Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Wisdom of Simplicity

Here's a story I told as part of my chairman's address at the NetHope Summit in Geneva. It's a metaphor to remind those of us who are technology leaders about what we we doing and the value of pragmatic solutions.

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 [1]

“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?


[1] http://www.news-record.com/content/2007/10/01/article/truck_gets_stuck_under_lindsay_street_bridge

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility

I was asked to write an article on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR for short) in a recent issue of the Mass High Tech Journal[1]. I have permission to reproduce it here and I also refer you the on-line edition, here.

The Changing Face of Corporate Social Responsibility

Last year during a NetHope
[2] 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
[3], 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
[4] 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
[5], 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.
[1] "The changing face of corporate social responsibility," Mass High Tech, The Journal of New England Technology, Friday, September 5, 2008.
[2]For background on NetHope, see www.nethope.org
[3]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
[4]For information on the Tuck/Dartmouth Allwin Initiative For Corporate Citizenship, see http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/initiative/
[5]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

Another Point of View

In High School I took a class in architectural drawing where we learned how to draw houses in perspective. We were introduced to single and double points of view, with the eye near and far, lower and higher, skewed left and skewed right. There were mechanical means of creating perspective by following the lines from the points on the page with which we began.

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.
[1]” 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.


[1] See a listing of Cheyenne proverbs, here: http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/n/native_american_cheyenne_proverb/

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Turning the Pyramid Upside Down

Remember the final scene in The Da Vinci code? The hero returns to the Louvre, where the story began, and realizes that the “grail” for which he has traveled so far, is at the base of the inverted pyramid in the lower level of the museum. The final competition of the Imagine Cup was held in a hall next to this inverted pyramid. I’ve been thinking about this image ever since, hinting at it at the end of my last entry. In the conversations I’ve had since returning to the U.S. some important insights have emerged from the dialog.

I wrote last week that our teachers may in fact be those who we aspire to teach. Listening to the students reminded me of the value of approaching even familiar situations with beginner’s mind[1]. Having been immersed in technology for over 30 years gives me perspective, especially about the cycles that come and go; it is also an obstacle. It means that the lens through which I look at the world may miss what is new and changing.

Seeing the many presentations and demo’s from over 60 countries at the Imagine Cup drove home the point that innovation can come from the least experienced. These were college and some high school students. There was little if any business experience among them. Yet the level and extent of technology innovation was palpable. It stimulated my thinking about how the work they did could be applied in international nonprofits, especially for emergency response. I brought back with me a hand full of business cards and copies of a few presentation decks. I intend to follow-up with some of the teams.

It was evident from the work the students did, including impressive presentations, that many hours were devoted to these projects. Full-time students don’t have many discretionary hours. My experience at Tuck/Dartmouth reinforced the fact that students are overloaded with work. It is part of the “exercise” of academics, stretching the can-do muscles and learning to effectively triage. 124 teams got it done. Innovation is not about freeing up hours from the required work to do the elective work. Students found the time. To again echo Gustavo Dudamel, “When you love something, you have time; you have a lot of time.”

When we are faced with change and the realm of the new, it is natural to think of the obstacles—all the ways it could fail or won’t work. Experience does that; it gives you a rich set of comparisons. The students I heard in Paris did not have a sense of the practical. If they could imagine it, it could be done; it was worth a go at it—without the baggage of experience. The inexperienced have no bounds; imagination knows no limits. We need this unbridled sense of optimism to reinvigorate our forays into innovation.

Keep in mind that these students were from 61 countries. This was not a competition exclusive to the most advanced nations. In fact, the three teams that caught my attention, Ukraine, Brazil and Indonesia are all outside North America. What does that mean? What it said to me is that innovation can come from anywhere, even the far reaches of the world
[2]. This presented me a more concrete challenge to expand my thinking about headquarters humility—a recommendation I’ve made at conferences to look for innovation in the field rather than down the hall. Humility means not only looking for ideas outside HQ, but soliciting them, expecting them to arise from afar.

Another observation about the Imagine Cup contestants was that these were very small teams; most appeared to be comprised of three to four students. For the innovation teams, small was beautiful. It does not take an army, or a large investment.

At the final award ceremony 27 teams won awards. I was astonished to find out that the competition began a year ago with over 200,000 applications! If ever there was a magnet for innovative ideas about technology from our youngest and brightest minds, this was it. The recognition and prestige of the awards motivated responses from the largest number of places. This is not to be underestimated in an innovation program. This is a brilliant event for Microsoft to run; it provides a pipeline of new ideas and future developers in a way that recruitment programs could not hope to achieve.

What’s the bottom line for Save the Children? We are going to turn the pyramid on its head. Instead of looking to HQ for top-down applications and expecting compliance from our field organization, we are going to solicit and encourage field-based innovation. So we will be starting our own Imagine Cup at Save and looking to take the best technologies to scale for the rest of our organization. Stay tuned for the results.


[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin
[2] While I was doing research at Tuck, I had an interesting conversation with the chief innovation officer of a major health care corporation. He said that the key to successful innovation at his company was to send the team responsible to another state. I’ve referred to this as Peter’s Law of Proximity, after a talk I heard Tom Peters give a decade ago. The principle is that the level innovation is directly proportional to the distance from headquarters. So you may need to send the team to the far country to get new ways of thinking about problems and solving them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Imagine Cup II

Yesterday was the award ceremony in the lower level of the Louvre. It was arguably the "Oscars of Software." In nine categories, first the 3rd place team was announced, then 2nd, and 1st. Most received poster-sized checks and a silver trophy, which they held up--many with the flag of their country--for the audience and photographers. Team Mexico's fans win honorable mention for celebrating in the seats, whooping and hugging. It carried over throughout the hall.

Amidst the joy and pride was the sense that this was one world, with a shared passion to make it better, even through the nanoswitches of silicon. This was exemplified by Team Brazil who won in the Game Development category. Accepting the award, one of the students talked about the excellence of their competitors. He invited all the teams to join them on the stage for a round of applause. It was a very gracious, class act. My colleagues and I noticed and were moved.

Looking for the excellence in others, no matter where they live, is perhaps the most important take-away from this event. Coupled with the passion for applying technology to improve our environment, I had a strong sense that this new generation can make a difference and turn the tide for our planet, our island home.

