11 reflections on 560,000 characters: @jeantabaka on twitter

Long long ago (2006) in a land not really far away (beautiful Boulder, Colorado), two colleagues of mine at @rallysoftware, @mikealber and @brianedsauer, sat me down to explain something called “social media.” What it was, where I should engage, how to engage, and why. Blogs, RSS feeds, facebook, linked-In, and twitter. Mike and Ed offered some basic “getting started” guidance.

Facebook: use it for your personal life,  letting friends and family know odds and ends about your life. Linked-in: create a professional profile that helps others connect with you and helps you create a network via other people with profiles in linked-in. Blogs: use the www/rallydev.com/community/agile blog to provide your thoughts relevant to your professional passion in order to create a larger voice in the agile community. (My first blog post April 20, 2006: “Amplify Learning–The Program Pause that Refreshes“. ) RSS feeds: find people whose blogs you like; get a nudge each time they write so that you can read and learn. And finally twitter: share a thought or a link that is a glimpse into your  thoughts about the agile community. Re-tweet your reactions to others’  thoughts. And keep it to 140 characters.

Of all of these, twitter seemed the least intuitive to me. Get a twitter handle (@jeantabaka was available.)  Write something in 140 characters or less. Use it to link to other 140 character tweets. Let others know about blog posts I’ve written or read. Seriously Mike?

Doggedly, Mike encouraged me. @rallyon pitched in and paired with me on some blog topics. I also watched how Ryan was revealing his interests via twitter. I learned to share links to these blog posts and others. And, in those salad days of my life in the twitterverse, that was about as comfortable as I was. At least I was starting to see some connections of my various digital personae and how the different milieus could serve me.

Later, working with @markgammon, I received more encouragement to bring my voice out in blog posts and tweets. (Ah, who can forget the “One Hit Wonder Friday” series?) I learned to tweet a bit more. And I learned to do more than write. I began to read the twitter stream much more in order to see what others were sharing. Tweets might be someone’s rant; there may be rants among people. I was learning how to read tweets and how to choose when to engage in a topic or create my own topic. I saw people only tweet about their own blog posts (blaaah.) I saw people only re-tweet other tweets (seriously, where are your words?) I even saw someone retweet their own tweets. Huh?

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On this day, the day of my 4000th tweet, here are a few reflections on my 140 character digital world:

1.  You can do it. I wouldn’t be here without @mikealber, @brianedsauer and @markgammon. Through their patience and humor urging me to keep working at it, there is a 140 character @jeantabaka voice out there.

2. Keep your voice. @jeantabaka can and should really reveal my passion in words that have heart and meaning for me. Don’t be tweeting crap you don’t care about. I think that, early on, I was just trying to get tweets out there. It was a wobbly effort. By default, I wasn’t very discriminating because I didn’t know how to be discriminating. Now, I feel much more intentional. My tweets can reveal my passion. They can equally reveal my vulnerability. It’s all about how I want to show up in the twitterverse.

3. Growth comes from stepping out of your comfort zone. Tweeting was massively foreign to me. And, I kept at it. I “leaned in.” Now, twitter feels comfortable, kind of like a pair of cool hiking boots.  They take awhile to break in. But once they are, those boots take you to great places: along a familiar trail or over a new ridge. Through twitter, I’ve definitely felt professional and personal growth in ways I wouldn’t have believed in 2006: so many paths to so many people and such varied thought streams.

4. You are always welcome back. If one were to draw a timeline depicting the frequency of my tweets since the initial creation of the @jeantabaka profile, you’d find stretches of zero tweets throughout that timeline. And then you’d see spikes, then extended periods of checking in. Lately, the tweet graph is on an upswing. I don’t feel so crappy anymore about the long stretches of zero tweets. I do feel glad @jeantabaka is more vocal of late.

5. How you use hashtags can be engaging or stupid: you decide. At first, getting my twitter legs under me, I felt clumsy and fairly random. Using hashtags was an attempt for me to keep myself “relevant” in certain communities. For instance, I had loads of #agile #lean #collaboration #scrum tags in those early tweets. I notice I use these hashtags less and less in my tweets. This probably goes back to item #2 above. I’ve moved more into just creating my entries because they reveal something that interests me. While applying a hashtag may get followers of that hashtag to see it, that seems less important to me now.

6. Hashtags at conferences are way cool. I had no idea how much fun I would have using twitter when attending conferences. Tweeting about speakers and their topics,  I loved finding tweets others were writing about the same conference sessions (or sessions I was missing) via the conference hashtag. Hashtags rock.

