Doctors explaining Gabrielle Giffords’ seemingly amazing transition on the path to recovery after her gunshot wound have credited “neuroplasticity,” or the ability of the brain to compensate for damage by at least partly rewiring itself and assigning new tasks to undamaged regions. It made me think about many organizations I know–including my own business–that were forced to “rewire” when the economic downturn hit. Now we’re on the road to recovery, how much of this flexibility can and should we retain?

People: During the downturn, many of my clients became super-multi-taskers (they were already multi-tasking plenty).  When their staff and colleagues were “downsized,” they suddenly found themselves doing additional jobs–sometimes ones they had given up years before.  They had to re-learn old skills and acquire new ones. They had to plug into the hierarchy in new ways. I did the same when I became a solo practitioner, after years of running a multi-person studio.  Skills I’d like to keep: teaming with clients and vendors, avoiding bureaucracy, and using technology to work efficiently. Skills I’d like to lose: making my own coffee (so far, successfully outsourced to my husband and 12-year-old!)

Leadership: The downturn seemed to bring more collaborative leadership styles, perhaps due to a de-layering of the intervening bureaucracy.  Many nonprofits became more tuned in to the skills of their boards, and tried to tap them more effectively. Leaders had to become more strategic about financial management and fundraising, and make up for lost staff talents.  Skill to keep: Board and Leadership engagement with the mission and strategy. Skill to lose: Board involvement in day-to-day decisions.

Money: Several organizations I work with lost revenue sources, but through quick adaptation and administrative and board engagement were able to develop new ones.  In my business model I did the same–adding more workshops and brand consulting to a mix that had included mainly video and multi-media production.  Skills to keep: Making the money last longer. Skills to lose: Under-charging, and penny-pinching that means the end product suffers and the brand takes a hit.

Time: As a corollary to shrinking staffs and less money, we all came to stretch how much time we spent at work.  We are, after all, the “most productive” country in the world.  Or so we think. Skill to keep: Efficiency.  Skill to lose: So much multi-tasking that we aren’t thoughtful and creative.

What skill did you gain during the downturn and do you want to keep it or lose it?

CNN ran a story today about how well organized pirates on the high seas have become. As you’ve probably read or heard, pirate attacks are becoming a frequent hazard for sailors –particularly in areas such as off the coast of Somalia, with its highly unstable—some would say non-existent—government.  While pirates may appear to be rag-tag bunches of young men in small boats, it turns out they have significant organizations behind them.  Ones with strategic business plans.  And tactical structures like advisory boards and directors of logistics.  They don’t spend their money on fancy boats, but they do outfit their teams with the latest technologies, including GPS.  These are deployed systematically, through grass-roots teams on well-equipped small boats, which often foil larger ships with more sailors.

The management approach of pirates got me thinking about what grassroots organizations could learn from pirates.   The best know you don’t have to have the fancy ship, but you do have to have a plan for outmaneuvering those with more money and personnel.  For starters, having a business plan is essential. Not just for the organization, but also for each program, and even each outreach component.  So, for example, to deploy a new YouTube video to members, it’s critical to have a strategy, and then identify a tactical team, a logistics plan, and means of harnessing technologies–not just the medium for the message, but the tools to get eyeballs there and turn those viewers into positive outcomes for your organization.

So one of my New Year’s plans is to remind myself—and my clients—to think more like pirates. But for a much better cause.

It’s time to kick off the New Year.  Are you ready? Here are some of my resolutions, when it comes to branding and marketing, that is.

1. Add more video content. YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google. So it’s important that people searching for a brand find the content there. I’ve been primarily using Vimeo, because I prefer its copyright protections, but this year I may have to give in and post some clips on YouTube.  I already have video clips on my site, but I could do more to keep them fresh–I am a video producer, after all!

2. Set aside less time for email, more time for social media.  According to Neilsen Research, social media has now surpassed email for communication. I want to be sure I’m working in this space and not still getting sucked into the batting-away-emails mode.  Facebook also just surpassed Google in terms of most sought website. So maybe I have to suck it up and put a professional page there, in addition to my personal one. What do you think?

3. Be a more consistent blogger. I’ll admit this year I fell off the wagon a few times and didn’t post weekly. That reduces pickup by Google and other search engines. Guest posting was really successful and I want to add some more guest bloggers this year. Let me know if you’d like to be one!

4. More speaking engagements.  I got pretty tied up with content production this year, and only did a handful of engagements. This year I’ll be giving 5 workshops at the NAB Convention in Vegas, so I’m already on my way to doing more presentations in 2011.  It’s a great way to meet people, and take time to consider the big picture of social media, marketing and brand strategy.

5. More comments from you.  I’ll admit it, I’m a little anxious about posting on controversial subjects. It gets more hits but the comments can get rough. But I’ll try to be a little more daring this year. Shoot me a topic you’d like to hear more about.

Happy New Year to you and yours. May it be a great year for advancing your mission, raising awareness about your issue, or bringing more impact for your company.