It’s been a while—almost a year to the day—since I last offered some messages about work, leadership, and our shared commitment to a better future. Truth be told, I haven’t had much to say. With the immense human tragedy of Covid-19, the collapse of the economy, the enormous sacrifices of doctors, nurses, and front-line workers, I thought it made sense to stay quiet, think and learn, and re-emerge when I had some useful perspectives to share.
Well, for better or worse, I’m back.
– John W. Gardner
One huge challenge for all us is trying to stay positive in these difficult and dispiriting times. But it’s a challenge we must meet. John Gardner, the fabled scholar of leadership, argued that positive change rarely starts from blind faith or naïve enthusiasm, but it also doesn’t start from despair or defeatism. “The first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive,” he wrote in 1968, another period of turmoil and struggle. “We need to believe in ourselves and our future but not to believe that life is easy.”
In other words, leaders help their colleagues be realists—and optimists. Which is why, for Harvard Business Review, I wrote an essay on “How to Stay Optimistic (When Everything Is Awful).” The essay offers four pieces of advice: embrace the urgency of crisp execution but leave room for “organizational foolishness”; invite everyone to become a problem-solver, and let them fix things; don’t just champion new ideas, strengthen personal relationships; to counter so much bad news, share every piece of good news. My essay tries to deliver on Gardner’s challenge: How do you keep hope alive when things seem pretty hopeless?
You can read my Harvard Business Review piece here.
– Sharon Salzberg
For me, one unexpected benefit (if I can use that term) of the last year is that it gave me time to reflect on whether the core ideas I’ve been writing and speaking about for so long still matter. My reflections got especially intense last Fall, when we marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of Fast Company. “A revolution is changing business,” Alan Webber and I declared in our first Manifesto from the Editors, “and business is changing the world.”
Needless to say, much has changed over the past 25 years—including my own thinking about the best ways to make change. Last week, I published a new Manifesto, titled “The Disruptor’s Dilemma,” that reckons honestly with what’s gone wrong with our (and my) endless fascination with game-changing technologies and strategic reinvention.
One lesson I’ve come to appreciate is that change agents who champion big ideas often overlook the human and emotional connections that keep their colleagues confident, connected, and engaged. That’s why I encourage leaders to worry less about blue-sky thinking and more about their “three feet of influence,” a term that originated in the meditation community to humanize the process of change.
Sharon Salzberg, a celebrated meditation instructor, likes to say that few leaders “are powerful enough, persuasive, persistent, and charismatic enough to change the world all at once,” even if they are desperate to do so. Instead, “the world we can most try to affect is the one immediately around us”— the people, places, and experiences we can see and shape for ourselves.
It’s a vital insight: Big change calls for big ideas, but lasting change is built on real-world connections.
You can read “The Disruptor’s Dilemma” here.
– Harriet Rubin
As I began rethinking some of the ideas around which we launched Fast Company, I revisited the best articles from the early days. Perhaps my favorite of all time was not an article at all, but a roundtable discussion we convened in the middle of the first Internet boom. We assembled 50 startup CEOs, change agents from established companies, government officials, and social activists, and asked them to ponder some big questions: What is the true meaning of success? Is trust more powerful than fear? Is faster really better?
This group, which we dubbed The Fast Pack, generated a collection of insights and ideas, lessons and advice, that were truly remarkable—and are more relevant now than ever. For example, Harriet Rubin, founder of Doubleday/Currency, and one of the great innovators in book publishing, stopped her speed-obsessed colleagues in their tracks when she declared, “One of the great acts of bravery is to go slowly.” She noted that the motto of Aldus Manutius, who created the printing business in the 15th century, was to “Make haste slowly.” That’s a piece of advice from which all of us impatient innovators can learn.
You can read about The Fast Pack here.
I hope you find a some of these ideas and insights helpful. Thank you, as always, for your interest in my work. I promise not to wait another year until my next newsletter!