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. 


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.”

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:

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).

What I learned from going sleepless in Seattle

This blog originally appeared on November 5, 2014 on Two years ago I wanted to find a new way to engage Waggener Edstrom employees and have a social impact. A dash of creativity, risk and some rubber arm twisting resulted in WE’s participation in a CreateAthon event which was a hit! Read about our most recent CreateAthon experience.

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)

During global Pro Bono Week (#PB14), Waggener Edstrom celebrated its second CreateAthon experience. Twenty-four ambitious and energetic employees filled up on protein, energy drinks and delicious food — but no sleep — to create and deliver storytelling campaigns, marketing materials, PR plans and new brand identities to help support the missions of five amazing Seattle-based nonprofit organizations. Our Bellevue office space was lively for the full 24 nonstop hours, and energy levels hit a steady 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale around the clock (except for a lull between 7‒8 a.m.).

The delight of our clients this week confirmed the success of the event and the value of pro bono initiatives to help dedicated but resource-scarce groups. I was amazed to reflect on the overall performance and productivity of a team with lofty goals and a finite amount of time to achieve them. The team’s success can be attributed to embracing the following principles.

  • Be courageous. Every team member brought a variety of skills and experiences to the projects. Similarly everyone felt some vulnerability and uncertainty because they hadn’t worked together before. Participants embraced the diverse perspectives and focused on everyone’s (hidden) talents to get the work done. Be courageous, bring your whole self to the task and jump in to meet the need regardless of experience or job title. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit around and think about it. Go out and do it!”
  • Embrace creative chaos. Each five-member team worked together to establish a clear scope of work and goals for their project. This was an easy and smart step. Determining how the tasks would be divided and how the work would get done was more complicated. Generating ideas for the clients was challenging too. Visiting the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue’s club house, taking a walk in the park and listening to music inspired great ideas. Taking breaks, experiencing new or different environments, listening and honoring each idea, and brainstorming spontaneously with everyone and anyone available surfaced the most fun, surprising and winning concepts for our clients. Everyone’s creative chaos looks different, but you’ll know the winning idea when you see it.
  • Break rules, challenge assumptions. Every company and team has written and unwritten rules. These rules have purpose and value; for example, they help create order. Rules can also hinder flexibility, which limits our creativity and thus our ability to solve the problems that confront us. During CreateAthon, time is limited. We need to remove needless issues, concerns and hurdles fast. Trust the values of the common culture to ensure that you represent the company consistently. Challenging assumptions and breaking the rules of how to tackle a typical task is encouraged and feels really good. Let it go!
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (after 24-hours of hard, fun and rewarding work)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (after 24-hours of hard, fun and rewarding work)

The success of our CreateAthon projects will be partly measured by our impact on building capacity for these pro bono clients and how much we further their business goals (for example, by increasing donations or recruiting volunteers). In the professional services industry, achieving excellence, innovation and results are at the heart of our success. When we open our minds, show passion and find purpose in our work, we can live these principles every day.

How to Connect with Socially Conscious Consumers

Go Green 1Every day companies are introducing sustainable, socially conscious products and services, engaging in public-private partnerships and working to alleviate social and environmental challenges to fulfill business commitments and goals (financial, environmental and social). Research indicates that more and more consumers aspire to align their purchasing decisions and lifestyle with their values. This is commonly referred to as ‘conscious consumption’. At the same time, employees’ values are showing up more prominently in the workplace. Environmental Leader recently reported that corporate social responsible (CSR) activities have been proven to improve job performance. As employers compete aggressively for talent, they’re learning about the importance of creating compelling experiences that match individuals’ values such as flexibility, shared responsibility and transparency.

Last year Sustainable Brands reported on Nielsen’s findings that 50 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for socially responsible products. Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2014 indicated that Millennials are disappointed in business and government leaders, and expect improvement in CSR. Sixty-three percent of Millennials donate to charities and 51 percent—more than any other generation surveyed—told Nielsen they would pay extra for sustainable products. As more and more digital natives show more interest in buying socially responsible brands and the number of micro-audiences increase, organizations are facing a more daunting or complex task of engaging and influencing consumers.

Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  author of The Myth of Apathy, keynote at GoGreen Portland #GoGreenPDX (October 2014)
Renee Lertzman, Ph.D., author of The Myth of Apathy, keynote at GoGreen Portland #GoGreenPDX (October 2014)

At this week’s Go Green Portland conference, Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  author of The Myth of Apathy shared insight about the challenges of engaging and motivating communities of stakeholders in sustainability. She advocated the value and importance of getting smart about the psychological and social dimensions of the stakeholders that we connect with. Assuming that most people share the desire to have impact there is more to consider besides people’s values, beliefs and opinions.

Lertzman explained the complexity of everyday decisions and how people relate to environmental issues. We face dilemmas each day. Think about a person’s decision whether to work from home to reduce their carbon footprint. If a person stays at home they may spend less time emitting carbon on the roads, however the power and energy to warm their home may equal the carbon emissions of a commute. Which option minimizes the impact on the environment? Lertzman argued that people’s capacity to understand issues will directly affect the appropriate engagement strategy to reach these people.

Instead of only focusing on appealing to individuals’ behavioral motivations and triggers, Lertzman pointed to the value of focusing on the emotional and experiential dimension of engagement.

  • Meet people where they are: Capitalizing on the energy that exists, mobilizing people to co-create and discuss solutions can help audiences rationalize their situation and negotiate dilemmas and conflicts.
  • Show compassion: Knowing that every human being has a fundamental need to have an impact, yet deals with anxiety in decision making, positive reinforcement and compassion breeds understanding and lends itself to promising outcomes.
  • Listen: Listening and being inquisitive helps us from jumping too quickly to conclusions and making assumptions. If people aren’t engaging its often because they are overwhelmed. Its often nothing to do with the fact that they don’t care or aren’t motivated. Listening to people, understanding their circumstances can be more effective in driving change, as opposed to pressuring individuals.

Playing The Race Card


Michele Norris, Portland, Ore. YWCA Keynote

This title was the theme of Michele Norris’ keynote at the YWCA Inspire Luncheon in Portland, Ore. If you don’t know Michele Norris, she is an accomplished journalist, storyteller and co-host on All Things Considered, National Public Radio (NPR) – my favorite radio station, arguably one of the finest journalism outlets in the world.

Michele spoke about the race card. Sound risky or controversial? It wasn’t. She offered mind-blowing perspective about how race is experienced and how it shapes the world that we live in.

In 2010, Michele published a memoir about her family’s

The Race Card

racial legacy and race in the wake of the Obama presidential election. She was confident that when she went out to talk about the book, she’d be asking people to engage in a conversation about race. Something that she acknowledged is hard for people to do. She wanted to make it a bit easier for her audiences by quite literally playing the race card, by giving people a postcard and asking them to share their experiences, questions, hopes, laments or observations about race and identity – using just six words. She aimed to foster a candid dialogue about race amongst fellow Americans; it evolved into a global conversation. The Race Card Project is about dialogue and engagement.

  • People think in digestible sound bites: Replies to the question “What is Race?” which appeared on the post cards included: “What if the world was colorblind”, “Underneath we all taste like chicken”, “We can learn from one another”, “Money in hand not on counter”, “I am not a racist but …”, “My son is not half he is double”, and “I will not ruin your bloodline”.
  • Listening is the most important part of dialogue:  Stories draw us into the lives and hearts of people. Asking questions matter, listening to the replies matter more.
  • Dialogue does not have any geographic boundaries: The Race Card project started in small town in America, when Michele printed 200 postcards to share with intimate audiences while she was on tour, to spur conversation. There was a 30 percent return rate. Social media amplified the conversation and before she knew it, she was receiving honest, funny and brave responses from Ireland, Belgium and Chile, and beyond. Michele found herself eavesdropping on the conversations of race around the globe (even though this wasn’t her original expectation or intention).
  • Don’t assume that mainstream dialogue mirrors the opinions of individuals: Michele has found herself archiving people’s attitudes and cataloguing history. She has learned that the race conversation in mainstream media presents one dimension of history and that the conversations with individuals are very personal. She didn’t elaborate on the differences between the mainstream media and information shared by individuals who she spoke with however I inferred that she was referring to the fact that race is a lot more complex that what the mainstream media reports and individuals’ experiences are so vast and varied, much more profound than some people give the topic credit for.  


