Category Archives: Leadership

converting vision into reality – don’t give the whole thing away in the first meeting

I have been in too many meetings where the first part of the meeting is the brainstorm of what we might do to address the opportunity at hand, and the remainder of the meeting is the long, tedious process of turning that vision into a project plan with dates and deliverables and milestones and activities that can be resolved into auditable checkboxes on a spreadsheet. And you know what? I hate the work that turns vision into process before the vision has had a chance to see how things actually are for a while.

When you’re on with a vision of how something could or should be, that great idea of yours is a liability, not an asset. It’s going to take some huge amount of effort or activation of an existing set of skills or knowledge to go from bright idea to something that someone else can buy into. Resist the temptation to let other people have your perspective on the world spelled out to them too clearly before it gets a chance to adapt to circumstances, or at the very least if you are going to do this for someone for money sell them something that captures not just the time spent in that room but the whole world that you bring to making that room reflect reality.

How to get invited to conferences

Brian Marick on How to get invited to conferences:

Someone asked me for advice on how to get invited to speak at conferences.  Key advice:

    • become a valuable participant in a niche field,
    • grow along with the niche,
    • become a good speaker.

  There's more, of course; there's always more; it's a good discussion of how he found a growing niche and helped popularize it in part by viewing things from a novel perspective.

That discussion pointed to this essay by Phil Agre on How To Be A Leader In Your Field (2005), aimed at grad students.  He has a six part recipe (more pointless numbered lists; but you understand that as a grounding principle) on how to do it.  Starkly abstracted:
  1. Pick an issue. You need an issue that the profession as a whole is not really thinking about, but which is going to be the center of attention in five years. 

  2. Having chosen your issue, start a project to study it. 
  3. Find relevant people and talk to them. First do your library work so you know any conventional wisdom that's out there. Then talk to some working professionals who are facing the issue, especially if they have spoken publicly about an aspect of it. 
  4. Pull together what you've heard. Nobody is expecting you to solve the problems. 
  5. Circulate the result. Send copies to the people who helped you. Call it a draft or interim report if you want. Give credit to the people whose ideas you've written down. Then follow up. 
  6. Build on your work. Get invited to speak at meetings. Correspond with people who have contacted you after reading your work.   

Note that Agre's list has five steps before the "speak at meetings", and that Marick's list only has  two; you can chalk up most of that to the need in grad school to engage in more ritual behavior vs. the practitioner who is just looking to talk about something novel to the people who want to hear something novel.

I write about this stuff all the time, because in part I think about the tag line this blog has now ("I am a leader by default, because nature abhors a vacuum") and how it reflects on the leadership role of seeing something not yet there and working at it until it is real enough for others to take as their own.  Hard to say that this is an easy path to do – if you are too scatterbrained you have dozens of projects that are not quite full formed and you never get to the expert level – but there is something to be said for the notion that this is something which you or anyone can do by simple application of diligence and leverage in some small gap in the structure of how the world currently is.