Your Blook

Continuing with yesterday’s theme of “things I wish stuff I use could do….”

Yesterday a friend turned me on to David Hieatt’s Do One Thing Well blog.  So I read a post, I like it, and I add David’s blog to my Google reader.

The problem is that I’m jumping in mid-stream.  David’s been writing great stuff for a long time.  He’s written a book’s worth of stuff (at least).  If I had the option, I’d like to download this blook (blog + book = blook) into an e-reader and use my reading time to curl up with David’s blog instead of my next book.

Of course this functionality exists today, kinda sorta.  I can have Google reader fetch all the posts David has ever written and I can read them from back to front, or I can use Reeder or some other iPad RSS app to see everything in a book-like fashion.  But that’s not what I’m looking for.

I want a button on every blog that downloads the full blog (or as much as the blog author wants, or I want) directly to my e-reader.  I want this button to be as simple and as standard as the RSS feed link.  And, in a perfect world, on the e-Reader side I’d like to be able to to create and rearrange virtual chapters by keyword (maybe that happens only once when I do the download, for simplicity).

David’s already written a blook.  I just wish it were easier for me to read it.

5 tough questions

Today is the second annual NextGen:Charity conference.  To commemorate the conference, Ari Teman, co-founder of the conference along with Jonah Halper, asked me to respond to five questions about innovation in the developing world, leadership, faith, blogging, and failure.  Here’s the interview (the link to yesterday’s Huffington Post article is here).

1. There’s a lot of talk about sharing our innovations with the 3rd world — let’s flip that around. What are some of the lessons the “developed world” can learn from the innovators you support (who have to operate on pennies a day)?

Extreme frugality, a relentless focus on customers, the ability to navigate complexity and take nothing for granted. In 2003, Acumen Fund connected with the visionary entrepreneur Amitabha Sadangi who realized that he could reverse-engineer drip irrigation systems originally developed in Israel and make them infinitely scalable and radically affordable to poor customers in India. Amitabha knew that poor farmers would need to see an extreme value proposition – the ability to test the system on 1/8th acre plots and to see payback in less than a year – and that even so the road would be long and hard to change farming practices. Eight years later, Global Easy Water Products has served more than 300,000 farmers, and Amitabha has a lot to teach entrepreneurs globally about creating the minimal viable product to meet the needs of customers for whom value per dollar is paramount and the willingness to take risk is limited. He’s also about the most persistent man you’ll ever meet.

2. The Acumen Fund has a prestigious Fellowship Program where you develop young talent and you also work with some amazing visionaries — what do you see as the key traits of a successful leader?

We expect the Acumen Fund Fellows to possess a unique combination of traits – operational excellence, financial acumen, and what we call moral imagination, the ability to see yourself in another, to walk a mile in her shoes. Each year we select 10 Fellows from a global pool of 700 applicants from 60 countries, and the Fellows are an amazing group from all walks of life. We’ve had people like Jocelyn Wyatt, who has created IDEO.org to bring design thinking and user-centered design to address problems of poverty; Jawad Aslam, who is now pioneering low-income housing for the poor in Pakistan through his company, AMC; or Suraj Sudhakar who, in addition to his day job, has thrown 40 TEDx’s across the slums of Nairobi. In addition to the incredible combination of skills these Fellows bring to the table, what differentiates them is a deep and abiding commitment to seeing the poor not as passive recipients of charity but individuals with hopes, aspiration, and dignity.


3. On your blog you frequently muse on various faiths’ approaches to giving. How does faith inform your leadership and charity work?

When I started blogging I thought I was going to write about philanthropy and social enterprise, but as I continued my exploration I kept on getting to more fundamental questions of service and giving. While I’m a huge believer in the need for innovation to solve some of the world’s toughest problems, there’s also a deep wisdom that all of the faiths have to offer – we just need to be willing to open up our ears and hearts to what they have to teach. Sometimes I worry that we might get too smart in how we approach solving problems and lose our rooting in this centuries-old wisdom. The notion that giving is part of the circle of life is central to all religions and cultures – it connects us to one another, strengthens community, and is an acknowledgment that if we are in a position to give, then we have ourselves been given a great gift.


4. You mentioned you blogged publicly about your Generosity Experiment to encourage yourself to follow-through. How else do you keep yourself motivated?

It’s incredibly easy to stay motivated when you feel like you’re making a difference – it’s when you’re trying to make a difference and failing that your energy drains away. I think we all crave a better world and the moment you get a taste of helping create that, you can never let it go. I sometimes joke that I never knew what I was getting in to when I started blogging, and it’s just as well – it helps to be a little naïve because if you’re not you’ll never jump in. Whether through the crazy, unexpected success of Generosity Day 2011 or when I watch one of the Acumen Fund investees reach its millionth customer served with a product that really improves people’s lives, I know I’m doing the right thing and that I need to keep working harder and smarter.