Congratulations to Team Indonesia who won the new Rural Innovation Award. And thanks to the Microsoft Unlimited Potential team who were our hosts. (See the UP Blog entries, here: http://blogs.technet.com/unlimitedpotential/default.aspx ) Many thanked me for taking a holiday weekend and some workdays out of my life to come to France and work as a judge for this competition. After hearing 30 presentations from contestants from as many countries, I can honestly say that this was not work; for me, it was an honor and a tutorial.

I had the privilege of meeting Paul Polak, author of Out of Poverty at the event. He was a fellow judge for the inaugural Rural Innovation Award category. Paul told me that he decided 25 years ago to have a conversation with 100 of the poorest people around the globe each year, one at at time. His objective? To listen and learn. Paul reminded me that we are ever students. And our teachers may in fact be those who we aspire to teach.

The hall where the final celebration wrought its conclusion, was next to the inverted pyramid of the Louvre, below the ground. It was a fitting.

For a photo log of the trip, see my album on Picasa. (Click on the Slideshow button.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Imagine Cup

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin passion-, passio suffering, being acted upon, from Latin pati to suffer…
4 b: “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction

I am in the midst of the week-long Imagine Cup student software competition in Paris, France. (See
http://imaginecup.com/Default.aspx .) Microsoft invited me to be a judge. I could not think of a more fitting follow-on to my time at Tuck/Dartmouth. I began my sabbatical with the burning desire to work with promising students, and to encourage them to aspire to be leaders in technology. I am here, at a gathering of nations, doing the same.

For the past two days, I’ve heard thirteen team presentations from thirteen countries—all in the software design category. On Monday, I will hear five more, for the new Rural Innovation Award. These are mostly college students, with a few, notable high school wizards. We heard during the opening ceremonies that over 200,000 students applied for the competition. Over 70 country-teams made it to the finals in Paris. Of these, we will select three winners. The task is daunting and the stakes are high.

I’ve written elsewhere about Jack Welch’s criteria for selecting leaders at GE—his “four E’s and a P.
[2]” Energy, Energizing, (Decision) Edge and Execution are the four. The final one is Passion. The students who made it to the Paris finals are the best of the best from the countries selected. I saw evidence of all of these five qualities among the participants. But the one that stood out most was the passion. There is something about seeing a budding entrepreneur who believes to-the-core in her product that engages me. Each group was nervous. I could see it in their hands and hear it in the waver in their voices. Yet those with passion about their project shone through the stress of stage and judgment.

We need this passion in our organizations. It enlivens us and reminds us why we came to our job in this first place, full of hope and expectation. I read of an old pastor who liked to be in the midst of new converts, because it renewed his faith. Gary Hamel, strategist and business professor, suggests that “If you’re a CIO, you need to spend a lot of time out on the fringes of the Web because that’s where the innovation’s taking place. You need to spend a lot of time with people under 25 years old.
[3] That’s another reason I am here in Paris; I’m hanging out with students, many of whom have not reached their twentieth birthday.

In recent presentations on the future of technology, I’ve proposed that “what are your leading indicators” may be the wrong question
[4]. Rather, we should be asking “who is our leading indicator?” Where do we find out about what’s happening in technology over the next three to five years? We may all cite our favorite IT journal or technology research provider. I propose that an important leading indicator is children. When we watch how youth are using technology we learn. Seeing how the students in the Imagine Cup presentations approach a problem, develop a solution, and make their pitch for why theirs is best is less an opportunity to judge than to learn.

Another side to passion is that it drives you over the edge, out of your silo and box of thinking an experience. The students here do not have a sense of limitations. They certainly face serious challenges in many of their countries, but technology is a wide-open playground. I saw this in the many applications that used cell phones as a natural gathering and delivery device. One in particular was a phone-based emergency response application that I believe has promise for the emergency response work we do at Save the Children. More on this as I learn more. Watching these young contestants pushed me to see things outside of my silo, over my horizon.

During the Tuck Roundtable in Cleveland I mentioned in my last entry
[5], I sat next to a Fortune 50 CEO at an elegant dinner overlooking Lake Erie. We got to talking about working with young people and encouraging them to pursue technology. He said that we need to instill a sense of engineering and scientific wonder in 7th graders; by the time they get to college, it may be too late. I may need to start hanging around 12-year olds.

One final word about passion. You may have noted the Latin root that indicates pain and suffering. Aside from the religious history, I’m intrigued by the pain that often accompanies the joy of pursuing your passion. This is certainly a part of the inevitable failures that come with innovation. I also saw it on the faces of contestants who did not make the semi-finals or the finals this week. They wanted to know where they had failed, how they could be better. Two in particular said they were making the rounds to see all the judges that saw their presentations. They wanted honest feedback. I gave them that. I also wrote comments and suggestions on most of the judge’s cards I entered. I want each of them to learn, to push on, and to succeed as the technology leaders I see them becoming. Most important, I did not want to see their passion ebb one iota. As John Donne so eloquently said, “That our affections kill us not, nor dye.

p.s. Friday was the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the U.S. The sun was shining. During the break, I went out on the bridge over the Seine, and shot this photo of Lady Liberty Duex, looking out in the distance. Fitting.

Lady Liberty II, overlooking the Seine. What better thing to

do than be looking over her shoulder on the 4th of July (OK,
looking around her pedestal.)

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/passion
[2] See my March 28, 2008 Blog entry, here: http://granger-happ.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html
[3] Gary Hamel interview, CIO Magazine, November 15, 2007, p. 50-55.
[4] See my presentation "The Future of Technology," Marcus Evans CIO Summit in Lansdowne, VA, April 7, 2008; on my Presentations and Articles page linked from my web site at http://www.fairfieldreview.org/hpmd/EGHprofile.nsf
[5]See my June 24 entry, here: http://granger-happ.blogspot.com/2008/06/reentry.html
[6] John Donne, The Litanie, xxvii, line 242, The Collected Poems of John Donne, Wordsworth Editions, London: 1994, p. 268. See http://books.google.com/books?id=MYm2tX551HAC&pg=PA268&lpg=PA268&dq=John+Donne+that+our+affectations+kill+us+not+nor+dye&source=web&ots=ov3qLzdGsQ&sig=stdz0KwJSfbNhTBUHywDJPEY1TM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Two weeks have passed. I am back at Save the Children, having moved to Connecticut soon after commencement. One of the questions an advisor asked was “how will you continue the good things you began while on sabbatical?” The intriguing point to this question is not about going back, but rather continuing forward.

