At its best, LinkedIn cuts through the boundaries and hierarchies that have kept us from working and learning well together. Leaders and world-class experts in related but divided areas share ideas and news with ordinary practitioners and anybody else who wants to play, taking the “read/write culture” of the age into professional life, encouraging everyone to be a writer, a commenter and/or a sharer.
All that writing and commenting produces relationships and a record of engagement, professional commitments and passions that is not “living out loud,” because the line between professional and personal life is clearly maintained. We might call it “working out loud.”
A natural introvert who loves new ways of making working life better, I started working out loud on LinkedIn last summer. Even in early days and based on my limited experience, the potential to improve working life dramatically is clear. Trust networks of people I read and who read me include not only people I have known but with whom I may have lost touch (the professional Facebook effect), but also peers around the world, the brightest lights in my areas of interest and extraordinarily engaged younger professionals and students. The smiles of recognition at a conference when someone whom I have never met and I suddenly recognize that we are intellectual intimates online, the maturing of trust networks into new courses and client relationships, seeing someone whose professional soul I think I know landing what seems the perfect job or project, or just the epiphany that so often comes from a tersely-worded idea in a brilliant post; who can say what is best? Immediately I became aware that I was witnessing the transformation of the professional self,
which has become a much-deepened and dominant theme.
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage…
There is a lot of “dross,” of course. How can there not be, when my profession sees the Internet only as place to list “qualifications” that establish and enforce the very hierarchies through which LinkedIn is cutting. Even in these early days, however, we can begin to see the interactive, relationship-based world of LinkedIn disrupting the more sclerotic and static lawyer listing services and firm websites and the hierarchies they depict:
The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity…
Now, let us move quickly from marketing to recruiting. Think about the deep, complementary knowledge that the record of engagement generated by working out loud will offer when the old hierarchies in recruiting begin to fade away. A beautiful glimpse of a crack in the hierarchies is offered here:
The legacy model of law firm hiring, which has prevailed over the last several decades, involves screening applicants purely on grades and what schools they attended. The second screen, often conducted without regard to identified competencies that matter for clients or success, is “would I enjoy going out to lunch with this person?” For many applicants, the test is therefore “can I put on a good face at lunch?”
For most industries, such hiring processes are truly yesterday’s practices. For starters, many have observed how unstructured and subjective standards can allow implicit biases to hold sway in hiring decisions. Such approaches also generate poorer results. At Google, for example, even the first screen used by law firms is now out, with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, revealing to the New York Times that “our data crunching” tells us that GPA is “worthless as a criteria for hiring.” By contrast, a major law firm partner told me recently that the firm might not hire a very successful lawyer, even if that lawyer had a significant book of business, if that lawyer had not been in the top 10 percent of his or her law school class. Just another concrete example that change is hard, particularly for our tradition-bound profession.
Happily, some law firms are getting the memo. At Kilpatrick Townsend, a national firm that combines a significant IP practice with general work, the new normal is one where excellence in a predefined set of competencies, including resilience, an ability to work in teams, empathy, and leadership, is central to getting hired. The interview process, therefore, is not about having an unstructured conversation at a meal. Rather, the applicants are invited to an offsite retreat that includes behavioral interviews with seven different law firm team members. The firm also asks everyone invited to this offsite event to conduct a group project and a writing assignment. In effect, the firm seeks to evaluate directly the sorts of activities that associates are asked to do on the job. For law firm hiring, this is a radical concept.
The results of its initial effort surprised Kilpatrick Townsend. For starters, some of those candidates who looked great on paper, or even at lunch, failed measurably. The firm tells of one applicant who, when asked to work on a group project, stood apart from the group texting. The firm also reported that the more intensive interviewing effort had a tremendous “second order effect”: The lawyers and staff involved in this effort built bonds with one another and more self-consciously embraced the norms that the firm was seeking to develop.
“Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”
Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity…
Let us end with the other offline professional world I experience the most now besides working in a law firm — speaking at conferences — which is undergoing much more rapid transformation than the presentation or recruitment of the self in law firms. In my fields of law, policy and ethics relating to data and information, knowledge asset management, privacy and cybersecurity, there is at least one conference happening somewhere in the world almost every day now, and more and more of them are being broadcast online, usually for free. If one ever tires of watching smart but sometimes disheveled leaders, hackers, wonks, academics and lawyers at these conferences, one can relax in style with TED Talks and Mr. Robot.
Contrast this world of constant information-sharing not so much with cybersecurity, technology and academic conferences, where sharing has always been the norm, but with privacy law conferences, which still suffer from what one of my privacy law heroes has denoted “swooping.” If sharing is what you love, then the invitation to speak at conference is a free admission ticket to lots of great interchange. For the most hierarchically-minded, on the other hand, the invitation to speak at a conference is principally an affirmation of your place at the top of the hierarchy, and the supreme affirmation of that place is if you do not listen to anyone who presents before you or stay to comment on presentations after yours. In other words, it is not enough to be a speaker; true prestige goes to the speaker who is also a swooper. To speak and swoop is to be the font of all wisdom who could not benefit from dialogue, and to stay and listen and contribute would be to subordinate yourself to other speakers.
The good news is that swooping is a vestige of 20th Century “read-only culture” soon to be supplanted by 21st Century “read/write culture.” It cannot survive because it deprives the audience of the hyperlinks we are coming to expect, so that the dots are not connected either to other dimensions of the conference or to other human beings in the room. If you want a polished speech, turn on TED. If, on the other hand, you are planning a conference for people who want depth of learning, you might consider — even for a session featuring a speaker rather than a panel — “expert commentators”
to shake things up during the session and provoke dialogue before, during and after.
At its best, the Internet enables new information flows in all directions. She who shares more interesting ideas gets into richer dialogues. Barriers of hierarchy, profession, class, clan, place, race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity can all be lowered. We can become known for what we love to do, and help and delight many others at the same time.
Do you agree? Isn’t the sharing of rich information and wisdom the best thing we can do, whether for our children, our students, our friends, our clients and customers, our peers or everybody else? Isn’t that how we pay it forward in the information age?
But to have done instead of not doing
this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered . . .
(Poetic contributions by the elitist, bigoted, hyper-hierarchical and admittedly good poet Ezra Pound, Canto 81.)