Friday, July 31, 2009

He Has Cancer

You know the words no Mom or Dad or Kid ever wants to hear:

''He has cancer.''

Those words were my wife's words about our son.

I'll always remember that phone call. My wife said quietly at first: ''You need to take this.''

Then Those Words, ''He has cancer.''

Same crud as Lance Armstrong.

Those Words send you somewhere lonely. Somewhere scary. It's a place that's not dark. Nor light. A place where time checks out. Moments are thick. Minutes immovable.

And the people, your people, they are gone. Way gone. Because you’ve lost your place because maybe you're going to lose your boy. And they just don't know how to reach over to you. You've moved onto a different path. A path that's only for you and people like you who have Those Words.

I asked just one thing in the middle of our first night with Those Words, ''Are You really coming to take my boy?''

As you wait for some kind of answer, people, who are gonna be Your People through this thing, begin gathering around you, saying stuff like “we're thinking of you.”

They call. “We're praying for you.”

They drop an email. “We'll ask God to heal your son.”

They bring a meal -- lordy, do they bring meals. “Let us know if we can do anything for you.”

This gathering of Your People really takes off when someone says you should set up a page on Caring Bridge .

Holy smokes!

You quickly realize, this is a place where you can actually begin to manage Those Words; to keep Your People up to date in (sorry to sound clinically techno-geeky here) a way that scales. Even better, even more important, Your People can keep you in their thoughts and prayers at scale.

Geez, is THAT important when you and your wife and your kid are dealing with Those Words.

"It's a sacred place," says founder and CEO, Sona Mehring. A place she started in 1997 to support a Mom and a Dad and Their Baby, all friends, who'd been dealing with a really difficult illness.

Sona's a down-to-earth, techie-type, and she asked her friends a simple question at a tough time: How can I help?

You know like I know that keeping Your People up-to-date at a time like this is really hard. Really time-consuming. Really emotionally draining. And, speaking from experience, you gotta know it's really the last thing you want to do if you're like my wife and me and my kid when we gotta figure out what to do with Those Words.

Sona's response back in '97: She stepped up and created the world's first social network so her friends and their family could easily share and update one another. Before Facebook. Before MySpace. Before YouTube. Before Twitter.

Now, it's the most important social media place on the planet!

The CaringBridge premise is simple. Each family has a page. And they use it for free as long they wish to keep friends and family informed and connected when, as Sona says, "it matters most. It's a time when people need to connect. It's a place for important emotional support."

In 1997, Sona's friends and then some 100 other families turned to CaringBridge. From there it took off. The number of families has doubled every year. More than 30 million people have visited CaringBridge in the last 12 months. Every day 200 family sites are created. These are people like Your People who have cancer, premature babies, cardiac challenges, serious accidents.

Today, CaringBridge is a vibrant non-profit, depending on small contributions from the people like Your People who benefit most.

If I could pick a theme song for CaringBridge, it would be this one from Bruce Springsteen. And if I could pick a tagline it'd be this line from that song:

"With These Hands. With These Hands. C'mon Rise Up."

I know what Your People and their hands can do for a Mom and a Dad and a Kid with Those Words. There's no clear-cut cure for cancer yet. But Those Words are no match for Your People, Your Community, and a place like CaringBridge.

Do you wonder what would happen if you had this sacred place and Your People with you before you ever get Those Words?


Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Merton Right?

You ever had A Year with Thomas Merton, the monk and mystic?

Most of what he says whistles well over my head. A riff of wisdom he posted way back on July 2nd, 1948 talks about tranquility. You know, the thing that's opposite fear and anxiety.

Here's what Thomas Merton said of his notion of tranquility:

"I have more of it perhaps because I am less mixed up today in peculiar tensions of desire and pride that come from fighting the will of God in an obscure way, under the pretext of a greater good."

Oh, my. But wait, here's some even more in your face stuff:

"There is only one way to peace: be reconciled that of yourself you are what you are, and it might not be especially magnificent, what you are!" (Ouch!)

"God has His own plan for making something else of you, and it is a plan which you are mostly too dumb to understand." (Double-- Maybe Even Triple-- Ouch!)

So, here's a simple two-word takeaway: Dumb and dumber.

