Transparency – It’s Bigger than Boardrooms Bits

Reinventing the board meeting may offer angel-funded startups that don’t have formal boards or directors (because of geography or size of investment) to attract experienced advice and investment outside of technology clusters (i.e. Silicon Valley, New York).

— Steve Blank, Why Board Meetings Suck – Part 1 of 2


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Retrospective

In the spirit of Agile, here’s my retrospective on Transparency.

When the Boardroom is Bits

Steve Blank made a great case for changing the traditional, scheduled, physical approach to startup boardroom meetings by facilitating on-demand communication and transparency with the founders blogging about their activities. That way board members, advisors, investors, basically anyone with the right credentials can get up-to-speed at their own convenience.

But if;

A startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a sustainable*, repeatable and scalable business model.

– Steve Blank (*Ash Maurya helped me with “sustainable”)

then we have to think bigger than the boardroom.  We have to think about transparency throughout the startup’s life cycle. Not just for board members but for the Founders and everyone else involved – to some degree.

Transparency

Imagine a new stakeholder comes aboard. Whether they be an Internal Stakeholder – like an advisor, or, an engineer, or, an External Stakeholder – like a customer, or, business partner, they’ll have to get up to speed. Having crucial decision-making data hidden in scattered “My Documents” folders, personal Calendars, or, email just doesn’t scale. Attachments, CC & BCC lists are error prone & disasters waiting to happen.

And it’s not a matter of who to blame. It’s not a matter of what was right, or, wrong. It’s a matter of knowing what decisions were made, at what point in time and with what available resources.

Collaboration Tools

Integrated collaboration tools like blogs, wikis, discussions, events, videos, audios, shared images, bookmarks, files & yada yada yada have been around for years. Personally, I’m a big fan of Cynapse’s cyn.in suite and that’s why I became a Business Partner. I use it for AnotherSocialEconomy.com and even in my daughter’s elementary school and high school. (See edu)

But more important than the tool themselves, is their content.

Content Rules

In my past eLearning-Labs CTO life, my CEO & President – Rick Felt, who came from the publishing business, had one rule – Content Rules. So while the tools are nice the real Lesson to Learn is content is everything. Whether it be as deceivingly mundane as meeting minutes, an advisor’s feedback, or, a Customer’s user experience, it’s imperative for it to be all searchable & accessible to those with the right credentials.

One more thing….

The only thing better than having an integrated suite of collaboration tools, is having that content linked to your Business Model, your Agile project management software and your source control. In AnotherSocialEconomy‘s case, we link our Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas, cyn.in, Pivotal Tracker and github sites. So we not only offer Transparency but, Traceability & Accountability as well.

Wouldn’t it be great if..

EricRies' Validated Learning Cycle, cyn.in, Ash Maurya's LeanCanvas, PivotalTracker, GitHub

Imagine if accelerator and incubator programs sublet virtual collaboration Space to each of it’s portfolio members. Then not only, do those startups benefit but so do the all of the Internal and External Stakeholders – well beyond the calendar limits of those programs. Now that would accelerate the validated learning cycle & extend Boardroom Bits.

 

Maybe it’s time that there be a (social software) service that’s only for kids

edu.cyn.in – Social Software in Schools

Maybe it’s time that there be a service that’s only for kids.

Jason Calacanis at 1:13:29 into TWiST #50 Anniversary Show

Lon Harris, Creative Director at ThisWeekIn brought up an interesting story on Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, who sent out an e-mail Wednesday morning asking parents to help him get all of his students off social networks and keep careful track of their text messages.

“Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today! …”

— As covered by New Jersey Principal Asks Parents To Ban Facebook, Social Networking, Text Messaging – wcbstv.com

His basic concern is about bullying & how these social sites empower cyber-bullying. In response, Jason & Lon go on about how to deal with children, the Internet & even offer a few novel solutions for the car / auto-insurance industry. (I love the Key one, myself.) But, my favorite prosposed solution was Jason’s at 1:13:29 into the show:

Maybe it’s time that there be a service that’s only for kids… I think maybe that’s the solution

In all fairness, Jason doesn’t know about edu.cyn.in but I thank him for the words of encouragement, again!

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What To Do When Your Kids Are More Connected Than You Are and Your First Social Safety Net

How to turn an unknown social network of yours into your kids safety net and maybe even help you start connecting too.

Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Bill Gates

Geniuses at Work: Bill Gates watches his friend and future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen typing on a teletype terminal at the Lakeside School in Seattle in 1968. Gates was 13 when he entered the exclusive prep school, which was around the time this photo was taken.
Geniuses at Work: Gates watches his friend and future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen typing on a teletype terminal at the Lakeside School in Seattle in 1968. Gates was 13 when he entered the exclusive prep school, which was around the time this photo was taken.

Background

I have two start-up projects underway. The first, Twetailer was inspired by one of those “OMG! Wouldn’t it be great if you could just yada yada yada?” moments. The second, http://edu.cyn.in, was not. No edu, was created out of my 11-year old daughter Sara’s frustration with her school’s computer curriculum. Complaints like: “Why do I care if something is bold?”, or, “Insert a column? When am I ever going to need that when I grow up?”. Yikes! Wouldn’t it be great if Sara could actually use technology for something she cared about?

You can’t always get what you want

– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

But Sara also shared the frustration she felt when some of her friends – who are on Facebook, kept urging others to join up, even though they know the minimun age is 14. Similarly for those with MSN, or, gmail accounts. And while I love seeing kids adopt technology, there are valid reasons why these services have age requirements. So, as a parent, what do you do? Do you stick to the rules & tell them to wait until they’re old enough? Do you let them waste their effortless ability to embrace these social technologies and stick to making things bold & inserting colums?

But if you try sometimes, you get what you need

– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

So again, as a parent, how do we monitor our kids’ activities on the Net? Google it. Here’s Dr. Phil.com – Advice – Monitor Your Child’s Cell Phone and Internet Activity. There are lots of sites offering all kinds of advice. But mostly all of them assume one thing – that you are as tech savy as your kids. And let’s face it, kids have a lot more time & friends to show them how than most parents do.

But what if you were able to trust another parent to monitor your kid’s activities for you? Like when you let your little one go on a playdate to a friend’s house, or, they’re invited to the movies. If you trust the friend’s parents then you let them go.

Perhaps your first digital social safety net

edu started out to be a way for Sara & her Grade 6 classmates to socialize in a secured and monitored Internet playground. A place where they could experience the power of blogs, wikis, discussions, audio, video, image sharing, etc. while learning the new minimun skills sets required in today’s digital and globally distributed workplace. Pretty soon, edu will be made available for the rest of her school and any other school interested under the following conditions:

  1. The student has to be attending an educational institution registered with edu
  2. There must be at least one parent/guardian, teacher/faculty member monitoring that student’s grade.

In Sara’s case, I monitored her grade. Did that mean all the other parents trusted me (and edu with their children’s related activities? Not necesarly. It turns out, most didn’t have a choice. Over the course of the project, I spoke with a few parents and they simply felt they didn’t have the skill sets to monitor. Even after informing them its just a matter of reading their email, they still felt uncomfortable with this “type of stuff”, but looked forward to watching how their kids used it.

Do the math

So in essence, condition #2 above, became those parents’ new social safety net. All they needed was one adult out of twenty students, to feel comfortable enough to watch over their child in their new digital playground. Is this any different than letting your child go to the movies, or, a school field trip with a parent like that?

My parents always told me: “All we want is for you to have more opportunities than we did growing up.” And they certainly succeeded. As a parent in today’s digital world, it would be a shame not to continue the tradition. edu gives those who aren’t as connected as their kids the opportunity to do just that.

Reflection

What are your thoughts abouts giving your kids access to things like Facebook, MSN, Friendfeed, MySpace, Twitter, Google Talk, AIM, Bebo, buzzup, Delicious, digg, Gmail, Mister Wong, Reddit, Stumbleupon, twine, WordPress and Yahoo? Do you have the skills to monitor their activities across all these sites? What percent of parents do you think can? Where do you fit in this Study: Ages of social network users | Royal Pingdom?

photo credit

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Apparently, it’s much simpler to use Social Software than explain it

Some of us folks in the social software field need to take a lesson from 11 year-olds & Steve Jobs.

Apple Specialists are at the heart of our reputation for extraordinary customer service. You love people. Have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Apple. And can translate technology-speak into everyday language. You’re ready to not just serve up information, but also inspire the next generation of Mac, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV fans.

