My first post for Oprah.com shares six ideas for how technology can make for better dates.
From Blade Runner to the Matrix, from Star Trek’s Borg to Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons, we’ve spent a lot of time imagining the day when our super-strong, super-smart robots get tired of vacuuming and decide they want to rule the world. That’s given me an opportunity to consider a more immediate threat: Facebook. Not just Facebook, actually, but all the social networks and online communities to which we give our eyeballs, braincells, hearts and dollars. Could these online communities constitute the machine threat that sci-fi has taught us to anticipate?
This year's Web of Change conference included a session with Rob Purdie of Important Projects on values-based project management. Here are my notes on the session, which focused on collaboratively sharing tactics for boosting the various aspects of organizational culture that support effective project work.
Success of any project can be judged by 2 criteria:
1. were the objectives met?
2. did the team find the work itself rewarding?
Projects not going well has to do with not having a project friendly environment
What is a project?
A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to produce a unique product, service or result.
ALL PROJECTS HAVE:
– objectives: the things the project is unertaken to achieve
– deliverables: what project will produce in order to achieve objectives:
– requirements: qualities deliverables must have/criteria deliverables must meet in order to achieve objectives
– constraints: that project must be delivered within [time/scope/cost] (the iron triangle) [scope=quality]
Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project objectives.
On good projects, people take the time to define objectives.
Org culture is the river; the project is the boat.
If org culture is flowing smoothly, you just have to steer the boat; otherwise you're driving upstream
Projects involve risks, so risk-averse organizations will have trouble
With problematic culture you need more money, and more authority as project manager
Build a project-friendly environment, at least within the project team.
Build a culture of personal empowerment and risk-taking.
WHY PROJECTS DON'T GO WELL….
b/c of a set of assumptions that turn out not to be accurate
confusing the politics of anti-hierarchy with the need to get shit done
WHAT MAKES A GOOD PROJECT MANAGER?
– people skills: being able to listen and communicate well; need to manage expectations and explain things clearly so all sides understand; integrating into project culture is all about people skills
– they need to be bright and flexible and quick and adaptable and know how to talk to people
– persistence: keep coming back for the piece of info they need
– do they need to be values aligned?
Need balance between outputs and processes (ends and means)
Don't burn people out.
Cross-functional integration is valued
Risk taking is supported
High conflict tolerance; need to be able to engage in healthy conflict; a meeting with no conflict is not valuable
Value open and honest communication; respect for one another
5 groups: (how to build each)
Personal empowerment — grow our teams so people feel empowered. Everyone wants to contribute their best work (whether they know it or not). When people feel frustrated it's b/c they feel blocked. How can we remove things that get in way of allowing people to contribute their best work?
Trust — need closure in communications as pro-active way of building trust. Whenever I have a conversation with anyone about anything i want to know who is doing what by when. If you can do that with every conversation, nobody is going back to their desk wondering if the other person is going to be doing the thing that needs to be done for me to do my work.
Respect — what are some specific tactics for instilling this in group. Being late is disrespectful.
- Buy-in. Are you going to stick with the project through hard times?
- What is everybody's standard of excellence?
- Commitment is a great quality for organizers, but it's different in a project context.
- Can't focus on the meta-level of commitment at every project level — objective of producing the brochure can't be saving the world.
- Project has a beginning and an end.
- Commitment can be to doing a great job, to saving the world….but need a long-term theory of change.
- Need to make sure we continue to find projects that the team finds meaningful. Team wants to be happy as well as paid.
- Make sure that the projects speak to the values of the people I'm working with.
- What projects you're choosing — projects can be aligned with a range of values. When does choice of project become strategic — not just about feeling good about the projects you're doing.
- Can someone who's not values aligned authentically serve the role of supporting other people's values.
- Think of this as irrigation: project manager is irrigating the growing plants — the people who are trying to get the job done.
- You are serving a group of people who really care about this —
- How can you transform someone into excitement about this value of promoting social change?
- Ask them: are you interested in transforming?
- Commitment builds trust.
