Guest Post- Why Cant We Be Friends

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John MeadowsThis guest post comes from John Meadows, an original thinker and podcaster from Canada. I first met John at PodCamp Toronto, I believe, so it’s fitting that his guest post comes a week before the third installation of that event. John asks why we can’t be friends.

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

It is sadly ironic that for so many social media projects, where the focus is supposed to be on communication and conversation, start off with poor communication between business, consultants and IT. Instead of listening to what the other is saying, we tend to listen to our own stereotypes, no matter what role we are playing in a project.

The folks from I.T. look across the table at the Social Media consultants. They see people who not only don’t understand technology, but don’t see the need to understand technology at a nuts and bolts perspective, and look at it with disdain. They see people who consider hands-on work with servers, networks and application code to have a somewhat menial tinge, as compared to the highly strategic, value-add services provided by the consultants.

For their part, the social media consultants, looking back across the table at the I.T. folks, see people who seem to feel their sacred duty in life is to rain on parades. They are the “Knights who say No” and are never happier then when they can point out flaws and dangers in proposals being presented to them. They are lost in the details, with no appreciation for the grand vision, the big picture.

And in the middle of all this is the business customer; watching I.T. and Social Media go at it, each side lobbing acronyms or buzzwords at each other like mortar shells. He or she feels like a witness to trench warfare, standing forgotten between two implacable foes wondering “Why isn’t anyone listening to me?”

It is hard to see a successful project as an outcome of so much bitter contention. While these role-based generalizations are born of experience (and yes there are I.T. folks who delight in saying no, from sheer laziness or fear of change, just as there are consultants who dismissively see I.T. as cyber-janitors to be threatened with off-shoring if they get “uppity”), these negative experiences only become stereotypes when you apply them to everyone.

How can we get past this? Only by stepping out of our respective comfort zones, and learning about each others concerns and accountabilities as stakeholders. I myself come from the I.T. camp, and can fully appreciate its concerns – long after the designers of a program have moved on, it will be up to an I.T. support organization to keep an application running, make sure it can handle whatever load is thrown at it, and make sure it doesn’t pose a threat to the security and stability of the organization’s infrastructure. The I.T. representatives in a project know full that is a project results in disruption of the infrastructure, or a security breach, they will be the ones on the carpet in front on the CEO; not the social media consultant. The knowledge and expertise of the I.T. professional needs to be leveraged, not dismissed, or avoided as inconvenient.

To address these concerns and needs, a successful social media consultant will either develop some enterprise IT skills on their own, or bring along someone who does have those skills, who can speak and understand the language of Information Technology. Someone who can respond to security questions, discuss the choice of platforms and programming languages. Someone who can be an implementation partner instead of just someone who throws an install disk at I.T. and tells the customer if anything goes wrong it must be a problem caused by the I.T. group.

Now of course, this needs to work both ways. Those of us in I.T. must truly internalize the concept that I.T. assets only have value when they serve the needs goals and strategies of the organization. We need to lift our heads above our keyboards and telnet session windows to take a hard look at how what we do can serve our organizations not just today, but in the future. Being conservative with the I.T. family jewels isn’t a bad thing, but we also need to be receptive to new ideas and new business needs, and find a way to help realize them. Just saying NO reflexively does nothing except reinforce the stereotype. If we have a concern with a proposal or project being pitched by a third party consultant, we need to raise the concern using language the business can understand, and frame what we say in a manner that drives a solution-based discussion. “How can we make this work” rather than “This will never work.” We cannot afford to let our own imaginations atrophy, and we should welcome challenge.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with archeology will be familiar with the Rosetta Stone — an ancient stone artifact with a proclamation in three different languages/writing systems, including a hieroglyphic system that scholars had been struggling to translate. The stone brought the three languages together, and thus allowed the scholars to make great strides in unlocking the hieroglyphic system. If we, both as social media experts and I.T. experts work as hard to understand each other’s languages, concerns and needs, together we can similarly unlock a third language, one of customer success, and sustainable innovation.

And oh, what a lovely language that would be.

Get more from John Meadows at meadowsonline.com

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  • http://planetrussell.net/blog planetrussell

    Nice guest post. We’ve found it helpful when working with IT folks to let them know we’re not competing with them for resources or attention. Also good to help them understand that if a project goes south (for reasons beyond their or our control), they won’t be left holding the bag…But they WILL share in the credit for its success.

