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Between reality and illusion

I’m puzzled. As a fan of management and leadership, I like to think that plans and strategies matter. After studying trends and doing analysis, it seems we should have a good read on things and be able to set a course of action that will lead to success. This however is what Daniel Kahneman calls, “the illusion of understanding.”

In his recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he returns time and again to remind us that having a grasp of things is more a security blanket than a reality. Illusions of understanding are comforting and reduce the anxiety surrounding uncertainty. They also feed our need for order and fairness. But they’re not reality. 

Kahneman says, “We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage. Many business books are tailor-made to satisfy this need.”

He goes on to say that for all our efforts, the data shows that we only do a little better (or sometimes a little worse) than chance.

So, at times, just when I think, “I got it,” I also realize that I don’t “got it.”

Perhaps it’s best to keep one eye on the long-term goal – that point on the horizon – while managing the current situation as it presents itself…without trying to figure it out, or “get it.” I don’t know. I’m still working on this.

Your thoughts?

Best,

Thom


Where work happens

You’re reading this right now. I’m glad. Part of my work is to study, reflect upon our work, find connections and insights, and then share them with you. It’s fun for me. But I’ll let you in on a little secret:

I’m writing at home.

That’s right. What you’re reading now was written over a couple of early mornings in my family room at home. That’s when I write. Why? I find the early morning a time of clarity and creativity. Plus it’s completely uninterrupted time.

Where do you find uninterrupted time?

In 2010, Jason Fried did a TED talk on Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work. For ten years, he posed a question to business people (both nonprofit and for-profit): Where do you go when you really need to get something done? Answers included “the porch, the deck, the kitchen…the basement, the coffee shop, the library,” or “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.”

You almost never hear, “the office.”

(Of course, there are jobs where the work can only be done in the office. Those notwithstanding, it plays on the perception of where we can “get something done.”)

In an attempt to reclaim quality work time at the office, Jason suggests No Talk Thursdays, emailing rather than stopping by another’s office, and eliminating unneeded meetings.

For me, it’s a matter of knowing how I best work and scheduling my week accordingly. Writing in the early morning is fun for me – I like to do it. I also need uninterrupted blocks of time at work, so we schedule those into our workweek. If your calendar is not fully in your control, ask for the time you need or at least understand and explain the time cost of an assigned project or task.

What else would you suggest? How do you manage your time?

Best,

Thom


Latte with James Mattox

James Mattox is a Kalamazoo native who is the founder of A's for J's, an incentive program for high school freshman that currently operates at Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix. James manages and funds the program while working another full-time job – and he is happy to do it. Read on to find out more about this enterprising professional and what he's planning next.

 JamesMattox

 

 1.     What is one of the most energizing aspects of your job?

Making a change in the kid’s lives…I’m just trying to be a difference-maker, and trying to be a part of this new wave of education. No one I know is doing this [kind of work].

2.     Do you feel like your early life and education directed you to your current career path, or are you surprised at where you are?

A little bit of both. I attended Lincoln International Studies School and started using Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish when I was in kindergarten. We were one of the first testing sites for that program. At first I hated it, but as I got older I was happy that I learned it because I still know Spanish to this day. I’m trying to repeat that by finding a way to get the kids excited about learning.   

3.     What has been one of your most impactful professional experiences?

Making the news was the biggest stepping stone for me. It got me out there and paved the path for me to do what I’m doing. Last August, right before school started, News 3 had me on talking about A’s for J’s. At that time [my program] wasn’t in any schools, but I believe that interview is what got the ball rolling.  I’ve been trying to get A’s for J's into [KPS] for two years.

A reporter for Channel 3 came into my other job. I told him about A’s for J’s—I had the proposal, the pros and cons and what I wanted to do all ready for him--and he loved the idea. It moved very quickly. I met him on a Tuesday, and I was interviewed on Friday. I’m so blessed. ONEplace is also a big help. The KICtalks event was a great chance for me.

 4.     Do you know many young business owners personally? Does that make your job more challenging/simpler?

I don’t know any other young business owners. I don’t really think about it is as a challenge. I do my homework, I study, and I’m always willing to learn new things. I don’t think I know it all. If there was someone I knew I’d hope I could learn from them. So, in a way, it is a disadvantage because I’m learning everything by myself.

