Paul Shoemaker: Can't Not Do: Inner Traits for External Impact
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Feb 6, 2016
Guest: Paul Shoemaker Host: Nipun Mehta Moderator: Amit Dungarani
Can't Not Do: Inner traits for External Impact
Amit: I went in a lot of different directions with the question. Is there something that really takes over me that I can't not do it? I started thinking about larger issues, and I couldn't come up with an answer. I figured if I already had the clarity, I'd be working on it right now, rather than be trying to figure out an answer to this question.
Then I took a step back and looked at small things in my day to day life. I can't not love my little daughter. I spring into action to do anything for her, or perhaps when I come across a friend in need or even a stranger that asks for help, I can't help but to spring into action. That is something that is somewhat natural for all of us. There is this inner pull that allows us to jump into acting and do something on behalf of someone. But beyond that if I'm trying to think about what's stopping me from dedicating me to a specific cause whether it is on local level or even a global level, I start to wonder. How do I address things like hunger or poverty or education? What type of barriers do I impose upon myself? It really starts to get daunting, especially when you consider that some of these problems have been around for centuries, and there are people far brighter than I am today or in the past that have tried to work on this.
As I try to hold these types of questions inside, I'm really thankful that we have Paul today as our special guest because he is really someone who has dedicated himself to helping others answer these types of questions whether it is for themselves. And when they do find those answers, finding meaningful ways to connect them with the right causes or other individuals or resources in meaningful ways to make an impact.
For those of you who don't know Paul or are not familiar with his work, they say that if you are out to make a change in the world, then Paul is an individual that you want to meet because he can connect you to different people or ideas or organizations that can really make a difference. He is the founding President of the Social Venture Partners International and was the executive director of SVP Seattle for the last seventeen years.
Coming from that background he has the very unique vantage point. He is often considered a leading expert on activating social change agents and is considered a global thought leader on how individuals can be the most effective philanthropists.
Paul is committed to work in the community, and he is on the board of directors for SVPI and Partners for Our Children which is a non-profit based in the state of Washington that works to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families.
In a previous life Paul was in the private sector as well and was the group manager for world wide operations at Microsoft and Nestle. With this diverse background and incredible set of experiences, we are really thankful to have Paul with us on the call today, and maybe he can help answer some of the questions around our theme today.
So Paul, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?
Paul: I'm very good, Amit. Thank you and thank you, Nipun.
A: Great. I was hoping you could start by telling us a little about Social Venture Partners. What they do? And how did you first get involved with them? Because i think that is the a nice context for the heart of our theme today.
Paul: Absolutely, thanks for asking. So Social Venture Partners or SVP was created in 1998. We started in Seattle. There are sort of a lot mechanics I can describe about it, but at its root SVP is founded on the idea of people wanting to give back to their communities, and not just wanting to give back with their money which matters, but also with their time and their talents--their human and their intellectual as well as their financial capital. The idea that doing that will be more powerful and effective if you did it with other people with a network of folks. Certainly not unlike why you guys have created what you have in the way in which you have done it. The core ideas underneath it were that people would want to be engaged in work in their community and they would want to be connected to other people doing that like-minded work.
A little bit mechanically, what we do is we have individuals in Seattle. Individuals would commit a certain amount of financial money each year which is sort of like the oil in the engine, then we would collectively in teams decide non-profits in the community--educationally and environmentally focused non-profits--to give grants to, but then also sit down with them and say, "How can we help you build your organization? How can we help you build your capacity to become a stronger organization?" Then create working relationships together between civically, philanthropically minded investors and non-profit social sector leaders. And create long term relationships to help strengthen organizations. By doing that not only do we sometimes help non-profits get stronger, but all the people that get involved with that get stronger. By investing yourself, and I'm sure a lot of the folks on the call know this, in the community, and investing not just your money, but your time and your talents, you learn as much about yourself, you get as much from that experience as you give to it.
At the simplest level that is what SVP is and that is what we do. The idea was in Seattle originally. A guy from Phoenix called us in 1999. Another individual called from Vancouver in 2000. What we thought was a good idea for Seattle, we found out was a good idea for other places around North America. And we decided to figure out what we could do collectively that we couldn't do on our own across North America and then about 4-5 years ago, people started contacting us from other parts of the world. We now have 40 SVP groups/chapters in 9 countries--US, Canada, Japan, Korea, China, Australia, India, UK, and Brazil. What is really neat about that is not just to say we built some empire. What is really fascinating is some of those core ideas I described cut across culture, cut across geography. They literally cut across the entire world. There are many things that make us different across the world, and yet there are also things at a deeper, simpler human level make us all very similar across the world. So that is SVP in a two minute version.
Amit: Thank you. I appreciate that. You know one of the things that you had just mentioned was that you asked for individuals to commit financial resources, but more importantly their time. So often when we talk about giving whether it is in corporate or whether it is just in people's homes, it is so often just initially talk about the financial. I would love for you to share a story of an individual who came from a world where giving was just about writing the check and the honor or the ego that comes with that. Then seeing their transformation with getting involved with an organization and how it really changed or affected them.
Paul: Sure. So what I'll say about it. I think we all know this in our daily life. Money is always necessary, but it is never sufficient. It greases the engine, but it never makes the car go. When we work with non-profits, I don't want to underestimate that money matters, but what we find is that you can throw all the money in the world at something, but if you don't have the right people in the right spirit, in the right talents, in the right hearts around that money, it isn't going to go very far, so my work for 17 years being the director of the group in Seattle as well as the founding president of the network which basically means we screwed up, so we could share our knowledge with the other 39 cities. So much of my experience is about working with individuals, and some of them are folks you call philanthropists; some are what you call non-profit leaders; some of them are what you call civically engaged citizens.
