Archives for category: business

Some of my friends and readers know I am nearly finished pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at American University. (No, I am not intending to pursue a career in the federal government; the MPA is like the MBA of the social sector and I thought it a useful higher degree to have.) In my current course, which focuses on systems-level technology and change management, I have had the pleasure of re-reading Peter Senge’s seminal The Fifth Discipline, which I read decades ago when it first came out.

When I first read it, I really didn’t know anything about anything and had certainly not worked long enough in any organization to grasp what Senge was saying. So reading this work now has been a highlight of my program.

One of Senge’s core points is that by looking at system archetypes, it is possible to determine ways to address problems that otherwise would be vexing and intractable. That is, by seeing systems we are able to see relationships and leverage points that are otherwise invisible. An example is the “tragedy of the commons” archetype as it relates to, say, traffic. Traffic jams are often the result of a systemic tragedy of the commons, where individual self-interested (and reasonable) behavior results in cars vying for the same small piece of real estate. The knee-jerk reaction to a persistent traffic jam at a certain freeway entrance might be top widen it, the logic being that it must be a bottleneck. But by taking a systems view, another answer might present itself: throttle down the traffic entering the onramp by using, say, an alternate-lane traffic signal.

Senge presents a number of systemic archetypes. But what interests me is that the fundamental building blocks for all of these archetypes are just three processes. Systems are built out of combinations of amplifying processes (which can either go upwards or downwards), balancing processes (where change is resisted by the system), or feedback delays (where there is a lag between cause and effect).

When I read this as a young person, I did not see how sweeping this claim is. Three processes describe all systems. It’s as crazy as saying just four amino acids can be combined to create the blueprint for all of the varied life on Earth!

Ludwig Boltzman's grave. Boltzman first theorized about entropy.

Ludwig Boltzman’s grave. Boltzman first theorized about entropy.

This is important to me, as I study political ecosystems in community. Is it possible to describe all such systems using just three building blocks? I am resistant to the idea. Political systems are comprised of individuals, all acting on their own and operating within multilayered and interlocking networks of association. It seems too mechanistic to think that three Newtonian laws would account for all the activity I see.

I have thought of a fourth potential “fundamental process,” especially as it relates to human behavior, but I am not sure it counts in this way of thinking. The process is entropy: the tendency for any system to move towards randomness unless energy is added into it. This seems like it might be a confounding factor in any of the feedback processes described above.

I’ll keep thinking about it.

I am adding some capabilities to my professional offerings that some of my readers may be interested in:

Let Me Help Create Your Online Presence

Today, there is a consensus that there’s a bare minimum amount of online presence that any organization — whether a small business, local nonprofit, or giant enterprise — needs in order to be taken seriously and to grow. That online presence can’t just be a website anymore. It has to be dynamic, changing on a regular basis, and engaging.

That sounds daunting. Especially when you add in all the hoo-hah and cheerleading from “social media experts” who speak enthusiastically about “engagement” and “sharing,” seemingly without a sense that there is actually a business purpose that must be served.

But, it does not have to be overly complex. If you get things set up properly at the outset, it’s quite easy to maintain.

I’ll do that for you.

I can establish your website’s blog, Facebook presence, Twitter presence, and other important social coordinates and integrate them in a way that you can manage them in a sustainable way. They will work together and drive the results that matter to you.

If this is interesting to you, email me at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

Attend My Get-Online Bootcamp

My Mode of Transport by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.

This is a half-day session for people who have no online presence, or who have one but aren’t happy with it — and like to do things themselves and aren’t scared to roll up their sleeves a bit.

At the end of the day, participants will have a fully set-up and calibrated set of online “identities” and will have a clear sense of how to go about using these tools.

This is perfect for small business owners who know they need to “be online” but do not know how to get started.

You could walk in with nothing, and walk out with a complete online presence, tuned to your business goals.

The schedule for this is dependent on interest, but I plan to hold the first this summer.

This is a new offering, so I plan to make the initial bootcamp available at a reduced rate. Please let me know of your interest either in the comments, or by emailing me directly at bradrourke at gmail dot com.


  • Is this something you would be interested in?
  • Is a group setting right, or would one-on-one work better for you?
  • Do you know someone else who could benefit?

Why Am I Doing This?

These kinds of things are exactly the kind of thing people ask me about more and more. They want to know how they can take the next step online, and what they should do when they get there. As it becomes clear to people that they need to have a serious online presence, they feel a sense of urgency. The early adopters have already acted, but now the rest of the world knows they need to jump in.