More than a passing few asked me if I would ever return. When you have the opportunity to pursue a dream, why wouldn’t you go with it?

One of the more meaningful talks I discovered on-line while at Tuck was Randy Pausch’s last lecture at Carnegie Mellon about achieving your childhood dreams (See the video at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo ). With six month’s to live, he talked about experiencing each of the dreams he had and what he learned from each. The question of “on what would you lecture if you had only one to give before you die,” was very real to Randy.

My friends and colleagues know that I’ve been saying for a long time, if I won the lottery, I’d teach. The opportunity to go to Tuck as a visiting fellow was an opportunity to live my dream for a term. I would not have traded it for anything.

The “last lecture” and the “lottery” questions are strategic questions of the unusual kind. They get at the core of what to pursue by removing the usual obstacles of unlimited time and paying the bills. Imagine having such a discussion at the next board meeting of your organization.

So what did I do? I wanted to continue working with students. So I volunteered to help as a volunteer advisor and occasional lecturer at the Yale School of Business—about a half hour from Save the Children. I am also honored to be a judge in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition for international students in July (See
http://imaginecup.com/About/WhatIs.aspx for details.) I wanted to continue writing. So this Blog has a future, and research papers and books will follow. I wanted to continue the discussions with academic and corporate leaders. So I attended a thought leaders roundtable the Center for Digital Strategies at Tuck sponsored in Cleveland last week (More on this in my next entry.) I wanted to continue speaking engagements, and am setting up a lunchtime lecture series at Save. I’m also helping organize an international nonprofit roundtable on technology in Berlin in September and expect to continue an aggressive speaking schedule. I also wanted to apply what I learned at a nonprofit organization that is making a difference in the world. That—and a fair amount of gratitude—is why am I am back at work at Save the Children.

So the good work I began continues. One definition of sabbatical is “any extended period of leave from one's customary work, esp. for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.
[1]” I note that the leave is from one’s customary work; it is not a leave from work—in fact, acquiring new skills can be a stretch, using muscles in the mind not exercised in a while. I can attest to the good ache. Where then is the rest? The rest is in pursing your dreams. A 60 Minutes reporter asked Gustavo Dudamel, new conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he found the time to do all he does. Dudamel answered, “When you love something, you have time; you have a lot of time.”[2]

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sabbatical
[2] “Happy Vagabond,” 60 Minutes interview with Gustavo Dudamel, http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/ver/251.7/popup/index.php?cl=6571442

Saturday, June 7, 2008


"What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. ...

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time."

--T.S. Eliot

Today was graduation for the Tuck Class in 2008. Spirits were high, undamped by the hot and humid weather. Graduation for the business school is called an investiture, rather than the more traditional commencement. Per Webster’s (see below,) there’s a century separating the origins.

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin investitura, from investitus, past participle of investire
Date: 14th century
1 : the act of establishing in office or ratifying
2 : something that covers or adorns

Function: noun
Date: 13th century
1: an act, instance, or time of commencing
2 a: the ceremonies or the day for conferring degrees or diplomas b: the period of activities at this time

Etymology aside, I was struck by the emphasis on life and relationships. The class president quoted Churchill at the beginning and end of his speech: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” He spoke about giving to the world, community and each other. The student who followed him talked about “Tuck love” and the sense of community among the students (and alumni.) The willingness to help each other stood out in his speech. Even the reading of the 1904 letter by Mr. Edward Tuck, son of the man for whom the school is named, spoke to the giving side of the school: “To the maxim of honesty is the best policy should be added another: that altruism is the highest and best form of egoism…” For a place that I noted on another day was the bastion of left-brain thinking, here was a litany of right-brained thought. The founders of the school would be proud.

Here are some photos from the ceremony:

The students elected as Tuck Scholars

A standing ovation for the graduating class

After the recessional. The pictures with family begin.

I return to Save the Children on Wednesday. So this is a commencement of sorts for me as well. As Eliot so eloquently says, “The end is where we start from.” Look for more entries in this Blog as I reenter the world of work, no doubt a changed man.

[1] T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V, 214-216, 239-242.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Speed of Information

I was sitting in a classroom a few weeks ago listening to teams of students make brief presentations. The class was Social Entrepreneurship (eShip for short.) They were talking about their impending half-term projects with nonprofits. I was helping one of the teams who were looking at how to better leverage technology for small nonprofits in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont.

The professor and guest advisor were giving the teams tips on who to contact. During the tech team presentation, I was watching what the students were doing on their laptops. The advisor recommended the team contact a major foundation, who had a technology-related funding program. As he was making his comments, one of the students browsed to the foundation web site and found the relevant program page. Before he finished, she had sent the link via email to the rest of the team, who in turn were clicking to the site. The entire flow of verbal and electronic information happened real-time.[1]

Before you get in a huff about students not paying attention, and the rudeness of multi-tasking, let me tell you a pre-Internet story.

I remember sitting in my field manager’s office twenty years ago. I asked if he would check on something at headquarters for me and let me know what he heard. He said, “Why wait?” He picked up the phone, dialed his contact and got the info. I left his office with the answer and an important lesson: don’t make a to-do item of something you can do on the spot.

Do you see the parallel between what my manager did and what the students did? If you can get the information now, why wait?

My fourteen year-old takes pride in multi-tasking. I’ve seen him carrying on five Instant Messenger (IM) conversations, playing a video game with someone from Australia, and researching a paper for school at the same time. I wondered when he had time to think. The more I thought about it, the more I asked myself if the way students think today may be changing. Was problem solving changing from individual synthesis to communal answers? I decided to try an experiment with him.

I asked him how he would go about finding the answer to a problem.
“What problem,” he asked.
“One your teacher gave you, for homework.”
“Which teacher? (He is a teenager, after all.)
“How about history. What are you studying?
“The French Revolution.”
“OK. How would you go about finding the answer to this question: How many famous people were executed by the guillotine during French revolution?" (Remember, he’s fourteen.)

We were on the phone, so I asked him to describe what he was doing. His first stop was to go to Wikipedia and look up guillotine. (If you’d like to read along, click here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillotine ) He read the first paragraph, but didn’t find what he wanted.

