Spotify, song pairs, and the future of work

Listening to Spotify today, I start with Pink Floyd‘s classic Meddle. After the album completes, Spotify takes me off to “radio” based on the album. I love this feature, btw, I’ve discovered a lot of new music this way. Inevitably this includes more Pink Floyd, which is – of course – awesome.

On comes Brain Damage from Dark Side of the Moon. As anyone who is familiar with this particular song knows, it is actually just the first part of a two-song series that includes the album’s closing track, Eclipse. (To be sure, DSotM is really just one long song, but I digress.) So of course I’m expecting Brain Damage to seamlessly segue into Eclipse.


Continue reading “Spotify, song pairs, and the future of work”

Some thoughts on volunteer tech support to non-profits

Some interesting, though probably not unexpected, insights from the incredible humans at BigWideSky about “digital donation errors” made by non-profits.

As part of our study, 2019 State of Nonprofit Digital Giving, we secretly donated to 100 organizations across the nonprofit spectrum from humanitarian, healthcare, environment, food, animal groups, arts & culture, youth charities and more.

Source: State of Nonprofit 2019: Digital Giving Study

I just downloaded the report and am looking forward to reading the full results of the study. Just reading the summary, though, got me thinking.

The challenges faced by many non-profits goes well beyond fund raising. My recent experiences at the Code With a Cause events put on by GlobalHack showed me that many of these organizations know there are things they could / should be doing. There are plenty of open source, “free” tools out there for non-profits to use. But non-profits often a) don’t have the in-house expertise to implement and/or b) don’t have the funding to hire an agency (or freelancer) to develop the solutions they need.

Based on my understanding (which is admittedly limited), the main donations to non-profits are either financial contributions or a contribution of time in the form of volunteering, either in the execution of the main mission or in providing support to operations. There is, as the Code With a Cause events highlight, huge potential for the “donation” of technical – and experience design – expertise.

The big question, though, is how to vet and coordinate technical volunteers. Perhaps set up a non-profit that vets and coordinates technical volunteers, a sort of “volunteer staffing agency” specializing in developers and designers?

Technology and place

Not long ago I was sitting with my friend Valerie on the porch of a cabin at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, AR after a great day of climbing (is there any other kind?) talking about life, the universe, everything. I had recently heard a talk at a LaunchCode event about their expansion to Miami and other places where they mentioned the importance of being in urban areas, places where there were plenty of tech talent and jobs already, and couldn’t help thinking, “What about everyone else; the people who could really benefit from something like this live in the areas where this doesn’t already exist.” Our conversation eventually made its way around to how could we get programs like that to rural areas, places where there isn’t necessarily great internet connectivity and definitely no ready made tech infrastructure. How do we more evenly distribute the future that is already here? What difference would it make for the people in those communities? The world at large?

Some related thoughts from a couple of different sources. 

From the NPR show On Being: angel Kyodo williams- The World is Our Field of Practice

We are running into the conflict between people that inhabit an inherited identity with the place that they are — coal-mining country, and the work that they do as a result of the place that they are — up against people that have values and ways of perceiving the world that have shifted because they are not identified by their place and the work that they do in the same way that location and a fixed place tells you who you are and how you be in the world.

We are in this amazing moment of evolving, where the values of some of us are evolving at rates that are faster than can be taken in and integrated for peoples that are oriented by place and the work that they’ve inherited as a result of where they are.

At the end of his book will “Scale”, Geoffrey West writes:

The IT revolution… has also led to the possibility that we no longer need to live in an urban environment to participate in and benefit from the fruits of urban social networks and the dynamics of agglomeration, which are the very origin of super-linear scaling and open-ended growth. We can devolve to develop smaller, or even rural, communities that are just as plugged in as living in the heart of a great metropolis.

Does this mean that we can avoid the pitfalls that lead to an ever-accelerating pace of life, finite time singularities, and the prospect of collapse? Have we somehow stumbled upon a way to avoid the ironic quandary that the very system that led to our great socioeconomic expansion of the past two hundred years may be leading to our ultimate demise, and that we can have our cake and eat it to? This is clearly an open question.

Technology – required but not sufficient for digital transformation

Digital technology is a necessary component of digital transformation. In fact, digital transformation is only possible because of digital technology. And not only possible, but inevitable. Digital transformation isn’t something you do, it’s something that happens to you.

Digital transformation isn’t about getting better or more efficient at what you already know how to do. Yet, many organizations want exactly that, to simply “automate” the processes they already have, using these digital technologies to keep doing the same things they’ve always done in basically the same way. Online forms instead of paper forms, for example. Thinking in atoms, not bits. They think that the technology is sufficient to make them better; it helps the organization achieve some efficiencies of scale in getting done the things they’ve always gotten done. But this is not transformation.

At the same time, many employees of these organizations are concerned – and rightfully so – about what all these digital tools will mean for them. They are used to working on what is essentially an assembly line: a task passes from someone up the line to them, they do their piece of the task according to some predetermined set of rules or procedures, and then pass it down the line to the next person. Their job is to execute tasks when they’re told, in the manner in which they’re told to execute them. Input – black box – output, where the employee is a figurative black box in very real danger of being replaced by a literal black box of technology.

Digital technology is a necessary component of digital transformation, but is not sufficient to achieve transformation. Digital transformation is about becoming better and more effective at identifying and executing outcomes you didn’t even know were possible, and that requires a change in mindset, a change in culture. Dare I say, a change in purpose. From “we’re going to be the best at doing this thing thought up in the past” to “we’re going to come up with the best ideas and products ever.”

Otherwise your organization, like its employees, runs the very real risk of becoming a commodity itself, that figurative blackbox that is eventually, and inevitably, replaced by a literal black box.

Straight lines and sharp edges

I’m sitting on a plane as it boards, wanted to jot down some quick thoughts. I’ll come back in later to clean it up, add some links (that you are going to want to check out) and make it a bit more coherent.

In a blog post earlier today, Jim McGee discussed the boundary between strategy and tactics, how it used to be “well defined” – some people did strategy, some did tactics, and the two didn’t really overlap. But how it never really was so cut and dried and how we are realizing that. But we aren’t the first.

I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s new bio of Leonardo da Vinci, and one of the things that marked him as different in his time (and any time before him) was his realization that there are no straight lines or sharp edges in nature, and his incorporation of this knowledge into his art.

Then of course fractals and complexity.

Speaking of which, Dave Snowden recently wrote about the liminal spaces between the different sections of Cynefin. For example, the boundary between complexity and the complicated; going from one to the other is not a straight line boundary, there is an overlap.