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 on Facebook. So I gave it a test drive. (See the map half-way down my Facebook page, here: .) 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:!OpenDocument

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Future

I attended the 2008 Intel Science Talent Search Awards gala as Intel’s guest last evening (see the STS page, here ). I can’t begin to describe what an inspiring event this was. These are America’s brightest high school seniors. All but a few of their projects were beyond a layman’s comprehension (that includes me.) Nonetheless, I had the sense that this was very creative work and these were very bright minds. I was lucky enough to sit next to one of the honorees who I understood (mostly.) She studied the effects of public and private funding for small town libraries and confirmed that donors follow the crowd behavior that Professor John F. Nash discovered and for which he won the Nobel prize. (See his 1998 biography, A Beautiful Mind, by Silvia Nasar and the 2001 movie by the same name, starring Russell Crowe.) I asked the student for a copy of her paper so that I could inspire my 14 year-old who is also a budding mathematician looking to push the limits.

The student who won the Glenn T. Seaborg Award addressed the audience with a speech that was articulate, witty and wise. He quoted Einstein, one of my heroes, as saying “If A equals success, then the formula is: A = X + Y + Z, X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.” (See a list of Einstein quotes, here: ). I love that play is a part of success. And shutting the mouth means opening the eyes and ears. It also means humility; to discover what is and be open to have your hypotheses proved wrong.[1]

I tell this story for two reasons: first, the need to encourage students to pursue studies and projects in the fields of science, math and technology; second, to make the point that student are our future indicators for technology.

There is a widening gap between the growing demand for IT workers and the pool of qualified candidates. Estimates put unfilled IT positions at about 190,000. The Office of Technology Policy concludes that evidence “suggests that job growth in information technology fields now exceeds the production of talent.”
[2] Anecdotal comments about business school students’ interest in IT Management suggests the same gap.

I believe part of the issue is that the off-shoring phenomenon in IT in the last decade was largely misunderstood by students as an indicator that IT was not a career growth sector. No one looked at which IT jobs were going off-shore. These were typically the more commodity IT positions like telephone-based IT support desks. Higher skilled positions, like network engineers are listed by the U.S. Department of Labor as a high growth area for the next decade.
[3] In fact, Network Systems positions are expected to grow 53.4% from 2006 to 2016, the highest growth of any of the categories singled out by the Labor Dept.

My conclusion is that we need to do far more to encourage students to pursue careers in technology--hence, one of the strong motivators for me spending a term at Tuck/Dartmouth.

As for students as the future indicators for technology, tune in next time for thoughts on this.

[1] I was also reminded of Steve Jobs quote of The Whole Earth Catalog during his Stanford University commencement address” “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.,” here:
[2] See the “America’s New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers” report at
[3] The Bureau of Labor Statistics table of occupations with the largest job growth forecast, at

Monday, March 3, 2008

Projects and Cots

I attended a kick-off meeting today for a large project at Save the Children (SC.) We are upgrading our donor management system (DMS, for short) and were hosting a senior project team from a major nonprofit software provider. (I'm judiciously avoiding names in this Blog so the focus is on the content rather than the organization, or individual.) We made a major step in this direction with our Capital Campaign project that was launched in August 2006. It was a significant improvement, but still relied on our legacy DMS as the database of record.

We've learned over the long haul that legacy systems become an anchor that gains weight over time; eventually they hold you back while competitors using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software zoom ahead. It is difficult to accelerate when you are carrying lots of baggage. There is no way I've seen yet for a nonprofit--with a modest technology budget--to keep pace with a software vendor. It's not our core business, and it is the vendor's.

There are a number of reasons why COTS is so important. I’d like to emphasize one: that COTS applications represent the best practices across a variety of customers. These vendor-authored applications that have been sold to many customers and enhanced over the years represent an accumulation of best practices across that client base. That implicit knowledge base is greater than the knowledge base of any one customer.

One of the things I like to say at the start of SC project meetings is: “the application needs a seat at the table.” What do I mean by that? Software project models tend to first identify client needs and then design or purchase software that meets those needs. That’s common sense. But there’s a flaw in this approach. It assumes that client needs are best practice, when in fact they may be worst practice. From where will come the challenge to rethink our business practices and therefore redefine our needs? The mature software application may have some things to teach us.

In our meeting with our DMS vendor today, I was reminded of the opportunities of COTS software. After all, one of our strategic plan planks at SC says that we need to be increasingly adaptable. My point here is that vendors, especially larger ones, have the resources to keep pace. Nonprofit IT staffs do not and should not. (The latter is a topic for another day.) Being able to change and enhance software quickly is one side of adaptability. Shorter projects are another. A telling question we've asked of larger projects is: if it takes three to four years to complete, how will it impact a five year strategy? Answer: it won't.

With these thoughts in mind, I've challenged the DMS team to comply with a number of design and implementation principles. I want to call out two here: (1) Identify project value points that can be realized sooner than later (i.e., deliver user value throughout the project rather than solely at the end), and (2) Identify the minimum product implementation with which we can go live and add components later. This may be counter intuitive when trying to maximize meeting user needs, but is essential to long-term success.

For further reading, I recommend comparing the open letter Convio posted last fall to NTEN members on the NTEN web site at

I think that’s enough for one day. I’ll come back to some of these issues again. A number of them apply to some of the research I’ll be doing at Tuck.