The Power of Simple

Colorado, USAIn our patch work world of busy social calendars, family functions and professional demands, complexity is an outcome of life that we confront most days. Our world of complexity is  powered by technology, an over-abundance of information and high expectations. Deliberately embracing the notion of simplicity or simplifying our ways is refreshing; I’ve learned that its a strategy to live a more meaningful life.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the adjective simple, “Free from duplicity, innocent and harmless, honest, open and straightforward.” The word suggests greater clarity because if we spend time focused on simplifying a situation, task or priorities, there is a greater likelihood that we have a clearer focus and understanding for why we are doing something. The idea of taking some time to pause and process the reason for why we’re doing something , as opposed to jumping frantically from one task to another raises our consciousness about the choices we’re making which means we can focus on quality of activities versus the quantity of items that we’re checking off the to-do list.

Simplicity breeds gratitude, higher productivity and greater fulfillment. Undeniably, the idea of simplifying is an aspiration every day. If we remind ourselves frequently, train our brain to be deliberate and focus, we will be more intentional and happier.

Live simply.

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What I learned from going sleepless in Seattle

This blog originally appeared on November 5, 2014 on http://createathon.org/. 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.

General Mills’ Position on GMO

I’m an active consumer. I selectively engage with brands via email, social media, phone or by chatting directly with team leads or store managers when I have something to share – complaints and compliments alike, which has often resulted in action or positive changes. When I read this post on Linked In: General Mills speaks up about state GMO labeling laws; I was intrigued to read their position on this hot topic. The author, Debra Atlas provides the verbatim reply and concludes, “If they are in favor of a national labeling act, why assiduously fight every state – and with so much capital expense – to defeat any mandatory labeling? Do they truly want consumers to know what’s in their food, or are they simply blowing smoke? It has to make you wonder.”

I give credit to General Mills (GM) for providing a pretty thorough reply. Their position to support national legislation is pretty consistent. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they support giving consumers the information that they want. After all, they’re a brand that generally has a good handle on transparency, they understand the power of consumers and their demand for greater clarity (likely born out of horror stories over the years about food supply chains).

I have read that the state by state GMO labelling will create a cost and could very likely create confusion in grocery stores (The Shelby Report posted an excellent summary on this topic here). I’m inferring that GM realizes that every stakeholder group will pay some price if the piecemeal approach continues. The state by state strategy is positively increasing awareness of GMO, however I’ve also read that the details in the state by state proposals are very vague and don’t serve consumers very well. The topic is complicated and not a topic that consumers deeply understand. Most of the legislation focuses on how the food is put together but not what it contains.

If GM doesn’t believe that piecemeal legislation addresses the core issues of GMO’s that matter to stakeholders then their strategy makes sense and it is likely cost efficient to fight states. I’m most interested in learning about GM’s proactive strategy for nationwide legislation if they believe this is the right road to transparency, this would provide a true-up picture of their desire to respond to consumers.

Entering the Real-World of Social Enterprise

This weekend, I’m wrapping up a 9-month Business of Social Innovation certificate program with Impact Entrepreneurs, at Portland State University led by Cindy Cooper and Jacen Greene – two gifted business professionals and academic coaches. I have a wealth of gratitude from this experience, more than I can capture here. Its been an episode of deep learning and exploration. It is the most hands on university program that I have participated in during my fifteen year career (at this point, I could move forward to carry out a thorough business plan to raise funding for my proposed social enterprise). I’ve continued to learn about myself, especially my desire to excel as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (the latter is a better fit right now). The experience further validated my love of purposeful learning and desire to use my business background to be a changemaker or wavemaker (not the squishy, feel-good stuff but the real, long term kind of self-sustaining change).

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While this was primarily an online course, in the past two week we spent three-days visiting social enterprises in the fashion, coffee and IT industries and more.

  • Central City Concern has demonstrated the innovative and persevering leadership in transforming the lives of people who ,
  • My Street Grocery, Amelia Pape has built a platform for community led food access.
  • Seeko Designs has an amazing story about empowering women and bridging communities between high and low income countries while raising the integrity of fashion
  • Sustainable Harvest demonstrated the systemic, sophisticated innovation behind supply chain for some people’s favorite beverage.
  • Grammen Intel is delivering, sustainable locally designed and adapted IT solutions to improve agricultural yields, economic development and maternal health into low-income communities.

Practicing my listening skills, increasing my understanding of the real social business world was an outcome I sought at the start of the course which I achieved. I also added new tools to my toolbox (more to come on the business model canvas), met friends and future entrepreneurs who I’m confident with catalyze change. My head and heart are full contemplating the possibilities.

