Archives for the Month of April, 2011

OxfordJam Worth Spreading

Social Enterprise worth spreading!

Think “Fringe”

I recently went to my first social enterprise conference, a fringe festival to the Skoll World Forum called OxfordJam. Three words to describe the conference? Inspiring, creative and vital.

Inspiring” – Because of the variety and range of strangers who came together to share ideas and experiences of how they’re contributing to greater good in the world. Most of the attendees were social entrepreneurs, people who strive to do good in the world and create a sustainable business to fund that work.

Creative” – From the venue (the event was held in a building that used to be a jam factory, hence the name of the event) to the conference booklet (in the format of a funky university newspaper, jam-packed with interesting information). I especially liked the washing line for ideas contributed by participants held together with clothes pegs.

Vital” – It was refreshing to be surrounded by such a large number of people united by a common purpose “To make the world a better place”. Everyone was part of a project or some endeavour, however big or small, to help others.

With great power comes great responsibility

Many people expressed what they do and how they do it in terms of “the bigger picture”, with a clear emphasis on the need to better understand the consequences of their actions and the impact of social enterprise in a community, a globally optimised example of the Chinese proverb from “Give a man a fish AND teach him how to fish”.

As the day unfolded (I was only able to attend 1 out of 3 days), I was surprised by the number of parallels between my daily work and that of social entrepreneurs:

  • Make a positive difference: Help make things better.
  • For greater good: Think and act in terms of global optimisation.
  • Made to last: Quality is key to making a lasting impact. Enduring change is crucial to sustained improvement.
  • WIN-WIN: Maximise value and create alignment by asking “What’s in it for all of us?” For you, for me and for others.
  • Baby steps: Small steps can lead to big changes. Like Lao Tzu, the Chinese philsopher, said, “A journey of a thousant miles begins with one step.”

Spread your own jam

Following the adage of “eat your own dog food”, the most impressive thing about OxfordJam was the congruence between the beliefs on which the event is founded (what the organisers believe in) and how it worked in practice (how the event was run).

An example of this was that the conference was based entirely on a gift economy for the participants, with free entry for all. Even The Jam Factory offered the use of their venue for free in support of the event. The idea of a gift economy is that it’s up to you to give when you want, as much or as little as you want and how you want. It’s this recurring “free giving” that helps the economy go around. Following this spirit, many of us bought drinks and snacks to support the Jam Factory and some made personal donations in support of the event.

Thanks a million!

To The OxfordJam team: Ben Metz, Amanda Jones and Jonny Mallinson – am looking forward to OxfordJam 2012!

To The Jam Factory: For providing a great setting for the event!

The Gift of Giving

What was my biggest takeaway from the event? Instead of worrying about whether or not we’ve individually got enough to give or if we’re individually contributing enough, give what you can on your own terms. Every little bit helps. Together, we can turn the concept of a gift economy into a reality.

How can you introduce a gift economy at work?

Personal Growth

Continuous Learning

Only a mediocre person is always at his best” – Somerset Maugham

Personal Development

I started my career back in the days when we celebrated the launch of new products with champagne and strawberries on a weekly basis. Back then, the going was good and everyone was encouraged to invest in training in order to deliver more value through personal development.

During the boom, I attended conferences such as JavaOne in San Francisco and TheServerSide Symposium in Las Vegas where I learnt a great deal from peers and thought leaders.  In spite of being a software developer, I even attended a course on Project Management where I gained invaluable insight into how project management can add value when it is applied correctly. All the training I participated in helped me see the bigger picture beyond writing code, my core competency at the time.

Then came the crash and organisations no longer seemed to care about the return on investment when it came to training. When the training budget eventually shrunk to almost a taboo, I got creative.

Get creative to learn

During the crash, I got into the habit of investing in my own personal development with my own money and holiday. At first, it was by setting aside a modest book budget. Then I extended it to include conferences. As a result, I learned a great deal by focusing on value when others were busy concentrating on budget cuts.

Nowadays, my learning budget includes events and trips that help increase the value I deliver. It’s not a big budget so I make sure I get the most value out of what I invest in.

Get personal about your development

Over the years, my attitude and approach to training has evolved immensely. My view is that training is a means to continuous learning. This means that anything which helps me learn qualifies as “training”.

Tip #1: Take responsibility for your own learning
You are your own greatest asset. Learning increases the value of that asset. Since you are the primary beneficiary of your personal development, it’s up to you manage that development, not your manager or anyone else.

Tip #2: Put your money where you mouth is
If you truly believe in the value of personal development, you need to invest, be it through time, money and/or effort.

Up close and personal

Here’s a list of things I do to maximise my investment in personal development.

1. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Most organisations have a training budget. Find out how much of it can be invested in you. Get details of training options, from training providers to ways of learning such as courses, conferences and 1-2-1 mentoring.

2. Identify your learning preferences to maximise the value you get from the different ways of learning. Do you prefer lecture-style learning or interactive learning? Get smarter by mixing and matching what your learn and how you learn.

3. Think of each training request as a business case. Identify the value you and your organisation will get out of the investment as well as the costs. How will you give back after getting training?

4. Present your training request as a set of options with varying value and costs. For instance, I like to come up with between 3 – 5 options for each course or conference I attend with the aim of getting the training request approved. My goal is to ensure that my request contains so much value that the cost is negligible by comparison. Think “Value for Money”.

Ways to increase your value proposition

For many people, learning is a passive activity such as being an “attendee” at a conference. The key to increasing the value of an investment is become an active participant.

Here are some ideas on how:

  • Define your goals and success criteria before the course/event and regularly track progress in terms of your goals and criteria throughout the course/event. It’s also useful to reflect afterwards to determine the estimated vs actual ROI
  • Active participation during sessions through personal contribution – This helps you exercise the theory of what you’ve learned right away and increase the effectiveness of the learning cycle
  • Share what you learned with your colleagues through a series of lunch-and-learns – This helps generate conversations with others or give rise to new ideas
  • Submit a proposal to the conference – This is a great way to get feedback as well as learn how to receive feedback and take improvement actions
  • Present a session at the conference – Similar to submitting a proposal and at least 3 times more valuable in terms of learning through session R & D, public speaking and face-to-face networking. For me, it’s a great test of personal agility

Ways to reduce the cost of training requests to your organisation

  • Become a conference presenter (presenters usually get free entry) – It’s a great WIN-WIN formula, as a presenter you get more value AND it reduces cost
  • Offer to pay for one or more of the following where the number of $ denotes the relative and estimated cost of items: conference entrance fee $$$, accomodation $$, travel $$, expenses $ and days off work (by taking it as holiday – the value of holiday differs from person to person) $$

Learning as a personal investment

Something sobering happens when you start thinking about learning as a personal investment in terms of time, cost and effort. The most poignant moment is when you translate what you’re personally prepared to pay into $$$ value for an opportunity to learn. You know you’re serious about learning when you really put your money where you mouth is.

How much have you invested lately? How much will you invest this year?