by August Jackson, Washington, DC Chapter, CI, IT, and Taxonomy Divisions
Two topics that most people go out of their way to avoid are fear and failure. I’m going to tell you about specific times I’ve felt fear or experienced failure. I share this to encourage you to listen to your fear and court smart failure to build a portfolio of experimentation to build new skills, buttress your reputation and expand your network.
Please forgive an MBA-toting strategy guy from throwing around a term like “portfolio.” Portfolio strategy consists of making multiple bets with varying levels of risk. The idea is that we have safe bets that will generate reliable returns. We also have a few options that may generate high returns but also might subject us to a higher potential for loss. When we invest in an index fund that tracks the S&P 500 or balance our 401(K) we’re employing portfolio strategy. Companies have portfolios of products that include legacy cash cows and new products that may either become superstars or flop.
The modern career should follow a portfolio strategy to augment day job “stability” with cutting edge projects and activities that may pay off big– or not. We need to take on projects and use tools with the full knowledge that they might not pan out.
Experimentation matters for librarians and related elite knowledge workers because there is an expectation that we are on the vanguard of information technology and tools. Our stakeholders rely on us to be the early adopters that are aware of what’s far over the horizon. That’s a critical value we deliver. We don’t have the luxury to wait for certainty that a new tool or medium is the next Twitter before we engage with it.
Here are my criteria for choosing experiments:
- The experiment has the potential to deliver value to my professional community.
- There is an opportunity to develop new skills.
- The project does not require me to seek anyone’s permission. I love projects that have no expense or that I can fund out of my own pocket and that I can do on my spare time.
The issue of permission deserves attention. For many librarians with whom I speak this is a major source of fear that keeps them from experimenting with tools and projects that clearly interest them. So many work places have prohibitive policies and arcane processes. Policies spell out what cannot be done with company-owned tools in the name of productivity, information security or reputation. Steer clear of these issues and build experimental projects that are separate from your day job.
Now I want to tell you about two experiments I’ve undertaken. The first is The Competitive Intelligence Podcast, which I first published in 2005. The first time I learned what podcasts are I saw their disrutpive potential. I was particularly excited by the low costs of production and distribution that would open up opportunities to reach niche markets. I enjoyed setting up my own web site, RSS feed and learning how to record and edit digital audio. The first episodes were very low quality, especially with respect to my ability to speak coherently and edit competently. In the years since I’ve published 40 episodes of the podcast that have been downloaded over 60,000 times. I’ve interviewed the leaders in my profession. I funded the modest costs for the podcast out of my own pocket. I’ve built a skill set that I’ve been able to use in my day job.
The second experiment is the Competitive Intelligence Twitter Chat undertaken with my fellow CI professionals Sean Campbell and Scott Swigart. A Twitter chat is a scheduled, real-time discussion around a specific topic with a common hashtag. In our case we used the #cichat hashtag. Our chat was only the second Twitter chat in which I had ever participated, so I barely knew what I was doing. Our first chats were not very well attended, and participation was going down. After a few months we decided that we should step back and re-evluate the medium, our promotion of the sessions and the logistics. We may revisit the project in the future, but in the meantime we did make some new connections, and now I’m an experienced Twitter chat leader.
A good experiment will generate a modest amount of fear. You’ll also know that you’re in a good place if you don’t know entirely what you’re doing and that you’ll learn as you go. If you’re not a little afraid and don’t face some real risk of failure then you’re not experimenting enough. This is the type of experimentation that is key to evolving your career to be Future Ready.
August Jackson is a competitive intelligence and strategy professional who focuses on the role of information and data as the basis for competitive advantage. In his day job he supports Verizon’s enterprise
strategy and market intelligence. He also cofounded Mosi Systems to help organizations improve insight and foresight using cutting edge technologies to organize and analyze data and information. He blogs at
http://augustjackson.net and also produces the Competitive Intelligence Podcast which can be found at http://www.cipodcast.com. August can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and you
can follow him on Twitter @8of12.