7. Who knew twitter can create enduring joy? Those hashtags at conferences connected me to other people also writing at the conferences. Without twitter, I wouldn’t have met wonderful people each of whom I believe I can now truly call friend. @drunkcod, @prettyagile, @joakimsunden, @markatscale, @ourfounder, @kjscotland, @cyteain are people I deeply care about. Through twitter we have shared many laughs (even stupid tweeting competitions, which @prettyagile won at #agileaus in 2013!) They bring me joy and connection. Twitter pulled me to them.

8. Wanna join a tribe? Get your tweeting butt out there. I have these twitter friends (some named above) with whom my life is definitely much richer. And there are other connections. Consider @sarah11918 and @nativewired.  Though Sarah and I only see each other about once a year, and I only met Gitte once, I look forward to when they tweet. I like feeling that connection. There is a whole crowd of tweetsters out there with whom I believe I have a quirky tribe. Twitter reminds me how much I value them professionally and personally regardless of geographic distance or infrequency of face-to-face time.

9. 140 characters needn’t necessarily look abridged or cryptic. Okay it’s true, 140 characters makes you think differently about how you express yourself. And, it doesn’t have to look aborted. Think of it as a Faulknerian exercise: kill off your little darlings. Get to the heart of your message with those 140 characters. Consider @drunkcod. I think Toby may have the most eloquent voice I know in the twitterverse. All in 140 characters. He is beautifully prolific. Check him out.

10. Let them come. @mikealber urged me to not filter or approve who would follow my tweets. Anyone could follow. That advice has turned out to be so helpful. I in turn learned to follow people I have never met. I never imagined I’d have over 4300 followers. I didn’t have a goal. And, to be clear, I DEFINITELY never thought I’d be writing my 4000th tweet to these 4300 people.

11. Breathe. I have learned that tweeting needn’t be either a task or a disruption or a challenge. When I was on sick leave for 3 months last year sitting on my couch here in Boulder, the one creative thing I felt I had the energy to do was to tweet. As I healed, instead of feeling shame about a state of seeming nothingness, @jeantabaka found 140 characters just the right amount of creativity to tackle. 140 characters helped me stay connected and gave me a sense of value. I was able to check in with my friends and my tribe worldwide. 140 characters helped me breathe through.

560,000 characters later, I’m still learning about my digital world. Lately, I’ve been receiving warm, stellar guidance from my @rallysoftware colleague @cauloccoli. How lucky can one person be to have Jenny as your sherpa? So, I’ll dedicate this blog post to @rallyon, @mikealber, @brianedsauer, @markgammon, @drunkcod, @prettyagile, @joakimsunden, @markatscale, and @cauloccoli as well as the larger group of tweeters I consider part of my twitter tribe. You all guided me here. #jeantabakalovesyou.

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So, so…Sunday

So, sometimes I think about language: what it does to help us, and perhaps what it can unintentionally do to hurt us.  So, this is my examination of some of the vernacular that seems to be floating around among us.

So, it would appear that a lot of our conversational “on ramp” relies on the engagement of the word “So.” So, I thought about this, “So..” thing. So, that has led to this blog and trying to parse my way through this language apparition.

So, it seems to me that “So..” is a bit of a crutch to carry us from either one person’s thoughts into our own; or, it serves to help us continue our own thoughts; or, we may even use it to begin our dialogue (or monologue.)

So, that suggests that “So..” clearly jumps in as a conversational buddy; it gives us time to quickly look inward, avert our eyes for the briefest blink, and pull our next thought into the cloud of dialogue.

So, what to do about “So..?” “So what?” you might ask.

Statue - Paris 2012

Statue in the Garden of the Louvre

So, language matters, a lot; it sets the stage for how we engage others in the thoughts we are about to share.

So, using this tic or crutch or linguistic device takes away from the power of our words, these precious words that carry the importance of our openly expressed selves.

So, I have an idea about what can replace this “So..”

Pause, breathe, express.

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The Whiteboard Jungle

What do you notice about this picture? I mean, what pops out right away?



Hmmm. Well, it looks quite full. It has lots of colors, lots of words. There is not much room for anything else. Some items seem to be connected to one another; others, not so much. There are several bizarre lists on the left, squeezed into a small corner of the space.

I see one area actually has a different color frame around it so that you can differentiate the text from all the text around it. Oh, and on the right, we actually have some arrows that keep pointing upward, embedded in with the text. Might this represent some progression of thought? At the very least, the arrows suggest that those snippets of text probably have something to do with one another. And way, way up in the left corner, there is some text so small, you may not even be able to read it. But it is there nonetheless, steadfast puny font that it is.

