Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Poke in the Eye Questions

For the Chairman's address at this year's NetHope Summit I told the members they could expect me to talk about values, tell a story, and make some provocative statements.[1] This year's provocative statement was a list of questions (mostly) that I've asked or heard asked over the past few years. I call these the poke-in-the-eye “walnut" questions.[2]
  1. Why are we still running our own email? –a former CIO of a software giant, who forecasted we would all outsource our email services by 2008.
  2. Why are we running our own help desks?
  3. Why are we running commodity IT instead of mission-moving IT?
  4. Why are we following in steps of corporations instead of leap-frogging them?
  5. "Shadow IT" should be encouraged, supported, recognized –A Fortune 10 Technology Strategist
  6. Why do we need a server, period?
  7. Why haven't we changed our program delivery significantly in past 30 years?
  8. Why do Imagine Cup students develop more field-based IT innovation in 9 months than nonprofits in 5 years?
  9. Why is Cisco able to cut travel 50% and increase customer contacts 25% and we can't approach that with our Field?
  10. "Every day, somewhere in the world, something is being reinvented in our organization poorly."–An INGO VP of International Operations
You might call this a cold shower list. But there's often value in asking ugly questions. Often framing the right questions is more valuable than having the answers. Here are some corollaries:
  • Ugly questions stir the imagination
  • Truth comes from the dialog and debate
  • Disruptive innovations start with quality we would never accept but customers find good enough –and then the market blows past us
  • Peters' law: innovation occurs proportionally to the distance from headquarters
  • If we don’t figure these things out, other organizations will, and we will become irrelevant.
  • We need to collaborate or perish!
We need groups like NetHope to have any chance of tackling these problems within the nonprofit community. A CEO of a UK organization told me that NetHope seems to be the one collaboration that works on-the-ground; it is a whole that is more the sum of the parts. If you watch the ant video in the footnote below, you will grasp this metaphor: Like the ants, we can lift the weight of these questions up the cliff and crack them open and solve the problems in ways that individually none of us can successfully do alone. When great minds come together, when things are piloted, when we collectively shine the spotlight on successes, when we advocate for the impact of technology, great things can happen.

[1] See the slide deck for my NetHope Chairman’s report on my presentations page, here: http://www.fairfieldreview.org/hpmd/EGHprofile.nsf/links/50A6
[2] See the video about the ants to see the challenges questions need to crack, here: http://eghapp.blogspot.com/2009/04/get-walnut.html .

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