Unleash the Red Monkey (A Twitter Tale)

‘Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.’
Arthur Schopenhauer

As I am writing this the second Twitter Brainstorm of OCPractitioners has just closed. I never thought it would be a confrontational idea for the 150+ followers. But somehow I have the feeling we have not quite crossed the chasm.

Red Monkeys

Cool friend Jef Staes is using the red monkey metaphor since 2007 to denote confrontational innovative ideas. Through the lense of this metaphor you can easily see how you should (and should not) appraoch the introduction of your red monkey (i.e. your idea) in your own forest (i.e. your organization). For example: you can determine where and when to drop your monkey if you want it to have best chances for survival (the answer: at the edge of your rainforest; NEVER in the middle). Another example: you can start to recognize red monkey hunters and diagnose their weapons.

EOI Café – Straight Talk

Last week I was fortunate enough to participate to the first Engine Of Innovation Café – another initiative from Jef Staes. There, I gave the below stand-up talk on my own red monkey: launching a brainstorm on Twitter for the community of Organizational Change Practitioners – a group of more than 9.000 members on Linkedin.

“A Twitter What??”

Although some learning takes place and good conversations are going on, my gut feeling tells me that we can do more with that community. So I created the Twitter Account @ocpractitioner.

It is a very awkward feeling to do something without any prior example. Putting my reputation on the line in front of 9000+ peers is not something I do every day… But I see it as my responsibility to make the community explore new territory. So I had sweaty hands and nothing more than a gut feeling that it might just work.I guess failing forward is part of the game 🙂

What Inspired Me?

I figured that even if you take the Wikipedia 1% rule this would mean that a core group of 90 contributors could find one another in an intense cooperation. Sparked by seeing a growing number of people hooking up on the @ocpractitioner Twitter account I drafted the announcement for the first brainstorm.

I always wanted to test how we can brainstorm using new media – thereby learning its strengths and weaknesses. At the same timeI wanted to tap into the wisdom of the crowd of Organizational Change Practitioners in a dialogue mode (as opposed to the forum-mode we are familiar with on LinkedIn).

But there are also considerations on the long run:

  • First, Organizational Change Practitioners may be the largest network in the area of organizational change. But at present it is just a group, not a tribe. People do not (yet) pride themselves of being part of it.
  • Second, I believe that a platform of 9000+ people that gathered around the topic of organizational change is big enough to start crowd sourcing and learning from one another. To me, having this number of people gathered around this very topic is a tremendous opportunity.
  • Third, we have a message: Organizational Change Management should be center stage in any organization. We are on a mission and clarifying this mission is what will make this group into a tribe: organizational change management and a focus on the people side of change is vital for any organization. In that sense this is not ‘just another group to add to your profile’. Therefore I grab just about every opportunity to strengthen this network.

The Internet and the Zero-Cost

The internet has given us all the things we need at our fingertips and a smart use of the LinkedIn and Twitter platforms allow us to progress at zero cost. That is: zero cost for setup, subscription, maintenance or travel. We are seamlessly blending free tools that would otherwise be costing us a fortune a decade ago:

  • internet (that may be the only part you are paying for),
  • email (free Gmail),
  • an online forum (LinkedIn),
  • a one-to-many chat system (Twitter),
  • an online reporting system (Tweetchat and WhatTheHashtag).

So the zero-cost of transaction and the way we can integrate it seamlessly nowadays is a big accelerator. There are no costs in this investment.

Red Monkey Hunters

On a personal level this initiative takes a bit of courage to fight a certain amount of self doubt. You can imagine the voices in my head spinning around when the first reactions on the announcement were rolling in. They were not exactly ‘positive’. Rather sarcastic to be honest.

Then it is a matter of getting out of the way and not letting your ego take over. As a community manager I had to resist the urge to post victim reactions, revenge notes or rescue actions. At those moments you need to get out of the way and let the community to the work. And eventually it did. Trusting the community to self regulate and preparing to accept the course the community will take as a reaction to your prototype is a big thing.

Some Lessons Learned

I have found that the human interaction ‘rules of the game’ are as valid online as they are face-to face. The real value of brainstorming clearly remains: people at the same time in the same (virtual) room. Interaction is key for ideas to come out. It seems like the brainstorm mode is something that is restricted in time and triggered by peers.

This was exemplified by the reaction of a participant early in the brainstorm who tweeted: “Hey is this brainstorm over? Am I alone here?It makes no sense to have a brain eruption when no one is watching.

Another example is that of participants whose timezone did not match and who contributed later. They read through the tweets; retweeted some and reacted to others. But the dynamic was gone. Looking at a board full of post-its from a brainstorm is nice and can be energizing. You can even add yours but when you notice that you are the only one in the room, the enthousiasm soon fades away.

The 140 Character Advantage

Twitter is not a replacement of Linkedin discussions. Rather, it is a layer of interaction that comes on top of it. The medium restricts you to 140 characters which is an advantage because you really need to craft your reaction before your post it by asking: ‘what is it exactly that I want to say?’

Another fascinating thing is new measurements that automatically come with the platform. ALthough we still need to figure out what they mean and if they are meaningful at all! For example:

  • Number of participants: it is important to have every participant tweet at least his  presence so the others know they are not alone in the room and that their brain eruptions will not go unnoticed. Somehow spectators need to be able to aknowledge they are watching;
  • Number of tweets: like the number of post-its it is only indicating the volume and not the quality of the discussion;
  • Number of RT’s (ReTweets) this is something we will need to educate the participants for: If you like an idea you should RT it. That is a virtual way to vote for an idea. This will allow certain ideas to gain further attention.
  • Number of reactions: this is reacting to a tweet of another participant. This may tell us something about the level of listening that occurs among the tweeters.Is it just noise or are we really trying to understand what is being said?
  • The timeslot: like a face-to-face brainstorm I have noted that the first 40 minutes are the best and then it seems like the brains have been emptied. However, from the second brainstorm we could experience people retuning to the discussion board the next morning and continue the discussion.
  • Follow-the-sun: Never before have I discussed an idea with an Aussie and an LA person while all being at home (this is: early morning, late noon and middle of the night). People log on when it suits them most.

Of course these are findings of one single brainstorm so we need to find out if they remain valid throughout the next storms.

Now What?

My guess is that there were some people participating and a lot of people watching the brainstorm as it unfolded like watching a wrestling game in the ring.

That is OK for the first time, but from now on I would like to take this exceptional first time and craft it into a habit for our community so that one day any member in need for ideas can call out to the community and request a brainstorm.

I hope one day this will become the second nature of our community members. And that’s where Twitter brainstorming really will start to add value to our community.

Tips for First Timers

Finally, for first-timers, here are a few hints:

  • Create a Twitter account and start playing around with it; follow some people, Tweet, Retweet
  • Twitter is free and if you don’t like it you can simply close down your account
  • Don’t know how to tweet? Ask your kids and experience reverse-coaching firsthand!
  • Read What Would Google Do? In this 2009 book of Jeff Jarvis you will learn basic principles that you need to embody whenever you manage such a community or a brainstorm. Principles like: ‘Give up all control’, ‘Do what you do best & link to the rest’, ‘Get out of the way’ and ‘Web 1.0 was about ‘look at me’, whereas Web 2.0 is about ‘look at you’,…  are key to understanding the dynamics of communities.

Glossary, Related Articles and Links

  • Ok. So in less than 140 characters please tell me how to launch a brainstorm amongst the community of Organisational Change Practitioners via twitter? Nova