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How to Gain Prominence and Influence in Standards Organizations

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 4144.
Author Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
Last updated 2013-03-02 (Latest revision 2004-10-26)
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INTERNET-DRAFT                                    Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
                                                   Motorola Laboratories
Expires April 2005                                          October 2004

    How to Gain Prominence and Influence in Standards Organizations
    --- -- ---- ---------- --- --------- -- --------- -------------
                         Donald E. Eastlake 3rd

Status of This Document

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   Following some simple guidelines can make it easier for you to gain
   prominence and influence in most standards organizations.

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 1]

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Table of Contents

      Status of This Document....................................1

      Table of Contents..........................................2

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

      13. Informative References.................................9
      Copyright and Disclaimer...................................9

      Author's Address..........................................10
      Expiration and File Name..................................10

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 2]

INTERNET-DRAFT                                  Prominence and Influence

1. Introduction

   There are guidelines that can help you gain prominence and influence
   in most standards and many other human organizations.  It only takes
   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 get done in an organization. In an organization
   of any size, those who happen to be in positions of authority just
   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 really are some types of information that
   should normally be kept confidential, at least until verified, and
   sometimes even then.  For example, 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

   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

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 3]

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   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 be on the look
   out 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
   as 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 it 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, there may be some group that sits in
   some part of the audience you want to sit with. But, for larger
   meetings, the prominent people generally sit either up near the
   front, or way at the back. (Being in the back, at least in large
   rooms, generally means you can wander around and talk to people some
   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

   Usually, for multi-day meetings, there is at least one big social
   event where the attendees can get together.  From small (attendance
   under 100) and medium size (attendance under 500 or so) meetings, it

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 4]

INTERNET-DRAFT                                  Prominence and Influence

   is common for most people to go to the social. 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

   Social events are commonly at noisy locations. Sometimes, as
   organizations get larger, well over 500, the socials get so large and
   congested that many of the most prominent people schedule informal
   meetings or the like opposite them. You will just 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's 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 of whom their is a favorable impression within the

   If you follow the advice in section 7 below, you should have plenty
   of opportunity to get to know 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 or 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

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 5]

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   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

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

   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 for 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

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 6]

INTERNET-DRAFT                                  Prominence and Influence

   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 about
   and learn the acronyms in advance. Failing that, ask about what
   acronyms or strange terms mean 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 you took the initiative.

10. Pick Your Points

   Think a bit about the impression people are going to get of you.

   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 blow hard that
   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

   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

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 7]

INTERNET-DRAFT                                  Prominence and Influence

   assumed that you had normal skills in these areas.  Certainly, you
   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, this can be helpful, if you can do it 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
   stop gap, 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 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.

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 8]

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13. 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

Copyright and Disclaimer

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society 2004.  This document is subject to
   the rights, licenses and restrictions contained in BCP 78 and except
   as set forth therein, the authors retain all their rights.

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                 [Page 9]

INTERNET-DRAFT                                  Prominence and Influence

Author's Address

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

   Telephone:   +1 508-786-7554 (w)
                +1 508-634-2066 (h)

Expiration and File Name

   This draft expires April 2005.

   Its file name is draft-eastlake-prominence-02.txt.

D. Eastlake 3rd                                                [Page 10]