After my dissatisfaction with a training that had actually achieved its intended goals, I wanted to quick make the point that goals are not inherently worth meeting.

Photo by David M
Photo by David M

My elementary school gym teacher’s favorite platitude was Lombardi’s “Perfect practice makes perfect.”  Practicing bad technique will not leave you with good technique.  I think that there’s a parallel lesson here for goals.  Meeting off-target goals will not put you on-target.  Just as you need to carefully consider what you’re practicing and how, you need to examine whether your goals are actually what you want.

I realized that I have some goals for all of my goals.  I want to feel satisfied.  I want to be in a better place than where I started.  I want to feel proud of the actions I took to achieve the goal; knowing that I did something unethical or deliberately hurtful to achieve my goal would cheapen the whole experience.  It’s also extremely important for me to be able to take a moment to experience the satisfaction and pride I’ve earned, and to look around at the new place I’m in before moving to the next goal.

Knowing this helps me set ambitious goals and stay grounded at the same time.

How do you make sure your goals are actually what you want?
What are your goals for your goals?  How did you set your meta-goals?
Have you ever experienced a major shift in your goals?  How did that go for you?

Value of Social Media: Being the Change

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930.  Photographer unknown.
Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Photographer unknown.

Gandhi is credited with saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  It’s quoted so often that it almost seems trite.

But it’s not trite.  It’s exactly what we have to do in just about every role we play: global citizen, family member, employee, teacher, and more.

When surrounded by situations we want to change, even when they’re nothing that will go down in history, it can be difficult to stay strong in the face of resistance, misunderstanding, and indifference.

One of the ways I deal with that is by surrounding myself with blogs that support the values I want to act upon: innovation, excellent teaching, resource sharing, and intentionality.  I’m not talking about keeping up with best practices; I’m talking about moral support.  My RSS feed is peer pressure to do what I consider to be the right thing.  It’s a simple way to keep myself on track.

How do you stay the course?  What role does social media play for you?

Librarian Tip for Nonprofits: 90-Second YouTube

I was reading the May 2008 issue of American Libraries and the Internet Librarian column by Joseph Janes jumped out at me with the potential to be immediately useful to me at work (which is not in a library).

I help run a program at a literacy nonprofit, and a lot of people contact me and my colleagues all the time with a large volume of questions.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m one of those people who actually gets a kick out of answering questions.  It’s just that as I mentioned in my last post, when we’re bombarded with questions, especially redundant ones, it’s extremely difficult to do the rest of of our jobs done.

This article, “Spring Awakening,” describes how the Cornell University Library ended up making 90-second YouTube clips for their incoming first-years about basic research concepts.

As Janes points out, this isn’t earth-shattering, but as he also points out, it doesn’t need to be earth-shattering in order to be dead useful; it just needs to 1) address the need and 2) actually happen.

It brings to mind a huge site I used a few times in college called Atomic Learning.  Schools can subscribe to it to give their students access to tons of tiny (“atomic”) learning modules.  My college subscribed to it, but I don’t have access to it now that I’m out of school, and I think the focus was watching, not creating your own.  The brilliance of using YouTube instead is that it’s free, allows participation on both sides, is easy to embed, and simple to access.

How powerful would it be to have even a couple of 90-second videos addressing super-common questions!  I’m so excited to bring this to the team and see what we can make of it.  I’m thinking that even if we can’t do video, a cute (and very brief) Slideshare really should be doable.  Or hey, even a Voki if we’re feeling cartoony.

Have you done something like this?  How has it gone?  Can you use this kind of resource in your organization?  What can help bring this from the “idea” stage to the “actually happening” stage?

Tip: Handling Interruptions

I had a great conversation with a coworker recently about how to deal with constant interruptions.  You know what I mean: those days when the moment you hang up the phone it rings again, and all the while your red-exclamation-point emails are piling up, and people are lined up at your door looking worried… it can seem like a conspiracy.

On those days, I take the top thing on my to-do list, write it in large letters on a post-it note, and stick it right in the middle of my desk.  That way when (if) there’s a moment between distractions, I don’t waste a moment trying to remember what the heck I was trying to do.  It’s right there.

Simple, Obvious, Effective
Post-It Reminder: Simple, Obvious, Effective

It’s also extremely satisfying to crumple up and chuck the post-it into the recycling when I finally finish with it!

What do you do when it’s “one of those days?”

Online Communities Plunge Into Lake Scranton

The Wall Street Journal’s Business Technology blog posted “Why Most Online Communities Fail.”  (Thanks to Doug H for sharing it on Twitter!)  It’s short and sweet, and explains it’s based on a study of around 100 businesses with online communities.  Three big, common errors: 1) They spend too much on “oooh, shiny!” technology, 2) They don’t appropriately staff the projects, and 3) Their goals and metrics don’t align so they’re pretty much doomed to appear to fail.  The article points out that these are pretty obviously mistakes.  Any thoughts on why these illogical errors were so easy to make for so many businesses?

