The whole without a map thing is not (just) a metaphor

A couple of weeks ago, I was running a familiar four mile loop and decided I was feeling good enough that I’d extend the run.  Rather than take the final right turn a half mile from the “end” of the run, I kept going.  A half mile later, on an unfamiliar street not knowing exactly where I was or where I was going, I lost all my mojo.  My stride shortened, I felt the spring go out of my step, everything started to tighten up.

Was I actually, all of a sudden, so much more tired?

No, I was just off my map:  the calculus of where I was relative to where I had to go had stopped processing; I literally didn’t know if I was heading north or east; and I couldn’t tell if each step was taking me closer to or further from my destination.

I wasn’t tired, I was just disoriented.  And once I realized that, realized that the simple act of feeling lost had gotten into my head, not my legs or lungs, I exhaled and things felt better (though not completely back to normal).

There’s a lot of great advice out there that we find so appealing but we stop short of actually taking the advice – because it would be silly, wouldn’t it, to actually go all the way.  So we read and believe that success today comes the moment you recognize that there is no map, no path someone has charted out for you to follow.  And we think that’s a nice idea but do we actually, literally, practice what it feels like to be somewhere without a map, do we observe how we react to this situation and learn how to apply that reflection to our lives?

We read about radical email strategies that could save us hours a day (whether Leo Babuta’s email ninja tricks which include limiting all responses to 5 sentences or less, or experiments like ‘no email Friday,’ recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal) and we nod but then we just tweak things around the edges.

Someone suggests that we could shorten our meetings and change our meeting culture by having all meetings standing up or only holding meetings to support a decision that’s already been made and we think it’s a nice idea that wouldn’t really work for us and our company culture.

Maybe, just maybe, these ideas aren’t metaphors.  Maybe they are actual, real ideas.  And maybe nothing would go wrong if we actually tried them, for real, for a little while before rejecting them out of hand.

Go ahead, go for a walk or run this weekend without a map and see how it feels.

20 dollars, 61 authors, fight malaria

It couldn’t be simpler: today is End Malaria Day.  A million people a year still die from malaria.  Bednets keep out mosquitoes and save lives.  You can help.

So here’s the deal: for $20 (Kindle) or $25 (paperback) you can buy a copy of End Malaria.  $20 of the proceeds for every copy go to Malaria No More.  Full details on the End Malaria Day website.

This is worth doing because the cause is worthwhile, the organization is the real deal, and you can actually save lives with your $20.

If you need more motivation, you’ll be getting essays from the likes of Tom Peters, Dan Pink, Brene Brown, Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson…. (there’s 61 of them.)

This is the exact moment when you think “this is a good idea, I should probably do this” and then you don’t.  Go ahead and do it.  You’ll feel great about it, you’ll be part of something important, and you’ll get a great book in the process.


Seriously, BUY THE BOOK.

Then post to Facebook and Twitter (for example: I just bought End Malaria to celebrate World Malaria Day:  Email this post to 10 people.  Tell a friend.

Do Linchpins have Checklists?

Atul Gawande has convinced me that checklists are way more powerful than I’d ever realized.  I picked up The Checklist Manifesto because I love Gawande’s writing and I’m fascinated by ways to improve the practice of medicine.  While I wanted to learn more about improving surgical outcomes, I never expected that in so doing I’d learn why buildings don’t fall down, why planes are a safer way to travel than cars, and how some of the most successful VC firms beat their competitors: you guessed it, they all use of checklists.

Guwande leads with a deep look at the building trade, which used to rely on master builders who ran the show, until that stopped working.   What it takes to put up a building got too complex for any one person to handle in an improvisational way, and so the “master builder” model gave way to intensive use of checklists: checklists that describe who does what, the steps to follow, and, most importantly, how the groups interact with each other.  The parallel is to modern surgery which, until recently, has been dominated by the surgeon as “master builder;” Guwande’s compelling argument is that modern medicine, with all of its sub- sub- specialties and technology, has become so complex that this “master builder” mindset is hopelessly outdated.

