Thursday, April 28, 2011

Checking For Charity Concept Video Version 2.0!

A while back I posted a Checking For Charity concept video I created on my MacBook. Although I had good intentions my graphic execution left a little to be desired. Thankfully, very talented people have been inspired by our organization's goal to change the world through competitive hockey events. The latest Checking For Charity concept video was created by one of our volunteers Alicia Kraus. She does awesome work and has a real knack for carrying out a vision while making it better than you could have possibly imagined. Please visit her website at Let me know what you think of the new and much improved video and better yet visit our website and join our team!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Is Failure?

What is your greatest failure?

Most people find this question incredibly difficult for a myriad of different reasons. The answer to this question typically provides more insight into how the respondent views failure itself than the actual shortcomings demonstrated of the respondent.

An article was published in The Economist this week called “Fail Often, Fail Well,” that goes into depth on the benefits of learning how to fail effectively.

“Business writers have always worshipped at the altar of success. Tom Peters turned himself into a superstar with “In Search of Excellence”. Stephen Covey has sold more than 15m copies of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Malcolm Gladwell cleverly subtitled his third book, “Outliers”, “The Story of Success”. This success-fetish makes the latest management fashion all the more remarkable. The April issue of the Harvard Business Review is devoted to failure, featuring among other contributors A.G. Lafley, a successful ex-boss of Procter & Gamble (P&G), proclaiming that “we learn much more from failure than we do from success.” The current British edition of Wired magazine has “Fail! Fast. Then succeed. What European business needs to learn from Silicon Valley” on its cover. IDEO, a consultancy, has coined the slogan “Fail often in order to succeed sooner”.

There are good reasons for the failure fashion. Success and failure are not polar opposites: you often need to endure the second to enjoy the first. Failure can indeed be a better teacher than success. It can also be a sign of creativity. The best way to avoid short-term failure is to keep churning out the same old products, though in the long term this may spell your doom. Businesses cannot invent the future—their own future—without taking risks.”

The piece goes on to give examples of how embracing and managing failures can benefit businesses and is a great read. But how can you apply the lesson to you as an individual as opposed to just looking from an organizational standpoint?

I grew up, like many people in our society, fearing failure. Whether it was working through school assignments or playing kickball at the park I had been conditioned to have a fear of not doing well. Although I think that feeling is very natural for most people I think it is very dangerous as well. By avoiding situations where you may fail you inevitably begin avoid situations where you have the opportunity to succeed.

As I have gotten older and experienced various successes in my personal and professional life I am more and more appreciative of the adversity that led to those successes. I may have not enjoyed the adversity at the time but it was a critical component in my overall success.

Two attitudinal adjustments have helped me immensely in managing my fear of failure and have thereby become a foundation for successes that I have: Although, like anyone else, battling self doubt is always a work in progress for me.

1. Maintain A Commitment To Learning From Adversity: By entering into every endeavor with a desire to learn from the experience it is difficult to categorize any outcome as a failure. So many of my past struggles have served me well in my future endeavors. Of course it is easier to recognize the value in a challenge after the bad taste has faded over time, but that is why it is so important to maintain the commitment to learning from your experiences on the way in.

2. Failure Is An End State And The Only Certain End State In Life Is Death: Failure is a bit of a dirty word for me in the sense that I don’t view most experiences as "failures." The only experience I view as a true failure is quitting. If you don’t quit something entirely you are merely experiencing a setback, and all setbacks can be overcome over time. If you are citing certain experiences as failures you likely gave up. By maintaining that the only certainty in your life is that it will eventually come to an end, a natural shift will occur in your attitude towards setbacks. Things may not always work out just as you would have liked but if you keep moving forward and learn from your setbacks you will avoid settling into a failure mentality.

Successful people and organizations push through and learn from "failures," with the most successful embracing and even seeking out "failure" learning opportunities. Embracing that mentality is not a natural feeling but one that will undoubtedly benefit organizations and individuals alike.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Might As Well Jump....


When friends and family learn about my involvement in Checking For Charity one of the first things they ask is, “how did you go about starting a nonprofit?” Jump is the answer that most naturally comes to mind. I don’t say it to be smart or short or because I think 1984 era Van Halen rules. I say jump because it encapsulates one of the most important lessons that I learned during my innovation journey.

I am part way through Seth Godin’s new book entitled “Poke The Box,” which is dedicated entirely to the importance of starting. Seth argues that while there are many traditionally recognized components to bringing a new venture to fruition the most important factor is largely ignored. That factor is the person with initiative; the person with the guts to say “go.” Below is a clip of Seth describing the concept behind Poke The Box.

I think that Seth has innate ability to simplify complex topics into digestible little knowledge nuggets that truly inspire you. What really sets Seth apart is his ability to choose topics and examples that transcend any one industry or situation. Poke The Box is no exception and based on what I have read so far I definitely recommend reading it.

So when I turn to my friends and family to say that I started my charity through my willingness to jump, I am really telling them that I could have never envisioned what Checking For Charity has ultimately become. By rallying the right people around an inspiring idea and by actually getting the ball rolling on the idea we were able to see where the 'magic of the start' could take us. Here are a few other lessons learned further validating the importance of the start.

1. Planning Is Overrated – Planning is very important, but that is not to say that it isn’t overrated. Planning to implement a new venture or project is great to work through your thoughts and to thoroughly explore the challenges you may face. The problem with planning is that you are focusing on a snapshot in time while life is a moving target. By the time you have thought of “everything” the reality in which you are operating has already changed. Planning also has a way of becoming the focus. Instead of focusing on the objective people often become consumed with putting together a perfect plan to reach the objective. If planning is not getting you a step closer to your goal it is putting you a step back. You cannot plan for everything and all the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee that you will carry that plan out; execution is the real challenge.

2. Improvement Is Iterative By Nature - Rarely do we as humans get anything 100% right on the first try. So the majority of how we improve is done by implementing and correcting over time. If it is guaranteed that you aren’t going to be perfect from the start then you know that you will inevitably be course correcting. By delaying your start you are delaying the value adding component of the process. George S. Patton put it perfectly when he said,"A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." By beginning the process now you enable yourself to keep pace with reality versus having your plan become more and more outdated prior to implementation. As things change you will be able to moderately update your strategy and business model versus completely recreating the wheel prior to implementation.

3. There Is No Substitute For Experience – I had read numerous books on innovation and entrepreneurship before I started my charity journey. I had been involved in the great game of hockey for more than 15 years before I started my charity journey. My education throughout college was focused on fundamental management principles and character based leadership. All of these things undoubtedly prepared me to navigate the startup process. However, in hindsight the most impactful single action that I did throughout the entire process was to jump. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about starting a nonprofit until I started. Looking back I don’t even think it was possible to for me to learn the majority of those lessons in advance. The same holds true for any endeavor. Preparation is great and should never be discounted but experience is our primary educator. What jumping did for our organization was force us to confront and conquer our challenges now versus deferring the confrontation of our problems until we had the 'perfect plan.'

I am not saying to go out with guns blazing with complete disregard for the world around you. I am not naive enough to think that every venture you undertake will be successful. My point, much like the premise of the Seth’s book, is merely that improving your ability to “jump” is one of the most important and rewarding skills you can develop as a leader and a teammate.