Reflecting on CMX Summit 2017: Power of Story + Peak Moments = Community Strategy?

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How can we, as community builders, use the power of story and peak moments to build better community strategy?

That is the question that challenged me during and after this year’s CMX Summit. And in the spirit of working out loud, I wanted to share what I learned at CMX and how I’ve been exploring that question since.

CMX Summit was an inspiring three days at the REEF in Los Angeles packed with sessions, strategy workshops and memorable breakout chats with other community leaders.

Among other insights, I walked away thinking about two ideas:

  1. How can we use the power of story to demonstrate the value and power of communities within organizations spread communities within organizations
  2. How can we use the power of moments to make the online community experience more valuable and enhance the member journey to transform visitors into members and members into community champions.

What got me thinking about those two big ideas was the Wednesday morning’s session, a wonderful one-two punch that I’m still processing weeks afterwards.

First Michael Margolis spoke about story and then author Chip Heath shared parts from his new book the Power of Moments.

Michael Margolis session: Why The Power of Story Is Key for Community Success

First, Michael took us through an exercise asking questions encouraging us to explore our personal origin story. He emphasized that, as community builders, we can’t share the story of others if we haven’t thought about, are aware of and are comfortable telling our own personal story.

We did this short yet fantastic worksheet activity as we took a minute to write down our answers to a few prompts about our life story and then we turned to a partner and shared the answer with each other.

This exercise resonated with me and it got me thinking about harnessing the power of the individual story of community members.

That five minute exercise reminded me how important it is to stop and truly focus on community strategy at a personal, granular and individual member level.

So often we think of community as a big group of people and yes, that’s important and true.

But far too often, and to the detriment of the greater purpose and long-term success of our community, once the community grows we often forget that community is made up of individual people who each have their own stories and vital personal narratives. And with those personal narratives community members bring their own stories to the community each time they log in.

“Wow!” I thought to myself as Michael spoke to us that morning. “Understanding our own personal origin story and being comfortable with telling our own story is so important to the success of our community strategy.”

So the next logical thought I had was “We must take time to stop and think about the individual stories of our community members. We must use the power of origin stories to enhance community strategy.”

But, why? And is it worth the time? I wondered.

Yes, it is. It’s worth every single second because when you think about all the individual stories of your community members you can better understand the broader impact and the shared purpose and share value of your community.

By thinking on both a broad strategic level and on an individual member level you can better uncover and connect the common threads and similarities of each member more clearly. And you will ultimately make your community strategic more complete and effective.

Essentially, by thinking with a story mindset, you appreciate the greater whole of the community. You appreciate how and why the community is connected. You can start to think about better ways to engage your members in ways that matter to them on a personal level. And you can begin to think of ways to bridge gaps through the intentional and strategic practice of storytelling.

Listing to what Margolis shared and learning more about the work he has been doing with Getstoried is important for community professionals to understand and put to use. For me, I saw two key ways this storytelling perspective can be a strategic community-building advantage.

  1. Harness and unleashed the power of your community’s origin story to inspire others.

Using the power of origin stories is an exciting way to tell the broader mission and value proposition of your community.

Like all superheros, your community has an origin story and you should spend time finding it and get good at telling your community origin story with passion and conviction. If you don’t have one, then you should begin to question, whether or not you should even be creating a community.

Once you discover your story, you need to begin to shape and mold it. How well you tell your community origin story and communicate it to your company, your customers, new members and doubters, and how well you connect your origin story to the value proposition of your audience and organization will directly influence the long-term success of your community.

And remember that your community story should connect in some way to the mission of your company. Your community origin story should amplify the value and promise your company makes to its customer or employees. Your community origin story should influence and enhance your customer experience at a profound level.

Like your community’s mission and purpose, your community origin story is the most important story to develop first because your community origin story will determine which individual stories you tell and how you tell them.

  1. Cultivate and discover your community’s individual member stories.

Margolis’ talk got me thinking deeper about how every broader community story is made up of an inspiring mosaic of individual member stories. And just like spending time crafting your border community origin story, you should dedicate time searching for and then using the power of individual members stories to inspire and engage your organization.

Where do you find individual stories?

You might consider looking first at your community use cases or success stories. You should also dive into your community itself and observe and listen to how your community members are finding value.

Make it a regular activity to connect with your members and ask them how and why (or why not) they’re finding value.

Ask your members about themselves and learn about their careers, hobbies and interests.

Reflect on what you learn and see how your member’s career and life stories connect to your community origin story. Getting to know what makes your members tick and building relationships with them is one of the reasons I love community building and I hope you love this process too.

Once you find your success stories it’s time to focus on a few and develop them. And, yes, there’s a powerful way to craft, refine and share them.

When sharing individuals member stories with stakeholders, skeptics and others who aren’t yet supporters of the community, I use a concept often used in movies called the “story arc.” I use the story arc in a couple ways.

  1. To help leaders and stakeholders understand the long journey and the gradual transformation a community and its members go through.
  2. I then take it a step further and use the power of a community’s story arc to illustrate how that community, and communities in general, can help drive value for their organization. Basically, I use story arc to make the community more  real, human and compelling to each audience I talk with.

With these approaches in mind you should use the story arc to re-frame how you explain community development. Reframing the value of community development in terms of how a movie character develops is important because it compellingly highlights and quickly demonstrates the fact that community takes time and, just like people evolve in their own life or during a movie, a community’s story and the story of it’s member’s evolves over time too.

Think of your favorite movie and how it took the lead character or other characters time (months and or even years) to grow and evolve into the hero that they are at the end of the movie.

It’s the journey and what the hero experiences along the way that matters.  And there’s no rushing this process. How a story’s hero responds to the challenges along the way is what makes the hero who she or he is.

Same goes for community. Community members are human and you can’t rush a community member’s experience. Sure, you can accelerate and cultivate the process in many ways, but you can’t rush the collaborative relationship that develops between a community member and the community.

It’s both important and exciting to think of how you can use the power of story and the story arc to help stakeholders understand how communities and community members evolve along the value-add journey.

For example, I’ve used the story arc many times to illustrate how a disengaged customer or employee transformed from a community critic to a fully engaged champion.

And I’ve used the story arc to show how an active community member transforms into a powerful advocate for the company brand and mission.

Simply put, the story arc is your framework for building your individual member stories and transforming them into a powerful tool for community adoption.  

Put together and told in the right way, a compelling member transformation story can turn a doubting stakeholder into a fully dedicated supporter of your community vision.

Build your tool belt: Be ready to share your stories at a moment’s notice.

That said, once you begin to develop your member stories, you should think of using your collection of individual community stories like a tool belt you can quickly pull from and be ready to share at moments notice.  

In the past, for each community I’ve helped launch and grow, I’ve made sure to put together a collection of unique individual community member stories that I could use when talking with different stakeholders whether I’m in a formal meeting or one of those “90 second elevator moments.”  

You need to be ready to share your best stories, but most importantly you should have a collection of stories to pull from because just one story won’t connect with everyone.

You must have a portfolio of short, yet compelling, community stories you can use in different moments, because the right story shared with the right person at the right time can be what gets adoption going and rolling at your company.

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t rely on just one member story or just your broader community origin story. You should think in terms of key personas.

Think in terms of your audience.  Think how you can create and find success stories in your community to inspire each of your key personas that you want to reach.

Think of what those doubting audiences need to hear and keep your story laser-focused on addressing all the needs and solving the problems that particular audience is trying to solve. Think “what does that audience needs to experience during the story you’re telling to move into action?”

Okay, so that’s what I was thinking about after Michael Margolis’ session. Now, here’s a few takeaways from Chip Heath’s session.

Chip Heath Session: How Can We Build Peak Community Moments?

Focused on highlights from his and his brother Dan’s new book The Power of Moments, Heath’s talk got me thinking more about all the key touch points of the community experience and how creating peak moments is so important to making the community valuable to customers and companies.

In his book, Heath focused on four key moments; moments of elevation, insight, pride and connection. In the context of community experience, what resonated most with me was the idea of building moments of elevation or what Heath calls peak moments.

To illustrate building peak moments, one concept that Heath shared was the idea of focusing our max effort on elevating the positives into peak moments. He used a scale of 1-7 and showed how most companies focus on improving the bottom rung (1-3) of customer feedback surveys instead of focused on improving the (4-6) more positive feedback issues and moving those to 7’s.

He then explained that this focusing on moving the 1-3’s approach is a waste of time and not very strategic either. Focusing on the negative moments is more costly and time consuming and often doesn’t support the law of 80/20 either, which states we should focus our efforts on the 20% areas of business that generate 80% of returns and revenue.  

Essentially, what Heath is saying is that we should work to take the good moments and use them to make great moments or “build peaks.”  We should find ways to make what is working and make those moments as best as they can be.

This concept and different perspective challenged me to think more about what it means to build peak moments for communities. And I began to ask myself a bunch of questions.

How can having a “build peak moments” approach help us build better communities?

Do we as community builders spend too much time trying to resolve negative issues? Do we get too focused adding new flashy features to the community instead of focused on the basics and what’s working and just make little tweaks to transforming the “good” UX/UI moments into great moments?  

Do we get too focused on growth and acquiring new members and don’t focus enough attention on building and nurturing the relationships with current “lurking” members moving them to active members and transform active members into empowered advocates?

Then I started to think about all the important touch points of community through the lens of peak moments…

How can peak moments help us make our community homepage and what first-time visitors experience more impactful? How can peak moments make the onboarding experience more engaging and valuable for new members during the first 30, 60, and 90 days of joining the community?

And what about peak moments and how community managers approach their work…?

How can a peak moment approach help community manager change and evolve how they moderate discussions? How can peak moments approach help community builders be more strategic in their daily, monthly and yearly planning and execution?

How can we use peak moments to change relationships that are critical for long-term success of community adoption…?

How can building peak moments encourage collaboration, co-creation and knowledge sharing among customers and staff?

How can community managers use peak moments to facilitate new and deeper connections between members?

In addition to those questions, I walked away from Chip’s session with this thought:

If we think more about community strategy through the lens of peak moments, we can better focus on the most important member behaviors, scale those critical momentum-building actions and eliminate the unnecessary actions that don’t deliver value or don’t drive adoption or engagement.

Like the 80/20 rule helps business focus resources on what produces results, we can use peak moments to better focus how we spend community resources and stop wasting time on tasks or members that don’t deliver ROI or long-term results.

Simply put, having a “build peak moments” approach when creating and evolving a community strategy can lead to peak value and adoption for your community.

Without a doubt, the CMX Summit was a “peak moment” for me this year and I’ll be experimenting with these ideas and questions more as I continue to build strategy for the communities I’m working on. And look forward to sharing more of what I learned with you in the future.

 

What Are You Running From? What Are You Running To?

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Like life, running is all about going from one place to another. It’s about the journey and embracing how the journey changes us.

For me, the joy of running flows from the pleasure of having the chance to explore what happens to me when I run.

When I run I love the experience of voyaging to and discovering new places both internally and externally.

I love to explore how the internal terrain of my mind and emotions grows and changes along with, or in response to, the external changing landscape around me as I run down busy chaotic city streets or up tall mountains and through valleys as I get lost in the stillness and wonder of the wilderness.

Wherever I run, whenever I run, I love the feeling of how running leads me to understand and reveal new things about myself and the world around me. Simply, put I run to understand. 

The Joy of Fighting for the Flow State

I love to be surprised at what bubbles up as my heart rate rises and I get immersed in the flow state. That flow state: where everything fades away and I am fully submerged in the moment of what is around me.

The wind whipping by my face. The cement streets, dusty trails passing quickly beneath my feet and the tall grass brushing my legs. The sun warming my face. The sweat starting to build on my skin and roll down my back and soak my shirt. All of it gloriously leading me to the flow state.

