Social media has raised the ante in events & conference management

I am not an events manager.  If you want information on events management, follow @tojulius and @carmenhere.

I am writing this because someone asked me how an event could be better.  Events are a highly specialized and skilled form of organizational management, but as a sub-class of organizational management, some general rules apply.

My question is this:  if apply the four basic rules, do I arrive at any insights of value?

1. Make it easy to join in

If we stumble on the sign up, or forget our passwords, nothing more will happen.

The basics are having the event at a place we can reach with public transport, on a day that isn’t filled with competing events, etc.  You get the point?  I can move on?

2.  Make it easy for people to connect

I still go to conferences where I cannot see in advance who is attending, let alone connect with them.  And the attendance list does not include email addresses or twitter handles.  There is no way to find anyone at the conference once we get there.  We are under-utilizing the social, or connect-potential, of the meeting.  Grossly.

I know why we continue to organize like this.  It is not technology. Amiando and Meetup have full social capacity.  It is the ‘control-freak’ nature of British-society.  We like to dis the government for being control-freaks, but it start with us.

Maybe we should give every meetup a control-freak rating?  Anyway, it is time to stop.  I don’t come to your meetup just to meet you!  I want to meet other people too.  I don’t want to meet up with 1% of people I could meet.  I want the full potential!

3.  Find a way for people to learn

We learn whenever we ‘do’.  We are learning animals.

But just as there are levels of convenience in #1 and levels of sociability in #2, there are levels of learning.

When I introduce myself and the other person struggles to understand what I am on about, I learn.

I also learn when Twitter feeds go up on a big screen. Those big screens can be distracting though.  Sometimes they are just a techie gimmick.

Whether they add value or not seems to revolve around ‘feedback loops’. Which feedback loops can we add to highlight great examples of what we do?  And is there a way of making data available so people with the skills and inclination can mash it up, dress it up, and present it back to us?

A raffle in which we put our business cards in a bowl for a prize is an example of this principle.  The pile of cards grows and we feel good to be at a popular event.  The lucky winner is highlighted for being present (and being lucky).   I am sure the organizers are looking through the cards too, to see who came (with cards and who will have a gamble)?

What else can we amplify in this way?  How can we help people learn?

4.  Find a way for the event to add meaning

We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves.  I don’t mean belong to a group bigger than ourselves.  We want our group to fit into a wider landscape in a meaningful way.  The existential purpose of the group must be clear.  Not just the instrumental purpose or the social purpose.

How does this group fit into the wider community?  Why would the wider community be happy that we are there?  Why would they mourn if we were not there?  How does our meaning change with our activity?  How does the wider community thrive and flourish because we thrive and flourish?

This is the big ask.  So many old organizations feel rotten because they are no longer connected with the wider well-being of the community – in the community’s eyes, that is, not their own.  Does the community see them?  How does the community see them?  What is the symbiosis?

What is the symbiosis between our event or startup and the wider community?  How do they see us? When they talk about us, or our activities?  Which parts of our work bring a light to their eyes?

Social media has raised the ante in events management

Tough.  In the olden-days we were a star to get #1 right.  It is not enough any more.  We have to step up through the levels. So point me to good examples, please, because I am still learning too.

Reality is broken. Games are great. What do you dislike about games?

Game designers are better at psychology than psychologists

Jane McGonigal, games designer extraordinaire, has long pointed out that games are better designed than most jobs.   I agree with her, but oddly I still prefer work.

Nonetheless, agreeing that games designers make better use of work psychology than psychologists do, I’ve been deliberately playing games from beginning to end.

Orientation that gives control back to the audience

Getting into games, the autonomy dimension of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model is clear.  We need to be be able to see what to do at glance. We shouldn’t need elaborate instructions or encouragement.

Something for the audience to get their teeth into

I am stepping through the levels quite doggedly.  That should be the competence dimension of Ryan & Dec’s model.  In truth, games are quite fun while I am figuring out the rules – or when I think I can push myself to a new level.  But they also get boring quickly.  Dogged is the feeling I have!

A way for us to play together

I think I don’t use the social aspects of games sufficiently. Social or relationships, is the third component of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model.

I am probably not very sociable because my motives for playing games aren’t social.  But, equally, I probably get bored quickly because I am not being sociable.

Bringing our own rules to the game

What has interested me more has been the way my preconceptions affect my game play

In a game in which I played the role of explorer in Africa, it took me a long while to realize that I could deliberately kill people and even longer to do it.

In Mafia Wars running on Facebook, I am yet to start a fight. I am yet to invest in armor.  I only do jobs against an anonymous enemy.  When someone attacks me, I just clean up and take out some more insurance.

In Farmeville, I would like to share my tractor.

Does social mean more than sending gifts and energy bonuses? Are our ‘identities’ and ‘values’ also important to us?

Sometimes it is useful to have our values challenged.  Sometimes it is useful to see that we impose rules that other people don’t care about.

Then we have a choice.  Do we want to play by those rules?  Maybe we do.

5 rules of motivation for the lazy psychologist

Cheese on a market in Basel, Switzerland
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not moving until I can see the cheese

And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.