His next stop was Yahoo Questions. He entered “guillotine famous people.” (See
http://answers.yahoo.com/ ). The first answer was about a wax museum (Anyone can post answers.) He didn’t see anything else on that page that was better.

Next, he went back to Wikipedia, paged-down a couple of times and read about the Reign of Terror. Listed there were Robespierre, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, each victim of the guillotine. He then informed me that Joseph Guillotin was not the inventor, nor did he die by its blade. Guillotin died of natural causes. Bonus points.

Total time browsing, about three minutes. Fast. But very much a solo performance.
“What if you couldn’t find the answer on-line?
“Never happened.”
“But if it did?”
“I’d email my teacher.”
“What about essay assignments?”
“If it’s boring, I write a paragraph, take a break and IM my friends; then write another paragraph, etc.”
“If you’re not bored?”
“Then I space out on it.” He blocks out everything else and focuses on the mission.

So it’s not very different than when I learned how to do assignments. At least for the engaging stuff. Notice that the multi-tasking parts are about socializing and entertainment, not the work itself. What is different is how fast it happens. Whether in the class or on the home PC, finding and using the information is lightening quick. So why don’t we have more answers?

[1] For an entertaining look at laptops in the classroom, read the Doonesbury comic for April 27, here: http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20080427

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Sense of Play

I was on the MIT Campus for a CIO Summit and One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) conference. It was if the two were held on different planets.

The OLPC event began at the MIT Media Labs. During the reception, I managed to join a small tour of the "Lifelong Kindergarten" room in the lab. Along one wall are bins of Lego blocks and sundry parts for making small robots. There are couches and tables casually arranged for ad hoc discussions, with posters and paraphernalia hanging out throughout the space. A mock-up of a car chassis is in one corner. Blocks and crayons are on a table in another corner. The place exudes a sense of play.

The “Lifelong Kindergarten” project is the brainchild of Mitch Resnick, an MIT Professor. When he talks, you can hear the child’s sense of play at work in a scientist’s mind. You want to take off your shoes, roll up your sleeves and join him in the sandbox. Just look at their web site, here: http://llk.media.mit.edu/

I first saw what I called the “Lego room” five years ago. I remember looking into the room and seeing a bunch of Lego-bots running around the floor and desktops, controlled by what looked like AI (artificial intelligence) programs transmitting wirelessly from PCs. It was heaven! My overwhelming sense was that this was where I wanted to come play when I “retired.” I had that same feeling standing in the room this week.

The OLPC offices were a similar hotbed of creativity. XO laptops were everywhere, literally hanging from the ceiling, crowded on desktops, on credenzas in various states of disassembly. My favorite line from a volunteer demonstrating the mesh networking was that the warranty was only activated when you took the laptop apart! Everyone was encouraged to play with the components and wield a Phillips-head screwdriver. The place was humming with activity.

Contrast all this creative energy with the CIO Summit on balancing innovation and cost leadership. It was also held on the MIT Campus. Here in the center of one of the hotbeds of technology inventiveness, was the most stale, one-dimensional conference I’ve ever attended. There were no videos, no demonstrations of cool technology, no engaging slides, no play, period. There were only speeches and panels of very qualified people talking, one after the other. If ever there was an example of Marshall McLuhan’s maxim that "the medium is the message" this was it.

This is not to say that the content was not interesting, or that I didn’t have a number of valuable take-aways from the session. The speakers, panelists and moderators were among the brightest, most accomplished academic and business leaders in our field of IT. But their creativeness was overcast by the dull context of an outdated venue. How can you talk about web 2.0 and not be
immersed in the technology instead of the commentary?

There is a message here for those of us who seek increasing innovation in our organizations. Context matters. A story may help. When I worked in NY I collected wind-up toys. My favorite store uptown was a little shop called The Last Wound Up. I had dozens of two-inch figures and animals in assorted colors that I kept on a round meeting table in my office. This was my interview space. I was a consultant manager for a Wall Street data and applications company. I remember a consultant candidate sitting at the table with me ignoring the toys. At one point I bumped the table by accident, and one of the pink mice did a back-flip. The candidate ignored it and droned on about his qualifications. He didn't get the job.

A few weeks later, I was introduced to Anna, the latest applicant. She had an equally impressive resume. Before she shook my hand she immediately went to the round table, exclaimed "look at these" and began winding a few up to see what they did. I was so impressed with her sense of wonder and play, willingness to step outside the typical interview box, and confidence that what she was doing was OK. It was an authentic moment. She got the job and went on to replace me as manager a few years later. The office with the toys created the context for something new and different to happen.

I’ll leave you with a related reference from a gem of a book by Gordon MacKenzie, the former head of creative at Hallmark: “To enhance the illusion of my emerging, indefinable (nonexistent) power [as the shaman of creative ideas], I set about to transform my little office into a corporate version of Merlin’s Den.” (p. 148). Pick up a copy of Orbiting the Giant Hairball (
http://www.amazon.com/Orbiting-Giant-Hairball-Corporate-Surviving/dp/0670879835), read his chapter on "The Power of Paradox" and let the games begin.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Short Story

Last week's NetHope Summit in San Jose was a memorable whirlwind immersion in new technology. Our left-brain technology loving side was well fed. In the right-brain column were all the relationships that formed and deepened, both among our members, and with our corporate partners; and a bit of storytelling introduced at the outset.

I retold a story I heard In March at a gathering of NGO managers. I think it tells us something about leadership. It also tells us about the heart of strategy. I'll let the story speak for itself:

A Tree in Zaire

Four Peace Corps volunteers were making their way in a large Land Rover to a village in what was then Zaire. There was a single dirt road through a forest. A few kilometers from the village they discovered a large tree that had fallen, blocking the road. A villager was on top of the log chopping away with a hand-held axe. Wood chips were flying in every direction, but he was making little progress. The volunteers asked him to step aside. They pulled a cable from the winch in front of the truck and wrapped it around the tree. They tried the winch first, without success. Putting the truck in reverse, with all four wheels engaged, they attempted to drag the tree from the road. The wheels spun in the dirt. They made little progress. Villagers had begun to arrive down the dirt road, from the other side. As the volunteers gave up, restoring the cable to the winch, the villagers gathered around the tree murmuring. The man with the axe resumed his chopping. Off to one side, at the edge of field, the volunteers saw an old man smiling. He walked slowly up to the villagers at the tree and began to sing. The villagers joined him in one of those African songs that rises and falls with a cadence of call and response. As the song rose, the villagers all lifted. The tree moved a few inches. As the song fell, they put the tree down. Again and again, they sang and moved, sang and moved. In less than an hour, the tree was removed from the road. The volunteers got in their Land Rover and drove on to the village, with the people following in the dust. [1]

When I first heard this story, it was about overcoming obstacles. It is certainly about that. But it is also rich with possibilities for leadership. I've included some question below for you to think about and debate with your teams. Who are we in this story? That's a question worth spending time with. I leave you with a stanza from Robert Frost's famous poem to stimulate your right-brain thinking:

The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not to bar
Our passage to our journey's end for good,
But just to ask us who we think we are.

