Monday, June 2, 2014

Collaboration: A Tired, Overused, Yet Under-Expressed Term

I prefer to talk.

I'm sure the comes as a complete surprise to anyone who has spent the time to read much of my ramblings over the last couple weeks.

(I'm also a little sarcastic, but that comes with the territory.)

But, seriously, I like to talk.

I think the art of communication is slowly being lost.  This isn't going to be a diatribe against the malevolence of e-mail, instant messenger, SMS, blogs, or smartphones.  I just believe we've allowed ourselves to become too impatient to have real conversation.

And that's what I really like.  Discussion.  Exploration of a subject.  Understanding the point of view of everyone involved.  Appreciating differences in positions and opinions.  Arriving at common ground.

My problem is that I'm in technology.  As a general rule, we don't communicate well, and don't relate well.  As I was once told, a good IT person is "cocky, arrogant, and difficult to work with."

Of, course, the anal retentive side of me pointed out that "cocky" and "arrogant" are synonyms so the statement was redundant.  That didn't get a good response.


Worse, I'm in Information Security.  All those habits, with the natural air of suspicion and concern for revealing anything that could breach confidentiality.  (Right.  Take that technical orientation and wrap it up with a CIA triad bow and see what you get.)

In short, we're really, really, bad at communicating.  We rely on so-called "subject matter experts" to tell us what we need to know.  We listen to vendor slime tell stories about the wonders of their technology, trying to glean why, precisely, they exist in the first place.

(Oh crap!  I have no idea what problem they're trying to solve!  Did I miss something?)

I like to talk.  We all do.  This is why, when you go to a conference, the roundtables always fill first, why they always have waiting lists, and why we end up getting stuck in presentations about how the position of a dot on a quad chart is so very meaningful when compared to the position of another dot that is below or to the left of the first which illustrates the value proposition of.....

.....zzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.


Sorry.  Back on topic.


I like to talk.  And there's a reason I say that.  I genuinely appreciate organizations that allow me, and people like me, to talk.


I believe there is tremendous value in having an open, honest conversation about any subject; tactical / technical, operational / organizational, or strategic / enterprise.  There needs to be an outlet where we, as technology and security professionals, can lower the guard of arrogance, drop the shields of confidentiality, and talk about the common problems we all face.  We're not on an island, as much as we like to paint ourselves to be.


But we need help.  Collaboration, true open discussion, cannot happen without these:

Neutrality.  We need an environment where people can be candid.

Purpose.  Conversation started and driven by questions from individuals with real problems and needs.  Not personal; relevant.


Tone.  "What works, what didn't," with perspective as to reasons and implications.  No professional sales pitch ("look at all I've done"), no company marketing ("we've been doing this forever").  And no hype.

I draw tremendous value from open and candid conversations.  I've learned more in a single discussions than I've ever picked up in a 1 hour presentation or webinar.  I might get some ideas for tools and practices, but it's the real-world knowledge of how to apply those tools and practices that gets things done.

And to be quite honest, there's only two reasons there's a presentation - someone has figured out how to do something, and you'd learn more by talking about how it was done; or someone has a new way to do something and is trying to advocate for it.

The latter makes my early risk warning radar go off.

Clearly, we need to talk.  More.  We aren't so good at doing it ourselves, that's why we go to conferences.  We need help to make it happen.

Find your resources; I've found mine.   Local ISACA chapters (depending on their culture), roundtable events at conferences (you and everyone else), set them up yourself, or work with companies that specialize in enabling conversations.

There's a lot of knowledge out there waiting to be shared.  Some of it is locked in your head.

So get out there and talk.

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