Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I'd like to tell a story and invite you to imagine the scene: a three year-old boy is sitting on a stack of books on a chair in front of a computer. Two of his friends are watching what he's doing, and chiming in their ideas about what's happening on the screen and what to do next. The computer program hits a slow spot and the action stops. Without taking his eyes off the screen, the boy picks up the mouse a inch or so and bangs in down on the mouse pad, partly out of frustration and partly to make the program move again. He expects it to keep up with him.
One of the things I learned listening to students present at the Imagine Cup Competition last year (see "Turning the Pyramid Upside Down") is that the question we need to ask about the future of technology is not "what do you study to see the future"; it's "who do you study?" What students are doing with technology today is what organizations will be doing with technology tomorrow.
So what about our story of the preschooler and his friends, and what does this have to do with my book chapter? The lessons from watching children are:
- Think small. We will increasingly need to use bite-sized applications in nonprofits, something we can easily get our hands around, and throw out when something better comes along.
- Think sharing. With most corporations spending five times per desk what we are paying, the only way we will be able to embrace the full benefits of technology is by sharing our IT services, like sharing our toys.
- Think play. Michael Shrage was right when he said we need to play our way to innovation. The mission-moving IT pilots we run today will create the nonprofit technology of tomorrow.
The last point is perhaps the most important; it is also the hardest to do in the midst of a recession. Echoing Jim Collins, I ended the chapter by saying that “when there is rapid change and uncertainty, smart organizations vary like mad.” This takes a certain kind of humility: admitting that when it comes to the future of technology we most often don’t know. This may be a bit philosophical, as my editor pointed out—after all, people want to know about the impact of the “cloud.” My short answer is that it will be different than we expect; so make your bets small, shared and vary like mad.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
There was a big flood, and the water around a man's house was rising steadily.
The man was standing on the porch, watching water rise, when a man in a boat came along and called to him, "Get in the boat and I'll get you out of here." The man replied, "No thanks, God will save me."
The man went into the house, and the water starting pouring in. So, he went up to the second floor.
As he looked out, another man in a boat came along, and he called to him, "Get in the boat and I'll get you out of here."
Again, the man replied, "No thanks. God will save me."
The water kept rising. So, the man got out onto the roof.
A helicopter flew over, and the pilot called down to the man, "I'll drop you a rope, grab it, and I'll get you out of here."
Again the man replied, "No thanks. God will save me."
The water continued to rise, and soon covered the whole house. The man fell in, and drowned.
When he arrived in Heaven, he saw God, and asked Him, "Why didn't you save me from that terrible flood?"
God replied, "I sent people in two boats and a helicopter. Were you expecting angels?"
This could be a story about missing the obvious, failing to pay attention. But it reminded me that I hadn't sent my book draft to my editor. Huh?
A year ago I was planning my sabbatical at Tuck/Dartmouth. One of my goals was to work on a book of stories I've told over the years to illustrate the things I've learned about leadership and management.
The idea for the book began after I heard Stephen Denning speak about storytelling in companies during a conference in the fall of 2005. Something Denning said stuck with me: his observation that when people get together to talk outside of business, what do they do? They tell stories. And stories lead to more stories. Why don’t we use that for communicating inside our organizations?
When I thought about this, I realized that I often tell stories to make a point about managing people, projects and a business. So I started to think about all the stories I tell. I kept track for a month or two. My list of stories soon grew to twenty, then fifty, then over a hundred stories. I began to share these stories with others, and it resonated. People like to listen to and learn from stories.
So what's this got to do with the story of the flood? If I want to get my book out, I need to get into the boats. The first boat is sitting down each week and writing, the second boat is sending my draft to my editor, and the helicopter is the publisher on the horizon whose rope I need to grab.
The point? Without some action, a goal is a dream without legs. Sometimes opportunities come our way and sometimes we need to set sail for one. We need to get in the boat!
My editor sent me three reminder notes since the holidays. "So where's the book draft," she asked? I sent it yesterday.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The Case of the Tractor Trailer
There are a number of bridges in Connecticut, where I live, where the clearance is too low for full-sized trucks to pass beneath. This is especially true for the roads that cross under the commuter train tracks that run through the Fairfield Country towns along the coast. I found this out recently when I moved. The driver of the moving van pulled out his maps and asked me about alternate routes, pointing to the roads he needed to avoid. We figured it out.
A driver of a tractor trailer was not so lucky. He got wedged underneath a bridge and was unable to move. The police and highway department were quickly on the scene. They talked about dissembling the truck, using a very large tow truck to pull the truck out, cutting into the bridge girders, and cutting the top of the truck off. The debate was lively, and none of the solutions looked quick or easy. In the middle of all this a young boy wandered up to the group of highway workers who were huddled over some drawings of the plans being considered, and tugged on one of their sleeves.
Truck gets stuck under Lindsay Street bridge 
“Hey mister,” he said. “I know how to get the truck out.” At first they ignored him, but little boys can sometimes be persistent.
“Hey mister,” he shouted. “I know the answer.”
“What?” said the senior official in exasperation.
“I know how to get the truck unstuck.”
“Just let the air out of the tires.”
A simple solution. Practical. Brilliant. So the moral of the story? The truck is our programs that move our missions forward. Our goal as IT people is to get the trucks to their destinations. Our challenge: will we be more like the highway officials or the child?
Saturday, October 4, 2008
The Changing Face of Corporate Social Responsibility
Last year during a NetHope collaboration summit of nonprofit and for-profit technology leaders, the head of corporate affairs for a leading software company leaned over to me and said, “Guess what the number three question applicants are asking us now?” Building the suspense, she cited the obvious number one and two questions about salary and career path. “What’s your corporate social responsibility program,” she delivered word-by-word after a pause, “It wasn’t even on the radar screen three years ago.”