- If you do what you say you're going to do — you make a commitment — that builds trust. If you can't fulfill a commitment you've made, you go back to people and tell them you can't make it and tell them when you can meet them.
- Staff commit to timelines but then don't meet it. People commit to overly amibitious timelines as a way of proving their commitment.
- PMsÂ need to ASK, rather than tell, when something can be completed.
- Time estimates should be offered by the person doing the work.
- Need to create a culture of honesty about how long things will take.
- Projects are always in a longer/larger context.
- Overcommitment — working overtime — as a sign of commitment. Burn-out as a sign of commitment.
- Sometimes the culture can be great, but people are just wrong about how long something will take.
– need to be engaged in planning
– how to embed project into longterm goals of org — creating a culture
– establishing groundrules; closure on all conversations — who is doing what by when; clearly defining roles & responsibilities; including play in project activities to build trust
– project debriefs to make transparent what was broken
– Quakers: creating formats for appreciation — framing contributions in ways that are around appreciating fellow team members' work
– book: The art of possibilities
– tied to trust, communication and accountability
– clear expectations about individual expectations
– what everyone is responsible for as a team member
– groundrules for ccing people, lateness
– here are the ground rules we're going to stick by
– issues board: every specific period — if you're feeling disrespected , there's a way to bring that up
– respecting what client brings, client respecting what shop brings
– proactively handle team by getting to know how they handle conflict
– establish ground rules
– separate problem from person — give people a sense that the objectives are the enemy, not the people on the team
– clarity of objectives
– remember that decision-makers aren't the same as the implementers
– create culture with open feedback channel
– bilateral clarity of expectations — client needs to be accountable for their inputs
– bioteaming manifestos
– distributed teams
Last month's "how the hell didn't I know that" moment was the discovery that Avent bottles, which both of my children have been drinking from daily for just about their entire lives, contain a suspected carcinogen.
I came across this info not through a consumer alert — that went out in 1999, before I was a parent and paid attention to these things — but because I set out to investigate the rumour I'd heard that plastic wasn't safe for food storage.
Edward Groth, the Consumers Union scientist behind the 1999 story leading to the alert, wrote that
There could hardly be more contrast in these two perspectives. One, based on firm conviction but no data, asserts that there is no effect of bisphenol-A in baby bottles, because none has been observed scientifically and because one part per billion of BPA is "too low" an exposure level to have biological effects. The other, based on simple, undisputed scientific facts, notes that polycarbonate bottles can expose babies to unimaginably large numbers of molecules of an estrogen-like chemical, several times a day. We must ask, on what basis can we presume that such exposure has no biological effects? What if "low-level" exposure is not intrinsically "safe;" what if, instead, our inability to measure effects has created an illusion of safety? In short, a precautionary risk assessment in this case would emphasize not the lack of concrete data showing harm in babies exposed to 1 ppb of BPA in their formula, but rather would recognize that 1 ppb is not necessarily a "low" exposure. It would assess the difficulties of knowing whether or not the quadrillions of molecules a baby ingests daily have any harmful effects on the tiny consumer's developing systems.
The dispassionate observers at plasticsinfo.org note that:
Polycarbonate has been studied and tested for nearly 50 years, and its use in products that come in contact with food is regulated for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as governmental bodies worldwide.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a key building block in polycarbonate plastic. In recent years, a number of researchers from governmental agencies, academia and industry have studied the potential for trace levels of BPA to migrate from polycarbonate products into food and beverages under conditions of typical use. Extensive safety data on BPA show that polycarbonate plastic can be used safely in consumer products.
As a result, the use of polycarbonate plastic for food-contact applications continues to be recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and other regulatory authorities worldwide.
By dispassionate, of course, I mean that plasticsinfo.org is the web site for the American Chemistry Councils' Plastics Division, which "represents leading manufacturers of plastic resins".
While I'm sure that the American Chemical Council wants nothing more for my baby than a long life full of plastic-purchasing opportunities, I'm afraid I can't take their "don't worry, be happy" message on this one. I've just gone out and purchased a supply of Gerber GentleFlow bottles at ToysRUs, which are made from polypropylene. If money were no object I'd go to Crocodile Baby on Fourth and buy the BornFree glass bottles.
