From Serving to Saving

Commitment. Community. Hardship. People. Relationships. Empowerment. Effective. Selfless. Engage. Purpose. Complicated. Understanding. Values. Working. Stewardship. Giving. Helping.

These are some of the words a group of Oregonians answered when asked: What one word comes to mind when you hear the word service?

The diverse choice of words indicate the breadth and complexity of what it means to serve.

If you live in a city, you can walk down the street and see homeless people struggling to find shelter or begging for food. We see regular pleas for help on social media and receive countless solicitations for financial donations to support organizations committed to ending the plight of the marginalized and downtrodden. We’re surrounded by sad images, hard realities and sometimes overwhelming expectations to answer the call to help solve complex issues. There are more than 1.7 million non-governmental organizations in the United States and social enterprises actively working to remedy or alleviate the many ills in society. The needs are monumental.

A lot of people seek to out opportunities to serve or dedicate their lives to service. Some people volunteer, others make financial donations or donate skills and services. Some people invest in meaningful careers to devote their time to a cause. People are called to serve because it is a religious belief. Some people serve because their moral conscience and sense of responsibility is activated. Others serve to feel good or better about themselves. An altruistic act is rarely truly selfless because we benefit so much when we are kind to others.

Service is also important. It brings us closer together. It connects us. It deepens our understanding of people and issues. It builds character. It strengthens society. It builds compassion and nurtures empathy. It provides perspective. And more importantly.

How do we know the type of service that people need or want?
What if someone doesn’t know how to articulate what they need?

Think about a time when you stepped up to serve and with hindsight, it may not have been the correct or wisest move to intervene to try and serve to ‘save’ a person.

It is easy to assume when we serve that it is the right thing to do. It is easy to judge. It is easy to choose on behalf of someone, especially if they’re vulnerable, undernourished, unable to think straight. It is easy to tell people what they “should” do. It is natural for many people to want to solve and tell people what they need. It is equally worth stepping back to think about the needs of others before we assume our role in service to save someone (whether for a day, week, year or lifetime). As one participant shared, an act of doing good is not about completion. Another participant reminded us that impact doesn’t tell the whole story.

Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project is a reflective and invigorating experience to open the mind, exercise listening and expand thoughts. Something we could all benefit from doing more often. 

Advertisements

Finding Purpose in a Cone

There are only three ice cream or sorbet flavors in my world: strawberry honey balsamic vinegar with cracked black pepper, sea salt with caramel ribbons or lemon sorbet if there is no Salt and Straw nearby. What started out as a small-batch artisan ice-cream cart on NE Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon transformed the world of ice-cream (dramatic statement but true). At tonight’s Stumptown Speaker Series Kim Malek, CEO and Co-Founder of Salt and Straw validated that the company is a brand with a purpose to serve and nurture community. She did not have a dream to start an ice-cream brand, she found the purpose first.  Today it is a must-go destination in Portland, Los Angeles (and soon to be in San Francisco and Seattle), a place to indulge in a cacophony of ice-cream flavors that somehow belong together although on the other hand have no business being mixed together AND yet always leave you wondering how on earth Head Chef Tyler Malek cooked up yet another delectable treat. Life lessons: embrace the unexpected and let life surprise you.

Community comes to life in several ways at Salt and Straw:

  • Creating memorable Customer Experiences: The infinity line of customers out the door of the scoop shops – rain or shine – has never made standing in line more worthwhile (although this is not deliberate part of the customer experience). Malek shared that they’ve heard stories about marriage proposals, friendships and job offers while customers have mingled and waited patiently in line.
  • Investing in the Culinary Community: This year Salt and Straw will start an artisan program in Portland. They’ll provide future artisans with a support, a curriculum and share lessons about their own successes and failures to future entrepreneurs. Life is too short to learn everyone’s mistakes.
  • Caring for the Family: The army of dedicated Salt and Straw employees make it a special experience. They’re a key ingredient to the company’s success and well-cared for. Employees receive extensive training on topics such as conflict resolution, diversity and more in the spirit of  creating a respectful community. Philanthropy is small fraction of the equation.
  • Collaborating with Connoisseurs: Then there’s the community partners. They partner closely with local companies such as Olympia Provisions to fine tune their menu offerings.
  • Feeding the Soul: Knowing that food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation, there is nothing better than bringing Apple Brandy and Pecan Pie, Stuffing or Eggnog flavors to the Christmas family gathering in Minnesota

Community is a mindset and not a passing thought or aspiration. Building an ethical, resilient and sustainable way of running a business requires a vision, and a commitment to a distinct cultural flavor. They’re always values based companies. I’d fathom a guess that freedom, respect, humor, happiness and connection are at the heartbeat of this cultural gem.

