Their thing

It’s great that you have a thing – that you’re clear about it what it is and how important it is, and that you’re talking about it and taking action and enjoying it to boot. It’s great that it’s yours.

The temptation to avoid is to try to make it everybody else’s thing as well.

Trying to get people who aren’t really into your thing to play a significant role in it – as employees, implementers, sales people or evangelists – will only lead to disappointment all round.

Trying to give or sell your thing to someone who has different priorities will end in frustration and exhaustion.

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Find the people for whom this is their thing too: people who already share your vision, or one that significantly overlaps with it. Lead: say the words, ravel the network, build a tribe.
  2. Find people who have their own thing but will willingly put it in service of yours. There are passionate accountants, dedicated administrators, superb policy people, committed teachers, and fantastic IT technicians who will be delighted to do what they love in service of a good cause.
  3. Find partners for whom your thing is an integral part of theirs. At the charity I work at, our thing is teaching children to read and love reading. We do it by serving schools, charities or parents with a bigger vision – education as a whole, or community development, or raising flourishing kids – of which we provide a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The first group are rare gems. Finding them often takes consistent generative work, but it’s worth it. The right partners will bring far more energy than you spend on finding them, starting a chain reaction of possibilities and results.

You can’t live without the second group – they hold key pieces of the puzzle to making your thing a reality. Your job is to help them thrive and flourish doing their thing, as a subset of yours. They’re also the people who will get the most exposure to your vision, values and culture – by playing to their strengths, putting them to work with their thing, you make it much more likely that they’ll start to own yours.

The third group are your clients or donors or customers. They – or the people they serve – are why you’re here in the first place. Always as a leader, you’re a person serving people who serve people.*

*This is vintage Tom Peters

Alacrity…

… is a splendid virtue.

Remember how much better everything feels when you…

… step lively / jump to it / look alive / haul away / do it now.

Remember the quickness, lightness and sureness of step, and how much you can get done.

Alacrity makes even arduous tasks seem better because with it, they’re quickly behind you.

See also: 

Eagerness. Willingness. Readiness… Treasure Island 

Tom Peters on ‘People Stuff’

I’ve made a start on The Excellence Dividend and really like what Tom Peters has to say, and how he says it. Here he is in his inimitable ALL CAPS style:

WHILE I’VE BEEN ON THE EXCELLENCE DIVIDEND  BOOK TOUR–MOSTLY PODCASTS — I’VE BEEN ASKED OVER AND OVER TO EXPLAIN MY “OBSESSION” WITH THE “PEOPLE STUFF.”

I USUALLY ANSWER, SNIPPILY, “WELL WHAT THE HELL ELSE IS THERE?”

ORGANIZATIONS, NO MATTER HOW MUCH TECHNOLOGY THEY USE, ARE NO MORE AND NO LESS THAN ‘PEOPLE SERVING PEOPLE’.

AND AS A LEADER, YOUR JOB IS: SERVE THE PEOPLE WHO SERVE THE PEOPLE.

(ONE LAST THING: THE PEOPLE WE SERVE ARE OUR EMPLOYEES AND OUR CUSTOMERS AND OUR COMMUNITIES.)

Tom PetersExcellence Dividend Fundamentals Slideshow

The toll gate

There were several cars backed up at the toll gate. Was the toll gate broken, or had the front car broken down?

The problem was simply that the driver at the front of the queue had forgotten to top up their payment card – so they were stuck.

They rifled through their wallet. Tried their backup. Thought for a moment. Asked for help from the car behind. Several drivers refused before – finally – someone lent him a card in exchange for a ten-thousand rupiah note.

The barrier opened. He drove through. He went back to return the card. He got back into his car. Finally, he drove away.

And all the time people watched and waited, and the queue got longer.

It would have been better for all of us if someone who had seen the problem – those closest could see best – had gone forward with their card and paid to let him through.

It needed clear vision (to see the problem), prompt action (to fix it quickly) and generosity (to pay someone else’s way).

Complementary goods

Basically this means that since the demand of one good is linked to the demand for another good, if a higher quantity is demanded of one good, a higher quantity will also be demanded of the other, and if a lower quantity is demanded of one good, a lower quantity will be demanded of the other.

Wikipedia – Complementary Good

The more your work helps others to do theirs – the more your success adds to theirs – the more you’ll find that people want to work with you, and cheer you on.

Can you find ways of being so generous and useful to your customers – even to your ‘competitors’ – that their success is a win for you, and vice-versa?

You might become an indispensable part of someone else’s product, or the add on that people buy to complete or enrich their purchase.

It’s a good thing for them to miss you if you’re gone – it’s transformative when they can’t imagine doing it without you.

The butter to their bread

You make everything a little bit better and people include you without thinking. When they do forget you, they find that their sandwiches go soggy, and everything falls apart.

The cream in their coffee

There are other ways to do the job, but you hit the spot. Your presence turns something good-but-no-frills into something safe but luxurious.

The chilli to their gorengan

You’re not for everyone, but you are transformative. You the add the spice and interest that turns a greasy little something into a pick-me-up with a lasting glow.

The rubber to their sole.

They may think they’re hitting the road, but it’s you making what they do stick. You’re the interface that gives them traction.

What is that’ll make them sing about you?

