8 Ways to Say “No”

I just finished Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Great stuff in there.

One of my favorite 90-second segments is a perfect example of that genius balance of principle and practice that actually makes a difference in a reader’s daily life. I now have a ready arsenal of 8 graceful ways to ‘choose no’–a practice absolutely vital to maintaining focus and keeping commitments as an entrepreneur. Interestingly, most of these don’t actually involve using the word “no.” Here they are:

1. The Awkward Pause: own the silence after an in-person request. Simply counting to 3 before responding both gives you the time to get past the impulse to give an unconsidered ‘yes’ and the person asking you the sense that you’ve actually considered their request.

2. The No-but: clearly decline, but suggest an alternative to the request.

3. ‘Let me check my calendar and get back to you’: take back control by deferring on-the-fly requests.

4. The Email Bounce-back: It’s not just for vacations and holidays. People will adapt to the level of availability and responsiveness you project.

5. The ‘What should I de-prioritize?’: force the requester to grapple with the inherent trade-offs involved with saying yes.

6. The Humorous No: Keep it simple. A flat ‘nope.’ followed by a smile is unexpectedly disarming. Note that sarcasm can easily backfire in this context.

7. The “You are welcome to X, I am willing to Y”: couch what you will not do in a clear statement of what you are willing to do. This response beautifully maintains both parties’ ability (and responsibility) to choose.

8. The Handoff: Often, people don’t really care if you’re the one who helps them, as long as they get the help. Simply suggest someone else with the capacity and inclination to help.

Mayday! Mayday!

OK, so the title of this post may be a bit melodramatic, but the experience has been intense (and insightful) so I figured I’d share.

TippingBucket is in what’s known in aviation as a departure stall.

A departure stall happens when a small, but usually heavily-laden, plane takes off down the runway–even lifts off–but simply can’t get the airspeed to climb. Now, this would be no problem if it weren’t for the 100-year-old oaks…or skyscrapers…or mountains that lie between the plane and it’s destination. But a plane attempting anything more than a 5k hop across a flat, uninhabited desert simply has to climb.

But here’s the key: the problem of a departure stall can’t be solved with a longer runway. Since about June, when the financial engine started sputtering, my primary focus has been extending the runway; scrambling every month to get the bare necessities covered for that month and losing sleep at night over where the funds would come from for those bare necessities next month. Miraculously, that runway has extended under us a month, sometimes a day, at a time for the past 6 months.

But the plane still isn’t climbing. And the only way out of a departure stall is more airspeed. Back off the angle of attack. Lighten the plane. Take another shot at takeoff.

So, we’ve touched down for a bit, tightened processes, focused in on our core mission, and are gearing up for another shot at getting TippingBucket not only off the ground, but 35,000 ft high doing acrobatics at the forefront of the crowdfunding movement where it belongs.

Work the Edge

On my last trip to Portland, a group of fellow social entrepreneurs and mentors enjoyed lunch. Predictably, some of us had victories to celebrate while others it seemed were nearing the end of their metaphorical rope. A string of evaporating deals, missed deadlines, and ‘complicated’ international relations had left one colleague emotionally dangling from a knot at the end of said rope.

As the rest of us commiserated, one of our mentors leaned forward and simply said; “you just keep working the edge.”

Lunch ended, but the phrase kept coming back to me. It’s been months now, and I don’t think the full meaning has crystallized yet, but this much I know:

Whether we’re tucking into a massive slab of steak, turning a misshapen hunk of granite into our generation’s David, or trying to vanquish diarrheal disease in the Central African Republic, the best approach (sometimes the only one with any hope of success) is to consistently work the edge.

Attack whatever bit of the problem is most accessible. Nip away at it where it’s thinnest for now and some day (probably sooner than you think) the impenetrable, dark, tangled heart of the thing will (miraculously, but also reliably) have become “edge.”

Reflections on the first 525,600

..minutes, that is, since Tipping Bucket was officially organized, April 8 2009.

There’s a scene in the 1991 film “Hook” (I know, you haven’t thought about that movie in 10 years…me neither) when the thoroughly grown-up, and very hungry, Peter Pan sits down to a ‘feast’ at what looks for all the world like a completely empty table. As the rag-tag band of lost boys around him begin stuffing their faces with the apparently sumptuous but invisible bounty, Peter is first bewildered, then annoyed, then furious until a very large, very buttery, very…real stray gob of mashed potato mortar lands right in his face and the lost boys’ feast is suddenly visible in all its glory–to him, and to all of us.
I feel like that gob of mashed potatoes finally landed a few weeks ago: Standing in the doorway of a friend’s apartment and hearing someone behind him shout, “Dude! It tipped–the bucket’s overflowing!” I could almost feel the warm goo dripping off my nose. After months of planning and prepping, debating, decoding, brainstorming, building, breaking, blundering and budding with an incredible group of individuals who either loved the idea or loved me (occasionally both) the ‘feast’ we’d been talking incessantly and gesturing wildly about was actually materializing.
Other people could see it.
Other people could use it.
And it was working!
We’ve tipped four buckets, octupled(?) our membership, and raised $7000 since then, and the food fight is just getting started. The scene in “Hook” ends when the littlest lost boy, dripping with pudding, potato and pot roast and grinning from ear to ear turns to Peter and murmurs, “that was a great game.
I’m confident it will be.

