Wednesday, September 29, 2010

GHC10: Collaborative Risktaking

Getting a bunch of engineers into a giant ballroom after a wonderful lunch filled with great conversation is hard. After much wrangling, we all got at tables of 10 and Dee McCrorey started us off with a really fun video taking a look back at women in technology and famous risk taking women.

Right off the bat, we're being asked to take risks at this conference: meet (and follow-up) with 20 new people, dance, and get interviewed for the Anita Borg Institute archives (and possibly used in future ABI events).  I've been meeting lots of very interesting women and getting business cards (or connecting my super cute Poken to theirs) - but will I follow-up?  Right now I'm going to say yes... check back with me :-)

Dee started talking about how the business world has drastically changed. For the first time, there are multiple generations working together on the same projects and that is changing the workplace as ideas are quickly exchanged.  Old style companies treat their people as exploitable, let legality stifle innovation and only focus on ROI, but that type of management style will not work in this new world of business.

In order to survive in this new world, you need to innovate, collaborate, be willing to take risks, be bold, responsible and able to measure your results.

At this point, we did our group activities at our tables. We started with scoring our pre-work, a worksheet on our risk taking style.  It was a strangely scored test, and we were all, apparently, responsible risk takers. :-) We were next supposed to do a team challenge, but instead my table started working on our own personal/career time lines...oops [Side note: several of us had trouble remembering order of events, except for the very tragic or very happy - ie weddings and deaths. The time line would've been excellent pre-work.]

Dee then brought up a calculus concept: an inflection point. This concept can be applied to your own personal and career peaks and valleys - these inflection points are personal and/or organizational shifts with the power to transform our lives (for better or worse). If you don't learn how to identify when these changes are coming down the pipeline, you are at risk for making a bad decision or poor career move that you'll have to work a long time to recover from.

Our next exercise was to work on our Optimum Change Cycle worksheet, which I had a lot of trouble with. Because I couldn't remember all my peaks and valleys from over the last 3 years, my time line was incomplete so then I had a tough time with everything that built onto that.  Fortunately, our table mentor gave me tips to work around this which helped me relax and get more into the activities. Dee, and others, were all talking about their personal cycle - for example, Dee said she is on a two year cycle - she needs some sort of change, or she might start sabotaging herself or career.  I don't think I have to have change on any cycle, as I'm often quite content to "stay the course".  I mean, really, I've been at Sun (Oracle now) for 14 years, and working on the same team since 2002. [Side note: one advantage of working at a really large company is that you can change jobs without losing accrued vacation and benefits, heck, you can even change your job without changing managers!]

As I was listening to my table mates, I got to thinking - I am not change adverse and can happily role with the punches, but I don't often seek it out. Does that mean my ship doesn't have a rudder?  Or is it something much simpler than that - a few years back, I lost my biggest advocate in our organization. Thing is, I didn't even know he was advocating for me behind the scenes, helping me get interesting projects as well as promotions. It was actually more than a year after he left that I noticed something was different, and my manager explained what I had lost.  So, what can I do?  Seek a new one out? Become my own advocate? Combination of both?

All that said, Dee says we've got to build safety nets, like networks of people to help and support you in your risks (the greater the risk, the greater your network needs to be). Beware of filling your network with just birds of a feather type folks, instead you want an innovation tribe - a diverse mix of people that can give you a mix of opinions.  Doing so should allow you to make better decisions more quickly.

Make sure you share the experience with others and feedback to your network of support. This can be down with short videos, emails, blogs, etc.

Towards the end of the session, our table mentor asked about how the session impacted us and what we'd do with what we learned. My table mate, Misti, mentioned that she realized she could really benefit from a semi-annual self assessment of her career and life - to look for those inflection points and make sure she's on track with her goals. I think that's a great idea and am going to commit to doing that for myself.  A lot of being a good and responsible risk taker means being aware of what you bring to the table and supplementing what you lack with a network of support.

What did you get as a take-away from this workshop?