Unreasonable slack time?

This content is syndicated from Agile Development Blog: Scaling Software Agility by Ryan Martens. To view the original post in full, click here.

Starting on June 16th, I will be taking a six week sabbatical from Rally to be the Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at the Unreasonable Institute. This institute, an incubator for social ventures, was formed in 2010 in Boulder by a talented array of recent CU graduates. Watch this 2 minute trailer to understand what they did last year:

(See all the Unreasonable TV episodes from last year.)

In the past, I have mentored TechStars teams here in Boulder and loved the work. Here at Rally, I’ve led and worked on the company’s social mission, our green team and the corporate social responsibility team. I consider myself socially aware. But when I attended the Unreasonable Institute’s Global Summit event last summer in Boulder, I was blown away.   The quality of the people, their concepts, the high caliber of the program and the great video coverage really opened my eyes to the possibility of scaling these efforts fast.  The large, complex social problems this Institute’s entrepreneurs are working to solve are so very compelling to me.  I believe this EIR role is a unique opportunity for me to push my thinking by working daily for five weeks with these well-vetted social entrepreneurs.  To me, this sabbatical is about working outside the business to broaden my perspective and shape the heuristics of complex social solutions. This is not what I do in a typical week where I would simply work “on” or “in” the business.  In essence, it is my effort to continue to find ways to scale myself as Sheryl Sandberg describes in her Stanford Thought Leader’s podcast. But it is also a way for my team at Rally to grow based on my absence.

Rally’s sabbatical program is about service and “mental slack” time

As you might remember from my Thank You Sun Microsystems post, Rally created our sabbatical program based on the Sun Microsystems model with help from an ex-Sun HR director.  As the longest serving employee at Rally, I am the first proof point of our sabbatical program.  As such, I hope through my choices that Rally employees who become eligible to apply to this program after seven years of service will find a way for this unique opportunity to help them scale themselves as well.  I think of the benefits of this program as “mental slack time.”  We all need this time to sharpen our personal vision, work outside the business, and scale ourselves. In so doing, we can bring multiple forms of value, to the business and to our communities.  I think of this sabbatical work just like those three Citizenship merit badges in Boy Scouts or an Agile hack-a-thon for yourself.

At Rally this is a benefit you earn, but you have to apply for it.  Your application gets reviewed by your manager and the executive leaders for purpose and value to you, the business and society. If your sabbatical aligns with the social mission of Rally, you may even be eligible for additional funding to support your efforts from the Rally Foundation.  The criteria is not extremely hard. But we know that the process of long-term personal planning and working outside our business leads to great passion in our people and innovations for our business.

For my part, as an EIR with the Unreasonable Institute, I will be leveraging personal experiences from across my software and non-profit start-up efforts.  I already know I plan to  teach a class to the 2011 participants on business model canvases, Lean Start-ups and Agile with one of Rally’s coaches, Ben Carey.  But mostly, my eyes are wide open to helping the entrepreneurs make magic and form promising organizations.  Scaling to solve large social problems like poverty, lack of clean water, global climate change and net access are the mysteries we need to solve as we grow past 7 Billion people on the planet.

Help the Unreasonable Institute break molds

Through the Unreasonable Institute, Daniel Epstein, Teju Ravilochan and Tyler Hartung are breaking all kinds of molds. I’m proud to join them and the rest of the team this summer in their work.  Each year, twenty-five entrepreneurs are selected to attend the Institute. This year, the Institute has narrowed the field of possible attendees from 300 to 50. January 20th marked the opening of its Finalist Marketplace . In the marketplace, these 50 finalists are challenged to raise the $8,000 tuition fee in order to attend. However, they are not allowed to pay their own way! The first 25 entrepreneurs to raise the necessary fee from the Internet become the invited entrepreneurs for this 2011 session. And, you can be a part of this! Consider joining the marketplace to help select the entrepreneurs you believe deserve a chance to participate.

I hope you will consider this kind of effort for yourself and even your organization

My hope is that people strive to push themselves up the steps of social responsibility and citizenship.  Consider the model from Mark Kramer and Michael Porter at FSG (see their HBR article on Strategy and Society), in which they paint a world of three levels of corporate social responsibility:

  1. Generic Social Issues - Social issues that neither are significantly impacted by the company’s operations, nor materially affect its long term competitiveness
  2. Value Chain Impacts - Social issues that  are significantly impacted by the company’s activities in the ordinary course of business
  3. Competitive Context – Social issues in the company’s external environment that affect the underlying drivers of competitiveness in the locations where the company operates

At Rally, we worked hard in 2010 to shape our social mission and foundation

Rally has gained a tremendous amount of direction with our corporate social responsibility work from Marc Benioff and Suzanne DiBianca in the model they formed at the Salesforce.com Foundation. And we’ve been informed by the Entrepreneur’s Foundation Corporate Citizenship Conference.  We will continue to share more of the details of this work as our Foundation finalizes.

The benefits of social responsibility work has been amazing in my life.  I’ve benefited from immediate emotional returns, wonderful ideas, amazing relationships and long-term feedback on my purpose and goals in life.  Even without a sabbatical program,  I hope you will consider some step up on the social responsibility ladder this year. One of the most unique benefits of corporate social responsibility came after my dinner to sign up for the EIR opportunity, I got a 3′ penguin (the mascot of Unreasonable Institute).  If the penguin has anything to say about it, it’s going to be a great summer!RyanPenguin

A simple answer to the title of this post – NO this is not Unreasonable slack time! It is some of the best work you can do for yourself, your business, your community and society.  Don’t forget to visit – Share the 1/1/1 Model, Entrepreneur’s Foundation, EFCO, Serve.gov or follow the Unreasonable Institute on RSS, Twitter, TV.

Ryan Martens is an Epic Pass holder for 2010, school board member at Friend School Boulder, and CTO at Rally Software Development.

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