platform to allow new applications to be built and deployed with a minimum of new investment: their architecture includes a data warehouse, a data management layer, data “fabric”, a service bus, and application frameworks on top of all of that. That provides wide access to information – no one needs to reinvent data access protocols, for example – and allows business applications to be built easily and quickly (using Pega) on top of the stack. As their business becomes more complex, expanding across lines of business and new markets, they are focusing on the common core processes across those lines, and aligning centers of excellence with those horizontal business processes, not just on lines of business or technologies. This shifts the “hot spot” issues from those processes into the CoEs (e.g., an order processing CoE), providing a single source for resolving problems in similar processes across the entire organization. This, plus the fact that they allocate budgets to the joint control of business and IT (redeploying many IT people to the business-focused CoEs), enables real business-IT alignment.

Klepper noted that the more legacy-bound that your organization is, the harder it is for individual operating units to achieve their goals, and the more conflict there is within IT for competing resources. Their focus, however, is on productivity: he considers that they get Agile methods for free by focusing on the ROI of reducing operational costs through the business applications that they create. To achieve this, however, a key focus for any change agent is on sustaining sponsorship: you can’t keep these initiatives going unless you can successfully sell them internally.

This wasn’t at all a technical talk on how Medco uses Pega; rather, it was a call to arms for the agile enterprise. I hope that some of the attendees, mired in legacy-bound conservative industries, got the message.

Blogging and a Knowledge Scarcity Model Don’t Mix

I recently swapped around my office space, and found some old (paper) notebooks that I browsed through before shredding. One of them, from 2006, contained a page of notes that I jotted down about why consultants don’t blog:

  • Not enough time
  • Too few “outside” interests (aside from proprietary customer work), hence nothing interesting to blog about
  • Knowledge scarcity model

Taking these points one at a time, I consider the time that I put into blogging as part of my marketing budget (if I had such a thing), since most of my new business comes to me because someone reads my blog and thinks that I have something to add to their projects. I also consider it a valuable part of my business social networking, providing a way for me to connect with others to exchange opinions or just build those weak ties that come in handy when you least expect it. It’s also, in some cases, a public version of my note-taking – especially the conference posts – that I often refer back to when I know that I wrote about something, but can’t recall when or where. For all of these reasons, the time that I have spent blogging has paid for itself many times over in revenue, relationships and research.

On the second point, there’s always something that you can write about that has nothing to do with the proprietary work that you do for your customers, but would serve you in the ways that I mention above. Generic technology or management research or readings that you’ve done are always a good place to start; product reviews; links to and comments on interesting posts in your fields; even topics that aren’t directly related to your work but that you find interesting. If your customer has a great case study that they’d like to brag about, you can even include that. The important part is to write about what you’re passionate about, those little things that make you love your job.

The most common reason that I hear from consultants on why they don’t blog – and what clearly drives the mostly content-free blogs that we see from the big analyst firms – is that they’re afraid of people stealing their ideas, especially if they think that they can sell those ideas. To quote my friend Sacha:

If the thought of people stealing your ideas is what’s stopping you from thinking out loud on a blog, you’re not alone. It’s a valid fear. If you’re afraid of your ideas being stolen, your mindset is probably that of knowledge scarcity – that you should hoard knowledge because that’s what gives you power. That makes sense to a lot of people.

Another mindset is that of knowledge abundance. There are plenty of ideas to go around, and sharing knowledge gives you power. That makes sense to a lot of people, too.

She goes on to discuss the value of openly sharing ideas: practice in communicating those ideas, questions and challenges that help you refine those ideas, and the networking and reputation effects.

What I see happening with people who operate in a knowledge scarcity model is that they tend to blog about things on which they don’t place much value, since they don’t want to “give away” their really good stuff. However, this results in a negative feedback loop: your audience knows that you’re feeding them crap, and they tune out. In other words, if you think of knowledge as scarce, then your blog is not going to be very successful. It doesn’t mean that your business won’t be, but failure to share makes for an unpalatable blog.

I tend to operate in a knowledge abundance model: there are a lot of people out there with great ideas too, so let’s share them and make something even better. More importantly, however, my knowledge isn’t some limited bit of intellectual property that I invented in the past and have to horde only for my paying customers: I generate new knowledge every day, every time that I talk to someone or read something interesting or have a new experience. In other words, although I might be judged on the basis of what I’ve done in the past, the real value that I bring is the ability to create new knowledge going forward.