Is the Best Predictor of Future Failure Your Past Success?

Success and failure sign Shafeen Charania makes an intriguing suggestion--that the best predictor of our future failure is our past successes. His premise is that when we've found a course of action that proves successful, we are more likely to become wedded to it. We then resist changing our approach, even when circumstances have changed.

This is related, of course, to the tyranny of dead ideas. But there's a twist. In Shafeen's formulation, we're invited to anticipate that our past success will predispose us to future failure. This means we have the opportunity to build into our processes those strategies that can help us avoid resting on our laurels.

On an organizational level, Shafeen has a few suggestions for doing this:

One approach to helping companies stay open to new ideas, while making sure they extract maximum return from existing events, might tie back to that blog entry Size Does Matter.

What if there was also a policy that once a successful business line in the main company hit a certain profitability and had achieved a specified return (say 200% of the original investment), it was required to spin off 20% of its employees and fund that "start-up" with 5% of the profits for 2-3 years? The start-up is  charged with beating the incumbent and taking down the mother-ship. If after those 2-3 years there are no promising results, the start-up is on its own. But if it succeeded, the parent company would have a choice of bringing them back in-house, or sticking to the program as defined in Size Does Matter, and creating a whole new revenue stream, while milking the last drop out of their cash cow.

Individually, we can take action too.  We can engage in  ongoing reflective practice, which provides us with a framework for examining our assumptions. This is a necessary and critical component of any individual plan to avoid being imprisoned by our success. 

We can conduct regular After Action Reviews. These, too, provide a structure for reflection and evaluation and allow us to see where we should and shouldn't consider other alternatives. 

One of the dangers of success is that it can lead to "When all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail" syndrome. I see this with new users of social media, for example, who, enamored of the benefits of blogging or wikis or Twitter, suddenly see a social media solution to every individual or organizational issue.

While applying new ideas or tools or approaches in different realms can be a great strategy, we should do so with a spirit of inquiry, rather than with the belief that it "should" work. This is where we need to develop the habit of engaging in personal learning experiments , regularly engaging ourselves in asking questions and testing our ideas. 

Being aware that in our past successes lie the seeds of our future failures gives us a tremendous opportunity to avoid this fate. 

Is this something you think about? What have you done to make sure you don't cling to outmoded approaches when circumstances have changed?

De-Grading the Workplace

Grades The other day I mentioned Alfie Kohn, best known for his book, Punished by Rewards, which I devoured when it first came out and still return to from time-to-time. In one of those serendipitous moments that occurs so often in the blogosphere, a few days later I saw that Christy Tucker bookmarked one of Kohn's articles, so I clicked through to check it out.

Although 9 years old, From Degrading to De-Grading, is an interesting treatise on the impact of grades that not only is relevant to the educational system, but to the workplace as well. In it, Kohn argues that research has found three impacts of emphasizing letter or number grades:

  • Grades tend to reduce student interest in learning.
  • Grades tend to reduce students' preferences for engaging in challenging tasks.
  • Grades tend to reduce the quality of students' thinking.

So when you grade people's work and learning (whether by actually issuing grades or through badly thought-out performance evaluations and poor management skills), they will be less interested in learning, less interested in performing challenging tasks and less able to think creatively--the exact opposite of what we need at work.

Thinking about this is important, I think, because we have a tendency to want to find "incentives" that will encourage people to learn and engage in new workplace behaviors, but these incentives are often external, such as prizes, financial incentives, good performance reviews, etc. Kohn's research indicates, though, that linking learning to external rewards actually has impacts that are the opposite of what we are generally trying to achieve. Instead, we need to appeal to intrinsic motivators, such as people's desire to help others, getting enjoyment out of the task, feeling like they belong to a cohesive group and feeling like they're contributing to something meaningful.

