Archives For This I Believe

After writing People Want to Follow People, I kept having this nagging sensation that I had left something important unexplained (or under-explained). And it didn’t take long before I recognized it.

People want to follow causes.

Think about It

As I mentioned in the other post, people want to follow vision and purpose more than they want to follow people. Vision and purpose are what make a cause, but they generally don’t live on their own.

Some organizations are a cause—like TOMS or Project 7. Some organizations point people to causes—like the American Red Cross or World Vision.

Ultimately, causes can’t live on their own and require people or organizations to point to them.

It’s Generational

The idea of giving money or time to a cause aren’t new. But the millennial generation is growing up in an increasingly global world and in an economy that has disposable income, and that pair has created the opportunity for unique cause-giving.

The reddit community has several subreddits dedicated to cause-giving. One such subreddit (r/Random_Acts_Of_Pizza, aka RAOP) allows people to send pizza to families who don’t have food or can’t afford it.

The internet is littered with causes like RAOP. Just look here or here or here. It’s the new way that people are making a difference.

This I Believe

People want to follow causes because people want to help.

People want to follow causes because people believe that everyone deserves an opportunity at a healthy, happy life.

People want to follow causes because people—at their core—are good.


For a while now, I’ve been stuck with an idea:

People don’t want to follow organizations. People want to follow people.

I don’t expect that statement to be surprising, but it’s not something we really think about.

Think about It

What is more inspiring: the story of Apple or the story of Steve Jobs?

Who would you trust giving you business advice: the Dallas Mavericks or Mark Cuban?

When was the last time you quoted an organization?

When talking about a film, do you mention the actors and directors or the studios?

The Example

For a long time, I thought I needed to hide behind a name in order for my ideas to get big. I’ve built websites and social media accounts for an organization that I thought would gain traction. I was wrong.

One of the best examples I can give comes from my work. I’ve been helping to manage @WillowCreekCC on Twitter for the last three years (the account has been around for five years), and we post regularly with content that should be relevant to the 13,300 followers.

Two years ago, the senior pastor, Bill Hybels, started tweeting from @BillHybels. As of writing this, he’s sent 329 tweets and has more than 160,000 followers.

This I Believe

I believe that people want to trust a face, not a logo. I believe that people can forgive a person, not a brand. I believe that even in a world where the reach of a business is massive, one person’s voice can speak so much louder.

Some Loose Thoughts

  • People want to follow a vision and a purpose even more than they want to follow other people. Vision and purpose don’t make good Twitter accounts though, so it’s up to an individual or an organization to express the vision and purpose.
  • I guess that maybe I could’ve said, “People prefer to follow people.” I didn’t go that way because I was trying to prove that the power of an individual is great than that of an organization.
  • If this all means that individual people are more powerful than organizations, then organizations are in constant danger. If the wrong person has a bad customer service experience, the organization can be crippled.
  • No matter what the Supreme Court decides, organizations are not people.

Creating the Weekend

It’s not well-known that Henry Ford created the weekend, but he did. And he made a big sacrifice to make it happen. And it was a huge risk.

Ford was looking for a way to sell more cars, so he decided to create something new: road trips. The hope was that people would find car travel more convenient than train travel, thus creating the need for everyone to have a car. It was genius, except that road trips weren’t appealing to people who worked six days a week—which everyone did in the early 20th century.

So Ford created the weekend by giving up a work day—Saturday. And by giving up Saturday, he cut his productivity. And if it didn’t work, he’d have to ask his employees to come back to work on Saturdays and he’d worry about how the press would handle it and he’d try not to think of how many cars could’ve been made during the extra time off…

But it did work. And Ford’s big risk paid off.

“Why Won’t This Work”

In every job I’ve had, I’ve had ideas on how to do things differently. (I’m left handed. I can’t help it.)

Sometimes I am encouraged to pursue the new ideas. More often than not, I’ve had people poke holes in my ideas, leaving a lot of them dead before I’ve had the opportunity to develop them. My risk level was low, as was my pride.

But I heard something important the other day. It was one of those things that you hear and suddenly you don’t hear anything after it for two minutes because you’re too busy thinking about it.

Instead of asking, “Why won’t this work?” ask “Why will this work?”

So those ideas I had when I was selling shoes or making cold calls, those could’ve been good ideas. They could’ve been great ideas. And, admittedly, they could’ve failed. They could’ve cost that company little more than my paycheck to find out it was a bad idea.

But do you know what doesn’t work at all? Not trying.

The Risk Shift

I read a recent article about Seth Godin and it  challenged the traditional thoughts on risk that I’d been told for years.

In the article, Seth points out that, thanks to the advances of technology, the opportunities to take risks are great and the losses from a failed effort won’t necessarily cost risk-takers their house or their entire savings.