But the truth is that running almost never starts good. I have to work at getting to that flow state. And some run I only get a bit of flow or none at all, which is a whole other topic to explore on another post. 

So honestly, I usually feel crusty and rusty and out of sync at first.

Of course I might not think this during the run but I love that fight. I’ve learned to embrace the struggle to get to that flow state. It’s part of the experience. Without that first 1-2 miles of initial struggle the joy of flow is meaningless.

I love to gradually dig and dig and dig…and prospect beyond the surface and find the running gold that I’m so desperately in search of. The internal revelation is the gold I’m searching for. That flow gold is what I seek.

Sure, the physical feeling is good and being physically healthy is a bonus.  But ultimately it’s the psychological and emotional transformation that I treasure the most.

So each run it’s like I am on the hunt to find something that will change me or help me appreciate life on a deeper level. And that’s what my “running gold” is.

What Is Running Gold?

For me the running gold is finding a new truth or insight about why I run or who I am? 

So what “running gold” have I found recently? What has “the flow” revealed to me?

Well, on my runs lately I’ve been thinking about the connection between the physical paths we take when we run and the emotional and psychological journey we go on as we make our way down roads, up hills, along treadmills and through beautiful wooded trails.

Two Questions: What Am I Running To? What Am I Running From?

Basically, I’ve been reflecting on Two Questions: “What am I running to? What am I running from?

From those Two Questions I’ve been reflecting on and exploring what happens to my mind, heart and soul as I run the same routes on the roads, in the mountains and wherever else my run takes me. How does repetition and familiarity lead me to a deeper sense of purpose, meaning and awareness? 

As I explore those Two Questions, I’m fascinated, consumed and challenged with what happens to me psychologically and emotionally as I experience those routes over and over again? What happens when I go out and come back to the same place where I began?

Does Where I Run Matter?

What about my favorite routes? When I run my favorite routes am I remaining the same person? Am I changing even though the route remains the same?

Do I like to run the same routes because I find comfort in familiarity and I don’t want to change or grow emotionally? Do the same routes keep me from growing as a person? Or does the discipline of repetition of the routes force me to do deeper and face certain things about myself that I might be running from?

Can I make the routine routes more meaningful by changing my mental perspective?  How do those familiar, personal and repetitive running experiences change me? Do they change me? Why do they change me?

Because of those Two Questions, and whether it’s a new or familiar route,  I’ve started to wonder about the connection between the fact that when I run I change my physical state. But how does this change in physical state, the rise in blood pressure, heart rate and being in the Flow State, impact my emotional state? Does my emotional state change along with my physical state. If so, how?

When I come back to where I started on a run I wonder and ask myself… what did I just run from, what did I just run to? How are those looping and “out and back” routes pushing me to grow and challenging my perspective on life?

 

When I recently ran up to San Jacinto Peak, I couldn’t help but wonder… Was I the same person when I returned after that mountaintop experience?

If I did change (and I know I did), did I remember what I just learned and experienced?

Will I be able to take that moment of joy and revelation and flow state and have it impact the rest of my life?

This bring me to a fear that I have when I run.  It’s a fear that I’ve better understood as I’ve asked myself those Two Questions.

What’s my fear?  Forgetting what I learned when I run.  I often forget about what I learn when I run but I don’t want this to happen anymore.  I don’t do it intentionally but it just happens because that’s what the body does when you come out of flow state.

But I don’t want to do that anymore.  Whether it’s major or minor, I want to remember what I saw, felt and thought during my runs.

I want to fully realize, appreciate and celebrate that I have been changed in my run. Sometimes it’s a big change other times it’s small. But either way I don’t want to let the flow gold slipped through my fingers.

I Want to Remember, Learn From What I Experience

I want to remember and take action on what was revealed to me during my run.

And it’s this fear that is actually powering the inspiration to write this post about the Two Questions.

I don’t want to forget the gift that God has given me during my runs. I want to cherish and hold tight to that flow gold and pass on what I’ve learned to you.

I want to be a conduit of inspiration.  I want to inspire you, my fellow runner, to do the same. To have the same clarity and breakthrough when you run.

I want us to have the shared pleasure and joy of learning from our runs. I want us to not only be changed physically but emotionally and spiritually. And understand the why and how on a deep and meaningful level. 

I want to take a moment and reflect on what happens to us during our runs.

I want to appreciate the truth and magic of what just happened in our body and soul. And I want build on and take action on what I learn. Whatever that might look like.

Most of the Time It’s Not Easy

As I’ve shared in this post, whether I realize it or not, when I run I transport myself to a new psychological, mental and emotional destination.  Thinking about what I’m running to and running from excites me. I don’t always like to ask those Two Questions and I often have to fight to get to that point of focus and flow. But I enjoy and welcome the struggle because I’m always in a better place when I do.

So I fight to ask those Two Questions. I fight to explore the answers. I fight myself to face the new questions that bubble up. Why?

I fight to ask those Two Questions because it helps me better understand and appreciate why I am here on planet earth. It helps me to remember that I’m not only running just to run but there’s a deeper purpose that we’re suppose to discover.

Why Do I Run?

And this, my friend, is why I believe I run. To understand thyself.

For in these moments of flow, insight and reflection I drink in and let the greatest benefits, pleasure and true purpose of why I run rush through me. Those Two Questions give me the opportunity to discover more of who I am and what I am suppose to do in life. They give the running more significance to the world around me.  

Those Two Questions are not only a way to understand what’s going on inside me but those Two Questions give me a chance to get outside myself and connect more with the people and world around me.

By simply asking what I’m running to and what I’m running from, I’m empowered and inspired to connect more with my fellow runners as think about them, their lives and how I can help and inspire them as we share this amazing and transformative experience together.

So whether we’re running fast or slow. Whether we’re going up or down.  Whether we’re going in a loop or “out and back.” Whether we’re returning to where we started or ending up in a new destination, let’s ask ourselves those Two Questions.

What am I running to? What am I running from?

And let’s explore the answers to those questions with ourselves and share the answers with each other. See you on the trails!

9 Things the Cubs World Series Championship Can Teach Us About Building A Community Strategy

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One thing I learned from my No Sports for a Year experiment is that I love learning from the strategic side of baseball and I love applying what I learn to other areas of my life.

So, lately, as the new 2017 season gets going, I was thinking more about how and why the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series and I’ve been inspired by the smart, strategic and careful planning they did to make it happen.

And when I think about the connection between the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series and building communities, I realized how those smart plans from the Cubs winning strategy share many of the same elements to building a successful community strategy.

So as I reflect, here’s a list of connections I’ve begun to make between the Cubs historic championship season and what it takes to build a successful and strategic online community for organizations.  Whether you’re building a community to collaborate and engage with employees or build deeper relationships with customers, I hope you can use these insights to help you create a better community experiences and strategy. 

1. You Must Have a Community Vision and Stick To It

What happened to the Cubs in 2016 wasn’t just happenstance. It was carefully planned out and orchestrated ever since the Cubs began to rebuild circa 2012. It was a vision manifested. Yes, baseball is just a game but it’s also a business that involves complex negotiations and strategic thinking both on the field and in the front office. Yes, much of the game of baseball is unpredictable, but organizations make hundreds of calculated decisions that set a team up to have the opportunity to be in a position to win.

Same goes for building a successful and valuable community. You must know why you are building community and have a vision of the value you want to create for the members.The beauty of a having a solid and well thought out community strategy is that you can create a specific environment and experience for that value and magic to happen in. Your community vision is part of what creates the opportunity for to do what you want members to do.

Having a vision is critical in both situations. When building communities, visions can be simple and grow organically but you should have at least some type of purpose and idea of why you’re starting the community and what value you want it to give back to the organization and its core audience.

2. Welcome New Members Like The Cubs Welcomed Rookies

When I read this MLB.com article about how the Cubs veterans welcomed the rookies, brought new team members into the team culture and how those actions built a strong team culture and chemistry, I loved it because it highlighted an important part of building a successful community: welcoming new members and guiding them to helpful and meaningful experiences and conversations.

In the article, they talked about how the veterans intentionally took time to teach the rookies, befriend them and introduce them to team rituals and veteran experiences. I also enjoyed how all the off-the-field relationship building helps makes the rookies feel comfortable, so ultimately, they are relaxed and can play at their best on the field knowing their teammates have their back and support them on and off the field.

Same goes for community strategy. Whether you’re just launching a new community or several years in, you should always have a member onboarding and welcome strategy. Welcoming new members and developing your member journey is vital to the initial and long-term growth of your community.

You should ask: What do you exactly want members to do and experience within the first 30 to 90 days in your community? Strategically designing this journey from start to finish is what drives, guides and inspires new members to get value right from day one and it’s also what plants the seeds of advocacy so members can become empowered advocates and champions for your community.

A well thought out welcoming strategy and a clearly defined and developed member path should be a top priority in a community strategy, but often what happens is that this critical part of success often goes overlooked or falls to the bottom of the list as a community begins to grow. Don’t let this happen to you.

Most organisations just think that people will figure out how to find things in the community and rely to much on serendipity. It;s a mistake that adoption will happen organically.  It just isn’t true. The most successful communities are the results of strategically planning out the member experience so it leads the members down an intentional path of value and meaningful moments that keep them coming back and invite them into the purpose of the community. Take the time to be strategic and map out our member’s journey. 

3. Focus on What’s Important For Your Community and Block Out the BS

There was a lot of high-expectations and constant distractions throughout the Cubs historic 2016 season.  Late night talk shows appearances, commercials spots, media pressures. But it never seemed to take away from the ultimate goal and mission. The Cubs seemed to be able to remain present and take things one game, one pitch and one play at a time and stay focused on the ultimate goal: Win the World Series.

Same goes for your community strategic priorities. Know what you want to do and don’t get distracted. I admit that it’s easy to get sidetracked with all the noise, moderation, resource setbacks and other myriad distractions that get thrown at you as you try to build and grow your community, but take time to lay out your community goals and hold fast to them. Write down what projects are most important to growth.

Be clear about what projects and daily actions are going to add the most value to achieving eventual success. Be consistent and relentless about sticking to that list and it will show to the rest of the organization that you mean business with your community.

The value of community is still not obvious or assumed in most organisation and staying focused on your strategy is important in making sure your demonstrate and communicate the value to all stakeholders. Demonstrating to the organization that you are focused on achieving your community’s business goals is key and it should be a top priority for you. 

 

4. Learn From Failure…It Was The Cubs Winning Secret

This was probably one of the most overlooked, albeit most important reasons why the Cubs won the World Series. They lost 64 times during the 2016 season and I always felt like they made the most of each loss. Understanding that losing is a part of the baseball season and accepting it is big part of winning.

And the Cubs always seemed to use defeat to their advantage by learning their opponents styles and weakness so when the next opportunity to win came around they were ready. Essentially, they won even when they lost because they learned from what didn’t work and saw each moment as a chance to learn and experiment and then make adjustments.

Sames goes for building community. You’re going to fail. If you don’t fail, you’re likely playing it way too safe and not growing or getting the value you should be getting. So expect to fail and when you fail, learn from it. Take detailed notes and use what you learn to build a stronger community strategy.

Work out loud about your failures so you and others can learn together. Heck, you could even take it step further and see losing as a way to build stronger emotional relationships with your community. As a Cubs fan growing up, the Cubs were known as the “lovable losers” and it was following the team through thick and thin that built stronger relationships and when they finally won it all, it made the win that much sweeter.

