Reinvention and the virtuous circle of learning by doing: the case of The Virtual Excellence Show


For the last couple of months I have been selectively sharing conversations, tutorials, and highlight videos from The Virtual Excellence Show on this blog, but I haven’t written anything about the show itself. This is the story of the show and the most important things I’ve learned so far.

The last time I spoke in-person at a conference was in late February of this year, with in following weeks all my other engagements cancelled in rapid succession. It quickly became apparent that there would be no more physical events for the foreseeable future.

I do have other ventures but the majority of my revenue for the last couple of years has been as a professional speaker, so, as many others, I saw my current livelihood simply evaporating.

The need for personal reinvention

In March I suggested that the fundamental elements to strategy in a COVID world are survival and reinvention.

I evidently needed to follow my own prescriptions and reinvent myself.

Physical events supplanted by virtual events

It was clear that events would not entirely disappear, but that events activities and budgets would be greatly reduced, and until the pandemic was contained all events would have to be virtual.

Virtual speaking and events in fact play to my strengths. On the show I have shared the story of my decades of experience in virtual engagement, including organizing and moderating the world’s first cross-continental panels linked by video back in 2006 and commencing virtual speaking and strategy facilitation around the same time.

However a key issue is being found and visible when people are searching for keynote speakers for their virtual events, while overall demand is greatly reduced.

Everything virtual

It was certainly not just events that were going virtual.

Managing almost entirely remote workforces has become an immediate for every organization.

Yet this is hardly a new issue. I wrote extensively about connected and remote work in my 2002 book Living Networks and my 2009 book Implementing Enterprise 2.0, and in 2010 about the cloud workplace and organizations to networks as a key theme for the 2010s.

Not just organizations, but music is shifting to immersive live platforms, dating is becoming virtual, and government and democracy must become increasingly virtual.

Launching a live-streaming show

While I have extensive knowledge and experience of things virtual, I clearly still had a lot to learn in taking my work entirely into a virtual space.

It appeared inevitable that virtual work and play was going to play a central role not only in our immediate future, but also far beyond, accelerating the virtualization of business and society. Futurist Cathy Hackl noted that we compressed 2 years of advances into 2 months.

In response I came up with the idea of both demonstrating my capabilities and learning more about all things virtual by doing a live-streaming show on the theme of ‘virtual excellence’, the capabilities we would all need to learn to achieve our objectives.

Learning by doing

We have already had some amazing guests on the show, including Howard Rheingold, arguably the granddaddy of virtual communities, author and leading management thinker John Hagel, virtual facilitator extraordinaire Nancy White and many others.

One of the things that struck me as I spoke to our guests is that they all emphasized the concept learning by doing as at the heart of almost everything.

In particular John Hagel spoke powerfully and succinctly about his core theme of scalable learning. Every single one of the other guests essentially said that we can only learn by doing.

And that is exactly what I am doing in the show.

I am learning from all of my conversations with these amazing people, I am learning by producing the show, I am learning by working to build the show (please help us grow it by subscribing to the show on YouTube 😃!).

Sharing what we learn

And of course doing the show creates a virtuous circle: we learn and then we share what we learn.

That is perhaps the most powerful learning loop there is: learning to share and through sharing.

Highly challenging and highly rewarding

Doing the show is still a major challenge, as I have a number of other compelling projects, and any new YouTube channel requires substantial effort to get any meaningful traction at all.

I have already given up on the live-streamed production of the conversations: I had to be up at 7am my time to hit the timezones we want to cover. Pre-records are plenty good for now, we can engage on social while the shows are streamed on their weekly schedule.

The first few shows in particular are pretty embarrassing in their production quality. But as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” By that measure we definitely didn’t launch too late, and we learned faster for it.

Come along for the journey!

The intention is to grow the show, even though this early it hasn’t got much traction.

I believe in the concept and the potential of The Virtual Excellence Show, but far more importantly, I believe in how much I learn by doing the show. That alone makes it worthwhile.

I hope you will be an early YouTube subcriber and come along for the journey!

For a good while to come the show will be a major focus of my work – between substantial other projects I have on including writing a book and launching a new company – and I expect it to be more than amply interesting and fun.