Norms, Strategy, and Thanksgiving Duck Revisited

It’s been nine years since I and my family started eating duck for Thanksgiving. I have also happily introduced several friends to the concept, although surprisingly, I know of no permanent converts. Some (many?) of my friends actually like turkey. But I think the biggest factor is that culture, norms, and traditions are remarkably powerful.

I get it. My family ate turkey for over thirty years before converting. When I consider how much more I enjoy Thanksgiving now, and how much less stressful it is to prepare the meal, I marvel at how long it took us to make the switch.

I see individuals and groups struggle with this all the time. Goal-setting and strategy are more often an exercise in documenting what you’re already doing rather than a deep examination of where you’re trying to go and why. The latter requires that you make a choice, and making choices is hard.

That’s not to say that doing things because that’s why you’ve always done them is a bad thing. The most important thing is that you’re being intentional, and that you know why you’re being intentional. Chesterton’s Fence definitely applies.

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.