How Much Hidden Talent is In Your Staff?

Paul Potts is a cell phone salesman in the UK. He's completely unassuming--bad teeth, a little overweight, not much of a dresser. The last person you'd imagine taking the stage as a serious contestant on Britain's Got Talent, the UK version of American Idol. But beneath that quiet exterior is a most amazing voice. It literally gave me chills to listen to him. And it made me wonder how much hidden talent is around us? How many people do we see on a daily basis--co-workers, supervisors, teammates--with hidden strengths we never see? How many people do we judge based on how they look or on our own preconceptions of what they should be doing? How many great talents do we miss in the process?

Here's the challenge for today. Try to find a Paul Potts in your organization. And then do something to nurture that talent.

Blogging and Transparency Build Trust: A Case Study

Relationships between nonprofits and the public are based on trust. I'm not going to give your organization money if I don't trust you to use it well. I won't volunteer for your cause if I don't trust that you are working for it. Trust is an essential relationship ingredient and transparency--making your organizations visible to the public--is a critical component in developing trust.

I was reminded of the importance of trust and the ways in which blogging can help you build public trust this morning when I saw this this post on Live Journal (via Lee LeFever) It's from Six Apart CEO Barak Berkowitz who is addressing a screw-up they made yesterday in suspending several accounts. A few things come to mind here:

  • Having a blog gave Six Apart an already-established, up close and personal venue for addressing a community problem. Without the blog, they would have had to resort to things like press releases, etc., which place a layer of disconnection between the organization and the members of their community. If you value the relationships you have with constituents, blogging is an essential way to stay connected, particularly for those times when you need to admit you screwed up.
  • Note the title of the post--"Well, we really screwed this one up. . . " There's a very human voice here, not an institutional robot well-versed in organizational jargon. I already have a higher degree of trust in someone who is willing to be human, rather than hiding behind organization-speak.
  • Six Apart publicly admitted they made mistakes and went on to detail exactly where and how they screwed up. They don't try to hide the mistake or explain it all away. They just say, this is what happened, this is what we thought, this is where we went wrong. . .
  • And--they had their plan to fix it. This is as important as admitting they made a mistake.
  • Note the updates, admitting additional mistakes ("It seems that people are very upset that I did a phone call with cNet before posting here.  Probably a mistake but I did make it clear to them that we were still looking in to this and that I would have a better answer by the end of the day.  Sorry but it really took some time to figure out how messed up this was.") In a crisis situation, people want to know how things are evolving and, again, the blog provided a good venue for this.
  • Note also that they left the post open for comments so that the community had a voice and could be heard in the discussion. Making the post and then shutting down comments would have been a BIG mistake.

This is a textbook example of how blogging and transparency help you build ongoing relationships built on trust. Sure, some people won't be satisfied with the explanations, some people will still be critical. Nevertheless, most will generally feel better knowing that you're willing to publicly acknowledge and address your mistakes and that you're willing to listen to their thoughts on the issue.

From Managing Transactions to Facilitating Transformations

Today I was in a strategic planning meeting with a number of business people. At one point, we were discussing the changing nature of providing healthcare services to aging baby boomers. The VP of HR for one of the local healthcare organizations was explaining to us that they are moving to more of a concierge approach to meeting healthcare needs, with a focus on relationships and amenities, similar to what you would find in hotels. She explained that baby boomers in particular have come to expect a different quality of experience from organizations with which they interact and that is influencing how her organization thinks about its business. Then she said something that I thought was incredibly profound.

"We're trying to move our organization from being transactional to being transformational."

I wrote that down in my notes and thought about it all the way home. Since then, the implications of that idea have been swimming around in my head. Here's what I think it means for nonprofits. (Warning--very ill-formed thoughts ahead)

A transaction occurs when a customer makes a request--for a service, a product, etc. and someone responds to that request. Most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is engage in a series of transactions with various customers, both internal and external. We focus on orders, purchases, changes, additions, transfers and the recordkeeping required to keep track of those transactions. In "well-run" organizations, we are constantly trying to keep these transactions humming along. We try to reduce errors, reduce the amount of time it takes to process a particular transaction, increase the number of transactions we are able to get through in a day and so on.

