October, 2011

Strictly from Hunger

Strictly from hunger.  Ever hear this phrase?  You have to be of a certain vintage to have heard it in everyday conversation.  What does it mean?  That something is busted. Nowhere. Just seriously lacking.  Unbeknownst to me, though, until I googled the term this morning, Strictly from Hunger was also the title of an apparently very famous “psychedelic” album made by the Portland, Oregon, group Hunger in 1969. That’s their picture. 

After my husband and I simultaneously used this term to describe something this morning, he dared me to blog about it.  “So what would the actual topic be?” I asked.  “I don’t know.  Just use it as the title and start.”

So here I go — hopefully, there will be enough examples of things that are strictly from hunger that you, too, can use this colorful term in your everyday discourse.



1. Using a ballpoint point on easel paper while leading a group discussion.

2. Related to #1 – having crummy, used up markers.

3. Not having coffee at meetings.

4. Running out of copies.

5. LCD projectors with no remote.

6. Occasions where you have to show a great PowerPoint on the equivalent of a white sheet hung up with tacks.

7. Conference luncheons with no dessert.

8. Office Depot pens.

9. Knock-off Play-Doh.  Seriously, if you’re a hotshot meeting facilitator, you know the value of real Play-Doh. Don’t be fooled into buying the cheap stuff at the Dollar Store because it’s…….STRICTLY FROM HUNGER!

10.Running out of food at a community event.  This is STRICTLY FROM HUNGER because it shows failure to plan, over-concern about cost, and unwillingness to deal with leftovers.  Plus, depending on the crowd, it can be very risky.

There. See? Now the next time you see something that’s strictly from hunger, you’ll know what to call it.

Play the Long Game

This morning, my local baseball expert explained to me the logic of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke sticking with the rotation in the 6th game of the National League Championship Series despite Shaun Marcum’s grim performance in Game 2.  “If he (Roenicke) picks somebody else to pitch, Marcum might never recover,” said my expert.  He went on to explain how the Brewers had sacrificed a lot to get Marcum and that passing him over in favor of someone else could essentially damage the goods long term, which in baseball parlance, means next year

Read more about Shaun Marcum in ESPN’s article, “Shaun Marcum will try to save season.”  (His or ours?)

Like 99% of the human race, I tend to think about immediate strategy.  What makes sense this very minute – how to get out of the current pickle – how to win a grant or position a project.  All in the here and now.

Sometimes, I think I’ve changed the rotation because of my lack of faith in someone’s ability.  And it wasn’t always a fair assessment.   I may not have had Ron Roenicke’s wisdom to look at the long game, look at the repercussions of expressing lack of faith in someone, worry about the damage that would do to someone’s capabilities down the road, assess the cost long term to the whole enterprise.

They say baseball is a microcosm of life.  I’d say that in this instance, that’s really true.

You live and learn.

Advisory Committees: Don’t Say It if You Don’t Mean It

Let’s face it.  Most people could live without having an advisory committee for their new project.  But maybe the funding source has made it a requirement.  Or maybe the organization always sets up an advisory committee for a major project.  Either way, you’re stuck with putting an advisory committee together and making it work or, let’s be real, making sure it doesn’t bollux up the project or cause you endless grief.

It’s tricky.  I’ve set up advisory committees and been on them.  Here are five things I’ve learned that might help you.

1.  Create a job description for the Advisory Committee that clearly spells out its role as a group and the expectations for individual members.  This is harder than it sounds because people don’t generally want to be on committees that have no power and project administrators are usually reluctant to hand over much responsibility to outsiders.  Find the balance between making the group meaningful and protecting the integrity of your project.

2.  Invite people to serve on the Advisory Committee in a way that makes them feel special. That’s right, a mass email invite will not cut it.  The best strategy is a phone call to talk through the project and the Advisory Committee role, followed by a formal letter (remember letters?) from your executive director.  When I worked at the County, we made sure any Advisory Committee invitation would come from the County Executive.   This made the invitation seem more like an appointment by the CE, elevating its importance.

3.  Start off with a clear idea of what you want the Advisory Committee to do.  Develop a list of particulars.  There is nothing worse than a large group of people flailing around like 5th graders on a science project whining, “What are we supposed to do?”  Avoid that with a good, short work list.

4.  Designate the leadership in advance.  “Who wants to be chairperson?” is a dangerous (and nutty) question you want to avoid.  You know your project and what it needs by way of leadership.  Figure this out ahead of time.  Identify two people to serve as co-chairs, get their buy-in and start the Advisory Committee process with them already installed.  Don’t worry that people will ask you how they were chosen.  Everyone’s too polite to ask.  Thank goodness.

5.  Have robust, satisfying meetings.  Busy, important people are attracted to well-run, content-driven meetings that produce decisions that influence programs and systems.  Conversely, they disappear quickly if meetings are full of endless talking by staff and few opportunities to advise.  Unfortunately, not a lot of project directors pay much attention to the structure and content of meetings; as a result, attendance rapidly devolves in terms of numbers and the level of staff attending (you started with the CEO and now the girl who picks up her dry cleaning is attending).

A good Advisory Committee can be major value added to your project.  But not if you approach it as a throwaway feature of your project.  Your project will be stronger and more sustainable if you have a solid Advisory Committee behind it.  It’s worth the investment!

Joy on a Tree Trunk

Would you put the word joy and your work in the same sentence?  Last week, I had occasion to meet several people whose obvious joy in their work surprised, pleased and heartened me.  It also made me want to give them money. 

No joke. 

I loved these folks for being so happy in their work and, here’s what really came through and was so impressive — for finding joy in working with people who most of us would see as very tough customers.  What came across was energy and interest.  Enthusiasm and pride.  And pride not just in their own work but in the successes of the people they serve.  It’s contagious – like a great cause.  Like how the pink ribbons and the cute pink running shoes and the story about how Susan G. Komen’s sister decided to go raise some damn money for breast cancer research just makes any normal woman get herself off the couch and marching down the street – that kind of enthusiasm and pride.

As it happens, the folks I talked to last week were working with people with disabilities, serious mental illness, and extreme poverty. They beamed when they talked about their work.  So much so I wondered if they went home at night or just took occasional naps and sipped Gatorade to stay on the job 24/7.

The hard thing is that it’s impossible to manufacture this kind of joy.  People either have it or they don’t.  The people who have it, though, have a magic that’s pretty special.  If you’re one of these people or you run an organization and you have a beamer on staff — you’re lucky.  You not only have the joy — you have a great big, wonderful magnet.

Use it.