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.

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.

"Seeing" Female Social Entrepreneurs

A genuine answer to Teju’s genuine question: “Where are all the Women?”

Each of us encounters more information in every moment of everyday life than we can possibly consciously process. So, as a natural survival mechanism, we developed ways to skim information, pick out the important bits and let the rest fade into the background. To recognize examples (and non-examples) of things, we form “schemas” for them.

So, when we’re looking for apples, objects that are elongated…or orange…or metallic…are automatically (efficiently) rejected. These schemas save us enormous amounts of time. In fact, individuals unable to form them are usually unable to function in society.

But what happens when something contradicts our schemas?

Barring some kind of conscious effort, we simply don’t see them. They don’t register as members of the set we’re looking for. With conscious effort we can get past the double-takes, and reconcile the mismatch with a conscious exception–that often comes out in language (eg. “male nurse.”)

Women simply don’t fit most people’s schema of the entrepreneur–so when they look around for entrepreneurs, they see men. (Case in point: GOOD magazine writes about the innovative Thrust Fund, and calls Kjerstin Erikson a man.)

Perhaps it’s because women place greater value on teams and networks and tend to exhibit less of the “charismatic lone wolf” leadership style we’ve come to expect from entrepreneurs. Perhaps it’s because the organizations they lead tend to experience less of the financial volatility and drama we associate with entrepreneurship. Perhaps it’s just good old-fashioned sexism.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that despite their under-representation in research, funding and the media, there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of female social entrepreneurs out there working for sustainable social change–and doing a bang-up job of it.

It’s time we all learned to “see” them.

Embracing Micro-Failure

How granting others permission, authority and even incentive to fail can lead to quicker, deeper, more lasting success.

“Look at all of your work as an experiment — a pilot — and plan upfront for several review points along the way that allow you to correct your course or exit altogether. First drafts are rarely your best work. It is the thousand little edits and mid-course corrections that create excellence. Smart failures are a badge of honor.”   – Larry Blumenthal

Here are a few thoughts on how leaders can enable micro-failure:

  • Permission to Fail – Let people know it’s okay to fail. And be explicit. (One team I know adopted the motto: “Have you failed today?”) Not only will it contribute to a positive team environment, but individuals with permission to fail also have permission to take risks and push boundaries, question assumptions, and ask for help when they need it.
  • Authority to Fail – Giving your colleagues, employees, or volunteers tacit or even explicit permission to fail does little good if they haven’t even got enough rope to hang themselves. It’s a lot easier to delegate tasks than to delegate authority. But real autonomy and decision-making power ensures credit as well as accountability. And it’s a lot easier to learn from a mistake we feel we own.
  • Incentive to Fail – It sounds counter-intuitive, but find ways to reward and celebrate failures (or at least the resultant lessons.) Regularly sharing micro-failures within a team, passing around your own “fail whale” trophy, and mapping past failures to current success can help make your organization a “fail-safe” environment.

After all,

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”   -Theodore Roosevelt

Negotiation 101: Grow the Pie

Lessons from Getting to Yes on how “growing the pie” helps bypass the pitfalls of distributive bargaining and make negotiations turn out better for all

Approaching a high-stakes negotiation can feel like preparing for battle. We arm ourselves with logic, pathos, data, and even threats to fight for our share.

But, more often than most of us realize, negotiations don’t have to be adversarial “us vs. them” encounters. Though the impulse to approach the table clinging ferociously to your piece of the pie is strong—Fisher and Ury claim it’s often unnecessary, and even counter productive.

The first step to getting past the impulse is to let go of the notion that every gain for “them” is a loss for “us,” something researchers term the distributive mindset. Some negotiations are inherently distributive—that is, the resource being divided is finite and fundamentally un-shareable.

But Fisher and Ury suggest that efforts to “grow the pie,” help negotiations turn out better for all involved.

Here are some ways to try:

  • Capitalize on complements. Assign concrete values/weights to each issue from your own perspective and take a shot at the same from the other party’s point of view. Complementary issues (really important to the other party, less so for you) allow you to make generous concessions and encourage reciprocity.
  • Bring more to the table. Look for something of potential value to your negotiation partner that you could offer at little cost to yourself. Offering un-asked-for value can create powerful goodwill and swing things your way on the more controversial issues.
  • Present packages. To avoid the trap of battling it out issue-by-issue, take the time to craft several potentially agreeable resolutions in advance. These sets should highlight trade-offs and push the other party to decide what’s most important and let go of less critical issues.