– Job posting for an Apple (Store) Specialist & the Steve Jobs philosphy of why a customer should care

Background

In my previous post – Early social software adopters eager for extra homework, I bragged about how quickly and effortlessly Sara’s Grade 6 class not just adopted, but embraced their new social software site. But this week, was about The Project & actually working in their Deliverables – modifying Cynapse’s Best Practices Guide For Elementary School Students.

Sample comments posted on their interim deliverables 🙂

I don’t get “getting feedback on interim deliverables”
Mayby you can shorten the text to make it seem less,… daunting.
i don’t get it ????????????
What does surfacing and interim mean?
I guess it makes sense, but 1/4 of your day is a pretty long time – 3-4 hours’ worth!
What does fragmented mean?
What is RSS?
What’s IDC?
What’s 2.0 enterprises?
Kids usually don’t care about publishing!
2.0?????????????
What is tacit knowledge

— from Collaboration – What is it and Why is it needed ?

what does infrastructure mean?
What is this adopting, exactly?
What’s facilitate and aggregate.
well what are we talking about?

— from Driving Adoption

Are you smarter than a Six-Grader?

Can you reply to their comments, like an Apple Store Specialist – translating technology-speak into everyday language 11 and 12 year-olds can understand?

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Early social software adopters eager for extra homework

I never thought assigning homework would be so easy but, this is social software in elementary schools.

… a simple process: find leaders (the heretics who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers-and things get better. They always get better.

Tribes, Seth Godin

Who wants more homework?
Who wants more homework?
Background

Previously in There are no screw-ups, just Versions, I primed Sara’s elementary school classmates on how to give their own Lunch & Learn. Since then, I prepared the initial wiki page content for their project assignments.

Wow, is this what it’s like to teach?

While I have provided face-to-face training in the past and even hundreds of techies via e-learning (onilne realtime education), I have never experienced so much energy in a classroom. And what’s even more amazing to witness is, it’s not not bound to the 40 minute lunch-time session we share. Sara’s classmates are contributing to their Cynapse site. While they help with homework and contribute fave songs, movies, books, etc., their blogs, wikis & threaded comments are the best. They’re just playing around and naturally having fun!

Seth Godin was right – duhhh

It was that easy: “… amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers-and things get better. They always get better.” So I never handed out their project assignments. They volunteered and even complained that some had more features to cover than they did. Life is good – so far.

Make it fun

I’ve offered my help for any questions they have – provided the questions are posted on the site for others to benefit. I’ve also offered to help them – as best as I can, in creating video blogs (vlogs), recorded how-to interviews, presentations and recorded demos. These would all be “nice-to-haves”. The only “need-to-have” is the updated wiki page deliverables – Cynapse’s Best Practices Guide for Elementary School Students.

Beatles – i get by with a little help from my friends

Help your friends out by posting questions/comments on their assigned wiki pages – before their Lunch & Learn date and I’m sure they’ll help you out with yours!

— my $0.02 (CAD)

The first update after school was this Beatles song. Check back next week to see how they start delivering.

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Update on pitching social software to Sara’s elementary school

Sara’s teacher – Mr. N. was kind enough to schedule 90 minutes last Friday afternoon for me to pitch social software to her Grade 6 class.

No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.

— Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke

Harmless Audio Plug

The Plan

My original intent was to play a couple of music videos I mashed-up to see how familiar the students already were with services like Facebook & MSN. Unfortunately, as I plugged the external speakers into my 6 year-old Dell laptop, something went pop & then all we heard was nothing but snap & crackle.

I should have known better than try to resolve the situation. Mr. N. jumped right in with a little discussion on the pros & cons of things like Facebook & MSN. But as Sara gave me her “Daddy…?” look, I figured it was time to move on and demo the mini-site I set up the night before.

Moving on

I started off logged into the site with Sara’s credentials & displayed the day’s Calendar Event. I toured the bullet items and the Video Gallery – like YouTube, I wanted to show. I clicked on Sara’s Profile page to draw the analogy to Facebook. I showed them the Image Gallery with a few pictures Sara took at their last 3-day field trip & mentioned Flickr. I showed them Status messages & Discussions – sort of like MSN, GTalk, Twitter, Facebook, myspace, gmail, hotmail, etc. Then there was the shared Bookmarks like delicious and digg.