5. And the question we ask everyone: What’s your most spectacular failure?

Some of the big failures come from fear – like times when I didn’t have the courage to look someone in the eye and ask them to make a big funding commitment for fear they would say no. Really, though, I’m not sure how I feel about putting “spectacular” and “failure” together. The big, real big failures often aren’t the go-down-in-a-blaze-of-glory variety, they are when you wrong someone, disrespect someone, make someone feel small rather than raise them up – and just as often these are sins of omission rather than commission. Those are the ones that sting.

I promise if you blog daily you are going to fail often.  You have to decide in advance that you’re ready to fail – if anything it’s the commitment to being open to failure that frees you to ship, to push your ideas to the edge, to dream big. And that all sounds great but that doesn’t mean you won’t write posts that don’t hit the mark, because you will.

This idea that failure is rare is what really holds us back. We are perfect so rarely, and if we stick to our guns the rest of the time, we will learn so much less and share so much less than we have to offer.

David Pogue’s iPhone 4S review isn’t that great

There’s nothing wrong with the review, nothing at all.  It’s absolutely fine.  Anyone at all (especially non-techies and even non-iPhone users) who reads it will learn what’s different about the new iPhone and why she should be excited by it (spoiler alert: iMessage and speech recognition, called Siri).

But there’s nothing in there to make it the most emailed article on the NY Times site, viewed millions of times.

The thing is, the review itself doesn’t matter much.  People care what David Pogue is going to say about the new iPhone because David Pogue is David Pogue.  What’s more interesting is how he got to be David Pogue (for mass consumers, the authoritative voice, along with Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, on tech gadgets that are relevant to our lives): by writing for years and years about things that generally weren’t as interesting or as sexy as the iPhone: the Kindle before anyone cared, wireless speakers, the IBM Thinkpad and the Microsoft Zune.  He earned the right to be the person whose article you had to read on the coolest tech device in history (maybe not this iPhone but the iPhone) by spending years writing about devices that, by and large, weren’t that cool and that most of us will never buy.

You probably don’t want to be David Pogue, but you might want to be David Pogue about something.  You’d love to share your ideas and have people listen.  So how do you make that happen?

It might be counter- intuitive, but you get there by starting at the edges, meaning (if it were tech) not by writing about iPhones (only) but by writing about all sorts of obscure stuff too, like which is the best pre-paid cellphone plan or, better yet, which are the best pre-paid plans for college kids in rural Mississippi.

(Taking this a step further: if you care about yoga, you begin by staking your claim to extra- extra-hot yoga; if you care about veganism, you dive into organic, pesticide free local veganism.  Etc.)

My guess is that there are two things holding you back: you’re not sure you know exactly what your “thing” is today; and you feel like you have about 10 days’ worth of exciting, interesting things to say about that thing, not 10 years’ worth (which is what you’ll need to become the David Pogue of your thing.)

Fortunately, you’re wrong.  You have a lot to say.  The problem you need to crack isn’t figuring out everything you’re going to say.  The problem you need to crack is starting to say things.

Take this blog: when I started it, I knew that I had something to say about fundraising in the nonprofit sector.  That’s why I wrote my Manifesto for Nonprofit CEOs.  But I quickly discovered that I didn’t have a post to write every single day that was directly about fundraising.  That realization alone – it came early and it came often, I promise – tempted me to stop writing or, more pernicious still, tempted me to censor posts that felt off-topic.  I’m so glad I didn’t.  It’s only through the act of keeping on that I discovered what a blog post is, that I discovered how all the pieces could fit together, that I discovered my voice.  The topics will change, the blog will evolve, but through the act of doing I learned what it was I was doing, not the other way around.

If you’re expecting that you’re supposed to have all the answers before you start, you’ll definitely talk yourself out of jumping in, which would be a shame.  Get the scariest part out of the way by starting, and be prepared for the hardest part, which is shouting down the voice that will scream “this isn’t good enough!”  How could it be?  You’re just getting started.

There are only two non-negotiable prerequisites: dogged persistence (to keep at it) and passion for your topic.  Chipping away at the proverbial stone (to reveal the sculpture that lies within) is a daily undertaking, and only by sticking it out over a long period of time will you build up your expertise, your voice, and, eventually, your audience.

 

The Buy Read Paradox

I’m intrigued by the disconnect between the prestige and legitimacy afforded by being a “published author” and all the friction inherent in trying to spread your ideas by writing a book.

Think about the dropoff from:

The number of people who hear about a book → The number that buy the book → The number that read the book they’ve bought → The number that spread the word about that book

If you aren’t a known name or you don’t have an existing tribe whose permission you’ve earned (often over a number of years), simply getting the word out about your book is a herculean task.  And so, most books sell only a few thousand copies.

