Saturday, September 11, 2010


As I think about the current state of affairs, even my own, I am reminded what it is all about from a Sir Ernest Shackelton quote:

“Life to me is the greatest of all games. The danger lies in treating it as a survival game, A game to be taken lightly, And a game in which the rules don’t matter much The rules matter a great deal. The game has to be played fairly or it is no game at all. And even to win the game is not the chief end. The chief end is to win honorably and splendidly.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Organizational Cooperation Is For The Birds

Organizations can learn a lot from ornithological studies. One such study is by Sheng-Feng Shen, a former grad student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Sheng-Feng Shen's research focused on the cooperative practices of the Taiwan Yuhina songbird. What does a five inch songbird have to do with human organizations? You may be surprised. Read on.

The
Taiwan Yuhina utilize a unique process where
multiple, non-related females lay eggs jointly in the same nest and then in a miraculous demonstration of democratic cooperation, group members share the responsibility of rearing the chicks development. This species is so cooperative that even non-breeding birds help incubate the eggs. Transform all this avian cooperation to the often times, non-cooperative world of human organizations and we may find solutions to our most vexing organizational challenges. By sharing in the feeding and raising of its own and others offspring, the species helps to guarantee its survival.

When corporate functions operate as a single entity separate from the organization, their focus is not on the sustained and vibrant life of the 'species' but of that on the individual and his or her own needs. No species or organization can achieve success if the organization is not focused on acting together for a common purpose or benefit. As demonstrated by the
Taiwan Yuhina songbirds non-breeding helpers, when you help your colleagues survive you help the species not only survive but also prosper. Imagine this type of cooperation in the workplace. Individuals helping their colleagues grow and develop, which in turn grows the functional group, which in turn grows and develops the entire organization. Shen's work also shows how the behavior of the Taiwan Yuhina can be aligned and incorporated into our highly developed human species: by reducing conflict and competition. With this all-for-one, one-for-all attitude, each family within the species raises its success rate by reducing conflict that usually occurs when individuals and groups operate from a place of sparseness instead of abundance. (Fighting for food in recently earthquake ravaged Haiti can be viewed as an extreme example.) When humans are not treated fairly, when they feel slighted and rewards are not distributed equally, they first clamor, chirp and complain, then get angry and resentful. The important need to be valued and validated is attempted through gossip and in tandem with the desperate need to be understood and appreciated, efficiency and productivity are greatly reduced followed by flights of departure.

By coordinating the adults feeding arrivals to the nest, the Taiwan Yuhina's food distribution is provided evenly to the nestlings reducing the competition to be fed. Well fed, satiated chicks are happy chicks and happy chicks are productive chicks. Nature never stops being a powerful teacher of how to live and work in harmony and how to best guarantee our survival. Without the cooperation of each member of the species the 'species' can not survive.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How To Gain Buy-In 101

"Get buy-in before you start on that project." You hear that all the time. But how do you do it and how do you know when and if you've got it? What follows is getting buy in 101.

There are only two things that motivate people: (1) something they will gain, such as respect, knowledge, prestige, a promotion and material gains; or (2) something they'll lose, such as respect, power, money and security. Understanding this is fundamental in preparing your buy-in strategy. People also want to know that if they buy what your selling, i.e. a new platform, training initiative, or strategy they'll be recognized for helping it to be perceived as successful. (That's the respect and security elements.)

Of course, there's more to it than that. Below is a partial list of things to consider for getting buy in from others:
  • Determine what management values
  • Understand what motivates them
  • Lear how they make decisions
  • Propose your ideas and projects in terms they can understand: not tech terms
  • Learn to think like they do
  • Show them what's in it for them
  • Let them know that they helped to develop the idea
  • Know your facts and figures: be the subject matter expert
  • Show them tangible results from competitors who took a similar actions
  • Make them a mentor
  • Break it down into palatable chucks
Lastly, keep in mind that their reputation is always on the line. Help your leaders and managers to be a better than they are. Coach them without them knowing it. That's part of your job.

You'll know when you have "buy in" when you hear, "Good, now run with it."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Cure for What Ails You

A special concoction for whatever ails you- Sobering statistics.

