Uncharted Waters

Feb 9 2013   5:33PM GMT

Rebooting Linkedin

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

So I just got an email from Linkedin, telling me that my account is in the top 1% most viewed.

Picture from Linkedin shows Matt's profile is in the top 1% of most viewed.

I should be happy right?

But I can’t say I am.  Instead, I suspect that something is very wrong.   Allow me to explain.

The Problem

Last week I was on linkedin, looking up a former colleague, and to the right, the little “People who viewed this also viewed …” box showed names of other former coworkers.  You know the types:  The project manager who never had a project come in on time (they rarely came in at all), the architect whose participation in a project was the kiss of death, the executive who didn’t even seem to follow through, but always had q great ‘story’ (right up until he was fired), and so on.

Out of a morbid sense of curiosity I clicked on a few of these, and read the bios, which were certainly putting their best foot forward.

Then there were the recommendations.

Oh my goodness, the recommendations.  Each of these people was “exceptional”, they all had keen, accurate, clear, and deep insights into the problems at hand, could think “outside the box”, they were strategic thinkers and high-level change initiators, coming from all levels of the organization, including from the person that decided to let them go.

Every single one of these folks had a pristine set of “this person walks on water” recommendations.

Just.  Like.  Me.

I truely am pleased and honored that people are either seeking me out or stumbling on to my profile.  Still, I have to wonder, when it gets time to choosing who to work with, if we all look perfect, doesn’t that create a sort of “Lemon Market” where the sellers can’t tell the good products from the bad?

A More Excellent Way

Looking at those recommendations a second time, I noticed something. Without a successful project to point to, the recommendations were limited to a list of virtues, like sharp, decisive, open-door, and so on. In writing, we call this “telling” – the author makes the decision for the reader that the hero is brave, or strong, or noble.

The classic way to express this in writing is not to tell but instead “show” – have the hero fight the dragon when everyone else runs, win the arm-wrestling match with the giant troll, or sacrifice himself to save the defenseless.

My favorite stories show, they don’t tell.

So my first takeaway to avoid the lemon market is to work on myself.  I’m going to review the folks who have recommended me, to see if those recommendations “tell” or “show”, and ask for revisions.

I want to have my recommendations talk about the challenging conditions, the conditions of uncertainty, the hard deadlines and out-of-control scope — and what I did to help the team move toward an outcome we could look back on and be proud of.  And if my friends can’t write that, if they struggle to find examples, I want to find out why, and change my behavior to make things better.

A Final Thought

When I left my last long-term consulting assignment, the staff got together and made me a goodbye card.  I kept it in my desk and re-found it the other day, and just took the effort to scan it in (click for the hi-res version):

Somehow, I suspect the folks I mentioned before, with the perfect set of “walks on water” recommendations, don’t have a card like that in their drawer.  I wonder how I could get that on linkedin?

Executing the Reboot

John Bruce, an active blogger in the early 2000’s, once pointed out that when companies need help, real help, not just empire building, they want grown ups, people that actually get things done.  Making it clear that you are a sound craftsperson may just be the new linkedin differatiator — or at least one of them.

For now, I’ll settle for checking my recommendations, asking people to focus on show, not tell.

More to come.

6  Comments on this Post

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  • Smita Mishra
    Very interesting topic. Will be looking forward to more on the endorsements part and also on ways to find the hidden truth from the sea of recommendations.
    820 pointsBadges:
  • TomLiotta
    Useful insight. Now to see how "asking people to focus" works out. I hope you'll have a follow-up. -- Tom
    125,585 pointsBadges:
  • DonWallace
    LinkedIn has its own little culture. If you read LinkedIn's tips for job seekers or vendors, you nurture and caress your sterling LinkedIn profile and all you care about is your number of connections and your recommendations. If LinkedIn had their say, you'd stay inside LinkedIn 8x5x52 to conduct all of your business.

    The valid point you make is that most people either don't know how to give effective recommendations, or they are giving a recommendation as a character endorsement, not as a citation of accomplishments.

    All I'm saying is that the LinkedIn-O-Sphere is somewhat like Facebook - it is its own thing, disconnected from reality, and it is trying to create its own localized bubble of reality where people take all of the on-site stuff like recommendations, endorsements and connections deadly seriously.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • Michelle Greenlee
    @Matt that's a great going away card you've got there. I think you should upload your high-res image right on your profile just under that last longterm consulting gig. I have seen others write about the mysterious LinkedIn 1% emails. They're just as curious about the metrics involved. I'm apparently not in the top 1% even though your profile is listed under the 'people I should know section' at least once a week. I too have noticed the 'telling' profiles you mention on LinkedIn. Everyone appears to be a fantastic pick for any job you can throw at them.
    670 pointsBadges:
  • Knl
    Actually what you see in business has been occurring in education for a while - inflated grades - C is no longer the average.
    This is also a by product of personnel branding. Employers respond by asking for consultants that have 10 years experience in every training technology available today. What they really want is someone who is competent, understands the business, works hard and works well with others. But those qualities are not quantifiable.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • ckenst
    Matt, do you link to (or have) a public work profile on Linkedin? Wouldn't that help show the work you do? Perhaps it wouldn't work for all of the recommendations you get but it might help differentiate you from the others. 

    LinkedIn is getting even weirder these days, especially with the skill recommendations. People just recommend other people for whatever reasons without really knowing how skilled they are.
    40 pointsBadges:

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