Every day we make decisions. Often we have to make them on the fly. How do you quickly get in the perspective to make the best decision? Use the 15/15/15 rule.
For one decision you make today, before you take action ask yourself three simple questions:
1. If I respond this way, how will I feel about it in 15 minutes?
2. If I respond this way, how will I feel about it in 15 days?
3. If I respond this way, how will I feel about it in 15 years?
You can’t know the future. But taking a few minutes to reflect on how your think your decision will feel down the road helps to put it in perspective. You’ll quickly put in perspective smaller decisions (unlikely to matter in 15 years) and take extra care about things that you might be thinking about over a decade from now.
You know that feeling you get after someone’s asked you to add just one more thing to your already full plate? Internally, you start to sob at the thought of more meetings. You think about how to let your partner know that you need to work even longer hours.
It can be difficult to say “no” because you are passionate about your work. You see each project’s potential to forward the cause. Also, you want to progress professionally and saying “yes” can seem like the best route.
But the reality is that we can only do so much. So how do you say “no” in a way that doesn’t hurt your career or make you feel guilty? How do you know for sure which requests to say “no” to in the first place?
Don’t respond immediately
The first thing to ask yourself when a new request comes in is: “Am I in the best state right now to respond?”
The worst time to make a decision is when you are tired, stressed out, in the middle of something else, or perhaps just really excited about the topic–and that’s usually when you’ll be asked!
Even if you are new to an organization or early in your career, you can gently let the requestor know that you want to think about the best approach and will respond soon. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
Think through the request
It’s always worth taking 10-15 minutes to figure out if you should be spending weeks, months, or even a couple of hours on a new request. To help you gain some clarity, go through the following checklist.
1. Priority fit: What are my top priorities? How does this request relate? If you don’t know what your priorities are, you are not going to know if the new request fits in. Take the time to revisit the most valuable work you do.
2. Capabilities fit: How does this with your skills and expertise? Take into account both your current capabilities and those you would like to develop.
3. Long-term benefit: Where will this work lead both for the organization and for you in the long term? What impact could it create? What opportunities could it open up?
4. Scope: What 20% of the work in this request will produce 80% of the value? It may be that you can help the requester focus on the most important elements and get the benefits by just doing a small part.
5. Resources: What other resources are available? This can be a sticky one – it’s easy to feel like there are none. However, even when there aren’t extra dollars, there often are newer members of the team who might get a valuable learning experience, or volunteers who can help. Also think through past work and available tools, organizations and online resources that could be used to complete the task more efficiently.
6. Timing: When does this work need to get done? If it’s really valuable and needs to get done soon, you may want to say “yes” and highlight the need to take something else off your plate.
Say “no,” gently
After going through the checklist, if you realize that you can’t commit to a new project, don’t send an email. Instead, have a conversation with the requestor and think of the conversation as a negotiation and a discussion of options.
1. Start with your “why.” For example: “I want to do a really good job on X [pre-existing priority], so I’m thinking that it would be better if I supervised [volunteer, other resource] doing Y [new request]. It will also let them learn the process.” If you are early in your career you could say, “I am focused right now on learning to do X really well for the organization, and want to make sure anything I take on doesn’t prevent me from reaching that goal.”
2. Be a resource to the requestor. Give them new ideas and/or resources. They are likely overworked too and may not have fully thought the options through. So offer your ideas about the most valuable piece of the request, when the right time is for the work to happen, and what resources might make it easier. For example, “I know you want to get good feedback from staff on X topic. Instead of doing individual interviews, what if we used an online tool to do an initial survey?”
3. Be clear on what’s not negotiable. If it’s valuable work, most likely you’d be happy to be involved, but just in a limited or in a different way. An offer of limited or joint involvement softens the no. So be clear about how you can be involved and, again, offer alternatives. For example, “Even though I don’t have the capacity to write [the report, document, presentation] right now, I’d be happy to review it.” Or, “Let’s have a brainstorming session with the key people and see if we can solve this problem together in a short time frame.”