And one of the powerful things about this work when people really get engaged in it is that those titles, those silos, and those identifiers that we sort of live by start to bleed away and everybody becomes a change agent; everybody becomes a change maker. They just bring different things to the table of change. Whatever that cause or that organization is that you are trying to effect...[call dropped]
Amit: Apologies. Perhaps I can share a little bit as well in terms of thinking about how we identify ourselves. It is true: we tie ourselves to titles or I'm from this background or I'm from that background. It would just be interesting to move into a conversation whereby we just approach it with "these are my ideas." Obviously, there is some validation to an individual's background and what experiences they are bringing to the table, but I'm curious what would happen in those conversations when we started doing so without mentioning what our titles are and how that would lead to a different conversation and sharing of ideas.
Nipun: I think there is an edge there in terms of you going out there and doing something and feeling empowered to do that change and then being humble and trying to intervene the least amount.
I was just reading something by Dan Pallotta who is talking about the edge of selflessness. He was talking about the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Merton was talking about love and Dan Pallotta was saying that if we all just stay in that kind of cocoon, we will never create change, so we can't just embrace things as they are; we have to fight for things as we want them to be.
So I think there is an interesting edge that all this sort of brings up.
Paul: My point is about how money is always necessary, but it is never sufficient. You asked me to convey a story of a person that represented that, and the first individual that is the book I wrote is named David Risher. He was a guy that I happened to know from Microsoft and David was a guy who didn't grow up with much. He will tell you that books and reading where his way out of poverty, so many, many years later in his life, he was doing some giving, volunteering in his community.
He went on a trip with his family. They were in an orphanage in another part of the world doing some volunteer work. He realized that the students of this orphanage didn't have access to the library because the library was locked and nobody had the key. That really triggered something inside of David that reminded him of what made a difference for him growing up.
Sometimes we have these epiphanies in life that really flip a switch for us, other folks it is sort of a long journey. For David, he really had one of those flip moments. What he decided to do was commit himself to helping to reduce and hopefully eradicate illiteracy around the world. And he created an organization called World Reader.
They needed money to get World Reader started, but what made the difference was not the money. What made the difference was David's passion, his commitment, the networks that he had, the people that he connected to, and everybody involved with it that was willing to do what it took to take a little seed of an idea and make it grow.
Money sort of got the engine started, but what makes the engine grow is the talents, the professional skills, the human skills, and the passion and commitment that make a small idea continue to grow and to grow and to grow. So the idea I would leave with folks about money is don't ever underestimate it. We know that it matters in our life. It makes certain things possible, and it is almost never sufficient.
Amit: Speaking of calling. What was your calling to this line of work? You were working in the private sector and all of a sudden made a large shift, so what lead you to this?
Paul: Great question, Amit. I would be an example of a person that didn't have one moment when the switch flipped. For David, he literally had this epiphanous moment. For me, I grew up...my dad was a minister, so I was around the church. Certainly, he lived a life of service, and we did all kinds of things when I was growing up as a junior high and high school aged kid. I did some of it because I wanted to and I did some of it because I had to because my dad was the minister.
I think there were some things that I learned that sort of stuck with me. All those years later in my life when i worked at Nestle and a start-up and Microsoft a little while, I sort of had this thing where you realize that you are so heads down about what you are working on. "Hey, why don't you look left and right, rather than just straight ahead for a few minutes."
I sort of started to check out the community. I did a little bit of that. Then in my case, I really was lucky enough in 1998 to have a handful of other people that came along and sort of collectively came up with the idea for SVP. What was really powerful about it for me was the idea of not just using your money, but using your time and skills, and not just doing it by myself, but doing it with other people.
So that idea clicked for me and I decided to sort of make a jump and made the jump because of those other people. Most of the choices I make as I go along in my life, it is more about the people I'm connected to. Give me the right five people to be around and I'll take that over a billion dollars any day of the week because the five of us will figure it out and we'll make it right. So it was the right handful of people to work with.
That got me head on a path on this, but it took me many years of working with people, and I think a little connection with who I was and what I did while growing up. What I finally came to realize is that one of the places that I could add value in the world was working with, talking with, listening to, understanding other people, and what their challenges were in life and where they wanted to create positive change and where they wanted to commit to a cause. And helping them find that pathway to doing it.
Obviously, that is part of what lead me to the book, as well, but I think if I have "a can't not do" now, it is helping people recognize, realize their potential. and to help them find that pathway to create positive change in the world. And when i say those words out loud, I can hear how they can sound a little bit highfalutin. They can sound arrogant, so I better really mean it.
On the other side of it, I don't want to be afraid of that. Everyone of us on this call has a gift--things that we can do that others don't do well. So I'm trying to sort of identity what my gift is, own it, use it humbly, wisely, but as powerfully as I possibly can to create positive change in the world. So I have my responsibility for what I can do myself, but I hope that I can be leveraged by helping other folks find that potential, find that sense of pathway as well.
Amit: That is wonderful. This leads us perfectly into your book and also our theme today of "can't not do." because I do believe that everyone has gifts and certain talents, but not necessarily the clarity to move in a direction that supports the cause. So we ask ourselves, "can I really make a difference?" This problem is way to big. How can just one person who doesn't have fame or fortune, how can I even begin to tackle it? So I think it would be interesting to hear the process that you lead individuals through so they can help address those fears or their own internal barriers, and then work towards whatever their passion will be.
Paul: What I started to do a couple of years ago--I'd been up to this work for about 15 years--some folks would say, "you should write about this." And I would think, "baloney." What I did finally do was decide to listen. So I started to sit down three years ago and have a conversation with those people who I came across whether you call them philanthropists or whether they are non-profit leaders or whether they are volunteers. All these walks of life and all these different roles they play. Who are some of the people that I thought really had shown that commitment and that passion and that perseverance and who did I really think created some positive impact. Maybe it was in their neighborhood; maybe it was in their city; maybe it was around the world. Who created impact?