5.     What do you think is one of the biggest barriers as a millennial/early career professional?    

Honestly, not graduating from college is a big barrier because it’s hard for people to take me seriously. I try to plead my case and say that it wasn’t for me. I took some very good classes, like Business Management and Public Speaking but I didn’t graduate. So it’s hard to get people to listen to you and to take you seriously.

6.     What is a project related to your job that you’re currently working on and are excited about?

I have an app coming out in late August called Wowzers. It will have a whole series of games that will teach kids math. It will show the kids that learning is fun. When I thought about what made me love learning math, I realized it was a computer game that I loved called Math Munchers, and it helped me grow as a person. This is another way I can make a difference in a kid’s life, and I know that apps are the new wave of learning. I’m currently developing the content, so I’m in stage 2 of 10.

7.     What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

Kalamazoo comes together when we need to. The people here are great, and it’s just a good people to grow up and raise a family. I love being a Kalamazoo native.

8.     What is the best piece of advice you've received to date, and who gave it to you?

“Whatever the mind can perceive, it can achieve.” That’s from the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and I read this book over and over.

9.     Which natural talent do you get to use most often in your work?

Talking to people! I love taking to people—I could speak to 30,000 people and wouldn’t get nervous at all.

10.  What's your favorite way to spend your free time?

I love video games, and watching inspirational speeches. I do that a lot, like watching Steve Jobs…learning from my elders and those who came before me.

11.  Lastly, how do you take your coffee?

 I don’t like coffee, but I enjoy cappuccinos – only in the winter, though.

 


Win a mug!

As I approach my third anniversary as director of ONEplace, I’m still amazed at the foresight of those who created it. Year round professional development, free of charge for all nonprofits in Kalamazoo County – it’s quite a gift. Yet, there are many who still don’t know all that ONEplace has to offer.

I want you to help me change that. Here’s how:

1. Let’s get all your staff and board officers on the ONEplace email list. Every Monday, we send a brief email listing our upcoming events. Every month, our events address topics in fundraising, communications, management and leadership. Keep your team in the know. Sign up on our website or send me a list.

2. Give ONEplace 15’ on an upcoming staff meeting. ONEplace offers more than events, including many resources available online. We’ll do a brief presentation with time for Q&A to make sure your staff knows how to take advantage of all our resources. We’ll also hold a drawing for a stylish ONEplace mug! Let us know a good day/time to visit.

I’m grateful to the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Public Library and others who make sure you have ONEplace as a resource. I also appreciate your comments and suggestions – so keep ‘em coming.

Take care,

Thom


Spring for a break

This week our county’s public schools enjoy spring break. While the phrase “spring break” conjures up a variety of thoughts and images, it also reminds me of the inherent, indisputable, scientifically-proven need for us to take breaks – to refresh, renew, and revive. So the question (or challenge) for you today is this:

How do you take breaks during your workday?

Whenever I ask that question, I usually get something akin to “I don’t have time to take a break” or “I can’t afford to take a break.” The truth is: you can’t afford NOT to take a break.

An article in The New York Times, a tome in Scientific American and even a post from Fast Company argue for the effectiveness of taking breaks. Support for taking breaks to boost productivity and quality of work is legion. But before you start searching for work-break-best-practices, let me offer this:

Find what works best for you.

Personally, I’m not one to take the 15-minute mid-morning coffee break or even the hour lunch break. What works best for me is a breaks-as-needed approach. I’ll take a minute to shut my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I look out the window and watch the clouds or marvel at the cloudless sky. I take a walk: if inside the library, I’ll take in the wonderful sights within our atrium; if outside, I’ll feel the warmth of the sun or the crispness of the air, and I’ll examine the status of the trees in Bronson Park (no buds yet).

My guiding principle on breaks is to take intentional moments of diverting attention to something other than my To Do list. They take my mind, body, and spirit to another space and I return refreshed.

So, employ healthy practices for yourself and model them for your colleagues. Spring for a break! You can afford it.