When we focus on transactions, we are paying attention to particular business processes and activities and how to make them run efficiently. This is a distinctly left-brained, logical approach to the work of an organization. It's not bad to focus on making transactions go smoothly and pleasantly. But the reality is that if we are just about performing various transactions, this is work that could be done by a computer or, eventually, a robot. And it would probably be done better, faster and more accurately. It's also work that is less meaningful to most people. Who wants to do work on a daily basis that could be done just as well by a kiosk?

So what would it mean for us to move from being transactional to being transformational? If we were transformational,

  • We would be more holistic, thinking about the entire customer and their experiences with us over time, rather than their experience with us at a particular point in time.
  • We would pay more attention to emotional issues and their impact on customers experiences. When we structure transactions to emphasize only efficiency or productivity, then we lose the "human touch" that really connects with people. This isn't to say that the human touch can only occur through face-to-face interactions, though. We can be more "human" even in our use of forms, the ways we communicate on our web sites and so forth.
  • We would focus on creating particular experiences for customers, evoking new emotions and helping customers to think differently about themselves.  The VP at our meeting today explained that healthcare to this point has been about moving patients through various transactions--doctor's appointments, medical tests, treatments, etc. But now her organization is putting more of a focus on helping patients feel empowered to navigate their way through a menu of services that feel less like moving through an assembly line of healthcare and more like people taking charge of their lives. This is transformational because it helps people to see themselves differently in relation to their own healthcare and their own sense of agency in their lives.
  • We would think bigger about what we do. To think about our organizations as being in the business of transformation means that we have to re-envision what we do. We have to think about what transformations we can help people achieve and how we can go about doing that. We have to back away from the day-to-day interactions for a while and think about the larger picture of what we hope to achieve (back to mission). Then we can look at how we structure our transactions and interactions with customers to achieve transformation.

This is one of those posts where I feel like I'm writing around something, rather than straight to it. I know in this very visceral way what I'm trying to say, but I'm not sure that I'm expressing it clearly or in ways that make sense. What I know is that the idea of moving from transactions to transformations is something that really appeals to me on a lot of levels. I think it would appeal to workers, too. When we talk about transformation, we're talking about work that has meaning. I don't think that we feel the same connection and sense of impact on the world when we see our work as a series of transactions. I think that both our customers and our employees want to feel that we're doing something that transforms.

I also see this as related to my thinking lately about ROWE. A results-oriented workplace requires us to have thought carefully about the results we are seeking. We need to consider those results, though, in light of whether or not we're going to be an organization that focuses primarily on transactions or one that focuses on transformations. Interestingly, one of the reasons that Best Buy is looking to implement ROWE in their stores is because they are moving to a more customer-centric, transformational view of the results they are seeking. True ROWE may require us to think far more carefully about results in terms of transformation at least as much as we think about transactions.

Normally I would save this post in draft and let it marinate for awhile. But this time I'm posting it, raw and unformed, as I think that the only reason I end up saving some of these is because I want to polish them up and make them beautiful before I share them. Kind of stupid, though, when you consider that one of the beauties of working in the blogosphere is that other people will often help you transform that lump of coal into a diamond if you'll only let them.

A Results Oriented Work Environment is NOT the Same as Flexible Scheduling

Last week I asked if your nonprofit was ready to stop watching the clock in a post discussing Best Buy's Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE). As a quick recap, Best Buy is now allowing a significant portion of its employees to work from home or other locations and to work whatever hours they need in order to achieve clearly-defined work objectives. Face time is no longer considered a requirement of most jobs and they are even looking to roll out the concept in their retail stores.

When I wrote the post, one of the questions I asked was if there's a difference between ROWE and flexible scheduling. I've come to the conclusion that there is a major difference, one that gets to the heart of some fundamental beliefs that many organizations have about work.