Discussion Questions

1) Who are we in this story and why?
a) Are we the man with the axe?
b) The Land Rover with the winch?
c) The village with the song?
d) The old man with the vision?

2) Who do we want to become?

[1] This story was told by David Young, chief strategist at World Vision and a former BCG senior partner, at a workshop at Capgemini facilities in Herndon, VA in March 2008.
[2] Robert Frost, “On a Tree Fallen Across the Road,”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Left Brain, Right Brain

Three events last week led to some interesting discussions about "left brain" and "right brain" thinking. Left Brain thinking is logical, detail oriented, facts-based and analytical. Right Brain thinking is more intuitive, sensory, "big picture" oriented and imagination-based. Mathematicians live more on the left and artists more on the right. You get the idea?

Let’s look at the three events.

The final class in Comparative Leadership focused on the case of the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. This was the case that brought together all of the elements of the leadership framework developed in the class. We read and watched. A week before the class we gathered one evening to see the documentary, “The Endurance” narrated by Liam Neeson (See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0264578/ ). It was a moving film. How Shakleton and his crew survived almost two years in the harshest conditions and one enormous obstacle after another was staggering.

During the class, the professor had us complete an individual exercise. We each drew a slip of paper from a hat that had one of the scenes from the story on it. We then had to write what we would say to the men as a result, and share it with the class when called on. My question was the following, which two other students also drew:

“You are Shackleton and it's Nov. 21, 1915. You have just watched the Endurance sink below the ice. What will you decide to do next? How will you communicate this to the men?”

The first student talked about the need for goals and planning, and sharing these with the men. This was a good answer. It was also very Left Brain. I volunteered a more Right Brain answer: “I’d hold a funeral,” I said, “for the ship.” "It is important for the men to face the reality, and have some time to grieve.” This was a significant loss. After the service—using the ship’s name—I would say, "and this is how we will honor her name: by enduring!"

This alternative sparked an interesting debate. It was obvious that the students were having difficulty wrapping their minds around this as a reasonable leadership action. Reasonable is the key word.

The second event was an announcement I received from the Academy of American Poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. The academy had designated April 17 as “Poem In Your Pocket Day,” encouraging readers to pick a poem and share it with friends and colleagues during the day. (See www.poets.org/pocket ).

Since email is a virtual pocket of sorts, and since good things come in threes, I shared three of my favorite authors’ work—all by poet laureates—in an attachment to an email, which I sent to everyone I knew at Tuck/Dartmouth with a note to “enjoy.” This was a very Right Brain email, which I used for the subject line. I included about 30 names on my distribution list.

Here’s what happened: only one recipient responded, saying they were looking forward to reading the poems during lunch. I presume the rest did not know what to do with this, or chalked it up as another bulk email at worst, or something weird from that Save the Children guy at best.

The third event was a discussion about stories over coffee with some Tuck colleagues. We were brainstorming how storytelling could be a part of business school education. Imagine that? We agreed that the most memorable political and business leaders were very good at telling stories. The rise in personal videos is perhaps related to this. Stories provide a way to communicate that draws the listener in and invites her to become part of the story, to make it her own. Steve Denning and others have written about this. You can find their work in that most Left Brain of publications, the Harvard Business Review.

So what’s my point? We need more Right Brain in our education. It's true that business school cases are a form of story. They are dissected before and during each class. But it is the “soft” aspects—the Right Brain stuff—that is often missed. Analysis is the bastion of a business school education. It’s important; I don’t want to denigrate that—after all, I’ve been accused of dreaming in spreadsheet cells. But analysis does not motivate change; it does not win the hearts and minds of people. And leadership is more often about winning hearts and minds.

Footnote: For a fun test on which side of the brain you are using, see the Herald Sun’s article and Left Brain, Right brain visual test, here http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22556281-661,00.html . Are you able to focus and make the figure reverse direction? Try reading a poem and looking again :-)

I’m headed to the NetHope Summit in San Jose, CA on the Cisco Campus this coming week. The theme is the power of collaboration. I’m excited about this event and the rich agenda we have set for ourselves. More on this as the week unfolds.

Friday, April 18, 2008

International Food Day

Nature cavorted with the calendar today. Students accepted for the class of 2010 at Tuck were visiting for the annual Admitted Students Weekend (ASW for acronym fans). And the temperature hit 80 degrees. What still looks like winter to the camera's eye, suddenly felt like spring. The Frisbees and footballs abounded. Even the volleyball net made an appearance.

One of the annual rituals for the ASW is the International Lunch. Students from a variety of countries cook and bring a cornucopia of food. The aroma of barbecue was wafting through the halls all day. Lunch time could not come soon enough! I listened to a professor's advice, and started at the Argentina table for roasted beef. Wonderful! I moved on to the Chinese table for a selection of delicacies, and finished at the Italian table for tiramisu. Delicious! Needless to say, a salad was in my future for dinner :)

We have a similar tradition in the IT group at Save the Children. We have eight nationalities represented in our small team, and a balance of genders--unusual for an IT department, but something in which we take pride. An international food day is a fun celebration of diversity, but it's also an important one. It reminds us that we are members of a small planet, a global community in a room, around a table, sharing a meal.

Diversity is important to an organization that works in many countries. This is so because we want our business to reflect who we are and where we work. But there's something more important that we value. It's the diversity of opinion.

Being in a university community, I am reminded of the time-honored Socratic method. One of my most memorable teachers would start a sentence and then look to us to complete it. If we faltered, he supplied the answer. As the semester unwound, we answered more, debated more, and began to have a honest dialog of different opinions. I learned that often the truth comes through the discussion of opposites. Inviting the debate led to richer answers. This is what diversity brings to a business. It is the invitation to hear perspectives different from your own and appreciate the bits of the answers that come from a symphony of voices.

