Monday, I got some expert tech advice from Kevin Lawver. He’s a software developer with an impressive resume including thirteen years of web development at AOL. He called me in response to a message I’d sent him via LinkedIn the previous week. I asked for some general advice on the pros and cons of Instagram as a revenue and awareness source for non-profits. I know next to nothing about technology. He knows everything.
How’d I know to contact Kevin? I went through my connections in LinkedIn. He’s local, knowledgeable and a nice guy. Plus, he’s wearing a Viking helmet in his profile picture. How could I go wrong?
I often use LinkedIn to answer questions like this. Rarely, am I disappointed in the results.
I reached out to Kevin because my students have created an awareness initiative through a collaborative assignment in my class. The project asked students to design a social innovation. It’s pretty open. Anything related to bettering humanity or the environment could apply. The problem now is that the students did such a great job, a local non-profit wants to use it. They even got a call during their final presentation from the head of the organization.
In situations like this, where I need good answers, I go to LinkedIn. And you should too. My experience is that people in there are helpful and smart. Since Kevin is an expert, I feel much better advising my students on how to move forward. He explained everything I needed to know, and he followed by saying he’d be willing to help in the future.
Creative projects are open-ended endeavors. In the process, we often get outside our skillsets. When we do, it’s best to get expert advice. Hundreds of thousand of experts are sitting inside that network. From my experience, most are willing to help.
This isn’t an ad for LinkedIn. I’ve just found that by being an active user, I’ve gained a greater ability to solve problems. In the long, messy process of experimentation associated with creativity, it gets scary when the project moves outside your area of expertise. By building your network of connections and joining groups, you essentially build your own advisory committee.
Here’s another example of how I got help.
A while back, I designed a solar light with an ex-student, Ian Nott. The only problem was that we had no idea how to make it work. We’re designers, not engineers. It looked cool, but we needed it to work. So, I posted a question in a LinkedIn group called, Invention Entrepreneurs. It was as follows, “I need help matching a solar panel with my LEDs.” It took a few days for anyone to respond. First, I got a short response that was very general. Then, Phil Rink, a mechanical engineer responded with a three paragraph explanation on matching solar panels and lights. It was amazing. He even directed me to specific websites. Our problems were solved.
But that’s not where the story ends. Since then, I found that Phil writes children’s books. Recently, I bought “Keyston Species” on Amazon for my son. I read it first to make sure nothing weird was in there. It turned out to have a great storyline, and its education too. Now Phil has another positive review on Amazon.
I used to think of LinkedIn as a bunch of self-promoting ego-maniacs writing crap to sell themselves. And honestly, that’s why I started. I have a book on creativity that I keep re-writing. I thought I’d post a bunch of times and build as many contacts as I could so I could sell more copies. My LinkedIn Rolodex is over 2,000 strong. But what’s really happened is that I’ve learned a lot from some enthusiastic and helpful professionals. In turn, I’ve helped anyone who has contacted me. For many of these, my unique skillset was exactly what they needed. The best part about all this is that I haven’t spent a penny. I use the free version of LinkedIn.