Decluttering your organization — taking the lead

Simplicity is not that simple. Some ideas on how to declutter your organization.

How scary is change? I wrote this post six months ago — but was reluctant to publish it.

Beth Comstock, CMO of GE, wrote a great post on simplicity. Last year she sold her house and most of her physical possessions to declutter her life — much the way that GE is attempting to make simplicity the hallmark of the company.

But simplicity is not that simple.

Whether it’s your company, or your personal life, you will need to deal with other people around the issue of simplifying and decluttering. I’d say the biggest challenge is not just doing it yourself (and that’s big) but motivating others to follow you in that direction.

Many people lug around huge piles of clutter that is not physical, but intellectual. The phrases “But we’ve always done it that way!” “What if something goes wrong?” and “What if someone yells at me?” are symptoms of that clutter.

businessman in red tape
“But that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

It’s tempting to dismiss these folks as too lazy to declutter. But, if you watch closely, many of these people are incredibly hard working. They are working extra hours, at a frenetic pace, to use old, cheap, flimsy and ineffective (but familiar!) tools to do things just the way they have always done them. Even as the world around them changes.

A great example of this is the newsletter editor who insists on printing and mailing a newsletter that 95 percent of your customers toss into recycling (noting, as they do, how you’re wasting paper, money — and their time). Meanwhile, the grudgingly produced electronic edition of your newsletter is a PDF that no one clicks to open — or, even worse, a poorly designed, seemingly endless email message. Soon you’ve trained your customers to automatically route any electronic communication from your organization to the Spam folder — even the fundraising appeal from your executive director. If your new marketing consultant dares to suggest an updated communications plan using postcards and short, frequent emails — out come the garlic and wooden stakes.

It’s not just the newsletter editor. It’s the nonprofit events person who plans the same old fundraising auction every year — even as more and more of your donors tell you it’s a pain to drive downtown to the same old hotel and park (for a small fortune) in the hotel garage. These days, they’d rather go to a more intimate event at the home of a board member in their neighborhood. You’ve gotten the feedback, but your events person gets the look of a deer in the headlights at the thought of doing Something Different. He or she will hurry to mention to you the name of one donor who “really likes the auction,” and trudge down the same old path, holding that person’s (extrapolated) dislike of board-hosted events in front of them like a shield.

The motivation here is fear — of failure and criticism. And it’s a huge barrier to decluttering.

You’ll see this most clearly when one of the Old Guard suggests that instead of decluttering your business processes, you add to the clutter by doing it the old way and the new way at the same time. That, they assure you, will keep everybody (meaning them) happy. It ignores the reality that it will double either your costs or your staff time to run the two processes simultaneously — plus have everyone in the organization (and customers) now interacting with two projects or systems instead of one.

If you want to declutter your organization, you, as a leader, need to take the responsibility for removing the fear of failure and criticism — theirs and yours.

And that’s the toughest decluttering of all.

See Comstock’s post for inspiration.

Some previous posts on organizational change:

Practicing change

Change, part 2

Three tools for getting a head start on the new year

tree snowThank you so much for following Writer Way in 2012. Thanks for your comments and feedback, and for telling friends who are interested in writing and online communications about the blog.

Like everyone else, I’m crazy busy (or at least I think I am). I’d like to work more efficiently in 2013, so I’m collecting a few tools I believe will help me do that. Here’s what I’ve come up with, thus far:

  • A cheat sheet for sizing images for Facebook, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. (Courtesy of
  • Free project management software. I like the old-fashioned GANTT chart for trying to visualize and analyze who’s doing what, when, and which projects and tasks are interdependent. GanttProject lets you do that — so you can stop trying to run projects with Excel.
  • Inexpensive time-tracking, expense-tracking, and invoicing software (cloud-based). While I wouldn’t call Harvest elegant, I’d say it’s surprisingly full-featured and easy to use. For $12 a month, I get a system that lets me handle an unlimited number of clients, projects, and invoices — plus I can access the Harvest site from a browser or an iPhone/iPad app. (There’s even a free version that lets you track time and do invoicing for two projects — a great way to find out if Harvest is for you.)

Try ’em out. Let me know what you think — and what else you find that helps you get work done.

Happy Holidays! See you in 2013.

— Karen

Self-publishing: Author Scott Berkun shares his experiences

Noted author Scott Berkun shares his experiences in self-publishing, including why he gave the book away for free for 48 hours.

You couldn’t do better than to follow the experiences of noted author Scott Berkun as he steps away from traditional publishing and releases his latest book, Mindfire, through the self-publishing route.

Is self-publishing for you? Keep in mind that Scott is not only an experienced writer (The Myths of Innovation, Making Things Happen), he’s an experienced public speaker and an extroverted self-promoter. (I had the pleasure of speaking at Ignite Seattle with Scott, and attending a session he did at Seattle Mind Camp.)

You can catch up with Scott on his blog — which, by the way, was the testing ground for much of the material that appears in the book. In recent posts he talks about:

Just ShipIt

Seth Godin has created an inexpensive project management tool called ShipIt, available now through Amazon.