One of the major problems with extrinsic motivation is that when the rewards end, so does the behavior you were trying to encourage. In fact, people will get angry that you've taken something away. People also tend to de-value the activity itself when you use rewards, because if it has to be rewarded, then it must clearly not be of value on its own.

Many of us are struggling with ways to encourage the use of social media in the workplace. As we think through our incentive plans, we might want to keep in mind Kohn's research on external motivators and find ways to appeal to people's intrinsic needs.

How can we structure social media participation so that it isn't dependent on external rewards? How do we help people see that effective use of social media can be rewarding in its own right?

Flickr photo via ragesoss.

21st Century Workplace Literacy: What Does that Mean and How Do We Engage More People in the Discussion?

Literacy_2 I find that when it comes to learning and instruction, I tend to run in two different circles, as evidenced by the "Learning" tab in my feed reader. Here, I'm following both bloggers from the world of workplace learning (i.e. corporate and organizational trainers and instructional designers) and edubloggers--people who are working in the k-12 and university systems. I do this in part because I tend to be working with both constituencies, so I need to keep an eye on developments in each area. I also do this because it's interesting to see the cross-over (or lack of cross-over) that occurs.

One of the areas that is generates a fair amount of discussion in the edublogosphere is how to define 21st century literacy. What are the skills that students will need in order to be successful in a constantly changing work world? David Warlick, for example, has some ideas here.  Last year, Stephen Downes had some some thoughts on what you really need to learn here.

In a global economy, these are conversations all nations should be having if they hope to remain competitive, and you would think that this would be an area where there would be considerable discussion going on between workplace learning professionals and edubloggers. Interestingly, this does not seem to be the case.  

From what I've observed, edubloggers are weighing in with their ideas about the key skills young people will need to be successful in the world of work, but it's educators talking to other educators without a lot of input from people who are operating in the work world for which students are supposedly being prepared.

This is nothing new of course--education and the so-called "real world" have long been disconnected (at least according to most businesses). However, given our new-found ability to connect the two groups through technology and the high stakes involved, it's unfortunate that we aren't doing more to have joint discussions. And I mean on the ground floor, practitioner to practitioner--not these high level "partnerships" that supposedly bring together business and education but never seem to really mean anything at work or in the classroom.

I see a few issues and implications with this . . .

First, if educators are basically talking to other educators, attending conferences together, running in the same blogging circles, etc., how do they truly get an appreciation for the needs of the workplace? Certainly they can make certain inferences about what constitutes "workplace literacy," but it seems to me that if you're talking about skills that people need to be successful in a particular environment, it would be more productive to reach outside of your educator circle and connect to the people who will be hiring the workers you're preparing.  Shouldn't there be more discussions happening between the two groups?

I don't say this as a criticism as much as an observation. I suspect it has to do with the fact that online we still tend to connect to the people we know and feel comfortable with, but then are we getting the most from the technology if we end up having the same conversations with the same kinds of people? (Amy Gahran has an excellent blog post on this tendency, by the way, and some suggestions for how to reach out to people who are outside of our normal circles).Literacy_2_2

I'm also wondering why workplace learning professionals aren't talking more about the issue of changing workplace literacy and 21st century foundational success skills. We know, for example, that people need to have what we've always called "basic literacy," (reading, writing, math skills) and it's understood that for people to be successful at work they need some minimal level of skills in these areas. They are the scaffolding that allow people to develop more technical skills.

It seems to me that technology and dramatically different ways of doing business (virtual teams, etc.) are drastically impacting our definitions of basic workplace literacy. If we haven't really re-defined workplace literacy, how can we be sure that staff have those underlying skills? I think, for example, that being able to learn new materials and skills quickly is a fundamental workplace literacy. Yet what has been done or is being done to ensure that people who are in the workplace now have those skills? And if they don't, how can they realistically operate in such a fast-paced economy?