But that’s not all the article covered. Seth mentions his most recent book, The Icarus Deception, and how it discusses the duality of risk-taking in today’s world. Normally, there would be two kinds of people: risk-takers and non-risk-takers. But Seth points out that that non-risk-takers are non-risking themselves out of their jobs—because thriving organizations need to take risks.

Think of it this way: non-risk-takers are now considered a risky hire. That’s a complete pendulum swing in the opposite direction for how employees were hired just one generation ago.

This I Believe

I believe that risk is one of the most important values an individual or an organization can have or aspire to.

I believe that risk is what makes some organizations successful, and the lack of risk makes other organization irrelevant.

I believe that risk allows people to grow and learn faster than any classroom could teach them.

I believe that risk is a value to be admired and not avoided.

In school, I found it very easy to achieve excellence. The letter most commonly found on my report cards was A, and it was all thanks to my paying attention, working hard, and studying. And I was proud of that.

But the real world is nothing like school.

I’m not making this a rant about school not being a sufficient preparation for the workplace, though this does have to do with excellence at work. You see, I am always writing something or working on some side project, and I get very excited about doing those things. But I have a difficult time feeling satisfied with that work. I find it extremely difficult to be excellent at that work.

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
Pat Riley

Erin and Ian Philpot at Magic KingdomBefore I go any further, let me bring up my most recent vacation to Walt Disney World. (Instagram picture of my wife and I in front of the Magic Kingdom on the right.) About a month before we left on vacation, I read an article by Jeff Kober titled “What Time Does the 3:00 Parade Start?” and it floored me. I knew a lot of work went into making every detail at the park perfect for the guests’ experiences, but I was surprised and impressed to read about all that went into what I thought was a simple parade.

When I was at Disney World, I tried to notice the little details—the electrical equipment that looked like part of the foliage in Animal Kingdom, the small piece on the back of the arm rests that would shoot out water in some attractions, and the hundreds of “cast members” (aka Disney employees) who had small jobs like holding a door open or creating a physical barrier so people would know what side of the path to walk on. The more I noticed them, the more I realized how not having those little pieces would have affected my experience.

Then I turned that thought onto myself.

At my work, I have a good sized set of skills, but I am usually only given very specific tasks on a team project. That small arc of tasks are mine to make excellent. So with great effort I will make sure that all of the colors I use are the same as a logo, that the font sizes are just right, that the content spacing is just right, that the images are the right size with the right amount of padding so they don’t look crowded, and so on. The tasks I’m given may have only been for five hours worth of work, but it will take me ten to fifteen hours to make sure that it’s excellent. And I am deeply thankful that I work at a job that values excellence and, therefore, allows me the time to achieve it.

But then I started look at other projects in my life—some of which I controlled and some of which others controlled. Did the person in charge value excellence? Did they allow for the time to achieve excellence?

We need to internalize this idea of excellence. Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent.
Barack Obama

For the projects I was in charge of, I could easily say that the person in charge valued excellence. Whether I allowed time to achieve that excellence varied by project, and sadly, for some of them, I can say that I didn’t have the time to spare for it. So I’m going to have to do some reprioritization in my life as far as those projects are concerned. The ones that don’t have time for excellence will have to wait their turn, because, as I’m realizing, excellence takes time.

For the projects where someone else is in charge, I have to take them case by case. Some like excellence but don’t value it. Some value it, but they don’t allow time for it. I will need to run an evaluation on them, ask my wife and close friends for advice around those situations, and make the best decisions I can about them.

The more I think about it, the more I am about to recognize able excellence and the importance of pursuing and achieving it. This I believe—that any job that does not value excellence and does not make time for excellence will only be mediocre at best, and, out of respect for myself and my work, I will not settle for anything less than excellent.

When I finished high school, I was in an odd stage in life. I was struggling with what “friendship” really meant. And I guess all high school graduates face the same question: What happens to my friends when they go away to college and find new friends? And that question is answered with all the same cliches: Some friends grow apart. Some friends are only meant for a season of life. Friends are friends forever (cue Michael W. Smith song…now).

But those cliches have been hit hard since the explosion of Facebook.

Now, students are connected to all of their friends in a centralized space, albeit more of a metaphysical space. But this has led to larger social circles. The term “friend” has only been muddied up because of Facebook. Did you add that guy who bought drinks for everyone at Unofficial as your friend? What about the smart girl who helped your group get an A in Brit Lit? Your friend list gets so big that you’re beyond just friends. And it only gets worse after college.

After college, in the world of real jobs and rent and electric bills, a friend list isn’t what you call it any more. It’s your “network.” The guy who bought drinks at Unofficial is now viewed as a wellspring of budding investment. The smart girl from Brit Lit is a potential business partner. And if you’re not thinking about them like that, your future employers are.

