How can I or my company have impact on the world? – Some inspiration from Pro Bono Day Paris 2019

The question I have been delving into lately:

And what if I use my professional skills for social/environmental good?


Are these two worlds so mutually exclusive?

Me ^ – Photo by Riette Salzmann of Pixabay

I am just at the start of my journey but so far from my ‘market’ and in person research (lol Product Owner habits die hard)… The answer is:

Yes, it is possible.

Not only is it possible, more than ever, but there are many people out there like me who want to do the same. In addition, companies are awakening to their societal and environmental responsibilities, if only for the reason that their clients desire it and it will increase their employer desirability.

I am increasingly convinced that the economy of tomorrow is one that is socially/environmentally (social good) conscious. It will not be a question but a fact for companies, that they must integrate social good into their DNA to survive. If we look purely at money, the market will demand this even though the environmental doomsday we are heading towards should be motivation enough. But, hey money talks.

So you desire to use your skills to have an impact? In this article I will give you one idea and some inspiration, but to see the full buffet at your disposition that is a post for another day. Though, if you speak french, here are some notes and ideas from a meetup I helped organize on the subject with some like-minded coaches, Nathaniel and Julien. Meanwhile, please reach out to me as I want to meet more professionals on this adventure.

Quick background: How to have an impact without switching jobs? And what is Pro Bono Day?

So in exploring all my options, one option came up called: Pro Bono or donating skills (without switching jobs) to causes that could not normally pay for them. Or for company owners, allowing and facilitating their employees to do this on company time and dime.

Some options for this (some France only): 

This is a great opportunity as not only is it an opportunity to share what we love to do at work but we can develop our skills further by using them in new domains. Also, often it is a write-off for companies providing it on their time, win-win.

Pro Bono Lab organized a day long conference on this subject called
Pro Bono Day with voices from a diverse set of actors and below are some of my learnings and reactions. My notes are not as complete as I would like, so apologies in advance if I do not give credit due. Please email me any corrections, for those who were there. Here is a the full program with all the names of some inspiring organisations and people. Shout out to my fellow coach friend Nathaniel Richand of Permagile who experienced it alongside me.


One of the many roundtables: Flavie Deprez (Carenews) , Anita Kirpalani (Epic Foundation), Adélaïde de Tourtier (PWC) et Emery Jacquillat (La Camif).

Some Big Ideas

On a personal level…

  1. All skills can be used for the betterment of society. We need all our minds on the issues at hand and not just our “best” minds. You may think your skills are unique to your job but often if you break them down into general know-how areas they are easily applicable elsewhere. Example: A project manager who manages CRM software system deployments knows: logistics, time management, detail orientation, systems thinking, interpersonal skills etc. So despite being quite specialized in their daily work, this person could share their knowledge with a charity that needs help structuring their supply chain or deploying an intranet. Do not forget, this arsenal of skills includes those acquired in your personal life. This same project manager organizes family meals for 15 people every Sunday?  Logistics and people wrangling again! This time for nonprofit…
  2. You are your greatest masterpiece, with no completion date. There is no expiration or prematurity of your skills. We tell the young they are not experienced enough to share their skills to help others… The old, too much experience or not relevant. The middle-aged too irresponsible… Must earn money, no? Enough, we all have something to share and gain. Often just a different perspective alone is an asset. Resource: Mélissa Petit of https://www.mixinggenerations.com/ is doing a lot of work to help us understand the unexploited power of our elder generations (a.k.a. us one day!).
  3. The best way to learn is to do and create, working on the causes that you relate to. Programs such as Toukouleur and Enactus believe in this power of learning and gaining confidence via launching projects from A-Z, especially for adolescents. So why not create your own local project or Pro Bono help someone with theirs? In addition, it is recommended to focus on the causes that motivate you most personally as they will keep you driven. There is enough diverse interests out there to cover our most pressing issues.
  4. The best way to gain understanding of others is to do alongside them. To do Pro Bono is to not subjugate your help on others but to come to the table to see how you can collaborate and elevate each other’s efforts. Those we are “helping” have key essential knowledge that must be taken into full account.
  5. There is no “too little” and each cause their merit.  Any drop of help is not too little nor should be shamed. Some can give an hour a year, some dedicate a whole sabbatical to helping, and that is fine. We are also not all motivated by the same causes and all enter this journey at a different time and from different places. What counts is we take a step and open up to and grow our spirits thanks to social good.
https://twitter.com/TheRialMichelle/status/1164644109081907201

