Starting line

Where’s the starting line?

Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us:  we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.

We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.

How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?

What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?

When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?

 

*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

 

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 1: Real Work for Clients First

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

Rule 1: Ship Real Work

“Planning and coordination are fine, but not if they don’t lead to real work. Don’t spend time trying to please [middleman-funder-etc] – the real work is figuring out how to engage with and serve your customer.

In the non-profit world:

The real work

Vision and mission statements, organisational structure, a shiny website, gala dinners are fine – but they are not your purpose, and they are not your real work.

The real work is getting in front of the people you are aiming to serve – first your clients (or ‘beneficiaries’) and secondarily potential donors. If you’re not getting to know and making a difference for your clients, you’re wasting your time. Your project is almost certainly a waste of money, and quite possibly the worst kind of vanity exercise.

In my experience this kind of work is often messy and quite often slightly unsatisfactory – because you’re working with real people, who quite often have those traits…

Two types of customer

In a non-profit, it’s quite possible that your services are paid for people people other than your clients – most charities are working in two-sided markets – donor pays, client receives benefit (incidentally, most news and magazine companies, and Google and Facebook, among others, operate this model).

The question is… what are your ‘donors’ buying? It might be:

  • The knowledge that they’ve done some good in the world
  • The ability to show off to their friends that they’ve done something good in the world
  • A fulfilled CSR requirement, and a pleased boss
  • The confidence that their money has been used responsibly and effectively

It’s really easy to exaggerate the work that you do. It’s easy to make grand claims, tell only the best stories, and play to every donor’s particular foibles, telling them what they want to hear so that they’ll give you money, and keep on giving you money.

Don’t.

At the end of the day, the product that your donors and supporters are buying (or should be buying) is the work that you do for your clients. Everything else is (relatively speaking), fluff.

And at all costs resist the temptation to let the ‘needs’ of your donors shape what you do for your clients. Don’t lose sight of the reason you’re doing this in the first place. Listen to your supporters, but always be clear that you seek to serve your clients first, to focus on their needs and make a real difference to them in a way that they value.

Be accountable to your clients and their needs first of all, and everything else will be (relatively) easy.

Rule 1 of bootstrapping the non-profit

Ship real work for your clients [beneficiaries] first. Be real with your supporters.

* More on being real with your supporters in Rule 3

The meat is on the street

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement of churches, wasn’t renowned as a systematic religious teacher.

Apparently people would ask him “John, when are you going to teach us the deep and crucial stuff – where’s the meat?”

And he’d answer: “The meat is on the street.”

That is, “Go out into the world. You will learn the deep truths of faith by doing it.”

Books, podcasts, blogs are very useful in learning to make positive change in the world. Ideas are wonderful tools.

But we learn our most important lessons by doing – by taking action.

The meat is on the street.

Go!

Intelligences

Imagine you are in charge of developing an artificial intelligence.

Your AI has the ability to move into the world and mingle with human beings, all the while augmenting both its physical capability and its intelligence.

In time, your AI will certainly be able to perform many tasks that would help the people around it. It will be smarter, stronger, and faster than most of them.

In time, it will certainly also have the capability to kill people – tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people. It will be well equipped to cause environmental destruction on a huge scale.

Would you create such an AI? What would you teach it? What would you want it to know about people and about being in the world?

Now imagine a network of such AIs, interacting, learning, gaining new abilities and changing the world.

Now look at our children.

Why you?

Imagine someone else made a product very much like yours…

No. Imagine that someone else was selling exactly your product, doing your thing, only slightly cheaper.

What would make your customers still want to buy it from you?

If you can’t think of an answer to that question, think harder, or start looking for the exit.

If you’ve got an answer, probably something about who you are and the way you do what you do, about how you make your customers feel, and about how they know they can trust you…

If you’ve got an answer, keep getting better at those things.

A broken promise

I was on the receiving end of a broken promise a couple of weeks ago: a cancelled flight. The airline gave me a refund, but nothing for out of pocket expenses or lost time.

They won’t reimburse me me because I didn’t accept their offer of a recovery flight, despite the proposed flight getting to my destination several hours after my return flight would have left.

I don’t mind the cancelled flight as much as I mind the ridiculous reasoning that we would all somehow have been better off if I’d arrived in another country after midnight with no onward flight, no accommodation, and no chance of doing what I went there to do.

This is their chance to make good their promise as a good company – to do the right thing, apologise, and fix something broken.

So far, policy is trumping that promise. It’s depressing, and it’s a reminder to me in my own work that care, doing the right thing, and taking responsibility for my actions, should win out over policy every time.

Steve Krug on Simplicity

The last of three posts on the themes of clarity, simplicity and focus – here’s Steve Krug from his incredibly helpful and practical Don’t Make Me Think:

“Don’t make me think!”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling people that this is my first law of usability.

It’s the overriding principle – the ultimate tie breaker when deciding whether a design works or or it doesn’t. If you have room in your head for only one usability rule, make it this one.

For instance, it means that as far as is humanly possible, when I look at a Web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.

I should be able to “get it” – what it is and how to use it – without expending any effort thinking about it.

Think of it this way:

When I’m looking at a page that doesn’t make me think, all the thought balloons over my head say things like “OK, there’s the _____. And that’s a ____. And there’s the thing I want.”

But when I’m looking at a page that makes me think, all the thought balloons over my head have question marks in them.

When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.

It comes back to clarity: to achieve what Krug describes you need to have absolute clarity about what your site is supposed to do, which is inseparable from who the user is and what they are looking for, as well as what you think they need .

Krug is particularly good at encouraging empathy with our users – we’re sunk without it. And without it, what would be the point?

It’s the same thing Zinsser says about writing, and the Heath Brothers about communication in general. And it’s true of any product or service.

Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

Don’t make me think. Everything that could be easy, should be easy. So that I can spend my attention on the things that matter.

Making and communicating solutions

The idea is this:

If you know how to solve a problem but can’t communicate it to others in a way that actually results in it getting solved… you don’t actually have a full solution.

Small promises

It’s been five whole days since I quoted something from Seth Godin, so here’s something: we build trust by keeping our promises.

Well-placed trust makes everything better.

  • We feel safe with people we trust.
  • So we can relax. We feel better. We do better. We can be better.
  • We can be more honest, and we can share more of ourselves.
  • We’re far happier spending time and money on proven products from brands we trust.
  • And we’re prepared to pay more, because we trust it’s worth it.
  • We can spend far less time managing and supervising people we’ve come to trust – and more time directly contributing.
  • We can try things out and take risks – potentially wonderful risks – with people we trust.

So how do we get people to trust us? By making and keeping lots of small promises, many of them implicit: that we’ll send that email, show up on time, do the little things we say we’re going to do, be consistent, be engaged and committed when it’s easier not to.

I’m all for not sweating the small stuff… but the keeping of small promises helps all do better.

And as someone trusts you, you get to make (and keep) bigger promises.

Update 11/08/18: Another great post from Seth about promises here.