As I’ve been digesting this, I’ve been trying to reconcile it with the idea – which I believe on a deep level – that to thrive in the modern economy and to be a happy and fulfilled person, what the world is asking of all of us is that we be linchpins, that we create our art and do the work that no one else can do.  And then the question arises: where are checklists in this picture?

And then it hit me that the point of intersection between checklists and linchpins grows out of the recognition that the most successful checklists define both the steps to take in a given situation AND the norms and expectations for how people are going to interact.  For example, something as simple as members of a surgical team introducing themselves to one another by name before the start of surgery, Gawande found, has a significant positive impact on surgical outcomes: people on the surgical team (nurses especially) are more likely to speak up when a step is skipped or a mistake is made if everyone knows each others’ names.

Last week at NextGen:Charity Seth Godin said that only the perfect problems are left today – because all the imperfect ones have already been solved.  What a great rallying cry!  As our teams get more virtual and more loosely connected, as roles begin to blend and the edges around our roles and responsibilities get softer, the answer Guwande points us towards is not to create a process for everything, to think that there’s a series of all-encompassing steps that will foresee each new situation and how we interact with it.   Instead, the onus is on us to increase our comfort with that place of uncertainty by defining two things: the steps we’re going to take in situations in which the steps can be defined; and how we’re going to interact with each other all of the time.

So it’s not about constantly improvising outside of all norms and best practices; nor about thinking that everything will go right if we can just systematize the process.  It’s about our orientation towards the world, and the knowledge that we can optimize how we solve the imperfect problems and, in so doing, free up the space in our minds and our lives so we can practice our art – and tackle the remaining, perfect problems.

NextGen:Charity mini-roundup

Here’s my completely non-exhaustive and non-definitive mini-roundup of  the 2010 NextGen:Charity conference where I had the chance to speak last Thursday (with a heavy bias towards the talks I was able to attend).

Some things I’ll keep thinking about long after the conference:

  • Scott Harrison (charity:water) has a knack for storytelling, creativity, and creating a compelling message (including video) from which all nonprofits can learn a LOT.  You shouldn’t try to copy charity:water’s brand and story, but looking at what they’ve done makes it hard to accept the current (sad) state of nonprofit branding and storytelling.
  • Nancy Lublin’s ( Donald Trump/MilkDuds story reminded me about gumption – that we can always go further than we think we can.
  • Scott Case (Malaria No More) is right that all nonprofits should aim to go out of business (because they’ll solve the problem they set out to solve).  This mindset will open up a world of possibilities, forcing  focus on solving the problem you set out to solve…instead of caring most about the organization you are building.   They’ve said they want to end malarial deaths by 2015.  How’s that for clear and being willing to fail? (plus this viral video wins the prize for gutsiest thing I’ve seen a nonprofit do in a while).
  • Joanne Heyman taught us how the “scarcity fallacy” (scarce resources, scarce creativity, scarce investment) limits our thinking and actions in the sector.  How can resources be scarce, she asked, if we’re a $3 billion sector with more than 1 million nonprofits employing 7% of the nonfarm employed population?
  • Jonathan Greenblatt shared insights on the big trends in our sector – mega (gifts), micro (gifts and connection, like Kiva), mobile (nearly as many mobile phones as people) and markets (growth of impact investing, B corporations).
  • Seth Godin never fails to make me smile when he pulls out his deluxe rubber chicken.  I loved his notion that all the problems that are left are the perfect ones, because all the imperfect ones have been solved.  He also posited that if you’ve never been thrown out of a fundraising meeting, then you’re not pushing hard enough.
  • Aaron Hurst demanded that companies bring as much smarts to their philanthropy as they do to their core business.  I wish I’d been surprised to learn that there’s actually a nonprofit that has a room that they’ve designated as the “painting room” – the one that corporate volunteers come to paint over and over again as their volunteer project.  Maybe if I’m extra-nice to Aaron he’ll invite me to see the room.
  • Ami Dar made a beautiful presentation about a new platform Idealist will be launching – beta in NY – to enable citizen action.  If you’re a connector in NY and this sounds interesting, you should contact Ami.  (he also made me wonder where he got that cool inverted paintbrush font.)
  • And in the closing talk, Ari Teman, one of the conference’s organizers, made me think in a new way about gratitude, made me want to read his book, Effective Gratitude for Organizations and Individuals, and made me want to think harder about the relationship between gratitude and generosity.

