Rediscovering what you already know

J.C. Penney Co. store downtownI see a surprising number of organizations and businesses that suffer from the malady of reinventing basic business processes and rediscovering tools and resources they already had, at the expense of using up valuable staff time and straining relationships with their customers and constituents.

Sometimes this reinventing and rediscovering happens because there's been a change in staffing, sometimes it happens because people just don't bother to write things down.  But I'm amazed at the "shortcuts" people think they're taking to work around those cases:

  • We couldn't find our username and password to manage our website domain name, so we just registered a new one and re-printed our business cards.  Problem solved!
  • We forgot that our last IT person already had a Facebook page setup, so we setup a new one and then asked everyone to like the new page.  Problem solved!
  • We're not sure where the source design files are for our marketing brochure, so we'll just design a new one.  Problem solved!

Meanwhile you've lost a bunch of would-be visitors to your website who still have your old business cards, halved your population of Facebook followers, and wasted someone's week on solving a problem that was already solved.

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A pretext for violence

I'm reading with sadness the news coming out of Norway.  Apparently, 32-year old Anders Behring Breivik decided that his Christian beliefs were so threatened by cultural shifts, minorities, immigration and multiculturalism that he needed to bomb and shoot people in order to address that threat.  The killings were politically motivated: the bomb was detonated at the Primer Minister's office and Breivik then stalked and shot at close range people at a political retreat.

Some will talk about the dangers of having weapons of various sorts and sizes available to individuals like Breivik and passionately implore for tighter controls and regulation of firearms or other weapon-making materials.  Indeed, we should be asking hard questions about when, where and why we create weapons designed to kill other human beings, and how we allow them to be used.

Some will talk about how this is a clear cut example that acts of terrorism are an ongoing threat and need to be safeguarded against using increased governmental or military power to fight terrorists and prevent attacks.  Indeed, we should be asking hard questions about whether current efforts to prevent acts of terrorism are effective, and what else could be done.

Some will speak of a lone madman who was mentally ill, and how we must find better ways to diagnose and treat mental illness of this sort before an individual's darkness can turn into violence.  Indeed, we should be asking hard questions about how those among us who suffer from mental illness are treated and how they are helped.

But we must not forget that behind all of these interrelated paths to such awful acts of violence, there is a singular cause that no amount of weapons control, military might or psychological analysis can predict or prevent:

Somehow, this man was able to construct a worldview for himself in which it was permissible to murder other people because of their political views.

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The U.S. debt ceiling: Sam needs an intervention

Don't Feed WildlifePoliticians in Washington D.C. sometimes make the issue of whether or not we raise the U.S. debt ceiling sound like an essential and complex challenge, one that only their particular brand of political maneuvering, posturing and compromise can rise to meet.  But from what I can tell, there's actually some fairly simple financial math involved, and the implications for the state of our nation are fairly straightforward.

But more importantly, the conversation about raising the debt ceiling is the wrong conversation to be having.

I'd like to present those observations, but instead of referring to "the U.S. Government" every time, I'll just refer to this guy "Sam."

Please tell me if I'm wrong or over-simplifying:

Initial thoughts on Google+

Google PlusI've had a few days to play around with Google's new social network offering, Google+, and I thought I'd share some initial thoughts.

First of all, kudos to Google for "going for it" in the Facebook era.  They're one of few players who actually has the resources and skill to make a serious go at a viable alternative to Facebook, and you've got to admire the effort.  If the success of the movie The Social Network tells us anything, it's that Facebook has become mainstream and popular, and as generations of younger people look for ways to establish their identity in the digital age, they'll be looking for alternatives to the place where their parents and now grandparents also hang out online.  By the same token, people of all ages and professions are trying to figure out just how to effectively and safely use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media tools in a world where we're being encouraged to blend our personal and professional lives together more publicly.

Is Google+ just the right thing at just the right time?

People are already writing about the high bar that Google+ will have to jump in order to see any significant migration of Facebook users, not the least of which is all the time people have invested in curating their lists of "friends" there.  Facebook is going to make it as difficult as possible for its users to do any kind of exporting of account information from their system, and I don't think Google is devious enough to launch an unauthorized workaround.  So people will be left to recreate their online identity on Google+, where the number of people you are connected to still largely drives your user experience.

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Blight in Richmond

Burned Out BuildingThe Palladium-Item has an extensive look in today's paper at the issue of blight in Richmond, Indiana, including a companion article about how local residents can help address blight.

The article does a good job of summarizing the challenges of blight as amplified by rough economic times: property owners who might already struggle with maintenance and upkeep are even more at risk of letting a given structure or piece of land fall into disrepair when finances get tight and layoffs and foreclosures are looming.  With such a high percentage of Richmond's residences being rentals, there's possibility for further disconnect between the state of the property and the owner's involvement in it.

My impression from the article and from the conversations I've had with city leaders is that Richmond is generally doing what it can to respond to the impact of decaying properties.  But it can be discouraging to know that the process of getting a blighted property owner's attention is often drawn out over a long time and a lot of paperwork, not to mention expenditure of taxpayer dollars: wait for the property to be reported as blighted, flag it, mow it or repair it and bill the property owner, wait for the bill to go unpaid, place a lein on the property, and THEN there MIGHT be a financial incentive for some action.  This routine may bear the customary government trademarks of caution and glacial due process, but it doesn't recognize very well the shorter-term impacts (financial and social) of a property falling into disrepair, and the ripple effect it can have on other areas nearby.

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Hail in the Badlands

BadlandsAs a part of the trip to Oregon, we took the opportunity to see some sights along the way, including Yellowstone National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Teton National Park, and neat little towns like Deadwood, South Dakota.

The most memorable and terrifying part of the trip was our stop at Badlands National Park.  We should have known something was brewing when the gas station a few miles outside the entrance to the park was all atwitter with talk of the weather and the ominous storm clouds in the distance, but we pressed on anyway.

When we got to a particularly beautiful canyon area and went out for a walk, the winds were blowing hard and bringing some serious temperature changes.  The sky continued to darken, and we knew we were in for a storm.  The rattlesnake that lay in our path a few yards up ahead seemed to suggest Turn Back While You Still Can, so we did.

Kelly: "I think we should get in the car quickly."

Chris: "Oh, a little rain never hurt anyone.  It'll feel good!"

Kelly: "I think we should get in the car quickly."

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The power of the agenda setter

In every organizational conversation, there's some process for setting the agenda of what the conversation will be about, and how it will be conducted.  Usually there's a subset of the organization's members who set that agenda - sometimes just a single person - shaping the issues and decisions that the organization takes on.

In a non-profit organization board meeting, it might be the Executive Committee or the board chair.

In a small business, it might be the business's owners or managers.

In a city council meeting, it might be the President of the council or the group's political majority.

In a community of faith, it might be church elders.

Sometimes we forget the power that the agenda setters can have.  We focus on the outcomes of the conversations that we do have, but we forget or overlook that some conversations aren't conducted in the first place.

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