Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting to what's possible

Considering the possible alongside the impossible is one of the joyful dichotomies in product development. The excitement bubbles over when you begin to consider, and help others consider, what it would take to remove those two tiny letters, "im", from the latter. Put another way it's the commitment of individuals - I am (I'm) going to remove them, and help others do the same.

Yesterday, I had dinner with my college friend, Chris. I hadn't seen him in 10 years! He's now at Carnegie Hall working on the international education exchange program. And along the way we have both become interested in technology as a way to communicate art, and we got into a long discussion about vision and funding, whether that funding comes from donors for a nonprofit or from sales and investors for a for-profit company. Money can and often in time does follow vision. The opposite does not work. No leader can gain vision by having funding, and any leader who thinks (s)he can or should progress in that order is setting himself / herself up for a rude awakening.

And yet, it happens all the time. Organizations lose their way. Companies forget their core customer or core competency in favor of some hot trend or a fervent desire to just grow and make as much money as possible. It might work in the short-term; in the long-run failure is nearly certain. In the case of vision, an ounce of prevention is worth a least a pound of cure. So how do we, as individuals and as organizations, stay true to who we are and keep our vision front and center?

I have a few ways that I maintain my vision for my life. I have the great gift of being able to delude myself for a very short period of time (about 60 seconds several times per year). On occasion, I take a minute (literally) and imagine what I'd like to be doing, right now, if money didn't matter. If I'm doing something radically different, chances are I'm on the wrong track. My writing helps - in print, it's much harder to lie to yourself. We have this built-in filter that does not allow us to put falsehoods to paper without feeling really awful about ourselves. I also consider my level of sleepiness. While most people may consider their sound sleep to be a good sign, if I'm feeling worn out at the end of the day, sleeping dead to the world, something is terribly wrong. If I'm energized and ready to go 20 hours a day, then I know good stuff is happening.

And in recent months, I have thought a lot about one other remedy. I am still mourning the loss of Tim Russert, especially as this election grows closer and closer. I still flip on the Today Show and expect him to be there guiding us, coaching us along. And the sentiment that everyday he woke up as if he'd just won the lottery sticks with me. I think about people like Tim, people I admire and look up to, and consider whether or not I'd be proud to tell them what I'm doing with my days if I ever had the chance to meet them. In short, I'm trying to win the lottery of life everyday, and trying to take as many others with me as possible. That's my vision.

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