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Von Washington, Jr

This month we spent time with Von Washington, Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise. We learned his thoughts on service, caring, and the power of a collaborative community.

Tell us how you got to where you are today?

I did my undergraduate work in Communications and Theatre at Western State University in Colorado. After playing some basketball, I returned to Kalamazoo and studied Educational Leadership at Western Michigan University. During my years in public school education, I spent 14 years as a varsity basketball coach and held several other positions including Media Specialist, Children’s Librarian, some administrative positions, and Principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. After 22 years in public education, I did economic development work with Southwest Michigan First and then, in July 2013, accepted my current position as Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Giving and caring: these are the two easiest words for me to describe Kalamazoo. The philanthropic and service focus here is unique among other communities. “Service” in Kalamazoo is primarily expressed as caring for those in great need.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Service to others. How can you reach out to someone to help make their life better? Give them a smile and greeting. Offer assistance or a cup of coffee. What can I do to help relieve their stress? It’s something I just do – it’s in my DNA. For others, it may take more intention. I think if we all adopted this type of approach it would transform our community.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

There have been many in my life who have served as change agents. When I worked in the public schools, Janice Brown (superintendent at that time) saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It was important to me that she saw this at that particular time. As I made the shift from public schools to economic development, Ron Kitchens (Southwest Michigan First) showed me how to apply my skills and abilities in other areas. Together, these two experiences are invaluable.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

When Kalamazoo Central High School entered the competition for President Barack Obama’s first Race to the Top, we were all in learning mode. It took strong community influence to pull this together, and the community stepped up to support the students and the school in a special way. Even those who otherwise might not support Kalamazoo Central offered their support. The experience taught me the power of collaboration and the power of a strong message. We did it.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

I have very few average days, and that is by design. My goal is to fill each day with learning, and I cannot do that by sitting still. So, I’m on the move, visiting people and learning about their lives. I want to learn all I can about this community, its people, and their stories.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

In my work I see great need and many problems that are not easily solved. The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship is but one piece in a puzzle that each family must put together. I want to fill the gaps in those puzzles but you can’t do it fast enough. It’s painful to think how long it will take to fully address problems. It’s tough for me.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I strive to stay up on social media. It’s a requirement when working with students (and with my own children). At minimum, I hope to stay level with the average young person, but it’s a constant struggle. I do know this: if you want to be grounded, get around young people and ask them what’s going on. Seek out their ideas and suggestions. Their learning environment is ten times different than what I experienced when I was young, so it’s critical for me to keep connected to young people.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

The nonprofit sector is a great way to go. Many organizations are doing great work in our community, and there is room for you to be part of it. How? Lead with your heart. To make a significant impact, you must lead with your heart. It keeps you real and places your unique and authentic contribution in the mix. Many have said, “If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a single day in your life.” I love what I’m doing, and I wish that for others.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I love watching basketball. We’re a basketball family – my son plays for Western Michigan University and my daughter works with the coaching staff of Michigan State University basketball. I enjoy fishing and boating. I also enjoy the sun and being outdoors.

Anything else?

I offer my vote of support for the work that ONEplace is doing to develop emerging leaders. I enjoy my role as a Leadership Academy mentor and appreciate the community’s support for building our future community leaders.


Getting beyond good enough

It usually starts with big plans and a lot of anticipation. As we move further into it, schedules become crunched and other urgent matters crowd our To Do lists. Reality sets in – hard! – and we just need to get it done. Finally, we deliver the project, and it’s…well…good enough.

I’m tired of good enough.

Good enough finishes the job but doesn’t make an impact.
Good enough meets the need but doesn’t move the needle. 
Good enough satisfies the stakeholders but doesn’t transform the system.

Good enough is another glass ceiling. We look up. We get a glimpse of what could be, of what’s beyond this glass ceiling. We’re drawn to it. Yet, stretched as we are, our efforts lack the momentum and sharp edge to break through.

An emerging goal at ONEplace is to not just help organizations build capacity but to also help them strengthen capacity. I believe that many of our area’s nonprofit organizations can break through the Good Enough Ceiling, and we want to offer some programmatic umph to support those efforts.

