Posts Tagged ‘fail’

The Culture of No

March 30, 2011

It’s a brand new day, so it must be time for another STC debacle.

For those of you just catching up, read these:

The comments about this situation on Twitter are also…edifying.

Lots of not-very-friendly responses

I’ve already done my share of piling on. STC has not distinguished itself in the category of public relations in the last 24 hours.

Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a series of missteps. Some of you may remember the messy business with the STC UK chapter. I’ll spare you the gory details.

Let’s look at a smaller example of poor strategic thinking, communication, and general leadership; a post last week on STC’s blog about the disaster in Japan and how STC cannot help:

For many of us who belong to a professional community such as STC, the line can be blurred between the mission of the organization—to advance the profession and help members advance their careers—and the reason many of us belong to STC—for the personal and professional relationships. At times of crisis in locations around the world, we want to reach out and help. But STC cannot be the mechanism for that help. While STC is a charitable organization, the IRS granted this tax-exempt status only for the specific purposes of the “promotion of the profession of technical communication.” STC is not a charitable organization for humanitarian disaster relief. Therefore STC (and STC communities) cannot collect funds on behalf of another group and funnel them. In fact, to do so could jeopardize STC’s tax-exempt status.

Earthquake, tsunami, disaster…”tax-exempt status.” Please. Is this really the most important thing that the STC president had to say that week? There is, in fact, a tech comm organization in Japan, the Japan Technical Communication Assocation. Would it be possible to reach out to that organization? How about just giving individual STC members some ways to reach out to individuals in Japan?

Another example of the dysfunctional organizational culture is the user feedback site implemented on top of the new web site. Back in November 2010, we have a guest post on the STC blog from Mikah Sellers, a Project Phonix team member:

As the new websites come online, it will be essential to implement a process and suite of tools that enable the Society to continuously capture member feedback on the user experience to learn what features and functionality are providing the most value, and what needs to be improved in order to deliver the desired value.

Sounds harmless enough. Actually, it sounds good. And, in fact, STC rolled out a link to a feedback site called GetSatisfaction. Members promptly went there and provided detailed feedback on the web site. But that feedback is not being implemented or even, in many cases, acknowledged. As a result, there is now a sense among contributors that providing feedback is pointless.

I believe that STC, institutionally, has a culture of No. “No” is the first and often only answer to member questions and problems. (A nonanswer of dead silence is perhaps even more common.) Communication with the membership is broken. The irony of an organization devoted to advancing technical communication that is notably terrible at business communication is hard to miss.

STC must change the organizational culture, and it must do it fast. The organization needs the following:

  • A pattern of making and meeting commitments
  • An improved relationship with the members
  • A willingness to admit mistakes

None of this will be easy or fun. I hope that the current leadership has what it takes. The signs over the last day are not promising.

STC’s mission is to advance technical communication. Here’s what I want:

  • A vibrant online community where technical communicators can exchange information and learn from each other
  • A job board that allows employers to post tech comm jobs and employees to find tech comm jobs
  • A database of tech comm service providers that allows potential customers to find tech comm specialists
  • A public relations/media effort to increase the general public’s understanding of technical communication
  • A well-executed strategy for outreach to non-U.S. technical communicators. For examples of how to do this, see tekom.

Currently, I’d grade STC on these as follows:

  • Online community: F or maybe Incomplete. Promised for the past two years but not not yet in existence.
  • Job board: D-. Exists but is not useful.
  • Tech comm service providers: D-. Exists but is not useful.
  • Public relations: F. Not happening.
  • Strategy for non-U.S. tech comm: D. Recognized as a priority but I don’t see much happening.

Seriously, people. If STC were a college student, he would be sent home to take a semester off. We do not have that luxury. Instead, the organization is making ridiculous excuses for missing deadlines.

The culture of No must go.

Granola bar FAIL

March 8, 2010

I found this fine, non-fail recipe for homemade granola bars and decided to try it. So I picked up some lovely dried cranberries and bittersweet chocolate chips (mmmmm, tasty).

Then, I got out the other ingredients from my pantry — brown sugar, rolled oats. Hmmm, that box feels awfully light.

And I discovered that I had about a quarter-cup of rolled oats. That expired in 2008.


Fast-forward to two weeks later, and we are going to try again…this time I discover that I don’t have wheat germ. And don’t want to use whole-wheat flour. Left out the wheat germ, increased the flour and the rolled oats slightly to compensate.

The result smelled good, but:

2x FAIL.

What is wrong with these granola bars? I’m going to need a list:

  • When I tried to poke them in the pan for doneness, I hit a chocolate chip instead of the granola area. You know what happens when you stick your finger into hot melted chocolate? It HURTS. Then, you stick your finger in your mouth to get the chocolate off and burn your mouth. So now I have a burned finger and a burned lip.
  • I tried to cut the granola bars up, but the binding didn’t quite work, so I have quite a bit of deconstructed granola bar. Hmmm…what do you call it when you have granola ingredients not in a bar…maybe…”granola”? Lesson: Follow the recipe, which says to cut them up when they are “warm”. Not hot, warm. (I was still mad about the burned finger and wanted to take my revenge with a knife.)
  • Taste. Oh, the taste. Did I mention that I baked the granola bars at the same time as a lovely batch of non-fail brownies? I neglected to increase cooking time to compensate for multiple pans in the oven, and so my granola “bars” have a slight raw flour taste. Which is not good. Also, I think I didn’t use enough sweetener, so in addition to the raw-flour note, there’s also an unsweetened oats feature. This may work for horses, but not for me. Neigh, not at all.

Lessons learned:

  • Avoid melted chocolate chips in the oven.
  • Do not “wing it” when assembling ingredients on a new recipe. The major reason that this recipe fell apart is probably that I was eyeballing the ingredients instead of measuring them. “What could possibly go wrong, other than a second-degree burn?” I thought blithely.
  • When in doubt, add more sugar.
  • When in doubt, follow instructions closely.
  • “Wing it” is for recipes you know well, and maybe hockey.