At many organizations, a flexible schedule is worked out on a case-by-case basis to accommodate life situations that workers may face during their tenure with the organization. It's commonly used to ease women back into work following maternity leave, to provide an employee with time to care for a sick family member or because the employee is dealing with his/her own health problems. Regardless, it's generally a solution that organizations will consider for employees who are currently "not serious" about their jobs because other life issues are intervening.

In the minds of management, people who need a flexible schedule are people who are not putting work first. This means that they are less likely to be considered for promotions, special projects, etc. In many cases, asking for a flexible schedule that allows you to work from home and/or to work "non-traditional" hours is a fast road to a career dead end.

ROWE is a completely different animal. Best Buy is starting from the premise that ALL workers would benefit from having the flexibility to get work done wherever and whenever it makes the most sense for them to do it. They are not assuming that people who want to work from Starbucks or from a den in their homes are trying to shirk work. They are assuming that these are people who are deadly serious about their own performance and are adult enough to know when they need an optimum environment for getting that work done.

While the content of flexible schedules is the same in both types of organizations--it consists of allowing workers to do work at times and locations that work for them--the CONTEXT for a flexible schedule is totally different.

In the first organization, flexible schedules are not the norm and they are based on a belief that the "best workers" are in the office, every day at specific hours. In the organization that embraces ROWE, however, flexible scheduling is part of the fabric and culture of the organization. It is based on a belief that the best workers will get their work done and that these workers NEED flexibility in order to operate at peak performance.

In the first organization, a flexible schedule is seen as a crutch for the "weaker" employees. In the ROWE organization, a flexible schedule is a tool that benefits all workers, particularly the strongest performers.

Why is making this distinction important? In part because I think that organizations interested in exploring the possibilities of ROWE must first be clear about some of their underlying beliefs about work and performance. Knowing if you see a flexible schedule as a crutch or a tool is an important first step.

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Stop Watching the Clock?

My husband, like many Americans, is unhappy with his job. It is a job that combines impossibly high expectations with little personal control. There is a strong emphasis on "face-time" and productivity is measured by your slavish adherence to poorly thought-out metrics that emphasize process over outcomes. So it was interesting to find, as often happens to me when a problem is on my mind, this post from Ryan Healey at Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist. It's about Best Buy and its current experiment with ROWE--or Results-Oriented Work Environment.

In a nutshell, Best Buy has decided that measuring employees based on the amount of time they spend at work is a useless endeavor. So they have banished all schedules, mandatory meetings, and even the requirement that they show up to the office. Employees know what work needs to be done and their managers assume that because these employees are competent and responsible, they will get it done. If it's work that can be done over a cell phone or on a laptop in your bedroom, so be it. Feel free to do it that way.  You're a grown-up and we trust you to do the work. If you can't handle that, then we'll deal with it at that point. Otherwise, we're all happy.

According to an article in Business Week, since Best Buy adopted this approach, the results have been pretty amazing:

Since the program's implementation, average voluntary turnover has fallen drastically, CultureRx says. Meanwhile, Best Buy notes that productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE. Employee engagement, which measures employee satisfaction and is often a barometer for retention, is way up too, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures.

ROWE may also help the company pay for the customer centricity campaign. The endeavor is hugely expensive because it involves tailoring stores to local markets and training employees to turn customer feedback into new business ideas. By letting people work off-campus, Best Buy figures it can reduce the need for corporate office space, perhaps rent out the empty cubicles to other companies, and plow the millions of dollars in savings into its services initiative.

So let's see, higher employee morale, reduced turnover, greater productivity, a re-allocation of resources from offices that serve little function to services that actually help customers. . . does this sound like something for nonprofits to consider?