I just started talking to them and listening to those folks. So that is what I did, and 6 months later there were some themes that really emerged for me. I think what I had done for the previous 14 years and still do was have a conversation and everyone of them is unique to there person and yet there's a little bit of a skeleton to it. There is somewhat of a pathway that I try to reverse engineer out of those conversation to share back in the form of that book.
How I talk to people that might help folks find that pathway, because it can feel amorphous. It can feel sort of broad, imposing. "How do I have an impact?" So the way that I wrote the book was to try to walk through a series of seven questions. Rather than say do this, do that, the asking of questions as opposed to giving answers, that is an important just way that I framed the book because I think the right question is more powerful than a hundred answers. It makes us each think about and own the question for ourselves.
Through those seven questions, the first three get at how do you find that focus and how do you find that direction. The next three questions are about how do you show up to do this work and what makes you effective and powerful in doing that work. And the last one is sort of rolling it all together to identify what is your "can't not do."
That is the way I organized the book is to helping folks find that focus, helping to identify about how they show up to do this work. And then to roll it all together and embark with a sense of purpose and direction. That is sort of the way I organized it and the idea again is to help folks find that pathway. And the pathway that I lay out and sort of the guide path that I give to folks is based on all these folks that I've worked with all these years and the ones that I felt like were the most impactful and the ones that did it with the most integrity with how they approached their work in the world.
Amit: I think what would be lovely is to hear some stories of these incredible individuals that you have worked with. Maybe hear a couple of them but in different social, local, or global contexts, because I love how you said in the beginning regardless of culture or country, there was so much commonality despite some of the differences that we may perceive from the outside.
Paul: Let me give you two people. First one is a woman named Lisa Chin. These are both folks that I worked with at SVP. Lisa Chin was an individual who sort of had a pathway like mine in life. She hit an inflection point in her career and was trying figure out what was it that she would go to work on in the community and she did a lot of looking around and a lot of thinking. Somewhat connected to who she was growing up and somewhat connected the experience of going through the birth of her baby boy. The theme the emerged out of all that for Lisa was the idea of empowerment.
In the course of her life, she had hard moments and positive moments, and she thought what the difference maker for her was either when she found within herself or somebody around her that helped her feel empowered to do more and to achieve more and get more done in the world.
The core thread for her in her life was about empowerment. Through SVP what she did was one of the things I tell everybody is start somewhere, plant a seed, go do a volunteer project. Boy, I sure did in Los Angeles 25 years ago, I went to a volunteer project on the weekend, and just had the experience, just got my feet wet, and got involved with it.
Lisa did that in a handful of places and then she came across an organization called Year Up which is about empowering high school aged kids that are graduating from high school that are on that precipice of getting on a path to a career or college or falling off the side and going down the wrong pathway in life. And Year Up's work is about helping these kids find the positive pathway in life. For Lisa, the question in the book that she is the person that answers is who are you at your core?
Those first three questions that I really think are important are what are you a determined optimist about? Who are you at your core? And what are you willing to walk through hard places for? There is a lot of depth to each one of those questions, but those three questions to me are things that I heard a lot of people say to me out loud or that I could sort of interpret. They helped somebody find that focus and find that direction. So for Lisa what I know she is a determined optimist about is the of young people in the world. And what she has committed to is helping them find that sense of empowerment. And the notion of walking through hard places everyday in her work she comes across kids that are in dark spots or dark places in their lives, she has to get in there with them and help them work through those places in her life. Lisa is very much the embodiment of that idea.
Another guy is a guy by the name of Paul Gross. He is a friend. Ten years ago, he and his wife Laurie had their first child. His name was William. Having had three kids myself, he went through the experience any parent just dreads. The thought of having your child be unhealthy or have something go really wrong right from the git-go is just the worst possible thought in life.
His son William spent the first month of his life in ICU, in intensive care. He had a condition called hydrocephalus. In simple terms, water on the brain, but in infants when that condition exists it can cause swelling of the brain, brain damage, it can lead to death. Those first hours, those first days of life were so critical. They were able to get their son William through it. The clinical procedure is inserting a shunt in their brain to drain the fluid. Sometimes it succeeds; sometimes it doesn't. There's complications...etc, etc.
They finally got William healthy. He is a 10 year old boy today. He's got some challenges, but for the most part he's got a positive potential in life. Well, after Paul and his wife Laurie went through that they had to itch this scratch. They thought about the experience they went through and thought "my gosh, thousands and thousands of parents go through this experience. What can we learn about this?"
The research they did, at first was discouraging, because what they found was the science around hydrocephalus really had not advanced much in 50 years, and so Paul is a great example of someone who it takes a while to get to this point and in his case, a negative thing lead to a positive event in life. Through his research he said, "How can we be in this place in the year 2006 where the science in our world is so advanced in some places, but not in this particular condition." And he became an advocate. What he found was that the work to do research on this exists in silos. It is individual researchers doing individual work in different places around the world, and a lot of times that work doesn't get connected.
What he believed was individual people have answers, but people didn't put all the answers together. We have probably all had experiences in our life where we are familiar with silos and people that work in silos, each one of us are that sometimes. And the answers are out there, but we just need to connect them. There is a lot more complexity to how Paul did it, but in the end that is what he did--he connected the people that did this work and said, "Hey, we can make 1+1+1+1=10 here, not just 3. The whole can be bigger than the sum of its parts.