If you approach it in the right way, losing has a way of giving you a chance to be vulnerable and connect on a deeper level with others in your community. When you fail together as a community find ways to make it meaningful and make it something that brings your community together instead of something that rips it apart and creates chasms. Use failure as a catalyst to improve and discover more ways to win and as a way to build bridges.

 

5. Building a Championship Team, and a Community, Takes Time

Winning teams don’t happen overnight. If you want to build a lasting legacy, there are no shortcuts. It takes time. The Cubs didn’t win for many, many years. 108 to be exact. And the 2016 World Series team began building in 2012.  Also, the baseball season is long, long journey. You don’t sprint over 162 games. You pace yourself and as Maddon says, “you should look to start another one game winning streak each day.”  

Same goes for community. Building a valuable community takes time to evolve and grow.  The most successful communities start small and build gradually over time. For example, in my last community building project the journey to build community and collaboration at Walgreens took 5 years and not until about year 2-3 did it finally take root. So, don’t rush it. Be patient. If you want to win and build something meaningful, know that it’s a long journey but it’s totally worth it. 

6. Build Winning Behaviors Through Shared Values, Meanings and Rituals

In order to have lasting meaning and create successful winning behaviors, there has to be special rituals that the team or fans do together and you have to do them regularly. Creating rituals that leverage the power of psychology and how our brains and bodies work is a must. Look at what the Cubs do after every win at home, Wrigley Field erupts into a frenzy singing “Go Cubs Go.” This is an important part of being a Cubs fan and it’s one of the things that unites and builds community among Cubs fans. It may seem strange to other fans but it’s a key ritual that breeds success.

That said, during the 2016 season, after listening to Joe Maddon talk about how he encourages celebrations and dance parties after each win made me ask the question “Was there too much celebration, too much partying with out having won the whole thing?” But then I realized how important those celebratory daily rituals are to success. I began to appreciate the powerful impact of building behaviors that build a strong and winning culture.

Same goes for community. Celebrating your wins daily, weekly, monthly and yearly because it’s socially and psychologically important to building a winning culture.  Celebrate with your community and celebrate wins with your community team. 

Your community strategy should include some type of ritual that the community experiences together. It can be a live event, weekly member recognition or celebrating wins together each year. Whatever it is, you must make ritual building a central part of your strategy to create a powerful shared emotional experience within your community. You can’t have a valuable and long-lasting community without it.

7. Cultivating Relationships Is Critical to Success

Like I mentioned above with welcoming members and making rookies feel supported was a key ingredient for success. There’s no denying that the Cubs secret was the relationship building. The Cubs winning culture came from the strong relationships that the players built together. And for decades the Cubs organization has built such a strong emotional, relational bond with it’s fans that we’ve stuck with the team 108 years until we finally won it all.

The same goes for building a community. Yes, a goal for your community should be to use it to ultimately build better relationships with customers and employees. But for the ultimate goal to be realized your must focus on a small core of key relationships that will impact the broader relationship with the community. Rewarding top contributors and influencers is critical to the success of your community strategy.

You can build those relationships by giving your MVPs special access to future content before you share it with the broader community. Give your customer champions access to product development and top people within your organization. You can collaborate with top contributors and include them in the creation of future community strategy.  

You should also focus on building relationships within your organization with stakeholders especially in the key departments such as HR, Communications, Legal, IT and Marketing Relationship building should be where you spend much of your time. Treat relationship building like gold. Be intentional about building relationships and don’t spend to much time in the actual online community. Get off line and spend value face time with the people who are going to help you grow your strategy. 

8. Avoid Perfection and Have a Growth Mindset

One of my favorite highlights of the 2016 season was watching and listening to the Cubs bounce up and down in post-game huddle saying “We never quit!”  This rang true right up until the final moments of Game 7.  Doubt hung over the team, but Jason Heyward and David Ross stood up at key moments in the final games and reminded the others that they were capable of winning and should not give up now.

And I believe this “never quit” attitude came from the Maddon’s approach to not seek perfection but focus on the moment and pursue a growth mindset. And after every game I always heard Joe Maddon talk about how the team was young and that the goal was to stay present, “have a process not an outcomes” mindset. He talked often in post-game interviews about experimenting constantly and grow daily.

Same goes for community. It takes time to build a successful community and you should always have a desire to continually test and experiment. Whether you’re just launching a community or a couple years in, there’s always room to grow. Trying to get your community perfect is a loss cause and in some case will limit its potential. Failure is a great asset and learning from what didn’t work will help you make a better community over time. 

That said, don’t plan to far ahead and don’t make your strategy so rigid that it can’t bend and flex with all the changes that are going to come your way.  I’ve found it valuable to road map in 2-3 years and 3-6 months time frames so I have both the short and long-term in mind.

Community management is still very new and when it comes to business integration we’re just getting started and learning about how it all works and should work. So be open to change and experimentation. And always be looking for new opportunities to more fully integrate your community into your business.

 

9. Believe in Your Vision, Take Risks and Expect to Make Unpopular Decisions

Joe Maddon always defied convention. He took risks but he always believed in his vision. This is probably what I both most respect and struggle with about Joe Maddon. On one hand I loved his approach to management it was exciting to watch unfold during the season. But at the same time it caused me so much anxiety as a Cubs fan watching as he made unorthodox moves with the bull pen, aka Aroldis Chapman in Game 7. But it was this very core behavior of Maddon that makes him such an indispensable and legendary manager. 

Same goes for your community strategy. Once you have your vision you should be relentless about following it even in the face of adversity and doubt. You can pretty much assume that most of what you do initially with community will make stakeholders and other throughout the organization uncomfortable at first. This is because integrating community into the flow of business is a new thing for most organizations. So don’t always expect everyone to support or agree with you. Expect push back along the way.

But, like I mentioned above, be sure to build strong relationships with your early supporters and champions because these people will help you carry out your vision and champion it for you to their audience. And this is the only way the community will grow and become valuable to the organization. But don’t expect to always be in agreement. There will be time when you must do what other don’t understand in order to grow.

When it comes to challenging myself with my own community vision, I always think about what I’m building and ask myself “Does the strategy follow the rules or does it challenge conventional thinking and explore new territory both within the company and within the overall practice of community management? Am I using the community to change company culture and the customer experience, or am I just playing it safe and simply using community to mirror silos and traditional corporate culture? Am I doing things that other community strategists haven’t done or am I sticking only to what I’ve read and not taking risks to explore new experiences?

And I’m sure that Joe Maddon and the 2016 Cubs did the same things and asked many of the same questions as they challenged convention, took risks and learned a ton on their way to making history. And I hope the same for your community strategies. I hope they revolutionize your company culture and transform your customer experiences in ways your organizations have seen before.

 

I hope you enjoyed this exploration! Thanks for following along and I’d love to know what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Cubs Win World Series: Enjoying The Moment and Letting the Processing Begin

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The Cubs are World Series Champions! Honestly, part of me never thought I would be able to say that. But after watching this 2016 season unfold part of me thought I had a really (really) good chance to finally type those words and say them out loud. And, well, it happened. It actually happened.

What an amazing and gut-wrenching game it was. But, of course, it couldn’t happen any other way.

I’m still buzzing, floating and taking a moment to enjoy, reflect and soak it all in.

This one is special for sure. After running around the house waving the W flag, I sat on the couch in a daze as my son Calvin looked at me wondering if I was okay, which I think was very similar to how I looked at my Dad in 1984, and 1989 when the Cubs won the division.

But this was different. This was the World Series.

So I looked back at him and said, “Yeah, Daddy’s just fine. I’m sure you don’t fully understand what just happened. And that’s okay. But one day you will. And I hope we can share that moment together, just like we’re doing right now.”

So as I sat on the couch watching the post-game celebration thoughts rushed though my mind…

I’ve always known that my love for the Cubs is about more than just the game. This moment is about so much more.

It’s about the people in my life who taught me how to play and love the game and love the Cubbies.

It’s about all those great moments I’ve shared with family and friends during games that makes this win and this team something I’ll never forget.

So many memories and emotions racing through me. Wow! This one is for you dad and all the others watching down on this most glorious and historic night as we all Fly The W!

It’s about seeing what we can learn from the moment too. What did this historic feat teach us about winning, losing, expressing emotion, persevering, building a community, building a team, leadership, the importance of celebration and much more?

As I shared in my No Sports for Year experiment (yes, I’m glad I didn’t pick 2016 to do that experiment!), this historic moment has many other great learning moments that can be applied to other areas of my life. So I’m processing it all and wrestling with thoughts and ideas as I put together what I’m learning. And I look forward to sharing what I’m learning with you.

Until then, I’m letting it all wash over me as my son and I sublimely hum “Go Cubs Go” together and watching on the television as Chicago erupts into glorious celebration two thousand miles away.

 

What An Amazing Ride It’s Been

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What an amazing ride it’s been these last five years! I’m grateful for such a tremendously inspiring, challenging and rewarding experience of leading employee communities and collaboration at Walgreens. What an honor it’s been to have had so many opportunities to learn, grow and build new relationships and strengthen partnerships, and help the organization work better and stay connected. I’m looking forward to the next adventure in the business of community management as I head to California and begin the next chapter at Esri.

Cheers and thanks to all who have been part of this amazing journey and stay tuned for more as I continue to work out loud and share what I learn along the way.

What I’ve Learned In 5 Years At Walgreens

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I recently celebrated five years at Walgreens, and as part of this career milestone employees are given a ceremonial 5-year pin and the team gathers around as managers and colleagues say a few words about the milestone and the employee’s accomplishments and contributions to the company. At Walgreens, this pin holds an important cultural significance as employees in the stores and at corporate proudly display their pins for 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years of service.

As part of the ceremony, there’s an opportunity for the employee to say a few words. And leading up to my anniversary I started to reflect on what I’ve learned.

It’s been an amazing ride these last five years as I’ve had the opportunity to build an employee community and collaboration program from the ground up, and do it with the help of, and in partnership with, a lot of talented and remarkable people who have influenced and changed me in profound ways. (If you’re wondering why my pin is on a mini-red couch in the photo above, read more here.)

So for my “5-year pin” acceptance speech here’s what I shared as I reflected on what I’ve learned these last 5 years.

I’ve learned…

  • How to take risks
  • How to persevere
  • How to believe in myself
  • How to make and grow partnerships
  • How to lead
  • How to succeed
  • How to fail
  • How to learn from my mistakes
  • How to deal and adapt to change
  • How to manage through ambiguity
  • How to inspire
  • How to be patient
  • How to be assertive
  • The value and importance of seeing a situation from both the 30,000 foot level while still executing on the ground level
  • How to learn from the past
  • How to cast a vision for the future and then execute on that vision in small manageable steps
  • How to be present in the moment
  • How to build a team
  • How to be part of a team
  • How to teach others
  • How to lead leaders
  • How to make something out of nothing
  • How to strategically experiment
  • How to believe and trust in other people
  • How to challenge others
  • How to challenge myself
  • How to grow and mature as a strategic communicator and a thinker

It’s amazing what you can learn in five years, isn’t it?

5 Books That Should Be In Your Workplace Trends and Working Out Loud Tool Box

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As I continue to explore how to work out loud and grow our employee communities at Walgreens I’m always on the look out to find good books that give me inspiring ideas and stories about how to work better and develop our community strategy. So I thought I’d share a list of books about working better that I’ve enjoyed recently and along with highlights and key takeaways.

The Future of Work

The Future of Work by Jacob Morgan continues to be a valuable resource for me ever since I read it back in 2014. The structure of the book is based around the five trends of the future of work. Morgan frames the trends as an opportunity and a blueprint to retain top talent, build better leaders and build a strong people-focused organization. He weaves in stories, data, research and case studies from the companies who are leading the future of work evolution.

