Thursday, November 4, 2010

For the betterment of earth

I spent the last two days in a rather unique brainiac incubator experience. Let's say I was in our nation's capital, exploring a variety of forward-looking technology issues with a group of bright folks, the balance of which, freakishly enough, were lawyers. I don't usually associate technology with the legal profession, perhaps due to the reams of paper and boxes in my sister's office, but there you have it.

It was fascinating. Naturally, I came in with all the fear of a junior pinch hitter for a far more senior representative for my company. I blogged about this same organization but a few weeks ago, when I failed to observe the cardinal rule of credibility-building. And so, it is clear that I walked into in-person meetings with greater than my normal level of trepidation.

I learned a few things from this meeting - and it was a fascinating meeting. I learned a great deal about my industry and the challenges we face. But, I also learned a great deal about meetings of such "ostensible" big giant brains.

a) Everyone is far less scary in person. Everyone. The group was a mix of professorial aging types and euros in slim-cut suits, and more than a few nouveau-nerds in slim cut suits with 1985-fabulous haircuts, oddly mixing trend and tradition in ways that would make an interior designer squeal.This makes everyone less scary in person.

b) In a convention of folks assembled, presumably, for their ability to contribute to some of the world's leading dialogues on X, the group divides into:

1. People who clearly think they should have been invited sooner, as their opinions have gone unheard for far too long
2. People who aren't sure how they became qualified to weigh in on topics, but then seem to surprise even themselves when they contribute succinctly and positively to the conversation in their area of expertise
3. A small group of people who are confident enough to be there but not interested in demonstrating their value to the rest of the group, and thus are judiciously silent
4. Some folks who did seem to genuinely be mis-tagged for the assignment, primarily due to their total lack of desire to participate.

When in a situation like this, seek out groups 2 and 3. They are the best of the bunch.

c) I have a remarkably low tolerance for group discussion domination - as distinct from good conversation leadership - particularly in an abrasive and opinionated personality. When coupled with overt sexuality and a grating voice, there's nearly nothing I can do to prevent outright condemnation of that person. The only saving grace seems to be the occasional indication that I am not the only one chafed by the behavior, which makes me feel somewhat better that it is not a broadly valued personality type on earth.

d) Despite my prior belief that I should in some way doctor my personality to seem more formal or official in order to gain the respect of peers and superiors, this experience has further solidified my rejection of that tack. While formality can work for some people, it is not required in order to be taken seriously as a valued contributor to a conversation. I do differentiate between informality and outright clownishness, which is inappropriate in most contexts. But, there's no reason to become an automaton just because I'm in a suit.

And I also learned about a lot of other fascinating things. Like about the financial standards of money transfer. 

1 comment:

Shannon C said...

I think this is true of most cross-functional teams. I love how you were able to capture the essence of the situation.