In short, make the effort to turn down what’s not a fit but be helpful on every request. If you repeat this process an amazing thing happens: you not only help others but also ensure your career stays on track.
The first rule of improvisational comedy is say, “Yes, and…” What this means is that every time a person you are improving with creates a scenario (like, “Now we are on a yacht with a golden retriever puppy”, you accept that scenario (that’s the yes part). Then you add your own contribution (the puppy just jumped in the water and started to swim). You never negate the scenario you’re improv partner presented, you just add on.
Most of the time we are quick to say “but”. “I like your idea, but have you thought about [My brilliant way!].” Those three little letters can quickly make the other person feel defensive or negated.
Today, listen for when you are about to say “but” and try to replace it at least half the time with “and”. Say, “I like your idea, and what if we also included [my additional idea]?”
Notice how the conversation proceeds. What is it like when you go ahead and use “but”? What do you notice about the other person’s response, tone of voice, non-verbal communication and language when you use “and” instead?
1. What are situations in which you have felt most able to create with others? What did you learn? What did you produce?
2. What context and guidelines – explicit or implicit – where there in those groups?
3. Who has made you feel your ideas are truly welcome? How did s/he or he give you that feeling?
Don’t let unrealistic idealism get in the way of achieving your goals
“When you are optimistic because you believe you can exert some control over whether you succeed or fail, by putting in the necessary effort, making plans, and finding the right strategies, that’s realistic. It’s also empowering and highly motivating.” Heidi Halvorson, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals
Don’t fall into the trap of unrealistic idealism.
Set intentions fueled by your passions – and then help prepare yourself for the challenges you may encounter trying to fulfill them.
Instead of just visualizing yourself succeeding, create a practice of visualizing potential barriers and how to overcome them:
1. Bring to mind a clear, challenging and meaningful goal that you wish to achieve
2. As you think through the critical steps that it will take to get you there, brainstorm potential pitfalls – factors inside and out that could make it difficult to achieve the critical steps.
3. For each challenge that seems plausible, carefully visualize how you might creatively overcome it. What alternative approaches could there be? How could you respond if this obstacle ends up standing in your way?
Why having only 24 hours a day is the best gift of your life
Project X was the graduate composition thesis of Molly Sturges, who continues to do amazing, community based work with music, movement and people. Every week we got together and improvised sound and movement.
What made the “performances” (except for once, nobody outside the project was there) work was that we were given completely free reign to improvise – except for a few rules.
The rules themselves were things like “only make sounds starting with consonants.” “Always stay in contact with exactly one other person” I can’t remember the exact rules, but you get the idea.
Here’s the thing: it was the rules that set us free.
A few constraints created the conditions to experiment fully. To compose.
It’s so easy to look at the constraints of life as problems – constraints like:
“I don’t have enough money”
“Not enough people know about my work”
“I don’t have enough time.”
I hear this last one with incredible frequency.
What if you had endless time? What would you do with it?
Wouldn’t it be easier to put off the tremendous work that you feel called to, but probably fear, because there would always be tomorrow?
You never know if you’ll have another day.
You only have 24 hours today and that’s the best gift you could possibly have been given.
It can be easy to get stuck in our habitual ways of thinking and expressing.
Luckily, even a small spoke in our usual wheels can help slow down and interrupt our ordinary thought patterns. That in turn has the tendency to:
Help us notice the contours of those patterns
Open up new directions in our thinking and actions
Here’s a really easy way to experiment:
Take out a pen and paper. Set aside everything else, and for 5 minutes write with your non-dominent hand.
Let yourself write really slowly if you need to and accept that what comes out probably will look like child’s writing (after all, it may have been a very long time since you wrote with this hand!)
What new directions appear? What did you notice? Let us know below.
This is one of the GatherWell WellBeing Experiments – see them all here. Also, if you enjoyed this weekly experiment, why not sign upto get them first, delivered to your inbox, or share it with a writer you know?