  • http://www.twitter.com/planetrussell Mike Russell

    Nice guest post. We’ve found it helpful when working with IT folks to let them know we’re not competing with them for resources or attention. Also good to help them understand that if a project goes south (for reasons beyond their or our control), they won’t be left holding the bag…But they WILL share in the credit for its success.

  • http://www.strategyworks.net Alex Grech

    Great post, especially about the need to step out of our comfort zones. Really reminded me of the old days, when everyone was concerned about the need to align ICT to business strategy. Now social media has arrived and the ‘negotiating’ table is getting more crowded. I think if all the players focused on the following business fundamentals there may be more understanding of the respective positions: 1) does the project increase sales? 2) does the project control / reduce costs? 3) does the project make our customers’ lives better? Securing answers to all of those three questions should help align all parties who may be approaching the project from very different perspectives.

  • http://www.strategyworks.net Alex Grech

    Great post, especially about the need to step out of our comfort zones. Really reminded me of the old days, when everyone was concerned about the need to align ICT to business strategy. Now social media has arrived and the ‘negotiating’ table is getting more crowded. I think if all the players focused on the following business fundamentals there may be more understanding of the respective positions: 1) does the project increase sales? 2) does the project control / reduce costs? 3) does the project make our customers’ lives better? Securing answers to all of those three questions should help align all parties who may be approaching the project from very different perspectives.

  • http://www.keithburtis.com Keith Burtis

    This reminds me of my days as a chef. If food came back it was the fault of the server from the point of view of the chef. The server of course says the chef did something wrong. It seems embedded in the culture of many businesses the key is to deflect responsibility. With no-one taking responsibility for the whole, there is no communication. The pipes that tie the infrastructure(IT) to the Value Add(Strategists) is broken. The person who drowns = The Customer or user.

    This in my mind is a culture issue and one of the reasons new start-ups will pass that of the old. New start up’s have the ability to learn from the cultural mistakes and innovative shortcomings of their predecessor.

    “The knowledge and expertise of the I.T. professional needs to be leveraged, not dismissed, or avoided as inconvenient.”

    “I.T. must truly internalize the concept that I.T. assets only have value when they serve the needs goals and strategies of the organization.”

    In life, in spirituality, in communication, and in business. The more we realize that we work as a whole. The better off the “whole” will become. Social media has the ability to break down departmental barriers of any kind. Lets hope the developers and IT professionals become a bit more social, and lets hope the Strategists and Marketers become a little more understanding. CEO’s ~ Upon set up of any new organization the key to success is held in the type of culture you lead. Setting up departments and hoping they all play nice is to ignore, not lead.

    Keith Burtis (@keithburtis)

  • http://www.keithburtis.com Keith Burtis

    This reminds me of my days as a chef. If food came back it was the fault of the server from the point of view of the chef. The server of course says the chef did something wrong. It seems embedded in the culture of many businesses the key is to deflect responsibility. With no-one taking responsibility for the whole, there is no communication. The pipes that tie the infrastructure(IT) to the Value Add(Strategists) is broken. The person who drowns = The Customer or user.

    This in my mind is a culture issue and one of the reasons new start-ups will pass that of the old. New start up’s have the ability to learn from the cultural mistakes and innovative shortcomings of their predecessor.

    “The knowledge and expertise of the I.T. professional needs to be leveraged, not dismissed, or avoided as inconvenient.”

    “I.T. must truly internalize the concept that I.T. assets only have value when they serve the needs goals and strategies of the organization.”

    In life, in spirituality, in communication, and in business. The more we realize that we work as a whole. The better off the “whole” will become. Social media has the ability to break down departmental barriers of any kind. Lets hope the developers and IT professionals become a bit more social, and lets hope the Strategists and Marketers become a little more understanding. CEO’s ~ Upon set up of any new organization the key to success is held in the type of culture you lead. Setting up departments and hoping they all play nice is to ignore, not lead.