As powerful as a smile

Real marketing is built into what you do and why you do it. It’s part of your story, something that you do organically when your business is aligned with your mission and values. Kept promises, free returns, obsession with the details, returned emails, clean tables, and attentive staff – all of this is your real marketing.

Real marketing creates a deeper impact, leaves a lasting impression, and is as powerful as a smile.

Bernadette Jiwa – The Fortune Cookie Principle

Why do people come to you for the thing you provide?
What do they get? Why do they want it? How does it make them feel?
What makes them come back?
Do they tell other people about you? What do they say?

What do your actions / words and tone of voice / website / way you dress / your office / commitment to doing things well say about who you are and what you’re doing? Do they say the same thing?
For a non-profit organisation, do you smile at your donors and your clients in the same way? (you should)
Are you an example of these things for your team? How do you articulate them to the team, to new members, to partners?

Goldilocks

I’ve made yogurt a couple of times a week for the last two years, and quickly reached the conclusion that it’s not rocket science.**

I use powdered milk (much easier in Jakarta), get the temperature of the water roughly right, put both it into the (unwashed) container that held the old yogurt, put that in an insulated box and pow, seven hours later you’ve got yogurt.

Near perfect results with minimal variation. Twice weekly, every week, for two years. It’s Easy, yo.

Except this week.

Now it’s the rainy season. It’s raining in a way that it hasn’t done for a couple of years, and suddenly it’s cool at night (well, 27 degrees instead of 31), and I’ve discovered that the last hundred or so good results have had more to do with me happening to live at an ideal temperature for making yogurt than my expertise.*** What worked effortlessly before, and produced good results, suddenly just produces sour milk, or curds and whey.

The context – which I’d never really even noticed – has changed, and if I still want yogurt, I’m going to need to do things differently.

Goldilocks

In the same way, the success of our organisations (impact, culture) is always to some extent dependent on factors that are beyond our control. This is simply how life works – and responding to these conditions is part of what will make us successful.

The danger comes when we forget that there is a context, and that it can change. We fail to realise that we’re living in a Goldilocks moment****, and base our (charitable) business models on assumptions that will no longer work for us when conditions (including our users) change.

We need to keep an eye on the future, and do our best to understand what’s changing and why, and respond accordingly.

Just as importantly, we need to base our models on things that change more slowly, or not at all. Fundamentals like staying focused on a clear vision and deeper goals, integrity, an attitude of service and investing in people, showing up and getting things done, communicating well, having a good handle on the money, and even being prepared to close things down when the time comes.

It’s also worth spending time thinking about the ecosystem that you’re part of, and how you can build assets that you can control that will create the factors you need to succeed. At the centre of your assets will be a history of excellent work that helps others to flourish, founded on relationships of trust and affection. These assets will stand you in good stead when Goldilocks moves on.

** I mean, how much did people know about rockets when they started making yogurt?

*** It’s still pretty easy, just not effortless

**** the current burst of interest in and funding for literacy education in Indonesia might be an example of this

Iqbal Quadir: connectivity is productivity

Another way of looking at networks from Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen Phone and entrepreneur against poverty:

One day in 1993 [while working at an investment bank] I was working with three or four people and our computer network was connected, and we were more productive, we didn’t have to exchange floppy disks … and we could update each other more frequently. But one time it [the network ] broke down … and while I was waiting for someone to come and fix it, and during that time I remembered a time in 1971, in Bangladesh [where I grew up]…

… One time my other asked me to get some medicine for a younger sibling, some ten kilometers away, so I walked all morning to get there, and when I got there the medicine man wasn’t there, so I walked all afternoon back.

So I remembered this unproductive day when I was having another one in New York, and suddenly I put these two unproductive days side-by-side and I realised that connectivity is productivity. It’s true for a modern office, and also for any place – for an undeveloped village. Because I could have got more done if I could tell [that the medicine man wasn’t there], I was just a kid, but perhaps a productive person would have done something, if I was a fisherman I could have fished that day, instead of wasting the day just connecting with somebody. …

Today Bangladesh has 150 million people. If you waste one day per month you’ll see millions of man-months wasted in not having some kind of connectivity.

… *** …

Adam Smith said specialisation leads productivity. But how would you specialise? If I’m a fisherman and farmer, Kevin is a fisherman and farmer, how am I going to suddenly become a fisherman and Kevin become a farmer? Not until we can connect with each other. Because we must first be able to depend on each other, to be able to rely on his goods and exchange with my goods. And in order to rely on each other, we must connect with each other. So if we are neighbours, of course we can depend on each other because we connect regularly. But then, the economy is very small – just based on small neighbourhoods.

So if you must expand your economy and specialise more, you must connect in some other way – through a highway, through a river, or perhaps, through a telephone wire.

But the key point is that you must be able to connect first in order to depend on each other, and then be able to specialise and advance the economy in general.

Iqbal Quadir at the Long Now Foundation

*** At this point – about 26 minutes into the talk – Quadir tells more of the story of the founding of Grameen phone, and his analysis that underpinned his business model. In summary, he used research produced by the International Telecommunications Union suggesting that the value of adding nodes to a network is higher for countries with lower GDP – he suggests a 25x return on investment on a new phone over ten years (in terms of contribution to GDP), even before accounting for the effect of Moore’s law, which multiplies this several times over .