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Automating, Syncing, and Integrating IT Services

This past week has been chock full of information technology (IT) upgrades for the non-profit board (alumni association of my graduate program) of which I am a leader.  For a bit of background, our current website platform has some technical limitations that cause extra time and effort to coordinate between committees in order to process membership requests, dues payments, and renewal reminders.  It almost makes me wonder whether a paper-and-mail process would be quicker–though I thought my stamp-licking days were over after undergrad!

Short of having the time, luck, and technical skills to transplant all the data and member profiles to a new system overnight, we are making 2014 the year to overhaul our online presence.  Yet, my patience is tested a bit too much having to wait months to fix some of the technical roadblocks and bottlenecks our current site so delightfully offers us.  In the meantime, I’ve made it my week’s purpose to upgrade and overhaul some other information-sharing and collaboration processes in order to keep us on track, informed, and able to make intelligent decisions.  Going beyond the content of one of our previous articles, here is a snapshot of a few ways we are taking advantage of IT to help us work together in a mostly virtual environment:


Now that we are rethinking how technology can serve our administrative needs (member join and renewal processes) and connect our constituents (social media), it could become cumbersome to update multiple databases with the same information when a member joins the association.  Instead, we’ve added an automated service provided by Zapier to help streamline moving data from our Google Drive contact list to our MailChimp email list.  Not only does this cut down double data entry, but it also reduces the risk of leaving off new members from our email list, which we use to distribute the organization’s newsletter.

How this works is, Zapier, along with other similar service providers, allow you to connect different web products together.  You can then ask Zapier to take action B when update A occurs.  For us, the action is to update the email list in MailChimp when a new record is added to our Google Drive spreadsheet.  Other actions and connections with many online tools are available, making it scalable and flexible as our needs change and grow over time.


It is hard to express my deep gratitude to Google for creating Drive (formerly Docs) with its robust collaboration and online sharing capabilities.  Gone are the days (so long as I can help promote the use of Drive within my team) of sharing a document by email with 10 people, hoping each person downloads it with a unique name, edits it with track changes, and then reading 10+ versions of the same file unable to easily decipher which changes should be incorporated in the final document.  My head used to ache when documents would fail to open because the file name was the same as an already-open version, or having to take extra time to create a relay-style editing process, waiting for one person to make changes and then passing on to the next until everyone has had a turn.

Instead, we stay in sync with only one version of a Google Doc, which multiple people can edit online–even simultaneously.  With versioning controls and track changes built in, and a seamless way to view a final-draft version of the document, I praise this service highly!  We also have begun to use Google’s other online product, Hangouts, to sync with each other using video conferencing and document sharing so we can boost our productivity in a virtual team environment.

Another syncing method we use is the wise social-media service, HootSuite.  Using this product, we can connect and post the same message to multiple social-media accounts with one clicks.  This saves time and frustration, as we no longer need to log into each account separately and copy-paste the content one-by-one.


Yes, I am about to applaud Google again.  With Gmail, I enjoy being able to include a Google Drive file into an email without actually attaching it.  Instead, a link is provided to the document, which can be set up so that the recipients can view only, make comments, or have full edit rights to the document.  Adding links within documents to other files makes it easier to integrate a fuller picture and make a more robust reader experience for my audience.

The association is looking to rebuild the way information and the user experience integrate with each other once we launch a new website on a better platform.  The goal is to include widgets–or plug-and-play tools–to allow systems to talk to each other and share information so that our users can have the documents, photos, videos, and other content at their fingertips without having to create multiple logins and accounts to access the services and content we want to provide.  Users familiar with WordPress will comment on the myriad pre-built widgets available to make almost limitless integrations with services such as–dare I say again–Google products, or MailChimp sign-up forms for newsletter campaigns, just to name a few.

As we begin to re-look at how we do business and investigate the tools out there that automate, sync-up, and integrate the specialized services that different companies provide, I look forward to building a user-friendly and comprehensive online presence for the association’s membership, as well as for its administrators.

What about You?

Leave a comment below about the IT products you use to simplify your online connection, or post a question about how to make your life easier using technology.

