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RFC 4144 - How to Gain Prominence and Influence in Standards Org


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Network Working Group                                    D. Eastlake 3rd
Request for Comments: 4144                         Motorola Laboratories
Category: Informational                                   September 2005

    How to Gain Prominence and Influence in Standards Organizations

Status of This Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).

IESG Note:

   This RFC is not a candidate for any level of Internet Standard.  The
   IETF disclaims any knowledge of the fitness of this RFC for any
   purpose and notes that the decision to publish is not based on IETF
   review apart from IESG review for conflict with IETF work.  The RFC
   Editor has chosen to publish this document at its discretion.  See
   RFC 3932 for more information.

Abstract

   This document provides simple guidelines that can make it easier for
   you to gain prominence and influence in most standards organizations.

Table of Contents

   1. Introduction ....................................................2
   2. Human Organizations .............................................2
   3. Eighty Percent of Success is Showing Up .........................2
   4. Sit Up Front ....................................................3
   5. Break Bread .....................................................3
   6. Develop Friends and Mentors .....................................4
   7. Be Helpful ......................................................4
   8. Learn The Traditions and Rules ..................................5
   9. Acronyms and Special Terms ......................................5
   10. Pick Your Points ...............................................6
   11. Technical and Communications Skill .............................7
   12. Do Not Try Too Hard ............................................7
   13. Security Considerations ........................................7
   14. Informative References .........................................8

1.  Introduction

   This document contains simple guidelines that can help you to gain
   prominence and influence in most standards, and many other human,
   organizations.  It takes only normal communications and technical
   skills and moderate effort to follow these guidelines.

2.  Human Organizations

   All organizations composed of human beings give the appearance to
   newcomers of having an inner clique that runs things.  This happens
   whether there is a semi-permanent cohesive inside group that actually
   tries to keep all power in its own hands or those in positions of
   power are genuinely trying to be open and willing to share and there
   is a system for their regular replacement.  It is just the nature of
   human society.  It always takes time and effort to get to know new
   people. [Carnegie]

   All organizations have procedures.  It always takes time and effort
   to learn how things are done in an organization.  In an organization
   of any size, those who happen to be in positions of authority can't
   spend equal time talking with everyone about every issue in the
   organization.  Their positions mean they will necessarily be in many
   conversations with each other and fewer conversations with the
   average member.  And there are some types of information that should
   normally be kept confidential, at least until verified, and sometimes
   even then.  Examples are charges of ethical or other violations
   against individuals.

   But, despite all this, following some simple guidelines can greatly
   accelerate the rate at which you will become favorably known in an
   organization.  Favorable prominence can increase your chance of being
   selected for positions such as editorship of documents, secretary or
   clerk of a group (so you get to produce the record of what *actually*
   happened), or possibly even some level of chair or deputy chair
   position.

3.  Eighty Percent of Success is Showing Up

   It is the simplest thing! If you are absent, how can you have much
   prominence or influence?

   This applies to all venues, email/messaging, telephone/video
   conference, and especially in-person or face-to-face meetings.  You
   do not need 100% attendance, but your absences should be rare.  If
   possible, only miss less important events.

   Attendance is obviously most important at meetings of the specific
   body in which you are interested.  But you should also watch for
   higher-level or lower-level meetings that are open.  Many standards
   groups have a multi-level structure.  As well as attending the group
   you are interested in, if there are open meetings of various group
   chairs or the like, attending those can be a fast track, even if you
   only get to observe and be noticed.  And if there are sub-groups of
   the group you are most interested in, consider attending them also to
   become better known more quickly.  These meetings may be before the
   beginning or after the end of the regular member meetings, so, if you
   are really serious, you should be prepared to arrive early and leave
   late.

4.  Sit Up Front

   If a meeting is very small, say less than 20 people, it does not make
   much difference.  But for meetings of any size, especially when
   starting with an organization, sit up front.  Do not be afraid of the
   first row even if it is empty, although the second and sometimes even
   the third are not too bad.  Show up early if you need to, but this is
   usually not necessary, as most people are extraordinarily reluctant
   to put themselves in an exposed place like the front row.

