Conversations have always been a key to my career success. Since 1981, I’ve used keyboards to support conversations, often with folks working a long distance from Vancouver. Email and other forms of on-line messaging became a way of conversing with key people who were normally very hard to reach.
It came as a bit of surprise to me this week when a really bright, highly valued, colleague suggested that writing wasn’t very important in sales, and it was becoming less important.
My reliance on my keyboard as part of my conversations hasn’t really changed in 30 years. Letting busy people choose if and when they’d like to re-engage in conversation with me. Proving that I’ve listened to them. Offering my perspectives. Making an honest effort to contribute value to those who I’m conversing with (much as Neil Rackham advocates). Waiting for proof that I’ve succeeded in my efforts via some feedback (like a reply email).
In 1993, I asked a senior executive of a Gas Utility if he could ever foresee their industry using the Internet as part of their business. Not a chance he said. Three years later, he asked for my help in a presentation to the CEO’s of Canada’s gas distribution firms on that very topic. Two years after that, we proudly helped their firm create an on-line conversation with regulators and the public that led to approvals for their firm’s construction of a new natural gas pipeline. This happened despite many underlying route complexities, including environmental and first nations concerns. We used keyboards, for a first time, as part of their conversation.
Throughout all this, the importance of engaging the public and regulators in a dialogue on the merits of the project never changed. What did change was the means to that end. We found a way to improve the odds of success by giving valuable communications added amplitude and speed via clever uses of emerging technologies. Keyboards became a trigger for conversations, not a replacement for them.
The approach worked, in my view, because the fundamental work never changed. It felt familiar to those who were doing it, we’d just instrumented it a little differently. Users gained feedback on how well (or not) they were engaging target audiences in the dialogue we knew had to occur. They got that feedback fast. This required added agility in how we participated in the conversations we’d invited. We needed to respond in a fashion that proved we were actually listening. When we did, it seeded feedback reinforcing that we were on the right track. Success became more predictable.
At the end of the day, everyone involved looked at each other and couldn’t believe what we’d collectively accomplished. We’d triggered more conversations, quickly, with the help of keyboards. We’d triggered more good conversations, quickly, with the help of feedback that let us make mistakes, then discover and fix them fast.
This was 17 years after I’d begun learning how to support conversations with a keyboard. It’s now 12 years later,
and I’m still learning how to do so.
For me, the keyboard’s role in triggering conversations
is still the same.
The screen’s just a little different.