Count Me In.

Like (I imagine) most employees here with a more-or-less established social media presence, to describe my initial reaction to yesterday’s presentation as “reserved” would be generous. If I’m honest, the internal monologue went something like this:

“Um. No. My social networks are my space. And I use them the way I want to. They’re not a part of me you’re entitled to benefit from as an employer. I’ve cultivated what little influence I have carefully—and I have it at least partly because I don’t use it to market stuff. And the fact that I just know you’re going to ask me to (even though you say you’re not) just proves that you really don’t ‘get’ social media…”

Well, I’ve taken some time to process some of that rather self-righteous paranoia, and while some of those reactions expose really interesting questions I hope we’ll explore as we build this case, I’ve ended up pretty excited about the whole thing.

Here’s why:

1. This is a real-time case. “HBR cases are so 1999,” Josh quipped in the launch meeting. And he’s right. The technology to invite a community to observe and analyze business process in action has been around for several years now. Domo (and Josh) might just have the balls to actually do it.

2. In contrast to nearly every other corporate social media initiative I’m aware of, #domosocial is not just social for social’s sake. It’s not even social for brand’s sake. One of the hypotheses the experiment sets out to test is that increased exposure to and engagement with social media on the part of strategists, engineers, designers, developers, even sales people, will make the product better. And that’s an audacious goal I can get behind.

3. The #domosocial experiment acknowledges (while throwing a punch at) the truism that “geography is destiny.” Lindon, UT is most emphatically not Silicon Valley (heck, I opt for a 40-min commute because it is so not Silicon Valley.) But the idea here is that effort and engagement can offset distance—that you don’t have to carpool to soccer practice with employee #2 of the next big thing to get, and stay, on the cutting edge of what’s possible. It just takes a little more work.

So, yeah. Count me in for the experiment.

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Mayday! Mayday!

OK, so the title of this post may be a bit melodramatic, but the experience has been intense (and insightful) so I figured I’d share.

TippingBucket is in what’s known in aviation as a departure stall.

A departure stall happens when a small, but usually heavily-laden, plane takes off down the runway–even lifts off–but simply can’t get the airspeed to climb. Now, this would be no problem if it weren’t for the 100-year-old oaks…or skyscrapers…or mountains that lie between the plane and it’s destination. But a plane attempting anything more than a 5k hop across a flat, uninhabited desert simply has to climb.

But here’s the key: the problem of a departure stall can’t be solved with a longer runway. Since about June, when the financial engine started sputtering, my primary focus has been extending the runway; scrambling every month to get the bare necessities covered for that month and losing sleep at night over where the funds would come from for those bare necessities next month. Miraculously, that runway has extended under us a month, sometimes a day, at a time for the past 6 months.

But the plane still isn’t climbing. And the only way out of a departure stall is more airspeed. Back off the angle of attack. Lighten the plane. Take another shot at takeoff.

So, we’ve touched down for a bit, tightened processes, focused in on our core mission, and are gearing up for another shot at getting TippingBucket not only off the ground, but 35,000 ft high doing acrobatics at the forefront of the crowdfunding movement where it belongs.

Work the Edge

On my last trip to Portland, a group of fellow social entrepreneurs and mentors enjoyed lunch. Predictably, some of us had victories to celebrate while others it seemed were nearing the end of their metaphorical rope. A string of evaporating deals, missed deadlines, and ‘complicated’ international relations had left one colleague emotionally dangling from a knot at the end of said rope.

As the rest of us commiserated, one of our mentors leaned forward and simply said; “you just keep working the edge.”

Lunch ended, but the phrase kept coming back to me. It’s been months now, and I don’t think the full meaning has crystallized yet, but this much I know:

Whether we’re tucking into a massive slab of steak, turning a misshapen hunk of granite into our generation’s David, or trying to vanquish diarrheal disease in the Central African Republic, the best approach (sometimes the only one with any hope of success) is to consistently work the edge.

Attack whatever bit of the problem is most accessible. Nip away at it where it’s thinnest for now and some day (probably sooner than you think) the impenetrable, dark, tangled heart of the thing will (miraculously, but also reliably) have become “edge.”

