Uncharted Insider - December 2020
Welcome to the December edition of the Uncharted Insider.
Similar to past December editions, I am taking a different approach with this final Insider of 2020.
Close-In vs. Far-Out
2020 has created a dual consciousness in us. On one hand, we’ve never been more aware of the big things far greater than our immediate sphere of influence: an invisible and deadly virus that moves silently and swiftly, 400 years of institutional racism, the specter of climate change. But on the other hand, we’ve zoomed into our immediate spheres of influence and focused on the small and the tangible: we baked bread, we built raised-bed gardens, we used our hands to work on projects around the house, we placed ourselves in a tight web of family and friends. I’ve noticed how I’ve shifted between this dual consciousness, rising and dropping between elevations: at one moment trying to grasp my own place and complicity in systemic white supremacy, and then the next doing extensive research into why the cauliflower in my vegetable garden remained stunted and small all season. I’ve thought about this at Uncharted as well. There is so much to do at the highest level, but I’ve also never been more curious about the close-in work: the way we relate, how we coordinate, the daily methods of showing up for each other, the routines of celebration, the rhythms of feedback, our collective relationship to discomfort. But ultimately this might be a false dichotomy: the close-in and the far-out are one and the same. Audre Lorde one said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
On Inputs and Outputs
I’ve been thinking recently about the (obvious) idea that the quality of our outputs is entirely dependent on the quality of our inputs. It’s irrational to think our outputs will be extraordinary if our inputs are ordinary. From the quality of our sleep to the food we eat to those we follow on our Instagram feed to the diversity of news sources we consume, nothing dictates what we produce and how we see the world like what we put into our minds and bodies. I am struck by how many different years existed in 2020: the year of COVID, another year of police brutality and systemic racism, an election year rife with division, a year of crazy tech (gargantuan IPOs, antitrust lawsuits, and streaming wars), a year of surging Bitcoin and bullish public markets, a year of historic forest fires, a year of less travel and more home time. The stories we believe are the stories we’re close to. Our outlook is more a function of our input choices than it is a function of what’s actually going on externally. And if this is true, then maybe the path out of the deep divisions and disunity we’re experiencing is less focused on endpoints and more focused on starting points. It’s less focused on changing minds and more focused on changing inputs. It’s less focused on big goals and more focused on daily choices.
We did deep surgery on the business in 2020. We didn’t waste this crisis because we realized there would be no future for our organization unless we adapted:
- We repositioned the organization with a focused strategy and a new business/funding model
- We restructured the mechanics of how we deliver value for our entrepreneurs and restructured the org-chart with new departments and reporting lines
- We decided to abandon what had been an emerging area of focus for us: collective impact
- We hired people in different markets outside of Colorado, establishing ourselves in two east coast states
- We made the decision to go to 32-hour workweeks at 100% pay
- We turned down funding this year in the midst of the pandemic
- We went to the ends of the earth to care for our team and cultivate a culture of brave togetherness over the video screen
I believe we’re about halfway through this organizational pivot. The seeds we have planted in 2020 will begin to sprout in 2021. But when you’re in the messy middle, it’s hard to tell if you’re doing it right or if the strategy will play out the way you’ve planned. There are many books and articles and consultants who will tell you the mechanics and frameworks and SWOTS of the best strategy, but so few acknowledge that the secret to any good strategy is the patience to see it through. Sometimes the most audacious thing we can do is be patient and trust the process. Sometimes resilience is nothing more than patience, and sometimes vision is nothing more than returning to what we’ve always known to be true.
Looking Forward: The future of Uncharted
If there is any connection between kindness and radical change, it is to believe in people and unproven ideas before others do. It is to make bold bets on those deemed by the establishment to be too crazy or too early or too unfamiliar. I hadn’t made this connection between kindness and radical change until I came across this podcast, where the host asks each guest (a leader in business, investing, or entrepreneurship) the same final question: What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you? The most common response from guests is a variation of the same theme: “someone took a chance on me when no one else would.”
Not only is taking a chance on someone an act of kindness, but I believe, in the context of Uncharted, that working earlier-stage than our peers and betting on more radical solutions (including a new focus in 2021 on 501c4s and decentralized social movements) is differentiated and relevant positioning for our business in a world that has 1) lost its taste for incremental change, 2) is skeptical of the usual suspects, but 3) doesn’t actually have the risk-appetite to fund the crazy stuff.
A crisp focus on radical change is not unfamiliar to us: it was the driving ethos of the early days of our work as Unreasonable Institute 10 years ago, but as we matured, we drifted and sought a similar maturity and reasonableness in our work. We traded in being radical for aspiring to be credible. But what was radical yesterday has the tendency to become credible today, so we’re doubling down on a strategy rooted in believing in people before others do. Into the uncharted we go, honored to walk alongside you all.
Some poems to close the year:
- On intellectual humility: “The Place Where We Are Right” by Yehuda Amichai
- On believing in people: “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton
- On patience: “I Am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Full of rest and ambition,