A lot of times I'm too dumb to understand Merton. A guy who tells me from a simple post all the way back in 1948 I'm even dumber to understand the Big Picture when it comes to finding a slice of tranquility.

You know like I know there's a lot of fear and anxiety out there in the world in 2009.

Maybe this is the dumb thought for the week, but I'll ask anyway: Is Merton right?


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Commit & Deliver

You want to be a leader these days means you'll need to get your head around two big ideas. One is commit. The other is deliver.

Committing is something a lot of people in business, academia, government, relationships, spend a lot of time, money, energy avoiding.

I learned this from Sam the Intern, who works in my office. I asked Sam to figure something out once this summer. Sam's simple reply: "I'm on it."


This was six weeks ago. The quick comeback from Sam the Intern still rings in my head. So does the fact that he delivered on his "I'm on it" commitment.

I can't think the last time I heard a bunch of management honchos say during a meeting: " I'm on it." Usually they say, "Let's get the consultants on it." Why do they say that?

So they don't have to commit. So they can come up with a lot of questions, reasons, data for not doing something. So they can keep their honcho paychecks.

Here's the thing they don't lecture about and teach you at MBA schools: Most people who end up in leadership positions are pretty scared in their roles. And it's really tough to commit -- to tell the group "I'm on it" when you're running scared. It is why a lot of good companies fail and potentially great movements never get going.

Beating back fear and then committing is why a lot of little, great ideas become big, great ideas, movements, companies. Think of Bill Gates telling the world he wanted a computer on every desk. Or John Kennedy saying we're going to put a human on the moon in 10 years. Or the Google founders organizing the world's information. Talk about commitment.

This is the kind of stuff everyone of us is born to do. All it takes is taking out fear. Eliminate fear and we'll eliminate a lot of problems on Earth: hunger, poverty, illiteracy, pollution, etc.

I hope future leaders are taught how to look fear in the eye at MBA schools and other kinds of leadership academies in the U.S. We're gonna win for a long time if our leaders learn how to not be so scared and commit to big ideas. And then deliver.

Delivery is a solo sport, compared to commitment (which is a crowd sport where the crowd usually tries to avoid committing.) Sure it takes a lot of people to get a human on the moon. But somewhere there's a leader standing in the middle of all the confusion, ambiguity, tension holding firm, risking much, and driving to deliver something meaningful.

Do you know that feeling? Here's one story: A few years back, my software company cranked budgets really tight. Of course they wanted my commitment to maintain marketing communications service delivery. What to do in that situation?

I committed. And then moved all creative design work for all marketing communications to India. A lot of folks thought this was nuts. Truthfully, I mostly thought they might be right. Thankfully, a few of us in Bangalore and in the U.S. kept at it. And in the end, we hit quality targets and drove spend to about 10 cents on the dollar. We committed. Then delivered. To this day, it still works for the firm.

I'm thankful for Sam the Intern and his "I'm on it" attitude of commit and deliver. I suspect he may be a leader some day. I hope Sam and his contempories don't unlearn this during their careers.

"I'm on it"....isn't that a great attitude for current and future Americans to embrace? Doesn't a time like this mean all of us are going to have to commit and deliver? How do you do this now?


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Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm Scared

You ever heard someone in a meeting say: ''I don't have time for this'' ?

Mostly they mean: ''I'm scared.''

This is too bad. Too many good ideas get killed on the spot in meetings by scared people.

What's even worse is that scared people scare other good people. And then those good people decide to not to take a big good idea forward.

Why? Too scary.

What to do then?

Here's one idea: Whenever someone says ''I (or we) don't have time'' reach for your flashlight. You know...the one that you were born with; the one you keep in your pocket most of your life, and shine it on that person pretending to ask 'em: ''Are you just scared of something, or what?'' And if you're feeling really gutsy, maybe go seek that person in private and ask for real: ''What's so scary?''

There's nothing like shining a little flashlight on the boogie man. You know like I know what happens when you do that. The boogie man goes away.

Maybe I was a strange kid but this is always why I slept better during the dark night...with a flashlight ready to shine on the boogieman and his scary schtick. By light of day, he always went away.

Do you have a flashlight nearby? Have you ever had to use it on the scary boogieman who says you don't have time to do something big?


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