Through a number of years of advocacy, and hard work and connecting and pushing and prodding, he finally got the players and the actors that knew the answers to get better connected to each other. So there's now tests and procedures for hydrocephalus that are making a significant difference in the identification, prevention, and treatment of kids that have that condition from an early stage in life. I think the resonate idea in Paul and Laurie's life was just the idea of they just could not stand the thought of something happening to someone else's kid that had happened to their kid that they had to go through. And that conviction, that "can't not do" is what drove them for many years to try to make a difference for thousands of kids down stream now that will benefit from this that will never know William that will never know Paul, but they will live a different life and their child will live a different life because of the compassion and commitment that they showed. So Lisa and Paul are two really great examplars of some of the principles in the book.
Nipun: It seems to me that in all these stories like Paul's and Lisa's, these change makers are going up against a lot of odds and one of the questions that you ask about or you ask change makers to hold is are you a determined optimist? Or how can you be a determined optimist? What I like about the determined part there is it makes it longitudinal. That it is not just in that moment, but can you stay optimistic despite the odds. So working with all these change makers, have you noticed certain traits or certain best practices that they use to continue to rise up against the negativity that comes up their way or even within us or just feeling fatigued or feeling like wow this is too big of a problem? And that carries them over to this mountain top?
Paul: Yeah, great question. You know, we all don't reach the mountain top. [laughter] Some of us push the boulder up the hill and maybe someday later somebody else that will literally get to the mountain top and push that boulder over the hills own the other side. 50:25
It's a great question, Nipun. Let me answer it in two ways. First of all, to break down the terms determined and optimist. Those are not overly complicated ideas, but it is the combination that really matters. There's things in life that we feel determined about. That can become a drudge if we don't have a sense of optimism or possibility about it. If all we feel about it is optimism. At some point in time, when the going gets tough.we may say "it is important I care about it, but it is getting hard now, so I'm going to bail out." It's the idea of finding something that meets both of those characteristics. And those other two initial questions I just described which are who are you at your core and what are you willing to go through hard places for. Those two questions feed back to the first question. If you think about my quick story about David Richer, why would he endeavor to take on something like illiteracy in the third world--so hard, so challenging.
Well part of it is because who David is at his core is a reader. Everyone of us is some core of who we are in life. Maybe we don't spend time to think about it. And if we take a little time to dig deep and find out who we are in our core, that will help us lead to what we might be determined optimists about. So that is just a little bit more about that first question in the book which I appreciate you asking about.
Common trait: Either you are asking this independently which happened to me many many times or maybe you've seen me write a bout this somewhere else. Because when I ran around this fall talking about the book, I was probably in 15 different cities and talked to all different kinds of groups, and literally, that is the single question that I got asked by far the most. It happens every other place I go. The book sort of structured around seven questions and how to go deep on each one of those, and I think people asking, "well, can you simplify that and give me one thing that cuts across all those things?" It is a very natural good question.
The first time I asked it, I didn't have the FAQ ready, but the answer was very natural for me. The answer to that question was grit. Maybe some of your listeners, maybe some of you guys, there is a professor at Pennsylvania in the last few years, her name is Angela Duckworth. She did a TedTalk on grit. She wrote a book about. And she has definitely made a science about it. The way she defines grit is the passion of perseverance to pursue long term goals. Everyone of those words in there--passion, perseverance, long term goal--everyone has a meaning, and the combination of those is what makes grit.
What Duckworth was originally trying to study is why do some kids in impoverished areas of communities make it and some kids don't. And she looked at socio-economic factors; she looked at academic factors; she looked at all these different factors. She didn't walk in with a preconception, but what she walked out with was the notion that if you could identify in which of these kids had greater, deeper sense of grit, either inborn or taught or learned, the kid that had greater grit that was the kid who had more chance to make it.
That characteristic in these people, she applied to these kids and students, I'm applying to change agents and change makers. That quality of grit--the passion of perseverance to pursue goals for the long term--that absolutely is the most common characteristic that I can say cuts across all those people. There's all kinds of things that go into grit. It's a good term. It is an evocative term. It sort of says something to you when you say the words out loud. Then when you use that definition in the way that Duckworth expands on it. I love the idea of it. I can't probably help but reflect a little with myself in the book. I'm hopefully not imposing thinking, but when I think about myself in life, I was born into a middle class family. I was able to have decent education. I'm relatively intelligent. I'm far from a genius, but I've got the basics. I think what makes the difference for me in life is that I will outwork somebody, and I'll persevere more. And those things make the most difference in those people that I came across in the course of my work as well.
Nipun: That is interesting because I know that you are big sports fan and I used to want to go pro in tennis, so sports are a big part of me. So grit was...that is like anyone who has been serious about sports learns grit. And to apply that to social change to me has always been a very present practice. So it is great to hear that you are finding that too across your work.
Paul: We all have talents and potential, but at the end of the day at whatever level we get to in life that thing that does really make the difference at some point in time is who will work a little bit harder, who is a little bit more committed, who will put in a few extra hours, who will stick with it when the going gets tough. All kinds of metaphors. All kinds of pithy sayings. But I really do think...it's like money. It's nice to have money; it's good to have money; but money doesn't make the difference. What makes the difference is what do you do with it. What do you do on top of the money. So the idea of grit to me is that extra...it's that can't not do factor in life that makes the difference.
Amit: I was hoping that you could reflect in terms of your own life. If you take a look at this idea of grit, and you talk about these social change agents, I'm sure early on when they are facing some of these causes, its going to require a tremendous amount of grit, but I almost feel with anything over an extended period of time hopefully we are gaining of a certain level of wisdom in the way that we are approaching our cause, but more specifically the way that we are gauging ourselves internally whether it is a certain level of equanimity or maybe the way we approach. So I'm curious what your own internal journey has been in terms of approaching others and how you stay a determined optimist if you would even consider yourself one.
