Saving Dolphins and my Favorite Dashboard

A few years ago, Sharon Negri introduced me to David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project, which was responsible for raising awareness about the dangers that fishing for tuna with nets had on dolphins.

In his office, he has one of my favorite dashboards. It’s basically a bookshelf with cans of tuna on it. The bookshelf started off empty. Every time a tuna brand converted to line-caught tuna, he would add the can to his shelf. Here’s what it looks like now.

Measuring and tracking impact doesn’t have to be complicated, and it definitely doesn’t have to be digital.

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.

2013 Progress Report on Balance and Impact

I went on a five-mile run last week with my little sister. She considers five miles a “short” run. I consider it long, but that’s not what made our little excursion remarkable.

What made it remarkable was that this run came at the end of the year. I even felt pretty good afterward. I’ve been in better shape, and I’ve run longer distances, but never in December. I’m usually exhausted due to stress and out-of-shape due to inactivity. I’m ending this year feeling strong, healthy, and rested.

This was a transition year for me. I wanted to take the time to reset and reflect. I wanted to rethink what I wanted to accomplish over the next few years. I also wanted to re-engineer my life, rediscovering balance that I hold near and dear.

It’s been hard, and it’s been gratifying. It started by unpacking and letting go of many things, giving myself a chance to mourn, to celebrate, and to heal. I had to create lots of space for something new to emerge, and I had to relearn and relive the ups and downs of that creation process.

None of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement of many, many friends. Maybe there are people out there who are stronger or grittier than me, but there is no way that I could have gotten through this past year without the people in my life. I am beyond thankful for this, and I feel very, very blessed.

I don’t feel like this transition process is done, but I do feel like I’m entering a new stage, and I’m excited about what lies ahead. For the first time since 2006, I am entering the new year with professional certainty. I know what I’ll be working on, and I know where most of my income will be coming from.

For the first time since 1999, my life is also feeling spacious. I feel like I have room to explore and to let things emerge, and I’m excited for those things to happen.

If 2013 was about resting, then 2014 is about testing. Was I successful in creating new, healthy habits? Will I be successful in letting go of old, toxic ones? Will I be successful both in maintaining balance, but also in having greater impact?

We shall see. Slow the pace, stay in the race. Happy New Year!

Two Collaboration Insights from Last Weekend’s Football Games

It’s football season! Today, I came across two gems about this past weekend’s games that spoke to me about collaboration in general.

Data and Impact

In reaming Tennessee Titans coach, Mike Munchak, Bill Barnwell wrote:

Mike Munchak put us all through a lot of field goals for no real reason, and in doing so, he illuminated the difference between meaningful game management and the illusion of impact.

In this one, biting sentence, Barnwell is offering commentary on how we evaluate coaches. When you kick a field goal, you’re putting points on the board, and so it may look like you’re getting results. But the real question is whether kicking a field goal the highest impact move you could have made at the time. The sports analytics movement has shown that some of our most common practices are often the worst moves we can make, even though they give us the illusion of progress.

Sound familiar?

Fundamentals

The Seattle Seahawks have the league’s stingiest defense, and they completely dismantled the San Francisco 49ers powerful offense this past weekend. How did they do it? Gregg Easterbrook wrote:

The short version of the success of the Seahawks’ defense is good players who hustle, communicate with each other and wrap-up tackle. Contemporary NFL defenses are so plagued by players’ desire for spectacular plays that make “SportsCenter” that blown coverages and missed assignments have become de rigueur. Seattle’s defense almost never has a broken play. And those lads can tackle! Seattle misses fewer tackles than any NFL defense. Lots of wrap-up tackles where the runner gains an extra yard are better than a few spectacular hits for a loss, plus frequent missed tackles. Seattle defenders understand this.

Hustle, communicate, execute. It sounds so basic, it’s almost a cliche.

A big reason I developed Changemakers Bootcamp was my realization that getting really, really good at the basics could have a much bigger impact than on inventing new tools or processes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of attention and focus seems to be on the latter rather than the former. We see lots of stories from sports and other fields what a mistake this can be.

Photo by Philip Robertson. CC BY 2.0.

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.