New video: JAPAN

Successful Organizing

June 29th, 2018

For any type of work, defining how to measure success is a critical undertaking. Clarity around success metrics helps us make decisions big and small.

Yet defining success is especially tricky if your work involves organizing people towards a common goal. Is achieving the goal—hitting the number, scoring the goal, passing the bill—the only metric that matters? What about the health of our community?

In his course “Organizing People Power and Change” at the Harvard Kennedy School, senior lecturer Marshall Ganz introduces a framework for successful organizing.

When is organizing successful? Ask:

  1. Did we accomplish the goal?
  2. Did our community grow stronger?
  3. Did the individuals involved learn and grow?

This mix of success factors prevents us from ignoring adversely affecting our people in the pursuit of a goal or attaining goals without building capacity among those we serve.

Success demands achieving outcomes by developing others.

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Communities and Structure

June 28th, 2018

My former boss Jerri, once said:

“A community isn’t a community unless it’s organizing itself.”

Structure like guidelines, hierarchy, roles, and expectations can help a group of people effectively organize and operate. But too much structure can be stifling. Too much can take away ownership and spontaneity.

How much structure is appropriate for your community?

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How to Keep Track of Your Community

June 27th, 2018

Today I wrote about what data to monitor as you or your organization work to cultivate a community.

The most important thing is to pay attention to who keeps showing up.

Observing how many people regularly participate, discovering who they are, and understanding their motivations will help you make better decisions to serve the group.

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Building Blocks

June 26th, 2018

A few years ago, I was introduced to house dance—a dance style that originated in Chicago and New York clubs during the 70s and 80s. I’d seen the movements before but it took awhile to match the dance with its name.

Ever since spectating a house jam in Brooklyn, I’ve periodically told myself to find a class and start learning. Something about house’s groove, complex footwork, and fluid movement draws me in.


Yesterday, I finally made time for the Beginner House class at EXPG dance studio in the Lower East Side. At one point, the instructor Mai Le made it clear to us that we shouldn’t think about what we were learning as choreography.

Instead, these were building blocks to practice, examine, deconstruct, and experiment with on our own.

To me, that was a perfect description for how I like to approach creative endeavors.

With cooking, I dislike recipes. I see dishes as an amalgamation of patterns, tools, and techniques to pick apart and apply elsewhere. I’m currently reading Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat.” I love her approach for reasons related to Mai’s philosophy:

“This book will change the way you think about cooking and eating, and help you find your bearings in any kitchen, with any ingredients, while cooking any meal.

You’ll start using recipes, including the ones in this book, like professional cooks do—for the inspiration, context, and general guidance they offer, rather than following them to the letter.”

With my strategy work, I imagine that I’m amassing tools in a toolbox. Every framework, method, or lesson learned is another building block—something I can pull in, test out, and mash up with something else depending on the situation.

Cooking experimental chili with Yoko.

My friend Shaun who’s a choreographer once said:

“You can think of each body part as a separate tool.”

Your legs, feet, arms, shoulders, ears—move any of them as part of a dance. Don’t feel like you need to employ every tool at once. Pick and choose and play around.

Through this process you master what feels right, tastes good, and makes sense for the challenge at hand.

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You Can’t Fake the Funk

June 25th, 2018

I thought about Austin‘s quote today while I drafted a short section for the book I’m working on with Bailey and Kai.

Here’s an excerpt from Monday’s stab at a chapter entitled “You Can’t Fake the Funk. (Thanks Sharon for saying that to me on a phone call two years ago).

If you don’t care, don’t expect anyone else to.

Passion can be misguided, but it cannot be fabricated.

Lesson one is short and sweet: only try to cultivate a community around something you genuinely care about. That thing may be an interest, activity, cause, profession, people, place, product, or some part of who you are.

Start this work because you (and your organization) are truly invested and eager to help. Sincerity will permeate your efforts.

Before obsessing over what to do, ask yourself and your team:

  1. Who do we want to serve? Be specific.
  2. Why are we keen to help?
  3. Why would they want our help?

Gathering, organizing, and enabling people demands authenticity. You can’t fake the funk.

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Brevity Through Structure

June 24th, 2018

Ten years ago, I participated in my first facilitated workshop. Our facilitator Helene kicked off with how to write on post-its:

“Use the thick sharpie. That way you can’t write too much.”

Communicating with brevity is a challenge. But when we get across what we need to with just enough detail, we make it easier for others to interpret, respond, and build on our ideas.

One way to force brevity is through structure.

You can only fit so much on a 3 x 3” post-it with a thick marker. It’s not that we always want to say more, but in the absence of constraints we may feel obligated to.

People & Company post-its taking over my apartment.

Another example of brevity through structure is A3 thinking. It’s a tool for improving processes by outlining a problem and recommending a solution, and the format must fit on A3 sized paper (11.7 x 16.5”).

Healthcare example of A3 thinking from Lean Healthcare West (source)

Or there’s the business model canvas. I realize now that the value is not just what is written but how users are forced to write concise descriptions of a business’ key elements. The ideas are less precious. We’re more willing to iterate.

We encounter brevity through structure every day—character limits, lines on a form. The size of the box informs what goes in the box. So choose your box with intention.

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Why Why Why Why Why

June 23rd, 2018

Early in the 20th century, Sakichi Toyoda of the Toyota Motor Corporation developed the 5 Whys Technique to determine the root cause of a problem.

Taiichi Ohno, a pioneer of the Toyota Production Systems, described the 5 Whys succinctly:

“Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.”

Here’s an example about a welding robot that Ohno used to illustrate the technique (credit to the Toyota website):

  1. “Why did the robot stop?”
    The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
  2. “Why is the circuit overloaded?”
    There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
  3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”
    The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
  4. “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”
    The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
  5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”
    Because there is no filter on the pump.

Sakichi Toyoda, the person behind the 5 Whys  (photo credit)

The 5 Whys popped into my life multiple times in the past few years.

When I went backpacking internationally my Dad told me to ask myself “Why?” five times to get at what I was seeking through my travels. I’ve heard my business partner, Kai, poke clients with “Why?” repeatedly in meetings. And the whys have come up during lectures on project management and lean thinking.

Why are the 5 Whys helpful? I believe it’s because stopping at one why is often convenient and comfortable.

Root causes don’t necessarily require more work to address. However, they demand an honest evaluation of what’s going on.

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