In their hands

Make something people can use.

Put it in their hands.

See what happens.

If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.

Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.

If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.

What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?

You’ve got it when they’ve got it.

You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.

Network opportunities

One telephone – in the whole world – is useless. Who would you call?

The more telephones there are – and especially the more telephones that belong to people you want to talk to – the more useful they become.

This is Metcalfe’s law: the value of a network increases exponentially with the size of the network.

It works for Lego, too. Add a brick, and you add many more possibilities.**

And it’s true for languages – broadly speaking, if more people speak a given language, the more opportunities knowing it creates.

Books also exist as a kind of network. They don’t just depend on other books to enrich their meanings. Books need other books to mean at all. Books make it easier for there to be more books, and if more people read them it makes your books more valuable.

Most things work better with other things – and it’s truer than ever as our networked age allows more people, things and ideas to connect than ever before.

Some ways to add value to a network:

  • Expand the network – add a new node and increase the possible connections
  • Highlight the best parts – not all books are equal
  • Strengthen important connections.
  • Make maps: find and share ways through the network that make it more useful, richer in meaning, faster, more fun
  • Explore: find lost treasures at the periphery and bring them in
  • Create: look for missing pieces – points of possibility that would add a lot of value to the network if they existed – then make them

** Two eight-stud Lego bricks of the same color can be combined in 24 different ways. Three eight-stud bricks can be combined in 1,060 ways. There are more than 915 million combinations possible for six 2 x 4 LEGO bricks of the same color. (Lego Land fun facts)

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?

Stan Lee (1922-2018) – What If?

The exact cover of the Marvel What If that Dave’s brother kept in a plastic folder


Stan Lee was brilliant and prolific.

We know him for Spiderman, the X-men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther… for being the driving force behind Marvel Comics, now a multi-billion dollar, multi-media juggernaut.

It’s less well known that he started in the comics industry in 1939, aged seventeen, as a general dogsbody, lunch-fetcher and inkwell filler at Timely Comics (which would eventually become Marvel).

Lee must have had something about him – he became editor at 19 – but here’s the thing: he slogged it out writing comics – westerns, crime stories, horror and superhero work – for twenty two years without really hitting the big time. They say he chose Stan Lee as a pen name because he was worried he’d be embarrassed by his work in comics if he ever wrote the Great American Novel.

By the early 60s Lee was fed up, and ready to quit. The Fantastic Four was a last throw of the dice on his wife’s suggestion that he try writing the comics he wanted to write. There was nothing to lose.

He was forty-one years old.

The rest is history.

What if Stan Lee had never written the fantastic four?

Some takeaways:

Value loop

Most businesses that prosper create value for their communities and their customers as well as themselves, and the most successful businesses do so in part by creating a self-reinforcing value loop with and for others. They build a platform on which people who don’t work directly for them can build their own dreams.

Tim O’Reilly, WTF?

This is a key to building a fruitful and sustainable business or charity – be part of your partners’ success story.

Make yourself so useful that they can’t imagine doing it without you, and are eager to pay for what you do.

Align your interests so that their success is your success.

Be such a source of good in your community that they cheer you on.

Be indispensable.

Education for the future: which kids are ours? (2)

Which kids are yours?

Which kids are “our kids”?

It’s fine to start with your own or those closest to you. If those kids aren’t your kids, it’s hard to see how any others possibly can be.

So ask yourself: what will it take for those kids closest to me to thrive – to have the kind of future I hope they’ll have?

They’ll need to love and be loved, to stay safe, to have enough to eat and drink, to have chances to learn and make mistakes. They’ll need friends, peers, juniors, seniors, neighbours, teachers, colleagues, leaders, followers, allies and possibly opponents. They’ll need people to build infrastructure and people to operate and maintain it. They’ll need medical care. They’ll need places to go and things to do and see. They’ll need clean air and water and plants and animals and natural beauty. They’ll need practical skills and art and science and wisdom and faith.

Our kids need all of these and many more to live well and, eventually, to die well too. So starting from the future-that-is-becoming-the-present – that is, starting from right now, and forever after – our kids will need other people just to live, let alone to thrive.

And not just any people – our kids need as many of the right sort of people as possible – people who can flourish, and help those around them to flourish too.