It is the kiss of death for a manager and leader if all of her team thinks like she does. It is the end of a conversation if no one challenges an idea. Indeed, it is a ultimately a monologue. And that means you need to always be right. What leader can afford this burden?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Microfinance and Cell Phones

I attended an interesting talk on Microfinance last week. It was given by Joyce Lehman who managed a large microfinance program in Afghanistan for the past four years. She recently joined the Global Development team at the Gates Foundation as a program officer for microfinance.

Joyce started her talk with a story about a recent presentation she gave to students. She asked her young audience whether anyone knew what microfinance was. A young lady raised her hand. She said microfinance is when you go on-line select a project and give a $100 loan to fund it. This was not the definition Joyce was expecting, but she clearly recognized that it was the wave of the future.

Three things she said about her short tenure at the Gates Foundation stood out. First, was that everyone she met spoke about working for "the boss." The boss was not who you may expect. It was a child in Africa. Joyce held up her picture. Second, the Foundation cares deeply about impact. They support many projects, but they want to make sure you can prove it made a difference. Finally, as you may expect, they are looking for ways to leverage technology to solve the big, strategic problems. "Thinking big" is an important corollary, and is a strong part of the Microsoft and Foundation culture.

After the talk, I asked Joyce about cell phones in Afghanistan. "Oh they're everywhere!" she said immediately. "What about Internet cafes?" "They're everywhere also." "So that's the basic technology for reaching people in emerging countries," I asked. "Yes."

I want to contrast that with two observations on campus. One was seeing two coeds standing on either side of the road talking on a cell phone to each other as I walked by. They were no more than 30 feet apart. "Cross now; there are no cars," said the one on my side indignantly. I could hear her friend laugh on the other side of the road. For the new generation, the cell phone is conversation.

At a reception, I was talking with a colleague about cell phones. "I don't own one," she confessed. "Do you have electricity," I obnoxiously asked? After an expletive, she said, "I don't need to be reached 24-7."

I point to these two stories to contrast the generation gap in our understanding about communications technology. For one generation, it's conversation like any other conversation--it may even be the dominant form of conversation for today's students. For another generation it's a convenience. How we reach out to the world and leverage technology will largely be shaped by how we view the medium. We should not take this lightly, but rather approach it with "beginners mind" and be open to the student educating the teacher.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Leadership: Four Ways of looking at a Blackbird

I gave a mini-presentation this week to the Comparative Leadership Models class that I'm auditing. Here's a narrative rerun. A copy of the slide deck is on my web site (under Presentations...) at http://www.fairfieldreview.org/hpmd/eghprofile.nsf

Leadership is something you learn from the masters, from experience and from imagination. But you also increasingly learn about what you don't know. So you need to approach it with humility. That is what I hear in this stanza from Wallace Stevens' famous poem:

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

I'd like to talk about four perspectives on leadership that I've experienced:

  1. An Investment Bank: First Boston Corp (FBC) in the 70’s (before the big-bang deregulation)
  2. A small Management Consulting Firm: HPMD in the 90’s
  3. An International Nonprofit: Save the Children (STC) in the 00’s
  4. And a Board of Directors: NetHope currently

I'm going to talk about these four chapters by telling some stories. Stories are what we tend to remember, anchoring ideas and concepts to them. It's why the case studies are so powerful for learning in an MBA context.

FBC - Power and Decisiveness

Two FBC executives are riding down in the elevator. It is mid January. 10 degrees out. Joe is wearing a long, herringbone wool coat. John has on a dark gray pinstripe suit, no coat. Joe is the head of Mergers and Acquisitions. John is one of the managing directors. Each is obnoxious in their own way. Joe rides in the front of cabs and immediately takes over the two way radio. Dispatchers love him. John has a copy of the New York Social Register on a table outside his door, opened to the page where he and his wife are listed. Joe turns to John.
"Where's you coat?"
"I don't wear a coat."
"You don't wear a coat? It's 10 degrees out!"
"I f you noticed, only two people in the firm don't wear coats: the president… and me!"
Whereupon Joe takes off his coat, throws it on the floor, jumps up and down on it and says:
"Why didn't you tell me!!"

It's a funny scene, and though 30 years later, I can still hear and see Joe tell this story. What it says is that the context from investment banking in the 1970s was very much about position and power. In groups, people deferred to the most senior person. Decisions were made by a decision-maker, and after listening to the data or other evidence, made the decision, quickly and decisively.

This is evident in the second scene from FBC. We are having an early morning meeting in the corporate finance department to decide the final pricing for an equity deal. A managing director is presiding. A small group of analysts are presenting their weighty report. I'm sitting in as the token IT guy because I created all the charts. Ten minutes into the presentation, the MD takes the 100-page blue book, drops it on the table, and takes off his glasses.
"You don't need to walk me through every damn detail in this report," he says
"Your job is to lead me to the decision."

Aside from being good advice to aspiring consultants, this reinforces the leadership model at FBC: decisions were made by the senior person. Period. They often took opportunities like this one to remind us that this was their job.

A final note before we leave Wall Street. Decisions were fast, especially if an M&A deal hung in the balance. The analysis may have been thorough, and weighty, taking a week of round-the-clock work, but the "here's what we're going to do" came quickly on its heels.

HPMD - Influence and Analysis

In the 1990s I co-founded a small management consultancy. We provided services to IT executives, and specialized in balanced scorecards and IT processes. Many of our customers were the Wall Street colleagues that were my customers during the prior 13 years. The relationships you form in one setting often carryover into another.

Moving from a line position with P&L responsibility to a consulting position is a culture change, to say the least. While the thought processes and analysis approaches are the same, the decision-making changes radically. In short, you are no longer a person who makes decisions. You are advising, prodding, and cajoling the person who does make the decision. To use a sports analogy, I moved from being a captain on the field to being a coach on the sidelines--a coach with very little power. Coaches may design the plays, but they don't play the game.

In a one project for a Wall Street data provider, we developed a detailed project list of all active and planned product development activities. Projects were classified into five categories, such as "revenue projects," "infrastructure projects," and "custom client requests." Product and Engineering managers were then asked to estimate the time and people needed to complete each step within the projects. From these estimates, we developed a model to forecast the implied people resources required on a quarter-by-quarter basis to complete each project within its expected timeframe.

