Tag Archives: technology

rain check

For a couple of years now, I have been increasingly fearful of driving my car in what I tend to refer to as “weather.” Meaning, of course, rain or snow of any sort of noticeable intensity.

So much so, in fact, that a few months back I missed a chance to have lunch with a friend in Boston — really just because the forecast was for rain. Heavy, torrential rain.

So I called and canceled, even though I had been looking forward to it for weeks.

Then a few days ago, I replaced the windshield wipers on my car. And today, I drove to Boston in a heavy, torrential downpour. No sweat.

Why? Apparently, the only reason I hated driving in the rain was because of the diminished visibility. I thought that the lousy vision I had through my windshield was what everybody was burdened with — and I couldn’t understand why everybody wasn’t as freaked out as I was in nasty weather.

As I made my way home through the heavy rain, hands pleasantly unclenched, heart beating at a normal rate, I though about how such a simple piece of technology — inexpensive, and something I was able to install myself — made such an enormous difference in my perception and my experience.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that I should have figured out sooner that it was my wiper blades, not my bravery, that was the real issue here.

To me, it’s a reminder that simple, everyday technologies can have a significant impact on our lives for the better. The addition of one simple thing can lead to a disproportionate increase in things that are not so simple, like freedom, confidence, independence.

It’s also reminding me how one minor success can lead to a disproportionate willingness to risk more, and to gain more.

Like, when I first learned how to change a tire, it suddenly made me feel like Hey, I know a thing or two about cars! Even if that wasn’t technically true, it was my attitude that allowed me to feel confidence when dealing with the automotive shop guys, the people I eventually sold my car to, and the people I bought successive cars from.

Because I took that small step years ago to learn one basic thing about my car — how to change my own tire — I benefitted from a serious ripple effect for years after.

I see the same thing with the adoption of online skills, especially in my work with relative novices, mostly artists, teaching them about the online tools that might help them be more successful.

While there might be resistance at first — and in some it is, in fact, never overcome — in some, all it takes is one small success, one tiny experience of well, I can do THAT to open up a world of possibilities, to plant the idea in someone’s head, sure, I know a thing or two about computers/blogging/podcasting/whatever

Rachel Happe was talking about the importance of getting to the AHA Moment not long ago, and I think this might be a variation on that theme.

And, since she was the friend I stood up a few months ago, before I knew a thing or two about wiper blades, I hope I can celebrate this AHA moment with her, by rescheduling our postponed lunch from a few months back.

Have you had an AHA moment — in any area of life? How did it change things for you?

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why I am a strategist

I’m brushing up my quantitative skills in preparation for my first semester of MBA classes this fall, and it’s led me to one of the best and most encouraging AHA! moments I’ve had in a very long time.

Despite what my undergraduate degree says (I majored in Geology), I have never been as in love with the quantitative side of things as I have with the qualitative side. I’m really more of a languages-and-writing kind of person — when I fell in love with paleontology in an intro class I took to fulfill a requirement, I had most recently been contemplating majoring in Greek.

So when I went to take the GMATs last year, I had some serious review to do. I did it, and I learned (or remembered) a lot that I didn’t know (or had forgot), and I actually did rather well on the test.

Now I’m getting ready for the first-year “quant” courses by taking an online course in statistics, finance, economics, and accounting, called MBAmath, and I’m really enjoying it so far.

in fact, I’d even say I had a little breakthrough last night.

The first section of the class focuses on using Excel to get things done, and although I consider myself a pretty old hand with the whole spreadsheet-and-formula deal, I decided to take the “beginner” class demo, because you can always learn something new on things like Excel.

Not surprisingly, I learned one or two keystroke shortcuts that instantly made it worth my while, but I found most of demo to be reassuringly familiar.

But then we started using Excel to calculate complex formulas, and AHA! was the result.

Let’s call a spade a spade: I tend to avoid math. Despite my better-than-decent grades and test scores in the subject, I continue to have little confidence in my abilities to add large figures in my head, or figure percentages, or anything else that involves calculation without mechanical backup.

But I am excellent at spatial relations, geometry, algebra, problem solving — especially problem solving: I am fantastic at figuring out what needs to get done to answer a problem.

It’s the execution of the calculation that gives me the sweaty palms.

GUESS WHAT

Excel rewards exactly my type of skill set.

Set up the problem right, design the formulas right, be patient and meticulous and thoughtful and logical and everything that gives me joy, and Excel will do the rest.

It’s one of the things that I truly love about technology — if it’s well designed, it can help you do those things you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or aren’t sure how to do, and it lets you concentrate on the things you ARE good at.

