What are we waiting for?

I’ve admired John Stossel for most of my adult life. His calm demeanor and logical presentation are at once disarming and persuasive. I often look to Stossel for language to help me frame ideas that I’ve struggled to put to words. However, when I saw this title Charity Begins With Wealth Creation, I took to my reading with much more reserve.

community chest pictureHis points about private charities being better and more efficient than government were easy for me to accept and agree with. But the premise he defends isn’t about public (governmental or coerced) efforts versus private (charitable or voluntary) efforts. His key point is that we can’t give unless someone creates something first. He supports his argument by citing the good that Bill Gates does with his billions. I agree that there’s much good done by the Bill Gates’ of the world on their way to becoming mega-wealthy. However, in this context, Stossel, citing Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute, is talking about the societal good of being a job and value creator not about benevolence.

I believe that charity begins with a heart to improve conditions in the world for its inhabitants. Far too much wealth is locked up in people waiting to have enough to share. Perhaps my divergence from Stossel is one of degree, but I don’t want to lose the point. While you must have to give, you don’t need to have much or give much to start improving the world.

Take the case of college students. Few would argue that in the main they lack [personal] financial means. After all, how could the age-old joke of “send money” calls make any sense without it. We know that most college students have little spare cash, whether because they are careless with what they have or because they are fully engaged in the expensive enterprise we call higher education. Heck, many of them are there precisely because they can’t find anything more productive to do with their time in our current economic situation.

But college students are in a position to make a difference and to establish patterns of charity that don’t entail making the first million of their own.

Three years ago, Kurtis Griess [full disclosure-he's my son], a graduate student at Colorado School of Mines, had the revelation that thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of text books rot on shelves of students year after year. They loose value quickly at first then more slowly just becoming a drain on the environment as they are moved about the country from place to place as careers grow. What if the value of these books could be unlocked to meet an immediate need? What if the imagination of the students could be untapped and they could embrace a life time of doing good with what they have?

The answer to the question is it is possible. After the birth of Compassion by the Book (http://compassionbythebook.com/), hundreds of students have given their time to discuss worthy causes, to collect, catalog, sell and deliver books to new users. They have made fungible resources that would otherwise be squandered and made books more affordable to upcoming students. Through the efforts of college students working with Compassion by the Book, disasters in Haiti and Japan have been met with funds. Benefits have also been realized at organizations fighting human trafficking, feeding the needy and funding scholarships.

The most important thing is to see the world through a different lens–to look beyond our own needs and to foster a more compassionate world view. Knowing the excesses we enjoy in the United States and seeing how many others may be served but unlocking value may set a person on the path to a more balanced life of giving, or at least give pause to consider needs outside oneself.

While I agree with John Stossel that you must have something to give something. I strongly encourage each of us to look at what’s at hand and do something good with it.

One year of Collaborate! (and a little on impact)

I’m happy to report that it’s been one year since I launched this blog; thanks for visiting.   Anniversaries are good times for reflection.

On the plus side:

  • I’ve enjoyed the writing exercise and I’m happy with my posts
  • I’ve found prompts for writing in a number of places
  • I think they have been interesting, at least when I re-read them I think they fill a hole in the body of knowledge

On the minus side:

  • I had hoped to write more often, I had weekly, or at least 3-4 times a month
  • I don’t like the excuse that I don’ t have time

That said, I will report that it has been a year of learning and growth for me.  I’m looking all over for prompts and I’m keeping a backlog of ideas to develop.  I also have taken some steps to make more time.  Some of you readers will be familiar the great work of Luis Suarez and his blog.  His compelling story of getting out of email tyranny has really inspired me to do greater things.

We had the pleasure of having Luis present “Living in A World Without Email” to a lunch and learn session for our client a little while back. After the session, the conversation continued in the client’s Yammer community. One of the participants was a little skeptical about whether moving from the email in-box to a social media environment actually made a difference:

I have two issues. One–seems to me Luis is just transferring the time he spent typing e-mails to typing into his collaboration tools, which brings me to…, Two–time is time, regardless of whether you’re e-mailing or using other “collaboration” tools–the point is productivity. Reduction of e-mails is not a measure of productivity. What are the metrics we’re going to use to validate the effectiveness of a world without e-mail? Just asking.

My response:

Let’s see if we can take it the next step. You are right that the individual measure of productivity, time, is time. If you took 3 hours to get through your in-box and you transferred 3 hours to reading feeds and network activity, there’s no gain (although, Luis would say that better in-box hygiene does, in fact, reduce unproductive activities).