On a company level…

  1. Pro Bono or social good programs should never be used as a band-aid for bad HR and unethical practices or to sway public opinion. (Anita Kirpalani – Epic Foundation) They should be done with the pure intention to inspire our employees and enrich their lives and skills. You may try to fake it but this is a type of “greenwashing,” where the intention is only to hide faults, will easily be recognized as false from within and around.
  2. True intention? With time people will tell. There is a lot of public apprehension when money enters the social good sphere, but be consistent in all actions and persistent and with time your intention will be clear. Even if you have to take breaks at points to rethink your approach, that is more than fine, it does not mean people will not understand in the long run your intent.
  3. One way to embody this intention is for the direction or company leaders to go out and move forward their social-good goals. This could be as simple as the leaders taking part of a Pro Bono or nonprofit initiative themselves. Lots of social good organisations or nonprofits may need your experience! As mentioned above on the personal level, this is an opportunity not only to share knowledge but grow and better inform the leadership of the company. It is valuable time spent.
  4. Set your intention… have a mission statement that is clear and guides all actions and products on all levels. This mission must be co-created, owned and referred to constantly by everyone involved and surrounding you. Perhaps this means reconnecting with an old mission statement or emerging a new one. This mission statement can be the driving force to go from ‘doing’ to ‘being’. Find or refind your mission’s pulse regularly by seeking the opinions of your employees, clients and society at large. They are the true meter and not your own opinions. Do not just stop at your clients but take in consideration the opinion of those in the locations where you produce and the localsphere of your clients.
  5. As often… When we build a product we think: will it work and can we scale? But we are missing an essential 3rd question: and how does it effect our society? There is no private-only sphere of influence… Everything has a societal effect. – Charlest Benoît Heidsieck of Le Rameau
  6. Forget the “perfect” model, we must all find our own “pertinent” model. Our strength is in our diversity. – Charlest Benoît Heidsieck of Le Rameau on finding the perfect social-good model. This principle can be applied to so many other situations! Best is to be inspired by others but in the end build a model to fit our, our clients’ and our localsphere’s needs and unique motivations.
  7. So that means… As organisations we must break down silos between government, public and charitable organisations. What was once a small microsystem is rapidly expanding and now an ecosystem. We can harness this power by collaborating and doing business between all types of social good organisms. Also, as consumers we must vote with our money.
  8. It bears repeating: Companies must engage or die. Impact + profit, not just profit. Consumers want sincerity and social awareness. And our children will (and already do) want even more.
Green Revolution – Photo by Michael Gaida of Pixabay

One last big question…

  1. “No, the question is not how can tech save us… But how can the Probono and sharing our skills for a societal impact save tech?” – Charlie Tronche of HelloAsso

Pandora’s Box

In the end the gift I got out of this conference and my recent adventures into this new world, is hope. Easy to be fatalist until you go out and see the doers. And we are amassing an army.

So go out there and do. And don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss in the meanwhile. If you live in Paris, our next meetup for social good curious and doers is November 20th. Join us! Allez-y!

The New Worker

NOTE: I wrote this for a writing competition hosted by USI. It was originally posted June 2017 on this blog. I have left the content the same except removing one dead link.

I wanted to reshare this as more and more I see this article coming true. Are you a New Worker? Please share in the comments your experience with this “new breed.”


It is clear that a new type of developer has emerged, as described in Github’s Paul Saint John’s 2016 USI talk, but what truly inspired me is his hint that this new breed is also sprouting up in other domains. And that this rebirth was made possible thanks to the very platforms and applications created by the New Developer.

What is this New Developer… err…. Worker?

My view of the anatomy of the New Worker.

The New Worker thrives in a self-feeding cycle starting with a drive to innovate and differentiate, but no longer is this conception done in a vacuum. As Paul Saint John describes for the New Developer:

Learn > Code > Work Together (wash, rinse, and repeat)

Replace “code” with “create content” and you have the New Worker. Continuous learning and social collaboration is key to their success, often harnessing the power of the internet community. 

But where to find these creatures?

Here are just a few of the many examples of these New Workers outside of the development domain:

Science and Engineering

  1. Collective Intelligence initiatives are emerging in the sciences, such as Climate Colab which hosts contests in everything from land use to energy supply with the goal to “open up the elite conference rooms and meeting halls where climate strategies are developed today and allow anyone with a good idea to contribute.”
  2. An online forum of industry experts created to share trade secrets in order to innovate in renewable energy has enabled the founder Doug Coulter to advance towards creating a nuclear fusion reactor.