5 Steps to (almost) Effortless Empowerment

Corporate America spends millions each year searching (usually at vaguely fluffy off-site retreats spattered with trust-falls, group “sharing” and warm-fuzzies) for employee “empowerment.” These concrete tips take little time, even less money…and actually work.

1. Call People By Name Research has shown that hearing our own name on a regular basis, especially from those in positions of power makes us more likely to take risks, accept responsibility, invest in a community, and generally push our personal boundaries.

2. Pay SMART Compliments We’ve all seen the difference that specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely goals can make. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same criteria to our expressions of gratitude and affirmation, and “Hey, good job.” became “Wow. Your presentation this morning was awesome–your re-write of the opening totally hooked them, and the pacing through the financials was right on. Seriously can’t wait for next week.”

3. Give Negative Feedback Researchers in the field of “expertise and expert performance” continually cite our cultural dirth of negative feedback as the main reason so few of us ever escape mediocrity. We’d fire an athletic coach or music teacher who refused to point out and correct mistakes–so why do CEOs and managers get away with it?

4. Speak Their Language Advice to learn your co-workers “love language” may sound like an invitation for a law suit, but applied appropriately, it can help build trust, diffuse conflict and increase creativity. Individuals tend to express (and therefore receive love (and affirmation, appreciation, validation, etc.) in several distinct ways. Learning which each of your employees or team members responds best to can help you communicate positive reinforcement so that it actually makes a difference. Look for these 5 main “dialects”…

  • Words of Affirmation : Chances are, you already think nice things about your co-workers an a regular basis. But since most of them aren’t mind-readers, it doesn’t do much good unless you speak up!
  • Quality Time : Ever heard the saying, “time is money.” Well, in business particularly, it’s often true. So making time for colleagues–to work through a problem, share a lunch, even listen to them vent–often communicates their value to you more clearly than anything else.
  • Acts of Service : for these individuals, simple gestures (rinsing their coffee cup, offering to take their place at a meeting, picking up the slack when their 2-year-old gets chicken pox) speak louder than words.
  • Physical Touch : again, keep this appropriate, but for some people nothing “says” good work! like a good-old-fashioned pat on the back.
  • Gifts : even small tokens of appreciation–certificates, awards, gift cards, time off–can go a long way with a person whose language is gifts.

5. Listen! Ever notice how the few people you know who are really good listeners also tend to be some of the most popular, productive, and powerful people you know too? So take a good honest look at your listening skill and set a concrete goal to improve.

The Competition Conundrum

Read this post on United Prosperity this morning. It reminded me of Nathaniel Whitmore’s self-proclaimed snarkiness on Twitter a few weeks back at the announcement of “yet another” web-based social change content aggregator. I reacted:

This looks sadly like a manifestation of one of the downfalls of our current philanthropic system. Why, when a project like Kiva already exists, has crossed numerous startup hurdles, and is well on their way to actually making it in to the mainstream, would someone choose to create a competing organization with no significant competitive advantage (that will spend money on redundant overhead, not to mention having to learn many of the lessons already learned by their predecessor) instead of throwing their energy, passion, and whatever innovating ideas they have behind the existing successful project!? It’s hard to see that as anything other than ego getting in the way of the best interests of the cause.

It was an honest question. Still is. But it’s got me wondering something else.

Does everyone who’s thrown themselves behind an idea develop a competitive advantage blind-spot?

Some days I think I have. Someone sends me a link to a site I’ve looked at dozens of times and I can fire off a response email with half a dozen points of differentiation without even looking at the screen. I even find myself getting impatient when others don’t seem to see how clearly different the Tipping Bucket is from this other site they’ve come across.

When it comes to assessing the “competitive landscape,” I’ve pretty much stopped listening.

I’ve spent so much time analyzing, evaluating, classifying and subdividing the players in this space…I’m so familiar with the subtleties of distinction and overlap, that I hardly listen when some well-meaning associate starts a sentence with “Oh, it’s like…”

Thing is, it’s those perspectives that really matter. These cursory, uniformed, unsophisticated perceptions shape the market, and social entrepreneurs (myself included) would do well to pay attention to them.