The Little Monk

Today was a sunny spring day so I took a walk this afternoon to soak up Beaumont‘s buds, blooms and blossoms. Having the chance to explore the neighborhood mid-week is an opportunity see it in a different light. It is my favorite part of working from home. Even though I’ve lived in the neighborhood for fifteen years there is always a renovation to admire, activity to steal my attention or someone new to meet, often they’re retired. Today, I walked the peace route and finally met the owner of “the little monk” (a garden ornament). The homeowner was tending to the Japanese Maple under which which the little monk sits. While I aspire to master the art of meditation I have a long way to go but on every walk I always find calm in the simplicity of this garden and stop to pause most days for 2, 10 or 30 seconds. I was heartened to learn from the homeowner that this was exactly his intention.  This simple experience captures three things that I want to master.

Finlittle_monkd joy in chaos: It can be hard to find the quiet, value the understated and subtle when we’re so wrapped up in the frenzy and energy of the day but it’s worth breaking free of the chains to get perspective, see life beyond the screen and be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Look for beauty in the everyday:  In the clutter, banter, craziness of the day, carve out time to find the little monk in every day. Savor what might appear to be mundane. Be prepared to be amazed or surprised. The tulip in the photo simply appeared, it was not deliberately planted. It looks so perfectly placed.

Listen. Ask open-ended questions. Be curious. Ask good questions. To paraphrase from Buddhism, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.”

Dedication to Dreamers

On my own two feet, from loosing my legs to learning the dance of life - Amy PurdyThis is how Amy Purdy’s session was introduced this week at the first VOICES Inc. talk this week. Amy Purdy is the 2014 Paralympic Medalist, she’s a double amputee with a profound story of determination, courage and beating the odds. Many know her for her performance on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. Her story was a reminder about three things.

Being Your Story: “If your life was a book and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?” This is how Amy opened her talk and explained it was the question that guided her decision and path after her life of freedom and independence took a detour and when her life would rely on machines, mechanics and innovation, while her desire for a life of adventure was still strong.

Knowing Your Purpose: It is clear that sharing her message of triumph is Amy’s purpose. She affirmed this with her actions to start a non-profit organization Adaptive Action Sports, and her championship and petition to have Snowboarding as one of the competition categories in the Sochi Olympics (2014). It is often our passion that carries us through challenges. This is when we’re forced to dig deep and figure out what we’re made of. At this year’s Creative Conference in Portland, Steve Emerson, Visual Effects Supervisor LAIKA commented that people shouldn’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is a component of creativity, not a catalyst. People who love what they do enjoy the process of whatever they love. I sat in the audience and nodded profusely. Of course this is true! We can’t just wait for the next TED talk, conference or book to inspire us to action. When I’m reflective, uncertain or unsure I often think about my purpose to be a changemaker to enable people to perform at their best. This is where all paths lead.

Finding Assets in Obstacles: Being emotionally and physically broken was hard and Amy talked about how her biggest loss turned into her biggest asset. The comment signaled the power of attitude and was a reminder that while we can’t control everything in our lives and we can’t control other people, we can control how we respond to a situation.

It takes courage and energy to try new things and to overcome challenges. It can take mental, physical or/and emotional energy. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, it takes less of one energy and more of the other. Depending on your style, trying new things can give you energy too. It also breeds anxiety or fear. It gives me energy to listen. I love going to conferences, listening to speakers like Amy.

In just a short amount of time her life has been transformed at least twice or three times. She’s been on the road with Oprah on her Power of Intention tour, competed on Dancing with Stars, got married, won an Olympic Medal. Its fair to say that having a list of accomplishments on this scale won’t be everyone’s list (although maybe dreamers’ lists). But Amy’s story offered a reminder for all of use that we don’t have to be limited by circumstance.

Earth Day | Five headlines

California is facing one of its worst droughts and taking unprecedented measures. Water is the hot topic. Read more.

In December, world leaders will gather in Paris, France to negotiate a new climate change agenda. Read more

Sudan is the home of the last known area male northern white rhino in the world and he is the last hope for keeping his species alive. Read more.

Philanthropic organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation is focused on investing in clean energy in India and beyond. Read more

Climate change and drought has an impact on the food chain. Villagers in a rural district of Kenya are getting a helping hoof from goats to adapt to climate change. Read more

Environmental issues are complicated, climate change is affecting every country and every citizen. Everyone has a role. Deniers need to get out of the way. Innovation is happening, it needs to continue, happen faster, be more deliberate and unrelenting.

Thrust onto the Public Stage, Being a Force For Good

The tension in our communities is palpable. I’m referring to the tension resulting from shootings, racial tensions and confrontations between citizens and the police. It is a sad state of affairs. It’s a tragedy to see the loss of life, the transformation of people’s lives and erosion of trust .

