September 15, 2014
A Monday Morning Question
I’ll be sharing some technical posts later this week so I decided I’d make my Monday morning post a bit different. I’d like to make an observation and leave you with a question. This is a rhetorical question – not something I need to know the answer to or even want to know the answer. This is your opportunity in the quiet of your own mind to evaluate where you are and how you would truthfully answer this question for yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and take a moment.
Here’s my question. It’s not hard and it’s not difficult to understand.
Where is your focus?
Now that seems a simple question. In fact, it’s only four words. I bet you instantly answered it. You came up with something about work, or family, or friends. Maybe you didn’t. Again, I’m not interested in hearing your answer. That’s for you. But I’d like to expand the question just a bit and then ask you again how you would answer.
We have a million things begging for our attention these days. We have more channels then ever to monitor and keep up with. In reality this means we have so many more opportunities for marketers to advertise their products and push their items in our streams, our feeds, our faces. Then beyond the companies begging for our money there are other things competing for our time. We must balance not only our priorities but our energies and our efforts. Family, friends, husband, wife, children, siblings, parents, bosses, co-workers…the list is seemingly endless. So many things needing our time and our attentions. I haven’t even begun to address open source, volunteer and other non-profit areas where our time can provide immense benefits. I know, you understand already. You get my point. I’ll not elaborate or draw things out any more. Bottom line – there’s many many things which would like more of our time and attention.
With so many things in need of our abilities we can very quickly begin to lose our focus. Not our focus on which project or relationship to spend time on, but something different. We can misplace our focus. I believe it comes down to one of two options. You can place your focus on others or on yourself.
We each have unique skills and abilities which make us special and give us our worth. Some of us have a grander stage, some have a more visible role. Regardless of the size of the audience we all have talents. We have power to make a difference and we have the tools to do more. But sometimes (sometimes) we lose our sight. We lose our focus and instead of placing others before ourselves we fall prey to the selfish me-first attitude. Because we have many different demands on our time or abilities we begin to think more highly of ourselves. It’s slow, it’s sneaky and it’s dangerous.
Rather than being consumed with how everything affects us, we should spend a bit more time focused on others and how a situation might affect them. Admittedly that’s hard to do. We all want to be recognized as important and valuable. We crave the sense of appreciation we get from others and how the feeling of importance makes us feel needed. We don’t fit every need and we’re not (or shouldn’t try to be) the center of every debate, discussion, or situation.
When we work together as a team, a community, a family we have the opportunity to accomplish great things. When we focus on the common good, the common cause, and the vision we have set forth and we each look to our neighbor as our focus we empower each other. This bond strengthens relationships. This bond empowers and fuels us to do more, to be more, to become more. When we focus on others we improve something greater than ourselves and we leave a legacy.
There’s my Monday morning question for you. It’s only four words but it holds a lot of meaning. Remember, it’s rhetorical. I answered it for myself and I’m not sharing my answer. I’d love it if you did the same. Consider the question. Consider yourself and decide where you are.
Where is your focus?
August 6, 2014
Teams are Awesome
There’s no doubt about it. Working together, working in a team is an awesome experience. Before you go thinking I’m incorrectly using a word in a modern sense let’s define the term.
Awesome: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
Awesome is a great word which perhaps is too casually thrown around these days. The idea of something being awesome means more than “cool”. We’re not talking about TMNT kind of awesome. I believe teams are awesome in the extremely impressive and inspiring great admiration sense of the word. Here’s 10 reasons why I believe teams inspire great admiration.
1. Teams Share The Workload
Teams are a great way to share work among many people. A team helps to ensure no single individual holds too great a weight on their shoulders. The work becomes far more manageable when shared. There’s the old saying,
“Many hands make light work.”
This is definitely a truism. When a team of individuals work together and properly delegate tasks to different team members they are able to make hard things easy. Sharing the workload means nothing is left to much on any one person.
2. Teams Provide Alternative Views
I know speaking personally that I have opinions and views on how things should be done and the best way to do things. I base these opinions on my own personal history and life experiences. Other people similarly have their opinions formed by their past. Working in a team provides a chance to evaluate alternative views and determine the best course of action for accomplishing your goals.
3. Teams Hold More Talent
I know some incredibly talented people. I’m blown away with their skills and abilities. Some of them are able to do things I can only dream of doing. But they are only one person. Now consider putting several of these crazy-skilled people together in a team. The combined talent is exponentially greater. A good team nurtures each individual to strive for greatness and push their talents to the limit. Joining these individuals together in a team means the overall talent level is ridiculously more than a single individual.
