Just last week I was sitting in a meeting at the Gap building overlooking San Francisco Bay. I was in the spirited conversation with Eric Severson the senior co-leader of human resources for Gap globally. Since they have over 130,000 employees it is a very big job. What we were talking about is how he could change the future of work. His vision is to transform work so that it is a primary source of growth, health and well-being instead of a life draining stress pool. He wants work to be a positive source of personal evolution.
He wants work to be a positive source of personal evolution.
This morning I had breakfast with Kristin Carroll, the new CEO of an amazing marketing agency that earned a huge multi-year federal contract to dramatically reduce smoking for at-risk youth. The company is the brainchild of Jeff Jordan, an expert at creating behavioral change based on changing the values of dominant subcultures.
For youth these would be subcultures such as hipsters, alternative, hip-hop and other peer groups that have strong behavioral norms. All of their work is science-based and is now proven to be far and away the most effective method to promote positive behavior change. The company is unlike any other I have seen. Except for the PhDs that do the science the average employee age is 26. They create witty social media campaigns, ironic websites, organic art contests and scores of other unconventional tactics to reach youth who are unreachable by conventional media and resolutely resistant to threats or preaching.
All of their work is science-based and is now proven to be far and away the most effective method to promote positive behavior change.
Saturday I spent time coach a fifty-something, multitalented artist, businesswoman who has designed a retreat center for young girls to become grounded in their own self-worth so they can be emotionally empowered to achieve their deepest goals. Yes I know that I am lucky. I spend most of my professional time being inspired by the people I am trying to help. In many ways they all have the same question… How can I make my difference? How can I change the world? What a great question! It says a lot about the soul of a person and the mindset they bring to their daily life to be tormented by a desire to make things better for others.
It says a lot about the soul of a person and the mindset they bring to their daily life to be tormented by a desire to make things better for others.
Since meeting Stephen Covey over 30 years ago so I could help bring his 7 Habits message to the world, I have felt that my life’s work has been to help other people fulfill their purpose. By now I am pretty clear on the formula whereby people make the impact they are meant to make. Here it is.
Clarify your intention.
Clarify your intention. Your inner motives construct an inner story about why you want to change the world. Sometimes it’s hard to separate our worthy desires from our egos which are voraciously hungry for validation. This is not all bad, however. I’ve come to believe there is something real called ‘healthy ego strength.’ It shows up as an inner story of confidence and commitment that drives people to keep working against long odds and difficult setbacks.
This kind of ego strength has to be guided by genuine moral ambition and not just shallow pride. I think Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. had this kind of competitive ego strength. Too many people who have brilliant ideas about how to improve the world believe that the purity of their idealism will be enough. Unfortunately, they usually quit at the first signs of failure. My experience is that the most powerful intention comes from having both high moral motives and something to prove. There is something powerful about thrusting your chin out when the going gets tough.
In other words, what you are truly good at is a clue as to how you are designed to change the world.
Self-knowledge. After years of helping people identify their true work using conventional methods like writing mission statements or doing personal values inventories I had a whopping Aha! While most life-coaching approaches start with deep inner reflection on what you would most passionately like to change in the world followed by a personal inventory of skills and abilities, my insight turned that process upside down.
After surveying the life satisfaction of over 26,000 people in the American Dream Project I found that the happiest most successful people came to the realization that they were designed perfectly to fulfill the deepest desires of their higher selves. In other words, what you are truly good at is a clue as to how you are designed to change the world.
What many people explained to me is that when they came to understand what their motivated talents were they became clear about what they should pursue. The most important self-knowledge is to understand clearly what you do well that you intrinsically enjoy doing.You have to be self-inspired to learn what you need to learn, and do what you need to do that will make the difference only you can make.
If you can envision how someone’s life might be better then you have a gift.
Empathetic vision. If you can envision how someone’s life might be better then you have a gift. Many people spend their whole life in a stupor of self-interest. They believe that everyone is living the life they deserve. Fortunately many others can envision creating conditions that enable people to lift themselves up, build healthy communities, and improve the quality of life of others. If you are going to intentionally improve the world empathetic vision is necessary.
The most powerful visions are stories based on emotional logic. TOMS shoes got off the ground by inspiring a Vogue magazine editor that individual American consumers could put shoes on shoeless children by buying shoes for themselves. The logic is simple… buy one, give one. That editor was so inspired she decided to put pictures of TOMS first shoes in a photo spread. Today 20 million poor rural children have enjoyed the health benefits of wearing shoes because one entrepreneur cared about them.
The most powerful visions are stories based on emotional logic.
Just start. The world is moving faster than any business plan you can develop. Venture capitalist will tell you that over 90% of successful new companies change their strategy after they have been launched to become successful. Google is an obvious example. The best way to develop your idea is to simply start building the product or providing the service you envision.
When I first met 27 year old Kate Atwood she had recently started a nonprofit dedicated to help young children of a deceased parent. She wasn’t a social worker or psychologist but rather just a young woman who at the age of 12 had lost her mother to cancer. She started providing counseling in a coffee shop, then quickly moved into donated office space at a law firm and within a few years had built a large regional non-profit with a six-figure budget and a permanent staff. Nobody gave her permission to do this. Want to do something? You don’t need permission…just start.
The best way to develop your idea is to simply start building the product or providing the service you envision.
Form alliances. If you want to change the world in a big way don’t try to do it yourself. Almost all organizations scale up by building relationships with other institutions that already have the members, audiences, or customers that need or want the solution that you’re providing. The people you want to impact have already been aggregated by other organizations and the last thing you need to do is try to attract customers or donors one by one.
Alliances only work if you are fully committed to invest the time to build strong and enduring relationships. An alliance is like a garden… if you leave it untended weeds will kill the flowers in short order. In my experience there is simply no other way to scale up to solve big problems or to make a big impact. You need big powerful friends who believe in you and your mission.
You need big powerful friends who believe in you and your mission.
Creative Grit. If you read most success stories you will find that overnight success takes 8 to 10 years. Oh, there are a few exceptions but you can ignore them. Plan on success being difficult. Plan on your best initial ideas being wrong. Expect the things you cannot control to be unfavorable. Expect employees to let you down. None of it matters. None of it. For a variety of frustrating reasons it took nearly 6 years to get the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book written.
It was published first in hardback and the sales were surprisingly meager. My disappointment stimulated an inner rage for success. When the book came out in paperback I risked the financial future of our company by overinvesting in a massive national book tour that required renting out large concert halls and filling them with employees from local businesses. It was a crazy risk but I believed so much in the message that I would’ve much rather failed than to not try.
Today, 25 years after it was published the 7 Habits book is still a top 20 business book and has sold over 25 million copies. And nearly every week someone new tells me how that book made a difference for them. Creative grit is more than simple persistence. It’s a willingness to continuously try new ways to make your difference when your current efforts seem fruitless. For me the purpose of life is to make the difference you are designed to make.
For me the purpose of life is to make the difference you are designed to make.
And please don’t be overwhelmed by that. Remember scale, size and fame ultimately do not matter. When you change your world, the world changes.