Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Not About The Tech...

Lance Armstrong, one of the people I admire most in this world, wrote a book called It's Not About The Bike. It is a good read, and I enjoyed the main point he made in it - namely, his life and his fight against cancer are about so much more than how fast he can ride his bike, or how much he enjoys the 'tech' of cycling (or tech in general - check out his Twitter Feed).

I was thinking of Lance and that book when I read Fred Wilson's latest blog post, entitled It's About People, Not Technology. He makes his point by pointing out Twitter, and how it has grown to be more than the sum of its technology - I'm an avid user, and I would tend to agree its importance in the social media landscape is directly derived from the users of the tool that post interesting things. The definition of 'interesting' is different for everyone, but the fact that people are forming ad-hoc 'communities' by who they follow, and their use of Twitter 'hash tags', reminds me social media is about the people (feel free to insert 'Duh, really?' comments here).

This notion of people driving the value of tech, not the other way around, has been a long time coming in my brain's 'world view'. I started out as a hardcore techy, and I considered users a necessary means to an end. As I started to mature and learn about the tech industry, and watched my wife, her mom, and my folks struggle with stupidly designed software, I slowly shifted the kinds of things that I wanted to work on. I have no idea if the metamorphosis is complete, but I know I'm much happier now working to help people use technology to collaborate more effectively.

Besides my wife (a public relations professional and outstanding writer), the other driving forces pushing me towards more of a community management/collaboration consultant role were my experiences (starting in college) working in small teams that needed to go outside of their inner circle for help. From building a compiler for my computer science languages class with my lab partner, to working in Sun Lab's equivalent of the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks, to helping found a small 'skunky' team inside of Motorola, I quickly realized that the working relationships of the people in your team, and in your immediate circle of influence are far more important than the tech you are building or using.

My experience as a community manager is far from complete, and I rely on a 'team' of folks that I follow for their knowledge on Twitter or in RSS feeds - people like Stormy Peters, Jono Bacon, Martin Reed, Richard Millington, and Chris Brogan. While tools like Twitter let me 'collaborate' with these individuals (most of whom I've never met in person), the coolness doesn't come from the tech itself, but from the ideas bandied back and forth. The parallels with the 'team' that Lance assembled to help him win the Tour de France and beat cancer are clearly evident to me in this context, and it is awesome to think of how technology can help build these groups. However, I'm also thankful for the perspective I have now which reminds me that social tech without people is like peas without carrots - nutritious, but not as fulfilling as combining the two together.