I heard great things about lots of the other talks, many of which I was unable to hear.  I’m told there will be videos of all the talks (including mine) available soon…I’ll keep you posted.

No Sympathy for the Devil

Seth Godin’s free e-book to complement Linchpin just came out.  It’s called Insubordinate: Linchpins are Everywhere You Look (vol.1) and it profiles – incredibly simply – linchpins Seth has had “the pleasure (the joy) to know and work with over the last 20 years.”

Seth divides the world into three types of people:

  1. Linchpins
  2. Supporters
  3. Leeches, Advocates for the Devil, and Bystanders (aka people in a pre-linchpin state)

Here’s how Seth describes his attitude towards the third group:

The third group, as you’ve probably guessed, are the pessimists, the obstructionists and the protectors of the status quo. Driven largely by fear, they set out to slow you down, whittle you down and average you down. Mostly, it’s not their fault, though, because they’ve been brainwashed and don’t yet realized how powerful and productive it is to take a different route. It’s tempting to call these people out by name and to demonstrate how their fear is robbing so many people of a chance to make a difference. I won’t, though, because it’s not productive.

It’s that last bit that really caught my attention (which is why I bolded it, Seth didn’t).

Just last week I met with someone whose passion is transforming the status quo in the nonprofit sector.  In this aspiration, he and I are perfectly aligned.  But, as I told him, I wish he’d tweak his strategy by following Seth’s example here, by appreciating how non-productive it is to expend a lot of energy calling out the people who he sees as part of the problem, the people who don’t meet his standards.

The mark of experience, the mark of leadership, to me, is recognizing that the most positive, far-reaching change comes from highlighting the bright spots, from holding up and celebrating what is working, and giving it as much space and fertile ground as possible to flourish.  Sure, shocking news grabs the headlines, sells copies of The National Enquirer, and gets people to tune in to the 11 o’clock news.  But there truly is nothing easier than sitting on the sidelines, tearing others down and saying “I could do it better.”

The thing is, I bet you could do it better – so go ahead and do it.  That’s what the world really needs now: more insubordinates and fewer bystanders.

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Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?

There is power in asking the right question, and Seth Godin’s new book, “Linchpin” hits you over the head with a question that it’s impossible to run away from:

Are you Indispensable?

Because, now, for a short period of time, you can be (Seth explains why in the book).  And since you can be, why aren’t you?  There are lots of reasons, and the book gets to the guts of them, digging into fear and our lizard brains and the misconceptions that we need a map and that we’re here to do jobs rather than to do the work.  This book will grab you and shake you and open doors to all the things you know in your heart you can do.

This isn’t your everyday book, so it’s fitting that Seth isn’t doing an everyday book launch.  Instead, the book is being launched with a web ring of blog interviews with Seth instead of a typical media tour.  You can see all the posts from the ring on Squidoo.

Here’s why Seth’s doing it this way, in his own words:

I’m not reaching out to any radio stations, any television, any newspapers. Not one.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the long tail is longer and more powerful than ever before, and the engine of that tail is us, the bloggers…I think it’s going to be an interesting experiment in momentarily coordinating the threads of the net, flowing traffic in and around an idea as it travels from one blog to another.

Like so many people, I learn from Seth every day, so it’s exciting to be able to share my interview with Seth here, and more exciting still to be able to share this amazing book with my readers.  This book is a keeper, so why not get yourself a copy?

Here’s the interview:

Sasha:  Do you remember the first really big thing you ever gave away?  How did it feel?

