How Blogging Has Made Me A Better CIO

Inspired by Phil Komarny’s post, How Being Social Made Me A Better CIO, I thought I’d share how blogging has made me a better CIO. Ironically, I’ve often spoken about this in talks and presentations, but I’ve never blogged about it until now.

Here are four things I’d credit to my blogging experience, after nearly four years and over 500 posts.

Blogging has made me a better writer

And being a good writer in today’s email infested world is crucial to leadership, collaboration, and influence. We can all agree that concise and effective writing is important. Blogging uniquely develops those skills.

Writing for a blog is different than other forms of writing. In my attempts to embrace a bloggy style of writing for this platform, my writing in the office has become much sharper. Contributing to the fleeting whirlwind of the interwebs requires one to craft clear and compelling missives. I’ve embraced many journalistic techniques in my writing here that have paid huge dividends at work. Well-crafted text is required to effectively and efficiently obtain the information or support you seek, or to otherwise instigate or influence the actions you desire. But you won’t necessarily get that by continuing to write in the same formats over and over again. Taking a step outside of typical business communications and into blogging can be jarring, but immensely effective in informing one’s technique.

Blogging has helped to shape my thinking

And leadership is all about thinking – collecting and synthesizing ideas, considering alternative and competing viewpoints, recognizing roadblocks, and analyzing options and pathways. Blogging widens one’s horizon beyond the four walls of a particular organization, and helps to bring some of that outside perspective back home.

I take in a lot of information, from a wide variety of sources. This stimulates my thinking a great deal. But not everyone around the office wants to talk (as much as I do) about new ideas and concepts and strategies and how they might be applied specifically or generally. Blogging is a great outlet for all of this. What’s more, the act of writing forces me to crystallize my thoughts on the matter. And then others (from all over the world) who are interested can chime in. We can engage in discussions and debates, share ideas and inspirations. Which leads to more inputs and more sources, feeding the cycle all over again.

Blogging has helped me to stretch my comfort zone

And personal and professional development is predicated on pushing one’s boundaries. Doing what we’ve never done before is how to learn something new, to gain new experience, to test ourselves and develop new skills. Blogging has helped me to continually experiment with the new – covering new topics, sharing more thoughts, and experimenting with new approaches (like the video interview series I launched last year). Trying new things for myself helps me to grow and also to encourage others to push their own boundaries.

A lot of people know me as a blogger now, and they seem to make the assumption that I’ve always been comfortable putting my thoughts and ideas out into the world freely. But it’s been a very gradual process over a long period of time. I stuck a very cautious toe into the social media waters at first, and very incrementally waded in as I got used to things. Each step of the way was a little bit uncomfortable, but a gradual approach taken steadily over time has greatly expanded my comfort zone. I’m now much more able to put my thoughts and ideas forth, not only online but in my day to day work as well.

Blogging has helped to establish my personal brand

And this is important to leadership from two perspectives – being known, of course, but also knowing one’s self better.

The process of writing so many posts has helped me to better understand my own interests, opinions, and thought process much better. Just as individual ideas crystallized for me by writing about them, noticing the larger patterns that I followed has helped me to better see how I think. There’s a bit of self-awareness that comes along with all this writing and publishing, which is helpful in shaping other choices in work. Not the least of which is getting a better handle on one’s strength’s and weaknesses and accounting for that in how teams are organized and projects are run.

Blogging has helped others to get to know me better, too – how I think, my opinions, where I get information and inspiration. This has helped me to build deeper relationships with those I know from my regular networking circles and to branch into new networking circles. It’s also very useful to situations where someone is trying to get to know me. When hiring or being hired, a quick Google search allows both interviewers and interviewees to learn way more about me than a resume or official company bio could ever afford. The same is true for speaking engagements or similar activities.

Keep On Bloggin’

So, I’ll continue blogging, interested to see where the next 500 posts lead me. I recommend it to you as well, particularly if you are or aspire to be a CIO or any type of leader. It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s well worth the effort. And if blogging just isn’t your thing, find another way to push yourself and to grow personally and professionally.

