Podcast Pick: SSIR – Whose Story Are We Telling? (Andrew Means)

Before hearing Andrew Means on the SSIR podcast, I would listen to the stories Not-for-Profit organizations tell about their work and couldn’t help but be inspired.  Hearing the exceptional rags-to-riches story about a person experiencing homelessness that used an NPO’s employment program and now manages a local million dollar company would move me to open my wallet.

Another common narrative is based in data.  After hearing that upon completion of the employment program 85% of participants (people experiencing homelessness) became employed, I became convinced the program is ‘doing something right‘.

Look more closely at the stories and you’ll notice they have two common deficiencies.

First, they fail to link the complex nature of the problem to the need for their program.  As a complex problem, homelessness is multi-faceted with causes sprouting from racism, poverty, abuse, family violence, mental illness, and addiction to name a few.  Are you able to articulate how the employment program addresses some of these broader facets of homelessness?

Second, the stories tell us what has been accomplished in the past but fail to articulate why it matters for the future.  Has the story about the employment program taught us about the ways in which being employed will impact people experiencing homelessness in the future?

Means believes our stories need to go beyond our comfortable narratives to include how the program/organization has impacted the broader systemic context.

Yes. Impact.  When I think about measuring impact I am immediately overwhelmed by where to start while remembering past attempts rife with pitfalls and blind alleys.  But Means believes it’s the key to making progress on complex, systemic, nasty, intractable social problems and he has a tidy little formula to get us started.

World with your organization – World without your organization = Impact of your organization 

Tidy to say. Still messy to do.  Fortunately Means gives us a couple tips and some excellent examples to get us thinking about starting.

Counter-factuals:  provide us with an accounting of what would have happened if the organization/program had never existed.  This would mean asking how many of the participants getting a job after completing the employment program would have landed employment anyway.  Then setting this against the 85%.

Displacement: helps us articulate how our work causes ripples in the broader context.  It might mean asking how many participants getting a job after completing the employment program are filling positions otherwise filled by equally qualified people already in the labour market and setting this against the 85% too.

Granted. Quantifying displacement and counter-factuals can be time-consuming and possibly expensive.  But Means is nudging us towards authentically confronting the gap between what we want to accomplish and what we are actually accomplishing. 

The result will be a community making more informed decisions about contributing towards outcomes we actually want to achieve rather than outcomes we pretend we are achieving.

When we join the crowd at the Annual General Meeting, it is with the expectation that we will hear the stories that make us feel like we are in the presence of something that matters.  But the stories are stuck in a rut.  They have a predictable plot involving the usual characters.  Think the movie Star Wars.

Means is nudging us towards telling more complex stories by introducing compelling storylines and new characters illustrating the relationship between complex problems and our work.  Think the movie Interstellar.

 

Whose Story Are We Telling? Featuring Andrew Means from Stanford Social Innovation Review Podcast

 

Podcast Pick: The One You Feed: Emily Esfahani Smith

Lately I seem to be having similar conversations with all sorts of folks.  Some are 76 years old and others are 26.  Some have kids and others don’t.  Some are single others aren’t.  Some I know and others I’ve just met. Invariably they are spoke about the desire to do something that matters.  But during the many conversations, I felt like there was more we needed to explore but was unable to articulate it.

However, after listening to Emily Esfahani Smith speak about meaningfulness on The One You Feed, I discovered a way of speaking about the search for purpose.

Start with this question.  What makes you happy?

For me it’s a great meal.  Like the amazing kimchi soup my wife makes or the Filet Mignon Tournedos Rossini at the Wildflower Grill.  The great meal triggers a feeling like life can’t get any better. Happiness has an internal focus.

Now ask yourself, what gives your life meaning?

For me it is caring for the dog (Poppy) my wife and I triumphantly scooped up from the Edmonton Humane Society and few months ago. The act of caring for the dog reinforces my connection to something beyond myself.  It forces me to recognize purpose or value in my life that exists beyond my internal needs like family, God, nature, work, or a dog that need a home.  Meaningfulness is derived external to the self.

Additionally, Smith makes clear that meaning is not achievable through an intellectual exercise.  We can’t think our way to meaning.  Rescuing a dog from the Edmonton Humane Society holds meaning. Thinking about rescuing the dog is a plan to create meaning at some point in the future.

 

Finally, take a look at the career choices you see people in your network making and ask yourself, what is the driving force behind their decision?  

Near the end of the conversation Smith reveals that she believes people are making career choices based on more than money.  She articulates it as a societal shift from Material Want to Meaning Want.  The transition from the quest for money/things to the quest for knowledge/purpose.

 

What drives your choices?

Podcast Pick: Negotiating with a Liar (Harvard Business Review Ideacast)

Have you ever thought someone might be lying but just couldn’t quite prove it?  Leslie John, of the Harvard Business School, reveals some very practical tips on how to navigate through an interaction with a liar during her interview on the Harvard Ideacast entitled How to Negotiate with a Liar.    

 In my experience, people that are usually honest become ‘liars’ when the stakes are high.  This is especially true when two people are trying to resolve a conflict.  Each person is negotiating the facts with the other to arrive at a resolution that suits their interests.   Think back to the last real conflict you had with someone important to you.  Be honest, did you fib just a little to get your way?  We all lie.   Lies of omission, white lies, boldface lies.  You’re lying to yourself if you think you don’t lie.

To begin, John says to stop trying to catch the liars.  We are not as skilled at catching a liar as we think we are and when we guess right, catching someone in a lie, we have actually moved further from our desired resolution. 

So do I deny myself the rush I get when I triumphantly right the scales of injustice by pointing out the liar in the room?   John would say catching the other person in the lie will only exacerbate the conflict rather than move towards solving it.  

So if I can’t point out that their pants are on fire, what can I do?  

Start by creating a safe space.  If people feel they are safe, they are less likely to lie.   Within that safe space you may get things started by disclosing something about yourself, prompting the other person to reciprocate.   Reciprocal self-disclosure fosters trust and therefore you are less likely to lie to them and they are less likely to lie to you.  It eases both participants into a conversation that has the potential to move them towards a resolution.  

However, there are times in which the other person refuses to participate in disclosures.  If this occurs, John says to try giving the other person a choice between two options of which you are personally impartial. The option they choose will be a disclosure in itself.  Understanding what they need will signal what you can trade with them to arrive at a resolution.

John also tackles the obvious, persistent, recidivist liar.   When confronted with the person addicted to lying, she says to use contingencies.  Allow the lie to pass undetected and instead tie contingencies to a resolution based on their falsehood.  (If you turn out to be wrong, then you will have to work overtime to meet the deadline.)  Usually, the person lying will step back from their lie to avoid the repercussions of a contingency.  It neatly sidesteps the need to be right by placing the emphasis on what happens if the other person is wrong.   

John has a few other tips in the podcast so I encourage you to give it a listen.  

In the interim, for those readers following my Liminal Thinking series, are you able reconcile John’s ideas about lying with Gray’s ideas on beliefs?  

Podcast Pick: On Average by 99% Invisible

I’m a huge podcast fan and sometimes I come across an episode that I feel compelled to share.

On Average by 99% Invisible (20 min) is an informative bit of  research illustrating how the mathematical concept average can solve problems……or create them.

It starts by outlining the historical origins of how the average measure was discovered and subsequently used.  For example, it helped solve a clothing issue for President Lincoln by creating the Small, Medium and Large sizes we see in stores today.  Later  it illustrates how designing for the average had disastrous outcomes for the United States Air Force.

Can you think of any examples in your life/work where designing for the average has been a help? or a hindrance?