Principles and the Power of Community

In this post, I cover the re-ignition of Bitstream Foundry’s fires and spend some time reflecting upon the principles that guide me in my day-to-day dealings with people.

HandOfCommunityLast week was an extremely tumultuous and event-filled week for me. And to be completely honest, it was tremendously stressful at a couple of points. But I’ll cut to the chase on one very important detail: it ultimately ended on a high note, so I can say that this story has a happy ending.

As many of you know, last October I joined the PAIT Group as their Chief Technology Officer. The decision to join PAIT wasn’t one that came about quickly. My friend of many years Mark Rackley (you might know him as “The SharePoint Hillbilly”) and I had been involved in a couple of different discussions over a period of time … but the actual decision to join PAIT came after a series of discussions at last year’s Microsoft Ignite conference.

The idea of joining PAIT and being able to both work with friends (Mark and Stephanie Donahue) and refocus on SharePoint was the breath of fresh air I needed at the time … and once again I found some excitement and genuine happiness in the work I was doing – and in the people with whom I was interacting on a daily basis.

Things went pretty well for a while, but sometimes even friends who start with the best of intentions find that different styles, approaches, experiences, and value systems don’t always mesh the way they would like. And businesses sometimes have influencers and drivers that remain “behind the scenes” but still wield a heavy hammer in day-to-day operations and long-term strategy.

What Happened?

defeat looser koLast Thursday (April 27th) was my last day with PAIT Group. The end came abruptly and surprisingly to me, but in hindsight I can say that I understand the trajectory and how things got to where they did – whether I agree with the ultimate outcome or not. Like so many business decisions, there are motivations and drivers that are obvious and visible to everyone … and sometimes there are factors (and actors) behind-the-scenes that have tremendous influence and power. In this case, there was some of the former and an awful lot of the latter.

Stephanie, Mark, and I remain friends … and the desire to remain friends was the most important and overriding aspect at the end of the day. I truly wish the two of them the best of luck in everything they do. They’re top-notch SharePoint professionals, and I have a great deal of respect for both of them. And they’re still my friends, and I’ll continue to do anything I can to help them personally in their endeavors. I don’t want our parting to impact the friendships we share.

What Now?

After learning of my separation from PAIT Group, the first feelings to hit me last Thursday were shock and uncertainty. I have a wife and two kids, and I’m the primary “breadwinner” for my family. Suddenly finding myself without gainful employment created a tremendous amount of stress in the immediate sense. Anytime I’d parted with an employer in the past, I had been a part of the decision – or at least a part of the discussion that led to the outcome. This time proved to be a first for me, and I’m not going to lie: I was initially scared.

Once the shock and fear subsided, I set about figuring out what to do next. Since my timetable was short, I decided to go with the “fallback” plan I’d always had the foresight to maintain: to brush the dust off of Bitstream Foundry LLC and rev things back up.

Bitstream Foundry LLC Logo

I’ve always kept my LLC in-order, kept my insurance (Business Liability and Errors & Omissions policies) paid and up-to-date, and tried to keep material related to my company current. Truth be told, I still have some work to do on that last one (I’ve spent a chunk of time this weekend updating social profiles and getting other public-facing items in order), and I still need to both migrate my company’s site and update its content.

More important than any other “get ready” aspect, though, was something else that settled over me in a somewhat unexpected way.

The SharePoint Community

When I made my initial round of social and professional networking profile changes late last week to reflect the move back to Bitstream Foundry, I was immediately deluged on all channels of communication from my friends and business contacts across the SharePoint space. The outpouring was immediate, overwhelming and … extremely humbling. I was dumbstruck.

Within the space of less than 36 hours, I had no fewer than a dozen different collaboration opportunities – including a number of requests for SOWs (statements of work), some partnership and referral offers, and more. I was stunned. Simply stunned.

