If you’ve spent any time at all looking for good mediator resources on the web, then you know John Ford, at least indirectly. Since 2000, John’s been the managing editor for Mediate.com, which has over 4 million visitors annually and over 3,000 articles and resources. That’s a whole lot of wisdom in one place and John’s been an important contributor to the site’s tremendous run of success.
John moved to the U.S. from South Africa in 1996 and his resume reflects the kind of leadership that will help shape our field: Past president of the Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California. Teacher at JFK University. Co-editor of Perspectives, the online newsletter of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution. Private-practice mediator focusing on workplace and healthcare disputes at John Ford & Associates. ADR blogger at Conflict Management Practice Notes. Does the man sleep?
I think it’s safe to say that John knows a thing or two about the intersection of technology use and ADR practice-building! That’s why John is my latest interview for the Success Leaves Clues series. I’m grateful for his willingness to participate.
Tammy: John, for mediators looking to build successful private practices, what do you think is most important for them to understand about the intersection of practice (managing, delivering services, marketing, etc.) and technology?
John: Both marketing and business management involve communication and dealing with large amounts of information. We live in an age where technology has gifted us with an array of amazing tools to support both challenges. Even without being an early adopter of all innovations, we can still benefit significantly.
So much of life is about attitude—if we fear conflict, we avoid it. If we fear technology we avoid it, too. Being clear about your relationship to technology, what you value, and why you are using it, is the starting point. Then you can move to consider what is available.
What you will discover is that you are already using technology to communicate and manage information. You’ll discover that your current choices are linked to your values. And as you get clearer on your realistic needs you’ll be ready to make choices that may move you beyond your comfort zones.
Tammy: What’s the most successful way you’ve leveraged technology to build your ADR-related work?
John: I have managed my web site through Mediate.com for over 7 years now. Creating a presence and an easy way to keep it up to date was important. Every year I get clients who find me on the Internet. I have also used online tools (e-groups that became Yahoo groups and Typepad) for things like my monthly newsletter, to develop an online catalog of conflict management quotes, and now to start blogging.
My experience building my practice using online technology has enabled me to use them to manage by ADR practice. Most important has been email as an adjunct to the face-to-face communication process. I have also set up online discussion groups to support a variety of ongoing communication challenges for groups in conflict.
Tammy: What tech gadget do you find most essential to managing your day-to-day work and why?
John: I’m going to mention two: my laptop and my BlackBerry. These two “gadgets” are essential to manage both my business and my practice. They communicate easily with one another, and handle my contacts and my calendar. They are both portable and allow me to move and access data when I need it. My laptop is probably the most important of the two as it is a media center that I use when conducting trainings and mediations. Beyond that, my laptop gives me access to the Internet and also enables me to load software that supports my business.
Tammy: What are your favorite three online resources for learning new information you need to keep your ADR-related work healthy and forward moving and why are they your favorites?
John: As Managing Editor of Mediate.com I’d be remiss in not acknowledging it as my primary source of information both about the practice of mediation and also about marketing for mediators. One of my responsibilities is to review over 15 blogs every week. They are all my favorites and an amazing source of information for me.
Tammy: Tell me a funny or inspiring story involving your use of tech to build, manage or market your ADR practice or Mediate.com.
John: Prior to moving to the USA in 1996 I was working as an attorney in Namibia. I used a dictaphone and was computer illiterate. When my secretary went on leave I was almost useless. I bought my first computer shortly after arriving in California. When I got home I was so confused that I reloaded the software that had already been loaded and in the process rendered my computer useless. However, I realized that computers were going to be important and that I needed to “get with the program.” I got my computer fixed and slowly but surely learned through trial and error. Instead of being afraid I was curious and eager to learn. I got a touch-typing CD and mastered that skill. Whenever I worked with someone I asked them to share a tip about the computer program we were working on. I was always willing to try, and eventually to my surprise, my colleagues were calling me computer literate and internet knowledgeable!
…as you get clearer on your realistic needs you’ll be ready to make choices that may move you beyond your comfort zones.. I stopped as I read this comment of John’s, because it’s a timely reminder for me as I step into some practice-development retreat work this month. And, of course, John’s great computer-newbie story shows that he actually lives by his own advice, a tidbit that tells me a lot about why he’s successful. John, thanks for the opportunity to tap your thinking and get to know you a bit more. I appreciate your generosity of spirit.