Seth: When I was in college, I co-founded a business that grew to be the biggest student run business in the country… 10% of the students at my college worked for our temporary employment agency. We had all these crazy businesses: birthday cake delivery, a snack bar, a concert bureau. And did it basically for free, working 40 hours a week for $50. People said I was crazy, that work was work and I should get paid. But for me, the act of generosity that came from showing up all the time for free transformed it from a job to a mission. That sense of mission, of making change because it’s important, of doing work because others benefit–I’ve been hooked on it ever since.

Sasha: Why do you think it’s so hard for people to bring their whole selves to work?

Seth: Bringing your whole self to anything… work, a relationship, even cooking dinner… is dangerous because failure or rejection is real. You can’t say, “I wasn’t really trying,” because you were. You can’t say, “it doesn’t really matter,” because it does. The resistance, the pre-historic lizard brain voice in the back of your head, the part that’s responsible for survival and fear… that little voice insists that you hold back, because holding back feels safe. And in the days of the saber tooth tiger, that was probably smart. But today, in a competitive world where holding back means failure, it’s just stupid.

Sasha: Say there are 100,000 people acting like linchpins today.  What does the world look like when that number jumps to 10 million or 100 million?

Seth: The old, “but if everyone does this” problem! Trust me, we’re not going to have a crowded surplus of generous artists any time soon. Just as Purple Cow didn’t make every product remarkable, and The Dip didn’t transform everyone into a smart quitter, Linchpin is not going to be so successful that the economy turns upside down. There’s a window that’s open, and it’s going to be open for a little while: the world desperately needs people willing to stand up and be counted, willing to do work that matters, willing to invent instead of following the rules. That’s my message. There’s a moment, and it’s here for a while. Take it or leave it…

Sasha: People are more empowered than ever to be linchpins.  But it also feels like fear and greed are more rewarded than ever.  Which wins?

Seth: Fear is not rewarded, not at all. Fear gets you laid off. Fear leads to small thinking. Greed has always been a smart short-term strategy, but my sense is that the short term is getting shorter than ever. Greed used to be a valid strategy for a lifetime or a decade. But as we’re seeing in one industry after another, the half-life for greed keeps getting shorter. Plus, and it’s a big plus, it feels better to be generous.

Sasha: If you could rewrite the 1st grade curriculum, what would it look like?  6th grade? 11th grade?  College?

Seth: All the same: solve interesting problems. When was the last time you saw a classroom of students solving interesting problems?

Check out the rest of the interviews here.

What Matters Now

What if you could peek into the brains of 70 of the smartest, most accomplished, groundbreaking authors and bloggers and thinkers around?

And what if you could ask them, “What word matters most to you of all?  Can you explain what and why?”  People like Arianna Huffington and Elizabeth Gilbert and Chris Anderson and Karen Armstrong and Tom Peters.

That would be worth your time, wouldn’t it?  …if you could only get to all of those people.

Voilà, enter Seth Godin and his new free PDF,  What Matters Now.  It just came out today, and you can download it here, for free, or here on Scribd.  Because Seth knows more than anyone that what matters most is spreading powerful ideas.

So go ahead, download it, read it, share it.

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Everything I really needed to know about presentations…

…I learned from a band that plays for 5 year olds.

I had a wonderful summer evening with my family, listening to the much-acclaimed (by my kids) Jeffrey and the Bossy Frog Band play an outdoor free concert as the sun went down.  It was great.

Here’s a list of things that Jeffrey gets right:

  • Engage your audience from the get-go.  Get them to answer questions.  Get them to stand up. Get them to participate.
  • Have a really cool name.  Even if you’re just one guy with a bunch of blow-up dolls, be more than just a guy on stage with a banjo.
  • Be wildly enthusiastic.  Love what you do.
  • Never apologize, qualify, or otherwise stall.  Jump right in.
  • Tell stories.
  • Treat your audience with respect.
  • Have a message that everyone in the audience (no matter how much or little they know about what you’re doing) will understand.  For example, count how many pieces a flute has and then put it together.
  • Never shoot down a comment from the audience.  A person participating is a person who’s engaged.  (Even if they shout out “frog!” when you ask for their favorite kind of bug)
  • Be a master of your craft.
  • Thank your hosts,  and be genuine about it.
  • Tell people what they can do if they love you.  “Buy a CD, go to my website to see where my next gig is.”

