What turns me on in life more than anything else is finding kindred spirits. Professionally, kindreds are wide open, walls down, let's-break-new-ground-together and have some fun along the way kind of folks. They're curious, communicative, deeply rigorous and radically collaborative, excited by the process, leverage and ultimate melding of ideas, skill sets and networks to get some big and measurable stuff done. They're also pretty fearless by nature. Stephen King once said, "What are we afraid of, as humans? ... We're afraid of disruption, and that is what I'm interested in." I couldn't have said it better (which makes sense because I'm not Stephen King).
There aren't tons of people who fit that bill, so when I find them, I hold on. Tight. It doesn't matter if they're in my industry (social change) or not because I believe that in today's world it's not all about programs or funding or technology or communications or policy or entrepreneurship or, or, or. It's about cross sector partnerships -- with a dynamic, strategic connecting of dots -- to get to the innovation and scale we need to get to.
So I go looking outside of my sector for allies, mentors and co-conspirators all the time. For example, in the past year and a half, I've been working closely with folks spanning science, engineering, entrepreneurship, policy, finance and legal as it relates to a climate change project. Each meeting and phone call leaves me more invigorated than the last because if there's one issue in the world that feels like one giant Rorschach Blot, it's climate change. Projections, misconceptions and a deep unwillingness too often to find points of agreement -- as opposed to ideological digging in -- are as much the problem, in my mind, as the actual carbon pumping into the air. Spend 15 minutes on Twitter and you'll see just how circular and futile much of the expert "conversations" are.
The people I've chosen to work with not only possess an exceptional level of expertise across a spectrum of needs for the issue, they also know how to communicate. And listen (listen! Can you imagine??). We all seem to believe in the power of Conversational Intelligence which, as Judith Glaser writes, moves you "from 'power over' others to 'power with' others" in making progress towards goals. While relentlessly goal focused, each person is ego managed, uninterested in wasting time telling others why they're "wrong" and open -- even eager -- for new data points that might adjust or add to the thinking. Ultimately, we all believe that big-ticket solutions lie at the intersections, not in rigidly constructed boxes, which means effective collaboration is critical to success. For the first time ever, I feel excited and hopeful (yes, hopeful) about the possibilities for progress, instead of depressed by inertia.
Which takes me, I'm sure much too late by any real writer's standards, to the point of this blog, which is: who do you want to move through the world with getting important stuff done while actualizing your purpose? While most of us are likely pretty selective about who we align with in our personal lives, I wonder if we consider it nearly enough in our work lives. For me, it's only been in the past year or so that I've realized how critical 'cultural fit' is to building successful projects and organizations. In fact, I can now see where it's the difference between good -- and great.
Uber investor Brad Feld writes about the choice between culture and competence, when necessary, in hiring employees for startups. But it could just as easily apply to any industry or the partners we choose.
"Many people default into choosing people who have high competence but a low cultural fit. This is a deadly mistake in a startup, as this is exactly the wrong person to hire...This is especially true if they are in a leadership position, as they will hire other people who have a cultural fit with them, rather than with the organization, creating even more polarization within your young company."
A recent Forbes interview with Warren Buffett and his lifelong investing partner, Charlie Munger, perfectly exemplifies how important 'fit' is to a great partnership. The article's tagline reads "The world's greatest investing duo talk about how they've helped each other exceed at investing -- and life." Of course, Buffett and Munger seem to have it all, but it's interesting to hear how much focus they put on life and value alignment.
Munger: There's an old saying, "What good is envy? It's the one sin you can't have any fun at." It's 100% destructive. Resentment is crazy. Revenge is crazy. Envy is crazy. If you get those things out of your life early, life works a lot better.
Buffett: It so clearly makes sense...Temperament is more important than IQ. You need reasonable intelligence, but you absolutely have to have the right temperament. Otherwise, something will snap you.
Munger: The other big secret is that we're good at lifelong learning. Warren is better in his 70s and 80s, in many ways, that he was when he was younger. If you keep learning all the time, you have a wonderful advantage.
What I love so much about these pieces is that I now see clearly it's not only ok, but important, to factor in cultural fit when considering a partnership or building an organization. The most accomplished people in the world do! I always felt it gutturally, but was afraid it seemed a little too New Agey for most. Looking ahead, I'll have a lot more confidence to make it an integral part of the building process.
Which takes me full circle to what I'm looking for as I continue along my path in social change. I've always responded to this Buckminster Fuller quote, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete." It's a tough path to take, but if my years have taught me anything, it's that it's probably the only path to take to get to new outcomes. Rosabeth Moss Kanter reinforces the idea in a recent Harvard Business Review blog:
"Thinking outside the box is a popular metaphor for creativity. But recent major systemic challenges (the financial crisis, health care reform, and climate change, among others) require new ideas significantly bigger than a mere box. The greatest future breakthroughs will come from leaders who encourage thinking outside a whole building full of boxes...Inside-the-building thinking is the hallmark of establishments, whose structures inhibit innovation...They focus on enhancing the use of existing capabilities rather than developing new solutions to emerging problems."
MIT's Joi Ito concurs, believing that breakthrough innovations will come from leadership able to individually access what he calls the creativity compass's four quadrants (science, art, design, engineering):
"The tyranny of traditional disciplines and functionally segregated organizations fail to produce the type of people who can work with this creativity compass, but I believe that in a world where the rate of change increases exponentially, where disruption has become a norm instead of an anomaly, the challenge will be to think this way if we want to effectively solve the problems we face today, much less tomorrow."
And, perhaps it's my communications background that keeps taking me back to that as a key ingredient to moving forward the boldest ideas from the most inventive leaders. Glaser writes, "To get to the next level of greatness depends on our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations."