Uncharted Insider - December 2019
Welcome to the December edition of the Uncharted Insider. Thanks for following along this year. I love hearing from you, and I’ve been humbled by your willingness to reply and share your insights and stories. Please keep it up! Similar to last December, I’m taking a different approach in this final Uncharted Insider of 2019.
Gratitude to the Uncharted Team
It's one thing to be able to report on the work Uncharted is doing in these monthly Insiders, but it is another thing altogether to do the work itself, and that credit goes to our team. I want to acknowledge the entire Uncharted team (cc'd) in this last Insider of the year because I've found that CEOs tend to get too much of the credit and their teams too little. Make no mistake: it is the Uncharted team on the front lines, leading initiatives, championing entrepreneurs, standing with community members, advocating for justice and equity, and creating the internal, organizational conditions that lead to our collective flourishing. They are the ones that bring our work to life and do so with a spirit of togetherness, humor, and bravery. Our team is the reason I am giddy on Monday mornings for the week ahead, and they are the ones that propel me forward and invite me to give my very best, every day.
Advice to Myself In 2019
I’m finding that the advice I offer is often the advice I most need to hear myself, so I’ve been paying attention to what I say out-loud this year, and these themes came up repeatedly: Healthy people lead healthy companies. Courageous people do courageous things. Transformational cultures create transformation out in communities. Underneath strategy, there is always psychology. These ideas were present for me this year because I witnessed just how powerful healthy human relationships can be in doing an organization’s work, and conversely just how derailing unhealthy human dynamics are. I noticed in myself unhealthy dynamics of anxiety and fear and how those influenced people around me, and I observed how much stronger I was as a leader when I showed up from a place of rest and confidence. There are no shortcuts through advice columns or business books that lead to changing the psychology underneath the strategy. That requires creating those rare cultural spaces where humans can lean into each other and hold space for the truth to emerge.
2019 Lessons of Leadership
2019 taught me that I am at my best when I can hold three things together in my mind:
- Being kind to myself: I tend to be hard on myself, but I’m giving Uncharted the best I have, so being kind means letting myself be proud of how I show up and giving myself the permission to ease back and chill out even when I feel the pressure to keep pressing forward.
- Thinking big: Everyone says “think big” as if it’s this naturally easy thing to do. I’ve found it to be quite hard to consistently think big and outside the familiar paradigms we operate in, so I’m working to create the psychological conditions to think abundantly.
- Being skeptical of the stories we tell ourselves: I tell myself stories all the time about how well I am doing, how poorly I am doing, how self-aware I am, how delusional I am, how smart I am, how much of an imposter I am, and stories about Uncharted: how we’re going to change the world of philanthropy, how we’ll be found out for being naively idealistic, how we’re really onto something, how we’re completely adrift. Sometimes I find I’m telling myself opposite stories within the same hour. And I’m learning the wisdom of just being skeptical of the stories I’m telling myself. Things aren’t as good or as bad as I think they are. Premature conclusions are presumptuous, and perhaps rooted in my own ego or desire to categorize things that are hard to understand. Be patient, the story is still unfolding.
Curiosities for 2020:
As I think about 2020, here are some curiosities and opportunities I see in the world of social impact.
- Social impact / philanthropy can grow in its emotional intelligence. We are obsessed with the high-IQ, peer-reviewed, evidence-based approaches within issues and sectors like affordable housing, early childhood, workforce development, economic mobility, and so on. But what about working in the blindspots between those issues... in the “fluffy” EQ realms of loneliness, social cohesion, mental health, conceptions of identity, and cultural norms? These are unbounded spaces that cut across a foundation’s “focus areas” where the impact is less measurable and attributable, but I hope that we can swim upstream and explores these less-defined areas that are often the invisible forces shaping downstream issue-based success metrics.
- Populism in the world of philanthropy. Where is the foundation that models itself after the Bernie Sanders campaign? 2018 featured books like Winners Take All and Decolonizing Wealth, and people like Darren Walker are perceived as reformers within philanthropic institutions by working to divest endowments, apply equity lenses, and focus on inequality. But I’m curious if the values of populism, democracy, and equity in our contemporary zeitgeist will express themselves in different approaches to philanthropy that resemble the grassroots mobilization of populist political campaigns. Will we see a major philanthropy rise to power that is marked by the abdication of power by traditional power-brokers and led by the “beneficiaries” themselves?
- Climate change is a lens across all impact. In 2020, I hope more people apply climate lenses into issue areas that are not climate-explicit. We have social determinants of health; we need climate determinants of health. We advocate for 2-generation approaches to poverty that think decades ahead; we need those approaches to be informed by how our climate will look decades ahead. Climate is not just an issue area, it is a lens applied to all work.
- Getting capital off the sidelines. I have become obsessed with Donor Advised Funds (DAFs). Assets in DAFs are doubling every five years. In 2018, there were $121 billion dollars in DAFs, but most of that money just sits undeployed on the sidelines. Whoever is able to crack the nut of DAF mobilization will be able to unlock a tidal wave of financial capital.
- Bridge-builders in a post-truth world. We’re in a post-truth world and the silos we occupy reinforce convenient narratives that align with our worldviews. I am curious if we will get over our need to be right and start to fund the bridge-builders who are working across lines of difference to unite coalitions of the unlikely. Does it matter more to us that we can prove to climate skeptics that global warming is anthropomorphic, or are we willing to explore the cultural, political, racial, and geographic bridging that might be necessary before we can even begin to explore ideas about what is true? Sometimes speaking our truth is easier than listening to theirs.
Expanding to New York
Start spreading the news...I will be splitting time between Denver and New York City in 2020 as part of a strategic effort to expand Uncharted’s presence on the east coast. Colorado is Uncharted’s home and our HQ will remain in Denver (as will many of our initiatives...don’t worry!), but we are looking to expand our partnerships with national funders and corporations in New York and across the east coast. I’ll be launching our east coast presence in 2020 by spending 25% of my time in New York City next year.
- Which foundations should we be talking to?
- What corporations would benefit from working with us?
- Where should I eat dim sum?
If we are willing to live an adventure, there is an adventure to be lived. Here’s to the unexpected adventure ahead and gratitude for the adventure that was 2019.
With gratitude and ambition,