Change the world for $1? There’s an app for that!

Pleased to announce the release of the Tipping Bucket iPhone app–a fun simple way to keep up with the latest Tipping Bucket projects and ‘be the change with your spare change.’

Special thanks to Jacob Richardson, Brad Morgan and Derrick Bowen–stellar programmers who could have easily put together some meaningless sticky game that would capture the fleeting attention of hoards of Japanese teenagers and win them $10,000 in the BYU app competition, but they chose instead to build an app that would help bring renewable energy to a school in the DRC, healing creativity to victims of domestic abuse in Utah valley, restorative vision surgery to Thai peasants and so much more. Kudos guys for building an app with the potential to change the world.

5 Steps to (almost) Effortless Empowerment

Corporate America spends millions each year searching (usually at vaguely fluffy off-site retreats spattered with trust-falls, group “sharing” and warm-fuzzies) for employee “empowerment.” These concrete tips take little time, even less money…and actually work.

1. Call People By Name Research has shown that hearing our own name on a regular basis, especially from those in positions of power makes us more likely to take risks, accept responsibility, invest in a community, and generally push our personal boundaries.

2. Pay SMART Compliments We’ve all seen the difference that specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely goals can make. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same criteria to our expressions of gratitude and affirmation, and “Hey, good job.” became “Wow. Your presentation this morning was awesome–your re-write of the opening totally hooked them, and the pacing through the financials was right on. Seriously can’t wait for next week.”

3. Give Negative Feedback Researchers in the field of “expertise and expert performance” continually cite our cultural dirth of negative feedback as the main reason so few of us ever escape mediocrity. We’d fire an athletic coach or music teacher who refused to point out and correct mistakes–so why do CEOs and managers get away with it?

4. Speak Their Language Advice to learn your co-workers “love language” may sound like an invitation for a law suit, but applied appropriately, it can help build trust, diffuse conflict and increase creativity. Individuals tend to express (and therefore receive love (and affirmation, appreciation, validation, etc.) in several distinct ways. Learning which each of your employees or team members responds best to can help you communicate positive reinforcement so that it actually makes a difference. Look for these 5 main “dialects”…

  • Words of Affirmation : Chances are, you already think nice things about your co-workers an a regular basis. But since most of them aren’t mind-readers, it doesn’t do much good unless you speak up!
  • Quality Time : Ever heard the saying, “time is money.” Well, in business particularly, it’s often true. So making time for colleagues–to work through a problem, share a lunch, even listen to them vent–often communicates their value to you more clearly than anything else.
  • Acts of Service : for these individuals, simple gestures (rinsing their coffee cup, offering to take their place at a meeting, picking up the slack when their 2-year-old gets chicken pox) speak louder than words.
  • Physical Touch : again, keep this appropriate, but for some people nothing “says” good work! like a good-old-fashioned pat on the back.
  • Gifts : even small tokens of appreciation–certificates, awards, gift cards, time off–can go a long way with a person whose language is gifts.

5. Listen! Ever notice how the few people you know who are really good listeners also tend to be some of the most popular, productive, and powerful people you know too? So take a good honest look at your listening skill and set a concrete goal to improve.

Embracing Micro-Failure

How granting others permission, authority and even incentive to fail can lead to quicker, deeper, more lasting success.

“Look at all of your work as an experiment — a pilot — and plan upfront for several review points along the way that allow you to correct your course or exit altogether. First drafts are rarely your best work. It is the thousand little edits and mid-course corrections that create excellence. Smart failures are a badge of honor.”   – Larry Blumenthal

Here are a few thoughts on how leaders can enable micro-failure:

  • Permission to Fail – Let people know it’s okay to fail. And be explicit. (One team I know adopted the motto: “Have you failed today?”) Not only will it contribute to a positive team environment, but individuals with permission to fail also have permission to take risks and push boundaries, question assumptions, and ask for help when they need it.
  • Authority to Fail – Giving your colleagues, employees, or volunteers tacit or even explicit permission to fail does little good if they haven’t even got enough rope to hang themselves. It’s a lot easier to delegate tasks than to delegate authority. But real autonomy and decision-making power ensures credit as well as accountability. And it’s a lot easier to learn from a mistake we feel we own.
  • Incentive to Fail – It sounds counter-intuitive, but find ways to reward and celebrate failures (or at least the resultant lessons.) Regularly sharing micro-failures within a team, passing around your own “fail whale” trophy, and mapping past failures to current success can help make your organization a “fail-safe” environment.

