What Inspires You?

We all know the feeling of not wanting to go to work in the morning. Heck, there are times we don’t even want to get out of bed! But there are other days, and you know you’ve had them, when you can’t wait for your feet to hit the floor. You set the alarm clock a little bit early and you even wake up before it goes off. Those are the days we live for. Those are the days that make us come alive.

The RoadSo, what is the common thread in those days? What is this thing that you do, maybe only occasionally, that makes you want to take on the world before the day even gets started? Maybe it is that project that you are working on that is so interesting and important to you that you stay up past midnight without even realizing it. Maybe it is a place you go that has you pressing your foot down on the gas harder than you really should. Or, as is the case with those such as me, it is the topic that you go on and on about until the eyes of your listeners glaze over and they make excuses to escape.

Or hopefully, and this is the great rare case, it is the topic that you speak about with such passion that your audience is caught up too. Your sheer heartfelt devotion to this cause is so powerful that it is contagious to those around you and you start a movement – by accident. The cause may be civic, political, religious or even very personal, but you have no choice but to give yourself up to it and be carried forward by it – with no guidance of your own.

You are lucky when and if you find such a cause. Do not resist it. Do not try to turn away from the calling – not only will it keep beckoning to you, but deep inside you will know that you have turned away from the path you should be on. The trick is to hear that calling, be honest to it, and then let it guide you. We will all be better off if you are on the right track.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

– Howard Thurman

The Politics of Altruism

It has come to my attention due to some comments of various caring people I know that much like economics in general, there are two major theories of philanthropy at work in our society. Neither of these two styles is wrong, they just approach our societies problems from a different angle. And, much like any other cause with differing methodologies, they are often pitted against each other.

Aid To The PoorThe first method that many of us are familiar with is the direct approach. With this we go out and help build a home for Habitat For Humanity, we donate blood to the Red Cross, or we send canned food to the local food bank. With each of these there is a relatively short road from the donor to recipient. Even in situations like the Red Cross or Goodwill where there may be an administrative level of isolation, there is still a direct connection between the organization we are giving to and the recipients of that donation. Maybe we should call this “Main Street Philanthropy”.

In the second method, there is a more indirect approach. Here we have practices as varied as educating people about problems in other areas of the world to holding benefits to raise money for charities. There isn’t anything at all wrong with this methodology, but there is a bit of distance put between the donor and the recipient. In addition, due to that distance and often infrastructure overhead, there is a certain signal loss before the end is achieved. We can call this “Trickle Down Philanthropy.”

An example of what I am talking about is this. If I have $100 to give, I could go to the grocery, buy $100 worth of food and give that out at the food bank. In this instance, 100% of my donation reaches the end recipients. Conversely, if I took that $100 and sent it to any number of well known charities, part of it would go to processing fees. Part of the donation would also go to pay for office staff, rent perhaps, and maybe even transportation. In the end, it is possible that only $50 of my donation would actually reach the recipient at the end.

And if instead I spent that $100 to give a few lecture or classes on the plight of the impoverished and starving, then it is also conceivable that absolutely none of my money would reach those in need. It is possible that all that money I had to offer was simply washed away.

This would seem like a clear choice to make until we realize that when the Trickle Down Philanthropy method works, it can actually amplify our donation. If that class I spent a $100 to teach was paying attention, didn’t fall asleep, and heeded my message, it is possible that each of the 25 people in attendance reached into their purse or wallet and made a $100 donation to the food bank. And they may also take what they have learned, spread the lesson, and triggered more donations. That amplification of effort is the magic of the Trickle Down theory.

So, here we have two methods of donation – one direct and one indirect. As I said before, neither is write or wrong. Certain people feel drawn to the direct satisfaction of the Main Street method and others have the vision and planning for the Trickle Down method. The truth is, each one needs the other to survive. Without feet on the street doing the work, the Trickle Down method is just so much posturing and conjecture. And without individuals doing the background education, fundraising, and paper work, those people doing the work on the street would have no funds, supporters, or growth. The key is finding where you fit in the picture and applying yourself there. And realizing that just because someone uses a different method, that doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.

Collapse Of Distinction

Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails by Scott McKain is exactly the book that anyone involved in running a business should be reading right now. McKain, who is Vice Chairman of Obsidian Enterprises, recently named one of the “fastest growing public companies” in the country, cuts a clear path through all the marketing claptrap to arrive at what is really the problem with most of today’s businesses – a lack of distinction.

collapse_of_distinctionWhy would you have any loyalty to a store, restaurant or other business when their only point of differentiation is pricing. As soon as the price changes, the customer moves on. And the price will always change because there is always someone willing to sell a little cheaper, cut a few more corners, or take a bit less profit. Where loyalty and longevity are established is through our points of differentiation.

Not only does Scott McKain make it clear, through repeated interesting and insightful examples, that we currently have this problem, he suggests way in which we can combat the problem. His four “Cornerstones of Distinction” provide methodologies that someone in any business, or even personal endeavor, can use to separate themselves from the pack, create interest from the customer, and then concentrate on that customer experience to build loyalty. This works in service industries, sales, consulting, and even civic organizations.

Something else that is as almost as exciting the book itself is the distribution method. With this book, Thomas Nelson Publishing launches what they are call “NelsonFree”. What this means is that when you purchase the physical book, you also get access to it in electronic and audio format. So, you could read the paper version by your bedside, keep the electronic version on your iPhone or Kindle for reading on the train, and then have the audiobook format available for listening to while driving. The additional formats are just a simple and free download from the web. This is revolutionary and could, if it becomes widespread, dramatically increase the spread of alternative forms of reading.

So, all together, Collapse of Distinction is an very worthwhile book that can help you see your business through not only during these tough economic times, but through the “normal” times as well. In addition, with one person you get to pick whatever format makes you happy – or choose them all. A great deal by any standard.

Note: The publisher gave me a copy of this book for the purpose of. There were no strings attached, and that gratis review copy in no way swayed my opinions towards this work.

You Do What You Can

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

Starfish On The BeachThe man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the person he said, “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, “It sure made a difference to that one!”

The True Work of Christmas

The Work of Christmas

When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
    to find the lost,
    to heal the broken,
    to feed the hungry,
    to release the prisoner,
    to rebuild the nations,
    to bring peace among brothers,
    to make music in the heart.
          — Howard Thurman