Mission First, Tech Later
Focus on results and impact first and foremost. Then seek ways to scale it.
Surfrider’s mission is “… protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches via our activist network…” ANYthing that can help us accelerate our path to achieve that is good. ANYthing that can help us amplify our coastal mission, engage more people in a movement of coastal care or yield coastal victories is good.
I pause because we tend to overlook the simple need to first focus on the mission and then look at potential tactics which can deliver results to achieve the mission. Most of us jump to tactics too soon.
Notice I haven’t mentioned any toolsets or pointed to an application du jour. The reason is applications change and they change frequently. The only reason we seek to employ a given tool or application is to achieve results to our stated mission. If by using different applications and/or tools we can amplify or accelerate those objectives and, in the end, yield positive results on behalf of our coasts, then of course we should do so. If certain apps and toolsets don’t deliver we should stop using them.
I’ve been hip-deep in tech long enough to understand that people, all of us, are very reluctant to change. We don’t like changing the way we communicate, the way we purchase… the way we do anything.
People over 90 may remember the birth of television and how it radically changed the way they consumed entertainment and news. People under 30 feel like their world is rocked when an interface they’ve grown accustomed to, such as Facebook, changes. We all feel these changes because our lives are so intertwined with various forms of technology.
But let’s stop putting the spotlight on the actual applications and presentation layers. What’s important is not the application or tool in itself, but what they enable, what they amplify or what it helps us do better and faster. Focus on results and impact.
If a toolset or application isn’t working, find a better one. Who cares if it was built yesterday or a decade ago? Who cares if it uses a plug, requires HTML or requires a face-to-face meeting? Those are tactical details. We don’t ask details about the car we drive to a face-to-face meeting. We focus on the meeting istelf and maximizing the results of that meeting; the car is simply a delivery vehicle. We should do the same thing with all tools and applications.
I felt compelled to write this post because we’re putting too much emphasis on the application du jour (this month’s hot app being Quora) and not enough emphasis on return on investment. Talk show hosts are gabbing about how Facebook and Twitter didn’t start the power change in Egypt. Did anyone say those apps caused or even enabled a revolution? There are numerous applications being employed and together those are amplifying and perhaps accelerating a shift in power–including the cellphone, Al Jezeera, Facebook, scheduled protest gatherings and Twitter. There is rarely one app or tool… there is always a mix.
I’m not suggesting new tools or apps don’t offer value as I usually think the exact opposite. I also try to seek to measure the impact of those tools, and our new Strategic Plan is almost completely oriented around these principles.
The tools and apps being used in Eqypt DO appear to be delivering a better return on investment in Egypt than if they weren’t used. If (or when) there are a better ways to attract thousands of people to a destination than Twitter, people’s devotion to the cause at hand will FORCE them to use that new app.
Chatter solely focused on over-playing the value of a single tool or app is short-sighted. What matters is the functionality it enables and the incremental value it offers to an organization’s mission. Applications (and the companies that build them) change out frequently but what doesn’t change is an organization’s need to employ the best, most powerful toolsets and networks available to direct toward achieving their mission.
The “Facebook didn’t start the Egypt revolution” chatter makes me think of the Nixon / Kennedy debates, the first televised Presidential debates. They took place before I was born but they offer a simple lesson in understanding the impact that a disruptive technology can have. Kennedy clearly understood television was a tool which, if utilized to the fullest extent, could offer a competitive advantage. I’m not sure he cared too much about what brand the application operated under (NBC, ABC or CBS). He leveraged a new toolset because he was focused on the results of winning the election. One could point to Obama’s use of social network tools (and their related, on-ground community fund raising components they spawned and nurtured) and derive a similar conclusion. Look back at these events and take those tools out of the equation… could Kennedy have beat Nixon without TV? Could Obama have won the election without the amplification social networks offered?
They both leveraged new toolsets because of the impact those new options provided to accomplishing their mission–winning the presidential election.
The chatter makes me think back to 1994 when Jeff Bezos formed Amazon.com. The internet was simply a vehicle on which to build a new business model. Most people at that time said “there’s no way I’ll ever put my credit card on a website, that would be stupid.” Like the politicians mentioned above, Jeff Bezos leveraged new toolsets with a strong focus on his mission to build a formidable, leading retail company.
Now let me segue this post and make it personal.
We, all of us, answer to the missions of the organizations we devote our life’s work to.
If those missions are worth our time, whether that equates to building a business or pushing a cause forward, they are worth us seeking an ever-increased return on our time investment.
People are always talking about new applications. The current favorites are Facebook, Wikileaks, Twitter, Groupon and Quora. A few years ago it was MySpace, before that it was Aimster and Naptster, etc. We should have a crisp understanding of what our goal is… what success looks like… and then engage and understand new options’ abilities to amplify and accelerate that success.