 

Delete The Preamble

scissorsMake your writing better by implementing this one simple tip: delete your first two paragraphs. That’s the part where you likely set the stage in a verbose manner. That preamble probably contains too many details and is also repetitive. Once all that warm up is out of the way, you finally get to the point in the third paragraph. Why not just start there instead?

Sure, you need to provide context and some background information. But you also need to get to the point. And it’s better to flip that around – get to the point first, then fill in the details.

Most writing is done by email these days. The format does not lend itself well to long form writing, and readers don’t have patience. Your message is arriving in a pile of other urgent, important, mundane, fun, and irrelevant messages. The person you’re sending to is probably already annoyed by the Inbox experience when they see you’re message, so why not offer them a little respite? Be clear and concise.

Starting with the main point sets the stage properly. You’ve focused the communication. From there, answer the rest of the key questions as quickly as possible – the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Write like a journalist, in an engaging and informative manner with the most crucial information covered immediately and the rest of the “story” built out from there, including (if necessary) your preamble material as background information to round things out at the end.

And be clear if you want them to do something specific in response. If you’ve got a question, ask it. If you want them to change an opinion, tell them. If you want them to read and just file it away, then say so.

Photo credit: Arzi

IT pros of all ranks: Your job search needs a resume plus search results

How do you represent yourself on a few 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of paper?

Very carefully, and then still not very well.

We want to see your work history, the litany of technical jibber jabber you’ve got expertise in, and a sense of your project accomplishments. We want to know the names of the companies you’ve worked for, what industries they are in, and their geographic locations. Your formal training and education, awards, and other interests outside of work also give us a little broader sense of “who you are.”

But this is a boring, boilerplate, standardized view of you. And it’s not fair. This can’t possibly fully represent you — your unique abilities, your personal style, your hopes and dreams.  It can’t tell us anything about how you’d fit into the team, the environment, or the culture. It’s simply a method used to navigate the limitations of our processes to quickly understand and evaluate the most basic qualifications of a candidate. It’s effective in the most limited sense, but it’s not enough to really put across who you are, how you think, and what you can do.

So don’t stop at a stellar resume. That’s only the starting point.

Show Results

We’ve known for many years that standard practice in recruiting and evaluating candidates is the Google search. Once your resume has you past initial filtering for qualifications, we type in your name and sort through the results.

Why wouldn’t you try to influence these results?

Sure, if you’ve published articles, been the subject of interviews, or been profiled in case studies or “about us” pages of your companies, good stuff will show up. But that’s someone else’s take on you. Why not create your own stuff to be found. There are so many simple things you can do to ensure things you’d like to highlight show up in the results. All you have to do is create them.

LinkedIn

In 2013, to be a candidate for employment and not have a LinkedIn profile is just plain silly. This is the simplest method to provide a little more insight into who you are beyond your resume. It’s simple to setup because it is in the resume format, but it has more flexibility and can display so much more.

Put up a professional looking photo, sell yourself in the “Summary” section, and display your connections to other professionals. Go further and show some thoughtful updates, contributions to industry groups, and recommendations by peers, clients, and bosses. It takes time to build up, so start now. But rest assured, it’s worthwhile. LinkedIn shows at the top of the search results — just be sure to make your profile page public and to customize the url to match your first and last name (e.g., http://www.linkedin.com/in/tomcatalini).

A Web Page

A really simple way to do more is to setup a simple web page. There are tons of services that make this very easy.

With a simple web page, you can highlight your skills, experience, capabilities, and aspirations more easily. Don’t repeat what’s on your resume, that’s an awfully boring web page. Instead, share highlights, include a professional photo or two, and use the space to give some insight into your personal style, professional interests, and how you think. Include a list of your favorite business books, links to professional associations that you’re active in, or write a few paragraphs on some topics that you’re passionate about. Keep it professional, but show some personality.

Grab a domain name that includes your first and last name and point it to this web page. This will help ensure that it shows up near the top of the results when your name is searched.

Social Media

Beyond the web page, you could setup some social media profiles. Use your first and last name as a handle on all of them so that a search on your name shows these results near the top. Take some care to build out each profile with a good photo and an appropriate summary, following the decorum of each platform.

Create posts and comments that represent you well. Reshare and favorite interesting and useful posts by others. Show us what you’re thinking and how you interact with others.