    Keith Burtis (@keithburtis)

  • http://smartboydesigns.com Smart Boy

    I really enjoyed this guest post. I think you’re absolutely correct in trying our best to understand “others” in the realm of internet marketing and creation. We all have different jobs, skills, and qualities – and harnessing these talents for the betterment of a project, is an important accomplishment to chase.

  • http://smartboydesigns.com Smart Boy

    I really enjoyed this guest post. I think you’re absolutely correct in trying our best to understand “others” in the realm of internet marketing and creation. We all have different jobs, skills, and qualities – and harnessing these talents for the betterment of a project, is an important accomplishment to chase.

  • Pingback: Guest Post- Why Cant We Be Friends | chrisbrogan.com

  • http://ian.sundermedia.com Ian Muir

    As an “IT” guy I often find myself in situations like this. Not only with social media consultants, but also with marketing an sales people. There are 2 things I can offer up that might help dealing with us.

    #1. The term IT or even worse “Techie” is not one we really embrace or like. I’m always expected to know the difference between marketing and sales people and even the different roles within the sales team, but this rarely goes both ways. In fact, if I started referring to everybody on the non-tech side in generalizing semi-demeaning terms, it wouldn’t help much.

    Here’s a quick guidebook of the “Techies”:
    - If they keep the network running/ help you get your stuff setup. They are IT.
    - If they write code or maintain applications, they are developers.
    - If they create graphics they are designers.
    You can get more granular if you want, but these 3 terms help you avoid the dreaded “techie” moniker.

    #2. On the technology side of things, finding holes, gaps and problems is what we do. If I think that a plan is bad, I will say the plan is bad. If I point out problems, that usually means that those are things worth fixing to make the plan happen. In many cases, IT, development and design are all about fixing what’s broken as opposed to sales, marketing and PR which generally focus on what’s good. While pointing this out might not make it any easier to deal with, recognizing that each party has a fundamentally different approach may make it easier.

  • http://ian.sundermedia.com Ian Muir

    As an “IT” guy I often find myself in situations like this. Not only with social media consultants, but also with marketing an sales people. There are 2 things I can offer up that might help dealing with us.

    #1. The term IT or even worse “Techie” is not one we really embrace or like. I’m always expected to know the difference between marketing and sales people and even the different roles within the sales team, but this rarely goes both ways. In fact, if I started referring to everybody on the non-tech side in generalizing semi-demeaning terms, it wouldn’t help much.

    Here’s a quick guidebook of the “Techies”:
    - If they keep the network running/ help you get your stuff setup. They are IT.
    - If they write code or maintain applications, they are developers.
    - If they create graphics they are designers.
    You can get more granular if you want, but these 3 terms help you avoid the dreaded “techie” moniker.

    #2. On the technology side of things, finding holes, gaps and problems is what we do. If I think that a plan is bad, I will say the plan is bad. If I point out problems, that usually means that those are things worth fixing to make the plan happen. In many cases, IT, development and design are all about fixing what’s broken as opposed to sales, marketing and PR which generally focus on what’s good. While pointing this out might not make it any easier to deal with, recognizing that each party has a fundamentally different approach may make it easier.

  • http://marshalsandler.com/ marshal sandler

    This is a great article , I don’t like being a critic but due to lack of education in the Humanities when getting a degree in Computer Science most geek’s communicate with machines better than people this limits them in the business community ! Teche’s should understand marketing is the ability to create- a desire for a product for that you need to under stand us the Unwashed-unwashed – of or associated with the great masses of people; “the common people in those days suffered greatly”; “behavior that branded him as common”; “his square plebeian nose”; “a vulgar and objectionable person”; “the unwashed masses”

  • http://marshalsandler.com/ marshal sandler

    This is a great article , I don’t like being a critic but due to lack of education in the Humanities when getting a degree in Computer Science most geek’s communicate with machines better than people this limits them in the business community ! Teche’s should understand marketing is the ability to create- a desire for a product for that you need to under stand us the Unwashed-unwashed – of or associated with the great masses of people; “the common people in those days suffered greatly”; “behavior that branded him as common”; “his square plebeian nose”; “a vulgar and objectionable person”; “the unwashed masses”

  • http://ThePaisano.com Paisano

    Excellent piece. I totally understand what you’re talking about because I’m an I.T. professional who’s also into all of this social media/social networking “stuff”. That means I’ve been a part of that conversation from both sides. I understand the skepticism and concerns that we I.T. types must possess in order to protect the company and our sacred network but I also understand the social media is not satan’s playground. Yes, there are security risks involved if a social media solution is implemented hastily, but that can be said for any king of new hardware or software. It just requires more thought, planning and work but the end results (I’ve found) are well worth it.

