Confab ImageThis is my first visit to ConFab Minneapolis. Unlike many of the conferences that I attend regularly, this one is anything but the “same old, same old.” The energy and excitement here is palpable. They even have a hashtag for #ConFabFeelings. I’ve attended a number of sessions and I really enjoyed presenting about global website best practices. Thank you to everyone at Brain Traffic for inviting me to present.

There is one talk that stands head and shoulders above all of the others I attended. In fact, it is the best talk I’ve heard from anyone in possibly years. Yes, it was that good. It was called “The New How,” and it was presented by Nilofer Merchant. Of course, Nilofer’s reputation precedes her, she has accomplished so many amazing things in her life. I came away from this talk thinking – really thinking. And that is what listening to a keynote is all about.

Here are some of the highlights that stuck with me.

How do we define social?

NiloferSocial is interaction. It is conversation, smiles, laughter and the occasional high-five. Social is human. Businesses are running around trying to be ‘social’, but they aren’t acting human. And that is a fundamental change that needs to happen. To act human, we need to stop talking in jargon. We need to get better at relating to each other. We need to invite talent at all levels to participate.

In a social world, we need to be a herd of gazelles, not an 800 pound gorilla. A herd of gazelles is nimble. Gazelles spread out and very quickly alert each other – and everyone around them – of danger. They are the fastest to flee danger and spread the world. An 800 pound gorilla cannot simply go on a diet.


Once upon a time, power was about money, or size, or advanced degrees. There were rich people who were personally powerful and there were enormous organizations that wielded power. I think that, to a large extent, that situation continues, but we are missing the point.

The point is that each of us has power. There is a huge amount of power in connected people who are focused on doing something together. Anyone and everyone has power. You need to seize your own power, your own voice, your own “onlyness,” and participate with others. As a leader, you need to invite everyone to play.


We’ve come a long way since the Industrial Revolution. Back in the Industrial Revolution, efficiency was the goal. In the social era, relationships are the goal.

Relationships are fundamentally about trust. I have said this for as long as I can remember and I appreciate hearing Nilofer bring the point home. Trust is made up of three things:

  • Credibility – Can you do what you say you can do?
  • Integrity – Will you do what you say you will do?
  • Values – Do you share my values? If not, can I understand your values?

Connections are powerful. We are much more powerful in our connected world than we ever were before. Connect with others.


Purpose brings together the best people. Purpose brings out the best in those people. Purpose is what you do because you care. Purpose is what you are passionate about. Purpose is doing the thing you love, not doing something just because you are paid for it.

Tell Me More

Listening is a critical skill. It is only surpassed by competence. In my mind, you build your competence by listening and paying attention. The best sentence for a good listener? Tell Me More.

Five Takeaways

  1. Claim your onlyness. Your onlyness is your story. It is what drives you. It is how you became who you are today. Do not force your onlyness upon someone else. They have their own story. But you must claim yours.
  2. Find your community. In a social world, everything revolves around community. Gone are the days where your community were the people you meet at your local PTA meeting. Your community exists everywhere. There are no physical barriers in your search for community.
  3. Chase purpose, together. Once you find your community, work together on a shared purpose. The results will be astonishing.
  4. Be powerful with one another. Your power lies in your onlyness. Respect your onlyness and respect the onlyness of the people in your community. Everyone and anyone has power. Use it wisely.
  5. Make the difference. Don’t sit back and wait for the next new thing. Even worse, don’t wish the next new thing will come later, not right now when you are focused on the minutia of your current problem. Don’t think that you cannot change the world. In a human world, in a community of people you trust, you have the power to do amazing things.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

What was your biggest takeaway from ConFab this year?

Val Swisher
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