Monday, May 21, 2007

Running Water...

At dinner yesterday my sister in-law told a story that got me thinking. She lives in a very small town (like 10 houses) that is surrounded by farms, but also by many large towns. They still have the big propane tanks, wells and sump pumps. Well anyway she said one of her neighbors had always cut the grass on this small strip of land near her house that has a very old pump on it. After years of this she decided to find out who's land that was. Well come to find out that it belongs to the community and used to be the only source of water for the town. And it is still a community owned parcel. hmmm...

So she jokingly told all the neighbors they needed to take turns mowing this small strip of land. I chuckled a little at that. But then got to thinking. She lives with 30 minutes of me, but she cant get cable, high speed internet (besides satellite), natural gas, water or sewage services. A couple things came to me as I thought about this though.

First, what lies around each of us that is a sign of changes that have left a well pump that we maintain, that we have no idea what its for, how it got there and who owns it? Over time things change and some things loose their purpose, but how often do we go back and review those things and see what got left behind?

Second, it made me wonder as I sat with my Treo, cable internet, laptop, PC, wireless internet, MP3 players, XBOX live, and all my other gadgets, do I take for granted the access to all of this that I have? And yes, I have seen all the discussions about Digital Divide and access for all, but that isn't my point. I tend to take for granted that everyone understands the internet and uses it on a regular basis. And that everyone has years of experience with these gadgets. And that all of this is important to everyone. But maybe it is too much to fast when it comes to technology for most people. My parents still don't have cable, internet or a cell phone each.

Maybe time is moving too fast and the world is full of these pockets of land with well pumps on them that have been left behind, forgotten and ignored. We move so fast and expect so much that we miss the simplicity of life, who will mow the grass on the community property???

Monday, May 14, 2007

Politics, religion and technology?

Growing up I was always warned about not talking about religion or politics in certain crowds or times. Dont bring it up, you will start an argument. Often I did agree that was the best approach and I veered clear of those conversations. But at what cost?

Now looking back, I wish I would have had more conversations about religion and politics. At times I lack a clear vision or any sense of passion on politics, I just dont have any idea of what my true opinions are or what they should be. There are many stories in the bible that demonstrate that your beliefs, values and faith (and your core self) can only grow when challenged. So if I never argue my points or hear conflicting ideas, how do I know I am right?

So we should never talk about religion or politics just because people dont agree? How can so many people have conflicting views but all of them still be correct? I have found that a "good argument" often leads to new ideas, new learning and new opportunities. But what is a "good argument". I am sure that there are lots of books, seminars, trainings, etc about how to have a "good argument", but my thought is simple.

A good argument is a passionate exchange of ideas between parties with open ears and no set destination. That is to say that the argument is not as beneficial if either party already has their mind made up and has already chartered their course.

So what I am trying to say is that maybe we shouldnt avoid conflict or arguments. Rather we should engage in active conversation to challenge our own beliefs and opinions with the idea that maybe we are wrong. But who knows, maybe we are right.

This post has dragged on and technology seems to have faded off of it completely, but I do have a point. I wonder if technology has become a topic like religion or politics. You bring up technology in some circles and they quickly jump to conspiracy theories or simpler times before all these gadgets ruined our lives and stole our childrens creativity, we are slaves to the technology. If you bring it up at your NPO, their may be resistance, you sound like a broken wheel, you dont get invited to the meetings, etc.

Has technology become the next taboo topic? Do we avoid bringing it up in certain crowds or times? (Like when talking to funders? staff? CEOs?) why?

Does this mean we should stop bringing it up? NO!

I will not stop the conversation of technology, nor will I change the word technology and use a more politically correct term like systems and infrastructure. I will however approach the conversation when the "good argument" is possible.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mission gets in the way of running like a business?

So there is the recurring and ongoing debate of should nonprofits run more like a business. The conversation seems to keep coming around. Then the next debate is all about what about businesses that run more like nonprofits and why does it have to be such narrow definitions or categories for this.

Here are some recent great thoughts and conversations about it:
Information Systems Forum (ISF) - an informal survey

Management Approaches to NPtech on ISF

And finally, one of my new favorites, TechCafeteria, Peter Campbell seems to have common experiences as myself. We will have to meet some day.

But that isnt what I really wanted to talk about. Here is a different thought. As technology staff we tend to have some longing and need for order, efficiency, good process, and we tend to deal with change well (or is that just me?). Those traits seem to line up better with a stereotypical corporate worker.

Now lets look at the other staff at an NPO, is it the same traits? I would think not. Just think, if we approached some of our staff our leadership and said lets try to be more business like. Immediately that sounds in direct contradiction to mission.

Be more businesslike, is saying change who we are. I dont think the discussion should be about being more businesslike. I think we should adopt model practices and concepts that allow us to accomplish our mission but keep the culture and passion that makes us who we are.

I think as tech, management, fiscal or office staff at NPOs we already tend to be more businesslike, that doesnt mean the rest of the org has to follow. We shouldnt force a culture change, we should equip the staff with the best tools, process and practices to do their job. However we should help shift the culture when needed to make the organization more impactful.

Not sure how coherent my thought flow was here, but hope I made my point. If not, I hope someone else can pick up where I left off.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What execs say about tech and what they mean...

Lets play a little game of interpret exec speak. Below is a possible (not actual) quote from an exec.

"Technology isnt in our strategic plan, it isnt our mission after all to have technology. But technology is implied or needed in many areas, just not listed."

In my random head this means... We only use technology because we have to. It has no real value beyond a simple tool to meet our needs. Technology is a necessary evil.

"IT reports to the CFO because of the direct tie to tracking finances, they have the most need\experience and because of budget demands."

In my random head this means... IT is a cost center that has to be managed carefully or it will bleed us dry. They have no place at the leadership table or meddling in how we work, they just track the money and stuff.

"Of course technology is important to our organization, we use it everyday. Thats why I put so and so in charge of IT."

In my random head this means... That IT team better keep my toys running, I cant live without my blackberry. Technology is important, but I better not have to spend time thinking about it or planning for it. IT is someone else's problem to manage, I just expect it to work when I need it.

"My staff shouldn't spend so much time at their computers, they have work to do."

In my random head this means... All this technology really wastes our time and just makes our work harder. Cant we just hire someone to do that extra work?

OK, now that I have started to make some people a little mad, laugh or happy, I will give my caveats. This is not true of all execs, nor it is a direct implication to the execs that I work for. I have just heard thoughts similar to these and had to chuckle. I may sound a bit cynical about leadership, sorry about that. This is by no means true of all leadership\execs, many have really great visions and strategy for technology. I have a great respect for anyone willing to take on the role of CEO, there is so much to do, consider and manage. It is not a job that I would stand up and take. I just wish more of them would open up to the help that IT can offer beyond keeping the stuff working.

I now I usually on post on Mondays, but just couldnt wait to get this one out there.