13th September 2008

Welcome to the Stammtisch: Peer connections for practitioners are critical…

I was lucky enough 3-4 years ago on a business trip to Munich to be invited by a group of local Microsoft MVPs to attend what is known as a stammtisch.  What’s a stammtisch??  Well, according to and translated to English (with some edits for readability by me):

A is a group of several people who regularly gather around a (usually larger and often round) table. Stammtisch are not organized meetings and, therefore, only a voluntary merger of participants…The focus of such a Stammtisch round is social togetherness, card games and often political or philosophical discussions.

Perhaps an experienced German will see this post and provide some welcome expertise to the history and intent of the stammtisch.

It was a great event.  A cornerstone of my job at that time was engaging with communities.  There are lots of ways to connect and gather information:  Events, conferences, surveys, personal participation in the communities, calls, monitoring tools, etc - and they all have their place.  That said, I really like the feel of the stammtisch.  We gathered in a bar around a table, perhaps 7-8 of us, and spent the evening just talking.  Out of the business setting, the conversation could take a much broader and free form route.  Not to mention the co-presence and casual venue allowed for an informality that brought out contributions I don’t think could have happened through other gatherings. 

Driving business changes is often about great story telling. I love getting research, but quantitative data rarely tells you a story - it sets the scene.  Quant data is always improved by qualitative input from verbatims.  Something about reading comments in support of "quant" data gives you a more visceral and defendable story.  Likewise, if you want to take verbatims to the next level, go talk to your customers face to face…and then try it in a bar!  You really walk away with a different ability to tell the story.  Now, to be fair, all qualitative and no quantitative is no way to live either - as it can mislead you to edge cases.

Ever since that Munich Stammtisch, I’ve wanted to try it again.  When I left Microsoft after 15 years to start consulting on community strategy, I knew I wasn’t an experienced, career consultant.  I’d been on the practitioner side a long time.  And while consultants and industry experts had played an important role, the simple truth was I learned the most from my industry peers in other corporations.  Now, as a strategist and consultant, I wanted to see if I could bring together some of the practitioners I knew - to connect them - "stammtisch style!"

I do a lot of work in the silicon valley, up to two weeks a month in the south bay - so that seemed the first and best spot to try it out.  Last Wednesday night, 9 of us gathered (it was a rectangular table - it really does need to be round for better discussion) at the Village Bistro in Santana Row.  The evening included colleagues from , , EBay, , EMC, Adaptive Planning and Cisco.  It was a great gathering and universally we thought worth turning into a semi regular happening (event seems the wrong word).  I think one of my favorite moments was someone sharing the challenges of getting many parts of their company to understand community and the importance of social computing as a customer connection activity.  Given a few of his fellow attendees, he was sure they didn’t have quite the same challenge…LOL!  It was cool to listen to the shared challenges and great ideas throughout the night.  I’ve heard already that 2 attendees are meeting for lunch and another two connecting for coffee!

I’m really looking forward to Stammtisch 2…to be announced.  Here are few thoughts on next time:

  • 1 weeks notice worked, but I should have got on the plan sooner
  • A short round of intros is all that’s necessary - the conversation had no trouble flowing from there
  • Small is better - I think 10-12 people is probably the max
  • Get a round table!
  • Think casual dining not fine dining - this isn’t an event - it’s a gathering of friends!

So, if you’re not connecting with your industry peers - figure out how to do it.  Here’s a couple of other more formal suggestions for making industry connections:


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