Unlike fellow nonprofit book nerd, Rosetta Thurman, I am way behind on my nonprofit book summer reading list. My blog is the July 15th stop on Clay Shirky’s virtual book tour for his recently published book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in A Connected Age. I received a review copy of the book and was invited to write a post about it.
We were lucky enough to have Clay read a copy of manuscript last November and he was one of our book blurbers. Here’s what he said about the Networked Nonprofit:
“The Internet means never having to ask permission before trying something new. In the Networked Nonprofit, Kanter and Fine show nonprofits how to harness this flexibility to pursue their mission in partnership with two billion connected citizens.”
Clay’s book talks about the implications of a society shifting from passive consumption of media to creators of media or being participatory. As Clay Shirky says, “A society where everyone has some kind of access to the public sphere is a different kind of society that one where citizens approach media as mere consumers.” This shift has come because we’re watching less television, but participating more in online collective actions – from the silly – sharing photos of cute cats to the making the world a better place.
To my joy, he uses the example of how Ushahidi got started as one of the latter. (Disclaimer: I’m a proud board member of Ushahidi):
“A handful of people, working with cheap tools and little time or money to spare, managed to carve out enough collective goodwill from the community to create a resource that no one could have imagined even five years ago. Like all good stories, they story of Ushahidi holds several different lessons: People want to do somethiung to make the world a better place. They will help when they are invited to. Access to cheap,flexible tools removes many of the barriers to trying new things. You don’t need fancy computers to harness cognitive surplus; simple phones are enough. But one of the most important lessons is this: once you’ve figured out how to tap the surplus in a way that people care about, others can replicate your technique, over and over, around the world.”
The book give us the 50,000 mile high view. It forecasts the changes we will enjoy as social media tools allows people to put their talents and goodwill to use for society. Each chapter is takes us through a look at the future by examining the past. It’s filled with wonderful stories from for-profit, technology sector, and politics. There are some great quotes.
Shirky acknowledges as he gets a little closer to the ground with some principles “Looking for the Mouse” that we can’t count on new kinds of socially beneficial activities just happening. “Creating a participatory culture with wider benefits for society is harder than sharing amusing photos. How much of that social change are we going to grasp?” (That is a question that the Networked Nonprofit asks.)
Shirky suggests that the most profound use of social media will come from groups trying new things. He talks about about the importance of experiments and the listen, learn, and adapt skills required. This idea of experimentation really resonates.
“Creating the most value from a tool involves not master plans or great leaps forward but constant trial and error. The key question for any society undergoing such a shift is how to get the most of that process.”
“What matters is not the new capabilities we have, but how we turn those into opportunities. The question is what we’ll do with those opportunities. “
“With social software, there are no foolproof recipes for success. And yet we’ve learned somethings about human interaction in the last few decades. The trick for creating new social media is to use those lessons to eight the odds in your favor, rather than as a set of instructions that guarantees success.”
“Start small. Projects will only work if they grow large generally won’t grow large; people who fixated on creating large-scale future success can actually reduce the possibility of creating the small scale here and now successes needed to get there.”
“A veritable natural law in social media is that to get to a system that is large and good, it is far better to start with a system that is small and good and work on making it bigger than to start with a system that is large and mediocre and work on making it better.”
“No one gets it right the first time. If successful uses of cognitive surplus required designers to get it right the first time, you’d be able to count the successes on the fingers of one hand. Instead, it is imperative to learn from failure, adapt, and learn again.”
“The faster you learn, the sooner you’ll be able to adapt. The possibilities for continual learning with social media are dramatic. “
“It is more important to try something new, and work on the problems as they arise, than to figure out a way to do something new without having any problems.”
After I read my review copy, I like to give it away. So, if you’ve read this far, leave a comment answering this question:
How can your nonprofit create a way of working that allows it to learn rapidly and adapt? Or, if that is the way you already work, tell me how.
I’ll pick a winner and send you my copy of Clay’s book (with my notes in the margin), along with The Networked Nonprofit.