Corporate Hacking: Building a (Distant) Base of Support

In 2003 I started blogging in my company's internal blogosphere. The topic was the intersection of social media and customer support, as well as the Long Tail of customer support issues.

After a half dozen blog posts on the topic, I started to get some attention from other bloggers, who chimed in with their own thoughts and reactions. Their feedback pushed me to develop my ideas further. As I've written about before, eventually those blog posts turned into a whitepaper and still later a presentation.

At the time my immediate management chain was not particularly supportive of my ideas. I've seen other folks advocate that when your management isn't supportive of your innovation, then you should simply go above their heads and show your idea to the people above your manager. In my opinion, this is a fine way to make an enemy of your manager. Fortunately, I didn't do that.

Instead, I started responding to requests for presentations from people in different parts of the business. I spoke to several groups in the enterprise side of our business, the website management portion of the business, the PC business, the research arm. In fact, I talked to nearly everyone except the folks in my own business.

With each presentation, I iteratively improved my own thinking on the matter, my presentation, and my presentation skills by listening to feedback and understanding the application in different business contexts.

One of the reasons this works so well is that strangers don't have any preconceived notions about who you are. So they are more likely to take what you say at face value. Your ideas get judged, instead of you getting judged.

Whereas, for many people, your immediate managers and immediate peers and partners will view you with a certain amount of baggage: They have their own idea of who you are, what you do, and what you're good at. This is certainly true of me: my managers have viewed me alternatively as an expert on data analysis, a program manager, a web developer. But when I've stepped outside those roles, it's hard for them to accept that.

By the time I was ready to present to managers in my own group and our immediate partners, I had a well vetted set of ideas, and honed my presentation skills. My managers had received kudos about the work I was doing, so they had some sense that something was coming, and weren't completely blindsided.

With positive feedback from others ahead of the event, and seeing a well-craft presentation, my own management gave my presentation their full attention, and I was able to break through the barriers of any preconceived notions.
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