An acquaintance of mine was upset by a decision made by an event organizer. They desired a different outcome. The board of the event held a meeting to confirm the decision made by the event organizer. The acquaintance threatened the solid standing of the event by leveraging his significant social media presence to suggest a boycott of future iterations of the event. It was an emotional decision, and clearly, this individual felt strongly about righting a perceived wrong. What they failed to understand was the difference between reach and influence. Their message would reach a large number of people. Nearly all of those individuals did not participate in the event nor did they influence future versions of the event. He could publish a sensational headline, but few people would read the article or more importantly take action.
Mistaking reach and influence is common. There are a vast number of channels through which we can contact our affinity group (Seth Godin would suggest ‘tribe’). The essential question is how many people will act on our behalf. I empathize with numerous challenges faced by individuals. Less frequently do I take measurable steps to help them solve a problem. People must believe what we believe and then see themselves as uniquely positioned to influence the outcome before they take significant action.
If we are certain about the future, why do we prepare for the unknown?
Measuring athletic performance provides a variety of measurement tools and scales. A cycling computer might give the user the following data fields:
- Power Output
- Elapse Time
- Elevation Climbed
- Ranking on Strava Section
- Calories Consumed
- GPS Map
We can quickly assess our performance in real-time and measure it against numerous indicators. What the data cannot readily reveal is the perceived exertion. There may be hints, elevated heart rate on a scorching hot day, reduced cadence grinding into a relentless headwind, slower average speed riding a freshly chip sealed road. Perceived exertion matters. If we are not prepared to suffer our impression and memory of the workout can be negative and even haunting.
How does the monitoring of sports data equate to the social sector? How many times have we not shared all the relevant details when recruiting a volunteer, committee member, or member for the board? It is easy to focus on the inspirational parts of the work. What happens when reality hits? When the board member who missed the preschool class on taking turns wrestles control of the meeting with a full-throated demand? Or the committee that must work overtime in order for the annual gala to succeed? If we do not prepare our team members for what they will likely encounter, the perception of their work and its impact can be rattled.
Let us be honest as we pitch our enterprises to those willing to support the cause. We can prepare ourselves for the extremes with an advance warning but it is too late when we are caught off guard. Perceived experiences matter, even when the data looks excellent.
Want to test the conviction of our values? Offer an incentive and see how quickly we become transactional. Or, witness how we will not sacrifice our belief for a better deal. Holding true to our values is called loyalty.
We can fly from New York to Boston on the hour via commuter flights that barely reach a low cruise altitude before descending to the airport. The choice of air travel for this route is usually one of preference and price. The bus, train, on-demand car service, or personal automobile are all viable. A journey that connects significant metropolitan areas is not that remarkable but necessary.
Far more ambitious is a journey into space. We cannot readily hop aboard the next shuttle or rocket and find ourselves unshackled from Earth’s atmosphere. The opportunity to look back upon our planet from the vantage point of the Moon or orbiting space station allows for different thinking. We access a perspective only available to our human nature when we stand separated from that which usually conceals us. This is why mountain peaks, observation decks on skyscrapers, and canyon overlooks continue to fascinate us. We find ourselves suspended in places where we cannot remain.
The challenge to our enterprise is what journey will transform our way of thinking? The shuttle approach works. It is quick, predictable, and alternate forms can be substituted if our preferred method of travel encounters a delay. The journey to space requires the commitment of a team and numerous resources. When successful it tends to inform our decision-making for a generation. The question is, which landscape do you need to see when you are thinking strategically? Does an elevated view of I-95 suffice or does a little blue marble sitting above the horizon of a lunar landscape reorder our ways of thinking? Both journeys are viable, the results are poles apart.
How many lug nuts on a car wheel are you willing to travel without? How many gears on a road bike are you willing to ride without? How many times are your willing to let your shoelaces break before replacing them?
The best answer; it depends on the journey and circumstance. In a perfect world, we would purchase, fix, or replace any of these items immediately. However, we tend to drive, ride and walk a little way before addressing the problem. In extenuating circumstances, we travel great distances and endure long periods of time if our survival outranks the pending maintenance issue.
There are no perfect top ten lists or flow charts. If these things existed we could replace most committees, task forces, board, and leadership teams with algorithms. Instead, we need the human element to wrestle with the questions that matter. Great decision-makers are capable of altering the course of a cause more than the accumulation of resources.
Never forget to think about the human element. Otherwise, we are collecting badges and experience points as we try to advance from level to level without an understanding of how it impacts the overall mission.
If our best ideas are like pine cones and acorns then they need to fall outside the canopy of the great trees from which they fall. It is scary and uncertain to land on an exposed piece of land but necessary to germinate. Our best ideas that fall at the roots of the parent tree never have a chance to fully evolve. Unless someone transports them to open sunlight, adds moisture, and places them in fertile earth.
This is why we share ideas with others. We cannot foster all our great ideas. Too many fall under our own aboral umbrella. We have to seed them with just enough structure that someone else can take them forth. Sometimes our best success comes from moments of serendipity. The seatmate on a flight, the stranger at a conference, the visitor who sits in on a meeting. Our weakest ties become the greatest hope that our best ideas might find a home and scale to full form.
Simon Sinek reminds us that ideas only take their true form when we share them out loud. We have to give them life and put them into the narrative. Like the pine cone and acorns, their fate depends on the ecosystem in which they land.