Now, some other things are also true about this picture. It is the whiteboard in my office. Some of the text has been there for over 9 months (the scrappy little items at the upper left.) All of the text represents brainstorm activity on my part with other people. Or, they represent some dialogue where I have wanted to share some information with someone who didn’t know about it. Some items from the same brainstorming topic sprawl around the whiteboard due to real estate contention. And I have no idea what the text at the very top on the right is about: love, authenticity combined with metrics? Huh?

Here is a deep truth about this picture of my whiteboard. It is my brain, or at least what I make visible of my brain. Its words and drawings are in essence stitched patterns that make some sense in my brain. I have some ill-found pride in looking at the whiteboard. I revisit remnants of many conversations in which my brain, Jean Tabaka’s brain, played a pretty fun part.

And I have shame about my whiteboard. I am ashamed that I can’t get myself to erase it (even though I obviously have a picture of it.) I am ashamed that I have so much spinning around in my head that keeping visibility via a giant whiteboard in my office actually comforts me. At the same time, I feel shame that, because there is much on the whiteboard, it can also bring tremendous discomfort.

Want to know my biggest shame? I live in a world of brilliant people (like @ourfounder Jim Benson, Karl Scotland, and Eric Willeke along with other amazing @rallysoftware colleagues); of research and dialogue, reading and writing, of listening and validating exactly why this whiteboard is serving me no good. I have far too much WIP, and yet I am doing nothing about it. I am trying to track far too many things, and, this jumble of words and arrows is no way to track my beautiful ideas and potentially meaningful work. I have no sense of movement or flow of progress on my thoughts and dialogues.

And, I can’t get myself to erase it; I have a sense of significance wrapped up in this damn mess.

Are you looking for some sudden insights and words of wisdom at this point? As they say in The Princess Bride : “Get used to disappointment.” My name is Jean and I have a whiteboard issue. I wrap up too much of myself in it. I feel terrible about it. Telling you about this is an attempt at being completely open and vulnerable about myself. That is my first step toward moving to a next step, maybe erase one list?

Thanks for accepting this about me.

Oh, by the way, the words of wisdom in tiny scrawl on the upper left are two quotes. One is a quote from the great man of ski wisdom Warren Miller: “If you don’t do it this year, it’s okay. You’ll just be a year older when you do.” The other, a quote from Laura Burke’s (@agilenvironment) mom: “This too shall pass.

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Bum Rap for Brainstorming

Imagine a virtual “conversation” that took place among 5 men about the pros and cons of brainstorming. The cons had largely to do with group think, less challenging interactions, and lower innovation potential. The pros were interested in learning from others, sharing perspectives. The cons didn’t see how brainstorming really brought this about. Rather, individual genius seemed more conducive to great new ideas.

This seems more a fault of how we define brainstorming and engage in it versus the good or ill of brainstorming.

Want energy and challenge and innovation? Brainstorm with George Kembel and his twin brother John Kembel. I suppose there are other equally passionate and energized people who brainstorm. Still, spend even 15 minutes with these brothers, and the power of brainstorming may well exhaust you.

When we say brainstorm, what do we mean? We invite ideas. We invite expression of different perspectives. We seek the outrageous, the outliers, the mind-benders. If these are not occurring, we aren’t engaging in brainstorming. We may, instead, be (albeit inadvertently) “brainstomping.” Or, we may be mistakenly cast in the 1983 sci-fi flick “Brainstorm”

What to do? If you suspect brainstomping in your brainstorming, consider a few disciplines to add to the storm:

— Seek inquiry aided by a facilitator — it is not brainstorming if we don’t have all the brains in the storm. A facilitator can help own the process of ensuring all the voices are in the mix. No one dominates. No one shuts down. Consider this: we are only as smart as the least vocal person among us.

— Dump “anchoring” — if certain voices bias other voices by the responses they give. have these powerful voices speak last. We lend ourselves to anchoring when we let one or two perspectives sway our own response. Anchoring mutes us. Dump it. (Read more about anchoring in Daniel Kahneman’s beautiful and humorous (well to me:) book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

— Use a safe entry ramp — big room? lots of voices? hard to be heard? Apply the individual–>pair–>small group–>whole room brainstorming approach. Start with silent brainstorming by each person. Move into two people comparing ideas and coming up with what they together believe is their best idea; it may be one neither person had in their personal list. Move these ideas into a small group for similar expression and new creation. And now bring these to the entire room. No idea is ever off the table. And there is a ramp already built to get the room’s ideas rolling in.