As children, we have an innate sense of the importance of play. We spend hours immersed in seemingly simple games that actually help us to learn and grow, and according to the toy free kindergarden studies we may do it even better when there are no toys around.
In contrast, as adults living in the Information Age, it’s easy to feel that every minute has to be for a very specific result.
What if, just for a few minutes, you let go of that sense of needing to “get things done” and allowed yourself to really play?
Why not, right now, spend 5-15 minutes in pure play – no special equipment needed?
Let yourself rearrange the post-it notes on your desk into hearts, draw on the whiteboard or bang on the kitchen pots with chopsticks.
Have fun and share your experiences below.
P.S. it can be surprisingly hard to just play if you’re out of practice – so, in case you need it, here’s a little help. Also, if you enjoy these weekly actions, why not sign up to get them first, delivered to your inbox, or share them with your best friend?
Each of the businesses are also lead by a managing partner who has often worked their way up through one of the businesses in the Community and now has an ownership stake in the new enterprise.
This structure has allowed Zingerman’s to attract and retain talent even as people move into positions of business ownership.
The Community has a common thread of culture that is about much more than food – it’s about a shared experience.
Equally important, they haven’t stopped visioning. They’ve now published a Vision 2020 that they began in 2006.
They built it in collaboration with all of the Managing Partners, and input from hundreds of staff. The vision articulates a next level of commitment to their values:
We have a strategy for growth that is about the long-term economic health of our Community of Businesses and our local economy.
When we talk about “great service” we refer not only to our customers, our community and each other, but also to our planet; we push ourselves to go beyond basic compliance on environmental issues.
We must be profitable in order to survive but our primary purpose is to contribute to a better life for everyone we touch.
We do this by providing meaningful work, dignified employment, beneficial goods and services, and relationships of trust and caring that are the foundations of a healthy community.
Through this work we have helped to create true prosperity, economic security and democracy in our larger community.
It also articulates that they will aim to create up to 18 businesses, each unique and continuing to stay in the Ann Arbor area and offering “radically better food” and becoming an educational destination.
The thing that is truly amazing about Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is that they have managed to achieve as much, or possibly even more growth than they would have if they taken either of the traditional paths that they had been considering.
Back in 1992, they were getting requests to franchise. They were in a single cramped building and unclear on how they could grow without compromising their values.
They found not only a new path, and a path that aligned with their values, but also recognized that in order to achieve their mission they needed to continue to profitable and grow.
And that’s what I’ve seen, over and over again – Values Based Vision – that’s the one thing that will drive purposeful businesses to growth
The path they created could offer more jobs, have a bigger impact on the community. I think when you read their vision 2020, you see that reflected.
The purpose is so deeply baked in. The uniqueness is part of what they want to support and what they are celebrating in the Community of Businesses.
They may not have envisioned back in the early 90’s exactly how it would work.
Yet, they saw clearly that there was a pathway that could really meet their true intention and fulfill that intention in the world.
And this way of doing it had so much more benefit for the community that they were a part of, for the employees they wanted to have different opportunities for and for their own businesses and growth.
I hope if you ever go to Ann Arbor you’ll go and visit them and have the experience for yourself!
Even more importantly, I hope you’ll find inspiration in their model of non-traditional business growth as you seek to expand your own business in line with your purpose.
Part 4: Find Your Own Path to Growth in Line with Your Values
Lots of people think that the traditional path to business growth is the only one.
In fact there are lots of ways to define growth on your own terms and leave a legacy you’ll feel great about.
I’ve seen it time and time again – values based vision is the critical ingredient to another path to success. Mix that with a healthy dose of fact-based decision making and you are on the road!
I’ve shared lots of tips about finding that path in the past, and here are a few of my favorite articles on the topic to help you out:
I’d love to hear about what non-traditional approaches to your own business growth you are considering or putting into practice!