I was asked to be a part of a “special business venture” a few years back. The guy who asked me if I wanted to help was nice and seemed honest, so I said I would meet him for coffee. I did. He was mysterious about his business, so I met him again…in a seemingly random guy’s huge house. I was continually asked about how many people were in my “network” on Facebook, and I kept thinking, It’s not my network. It’s my friends. They didn’t care. Their Facebook friends were their network. Which made me think, just as they were telling me that they represented an Amway subsidary, If the people they’re connected to on Facebook are their network, then who are their friends?

Before I could think of an answer, something sickening hit me. They didn’t want me in that room. They wanted my friends—my network. And I wanted to retch. And that was just the first of many times I have been physically ill from others trying to use me for my network.

I am a loyal, hard-working, and honest person (if I do say so myself). And those reasons should be the only reasons that someone wishes to work with me. The number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or Skype contacts I have should not be considered when I am talking to someone about business.

I. Am. Not. My. Network.

Because I don’t believe in a network.

This I believe: that friends are people I have a personal relationship with. Friends helped me through my parents’ divorce, break-ups, physical injury, and so on. Friends sit across from me in Panera over a cup of soup on a rainy day talking about film class and crushes and major life decisions. They’ve comforted me and encouraged me, which people in a network might do. But they’ve also been there for me when they could’ve been doing something more important, something that would advance their professional life just the smallest bit.

I dare network people to say that they would be late to work for a person in their network. I dare network people to get off of Facebook (mostly because they only post links that earn them revenue instead of actually sharing a piece of their life).

And this I also believe: that employers should look at a man and judge him by his work ethic and devotion to what is important to his life. Employers should not judge individuals by the number of connections they have. Work ethic and devotion are signs of a solid personality—one that won’t change for years, if ever—while network connections are only as reliable as the shrewdness of those maintaining them and can be severed with the click of an “unfriend,” “unfollow,” or “ignore call” button.

I don’t believe that all teachers were meant to teach. And, of those who were meant to teach, I’m not convinced that they are all teaching the proper subject. Rather than revolt against a system that puts unfit teachers in developing minds, I have learned to appreciate the teachers who are clearly living out their passion in a classroom.

Arnie Raiff was one of my professors at Columbia College Chicago. He taught Censorship in Writing. Arnie has always been someone to standup for what he believes. Or what someone else believes. There’s a chance Arnie should’ve been a free-speech lawyer or an full-time activist, but he taught instead.

And it was the perfect job for him.

One day, Arnie came to class very bothered. He was wearing one of the many sweaters he owns, a pair of old New Balance walking shoes, and with a scraggly beard you would expect to see on a homeless person. He was holding the day’s Chicago Tribune and waved it at the class as he told the ten of us to quiet down. “I want to read you something,” Arnie said. Then he started on with his standard disclaimer: “You don’t have to believe this, and you don’t have to listen to this, and you don’t have to do anything with this…” And so on for about three or four minutes.

Then he read a story about the war in Iraq and pointed out all of the civilians that died in the attack.

Then he cried. Right there. In front of the ten of us.

Arnie continued on about how the number of civilian “murders” was probably reduced—which ended up being right. He talked about how some of these civilians are children who have nothing to do with the war. They just get in the way on accident. His crying got worse when he said that some countries have begun adding something to drinking water that gives children dysentery. Then the parents see that the children have diarrhea, so they stop giving them water to drink because they think that’s how to stop it. Instead of helping, the children end up dying of dehydration and it’s all because a few people in a different country disagree with their leaders who they have never met, endorsed, or fought for.

And Arnie continued to cry.

It was the crying that got to me in the classroom that day. I held my tears in for the train ride home, and I shed them for the children that die for nothing, the soldiers that die for something, and for all of the people who cause it but never fully understand their actions enough to feel the grief that comes with them.

But it wasn’t until three years later that I understood why Arnie read that article to my class. It was about how censored our society is from the events that happened around the world—extreme hate, wild violence, chaos. It was about how those individuals that die because they got in the way are marginalized. Instead of looking at them as innocents, they are seen as possible terrorists. And what does it matter how many civilians die in another country if it secures safety in ours? Stacked like that, it’s no wonder we put up with seeing those large civilian death tolls. And that’s a perfect example of marginalization.

This I believe: that a good teacher does his or her best teaching outside of the classroom. I believe that a good teaching is timeless, not only forward but backward.

You see, before I ever met Arnie, before I ever went to Columbia, I hated the idea of someone telling me what I could and couldn’t do. The third of four children, I had no problems with parental authority. It was the idea that others could try to control my thoughts that upset me. So when I started writing, I didn’t like it that people could tell me what topics/words/stories/thoughts I could and couldn’t use. But the older I got, the more people stopped telling me. Instead they ignored me and my work. Teachers gave me bad marks without founded explanations. They just didn’t like it, so they did what they could to censor me—they marginalized me.

And that’s what Arnie was teaching me that day, even if it took a little longer for the message to set in.