Common Language for Sustainability

Mike Barry, director of sustainability at Marks and Spencer said it best at the 2014 Skoll World Forum, “as soon as you start to challenge language its like cussing in Church.” This is a clever, humorous, true and convenient point. The debate about the choice of words that people use to discuss the meaning of sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and so forth matters however it has been exhausted and we’ve been left without clarity and consensus. For me the baseline is that sustainability is the destination. It refers to living within limits, understanding the interconnections among economy, society, and environment and the impact and consequence of decisions on each part of the ecosystem and thirdly, the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.

Cover of the Economist magazine, Aug. 30-Sept. 14, 2014
Cover of the Economist magazine, Aug. 30-Sept. 14, 2014

This week’s Schumpeter column in the Economist magazine make a serious point about a deficient common language. Without a definition there is “no basis for coherent policy.” Policy innovation is arguably as important as product, service and business model innovation to help rectify or overcome the social problems at the heart of society – from water access to homelessness, maternal health or access to education and training.

Mentors matter

I’ve been dabbling with a book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett titled Forget a Mentor, Find a sponsor for several months. I still haven’t finished the book however believe both mentors and sponsors matter. They have different roles in our professional life. How to make the best use of time with mentors perplexed me for a while even though I could imagine the value of tapping the wisdom and life experiences of those who have walked a similar path. How to frame the conversations or determine when to approach a mentor was less clear. I’ve learned that trusted mentors can provide and perspective to guide choices (note, I did not write advice). They are perfect people to connect with to:  

  • seek guidance on how to handle professional situations and relationships
  • uncover ideas and gather diverse perspectives on how to approach a new experience, unfamiliar task or uncertain situation
  • learn and be inspired about what to be thinking about next (ask your mentor what they are reading, blogs they follow, events they’re planning to attend or have recently attended and WHY or WHAT they learned).

 

Play. Have Fun.

It’s been an active, fun-filled summer. We travelled to Washington DC, Southern Oregon and California Redwoods, Yachats, Oregon, San Jose and Santa Cruz, California, to make a few places. Ceri, my eldest sister joined me for some of the adventures. With seven years between us, we have been on many adventures together. When we get together it is a bundle of laughter, peppered with some serious conversations about career, the workplace and jobs. Above all, the one thing that my sister always brings out in me is fun.

Ceri makes fun a priority but it is not surface-deep or an effort. This is who she is and values greatly. For an extrovert, this is not hard. On a continuum, I’m probably a hybrid introvert and extrovert. I’m a dreamer and more thoughtful in my actions. This doesn’t matter. It only shows that fun comes in different flavors. Its a great prescription for renewal and recharge. During the many trips, it was liberating to be distracted from needless worries and to escape the immediacy that we can easily impose on ourselves in our professional lives. Mark Williams is quoted in the book Thrive, Arianna Huffington (page 61), that the brain’s alarm signals start to be triggered by current scares, past threats and future worries. Essentially, we constantly live in the flight or fight mode.

Frank Moore, WWII Veteran, TEDxPortland (April, 2014)
Frank Moore, WWII Veteran, TEDxPortland (April, 2014)

A couple of reflections from TEDx Portland resonated during our travels. The words of a wise and lovable 91-year-old WWII veteran named Frank Moore reminded us, “Don’t think too much” and “you must work hard at the art of living.” Cody Goldberg, founded “Harper’s Playground,” a North Portland playground paradise for children of all abilities. He reminded us that play seeks out novelty, fosters empathy and inspires vitality.

The United Nations declared play the right of every child. I’d love to think that every adult holds the belief that the right doesn’t change after turning 16, 18 or 21 years-old. We always need fresh new ideas, perspectives and experiences. I’m brimming with plenty.

#Icebucketchallenge vs. #droughtshaming

The #icebucketchallenge has taken the world by storm as the ALS validated in their recent blog post. Celebrities, sports personalities and business leaders have stepped up to the challenge to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS) by pouring a bucket of ice water over his or her head and challenging others do the same and/or make a donation to fight ALS within twenty-four hours. The campaign has raised more than $15.5million dollars (as of mid-August). An interview with the ALS Association chief chapter relations officer Lance Slaughter provides more details. The bottom line is that there is no known cause for this disease (although they know that 10 percent of cases are hereditary). At least 30 percent of ALS Association’s expenses are invested in research, another larger proportion supports research at their 40+ certified centers and to mobilize communities in partnership with the federal projects. There’s an estimated 30,000 Americans who may have the disease at any given time. Knowing this and having read the stories about people with ALS, the need to find a cure is great and the millions of dollars from the #icebucketchallenge has the power to have a major impact on the lives of many people.

