Trust

Make your systems strong.

Have a clear process: where does the money come from, where does it go?

Account for it transparently: how are movements of money planned, approved, recorded, tracked and evidenced?

Have checks and controls: Who sets things up? Who approves payments? Who checks? Who checks the checker?

Minimise temptation and opportunity.

But at the end of the day, if you can’t trust someone – don’t work with them.

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

Deep literacy: Kevin Kelly on more than reading

… producing books with ease on Gutenberg’s press did not fully unleash text. Real literacy also required a long list of innovations and techniques that permitted ordinary readers and writers to manipulate text in ways that made it useful. For instance, quotation symbols make it simple to indicate where one has borrowed text from another writer. We don’t have a parallel notation in film yet, but we need one.

Once you have a large text document, you need a table of contents to find your way through it. That requires page numbers. Somebody invented them in the 13th century. Where is the equivalent in video?

Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Someday soon with AI we’ll have a way to index the full content of a film.

Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. And that would be useful in video as well.

And bibliographic citations (invented in the 13th century) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources that influence or clarify the content. Imagine a video with citations. These days, of courses we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorise using a selected word or phrase for later viewing.

All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists.

These tools, more than reading, are the foundations of literacy.

Kevin KellyThe Inevitable

Show me the money

Love it or loathe it, you’ve got to know where the money’s going to come from, and where it all goes.

Get it right from the start – it’s essential to the health and credibility of your project or organisation.

It also works like an extra sense, helping you spot trends, opportunities and issues earlier than you might have otherwise.

Financial Intelligence, Revised Edition: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean by Karen Berman and Joe Knight is a really great place to start.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 5: Own your Assets

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

Build and own an asset that’s difficult for other people to reproduce

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This is an interesting one in the non-profit world, because an attitude of generosity – of wanting to see problems solved more than we want to build empires – suggests that we should welcome others working in our ‘market’ as allies rather than competitors.

But there’s an important point about attitude here – we should always be building assets, and the most valuable ones we can build will always be those that are difficult for others to reproduce.

These assets might be products – in our case, curriculum and reading books. They might be services – delivering teacher training.
They might be processes – the ways that the pieces of what you do fit together to create value.
They might be things like reputation, trust, and relationships.

Investing in building any of these assets – from building a physical product to making a spec or howto for a process, to training your team – is always worth the time – a gift to your future self.

Here’s a thought experiment that links back to this post from a few weeks ago. Imagine that each central piece of your (charitable) business model was widely available at low cost (what if you open sourced it?). In the absence of each piece, what about your organisation means that people would still want to work with you? How would your clients answer this? How about your donors?

Your role (1)

If you’re leading an organisation or a team, a big part of your job is to help others to do their jobs.

The reference escapes me, but I’m pretty sure Peter Drucker used the phrase “to make the work meaningful and the worker effective.”

Making work meaningful is about vision. It means making sure people understand why what they do is important. What’s the point? Who are you there to serve? What difference are you making as a whole, and what difference will it make if a team member does this particular job and does it well?

Making the worker effective is about helping your colleagues to do their roles as well as they can. At its core, the best way to do this seems to be to equip them with useful tools. This means stuff like computers, vehicles, resources. It means equipping them with processes that work – “this is how we train a teacher to teach reading”, “this is how we respond to an email and process a sale”. And most useful of all, it means equipping your team with the tools to make decisions (often these come back to your vision and values) and giving them the information they need to make new tools.

There’s a hierarchy in there somewhere.

Easier tomorrow

Here’s a good way to build capacity: every time you do something new, open a googledoc (or your searchable, annotate-able editor of choice) and do the following:

  1. Give it a name that you’ll be able to find in future, like – Howto Make a Transfer from OurBank
  2. Use headings and subheadings to give titles to key sections
  3. Use an ordered list (like this one) to list the steps
    1. I like using subpoints too
  4. Auto generate a table of contents
  5. Put it in the place where you’re likely to look for it when you need it – a folder labeled ‘Howtos and workflows’ or the folder that contains other stuff relevant to the document

Then…

At the very least, the next time you do that piece of work you have spec for the job, saving you from having to waste time clicking around trying to remember how you did it last time. This is especially true in settings like Indonesia, where things like online banking are still far from ‘peak usability’. The document is a gift to your future self.

At best, you have a document that you can give to someone else – a team member or a new volunteer, who can follow it step by step and do the job so that you can do something new. Pow! You’ve developed the ability to do two things concurrently – or at least, you will have after a few tries with the document and a bit of back-and-forward commenting on the document.

Write several of these documents, give the formatting a bit of a brush up and you’re on your way to a manual for your key processes.

This is a riff on some of the processes suggested by Michael E. Gerber in his classic The E-Myth Revisited, which will get a post of ten of its own one day.

It’ll help you with all 4 of Mike Michalowicz’s 4 D’s from Clockwork: doing, deciding, delegating, designing.

P.S. If it looks like I missed a day, I didn’t – had to unpublish and republish to make a change.

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.

Hybrids (3): when ideas breed

Kevin Kelly has a lot to say about innovation as combination. Here’s a good riff:

Most new ideas and new inventions are disjointed ideas merged. Innovations in the design of clocks inspired better windmills, furnaces engineered to brew beer turned out to be useful to the iron industry, mechanisms invented for organ-making were applied to looms, and mechanisms in looms became computer software.

“In technology, combinatorial evolution is foremost, and routine,” says economist Brian Arthur in The Nature of Technology. “Many of a technologies parts are shared by other technologies, so a great deal of development happens automatically as components improve in other uses ‘outside’ the host technology.”

These combinations are like mating. They produce a hereditary tree of ancestral technologies. Just as in Darwinian evolution, tiny improvements are rewarded with more copies, so that innovations spread steadily through the population. Older ideas merge and hatch idea’-lings.

Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants

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.