August 24, 2009

Big Bold Moves

During Indianapolis rush hour traffic one night last week, I saw a guy jump out of his truck in the middle of a torrential storm. He parked hastily on the side of an exit ramp in a major road construction project on Indianapolis’ west side. From my rear view mirror, I saw him run across the ramp toward a set of concrete barriers, preparing to hurl himself over the barricades and into a lane of oncoming traffic that had come to a standstill after a construction sign had blown over and slid across the highway into a lane of moving traffic. In an instant, this man recognized that the sign had the potential to kill a lot of people who were forced to come to a complete stop unexpectedly. He placed himself in harm’s way with the faith that he might just save a few lives if he could remove that sign. Talk about a big, bold move. Most barriers in daily life are far less dangerous than that, don’t you think?

Inspirational Book of the Day: If you can get past the nasty language in Hugh MacLeod’s illustrations, his book Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity is a wonderful treatise on living a creative life. It's written with an edgy attitude and contains a lot of truths grownups need to know about creativity. It's just too bad MacLeod didn't leave his offensive language on his now famous Gaping Void blog. They actually subtracted from some very worthwhile wisdom for people who are pursuing dreams of one kind or another. But that's what's in vogue today.

August 16, 2009

Invest in you: tips for getting the most out of your conference attendance

Blog Indiana isn’t over for me. Sponsored by the School of Informatics at IUPUI and other corporate sponsors, this three-day conference on blogging and social media ended yesterday. It jangled my nerves. It reconnected me with someone I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. It freed me of some self-limiting beliefs that have dogged me for years. And it introduced me to a bunch of people and ideas that made it hard to fall asleep two nights in a row. That’s the most exciting way I’ve spent $250 in a long time.

What about you? When was the last time you attended a conference? Here are some tips for getting the most of your investment in professional development:

1) Go to conferences whether you have the money or not. It’s one of the few things in life where the “buy now, pay later” plan isn’t such a bad idea. People tend to wince over the cost of registration and travel expenses during tough economic times. These are the most important times to invest in you. You’ll learn things that make you more marketable. People (read: prospective employers or customers) will automatically think well of you because you are someone who is interested, engaged and all about growth.

2) Don’t stick too close to home. I’m not talking about geography here. Get outside your immediate discipline and get a bigger lens on the world. Think the way other people think for a few days. Every profession is guilty of myopia to some extent. You get tired of your same old tools and approaches to every problem. Look beyond the obvious conferences for your profession. I’m a part-time librarian and former writer who is involved in my husband’s manufacturer’s rep firm. This summer, I attended a conference for manufacturers rep agents and one for people who are involved with blogging and social media for business. I decided not to attend the big national conference for librarians even though it was just a three-hour drive and travel expenses would be low. Why? My potential for growth was greater when I put myself a little outside my immediate work experience.

3) Don’t be afraid to look stupid. You never know when this may help. In one standing-room-only session of Blog Indiana, I sat down on the floor next to a guy who was busy setting up his laptop. While we waited for the session to start, he asked why I had come. I said I wasn’t sure yet. “We don’t know if it’s wise for our business to use social networking tools due to unique circumstances in our market,” I said, explaining the nature of our business. I braced myself for the reaction I’d gotten earlier that day from a CEO and sponsor of the event: he poked fun of a group he’d spoken to the previous week, a group of stodgy men in their sixties who own businesses that make industrial products. They challenged his notion that they should jump on the social networking bandwagon. He dismissed them as a clueless lot, revealing his own brand of narrow-mindedness. I picture successful entrepreneurs I know personally who have made a lot of money because of good timing. They know they don’t always need to be first to the table to win, especially now that exit strategies like retirement are looming. Realizing their own short horizon for making money with new tools doesn’t make them idiots. The smart guy with the laptop, Chip McComb, director of internet marketing at Fuseworks Studios, respected the fact that we know more about our business than he does. He introduced me by e-mail to a colleague who has used these tools successfully in a similar business. I now have a link to someone with the right set of experiences to inform our deliberation. Think I’ll remember Chip? You bet I will.

4) Be open. Be curious. Talk to everyone. I met some people who are doing truly fascinating things. They know that I admire them because I listened intently. They enlarged my view of what is possible. I have at least a dozen new friends I can talk to because of my summer conference attendance. In my book, he who dies with the most friends wins.

5) Tell someone what you’ve learned immediately. I couldn’t wait for my husband to get home on the final night of the Blog Indiana conference. I called a friend the next morning and got her out of bed to share the part I wanted her to know. I probably crossed a boundary there, selfishly calling early on a Saturday morning. The act of telling someone what you learned at a conference is like teaching. When we teach, we reinforce what we learn.

6) Prepare a one-page action plan. If the conference is really good, your head may be spinning with ideas. Your notes may be copious. Don’t try to do everything. Make a one-page action plan, pick the top three items and start working on them immediately. Make a resource list of every person or source you may want to explore further.

7) Visit your notes frequently. It’s easy to attend a conference, take a lot of notes, and go back to work unchanged. Challenge yourself to sit with your notes and review them again and again. What’s the point of professional development if it doesn’t somehow change who you are and how you operate for a better result?

August 13, 2009

Can digital libraries remain relevant in a world brimming with free information?

Two of my life’s professions collided today in Indianapolis at the Blog Indiana 2009 Blogging and Social Media Conference. As a former corporate communications writer turned librarian, I left today’s meetings befuddled and thrilled. The communication realm I left in 2004 to become a librarian has changed so much that it I can’t help but review why I left just when things were getting so exciting.

I’m wondering about that presentation I’ll be making next week. It’s designed for a group of incoming college freshman to introduce them to Indiana’s digital libraries where they can use the internet to access thousands of full-text periodicals, from consumer magazines and newspapers to academic and professional journals. Librarians call these resources “the invisible web.” And they’re not free. Institutions of higher learning, Indiana’s General Assembly and other supporters set aside millions for powerful research tools like INSPIRE.

My presentation will differentiate these sources from the free web by showing the precision and superiority of their search features. I’ll emphasize the credibility of the sources. But these students are media snackers. How many of them will have the metal to research and read full text articles? Can they succeed in college without that skill? And what if that skill is so old school that it doesn’t prepare them for the demands that will be placed on them today?

Of the highly evolved humans that were at this conference, I’ll bet 90 percent know nothing about digital libraries. They haven’t needed them because they live in a world that teems with free information.

When libraries eagerly introduced these digital resources, we imagined that we finally had a tool that competed and perhaps even surpassed the web. That may be true, but we'll have to work hard to prove it now that the bomb of social media has been detonated.