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After the tweets around the community today, a lot of people have asked me what the story was that led to the almost cancellation of a popular session and the social media comments that followed.
Here’s the information…
The short story is that the IBM lawyers for the Lotus software group – apparently led by Thomas Hagen who is the same person who caused me to decide no longer to do CULT shirts after last year (email@example.com for those who would like to email him with feedback) have been unprofessionally late, arrogant, and overreaching in their reviews of presentations this year. Gab and I found it unacceptable and with the support of our friends in the community, found a way make that clear without compromising our commitments or professionalism.
Many of you in the BP track haven’t been impacted by this only because Susan has been aggressively fighting on your behalf in that track. IBM speakers and BPs in other tracks have had to deal directly with their unprofessional demands.
The longer story
After having only two weeks to produce content, Gab and I turned in our presentation for the two hour security jumpstart on time like everyone else. IBM then had about a month to review it – the internal legal team never got around to doing their job. It’s a bit like last year where the same guy sent me feedback on a presentation that I’d given two days prior. Seriously. If you're going to do your job badly, at least do it on time.
Today, about two hours before we were scheduled to provide our extensive two hour security jumpstart session, Gab & I received an email from Oliver Heinz with copies to Selma Neves and Danielle Baptiste asking if we could show up a little early because IBM legal still hadn’t approved the session and they may want to make last minute changes WHILE WE WERE ABOUT TO PRESENT.
I said no, and I tweeted about saying no. Specifically I said it was too last minute and unreasonable.
Danielle Babtiste got back to us indicating that most of the changes were about removal of images that IBM counsel decided were a possible copyright violation.
Again, I said no. We were now just over 1 hour before the presentation. I indicated that everything in this year’s presentation images was also in last year’s; that removing the images would leave the presentation unacceptable; and that we’d already signed IBM’s outrageous speaker indemnity document removing any risk from IBM -- and thus any legitimate interest for IBM’s lawyer to care about someone else’s content regardless of them being correct or incorrect. I asked if they would like us to cancel instead.
Danielle got back to us with a list of the “REQUIREMENTS” and a copy of the presentation with them already made (which we rejected – No Way are we presenting someone else’s deck in Symphony at the last minute)
Here were their requirements:
1) Remove all cartoon images – this means pretty much all images on all pages. NONE of these were issues with terms or images owned by IBM and thus were totally outside his authority and responsibility. They were also, in my opinion, used in a way consistent with accepted practices of sampling and fair use -- but that's not the point. 2) The lawyer wanted to us to remove the title of our “copyright” slide that said we had been required by a horde of lawyers to copyright all these terms. They had no problem with the content on the slide, just didn’t –LIKE—the title. Since when does this guy have the authority to dictate changes to content because he doesn’t LIKE it? He doesn’t. We don’t work for him. He gets away with it because he’s a bully, and the people who work around him don’t want to cross him in his position as internal counsel. I don’t like bullies and I don’t like this guy at all. 3) The lawyer also suggested a grammatical change on one slide. Again, way outside what he is responsible for. 4) They replaced the name of a character mentioned with a generic name -- again, not anything belonging to IBM.
Again, we said no. It isn’t going to happen with less than an hour before the session. I asked if they needed us to cancel the session.
By this point, Oliver was trying to find a way to give us more time and offered to reschedule for 4pm and I have no doubt that both he and Danielle were looking for ways to resolve the issue reasonably, but “reasonable” isn’t really of any apparent interest to Mr. Hagen or his team. His response was to invite us to cancel. There’s no negative fallout back to a guy like this if the session doesn’t go on. It’s less risk that way. I believe lawyers like this, who forget why they are there, are incredibly damaging to the companies they work for. A lawyer’s job is to say “Yes, and here’s how…” not just “No.” When you have a lawyer who forgets that, or never learned it, or loses track of the fact that ultimately they are there to make things better for the business not just safer – it’s time to look for new talent.
I wrote that I’d discuss it with Gab and we’d decide about cancellation.
By the time I met Gab downstairs to go over what we could do, a few things had happened. Some in the community had picked up my tweets and were in full-on “WTF?” mode. Gab had “redacted” the presentation – not by removing the images, but by COVERING them with big black boxes as if someone had taken a black marker to redact a document. It was brilliant, but she was struggling with how we could still make it a good presentation. I hadn’t thought of the redaction, but when I saw it I flashed on exactly how I wanted to do the presentation. I had to convince Mike more than Gab but all of us were a bit worried that we would push too hard and fail to pull it off with grace, class, and responsibility.
That was when I saw Tom Duff’s tweet calling for others to come and support us by showing up at the Pelican room for the presentation. When I saw his hashtag (#OccupyPelican), my stress level dropped almost to normal and I knew we were all set. I didn’t realize it, but Gab didn’t see the tweet so she didn’t get that relief until later.
When we got to the session, Danielle almost immediately came over to apologize for the difficulty. That was nice, and we don’t hold her or Oliver responsible – we don’t expect them to risk their own necks to argue with a high level lawyer in their organization. They’re doing what they’d been bullied into doing. By then, we had a plan anyway.
We gave the presentation, complete with large black boxes over every single one of the images. When I introduced the session at the beginning, I explained in polite and truthful detail that with less than an hour before the session IBM’s lawyers had required us to remove what would have been fun and well pointed images to help make our point and that while we do apologize for the obvious redaction and lack of images we would relate using not-copyrighted language what would have been in each picture. I also invited anyone with comments to send a note to Thom (yeah, with an h) and gave his email address. After that, the session went very well. We explained what was in the missing pictures and had a bit of fun with it.
My favorite part of the whole debacle, is that around ¾ of the way through the presentation, we’d forgotten what one of the images was. Several people held up iPads and notebooks SHOWING us the presentation with the images to remind us – because it was still published on the Lotusphere site with the images included. This is where my “Outstanding!” quote that Tom tweeted came from.
Will there be follow up?
I’m sure there will be some. I expect to have more trouble from Thomas Hagen any time he has the opportunity. I’ll deal with each as professionally as I can, but I also will publish those interactions where possible because frankly I do not trust him or his way of doing things and I believe sunshine is the best disinfectant. I also plan to look into what formal processes exist under which I can make a complaint within the IBM structure that will be taken seriously. If such a process exists, I will likely make use of it. I don’t believe there will be an issue with future events, but even if I thought there would be, I simply am not someone who can tolerate those who use their small amounts of power to bully others. I get zero percent of my business through the dysfunctional business partner program as it stands, and I’m willing to risk all of that zero if it means not just giving in to people like this.
As to presenting in the future? I will, as always, be happy to stand on my survey results and am sure Gab would be as well. We are both consistently in the very top of the list for feedback scores, and from what I've seen so far, this session was no exception. We get those scores because we work hard on our presentations and have worked hard on our delivery as well. We don't do things at the last minute and just hope for the best, and that was the real problem with these last minute demands. The whole process was arrogant, late, and unprofessional.
Finally, I want to make sure to thank Tom Duff and the rest of those in our community who supported us while we tried to find our way to the right solution here. The community support gave us the strength and direction we needed. THAT, my friends at IBM, is how SOCIAL really works.
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