Note to self

Next time you put a new power supply into a computer, make sure you connect the little power leads to exactly the right pins on the motherboard. Look at the manual to be sure. If you’re just one pin off, things just won’t work, and you’ll get really confused. You might even decide that it’s your motherboard that’s fried and waste a whole bunch of time on a wild goose chase.

Your friend, You

PS Who wants to guess what I did half of yesterday?

Into the woods

It’s pretty ridiculous to compare Bill Gates to Henry David Thoreau, but that doesn’t make this article documenting Bill Gates’ twice-annual “Think Weeks” any less interesting.

During the week, he bars all outside visitors, including family and Microsoft staff, except for a caretaker who slips him two simple meals a day.

He starts the morning in bed poring through papers mostly by Microsoft engineers, executives and product managers and scribbling notes on the covers.

Noon and dinnertime bring him back downstairs to read papers over meals at the kitchen table, where he has a view of the Olympic Mountains. Thursday’s lunch was grilled-cheese sandwiches and clam chowder. His main staple for the week, he said, is a steady stream of Diet Orange Crush.

Four days into this Think Week, Gates had read 56 papers, working 18 hours straight some days. His record is 112 papers.

How often do the leaders of environmental organizations take a week where they “unplug” from the day-to-day and go out to be close to nature while they stock up on new ideas from not-the-usual sources?

Gates had some administrative support:

Two months before Gates’ February seclusion, his technical assistant, Alex Gounares, collected papers from every corner of Microsoft and culled what he thought should be Gates’ priorities. It’s an open call for papers that lets employees of any level reach the top with their ideas.

Who is playing this role for environmental leaders?

The problem with strategic planning

Marty offers a good rant on the problems with “strategic planning” in the nonprofit sector:

Most nonprofit directors have a very clear “off the record” opinion of the strategic plan process. They are frustrated with the funds that have been dumped into consultants and non-profit groups for strategic development and planning which typically look at the organization as a stand alone unit in a world of competing interest. They also feel the plans do not account for the real life variability and opportunity that exists in the nonprofit sector.

Most strategic planning seems to throw away instincts of field leaders and create a competitive and hostile environment for building network capacity. The strongest plans typically lead to the destruction of social capital between groups because by design they eliminate the option to work on unrelated work for friends.

Marty’s point is an important one — it’s not whether we should do planning, but what kind of planning that should be. Marty believes — and I’m inclined to agree — that our planning should focus much more on collaboration, innovation, and creating room to embrace unexpected opportunities.

This will require some new thinking and learning on the part of strategic planning consultants, those who fund them — and those who consume their services.

“They’re Willing to Listen; Are You Willing to Sell?”

In How to Turn Your Red State Blue, Christopher Hayes delivers a passionate call for progressives to focus on evangelism and persuasion.

Once upon a time, organizing meant more than coordinating e-mail petitions or hosting house parties to raise money and awareness. It meant something much closer to what we now think of as missionary work. A union would send an organizer into, say, a small mining town in Pennsylvania. He would reach out to the miners, get to know them and their families, and tell them what a union was and how it could help them. He would try to convince them to risk their livelihoods by banding together and demanding a safer workplace and better wages. This was difficult, often bloody work. But when it worked– and often it didn’t — it effected a transformation of the miners who joined the union. They now had a new identity. Even if they had joined solely for higher wages or a mine less likely to kill them, after suffering lockouts, harassment and possibly beatings, they would have an entirely new perspective on bosses and power. They would be more progressive.

This is what social movements at their best do. They pull back the curtain on power and expose its workings. They politicize those without political engagements by transforming personal grievances in the workplace, at home and in society into political issues. Before the labor movement, a dangerous workplace, low wages and arduously long workdays were just crappy things about a person’s life. Before feminism, stifling your personal ambitions in favor of doting on your husband was just a drawback to being a woman.

He offers some specific ideas about how to do this, including the idea of using economic issues like consumer debt and credit reform as the lever.

A movement for credit reform also has the potential to drive a wedge between cultural and fiscal conservatives, weakening the coalition of conservative interests while building the progressive �brand� by re-associating progressives with fairness, justice and populism. There�s ample precedent. During his famous Cross of Gold speech in 1896, populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who in many ways forged the 20th century Democratic Party, asked: �Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight�upon the side of �the idle holders of idle capital,� [i.e., the banks], or upon the side of �the struggling masses�?�

Good, meaty stuff. He takes a while to get through the setup, but it’s well worth a read.

Off to Kentucky!

Molly and I are headed to Lexington, Kentucky for a long weekend to visit her family. I’ve never been to that part of the world before, so I’m looking forward to it.

Have fun in Chicago, all you nonprofit techies!