And please note that BPA in baby bottles is by no means the only source of concern about kids and plastics. Check out the Smart Plastics Guide: Healthier Food Uses of Plastics for Parents and Children from the Instittue for Agriculture and Trade Policy. I've collected more resources on this topic and bookmarked them on del.icio.us.
A few months ago, Rob and I decided that Social Signal was ready to expand its development team with another web services consultant; Aaron Pettigrew has had such a transformative impact on our business that we realized another Aaron (as though there could be such a thing) would allow us to serve that many more clients that much more effectively.
And we decided that while we were adding another web geek to the team, we might look for someone who knows a little about Second Life — a virtual world that is the Internet's hottest new home to online community. (Find out more about Second Life here.) So I sent an e-mail to a leading Second Life blogger who blew my mind when we met at last year's SXSW. Here's what I asked him:
since I keep hoping that our business may eventually involve doing some Second Life projects for folks, I have the idea that our ideal next hire would be someone who's an experienced Second LIfer â€“ probably not someone who's doing Second LIfe stuff professionally yet (though possibly) but the kind of person who'd be thrilled to make that part of their work. Basically we're just looking for a bright, energetic, progressive and tech-impassioned person who would enjoy bringing their social commitments and tech passions together. Do you happen to know any SL types in Vancouver who'd fit that description?
Lucky for us, he had an inspiration: a Vancouverite whose SL name is Catherine Omega. He pointed us to Catherine's bio on the Second Life wiki, and that was enough to convince us to get together with her.
A couple of weeks later, we met up with Catherine (known in real life as Catherine Winters) in a local Vancouver restaurant. Over the course of a lively lunch we covered everything from how she first got into Second Life (on a computer she built herself from scavenged parts) to the larger significance of Second Life and other virtual worlds (as a way of bridging social differences and disparities).
That was the first of a series of meetings in which Catherine coached us out of our SL newbieness and started talking with us about how Second Life could support a socially sustainable business approach. We were dazzled by Catherine's brilliant and thought-provoking take on Second Life's social significance, by her strategic insights into how organizations could make innovative and effective use of an SL presence, and by her exceptional clarity and good humor in making Second Life accessible to new users. And we suspected that as one of the co-authors of the new Official Guide to Second Life, she was in a position to take a leadership role in bringing more people to the platform.
Today, we're delighted to announce that Catherine Winters is joining Social Signal as our Manager of Virtual Worlds. Catherine will be leading a new Second Life practice to help businesses, non-profits and government agencies establish innovative, effective presences "in world". This practice will focus on working with organizations that want to create a profoundly interactive presence that stands out in Second Life's every-expanding world, that want an SL presence that integrates with a web-based online community, or that want their SL presence to advance a sustainability or social change agenda.
We'll have more news to share in the coming months about our plans for Second Life, including the forthcoming launch of our own island. Catherine's creative ideas and scripting powers will be put to good use as we introduce new opportunities for organizations to make compelling use of Second Life as a new medium for strategic communication.
Meanwhile our web site can tell you more about Catherine and our new Second Life practice. We also hope you'll join us for an open house to introduce Catherine to our clients, colleagues and friends, and to introduce Social Signal to the Second Life community. The open house will be held from 2-4 pm Second Life time (aka Pacific time) on Wednesday, January 3 at TechSoup's space on Info Island. (Many thanks to CompuMentor for lending their space to us for this event) If you've yet to visit Second Life, this is a great excuse to download their software and try it out (it's free to download and free to register) for yourself.
If you'd like to learn more about Second Life, or about how Social Signal's new practice can help your organization establish an effective Second Life presence, please call (778.371.5445) or e-mail Catherine (catherine [at] socialsignal [dot] com), me (alex [at] socialsignal [dot] com) or Rob (rob [at] socialsignal [dot] com).
We owe that blogger a huge thank-you for making this inspired connection. And yes, this does mean we're still looking for that web services consultant.