For bonus points, setup a blog. This is the ultimate platform to show us more about how you think, to share with us your analysis of matters of interest, and to reveal your opinions.

Personal brand

All of this is to help build your personal brand, an extension of your resume that can show us things your resume never will. All of the things that fill the gaping void between resume review and interview.

Of course, doing this means you’ll have to spend some time and energy coming to understand yourself better. You’ll have to think about how you’d like to be perceived. You’ll have to think about what sorts of companies you’d like to work for – and what sorts of companies you’d like to avoid.

This level of analysis can be tricky. It requires a bit of soul searching and a bit of fessing up to what choices you’d make before you have all the information on “what’s out there.” But that’s exactly the point. Set the filters now and set them yourself. Don’t be defined by the market.

Knowing what you’re good at eliminates possible paths that you’re not good at, which helps you focus. Knowing the kind of environments where you’d fit in well saves you time from exploring the kinds of environments where you won’t.

Focus can be a bit scary, because it eliminates options. But it also frees up time and energy for the things that are likely to be a better fit.

And determining fit is part of why your name is being searched. If you’re truly not a good fit, then that’s fine. You’ll be eliminated more speedily from those opportunities. When someone else searches and it does show you as being a better fit, that hiring process will be accelerated for you too.

 

The comfort zone and baby steps

baby stepsIn my keynote presentation at the CIO Perspectives event earlier this week, I tried to provide insight into what slows down CIOs and IT folks in general from being more active on social media, with the hope that motivation could be found through this insight and more people from IT would get “out there” and involved in these new platforms.

Two years ago, I wrote a post on why CIOs should get hands on with social media. The reasons remain relevant to this day, but my argument was weak because it’s simply a logical argument that doesn’t recognize what’s really holding many of us back. What I’ve realized upon reflection is that moving forward in these new spaces is an emotional challenge more than anything else. And I think this is particularly true for those of us in the IT field.

I’ve gone so far down this social media rabbit hole that I’ve come out the other side, landing in the Marketing department of Bentley University teaching a course on eMarketing. I blog frequently, conduct video interviews online, speak at events, conferences and area universities on the topics of blogging, social media, and online marketing strategies. But that didn’t happen overnight. The road was long and slow. After all, little change is the path to big change.

Expanding your comfort zone

New things arouse curiosity, but they also raise our internal alert level a notch. Uncertainty accompanies curiosity when we’re exploring something new. And when it gets personal, as is the case with social media, we can become particularly reserved. The same things that make us nervous about standing up in front of a room to speak to a crowd make us nervous about its virtual equivalent. There’s a feeling of vulnerability that can’t be ignored. Rather than face it, however, our gut reaction is often to rationalize it.

This rationalization can come in many forms ranging from dismissal of the value proposition (“it’s a fad,” “that’s for the marketing folks,” “there are too many platforms to learn,” etc.) to the self deprecating impostor syndrome (“who am I to share my thoughts with the world?”).

It’s not “all or nothing”

Exploring these new platforms is not an all or nothing proposition. We shouldn’t think of this as diving in the deep end. Rather, we should start in the shallow end, get acclimated slowly, and wade in more deeply over time.

The key is to dabble. Poke around, unweighted by lofty goals, specific timelines, or constant performance measurement. We need to simply adopt a curious, exploratory attitude. Just as when a child is learning something new. Children learn quickly but slowly. They make great strides in progress, but if you watch carefully they are simply learning deliberately and consistently over time. That’s what makes it seem like big leaps. And the looks on their faces says it all – learning is fun, stumbling is part of learning, and each step is a confidence builder.

Deliberate

While exploratory and scattered is the spirit of dabbling, there needs to be a deliberate effort to make progress. This can be (and should be) absent of specific goals, except one – the goal at each step should be to discover the next goal.

This is very different than the typical approach of smart, technical people who think systemically. We’re used to seeing the end goal, breaking it down into milestones, arranging them in a strategic pattern, considering all contingencies, and moving forward methodically once the plan is set. Abandon this instinct when exploring social media.