Paul: That is a great question. When I think about myself on my own internal journey, I'd been born with and had really everything anyone could ever want in life. I was born into riches, but I had everything I needed. I didn't lack for anything that I'd need in life. And yet, probably like everyone in life, you hit these little mountains that you create for yourself of fear. And fear is the thing that holds us back more than anything. Fear comes from many many places. Sometimes very valid and sometimes in the cases of people like me, invented, perceived, irrational. You put up a barrier for yourself. I can't pass this test. I can't get into this college. I can't get that job. Whatever the case is.
I don't know if I can say where I learned this, but for me I do have those moments where I wake up in the middle of the night and I feel like I can't do it. The thing that has made the difference for me so many times in my life is that some point in time, you just have to stare fear in the face and then give it a good punch. Or step back, be silent, and let that fear melt away. Whatever works for you. I'm probably more of a punch it out person than a let it melt away person. I should be more of the latter than the former, but whatever approach works for you. There are these moments in life where you have got to find that grit. You've got to find that perseverance. And you have to overcome.
I'll say for me so many times in life that is how I got...it wasn't because I was smarter; it wasn't because I was richer; it wasn't because I was a faster runner; it was because at some point in time you sort of summon the grit, you summon the courage to sort of push on through. You don't know that you are going to succeed. You just do; you just go. You just start.
The ultimate example of that--when you have a family, when you have kids, you might not know it, but you just signed up for a lot of grit. You sign up for the biggest challenge in the world. Any of us that are parents, there is nothing we wouldn't do for our kids. There is probably no feeling like that in the world. When I talk about can't not do, I know people can't reach quite that level of commitment. That feeling, that directions, that sense of commitment. That sense of "I would give my life for my kid" that is the sort of idea that I want to evoke for people. Can you sort of discover that? In that direction, what is the cause, the sense of purpose, the sense of direction in life that you can't not do. I have three boys. They couldn't be more different. Everyone of them has gifts. Everyone of them has challenges. I think for me being a dad is probably the biggest challenge I've ever had in my life.
I am way better at my work than I am being a dad, and yet I will never give up on trying to be as good at that as i could possibly be. You know recognizing that nothing humbles you, nothing brings you back down to earth than having kids does. It has been an ever-present theme in my life. I don't know if I could put the word grit on it. Having someone like Duckworth come along lets you put a label on something which is nice. It shows up in lots of little places every day in my life. And it shows up in big places like having kids and how do you raise kids, and how do you persevere. Sometimes you have to be the one that heads off to school, and your kid got in trouble, and you don't have a choice: you have to see the principal. Grit has been ever-present in my life and that notion of overcoming your fears is really a resonant thing for me.
Amit: Are there any things from your life besides grit that you have used to overcome your fears? Are there inspirations that you have looked upon that have helped you get over that hump? Or things, practice you do in your daily life that allow you to move in that direction?
Paul: Wonderful question. I think I should probably practice meditation more. I don't enough. The flip side of that is exercise matters. So I try to make sure that I continue to exercise, not just for physical wellness, but for mental wellness. That makes a big difference. Sometimes when I'm feeling down, you just have to make your blood pump for an hour. That has all kinds of good benefits.
Another part that is really important for me is the people I surround myself with. I found the right person to marry. I'm still with her. Doing better than ever. Having other people to talk to and to share that with, I think we definitely take ourselves down the pathway of fear much more significantly, much more severely when we let ourselves get closed in, when we close the door, and let ourselves work on the problem ourselves; instead of opening ourselves up to others to listen to us, to hear us, and to reflect back to us. To make us realize that the mountain is not quite as high as we realized. To make us realize that our fear is sometimes partly not grounded. All those things make a difference in helping you lead a more positive life.
Amit: That resonates so strongly with me. It seems so in line with so many other difference makers that I've been fortunate to meet in my life. A spiritual teacher in India at one point we were having this discussion of what it means to be a true change maker? How can I dedicate my life to service? He said, "It is simple." His belief was keep things simple, and you have to serve others as selflessly as you can. You have to serve yourself, meaning doing practices to take care of your health, your physical wellbeing and your mental wellbeing, meditation and things like that, and then you just have to surround yourself with good people, the right people. So I really appreciate your answer because it very much speaks to that understanding that other change makers have a deep belief in.
There is often this question of making an impact, but how do you measure that impact? What is the best way to measure impact, to measure change? I was with my old college roommate and we were having this discussion. We though impact really means the depth of impact you make. So it doesn't matter if it is a thousand people, but as long as you go deep into someone, you can change just one life, that is making a change. While other measure if I can feed a thousand people than that is making a change, and that is what impact really means. I'm curious what your take is on what does meaningful change look like?
Paul: Boy that is one of the holy grail questions. [laughter] Let me answer from two directions. The first direction is from ourselves inward looking out. I think each one of us has to define what impact means to each of us. To some degree what the book is about is helping you identify what that thing that you want to have an impact on, and then go deep, go deep into it.
As you go out in the world, it matters to identify the thing that matters to you, and whether that means that you go deep or go broad, it is impossible for anyone of us to say this is the right or this is the wrong way. Both of those answers are correct. What I would say is which ever answer you decide for yourself, commit. Then go do the most you can to create the breadth or depth of impact. If your definition of impact is to help one foster kid for the next ten years of your life, and you do that incredibly well, who in the world can say that that is not huge impact? On the other hand if your goal is to be part of an organization that is going to reach thousands of people in a particular way and you commit yourself to doing that work in a purposeful way, who am I to say that that is any less impactful? The first part of it is to decide for yourself what does impact mean, because you have to commit to something that matters to you. You have to be connected to something that gives you a sense of impact, a sense of purposefulness.
