“How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?”

Getting a team together? Start building it before you’re even in the room.

Kathy Delaney-Smith is the coach of the Harvard woman’s basketball team… A few years ago she was asked to be the coach of Team USA in the international basketball competition. And what she was going to have was a dozen kids who’d been selected from a hundred who tried out, the very best female basketball players in the United States. And the problem was that they were going to be competing for five starting positions and moreover came from schools that were highly competitive.

So she had this question: “How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?” And she was only going to have four days of practice before they went to Turkey to actually do the competition.
And what she did was … she started building the team over a month before people came to Colorado Springs to the training center for their first practice.

She formed diads or triads … of women ahead of time by email and gave them little assignments to do, things like, since the tournament was going to be in Turkey, “What are the best museums in Turkey?” or “How would you teach the Turkish alphabet to someone who didn’t know it?”, and they had to do these things by email before they showed up and then make their presentation of their report when they arrived at Colorado Springs.

And it was amazing, she said, when they arrived they made their presentation to the rest of the team and the team USA staff, and it was all very funny, and they had started to bond as a team even before they started practice, which she said transcended the latent competitiveness that they were arriving with. So there’s all kind of creative things that you can do to try to help this set of people who are really individuals come together and experience themselves as a team.

Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast

What goes around

Do your work well.

Talk about it with people who might be interested.

Ask about their work.

Share stuff.


Show up.

Be a pleasure to work with.

Ship on time.

Build momentum.

Miss out by miles.


Miss out – but only just.

Be clear about your terms.

Be turned down.

Have some small successes.

Keep getting better.

Sooner or later, there’ll be a knock on your door: “Can you help us out?”

Did I mention have fun?

Too many buckets

You can fill a bucket pretty quickly under a tap. But try and fill a lot of buckets at once – a drip here, a squirt there – and it can take a long time before you have enough to work with in any of your buckets. And you’re probably wasting time, energy and water moving constantly between them.

Anything yet: never a better time

When should you start?

The internet feels saturated with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content to demand our attention for the next million years. Even if you could manage to squeeze in another tiny innovation, who would notice it among our miraculous abundance?

But, but… here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet! The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. It is only becoming. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that point look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016. People in the future will look at their holodecks and wearable virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars and AI interfaces and say, “Oh, you didn’t really have the internet” – or whatever they’ll call it – “back then.”

And they’d be right. Because from our perspective now, the greatest online things of the first half of this century are all before us. All this miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-on-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit – the equivalent of the dot-com names of 1984.

Because here is another thing the graybeards in 2050 will tell you – Can you imagine how awesome it would be to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it in the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole of history to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”

The last 30 years has created a marvelous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. But what’s coming will be different, beyond, and other. The things we will make will be constantly, relentlessly becoming something else. And the coolest stuff of all has not been invented yet.

Today truly is a wide-open frontier. We are all becoming. It is the best time ever in human history to begin.

You are not too late.

Kevin Kelly – The Inevitable – from chapter 1: Becoming

Further reading:

Top posts from Seth Godin

This is a list I’ll update from time to time

The digital divide is being flipped

About inequality at the foundations of education in the 21st century.

Non-profit overhead

What matters is your impact. Hugely relevant to anyone building an organisation that raises money.

Social media is a symptom, not a tactic

The Mona Lisa has a huge social media presence.

The narrative of social media grooming is a seductive one, but it’s as much of a dead end as spending an extra hour picking out which tie to wear before giving a speech.

Seth Godin

Quality and Effort

A post about the importance of building systems to improve quality – he’s not as far from Michael Gerber as he thinks he is  : )

Added 08/12/2018 :

Bear shaving

Brilliance on not solving the real problem.

Added 20/12/18

Do we value attention properly?

On the value of attention and trust, and not wasting either.

Added 23/04/19

It’s not the bottom, it’s the foundation

On creating organisational culture that works for everyone, encouraging enrollment, responsibility and creativity all the way through the organisation.

Added 03/06/2019

Roads or Buildings?

On the importance of infrastructure over specific institutions

GNU-GPL – a base of code

Richard Stallman famously wrote the GNU GPL, which is a license based on copy-left, not copyright. His position is the freedom to work with computers and work with software and work with software is hindered by copyright.

That in fact these are useful tools, and there are people who want to make useful tools and remix the useful tools of people who came before. Everything you use in the internet – that website that you visited that’s running on Apache, that email protocol, you’re able to do it because so many other entities were able to share these ideas.

So the way copy-left works is that if you use software that has a GPL license to make your software work better, it infects your software, and you also have to use the GPL license.

So if it works right, it will eat the world. So as the core of software in GNU gets bigger and deeper, it becomes more and more irresistible to use it. But as you use it the software you add to it also becomes part of that corpus.

And if enough people contribute to it, what we’ll end up with is an open, inspectable, improvable base of code that gives us a toolset for weaving together the culture we want to be part of.

Seth Godin Akimbo, November 21 2018 – Intellectual Property

An open, inspectable, improvable base of code.

For software.

For tools for making software.

How about for educational outcomes? For assessments?

For a set of tools and resources for running an organisation?

Where’s the scene?

In the first full episode of the Broken Record podcast, Malcolm Gladwell chats to Rick Rubin about the start of his journey to becoming a record producer.

