How to Make a Difference by Sharing Your Aspirations
Chris Houstonon 11 May, 2016 at 10:05
In our previous post I introduced you to Populist. Their story is inspiring and encouraging – as I hope you will agree. Populist is proving, one day, one choice and one person at a time, that we CAN each transform business from a single-use tool delivering economic profit into a multi-use device to help us solve difficult human problems and cause positive social change…
As a student of international development in university, Grant Tudor was educated on global issues and became fascinated by a problem that was both simple and vast: “Why does poverty still exist? He repeated this burning question, as he spoke in an interview, passion oozing from his voice: “I mean, how have we not figured this out and solved it yet?” The inductive logic that question unspooled for me was piercing – we human beings are the ultimate problem solvers. We’ve explored the limits of outer space, invented computing and implemented a dizzying array of infrastructure to unlock its potential, and pioneered solutions to all manner of social and medical ills. And yet, we still haven’t figured out how to equitably provide for one another, or perhaps, more accurately, we know how but just don’t want to…enough.
That problem has vexed Grant for years, and was part of the reason he went into marketing – to learn from creative problem solvers. In August 2013, Grant had taken a few weeks off from his job at Ogilvy & Mather to go to Kenya to help a friend tackle some marketing questions she was working on for Sisi Ni Amani, an organization she had co-founded to coordinate local peace-building efforts through text messaging. From that experience, a vision to bring world-class marketing skills to address issues facing the poor began to crystallize within Grant. As we have seen in an earlier post on metanoia, something got hold of him that would not let go.
But Populist, as it looks today, is not simply a product of Grant’s own vision and aspiration, notable though they are. A metanoia that had unfolded over many years had become clearer, and began to push him to further action. Grant started meeting with mentors and leaders whom he thought might be able to help. As he describes it today, “It was shocking: people kept saying ‘yes’ to the things I was asking for.” So, curious marketer that he is, he just kept asking. His personal aspiration, once enacted, became a vehicle to attract and activate the same aspiration in others. The friends and mentors with whom he began sharing the vision kept encouraging it, and encouraging him. Quickly, it became a shared journey. Grant found himself connected to something bigger than himself – another characteristic of metanoia.
Today, the unofficial roles those companions and co-conspirators occupied have been expressed through more formalized responsibilities and titles.
- Rachel, the friend in Kenya, is now a member of the board of directors.
- Samantha, the friend Grant credits with instilling a sense of efficacy that they could actually bring this aspiration to life, served as a volunteer managing director early on, and led one of the first successful collaborative projects Populist completed.
- Debi, Grant’s manager at Ogilvy & Mather to whom he first pitched the idea (successfully!) was critical in getting Populist off the ground, and now sits on the board of directors as a passionate supporter. “I was seduced by the idea,” she says, “and I became very protective of the integrity of the idea of what Populist could become, because I knew it could transcend our industry.”
- Marie-Claire, then Global Chief Talent Officer at Ogilvy while the group sought out support, now a senior leader in another agency, became an essential advocate for Populist in the industry, and now sits on the board, another custodian of the Purpose.
These are regular people, like any of us, who were captivated by a change of heart and mind and started to pursue an aspiration that brought them together. They coalesced to form a shared identity around a difference they could make for others, making creative use of their gifts and talents to help solve a problem they all believed required attention. They would assemble their skills in a unique way and activate and animate a Purpose that served others and gave them meaning in their work. Together, they encouraged one another and figured out new ways to use the resources they had at their fingertips but which were too often harnessed for less inspiring reasons.
They set out toward the same purpose, to use the skills and connections they had gained in marketing to serve social innovators solving problems of poverty, on the ground, one community at a time. Today, Populist is effectively democratizing the high-end marketing services that have been traditionally reserved for those brands that can afford to pay for them. Populist is re-distributing those insights, expertise and services to help social impact organizations, which could not typically afford their expertise but are bent on making a difference for the underserved. It is a simple and a powerful idea, and for proof that it’s working, one need look no further than the growing number of successful projects and solutions the group has delivered as well as the expanding cadre of marketing and business experts who have banded together to deliver those projects, often dedicating large, extended chunks of their time.
Grant was fortunate. His idea, borne of his aspiration to help others, caught on. Not all of us have that experience and it is easy to compare our own hopes with what has led to Populist and be dissatisfied, or worse, skeptical of our own capacity to make a real difference for others. Perhaps, it would be nice if we all could match his ability to bring people together, not to mention his initiative, creativity, courage and humility. But the fact is, the world doesn’t actually need another Grant. It just needs each of us as we are, willing to take the risk to listen to our own sense of the possible and do something profoundly courageous; to just show up! No heroics are required, the world just needs you to show up with courage and humility and do your part for someone else who matters to you [TWEET THAT!]. If we could each do just that, and make use of the resources at our fingertips, our stories might end up sounding more like Grant’s or Rachel’s or Debi’s or Marie-Claire’s than we had ever imagined. I tried it once myself and there are now more people reading Telosity articles each month than ever I thought possible.
Well, enough “dream a little dream” for now. Let’s come back to earth and return to the model I have referred to previously, because I hope that it helps you think more clearly about how to bring forth positive change and spur on your own organization toward becoming a purposeful enterprise. Ultimately, purposeful enterprises emerge from the behavior change of one person (or a few) who, moved by a change of heart and mind (metanoia), have the courage and humility to act differently, in a way that changes the status quo for the better. They might be customers, employees, C-suite dwellers, turnstile counters or boardroom barons. Change has to start somewhere and it might just as well be with you. All we have focused on today is the metanoia and the dream and desire of aspiration – just the act of wanting something better. All change, no matter how momentous, must begin there and become expressed as a “purpose” or, if it is truly for others, to use the language we have adopted, a telos.
When it comes to changing the status quo at your company or in your context, where do you feel the small voice of metanoia and the flutters of aspiration stirring within you? What would the first few humble, courageous expressions toward sharing that aspiration with others look like? As a young boy, in a prim English prep school, teachers teased me for relentlessly asking, “What would happen if…?” questions. I was right to ask them and I could not be more encouraging of you to do the same.
Ask Grant and his friends at Populist. They know what can happen too. The world can get better.
For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.