Medical Field

  1. While opening up clinical data so that the global community can work on it is still very taboo, there have been some initiatives which have already improved patient treatment. Such as a contest from the New England Journal of Medicine concerning blood pressure that was won by a team at Clalit Research Institute in Tel Aviv, Israel.
  2. Communities of medical professionals are forming for those who want to share their expertise, find fellow trailblazers and create partnerships to navigate a world bogged down by bureaucracy. One of these communities is Health Innovators, which has gained 1,600 members since its founding three years ago.

Arts, Animation and Video gaming

  1. Twitch, a platform for gamers to showoff their skills live (45 million visitors per month as of 2013), has now branched off into live streams for artists. Not only did this platform further legitimize the ‘professional’ gamer and gaming coaches and boost indie video game designers, but now it is allowing for artists to real time create, transparently demonstrate their skills, and garner new clients. 
  2. Two student animators got the attention and job offers from Disney and Pixar despite no professional experience due to their animated short The Present shared at festivals and on Vimeo.
  3. DOTA which started as an open free mod created by a fan for WarCraft III now has over 10 million players as of 2015. This first mod was improved by several community members before becoming a sponsored game.

As for a personal example, as an Agile and organizational coach, I am starting to see more and more Agilists open up their tools for free use and feedback, such as Ajiro and Funretrospectives.com. John Saint Paul’s USI talk inspired me to continue to push forward and give my knowledge openly, even enable others to do “my job,” (much like the new developer who creates applications for others to create applications) as I am certain it will only open new opportunities and promote innovations in my field.

One final correction

Photoshopped ;p Strike out code and enlarge it to content

So, I would suggest one minor change to John Saint Paul’s last slide, to expand it to fit the New Worker: 

Those who enable the creation of content, whether by contributing or creating the space to do so, have the power. Numbered are the days of silos and CVs because the worker of the future needs to be part of a community to ensure their success.

Much like the communities initially pioneered or literally constructed by the New Developer. 

[Try this!] Introduce yourself with what you are currently learning and build your Learning Ecosystem

Image by Gunter Ladzik from Pixabay

I have been testing a new way of introducing myself, especially when at professional conferences and meetups. Though, I feel strongly you can use this throughout your life.

How many times have you talked for a long a while with a new person only to at the end realize there is a connection or opportunity to learn or collaborate? You then scramble to exchange emails and hope to connect and talk more later. You spent most of the conversation dancing around subjects or worse talking about the weather, when what most people want and need is connection and true exchange.

Let’s be frank, there is too often than not a lot of blah blah Rainy Outside blah that no one enjoys.

So I propose:

Instead of introducing ourselves by just our expertise, we should say what we are currently learning.

It is a bit of a way to create a skills matrix adhoc. It also engenders the mindset that we all (Yes, even consultants!) have something to learn.

Example (and a currently true one):

Hello, my name is Sheila. I am a business coach specializing in lean, agile and product vision. Currently I am delving into Lean Startup, working on my writing and practicing my Spanish. How about you?

Better yet ask them, “What are you passionate about?”

And perhaps, the person will respond, “Actually I am fluent in Spanish! Want to meet up practice? I could pick your brain on agile. I am passionate about…” Or, “I am also learning about Lean Startup! What books are you reading? I found this great one…”

Thoughts? Please, let me know your feedback if you try it.

Seven Tips For Keeping Creative While on Deadline

Creativity is for hippies… and well everyone else as well.

In my previous post (“Ode to the Art of Product Development.”), I waxed on the artsiness of product and UX development.  Still these professions are not always treated so.  Often there is a trap that even I fall into, where we expect that anyone can plan/layout a site as long as they understand user experience concepts or the product goals. And that when the site moves to the graphic designers, that’s when the real artsy magic happens.

 

But it takes some serious problem solving, inspiration and creativity to lay out a site in a logical, readable, attractive manner that supports the product goals and suits the target market’s needs.  This especially can get difficult with more “tool” like websites that must be easy to use for a variety of different workflows.  Or for those in product development, discovering that perfect product or “tool” for your market.

Glad I never worked in a place like this...

 

Knock Knock. Mr. Deadline who?

 

But we don’t have time!  Deadlines press on us and the world turns!  And often we try to set a time limit on the product and UX design process.

Sometimes an hour is not enough...

Marty Cagan speaks about this in his book Inpired: How to Create Products Users Love (a must read for web professionals even if you are not a product manager recommended to me by the awesome Mr. Tim Rosenblatt).  I feel that this conundrum of needing to meet deadlines but allowing time for creativity  effects all areas of the web development process including UX design, marketing and software development.

 

Following are some tips that help me when on deadline and needing to work quickly and creatively… Applicable to all though I may tend to write from a product/ux/consultant point of view.