— The Big Vat of Stupid — are people still stuck in creating responses they think fit in the “acceptable range?” Ask everyone to come up with the “stupidest” possible response to the brainstorm, outrageously stupid. Now write an idea that is even more preposterous. I mean this is seriously stupid. Let your imagine fly in the land of ridiculous. When you have something truly, outrageously, impossibly from Pluto, you are ready to add the idea into “The Big Vat of Stupid” in the center of the room. Take turns reading these out and start to apply some juicy “What if…” conjectures to them.


— “Open Space” — The Open Space Technology formulated by Harrison Owen relies on people brainstorming topics they want to dig into. These topics form the “Marketplace” from which participants can choose what they want to share with others. Any topic, any participants, any outcomes. Open Space invites complete self-organization around dialogue and brainstorming. Walk where your feet lead you. Speak and listen openly.

Ritual Dissent — this is a brainstorming approach formulated by Cognitive Edge used in the Cynefin complex domain for brainstorming actions and strategies. Work in small teams to brainstorm your best ideas for action or strategy or solution. One person for each team represents that team’s ideas. In a clockwise rotation, the spokesperson visits the next team and describes the home team’s solution or strategy. Sitting facing away from the “audience”, the spokesperson now listens, without comment, to every possible objection or concern the new team sees in the suggested strategy. No comment from the spokesperson other than, “Thank you,” at the end of the time box of dissent. Each person returns to their home team, explains the remarks and reactions. The team now brainstorms a next possible solution. And another round of dissent takes place, followed by another brainstorm for each team’s solution. The final visit around the circle of team’s invites the “audience” team to only remark positive aspects of the solution or strategy. At this point, all teams convene to share their refined solutions. The magic of hurling brainstormed dissent at brainstormed solutions sparks new dialogues of action and decision that were not in the room at the start.

— Speed Dating — a variation on “ritual dissent” but more like the goal in a speed dating venue (well, at least from what I have heard.) Set up the room with an inner circle of chairs that faces an outer circle of chairs. One person talking with another person shares an idea. The listener does everything possible to fawn over the idea and offer adulation with additional improvisations. Then they switch; the listener becomes the talker. After a set time, the inner circle rotates clockwise. Time for some new love and admiration. By the end, find the people who seemed to really connect on shared ideas. In these small, self-organizing groups, invite open dialogue that can take the idea far beyond the perspective of the original idea.

In the end, the quality of your brainstorming relies on your conviction around its value. Collaboration around brainstorming can create something beyond our own dreaming.

Invite disruptive thinking, invite the quiet voices, invite your personal artistry, invite the artistry of others. And most of all, learn to brainstorm as an individual. Each of us as great individual brainstormers up-level our team brainstorming.

(Oh, and as for the virtual “conversation” among the five men about brainstorming. I claim it was brainstorming about brainstorming.)

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The Bracelet

I wear the same earrings and bracelets (3, plus a Nike+ Fuel band) pretty much all the time. So sometimes something as simple as a new bracelet can be a bit of a wake-up call for me.

Two Saturdays ago, the weather in Boulder was stellar. That meant putting aside my “must do” list and inviting a “let’s go” list. That day, I took advantage of walking Boulder’s Pearl Street mall: breakfast at the Boulder Cafe; browsing eagerly at the Peppercorn emporium of all things cooking; and, a stop at The Cup for a latte and the vibrant press of locals and tourists alike. And then a new shop: Alex and Anil. It only sells jewelry, in fact only bracelets. And, there was a set of bracelets associated with various charities. Buying one of these bracelets meant giving back a portion of the sales to the charity. $28. Perfect.

Looking tbracelet2014hrough several of the symbols and messages associated with a bangle on the bracelet, I found one for the American Cancer Society. Its simple message: Collaboration, Honor, Courage. I had to have it.

My passion about collaboration had not explicitly articulated a connection with honor and courage. But that connection is clearly there. An eagerness or even a willingness to engage and create with others does indeed take courage. When we collaborate we are telling those around us, “I have some perspectives. More importantly, I want to hear yours. Our views together can create a multi-faceted, better decision.” When we exert this courage, and those around us do as well, we can absorb a sense of honor as well as extend it. “I am so honored that you trusted me to listen. And I honor you that you in turn listened openly to me.” This connection of collaboration, honor, and courage may go unspoken, but it is there.

I wear the bracelet everyday now. It reminds me of what must be true for us in effective organizations. Invite collaboration. Be courageous in how you speak and listen. Honor the open interactions that lead to our best truth.

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