The second part of the answer is outside looking in. There are so many causes in the world that are challenging that matter. i can't tell someone that arts matter more than the environment that matters more than youth development that matters more than gang violence. All of those are really important challenges and issues. Having spent some time in the private sector, one of things you learn that is "beautiful" about the private sector is you do have this one thing called profit which is a clear goal, not the only goal, but it is a clear one. And you also have this thing called a customer that buys your product. Those tow things really helps guide the direction of the organization. Sometimes in social change work, you don't have those two beacons. They are not the be all end all, but they are clear. You don't have those things that guide the work.
So the outside in answer--out in the world, what does impact and change mean?--it is a really hard and complex answer. It is not as black and white as did we make money or did we not make money? So if I'm trying to help reduce gang violence, how do I measure that? There are lots of different ways to measure that. What comes into play is what is your or the organizations theory of change of how they are trying to create change in the world? So how does someone say I'm trying to create better academic outcomes, does it make sense? Does it have a logic to it? Try to discern are you investing your passion, your time into something that has a pathway to creating change. It is hard because there isn't that one indicator like profit, but on the other hand, there are indicators that say are we helping kids live better lives? are we helping families live better lives? Are communities thriving? And we can point to things that we should at least be diligent about. What organizations or what commitments represent a place where I do believe they are having an impact in their community and in the world?
Nipun: We have a comment from Andrea in North Carolina: "Interestingly, my son was born in 1999 with hydrocephalus. Like Paul and Laurie, I was thrust into an area that I never knew existed. My efforts to steer my son, Justin, through the confusing and chaotic service system so he could maximize his potential was a lengthy and taxing endeavor. Ultimately, he graduated from an inclusive integrated secondary education at UNC Greensborough. Unfortunately, Justin met his demise in September 2014 due to shunt failure. This has propelled me, second time in life, to learn more about social capital and building community capacity. After all these years, i continue to struggle to make this happen in my local community. I have followed L. Condoluci's work for over 10 years and still feel as if we are very good at talking about making a change. I simply do not know how to be that pivotal change."
I would link that with one of your articles featured on the Daily Good. You opened that article with the story of the Empire State Building. You said, the most revolutionary change there wasn't the architecture or the height. There were two other buildings near by that were just as high. But the big deal with the Empire State building were the construction practices in how the building was framed. And that is what allowed them to do it the way they did it and as fast as they did it. Maybe both of those together on how we can be that pivotal change as Andrea was alluding to.
Paul: Two thoughts on that. Andrea if you are still listening. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea if you send me a note, I will connect you with Paul. Understand a little bit better what you are up to and what you are working on. Your story...Oh God!...it is just hard to listen to. You have my heart.
And to your metaphor in that story that I wrote about, the point that I would apply to this case was about sometimes change is about...sometimes folks think it needs to be the big obvious architectural beautiful, sexy ideas in the world and sometimes it really makes the difference is not that. It is just the scaffolding. It is the guts. It the mechanics. Its the boring stuff that actually makes more difference, has more leverage. When folks think about creating change, one way we talk about this is don't think you have to boil the ocean. Help one kid. Don't think you have to help every kid. If you want to help one kid that is really powerful.
Another part of this is sometimes change is really big and significant and powerful and public and exciting. And sometimes the most important change that happens is away from the stage, the less sexy, less important founding stuff `that really makes a difference in the foundation of how the engine works, not the flashy exterior stuff. That is really powerful, Andrea, thank you for sharing that.
Nipun: We have a couple of callers calling in.
Netika: Hi, this is Netika. Thinking about what Amit asked before about how do changemakers lead from a place of compassionate wisdom, what in your mind are the tools to have the resiliency to lead from a place of compassionate wisdom rather than anger?
Secondly, I'm also interested in understanding your thoughts on collective impact? A lot of the work in this space of impact measurement and impact investing is gaining ground, but it is still pretty siloed. How do you see your role in thought leadership, pushing the idea of collective impact whether it is through a region or through a particular cause?
Paul: Two wonderful different questions. Let me take them one at a time. On the first one as far as tools go, in a way you gave a great segue to the second set of three questions in the book, which are about how you show up to do the work. They might respond to your question about how do you do it compassionately with wisdom.
77:07 The fourth, fifth, and sixth questions I ask in the book are can you be an active listener? Are you ready to be humble and humbled? Do you believe that one plus one equals three? Which is the idea of being a connector.
The tools that I have found relevant to the time we live in are the power of listening; the value of authentic, genuine humility; and it is practicing the idea of being a connector. I find those three traits or practices to be very ?? in the world we live in today. You could have a vision or be a big idea or be a big anchor, but I really find what makes a difference for individual people and gives them positive power is how significant and how strong of a listener they are. We all know the experience of being listened to well. It is an incredibly empowering experience. The value of listening I think is massively underestimated. A lot of folks on this call probably believe in that idea.
I think humility, practicing it genuinely, authentically is a bit challenging because it is easy to say I'm humble. I describe in the book a friend of mine who called me on my own definition of humility and shot me down and said, "your humility isn't as genuine or authentic as you maybe think it is." She really called me to task in a really hard and powerful way.
But I think genuine authentic humility is something that people can feel; people want to be around; people want to be a part of; they want to respond to it; it calls them into action.
Then this idea of being a connector, this isn't rocket science, we live in this incredibly hyper-connected world. We all know the positive and the negative of networks and social media, etc. Networks and connectedness can be used for good. In the book, I try to give some very specific ways in which we can each be a more powerful connector, and how important that is and how leveraged that is in the world today.
To answer you first question about tools that will help us build wisdom and a sense of compassion, I think humility. listening, and connectedness would be my answer to that.