But what about all of the wasted water? The #droughtshaming conversation is gaining steam on Twitter.

Notice in the AirBnB, Willow Glen, CA.
Notice in the AirBnB, Willow Glen, CA.

In the course of producing 1 million+ videos, there has been a lot of water wasted. Period. It has often been said that water is the oil of this century. Credit to those people who have taken the #icebucketchallenge in a garden or a lake such as my company’s CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin. I’m water-sensitive because of the drought conditions on the West Coast. After visiting California last weekend, I got an up close and personal look at the drought (blame game and policy discussions aside). It is sad and having a negative impact on people’s wellbeing, our nation’s food supplies and economies. According to the UN Water a person needs 20-50 liters of water a day for basic needs. At the same time, humans are over-consuming natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Water scarcity affects every continent. The UN predicts by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. Water.org reports that a child dies from a water-related illness every 21 seconds. The data and impact of the drought in the US, lack of access to water and sanitation in low and middle-income countries is a real problem. The solution requires systemic changes to our infrastructure, policies and innovation. It requires a lot more action than not dumping a bucket of water on someone’s head.

I’m really glad that people are raising the issue of water scarcity, I’m equally glad that ALS is higher on the social agenda. I’m unhappy that we’re facing water scarcity and we don’t have a cure for ALS. I know first-hand that everyone has a cause that they are very passionate about. I’ve also never come across a social or environmental cause or non-profit that does not deserve the level of support and attention that the #icebucketchallenge has created for ALS. Granted challengers could have taken the alternative #icebucketchallenge 🙂 but we have to be rational, put things in perspective, seize the moment and look at the big picture (with or without a challenge). The sun will go down on the #icebucketchallenge soon. ALS will still be fighting the good fight to find a cure, Charity Water will continue to find ways to deliver clean and safe drinking water, and Xylem will keep innovating to find global water solutions.

Reflections after a visit to Silicon Valley

I spent this past weekend in Silicon Valley and it was everything I think about when someone mentions the valley and more. The weekend was filled with goodness. It was an early thirteenth wedding anniversary celebration, we a lot of fun, discovered great eateries that could give some of Portland’s best restaurants a run for their money.

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  • Embracing AirBnB: What better place to have my first Airbnb experience than Silicon Valley. Even though it has been around since 2008, it has taken me some time to get on board. We stayed in Willow Glen, a treasured neighborhood in San Jose. The set-up was perfect, it was a semi-private accommodation in an 1920s home (with private bathroom); the owner was incredibly hospitable, a kind middle-aged professional (according to my husband). Oddly enough I did not meet her in-person. The sharing economy is somewhat mystical, its intriguing and it is certainly an evolution in our culture where trust and community takes on a new meaning.
  • The social issue of our century: We went to a service at St. Christopher’s. California puts diversity in a new light. The sheer geographic size of this populous state, coupled with the fact that there’s no single racial or ethnic group forms the majority of the population, making the state a minority-majority state is impressive. Acceptance and embracing differences is a very simple and important idea to achieving harmony. While I’m sure people can pick holes in California for many reasons, it has the social foundation for our nation. The homily in Church explored a variety of themes, I was struck by a key question to contemplate. “What does it mean to be one of us?” Parishioners were also invited to support a non-profit dedicated to human trafficking among immigrants. I subscribe to the belief that safety, health and security is a human right. Reflecting on the wave of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, the pastor brought the issue back home to the local area where some claim more than 40 percent of human trafficking in California happens in the Bay Area. This week  I read about  the 35 people found in a cargo container in Tilbury Docks, England. This is a global and one of the hottest issue of our time, everyone has a hand in being patient, having an open heart and mind, and being willing to address it head on.
  • Innovation is alive, happening fast and furious: Leaving the valley, I feel more in the know. I was probably behind the times relative to local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts but being surrounded by stories, ads about products that hadn’t hit my radar and speaking with local, everyday wizards from Tesla, eBay, Cisco and so on, is thrilling. Innovation takes on many flavors, from new products and services to business models. Incremental innovation has merit too; let’s take Zoho, an ad-free email service, it hadn’t crossed my path. The start-up gumption is palatable, the speed of life multiplies tenfold when you land in SJC, even the restaurant service is speedier. Learning more about the future power of the internet of things (“small, often unseen computers attached to objects that transmit data about the environment or offer means for controlling” – MIT Technology Review) was thrilling. Who knows who and how my oven will be instructed to cook exquisite recipes in the future?

We spent a relaxing day on the beach in Santa Cruz. I was surprised by the beautiful, yet curvy journey between San Jose and the coast. It reminded me of New Zealand. I love to travel – whether I travel 50, 500, or 5000 miles.