4. Teams Encourage
There have been plenty of times when I’ve been discouraged. Working alone, coding at night by the light of my computer screen and getting stuck on a bug when there is no one to turn to and ask for help is discouraging. Teams provide a way to encourage each other when feeling beaten. It’s not even necessary for the team to solve the problem or come up with an answer. It’s enough for a good team to simple be available to offer encouragement and support.
5. Teams Spread the Word
I’m only one person, I can only share information so far. My sphere of influence extends to a certain size and that’s the extent to which I can spread the word. A team on the other hand applies a multiplier to that concept. Spheres of influence expand much much farther when a team of people work together to spread the word. Teams influence far more people.
6. Teams Run Longer
It’s a fact of life. Everyone sleeps. Some of us may sleep less (far less) than average…but we still need sleep. We experience setbacks, frustrations, and other unexpected life situations. Each of those interruptions takes us away from what we are working on. In a team these disruptions are minimized because someone else can be there to carry the torch. Teams support each other and like a relay race they can go much further than an individual.
7. Teams Conquer Challenges
If you’ve ever tried to move a piano you know it’s nearly impossible to do so on your own (or at least it’s impossible for me). But I know if I gather a team of friends we can conquer the challenge. Similar to the first point of sharing the load a team can also conquer big things by working together. Obstacles too large for a single individual to overcome can be moved with enough team effort.
8. Teams Create Great Things
More than just moving obstacles though teams are able to create great things. There’s only a limited amount of things I can do by myself but when a team of people share the vision and work together they can accomplish much much more. A team is how you build something which will withstand the test of time. Teams do more than just create great things; they also inspire greatness.
9. Teams Value Individuals
My last sentence from the previous point carries nicely over to this one. Teams create great things but even more so they inspire greatness in others. Those individuals who are a part of the team grow personally and take pride in the accomplishments, in the greatness of the team. A good team recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of the individual team members and appreciates what each brings to the group. Teams value the individual skills of each person.
10. Teams Build Relationships
This is an amazing side effect of a team atmosphere. As you work through challenges, as you share work and live in the trenches you begin to build relationships, bonds with one another on the team. These bonds reach far beyond the tasks for the team. These friendships forged through fire (problems in the project) are the lasting kind of relationships. You will find you’re no longer alone. The unexpected and great side effect of a team is the personal growth you’ll experience.
With those 10 points I think it’s quite easy to say. Teams are awesome. Teams inspire great admiration and they are without a doubt extremely impressive.
The next time you are contemplating how to get something done or feeling overwhelmed; stop and consider the benefits of building a team to help you do more. There’s something exciting about building a team and getting started. Don’t go at it alone. Build a team. Be awesome.
August 5, 2014
The Open Source Armchair Quarterback
Everyone laughs at the guy sitting back in his chair and coaching the team on the television. Regardless of the sport there’s always those individuals who think they can do it better. They see a better passing opportunity, or they imagine a smarter way to score. Those around them laugh at the obvious inability of their friend to actually accomplish the great boasts he makes. And to be fair, when seriously questioned he admits he would be incapable of performing at the same level as the pro athlete on the field. But this doesn’t stop him from continuing his boasting.
Interestingly I see this same characteristic found in some open source communities. There’s a temptation to sit back and critique those actually doing the work. It can sometimes be easier to simply point out the flaws and ways in which things could be done differently or better. Sadly sometimes these community members fail to see the same faults which befall the armchair quarterback. They neglect to acknowledge the truth regarding the work and the difficulty involved. I’d like to provide 4 quick and simple ways to encourage the armchair quarterback in an open source community to do more.
1. Get Active
The first way is simple. Just get active. Get off the chair, get involved in a team, find some way in which you can actively become a part of the open source community. And no, before you ask, merely discussing a topic on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media is not being active. To be active means to get your hands dirty doing the work. I recognize the importance of discussion however when talking is the only contribution it is a poor substitute for actually being involved. Talking provides a false sense of activity by allowing the talker to console themselves with the fact they are contributing an opinion and thus have done their part.
I understand we all have different abilities and skills. I don’t expect everyone to be active in the same way, however, I would suggest that being active involves doing more than merely debating an opinion. Talking only helps so much without actions to back them up. If you see a need determine how you can fill it. Be active in doing.
2. Give Advice When Asked
This one is often the most easily abused. It follows a bit in line with the first point and also relates directly to the armchair quarterback. The ones doing the work may or may not have asked for your opinion. In those cases where they are busy accomplishing something your advice from the comfort of your chair can easily be misconstrued, or simply be unwelcome. It is much easier to be able to offer advice if you are busy working alongside them. The pro athlete listens to their teammate. The people in the trenches with them, not the person sitting in the stands or worse at home yelling at their television.
Rather than shouting (or tweeting) your advice without provocation if you choose not to get active the second best thing is to hold your advice until there is the right opportunity. Give advice when asked or when general discussion is held. You’ll find a much better reception to your words when you offer your words of wisdom at the appropriate time and place.