Me? I’m a strategist, an analyst, a synthesizer of ideas.

I’m also incredibly detail-obsessed, logical, and consistent.

Some of the best career advice I ever got was to play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Which sounds simplistic, but many, MANY of us make more, THINK more, of our weaknesses than we do our strengths.

How do you play to your strengths? Do you really know what your strengths are?

money for nothing, IT for free

Is this like one of those “prizes” you get when you win a free watch, but you have to fly to Hawaii and sit through a three-day sales pitch to claim your watch?”

That’s something a friend of mine emailed me the other day about a deal she was considering that seemed too good to be true, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days with respect to some of the free technology that’s out there for nonprofits and other groups with severely limited budgets.

Specifically, I’m thinking about Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems (like Salesforce, Kintera, Convio, to name just a few of the leaders in the field). CRM software is often one of the first big technology purchases that a growing nonprofit will make.

There are some great programs through which you can obtain free (or nearly-free, or free-for-a-while) versions of CRM systems that might otherwise be out of your organization’s budgetary reach. And free software donations are wonderful and highly commendable corporate initiatives.

But nothing is for free, even when it’s free.

It is terribly important to consider carefully the money and staff time that will be necessary, over the long haul, to learn how to use a new CRM, to make it really work for your organization, and to keep on relentlessly training staff, keep on improving and cleaning up your data, keep on spending precious time on the maintenance of that shiny new toy.

Everybody knows that staff time is a fantastically precious commodity in nonprofits, large and small. When your organization is mission-driven, every minute spent can, in some way, be considered an outlay of donor dollars. So nonprofits have to especially careful about the commitments they make to large technology buys — and they have to be very realistic about what they are getting themselves into.

Blogger Judi Sohn weighed in on this topic recently:

Time is money. Whether it’s your time or the time of a consultant you use to help you get the most out of these tools. Far too often I’ve spoken to folks who … can’t put the time or attention into {a new CRM system} that’s needed to really understand how it works and configure it for their organization’s unique needs.

It takes time to learn how to use a CRM designed for multi-million dollar companies. It takes time and patience to optimize your data. If you aren’t willing to spend days or weeks of your time to figure it all out, you should just stand up and slowly back away from the keyboard before you break something.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bitten off more than you can chew. Now raise your hand if you didn’t raise your hand the first time. That’s better.

It’s human nature, let’s face it. But it doesn’t have to happen when choosing a CRM provider. Here are a few starter steps to get you on your way.

First, consider creating a long-term technology plan that:

  • Includes projections of money and staff time to be allocated not just at the outset, but over a multi-year period of time;
  • Sets goals and objectives over weeks, months, and years;
  • Identifies what success will look like at various points along this timeline;
  • Includes an exit plan for when the system no longer fits your needs.

Your technology plan should be a living document –one that is referred to constantly at staff meetings and even board meetings — and one that looks five years ahead. Things will undoubtedly change over those five years, so you will constantly be updating your plan.

Second, find out which software systems are constructed specifically for your type of organization, including the size of your staff, the number of your contacts, and the technological requirements of each system.

There are CRMs for every shape, size, and tech-savvy level of nonprofit organization. You just need to find the right fit for your situation.

Third, talk to other organizations who have gone through the same software selection process. Ask your peers for their experiences and their advice. Don’t go this alone — you can learn much from other people’s successes and mistakes and make far better choices, the more research you do.

And speaking of research, Techsoup is a fantastic resource for advice on choosing a new system, transferring your data, and a host of other considerations. NTEN also has excellent reports and webinars to help you navigate the process.

What’s your experience with Constituent Relationship Management software? What’s the best advice you would give someone else about choosing and implementing a CRM system?

lost in translation – social media and hamlet

“One can easily misinterpret the universal by misunderstanding the particular.”♦

You probably remember reading it in Intro to Anthropology: Shakespeare in the Bush by Laura Bohannon. It’s the story of a young anthropologist’s attempt to prove the universal nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, by introducing the story to the elders of the Tiv in West Africa.

(It’s short, funny, and really worth a re-read — or a first read! Go ahead! I’ll wait!)

I’ve been thinking about how the task of introducing (and evangelizing) social media to the non-engaged population is at heart an attempt to translate the values and mores of one culture to another.

Social media practitioners try to explain the value of blogging, or podcasting, or social networking, to traditional media types, and are met with a number of cultural barriers.

I protested that human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over; …although some details of custom might have to be explained and difficulties of translation might produce other slight changes.♦

Then, when traditional media types try to engage in social media, they carry with them the values and mores of their culture.