SybrinaFultonAt this week’s YWCA Inspire luncheon in Portland, Ore., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother shared her story. Her son, Trayvon died after a violent confrontation in Florida in 2012. Today, Sybrina is a civil rights activist committed to positive change in the face of violence in society. She recalled the transformation from being a regular mother of two bright boys to becoming a voice of positive change by establishing the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Sybrina encouraged the audience to use her story to inspire change. Her loss and grief felt young, deep and tender.

Parents and victims of pain and loss often decide to channel their experience of loss and grief into advocacy. It is HOW the individuals choose to use their experience and WHAT they choose to do that is striking.

The story of Amy Biehl is illustrative of the power of forgiveness. In 1993, Amy was a graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa who was murdered by Cape Town residents. The four men convicted of her murder were released. Biehl’s family supported the release of the men, and according to Wikipedia her father shook their hands, stating: “the most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue … we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms

Listen to the StoryCorps episode with Oshea Israel and he Mary Johnson. One night at a party Oshea got into a fight, which ended when he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd. Today they are close neighbors and friends. Mary Johnson founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims.

This depth of forgiveness in these stories is unfathomable for some people. I can’t help but wonder whether the depth of forgiveness is a source of hope towards building a more harmonious society. (Of course, this would not be in the absence of institutional changes too).

We’re often reminded that we can’t change people but we can control how we respond to a situation.

TED Tuesday | Everyone has a story

There are Throwback Thursdays, Webcast Wednesdays and so forth. This week I’m starting my own series called TED Tuesdays. Like many of the 1000s of TED followers, I watch a TED or TEDx recording weekly. More often than not, I listen to a talk and learn something new, I’m inspired to make a change or act on one of the ideas that the presenters shared. TED Tuesday posts will highlight my favorite talks and sound bites in the spirit of reflection, inspiration and daring to do things and think differently. This first post focuses on a TED talk that was recorded at the 2015 TED Global event in Vancouver, B.C, in February.

Who: Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, the single largest collection of human voices ever recorded

The theme of his talk: Everyone around you has a story the world needs to hear

He shared:

  • Four phrases that carry enormous power, “Thank you, I love you, Forgive me, I forgive you” (Book: Four Things that Matter Most by Ira Byock)
  • Listen a little more and shout a little less
  • People are basically good
  • There is an unimaginable spirit of human forgiveness
  • Every life matters equally and infinitely

My aha moment(s): Listening is an act of love and generosity. Find your courage, tell your story and leave nothing important unsaid.

Learn more: http://www.ted.com/talks/dave_isay_everyone_around_you_has_a_story_the_world_needs_to_hear

How would you rate your improv performance today?

20150404_130353_resized_4We’re all improvisers. Every day we wake up, we don’t have a script, and we don’t really know what is going to happen. Anything could happen. This was one of Gary Hirsch’s messages at the TEDxMtHood Adventure: Improvising with Strangers held this weekend. Gary is a self-proclaimed improv junkie and co-founder of On Your Feet. During the 2.5 hour workshop, a group of ~30 strangers became friends by playing with improv. Through play, simple instructions, applying the principles of improv showed how it can strengthen collaboration, increase self-awareness and relationships, generate new ideas and approaches to opportunities, problems or products. Here’s what I took away from the session:

Be spontaneous: How often do you attend a meeting with an idea, opinion or a problem to solve but truthfully you’re steadfast committed to one solution? You’re not alone. Agendas have a time and a place. However a lot of people join a brainstorm or meeting with a focus on influencing or convincing vs. looking to solve real problems or find new ideas. Be honest about your intention.

Take the offer. Listen: Improvising is centered on the idea of maintaining the flow of a dialogue and acting on “offers.” We encounter offers throughout conversations and everyday events. They are mistakes, unforeseen circumstances, statements, questions, failures or gestures. Offers help us think differently or generate better ideas. It isn’t necessary to accept every offer but learn to accept the reality of others. Listen for offers to be able to help, learn, contribute, support, create and so forth (especially relevant if you’re in a position of power or authority).

Present: Improv is designed for the present which equips us for the unknown of tomorrow.

I signed up to attend Improvising with Strangers for two reasons. At the 2014 World Domination Summit, Gary handed out bravebots, I carry mine with me most days. It always prompts a smile and reminder to keep trying new things. Second, surprises are more rare these days. In our always-on lives our days are often hyper-scheduled or we’re learning about EVERYTHING new or different via social-media. It was a great experience to participate in a gathering without an agenda and a lot of unknowns. I didn’t really know what I’d signed up for. The tweet I read from @DesignWeekPDX made an offer and I took them up on it.

Check out three improv exercises that will improve your team’s performance on HBR for more ideas. You can hear more from Gary by “meeting his monsters” at TEDxConcordiaUPortland (2013).