Special recognitions go to Dan, Ray, and Jay for tips you’ve shared with over the years!

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The Plop – Ideas that Go Nowhere

The Plop

“Maybe it’d be a good idea if we _____(insert idea to expend the organization’s resources here)_______.”

How many times have you heard that line, in some form or another, in meetings?  (I lost count years ago!)  Now, how many times did a tangible result come from it?  (almost never!)  Instead, the person who made the suggestion plopped the idea and left it to fade into the ether of the great-ideas-we-never-implemented space that clutters our mental energy.

The “plop” is a suggestion that is made, but the creative mind offering it puts the onus of making decisions onto the group without driving the conversation about who will lead the idea, who will assist in its implementation, what the timeline for completing the suggestion will be, and which resources are required.  When this happens, the (perhaps) excellent thought falls to the ground, loses its gusto, and carries zero momentum forward.  Fret not, there is a remedy!

Turning a Plop into a Plan for Action

Your coworker or peer volunteer just made another plop in your three-hour-long meeting.  Everyone has lost interest, because the pattern of ideas that go nowhere keeps repeating.  You feel overwhelmed by all these suggestions that “we could do, and it’d be great!”.  Now what?

Step one: ask the person making the plop to take ownership of her or his idea.

Pose a few questions to help shape the plop into something the team can manage.  Ask the plopper what she or he would like to do to move the idea forward: will s/he be the project manager?  Will s/he play a supporting role on the project?

Find out more details about the idea so there is a clear picture of the expectations if the concept were to become reality.  Also, query which resources are necessary to make progress, and compare this need to a list of resources the team has at their disposal.

Step two: build the idea into a proposal.

The team now needs to consider the purpose of the idea–what will this suggestion solve, do, or change?  Additionally, a serious look at how strongly the idea connects to the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic objectives will provide guidance on whether the project is worthwhile for the organization.  Further, the team should consider who will do what, when, how, and with which resources.

Step three: make a decision.

From the inquiry in steps one and two, it will become clearer whether the plopper and others have time, energy, and resources to proceed, and it will uncover the degree to which there is alignment to the overall organization’s purpose.  These considerations make it easier for the team to make a decision whether to move forward with the idea: (a) move forward and enjoy a new adventure or (b) walk away from the idea with some new lessons on how to manage a plop.

Benefits of the Process

Regardless of the choice in step three, this process will build your team’s capacity to manage its decision-making, especially its ability to prioritize which projects best align with the organization’s strategy.  It also aims to reduce the number of plops in the long term, because teammates will realize that coming to a meeting unprepared is no longer the easy way out.  Instead of passing the work of building out a proposal to the team with little direction or leadership, anyone suggesting an idea will need to do some homework before dropping myriad plops onto the group.

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Build a Vision, Change Reality: Four Steps to Dream Big and Deliver

I recently led the design and delivery of a one-hour, high-impact training session on how to engineer ideas to a room full of my colleagues: consultants, technical gurus, designers, and senior managers at a global consulting and marketing agency.  Prior sessions that my coworkers had designed–each on diverse topics–included 50 minutes of lecture, a few minutes of Q&A with the audience, and then a few minutes of feedback.  Thinking to myself, different designs could have more impact, especially for a room full of intelligent adult learners, I wanted to create a session that was more interactive.

A vision began to form in my mind as I designed the course, and it was basically this: provide a lot of research-backed information about how to be a more effective strategy consultant, centered on adult-learning methods, that engages energy, while going deep into the topic.  It seemed unrealistic…almost.  As I began to recruit a team of fellow organization development peers (a rare breed in the firm!), I realized that our collective minds would be able to bring this vision into reality.

What Is a Vision?

A vision, as Daft (2011) defines it, is “a picture of an ambitious, desirable future for the organization or team.”  Let’s break that into manageable chunks:  The first part of this definition is to design or paint a picture–perhaps not so literally as creating a piece of art when it comes to organizations and teams, but rather this aspect is more about crafting an image of what the future will look like for the organization.  Next, Daft describes visions with the word ambitious.  This means that visions require a sort of stretching of the imagination.  A new future will take effort to achieve; it will not be simple to accomplish greatness!  The term “desirable future” refers to what the organization imagines will serve its stakeholders in a beneficial way.  Lastly, Daft’s definition is geared towards organization- and team leaders, who have the responsibility to craft and implement visions.  Find out how to develop a vision that fits your organization and how to move towards it.

