Renaming An Organization

My good friend Hildy Gottlieb, author of the very important Polyanna Principles, is in the midst of choosing a new name for her organization, the Community-Driven Institute.

She has written a very interesting and transparent article about that process, and has thrown a few ideas out there for people to react to.

The Vision Words

I love this photo of Hildy Gottlieb
I love this photo of Hildy Gottlieb

So far, the advice she’s been given by a number of colleagues is for the organization to ask itself a number of vision-type questions: What change are you creating? What do you do? What does it look like?

So far, Hildy and her colleagues have settled on a general sense that the CDI is about “LEAPING from dreams to reality” and “That creating . . . dramatic social change is just taken for granted to be the expectation that guides our work.”

Having led a number of strategic planning and visioning efforts, these are important questions. However, they are not at all enough. It is a very short hop from “vision” questions to a boring, me-too kind of name that fades into the generalized social-sector obscurity that is filled with this Institute or that Center or some other Initiative.

Just think how many organizations could easily be named something like the “Community Change Institute.”

No, we’ve got to go beyond, and get underneath, all that mission-speak. When it comes to the name of the organization, it must be informed by — but does not necessarily have to include — the vision words.

The Searchability Imperative

There’s another organizational imperative: searchability. This is too often overlooked, but in the world of pervasive search it is critical. Organizations are well advised to consider a one- or two-word name that is unique. Invented, in fact. You don’t want to name your organization that is related to a generic search phrase. When someone searches on your name, you don’t want other results cluttering up the first page of hits.

I have in mind two renamings that I think hit the mark.


The first is my friend Jill Vialet’s organization. It’s now called Playworks, which I think is an awesome name. It used to be called Sports4Kids, which has the advantage of being unique but was a little dated with that number in the middle and also was not quite correct (her organization is about play, not just sports). And the tagline, “Education Energized” does a great job of following up and giving people the general direction that the organization goes in.

But . . . and this is important . . . the name does not rigidly adhere to mission-words. Here is Playworks’ mission: “To improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play.” See? It’s not the Institute for Safe, Meaningful Play, nor is it the Center For Education Through Play. “Playworks” is memorable, one word, searchable, and awesome.

(Also, don’t get me started on how incredible the curly-human logo is.)

The second good renaming happened more than a decade ago (I don’t have the exact year). The National Center for Nonprofit Boards renamed itself BoardSource. Again, a manufactured name, that does a great job of conveying the purpose of the organization (Mission: “Dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service.”) At the time, the name rankled but that was because I was old-fashioned. I’ve come around, and now I think the organization was forward-thinking when it went with the one-word name.

BoardSource. Yep, that explains what it is pretty well.

The Hard Work

So that leaves us with the hard work of translating mission and vision words and phrases into a name. That takes creativity, long walks, late-night discussions, and epiphanies in the shower. But — this is important — it’s important to keep a high bar here. It can’t be rushed.

It’s also important to make sure to get out of your own echo chamber. It’s easy to think a word is working, when it is not. For instance, there is a highly respected organization that works on a number of progressive issues related to democracy. It’s called Demos. To some this is an apt name, but to my mind it is too hifalutin. If you don’t know what the Greek word “demos” means, you really don’t have a clue what the organization is about.

I don’t know what Hildy’s new name should be. That word “leap” has some potential. “CommunityLeap” is a possibility, but I am afraid it is too much of a mouthful. Plus, one of her key audiences is nonprofit consultants, and the name doesn’t convey that sense.

Hildy has been toying with the word “leapfrog” and there is some potential there, too. Although one commenter (I think rightly) said she wasn’t too thrilled by the word “frog.”

I also wonder if Hildy wants to get the word “Polyanna” activated somehow, since her Polyanna Principles are a linchpin of how she works.

As I think of things, I may chronicle them here in the comments — but if you have some ideas, or other thoughts, please add them below! Especially if you think I am all wet.

(By the way, that Amazon link to Polyanna Principles up top is an affiliate link, I could not resist.)

