Programming Your Job By Hacking

Last night a raccoon stole through a dog door into our garage, negotiated a second dog door into the mudroom and helped themselves to an all you can eat buffet at the dog’s bowl. Only once they attempted to get into the dog food storage bin did they alert us to our presence. At 4 AM I was standing in the garage groggily thinking about how to keep the raccoon out. The raccoon had hacked our dog door system.

My experience last night made me think of the book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. One notion that has stayed with me is an article they cite from authored by Douglas Rushkoff describing “what he calls the three methods which kids relate to games: playing, cheating, and programming. He then goes on to ascribe these methods to the way that humans generally interact with culture, as well.”

I find the concept of programming (later referred to as hacking) a game to be an interesting game-changer. Kids reinvent the rules of a game so as to create a new paradigm and then share the amended game with the broader community.

All this makes me wonder about the numerous opportunities that require a little programming or hacking. I have seen volunteers turn envelope stuffing assignments into editorial letter-writing roles. I have seen dissatisfied donors step-forward to Chair fundraising events because they were excited to take a gala to a new level and wash away their poor experience. You have probably seen employees who clearly love their job more than anyone else in the sector. I would argue many of them are playing a different game than the rest of their colleagues. I think of a skycap who treated my bag like royalty, a waitress that remembered every person’s name, and a realtor who though of himself as a theme park tour guide.

Hacking is happening everyday. People are taking opportunities and turning them into something more powerful. The New York Times had a perfect real world business model of this today.

Competitive Advantage

Working with the social sector is an interesting paradox. You get innovative and leading answers to causes that are supported by a variety of fans and followers. The Board of Directors for many of these organizations often contains individuals with great business experience and acumen. The disconnect often comes when the Board or supporters try to transport their business expertise and toss them at the nonprofit sector. In my consulting and facilitation role I often find myself acting as a bit of a translator between the two worlds. Some axioms work in both worlds. The notion of ‘location, location, location’ (physical presence or virtual on social media). Others are tougher. Having successfully completed a strategic planning project for an independent school, one of the thrills was to have access to a method that promoted the idea of ‘competitive advantage.’ This term resonated with the business leaders- they are constantly monitoring competitive advantage in their small business and corporate sphere. They could speak about competitive advantage in both the business and nonprofit world and it needed no translation.

Today I found myself reading Seth Godin’s blog which spoke directly to notion of competitive advantage. He frames the definition effectively. I will add to his drumbeat by saying that you cannot rely on the universe to deliver endless support if you cannot quantify how you are uniquely position to succeed. How is your organization meeting the need or addressing the root of the cause you have tackled? Be brave. You are not stealing from others by identifying and understanding you competitive advantage. I would argue that you are instilling a foundation from which all of your efforts have a launching pad.

Sometimes you are in the right place to witness great changes in nature. It cannot always be planned and the moments appear randomly. I arrived at Idaho’s most famous ski resorts for work yesterday. The day was sunny and temperatures hoovered in the high 70’s. It was still summer. Tempting enough to get out on the bike path and play nine holes of golf that ended at dusk.

This morning the world looks different. Overnight rain fell. The temperature is in the 50’s and snow is predicted to make an appearance just above the valley floor tonight. Talk of summer activities such as biking, swimming, running are now giving way to peeks into the ski shops. It is as if overnight the seasonal switch was thrown and fall has arrived.

It should not be a shock. It happens every year and yet it feels sudden, as if you arrived at the pool and it was empty and the poolside furnishings had all been packed away. Now the rush for firewood will start for those who have been enjoying a warm September. Lawns will be aerated, gutters will be cleaned, clothing will be rotated in closets.

Sometimes it takes a night of cool rainy weather to get each of us to focus on seasonal responsibilities. I imagine somewhere an end-of-the-year appeal is being drafted by a Development Officer, grant reports are being submitted after a successful summer of programs, and summer interns have left for college. It says September on the calendar but the 4th quarter activities seem in progress already.

Something Bigger Than Yourself

Walked past the television this morning and the kids breakfast dishes were scattered, the TV was on and nobody was in sight. I took a glance at the TV and saw that Nickelodeon was advertising World Wide Day of Play. An announcement and scrawl at the bottom encouraged viewers to turn-off their TV, computers, mobile phones and to head outside to play. Programming was closed so move on. Not everyday do you see a business suggesting you do something more productive with your time than take advantage of their offerings.

Being part of a world-wide effort is noble and offers a striking contrast to the usual marketing.

Wise Steward of Funds

Obviously the curtain has been raised on many schemes and risky financial practices during the last year. Interestingly, some of the high-profile nonprofits that have gone out-of-business or had to make major cuts in their staffing and programs can attribute part or their failure to leveraging their debt. In many cases, the unstoppable need to build more facilities, grow bigger, reach across the globe has left them holding tax-free bonds that they cannot finance. When enrollment at a school meets capacity and there is a waiting list, it is hard to believe that the educational institution will suffer any financial hardships. Being fiscally conservative is tough, even during good times. Leaving the next board (those board members who follow you) with a budget that is reasonable and limited liabilities is one of the ultimate signs of wise stewardship. Low hanging-fruit that is not core to the mission sometimes leads your enterprise to start climbing a tree it never intended.

How do you operate as wise fiduciary? The New York Times highlights some organizations that reached beyond their means.

Suggested Links- Impact on Your Brand

I sent about an hour this morning clicking on recommended hyperlinks from other bloggers. I was doing this for my wife who writes her own blog which is far more insightful, talented, and inspiring than mine. What was interesting to see is what other blogs each blogger is reading. I know that just listing another blog is not an outright endorsement but rather an attempt to share a resource or source of inspiration. For me it was an enlightening exercise. It was as if somebody had let me through their front door and was allowing me to go on a self-guided tour of their home. Each link to another blog appeared to be a different room in their house and represented another reflection of their taste. It was an interesting cyber-adventure but it also re-enforced that each recommend link is a direct reflection of your own brand.

Which links do you share?

New skill for those with the most experience

Interview on NPR’s Marketplace show today about Experience Work, a training and job placement organization for senior citizens. Those who thought that they had saved enough for retirement are now back in the workplace. Many are learning new skills that were not required previously. Some seniors are starting with basic computer skills and others are making the sober choice between paying the rent or purchasing prescribed medicine.

These seems to be an enterprise that is uniquely positioned to meet a growing need.

Game Changing Beetle

I read an article in Forbes magazine that discussed the impact of the Bark beetle that is infested the lodge pole pine trees across the west. It has added many opportunities for the logging industry, so much so that they cannot keep up with demand. It has also changed the landscape and threatened to change the iconic images portrayed in the visitor bureau’s website. Visiting Winter Park, Colorado last summer I was amazed at the expanse of dead trees across the valley. Now flying in and out of Denver I can see the altered landscape from above as the plane crossed the Indian Peak Wilderness Area. Having spent time in the valley over the years, I suddenly realize that this is a game changing event.

The impact of one small beetle is transformative. The beetle is now on a journey to change the look of much of the western landscape. How we react is still being debated.