ALLiSON KENT-SMiTH

DIGITAL + PEDAGOGY + CULTURE

Word on Digital Education v 1

May 12th, 2011

I’ve been part of the digital education gig for some time now. I fell into education after our agency was purchased by CP+B in 2008. Before education, I was in Business Development – selling digital to every client who would listen – so education was a sharp turn for my career.

I caught the bug after stepping into Chuck Porter’s office one day. We had a very clear discussion about the state of the industry + digital. There simply were no choices (only Hyper Island in Sweden) to learn digital skills as a working professional. Not grad school, but real integrated embedded education at the workplace. This did not exist. Not much has changed, except for an even greater sense of urgency.

To move an organization forward, you have to invest in people. And if you really want to create change around digital knowledge, you also educate clients (if you are an agency or service provider) simultaneously. There’s no way around this approach. Of course, agencies could continue to trade employees on an 18 month turnover schedule – but is this really a savvy approach for securing digital talent?

I find it fascinating that we still have not solved for a solid embedded education solution for the industry. We have wonderful workshops (BDW and Hyper Island), but where is the long-term value in their approach? You get 2-3 days of glorious digital learnings and then you go back to your desk. How do we continue to educate beyond a single experience? How do we truly help individuals and organizations evolve their knowledge of digital practice?

We invest. We invest in our own programs. We own it. We agree that knowledge sharing across the industry is critical. We organize education inside the walls of our company. We take action. We stop the cycle of unintegrated short-term investments.

I’m happy to have landed at a place that believes in this approach. Otherwise, I might just be pitching digital today instead of writing curriculum for a series of integrated digital workshops.

I hope this series “word on digital education” starts conversation. What are your thoughts?

Are You An Unmanager?

April 24th, 2011

I agree with Malcolm Gladwell on the 10,000 hours commitment, from the book The Tipping Point, http://amzn.to/42WbUh. Gladwell talks about ability being just one factor in success. Other factors such as environment, time/place, and luck also play a role.

I’m interested in what makes someone an expert. In my field, there are many folks who call themselves experts and they’ve only had their ‘hands in it’ for six months. This is the classic story for web development, mobile, and social media. Try some things, publish a blog, convince a few clients, speak at a conference, score a few good positions and suddenly you are an expert.

I’m also endlessly fascinated with how “experts” become leaders in organizations with absolutely no background in management. This is a real problem. These “experts” were promoted because they excelled in their specialized field. This is an big flaw. Why do we promote these “experts”? Promotion equals reward. Let’s reward them by giving them the responsibility of managing large groups of people. Never works. In fact, if you pay attention, you can quickly sniff out organizations that consistently promote under qualified expert managers (unmanager).

These organizations are slow to move, slow to respond. They often have a top layer of management who makes all the decisions while hundreds of others are left disempowered. Behind closed doors (often a symptom) top “managers” spend endless hours with each other and very few with the rest of the organization. Their interaction with the company as a whole is often scripted, not casual or genuine. These companies are not experimental or visionary because the managers in power have no idea what it takes to motivate people or empower others. Change doesn’t happen. If it does, it’s isolated and occurs in some small silo where a glimmer of good management resides.

The digital field will always have new experts due to rate of change. But what’s the excuse for the poorly qualified management pool? I say, go into your job tomorrow and ask these simple questions of your manager – give me an example of a happy employee at this company. A real example and why. After example (if there is one), ask…how do I get there? Also ask, what is your favorite book or expert in the field of management? (If you don’t know who the absolute experts are in your field and why, you should change fields)

Your manager’s answers will be telling and might just convince you to fire up your resume, professional network, or LLC.

Terms We Love to Miss (hate)

April 17th, 2011

Do you remember the days without social media? Really? It’s tough. I worked at a small digital agency in 2004 and we barely discussed it. This was also the year of “Web 2.0″, the term closely associated with Tim O’Reilly and the conference. I distinctly remember writing a proposal and using the term. The client called us to the table and asked that we stop using buzzwords (I can’t remember who the client was or I would totally call them out here).

At the agency, we spent most of our time designing and developing websites. There was more than enough work in this area. It was a small enough place that we all did a bit of everything. The “you can’t hide” belief was alive and well. These websites weren’t social, they were functional. We prided ourselves in creating “utility”. Yes, also a popular term and still is today. Although Facebook launched the same year, (Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room on February 4, 2004), it would be a while before we all started paying attention.

Someone sent me an email over the weekend asking my opinion about Facebook for brands. I believe Facebook is distinctly non-social unless the idea directly supports the reasons we are there in the first place. And I mean directly. This is not an easy task. Here’s a question for you – what was the most successful commercial Facebook brand application launched to date? Farmville doesn’t count. Don’t Google it. What immediately comes to mind? And you can’t name it if you haven’t used it.

The answers are about as impossible as a week without someone using the term social media. Web 2.0 is rarely used. The term New Media dates you about as fast as your first concert being ACDC (yes, that’s mine). When will social media stop being mentioned?

Interesting + Unpredictable + Absolutely Necessary = Rate of Change

April 15th, 2011

I’ve been in this game for a bit. Seen a lot of people come and go. Some succeed, some don’t. I’ve witnessed numerous changes in our industry, particularly with the crazy rate of technology and consumer behavior. I remember in grad school, less than 10 years ago, when we still read Porter from Harvard, talked about best practices ‘database marketing’ and reviewed old school media measurement. I love that things change. I’m all for it. In fact, if change isn’t happening I am not happy.

Sometimes I think I drive those around me a bit nuts with my constant reminders to “ask for forgiveness”, “take chances”, “be apolitical”, “start something”. I often get those blank stares, like…how do I create change, really?  What I’ve come to accept is that some people simply don’t have the skills or desire to create change. They prefer to point out when things are wrong – focus on problems not solutions. They don’t act, they talk. I don’t know if this is a symptom of 1. Laziness 2. Lack of Motivation 3. A combination 4. Simple inability.

Some people I’ve met specialize in risk. They walk through a room with confidence, commit to the best work, encourage and expect leadership, surprise, us, demand excellence, and they really believe that change is a friend not foe. These are the folks I seek out. I hope to meet more. I believe I’d get along well with Larry Page – http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/03/mf_larrypage/

As I move through my career, one thing is for sure – Rate of Change will always be a top factor for professional happiness. Go create, encourage, or promote change. Stop talking, start changing. Really. This book is a good one to pick up if you’re interested in organizational change – http://amzn.to/fSmCse

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