How to Build a Vision and Deliver It in Four Steps

Based on research from Cooperrider & Whitney (1990), and the subsequent writings by Watkins & Mohr (2001), there are four stages to build a vision and make it happen.  These four steps come from the Four-D Model, which has roots in Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  Outlined below, anyone can use the Four Ds (discover, dream, design, deliver) for practically any sort of visioning and change work.  Whether an individual looking to make a personal life-altering decision; or a team seeking a better way of operating together; or British Airways, a multi-national corporation exploring a new competitive strategy, this model has proved to be impactful (Watkins & Mohr, 2011).


During this introductory stage, it is important to analyze and explore the organization’s or team’s past successes and accomplishments.  The point is to focus creative energy on the positive (Watkins & Mohr, 2011); in this case, what has already worked.  At the crux of AI is the attention to possibilities. 

Tapping into positive energy from past accomplishments aids the organization or team to catapult itself into a creative mindset.  This then transcends into behaviors that enable the organization or team to make strides towards its ambitious vision.  When designing the course for my colleagues, I first recognized prior research on AI that I had conducted during graduate school, as well as the previous experiences using an Appreciative Inquiry approach on consulting projects.  This, along with the realization that I could build a team to deliver the course, helped me to build confidence that I have knowledge and skills to deliver the ambitious vision.


In this second phase of the Four-D model, the goal is to tap into the team’s creativity.  Brainstorm, ideate, design.  Whatever term or concept of dreaming ideas of possible future states (visions!) supports your understanding of this phase will work.  No idea is too crazy, stupid, or ridiculous during this step.  Encourage teammates with diverse experiences and thinking styles to participate.  Research shows that groups with diverse thinking styles come up with better solutions than groups of experts of a singular subject matter (Page, 2007).

Perhaps your mind is getting stuck in negativity: Our budget is too small.  We don’t have enough time.  Last time we tried this, we failed.  Take a deep breath and think about what would be the ideal future state if you had millions of dollars, or 5 more months of time, or if you had succeeded last time.  Break free of the negative thinking; be creative.  During the course planning, once I had formed a team of co-facilitators, we came up with 4 or 5 designs on how to deliver the course material, not to mention the 20 or 30 iterations of decisions on what that material would be!  Every idea was put on the table for consideration, which is part of the next step.


Your creative ideas are beginning to flow by now, and you have at least 5 different ideas, right?  Now what?  In the Design stage, it is important to begin to make decisions on what your future state should look like.  In the Dream phase, you came up with multiple options, ignoring roadblocks, tapping into potential visions of a better future.  

Perhaps you have begun to prioritize these ideas into which is most important, or which option best suits the needs of your stakeholders.  During the Design phase, you can begin to design an action plan, or map the elements of the decided vision.  

Back to the course planning, our committee met one or two times each week to iterate our ideas.  We began to capture designs of the slides that would support our lecture points, as well as refine the interactive components.  We analyzed each section of the plan, comparing our objectives and desired vision to ensure we kept ourselves on track.  By the last planning session, we had created a clear plan for the speaking points, activities, and handouts.  We were ready to practice and then deliver.  

Each decision you make in this phase to clarify what the organization or team will do to reach its vision will enable successful implementation in the final phase.  

This is where the hard work creating a vision pays off.  As you begin to roll out the vision and take steps towards reaching it, your team or organization can benefit from a constant reminder of past accomplishments, current skills and abilities, and the desired future state (vision).  Perhaps a roadblock pops up during the implementation.  Reframing your perspective of “roadblock” to “opportunity to innovate” will allow the organization to maintain a positive outlook and continue to practice using the Four-D model to modify the vision or its delivery.