    Enterprise 2.0 has been slow in evolution but it’s happening. Even slow monolithic behemoths like Microsoft are accepting the role of social media and web 2.0 in the enterprise so they continue to add more of these tools to their products, including Sharepoint and now even Office. There are many other solutions too that are making their way deep into organizations such as ClearSpace from Jive Software. There are others as well.

    Someday I.T. will not be as resistant to social media as they are today. The fact that there are so many more conversations is a major breakthrough when you consider that there was a time when such a discussion wasn’t even a remote possibility. Progress can be a painfully slow march. Some things, especially those that are worth it, just take time.

    Pai

  • http://ThePaisano.com Paisano

    Excellent piece. I totally understand what you’re talking about because I’m an I.T. professional who’s also into all of this social media/social networking “stuff”. That means I’ve been a part of that conversation from both sides. I understand the skepticism and concerns that we I.T. types must possess in order to protect the company and our sacred network but I also understand the social media is not satan’s playground. Yes, there are security risks involved if a social media solution is implemented hastily, but that can be said for any king of new hardware or software. It just requires more thought, planning and work but the end results (I’ve found) are well worth it.

    Enterprise 2.0 has been slow in evolution but it’s happening. Even slow monolithic behemoths like Microsoft are accepting the role of social media and web 2.0 in the enterprise so they continue to add more of these tools to their products, including Sharepoint and now even Office. There are many other solutions too that are making their way deep into organizations such as ClearSpace from Jive Software. There are others as well.

    Someday I.T. will not be as resistant to social media as they are today. The fact that there are so many more conversations is a major breakthrough when you consider that there was a time when such a discussion wasn’t even a remote possibility. Progress can be a painfully slow march. Some things, especially those that are worth it, just take time.

    Pai

  • http://www.TGTmoney.com Mike B.

    I also come from the I.T. side and can see the issues almost everyday that this article speaks of. People need to be able to manage the relationships between everybody and get the job done.
    @bookerx3

  • http://www.TGTmoney.com Mike B.

    I also come from the I.T. side and can see the issues almost everyday that this article speaks of. People need to be able to manage the relationships between everybody and get the job done.
    @bookerx3

  • http://outingmyinnergeek.wordpress.com Wendy Peters

    @Ian Muir – I get called a techie as the only web savvy marketing person in my group by those who think anyone who knows how to work a computer is a ‘techie’.

    “How can we get past this? Only by stepping out of our respective comfort zones, and learning about each others concerns and accountabilities as stakeholders.”

    The thing I see most often is that many people recognize the disconnect between the parties and that something should be done. But who’s responsibility is it to take that first step? Should it be social media folks because they are the newest ones at the table? Should it be IT because they need to understand what is involved to support the project long term? Should it be the customer trying to get everyone working together so their project can move forward?

    If you find yourself in a room where you recognize this happening, would you be the one to try and put a halt to it? Or play the go between?

  • http://outingmyinnergeek.wordpress.com Wendy Peters

    @Ian Muir – I get called a techie as the only web savvy marketing person in my group by those who think anyone who knows how to work a computer is a ‘techie’.

    “How can we get past this? Only by stepping out of our respective comfort zones, and learning about each others concerns and accountabilities as stakeholders.”

    The thing I see most often is that many people recognize the disconnect between the parties and that something should be done. But who’s responsibility is it to take that first step? Should it be social media folks because they are the newest ones at the table? Should it be IT because they need to understand what is involved to support the project long term? Should it be the customer trying to get everyone working together so their project can move forward?

    If you find yourself in a room where you recognize this happening, would you be the one to try and put a halt to it? Or play the go between?

  • Isaac

    I think the key take away from this article/topic needs to be a focus on asking the question, “how can we get this done?” Marketers should and mostly do know everything isn’t as easy as pushing a button and additionally that there are security concerns with many projects. Yet, they have specific goals, ones that can probably be met in a variety of ways. As a marketer I absolutely want tech people to tell me why my plan won’t work, but I also want them to work with me on finding ways around those issues.