“Problems” disapear

If you’re deliberate and persistent in your curiosity, and you unweight yourself from all goals except discovering the new one, your exploration can be fun, challenging, and exciting. You look forward to playing around more. You look forward to discovering more. You look forward to experimenting more. You start to accumulate knowledge and experience and build on it. You start to form threads of ideas that cut across a variety of your experiences. You start to understand these new things in a deeper way. You get a feel for things. You build habits. You develop instinctive reactions. You get into the flow. When this happens, problems of “not enough time,” “nothing to say,” and more disappear.

Learning is fun

At the end of the day, we all enjoy learning – and I think that’s particularly true for those of us in IT. One of the reasons we chose the field is for constant learning. We like to explore, experiment, and mix things up. We like that there’s always something new around the corner, that no two days are the same. Taking that same spirit to this new world of social media is equally fun and rewarding. A little scary, yes, but that’s also what makes it exhilarating. Just take baby steps.

Photo credit: sean derilinger

Why are you blogging?

As I prepare to speak at WordCamp Boston 2012 later this week, I’m thinking about several WordPress tips to share. I manage three WordPress sites and use many of the same principles, techniques, and tools across all of them. However, each site serves a totally different audience and works in its own unique way.

So, one of the questions you should consider when setting up your own blog is why. Why are you blogging? What does the unique audience your speaking to want? What techniques will work?

One some blogs posting frequently is key to audience engagement. On others, it isn’t. On some blogs a wealth of reference information is a key resource for visitors. On others, that’s not at all what they’re looking for. On some blogs, optimizing for search is crucial. On others, they come to you from a very specific path that has nothing to do with search. On some blogs, money is to be made. On others, it isn’t.

Be wary of one-size-fits-all blogging tips, whether technical or tactical or strategic. Always ask yourself – why are you blogging? And recognize that a big part of answering that question comes from experimentation. The best way to learn why (beyond your primary mission/motivation) is to learn what your audience responds to through experimentation. Try different things. See what works. Listen to your audience and they will tell you (even if only through Google Analytics).

Photo credit: Maria Reyes-McDavis

A 5 step plan for how to blog more frequently

Several people have asked recently how I manage to blog as frequently as I do (currently 5 posts per week), so I thought I’d share some strategies.

1. Make a committment

First of all, you need to like blogging. If you don’t enjoy it very much, this first step is where you’ll likely stumble.

Everybody wants to post more frequently, but not everybody commits. If you can make a commitment to a concrete goal, you’ll be well on your way.

You need to be specific. “I will blog more frequently” is not specific. “I will blog once each week, on Fridays” will be far more powerful.

But I think the bigger secret may be that the goal does not need to be long term. It just needs to be long enough to establish a habit.

“I will publish a blog post each Friday for the next two months” is a powerful goal. You’ll have set specific, easily measurable guidelines for yourself, and you will have established an end goal. At that point, you can circle back and re-evaluate.

2. Be flexible

Once you’re reached your short-term goal, you can set a new goal, making adjustments where needed.

You should try different goals and different approaches but stick with each experiment long enough to determine if it’s working for you.

Good startups pivot. They retain their mission, but adjust strategies (sometimes radically) as needed in order to evolve their business model. Your blog is a startup, so you should approach things the same way.

Your commitment to whatever it is you hope to accomplish through your blog remains steady, but your commitment to the goals for publishing need to adjust periodically.

3. Build a habit

As ironic as it may sound, routine breeds creativity. The best writers will tell you that the discipline of writing is really the hard part. It’s not about sitting around thinking great thoughts, nor is it about awaiting inspiration. Rather, “the muse honors the working stiff” is often their mantra.

Trust that the ideas will come, and focus instead on establishing writing habits.

Figure out when and where you will write and then work to build a habit of doing so. It will not be fluid or natural at first, but as you persist a pattern will eventually be established. And this pattern will become key to unleashing your creativity and to simply getting the work done.

4. Be flexible (again)

A disciplined routine is key, for sure. But you’re really trying to use that routine to establish a habit. A habit that persists even when components of that routine cannot.

There are a bunch of things that can throw you off your routine. Travel, work, family, or even the weather can force you out of position. But, if you’ve established the habit of writing, and you’ve retained your commitment to doing it, you will find a way to adjust. And they you’ll get back to your routine.