My Three Dashboards

Over the last few years, like many Internet users, my day-to-day online life has coalesced around three methods of interacting with the world. I’ve developed three “dashboards,” if you will, that each work within a different activity context. Throughout the day, I am constantly shifting from one dashboard to the other. They are separate in important ways, but at the same time, they all work together.

mini cooper dashboard by Flickr user w00kie
mini cooper dashboard by Flickr user w00kie

This system hasn’t developed because of any special planning on my part. It’s just how things have shaken out. But, looking at other people’s online activity, I know it is common and it has important implications for people who make decisions about their own organization’s online presence.

Three Dashboards

My three dashboards are: 1) My email reader; 2) My social media stream; and 3) My RSS reader.

Email. This is the dashboard that has the most power, because it is the most intrusive and demands the most. Email is where I receive messages from other people that I need to act upon, or respond to. It is where messages specifically for me appear. It’s almost a “to-do” list.

Social Media Stream. I am active on Facebook and Twitter, under multiple accounts. I collect all these accounts into one place (I use Seesmic) and so I see all of the status updates of all my “friends” in one long stream. What do I use this dashboard for? To keep up on what people are up to and what they feel is important to share. This is an important source of unexpected information, as well as an important way to maintain loose connections.

RSS Reader. Time was when I would surf around the Web, to a handful of favored sites, mostly newspapers and news aggregators. The advent of RSS (which stand for Really Simple Syndication) changed all that. Now I am able to grab the content of all of those sites and have each item appear like a message, as part of a stream. I use my RSS reader (I use Google Reader) to keep up on “news,” and also to keep up on friends’ blogs, possible new business postings, and to monitor my various brands (by setting up Google alerts for various search terms).

I ordered the above dashboards in descending order of . . . well, I guess “intimacy” is the word. Send me an email and if I know you I am for sure going to read it. (Although I have strong spam filters and a fast delete trigger if it looks like something unimportant.) I care about my social media stream but the connections are looser. There is no obligation to read every last thing everyone posts, but if I don’t keep up I feel like I am out of touch with the folks who matter to me. Finally, the RSS reader is like my newspaper. If I miss it for a few days it is not the end of the world and when I come back I can mark everything new as “read” without feeling like I am necessarily dissing someone.

The Line Between the Inbox and the Stream

I have written before about how much of our online lives has shifted from being driven by an Inbox to being driven by the Stream. Note that the social media and RSS dashboards are both Streams — which means that not everything necessarily gets read and acted upon. The Inbox, on the other hand, carries with it the assumption that everything in it must get processed in some way.

One consequence of this is that I am trying hard to make sure that only must-process things appear in my Inbox, by shifting subscriptions (for instance) to RSS or deleting them entirely and relying on the fact that interesting items will naturally surface in my social stream.

Lessons for Leaders

My own choices about what is important — what belongs on which dashboard — are not the same as yours. So your organization needs to make sure it is easy for your content to be ported into all three dashboard types. You need an “email” button, a “share” button, and an “rss subscribe” button.

In fact, this article was spurred by a conversation with someone about their desire to add a “subscribe by email” button to their blog. Me, I don’t want to use my Inbox dashboard that way. Others, though, have a few things that they want to make sure they see and so they want them delivered to their email. So it is imporant to make sure you are covered.

Another lesson is that sharing is important. If your content cannot appear in one of these dashboard types (or all three), it can easily become less relevant. A good example is the Drudge Report. Back in 1998, when Matt Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal, people “surfed” for their news. They would go to websites that had news in order to get it. With the adventage of RSS, this is less common, yet (I believe for ad revenue reasons) the Drudge Report stubbornly refuses to implement and way to view content other than on the site. While it is by no means irrelevant, it has been eclipsed by a range of other, dashboard-friendly sites.

A third lesson is that people don’t want more dashboards. Many organizations, especially those with deep content, get the urge to create their own dashboard of sorts (remember the fad of everything being “my” this or “my” that?). That might have worked well two years ago, but now people have pretty much settled on their dashboards of choice, ignoring other offerings. Think again of the Drudge Report. It is actually a news dashboard, with pointers to other news articles. I now get the very same thing on my RSS reader, without having to go to the Drudge site. (For an important caveat to this lesson, see below.)


Writing this, I can think of one blog that I religiously make sure hits my Inbox (not a Stream): Seth Godin’s blog. I see it every morning because I subscribed by email, and each time I think to switch reading methods, I hesitate. I don’t want to miss it — it is a “must-process” for me.