Author Seth Godin at PDF 2007
Image via Wikipedia

Trust? If you read this blog, you’ll know that I trust marketing guru Seth Godin.

Seth has just created an inexpensive project management tool called ShipIt, available now through Amazon.

I’ve bought a set of five ShipIt workbooks (the price per book is less than a quality spiral-bound notebook at Staples) because I’m about to start a short but difficult project and I want to see if ShipIt can help. Look for my report here at the end of September.

Swimming upstream

My favorite Seth Godin book is the recent Linchpins.

Last week I had a day in which I felt as though I were moving backwards. Every small, simple step I took, I got shoved backwards. Every road I took had a roadblock. People who are usually supportive were suddenly cranky and irrational.

Fortunately, my email included the daily blog post from Seth Godin. He has a talent for getting a lot of us past the roadblocks, and inspiring us to charm the cranky and irrational — or sometimes, to learn a valuable lesson by examining why people are being cranky and irrational.

My favorite Seth Godin book is the recent Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? Today he released an addendum to the book that profiles people who are linchpins, from Wired’s Chris Anderson to Jo Ann McGrath, a high school teacher. It’s free! Enjoy.

Pizza and anarchy, all over again

No matter how you constitute a group, certain people will fall into the roles of the leader, the anarchist, the followers, and the deserters.

I was a psych major in college and working at a community counseling program. We ran a crisis hot line, manned a “trip tent” at rock concerts, and took a lot of practical training in group dynamics as it was then studied by the Tavistock Institute.

A psychologist from the university facilitated a training for us in group processes that had a profound effect on my life.

Or should we order subs instead?

At the training, seven or eight of us were put in a group and assigned what seemed a simple a task: to order pizza for lunch.

But by the end of an hour, we had no pizza, the group had split into two warring factions, and I was miserable.

It started when someone suggested ordering two pizzas, one with one type of topping, the second with another. There was a general murmur of “sounds reasonable” and “one of them should be vegetarian” and I joined in that affirmative chorus. Discussion of specific toppings had begun when my friend Tim, a glint in his eye, said loudly “Why does it have to be pizza? The restaurant has sub sandwiches, too. We could get meatball subs.”

Everyone looked at Tim.

“Good point,” someone said. But others in the group were frowning. Things were getting complicated.

There was discussion of getting a couple of subs and a pizza. Then someone pointed out “Look, the assignment for the group was to order pizza.” General agreement, in which I joined. The suggester, buoyed by the agreement, returned to the plan for choosing the toppings for two pizzas, and people began discussing what should go on the veggie pizza and what on the non-veggie.

“Why do we have to do what we’re told?” Tim asked. “No one said we couldn’t change or modify the assignment. Perhaps this is an exercise to see if we can stop being sheep.”

This made sense to me, and apparently to several other folks. People stopped talking about pizza toppings, and started talking about the assignment. Groups dealt with disagreement! This was natural!

After a while, discussion died down and there was a tentative suggestion that we go ahead and order sandwiches from a deli instead.

At which point, a fellow who’d been moving in to Tim’s camp said. “Why do we have to order anything at all? Why couldn’t we just decide to give the pizza money to charity? We could decide to do that, and just go home. Hey, we could just take the money and go to a bar and get drunk.”

I think, at this point, Tim got up and reached for his coat.

“Sounds good to me,” he said.

Not surprisingly, several people in the group began looking distinctly uneasy. They looked at the psychologist who was sitting on a couch, observing our group process. He, of course, looked utterly detached.

By now the group had polarized. At one end, there was Tim and the other anarchist. At the other end, the conservatives, who by now wanted to order the damn pizzas and forget Tim.

On the sidelines were a few people who thought Tim was being a clever jerk and the pizza people were getting ridiculously worked up over a pizza. By now, most of them looked bored and ready to leave.

And then there was me. All I could think was that this silly argument was going to go on for ever, and we’d never get anything accomplished. Or any lunch. And I was utterly miserable.

At the end of the second hour, the psychologist called a halt to it. He pointed out to us how the group had polarized, and what roles each of us had taken. He assured us that no matter how you constitute a group, certain people will fall into the roles of the leaders, the anarchists, the followers, and the deserters.

At the end of the training, the psychologist called me over. He said: “You need to stay out of groups. You take on the overall experience of the organization. Whenever there is conflict, which there inevitably is, you experience the conflict, and it will tear you apart.”

I heeded his advice, and worked for a number of years as a journalist, observing and describing conflicts without having to be part of the conflicts themselves. In recent years, I’ve been careful (and fortunate) to work with strong, decisive bosses and clients.

I’m just now starting to be involved with groups as a volunteer and, let me tell you, it’s pizza and anarchy all over again.

Five things to pack for a great vacation

Go ahead, check that bag
Go ahead, check that bag

If I read one more article on packing light and what you shouldn’t take on vacation, I’m going to book a discount flight to the author’s city and challenge him or her to a duel. I’ve had far too many short trips ruined because I (or a travel companion) was trying to travel light. Once we reached our destination, much of our “vacation” was frittered away trying to find, purchase, adapt, and belatedly put to work one or more of the items that one of us had insisted on leaving at home.