This story really opens up several lines of inquiry for me:

  • What would ROWE look like in different nonprofit environments? Is it just an advanced version of flexible scheduling or does it become something more? Is it possible for nonprofits to untether their staff from their desks? This article in Money magazine says that managers have no say in employee scheduling and can only measure employees on the work they get done--could command and control organizations live with this? 
  • What are the practical/logistical implications of using ROWE in a nonprofit? There are a lot of things that would need to happen differently. There are huge implications for staff selection and assignment, management and supervision, employee evaluations and training, expectations, etc.
  • What would need to be done with technology to really make this happen?
  • What organizational culture changes would need to take place? In addition to all the practical considerations, what cultural changes would need to occur to support a move to ROWE?
  • What are the pros and cons? Does it make sense to go this route? What are the benefits for a nonprofit and do they outweigh any costs?
  • What are the barriers to implementation? The Business Week article, as well as the resources below, indicate that there was a lot of push-back on the concept from old-style managers who'd grown up in a workaholic culture. The experience has also revealed some ugly attitudes--most notably that some managers have a profound mistrust of and disrespect for their employees. It's also made visible an unspoken "rule" of many workplaces--that flexibilty should only apply to certain "types" of staff, i.e., the "professional" or exempt staff. Many managers felt that this couldn't work with hourly employees that they "needed" more guidance and structure to get their jobs done.

More on ROWE and Best Buy from:

  • Time Magazine--Good stuff on results and on the challenges Best Buy faced, particularly from "old style" managers.

And a related article from the NYT on "When Work Time Isn't Face Time."

This is something that I think bears further investigation. I'm also curious about people's reactions to this idea. Do you think it could work? Are there organizations where you think it isn't possible?

The Psychology of Email--Two Studies

A couple of interesting studies re: email use and our responses to it, via Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog.

The Impact of Capitalization and Emoticons on Perceptions of Email
Apparently, depending on your personality type, proper use of capitalization and the use of the smiley emoticon can make you seem more likable. According to one study cited by Dean (Byron and Baldridge, 2007):

They found that, sure enough, using correct capitalisation and emoticons tended to make a better impression on readers. The reader's personality also influenced how emoticons and capitalisation were perceived. Readers high in both extroversion and emotional stability were likely to rate sender's emails as more likeable if they had correct capitalisation. As for emoticons, readers higher in emotional stability were likely to rate sender's emails more likeable if they used emoticons.

The opposite was also true. This meant that for the introverted and emotionally unstable, correct capitalisation tended not to affect the sender's likeability, perhaps even lowering it. Similarly, emoticons had little effect on the emotionally unstable.

Communicating Persuasively--Email or Face-to-Face?
Another study indicates that email tends to work better in persuading men than it does women:

Persuasion research has uncovered fascinating effects: that men seem more responsive to email because it bypasses their competitive tendencies (Guadagno & Cialdini, 2002). Women, however, may respond better in face-to-face encounters because they are more 'relationship-minded'. But is this finding just a gender stereotype?

While this appears to be related to gender, there may be more value in looking at the nature of the relationship, says Dean. If you have a competitive relationship with a person, then you might be better off using email to make your case. If your relationship is more cooperative, then face-to-face may be the better way to communicate.

On Transparency

I read a lot of educator blogs. Most teachers and administrators who blog are thoughtful men and women with great insight and I always learn from them. Via Stephen Downes tonight comes a post from teacher Clarence Fisher on a recent experience he had with a class project:

As part of the International Teen Life project (or ITL as we are now calling it, see the trendy new logoJamie Hide of Colombia) one of the groups was working on a project about terrorism. A balanced perspective on a complex issue created by teenagers from three nations, their research was fairly in - depth and detailed. designed by

As part of the creative work surrounding this topic, one of the students from Kuala Lumpur wrote a powerful, moving piece of poetry from a terrorist's point of view. It was about a person who has given up hope, who has tried to become something with his life, but in the end, feels he has no choice except to become a suicide bomber. The students debated on the wiki regarding the appropriateness of this poem and it was decided to let it stand. My personal feeling is that it is a powerful piece written from an original viewpoint. While I don't condone the action, I think it is a valuable piece of fiction.

When the students in my class began putting their creative video together, they quickly found videos on YouTube of the World Trade Centre tragedy and wanted to use pieces of it. They also found a voice over of George Bush calling terrorists "faceless." Wanting to segue into the poem from the Trade Centre tragedy, they found a picture of Mr. Bush in front of a cloud from a nuclear explosion and placed the words "But if you look at it from their (people in oppressed nations) point of view, who really is the faceless one?"