It’s so good to read a concise yet pithy post about what not to do!  Sometimes I think that social media talk is just a tad more Pollyanna than is warranted, though I obviously partake and enjoy doing so.  The We Are Media Project has been talking about how to be Social Media “Evangelists.”  I think that sharing awareness of common pitfalls is a huge part of being a responsible social media evangelist.  It shows that it’s not a brand-new, completely untested idea.  It shows that you’re informed and honest.  And it provides a more complete map to guide our organizations.

The fate we’re all trying to avoid is that of Michael Scott, who unthinkingly follows his car’s GPS straight into a lake and then insists that technology tried to kill him.  We can be intelligent about new-to-us technology, and understanding where pitfalls (or lakes) are can keep ridiculous plunges on The Office and out of ours.

Harnessing Habits

The other day I happened to read two pieces that both touched upon habits.

The first was an article called Warning – Habits May Be Good For You from the NY Times.

  • a branch of successful marketing creates consumer habits, i.e. using Febreze.
  • some people think this is wrong, creepy, etc.
  • a nonprofit partnered with one such marketing company to promote the habitual use of soap in parts of West Africa, which saves a lot of little kids from dying.

Then I read a post called The Meaning of Life from the Positivity Blog.

  • we don’t have to go through life playing out the same old tired, automatic habits.
  • we can choose how to react, and therein lies our freedom.
  • it suggests working toward synergy and also doing what you love.

It was fascinating to read them on the same day because they’re so close to contradicting each other.  I think, though, that they both point to the idea that habits are powerful and can to some extent be controlled.

My takeaway is a whole bunch of questions to ask myself that I’ll also share with you:

  • Are you aware of your habits?  Habits of mind, relation to your environment, treatment of others, technology usage, verbal tendencies, etc.?
  • Is your organization aware of its habits, its automatic actions?
  • How are said habits serving you?  Your organization?  What would you change if you could?
  • How can we make positive change in personal or organizational habits?
  • How can we move beyond writing more policies and procedures to actually change our everyday experience?  Is this a logical place for Social Media to step in?

Social Media as Fruit Bowl

A common response to all the social media options out there is feeling overwhelmed.  I think people start feeling like they “should” be using all of these new tools, and the rate at which the perceived to-do list lengthens is a little alarming.

So far I haven’t been overwhelmed at the huge variety of options out there.  Don’t get me wrong – I do indeed get stressed when I see the tasks before me growing exponentially.  It’s just that I don’t see social media options as a to-do list at all.

I see the options more as a bowl of fruit:

  • There are lots of different, enticing choices that I can mix, match, taste, or avoid as I see fit.
  • It’s right there, just hanging out and waiting for me to partake.
  • It’s yummy and healthy.  Why not try some?

Do you see social media as a bowl of fruit?  Do the options stress you out?  How can we reduce social media’s overwhelming-factor?

Solution: Posterous

Thanks so much to Amy Sample Ward for blogging about Posterous!  Just email them content and they post it for you.  Woah.

This is exactly the kind of tool I should have used back when I started a blog without home internet.  There’s no process for signing up, you don’t have to do any account managing or appearance adjusting if you don’t want to, and they embed your media for you.  Yes, this helps people who aren’t familiar with much web technology beyond email.  It also reduces time commitment for anybody, no matter how tech-savvy.

It was a piece of excellent timing, because we were just brainstorming at work about some low-cost, low-time-investment ways to improve (specifically Web 2.0-ize) our website as we bide our time till a major overhaul.  Posterous would be a great way to post our informational emails as a blog; this would make them accessible to people who don’t want more email and also put them in a format that welcomes comments and discussion.  The best thing about this is we can just add to our mailing list and it will post automatically.  Very exciting for a bunch of efficient nonprofiters!

I tested out my own just now.  The chief lessons I learned are that it is instant, the default style is clean white with orange links, you can BCC them, and that you should send photos as attachments rather than as links.   Things to explore: getting a better URL, changing the title, adjusting the look.

What do you think?  Who is this useful for?

Commenting Strategy

At risk of linking to Beth Kanter’s blog way too often, she started a pithy, interesting, and altogether extremely helpful discussion about commenting strategy the other day.  I think it’s especially relevant for new bloggers, but I recommend checking it out to anybody reading this.  Why?  Keeping it short, because I learned about comment tracking tools, heard opinions from several seasoned bloggers, and found more fodder for my RSS feed.  It was the most thorough answer to a question ever.

Old Advice

The tortoise and the hare.  I’m definitely guilty of being the hare, trying to sprint through a long race and coming out worse off than the plodders.

Slowing down in order to with the race wasn’t on my mind back when I was ruminating upon time investment in April.  It seems like a sound strategy though.  A little insurance that I’ll still be going strong in 10 years rather than selling out, because ultimately that’s how to make a bigger difference.

Tonight I was home by 6pm.  I reached a natural stopping point at work and decided to leave rather than starting something else.  It was great!  I chatted with my mother, blogged, made some blog notes for tomorrow, threw in some laundry, and am now going to relax over a simple yet delicious supper and read Guns Germs and Steel.

I would love to hear how other people find time to slow down.  If you’re a sprinting hare, how’s it going for you, and what motivates you?

EDIT: Ok, I’ll write another quick post I meant to write earlier today, and then I’ll go relax.  Seriously!  I’m going now!