CYNTHIA JAGGI, CEO of Gatherwell
In the mid-2000’s I made Partner at the Inc 5000 Management Consulting firm Fitzgerald Analytics, where results included helping a division of a Fortune 500 company achieve profit growth of 59%, and 100% of our clients gave us repeat business. I advised both for and non-profits, including members of the Fortune 500 and New Profit portfolio social innovators.
Now I only work 4 days a week, take a minimum of six weeks off a year, and only work with business leaders I enjoy being friends with, balancing my work transforming the economy with time with my daughter and family.
I’m on a mission to push humanity forward through regenerative approaches to business, working with business owners that want to do good and feel good about their legacy, and who want their social impact to work with their bottom line.
Seven generations from now I can imagine two distinct realities.
In one, if people are still here on earth we are in a constant state of terror, plagued by inequality. The richest few have great luxuries like clean water and healthy food. Everyone else is in a desperate grab for arable land, drinking water and survival. Flash flooding, fires and living in waste are a norm. Despair is a norm.
But there is another vision.
In this vision we have harnessed the power of technology to create regenerative systems. These are systems with built in renewal, growth and restoration. People have their needs met while replenishing natural resources. People thrive within an economy that is no longer the “sustainable economy” or the “green economy” but the only economy. The conditions of ordinary life allow for a focus on lifelong education and growth. We remember the shortness of our time here on earth. Each person focuses on contributing the most to creating an ever more harmonious balance.
In one world you would walk out your door to meet neighbors you know and do work you love. You would see vertical gardens and hydroponically grown vegetables. In another it’s likely you would not have a door.
Where would you rather live?
Seven generations ago was the industrial revolution. How might we see ahead and plan with the clarity we wish those revolutionaries had? Now the stakes are higher. Now we might not exist as a species if we do not install the innovations we have created. But we live in a conflict between these limits to growth and the possibility of abundance that has come with technology. A conflict that, if unresolved, leads us down the darker path.
Limits to Growth
1972 saw the publication of the seminal work Limits to Growth. With it the idea began to penetrate society that perhaps these resources we had taken as endless, these massive woods and waters, glorious mountains and fields, were limited.
Limits to Growth began a long line of research and discovery of the impact our way of life was and is having. The few saying we faced limits met with huge resistance, almost ridicule. Over time though most people began to realize this truth. People began to see that the way we were extracting resources could not go on without end.
We started to make changes. We recycle. Eat less meat. Ride bikes more often.
Yet we still hear that we are doomed. Not just that we as individuals face death, but that our line of decedents face it too. And not just at some distant time. It is measurable doom. We can calculate it as 350 parts per million of an atmospheric compound that we neither see nor can touch. Is it surprising that this creates feelings of disempowerment? In the face of such an outcome, one so dramatic, on such a large scale and in a way abstract, it is hard to shift our actions. It is hard to be clear on what shifts really matter.
The Promise of Abundance
With the rise of technology there is another reality we have collectively experienced. We have collectively experienced the possibility of rapid change of our outward situation. Millionaires made, it seems, in minutes. The possibility of abundance without many of the traditional trappings like college degrees or decades of toil. The “in the garage” start-up.
The acceleration of technology has been exponential. Each new technology outpacing the last in its rate of adoption and scaling.
In 1991 Paul Zane Pilzer published Unlimited Wealth: The Theory and Practice of Economic Alchemy. In it he argues that because of this rapid advancement and acceleration of technology, we actually live in a world of unlimited physical resources. With the possibilities of technology, the pie will expand endlessly. We will constantly invent ourselves out of any limits. Many of our modern technological heros agree.
So we live with two narratives. One describes a fundamentally scarce reality. The other promises endless abundance. Living with both creates cognitive dissonance.
What if we reframe the situation as a single whole? From this view the outcome for our planet and for our decedents, the possibilities of technology and the realities of our current challenges, are all parts of a single body with a shared fate.
From this perspective we might ask:
What would it take to leverage the possibility of abundance as swiftly as possible against the alternative impending doom?