Clarence goes on to write how he wrestled with whether or not to let his students leave in the offending picture. Ultimately he decided to have his students remove it (like Stephen, I would have left it in), but that's not the point of this story. What strikes me here is the learning that's occurring through Clarence's willingness to be transparent about the process. Transparent not only to his class (he writes on Anne Davis' blog that this sparked a great conversation with his students on censorship), but also transparent to the world of his peers. In many ways, this is harder than anything for most people.

Because of both the nature of new technologies and changing expectations, most organizations are dealing with the dilemma of whether or not to "air dirty laundry." There are questions about what to share, how to share, and when to share it. Should we let people see our moments of confusion? Should they know that although we made a decision, we're still questioning whether or not we did the right thing? If we look uncertain does this mean we're incompetent? What will they think if they see how things REALLY work?

For me, transparency is a struggle. I know that I learn more through the process of questioning. At the same time, I want to seem as though I have all the answers. Having teenagers is teaching me to let go of some of this. So does time spent on the Internet which makes it clear that I'll NEVER have all the answers. I find it helpful and refreshing, though, when someone else models what it is to show when you're uncertain. We need more of that kind of bravery in the world. And I want to acknowledge it when I see it.

Organizational Potential=Staff Potential

Via Doing Well by Doing Good comes a great video in which Seventh Generation CEO Jeffrey Hollender asks a question that all nonprofits should be asking themselves:

"How can we expect an organization to reach its full potential if we aren't ensuring that our staff are reaching their full potential?"

That's a really profound question, I think, especially for organizations that are built upon the knowledge and skills of their employees.

A few suggestions for positioning your organization so that it's more supportive of individual growth.

  • Hire people who are interested in and working on their own personal and professional development. Hollender says that when Seventh Generation is hiring, they ask people about what they're doing to support their own growth. If a person can't answer that question well, then Seventh Generation isn't interested.
  • Be more mindful in your daily work. Hollender points out that even organizations that are supposedly all about change still do their work unconsciously. He suggests that by paying attention to what you're doing and why you're doing it, you will be more likely to make changes that support growth. Hollender makes mindfulness about work practices a regular part of his staff meetings.
  • Help staff identify and play to their strengths. We're very focused on helping people uncover and "overcome" their weaknesses, but there's much to be said for helping people play to their strengths. The best managers know how to structure work and responsibilities so that they capitalize on what their people do best. Then they help staff get even better at it.
  • Encourage staff to develop and maintain portfolios of their work. Reflect on these portfolios as part of the evaluation process and use them to develop professional goals for the next evaluation period.
  • Encourage personal learning projects and and the tools and resources that support lifelong learning.  Don't automatically block websites that you think aren't directly related to your organizational mission. Many staff will be using them to learn new things that could benefit you. Consider allowing staff to set aside a certain percentage of their time to devote to personal learning projects, as many of the best companies have tried to do. Frequently it's been from these projects that companies have found their greatest innovations.

I know. All of this feels like a luxury you can't afford. But to my mind, these are really investments in your organization that you can't afford to ignore. Most cost next to nothing--it's really about making time and being intentional in developing your staff. We have nonprofits that are entirely built on the idea of small investments in people creating big change. Why don't we see that the same thing is true for ourselves?

To Cure "Cyberbullying" We Need to Go To the Roots Of The Hatred

Since the Kathy Sierra incident earlier this week, I've been thinking about "cyberbullying." I joined Andy Carvin's Ning network. I've been reading blog posts and articles and thinking about codes of conduct and what needs to be done to stop the kind of hate-filled online attacks that Kathy has experienced. I've also been wondering what I want to say about all of this to support "Stop Cyberbullying Day."

As I think about all of these issues, I keep coming back to this. I believe that there's something far deeper at work in what happened to Kathy that will not be solved by teaching people about how to be safe online or by establishing some kind of blogger code of conduct, although both are fine ideas. What is happening online is just an extension of what's happening in our society, where despite the so-called "success" of the women's movement, women can still expect to be ridiculed, harassed, and threatened in every aspect of their lives where they fail to conform to male expectations. They can assume that no matter how successful they are, someone will still bring it back to how they look or what they wear. It's a world where standing up for yourself as a woman is to invite even more threats.