Personally what I'd like to see is more conversations happening between edubloggers and workplace learning professionals on the issue of 21s century workplace literacy. The same technology that is impacting our definitions also provides us with the means to have the discussions, although it will mean we have to step outside of our silos.   I know it's too much to hope that we'd start attending each other's conferences (limited dollars, limited time), but at a minimum, it would be nice if we did something virtual to share ideas and generate discussion. I think we'd actually have a lot to learn from each other.

How could we start better connecting the two worlds to further the conversations and define how we could all proceed together to ensure that people have the foundational workplace skills they need to be successful? Is this even an issue?

Photo via Julie Lindsay

The Social Media Helix and Learning

Note--I wrote this post on Sunday, right after I wrote my original social media spiral post. It further explains where I'm trying to go in regard to social media use and learning and thinking through how to help people use social media tools for their own professional development. After the post I just wrote on early adopters and the early majority, I think it may add more food for thought.

My use of the term "Turtle Learning" may not be the best, but I'm trying to convey a sense of the difference in learning that I think occurs once you move into more actively engaging with social media. I'm open to any suggestions for changing that. This is clearly a work in progress.

The other day I started sharing some thoughts that I've been formulating on a spiral of social media interaction that digital immigrants go through in learning how to use new media tools. What I was trying to get at was how people who are learning new technologies have to go through some different levels of learning that relate what they already know to new kinds of tools.  I'm particularly interested in exploring how we use these tools for learning and development, so as I contemplated my (admittedly lame) little schematic, it occurred to me that that you could divide the spiral into two levels of learning, as I'm indicating in my revised drawing below:

The Turtle Level
I'm calling this the "turtle" level, because I think this is where new knowledge and information comes to you more slowly. I see this happening for a few reasons:

  • For the most part, when you treat the web as something that you go visit when you need it (as with searches and isolated visits to blogs and websites), then new information is automatically going to come to you at a slower, more measured pace. You're only going to get new information when you go looking for it.
  • Even if you belong to email lists and get subscriptions to email newsletters, the pace of information is still slower. You probably don't have subscriptions to 100 newsletters (something you will easily have once you start using RSS) and even the most active lists can be managed by limiting the number of emails you get per day or setting your emails to off so you go visit the listserv site when you want information.

Essentially at the lower levels of the spiral, the web is something you go to when you have a question or need information.

The other major difference at the "Turtle" level is that you are generally having less interaction with the information that comes your way. Most of what you do is passive--reading an email or blog or watching a video. You aren't actively engaging with the content to reflect on what you're learning or to create something new.

I think at the "Turtle Level" you see the web as mostly a huge and more accessible library that you go to when you need to do some research. It might also be a mall or a bank, but it's a place that you go visit, not an integrated tool that stays with you to help you manage your day.

Turbo-Charged Learning
The "Turbo-Charged" level is when you start to get into what we usually mean when we talk about Web 2.0 tools. You're using RSS to pull information to you. You're using social bookmarking to not only bookmark your own information, but to find new information through your network of contacts. You're commenting on blogs and participating in social networks and you may even be Twittering or writing your own blog as well.

At these points in the spiral, information is coming at you much more quickly because you're operating in a "pull" environment, getting media and data from a variety of sources. If you're like most people, once you start using RSS, your biggest problem becomes stopping yourself from adding more feeds and doing what you can to manage and weed things out.

Not only are you getting more information than before, but you're also processing it differently than you did. Instead of just reading and mentally filing things away (often to be promptly forgotten), you will usually find yourself actively engaging with what you're seeing and reading, having online conversations through blog comments and social networks and sometimes reflecting on your own blog.

At this point, the Web is no longer a place you visit. It has become a tool that is integral to your learning and functioning. It is no longer where you go, but how you do things. As they say in training, it is no longer your "sage on the stage," but your "guide on the side."

I think that to make the shift between Turtle Learning and Turbo-charged Learning, you have to fundamentally see yourself as a learner. Part of what keeps us stuck in the Turtle Learning stage is a more passive approach to knowledge and information that waits for someone to tell us we need it before we'll go get it. We're also passive in the sense that we don't actively engage with new material. We're content to read it or watch it and say "that was interesting" and then continue doing things as we did before.

