An odd jobs list for staff and volunteer engagement

SwansWithin any given business or organization, the ideal is (probably) that everyone working or volunteering there will not only take on all of the tasks and projects that are clearly a part of their recognized role, but that they'll also work on things not necessarily assigned to them but that are still useful to the overall goals of that organization.

If everyone shares the same vision and goals, and everyone participating is sufficiently empowered and inspired to work toward those goals, this ideal can be easy to realize.  There is almost certainly always something else that can be done to support or further the mission of the places we work and volunteer; if there's someone who regularly ends up having some "down time" with "nothing to do" then there's probably something else wrong - with the person's mindset, the structure they are working within, or the organizational culture overall.

In practice, I've found that people have different personalities and personal/work backgrounds that lead them to respond differently to this idea of "working on things that weren't necessarily assigned to me."  For some, it's a no-brainer and they can jump right into that mentality.  For others, it represents a threshold of riskiness and potential for failure that they may not be willing to cross: "If it wasn't assigned to me and I do it wrong, I don't want to be responsible for the outcome."  For still others, it can just be the challenge of imagining tasks or projects outside their job description or previously assigned duties; the inertia of working within familiar problem spaces is hard to overcome.

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A City is a Startup

biodiversity jengaOver the weekend Jon Bischke made the interesting comparison of a start-up company to city government in A City Is A Startup: The Rise Of The Mayor-Entrepreneur.  Bischke notes that the factors that go into a successful entrepreneurial effort are similar to the ones that make for a successful city:

  1. Build stuff people want, offer products and services people want to buy
  2. Attract and retain quality talent
  3. Raise capital to get fledgling ideas to the point of sustainability, create a density of "investors"
  4. Create a world class culture that encourages people to stick around even when times get tough

These may not be comprehensive factors, but they could be useful metrics to view your city with.

If I had to rate my own city of Richmond, Indiana, I'd say we have plenty of room to grow in each area:

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Summer reading mini book reviews

What We Leave BehindIt's been a decent summer of reading for me, and I thought I'd post some very brief reviews of some of what I've encountered along the way.  For each book I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.  I've organized the reviews into three sections: Culture, Novels and Business & Politics:

Culture

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Finally, Mitnick gets to tell his side of the story when it comes to his adventures in computer cracking and social engineering.  Though his writing style isn't particularly compelling and his personal meditations on the interpersonal aspects of his adventures are a bit awkward, the details of how he pulled off some pretty technologically impressive (albeit illegal and sometimes destructive) hacks - and how law enforcement responded - make for compelling reading on their own.  As someone who spent a fair number of hours in my childhood trying to deconstruct how the phone system and the emerging world of BBSes and Internet nodes worked, Mitnick's book is a great visit to the past and a reminder that humans continue to be the weakest link in all computer security.

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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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Book reviews: Game Change, Public Speaking, Rework

I'm fortunate to have had time to read some actual books cover-to-cover in the last few weeks.  Other than some novels that made for decent beach reading, a notable theme of business, communication and politics emerged.  A few reviews are below; I've linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your local bookseller or visiting your local library first.

Game Change
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Published in 2010, Game Change recounts the stories of the 2008 Presidential election with a behind-the-scenes perspective unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. The book reads like a novel (think Joe Klein's Primary Colors or even a John Grisham work) and is simply fascinating to take in.  Chapter after chapter paint a nuanced picture of what Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, John McCain and other candidates were experiencing from the time they decided to run until the election itself - it's a narrative that the media simply couldn't have assembled along the way.  Knowing of the extensive research and interviewing that the authors did to assemble it together made it all the more impressive.

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Mini-Book Reviews: Sex, Genius, Spying and Cyberwar

I haven't been reading at the pace I want to but I've still be able to squeeze in some books here and there.  Here are some mini-reviews of a few of them:

Sex at Dawn
by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

Sex at Dawn is an honest and thorough exploration of the history of human sexuality, and what that means for how we understand our sexuality today.  Written by some folks who have clearly done their research, it's part anthropological study and part cultural critique, and it's got plenty of witty humor sprinkled throughout.

Let's be honest, it's easy to take the history and meaning of sexuality for granted in a society that throws images and talk of it in our faces left and right - "surely things have just always been done this way, right?"  And there's so much pressure to understand, have and be good at sex while also maintaining an extremely nonchalant approach to being a sexual being.  But whatever you think you know about why and how people have sex, why monogamy is held up as a moral imperative in modern culture, and how other cultures and species around the world treat sex and sexuality, you should be prepared to be challenged and entertained by this journey through human behavior.  I certainly was! Continue reading "Mini-Book Reviews: Sex, Genius, Spying and Cyberwar"

10 things about my approach to business management

DIY pen construction - finishWe try to keep Summersault LLC as "flat" as possible, with minimal hierarchy and focus on authority relationships, opting instead for collaborative roles and even aspirations of a tribal staffing model.  But in my role as "Principal," I still end up taking on what would traditionally be called a "management" relationship with other staff.

Recently, as a part of getting ready for some staff training, I tried to write down 10 things that might be helpful for a new member of the team to know about how I approach this role.  For better or worse, I now present them to you.  I don’t necessarily expect you to think that they’re good practices; I offer them as self-reflection, not advice.

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