Do you share this concern? I look forward to talking with you over the next several weeks about this. I know that some of you have broken through, and I want to hear and share your stories.

Let’s do this!


Face-to-face

I recently met a person online (it’s not what you think). It was a local business relationship, but the first several interactions were on email…and it got off to a rocky start…I think.

You see, I wasn’t sure. It felt weird – like we weren’t connecting. But I didn’t know if the other person felt that way. Her emails generally came from a mobile device, so perhaps the shortness I sensed was due to her being busy or not-so-quick at thumb-typing.

I tried calling, but we only exchanged brief voicemails. I needed to connect with her, but did she want to? Was this going to work? Should I just let it go? Though unsettled, I ventured to the meeting ready to navigate what I assumed would be choppy relational waters.

We met. At first the discussion focused on the business matter at hand, and then things relaxed a bit. By the end of the meeting, we were fast friends. Two weeks later we had a follow-up meeting that was fun and productive.

Since then, despite all the emails, to do’s, and stacks waiting for me on my desk, I’ve put a higher priority on meeting people face-to-face. In this short time, both efficiency and effectiveness have increased as well as job satisfaction. This experience reinforces what I’ve always known: while relationships can be sustained electronically, they deepen through personal interaction.

But, I’m just one voice on the matter. What do you think?

Best,

Thom

P.S. Here’s a related quote from film producer and author Peter Guber: “Nothing replaces being in the same room, face-to-face, breathing the same air and reading and feeling each other's micro-expressions.”


3 Easy & Effective Twitter Hacks

When the Twitter Time for Kzoo Nonprofits workshop was announced, I received several iterations of the same question: will you teach me how to use it? My answer has both good and bad news. The good news is that Twitter.com is a fairly intuitive, user-friendly platform. The bad news is that using Twitter patiently and strategically is much more difficult, so that's what this workshop will cover. We hope to answer the questions: “should my organization be on Twitter?” and, “why is my organization on Twitter?”

"Maze" by "Seongbin Im" is lincensed under CC 2.0

ONEplace plans to develop further workshops on Twitter, including one that focuses on the operational aspects. In the meantime, experience is often the best teacher, and you will gain great insights by poking around on the website. Here are some "hacks" that I picked up; they could help you take advantage of Twitter's capabilities and reach your strategic goals.

Free Analytics: Use analytics.twitter.com to get a nice overview of your Twitter activity, broken down month by month. The analyses include how many followers you've gained, which tweets had the most impressions, and even how many times your profile has been visited. Some sites will charge you for this kind of analysis, so definitely take advantage.

Easy Visual Marketing: Tweets with pictures attached get more clicks, tweets, and replies, so if you want to increase user engagement, add photos whenever possible. I use Flickr.com to find nice, high-quality photos that are free to use under the Creative Commons license--with proper attribution, of course.

Tweet Templates: If you're tweeting to funnel visitors elsewhere, like your organization's blog or Facebook, use an eye-catching headline to get them to click. Nonprofit Marketing Guide has a free worksheet with 50 fill-in-the-blank headlines.

These are just a few of the resources I’ve picked up over the past few months. Visit the following websites for more in-depth articles and guides on Twitter: www.hubspot.com, www.nten.org, and www.blackbaud.com.  


Strategic strategies

Is your strategy in need of a strategy? Before your eyes roll completely out of your head, let me elaborate just a bit. Martin Reeves, Claire Love, and Philipp Tillmanns of The Boston Consulting Group propose that we need to take a strategic approach to our strategic planning. In short, no one size fits all.

Their insight rests on two issues: the predictability and malleability. Or, to put it in question form: How predictable is the environment in which our organization operates? How much power do we have to change that environment?

Based upon your answers to those questions, you choose your strategic approach:

 

  • Classical = High Predictability and Low Malleability
  • Adaptive = Low Predictability and Low Malleability
  • Shaping = Low Predictability and High Malleability
  • Visionary = High Predictability and High Malleability

 

Of course, there’s much more to it. I can’t say that I’m sold, but it’s an intriguing approach. First published in an HBR article in 2012, their book is due out later this year. If you want more information you may watch Martin Reeves’ TED talk or read their article.

Best,

Thom