Once you move  to the Turbo-charged level, though, it's impossible to be content with that approach. You are constantly seeing and engaging with new ideas and information and learning takes place even when you aren't conscious of it. To fully engage in the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation levels is to BE a learner. You can't NOT learn if you operate in these environments.

For me, this adds some greater clarity to my thinking about why Web 2.0 is so powerful as a learning tool and how there's a need for a fundamental shift in perceptions and paradigms to move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. What you could argue about is which has to come first--the change in perceptions or the new behaviors? To some extent, you might be able to "fake it till you make it," encouraging people to practice with the new tools and skills of the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation levels to actually create a new perception of themselves as learners. Certainly it will be easier, though, to move people to those next levels if you can appeal to the learner in them.

What continues to be unclear to me is what it takes to move people from Turtle to Turbo-charged. That, to me, seems to be where the big adoption chasm exists and I'm not sure what to do about it. In some ways, I think that part of the problem is because the media talks about the tools of Web 2.0 in terms of their influence on marketing and/or young people. It hasn't occurred to a lot of people that these are the tools of learning and empowerment, so this may change with time. Still lots to think about in here. . . 

The Social Media Spiral Revisited

Socialmediaarray On Sunday, I asked for feedback on the social media spiral I drew to represent my current thinking about how people transition from "old" media to new social media. This is a follow-up post to tease out some of the comments I received and integrate them further into my thinking. I will warn you that it's 6 a.m. and this is a little stream of consciousness.

First, a few people pointed out to me that what I'd drawn was not a spiral, but a helix, so the first thing I need to do is start referring to this thing as the "social media helix."

The visual here shows the progression I went through with Christine Martell in getting to my helix. I sent her the pyramid and then we did a long call. The result for me was the helix, while the result for her was the spiral. (Check out Christine's post on how these visualizations are showing us where we had differences in our thinking that need further discussion).

The helix construction is important, because as many people pointed out, it creates an implied hierarchy that a lot of people disagree with. As Alan Levine said:

The helix, spiral, levels suggest there is some sort of linear progression, or more worrisome, that one level is desirable over another. We can skip levels, operate at multiple levels, the whole nature of it defies 2D or 3D structuring. The phases people are at are not the levels per se, but some sort of overlay that might be a bubble that intersects the phases vertically. But again, I think the concept that it is a linear path is misleading.

This thought was echoed by many people, so I had to go back and ask myself why I'd seen this as a helix, with its implied progression. What I've realized is that I'm not really talking about how people tend to play around with and experiment with social media, which is generally not linear at all. Instead, what I'm trying to depict here is a way to introduce people to these tools so they see a progression and connection between what they already know and the new tools they don't understand. I'm seeing this as more of a training kind of a progression, I think, which is also why I was asking about the skills we think are associated with each of the different levels or phases.

Now of course with any training model, everyone is going to come to it with different entry-level skills. So this is far too simplistic to represent that. For example, some people may jump right into commenting on blogs long before they set up RSS feeds. That's how I was. In fact, I was blogging for two years before I set up RSS, so as a model for looking at how people actually use tools, my helix is clearly not the answer.

Another piece that got thrown into the mix was from Mark Aberdour, who reminded me of the 1% rule--that 1% of people will create/participate on a regular basis, another 10% will do so sporadically and the rest will lurk.

Part of what I think is going on right now is that we're still in the early adopter phase of social media use, looking at how to leap over the chasm between the early adopters and the majority of users--how to get more than 1% of people actively using the web. My interest in social media is primarily in how it can be used for learning, so I want to see as many people as possible using these tools for their personal and professional development. Part of what I'm trying to understand is how to help people build on their previous knowledge of the web and how to do use it so that they can progress into the more active learning that I think occurs when you move into the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation phases.