The second question is about collective impact. Some of you on this call have probably heard that phrase. It is sort of a movement going on in the social sector these days. My layman's definition would be the social challenges in our communities are not going to be solved by one sector--private, public, or non-profit--by itself. It is not going to be solved by one organization by itself. It also says sort of explicit/implicitly we have a lot of resources. And the problem is not having enough; it is how we apply them. There are a lot of solutions out there that exist. There are organizations the do good work, and other folks that don't do as good work.
There are organizations out there that do know how to solve social problems. If you put that set of factors together, one of the conclusions you come to the problem is we don't put the parts and pieces together in a collective way, in an organized way enough, and in a sustained way to create change in a community. So collective impact is sort of frames this whole idea up, this movement all around the country. If you google collective impact, you will get lots of articles about it. There is one that was written in the Stanford Innovation Review three or four years ago that sort of frames the whole idea up and gives it principles that sort of identifies collective impact.
I think the idea of collective impact is an updated frame around the idea that none of us can solve the problem on our own, a belief that solutions and resources are out there, it is just a matter of putting them together in the right way. And doing it over the sustained long term, doing it with grit, sticking with it through the hard times, and really persevering to create change.
There is a collective impact movement; there are organizations around; there are examples. The original one from an organization called Strive Together in Cincinnati. It was about the whole community coming together around academics and behavioral and life success for kids in the greater Cincinnati area. And they are beginning to see some really positive direction. It took everybody coming together in a structured intentional way to create change, so collective impact. There are lots of folks that do it well, don't do it so well, but as a general idea, as a general concept, I think has real potential for the future.
Nipun: There is a question online from Kavi. Isn't it self-centered to surround yourself with good people? How do you think change comes about that way? To that point, I would elaborate. You speak a lot about connecting to the right people in the right way. Actually, when we met in Fargo, North Dakota last summer, that was the title of your Tedtalk. There is this difference between just networking and being around good people and really bringing in some contextual knowledge around that--to do it in a context sensitive way. You talk about the difference between networking and relationship building which are two different things. It's not just about "Hey, I have your card, your email, and you have mine." Can you speak a little bit more about what is the power of surrounding yourself with good people? And speak a little bit more about having context dependent deep ties that you are talking about.
Paul: That's a wonderful question. And Kavi you are right. All these things can be played out in a narcissistic, self-absorbed sort of way. Your question calls upon us to think about how do we answer these questions for ourselves that isn't just self-serving. Giving back, philanthropy, whatever you want to call it, can be one of the most narcissistic, self-serving acts you could possibly do. And done in another way can be one of the most giving, compassionate, wonderful things we can do in our lives. So how we practice that does matter.
When I say surround yourself with good people, don't just surround yourself with people that only make you happy, only make you feel good. The third chapter on Are you willing to go to hard places, part of what I'm trying to say there is you also need to connect to people around you that challenge you and aren't like you. You need to get out in a community. If you want to be part of change, you can't just do it from afar. You have to get into a community and get to know people, and get to know people unlike yourselves. And see the world differently than you see it, and that can be really uncomfortable, and that can be really hard. So I think the notion of connecting is not just about connecting for your own sake. It's not just about connecting with people that make you feel good, people that are like yourselves.
It is connecting to people that give you a more holistic view of the world. Give you a much more challenging view of yourself and how you play a part in the world. So it is a wonderful question.
But the notion of connecting isn't a transactional thing; it is a relational thing. It is not a one-off thing; it is a constant thing. It is not meant to connote that I do it in ways that I know will serve myself, when I make a connection I know what the return is going to be. The value in connecting a lot of times is just connecting just to do it. You don't know where it is going to turn out. A lot of times, there will be no payback for you. I did this as a professional necessity originally in the course of the kind of work that I do, but over time what I learned was you just need to start connecting to people a lot even when you have no idea what is going to happen. `99 out of 100 connections might not mean anything. It is the 100th one that will make a huge difference in your life in five years in a way that you never have any idea.
You have to have the faith in the power of connection, again not knowing the return, not knowing what is going to give to you. After I did that enough, two wonderful things would start to happen. One is that three years later, I would be in a meeting with four people and they would say that they found each other, they got connected because of something I did with one of those people. I can't even remember what the hell I did, but somewhere down the road it made a difference for somebody. It 79 connections that meant nothing. Then the 80th is the one that created something that happens. That is such a wonderful payoff. We all have the chance to create if we think in that connecting sort of way. A self-serving view that has mattered to me is that I have been a few opportunities that I have been a part of in the last few years that happened to me and for me because of connections I made with people many years ago that connected to someone else that eventually came back to me.
I think that connecting is a practice. It is a habit. It is hopefully a way of living life. It is not just about surrounding yourself with happy things and people like yourself. It is about trying to get yourself more connected to the world in relational, not transactional ways. And believing and knowing in the long term that sense of connectedness really creates value, not just for yourself, but for your community and the world around you. It is a wonderful question. I could probably spend the entire hour and a half on that one.
John: Hi, this is John in California. My question is this: once you identify a social problem you feel strongly about how do you come up with a specific plan to address it when it seems like such a huge problem. I'll give you an example. One of the things that really bothers me is the pharmaceutical industry does its best to convince the public that if you have an issue, for example, high blood pressure, then you must take the latest drug to address it. Verses using evidence based non-pharmaceutical options, whether they might be plant based diet or hibiscus tea or ground flax seed. Allt of these things are in medical journals. There are a lot of studies that are randomized with controls--good research methodology. I'm sure the pharmaceutical companies know about this, but the public never sees it.
I'm just wondering how you go about addressing something that huge when you are up against an industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars. It is overwhelming.
Paul: First of all, you might want to take on an easier one to start with. Just kidding. Great question. I'm going to give you an honest answer. Send me a note and ask me that question again, because I don't know the answer, but what I do believe is I can help you find the answer. Part of my answer is generic-- a lot of us don't know how to approach a challenge. And you identified a pretty high mountain there. Because you are correct, they are spending hundreds of millions. And they have a whole lot of reasons for people to believe a particular answer to a challenge in their life.
