Engaging in diffusion, differentiation and dissonance

This Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being in the room with some of Seattle’s leading thinkers on all things nonprofit, philanthropic and do-good-y. How’d I get so lucky? Well, late last year, me and my colleagues Peter Drury and Zan McColloch-Lussier kicked off something called The Lab. We decided it was high-time that super-smart do-gooders had an opportunity to think deep thoughts that would lead to great action.

The first time we met, we talked about listening. This week, we talked about engagement. We picked this topic because listening leads logically to engagement and yet the word engagement seems to mean a whole lotta things to a whole lotta people. Given its meteoric rise to ubiquity, we decided it was important to come to a shared understanding of this popular word (lest it end up on the Banished Words List!).

There were more good points and astute observations than you could waggle a mission statement at during our two hours together–these were my three favs:

  1. Diffusion: Technology makes it easier to engage. This is great in many ways; it also means individuals are bombarded with engagement opportunities. So, although it is technically easier to engage, it is more difficult to get people to engage because their attention is drawn in so many directions. Don’t let ease of access trick you into believing engagement is easy.
  2. Differentiation: Arcs, spectrums, ladders, pyramids. Whatever you call it, organizations benefit from thinking about how to differentiate their engagement opportunities by audience and then getting clear on how engagement leads to more engagement for each group. Be explicit. Be specific. Then you know where you want which folks to go and they know where they’re going. Happy, happy.
  3. Dissonance: We agreed that engagement is a two-way street, that both parties derive mutual benefit from engaging and have skin in the game. Engagement is active. All well and good. And yet organizations and individuals usually seek different benefits from the engagement. Or at least that would seem the case. Unless, of course, you can stay focused on the benefit you both care about: advancing mission. It was fascinating to see how this end-user vs. organizational-initiator dynamic played out in the conversation. Rigorous focus on mission mitigates dissonance.

To get more highlights and tidbits from the convo, check out #nplab on Twitter. Also, check out Zan’s great summary here. And last, but certainly not least, see what Beth Kanter (yep, THE Beth Kanter!) had to say about engagement when we interviewed her at Tech for Good, where she delivered a totally amazing training.

How do you like to engage and be engaged? How does your organization engage? What does ‘engagement’ mean to you?

Failure & Fabulousness at Tech for Good Summit

Akhtar Badshah is Microsoft’s Senior Director of Global Community Affairs. He’s also an all-around super duper smart dude. I have come to expect that my brain will cramp when I hear him present.  He makes you think about things differently. Harder. More intentionally and intently than you might otherwise.

On Friday, February 4, 2011, he did not disappoint. He delivered his brain-cramping awesomeness at the Tech for Good Summit, hosted by Microsoft and NPower Seattle.

And Akthar was just the opening act!

Beth Kanter, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit and all-around nonprofit technology and social media rock star, then delivered 75 minutes of pure genius.

I won’t be able to do her training justice, but will share a few things that struck me as particularly useful and delightful:

  1. Failure is success: Organizations succeed because they have first failed. This seems counter-intuitive but it makes a ton of sense, especially when it comes to social media. Everyone is learning as they go. Create organizational cultures that encourage failure and you will, in the end, succeed. (Dan Pallotta would have vigorously nodded throughout much of her presentation.)
  2. Joyful funerals: If you create a culture that encourages failure a la #1, you are exponentially more likely to take time to figure out what worked and what didn’t. If you celebrate the failures by having joyful funerals for them, you won’t do it again. Ever. Because it’ll be dead, buried and gone. The old “Because this is how we do things” has no place in this brave, new world of joyful funerals and fabulous failings. Downright liberating!
  3. Measure what Matters: This isn’t exactly revolutionary…or is it? How many of us really, truly look at indicators that say something of substance about whether social media is advancing our mission? By getting rigorous, we’ll get returns. (I was psyched to read in Clay Holtzman’s PSBJ post that social media measurement will be the focus on Kanter’s next book. Hooray!)

Lots of the resources shared in-person are available on-line (thank goodness!). Here are a few:

IMHO, Tech for Good was beyond good–it was fabulous! 

Any other thoughts or take-aways from folks who participated in-person or on-line via the virtual sessions?