Did you know:

  • Almost 1,200 children become newly infected with HIV each day. Most live in sub-Saharan Africa. World Health Organization
  • 33.4 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide in 2008, the vast majority were in low- and middle-income countries. World Health Organization.
  • The average life expectancy for men in Nigeria is 45 and women 46.
  • Every week, 31,000 children in low-income countries die from diarrheal diseases – approximately 4,500 deaths every single day. Institute for OneWorld Health
  • Approximately two million girls and women are estimated to be living with obstetric fistula worldwide. - EngenderHealth
  • Malaria causes 300 - 500 million acute illnesses and over 1 million deaths annually. 90% of deaths due to malaria occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 40% of the world's population (mostly those living in the world's poorest countries) are susceptible to malaria. Malaria is endemic in nearly 100 countries worldwide and notably so in 28 countries on the African continent. Institute for OneWorld Health
  • The U.S.A. has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $46,900 GDP of $14.44 trillion (2008 est.) Population: 307,212,123. CIA World Fact Book
  • The year ending 2004 the U.S.A. devoted less than 1% of the federal budget to development assistance, which amounts to $92 a year, or 25¢ a day, for each American. This is less than half of what the average American spends on carbonated soft drinks every year—$224. - Center For Global Development
  • The U.S.A. ranks 17 out of 22 of the world’s richest countries. For the “richest” country in the world this is a very low get to give ratio. - Center For Global Development
  • The world's poorest countries pay almost $100 million every day to the rich world. The poorest 49 countries have debts totaling $375 billion, while the poorest 144 countries totals over $2.9 trillion. - Jubilee Debt Campaign
  • Diarrheal diseases are prevalent in developing countries in conditions of poor environmental sanitation, inadequate water supplies, poverty and limited education. In children under the age of 5, an estimated 4 billion acute cases of diarrhea occur each year, resulting in 2 million deaths. - Institute for OneWorld Health
  • Soil-Transmitted Helminth Infection (STH) infection causes significant morbidity worldwide with 39 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs) lost each year - more than those lost to malaria (36 million yearly) and approaching those lost to tuberculosis (47 million yearly). Hookworm infection alone causes the loss of 22 million DALYs. - Institute for OneWorld Health
  • Life expectancy at birth in Swaziland is 32 years of age. - CIA World Fact Book
  • The average School Life Expectancy (SLE) of both males and females in South Africa is 13 years of age. The SLE is the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive. - CIA World Fact Book
  • In South Africa there are 1.19538 rapes per 1,000 people on average. - Nation Master
  • 5.7 million (2007 est.) are living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. - CIA World Fact Book
  • Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 529,000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year. Five direct complications account for more than 70% of maternal deaths: haemorrhage (25%), infection (15%), unsafe abortion (13%), eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures – 12%), and obstructed labour (8%). While these are the main causes of maternal death, unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality care is fundamentally responsible. They are detrimental to social development and wellbeing, as some one million children are left motherless each year. These children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers' death. - World Health Organization

Feeling better? The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of compassionate people and organizations who work tirelessly to make the world a healthier, safer and better place through projects and programs of education and resource building. To go beyond the statistic, visit any of the above organization's links or:

For a list of 26 Charities and Non-Profits on Twitter, go to Mashable
Review a list of African NGOs
Review resources for global charities listed on Google
See the Top Philanthropy Events of the Last 10 Years
Review America's 200 Largest Charities and who is most efficient according to Forbes

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On The Precipice of Homelessness and Hopelessness, A Para-Fable

The economy is taking one more victim and is devouring his income, home and confidence. He's on a precipice.

I call him a victim because his current situation was of no fault of his own. "Jack" has been part of the middle-class for thirty years. He's been industrious and hard working since the of age twelve when he delivered the evening newspaper on a route filled with semi-detached homes in a working-class neighborhood. Jack did anything to make and save money, from newspaper delivery to construction to washing windows. Sweat and calluses never deterred Jack from hard and honest work.

Jack had big dreams when he entered the workforce. He would be rich and share his wealth with those less fortunate or with those who were less unable. Jack grew up in a time where the masses protested inequalities and
injustices and believed that anything was possible. As Jack got older his altruism began to fade as he witnessed Pine Ridge, Kent State, Vietnam, Watergate, and the Iran hostage crisis. He began to look at life differently
and believed that 'wealth' should be shared, that equality means just that, equal for everyone. Jack went out of his way to demonstrate his beliefs and was kind, loving and thoughtful in words and deeds. People liked Jack and Jack liked people.

