“Artists Ship!” This quote from Apple’s Steve Jobs captures the powerful urgency of now, not only in a technological marketplace which re-invents itself constantly, but also, and I would argue more importantly, in our communities where each day children, families – in fact, all of us – fall victim to unrealized or un-attempted solutions. In essence, Jobs is asking what value is creativity, is genius, without results?
If it is too precious to become a product that actually gets into people’s hands, so what?
No one who is a fan of Apple would dispute the art in the product portfolio, but Jobs has leavened “cool” products with products that ship! I have seen so often where the work in our communities is crippled by the genius of the idea (philosophy, habit, method, etc.) having more value than the skill of the outcome. In the search for the silver bullet or the next new thing, we fail to achieve the tangible for our children, the poor or the environment. The communities that do achieve great things: ACT. They understand that “doing good things” when it is more about the actor or their peers or the donors or the volunteers, than the result, is the equivalent of a brilliant idea that never ships.
This failure to ship tees up Seth Godin’s second important concept that I want to highlight. It helps answer the why. Why is it so hard to act in a concerted way – in a team, system, or a community – to achieve impact? He presents the idea of our “lizard brain” or as he alternately describes it: “the resistance.” As he puts it, in order to achieve great things or meaningful solutions, we “don’t need more genius, we need less resistance.” The resistance or lizard brain is the primordial desire to be safe. To avoid the unknown. To not venture out of the cave. Despite the passing of the prehistoric days of the saber-tooth tiger, the lizard brain still pushes us to fit in, to not rock the boat. Don’t be stupid. “Visibility” is dangerous. Embarrassment is the new saber-tooth. Courtesy trumps impact. The resistance permits you to stay still.
The resistance is an internal aspect of being human, which would prefer to stamp out any insight or art or change. The Devil’s Advocate is a card-carrying member of the resistance. Here are some of the signs of the resistance (both from Seth and myself) – the lizard brain in dominance – that permeate communities failing to achieve greatness.
1) Procrastinate: claiming the need to perfect.
2) Make excuses about lack of money.
3) Set as a goal to have everyone like you...or in Facebook parlance "fan" you.
4) Spend hours obsessing on data collection.
5) Start another committee versus taking action.
6) Excessively criticize/blame the work of your peers, other institutions or sectors.
7) Criticize anyone doing anything differently.
8) Ask too many questions.
9) Don’t ask enough questions.
10) Wrap yourself in jargon.
11) Search for the next big thing while abandoning yesterday’s thing as old.
12) Have an emotional attachment to the status quo.
13) Passionately reject any attempt at accountability.
14) Blame the victims.
15) Have low expectations as to what is possible; what your clients can achieve; what children can learn
16) Zealously argue for an approach while rejecting any method of measuring results
17) Claim that any measure of success destroys the art.
18) Invent anxiety about the side-effects of a new approach
19) Focus on revenge or teaching someone a lesson at the expense of doing the work.
20) Believe it is about gifts and talents and not skill.
Any direction you go besides the direction of success is the work of the resistance. And it is always lurking; to save you from greatness.
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