Drop Your Ego At The Keyboard

I had coffee today with a friend of mine who spoke to me about his early work experiences. As a young lawyer, he was mentored by one a law partner who told him that “sometimes it doesn’t matter who takes credit for the work.” In today’s society, we want to be recognized for our hard work. However, in the new age of social media, it’s about working together to find solutions, and giving credit where credit is due.

It struck me that organizing is the same, and there are lessons for social network engagement as well. As an organizer, you should “never get in the photo, never speak for the group, and never take credit.” Why is this? Because a professional, outside organizer is NOT a member of the group being organized. He/she is the facilitator, coach, guide and supporter. The real work is done by leaders and members of the group. When one of the community groups I worked with won an important victory against the City’s garbage services, I was contacted by a member of the press. I told her that I would only speak as an anonymous background source, and gave her names of group members to contact for direct quotations. I was not in the news photo shot, nor mentioned in the paper. Naturally, my egotistical self wanted to say “hey– I supported them! I knocked on doors to recruit members! I advised the campaign!” The reality is that if I had taken credit, it wouldn’t have been the truth. The real members did the hard work. They put their names, reputation and energy out to the world. They also were the backbone of the organization.  If I had taken credit, that would have usurped the role of the organization’s leaders, minimalized their hard work and discredited the organization.

What does this have to do with social networking? Two things. First, as I’ve mentioned before, true engagement means dynamic, respectful conversation. If members of your online community forum discuss better ways to implement your program, and you make those implementation changes, then give them the credit. They thought of it. If I receive blog comments on this post that convince me that I’m absolutely wrong about this credo, then I’ll acknowledge this publicly. If I were to revise this post based on changes suggested by my readers without giving credit, then I’d actually be stealing ideas and ultimately diminishing my credibility with you, my readers.  A great example of dropping one’s ego at the keyboard is within the stream of comments generated by this blog post of Jeremiah Owyang. After Owyang posted about Gartner’s Generation Virtual research, there were 33 comments. Throughout the comment stream, he acknowledged valuable contributors to the discussion, and later revised his blog post based on comments received.

Secondly, the more people contributing, the better your organization will be. The idea of “the wisdom of crowds” by James Suroweicki argues that the aggregate wisdom of the crowds most often results in answers more accurate than one single person can create. The more people share ideas and contribute, the stronger and better defined the idea will become. The idea of wikis works just this way, and a great example is NTEN’s We Are Media Project . This project creates curricula for non-profits around social media. It includes some of the most interesting thinkers on social media and noon-profit today, and they are all contributing their “proprietary” ideas to create free information. My best estimate is that about 25 people are active on this wiki and about 50 more participate. And they’re GIVING IT AWAY. Why? Because they know that openness in collaboration can result in a much better product, or ideas, than any individual would create on his/her own. Google docs and other shareware are great tools to facilitate sharing ideas in document creation, and wikis do the same online. Openness during collaboration, and the interest in collaboration are two ways of checking your ego at the keyboard because others are doing the hard work as well. The rewards can be mind-boggling. Just think “wikipedia.” Another great link is Beth Kanter’s post about “working wikily” here.

Invite the public in, listen, and learn. Drop your ego at the keyboard. You’re in for a great ride.

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