But the point of collaboration is “co-labor”. Other metrics come into play: 1) time to respond (process latency), and 2) time to complete (duration).

As Luis mentioned, there are required behavior/expectation changes. When you send an email to 20 people, you are doing a “spray and pray” [my term, not Luis']. Only you and the 20 people know what the request was. Furthermore, you don’t know how much noise each of them have to wade through to get to the request and you can’t control accidental deletion of the message.

By putting the request in a collaboration space where your co-laborers expect to work, you get to the work sooner (you don’t depend on the individuals finding the activity in the in-box below all the other urgent or more recent stuff). Our experience is this yields earlier task completion, too.

So, I’ve taken the plunge.  Immediately after hearing Luis’ challenge, I started unsubscribing from email newsletters (there were over 80 in the first week and I have unsubscribed from over 150 in total, but the frequency has really dropped now).   I have freed up probably 10 minutes a day just in the time I save not deleting junk mail.  So now, I’m one step closer to not being my own worst enemy.

Here’s how I’m making it happen:
1) prune the clutter – CHECK!
2) identify where your important email comes from – CHECK, mostly the client
3) encouraging my colleagues to join me in the collaboration space and stop sending the attachments (easier to do with the folks I evaluate)

This year will be a better year.

Community: Stew, not fondue

I was talking with some of my good friends (John, Paul and Bruce) at The Journey last Sunday about the nature of community. It all started when John mentioned the book, Hipster Christianity, which explores the notion of a collision of “cool” and Christianity.

Although I didn’t use the word Shibboleth, I did say that it’s worrisome when groups come together and develop a special vocabulary. On one hand a useful shorthand can emerge making conversations on favorite topics very efficient. On the other, there can be an unintended consequence of exclusion. Here’s where the Shibboleth notion comes into play: if you don’t know, or know how, to use the shorthand, you may be marked as an outsider or novice.

Sometimes this is called the Common Knowledge Effect, first articulated in 1993 by Daniel Gigone and Reid Hastie. In their studies they found that in groups where the majority of members possess the same knowledge, that knowledge becomes the basis of discussion. Minority-held information by individuals is clouded out of the decision-making process. There is a rush to consider the problem solved, or the right idea established. SOURCE: Three Types of Collaboration that Drive Innovation.

This is not a new phenomenon with the hipsters. Each new community and generation deals with how to describe the lexicon and grammar of their favorite subjects and core values. They wrestle with how to find norms.

I think some of this plays in the current immigration debates in the United States: should we all speak English? are we to be swimming around in a melting pot or are we more like a fruit salad? I say neither fondue where all uniqueness gets lost nor chunks of fruit forever distinct. Rather, stew is the best way to picture the ideal community.

Maybe I’ve watched too much Emeril. But I really love the idea of a common sauce of savory flavors infusing all the chunks of meat and veggies; they ‘get happy’ as they simmer together. They have a unity of purpose and a diversity of characters. Think of your favorite meal then think of it tossed in a blender and served lukewarm with a straw and you’ll get my meaning.

Sometimes, I bristle at the ‘hyphen’ Americans: African-American. Mexican-American, etc. I always think, I’m an American. Yes, my people came from Germany by way of Ukraine and my dad spoke German at home as a boy and my Mom’s family are Jews from Poland or Russia (depending upon which year you drew the border). We have traditions from each that we pass on. We preserve some distinctives, but soak up other flavors. Stew.

My employer, IBM, annually trains and daily reinforces the value of diversity. We are a global firm representing every conceivable ethnic, religious, age, and social preference. Wherever I go in the world, I find IBMers sharing our core values, but never asked to surrender the diversity. Our diversity is our strength.

Years ago I heard a great quote that went something like “I never learned anything from anyone I always agreed with”. In a functioning community, agreement on the goal without elimination of the diversity if the individuals is paramount. While similarities often help form a group’s reason for being, the point of being a group is diversity. Valuable information can be missed, never even considered if a group maintains too much uniformity. Avoid becoming fondue; celebrate your role in the stew.


Is community in your budget?

A recent McKinsey Quarterly article: When your calendar is a moral document article featured a talk by Reverend Jim Wallis.  Although he was talking about how we should live in our modern world with its current crises at Davos, I was pulled in by the notion of something as benign as a calendar having any moral impact.  But as he spoke, I was reminded by thoughts I’ve had in the past.