In the case of the course planning, we delivered the vision on the day of the session.  Using the framework of our session plan, our team had confidence that our design would have a positive impact on the participants.  At one point, participants were very energetic on a particular part of the session, and so we modified our design live with a mini committee meeting as participants did some small-group work.  Our iteration on the design in the moment allowed us to maintain a balanced flow while also covering all the materials.  Therefore, it is important to remain flexible as those opportunities for innovation are certain to arise.

Take Action

Now that you have learned the basics of Appreciative Inquiry’s Four-D Model, try it out.  This article focused on organization and team, however the model is applicable to individual and community levels as well.  Practice the model on your own with a personal vision.  Take yourself through some personal discover, dreaming of the future, designing your own action plan, and then making a personal life change.  Remember to be ambitions and look for possibilities!

By the way, the course described in this article went well.  We met our own objectives and received positive feedback from participants even a week after the session.  It was rewarding to try something new, work hard to deliver an ambitious vision, and learn what worked well as well as what we could innovate for the next time.


Appreciative Inquiry Commons (n.d.).  Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University.  Retrieved from:

Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D (2001) A positive revolution in change. In Cooperrider, D. L. Sorenson, P., Whitney, D. & Yeager, T. (eds.) Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development (9-29). Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Daft, R. (2011). The Leadership Experience (5th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Page, S. (2007). The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princetone University Press.

Watkins, J., & Mohr, B. (2001). Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

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Is a Positive Attitude the Cure for Global Problems?

Today’s Oppressive Negativity

Watching the news, reading the newspaper, or tracking social-media trends, it becomes evident that there is an air of negativity in today’s world.  Specific examples of this supposition include the economic crises in nearly all markets, riots and wars in the Middle East, political smear campaigns, religious contentions inside of and between many faiths.  This negativity feels burdensome and oppresses progress and growth.  Is there a cure for this malaise and depressing state of affairs?

Contagious Emotions

Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (2000) posit that emotions are contagious due to limbic resonance.  The basis of this theory is that individuals and groups (as well as societies and cultures) transmit emotions through subtle cues and expressions.  This in turn impacts our behavior as individuals and as a collective.  In a case study, McKee and Johnston (2006) describe how top leadership of a global sporting goods organization faced poor performance, organizational restructuring, and market downturns.  The leadership team’s attitude was full of negativity and a general lack of confidence.  A loss of hope and organizational depression emerged as the negativity fed on itself and spread to other leaders.

Once the organization’s leaders addressed the negativity and began to focus on positive energy, they began to turn the situation around by deepening their commitment to pull through the tough times.  Bushe and Coetzer (1995) attribute this result with the theory that “the more positive [the energy] used to guide the group process or organization change effort, the more long-lasting and effective the change effort (in Watkins & Mohr, 2001, p. 39).  It is important to note that those who approach challenges with a positive attitude have a faster recovery rate after handling the stressful situation (Watkins & Mohr, 2001).

Action for Healing

While hope and a positive attitude alone likely will not bring monumental changes or a cure for global problems immediately, they are the cornerstone of making this shift.  Our attitudes of framing the situation (how we perceive the situation, collect and analyze data, and make judgments about our next steps) “start a snowball of inquiries, dialogues, and …images of the future” (Watkins & Mohr, 2001, p. 33).  Since human beings are social creatures, and our emotions–as noted above–are contagious, one could suppose that injecting positive attitudes into a chaotic world of negativity would unleash creativity to approaching, and ultimately solving, the toughest global problems.

Instead of viewing, for example, the credit crisis as a slippery slope into international financial collapse, a positive reframing of the issue could unveil plausible solutions.  Rather than view this as a credit crisis without end in sight, I propose a new question: How have societies/governments/cultures resolved financial challenges in a way that benefited the greater good?  What did they do that was so successful and from which we can learn and apply to today?  What ideas have people proposed that could solve the issue, which we should consider?

The key to making lasting change, therefore, is to begin by shifting our understanding/perception of the situation into a positive (albeit realistic) one.  Then, by analyzing the situation from this new perspective, we can unleash creative solutions and take action towards a positive future.  Standing our ground to maintain the positive perspective will begin to make small shifts in others, which in turn will cause an increasingly larger positive, contagious effect throughout global society over the long run.