But we all know little examples in our life where people have taken on the giant entities, the giant corporation, and made a difference. I don't know how to go after this one, but I believe I can help you find a few positive and important ways to start. My answer to you is I don't know right now, but send me a note, and let's do our connecting thing, our networking thing, and I will try to help you find a few of the right places and people to get you started.
Johh: Thank you very much.
Nipun: How do you keep up, Paul, with all the responses you must be getting from social media, phones, email, you name it?
Paul: The honest answer is one of the things I learned from working at Microsoft, I had a boss who said one of the ways to not let the stuff get behind you is when you open the damn thing deal with it. As opposed to opening the same thing 7 times and thinking about how to deal with it. I wait until I'm ready; I sit down: i open it: I think about it: I deal with it: And I move on. I think that is a lot more efficient.
I don't know. I get lots of emails. I try to clean them out by the end of the day. They never have overwhelmed me yet. One day I might get too inundated, but as it is dealing with it and not opening it and having 632 unread emails in our inbox or 487 that we have opened that we haven't dealt with. I think that is when the problem comes. 93:29
Nipun: We have two comments online. Sarah Wilson from Washington says, "One, I knew i had to pursue getting my employer to address the gender race pay equity by whatever legal means necessary. It took six and a half years from 1986-1992. Two, I can't not do the Grasshopper Festival and Grasshopper Growers and Catchers Projects for unity and food security and economics."
We have a question from Mark: "A question long brewing in me is how do we invite and inspire more neighbors around the planet to open their hearts wide enough that they can't not do their own deep inner calling and contribution to deepening, growing, and nourishing themselves in the world?"
Paul: That is a really simple, but hard question. I guess in a way I had a built in neighborhood that was called SVP. That gives me a certain context in which to do the work. That helps. What I would say is that the way that we created that neighborhood was one connection at a time. That probably sounds almost corny. There is a woman named Meg Wheatly. She is very good at talking about how people connecting can eventually lead to this crazy sense of community. And part of her message that I believe in is how do you create a neighborhood that feels this way. The best way I know is to start one person at a time. Put yourself out there. There is a little bit of vulnerability to that. There is some fear to that. You don't need to drop your whole life story in the middle of the street and hope nobody runs over it.
There is certainly a way to reaching out to somebody, some one person, and just opening the conversation and saying here is what i'm thinking. Maybe you will do that with five neighbors and three of them will care less, two of them will care. Now you don't have one, you have three.
One thought is don't try to think about the neighbor; don't try to think about the mountaintop. Think about the first step in the journey. Find the first couple of connections, and when there are three of you, you have a very different thing going on than when it just one of you. When you got two that is a lot better than one, and when you have three that is a lot better than two. That is the way things start is one, two, three. Then you get to the point where you get to do multiplication instead of addition. I'd say start with one person. Start a conversation bringing your own sense of vulnerability to the degree that it feels ok with you, but bringing that to the conversation and see what happens.
Amit: Incredible call. You bring up so many important issues that I don't even know where to begin. But it also brought up another issue that we often talk about in Service Space about the importance of inner transformation. So when we are out there trying to make a change in the world, what are we doing to really change ourselves that being a core pillar in how some of us try to lead our lives. So I'm curious of your take on inner transformation and how you've been transformed over the last 17 years working with so many amazing people and organizations.
Paul: Yep. It is a great question. It is a very chicken and egg sort of question. Everybody has probably got a personal take on this. Mine would be this. I think how each of us thinks about that sort of depends on what is maybe going on in their life. I do believe in the idea that if you are not positive about yourself inside, it is hard for you to go and help the world outside in an authentic, powerful way. You've got to clear on the inside.
But the way you get to that. Sometimes for some of us it is probably how we live our own life, how we think about ourselves. how we deal with things inside of ourselves. But for other folks (I'm more often this way than the other way) the way to deepen my own self and grow my own self is to get outside myself. And to get out in the world. And one of the most powerful ways for me to build my own sense of inner strength.is to go help other people to go and help build theirs. One of the most powerful ways for me to live a better life is to give my life away. Go help other people.
For some folks I think that process is inside out and for other folks the process is outside in. I don't think either one is better than the other one. I think it is probably different for different people. It's probably different for each of us at different stages in our life. And maybe at particular points in time inside out makes more sense, and at other times outside in makes more sense. That is just a way to think about it. I know for me in my life more often get outside is a powerful way for me to change who I am inside.
Amit: Wonderful. One of the things we like to ask all of our guests is what can we as the Service Space community do for you or the work that you are doing today?
Paul: What a wonderful question. You've done it. You've invited me along for an hour and a half to have a conversation with you guys and to share it with whoever is on the phone and hopefully a handful of folks that will write to me something will happen with that. You've done it. I'm very appreciative of that.
You guys know about what I'm up to; I know what you guys are up to. We are definitely kindred spirits and I think by doing this and having this conversation we have hopefully reached just one more person or help one more person be ready to take the next step in life.
You've done it, Amit and Nipun by inviting me in this morning. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Nipun: Some one just wrote in from Kindspring and said how this call reminded them of small acts of kindness. All your comments about transactional to relational and from one-off to constant. From just do it to can't not do it. These are all things that will stay with us. We have featured you on Daily Good earlier this week. We have been live Tweeting some of the things here. We are going to be sharing your email with all the callers here today. We really appreciate all this.
We talk a lot in Service Space about the ripple effect and you do your little bit and you never know where that is going to go. And you sort of live that in so many different ways. Thank you for bringing that spirit on this call and to our community in so many ways. Thank you so much.
Paul: Thank you and thanks to everybody listening in.
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