    If we work together to figure out how we can get something done, throw ideas back and forth in a helpful not a negative manner, most times everyone’s concerns will be addressed.

  • Isaac

    I think the key take away from this article/topic needs to be a focus on asking the question, “how can we get this done?” Marketers should and mostly do know everything isn’t as easy as pushing a button and additionally that there are security concerns with many projects. Yet, they have specific goals, ones that can probably be met in a variety of ways. As a marketer I absolutely want tech people to tell me why my plan won’t work, but I also want them to work with me on finding ways around those issues.

    If we work together to figure out how we can get something done, throw ideas back and forth in a helpful not a negative manner, most times everyone’s concerns will be addressed.

  • http://crystalsquest.com CrystalsQuest

    As a bizarre geek/humanities crossbred mutant who paid her way through a psychology & education degree by doing work in the I.T. field (I’m not being rude, Ian, this was before it got segmented, back when Y2K was still way in the future and everything computer related was just called I.T. …) I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to translate what I affectionately call “geek-speak” to general staff. Anyone and everyone with a problem would call tech support and then put me on the line. When tech support were doing roll-outs etc I’d be the first port of call to make sure everyone knew what had to be done and what they could stuff up if they didn’t.

    Now you’re telling me I have to worry about Social Media Consultants as well? Argh!

  • http://crystalsquest.com CrystalsQuest

    As a bizarre geek/humanities crossbred mutant who paid her way through a psychology & education degree by doing work in the I.T. field (I’m not being rude, Ian, this was before it got segmented, back when Y2K was still way in the future and everything computer related was just called I.T. …) I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to translate what I affectionately call “geek-speak” to general staff. Anyone and everyone with a problem would call tech support and then put me on the line. When tech support were doing roll-outs etc I’d be the first port of call to make sure everyone knew what had to be done and what they could stuff up if they didn’t.

    Now you’re telling me I have to worry about Social Media Consultants as well? Argh!

  • http://www.audiophilia.com Anthony Kershaw

    As always, John!

    Outstanding!

  • http://www.audiophilia.com Anthony Kershaw

    As always, John!

    Outstanding!

  • http://www.hojomo.com Howard Moorey

    Thanks for the post Ian – it certainly served to highlight a hornet’s nest! Most of the difficulties seem to be derived from the ring-fencing of roles and the “macho posturing” that too often accompanies them in order to justify an existence. That is so “pre-2008″!

    Social media has been born from our need to interconnect & converse much more, so it should in itself be part of the answer to the problem. We must all learn to open up a bit more & learn the other side’s point of view – that’s where the listening comes in – in order for all parties to work better as a whole.

    To survive and thrive, post-2008, we must all be more collaborative – sales and marketing in the future will be a different animal to what has gone before – we, as customers, need more transparency to be able to understand the value, of a new project, or what it can do for us – we do not what to see, or even perceive, the parties squabbling, that is just an obstacle to progress!

    So, as “Techies” or “SocMeds” we must all learn the new skill of blurring our boundaries and getting on together, sooner rather than later, because we all know what happens to those who don’t constantly update – anyone still using IRC? No, I thought not!

    It’s a new world – let’s get out there and have some fun TOGETHER, making it a great place to live, work, sell & buy!

  • http://www.hojomo.com Howard Moorey

    Thanks for the post Ian – it certainly served to highlight a hornet’s nest! Most of the difficulties seem to be derived from the ring-fencing of roles and the “macho posturing” that too often accompanies them in order to justify an existence. That is so “pre-2008″!

    Social media has been born from our need to interconnect & converse much more, so it should in itself be part of the answer to the problem. We must all learn to open up a bit more & learn the other side’s point of view – that’s where the listening comes in – in order for all parties to work better as a whole.

    To survive and thrive, post-2008, we must all be more collaborative – sales and marketing in the future will be a different animal to what has gone before – we, as customers, need more transparency to be able to understand the value, of a new project, or what it can do for us – we do not what to see, or even perceive, the parties squabbling, that is just an obstacle to progress!