1.  Research Should Not Be Sacrificed

No matter how snap the decisions have to be made: do not let it snap your necks.  As in, take the time to do SOME research, even if you have to timebox it to a short period of time.  This research can be as simple as searching the internet for inspiration.  All your decisions need to be informed, and being more informed will in the end give you more ideas, helping with your creativity. Best yet, giving you informed ideas! 

2.  Keep Open

 

While working under pressure do not let that limit you (easy to say, huh?).  Maybe you won’t have time to wireframe out all your pearls.  But atleast start by listing or sketching out all your ideas before pursuing one.  As with research, to ensure you stay on deadline be sure to timebox your brainstorm session.

What is key is to not judge these ideas right away.  The biggest poison to creativity is closing yourself off by judging prematurely.  SURE the idea may be stupid at first, but if you have a little time to follow the thought process out you may arrive at a golden solution. And if you train your brain to judge your ideas immediately, you shut yourself off from fully utilizing its creativity.  Meaning, less ideas come out when you blockoff pathways.  Also, when you move on to picking the key ideas you will pursue, you still have a list of ideas to fall back on.

3.  Keep Focused Via the POWER OF LISTS

 

 I. Love. Lists. As anyone that knows me… well, knows.  YES keep open but at a certain point you need to hone in (or clear the clutter of your frantic mind).  The best way to keep your priorities straight is to have lists. Make a list at least of your top product goals (or other goals if you are not a product manager).  Also a clear list of feedback is good, when reviewing your solution for a 1st,  2nd or 3rd time.  Try to keep these lists short though… even with feedback, try to boil it down to key points.

Now you have these lists, use them.  When you get lost, refer back to them and center yourself.  Another reason why for product manager’s personas (<– click there to read all about the magic of personas) are key!

 

4.  Digitally Brainstorm, Save Trees, Save Time

 

For the first three tips you could do this on paper.  And for sketching that is often the fastest unless you have a tablet and software skills.  But for the rest, try to do this using google docs, a word processor program or a awesome list software like WorkFlowy.

Why? Because when the time comes to present your ideas, spec your ideas, etc, you already have them typed up.  Clean them up and VOILA.  Saves you time from parsing your scribbles on paper and transcribing them for that power point. Yay, for copy and paste!  In addition, those brainstormed ideas are digitally saved for later.

5.  Feedback early and often

No one likes to waste their time (or your client’s, colleagues, etc).  You will find when you are working close with your client (maybe even in the same room) you will move faster.  Or if this is not a client situation, your teammates, test user, etc. Like in a game of Marco Polo, you need to get feedback often or you may hit into the wall of the pool opposite from your target.

For those who have not played Marco Polo. Basically you close your eyes and flail around in a pool trying to tag your friends. When you call "Marco", they must respond "Polo", helping you find them.

Do not do get feedback via email – if possible.  Even if you have to arrange an impromptu, walk over to your client/boss/colleague’s desk for advice or video skype meeting, be sure not to waste your time writing up some big email just to get quick feedback.  Also that way you can see their reaction first hand and quell any worries on their behalf.

6.  Feedback as Inspiration

 

To continue the last tip’s line of thought, you need to strike a balance between showing people your product too early and shutting them off from you following that train of thought and getting the feedback you need.  This is especially true for consulting… and I could write a whole novel on this. So while I encourage early feedback, do take some time to fully explain your idea and make it clear this is just the beginning of the baby’s life.  Depending on the client, you will have to find the sweet spot, where early is not too soon.

What is important is, do not let feedback/judgement stymy your creativity.  Take it as a challenge/new aspect to design around and not necessarily a reason to move on immediately.  Feedback is not a final deathtoll and is is just a reason to reflect and adapt your idea.  At points you do need to give up the ghost on an idea, but the first negative feedback should not be the death rattle.  And starting over should be avoided especially when on deadline, unless with more feedback you realize its a deadend.  Even then parts and main concepts learned for your idea should be salvaged (thank you Mr. lists).

7.  Take a break

 

When especially frustrated… take a walk!  Bounce a ball against the wall!  Or if you cannot rip yourself from the computer, just peruse the internet for inspiration.  Something as simple as searching for your key goal words in google images, to see what comes up.  Work smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

GO TO YOUR HOME!

 

So in summary, the above tips are for creativity when in a pinch.  There are of course more tips necessary just to ensure you MEET your deadline. Such as avoiding the dreaded feature creep beast.  But that is a post for another time..

 

Let’s end with a laugh shall we?  This is what I think about every time I cannot figure out where to place an item while wireframing:

You too good for your home? – S