Not often enough my schedule conspires to present a strategic networking day. An excellent article in the Harvard Business Review “How Leaders Create and Use Networks” makes the distinction between Operational Networks, Personal Networks and Strategic Networks. Most of our time is spent working within Operational or Personal Networks. The authors present the importance of spending significant time creating and nurturing your strategic network.
After reading my blog post on “Cameron Crazie for a Night”, Kevin O’Keefe of Lexblog made a virtual introduction to Buzz Bruggeman. Buzz is another Duke Basketball fanatic and we exchanged several emails. We decided to get together for lunch and share both our love of Duke basketball and our respective love of creating software products. Buzz pointed me to a recent CBS sports story on why Duke students weren’t attending games like they used to which explained why I was able to get into the Duke – Wake Forest game so easily.
Buzz is one of those unstoppable forces of nature when it comes to being enthusiastic about whatever topic of interest is on the table. As a former real estate transactional and litigating lawyer, Buzz got wound up sharing his worldview and I enjoyed taking copious notes during the next two and a half hours of his non-stop story telling.
In the synchronicity department, it turns out I lived in a Freshman dormitory (House H) where Buzz was the housemaster a couple of years later. When I received by BS degree from Duke in 1971, Buzz was graduating from the Duke Law School. We both had many great memories of those years (even though it was the sixties, as Robin Williams said “if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there”).
In the strategic networking sense, I was particularly interested in how a successful lawyer got involved in a software startup company – ActiveWords. Buzz shared the tortuous journey from founding/funding the company to ending up in Seattle, WA.
As a collector of great questions, I really liked the question that led to the development of ActiveWords – “why don’t computers understand us (like when we type something)?”
The question reminds me of Larry Keeley of the Doblin Group pointing out that the average urinal is smarter than the average computer. Larry wisecracks “At least the modern urinal recognizes when somebody is in front of it and knows when to flush.” Not to be outdone by this analogy the brilliant students at MIT put the “‘Whee’ back into Pee” with their Urine Control Game.
The video on the ActiveWords website provides a good overview of what the product does. It is an interesting value proposition – gaining productivity 10 seconds at a time hundreds of times a day. While I am always interested in capturing the stories of entrepreneurs, I wasn’t that interested in the product or the market opportunity until Buzz shared the potential for the product to be an advertising play. If that intrigues you, drop Buzz a line and have him share the potential of the next imminent version of their product.
As we wrapped up, a couple of colleagues of Buzz stopped by to go with him to the Seattle boat show. I was introduced to Andy Ruff of locationlabs who was excited about their product for safely doing digital parenting with your smartphone. Then, David Geller of eyejot joined us. He quickly demonstrated his product by sending me his video eyejot vcard to my email address. While we didn’t have much time, I was able to get the gist of the story behind the stories of the products Andy and David are developing.
A master strategic networker at work is Buzz Bruggeman.
Since I was down in Pioneer Square for lunch, I arranged to meet Kevin O’Keefe to catch up on Lexblog and tour his new office space. The next two hours were spent marvelling at how quickly Kevin had implemented what he’d talked about two months previously at our first meeting. Now that I am blogging on a regular basis, I was even more interested in their secret sauce of helping legal professionals learn how to blog to drive business. Lexblog now hosts 8000 lawyer bloggers in their content network.
Lexblog is a great example of Esther Dyson’s business principle of give away the idea and then make money servicing the idea. Kevin is generating revenue getting lawyers to pay for what is essentially a free online service – blogging. The secret sauce is educating the lawyers on how to do business development through the content and network of relationships they create.
Kevin practices what he preaches with his own “Real Lawyers Have Blogs.” He gave me a quick overview of what they’d accomplished in the last couple of months which included LXBN, Lexmonitor and Lexconference. Kevin was really excited about both showing off Lexconference at the upcoming LegalTech New York as well as interviewing a wide range of lawyers and vendors at the conference for his new service. Kevin paid me a nice compliment when he shared that I was one of the “rocket scientists” he had in mind when he penned his recent blog on retrieval tools for lawyers.
I really liked Kevin’s measures of success that he emphasizes for his clients and practices every minute:
- Grow your network
- Build relationships with your network participants
- Become known as a subject matter expert
- Create high quality clients and work
As we talked what really caught my attention was all the ways that Kevin is using Twitter and a wide range of Twitter tools to do business development. He kindly showed me all the ways he was reaching out to the Amlaw 100 firms in New York to set up meetings for the coming week. I thought I was getting a handle on the power of Twitter for knowledge management and business development over the last couple of months. What Kevin showed me made me realize that I have a lot of learning to do – and quickly.
The interaction and terms that Kevin used reminded of Evans and Wurster’s book Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy. I really liked their dimensions of Reach, Richness and Reciprocity. To these terms I added the notions of Agency and Navigation from The Cluetrain Manifesto.
Reach is the penetration of channels and markets to the target consumer of your information. Richness is the total information flow in all forms of digital media – text, audio, video, and mixed media. Reciprocity is whether or not there is an exchange of value between the information generator and the information consumer. Agency is the reputation of the information provider. Navigation is how easy it is to move through the information flow. Lexblog is showing the way for how to innovatively manage these attributes to create valuable business relationships.
From Twitterific to the geographic search within Twitter (who is tweeting right now within one mile of the Seattle Mariners Safeco Field) to Muckrack (identifying journalists using Twitter) to tools for organizing the thousands of following and followers into manageable lists, a wealth of tools exist to generate relationships.
As we parted, I was a believer in the core of Lexblog’s philosophy of “good, timely content creates great relationships” more than ever.
There is just so much to learn to stay current on what is important to me. Without a strategic network it would be impossible.
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