Power of Truth Through Stories

I heard so many stories this evening from volunteers at Tryon Creek Park’s Annual Meeting and Volunteer Recognition Event, I’m still in awe. The stories were SO sincere, heart-warming, filled with personality, humor and wisdom, all pretty typical from volunteers who’ve invested 3000+ hours (each) to the restoration efforts, the stories never lose their impact. The one word which comes to mind about Tryon after this evening is family. They are one big family.

 Tryon Creek State Park is a 670-acre forest located on the boundaries of Portland and Lake Oswego. Lu Beck was the most remarkable award recipient, she received a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award. Lu was one of the most fascinating characters to me because she was one of the forty champions that helped bring the park into being in 1970, she took the idea to Glen Jackson who sealed the deal forty years ago when the state was incorporated as a State Park.

Award from the Friends of Tryon Creek on behalf of my employer Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. The acknowledgement belongs with the employees who’ve worked hard outdoors pulling ivy and the like over the past years. I wish more of them could have joined me. A great part of my job.

Breakfast with Doug Stamm (and several hundred others)

I got up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning and went to the Governor Hotel to listen to Doug Stamm, Executive Director of the Meyer Memorial Trust. Five reasons why I get up at an ungodly hour for this Power Breakfasts: 1) perspective 2) inspiration 3) challenge my networking skills 4) witness the power of story 5) to learn.

I really, really enjoyed the talk and the breakfast was tasty. Doug was fantastic!  I don’t want to dissect the colorful content and stories that Doug shared but a couple his comments struck me as interesting (ok, I have one comment to add about the last note).

  • Fred Meyer was truly a visionary for his time. There’s no spend-down at the Meyer Memorial Trust; i.e. it is set up to operate in perpetuity unlike most Foundations AND there isn’t a limitation to where and how the money can be spent, this decision is left to the discretion of the trustees. In Stamm’s words, “Fred Meyer was everything in his industry, that Phil Knight is to Nike”  
  • Stamm doesn’t believe in working with consultants, well, didn’t used to believe in working with them until he worked with FSG. Hear, Hear – a great resource, love their content. They’re a good friend of the social innovation practice at Waggener Edstrom too (my employer)
  • Similar to the message I heard from Julia Novy-Hildesley, the previous executive director at The Lemelson Foundation who I heard speak earlier this month about providing “philanthropic capital”, funding social enterprises, NGO’s and for-profits in some instances.  Stamm is a believer in innovation. He believes in funding foundational investments like operational support to those non-profits with solid strategic business plans and business case. This isn’t traditionally something foundations do.
  • Meyer Memorial Trust lives and breathes transparency in a genuine way. Music to my ears! I believe he said Marie Etheridge is behind the communications at the Foundation, a quick search didn’t show any results so I can’t confirm. Anyway, Meyer Memorial recently received a “Glass Pockets” award (love that name!)  Tactical Philanthropy has a good post about this topic.  Made me laugh when Stamm said, that sometimes his staff feel like they’re walking around the office naked because they’re such a transparent organization.
  • There are between 14-18k non-profits in Oregon. While Stamm used to believe that the state didn’t need this many NGO’s. The fact that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, has made him back down from this point of view.
  • Stamm talked at the end of the conversation about his intense passion for “Impact Investment”. This is an important issue and one of those issues I consider part of the journey of change as transparency increases, social business grows, and the world changes and adapts to tackle these big issues. He used the example of the story published in the Los Angeles Times in 2007 about the Gates Foundation as an example to explain why this is important. I bet this story wasn’t the envy of any foundation and Meyer, Collins and every other foundations were glad they were not the focus of the story. However reputable, strong and game-changing foundations/companies and non-profits learn from mistakes. Impact investment is a huge arena for collaboration, learning and sharing.  I think Gates took this one for the team and are learning from the experience.  

p.s. Doug was asked about participating in the Oregon Environmental Council’s Pollution in People Report, the results were a surprise to him, he recommended skimming the book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” – apparently it is not a vacation read!