3. Gather Information First
One of the worst things you can do is make assumptions without knowing all the facts. Those armchair quarterbacks believe they know the best way to do things. They see the perfect pass, the perfect score. They don’t stop to think perhaps they don’t have all the information necessary. It’s often the same in communities. Speak too quickly and without all the information and you risk looking foolish because you made wrong assumptions about the situation. Don’t guess at meanings, or assume intent.
In open source communities especially I believe it is important to assume the best rather than the worst. This involves believing others are working for the good of the community. Gathering information and facts first will help you be sure you speak with knowledge.
4. Go The Extra Mile
The final way in which the armchair quarterback can become a valuable part of the community is through going the extra mile. By going the extra mile I mean getting involved, believing in the team, and looking for ways to do more. By becoming involved in a community and becoming a member of the team you are able to do more and gain so much beyond merely a task completed.
Going the extra mile can be difficult and involves dedication and commitment. This last way is probably the hardest as it requires time. Time is such a valuable commodity and yet one of the best ways to demonstrate your heart and your intentions.
It’s simple really. If you want to truly be more than an armchair quarterback. If you want to show yourself to be a true part of the community and be of value to a project where you can be a part of a team, these four ways will help you get started. I love the feeling of having friends working beside me. Together we can build great things and overcome remarkable obstacles. I’d love to have you join me in one of the fantastic open source communities I have the privilege to work. Got questions? Ready to get started? Message me. Let’s do this thing!
July 25, 2014
Community Building 101
One of the most common topics I speak on and work with on almost a daily basis is the topic of community building. How does an organization create, maintain, or grow a community? The topic is an interesting one and often a difficult one. Each community environment is different and unique and requires a thoughtful and focused plan to help nurture and grow from nothing into a powerful, strong, and successful community. The job of community building lies not with one person but with a group of people. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start With A Team
I hinted at the first tip in my introduction. Quite simply the job of community building is not a one person job. In order to build a strong vibrant community you will want to make sure you have a small group of dedicated individuals who share a similar goal and objective. Of course understanding the meaning of a community and the purpose behind a community it should be relatively easily to find a group of individuals sharing a set of goals. If you can’t organize even a few people then perhaps you need to step back and re-evaluate those goals. Make sure you’re forming your community around the right thing. This dovetails nicely with the second tip.
Identify Your Nucleus
In order to successfully build a community you need to provide a nucleus which the community will be able to grow out from. This can be an ideal, a goal, a dream, or something more. The important thing is to have something which serves as the central focus for your community. Work with your team (mentioned above) to identify what your nucleus is and how you want to focus on your central reason for starting a community. This nucleus is vital as it serves as the anchor to which you can always return to as a community as you grow (or shrink).
Create A Catalyst
The next thing you’ll want to do as you build your community is to create a catalyst. Find the thing which will cause your team and those individuals beginning to form around the nucleus to grow. Create an ecosystem where growth is inevitable. Of course there is only so much you and your initial team can do but there are certainly ways in which you can be the catalyst for growth. If you have identified your core values and goals and people begin to join in your community it’s important to give them the encouragement they need to grow. Think of the catalyst as the way in which you light the fire inside each volunteer to become more involved and to get others involved as well.
Define A Culture
The last tip I’ll mention in this post is to properly begin defining your culture. Don’t believe the culture will create itself and automatically appear simply because you’ve begun growing your community. The culture of a community takes thought, planning, and nurturing. You will want to create a culture which reflects your core values; the goals upon which you’ve begun building a community. It’s never too early to begin planning this piece. Community building means planning ahead. Plan for the success you’ll see and be ready to grow at an exponential pace. Having your culture defined and clear for everyone to feel at home and part of the community.
These are just a few tips to get you started in the job of community building. Being a community manager often feels as though the weight of the community is on your shoulders. The reality is a good community manager recognizes it’s not the job of an individual but is a part of everyone’s role in the community. Community building takes time, effort, and thought.
I love the role of community manager because I get to be the enabler. I’m the vocal volunteer encouraging others to get involved. In some ways the community manager is the tangible result of a good catalyst. I get to share the spark with others and fan the flame of the community to encourage others to become a part. Based on my experiences I may share more ideas directly related to the role of the community manager-and I may also share my reasoning why I think the title is wrong.
Community Building is Fun
Building a community is incredibly fun and is an opportunity to reach out to others, make new friends, grow common interests, and be a part of something. I’ve got a million more ideas on community building…not because I’m an expert, more from my own failures than anything else. I’ll probably share more in future posts. I may get into specifics on ways you can help communities grow. Got ideas? I want to hear them. Let’s share our knowledge and improve each other’s understanding.