I think that how the early adopters are learning to use these tools is substantially different from what will need to happen for the early and late majorities. Remember email and learning to surf the web? The early adopters didn't need to be "taught" how to do those things. They generally figured it out on their own. But once we got into the early and late majorities, that's when we started to need training classes and "Email for Dummies" books, etc. We weren't able to fully scale up until more deliberate training occurred with the largest groups of people.

I think that there's a fundamental difference between the people who are using social media tools now and those that we're trying to help "see the light" for the future. I think that by their very nature, early adopters are self-directed learners, so to try to use our experiences to help the next phase of adopters may be a mistake. The early and late majorities are people who are more deliberate and pragmatic. They tend to want to be "taught" rather than to want to learn these things on their own. They feel more comfortable if someone shows them why they need a new tool and helps them learn it. They have lots of questions and worry more about "rules."

So where I'm going with this isn't so much about understanding how we early adopters are learning and using these tools. It's more about trying to find a more deliberate way to introduce these tools and concepts to people who aren't as self-directed or comfortable with exploration learning as the early adopters. I'm trying to understand the progression of skills and knowledge that people need to develop to full understand and engage with the learning opportunities provided by social media. Ideally I'd prefer it if they didn't have to be "taught"--I wish everyone was self-directed. But I'm a pragmatist, too, and I understand that we may need to think differently about how to help this next wave of people experience what we have.

With that in mind, does the helix make more sense? And am I on track in thinking that we may need to be thinking differently about helping this next phase of learners get the full benefits of social media to construct their own personal learning environments?

No Excuses Leadership

No_excuses Katya Andresen has a GREAT post on operating your organization with no excuses. Apparently she recently did a presentation on tweaking your marketing messages, where she was told by her audience that her suggestions weren't possible because:

1. I don’t have the budget to do that.
2. I don’t have the staff to do that.
3. I don’t have the time to do that.
4. I don’t have the internal support to do that.
5. I don’t have the expertise to do that.

Katya goes on to take each of these "constraints" and turn them into possibilities, urging us to think in terms of what we CAN do, not what we can't.

Katya's experience is something I get all the time, particularly when it comes to suggesting that staff change how they are currently operating. It seems that it's easier to spend time making excuses for why things can't change, rather than trying to figure out how they can change.

I suspect that this goes back to how scarcity thinking seems to rule in most organizations. Even though there's a lot of evidence to suggest that creativity actually does better when constraints exist, most people persist in the belief that constraints hold us back, rather than giving us a framework within which we can find solutions to our problems.

I'm doing a lot of thinking lately about leadership in organizations and Katya's post underscores the point that leadership is about making solutions, not excuses.  It's about recognizing where there may be some constraints and then using those constraints to propel you forward.

One of my favorite leadership books of all time, Good to Great, talks about how the great companies use The Stockdale Paradox:


The Stockdale Paradox


Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.


AND at the same time


Confront the most brutal facts of  your current reality, whatever they might be.

Many companies have failed because they are unwilling to confront the brutal facts, but I suspect that in the nonprofit sector, the bigger problem is going beyond the brutal facts to create something different. There seems to be a pervasive mindset that a lack of resources means an inability to change or have impact. From what I've observed, however, it's often not the lack of resources that is the problem. It is how the resources are being allocated and used that is the issue. In Katya's post, for example, she points out that instead of thinking "I don't have enough time to tweak my marketing messages," the answer should be "My time is better spent fixing a bad message rather than sending out more bad messages."  It isn't about the lack of time as much as how the time is being used.

In so many cases, it seems that organizations just sort of give up and give in to their excuses. This, to me, is one of the most profound failures of leadership. It's impossible to have any kind of vision if your sight is clouded by all that you can't do. Vision, by it's nature, is about seeing the possibilities, not the limitations. It's about seeing what CAN happen, not what isn't working. Excuses don't create change. They maintain the status quo, something that presumably many organizations are trying to change.

