My Target Audience for my Work

I have a new online workshop offering at Faster Than 20 (Good Goal-Setting Peer Coachingregister today!), and I’ve been in the process of getting the word out. My friend, Danny Spitzberg, asked whom my target audience was. I figured I’d share my response here, as others might be interested in my answer.

Here’s a rough approximation of my target audiences:

In general, I’m targeting “collaboration practitioners” — anyone who:

  • Thinks effective collaboration is productive and fulfilling
  • Is motivated to improve their group’s collaboration, regardless of their role

The vast majority of collaboration practitioners do not self-identify as such. It’s sometimes in their job descriptions — any leadership and management position, for example — but often is not. It often ends up being invisible work by people who do not necessarily have positional power and that others may or may not value or even see (and hence is often uncompensated), but is nevertheless critical. Much of my strategy is about helping people recognize that being a collaboration practitioner is indeed a thing, that a lot of others think and care about doing this well, and that a community for this exists if people want it.

Good collaboration practitioners care about performance. Great practitioners care about the intersection between performance and aliveness. Truly high-performance groups both perform and feel alive.

My sweet spot audience is the intersection of collaboration practitioners and changemakers — people who care about making change in their respective groups. Not all changemakers have a broader or explicit social mission (which is where my heart is, personally), but I suspect that most changemakers have this implicitly.

“Unemployables” is a cheeky category (coined by Gwen Gordon) that came up at a dinner party the other night to describe independents who probably will never (and perhaps can’t) work for another person’s organization. There could be many reasons for why one might be an “unemployable,” some not necessarily good, especially in the context of collaboration. But when I use it in this context, there’s an implied (admirable) quality of being very values- and systems-driven.

I included this category mainly as an observation, not as a particular focus area, although I definitely care about these folks and count myself among them. They tend to be radically motivated, the folks who are most likely to take my public domain material and use it to learn and practice on their own.

What do you think? Are the categories clear? Do they resonate?

This Is How to Advertise Your Impact

I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Autumn Hays at Partnership for Working Families today. I was particularly struck by her email signature, which opens with:

The Partnership improved the lives of 1.5 million people last year!

This is so smart on so many levels. First, it shows that the Partnership has a clear impact goal and are tracking it in a compelling way. It’s just good storytelling. I’d love to see more transparency in how they’re coming up with their numbers, but I’m a geek, and I’m nitpicking. The fact that they’re doing this at all is great.

Second, they are intentionally drawing people’s attention to their impact in a simple, innovative way. I’m sure Autumn sends lots of emails, and every one of the recipient now has some sense of the Partnership’s impact. It’s the nonprofit version of the McDonald’s “billions served” sign.

I would love to see others do stuff like this. I’m totally planning on stealing this.

Jeff Bezos on Process as Proxy

Jeff Bezos’s 2017 letter to shareholders should be required reading for all entrepreneurs. Seriously, go read it now. It’s short and well worth your time.

One point that seemed particularly relevant to my work is to resist process as a proxy:

Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?

One of my core principles is to be intentional, but hold it lightly. Over half of my work is helping people get clear and aligned around their intentions. People often fall back on process as proxy, because they’ve lost sight of what they’re actually trying to do.

Practicing the Basics

It’s September 2013, nine months since my decision to leave a decade-long practice and identity to venture into the great unknown. It’s been far more of an emotional process than I had originally expected. Change is hard.

This past year, I’ve felt more compelled than usual to tell the story of my transition as it unfolds. It’s driven by my belief in the importance of working openly and leaving trails, but there’s something more driving me right now.

I’m lucky enough not to suffer from impostor syndrome. A lot of my amazing friends and colleagues do, and I go back-and-forth as to whether it drives them forward or holds them back. Personally, I’m humbled by the amazing opportunities I’ve had over the years, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I have utter confidence in what I think I can achieve moving forward.

I’ve also failed more than I’ve succeeded. I’ve done my share of failing this past year. I’m wise enough to know that failure is part of the game, but I’m still struggling to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with it.

I want to share what I’ve learned from this process, and I also want others to know that this is normal, that everyone — even the most remarkable people — goes through it. The first rule of Changemaker Bootcamp is to be nice to yourself, but that can be an incredibly difficult rule to follow. Believe me, I know.

If I had to name one thing I’ve learned this past year, it is this: Being principled is easy. Living your principles is hard.