Here, everyone can contribute — because we need to shift the entire economy to a regenerative model.
An economy where every product manufactured is from cradle to cradle. One where every need we have — for infrastructure, energy, roads, homes, medical care — is rethought. We redesign each so that it returns to the earth and to us a greater capacity for growth then was there before.
This means transforming traditional businesses to a regenerative model. It means creating and growing businesses in the regenerative model. Both of these need a shift in the flow of capital. But businesses are only organized groups of people. To succeed, it means empowering every individual to thrive. It means there is a role for all to play and an action to take right now.
Whatever your field, whatever your interest, ask yourself — what is your source material? What kinds of resources are used and from where do they come? What kind of things does it create and where do they go?
What would each step look like if it was creating a new capacity for the growth of people and ecosystems? Turn that image into action.
Now you are on the path to the vision we all would choose for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, companies like Salauno, Geekie or Raymisa have put social impact at the core of their business, while not losing sight of profit. This approach uniquely allows businesses to make contributions to their communities and the causes they believe in while growing their business at the same time. It is about creating a more just and sustainable world while generating profit.
To begin with this approach you combine your business aims (what are you trying to achieve with your core product or service? What markets do you want to reach? What are your expansion goals?) with your impact aims (what changes would you like to see in the world? In your community? What issues resonate deeply with you?) Then, start to look for possible connections!
If you’d like to start combining your business goals with social impact, here are a few open platforms to begin with:
For example, meet Carol Lue, an openIDEO fellow from Jamaica who is turning organic waste into cash with CaribShareBiogas. Carol’s company is transforming hotel and manure waste into clean energy and organic fertilizers to support rural farmers.
In 2012, Carol won the Inter-American Development Bank’s IDEAS contest in which she was granted $200,000USD to begin her business. Today, over 50% of CaribShare surplus from biogas and fertilizer sales is exchanged with farmers for their supplying of waste. For more openIDEO business stories, you can go here.
Gatherwell is a hub for social innovators, impact investors and purpose-driven entrepreneurs. Our free and open directoryallows you to find and offer aligned resources including on fellowships, accelerators, competitions and impact investing. You can also submit your own needs or services. To access the directory tools, you just have to create a free account.
Fledge, for example, is one of the accelerators in GatherWell’s directory. It helps impactful entrepreneurs take their ideas and prototype-stage companies into reality, via an intense, 10-week program of guidance, education, and mentorship, plus a large and growing network of support from past fledglings and hundreds of mentors. Their goal is to help foster a wave of companies that make not just a measurable impact in the world, but a noticeable improvement in the lives of everyone on the planet.
ImpactSpace is an open data initiative for companies, entrepreneurs and investors delivering social and environmental impact along with financial returns to connect with each other andshare stories and data with market participants.
By opening financial data, ImpactSpace aims to promote investments with purpose by encouraging exchange among investors to gain insights and find solutions as well as to attract new investors by showing a growing market. ImpactSpace counts with a database of over 6,000 impact companies and 2,000 impact investors that can share their funding sources, their team members, the areas where they work and impact reports. It also allows to contact over 4,000 impact people who are involved in businesses with a social impact.
Since 2010, we have given 250+ young professionals the opportunity to work alongside social entrepreneurs across India. And we’re just getting started!
Our mission is to create the next wave of “social intrapreneurs” who will support, lead and advance the work of socially-focused enterprises around the world. Social intrapreneurs are becoming key actors in the race towards a new kind of economy. These changemakers are supporting and leading the development of scalable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges – from health to education to environment. Contrary to social entrepreneurs, social intrapreneurs are innovating from within an existing enterprise or organization.
The GLG Social Impact Fellowship leverages GLG’s learning platform to help top social entrepreneurs answer their organization’s critical strategic and operational questions, at no cost. Through the two-year Fellowship, ambitious and visionary nonprofit and social enterprise leaders learn in tailored interactions with experts across GLG’s membership and with each other.