    So, as “Techies” or “SocMeds” we must all learn the new skill of blurring our boundaries and getting on together, sooner rather than later, because we all know what happens to those who don’t constantly update – anyone still using IRC? No, I thought not!

    It’s a new world – let’s get out there and have some fun TOGETHER, making it a great place to live, work, sell & buy!

  • http://carriesperlunto.com Carrie Sperlunto

    Great and inspirational Guest Post.

    Thank you to all the commenters that come from either an IT background or a Social Media Consultant background. Me? I come from a customer orientation. So I’m delighted both are making strides to get it together and I’m further delighted John Meadows took the time to address this issue.

    Thanks again to all! Let’s all carry on in fun and cooperation to profit!

  • http://carriesperlunto.com Carrie Sperlunto

    Great and inspirational Guest Post.

    Thank you to all the commenters that come from either an IT background or a Social Media Consultant background. Me? I come from a customer orientation. So I’m delighted both are making strides to get it together and I’m further delighted John Meadows took the time to address this issue.

    Thanks again to all! Let’s all carry on in fun and cooperation to profit!

  • alekhouse

    Thanks for this post, it was very helpful to me. I own a business and am working with an industry (hospitality), which does not understand how technology and social media relate to it. They are almost completely oblivious to the value of both. When you mentioned stepping outside of one’s confort zone, this really hit home. At meetings, my colleagues don’t even want to talk about anything technical and most of them think social media sites are just chat rooms! I have been trying to turn things around in my area, but it’s much more difficult than I imagined.

  • http://innbusiness@blogspot.com alekhouse

    Thanks for this post, it was very helpful to me. I own a business and am working with an industry (hospitality), which does not understand how technology and social media relate to it. They are almost completely oblivious to the value of both. When you mentioned stepping outside of one’s confort zone, this really hit home. At meetings, my colleagues don’t even want to talk about anything technical and most of them think social media sites are just chat rooms! I have been trying to turn things around in my area, but it’s much more difficult than I imagined.

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  • http://twitter.com/levyj413 Jeffrey Levy

    Fantastic, fantastic post. I’ll be forwarding this to everyone I know.

    @Wendy, you betcha I do my best to get different folks talking to each other. Did so just yesterday, in fact.

    If we all stick to our stereotypes, we all fail.

    Jeffrey Levy
    Director of Web Communications
    US EPA

  • http://twitter.com/levyj413 Jeffrey Levy

    Fantastic, fantastic post. I’ll be forwarding this to everyone I know.

    @Wendy, you betcha I do my best to get different folks talking to each other. Did so just yesterday, in fact.

    If we all stick to our stereotypes, we all fail.

    Jeffrey Levy
    Director of Web Communications
    US EPA

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    John’s comments apply to any two groups at work that don’t on the surface have much in common. Ian’s remark about “techies” was on target; I see similar things in the training / learning sphere: we’re all trainers, so we must all stand up in front of groups, showing PowerPoint until the weight of the handouts equals the weight of the audience.

    In actual conversations, I’ll talk about “training” if that’s where you start, but I’ll try to get you to describe the problem you want to resolve. Maybe there’s a skill/knowledge gap is behind it. If not, then “training” isn’t likely to be a productive solution. Talking further, maybe I can suggest other paths.

    But I try not to start the conversation by saying, “Oh, you don’t understand the problem you say you have.”

    Rummler and Brache in “Improving Performance” stressed that real work gets done across organizational hierarchies. This post underscores that in a vivid way.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    John’s comments apply to any two groups at work that don’t on the surface have much in common. Ian’s remark about “techies” was on target; I see similar things in the training / learning sphere: we’re all trainers, so we must all stand up in front of groups, showing PowerPoint until the weight of the handouts equals the weight of the audience.

    In actual conversations, I’ll talk about “training” if that’s where you start, but I’ll try to get you to describe the problem you want to resolve. Maybe there’s a skill/knowledge gap is behind it. If not, then “training” isn’t likely to be a productive solution. Talking further, maybe I can suggest other paths.

    But I try not to start the conversation by saying, “Oh, you don’t understand the problem you say you have.”

    Rummler and Brache in “Improving Performance” stressed that real work gets done across organizational hierarchies. This post underscores that in a vivid way.