The main theme in Morgan’s book is that if companies don’t acknowledge, embrace and take action on the trends of the future of work they will do so at their own peril. There’s an opportunity cost at stake for those companies who don’t take action on the future of work trends because these trends have a tremendous impact on maintaing a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I’ve used concepts in this book to help our teams, change agents and community champions at Walgreens understand the bottom line impact and business value of what is happening in our employee communities and the value of having a community-focused business model and organizational structure.

The stories and data in this book have been helpful in explaining why changing how we work is important to improving the customer experience, because, a company needs a strong internal collaboration and community strategy in order to successfully execute their external customer strategy.  As you read The Future of Work I hope you have the same inspiring discoveries and can put the shared knowledge to good use in your organization too.

Show Your Work!

Show Your Work! is the follow up to Austin Kleon’s bestseller Steal Like An Artist. Show Your Work is not a workplace type book, but still, it’s a must for your tool box if you’re a writer, designer or any sort of creative person who wants to learn how to get noticed and grow your craft by proactively and consistently sharing your work. That said, even if you’re in the corporate world you can still take advantage what Kleon says and learn how to share your work to further your career regardless of what you do for a living.

I love how the book is designed as it gets to the point and is easy to read in a few settings then you can dip in and out when you want to get some quick inspiration and motivation. I love the truth-packed quotes and the openness of Kleon’s writing style. He gives you a welcomed insight in to his creative process and doesn’t sugarcoat or romanticize the creative process. He gets down to business but does it in a fun and inspiring way.

The call to actions that Kleon mixes in are also simple when helps you build momentum and take things one step at a time, which is always a sound way to go when beginning any creative process.

As I wrote my three words for 2016 and set the stage for a successfully and productive year, I took to heart what Kleon says about the value of cleaning out our “creative house” and why being a creative hoarder can hold us back from discovering new ideas. So I took a look at my own “creative house” and deleted a bunch of old blog drafts and got rid of other creative baggage that was holding me back.

This is definitely a book that I’ve turned to when the creative writing battle wages on and the always present adversaries of doubt, procrastination and overthinking as they nasty villains try to keep me from showing my work. (I actually re-read it to work through finishing this post!)

Work Rules!

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock is a great read that takes you inside the mind of Google’s head of people organization. I learned a lot about how Google runs its HR organization and what I love the most about this book is its openness, experimental and adventurous read. It’s inspiring, yet practical and realistic.

One of Bock’s goals with the book was to share what he has learned both in his career and during his time at Google. Bock shares details on various experiments he ran at Google to refine communication between managers, leadership and thousands of Googlers. I love the level of details he uses to share the thought process behind emails that were sent, why they made certain decisions to change the hiring process and what he’s learned from succeed and failing as leader and a manager over the years.

My two big takeaways:

  1. First, Bock stresses the importance of always making decisions based on data. Many times throughout the book he shows how most decisions made at Google involved some sort of data-based decision. I love this because too often we make communications, culture or business decisions without solid data. With the increasing use of communities and Enterprise Social Networks within companies and our growing understanding of Big Data, I believe leading companies will make it a priority to use the data from their internal networks to make all types of better business decisions and discover future leaders in the ranks.
  2. Secondly, I love learning about how Google experimented with “nudging” to improve communication and collaboration among the middle management. Nudging is such an important concept to realize and champion change in a large organization. I’ve used nudging to build communities at Walgreens and it was fascinating to learn how Google did it for their workforce too.

No doubt, Work Rules!, is a challenging, provocative and dangerous read.  It will force you to think about what’s working and not working at your company. It will make you feel uncomfortable (in a good way.) It will challenge you to think about all the ways you can improve your teams and empower your people. It’s definitely a must read for leaders or those aspiring to lead, especially managers who want to learn how to lead their teams better and get insights into how leaders like Bock think.

Working Out Loud

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Working Out Loud by John Stepper is a guidebook for how to work out loud to better your career and life. With the workforce constantly changing and job uncertainty a constant reality, it’s an extremely timely book because it gives you an actionable and simple plan to create, build on or discover a new career path.

I’ve found that you can read it a couple different ways. One way is to see it as a book to create a career you want by following the steps and starting the working out loud circles that Stepper maps out.  The other way is to see it as a stand alone resource for changing how an organization can work better.

That said, at Walgreens, I’ve begun to experiment with introducing concepts Stepper presents in his book, such as reframing how we share work knowledge, which is to see working out loud as making contributions and teaching employees a new way of working that’s focused on helping others and the broader organization to solve problems together versus working in silos or only sharing for selfish and self-promotional reasons.

Working out loud is a new concept that’s been around for several years but it’s just now starting to take root with the increased use of Enterprise Social Networks within companies.

So, when co-workers and leaders at Walgreens ask me what working out loud is and how they should do it and why they should do it and how and why we should use our employee communities to further the concept, I guide them using the understandable framework and examples that Stepper presents.

Stepper ends the book with the call to create working out loud circles. To be honest, I’m still figuring out how working out loud circles fit within our employee communities and broader employee work experience. But even though we’re still figuring out how to integrated circles into the our communities strategy, I will tell you that I’ve dog-eared several chapters and pages and shared them with leaders as I explain how working out loud can help us work better at Walgreens.

For example, I’ve used working out loud as a way to explain who employees can take an active role in our community and collaboration strategy at Walgreens. I’ve integrated elements into our playbook and how we measure success and progress in our communities.

Stepper’s book is filled with honesty and actionable inspiration. Some of my favorite parts are the contributions chapters and the letter that Stepper wrote to himself in which he tells the story behind how his own “ah-a” moment led him on the path to write the book and create the career he encourages us to create. It’s all very inspiring stuff that I’ve taken to heart as I continue to work out loud in my own life and take daily steps and an active role to chart my own career path.

Show Your Work

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Though it has the same title as Kloen’s, Show Your Work by Jane Bozath takes a different scope on the phrase and explores how organizations can leverage working out loud and sharing your work to improve engagement, share knowledge and break down information barriers across the company.

Bozarth is a learning and development pro and it shows throughout the book. The flow of stories and how they’re presented hit on the key pain points that would keep an organization from getting value from teaching their employee to share their work. But Bozarth doesn’t just point out the issues. She provides real and helpful and practical tips and solutions using stories from others who are sharing there work and having success at doing it.

I read the book through a few times and I keep it within arms reach on my desk at work. Being a change agent for working out loud and showing work is hard and can be a lonely endeavor, and many times I’ve used Bozarth book to refresh, inspire and reenergize me. I often use the book to quickly show others on my team and our communities advocates why and how to share their work.

I love the simple, yet impactful stories Bozarth shares.  Its coffee table design makes it easy to dip in and out and grab a thought and then put that thought or insight immediately into action. Like the others book above, this book is a must have for any working out loud champion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review and I’d like to hear what books are helping you to work out loud and share your work.

My Three Words For 2016: Models. Relationships. Present.

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Yes, it’s that time. It’s time to work out loud again and share with you my three words for 2016.

Models

Reflecting back on my experiences in 2015 many books I read talked about mental models and the importance of being aware of how they impact my worldview and how I interact with those around me, so I’m aiming to be more aware of the mental models that drive my daily decision making, impact relationships, determine my career path and shape my worldview.

I learned that some mental models are helpful and some hold me back, so I’m simply aiming to first be aware of what my mental models are and then make the changes I need to. I’m excited to move ahead with this new perspective and see what I discover about myself and my mental models in 2016. To track this goal I’m doing some journaling and writing exercises.

Relationships

One thing I became aware of in 2015 was that I didn’t have the relational breath and depth that I wanted. It wasn’t always easy and I struggled to make adjustments to having a second child and continue to work at being a dad, a husband and my own person. It was struggle to make sense of and figure out how to balance all those relationships, new experiences and new phases of life. Towards the end of the 2015, I felt a desire that I needed to be more intentional about making it a priority to spend time with people, both friends and family and making new friends and connections.

I know this: I’m the kind of person who enjoys spending time with myself. I treasure my alone time to recharge and find clarity. But I want to work on not giving in to my introverted tendencies too much. It’s a strange battle. I enjoy being around people and walking away from a social gathering knowing I just had a great one-on-one conversation or was able to make a deeper connection with someone.

But it’s never an easy thing for me. I often have to override my introverted tendencies to get to that wonderful relational connection. I still don’t fully understand that about myself, but what I do know is that I’m aiming to find more balance in 2016 because last year I felt as though I gave into my introverted tendencies a bit too much.

This may sound strange given that I love building communities and connecting people for a living and I love presenting thoughts, ideas and experiences at conferences. But, honestly, at times it’s a complex struggle. And in 2015 I felt as though there was more I could do and experience when it came to building relationships both in my work and personal relationships.

As 2015 came to a close, I felt a strong desire that I wanted to put the focus more on others. I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way and it wasn’t like I felt completely secluded. I just feel a sense that I need and want to redirect, recalibrate and re-shift my focus from an inner one and focus more on building deeper and stronger relationships with those around me and discover new relationships too. And what I enjoy about this “three words” goal setting process is that it can be connected and continued year after year. That said, and now that I think about it, I also see this relationship goal as an evolution of my give goal from last year. To track this goal I’m keeping a note of current relationships and new connections I’d like to make this year.

Present

In 2014, I trained for my first marathon and through that training I developed a good foundation of meditation and mindfulness. But throughout 2015 I felt like I stayed in neutral and even fell back a bit in being present in my life. I felt many times that my mind was super busy and way to cluttered and I didn’t take a enough time to work at being present and because of this I didn’t get the most out of special moments and relationships.

That said, I’m excited about how my being present goal is connected to and can support my relationship goal. I know how important it is to be present when trying to build relationships so I’m excited to see how these two goals will work together. Speaking of integrating my goals, I’m also excited to use being present as a way to be more aware of my mental models. Integration is a beautiful thing!  To track this goal I’m mixing in daily mediation, in the momentum breathing and keeping track in my journal what I’m learning and through the experiences.

Okay, so that’s it. Plain and simple. Those are my three words and goals. What are yours for this year? And don’t be shy. I love to discuss these types of things.  Feel free to ask my about my goals and ask my how I’m doing and what I’m learning.

Thanks and I look forward to the conversation!

10 Things I Learned By Not Watching Sports For A Year

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Okay, so I did it. I completed my experiment and went 365 days without watching any live sports on TV or in-person.

Honestly part of me is sad that this experiment is over because I learned so much during the experience. And I didn’t think it would take me this long to reflect and gather all my thoughts, but I guess this just goes to show how much impact live sports has on my life. Writing this post has made me I realize that I’ve only just begun to understand the level of impact that this experiment and watching live sports has had and will continue to have, on my life.

It was an extremely fun and revealing experiment that I always wanted to do. And I’m glad that I picked 2014 to do it and not 2015. If I did this experiment this year I think I would have possibly lost my mind not being able to watch the Cubs. I will say not watching sports in 2014 made the Cubs season and playoff run even more sweet to watch.

Like all good experiments, I started this experiment inspired by my curiosity, a few assumptions and lots of questions. And like most experiments I found truth but uncovered many more questions. So here are a few things I learned as I reflect back on the experience. This isn’t by any means the end of my reflection but it’s the first steps forward as I start to unpack the meaning and significance of this crazy adventure. This post is also an exercise in Working Out Loud so I hope you enjoy it from a WOL perspective too.

1. I love watching sports to connect, feel emotions and build relationships.

As you can see by that picture above, I’ve always been a sports fan, especially a Cubs fan. And this experiment has helped me begin to understand all the emotions surging through the heart and mind of that 12 year old kid. This experiment has helped me understand why I do get so pumped and excited, and how that crazy love for live sports has grown and influenced me throughout the years.