So of course, we start with the kids closest to us – of course we do. But even in the unlikely event that you only cared about yourself and those closest to you, when we’re talking about education for the future and what our kids need, we can be clear that “our kids” can’t just mean your kids.

Our kids need other kids, and the adults that those kids will become.

Even the most narrowly self-interested definition of “our kids” has got to include other people’s children too.

Start with yours, and work outwards.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation – Playlist

This is the final post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

It’d be tempting to say ‘it’s finished’, but I know I’ll be coming back to these.

For now though, here are the 20 installments of Bootstrapping the Non-Profit:

Rule 1: Real work for Real Clients First

Rule 2: Do it Now

Rule 3: Serve Clients Eager to Pay for What You Do (part 1)
[Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Rule 4: Resist the Urge to do Average Work for Average People

Rule 5: Own Your Own Assets

Rule 6: Scale Carefully and Find the Right Size for You
[Part 2] [Part 3]

Rule 7: Charge the Amount that Works (and be worth more than you charge)
[Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Rule 8: Create Boundaries for Yourself
[Part 2] [Part 3] [Bonus Episode]

Rule 9: Become ever more Professional

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 7 (part 4)

This is the seventh-and-a-quarter post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 7: Charge a lot (but be worth more than you charge)

A last argument for applying this rule in non-profit context is that if your clients pay, your resources go further, and you can serve a lot more people. We covered this principle in Rule 3 (see ‘Eager to pay and scaling the non-profit), but it’s worth repeating here.

I’ve just been listening to an interview with One Acre Fund‘s Andrew Youn on Rob Reid’s After On podcast where Andrew spoke about the importance of a revenue model in their work, where the farmers they serve receive credit, but ultimately pay for the services they receive:

Rob Reid: Some people might say that these folks are extremely poor, why don’t you deliver these services for free? Part of it is that there’s only so much money in your organisation, and that 98.5% payback means that you’ve got a lot more dollars put to work. What percentage of One Acre Fund’s annual budget comes back to it through repayments?

Andrew Youn: Most of One Acre Fund is core program delivering all these services… Within that core program, about 70% of our budget is covered by farmer payments, and 30% from donors.

RR: You’re literally serving three times as more as many people as you could if you were a purely charitable organisation.

AY: It makes us so much more cost effective… we can serve three, four times as many people by charging for our services. I think it also makes us a little more beholden, as an organisation, to the customer that we serve. So we use, for example, repayment as a customer service quality metric. [see Rule 1 for more on this idea]

After On Podcast, Episode 35

.

So here’s the final reformulation of Rule 7:

Rule 7 of bootstrapping the non-profit organisation: Find the right price (and be worth more than you charge)

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 7 (part 1)

This is the seventh post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 7: Charge a lot (but be worth more than you charge)

This is a counter-intuitive but powerful lens for thinking about non-profit work. For now, let’s understand what you ‘charge’ as being how much your program costs.

All other things being equal, being low cost – getting things done for as little as possible – is a virtue.

All other things being equal, using resources well (efficiency) is a Good Thing.

But the thing is, all other things aren’t equal. It doesn’t matter if you run a tight ship (are efficient), serve a huge number of people for little money (are low-cost) if you don’t make an impact – the biggest impact that you can make.

This is definitively not to say that you need to ‘go big or go home’ – scale is only one way to measure impact, and as we saw in Rule 6, it isn’t a reward in itself.

It is to say that you should be aiming to make the biggest impact you can for the people you seek to serve, and according to what’s important to you.

Effective is different from efficient, and definitely not the same as cheap. Doing the wrong thing efficiently and at low cost is still the wrong thing.

If charging a lot, if being expensive, helps you to make a bigger impact, find a way to make it work, and be expensive.

Business Model Canvas

This is one of the most useful tools I’ve come across for understanding how your business works (or might works).

It designed for lean-startup style customer discovery and validation, but I found it a fantastic lens for actually seeing different parts of our organisation for the first time, as well as how they fit together to make a whole.

I’ll do a series on this before long. For now, here’s a set of links to a video series from Strategyzer to give you the main ideas (youtube playlist here):

Check at Alex Osterwalder‘s excellent book Business Model Generation for a lot more detail.