“But a chief must have many wives! How else can he brew beer and prepare food for all his guests?”♦

Hilarity ensues.

When I went to re-read the essay I remembered from Anthro 101, I also came across this insightful thought-piece on Shakespeare in the Bush by Kerim Friedman on the group anthropology blog Savage Minds.

In it, Kerim wonders if the author’s failure to translate Hamlet to the Tiv was really due to insurmountable cultural differences, or did it have more to do with the specific audience she was addressing: the respected elders of the tribe.

Kerim speculates that Bohannon might have found a more receptive audience had she first addressed the younger members of the tribe, or those of lower status:

In other words, I don’t think it is simply a case of the Tiv failing to understand Hamlet. Rather, I suspect that these elders perceive Bohannon’s narrative as a threat and are eager to “correct” her in order to neutralize that threat, whereas children or other members of the society less threatened by narratives suggesting alternative social structures would have had considerably less trouble understanding Bohannon’s retelling of Hamlet.

…there is nothing specific about Tiv society which prevents them from understanding Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but her storytelling is frustrated by the “will to ignorance” of the elders. Sure, even Tiv children would have been confused by many aspects of the story, just as American children are, but I’m simply suggesting that they might not have rejected the very premise of the story in the way that the elders did.

Are some CEOs and other corporate decision-makers, reluctant to embrace social media, like the Tiv elders? Threatened by an alternative social structure? Too hasty to dismiss or “correct” ambassadors from a foreign nation bearing strange tales of murder and intrigue? Perhaps a little.

“Sometime,” concluded the old man, gathering his ragged toga about him, “you must tell us some more stories of your country. We, who are elders, will instruct you in their true meaning, so that when you return to your own land your elders will see that you have not been sitting in the bush, but among those who know things and who have taught you wisdom.”♦

Are social media enthusiasts, eager to persuade and even evangelize their audience, like the young anthropologist Laura Bohannon? Underestimating or even misidentifying the differences in cultural idiom between her world and theirs? Perhaps a little.

I was quite sure that Hamlet had only one possible interpretation, and that one universally obvious.♦

What’s important, I think, is that we remember that we, as promoters of social media, are essentially anthropologists and translators. Or rather, we should be. We need to be very conscious of what the (vast and growing) cultural differences are between the (open, transparent) blogosphere and social networking world and the traditional (closed, careful) business and nonprofit world.

“You should sit and drink with us more often. Your servants tell me that when you are not with us, you sit inside your hut looking at a paper.”♦

What do you do to try to bridge the cultural gap?

Bohannon, Laura (1971), from Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, eds. James P. Spradley and David W. McCurdy Boston: Little Brown and Company.

perpetual motion machine

At the end of the day today I spoke for a long time with Rebecca Krause-Hardie, an Arts/Technology blogger with whom I appear to have a great deal in common. It was a free-wheeling conversation, not least, I suspect, because I had ingested very little besides several vats of coffee throughout the course of the day, a circumstance that I fear might have led to some rambling and incoherency on my part.

I might have implied that I am against hugging. And certain southern cities. I’d like to state for the record that this is not the case.

In any case, I look forward to her summary of our conversation, which I gather will be posted on her blog in due time. I plan to return the favor next week, after switching to chamomile tea for a few days.

In the meantime, I am very intrigued by her desire to build a sort of resource/clearing house/online community for arts organizations using web 2.0 tools like podcasting, blogging, and social networking sites. We tossed around a few ideas about how this might be done, what would be useful, relevant, and interesting, and how such a thing might be constructed for the greater good.

In fact, we’ve got an idea that I’m going to spend some hours on this weekend, see if we can rig up some pulleys and weights and mirrors and buckets to make something interesting happen.

native son

Am I a digital native? Or can I write my own metaphor?

Because I follow Jesse Baer on Twitter, the idea of a Digital Native is never far from my brain. A recent post on the Digital Natives blog got me thinking again about what my citizenship status is in this hypothetical land.

I think that the term Digital Native is both useful and problematic. While it’s certainly true that there is now a generation walking among us who have grown up never knowing the sound of a carriage return on a typewriter, a generation who presumably takes for granted the instant connectivity that this era of technology has ushered in, I wondered at first if the metaphor of Digital Native doesn’t produce an artificial distinction that distorts more than it reveals.

I asked Jesse for a working definition of the term, and he pointed me to this post by John Palfrey at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. In it, Palfrey makes a neat distinction between those who are “born digital” and those who “live digital” – and allows that there is overlap between the two species, creating four hybrids (i.e., you can be born digital but not live digital, or be born pre-digital and live digital. But you might still have an accent.).