I’m not the kind of sports fan who watches every game of every team. But I’m a guy who enjoys watching and playing all types of sports for many reasons. And honestly, I didn’t realize how much I actually did enjoy watching live sports until I took it away for an entire year. I definitely noticed the void in my my life and felt the impact on the relationships around me. And for that reason, this experiment was a struggle and revelation and a bit frightening on my levels.

I had the chance to reflect on why I get caught up in the game of live sports. Why I do yell, scream and even cry during games? Though I’m an introvert in many ways, I love being around people, especially at sports games. I do watch sports on TV alone often but I have many fond moments of being submerged in the glory and roar of the crowd at Cubs and Bears game. I also realized that I love being a part of the long text messages that erupt during games as my family shares their excitement as the game unfolds.

Because I’m wired up that way to love being with people, this experiment did put a strain on my relationships. During 2014 not watching sports presented me with moments where I had to physically remove myself from a family event or talk with people while they watched and I didn’t. My brothers, to my surprise, actually supported my experiment by not watching a Blackhawks game during a family party because they didn’t want me to stumble or break “my vow” as they called it.

And because I wasn’t “allowed” to watch sports for an entire year I had the chance to have some great conversations that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I struggle to reflect on this aspect of my experiment because I was confronted with the hard truth that I often don’t fully engage with people when sports are playing around me. Why is that? I’m not completely sure.

This bothered me. And as a result a whole bunch of questions came bubbling up.

Why do I look past people to catch a quick glimpse of the big game flickering on the TV when I’m suppose to be paying attention to the person in front of me?

Why do find it more enjoyable at times to watch a game then engage in conversation? What does this say about me as a person and us as sports fans?

Why do I watch sports to escape from human and social interaction? Am I missing out on deeper relationships because of my desire to escape from the moment in to live sports?

Do I have a live sports addiction?

These questions scared me but I had to dive in and face them to figure things out.

Part of why I did this experiment was to answer those questions and figure out how not watching live sports would impact the relationships with men and others in my life. In short, sometimes not watching sports did and other times it did not.

I learned that I have friends and relationships where live sports doesn’t impact how we interact or what we talk about. Sports didn’t even come up once in those conversations and we can talk about other things.

But when interacting with guys at work, or with guys I just met, it’s basically impossible to avoid talking about sports. So what did I do in these situations?

Well, I either had to tell them I didn’t watch the game and tell them why, which led to many interesting conversations about my no live sports experiment. Or I faked it.

My sub-experiment: faking it

Yes, I faked it. I created a sub-experiment during which I faked like I did watch a live game. This led to some interesting moments where I relied on my past sports knowledge and love for fiction, improvisation, imagination and making things up to have a little fun. So sometimes I made up fake highlights and plays that never happened and inserted them into conversations to see what would happen.

This was interesting because several times no one challenged me or questioned my fake highlight. In most cases they simply said “Yeah, that was an awesome play!” Other times, I did get some strange looks but they didn’t challenge me or ask me about the reason for sharing a fake highlight. As bizarre as all of this was, those moments made me really think about how we interact as humans in work and surface and small-talk type situations.

What I missed out on in 2014

My experiment was also tough because I had to opt out of several group sport watching events. At work I avoided an event where our VP of communications invited us all to watch the US hockey team take on Canada. I didn’t go to the event and instead, as hard as it was, I resisted the social pressure and internal urge to watch the game with my fellow co-workers.

Again, I paid close attention to how I felt. I felt disconnected, anxious and nervous. Why? I wondered if this one event would have any impact socially at work? These type of events tend to be good times to take a break and get to know co-workers and I was not there. Would my act have a negative impact on team chemistry? Would I miss out on jokes and moments that others would share? Maybe. Did it impact my career path because I didn’t have a social or networking-type interaction. Maybe. But it’s hard to tell at this point.

I also opted out of watching the 2014 Super Bowl and instead watched the shows on the History channel. Since the Super Bowl Half time show isn’t technically live sports, and I’ve always loved unpacking the meaning of live music during the Super Bowl, I watched Bruno Mars put on a great show.

2014 was a tough year because I turned down several offers to go to live games. And when my brother-in-law gave all the groomsmen Sox tickets to a 2014 game at the end of season I was nervous to deny the opportunity. But I was relieved when the game was cancelled and we had to reschedule for next year. (Whew, that was a close one!)

Though she loves to play many sports, I learned that my wife only really loves to watch the Bears and Sox, and she doesn’t care about other sports as much. So when those two teams were on I had to come up with creative ways not to watch, like sitting facing the opposite way of the TV or going to a different part of the house to play with the kids. Again, hard to do and it showed how much I love using live sports to connect and share those moments with those I love.

There was something about those moments with my wife that drove my curiosity and I wanted to understand more about what live sports does to family relationships? What is it about sharing live sports moments with family that makes it different than strangers? Why do we use live sports to mark important family moments? Why does the big game give family a reason to get together?

2. Watching live sports can become an addiction, but am I addicted?

According to wikipedia, addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. In other words an addiction is something we keep or can’t stop doing even though it can cause us or other around us harm.  I thought about that, and other definitions of addictions, throughout my experiment as continued to wonder…am I addicted to live sports?

I learned that watching live sports can be a slippery slope, a dangerous neurological and behavioral experience for me. I feel that each time I watch a game I dance with the temptation of over watching and getting to emotionally attached to what’s happening or becoming a slack-jawed-zoned-out sports zombie that can’t stop watching. ‘Why do I do this? Why do I get like this?’ I wondered.

Here’s what I’ve discovered, so far…

Yes, I know we can become mindless slaves and hopelessly addicted to many things in life but I learned that with sports, it’s especially dangerous for me because I can be fooled into thinking that I’m dealing with emotions that I’m not really dealing with. Or I can use sports to avoid things I must do, feel, face and accomplish.

Though it’s okay to zone out once in awhile, I found that I often go beyond the healthy limit of using live sports to just zone out. I found that I often use live sports to avoid things I must do. I discovered that I use live sports to avoid feeling emotions I must feel. I found that live sports is like a strange nostalgic drug.

But what was beautiful about this insight and asking these questions was that I found that when I watch live sports to avoid, I often get ambushed by emotions I didn’t expect feel or emotions and memory I was trying to avoid.

This emotional ambush might come up when a memory is jogged by a well-designed commercial or a play that triggers a happy or sad moment with my dad buried deep in my mind and soul. In those moments, I fought to feel the emotion but then found myself stuffing it back down. Why was I fighting feeling this emotion? Why was something as simple as a live game bringing these emotions back up? Why not just let the emotion have it’s way with me? Wouldn’t that make the live game experience better? It wasn’t that easy.

So, as I basked in the glory of the Cubs 2015 season and their inspiring playoff run, I couldn’t help but wonder ‘what’s making me so crazy?’ Why was I struggling with feeling the emotions? I could embrace the good feelings of hanging out with family and friends but when Go Cubs Go strarted playing I got all watery eyed and fought to truly feel the emotion? What was it? Sadness? Fear? Joy?

I wanted to feel the moment and all the joy that comes with watching Kyle Schwarber launch a home run bomb over the right field wall in Wrigley. In retrospect I thought about how I missed my dad when watching Cubs games. I often though of him during 2015 as I watched sports again and I looked at my son and wondered if him and I will have the same connection with the Cubs and baseball.

Yes, I thought a lot about my dad during the experiment (more than I expected) because that’s where a lot of the emotional significance of my live sport moments come from. I knew that going into the experiment but it became much more real to me And because I wasn’t actually watching sports I had the time to reflect on the relational significance that sports had the relationship with my dad.

And now that I’m back watching live sports with my own son those fatherly memories I’m creating with him are all the more special. I’m more aware of how special those moments were for me and I found myself cherishing them more as they unfolded with my son during 2015. And because of this experiment those moments with my son, like his first Cubs game at Wrigley in 2013, all the more real and palpable.

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Because of this experiment I’ve found myself no longer able to stuff the emotions down but I’m getting more comfortable actually feeling my emotions during a game. I’m not perfect at it but I’m getting better at letting the joy or sadness or whatever ever emotion have it’s way. As uncomfortable as it might be for me when it happens, I’ve found a deeper sense of joy and pleasure in embracing the moment for what it is and letting the emotions come up and have their way with me when I find myself getting unexpectedly emotionally ambushed during a game.

And the beautiful thing is that I’ve even experienced a moment where my son, even at three years old, looked over at me during a Cubs playoff game and asked if I was okay because my eyes were wet and cloudy. So I told him why and he just looked at me as I tried to explain it in a way he could understand. I’m not sure I did a good job explaining things but maybe he’ll read this post when he gets older and things will make more sense.

So I think this is why live sports has such a strong hold on me. Watching sports has a strong family connection and deep emotional history. There’s a lot going on emotionally under the surface in my heart and mind during a game. On one hand, subconsciously, I’m using live sports to relive nostalgic moments and good memories. Then, on the other hand, I’ve been conditioned by media and culture to love the flashy and fantastic highlight-reel moments that live sports give us during a game. It’s a complex back-and-forth inner battle that I’m much more aware of and this new found awareness has added a new level of enjoyment when I watch live sports.

But this still brought up an important question.

Where is the line?

Where is the line between just enjoying the moment and finding simple pleasure in watching a game and it being an addiction? Where is the line between having a good time watching a game and over indulging and living in the past? Is this what causes sports fans to take a simple love for sports and have it turned dark and morph into a live sports addiction? And how do we know if it’s a live sports addiction? Do we use the amount of time wasted and emotions avoided and relationship damaged to measure our addiction? Do we use those signs as a signal to let us know when things are getting dangerous?

Through this experiment I’ve come to realize that my brain has a hard time finding and then not going over the line. I’ve realized that’s partly why I get sucked into watching highlight shows when I’ve already watched the game. Too often my brain doesn’t know the difference between the live version and the memory bank version. Because of this, I think my brain, on a basic and primal level, loves what it feels like to watch a present moment because it thinks it’s reliving a past moment.

Of course it doesn’t help that basically half of watching a live game on TV is watching the instant replay over and over again, which reinforces and feeds the hunger my brain craves. It’s a nasty neurological and behavioral cycle that’s tough to break.

So this powerful neurological cycle keeps going round and round.  I watch a game and I find pleasure in those live moments as my brain and memory associates the present with all those wonderful moments and memories I have with my dad and growing up.

I also realized another truth. At a basic level, we as sports fans who are human beings, just love to watch something spectacular happen because it simply put; it’s an escape. Live sports take us away from the mundane moments and by watching live sports we seek out that rush of pleasure. And that’s what we can get addicted to.

This process is so complex that it’s taken me nearly a year to sort it out and begin to make sense of it. And I’m not even sure I explained clearly enough to you here. But I’m glad I took a year to not watch sport to begin to figure it out. And I’m sure this is only the beginning of what I’ll learned and more will be revealed to me in the coming years.

Like all good experiment should do, the more my experiment went on the more I realized how little I know about myself and why I love watching sports.

Sharing (part of) my secret life with you

But what I do know is that like with most things in life, it’s about balance and moderation. So that’s what I’m striving for and trying to be more aware of. I found that I do love that rewarding rush of stimuli that live sports gives me. But was I indulging in live sports regardless of adverse consequences? Was there a deeper physiological battle waging inside of me?

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Yes, there was. Through this experiment I became more aware of and fascinated by the physiological, sociological and psychological impact of watching live sports and I loved reading The Secret Lives Of Sports Fans to guide and explain some of my curiosities. In this book I learned more about the reactions we feel during live sports. I learned that what we feel by watching our favorite teams by ourselves or with friends is actually hard-wired in humans to help us feel good. That feeling, though often an elusive mystery, is designed to keep us in the moment individually and designed to connect and bond us with other people on a deeper sociological level.

