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Getting Too Much of a Good Thing

18 Jul

Stanford Business Center for Innovation recently published an article on how to avoid “Social Good Fatigue” and to be honest it rang a bell with me. While my work still motivates me more than anything else I do in my life, I still feel sometimes I must try something else.

The article argues that social entrepreneurs live in a state of permanent emotional drain produced by dealing with people and problems all the time, selling hope and mobilizing others to create change. Creating change is never a straightforward event, we deal with complex issues requiring complex solutions. People prefer to stick with simple resolutions. The social entrepreneur is always dealing with urgent issues. In our case, we often deal with life and death issues, knowing that if we slow down some people are going to go without assistance that they often need to stay alive. This means that the rest of our lives get a back seat. My husband constantly argues that I do not have time for him or for the family. He is right. Because we concentrate so much on one issue, we often stop learning and growing, stop taking side roads, smelling flowers, enjoying the family, reading a good book. We are in a constant state of flux, that success often contains the seeds of failure. When I look at my journey, I see this so clearly, every success I have had has been followed by failure. I cannot forget that every single innovation has been met with failure to begin with. We get used to this, but it is consuming.

The article spells out several remedies to this “burn-out” syndrome. Most of them I have followed during my 17 years of being a social entrepreneur. Particularly during the past four years I have made time to reach out to friends, particularly childhood friends. Our conversations have nothing in common and perhaps that is the beauty of it all. We talk about things of no consequence. I engage in a lot of physical activity. I get up at 4:00 a.m., do a half hour of yoga, and then put my scull on the water and row for two hours. I have been doing this for 10 years, and I find that rowing in the dark allows me to meditate, calm my mind, and re-arrange things. I hope I am never forced to give this up. I am also planning my trip to Nepal, something I have been trying to do for many years. I know that if I wait longer, I may not be able to physically do it. Whatever I want to do, I do today.

I have told my daughter that I would like to retire in two years because I have a new idea that I want to develop before I leave this world. It is when you let go of things that you are truly creative and it is in this process of creation that I feel best. After all, like the article says, “You never conquer the mountain, you can only conquer yourself.”

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Old Folks can be Distruptive as Well!

28 Apr

Driving back from my daily rowing this morning I listened to an NPR report about how the age of the CEO of a company can affect the future of the organization. The argument is that, according to a recent study, the older the CEO the less likely he or she is to make drastic decisions and try something new. According to the report, older CEOs become intimately involved with the organization and maintain the status quo rather than risking the future of the organization. Young entrepreneurs, on the other hand, have more of an innovative spirit and turn around operations that may have become stale. The report does caution that this assumption may not work with all organizations. That the more stable and profitable the organization the less the need for the innovative spirit.

My first reaction to the NPR report was that the assumption that older CEOs cannot be innovative does not fit me or the other 9 million older social innovators in the U.S. The main characteristics of these older innovators are what I call the three “D’s”. We are disruptive, disciplined and driven. That is certainly my case and the reason why I am no longer in the public sector. While it is true that it may take us longer to arrive at a final decision, once we do it is usually the right one as we have considered all implications and outcomes. As another of my fellow older entrepreneurs once said “You are old enough to see that something is not working and experienced enough to do something about it”.

I hope most of those listening to the NPR report have the common sense to conclude that just because research was conducted it does not necessarily mean that we must take the findings as conclusive. Much is left out of these “so called” definitive reports. In this case the 9 million and the additional 30 more million older entrepreneurs that have proven to be even more disruptive than our younger counterparts!