Sunday, May 29, 2011

Embracing Indifference: I Tweet & Nobody Cares

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, is there a sound? If I send a tweet and nobody reads it, does it still count? The answer to the first is an unequivocal "yes." As for the second question, I'm not sure, but I'm working on it!

I tweet, and nobody cares. And, yet, my twitter life is one of the most exciting parts of my persona as an #IdeaHunter. How can that be? I'm an alpha-male, shouldn't I care? Especially, when I am reminded of the thousands of tweeters who follow my colleagues [on those rare occasions when I bring myself to check their numbers]? In fact, I am quite content at being "overlooked" in the Twitter world. Despite my relative inability to attract followers, Twitter has helped me think of idea-hunting, communications, social media and my own role in all of these pursuits, in ways that I had never previously considered. Here is what I've learned:

Tweeting is about learning and not sending
First of all, and most important, Tweeting is about receiving, not emitting, at least in my own Twitter-life. Twitter is fine for voyeurs! Twitter is the most powerful new learning tool that I know of. Everyday -- literally, every day -- I find links of sites, articles and blogs that I would have never have otherwise known about. It's as if I have an army of researchers out beating the bushes, hunting for new ideas for me to consider. Just today, for example, I found estimates of the costs of Chinese IP piracy, that I never knew existed. I've been struggling with how to start-off a "Ideas Business" blog on IP piracy, and this was exactly what I needed to make the topic vivid. Thank you, Twitter! Yesterday, I received two wonderful illustrations of metaphoric thinking -- one on creating a "business class" for newspaper websites; the other for disrupting business school executive education offerings using "playlists." I used both of these examples on the same day that I received them to illustrate Idea Hunter exercises.

None of this required me to do anything more daring than "turning Twitter on." There was no requirement for me to "emit" anything. I was purely and simply a "receiver." In fact, I could be a receiver forever and still learn from Twitter streams about issues that I am interested in.

Links not Lunches
Please forgive me if I tell you that I'm not interested in who you're having lunch with today, nor am I interested in sharing my own luncheon plans with anyone. For me, Twitter is a source of professional information, not social news. I'll follow you despite your need to tell me about your life only if I get value out of the rest of what you tell me. Otherwise, I'm out of our Twitter relationship immediately! No lunches for me; just links!

Twitter is not about wasting time; it's about discipline
Twitter makes me a more disciplined reader & writer. I now read my news sources in an entirely different way than I did just a few months ago. I'm constantly thinking of what I can do with this piece of information? Do I archive as I've always done, in solitary splendor? Or, do I rebound it into the small twitter community that for whatever reason is interested in what I'm interested in [my small band of devoted followers]? Do I add my own opinions to the original tweet (almost always), or merely pass it along? This is now about insight and interpretation, and reuse, rather than merely glimpsing the ephemeral tracks of data packets passing-by.

Twitter also never forgets, and so I keep track of my own tweets as a "diary" of issues that I've been interested in enough to tweet about. For many that require more thought and inquiry, I email them to myself to follow-up on. Tweeting has become a major new part of my ideas-sources portfolio.

Twitter has changed the conversational neighborhoods that I hang-out in.
As an Idea Hunter I have long believed that the world is not flat when it comes to ideas. But, most of the ideas that I'm interested in -- be they about innovation, technology or China -- are occurring somewhere else. With Twitter, I'm now directly in the middle of many of those conversations without leaving Lausanne. For example, I have long admired the insights of Canadian urban-sociologist @Richard_Florida, or Silicon Valley God @jseelybrown; now I talk directly with them, although we've never met. Similarly, I enjoy sharing ideas with my Idea Hunter & Virtuoso Teams co-author @Andy_Boynton, business model entrepreneur Alex Osterwalder [@business_design], MIT supply chain guru Charlie Fine [@clockspd], strategist Estelle Metayer [@Competia], artist Maurizio Marinelli [@MauMarinelli] or China-journalist @fonstuinstra, but even though they are all good friends, and more than a few live close-by, the reality is that such conversations typically took place only when we were face-to-face. Now, however, thanks to Twitter, I can listen-in to what each of these people are thinking about, almost daily, and the contact is often immediate and direct. Twitter has moved our conversations from being episodic to continuous. And, the potential is there to make both pre-and post- program learning experiences more continuous and more immediate then was ever before possible.

So, although few listen when I tweet, my thought world has been richly & spatialy expanded, many-fold thanks to Twitter. I am quite content with where I am in this brave new world of tweeting!

The image above is a wall-hanging at the IBM Corporate Learning Center in Armonk, NY.


Fons Tuinstra said...

You describe one of the most important developments in online communication. It is not longer about getting your message out, but starting a conversation. And for starting a conversation, you need to be a good listener.
The value of what others can offer you is indeed often bigger than what you can do by yourself. That is partly because there is such a big audience outside there with a wild variation in expertise.
Getting the conversation going, is just a matter of time.

Sankaranarayanan said...

Prof, it is the participation of people like you that makes my twitter time meaningful. thanks to twitter, i can find what bill gates is reading now. these are all things made possible by technology and people who feel that they have the responsibility to share their knowledge.