This isn't about "cyberbullies." It's about, at the very least, rampant sexism. And on the worst end of things, it's about misogyny. To call it anything else in my mind is to make it less than what it is. It also sidetracks the conversation into fearmongering about the Web, rather than focusing on the fact that the Web is just an extension of the way that women are treated in all parts of society.  It's also about the slippery slope that we've been on where we tolerate a lot of on (and off) line behavior that ultimately leads us to what Kathy has been experiencing. It's only when it reaches clearly egregious levels, such as what happened to Kathy, that people decide to step in. And even there, it seems to me that the supportive reactions to Kathy's situation are a result of the fact that she expressed fear, conforming to cultural expectations of women as victims, rather than expressing her disgust as pure anger, as most men would likely do when faced with the same situation. 

In my mind, what goes on in cyberspace reflects what goes on in "real life." Take this Ning demo video posted on TechCrunch featuring CEO Gina Bianchini. Scroll down to the comments where you can see one guy after another posting not about Ning or the content of Gina's video (although some do), but about how "hot" Gina is. "David" even goes so far as to say,"That is one sexy CEO/Demo….She can Ning me anytime!!" One person in the thread does speak up ("What’s up with all of these falsely flattering sexist comments?"), but most just let it roll or actively contribute to what's being said. This is exactly the sort of thing that goes on in real life (I defy you to find a woman who hasn't been on the receiving end of something like this).  And it's a slippery slope that once tolerated leads us into darker territory, as Michelle Malkin describes here. (Although I hate her politics, I also think she's on the money in this particular rant, particularly in her description of what has been tolerated for years on the Net.)

Sexism and misogyny are everywhere, so we shouldn't be surprised to find them online. Back in Skinny Jeans points to the media landscape that feeds sexualized violence against women. And Violet Blue of SF Gate writes disturbingly of "When a Man Hates a Woman":

Ask any three women who publish online if they're ever been stalked, sexually threatened or threatened with violence on other blogs or in comments. I don't need to bet money to know you'll get a yes from one of those women. Too busy to ask anyone? That's OK, I'll raise my hand for all three.

Imagine being a girl and working really hard to earn the reputation of a respected voice in the world of tech journalism and blogging -- a world populated by disproportionately more men than women -- and to find yourself the target object of a hate-filled Web site. The tone and content of the hate site centers around sexually threatening you, suggesting ways you could be killed and have your corpse defiled, stating that you are a "slut" and that your gender is also in question. Your straight male colleagues don't have this problem.

Then the person running the hate site blogs about every word you say, every time you make a post or publish an article. And targets your friends. And posts the names of your family and Google satellite maps of your family's homes. They deface your Wikipedia page at every opportunity, with sexual slurs, objectifying you at every possible chance. It's enough to make a girl choose not to be a tech journalist.

The point I want to make today is this. I'm all for stopping what happened to Kathy Sierra from happening to anyone else. But I think that we will only stop it when we address it at its roots and we start having a conversation about what makes people (mostly men) react in this way to powerful, high profile women--or women at all.

What happened to Kathy is a symptom of a disease and like most diseases, addressing the symptoms will not cure the illness. The people who peddle this hatred will not be bound by blogger codes or being forced to reveal their "true" identities. We've seen that with sexual harassment in the workplace which has not been eliminated by laws and policies, but has just been pushed underground where it is more insidious then ever, and in some ways even more damaging. To stop cyberbullying of this type, we need to stop what motivates it in the first place--a fundamental and culturally acceptable disrespect for women that pervades every aspect of our society. Until we address that, we're just playing at the margins.

P.S.--This kind of online hatred isn't just reserved for women. Minorities are victims, too. Why doesn't anyone speak up when message board threads like this one descend into some of the most vile and ugly racism I've ever seen? (I'm only linking to give you an idea of what gets said online). I actually complained about this to the site owners and to the radio show that the site is supporting. I received email back telling me it wasn't their problem.  They didn't express outrage at what had been posted, nor did they see any reason to remove the offending threads. My husband, who is Black, (I'm white), told me to just leave it alone.  He accepts that this is routinely said about members of his race, especially Black men. I find this horrifying. And again, I don't believe that "rules" are going to solve the problem.