I’m piecing together fragments here – iffy chronology:

  • He loved music. Punk and hardcore on the radio. Listening to hip-hop (tapes of Mister Magic’s Rap Attack – ‘the only place that hip-hop was on the radio’) with friends at school.
  • Starts a band, ‘The Pricks’ – at some point plays punk club CBGBs, where he manufactures a brawl to get the band thrown off stage.
  • Goes to hip-hop clubs on his own – often the only white guy in the audience. ‘I didn’t really think about it – I went for the music, and while sometimes I went places where I felt like, when I would walk in, I would feel like, “Hmm, I wonder if I belong here,” but then as soon as the music would start, my relationship to the music and the rest of the audience’s relationship to the music was the same, so I felt camaraderie in terms of musical taste and fandom.” 
  • Hangs out at ‘a little teeny punk rock record store called Rat Cage records’ – where he picks up with the Beastie Boys. I’m even sure if they were the Beastie Boys yet. ‘Rat cage… actually put out the first Beastie Boys – maybe the first two – Beastie Boys singles.’
  • Tours as DJ with the Beastie Boys on Madonna’s first tour (!) – ‘The Beasties were kind of rowdy and dirty, and Madonna’s audience were 14 year old girls… not so many Beastie fans – we didn’t even have an album out.’ He’s 21 – still at New York University. Drops out of the tour with an ear infection. Mike D of the Beasties was still at high school.
  • Starts Def Jam Recordings our of his dormitory in his fourth year at NYU – partly because he wasn’t happy with how hip-hop was being recorded.  ‘Just from the fan’s point of view of wanting records that sounded like I heard at the club, I started making them.’ Records License to Ill, the Beasties’ first full album.
  • There are other bands, clubs, more cross-overs with Punk and hip-hop… he’s busy. ‘I didn’t take any classes before three in the afternoon, because I knew I wouldn’t wake up.’
  • Goes on to become one of the most influential – the most influential? – music producers of his generation. Walk This Way with Aerosmith and Run DMC (which arguably brought hip-hop truly into the mainstream) was just the start.

Rap Up

  • He loved this thing
  • He found the scene, became part of it, started to make it. Punk and hip-hop shared a big DIY ethos.
  • He put in the hours – built a body of work
  • His work is for himself as well as for others in the scene
  • He – and the Beasties – are hybrids. Jewish boys with feet in the punk and hip-hop scenes. He credits this with a lot of his success in making rich music.

Blood and Bone (3): Drucker on decisions

All events but the truly unique require a generic solution. They require a rule, a policy, or a principle. Once the right principle has been developed, all manifestations of the same generic situation can be handled pragmatically—that is, by adaptation of the rule to the concrete circumstances of the case. Truly unique events, however, must be treated individually. The executive cannot develop rules for the exceptional.

The effective decision maker spends time determining which of the four different situations is happening. The wrong decision will be made if the situation is classified incorrectly.

By far the most common mistake of the decision maker is to treat a generic situation as if it were a series of unique events—that is, to be pragmatic when lacking the generic understanding and principle. The inevitable result is frustration and futility.

Equally common is the mistake of treating a new event as if it were just another example of the old problem to which, therefore, the old rules should be applied.

Peter Drucker, The Effective Decision, HBR1967

Blood and Bone (2): policy from decisions

An easy way to start making policy is to take a moment to record decisions you’ve made and why you made them.

When you can articulate the reason for key decisions, you make it much easier to make similar decisions in future – or better yet, easier for someone else to make a good decision without needing to come to you at all.

Peter Drucker describes four types of decision:

1. Decisions for generic events, of which the individual occurrence is only a symptom.

These are questions or problems that keep cropping up in the same or in slightly different form. An example might be repeated questions from clients about a specific service – our question is ‘how should I answer’?

There are three ways to save time with problems like this:

  1. Make the decision about what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, and document it. In this example, it might be writing a template email that provides key information in an appropriate tone. Copying and pasting and tweaking an email is far easier than reinventing the wheel each time.
  2. Find a way to make the problem solve itself. A good-quality FAQ section on your website might reduce the number of people who end up emailing. (But whatever you do, don’t send people who email to the FAQs without copying the relevant paragraph into your answer).
  3. Eliminate the problem. Few problems or questions are inevitable. Is there something you can do to eliminate the need for the question? This could be a case of designing a better product, or investing in a better ‘wrapper’ – one that puts the necessary information in the hands of your client exactly when they’ll need it.

2. Decisions about problems that seem unique, but are actually generic

Your problem might be new to you, but be common to all organisations. Financial management, child protection policies and performance reviews are examples of this.

There are established standards and processes like double-entry bookkeeping because everyone has to deal with money. If they help – and they’re likely to – use them.

Ask for help, learn from others, then be generous in sharing what you know when someone asks you.

If there’s nothing helpful out there – could you share yours once you’ve made it? How about open-sourcing your policies to save others from reinventing the wheel?

3. Decisions about exceptional events 

Unique and unrepeatable events are rare – do the best you can.

4. Decisions about exceptional events that turn out to be generic

It’s possible that you’ll come across an apparently unique problem that turns out to be, in Drucker’s words, ‘the first manifestation of a new genus… the early manifestation of a new problem.’ Try to look closely and see, then treat as in (1), above.

Blood and Bone (1)

When we start working for a cause, we want to get stuff done.

Most of us don’t want to know about money, and we don’t really care about policies and organisational structure.

We’re interested in impact… but impact usually takes time.

If someone doesn’t have a good handle on the finances (where the money comes from, where it’s going), and someone isn’t documenting decisions and culture in a way that’s easy to use and share, you’re unlikely to be able to ‘do the stuff’ very well, or for very long.

Money and structure are the blood and bones of your organisation – they enable it to keep going and to be more than a bag of jelly.

Getting these things right early – starting light, staying flexible, but working regularly to strengthen them –  will save you a huge amount of time and energy later.

For policy, start with notes in a googledoc, and roll from there. It’ll make things easier tomorrow.

For financial stuff, start here.