Two roads

When you write, when you speak publicly, there are two roads you can walk.

On the first road, your goal is to get people to believe you, to agree with what you’re saying, to consider you smart, credible, maybe even funny. On this road you communicate expertise and mastery. You amaze them with your technique and your wit. There’s a lot of entertainment value.

“She was such a great speaker, wasn’t she? I just felt so good after hearing her talk!”

On the second road, the only barometer for success is how much you mobilize them to act. This road is about showing a gap in the world that is unacceptable, maybe even a bit ugly, and helping them to see that they are the ones who can fill it. This talk creates passion, it ignites emotions, and, most important, it creates tension and discomfort that are only resolved through action.

Their reaction isn’t about how great you were, it’s about what they now have to do.

Which one are you going for?

One trait to rule them all

If you had one non-negotiable trait that you’d want everyone representing your organization to hold, share and transmit, what would it be?

Of course you’ve got bright, engaged people.  They are confident and interesting, energetic and well-versed in what you do and how it fits into the larger whole.  They are humble and they listen well.  They build relationships naturally, care genuinely about people, look to make others successful as much as they look out for the interest of the organization.

But that one thing, the oomph, the special something that sets them apart?

It’s joy.

Joy is infectious.  Joy is rare.  Joy is something we grab on to and won’t let go of.  It transcends.

(proof point: Zappos)

There’s just one catch: there’s no faking it.

Which means that the starting point is that what you do matters and inspires.  And HOW you do it matters just as much, because that is how your team experiences the work, their  colleagues, your values and how you and they walk through the world.  These all add up to something much greater than the sum of the parts.

But once you’ve got it?  Magic.

Critics’ critiques and cheerleaders’ cheers

There was a guy I went to school with who earned the (affectionate) nickname “Yes, but…”

In any discussion, whether of microeconomic models or where to go for lunch, he started most sentneces with a nod to the contradiction, the course correction, the “on the other hand” point of view he was about to espouse.

In fact most humanities academia is built on the “Yes, but” philosophy – a peer writes a paper, the academic finds a small flaw or oversight and writes a follow-up article exposing that small miss…and in so doing gets her next piece of work published (which is the main milestone in academia).

No surprise, then, that the “yes, but” mindset passes for “critical thinking” which, in turn, is raised to the highest pedistal in our instituitons of higher learning.  “Yes, but…” comments score points with teachers (“great analysis, kid!”) and are the safest form of one-upmanship.

I used to be a terrible offender.  From a good and honest place, and a heartfelt desire to come up with the best solutions, I was most comfortable and most in the habit of finding the logical flaws and asking the tough questions.

I have a colleague who does the opposite, and from whom I’ve learned a lot.  She has an uncanny ability to find what is best, what is most inspiring, what is unique about what someone has said or done, and she shines a light on it with a smile and with no apologies.

When you’re blazing a new path, you’re constantly dogged by critics’ critiques of all the reasons that this won’t work, why it’s been done before and it crashed and burned, why it would be better if you just did it the way everyone else does.  And, of course, sometimes they’ll be right, but usually not.  They’re doing the easy thing: playing the clever, detached critic.

Much harder, and less celebrated, is to be a cheerleader who applauds victories, however small; who props people up when fatigue sets in, when the road seems to long, or when they have, just for a second, lost the will to go even one step further.   In work as in life, when times are really tough, those voices of support are priceless, especially from cheerleaders who help you break through barriers, who lean in with you, who are fully invested in YOUR success – rather than taking pot shots from the sidelines.

What we pay, what we get

Lots of inspirational moments today at the Global Philanthropy Forum (live webcast here).

It’s too much to try to capture in one post, but my parting reflection from today is how continually humbled I am by the accomplishments of Aravind Eye Hospital, the recipient of this year’s Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Founded in 1976, Aravind pioneered high-quality, high value, low cost service for low-income customers. They have built a truly remarkable organization that has revolutionized not only eyecare in India but our conception of what is possible. Some statistics:

  • Of the 37 million people globally who are blind, 15 million are in India
  • Aravind has served more than 3 million people since inception, and currently serves more than 300,000 per year
  • The majority (60-70%) of Aravind’s customers pay a reduced cost or nothing for eye surgery
  • The average medical doctor performs 300 surgeries per year; the average Aravind doctor performs more than 2,000
  • Among other inspirations, Aravind’s founder Dr. Venkataswamy attended McDonald’s Hamburger University to learn about standardization and quality control.
  • Interocular lenses cost $200, so Aravind decided to manufacture them themselves, and now sells them for $3 apiece (at a profit)
  • 15% of all ophthalmologists in India have been trained by Aravind
  • Aravind is profitable

When we talk about scale, innovation, doing the impossible, creating massive change to fight preventable illness, this is what we mean.

A closing thought, shared by Dr. William Foege (who among other things is credited with creating the strategy that eradicated smallpox): philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells a parable of two robbers who entered a jewelry store and stole nothing; the only thing they did was switch the price tags between the costume and the real jewelry.  The customers never noticed.

So too, Dr. Foege opined, in the modern world the price tags have been switched.  We ascribe the highest value to a small group of people who receive exceptional, unprecedented levels of monetary reward, and consistently undervalue the work of nurses and teachers and social workers and people who live lives in service of others.

In closing, a video about Aravind:

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The poverty box

Today I registered for a conference and had to check a box about my “area of interest,” so I check off “International Development / poverty.”

And then I realized why only 23% of U.S. philanthropy goes to international causes.1 We’re stuck in this box.   The one that has you pick from:  Human rights /  Conflict resolution / Women’s issues / Education /  Healthcare / Infrastructure / Policy reform / Judicial reform / Poverty alleviation (CHECK) / Etc….

The “how” is so much less important than the “why” in making people understand how urgent this is.

The box I want to check says: “I’m in the business of creating a different world, one in which the 7 out of 10 people globally who are struggling for survival can instead become artists and engineers and teachers and entrepreneurs and CEOs and judges and architects and software programmers and Presidents and mothers who don’t worry if their children will survive to age 5.  I’m in the business of realizing the potential of all of the 6.7 billion people on this earth, and not just the 2 billion who were born in the right place at the right time.”

Yeah, that’s the box I want to check.

NOTE 1: the 23% number comes from Jane Wales, and if anyone knows this statistic it’s her.  I honestly thought the number was much lower.  Does anyone have a source for this number?

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2010 resolutions, in two takes


This year I resolve to…

Wake up earlier and go to bed earlier.

To get more sleep and always eat a proper breakfast and bring my lunch to work daily and rush less on my way to work and on my way home and everywhere in between.

To exercise more, practice yoga more and to meditate daily and to eat more fiber and green leafy vegetables.

To spend more time with family and friends, and also to build stronger relationships at work and for work.

To be on time for every meeting and also be open to spontaneous, creative, and urgent conversations.

To be slow to judgment, to anger and to frustration, and quick with a smile and a kind word.

To read all the interesting articles and videos and blog posts people send my way, and also the The Economist from cover to cover, and never to fall behind on email but not to be ruled by my Inbox or distracted by my iPhone.

To hit every deadline, strike everything off my to do list, to plan in advance and create clarity and inspiration and connection for those around me.

And to create a 30 hour day…



This year I resolve to be more accepting of myself and of others, to be more present, more calm, more generous, more open, and more at ease.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

My thanks to all of you for reading in 2009, and wishing you a year in which you continue to evolve into the person you were meant to be.

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