Some Things Stay The Same. Others, Not So Much.

One afternoon in late May 1932, the New York Times reports, a group of 15 students showed up at the home of famous financier J. P. Morgan, signs in hand, to protest the condition of miners employed by firms Mr Morgan had invested in.

What did they want?

They paraded for an hour, carrying sandwich posters reading “Kentucky’s Shame is Yours, Mr Morgan,” [and] “Stamp Out Want in Your Own Lines”

One afternoon in early April 2014, Business Insider reports, a group of self-proclaimed anarchists showed up at the home of famous entrepreneur and investor Kevin Rose, signs in hand, to protest rising housing prices and disruption in San Francisco.

What did they want?

that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.

Good luck with that, guys!

If you read the NY Times article, you might have noted a familiar name. That was my grandfather.

RIP Nelson Mandela

Image source: nupeoplemagazine.com

In my personal pantheon of heroes, Nelson Mandela ranks very high.

As much as his inevitable passing is a sad day, I’m comforted by the fact that unlike King, Gandhi, and Lincoln, Mandela was able to live out his full lifespan and die peacefully of old age. Perhaps this was Fate’s payback for the 27 years of his life he spent locked away in prison.

What he did for South Africa needs no retelling here. Like so many others around the world, I have found his commitment to freedom and equality, and especially his steadfast leadership of South Africa into its post-apartheid era, to be both moving and inspiring.

Mandela spoke these words in 1964 when on trial for his life:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

And despite 27 years of imprisonment, he did achieve it.

Godspeed, Mandela. Thank you for all that you did. We will not see your like again soon.

SxSW is Disneyworld

SxSW Wall
Street scene, Austin, SxSW 2013

Over the course of an exceedingly hectic and travel-filled March (four cities in three weeks!), I finally got the chance to attend SxSW Interactive. I was there for work (Adobe did a 2 day event as part of the festivities) and didn’t get the full SxSW experience.

Despite spending most of my time there snapping photos in a hotel ballroom, I did manage to get out a little, and I came away convinced of two things:

1) I want to go back next year, and
2) SxSW is what you make of it

There’s plenty of articles out there taking about SxSW from every possible angle. Depending on who you listen to, SxSW is anything from a 4-day partyfest to the most important event of the year for anyone touching the interactive world.

But ultimately – SxSW is a lot like Disneyworld. You can focus on a lot of different things when you do a trip to Disney. So much so that two families might have completely different experiences even though they’re both in Orlando at the same time. And you might come away hating the trip, or loving it, or wanting to do everything different the next time, or not wanting to change a thing.

So too with SxSW. And count me as a fan.

Lessons From the Master: Making Learning More Fun

One of the benefits to working where I do is getting to learn from some amazing people while on the job. Last week, I had the great pleasure of hearing the inimitable Russell Brown share his thoughts on making learning fun.

If you don’t know who that is, this is Russell:

Russell Brown @ AdobeMAX
Russell Brown @ AdobeMAX

And what Russell is know for more than anything is his brilliant, funny, and engaging teaching style. So getting to hear him talk about how to do what he does is a real privilege. True to form, Russell showed up for the class in full Abe Lincoln regalia and proceeded to talk for the next 50 minutes with just a stack of paper and a screen projector (plus a few prizes) to help him out.

Amidst the schtick and the fun, I came away with some great ideas. I’ve boiled it down to three key takeaways, all closely interrelated:

Technology is a Crutch

Russell gave his session assisted only by a screen projector, and he did it to make a point. As great as all of today’s tools are, they’re just tools. Relying on them too much gets in the way of a good presentation, because learning is about a lot more than just pretty pictures on a screen. Really effective communication engages all the senses.

There’s also the secondary benefit that if you’re not overly dependent on technology, if for some reason you run into a technology fail (no wifi, laptop crash, forgot your dongle, etc) you’ll still be able to do your thing.

Make It Fun

“Any presentation can be a success if you can get your audience to laugh three times” – Russell attributed this quote to our co-founder Chuck Geschke. It goes beyond just getting people to laugh, though. It’s about keeping them relaxed, engaged in the moment, and open to learning. There’s always the risk that you’ll take it too far and people will have so much fun they’ll forget to learn something, but since most of us are not Russell Brown, the risk is far higher that you’ll just bore everyone and lose them that way.

This is especially true today, when it takes just a few seconds to switch focus from a boring presentation to an unending stream of email, twitter, Facebook, news, and more. Make it fun and they’ll keep their phones in their pockets and their attention on the topic.

Get Interactive

Using interactive and analog components not only keeps people engaged, but it gives them a goal to aim for and increases how well they retain information. Russell talked a lot about how he brings in real-world components to his training classes, so that there’s a tangible result to their digital efforts at the end of the day.

This is where technology is not a crutch, but a great addition to learning. How much more engaging is it to not only create a design, but to imprint it onto an actual teapot that you can take home at the end of the day? Wouldn’t that inspire you to try harder in class?

Image credit: Cindy Li

Ultimately, all of this serves the goal of getting people to remember more of the lessons you just taught them.

The last takeaway Russell shared was to know your audience. Ninja cutouts hanging from the ceiling and a crazy costume might not go over so well if you’re presenting to a room full of lawyers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your session. Just do it in a way that will work for your audience.

So how are you going to make YOUR next presentation more fun?

Community Leadership Summit 2012: My Take

After three visits to the Community Leadership Summit, it’s quite clear that the world of community management is maturing.

A few years ago, CLS struggled to get 100 people in the room, especially the second day of the event. This year, there were well over 200 people at CLS, and Day 2 was just as busy as Day 1. Attendance is growing more international as well; not just the US and Europe, but also community managers from China and India were on site (and probably more countries I missed).


The most important thing about CLS, and what keeps me coming back every year, is the quality of the content and the fantastic conversations that take place there. The CLS wiki has crowdsourced notes from many of the sessions, but it’s a pale shadow of the value you get from actually being there.

Each year, new community managers come in, but there’s also a growing base of practitioners who’ve been in the field for some time now and are taking a more in-depth approach to the discipline. That cross-pollination of ideas is great for everyone.

This year I facilitated a session on tools for community management on Saturday as well as gave a plenary talk on Sunday. The Sunday talk was something I haven’t done before – I talked about crisis communities and used the recent events at Horace Mann as an example of community formation in a crisis. It was hard to talk about something so personal at a professional event but judging from the feedback I got, it went over well.

Each year, I come home more convinced that it doesn’t matter if you’re a manager of an open source community or a corporate one, a huge community or a tiny one, community programs and community managers have far more in common that not.

We all struggle with issues around tooling and support, and managing difficult personalities. We’re all trying to find more and better metrics for judging the success and health of our communities. We all deal with burnout and stress. And we’re all looking for ways to bring in new community members while trying to keep longtime contributors active and engaged.

If we all keep talking to each other, we can leverage all that intelligence and passion we have for our work to make all of our lives easier and our communities stronger.

TL; DR: the Community Leadership Summit is a great event, and if you’re a community manager, you should put it onto your calendar for next year.

Versions of this post are cross-posted here and on my work blog.