Fast forward through career changes, relationships, deaths and illness to the year 2007. Jack had lost a job that he really liked and was very good at. At this job, Jack helped a lot of people and they let him know just how much. Being industrious, Jack started his own business where he could do things his way with more freedom to help more people. The security which accompanied his former salaried job was gone including health care coverage and a steady paycheck but Jack took a deep breath and a leap of faith in himself. It was a good move, for Jack did well and even did some work for his former employer. Then the roof began to collapse.

While the United States and other wealthy nations were deciding what to call the financial crisis, Jack knew the world was about to change. Jack felt the impact of the financial crisis immediately. His business dropped faster than the jumping Wall Street brokers of 1929. But Jack had saved some money and hadn't touched his 401k, so he and his wife would be okay for a while, at least until the global economy started to recover.

The situation went from bad to worse, not just for Jack but for hundreds of thousands of people. Jack's savings quickly began to dwindle and he became anxious about the future. Even though Jack's future was uncertain, he was aware that millions of people around the world were living in poverty, living without food or clean drinking water, so Jack was grateful and hopeful. But gratitude and hope won't pay the rent, so Jack went looking for help. Beside searching for a job, any job, Jack applied for unemployment benefits but was rejected because he was a sole-proprietor. "Preposterous!" Jack exclaimed. "Now is when I really need the benefits." But there was no convincing or persuading the people that make these rules, not the Director of Labor, nor the Governor. Desperate, Jack pleaded to his Mayor who responded by form email.

Like many others, Jack wrote letters, telephoned elected officials asking for help and guidance, all to no avail. He went so far as to right to the President and received a reply. "We're working on it." Jack went to his State's social service's office looking for aid but was told that funds were not available to him. Why? Because, he had more than a thousand and two dollars in the bank. When Jack protested that was all the money he had and that he needed to rely on it to eat and pay the bills, he was promptly and directly informed that he needed to be at the poverty level in order to receive emergency funds. The thinking in Jack's Sate is that one needs to be actually homeless or on the verge of homelessness to receive life sustaining funds. Jack's moods turned darker. He couldn't afford health insurance any longer or the medications he was taking. His doctor was a kind and empathic man and gave Jack enough samples to last six months.

With the roof caving in further, Jack's frustration turned to anger, especially when he learned of the $50 billion dollar bank bailout plan. "The banks helped to create the mess we're all in and now we're going to bail them out? Where is the justice? Where is the fairness? Fine, give them the money but please help those of us who just need to get by." Jack wrote more letters, made more phone calls and received the same basic reply, "We're working on it." And, "The situation is getting better. We're creating more jobs." But things weren't getting better, not for Jack or for hundreds of his former colleagues who were being let go.

Now remember, Jack is honest and industrious. He wants to work and pay his own way, so Jack tried to get a vendor's license from his city's department of finance so that he could sell a product and service he was confident people would want and buy. Once again, Jack learned that bureaucracies can be myopic and the city said, "No" to his license request. "There is a waiting list and it's closed." Jack tried using his influencing skills to persuade the
licensing official that his business would bring in much needed tax revenue and that one more citizen would be employed. "It's a win-win." Soon after leaving the city office empty handed he was told by a Falafel vendor that if he had fifty-thousand dollars he could get Jack a license and a street corner to hark his wares.

As of today, Jack is months behind on his mortgage payments and eviction is looming. Jack calculates that if his situation doesn't turn around quickly, he and his wife will be on the street by the end of March. So, Jack started making a list of everything he must have if he landed at the homeless shelter: five days of clothing; medication (if any remained); laptop; birth certificate and passport. Jack cried after reviewing his list. Family photos, keepsakes, books, paintings, and journals would all have to go. Jack remembered the story of
Siddhartha
who left all his possessions in search of enlightenment. Jack started packing in order to lighten his load.

Everyday Jack and his wife pray. They pray not only for themselves but for everyone. Not just for those in despair but for those who helped to create the disparity. They pray even when they don't believe. They pray that God, the Universe, the What-ever will provide help, guidance, direction.

Jack doesn't want to be or feel like a victim. He wants want everyone wants: security, shelter, and love. He wants and hopes that the lessons learned from the financial crisis will help to forge a new global community of caring for each other, for equality, for mutual benefit for less fear and greed and more selflessness and giving. Jack is very close to the edge of the precipice and hopes that one last gust of wind will blow him back to firmer footing.