Nevertheless, being a “published author” still carries a real caché.  Especially if you write nonfiction, “published author” is a chalice of purported legitimacy and expertise (e.g. it’s a lot easier for a journalist or a TV producer to justify interviewing a published author).  What that means in reality is that the book gives you permission to talk about the ideas in the book, not the other way around.  It’s a pretty roundabout, lumpy way to spread an idea.

Which gets me thinking:

  1. 25 years from now, will the notion of being a “published author” be anachronistic, and, if that happens, what will replace it?
  2. Or, will the notion live on, because as a society we will always need a way to separate out “legitimate” idea merchants from the chaff.

If anything, it seems like we are going to see a proliferation of pathways to legitimacy, which gives people who want to spread ideas (but who don’t have access to the gatekeepers) more options.  That seems like a good thing, as the volume of ideas that will spread will likely go up.

The open question is whether, overall, more of the best ideas will get out.  My bet is: Yes.

What do you think?

Blog maintenance – for email subscribers

For those of you who subscribe to this blog by email, I just changed the “from” email address for the FeedBurner feed you receive.

There’s a small chance that new posts will get caught in your spam filter. If you don’t receive posts this week, please check your spam folder, and to be sure you can add sashadichterblogs [at] gmail.com to your “safe senders” list.

Thanks for subscribing!!

The work of blogging

The days I’m not ready to write, the days I don’t feel like I have something to say, the days that I have to burn the midnight oil, the days I have to scramble….those are the days I’m doing the work.

What is the work, exactly?  Many things, but partly it is earning the right to have the days when lightening strikes, the days full of great leaps forward, the days it comes easy.

This is how it is with everything: we do the hard work in between the peaks, we toil along, even when it isn’t pretty.  And when we get to the top, the view sure is beautiful, all the more so when you can share it with people that matter (all of you)

So thank you for helping me do the work.  I’m positive I wouldn’t do it without you.

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Blogging meta-post

On the days I don’t write posts, it seems just about impossible that I have a post in me.

On the days that I do write posts, I write them.

This means one of two things:

  1. I underestimate what is possible
  2. I accomplish the impossible on a regular basis

Pretty sure both of those are true.

(mind-bending side note: I wrote this post on a day I never write posts.  What does that mean?)

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The only blogging advice I have ever taken

There’s a lot of advice out there for how to be a successful blogger, and most of it feels like it either should be ignored or needs to be taken for what it is – advice on how to game the system.

The reason I don’t take most of it seriously is because blogging to me doesn’t fall into some mysterious online category that has a slew of opaque rules only discernible by Web 2.0 (3.0? 4.0?) gurus with massive Twinfluence.

Instead, it’s just another way of delivering relevant, engaging content to readers.

Which is why I’m much more interested in turning to a writer for advice here.

This from the closing of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is worth printing out and pinning to the wall:

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal.  So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work.  Write straight into the emotional center of things.  Write toward vulnerability.  Don’t worry about appearing sentimental.  Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent.  Risk being unliked.  Tell the truth as you understand it.  If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this.  And it is a revolutionary act – truth is always subversive.

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Glitch

Of the time I spend blogging, 99% is spent on writing, and 1% (if that) on the site itself and its functionality.

However I discovered a small glitch which I’ll correct going forward: those little icons on the bottom of every post often have broken links, something I just discovered this morning.  It’s a WordPress glitch I just discovered.

It’s fixed on this post and will be going forward.  So now you can click away when you read posts that you like and want to share.  So please click away.

(And if anyone out there has been dying to improve the look of this blog, its functionality, or anything else about it, please email me.  Offers of help are always welcome.  For example a good non-manual “Tweet this” for each post…?   Feedback of all sorts is always welcome).

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Reason number 45

A few months ago I blogged a list of 44 reasons I blog.  I just stumbled across reason number 45 as I prepare for a speech.

My job (your job, anyone’s job who talks to customers or donors or board members or the media or just about anyone) is to create and to tell stories.  Stories that get people to act – to give or to buy or to stand up for something they believe in.

It should go without saying that if I’m going to be an effective storyteller, I need stories to tell.  MY stories.  Not just for big speeches – though I need them for those too – but for conversations and for media interviews and for talking to colleagues and giving feedback and of course for presentations.

Turns out I’ve got a blog full of these things – some better, some worse, but it’s there: a catalogue of stories and vignettes and thoughts and hopefully some insights every now and again.  Blogging puts a pretty high bar on what makes the cut and also forces me to develop ideas beyond my initial reflection.

I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have the discipline to do this without the blog.  So thanks to all of you for reading, because I wouldn’t keep at it without you.

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