This illustrates one important thing to keep in mind about the three dashboards. Even for one user, the lines between the dashboards can blur. Try as I might to have some rigor about what goes into where, there is overlap. For instance, in addition to the Seth Godin example, there are elements of my social stream that make it into my Inbox, and I am loathe to change this. I still get Facebook notifications emailed to me — and each time I think about turning them off (because I check my social dashboard frequently enough that I shouldn’t need them in the Inbox) I stop myself. I want to make sure I see these interactions, so the dividing line gets blurred.

And one more limitation, or caveat, to this new dashboard regime. When I say that people don’t want “new” dashboards, I don’t mean that there is no room for innovation. Twitter, for instance, has become a key dashboard for many, many people and it did not exist a few years ago. Even though I myself lump it into a more generalized social stream, some people use it singularly as its own dashboard with attached ecosystem. So, if you are considering building a brand new dashboard, don’t be totally discouraged, just make sure it’s compelling!

Looking Forward: New Dashboards

No one knows what other information sources will rise to the level of being a dashboard. Seven years ago no one would have thought the social stream would be as important as it is. So I am hesitant to make any predictions.

However, I will make one. I think that location will develop into a dashboard. It will coexist with the social stream, but it will also be a separate dashboard — where (physically) are the people I care about? Where am I? Where do I like to go? Where do they go? This location-dashboard will be integrated tightly to mobile devices like smartphones (iPhone, Android, Palm) and slate computers (iPad).

This is an emerging space (e.g., Foursquare) and it may fizzle, but I do not believe it will.

Anatomy Of A Rock Show

Many of my colleagues and readers know that I am in a local rock band called The West End. We’re not going to be rich anytime soon, but people say we’re not too shabby. We’ve got a fair sized local fan base and we play out regularly. We’ve recorded and released two CD’s (the latest is here or use this iTunes link).

We had a show last Friday and I thought that some of my readers might be interested in how it went. I give a full recap at my blog about being in a band called amusingly enough In The Band.

Here’s a brief excerpt (full piece here):

Photo by Cindy Cotte Griffiths
Photo by Cindy Cotte Griffiths

WOW, I was tired on the morning after our last show! It seemed like we really poured out more energy than usual, and as usual we played three sets starting late so by the end there we were all pretty wiped. . . . All in all, it was very cool. We had a large crowd, and they mostly stuck around for the whole evening. In those later songs, it is always way more fun when there is a crowd than when there are just a few barflys hanging around. So I really enjoyed that.

We changed the set list on the fly this time around, which we rarely do, and I thought it might be interesting to know how that went and what our thinking was.

There’s lots more at the original article, including our thinking about our three set lists and how they changed. A number of my friends and colleagues have expressed interest in the band, so I thought I would provide this pointer to it for those who are curious.

Issue Guide On America's Role In The World Available

This is a little overdue, as this was released a little over a month ago, but better late than never! I am delighted to announce a new issue guide that I wrote has been released and will be used in deliberative forums across the nation.

Here is the post I wrote for the “news” section of my firm The Mannakee Circle Group that describes the whole thing:

coverAmerica's-RoleThe Mannakee Circle Group is pleased to announce a new issue book authored by Brad Rourke for the National Issues Forums Institute and the Kettering Foundation, working closely with colleague John Doble. The guide is titled America’s Role In The World: What does national security mean in the 21st century? and is available from NIFI.

The issue guide will be the basis for deliberative forums held across the nation, the results of which will be reported to a US-Russian group of policy experts and citizens in October this year.

From the issue overview:

The world bears little resemblance to the way it was in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell and the cold war ended. Where the world used to have two “superpowers,”—the Soviet Union and the United States— the end of the cold war created what many observers called a “unipolar” world in which the United States was the clear leader, able to bend most events to its will. But that moment has passed.

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence issued a report in late 2008 that assessed where things stand and where things are likely to go over the next two decades. One conclusion of this comprehensive study is that the United States “will remain the single most powerful country but will be less dominant.”

Examples of less dominance are everywhere. China has gone from being a very large nation to being an economic powerhouse. India’s economy, as well as its influence on the world stage, has grown rapidly. Pakistan is now strategically vital.

Threats are becoming more global in nature, too. Climate change (global warming), pandemics, and resource depletion face countries without regard to superpower status or military strength. Many of these threats require response, but no one nation can act alone.