So here’s my contrarian list of items you simply must pack — even if it means taking an unfashionably sturdy bag or (brace yourselves, we’re going radical here) checking a bag:

• Travel medications. There are certain medications people rarely use at home, but which they often use while traveling. These can include items for digestive problems, sinus problems, sunburn, blisters, allergies, etc. Keep a list of these travel-related items in your suitcase, and pack them. It’s much better than scouring a strange city at 11 p.m. on a Friday night trying to find a particular medication so you can sleep — or paying a ransom for it at a resort hotel.

• A spare pair of pants. An exploding ballpoint on the airplane or some greasy barbecue at dinner can spell the end of that great pair of beige pants (or jeans) that you were “going to wear all weekend.” Who wants to spend Saturday in a vacation spot shopping at Macy’s or Eddie Bauer and then hanging out at the dry cleaner waiting for new pants to be hemmed?

• A bathing suit. It’s no fun if everyone else is hopping in the hotel pool or hot tub and you are stuck poolside wearing those jeans that were “all you need for the weekend.” Pack a suit. This is particularly important for women; bathing suits can be hard to fit, and it’s no fun to discover that the hotel boutique’s selection is limited to string bikinis.

• Extra shoes. Your “comfortable shoes” can suddenly become uncomfortable if you’ve spent all Saturday tromping through museums and hiking in the park. Bring an extra pair of comfortable shoes so you don’t spend the second day of the weekend limping and whining. Even if you’re completely confident that your shoes will remain comfortable, there are other factors to keep in mind: The one pair of shoes that were “all you need for the weekend” may stand out for all the wrong reasons at the wedding reception Sunday after you’ve spent Saturday touring your cousin Rainbow’s goat farm. Ewww!

• Chargers for your phone, your computer, and your camera. Why is it that we never remember to pack the chargers that are plugged into the outlets at home? If I remember the camera charger this time, chances are I’ve forgotten the cell phone charger. Do everyone a favor: buy an extra of each, and keep it with your travel bag or travel briefcase.

Full disclosure: I love checking my bag and waltzing onto the plane with just a knapsack or tote bag. Yes, I know I’m missing the joys of banging a roll-aboard against every seat on the aisle, throwing out my back hefting the bag into an overhead bin, and nearly crushing someone when the bag is taken down again, but…what can I say? When it comes to travel, I’m one crazy gal.

Hand me the envelope

There’s one device in our home offices we’ve come to revile. Chances are it’s sitting under your desk, or in a closet where you can avoid thinking about it. You know what it is: The printer.

We love our laptops, our smart phones, and our little Flip video cameras, but there’s one device in our home offices we’ve come to revile. Chances are it’s sitting under your desk, or in a closet where you can avoid thinking about it. You know what it is: The printer.

Ah, but neglect it at your peril!

For when you need that printer, the ink cartridges will be dried up, the print heads clogged, the paper trays jammed, and the buttons and movable parts — their labels and directions embossed in off-white on off-white or printed in 5-point type — unreadable.

You won’t be able to remember if the the paper goes face up in tray one or face down in tray two, but never mind because wherever you load envelopes, when you hit Print, it’ll grab paper from the other tray instead of the one in which you placed the envelopes. Once it finds the envelopes, it will print on them in every orientation except the one you wanted. And — guaranteed — if you ask it to print your return address, the address will not be printed the .125 inches from the left edge of the envelope that your software specified. It will be mangled and cut off:

en Anderson
4 35th Avenue
ttle, WA  98107

I have three printers networked to my Macs and today, when I went to print one measly addressed evelope, not one of them worked adequately. And, as a result of the 20 minutes I spent trying to get one of them to give me even the faintest satisfaction, the most expensive of the printers (though not the one on which I spent $200 replacing ink cartridges that, while full, stopped functioning when I replaced the print heads) is now utterly jammed.

I ended up addressing the envelope by hand, which, of course, I should have done in the first place.

Getting back on course

istock_000006938421xsmall3I pride myself on having a fairly good idea of what path I’m on and where it’s going. Nevertheless, I often find myself drifting off by a few degrees. Doing too much of X, and not enough of Y — and pretty soon I realize that if I keep it up I’m likely to wind up at quite a different destination than I’d envisioned.

Career advisor Curt Rosengren addresses drift and similar issues on his blog The M.A.P. Maker (Crafting a Life of Meaning, Abundance & Passion). I liked the post he did on “8 simple questions to move you to towards your dreams.”

Goals: Mission critical

Grappling with issues of goal-setting and self-motivation? Jim Benson offers some insight into the relationship between our actions and our goals

Coincidentally, I was talking with a friend who’s looking for contract work about the mission of my writing business. I asked him to guess what my mission statement is, and he replied “to provide high-quality writing products for clients you enjoy working with.”

But that’s only half of it.

The part he couldn’t come up with was the first half of the mission. The complete statement is: “To support myself by providing high-quality writing products for clients I enjoy working with.”

That’s a mission statement. Without the first half, it’s just a martyrdom statement. And I have seen too many small businesses march off under that type of banner, never to be seen again.