And that brings me to the topic of community. The SharePoint Community is like no other community I’ve ever been involved with. It’s vibrant, full of wonderful people, and chock full of life and energy. Every time I speak at a conference or present for a SPUG, I leave the event “charged” and wanting to do more.

I’ve been involved in the SharePoint Community since 2004, and I’ve actively been giving back to the community since 2009. Giving back is important to me, because I’ve benefited tremendously from knowledge that many of you have openly shared. Sharing what I know has been the right thing to do, as well, and I’ve worked to make all of my conference materials, presentations, workshops, development projects, and other efforts freely available to all.

I feel fortunate to be a part of this community, and I am so tremendously grateful for the relationships and friendships that I’ve built with many of you over the years. Simply put: you folks are awesome.

Reflecting On My Principles

Anytime life throws me a curveball, I try to take a step back and reflect on what I’ve learned, where I’ve made mistakes, and where things have gone well. Given that I’m in the middle of another tectonic shift in my professional career, it seemed like a good time to conduct another review.

In thinking about the last six months (recent history) and the last eight years (a bit longer), I would say that I’ve tried very hard to operate according to the following principles:

  1. For me, one-to-one personal relationships are more important than anything else within any community or arrangement – far ahead of skills, and definitely ahead of day-to-day business practices and arrangements. Over the years I’ve always found great pleasure and meaning in the relationships I’ve built across the country and across the globe. I recently took the Gallup StrengthsFinder questionnaire, and my relationship focus was confirmed and reinforced by my number one strength according to the assessment: “Relator.” Read the description in the previous link for more insight.
  2. A lot of people use SharePoint, but the global SharePoint community is relatively tight-knit and personal. And Karma is an active participant within the SharePoint community. The way that you treat people sends ripples through the social ecosystem. If you are good to people, others will hear of your deeds and come to regard you in a positive light. If you put things like money and self-interest before relationships, then others will hear of it and treat you accordingly. What you do will come back to you.
  3. To the extent that I’ve been able to, I’ve always attempted to provide assistance and time to those who have asked for them – and in situations where I could see that they were needed. Service to others has been a cornerstone of my life, and that goes all the way back to my college days. My wife and I met through Alpha Phi Omega, our co-ed service fraternity, and we’ve both tried to maintain a “pay it forward” outlook that is consistent with A Phi O’s principles in our adult lives. Paying it forward is a great way to live a meaningful existence, and I know that many of you share the same outlook – especially the incredibly wonderful Jeff Shuey. Jeff got me hooked on “Pay It Forward Fridays” (#PIFF), and I try to follow his example whenever I can.
  4. Companies come and go, and businesses grow and die every day. I choose not to focus on companies and businesses, but rather on individuals and one-on-one relationships. This probably comes as no surprise in light of #1 (above), but it bears saying explicitly. I have yet to go wrong by focusing on my relationships with individuals within a company rather than a company itself, and I plan to continue doing so in the future.
  5. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned in the last 15 years or so is that communication is critical in everything we do. If you cannot communicate openly and effectively, then life is bound to be pretty muddled and confusing. I credit my wife, Dr. Tracy McDonough, for helping me to grow in this area. She’s a licensed clinical psychologist and a wonderful person to boot. And believe me: you won’t survive in a marriage with a psychologist if you don’t learn how to communicate effectively.

Charging Forward

Tomorrow starts Bitstream Foundry’s first week of being “back in business,” and I’m ready to jump into it. I still have a lot of things to get done to get back into “fighting shape,” but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you think that I may be of assistance to you in some endeavor or undertaking you have planned!

References and Resources

  1. People: Mark Rackley
  2. People: Stephanie Donahue
  3. Company: Bitstream Foundry LLC
  4. Resources: SharePoint Interface Presentations and Materials
  5. Site: Gallup StrengthsFinder
  6. Strength: Relator
  7. Organization: Alpha Phi Omega
  8. People: Jeff Shuey
  9. People: Dr. Tracy McDonough