I’ve been trying to live some very basic principles, principles that I’ve advocated for years, principles that I’ve helped others try to live. It’s hard. I’d like to think that I’m better at it than average, but even if that were true, it’s not much consolation. If we were all a bit better at living our principles, the world would be a better place. In going through my own struggles, I’m also trying to create tools and structures that others can use as well. By elevating myself, I hope to elevate others.

One lesson I’m still learning is that focusing on the basics reaps the biggest rewards. In particular, I think the most important, basic practice is to be intentional, but hold it lightly. Simply starting with an intention is really hard, and I don’t know that many people who do it well. I’m placing a lot of emphasis on that for myself, and I hope that in sharing what I learn, I can help others with it as well.

Be Intentional, but Hold It Lightly

Seb Paquet and I had our second weekly call this morning. (Our “jazz hands” insights video from this week’s call is below.) Seb opened the conversation by sharing a personal story and discussing the importance of being fearless, but not reckless.

Which raises the question: What’s the difference between “fearless” and “reckless”?

After our conversation, Seb posted this very question on Facebook. There were a number of interesting replies, with more likely to come. Two, in particular, resonated with me. Alan Yelsey suggested that the distinction was in whether or not you “fully considered the risk or the value of the objective.” Helen Aitkin noted that the etymology of “reckless” was “without care.”

I agree with both Alan and Helen. I think that intention is the critical distinction, which is still a very fine line. If you take a risk that has a 90 percent chance of failing, and you understand that risk up-front, you are being intentional, but other people might still consider it reckless.

So many of the challenges that we face are ultimately about navigating tensions gracefully. By definition, there are no easy ways to describe how to do this. The best principle I’ve found for navigating these tensions is to be intentional, but hold it lightly.

In other words, have a goal, but don’t be so bound by it that you miss out on the opportunity to learn. Put a stake in the ground, but be open to surprises and new learning. If you practice this basic principle over and over again, you eventually develop an instinct for how to assess risk and navigate uncertainty. If you move without clarity about your intentions, or if you hold on to those intentions too tightly, you will likely fail.

This, to me, is the essence of craft, and it’s become the foundational principle of my work.

I shared this principle with my friend, Mark Bolgiano, a few years ago, and he noted that this same principle applies to golf. You need to have a strategy for how you are going to propel your ball to the hole, but if you grip your club too tightly, you will likely miss your mark. I found this to be a nice physical metaphor for how to think about this principle.

Similarly, Seb brought up the analogy of scientists discovering anomalies in their experiments and reacting in frustration, when the anomalies may actually be clues to some groundbreaking new principle. If you hold onto your intentions too tightly, you miss out on the learning.

The discipline of being intentional is an art form in and of itself. On both calls with Seb so far, we’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing the challenges of setting good goals and being explicit about success. Here are some principles that have emerged along with some relevant blog posts:

  • Define success as a spectrum, from minimum to wild. Seb was the first to share this principle in our conversations by way of a great template from Amy Kirschner. He also noted the importance of considering the zone of proximal development. I first picked up this idea from Kristin Cobble (read her blog post for more), who was strongly influenced by Robert Fritz’s “rubber band model” for navigating tensions.
  • Define both success and failure. This is a good way of coming up with and gut-checking your spectrum of success, and it was my “jazz hands” moment from today’s conversation. When we are far removed from the actual moment of assessing success or failure, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we might treat something as success when we actually believe it to be failure. If you ask, “What is failure?” explicitly, you can identify this behavior well in advance.
  • Ask the “wild” success question twice. In the same way that we might be overly lax in defining minimal success, we can often be overly constrained in defining “wild” success. We self-censor ourselves, because we don’t really believe that wild success is possible. Another trick I picked up from Kristin is to ask this question twice, explaining, “Okay, how would you really, truly define wild success?”
  • Always measure something, and evolve your metrics as you learn. If you rely purely on how you feel, you will either rationalize your way into thinking you are always successful, or you will punish yourself unfairly.
  • Include failure rate in your definition of success. This was Seb’s “jazz hands” moment from our conversation. If you’re trying to accomplish anything hard, you need to expect that you will fail some percentage of the time. You should actually incorporate that failure rate into your success metrics. We agreed that succeeding about two-thirds of the time felt about right, which is consistent with Google’s expected measure of success.

Here’s a story I shared last year about applying the principle of being intentional and holding it lightly on one particular project. And, without further ado, here are Seb and my “jazz hands” moments from today:

Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.