   After you have some experience, you may decide to sit with some group
   that sits together.  But, in larger meetings, the prominent people
   generally sit either near the front, or way at the back.  (Being in
   the back, at least in large rooms, may mean you can wander around and
   talk to people without disrupting things.)

5.  Break Bread

   All meetings of any length include refreshment and meals.  Otherwise
   the attendees would starve.

   If there is a group catered meal, try sitting with different groups
   or factions to get an idea of the different viewpoints in the
   organization.  Or try to sit at a table and eat with people who have
   some seniority and experience in the organization, if they seem
   receptive.

   Usually, for multi-day meetings, there is at least one big social
   event where the attendees can get together.  From small meetings
   (attendance under 100) and medium size (attendance under 500 or so)
   meetings, it is common for people to go to the social event.
   Typically some alcohol is available, people are more relaxed and
   informal.  These are good events at which to approach high-level

   officials to exchange a pleasant word or two, or even make a small
   request.  But do not expect to engage in detailed technical
   discussions, although this sometimes happens.

   Social events are commonly at noisy locations.  Sometimes, as
   organizations get larger, social events get so large and congested
   that many of the most prominent people schedule informal meetings
   opposite them.  You will have to see how it works in your
   organization.

   But there will also be plenty of informal lunch, dinner, and maybe
   breakfast groups (unless they are all catered) and other get-
   togethers.  At some standards meetings, you can more or less invite
   yourself along to such meal groups, unless they are a small
   confidential group or a group of employees of a particular company,
   or the like.  Usually people will warn you if the group plans to
   spend much of the meal discussing some particular issue, and you can
   then decide if you want to go with them.

6.  Develop Friends and Mentors

   It is hard to get things done and learn what is going on entirely by
   yourself.  If you can, find a few people with more experience that
   you can go to with questions.

   Introduce yourself to people and be friendly.  But do not necessarily
   link up with the first people you meet.  You want people who are
   knowledgeable and well-regarded within the organization.

   If you follow the advice in section 7 below, you should have plenty
   of opportunity to meet experienced people in an organization.

7.  Be Helpful

   Within reason, volunteer to do some of the drudgery for which you are
   competent, such as taking notes during meetings, helping someone else
   draft a proposal, or volunteering to re-write part of a draft for
   clarity and consistency.

   This sort of thing will get you noticed and put some people in your
   debt, at least in a minor way.  But be careful not to volunteer for
   more than you can actually do.  Failing to follow through will damage
   your reputation.  If you do get over committed, seek help as soon as
   you realize it.  The worst thing is to fail to meet your promises and
   not let anyone know about it until it is too late for them to
   recover.

8.  Learn The Traditions and Rules

   It is quite important to know the traditions of an organization, how
   things get done, what rules are ignored, how rules are interpreted,
   and what rules are rigorously enforced.

   While traditions are more important, it cannot hurt to also know the
   official rules and procedures.  The probability that low level groups
   in the organization actually operate according to the officially
   adopted rules and procedures in detail is quite low, unless the
   organization has very informal rules.

   Do not object to procedure just for the sake of objecting.  If you
   repeatedly invoke little known and rarely used official rules in
   small matters, it is a sure way to make people assume that what you
   have to say is silly or obstructionist, until proven otherwise.  If
   you invoke the official rules so as to override tradition in an
   important matter, be aware that you are playing with a weapon of mass
   destruction.  You may or may not accomplish your immediate goal, but
   the blowback will almost certainly damage your future efforts in that
   organization.

   While it is always the path of least resistance to follow tradition,
   knowing the official rules makes you aware of when they could be
   invoked against you.  This may enable you to adopt a path that is
   reasonably congruent with both the traditions and the rules,
   maximizing your chances of success.

9.  Acronyms and Special Terms

   Essentially all technical efforts wallow in acronyms and special
   "terms of art".  It sometimes seems as if no effort or sub-effort is
   really rolling until it has come up with several non-obvious terms to
   confuse those who have not been involved for a while.  Nor are
   acronyms constant.  Especially in the early part of a standards
   effort, when ideas are flopping around, acronyms and special terms
   frequently change, causing further confusion of those not in the most
   active part of the group.