In my life, I’ve had lots of exposure to the religious concept of the tithe.  Whether you take it literally or not, the idea of giving some portion of your earnings elevates the value of the rest.  I think that’s where Rev. Wallis is going with his idea of a calendar being a moral document.  It is, just as a budget is. If you would give a dime of each dollar, would you give 16-17 hours of each week to doing good?

Budgets and calendars each establish priorities.  A financial budget is a spending plan and a calendar or personal diary is a time plan.  The items on your budget are your priorities as are your scheduled meetings and appointments.  That’s my jumping off point.

Last week my client, a 50-something 3-star, said, “A lot of news shows are starting to report on the viral video of the day… I start every day looking at a few sites that I follow.”

YES! That’s a priority.  It’s in his budget.  This will be his tithe or investment in the community.  His staff will know they want to be in the social computing environment saying things and commenting on the ideas of others, because they know they will be noticed.  This is exactly the behavior we’re looking for to drive adoption.  It reminds me of the time back in the 80s when executives didn’t have their own email accounts or manage their own calendars.  They couldn’t quite understand why they didn’t know what was going on (their assistants did, though) and they couldn’t understand why their staffs were wasting their time “doing email”.

The beauty of the social media versus email is you don’t have to handle it all (yes I know you can have email filters, but truly most execs won’t go there).  As an executive or staffer at any level, you can spend a little time every day, say 15-20 minutes, looking at the channels you are tuned into and you can get the vibe of your world.  You can feel the ebb and flow of your river of activity and you can recognize and stimulate good activity.

Remember the old saw “leaders are readers”?  There should be a corollary in the social media world.  “If you are an executive or leader you need to commit that 5% (24 minutes of an 8-hour day).”

If community and collaboration are important, you need to get them on your calendar, in your budget.  The leader needs to not only commit their own time, they should communicate that they want this in everyone’s budget.  It’s that important.

Merging Command and Control with Expand and Extol: Coming to grips with social media in the military

In his book, Social Networking for Business, Rawn Shah discusses different leadership styles, ownership styles and aggregation styles. The discussions resonate with me as I work to bring new social computing tools to my military client.

Many people think that the introduction of new tools necessitates totally new social structures. That if the old way was a centralized, command and control, hierarchical management style, it would be necessary to transform into something different: flexible, self-organized, and flat-structured or informal. I doubt it. I can’t imagine how it makes any sense to overturn a milenia’s old military structure that efficiently mobilizes the activities of thousands of moving parts to meet readiness requirements and threats. So what’s the point of introducing social media?

I think Rawn explains a bit in his developerWorks blog. He differentiates the who and the how. The effective deployment of the emerging tools requires us to consider the culture into which we deploy. We need to understand the current norms and customs, understand the strengths. As we move forward, we need to put into balance new ways of working that enhance these norms, customs and strengths.

I think part of the problem comes from looking at the structure rather than the process. I suggest there may be completely different processes for generating ideas (collaboration) versus communicating policies and directives (command). I think that adding the notions of expand (inviting others to participate in many discussions) and extol (recognizing participation and promoting good ideas and behaviors) provide a great compliment to the future of the military.

That we could get situational awareness from the furthest reaches of the organization to any point in the network and having people tuned in to this network activity could significantly improve the nimbleness. In no way, does this obviate the need to leverage the existing and persistent leadership models. In fact, it makes them more responsive as more current facts can be brought to bear without having to exercise a march down and up various command structures. Ideas and facts can flow in any direction, while policies and directives will still flow down through the echelons.

Of the attributes of the control nature —reactive, top-down, formal— is any wrong? No. But the emergent nature provides useful complements —active, collaborative or networked, fluid. I think the future is bright for the deployment of collaboration communities and social media tools in the military, especially as we ask the forces and their civilian colleagues to do more with less and to work in more and more joint missions.

Experience is the new reality: a provocative look into the future monetization of collaboration

In response to a Facebook discussion where my friend Liz complained about the service at a particular USPS office, we mused about going “postal” in a virtual world. Another friend Judy suggested this video:

I think it is interesting how some envision the future. To be honest, I think parts of this idea are alive today. At time index 3:07 and following, it discusses how static information will be replaced by knowledge flow. I rather see twitter and Facebook as large flows you can join and float in.

You choose your friends, interest areas and communities. In a sense the “prosumer” is a reality today. We tune into channels we are interested in. As we float along in the streams, we sometimes pause to consider some of the larger objects floating along with us while ignoring the flotsam and jetsam.