Perhaps I am in a unique position. I am 36 years old – I was born in 1971. I remember the initial release of Star Wars in the movie theaters, but I needed to be driven there by my parents; this was for years my line of demarcation for those who were of “my generation.”

So I am not a Digital Native.

However, I am of an age that I feel has been contemporaneous with the advances of digital, networked technology and how it impacts our lives.

In short, I feel like I have grown up with digital technology — that we are exact peers.

In 1983, my mother bought an Apple II. She was a special education teacher at the local middle school, and, by virtue of the continuing ed classes that she kept unaccountably taking in computer science instead of education, became that school’s accidental techie.

In the process of researching what (if any!) computers her school might need to purchase, she bought one for herself. I was 12 years old.

Over the next few years, I learned how to:

(Mom tested out all the latest educational software on her little geniuses first.)

The Apple II got me started.

Later, when I entered high school, Mom upgraded to an Apple IIe. I mostly learned how to clear misfeeds on the old dot-matrix printer, scrolling out page after page of the green-and-white-striped paper that fed from under the desk in a mysterious cubby hole.

The Apple IIe helped me write my first papers and poems.

When I went to college, I brought along an Apple II GS. I felt pretty hip, as I was the only one on my floor in the dorm at Mount Holyoke to have such an advanced machine. But I was quickly overshadowed by the gal next year who flaunted her Inkjet printer – and charged us a quarter a page at finals time to print out last-minute term papers in high-tech fashion.

When I wrote my undergraduate thesis, I used new graphics software like Adobe Illustrator. Then, I took a year off before going to graduate school, and during that year it seemed like Illustrator had undergone a quantum leap, and I was no longer master of it. (It took a little catching up, but I’m back on top again in that relationship.)

And then I entered the working world, and technology just exploded in a burst of creativity and ambition and optimism – as did I. Technology and I careened along through our twenties, rocketing enthusiastically from one endeavor to another, soaking up as much knowledge as we could in each sector we found ourselves in, then moving happily and energetically on to the next without a backward glance.

It seemed like, at every stage, whatever I needed to do, whatever new skills I needed to develop, technology had just then advanced to the exact state that I needed it to.

We were exact peers, total contemporaries. We wore the same class ring. We wrote in each other’s yearbooks.

I don’t see digital technology as a land, or a territory, or even as a lifestyle. To me it is an only slightly younger brother – a scrappy, inventive brother who is always making up bizarre and engaging games to pass the time during the long afternoons in between school and dinner, saving me from the drudgery of watching those awful after-school specials.

Instead, I have this amazing and fun little brother…

…who says you be the pirate and I’ll be the prince or you be the robot and I’ll be civilization or I just found this let’s see what it does and we play in the street until the sun sinks down and we can only see each other’s flashing white teeth and our skinny white legs disappearing far away down the street.

Who is technology to you?

what artists really want

I’m working on a series of topics for a course this spring — a syllabus, for an eight-week evening class. The course is for artists and cultural organizations, to teach them technical skills that will help them market themselves better and reach new audiences.

In years past, the topics have been pretty basic stuff, like:

  • How to write a press release
  • How to create an artist’s press package
  • How to write an artist’s statement/bio
  • How to work with the media
  • How to brand yourself

I really want to take it step further this year and help artists learn about and how to use some of the web 2.0 tools we’ve been bandying about these parts for some time. But I’ll need to make it very accessible and non-scary, as some artists can be a little gun-shy when it comes to computers and technology.

What topics should I include? What web tools are of actual use to artists trying to reach a broader market? What tools are of actual use to theaters, museums, and historical societies? Which of these are free, and don’t require a lot of specialized technical knowledge to implement?

Here’s what I am thinking about so far:

  • Blogging
  • Photosharing (flickr)
  • Social Networks (myspace, facebook, myartinfo, others)
  • Second Life
  • Twitter
  • Etsy

The course has eight sessions. Each class lasts about two hours, all told.

Here’s how you can help:

  • What other topics should I offer?
  • Who would be the best person to present these topics?
  • Do you have their number?

I *could* present on most of these topics myself. But that hardly means that I’m the best person for the job. What do you think? (I’m submitting this to twitter and I’ll post responses as they come.)

Ronna Porter Ronna @bethdunn How about a theme around helping artists to tell their story, using whichever medium works best eg. video/audio for non-writers?

Dave LaMorte DaveLaMorte @bethdunn: I think that there is a lot of interesting stuff that is allowing artists to interact with their audience directly.