   In fact, if you read an explanation of some deep technical matter
   written so anyone can understand it, you can be virtually certain
   that it is not how experts in the field communicate with each other,
   verbally or in writing.  This is true of all fields.  Read something
   about engineering big "air vents" and "water pipes"? Experts use
   "plenum" and "penstock".

   It's a bad strategy to get lost in acronyms you do not know, so you
   cannot understand what people are talking about and may make a fool
   of yourself if you guess wrong.  The best thing is to find out the
   meaning of and learn the acronyms in advance.  Failing that, ask
   about acronyms or strange terms as soon as you can, preferably the
   first time you encounter them.  Making a written note of their
   meaning could not hurt.  Usually there will be others who also wanted
   to ask but were afraid to and will be grateful that you took the
   initiative.

10.  Pick Your Points

   Think a bit about the impression you make on people.

   If you insist on speaking to every issue, even if you don't have any
   really strong points, you will get a reputation as a blowhard who
   doesn't add much and just slows things down.  If you only speak
   occasionally, but have solid points to make when you do, people will
   pay much more attention to your occasional speeches.

   Similarly, if you quibble about everything, you will use up good will
   you have acquired and may be viewed as an obstructionist who causes
   needless delay.  If an organization is doing or developing something
   complex, all the decisions are not going to go the way you want.
   Consider the points where you could try to get your way, figure out
   how important they are to you, how strong your arguments would be,
   and how much opposition you are likely to encounter.  Keep in mind
   that your arguments will usually seem more impressive to you than
   they do to others.  Based on this, you can make a reasoned choice of
   where to really put up a fight and possibly recruit allies or call in
   favors.

   This is not to say that you should ignore minor issues and never
   speak up about them if you have new information or opinions to
   contribute.  Just do not invest a lot of effort in fighting an issue
   or making a point unless it is important to you and you judge that
   you have a reasonable chance of succeeding.

11.  Technical and Communications Skill

   You may be surprised that I have said very little about technical and
   communication skills, although in the Introduction above it was
   assumed that you had normal skills in these areas.  You do need to
   understand the technical aspects of what is going on so that you
   cannot be easily bamboozled.

   If you are very strong technically and can make substantial
   contributions, you can be helpful, if you can contribute in a way
   that does not offend too many people.  But, especially in a large
   technical standards body, not everyone can be a strong technical
   contributor.

   If you have strong verbal and written communications skills, this can
   also be helpful.  But if you are not fluent in the dominant language
   of the organization, you will be at a disadvantage.  While the
   organization should make some attempt to be approachable by those for
   whom its dominant language is a second language, the best thing to do
   is to put in the time and effort to become fluent. [Farber]  As a
   stopgap, you can team up with someone with whom you communicate well
   and who is fluent in the standards organization language.  They can
   speak for you in meetings, if necessary, and co-author written
   contributions with you.

   If you are the rare genius with superb technical, communication, and
   interpersonal skills, you are wasting your time reading this and
   might be able to get away with doing exactly the opposite of some of
   its recommendations.  But I would not count on it.

12.  Do Not Try Too Hard

   Lastly, give yourself a bit of time to get settled into an
   organization.  Then, be reasonably assertive, but do not be too pushy
   unless an issue is so important you are willing to risk the
   reputation you have built up.  And try to never lose your temper.

   Unless you are a genius at inter-personal relations, you will not
   gain substantial prominence and influence in a standards organization
   overnight.  These things take time and patience.

13.  Security Considerations

   This RFC raises no new security issues.

14.  Informative References

   [Carnegie]  "How To Win Friends And Influence People", Dale Carnegie,
               1990, ISBN 0671723650.

   [Farber]    "How to Learn Any Language", Barry Farber, 1991, ISBN
               1-56731-543-7.

Author's Address

   Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
   Motorola Laboratories
   155 Beaver Street
   Milford, MA 01757 USA

   Phone:  +1 508-786-7554 (w)
   EMail:  Donald.Eastlake@motorola.com

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