On my recent trip to China I saw the movie “Surrogates” (trailer). It provides alternate view to the future conceived at time index 3:44 where all the senses are replicated in SecondLife. While it is interesting to consider that we (or the electronics we invent) will evolve to the point of having a spirit (time index 4:20) and that innovation will be gobbled up by some few megalopolies, I hope we will always have our own spirits to envision more and to create more value.

I like the idea that we may be able to enjoy new experiences in new ways. However, I prefer the thought of sitting around the old campfire trading (and creating) memories to trading them on some transport mechanism (time index 4:30).

I prefer to alter the tag line (Luddite that I am) to: Experience Reality

Dive right in.

What do you think?

We don’t mean to become invisible–do we?

Last time I talked about how important it is to make community visible by way of the shared story.  I was reflecting on the viability of an ‘invisible’ community.  Is it possible to have such a thing?  Has it ever been possible?   The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that “community” may possibly be a more universally understood construct than “family”.

By that I mean you can go anywhere and people will understand the essential characteristics of community.   Here is my paraphrase of the the Wikipedia definition:

Community—a more or less cohesive group with a common identity sustained by common intent, beliefs, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and any number of other conditions.

Family, on the other hand seems to be very open to interpretation.  Does it include blood relations only (or as legally augmented through adoptions and marriages)?  Just the atomic family of mother, father and children?   The Chinese 7-pocket family where you have one kid, two parents and four grandparents?  Is there a requirement for a blood relationship at all?  Any specific mix of gender identities?  In our modern world, we have patriarchal, matriarchal and anarchical family structures.  Families with one, two, three and more identified generations in close contact.  The variation is staggering.

But I digress.   It occurred to me that historically all sorts of communities were open, visible and transparent.  In more ‘primitive’ societies, not everyone has the wealth to own their respective homes and lands.  They may not have a place to store food beyond what’s being prepared for the next day or two.  They may not have electric or gas cooking ovens or private laundry facilities.  In these settings, the community shared in many activities—hunting for or gathering food, preparing food, caring for children.

There is little done that is hidden from view.  Most acts are public acts.  The fact that everyone was working together, playing together, living together contextualized the world.  Why would you twitter what everyone you knew could just see.  There was a common flow and everyone you knew or cared about was in the same flow with you.

I remember the funeral for my grandma Griess back in 1975.  It was in Sutton, Nebraska, a town of about 1800 for as long as I can remember.  We had moved away and lived in various cities and college towns in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Michigan.  I saw my grandparents for a week a year, at most, and had little interaction with their network. When we visited, we were busy with my extended family (my dad’s siblings and their children, my grandparents’ cousins and their descendents).

At the service, I remember commenting to my dad as I saw small children (5-10 years old, I guess) weeping at Grandma’s casket, “Dad, why are these little kids crying?  They can’t really know Grandma.”

He replied, “Oh, yes. They know her. They have all been to the house and been with their parents as they took Grandma and Grandpa shopping.”  They were clearly in the flow; I was not, clearly.

So what to make of all this as you try to make community work?  I think there are a couple of lessons.

  1. You need to get in the flow.   The flow is where the narrative is.  It’s where things are volunteered and also observed.
  2. Getting in the flow is easy when you’re all telling tales around the kneading stone or camp fire.  Or when the neighbors all gather at Cheers! It is much more difficult when we’re all in our own houses or places of business.
  3. In today’s social media, particularly of the business-oriented kind, it’s not good enough to be able to create a community space (note, a person can’t create a community, but they can create a space to foster community) or to be a member of a community.  You need to interact.
  4. So a practice I recommend is to consider the ways you can see what the flow is and find times where you roll up your pant legs and get off the shore.  Step into the flow and participate.  If you use email, let updates come to you, by all means, but also follow the links back into the shared space.
  5. If people are gathering in person and you can get there, get there.  If there’s a 3DI event with avatars, join in.

Some tools like Twitter and Facebook give you tools to be notified when your “friends” and “followers” do things.  I like the notion implemented in Newsgator Social Sites where you can subscribe to a daily digest to see the overall flow for everything you are interested in, in the end, the information in the flow should take you back in to the community space so you can add to the narrative, not just observe.

To make communities visible, means to share stories, not in some private, point-to-point way, but out in the open.  When I live out in the open, my stories can become our stories and the community can thrive.

Just because we don’t mean to be invisible, doesn’t mean we aren’t behaving like we are.  Encourage people to interact, to collaborate, to join the story and to be visible.