You can get all this stuff and more from Garr Reynolds or Seth Godin or just by paying really close attention watching TED talks.  Or you can just pay more attention the next time you go to a great kids’ show.

We get so wrapped up in our elaborate content and message and the fact that we’re giving a speech that we absolutely forget that creating enthusiasm, interest, energy and connection with the audience isn’t optional, ever, no matter what you do and how sophisticated a message you want to communicate.

Go ahead, prep and deliver your presentation as if you’re talking to a bunch of 5-year olds.  I bet it will get better.

(And, just for kicks, here’s Rives’ 4-minute riff, “If I controlled the Internet.”)

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Your voice

Seth recently shared a great response to all the people who say they’re going to be the next Seth, rightly exhorting folks to get busy being their best selves instead.

But how do you find your own voice?

We all stand on the shoulders of giants – people whose ideas we are building on, whose lessons we are working to learn, whose path has inspired us.

For a while, I think, we have no choice but to internalize, and at times mimic, the voice of those we admire, trying on constructs or phrases or ideas for size. If done honestly, without claims of being the next anything, it can be constructive, a process through which we play, we practice, we experiment…and in so doing we discover the ground we would like to stake out for ourselves. It’s the intersection of where we know the most, care the most, and have something to say that adds to the conversation.

It can be an awkward process. We see people who are great at what they do – especially great communicators – and can’t help but fault ourselves for not being as great as they are (never mind they’ve usually been at this a lot longer – you’re seeing the fully formed version of them, and you’re just starting out). Why don’t we do it the way they do?

It’s because their voice is theirs. You’re not ever going to do it the way they do because you’re not them. This is why you will never BE the next them; you can only be the best you.

Learn from them, walk in their shoes and down their path for some time. And in so doing discover your own gait and your own way forward. Someday, all that will be left of their voice in yours will be lines that start, “A mentor of mine used to say….” These are the crisp encapsulations of your own guideposts, how you navigate and explain your own orientation in the world.

Take the time to discover your own voice. And be patient with yourself. It takes a while.

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Why do you read?

You’re reading this blog right now.  Why?

It might be for entertainment, or a diversion.  Or it might be because you want some ideas about how to do things differently.

If you’re interested in doing things differently, you have to ask yourself: do I want just to be exposed to new ideas, or do I actually want to act differently (today, someday)?

If it’s about acting differently, what will it take to get you there?

It’s probably been two years since I read Seth Godin’s missive on Really Bad Powerpoint, and I’ve been carrying around his maxim of “No more than 6 words on a slide. EVER. ” since then.  I’ve also made a million excuses why this is a nice idea but it’s not realistic; why it doesn’t apply to my own storytelling.  Or I’ve said, “6 words per slide is a nice idea, but what he really means is fewer words per slide.  I can hack that.”  That’s a cop out.

Tomorrow, in a big, very visible, very important meeting, I’m giving a presentation that has 17 slides and 51 words.  I’m giving it a shot.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might have thought it interesting to consider reorganizing your RSS feed, changing the way you write email or conduct conference calls, or practicing your storytelling.   If you’ve been reading Seth’s blog, you might have thought about getting a professional picture on Twitter, learning graphic design, or listening to your sneezers.

But are you stuck thinking “this idea might be interesting someday” or are you actually doing things differently?

Sometimes it takes a few tries to get there.  It took me more than two years to take the plunge on my next PowerPoint.  But you should be honest with yourself and ask if you’re reading as a passive observer or as someone who is going to act.

Go ahead, act.

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