1  Motivation is distance to your goal

The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!

Motivation is not constant.  We aren’t motivated by cheese.  We are motivated by distance to the cheese.

Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.

2  Motivation blinds us

When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.

That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle.  So easy to trap.

3  Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese

So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . .  Will it keep going, no matter what?

Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer.  Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather.   It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.

We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!

4  Motivation makes us stupid

Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.

Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.

5  Motivation needs to be simple

And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.

Come on cats, now is your chance.

Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.

We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go.  Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily.  Two cheeses – we can have one or the other.  Shall we go together or not?  If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?

Action is hard . . .

We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.

.  .  . and action it is also dangerous

We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.

Someone has to manage the cheese

We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions.  While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.

So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese

This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.

We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.

We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all?  Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it.  So, the question is which cheese will we chase?  And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?

We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese.  That will be their job, their only job.  Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too.  We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.

We must have these people.  Or the cats will have us

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3 Easy Sunday Ways to Master the 3 Principles of Design

It is Sunday today, and I want you to do three things for me.

1    Watch Dan Pink’s TED lecture on Motivation

2    Flick through Jane McGonigal’s slides for SXSW 2008 or  fixing reality.

If you have seen them before, remind yourself of slides 22 through 24.

3    Login in to Facebook and play FarmVille.

Why?

First, today is Sunday. I know you want to catch up with your reading but you should also be having fun.

Dan Pink, former speech writer, speaks good too.  Jane McGonigal’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is to win a Nobel prize for games design and she designs games that ‘give a damn’.  And FarmVille, though childish looking, is actually fun, and will probably get you chatting with a couple of old friends over your farmyard gate.

Learn about the Ryan and Deci (2000) 3 principles of design (ARC) in an enjoyable way

But mainly, because if your goal today was to keep up-to-date with what the gurus are saying, you should know that leading gurus are popularizing the research results of Ryan & Deci (2000).

Ryan & Deci boiled down the principles for designing for work, games and events that are compelling, engaging and ‘moreish’ to

Autonomy.     Can we make our decisions in this place?

Competence. Does the game, work, or event help us learn, and do the conditions keep pace with our growing ability?

Relatedness.  Can we play with others? Is this event socially-rewarding?

Dan Pink and Jane McGonigal may use slightly different terms, but these are the 3 attributes that are being described.

9m people are playing FarmVille (for free) on Facebook

As you play FarmVille, you can admire the ‘assets’ the games have deployed for our leisure and imagination and marvel that 9 million people will seriously attend to their farmyard online and nip over to their neighbours to chase the cows out of the strawberries.

You can also admire the way FarmVille draws you into the game by appealing to your autonomy.   This is your farm and your avatar.   They gently guide you through the possibilities and in a short time, you are as keen as mustard to develop some competence.

FarmVille has levels. I mysteriously found myself at level 3 – possibly it starts at three.   There is clear feedback that tells you how well you are doing and lets you work out the best strategies.   There are rewards that entice you to make an effort.   And there are levels that are both badges of honour and opportunities to try new things.  FarmVille even throws in some random rewards which, of course, are massively reinforcing.

And it is social.  You can see at a glance whom of your friends are playing.  You can send them free gifts.  And they can reciprocate.  You can visit their yards and admire their work (and aspire to catch up.)  You can ask them to be your neighbour.  You can rush over to help on their farm when you they are out and something urgent needs doing.

So a Sunday well spent?

Master the Deci & Ryan model.  When the gurus start propagating a model, you know it will become common knowledge very fast. Everyone will be quoting Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness soon (ARC).

And when we are all talking about the psychology of design and trying and learning to use ARC in our own work, Jane McGonigal will achieve her dream of seeing our ‘broken reality’ fixed and become a lot more like a game.

Will you fix reality with the 3 principles of design?

Will you be up there with the games designers, event managers and entrepreneurs who can design work and play worth living?

Or at least understand why some tasks are tedious beyond belief and others bring a light to your eyes, a bounce to your step, and a gentle smile, if not the singing of your soul?

Have a good Sunday, and if you are in the UK, a good Bank Holiday weekend.

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3 models to re-design jobs to add-value during the recession

Tell your MP you support the Flexible Working Hours Bill

 

Image by Finsec via Flickr

How is your business coping with the recession?

  • Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
  • Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?

Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?

To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.

1. Hackman and Oldham (1976)

Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.

a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?

b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?

c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?

d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?

e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?

We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.

[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]

2. Job design and Gen Y

I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!

Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.

Social media, like Facebook, allow

1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.

2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.

3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.

3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes

1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?

2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?

3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.

Devil’s Advocate

If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask:  does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~  some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.

More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.

People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.

Benefits

What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:

  • The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
  • Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
  • The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
  • Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)

Practical steps

Would you like a working heuristic?

One side of paper only

1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.

Communication is in the mind of the receiver

2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.

Concentrate on coordination rather than control

3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.

Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job

4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!

Count & celebrate!

5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!

And then to fine-tune the system:

  • Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
  • Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
  • Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.

Relatedness

Organizing the workplace.

  • Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
  • Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.

ROI

The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.

Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.

Collaboration

If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.