After all,

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”   -Theodore Roosevelt

Negotiation 101: Grow the Pie

Lessons from Getting to Yes on how “growing the pie” helps bypass the pitfalls of distributive bargaining and make negotiations turn out better for all

Approaching a high-stakes negotiation can feel like preparing for battle. We arm ourselves with logic, pathos, data, and even threats to fight for our share.

But, more often than most of us realize, negotiations don’t have to be adversarial “us vs. them” encounters. Though the impulse to approach the table clinging ferociously to your piece of the pie is strong—Fisher and Ury claim it’s often unnecessary, and even counter productive.

The first step to getting past the impulse is to let go of the notion that every gain for “them” is a loss for “us,” something researchers term the distributive mindset. Some negotiations are inherently distributive—that is, the resource being divided is finite and fundamentally un-shareable.

But Fisher and Ury suggest that efforts to “grow the pie,” help negotiations turn out better for all involved.

Here are some ways to try:

  • Capitalize on complements. Assign concrete values/weights to each issue from your own perspective and take a shot at the same from the other party’s point of view. Complementary issues (really important to the other party, less so for you) allow you to make generous concessions and encourage reciprocity.
  • Bring more to the table. Look for something of potential value to your negotiation partner that you could offer at little cost to yourself. Offering un-asked-for value can create powerful goodwill and swing things your way on the more controversial issues.
  • Present packages. To avoid the trap of battling it out issue-by-issue, take the time to craft several potentially agreeable resolutions in advance. These sets should highlight trade-offs and push the other party to decide what’s most important and let go of less critical issues.

6 Tips for Choosing a Domain Name

How to boost traffic, improve SEO, and prepare for growth from day one.

1. Connect the Dots: Some companies tack on an attractive up-sell that includes obscure extensions like .me, .info, .biz, and more. Keep in mind that most users default to .com when searching/working online (a fact that should influence the purchases of .org non-profits and social ventures). Most organizations will do fine purchasing the top three variants of their domain.

2. Say That 5 Times Fast: Face it, typos are a way of life. And American spelling and grammar proficiency isn’t getting any better. Try typing (or having a few friends type) your domain name several times quickly. Make note of the most common miss-spellings or typing mistakes and purchase several of those domain variants to redirect to your site. [We purchased tipingbucket.org, for example]

3. Read Twice, Register Once: In a similar vein, be sure to say your chosen domain name out loud a few times before pulling the trigger. Better yet, have a few people unfamiliar with your venture read it back to you. [click here to laugh at some people who apparently skipped this step.]

4. Scale with Sub-domains: Remember that you can build out a site structure within any given domain. [blog.tippingbucket.org means that you don’t have to buy dropsinthebucket.org or tippingbucketblog.org, for example]

5. Reach for Re-directs: If another organization already owns an extension variant of your domain (for instance, tippingbucket.com – rain gauges, not world-changing) reach out to the owners and suggest a mutual re-direct; “If you need the kind that measures rainfall, click here.”

6. Cash in on Coupons: This one’s easy—a simple search will almost always turn up discount codes for whatever domain registry you choose to work with. You’re a startup–take advantage.

Failing Forward

A friend shared a video with me (well, with the world) a few days ago, that makes some interesting connections to development. You can see it here.

The video is about failure. About its role in innovation and competition. About its consequences (both painful and productive) and about how it can transform our view of the past and shape our futures.

Easterly talks a lot about failure in White Man’s Burden. And I have to agree that most of the efforts of international aid have done little good, and in some cases, a great deal of harm. But if something as relatively simple as designing a race car entails such dramatic, such profound, such persistant failure, how can we expect something as complex, convoluted and nuanced as “development” to come without it?!

Perhaps the problem is not so much that we fail, that our efforts fall short of our goals (and the needs of the people we work with). Perhaps the problem is with how we fail. The parts of Easterly’s argument I find most compelling are the bits about evaluation, about context and localization, about empowerment and accountability.

  • Would we fail differently if we focused our problem-solving on local outbreaks instead of global pandemics?
  • Would we fail differently if recipients instead of donors set the criteria for success?
  • Would we fail differently if we explored outcomes instead of simply tracking outputs?

It seems to me that failure is inherent to dealing with any problem worth solving. That no effort, no matter how carefully planned, how painstakingly executed, will come off without hitches, without un-intended consequences. That we will probably (realistically…objectively) fail more than we succeed.

But, it also seems to me that failure is not a reason to stop striving. I’m not willing to throw up my hands and turn my back because I didn’t stop the spread of AIDS in Africa (or the gang activity in the middle school down the street) with my first attempt…or my fiftieth. But I would be equally foolish not to learn from those failures. If I am continually failing differently, those failures will become stepping stones, and eventually I will succeed.