Escaping Gravity


I’ve been thinking about gravity a lot lately.

Having just celebrated my 51st birthday, I’m experiencing the not-so-pleasant effects of gravity on my body! But mostly, I’ve been reflecting on gravity in the context of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 – the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the moon. One of my favorite photos is of me as a baby lying on the floor with my dad while we watch Neil Armstrong’s famous steps on TV. While I’m sure I didn’t understand what was happening before my eyes, the sight must’ve left an impression.

When I ponder the imagination, persistence and relentless commitment it took to escape the Earth’s gravity, to orbit in space, to land on the moon, to make the seemingly impossible possible, I think of some of the big goals the social purpose leaders I work with have committed to. Goals like making the U.S. the healthiest nation in one generation or preparing the most civically engaged and skilled generation of youth or ending global hunger by 2030.  I think of how scary making that commitment – and then pursuing it – can be at times. And still, some choose to do it anyway.

Over five decades, the term “moonshot” has come to mean a “big, hairy, audacious goal” (Jim Collins), an impossible dream or significant, but necessary, risk taking; an alignment of imagination, resources, energy and skill from public and private sectors in pursuit of a common vision.

What calls us to explore? What drives the desire to pursue dreams that others tell us are impossible? Isn’t it much easier to keep our feet planted on the Earth? How do we overcome the gravitational pull of the status quo?

I recently spent a couple days in New Mexico with a team embarking on a new strategy. We talked about what I call the “gravitational pull of the status quo” – the strong force that resists change, drags us down and keeps us stuck in the way things are no matter how much we desire the way things could be.

I fight the gravitational pull of the status quo every day in my own business, and especially so right now. Last month I decided to make some big changes in how we meet our mission and serve social purpose leaders across the country and around the world. I’m still figuring out the exact pathway, but the destination is clear. And every day I must make choices that will keep me moving in that direction. It’s not easy.

The current way of doing things is working fine – really well, in fact. We’re making money. We’re getting results for our clients. We’re doing good work on important causes that will make the world a better place. Why shake things up? Because I know we could do more, more efficiently and with even bigger results. I also know the world is changing – fast – and what works for our business today won’t be the thing that works in another year – or even six months.

The challenges and opportunities before us today won’t be solved or seized with the tools and mindsets of yesterday. So, I’ve put in place some tools and practices that help me resist the gravitational pull. Here’s a few tips to help you do the same.

1. Play the long game. 

I love the quote (attributed to several people, including Bill Gates), “We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.” Putting a person on the moon took a decade. Along the way (and since), there were setbacks and failures. There were lots of lessons to learn. Expect the setbacks, be patient and understand the journey won’t be linear.

 2. Leverage the compound effect.

Small, strategic actions, done consistently, over time, lead to big results. We love to focus on the “overnight success” or the “giant leaps” of social change. While that may be what attracts attention, it’s the small choices, made consistently, over time that compound to create big change. Focus on the small changes and stick with them.

 3. Establish and commit to practices that keep you on track.

Consistency happens through practice. “Practice” is different from “habit” in that with practice there is an intention to improve over time. Some of my practices include setting intention, making time and space for reflection and learning, regularly re-committing to my goals and creating parameters that limit choices.

 What’s your moonshot? How do you fight the gravitational pull of the status quo?

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