I know a bit about this — especially when it comes to personal branding and online presence.

I have been innovating online for many years and have solid accomplishments. I’ve been blogging since before the word was coined. I’ve initiated and been architect of a number of online and interactive products such as Everyday Democracy’s Issue Guide Exchange, the launch the Institute for Global Ethics’ renowned Ethics Newsline newsletter (we called it Business Ethics Newsline back then), Rockville Central (a hyperlocal news source and top five local blog in Maryland — which recently made international news by moving to a Facebook-only platform), and more.

Bottom line: I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve learned a lot of lessons.

If you would like to learn more, please get in touch at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

(Boot camp photo credit: Jim Legans, Jr., Flickr)

Photo by Flickr user 'The River Club'

If you are having a meeting (or a conference call) to review a document, here are three things that can make it helpful:

  • Insist that whatever is being reviewed get shared ahead of time, with ample time to read
  • Insist that participants edit the document using Track Changes ahead of time, send the changes directly to the author
  • Use this agenda: 1) overall comments; 2) section-by-section quick recap; 3) other items that have come up; 4) next steps, by whom and by when.

Using this approach, the time together can be made most useful. Meetings are good places for things that cannot be accomplished in other ways — things that require more than one brain. In other words, overall and creative discussions. A meeting where you are going over line edits, or talking about a document that no one has read, is not worth anyone’s time. Similarly, if someone is hijacking everyone else’s time to convey line edits that are better conveyed in writing, that’s not worth anyone’s time either.

While this all sounds very sensible, it is easier said than done. Everyone needs to do their part. And it takes a strong leader.

  • The writer might use the meeting itself as their deadline, and share their document almost immediately before the meeting. If this happens, reschedule the meeting because it will be worthless.
  • Participants may decide it is “easier” to just “talk through” their changes in the meeting. This is an illusion, because it adds churn. (And it actually takes more of that person’s time to “talk through” than it would to just make edits.) Except when there are specific and limited changes, this almost always adds ambiguity. If too many people are doing this, it is a good idea for the meeting leader to intervene and say, “Everyone will get their specific changes to the writer. Let’s focus only on overall issues.”

Like this? You might also like my Nine Tips For Better Meetings.

Yesterday I was in an airport and ran into a bank of AT&T 2000 phone booths. The phones had been pulled out; there were four little private booths to sit and . . . well, I don’t know. Just sit.

I did a great deal of air travel in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Business travel has changed so much then. Back then, I used to seek out the AT&T 2000 phone, because they had the best data connection for me to dial into my Earthlink account. “Dial in,” it sounds so quaint. I even joined the USAir Club, not for the fancy peanuts, but because then I could depend on there being good phones for me to dial in.

Just think what business travel used to be like:

  • Dial-up Internet from payphones
  • Using calling cards to pay for the dial-up access
  • Roaming charges on your cell phone
  • Leaving and checking voice mails
  • Reconfiguring Outlook depending on which network you were using
  • 5.5 pound laptop
  • Expensive flights
  • Studying maps

And now, here is a recent trip:

  • Used MiFi for 3G-speed Internet access, until I realized the airport had free wifi
  • Held conference call using 1-800 number and bluetooth earpiece
  • Voicemails (if I ever get any) are transcribed and emailed to me with Google Voice
  • Haven’t touched Gmail settings in a year
  • Thin and light netbook, less than 2 pounds
  • Dirt-cheap airfares but squeezed seats
  • Use my phone’s GPS for everything

And that’s just off the top of my head.

What is “normal” now that we will think is quaint in ten years? Carrying a laptop?

(In case you want to know what the original AT&T Public Phone 2000 looked like, here it is:)


seth godin

"seth godin' by Flickr user @MSG

I was very excited when I learned that a singular thinker in marketing, Seth Godin, was planning a road trip where he would be leading all-day sessions that would be open to the public. I immediately signed up for the July 22 session in DC at the historic Warner Theater.

Turns out that the theater has some open seats available, and Seth is allowing paid ticket-holders to bring guests for the morning session (the afternoon session is more intimate).

I know many of my friends and colleagues are also Seth devotees, so I wanted to make this offer available to my network.

Here is more detail on the session. It’s July 22, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm.

This is a really amazing opportunity to see an incredible thinker, in person, for free.

If you are interested in coming with me, and we know one another, and you can be in DC on July 22, let me know. Hurry!

(I can’t promise that everyone who responds will get to go, because I don’t know what the response will be. And no I won’t put you up if you are traveling, sorry.)