New Zealand: Fairness, Sustainability and Entrepreneurship

We just returned from New Zealand and I fell in love with this country again. After two weeks in middle earth. (Get a taste of their cool factor by watching the Air New Zealand Safety video), there is so much to share about this country. We traveled to the South Island (we were on the North Island last year) and had a great adventure. Here’s what stands out from the experience.

Fairness: The United States and New Zealand share three similarities: they’re both open societies, democracies, both were born with British colonial origins. Yet, the differences are bold too and they hinge on values. New Zealanders have organized their society around fairness, a principle that arguably divides Americans. The timing of New Zealand’s industrialization has a lot to do with the societal values. Fairness is defined as “not taking undue advantage of other people” and should not to be confused with equality. Providing resources and conditions to create fair access to opportunity and shape people’s choices. This is the essence of the country. For example, everyone is insured against accidents — regardless of fault or cause (hence you find a lot of people walking around without shoes, at least in the university town of Dunedin)

There’s a very interesting book (although long) written by David Hackett Fischer called Freedom and Fairness: A History of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States that spells out the journey and differences that created the countries we know today.

20150223_141032_resized

Conservation and Nature: The country has a strong sense of place, wonder and often undisturbed and protected. It is sparsely populated (the country’s population is between 4-5 million according to different quotes and sources). This means natural beauty is on everyone’s doorsteps and unexpected adventures too. From Te Anau, Fjordland (the Doubtful Sound rocks!) to Wanaka, Queenstown to Curio Bay, the Catlins (these are all places we visited). We stayed in a sparsely populated coastal town in a studio, beautiful views of Hector dolphins’ playfully swimming in the ocean. Hector’s dolphins are endemic to the coastal regions of New Zealand, they’re the smallest dolphin on earth (approx. 1.2 meters) and there are approximately 7000 left in the ocean. We went to bed with the sun and woke up all throughout the night to the squeaking, cackling, crying, whaling sound of the hoiho, i.e. yellow-eyed penguins that nested under and around the studio where we stayed. They are one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated total population in New Zealand of between 6000 – 7000. They’re distinguished by their vivid yellow eye band. We saw them at a nearby beach but not up close and personal. We only heard them very loud and clear. An unforgettable experience.

Entrepreneurship: New Zealand consistently scores high on the World Bank list. The country was recently identified as the second best country in the world to do business. It is easy to start a business in New Zealand. It is reportedly a great place to test products or products because of their openness to testing technologies. For example, Shuttlerock, was launched in New Zealand. It’s a platform that allows brands to aggregate socially sourced content on their own websites. They have great ideas and ambition. They push boundaries (think bungy jumping!), those people we met were very friendly, ambitious and curious, not super egotistical. Qualities that make a great partnerships work, build successful leaders and teams.

If you’re looking for a holiday destination, playground for new ideas or a new adventure, New Zealand may be your calling. I’d move there in a heartbeat if the opportunity came around.

20150219_134157_resized

Appealing to Employees’ ‘Purpose’ Sweet Spot

Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)

In December, two of the 2014 trends about corporate societal engagement by CECP resonated as we reflected on Waggener Edstrom’s second annual CreateAthon event. The post highlighted that companies are paying closer attention to their culture and how it aligns company values with employee values because employees are looking to work for companies that share their values. Alignment between the values accelerates business performance. Second, employee engagement continues to evolve. There is a link between how companies support employee engagement and invest in communities. Both factors contribute to creating a meaningful culture that attracts and retains talent.

It has been three months since WE’s event, and the shared joy, camaraderie and connections that employees experienced are still palpable because CreateAthon speaks to employees’ aspirations and expectations in three ways.

  • Something Greater than Oneself: Employees are not driven solely by their own achievements or the company’s goals as an end in itself but by the world around them and how they better society. A 2014 article in Inc. magazine highlighted the results of a Deloitte study that stated 73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared with just 23 percent of those who don’t. CreateAthon builds new communities within companies that work toward clear outcomes that have a far-reaching impact. This is inspiring to employees.
  • Focus on the Experience: In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” People seek fulfillment in their everyday lives. Employees have a desire to create and participate in experiences in pursuit of greater happiness. Experiences like CreateAthon stay with people, they have emotional longevity and can be relived. Research indicates that experiences define a person’s sense of self more than possessions.
  • Opportunity to Thrive: CreateAthon is a social learning experience. During CreateAthon we build an equal playing field regardless of job title, experience or skill-set. WE employees valued having the opportunity to try out a new skill. Studies have shown that younger generations tend to feel uncomfortable in rigid corporate structures where information is often siloed. The CreateAthon experience is a microcosm of the types of workplaces that companies are being challenged to deliver at scale. Being in an agile, flexible and fun environment gives employees the perfect opportunity to thrive.