It also seems like this kind of "excuses only" leadership could become one of the primary reasons that  many nonprofits may find themselves becoming irrelevant. In a recent post, Seth Godin talks about the death of direct mail and how he he's worried about the ability of the largest nonprofits to change:

I'll start with the bad news: I despair for most of the top 50 non-profits in the US. These are the big guys, and they're stuck. Unlike the Fortune 100, not known for being cutting edge in themselves, the top charities rarely change... if you're big, you're used to being big and you expect to stay big. That means that generation after generation of staff has been hired to keep doing what's working. Big risks and crazy schemes are certainly frowned upon.

What I see here is the potential for more "excuses only" leadership--"We can't change because we've already invested so much into doing what we've been doing" (a constraint), rather than "The rules of the game are changing, so how can we keep up?" (a possibility).

What Katya's post opens up for me is a call to "No Excuses Leadership" that individuals and organizations must learn to heed. If they don't, then they'll get left behind.

Photo via vandy.

Do You Start Your New Employees Out Right?

New_hire My worst job ever was the one where they forgot that it was my first day. When your new company can't be bothered to remember that you'll be starting work, it's all kind of downhill from there.

I thought of this when I saw that Ray Sims has a great summary post with tips on New Hire Orientations or what they're now calling "onboarding." Can't say that I like the term too much--conjures up visions of boarding a plane and those generally haven't been my most pleasant experiences. Be that as it may, Ray's post has some good info worth checking out.

A couple of key points I'd highlight:

  • Orientation is a process, not an event. It takes awhile for people to get up to speed, so use a process approach when acclimating new hires.
  • Orientation is not just "what to know" but "WHO to know." Make sure that new employees are introduced to key people in the organization and that they get a chance to spend some time with the experts and information providers, both within your organization and at other organizations.

And a few tips I'd add to the list:

  • Make sure you hook a new hire up at lunchtime. I'm sorry, but THE loneliest thing in the world is starting a new job and when lunchtime rolls around, you're on your own. Please don't do that to new people. Seriously. It's rude and speaks volumes about how your organization REALLY feels about its people.
  • Try having staff build the orientation process based on their own experiences as new hires. What questions did they have? What do they wish they'd known sooner? Who do they wish they'd spent time with? Staff could be a gold mine of information in pulling something together.
  • Don't forget the fun factor. Having been the victim of some really awful orientations,  I'd like to plead for putting some fun into the process. Make some jokes, be interactive--whatever you do, don't lock people in a room for 8 hours with your organization's most boring talking heads. You want to KEEP new people, not make them start working on their resumes by the end of day one.
  • Build in opportunities for regular dialog with the new employee--I say do check-ins after the first day, the first week and the first month. Plus have an open door policy. Make sure that the new hire is comfortable with how things are progressing and that there are no questions or issues brewing.

Oh--and one final thing. Please remember when a new employee is starting. If you don't, it really is downhill from there.

How does your organization handle New Hire Orientations?

Flickr photo via awcole72

Do People Heart Your Organization?

Hearts Here's a question for you. Would anyone in your organization feel like they had the authority to do this?

When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s going against corporate policy.

Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is.

I'm guessing no. I'm guessing that there are probably a lot of layers of authority and permissions in place that would make most staff not even consider this an option. I'm also betting that your organization would feel like you didn't have the resources to do something like this.

But here's the thing. This is the kind of activity that sets people's expectations for how organizations SHOULD behave. Once you've had this kind of experience, mediocre service just doesn't cut it anymore. And people are talking about it so even if they haven't had the experience themselves, they see what's going on with other people so their expectations are higher, too.

The bar is being raised.

What are we doing to keep ourselves in the game? What are we doing to make sure that people heart us?

Photo via cybele-la

The Habits Of High Impact Nonprofits

Forces_for_good_2_2 The Stanford Social Innovation Review has an excellent article summarizing the findings of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie Crutchfield.