This issue framing presents three possible options to consider:

Option One: National Security Means Safeguarding the United States

Our global objective must always be to maintain the safety of the United States and its citizens. We must guard against threats to national security above all.

Option Two: National Security Depends on Putting Our Economic House in Order

With such significant economic issues facing us, we need to focus on eliminating our staggering public indebtedness and improving the balance of trade. That means spending less on the military and reducing the amount of money that flows overseas.

Option Three: National Security Means Recognizing that Global Threats are our Greatest Challenge

Today’s challenges face everyone on the planet, not just one nation. We must take a leadership role in working with other nations in a collaborative way to address long-term threats to humanity and increase foreign aid so other nations can also address such threats.

The Mannakee Circle Group would like to thank NIFI and the Kettering Foundation for the opportunity to work on this important project.

Learning From Personal Failures

My dear friend Jim Clinton, who is CEO of the Cenla Advantage Partnership, wrote a stirring piece today that I wanted to share with you. (In case you are among the uninitiated, “Cenla” is Central Louisiana.)

He writes, in part:

A few minutes ago, I heard a cry, close to a scream. It was repeated and repeated again. Couldn’t tell if it was a child or a cat, but I don’t hear many cries from either here on the second floor of The Rapides Foundation Building. I went to my window overlooking Johnston Street. I was just in time to see a woman walking with two boys, ages approximately two and four. She was holding the smaller child’s hand and I watched, she hit him hard in the face. A couple more steps and she hit him again. Three more steps and a repeat. I don’t know how many hits preceded this.

How do I work this?” I thought, referring to my conscience, my responsibility to civilization, etc. I shook off the cobwebs, ran down the stairs and into the street. I followed the threesome at some distance on Johnston towards the river. They boarded a shuttle and vanished.

Jim follows this with a meditation on his own relationship to spanking as a parent of grown children, who now has a later-in-life child to rear. He gives a wonderful explanation of how, and why, his views have evolved. I urge you to read it.

But it was the wrenching scene out his window that struck me to the bone. I know that feeling — knowing you need to do something, not sure you can, hesitating, and finally sometimes sadly missing out on the opportunity as it vanishes. How many times have we faced such a thing, and then recalled and relived the event, only this time with faster reflexes, or with surer voice? How many times do we replay what we wish we had said?

For me, the episode that stands out is a time long ago when I was in a position to hire someone. A superior convinced me to avoid the person I thought the best candidate because of something  benign that came up in the applicant’s background during the interview process.

Fearful of making waves, I did not stick to my guns. I offered someone else the job, and they did great. But I lacked courage. This was a weak decision that haunts me even now — from which I try to learn daily and draw strength from. I hope never again to stay silent as I did.

I want to thank my friend Jim for reopening this doorway and spurring me to reflect on this episode, and allowing me to renew this intention.

Now Appearing At Rockville Living: Me

Today, we launched a new online magazine in Rockville that I am very excited about. It’s a brand-new magazine within the town’s go-to business and events website Rockville Living. I am the Tech Topics editor and my first piece is an interview with two brand-new iPad owners (and Apple fanboys).

I am excited about this effort for a few reasons.

rlFirst, I get to work with great people. In addition to my longtime colleague Cindy Cotte Griffiths (who co-manages Rockville Central with me and with whom I have worked on lots of other civic efforts), I get to share space with local preservationist and gourmand Max van Balgooy,  cyclist Paul Triolo, DIY gardener Diane Stuart, and — last but not least — the architect of the whole thing, Helen Triolo.

Helen has long been an inspiration for me as she has steadfastly built Rockville Living, the most important business and consumer-oriented site in Rockville, by providing a great resource and being relentlessly positive.

Here’s the rundown of this month’s articles, section by section:

Cindy has written a wonderful post on her personal blog describing her thoughts on the new magazine, which includes this:

At Rockville Living all the editors . . . [are] a team working together to promote the magazine and website. We help each other with facts for articles and suggestions for interviews, while depending on each other for encouragement and help. The more successful the site becomes with advertising, the more we will be paid. The very basis of this financial structure forces us to work as a team for success and improvement. We’re all in it together for each other and our community.

I could not say it better myself.

Thanks, Helen, for this terrific opportunity!