As I read that book I learned, and became more aware of, the danger of over-escaping and getting addicted to that feeling of excitement and rush of adrenaline. That powerful chemical reaction that happens after a watching a walk-off home run or triumphant touchdown can be so seductive and trick me into thinking that by watching sports I’m some how dealing with my life and facing my fears and connecting with others when I’m really not.

This sociological, neurological, physiological and psychological aspect of my experiment was by far the most complex and I’m still sorting it all out. I’ll likely write more about this as things become clearer and more is revealed to me.

But what I do know now is that by not watching sports for a year I had the time and opportunity to stop and reflect on what is actually going on in my body and mind during a live game. For a year, I wasn’t just a mindless sports zombie lost in the constant loop of the highlight reel. For 365 days I was able to scape the seduction of the highlight reel just long enough to understand the meaning of why I love to watch live sports. Now the challenge is to build on this knowledge and figure out how to put it good use.

3. I love learning from the strategy of live sports.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about the story beyond the game itself and I love learning from the strategic elements of live games and apply what I learn to my life. I believe this is one major reason why I missed watching sports in 2014.

In addition to connecting with others, I initially thought that I just escaped into a game to avoid life but this wasn’t the case. I love the “game within the game” of sports. Many say that baseball is too slow of a game, but not me. I love the mini games of chess going on within baseball, and I missed that a lot.

And as I watched Joe Maddon lead the Cubs in 2015 I was excited to watch the post-game interviews because he isn’t like other managers. He’s like a wise sage and always says something that teaches and puts a new, fresh and uniquely personal perspective on baseball and life.

Not watching for a full year and then watching the Cubs and other live sports this year, I realized that a subconscious part of my brain is watching for those strategic moments that I can apply to other areas of my life. Those moments when a coach or a player has to make split decisions or show leadership in a critical turning point in a game.

I love it when these strategic and teachable moments come along in live sports because I’m not just shutting my brain off and going on auto-pilot but instead there’s an exciting opportunity to engage and extract more meaning. There’s a beautiful micro-moment where I get challenged to think in a new way or a simple play becomes a major turning point in a game and a players career and even a fan’s life.

4. Why live sports annoys me and the missed opportunity to take fans deeper

Okay, now for my take on the part about live sports that bothers me. By not watching sports for a year I realized how much I don’t like the cliche tendencies of highlight shows and play-by-play announcers. Yes, there are good announcers that know how to put fresh spins on live sports and tell a great story and deftly present the broader context and significance to the live game.

But far too many in the sports world fall victim to cliche story lines and predictable post-game questions and analysis. And because of this rote tendency, the opportunity to take fans emotionally deeper is missed too often. If I’m feeling all this mental, emotional and physiological stuff as a fan, and I know players feel it too, then why don’t we find a way to unpack that during a game? Why not explore the “deeper why” of why we love live sports more during the actual game?

Knowing that most of sports is mental I find it ironic that most live announcers and sport analysts don’t focus more on the mental and psychological side of the game. Instead they focus too much on numbers and stats and continue spewing out a stream of meaningless statical data that lacks any emotional significance.

So I wonder why we don’t see more exploration of integration of the mental and emotional analysis in live sports? Like what I’ve seen, experienced and found to be true in live music by exploring the emotions we feel before, during and after a live concert, I believe we need to do the same things in live sports and shake things up a bit and make watching live sports more interesting and emotionally meaningful.

5. I like watching food shows instead of live sports. 

Yes, I’ll admit it. I learned that sometimes I don’t even care what game is on and I only care that whatever game is on in front of me is giving me the opportunity to tune out so I can recharge and rest my brain and tune out of life for a few hours. But then again, I found myself getting hooked on other shows to fill my sports void. 

So to confess, I got hooked on Food Network and Travel Channel shows. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing to watch those shows. I just thought that it was interesting to note that I gravitated to those shows when I couldn’t watch sports.

6. I realized (even more) that I love the story behind the game.

I knew going into this experiment that I love backstories of live sports often more than the game itself. But completely removing live sports from the equation gave me the opportunity to better understand what it is I love about the bigger picture and broader contextual backdrop of the games and teams I love to watch and the players who play the games. The live sports industry needs to find a way to blend more stories and how players and fans feel into the game itself and not just mix it in after the fact.

Watching ESPN’s 30 for 30 series made me realize that there’s such a void in understanding what a game really means to us in the broader context of our lives, and that it’s only in hindsight that we truly understand the level of social and emotional impact a live game has on us as individuals and our society. Taking a full year off of sports made appreciate this truth even more.

So I wondered, is there anyway we can be more aware of this as live sports is unfolding?  I know we have sports journalism to do this, but too often even that fails to unpack and go to the emotional level that we need to in order to fully understand how a live sporting event is or isn’t changing our lives. Again, like my annoyance of live sports I shared earlier, I think there’s a great opportunity to tell emotional stories better during live games.

7. Productivity, creativity and mindfulness increased (sort of)

I knew that I spent roughly over 658 hours watching sports in 2013 and I thought that I would have the opportunity to use all those hours to achieve much more and see an increase in productivity. This didn’t exactly play out the way I expected it to. Yes, I did use many of those hours to do other things than watch sports such as like write more, workout, read more and watch TedTalks. So was I more productive? Part of me wants to say yes. But part of says no and I feel like I could have done more. I guess that’s just the guilt talking.

This experiment was certainly no waste of my time just because I wasn’t a productive as I wanted to be. I do feel like my mind evolved and I have a new level of self-awareness and mindfulness that I didn’t have before. It wasn’t easy but for each game I didn’t watch I tried to take time to write and reflect on why I wanted to watch the game and during that process I had the chance to reflect on all the emotional connections I have to live sports. So I guess I was more emotionally productive.

8. Social media made things more intense, difficult and revealing

Social media made it basically impossible to not have some kind of live sports touch my eye balls for a brief moment. Scores, big plays and emotional reactions to games flooded my social feeds constantly. I thank my Twitter and Facebook friends for keeping me fully updated with a constant stream of sports information that I didn’t want but nonetheless found its way into my life in 2014.

Because of this I’ve become more aware of how much my family and friends watch sports and how these meta-live sports social experiences impact our lives. Honestly, at times I got annoyed and considered hiding posts or de-friending people just to avoid it all. But I didn’t and like this entire experiment, social media made things messy and complex.

Social media made the experiment more emotionally intense. I was surprised at how annoyed I got at others posting game updates of games I couldn’t watch. But again, this annoyance and irritation showed me something. It revealed another layer of important questions to the experiment.

It forced me to wonder…

Why was I having such a strong emotional reaction to social media updates? Was it because of the experiment itself or because of my frustration with our culture’s over-indulgence and obsession with live sports? Was social media just making my own emotional struggles more visible and unavoidable? Were those updates mirrors reflecting back to me my own frustration with my live sports obsessions?

I struggled with the truth that I love to connect with people during live sports but I get annoyed on a level when all I see in social feeds in live sports updates.  What’s up with this? Boy, did this experiment make me think long and hard about why I feel this way. What exactly is at the heart of this emotional reaction?

As my social feeds remind me everyday, live sports isn’t going away anytime soon and honestly, I wouldn’t want it to because of the power that it has to bring us together to strengthen and bond relationships. But we should never think that just because we watch a game together that live sports moment is a direct replacement for other types of meaningful interaction. I sometimes fall into that trap and this experiment showed me I have so much more to understand, explore and work on in this area of my life.

9. I had enough past sports knowledge to fake like I did watch sports.

I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bag thing but throughout my experiment I had several “fake sports” conversations and it presented an interesting social sub-experiment. I faked like I was watching sports to see if my past sports knowledge could allow me to not miss out on having important small talk that might lead to deeper relationship with people I know at work and other areas of my life.

I’m a fan of using improv and stream of consciousness to engage my creative side and I love a good interpersonal social experiment on the fly. I wanted to test out my skills of making things up as I go based what I already about live sports starts water cooler conversations. In some cases I made up plays that didn’t exist and nobody seemed to notice and they agreed my “fake play” was a great moment in the game. I thought that said a lot about how we interact as humans and the role small talk plays in bridging gaps and breaking the ice. In some situations will go to great lengths, even lie, to maintain status quo and not rock the relational boat. After this happened a few times, I wondered how my times someone has humored or lied to me about what they’ve watched just to make me feel good or not disrupt the flow of conversation and avoid a awkward social moment.

Other times I “faked it” for a short time and then told them I was doing an experiment or other times I simply said, no “I didn’t watch the game” and told them why. In each of those situations, it led to a really cool conversation about why we watch live sports and I got to know that person in a different way. Next time, I’ll just tell the truth up front and have more really cool conversations.

 10. Watching live sports is and is not, a lot like watching a live concert.

This was one of the things I was very curious about. Being a live music fan I was aiming to discover what live music and live sports had in common. For starters, our emotions play a big role in both situations. Each have a similar ebb and flow, up and down nature as a game can swing in our teams favor sending us up into a crescendo of elation and then crashing down to valley of despair and disappointment should things slip away.

Likewise, a band’s set list can woo us into a state of utter bliss taking us down memory lane with one powerful combination of melody and rhythm or a live show can dash our expectations if the band doesn’t play our favorite song or is out of sync and the vibe isn’t quite right.

One difference I noticed is that I’m more consciously aware of my how I feel emotionally during a concert than during a live sports game but one thing I learned was that as a sports fan I would be missing out if I disregarded how much a live sports game really moves me.

What surprised me was that I noticed that live sports has actually made me feel more sad and depressed; I’m thinking of what it felt like to watch the Cubs lose this year in the NLCS and what it feels like to watch the Bears implode on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s because I want the joyful bond and glorious nostalgic feeling of watching a game with my family and dad to live on and when the game ends I’m tossed into a saddening funk. And this emotional funk is even worse if my team loses. That’s why I don’t think how the low we feel once a game is over is only just about the final score. We’re sad partly because that live sports moment is over and we want it to live on. We want to continue to escape together (or alone) but reality is back. And we must face it.

Thinking back to my worst concert experience I can’t say I ever felt the same as I did after watching a bad game. I just feel different emotion. Not quite sure why? But I just know that I feel different. Do I feel more connected with my fellow concert fans during a show then I do at a live game? Is the communal goal and emotional rewards different during a live game versus a live show? Like everything else in this experiment I’ve ended up with more questions than answers.

What I do know is that with both live sports and live music the opportunity to feel emotions is always there. I’ve been ambushed by emotions in both situations but for different reasons and it different ways and I can still choose to feel the emotions or turn away and stuff them back down. I can tell you that my best live sports moments and live concert moments have come when I don’t stuff but I feel every last bit of emotion during and after the experience.

Would I ever do this again?

So would I ever not watch sports for a year again? I don’t think I’d ever go a full year again, but I might go for shorter periods of time if I need to unplug and reflect. For now, I’ve learned what I needed to learn and I’m aware of the behaviors I need to change and what I need to reflect more on. I also might post updates as new ideas and insights bubble up so stay tuned.

Without a doubt, this experiment was tons of fun and extremely valuable and I can tell friend and my grandkids someday that I did it. Would I ever pick something to not do for a year again? Perhaps. It’s been such a great learning experience that I’ve begun to think about what else I could do and what other areas of my life I could experiment with. Would I recommend you do it? Absolutely!  If you can stick it out and keep an open mind, I’m sure you won’t regret the adventure. Good luck and game on.

