Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Moving the Discussion

I've decided to bring the Tuck/Dartmouth Fellowship Blog to a close. After all, graduation was last June. I've moved the discussion to a new blog, which you can find here: . I look forward to continuing to engage you in the management and leadership discussion. Keep those comments coming!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Where will we be tomorrow?

On Tuesday NTEN held an on-line virtual book party for the launch of Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission (see Each of the authors had the stage for a five minute "what are the key take-aways" from your chapter. Here's what I said about the chapter I wrote on the future of IT in nonprofits.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

Getting into the Boat

I heard an old story last Sunday that gave me pause. I'll paraphrase it for you:

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.