Question 79 of 365: How do you monitor your periphery?

I do a decent job of staying in touch with my friends and co-workers. I answer e-mail, IM or Skype, call, and even occasionally talk to them in person. I can do that without much effort because these people are well known to me. They are the ones that make the most sense to contact on a regular basis because they start conversations as well as engage in them. They are the ones that share the same space with me, whether physically or not. I don’t worry about not following up because I know that they will call me on it. They will get up in my face (physically or not) and force me to take part. That is a good thing.

I do worry about the people who are content to let opportunities pass them by. I worry about everyone who mentions me on twitter but expects little in return. I worry about the people I meet at meetings and after work events who are engaging enough to talk with, but not so much that I will remember them the next time I see them These are the folks on my periphery.

I am pretty terrible at following up, and continuing to follow up with those people. I am terrible at taking notes about who certain people are and what they may have to offer any given conversation I am having. I just default to the people directly around me whenever I have a new idea, rather than going out and really thinking through who the best people are to comment on it. This is not a good thing.

I should be able to see into my periphery as much as I can see those people at an arms length. But, I can’t.

First, I am terrible with names. Even worse, I am terrible with faces. Worst of all, I don’t have any idea what most people’s names are or what their faces really look like because Twitter and other account names obscure this information exceedingly well.

I don’t have any way to take notes on who people are, nor do I have a way of keeping track of who I should follow up on and when. There is a universe of products that aim to help with this problem. But, whether it is sophisticated CRM software or a new social startup called Gist, there really isn’t anything that allows me to truly visualize who I have talked to or who is most interesting (the Gist People page is the best version of this to date, but it still needs to be better).

Even if I can get alerts on who to contact or create a network of information around me to help access everyone I need, I still struggle with the idea that my friends are easy, my contacts are hard.

I don’t want checklists or tagged items. I don’t want tasks or customer service workflows. I simply want a way to monitor the activity that I should be monitoring. I want what a Face Book used to be, a single source for pictures and connections that are most important to the work that I am doing right now. I want different volumes of this book for every type of need I have. I want my periphery to come close and huddle around the task at hand when it is required, and then I want them to go back to being on the outside of my network because I don’t have the energy or the time to maintain friendships with all of them.

The question is, who are in these books? What do I write in the margins to give me more information about them? How can I come back to the sticky notes I leave on a regular basis?

I feel like this is the future of the contact. If anyone figures out how we can really keep all of our information about people at arms length without putting in a lot of effort, they will have solved the problem of the connected world. I could see a future version of the iPad or smart phone doing this well, but as of yet, our friends are as good as we are going to do. That is okay, but I’m not sure that will be okay forever.

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  1. I'm trying to think how I actually do this. In some ways, I think I've got it easy spending the bulk of my time in a school. It's really the best place to keep your periphery. I work with historians, mathematicians, scientists, linguists, artists, documentarians, archivists, therapists, health professionals, dramatists.
    It's what I loved about college. While I couldn't necessarily find the answers to all of my questions whenever I wanted, I could certainly find the people who were playing with the same or similar ideas.
    Given my propensity for questioning, I hate to imagine what would happen if I worked in widget company where all people were worried about were widget-related issues. Sure, I'd know widgets inside and out, but I'd be a zillion times less likely to innovate the widget with all that sameness around me.
    I know this might sound crazy, but I don't care. What if we stopped trying to make schools into companies and started making companies into schools? What if we put the periphery a little closer? What if all the cliques were at the same lunch table. Sure, homecoming would be all whack, but they'd have some sweet discussions.

  2. I'm just now getting around to reading the Tipping Point, and I think that
    his summary of Gore (http://www.workforce.com/section/09/feature/24/…)
    was really telling. The idea of keeping groups of 150 people together was
    important and splitting them up after they got too big.

    I like the idea of housing people and ideas in a single space, though.

    What if we continued along this line and brought schools into office parks.
    What if students were not removed from the workforce and the workforce
    wasn't removed from students. What would happen if they shared the same
    courtyard? What would happen if the study areas and meeting spaces were the
    same?

    I want to find that public/private partnership that allows for pulling in
    the right people when it is necessary to do so.

    So, here is the pitch:

    To companies:

    – You will get a huge group of beta testers, interns, and collaborators
    for little money.
    – You will get to share resources with a public institution and garner
    the support of the community.
    – Your biggest stakeholders will be right next door to you.

    To students:

    – You will get to have real relevance for everything you do and actually
    affect the outcomes of major projects and products every day.
    – You will get to use the tools that business uses and you will get to
    have great mentors and a leg up on getting internships and jobs in the
    workforce.
    – Your teachers will be investing in you directly because they will want
    you to produce the best possible outcomes for their own projects.

    Hmm…

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