Why It’s Important To Brand and Market Your ESN and Employee Communities

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off the wall walgreensOne of the most important things you can do to increase engagement and adoption of an enterprise social network (ESN) and employee community is to invest time and resources in branding and marketing it.  At Walgreens we’ve invested a lot of time into branding and marketing our ESN and social intranet experience and it’s been a key element to our success. On this post, I’d like to share with you a little bit of our branding and marketing journey and explore what we’ve learned along the way.

Invest Time In Branding, It’s Worth It

If you take one thing from this post it’s that you should invest time in creating a unique brand for your company’s ESN. Do not simply call your ESN the name of your vendor platform (SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, etc.)  At Walgreens, we spent a significant amount of time and research to create the name for our new social intranet and employee community which we call “The Wall.”

No, the name wasn’t inspired by Pink Floyd. Instead we arrived at it by combining the Walgreens “W” and “all,” meaning that this new community space and experience is designed to be a place where both corporate and store employees can “all” come together to make their mark on “a Wall” with the hope to have their voice heard, collaborate and most importantly learn how to work more efficiently and effectively and create the future of work together so we can serve our customers better.

Since launching two years ago, the original vision and essence of The Wall brand remains but it has taken on a life of it’s own. In many ways team members have personalized The Wall brand on a deeper level and, as I’ve said many times, The Wall isn’t just an online destination but for many employees who have embraced this new way of working, being “on The Wall” has become a state of mind.

For us, The Wall brand has also come to symbolize a new way of working and put a broader context and meaning to working out loud and introducing the future of work. We couldn’t have created an emotional connection if we just relied on the vendor platform name. We had to make it our own. We had to create a brand that meant something.

We had to first create a meaningful name and brand that team members could take and make their own. And in many ways that’s exactly what’s happened. The thousands of posts, contributions and actions that now make up The Wall online experience have further defined and evolved what The Wall brand means.

How We’re Marketing The Wall

To help further extend and market The Wall brand, and the tell the story of business value that The Wall Community delivers, we also created a video series called “Off The Wall.”   Basically, “Off The Wall” was created as a channel to have a different type of conversation with employees that we haven’t had before at Walgreens. The video series features me on the Red Couch going to different locations across the company having conversations with leaders, stakeholders and other employees about how The Wall is supporting the business and helping them work better. Again, like The Wall brand, the Red Couch and the “Off The Wall” series has taken on a life of it’s own and really resonated with employees.

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To take the marketing even further, and because we can’t always take the big Red Couch everywhere I go, we also have a mini Red Couch that I take with me to meetings, company events and industry conferences. The mini Red Couch is a fun and engaging reminder and a great conversation starter to talk about what is happening on The Wall. When I take the mini Red Couch with me to company meetings I put it on the table and it always gets some interesting conversations going with people who have not yet had an positive interaction on The Wall or haven’t heard about the valuable collaboration happening with our employee communities.

To market The Wall we also have a Wall sign (featured in the photo below) and flyers to promote events and feature specific success stories to bring new people in and convert skeptics into believers. We also have Wall lanyards that I give to our Wall Champions so they can go forth and spread the good word and be identified around the company as ambassadors helping to onboard and answer questions and share their own personal success stories.

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Captured in the photo above is one of my most memorable Wall moments thus far. It’s me with our Wall Champions from our Field HR team. This team recently played a critical role in a live event in October during which we integrated The Wall Community into a week long conference. It was inspiring to see these Wall Champions in action helping their team members get onboarded and discover their own Wall “aha” moment. And I loved what they did with the Red Couch brand.

In the left hand side of the picture you can see someone holding a white canvas with the Red Couch on it. To measure success of the event, we had a success metric and goal to grow one of Field HR online groups to a certain number members and to my surprise one of The Wall Champions showed up at the event with the canvas drawing. So as we grew closer to our goal they colored in a cushion of the Red Couch! At the end of the event I had them all sign the drawing and it made me very, very proud.  Again, this special and engagement moment wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have a unique and personal brand attached to our ESN.

What You’re Missing If You Don’t Brand and Market Your ESN

As you can see, if you don’t brand your ESN, you’re missing out on several valuable emotional connections, engagement opportunities and many word of mouth benefits too. A strong and meaningful ESN brand gives your champions something to share, something to talk about. To make this new way of working more tangible and contagious you must have a unique brand for your ESN. And you must find a way to extend that brand beyond the online and virtual experience.

When you create a unique ESN brand and drive it with a market strategy that powerful combination makes the ESN experience more real for employees. It helps to connect the vision and purpose of the ESN with the vision and purpose of the company.

An ESN branding and marketing strategy makes the community contributions and collaboration more palpable, meaningful and memorable. So, whatever you do, don’t rely on just calling it whatever platform you’re using like Jive, Yammer, etc. Get creative and fight hard to make sure your community has it’s own brand and make sure to invest time and resources to market it. You’ll be glad you did.

These are just a few things we’ve done and learned along the way and I look forward to sharing more about our ESN branding and marketing journey in the future.

Join Us Today for #ESNchat To Explore ESN Branding and Marketing

What can you do next? Well, one thing I encourage you to do is to join us today for this week’s #ESNchat on Twitter which is about branding and marketing your ESN. We’ll be exploring many of the topics I shared above and more, and I hope to see you there in the conversation. To learn more about #ESNchat and how to join this week’s chat go here.

 

Come Get Your Weekly Inspiring Buzz of Enterprise Social Networks during #ESNChat

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ESNchat

Each week I look forward to the inspiring buzz I get from #ESNChat and I’m excited to join the team leading #ESNchat. If you’re new to #ESNchat, it’s a weekly Twitter chat founded by Jeff Ross in September 2013 for those interested in Enterprise Social Networks (internal social networks for employees of businesses). The topics covered are primarily of interest to ESN community managers, but anyone with an interest in ESNs is welcome to participate.

For the last two years I’ve always gotten a lot of value from the chat and it was a pleasure to have guest hosted last year’s Risk topic. Honestly, the hour flies by and when the chat is over I always get a rush of ideas and a new, valuable perspective on how to approach the future of work, business of community management and enterprise social. #ESNchat is also a great opportunity to connect, share your experiences and learn from others who are managing ESNs at their company. You can check out the archive of topics here and here, and I hope you can join us today for this week’s topic: Holiday #ESN Do’s & Don’ts.

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#ESNchat just celebrated it’s two year anniversary and I’m honored to now partner with Jeff and the rest of the new co-hosting crew Brenda Smith, and Jennifer Honig.  (Special thanks to the team at the Community Roundtable for putting together this entertaining, adventurous and fantastic photo of the new ESNchat team.)

More details and how to participate

The chat is held each Thursday from 2-3pm Eastern Time (except major American holidays).  While the scheduled chats are weekly for one hour, the conversation never ends as we invite you to share thoughts and article using the #ESNchat hashtag in your posts. Here’s how you can participate.

  1. Join the #ESNchat on tchat.io and take advantage of the user-friendly interface there.
  2. Use the Twitter tool of your choice (such as Tweetdeck.com, Hootsuite.com, Nestivity.com or Twitter itself) to view a stream of tweets in real time that contain the hashtag #ESNchat.
  3. Follow @ESNchat on Twitter for updates regarding the chats and for discussion questions during the chats.  Questions will be posted at regular intervals by the moderator during the scheduled chat.  Answer questions, engage in conversation, retweet, learn, and have fun!

 

Thanks for spreading the news and I’ll see you in the chat!

What I Told Grad Students About The Future of Work and Internal Communications

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking to graduate students at Depaul University in Chicago about the future of work and internal communications.

Looking back on this talk I was surprised and delighted because it was not only a chance to talk with students about the future of work that’s unfolding within organizations, the talk was an opportunity to reflect for a moment on my own career journey. It was a chance to give back and share what I’ve learned as I’ve seen and experienced first hand how internal social media, community management and other elements of the future of work are transforming and involving the conversation between companies and their employees, making it more transparent, meaningful and relevant behind the firewall.

Here are a few of the presentation slides, highlights of what I shared, plus a few extra thoughts and post-presentation reflections mixed in.

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As I mentioned in my working out loud like a toddler post, my son has challenged me to think about what the future workplace will be like. Seeing the world through his eyes inspires me to think about the changes we need to make today in the workplace to create the best possible future work experience, a work experience that won’t hold back or limit employees but instead will inspire and empower future generations to thrive at work and in their careers. This new way of thinking isn’t just about technology. It’s also about changing that way we approach management, leadership and give employees the tools they need to be inspired about the work they do.

To explain some of the key behaviors that employees will be exhibiting in the future, I shared a picture of my son watching a Ted talk on an iPad and related it to the Seven Principles of the Future Employee that Jacob Morgan has spoken about in his book The Future of Work.

Watching my son grow up and watching how he uses technology to learn about the world around him, it’s obvious to see how today’s workplace must evolve. Organizations must be ready for my son’s generation. But what I stressed was that many of the elements of the future employee and the future of work are already here. I told the grad students that the organizations, at least the ones that want to be relevant and in business 10 years from now, need to adapt to the reality that’s coming and one that’s already here.

Expectations and Opportunities

Looking at my son, I can’t help but see the importance of championing these new ways of working today. He’s going to expect to have these tools to do his job, and if employers don’t change and adapt these new tools and management approaches they’re going to have very frustrated and disengaged employees. And even worse, those employers who don’t evolve will be seen as “behind the times” and won’t attract the top talent and thus will be at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

I explained that those entering the communications profession have a tremendous opportunity to be champions and change agents themselves. I encouraged the students to not be a spectator in the future of work. Be an active catalyst for change where ever you work. Put yourself out there. Take risks. Experiment. Challenge yourself and others no matter where you sit in the org chat (if the org chart still exists.)  Make mistakes and learn from them. Always be improving. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. The career path always favors the risk takers, linchpins, and early adopters. And when companies allow ALL their employees to think, act and work in this new way, the company is at a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I told the students that they can influence the future of work regardless of age or work experience. I encourage them to be bold and be courageous when they face adversity in the workplace.  I was also real with them. I explained that though it’s an inspiring opportunity, it’s not without it’s challenges.

Road blocks are certain to come. I’ve faced many in my career and I expect many more to come my way. I shared with them a glimpse into how rolling out the future of work at any organization, large or small, is like running a marathon.  And if they weren’t long distance runners yet, they should consider starting because it’s a great metaphor for the exciting challenge that lies ahead.

Sharing a few personal experiences of when I had to push back and challenge my managers and leaders during my career, I explained how many of the old ways of working are still deeply engrained in organizations and you will get push back and resistance. Bet on it. Embrace it, I told them. See it as opportunity to grow and develop yourself. If you don’t embrace it, you’ll get frustrated and stop making progress. You must push on and not get discouraged by setbacks.

Why push hard against adversity? Because that’s where the real learning comes in. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and successes. Yes, without a doubt it’s an immense challenge to transform a company from the old ways of working and lead them into the future of work. What I’ve learned over the last five years at Walgreens has been priceless and each day that goes by I’m reminded of what I learned, and I challenge myself to apply what I’ve learned to in the past to help me in the present and plan for the future. Because that’s what the future of work is all about. Fail quickly so you can learn quicker. And improve faster.

I only had a short time to talk and I wish I had more time, but what I did share was that I love the rewarding feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. I love the opportunity to help fellow co-workers and leaders do their jobs better.

Connecting people and building relationships is what inspires me, and it’s one of the things I love about what I do for a living. Yes, it’s hard work. But it’s worth it because I know that my work doesn’t just impact the company but it goes beyond the firewall and helps customers too.

Making Cluetrain A Personal Manifesto

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It was fun sharing this above slide because it was a chance to reflect back on and unpack a bit of the-way-ahead-of-it’s-time wisdom from the Cluetrain Manifesto. It was amazing to see what’s evolved, and what’s not, since Cluetrain first came out in 1999.