We then held a full day meeting with senior managers and the product managers to complete a "Post-It Note Exercise." The objective of this exercise was to (a) gain a clear sense of the magnitude and timing of the product development activities, and (b) to "re-sequence" projects so that the higher priority items could be completed near-term with the available resources. Different color Post-It notes were used for each project to indicate the originating department (Marketing or Engineering) and type of project (revenue generating, cost savings, revenue retention and longer-term bets). The Post-It notes were arranged on flip-charts where each one represented a different calendar quarter, extending out three years.

It was immediately apparent that an inordinate number of the projects were clustered in the first quarter. In addition, our model suggested that a doubling of the Engineering and Marketing staffs would be required to complete them. The next step involved managers negotiating with each other to move projects out to future quarters. At each juncture, we recalculated the implied resources, and encouraged managers to make the tough decisions on delaying more projects in order to live within their allotted budgets. At the end of the day, the group had reached consensus about the priority of the projects and their timing. The exercise allowed them to reschedule the project list without losing any, so that the probability of completing near-term projects was vastly improved. As important, a skeptical president of the firm, was won over to the result, and heartily endorsed it.

The important points of this story are that the results depended heavily on thorough analysis. We presented a raft of information, and "let the data talk." The process was arduous, but in the end a consensus was reached, the senior executive ratified the decision. Here's the kicker: we knew the answer going into the process. The analysis and exercises confirmed it. But we needed to lead the decision-makers to the decision.

Save the Children - Consensus and Death by Consensus

When I joined Save the Children, one of my consulting clients, the president in the story above, gave me a year at best before I'd throw in the towel. He was on the Board of Outward Bound in Maine and was fully committed to the mission of this nonprofit. So I wanted to know why he would say that. "You'll be too frustrated with the pace and process of decision-making," he said. He was right about the frustration, but not about the year.

Before I give you some examples, I want to say how committed I am to the Save mission. Working at Save is incredibly rewarding. The opportunities to have impact on children's lives and on how the organization operates are the highest of anything I've experienced. In addition, the degree to which I am valued as a contributor to the organization is unsurpassed. So when I offer critique, it is as a member of the family, and from the heart.

The management groups at Save like to meet. Incessantly meet. It is telling how each manager that joins Save notices this and laments it within the first thirty days. Things are discussed, opinions gathered, again and again; decisions often take months to make and are frequently tweaked for months following. We held a World Summit in October 2007 to work on our strategy and 160 managers attended. The planning for the Summit took months to develop. The strategic planning process took 14 months to develop a five year plan and another 6 months to roll-out to the organization. To say that decision-making is a participant sport with triple overtime at Save is an understatement.

Participation is important for a mission-driven organization. People are passionate about our mission. Having their hearts and minds aligned with our strategy is paramount. But along the way, we've lost sight of what consensus is. It came as a shock when I heard that some senior managers thought consensus was unanimous agreement. Consensus is universal hearing, not universal agreement. Consensus asks that those who don't agree, to agree to go along with the decision. It is telling that a country manager stood up at the World Summit and said to the senior management team, "OK, you've heard our feedback and gathered our input, now we need you to make a decision so we can move forward." Many in the room nodded in agreement. Even a consensus run organization hungers for decisiveness.

One final story. When the Tsunami destroyed Banda Aceh, there was an unprecedented outpouring of concern and support from Americans. In the months that followed this tragedy, the workload at Save more than tripled. People worked around the clock. Decisions had to be made on the spot. Individuals had to act. There was no time for lengthy discussions or meetings. Action was needed. And we responded. The organization survived on the sheer will and talent of the employees. Near the end of the disaster response work, many of us noticed how well we did without the drawn out decision processes we had followed for years. And we asked why we couldn't continue in this fashion going forward.

NetHope - Town Hall to Parliament

When NetHope began as a consortium of seven in 2001, we did everything as a team. Our monthly conference calls and semi-annual Summits were a poster child for the traditional town hall meeting approach to making decisions. Everybody participated in everything. And it worked.

Over the next seven years, we tripled in size, incorporated, and became our own 501(c)3 nonprofit. As part of this growth and change in our organization, we needed to move from a town hall approach to a representative form of governance. We elected a Board of Directors, hired a CEO, and appointed committees to handle the business of the organization. This is how corporations work.

There's a famous photo of a cabinet meeting in the White House in the early sixties. John F. Kennedy was president. Lyndon Johnson was Vice President and Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense. In the photo, you can see them seated about the conference table. In addition to the players at-the-table, you can also see the senior advisors seated along either wall, behind the presidents' men. This is a strong image of representative decision-making. Everyone doesn't have a seat at the table. Putting aside our form of democratic government for a minute, the broader organization trusts the representative leaders to carry out the business of the organization, to make decisions on behalf of the stakeholders.

Themes in Leadership

For each of the contexts we talked about, we can see different degrees of decision-making power, participation and speed. One size does not fit all. Using the typical consulting matrix approach (what consultant can think without a matrix?) the following diagram is one way to summarize this. You may quibble with which organization goes in which box. That's OK. Truth comes through debate.

In each of these four cases, and a half a dozen stories, you probably have noticed the prominence of decision-making . At the bottom of this is a strong belief that I hold about leadership. At its core, leadership is about being decisive. A fundamental responsibility of all managers is to make informed decisions ... for leaders, it is decisiveness.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Classes Begin

It snowed today. Five inches. I decided a snow day was needed and headed out to the cross country trails with skis and snowshoes in tow. Lest anyone think this indicates a smooth ride through the spring term, I’d like to point out that “snowed” is the appropriate metaphor.

I’m now auditing two classes. I’ve already mentioned Comparative Models of Leadership. I added Social Entrepreneurship this week. Monday and Tuesday afternoons are taken with classes. The typical classroom at Tuck is what can best be described as half an arena. The professor occupies center stage, while the tiers of long, curved tables and student chairs rise to the rear. Students post name cards in front of their space. Class participation counts. I am the only one permitted in the last row.

I’m impressed by how collegial and relaxed the atmosphere is in the classrooms. I’ve heard trenchant comments and summaries. And I’ve also heard a few “sorry I haven’t read the case” or “I zoned out.” This is not The Paper Chase. But don’t let that fool you. Each class gets a stack of cases and articles to read often in addition to a textbook. I am a fairly fast and carnivorous reader, but find even two classes worth of assignments daunting to read. Of course, I have a few other projects on which I’m working. But excuses won’t fly for long in this setting. Expectations run high.