It’s important to make these adjustments when necessary. Do not give yourself a pass, as it will only weaken your habit.

5. Use smart tactics

Maintaining discipline and a routine can be challenging. Even when you’re flexible, circumstances will sometimes be impossible to overcome. So why not stack the deck in your favor a bit by using some simple tactics?

When the muse appears and things are flowing well for you, write an extra post or two and set it aside for a rainy day. Publish those when circumstance won’t allow for your normal routine.

Similarly, you can build a habit of writing posts in advance. Most blogging platforms will allow you to schedule them for publishing at a later date. This way, you can stay ahead of things and not feel like you’re always writing on deadline.

And you can experiment. Trying a new type of post or writing on a different but related topic can really get the juices flowing and help you to generate new content. It’s another way of being flexible.

Committed, but flexible

Making a strong commitment and establishing habits and routines is going to get you a long way. Being flexible when needed will help you keep those commitments and habits in place.

Soon you’ll be generating more content and publishing more frequently. And hopefully that will all work in service of your larger goals. If it doesn’t, you need to adjust.

Remember, it’s ok to pivot. In fact, it’s critical that you do. So work diligently enough so that you have something meaningful to assess, but then change it when needed.

Photo credit: Stephan Mosel

Putting Yourself Out There; Blogging Your Personal Brand

Here’s a presentation I delivered to Suffolk University MBA students on establishing a personal brand online. I offer a model of Learn, Share, Connect as a framework for both why you should do this and how you should approach the task.

It was a really great class, they’re doing some interesting things. Check out this blog post from the professor on the philosophy of Teaching Digital Marketing to the Next Generation of Practitioners. Each member of the class is required to establish a complete LinkedIn profile and have an active Twitter account – they even have their own hashtag for the class (#MKT844).

We had a great conversation around this topic. And, as always, I learned a few things too.

Write better, delete more

A key to writing concisely is the willingness to delete. Often, when I’m writing something meant to be short and to the point, like a blog post, I’ll draft something pretty rapidly. But then I’ll edit, usually multiple times (see my earlier post on the “TREETOP” method).

One of the first things to go is usually the introductory paragraph. Sometimes the first two paragraphs are deleted.

That’s because I often start writing with a preamble – my own personal warm up to writing about whatever it is that I’m writing about. Once that’s done, I get to the point. Going back and deleting the preamble helps me get to the point more quickly in the finished product.

More time to write less

There’s more to it than that, of course. More stuff to be deleted, re-worded, re-ordered, or tweaked in some other way. But deleting is key.

Mark Twain once wrote a now famous quip that I’ve always liked – “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

Brevity is valuable. And though it takes more time to achieve, it shows more thought by the writer, and more respect for the reader.

How much fluff is in your writing? What can simply be deleted to help you get to the point more quickly or effectively?

Photo credit: Mixy

My WordCamp Presentation Video – Tom’s Top Ten Tips for Blogging with WordPress

Back in July, I spoke at WordCamp Boston. The slides have been up for a while, and now the video of my talk, along with all of the other talks at WordCamp Boston, are posted online.

My talk is embedded below. If you can’t see it there, use this link – Tom’s Top Ten Tips for Blogging with WordPress at WordCamp 2011.

Videos for all of the sessions can be found here. There is a ton of great content there, so bookmark that link for when you are able to set aside some time to learn more about WordPress.

I’m told the videos will ultimately be posted up on the official WordPress.tv site – which is another great resource to learn about WordPress from experts and users all around the country.

Thanks again to all the volunteers and organizers who made such a great conference possible, and for capturing it all on video!

My WordCamp Presentation: Tom’s Top Ten Tips for Blogging with WordPress

Here are the slides from my talk at WordCamp Boston yesterday. Thank you to everyone who came to my talk, I hope you enjoyed it and found at least one tip that is useful to you.

For those of you who weren’t there, I hope these slides contain enough details to help you out as well. Some of the points covered broader topics for discussion, but some contain enough details on the slides that you should be able to find a plugin, widget, or configuration setting to help you execute the tip. At some point the video recording will be shared as well, and I’ll post that here too.