In the end, I never needed the videos. For the most part, the kids were very much tuned into the virtues of social software. If anything, they just didn’t know that that’s what it was called.

Hmmm

For myself, I learned that more than half the kids were already on Facebook & avid MSN users. In fact, the Facebook users were also well aware of the fact they are “ineligible” to register but lied about their birthdays as a work around. MSN doesn’t challenge anyone on registration but it’s buried somewhere in the Terms & Conditions that a “Child” must have the permission of a parent, or, guardian – which seemed to bother some of the kids on MSN.

For those, not registered with Facebook, many were very quick to say they didn’t want to lie about their age – Sara included. In addition, I also found out that some felt the peer pressure to be on Facebook.

A simple analogy

So that’s what we offered the Grade 6 class. All the social software capabilities they want in the privacy and safety of their own school. I pointed out that at recess time, the school doesn’t send them out to the public parks to play. They go out to their gated schoolyard where there’s school staff to monitor them. And on some occasions, they get together with other schools to play soccer, or, football. So this was going to be exactly along the same thinking – just virtual.

The Project

While I wasn’t able to play any videos for the kids, I did cover the material the old fashioned way. I explained to them the deal in the making – described in my previous post The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 4, under “Who’s in for a little extra-curricular activity?”.

In the end, both Mr. N. & I concluded that there is certainly a desire and need for us to bring social software into the school. In the fact the interest level seemed so high, that Mr. N. offered to integrate the social software activity into his curriculum and even dedicate Friday afternoons for me to mentor the kids – given enough parents grant their permission.

Up next

Permission Slip and all the parents/guardians have been directed here to permit, or, not permit their child to participate in the social software activity.


[form 2 “Social Software In Schools Permission Form”]

 

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The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 4

Partnering, building communities and pitching social software to Sara’s elementary school.

Cut win-win deals. A partnership seldom takes place between equals. As a result, the more powerful side is tempted to squeeze the other party. The weaker side, for its part, will begrudgingly accept such deals and try to get what it can. Bad idea. Bad karma. Bad practicality. If the partnership is a win-lose deal, it will blow up because concrete walls and barbed wire cannot hold a partnership together. Only mutually beneficial results can. In the long, the bitter seed of resentment planted at the start of a partnership will grow into a giant, destructive weed.

The Art of Partnering, Guy Kawasaki

Background

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about building communities to help drive my start-up’s outside-in software development and my working relationship with the good folks at Cynapse. And while my last post was – for the most part, about getting to be a TechCrunch50‘s semi-finalist, I did end with my desire to sow the social software seeds in my daughter Sara’s elementary school.

Motivation

As a passionate software entrepreneur and social software evangelist, it breaks my heart when Sara tells me she’s bored learning how to use Word and Excel in Computer class. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about her teacher – a fine and qualified professional. I’m not complaining about the curriculum, nor about the state of our education system. In no way would I ever expect the school to provide social software education. But nothing says that I can’t.

Who’s in for a little extra-curricular activity?

So I approached the school and offered just that. I prepared a marked-up version of Cynapse’s Flash marketing material & evangelized the virtues of, not only the mechanics of learning social software but the life lessons – I truly believe, it can teach the kids.

Our 30 minute meeting became an hour and a half and ended with a few action items:

  1. The school would have to agree to a trial period with the understanding that, if successful, they would continue the program.
  2. Cynapse would have to agree to barter three months of free hosting in return for a modified version of their Best Practices Guide for Elementary School Students.
  3. The students would have to volunteer for the extra-curricular activity and agree to collaborate on the Guide. Delivery of the Guide deems success.

Since the meeting, the school has delivered on Action Item #1. In addition, Cynapse has delivered on Action Item #2. So later this week, I’ll be presenting my offer to Sara’s Grade 6.

I’ve since elaborated on my initial presentation by incorporating some keywords mentioned during our meeting and added the narration. But after playing it back for Sara, she thought it may be “too much” and I should try to be more funny. 🙁

Up next

The problem was, I tried to create something that would appeal to too many audiences – students, school staff and maybe even parents. So in the interest of outside-in development, I created two more videos which have passed the Sara Test. Once, approved by her teacher, I’ll start with those & save the one above – hopefully, for another time.

Reflection

Please feel free to share any thoughts, or, experience around social software in schools.

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