cross posted on my new blog: Service Driven

This service-oriented road trip, Service Driven, has been in the our minds for about a year, but a new twist was added just over a month ago.  On the IBM Service Jam in October, one of the participants mentioned that StartingBloc was a really successful new program for young social innovators.  Having never heard of it before, I checked it out and was impressed by the people associated with it and their stories of social change.  I applied, and two weeks ago I found out that I was accepted!

Learn more about StartingBloc from this Fast Company article, or by watching this 2 minute clip:

So now I will be spending the middle of February in Los Angeles, surrounded by 109 other young people who are just as energized about making a difference and having an impact as I am!  I am hopeful that it will be the perfect precursor to our adventure.

If you would like to support me in attending the Social Innovation institute, you can sponsor me HERE.  This would also be a great alternative this year to Christmas or birthday presents since we are downsizing in anticipation of our trip.

To support StartingBloc in offering more scholarships for 2011 Fellows, vote for them in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge HERE.



When the work is structured in such a way to separate thinking from doing, to assign one person to think, while another person must produce based on someone else’s thoughts, it will breed discontent.  As Matthew Crawford puts it in Shop Class as Soulcraft, “wherever the separation of thinking from doing has been achieved, it has been responsible for the degradation of work” (p. 37, Crawford 2009).

The development of the organization as a machine and the separation of thinking from doing took shape in the turn of the century.  The movement into scientific management, sparked by Frederick Taylor, led the rallying cry for separating thinking from doing.  As Stewart’s analysis in The Management Myth uncovers, the benefits of Taylor’s restructuring was falsely reported (pp. 27-42, Stewart 2009).  Whether there were any substantial benefits for production is debatable, but what was clear, was the inter-group and inter-class conflict which arose from this type of restructuring.  As Crawford eloquently describes the transformation to assembly line factory work, “scattered craft knowledge is concentrated in the hands of the employer, then doled out again to workers in the form of minute instructions needed to perform some part of what is now a work process.  This process replaces what was previously an integral activity, … animated by the worker’s own mental image of, and intention toward, the finished product” (p.39, Crawford 2009).  This is exactly what was occurring in our simulation.  The design workers and the production workers were being asked to perform their part of a work process without a vision of, or a personal connection to, the final product.  As Crawford further explains, Taylor’s recommendations for restructuring did not necessarily increase the efficiency of labor in terms of time, however, they allowed factory owners to reduce the costs of labor, because extracting the cognitive elements of the job allowed the factory owner to pay the production workers less.  The thinking was monopolized in a few high paying jobs.  As Taylor himself put it, “’the full possibilities’ of the system ‘will not have been realized until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller caliber and attainments, and who are therefore cheaper than those required under the old system’” (p. 39, Crawford 2009).  Those men in the shop, our production workers, felt this degradation of their work, and resisted.

With the rise of menial “non-thinking” jobs, there was also a new industry built up around the “thinking” side of the organizational chart.  Stewart, who looks at emergence of the management consulting field explains that, “Strategy took hold because it provided an intellectual superstructure that explained and justified the functioning of ‘top management’ in the new M-Form corporations” (p. 155, Stewart 2009).  I found myself using the word “strategy” and “strategic” throughout the simulation.  Thinking that any decision I made, being President, was clearly “strategic”.


Crawford, M.  (2009).  Shopclass as soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work.  New York: The Penguin Press.

Stewart, M.  (2009).  The management myth: why the experts keep getting it wrong.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.




Connecting With Customers Through New Media

Lately I have been stuck on the question of what it really means to be a contributing member of society.  How do you improve a community?  What can an individual do that actually has a big impact, not only today, but in the long term?

As an individual volunteer, volunteering as part of an established program, you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.  However, a community could not exist on volunteers in volunteer programs alone.  What is the role of business leaders?  What about elected officials?  What about people who save their money, buy a house, have kids, and put a real effort into raising their kids well and paying their bills on time?

Is there one particular role or action that has the potential for great impact?  I am starting to think that the small business owner who fills an actual business need and creates a sustainable operation which pays a living wage and provides health benefits to employees is our winner.  If we had more people like that, we wouldn’t need so many social services programs.