I’ve been taking copious notes during class. At first I did not bring my tablet PC with me. But despite each professor’s admonition most students have laptops blazing for the duration. So I’m joining the bonfire. It saves having to transcribe notes.

The cases are the most intriguing part of the reading. It reinforces the power of telling a good personal story that’s true. The ones on Margaret Thatcher and Orit Gadiesh (Bain & Co.) stand out. Both are intelligent, hardworking women, who out-studied everyone around them. They were exceptional relationship builders. They did their homework and mastered the details. And they had relentless energy, outworking everyone. I was struck by the parallels to Jack Welch’s 4E’s and a P method of choosing C-level executives at GE: Energy, Energizing, decision Edge, Execution and Passion.

There’s a surprise ending. Our teacher ran an exercise where we listed five words about Thatcher, a leader we knew and admired, and what we think makes a good leader. We exchanged papers between each of the three steps, so each piece of paper had three opinions on the three questions. The result? Only three words out of 150 matched (There are about 30 students in the class.) The conclusion: the traits and skills that make a good leader are very subjective, Mr. Welch notwithstanding.

I’d like to see a harder look at what makes a bad leader. There may be more agreement on what not to be.

* * * * *

Here are some photos of some of my places on campus. These were taken with my PDA, so the resolution leaves something to be desired.

This is the historic Tuck building.

This is Woodbury Hall. My office is on the second floor. That’s not my light on.

This is home away from home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The First Few Days

The first few days on campus have come and gone quickly. The people here have made me feel very welcome and a part of their team. I’m earning my keep reviewing ideas and proposals. Those in the know will smile when I say that an opinion shortage is not one of my weaknesses.

This is spring break at Dartmouth, though winter has not let go of Hanover. We had snow and sleet today. The students return on Monday and I'm told that the campus will be a bit more lively then. It's been quiet. Too quiet!

It’s been interesting to see the help desk from the eyes of a new “employee” settling in to a new phone, network, access to printers and the intranet, etc., etc. I found myself muttering more than once that things should not be this complicated, that answers should be apparent or easy to find. Everyone wants to help, and responses are quick. But it still begs the question why things don’t work the first time.

I am reminded of the 1991 film “The Doctor,” starring William Hurt. He plays an irreverent, maverick surgeon who by a twist of fate becomes a patient and is forced to see the world from the other side. In the final scene, after he has recovered, he has a new group of interns arrive for day one at the hospital. He hands out Johnny-coats and says something like “you start by learning to be a patient.” This week, I am that patient.

One of the things I like is the Dartmouth employee technology handbook. It explains the school’s security policies, how to gain access to resources, back up data, change passwords and so on. The irony is that I picked up a copy from a counter during a tour of the school. It made me think of those consumer electronic gear boxes that have a page or two taped to the front of the Styrofoam saying “read me first!” All new employees should find such a quick-start card taped to their phone and laptop when they arrive, complete with the helpdesk phone number and email in bold, with a copy of the trusty technology handbook along-side. Things for the wish-list when I return!

I have had a chance to meet with a few professors and talk about their spring term classes. I selected “Comparative Models of Leadership” to audit. Starting Monday, I get to play student again. One of the interesting things I learned is that for larger classes, required class participation is a competitive venture; guests and auditors need not raise their hands! I’m as interested in hearing the students questions and opinions as the professor’s lectures. This is the next generation of senior managers, and I want to hear how they approach organizations and leadership.

A final note: when I was a student decades ago (was it really that long ago?) I walked everywhere on campus. It is no different now. I walk to Tuck Hall each day and back home at night, about two miles a day--except I notice now how often I am passed by those more fleet of foot!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Packing, Unpacking and Travel

I used to look forward to business trips. Flying to a new city was an adventure. One of my colleagues posted the “Cities I’ve Visited” by TripAvisor.com on Facebook. So I gave it a test drive. (See the map half-way down my Facebook page, here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504291554 .) Working through the application prompts I uncovered over 180 cities I’ve visited around the world, most through my work. You may expect that for someone working for Save the Children and NetHope. But in fact most of my travel occurred before I joined these organizations.

There are members of my staff and management team who love to travel. It’s a major motivator for them. So I give away most of my travel budget to them. After all, a nonprofit does not have monetary rewards like stock options and bonus plans. Our people will tell you that our mission is the primary reward. In addition, flexible time, a family friendly environment and travel around the world to visit our field programs and work with our field staff are all rewards of working for an international nonprofit. Managers would do well to heed the motivators!

So what has this got to do with finally arriving at Tuck/Dartmouth? Packing for a few days or week is routine. Packing for three months is something else. I started with lists, and checked them twice, feeling a bit of Santa Claus outside the season. I did not think my car was going to hold all the books, clothes and gear I had assembled on my kitchen floor this morning. It all finally fit, with a suitcase tied to the roof rack along with my cross country skis (This is northern New Hampshire :). Thankfully the unpacking was quicker. I settled into to my new quarters this evening and had my first meal in a charming abode the school is graciously providing.

Someone asked me what books I packed for my sojourn. So here’s a quick tour. I have some of my business classic favorites by Tom Peters and Jim Collins. I also have The Broadband Explosion and Forces for Good. The newest one I picked up is titled The Corporate Mystic. I saw it on a bookshelf at Cap Gemini in DC last week and felt the title alone was well worth the purchase :). I'm reading a book on simplicity, technology and art, and two on the future. I also have Muhammad Yunus' latest book on CD, and the Learning Company lectures on Existentialism for a bit of context.

For personal reading, I packed my favorite books of poetry by William Stafford, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, William Carlos Williams, Galway Kinnell and Donald Hall. I want to finish Sluyter's Zen Commandments and David Whyte's Crossing the Unknown Sea both which I'm parked in the middle of. I also brought along David's CD on "The Opening of Eyes; the poetry of intimacy and imagination." I packed Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and W. Sloane Coffin's Letters to a Young Doubter, both of which are models for one of my book projects. Finally I have an old paperback novel by Iain Pears.

I've kept a list of what I'm reading from time to time on my personal web site, which is already a year out of date. I'll make a point of updating that next! Here’s the link: