Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Help, let me out!

Today I read an email that went something like:

"Hi, I am writing to tell you that I am leaving my organization. I feel I'm spinning my wheels here. There are so many things we could be doing, but nothing ever seems to happen, and there is no willingness or even interest in changing the way things are done."

I see this all the time. The writer is late 20s, smart as heck, creative, and very motivated. But the organization - a well respected and longstanding pillar of the community - cannot make use of the energy or new ideas.

We are entering a new age where organizations that are unable to harness the potential of their people will be unable to survive. I feel bad for the writer's late employer, because it may well fade into irrelevance after making a major contribution to the field in the last twenty years.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How about an iPod for Giving?

Recently I wrote a chapter for a book to be published next year. They asked for 2,000 words. I gave them 4,000, explaining that I did not have time to write something shorter.

It is true that short and simple often require more work than long and convoluted.

The same holds true for features on a web site.

Earlier, I blogged on the value of simplicity. As an example, I reflected on how difficult it is to watch TV these days. There are often three or four remote controls to contend with - all with different sequences of buttons, etc. Compare that to how it used to be: You went up to the TV, pushed one switch to turn it on, and turned a dial to change the channel.

I wondered if Apple would ever take up the challenge to simplify the TV situation.

Steven Johnson recently wrote about this topic in Slate. He is far more eloquent than I:

One of the ironies of the last decade of technological change is that things that used to be difficult for ordinary folks to master—setting up an e-mail account, getting an Internet connection—have grown far simpler. Meanwhile, lots of things that used to be easy—say, changing channels while watching TV—have gotten more perplexing. You know the drill: You try to change the channel using the TV remote when you actually need to use the cable box remote (or the TiVo remote), and suddenly the screen goes blank because it's on Channel 4 instead of Channel 3. I know many people who have printed instructions near their media system that explain how to turn it on or how to turn up the volume.

GlobalGiving is growing steadily, and people generally report that they like our web site. While I am happy to hear that, I know it can be much better and much simpler.

Maybe we will never become the iPod for giving. But that does not mean we should not try.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Focus - yes. But on what?

Katya Andresen's blog over on is recommended reading. Katya is VP of marketing at Network for Good and author of Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.

Here is an excerpt from a recent blog of hers and my own thoughts on the art of focusing:
I am convinced each of the Echoing Green organizations is needed, because the fellows have followed a verison of the hedgehog concept. They focus like a laser beam on the intersection between three key areas: what they are best at, what makes them different from all others working on their issue, and what their stakeholders care about. BBMG says that intersection is your brand sweet spot -- Collins says it's your raison d'etre. I agree with both ideas and encourage you to find your intersection and stick to it. If we all restricted ourselves to that intersection -- even when board members or funders tempted us to set out in other directions -- we'd all be more effective. If we stray too far, we may wake up one day to find ourselves saying, "We save the manatees. Oh, and we have a program for the elderly... And have I told you about our North Korean initiative?" (Credit to Lara Galinsky on that question!) If it's the manatees, stick to the manatees. And if someone else is saving the manatees, make sure what you're doing is different, needed and supported.

And here are some comments I made on her blog:


I could not agree more on Echoing Green. Most of the fellows I have met or know are absolutely outstanding.

I am wary about the usefulness of advice from business writers, gurus, and business school professors. Most of them study success stories and try to infer lessons from them. These lessons are often not tested in any rigorous way, and though they sound good, in practice they are descriptive rather than helpful to others. Often, they observe that successful people did A and B, but it is far from clear that A and B were the primary factors behind the success. Sometimes A and B may be necessary but not sufficient. So people go out and do A and B and wonder why they don't succeed! And sometimes A and B are irrelevant.

While Collins is by far one of the most rigorous and thoughtful - and hence most useful - writers, readers need to think carefully for themselves about what he is saying. How many times have we heard the bromide "To succeed, you must focus"? The question is what to focus on.

I have been reading a number of business books lately, and one of the better ones ("Pour Your Heart Into It") was by Howard Schultz, co-founder and CEO of Starbucks. He describes how his idea of what Starbucks was good at evolved over time. The original founders were furious at Schultz for putting tables in the stores and allowing customers to sit down! And Schultz himself absolutely hated the idea of introducing low-fat lattes, which he thought was a travesty. Similar story about frappucinnos. In each case, the founders were trying to remain true to their visions. And in each case, being flexible, and adapting those visions to the market was key to growth and success.

Gradually, Schultz realized that Starbucks' focus should not be on the perfect cup of non-adulterated espresso. Rather it should be on the creation of a customer experience which he began referring to as the creation of a "third place" in society for people to escape to. The refinement of the third place concept has really been the key to Starbucks remarkable growth.

As we build organizations and businesses, we all face a similar set of issues. How flexible should we be? Is it the COFFEE we are passionate about or is it the EXPERIENCE of DRINKING coffee in a comfortable "third place" away from both the home and office that we are passionate about?

For us at GlobalGiving, we constantly ask ourselves questions such as "Is it PROJECT-SPECIFIC giving that we are passionate about - and good at - or is our passion and expertise really around giving directly to INTERNATIONAL projects?" There are ususally no easy answers, only answers that evolve with experience over time.

This is not to negate or rebuff the good advice to focus. But it is to reinforce the importance of understanding - and refining - what to focus on is as important as the act of focusing itself.

That is the hard part.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Apres Moi...

This past weekend, I finished reading an excellent history of a relatively young company we all know. It was written by one of the founders. The author details the trials and tribulations of the early days, with the usual multitudes of naysayers. (In fact, some time ago, I met with a major venture capitalist who said that he had declined to fund the company because he thought the whole concept was stupid.)

I especially appreciated the author's mea culpas regarding product introductions that he thought were off-mission - but which in the end turned out to fuel the company's growth.

But one thing that really bothered me was the prevalent use of the first person "I." The book is all about how "I" created the company, and how "My" vision was critical to its success, and how proud "I" am of what "I" created.

To be fair, he does cite his senior management team members many times in the story. But in the end, it is all about "I."

Now, if there is one thing I have learned over my 20+ year career, it is that few enduring great initiatives, companies, or organizations are based on "I". Instead, they are based on "We."

Things that are based on "I" can burn bright for a short period, but then usually burn out. Things based on "We" endure.

We have a great team here at GlobalGiving, and by that I mean not only those of us on staff, but also the community of project leaders and donors. I am proud to have been one of the founders, and I am lucky to work with a great bunch of people. But our success - hopefully an enduring one - is built on the "We" of the GlobalGiving community, and not just on "me."