Scarcity, Abundance, Mental Models and Reader Responses

In the past several days I've received a number of comments and emails on my posts regarding scarcity thinking in nonprofits. I wanted to try to summarize some of what's come my way because I think that it all furthers the conversation.

In a comment on my original post, Mike Wassenaar left me a link to an interesting 2003 report entitled Battered Agencies: Supporting Those Who Serve Low Income Communities. Based on a study of small nonprofits serving low-income communities in Marin City, California, the report makes the very thought-provoking point that many of these agencies suffer from the same stressors and issues faced by their clients, including insufficient financial resources, racial and class tensions, lack of appropriate supports for developing the skills necessary for success in their environment, and a limited role and voice in planning. As a result, many of these agencies and their staff exhibited the same kinds of dysfunctional patterns of behavior as their clients.

The report emphasizes that these organizations are responding to the very real limitations they face, and I certainly agree that they are dealing with very real barriers. But what intrigues me more is the ways in which these nonprofits' behavior and the behavior of the clients they serve mirror each other. For me it makes the larger point that these people are locked into ways of viewing the world and patterns of response that are mutually reinforcing and spreading back and forth between clients and the agencies that are meant to help them.

I also received an email from the Nonprofit Curmudgeon,  who has apparently been doing some reporting himself on the scarcity mentality as a result of an email list conversation about nonprofits and their attitudes toward technology services. As the conversation points out, nonprofits don't seem to realize that a lot of what they want to do technologically can be done for far less money than they think. Some of this is due to ignorance, but some of it is because nonprofits are locked into that automatic scarcity thinking. They don't even bother to check their assumptions about cost to see if they're really true. As a result, they either don't advance in their use of technology or they spend tens of thousands of dollars on technology that could be had for far less.

In response to that email conversation, Michael Gilbert pointed to another side of the scarcity coin, the "sense of entitlement" that many nonprofits have (described so well by Putnam Barber in this article). Entitlement is an advanced version of victim thinking, another outgrowth of the scarcity mentality. I believe that I can't take care of myself in this scary, world, so someone else needs to. The more I'm taken care of (by having things given to me), the more likely I am to begin believing I "deserve" free things. We see this all the time in both individuals and organizations. Many nonprofits have turned this into an art form.

The answer to all this, suggests the Curmudgeon, is "an attitude adjustment." What he's getting at is that nonprofits are operating with a certain mental model and that the models have to change. But as this two-pager on mental models indicates, this is easier said than done. The influence of mental models is very subtle--people don't even realize that they are viewing the world through a particular lens. They are also very powerful, influencing what information we allow to come into our consciousness and what information passes us right by. Whatever mental model controls us determines what we pay attention to. The only way to break out of the model is to start questioning our assumptions and developing a new way of looking at the world so we can allow all information to flow into us.

While I think that we have to change our thinking, though, I have also begun to believe that it may be easier to start with changing our actions. This is what I've been trying to get at in my posts on specific behaviors in which organizations could engage that might change the scarcity thinking process. In some sense I think that if we could change the behaviors, then our mental models would change, too. It's the "fake it till you make it approach" where we ACT as though we believe something and then at some point we realize that we DO believe it. For many people, I think it would be a lot easier for them to start ACTING differently rather than trying to THINK differently.

I find it really interesting to see how this line of thinking seemed to strike a chord with people. I've probably had more responses to this series of posts than to anything I've written. I'm not sure why that is, though. I suspect it's because it's one of those things that resonates with people--one of those "aha moments" when a lot of specific behaviors that they've observed all of a sudden "hang together" in a way that makes sense. Regardless, I appreciate everyone's comments and thoughts on this because they are really helping me move forward in my own line of thinking on the subject. One of the reasons I love blogging. And of course, it's a great example of the abundance mentality at work--people giving freely of their time and thoughts with no expectation of reward, yet the contributions enrich us all.