6 Tips for Choosing a Domain Name

How to boost traffic, improve SEO, and prepare for growth from day one.

1. Connect the Dots: Some companies tack on an attractive up-sell that includes obscure extensions like .me, .info, .biz, and more. Keep in mind that most users default to .com when searching/working online (a fact that should influence the purchases of .org non-profits and social ventures). Most organizations will do fine purchasing the top three variants of their domain.

2. Say That 5 Times Fast: Face it, typos are a way of life. And American spelling and grammar proficiency isn’t getting any better. Try typing (or having a few friends type) your domain name several times quickly. Make note of the most common miss-spellings or typing mistakes and purchase several of those domain variants to redirect to your site. [We purchased tipingbucket.org, for example]

3. Read Twice, Register Once: In a similar vein, be sure to say your chosen domain name out loud a few times before pulling the trigger. Better yet, have a few people unfamiliar with your venture read it back to you. [click here to laugh at some people who apparently skipped this step.]

4. Scale with Sub-domains: Remember that you can build out a site structure within any given domain. [blog.tippingbucket.org means that you don’t have to buy dropsinthebucket.org or tippingbucketblog.org, for example]

5. Reach for Re-directs: If another organization already owns an extension variant of your domain (for instance, tippingbucket.com – rain gauges, not world-changing) reach out to the owners and suggest a mutual re-direct; “If you need the kind that measures rainfall, click here.”

6. Cash in on Coupons: This one’s easy—a simple search will almost always turn up discount codes for whatever domain registry you choose to work with. You’re a startup–take advantage.

Failing Forward

A friend shared a video with me (well, with the world) a few days ago, that makes some interesting connections to development. You can see it here.

The video is about failure. About its role in innovation and competition. About its consequences (both painful and productive) and about how it can transform our view of the past and shape our futures.

Easterly talks a lot about failure in White Man’s Burden. And I have to agree that most of the efforts of international aid have done little good, and in some cases, a great deal of harm. But if something as relatively simple as designing a race car entails such dramatic, such profound, such persistant failure, how can we expect something as complex, convoluted and nuanced as “development” to come without it?!

Perhaps the problem is not so much that we fail, that our efforts fall short of our goals (and the needs of the people we work with). Perhaps the problem is with how we fail. The parts of Easterly’s argument I find most compelling are the bits about evaluation, about context and localization, about empowerment and accountability.

  • Would we fail differently if we focused our problem-solving on local outbreaks instead of global pandemics?
  • Would we fail differently if recipients instead of donors set the criteria for success?
  • Would we fail differently if we explored outcomes instead of simply tracking outputs?

It seems to me that failure is inherent to dealing with any problem worth solving. That no effort, no matter how carefully planned, how painstakingly executed, will come off without hitches, without un-intended consequences. That we will probably (realistically…objectively) fail more than we succeed.

But, it also seems to me that failure is not a reason to stop striving. I’m not willing to throw up my hands and turn my back because I didn’t stop the spread of AIDS in Africa (or the gang activity in the middle school down the street) with my first attempt…or my fiftieth. But I would be equally foolish not to learn from those failures. If I am continually failing differently, those failures will become stepping stones, and eventually I will succeed.

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.

The Thing about Revolutions

A lesson from my first summer doing “real” development work in Paraguay:

Aparently, the consensus among the “adults” at the school is that I am a revolutionary, inciting the proletariat to various acts of sedition and generally upsetting the delicate balance of their system. Oops.

Actually, it was a conscious choice. During my first oh, month and a half here at the school, it looked for all the world like the only hope I had of making changes was to start from the bottom up—work with the students because their leaders were if not physically, at least mentally absent more often than not. So I all but wrote them off and started working with the students, organizing workshops, doing interviews, etc. but mostly just working with them….and the goats…and the lettuce. It looked for all the world like any change here would happen in spite of the leadership, not because of it. And I was okay with that.

Right? Wrong!

Here’s the thing about revolutions: At first glance, it looks like starting from the bottom is the only way to go if you’re in the market. After all, that’s where the numbers are, that’s where the passion is, etc. However, looking a little more closely, one of the critical success factors of this type of revolution is a profound and sudden transfer of power at the top. In other words, starting at the bottom only really works of you can guillotine the ones at the top. Oops.

So, I’m adjusting my strategy a bit. And peace talks are proceeding nicely.