In the continuation of the discussion inspired by the book Outliers the idea of practicing harder and better than anyone else was proposed as a key to success in Pete Carroll’s 60 Minute interview. Coach proposes that the most prepared players are the ones who succeed on Saturday even though they are not always the best players. The NCAA proposes time restrictions on the duration of athletic practice for student-athletes so the very ability to reach the 10,000 expertise hour threshold proposed by Gladwell (see Lonesome Dove post) is hindered by regulation. Much of the extra training takes place on personal time- weight training, film review, sports therapy, etc. How do you maximize the effectiveness of limited practice time? What does your team need to do that is most fundamental to its collective talents? There is a story about putting the ‘big rocks‘ in first (worth the read if you have not already). Are you putting the big rocks in first and then working with the pebbles and sand or is your practice/day/meeting run by the sand and pebbles? I believe that more than one great meeting has reached a single important decision and had far more impact than a meeting that considered many inconsequential issues.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”
I just returned from a four-day Second Grade spring trip that culminated with an overnight at the Pocatello Zoo. Speaking with the zoo administrators at the end of the trip, they told us that Pocatello Zoo is one of ten in the nation that focuses exclusively on native animals found in the state of Idaho. The animals in captivity are ones that cannot survive in the wild due to injury or other constraints. To put the market in context, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums estimates that there are 2,400 animal exhibits running nationally.
When considering ways to stand out from the crowd and enhance your competitive advantage consider the Pocatello Zoo. By focusing on native species they are no longer in direct competition with the rest of the zoos in the region. There is no need for a new tiger or giraffe which come at tremendous cost. They are educating the public about what one can expect to find in the very hills and valleys behind the zoo. A subtle paradigm shift from the traditional zoo changed their market.
Do you meet in the same room every meeting? Do people sit in the same chairs? Is the format of your agenda the same each meeting? Do the same people make similar reports?
Sounds like it is time for a field trip. Why not partner with a peer organization and hold a joint session of the boards and staff? Take a tour of one of your programs in action. Have a participant in the program lead the tour. Meet in a new location- remember when the classroom teacher would take the class outside on a perfect day in May? Walk, ride bikes, take a rafting trip down a section of river your organization protects. Connect in a new way and the results will be spectacular.
Traditional philanthropy saves the fish that have been stranded in the small pools of water left in a dry riverbed. Progressive philanthropy goes upstream to figure out where all the water went. Which one excited you? Which one are you uniquely positioned to support?
Executive sessions of the board can be dangerous. They are mysterious. The board meets alone unless they invite outside members to join them. Executive sessions put the staff on edge. Executive sessions are where candid discussion takes place and then the board comes back and make some wild decision. Executive sessions are where a CEO’s fate is decided.
Executive sessions are regular features at the end of every board meeting. If they are used as a way to give the board a reflective moment. If they provide an opening for a board member to ask ‘the stupid question’ that everyone in the room wanted to address but nobody felt comfortable to inquire about during the regular meeting. It is a moment for the board to pause and think about all the content they just absorbed during the regular course of business. It can be an opportunity to ask the CEO what keeps them awake at night. Or it is a chance to meet with an auditor and get their perception of the organization’s finances without the CEO and CFO in the room.
How does your organization use Executive session? Is it scary or enhancing? Does it benefit the board or divide the organization? Executive sessions can change an organization.
I am involved with a small foundation that provides scholarships to youth so they may attend events that will have profound impact on their character. There are three grant cycles during the year. Invariably a youth group will forget to submit an application during there preferred grant cycle and contact us after the funds have been distributed. Some of these groups are organizations the foundation has historically funded and some are new. I am often find myself trying to accommodate the late applications but inevitably the size of the grant these tardy applicants receive are deeply discount compared to what they might have been awarded if the organization had applied on schedule.
How firm should grant deadlines be? Ultimately, it is the youth who are impacted by fewer scholarship dollars since the funds are restricted and do not go towards general operating expenses. If the foundation is trying to achieve a mission of adding value, is it best to stand firm on principal or better to increase the number of opportunities? Is it better to benefit the intended recipient or sharpen the youth organization’s attention to detail?