Chronicling four years of research into 12 highly successful nonprofits, including Teach for America and Habitat for Humanity, the book dispels some common myths about what makes a nonprofit successful, as well as identifying six successful practices.

The Myths and Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits
According to McLeod Grant and Crutchfield, most nonprofit literature focuses on issues that actually have nothing to do with creating a high impact nonprofit--what they call the myths of successful nonprofits:

  1. Perfect Management
  2. High Brand Name Recognition
  3. A Break-through Idea
  4. Textbook Mission Statements
  5. High Ratings on Conventional Metrics
  6. Large Budgets

Instead, real nonprofit impact is the result of six practices:

  • Combining both service and policy advocacy
  • Tapping into the powers of the market, self-interest and economics rather than relying on altruism alone.
  • Building strong communities of supporters who can act as evangelists for the organization and the cause.
  • Nurturing the creation of networks.
  • Learning how to be exceptionally adaptive, responding immediately to changes as they occur.
  • Sharing leadership rather than relying on the charisma of a strong founder.

Not all of the 12 nonprofits studied used all of these practices, nor did they use them in the same ways. In some cases they used them to different degrees and at different times, depending on their particular circumstances and development.

What's striking about these findings is that the "myths" of nonprofit success are based on inward-focusing practices, while the practices that really lead to high impact force nonprofits to look outside of their organizations to leverage external factors. These are also practices that work better in a 2.0 world where networks, adaptability and harnessing the power of the crowd are critical to success. The lessons these nonprofits are learning are lessons that businesses are learning, too.

Some interesting info here that's well worth a look. Looks like I have a new book to add to my reading list.

I'm Not the Only One Digging Ning



My interest in Ning continues unabated, especially after seeing that over 100,000 networks have been developed so far. Marc Andreesen's post on the accomplishment indicates that one of the reasons for their incredible growth is that Ning developers are focusing on making it ridiculously easy to set up your own network. I'm here to tell you that they're succeeding with that plan. You can definitely set up a network in about 5 minutes, although getting it going with participants offers its own challenges.

This afternoon I took a break to browse the Ning blog. There I found a couple of nonprofits making incredible use of the service--Sarcoidosis and Tu Both are organizations providing support to individuals and their families who are suffering from a chronic condition. These are the kinds of people who often crave connections with others, so using Ning to create space to nurture these necessary connections is an incredible service to offer. And it's FREE!

A few things I noticed about their sites:

  • Both have very active communities. Tu Diabetes is at almost 1,000 members and both networks have a lot of activity going on, with people posting Q&As in forums, writing blog posts, commenting on member pages, etc. There's a sense of energy, purpose and connection that I can only assume is incredibly positive for the members. Which I would assume transfers to the organizations.
  • Within the communities, members have taken advantage of the "Groups" feature to create more focused support groups. This means that there can be groups for children and adults, groups for people who are looking at particular treatment options, groups for families, etc.
  • Like all Ning sites, members have their own personal pages which includes a blog (with privacy options for individual posts), space to upload and share photos, and a comment wall. All of these features add to the sense of community and belonging for members. It also provides space for people to reflect upon and process some difficult challenges and experiences.
  • Tu Diabetes is using their site to advertise events--like a chat session with a doctor--to share links to other resources and to recommend books to members. This turns their site into a very full-featured support and information resource for members. If they wanted to, they could also add RSS feeds to diabetes-related news stories and other information.

After taking a look around these two sites, I'm struck even more by the huge potential of Ning for nonprofits. In one way or another, most nonprofits are about forging and utilizing connections. In some cases, the connections are for advocacy. In other cases, community may need to be formed to provide support. Ning is a FREE way to provide these services using a very robust and professional looking platform.For my money, this is an incredibly powerful resource whose potential we may only be beginning to tap into. Expect to see more here on using Ning because it definitely has my head buzzing with ideas.