Looking at the Cluetrain Manifesto in context of internal communications and community management was a blast as I focused on a few key areas; corporate intranets, importance of communities within organizations and the need for a human voice. I explained to the grad students how we are working hard at Walgreens to integrate these concepts into our daily flow of strategic internal communications.

I shared personal stories of how over the last five years I challenged both myself and others at Walgreens to put the concepts of the Cluetrain Manifesto into action. I explained how it takes bold thinking and courage to step from behind the proverbial and unfortunately pervasive corporate curtain and speak to employees in a real human voice that’s honest, vulnerable and transparent.

Risks, Rewards and Why Humans (Not Robots) Are The Future of Work

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I shared stories of how I’ve taken risks (and reaped the rewards) during my journey into the future of internal communications. I explained how we utilize technology like Enterprise Social Networks and concepts like Working Out Loud to have real, meaningful and transparent conversations with employees. I shared examples of how members of our corporate communications team have modeled the behaviors of the Future Employee and The Future Manager.

And most of all, I stressed the importance of not thinking that it’s all about technology. Yes, much of the future of work does involve using technology and though I am a big fan of Daft Punk and their robot rock, we don’t need to be robots or be robotic in how we work in the future. We’ve already done enough of that in the past. It’s time to be human.

The future of work needs leaders who are human and are courageous enough to reprogram the system with their humanity. Leaders that are brave enough and smart enough to be vulnerable, admit and learn from failure, embrace their humanity and use all those human elements to transform the workplace and how we work.

Why is being human so important for the future of work? Because, honestly, at the heart of the future of work are humans, humans with which we need to communicate and engage with in an authentic and personal way.

Humans that need to be cared for and guided mindfully and thoughtfully along the way. Humans that need to be encouraged and told (often) that it’s okay to work is this new way.

Humans that need leaders to show that the future of work is blessed by the organization and is top priority for the company.

Humans that need to be led through this new and often scary behavior change.

The Future of Work Needs Leaders and Partnerships

Okay, so I made the point that you can’t have the future of work without real people and we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that just because IT rolls out new technology that employees will know exactly how to use it and know exactly how it should be integrated in to their daily flow of work.

The other important things we need are leaders and partnerships.

Looking at the five trends of the future of work we clearly need leaders at all levels of the organization to guide the workforce. We need to look at leadership differently. From the C-suite to the front lines, I believe we need everyone to be empowered and to have a sense of leadership and ownership of the future of work. The challenge, and opportunity, ahead of us is to complex to only have a few people leading the way and charged with guiding employees through all the psychological, emotional and sociological parts of the human experience that’s unfolding before us. Traditional hierarchies, old ways of management, and department silos won’t get us to where need to be. I’ve seen progress in other companies who are making inspiring changes but we need to continue to push to make it the future of work a reality not the exception.

I ended with the truth I’ve shared with other audiences stressing to the students that it’s critical that strategic partnerships are formed between communications, IT, HR and legal. Those areas of the company must find a way to work together. They must have a shared vision, a clear roadmap and a unified purpose to make the future of work a reality for their organizations. It’s been a key element to success of our community and collaboration initiatives at Walgreens. And if those partnerships are not formed and a priority, the future of work will only be a fragmented effort with limited impact and worse, a failure.

It was a blast and huge pleasure to speak to students about the future of work and internal communication. And I loved the conversations I had with the students afterwards. Special thanks to Ron Culp for making this talk happen and I hope I inspired a few brave and courageous souls to join the journey. And judging by those chats I had with students, the future of work and internal communications looks bright, indeed.

What My Toddler Is Teaching Me About Working Out Loud

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I was inspired by this Working Out Loud post by John Stepper. It’s a post asking what you can do to accelerate working out loud (WOL). I’m accepting John’s challenge and I’m going to do “my something” and share with you how my son, a toddler, is inspiring me to think differently about and better understand what it means to work out loud.

What is Working Out Loud?

If you’re new to working out loud, basically, as John states, it’s defined as “…making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

I’ve continue to be inspired by WOL these last few months and I’ve been embarking on my own journey to better understand how I can work out loud more in my life and career. The concepts and framework of working out loud have inspiring possibilities to impact the workplace and as part of my journey I’m going to be sharing more examples about what I’m learning in my personal life and experiment with working out loud as I lead the development of our collaborative employee communities at Walgreens.

It’s Simple…Just Watch A Toddler Play

Alright, now that you’re up to speed on what WOL is, here’s what my toddler has taught me about working out loud.

I was playing with my two-year-old son and it occurred to me that the way he plays is a living example of working out loud. One of the most important parts of working out loud is the goal to make your work observable and that’s exactly what my son is teaching me. This is why I now have a wooden train track and plastic building block on my desk at work to remind me of this important lesson.

It’s simple. Watch a toddler play and you’ll see many examples of what it means to make your work observable. It’s refreshing to think of working out loud in this context. Toddlers do such a great job of making their work observable as they’re creating it, and they also show you what it means to invite others to participate with them. They almost do it to excess and extreme which can make it frustrating, but there’s even a valuable lesson to learn in that moment of frustration.

Sure, toddlers might not be completely cognitively aware of what they’re doing, but nonetheless, it’s pretty amazing to experience firsthand the super powers toddlers have to demonstrate (and remind) us adults how to work out loud.

My “A-ha” Moment

When did this truth really hit home for me? The moment when my son looked up at me with a piece of train set in his hand and said “Daddy help me,” a light bulb went off in my head. He smiled at me and I back at him. In those moments when we engage each other as we build puzzles, construct train sets and color inside (and outside) lines of his favorite coloring books I get the opportunity to really make working out loud a more personal and emotional experience.

When my son and I are playing together I get the opportunity to not only connect with him but I have the opportunity to think deeper about what it means to collaborate as adults and further the discussion about the skills needed for the present and future of the digital workplace. I get to test and experiment for myself. And because of these moments the concepts of working out loud become more meaningful and applicable in my life, career and work to build employee communities at Walgreens.

Recently my son and I were putting together a Thomas the Train set and everything went into slow motion as I watched the scene unfold. He built his half of the train set while I built mine. He paused to watch me and I then paused to watch him work at connecting the pieces and give the trains a test run on the tracks. Then the moment came when we connected our parts together. Bam! Whalla! A massive smile lit up his face and the “a-ha” lightbulb in my head grew brighter and brighter with thoughts. The bigger picture of what was happening in this single moment became clearer.

He’s learning how to collaborate and he’s helping me to rewire my brain so I can unlearn all the bad stuff that keeps me from working out loud as an adult. He teaches me to keep it simple, to not let my own fears and inhibitions get in the way of sharing what I’m working on with others. He’s teaching me how to ask for help so I can improve my own talents and hopefully make more meaningful contributions to those around me. How cool is that!?

The Truth About WOL Meltdowns

Yes, this is all inspiring stuff. But I have to be honest with you. It’s not always that simple. He (and I ) certainly have our struggles. He has the occasional toddler meltdown and at times he rips pieces out of my hand when I least expect it, which is frustrating and really tests my patience. Yes, there’s another lesson to be learned here. As I’ve come to learn, working out loud can be messy too. Working out loud is not about perfection. It’s about making progress towards a bigger goal over time. What that might look like. And messiness, imperfection, and failures are all part of the journey. If you’re not failing, getting occasionally frustrated or messy when working out loud then you’re probably not working out loud at all.

All this said, as I reflect on what my son is teaching me I’ve been thinking about a few other truths.

How I’m Overcoming The Hard Parts of WOL

First, working out loud is hard to do. It’s not natural for adults. If it were easy I wouldn’t be writing this post. So because of that we need toddlers to re-teach us. Unfortunately, as adults, we’re often taught and rewarded for being competitive, being perfect and working alone until the project is finished. These “work in silence” and “work in secret” behaviors get reinforced in many areas of our lives as we get older so that’s why working out loud is hard to do at first. So what I’ve found is that it’s important to recognize this reality because it helps to set the right expectations so we don’t try to do too much too soon and get discouraged, all of which can stop us before we even can make progress towards lasting change, meaningful transformation and big breakthroughs.

Like running, I’ve realized that once you get going working out loud does get easier and it begins to feel more natural. You begin to become more comfortable. Once momentum builds you begin to build up and strengthen your working out loud muscles. And, like running, you have to put the miles in to get the rewards and benefits. I’ve never had runner’s high as a result of standing still.

You have to struggle and wrestle at first. Heck, just writing this post took several tries before I won the wrestling match and “publish.” Like I’ve done on many blog posts before I fought to keep the momentum going. That’s what matters most. A series of small wins leads to bigger wins. And as I watched my son do his thing building and tearing down his block towers and building them back up again, it all inspired me onward.

While writing this post I took a look back at my own career and I reflected on all the work it took to start Live Fix back in 2005. Didn’t necessariily know what I was doing. I just started and built on each live concert experiment one by one.  So it became clear that I’ve been working out loud all these years by writing about life and the live concert experience and doing podcasts. And doing so has led to several pivotal creative breakthroughs and more career opportunities, which is one of the many benefits of working out loud.

Now at this stage of my career I feel as though I’m leveraging working out loud in a new and exciting way that I haven’t before. I have an idea of what that exactly means but then again I don’t. And I’m totally okay with that because I’m learning as I go just like I did back in 2005. What I do know is that I’m excited about the opportunity to join with others who like me are introducing and championing working out loud within their organizations. It’ll be interesting to see where things are at five or ten years from now.

In writing this post I struggled to put together my initial thoughts and labored through my share or doubt and confusion looking for the right words to express my thoughts and emotions about working out loud in this phase of life. When fear, doubt and procrastination were looming, I utilized one of John’s wise tactics. I leveraged Twitter to help keep me accountable and motivated. I tweeted that I was working on a post in a effort to make my ongoing blog post visible and get initial feedback on the post.

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And it worked! One of my twitter followers tweeted back right away that he was interested in this post as I was writing it, which I thought was awesome. So I continued on and moved ahead writing the post even though the lizard part of my brain was thrashing around with fear, doubt and uncertainty. Like I mentioned above, I’ve also been practicing, modeling and experimenting with WOL in our internal employee communities and corporate communications at Walgreens and I’m learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t work when introducing working out loud to a large and complex organization. I’ll share more on future posts about what I’m learning through those experiences too.

Generosity = Motivation

The other part of working out loud that’s helped me work through the negative emotions and mental barriers (and inspired me to hit publish on this post) was the generosity elements associated with WOL. At its core, working out loud encourages us to see and re-frame our work as contributions for the greater good and benefits of those around us. When we openly share our work we’re thinking of others first and not focusing on our own doubts and fears. By sharing what we’re learning we’re being generous because there’s a genuine and authentic knowledge share happening. By working out loud others are benefiting from the things we’ve learned and hopefully what’s shared helps make the lives of others better and more meaningful.

That’s a beautiful and very liberating way to frame things and I can tell you that seeing things from this “be generous” perspective makes the fear of not being perfect or failing really small and almost a non-issue. Seeing things though a generous lens helps me to not be so selfish in my fear and instead focus on helping others around me with what I learned in life. The opportunity to be generous is a great motivator and inspires me for sure.

More WOL questions coming up next

Here’s a few more questions I’m looking forward to exploring on future posts:

  • What is the impact of working out loud in a large organization? What should we be testing and measuring?
  • How and why are the concepts of observable work and working out loud critical to the future of work?
  • Why is it important for companies to learn how to work out loud? And how will working out loud impact a company’s ability to adapt and remain competitive in the marketplace?

Until next time, and to continue John’s original inspiring question, let me know…what are you doing to accelerate working out loud? What has a toddler taught you about working out loud?