Bushe, G. & Coetzer, G. (1995).  Appreciative inquiry as a team development intervention: A controlled experiment.  Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31:1, 19-31.  Washington, DC: NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science.

Lewis, T., Amini, F. & Lannon, R. (2000).  A general theory of love.  New York: Random House.

McKee, A. & Johnston, F. (2006).  The impact and opportunity of emotion in organizations.  In B. Jones & M. Brazzel (Eds.) The NTL Handbook of Organization Development and Change: Principles, Practices, and Perspectives.  San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Watkins, J. & Mohr, B. (2001).  Appreciative inquiry: Change at the speed of imagination.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

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Courage to Raise Conflict Outweighs Remaining Silent out of Fear

Video Overview

When was the last time you disagreed with something or someone?  Did you talk about your concern directly with them?  Likely, the fear of raising the conflict won and the issue remained hidden.  Margaret Heffernan (2012) discusses why having the courage to disagree and openly discuss conflict far outweighs the risks of remaining silent in this TED Talk.  Watch the video here:

One of Heffernan’s (2012) recommendations is to seek someone whose personality, point of view, or thinking style is drastically different.  By so doing, this partner can offer a different perspective or challenge your assumptions, allowing you to refine the project, research paper, argument, design, or other work.  This takes energy and patience, because dealing with conflict goes against the natural human tendency.  But, Heffernan argues that the end result is worth the investment, because diverse perspectives build a better outcome than like-mindedness.

One example Heffernan (2012) offers comes from Alice, who researched why a certain segment of children had higher rates of cancer.  She found that the reason was because the mother had an X-ray during pregnancy, and so Alice published her findings.  Yet, X-ray exams remained common for women during certain stages of pregnancy, and the cancer rate for children remained steady.  While Alice’s findings were available, it took considerable time and her challenging the thinking of the day to convince the medical community to change its practices in order to save lives.  She took courage to disagree with the status quo in order to have a positive impact.

Take Action

After watching the video, what problems will you solve or risks will you mitigate by voicing your opinions, worries, or ideas?


Heffernan, M. (2012).  Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree.  TED.  Retrieved August 24, 2012, from

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Gaining Momentum: Amplifying Creativity for Innovative Business Solutions

Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to work with a non-government organization (NGO) abroad, whose board asked for help meeting their strategic goals in the next 18 months.  Their membership voted six months prior on a handful of milestones that needed to be accomplished, and the board members were nervous.  There was an air of uncertainty and doubt about how they would reach the fast-approaching deadlines.  I needed a way to help them move into a better state of mind so that they could get their work done.

During the discovery stage of the consulting project, I revisited academic research on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which is founded in the fields of positive psychology and positivism.  To summarize the findings, researchers have determined that using positive thoughts and focusing on the upside of a challenge leads to greater chances of actually accomplishing the task at hand, compared to dwelling on negative aspects of the issue.  Appreciative Inquiry goes further in providing consultants, facilitators, and business leaders with a framework of using positivism to help clients drive through a challenge.

Focus is kept on what is possible (what could be), rather than on the negative (what is “wrong”).  Using AI, the facilitator amplifies for the team that no idea is too far-fetched, too expensive, or too laborious to be considered.  With this approach, the conversation shifts from dwelling on what is wrong, to discovering and innovating possible solutions.  This shift in conversation also changes the energy in the room for those involved.  Facilitating this dialogue requires attention to the messages, ensuring that the focus is on ideas, possibilities, and creativity.  When someone says, “we can’t do that; we just don’t have the time,” the facilitator can ask, “what is it that we can do?” or “if we had the time, what could we accomplish?”

What about the NGO mentioned earlier?  The energy at the start seemed to be negative: worry, anxiety, nervousness.  I needed a way to help them create solutions to their challenge.  Appreciative Inquiry provided a way to reframe the conversation from “how will we ever get this done?” to “here are some solutions…”  The first step was for the board to shift into a positive state of mind (they recalled their accomplishments so far), and then they moved into a state of innovation, creativity, and solution-mongering.  In the end, they had a robust action plan that solved each challenge and would complete the milestones on time.

Interested in more about AI?  Check out the book Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, by David Cooperrider & Diana Whitney.