The generation entering the work force today grew up with a keen awareness about the environment, poverty and disease—and the expectation that we can do something to change it. In a recent Wall Street Journal report, the author cites the 2006 Cone branding survey, which notes the following about 13-to-25 year-olds:
79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society.
69 % are aware of their employer’s commitment to social/environmental causes.
64% say their company’s social/environmental activities make them feel loyal to that company.
56% would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.
These are sobering numbers. Couple these with the huge demographic shift we are about to experience in the U.S. and it is a wake up call with both alarm bells ringing for corporate leaders.
As my generation of 79 million Boomers retires and 35 million Millenials take our place, it does not take much foresight to see that competition for knowledge workers will become acute. Paying attention to what the “incoming class” of workers thinks is important is no longer a “nice to have;” it is fundamentally strategic.
I recently completed an executive fellowship as CIO-in-Residence at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. While I was in Hanover, one of the professors told me that 50% of incoming students ask about the school's Allwin Initiative for corporate social responsibility as part of their decision process for attending the school. In addition, 30 students at the business school, out of an incoming class of just 240, volunteer to work on nonprofit boards for the school year. These are not the average workers of tomorrow; these are future CEOs.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved since the days of the Carnegies, Fords and Rockefellers. For most of the last century, corporate philanthropy was about supporting the arts and local community. Leading corporations and corporate leaders were known as patrons of the arts, schools and hospitals.
This began to change toward the end of the 20th century as employees—in what was a grassroots movement—demanded more from their organizations. Cases in point are the Kosovo refugee crisis in the 90’s and Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua earlier this decade. In both cases, employees pushed their organizations to respond and apply the specific resources of their companies to help. CSR became more of an employee response and engagement issue. One corporate philanthropy leader told me that it was not important to tell the story of what her organization was doing with Save the Children; it was important to tell their employees what they were doing.
The next wave followed the burst of the dot.com bubble, as some organizations offered employee fellowship options to work at nonprofits as an alternative to downsizing. Many employees took the option. What happened next was a valuable surprise. As a leader at a telecommunications giant told me, they discovered that employees who returned after the economy recovered said the experience was a profound experience in leadership. Managing in chaotic, under-resourced situations—the modus operandi of nonprofits—proved to be valuable leadership training. Sabbaticals at nonprofits are now part of this organizations leadership development program. Notice the shift: corporate philanthropy is now strategic; it’s about developing the next generation of corporate leaders.
Yet another Silicon Valley executive told me that the next generation of CSR is about skilled-based philanthropy. In this case, the focus shifts from leveraging the time and general management skills of employees working with nonprofits, to working on projects that leverage the specific skills of the employee and the organization. So if software development is the skill, then helping nonprofit organizations develop emergency response supply chain management applications may be the project.
Over the past 24 months we’ve seen “green” initiatives move from the periphery to the mainstream of business. The same is also true about emerging countries—even the people at the bottom of the pyramid—as market segment. Combining these trends with the changes in new employee attitudes and the evolution of CSR programs means that philanthropy is no longer an adjunct activity for good community relations; it’s about core business strategy. As Daniel Pink has recently written, there are for-profit, non-profit, and not for only profit organizations. This is the new face of corporate social responsibility with which we would all do well to become very familiar.
 "The changing face of corporate social responsibility," Mass High Tech, The Journal of New England Technology, Friday, September 5, 2008.
For background on NetHope, see www.nethope.org
Sarah E. Needleman, “The Latest Office Perk: Getting Paid to Volunteer,” The Wall Street Journal, April, 2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120940853880850351.html?mod=pj_main_hs_coll ; see the Cone Inc. press release on the report, here: http://www.efbayarea.org/docs/2006%20Cone%20Millennial%20Cause%20Study%20Release_FINAL_10.24.06.DOC
For information on the Tuck/Dartmouth Allwin Initiative For Corporate Citizenship, see http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/initiative/
Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, New York: 2005. Pink coined this phrase in the DVD seminar related to the book.
Monday, August 18, 2008
There was an important point to be gained from this exercise: your view of the house changed based on where those points were drawn. If you imagined all the vantage points, you gained a sense of the whole structure no matter where you were, or more accurately precisely from all the places you could be. To gain a fuller view, you simply picked up your pencil and moved to another view point.
All this came home to me recently by changing my home. Moving into a new house changes many viewpoints, least of which are all the places to reach and find the routines of going to bed at night, getting up in the morning, reaching to the right place for the toothpaste, the coffee and the light switch. An ingrained routine is unlearned and a new one is learned. In the process, your view of the new house changes, as does your view of the old house. You make hundreds of conscious and unconscious comparisons. You look at the mundane tasks of your life in new ways.
Home at the Beach, Summer 2008
This is not surprising to us in the least because we all rehearse it when we travel. The difference about moving is that the change becomes permanent. This can be maddening, disruptive, and time consuming. But your basic viewpoint of what is "home" changes. Over time, home gains new walls and furnishings that have become familiar.
A major change in your organization is no different, even if you remain in same building. How we look at change depends on our viewpoint. Trying on some different shoes may provide a way of understanding the issues your team will undoubtedly raise (after all, who likes to change?) I first learned this through the Native American proverb: “Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins.” This is especially true if the shoes don’t fit; in fact, that may be a key reason you gain a new perspective on the issues.
Changing houses may be more radical, and drawing houses more difficult, but it’s the same message: change your viewpoint to gain an understanding.
 See a listing of Cheyenne proverbs, here: http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/n/native_american_cheyenne_proverb/