On My Radar (Wed 4/8/09)

* US Power Grid Infiltrated
* Fred Hits 1M Subs
* Hiding Earmarks
* Fewer Hurricanes In 2009
* Kumar To White House


These are the stories I am most interested in today:

  • The U.S. power grid has been extensively mapped and compromised with leave-behind software. Says Dennis Blair, national intelligence director:  “A number of nations, including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure.”
  • YouTube sensation Fred passed the 1,000,000 subscriber mark yesterday. He is the first user to do that.
  • Lawmakers sometimes follow the letter, not the spirit of the new earmark disclosure rule. While some are upfront on their web pages, others seem to hide earmarks behind catch-all pages like “other” and “legislation.”
  • Researchers predict 12 named storms for the 2009 season. This is fewer than in 2008, which had 16. Colorado State University’s hurricane forecast team says six will be hurricanes, with two expected to be major. First name of the year: Ana.
  • Kal Penn, who plays Kutner on the House cast, was killed off, to lead White House Office of Public Liaison. Penn, who is the second half of Harold and Kumar, says he is seeking “that balance between the arts and public service.” (Friend Kate Walsh pointed this out.)

Thanks for reading,


The Barber Shop Is Closed

As I left Dayton last week after a series of meetings at the Kettering Foundation, I walked by this sign: “The Barber Shop Is Closed.” It was taped to a covered-over window just inside security at Dayton airport. Tip’s was gone.

Tip'sI’d always wondered about Tip’s. It was a large barbershop with two chairs, behind an expanse of glass. I rarely saw anyone in it. There was often a person — whom I assumed was Tip — sitting on the bench opposite the barbershop, sometime resting, sometimes reading.

Over the years (I’ve been going to Dayton for a long time now), I developed a profile in my head. I imagined the barbershop used to have been quite busy, as gentlemen coming into one of the business hubs of the Midwest needed a quick trim on the way to or from their meetings. But as tastes changed and so did the times, I imagine the shop saw less and less activity.

The faster the world spun, the slower the shop might have seemed to.

It turns out that the closing was not a  negative thing for Tip. Turns out he’s Clair Tipton. He retired after 35 years.

But when I saw the “closed,” sign, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for something I’d never known. I regretted never having gotten my hair cut at Tip’s.

Funny how you don’t know you’ll miss something, often, until it’s gone.

Strategy Vs. Tactics

I was reminded of the howls from some pundits after a McCain-Obama debate in which the subject of “strategy” came up. The refrain from the left was: “This guy doesn’t even know the difference between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics.'”

The truth is, people have been arguing about the difference between strategy and tactics for centuries and there is no concrete consensus on the difference. Most people have an overall sense that strategy relates to “bigger” things and tactics more to “small” things. Many others think strategy is somehow better than tactics when it comes to planning.

And, more often, one will hear someone in the workplace telling someone else to think or act “strategically” — when what they really mean is “be smarter.”

Like the term “leadership,” it is a shorthand for a larger idea — but for most people this idea is ill-defined.

This debate came back to me when I saw an argument at e.politics about whether Twitter is a “strategy” or a “tactic.”

I learned strategic planning from one of the people who helped develop our modern understanding of it. While strategic planning has changed many times since it was first elaborated in the late 60’s, this definition from my mentor always sticks with me:

“Strategy is a decisive allocation of resources.”

In other words, a strategy is something that, if you pursue it, other avenues are foreclosed. Many different tactics, on the other hand, could be used in the pursuit of a particular strategy.

In most cases, I’ve found that the answer to this question depends on the size of the theater. What is a tactic when looked at from one level can be a strategy at another level.

As an example, a company might have a strategy to use social media as its primary marketing communications tool. It would use various tactics to achieve that: blog comments, Facebook pages, Twitter, and so forth.

However, depending on the size of the theater you are looking at, a tactic can become a strategy. Just thinking about the fictitious company’s “social media” strategy, imagine the marketing department that is charged with implementing this. The fact that the overall thrust is social media will now be a given, just a parameter. The strategic decisions at this level really will center on which tool to use and how strongly to bet on it.

Choosing Between The Inbox And The Stream

Like it or not, the stream has entered the workplace. While this may fill some with anxiety, and others with derision, on balance it is a good thing.

Since its use exploded in the late 1990’s, the email Inbox had dominated and controlled most professional people’s lives. It is a never-ending to-do list, created by other people who send a constant flow of messages that arrive on the screen and just sit there, waiting for action. Some are important; others are trivial. The Inbox makes no distinction. It just grows.

But with the advent of social network status updates and “feeds,” there’s a new avenue for new information and messages. And, for things that are not urgent and do not require action, it is far superior to the Inbox.

The Stream is just a constant flow of updates from those whom we have deemed important enough to follow. For some, it’s a large number and for others it is small. Into this Stream, our connections post their thoughts, interesting links, observations, jokes, more links, quick comments back and forth, news not critical but of use, and more. In other words: much of what now clogs your Inbox.

The difference is that, with the Stream, if you miss something it’s not a huge deal. The whole point is that you can miss something.

(There’s more after this video, keep reading:)

Think of it this way: It’s an Inbox with a time limit.

This implies that, as people become more comfortable with the Stream, they will begin to use it more effectively for work.

  • When you are sharing something, if it is interesting but not critical, add it to the Stream (by sharing on Facebook or Twitter, for instance).
  • Don’t get upset if someone misses something you put in the Stream.
  • Try to reserve emails to people’s Inboxes for things you really need them to see or act on.
  • Some other rules . . . that we have not even thought of yet, and that will emerge as people use the Stream more and more.

As we all embed these ideas in our workflow, our day-to-day life can perhaps lose some of its anxiety!

Do Nothing

I’ve been posting to this blog daily for some time now. I am doing it to keep a rhythm, but sometimes it’s rough finding material.

Yesterday I saw a perfect item for days when the Muse isn’t striking. It’s from Seth Godin:

I had, as I do every year, [an April Fool’s] post written and queued up. (It was about JD Salinger and the Dalai Lama as twitter users.) It was good, not great.

So I posted nothing.

I couldn’t exceed my (or your) expectations, so I posted nothing.

The Downturn Hits Nonprofit Fundraising

As my friends know, I only work with organizations that hold a public trust — typically non profit organizations. Many colleagues have been talking to me about how concerned they are about the latest downturn.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting on one of the more solid pieces of evidence that the economic downturn is affecting nonprofits. The news is not catastrophic, but it is not good.

According to a survey that will be released in May by the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

Reflecting the toll exacted by the economic downturn, the percentage of fund raisers whose institutions raised more money last year was a new low in the eight years the survey has been conducted. In a typical year, 60 percent of fund raisers in the survey report being able to raise more money.

And only 28 percent of the 481 fund raisers surveyed believe their organizations will raise more money this year, the lowest level of optimism found in the history of the survey. One-third of the organizations predicted they will raise less money in 2009.

While 14 percent of the fund raisers surveyed said their organizations raised about the same amount in both 2008 and 2007, 40 percent said that their organizations raised less last year. The decreases, the researchers said, were widespread across all types of organizations, encompassing charities of differing size and geographic location.

This news held across the board — that is, both large and small nonprofits are seeing the effects. This is different than past downturns, which were more painful to smaller nonprofits.