March 20, 2011

one way to participate in our government

I spent my day at an open data hackathon yesterday.

What's a hackathon?  A group of technical people getting together to share ideas and build things.  Specifically, the things they build are web or other types of applications that use data to tell us something interesting and valuable.  Hacking, despite the negative connotation of causing trouble that is sometimes given to the word, is about disrupting the status quo, bringing something new to the world.  

I am not a software developer nor a programmer.  I can't participate in the writing of code to build an application.  Nor do I understand a great deal of the technical conversation that swirls around me as those who have the expertise collaboratively brainstorm, debate, and share ideas.

So why do I spend a day at a hackathon?

There are two main reasons.  
  1. I am fascinated by data, and I like to learn.  I like to be part of helping government and other organizations to understand that regular people want to know more about what affects us.  It is through having information  that we can do a better job of being citizens, and of helping to support the choices that will be good for our cities, provinces, country and the world.  Sit down with others for a short time and the ideas flow.  And although us citizens know something of the data and information we would like to have - so that the developers can use it to build applications we can use - we can't even begin to scratch the surface of the interesting data that is held in government databases.
  2. I believe in the concept of hacking.  Finding unconventional solutions to problems. Disrupting the status quo.  It is a word that resonates with me; although the word is not used to describe what I do, I too am a hacker of sorts.  For example, I am a hacker of workplace teams, helping them to shift them from a culture of survival to a culture of power.  A culture where each team member has greater self-awareness, greater willingness to learn and contribute, a desire to bring the best of themselves to the work of their team. 
When I attend an open data hackathon, I have the opportunity to support these two things that I value.  And I can bring my own skills in communicating and engaging others to help others like me to see ourselves into it.  

This matters to us.  I think we are in a time, in our province and in the world, when we as citizens need to contribute our intelligence.  We are facing some challenging issues.  We can't expect governments to solve everything on our behalf.  Our collective intelligence as citizens is a powerful resource that can be brought to bear.  We need to put ourselves out there.  We need to find effective ways of engaging and collaborating with the people who work in our governments.   

Participating in community events like open data hackathons is one way for me to engage and collaborate.  It makes a difference.  

Photo by Vangelis Thomaidis courtesy of

March 17, 2011

how to refer someone

We often have opportunities to refer someone we know to someone else.

During a conversation, we realize that we know an individual who could be of assistance to our colleague or to their organization.

In that moment, we have a chance to create that individual for our colleague.  What we say will form their first impression of the individual.  It's a powerful position to be in. When you are in that situation, what do you do?

One approach is for you to tell your colleague everything that you know about the individual. Their strengths and their weaknesses.  From your experience, and your point of view.

Another approach is to focus on the person's strengths.  You are, after all, referring that person because you believe that they have value to offer.  Otherwise, why refer them?  By describing their attributes in terms of strengths, you leave your colleague with the opportunity to form their own perspective and impression of the individual.

As people, we tend to see whatever it is that we are looking for.  If we are told someone is 'outspoken', we will see evidence for that. It will take extra effort for us to view that characteristic differently.  However, if we are told someone is 'willing to be direct with you, and say what she thinks', instead, then that is what we will see.

The next time you are in a conversation and have an opportunity to refer another, see if you are following this approach.  The other great thing about it?  It feels better to build people up, than to tear them down.

March 6, 2011

setting yourself apart

I am a frequent customer at four different coffee shops.

I always order the same thing.  An americano.  At three of the shops, I need to give the order every time. At the fourth, the employees remember what my beverage of choice is.

What's the impact?  As a customer, I feel important. Valued. I want to visit that fourth shop whenever I can.  The coffee, the atmosphere, the wi-fi, the comfy chairs and the music are excellent at all. The only difference, the only thing that sets the one shop apart from the rest, is that the employees make the effort to remember my order.

There is a lot of competition for business. Having a great product or service is essential.  You can't compete otherwise.  Lots of businesses have great products or services.  Setting your business apart takes something special.  The extra effort you make in serving your customers can be the thing that sets you apart.

Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.  Tony Alessandra.