I was listening to a program on NPR the other day about a town in the West that had been booming until the Recession hit.  They mentioned that the Starbucks had closed down in town and nothing had taken its place.  In the same story they mentioned that the fancy locally-owned Italian restaurant in town was now offering $9.99 all you can eat pasta specials.  What I took from that story was that the local restaurateur adapted and did what he/she needed to do to stay in business and continue to operate.  He/She may have had to cut hours or even let a few people go, but they wer still in business.  Starbucks employees on the other hand were out of luck.  Perhaps if there had been more local business owners in the town, there would have been fewer job losses?

What do you think?  Who adds wealth to the community?  What roles or people are important for strong communities?

As Facebook is wont to do, they have added a new feature which has potential privacy ramifications.  The new feature shows up as groups and is initially difficult to distinguish from the existing groups feature.  However, it is structured differently, in that members of the group can tag their Facebook friends in order to add them to the group.  This is similar to how the notes feature of Facebook works.  The first reports I heard from the media about it were focused on how it could be misused for pranks and bullying.

I was recently added to a group for Madison Women’s Rugby alums.  With JMU’s Homecoming this weekend, the new groups feature came out just in time ….  this new Facebook group allowed word to spread very quickly about events for the weekend.  Our group is basically a latent network, with many people who are Facebook friends, but who may not have actually spoken to one another in years.  This new feature allowed the network to become active as rugby players from different graduating classes added their cohort to the group.  In just a couple of days the group has grown to 51 members and there are already three events with RSVPs being coordinated through this ad hoc group.

This is a great example of self organizing and I can see potential parallels to community response.  For example, if there is a sudden need for neighbors to organize (think snow storm for example), they could quickly form a group and have it grow organically.  The latent networks that already exist within communities could become active and organized using this new feature.

What do you think?  Could this new feature be beneficial to groups of volunteers or neighborhood members?  What concerns or barriers do you see for using this new feature?

Right now there is an international dialogue going on online about service as a solution to challenges around the world.  This dialogue is hosted by IBM and it is called Service Jam.

The discussion platform that IBM provides is very intuitive and powerful.  You can move easily between following discussion threads as they unfold, to looking at themes emerging (in a tag cloud) and then clicking on a particular theme to see where the conversations around that theme are taking place.  In addition, you can choose to follow individual participants or to follow individual posts.  The site includes a page that acts as a personal dashboard in which your own contributions, as well as those you have chosen to follow, are organized.

So far, since the Jam started Sunday morning, there have been over 3,000 posts from over 8,000 people logging in.  Now what really surprised me was that I actually know several of the most active “jammers”.  One of the most prolific participants so far is Andrew Levy, who runs a blog about Citizen Corps and lives nearby.  Another jammer who has been featured on the “Hot Ideas” page almost the entire time, is Jessica Kirkwood, who runs the HandsOn Blog and handles social media for HandsOn Network.  Out of 8,000 participants from around the world, several of the ones who I am running into in the Jam are people who are already in my social network.  How does that happen?

One lesson in this example is that in a platform such as an online discussion forum, content matters.  Andrew and Jessica were both featured throughout the site because they were actively contributing new ideas and coming up with great questions to spark discussion.  In fact, when former President George H.W. Bush came into the room (online), who did he end up conversing with?  Andrew Levy.

These new ways of hosting dialogue allow different voices to be heard.  The former President’s posts get pulled up beside those of citizen leaders, because they are both contributing relevant experience and great questions for discussion.  I think this is a great example of how new technology can change the way we host the conversation.  What do you think?

In John McKnight and Peter Block, recent book, Abundant Community, they state,

Volunteerism was never designed to be efficient, only satisfying.   Systems were never designed to be satisfying, only efficient.

This simple truth speaks to something that I have come to know in my heart over the last few years working in volunteer management.  As I have often described it to people, instead of trying to figure out how I can do the same or more with fewer people, I actually look for ways to involve more people in the work.  If your goal is to mentor a child, do you really want to do that efficiently?  If volunteers are seen as resources, then the standard view of creating an efficient program would be to reduce the number of volunteers it takes to mentor a child, or to get more mentoring out of each volunteer.

But a mentoring relationship is not a system, it is a building block of community.  The rules are different and we can not use the same language to talk about mentoring as we use to talk about manufacturing.  It is too easy to confuse not only why we do what we do, but the beauty in HOW we do it.  We build community through making connections between people and between associations.  More connections, stronger connections, are better.  Taking more time with one another leads to higher quality relationships.

I refuse to be efficient in volunteering.  Can anyone give me a reason why I should accept this language and concept of efficiency for volunteering and community building?