Uncharted Insider - March 2020
Welcome to the March edition of the Uncharted Insider. If you’re like me, the last few weeks have been dense living: full of moments of fear, curiosity, and energy.
The uncharted territory we collectively find ourselves in has been both emotionally draining and powerfully invigorating. Like many, COVID-19 is forcing Uncharted to adapt in many ways (more on this next month...I think we will look back one day and say this was one of the best things that could have happened to our organization), and it’s been an eventful few weeks as we navigate the unfolding terrain. Given the circumstances, I’m taking a different approach to this March Insider.
I’ve been asking myself this question of “How is the way I am showing up now consistent with (or inconsistent with) the person and leader I aspire to be?” That question has prompted a sober reflection into areas of strength (decisiveness, lucidity of strategy, ability to navigate ever-changing dynamics) and areas of weakness (impatience, lack of emotional availability, ego). This reflection has also led me to consider the work of leadership during these times as consisting of three priorities:
- Show up for the humans on the Uncharted team and in my life (parents, neighbors, etc. Including myself here).
- Ensure the organization can navigate the short and medium term (cash flow and financials, external relationships, culture, communication, trust).
- Begin building now for the other side of this crisis so we can step into new paradigms and explore opportunities of impact. How can this accelerate who we want to be in the future?
What am I missing? Let me know how you’re assigning leadership priorities to yourself in this time.
Last week I had the privilege of serving on the grant-making committee for the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger. They’re allocating $1M+ in a hunger relief fund to food security and food access organizations across the state. For their first disbursement, they received 400 applications by the deadline last Wednesday night. They asked the grant-making committee to review applications in 16 hours so we could discuss, decide, and ultimately disburse money on Friday (less than 48 hours after the deadline). My eight years of experience doing this work of vetting, reviewing, and selecting social ventures has taught me that 4-6 weeks is best practice (at least for Uncharted’s work), so I was highly skeptical. But it happened; we did it, and the money is out the door to organizations on the front-lines of fighting hunger across the state.
If COVID-19 is teaching me any one lesson, it is that the distance between impossible and inevitable is shrinking. I saw this play out firsthand with the speed of the grant-making process with the Blueprint. But it is playing out in politics where what used to be perceived as politically impossible (bipartisan $2 trillion stimulus) quickly became inevitable. It is playing out in societies where what seemed impossible (like imposing the largest lockdown in the world on India’s 1.3 billion people for 21 days) quickly became inevitable. What we perceive as impossible is often far more possible than we think, and it takes a crisis like this for us to have our existing paradigms disassembled and new ones introduced. Perhaps it’s time we ask ourselves two related questions: “What are the things in my life I am declaring impossible or highly unlikely? What would it take for me to be proven wrong?”
This crisis is unprecedented in so many ways, but it does fall into the familiar trade-off between saving lives and saving livelihoods. Most sensible political leaders and societies value the primacy of human life and understand that long-term, the best thing for the economy is to flatten the curve. The economy will suffer in the short-term, but today’s sacrifice is necessary for long-term public and economic health. The choices we are currently making in this trade-off are exactly the choices we seem unable to make when it comes to climate change. Yes, there are many differences between COVID-19 and climate change, but I’m curious how this crisis might be an accelerated test of a much bigger and longer-term trade-off we will need to make in the coming years and decades. Will we be willing to make economic sacrifices so we can save lives and save our planet? What lessons will we draw from this current trade-off? And, how might the economic pain of this crisis make us less willing to make those trade-offs in the future?
My friend Gabe Krenza (a brilliant human working at the intersection of leadership development, biomimicry, and wilderness exploration) has observed that our virtual working and connecting has led to a “softening of formality.” The backdrop of our video-calls is where we spend our non-work hours...where we live our lives. We’re wearing more relaxed clothes, the interruptions by pets and kids are accepted and quickly normalizing, and video-call platforms like Zoom are distributing our faces onto a screen without any concern for hierarchy or role. Gabe points out that on a video-call it’s as likely that the newest intern is front-and-center while the CEO’s face is a small tile in one corner of the screen. For those who believe that work needs to be a setting where humans can show up as fully themselves, this crisis will hopefully accelerate a more humanized and less formal approach to work.
A few weeks ago, right before things got crazy, I went on a backpacking trip down the lost coast in northern California with two of my best friends. Over four days and 28 miles, we carefully made our way along the coastline, with the looming cliffs to our left and the vast Pacific Ocean to our right. There are segments of the trail that are impassable at high-tide, as there is no place to escape when the waves swallow the narrow beach and pummel the rocks and cliffs. We kept a tide-chart with us and only proceeded at low-tide, which was a beautiful reminder of just how powerless and small we are in the grand scheme; when the moon — our planet’s orbiting celestial body — pulled the ocean back, only then could we proceed. It was a lesson in our own powerlessness in comparison to the cosmic interplay between planets and oceans. When those forces exert, I was reminded of how little I actually control in this world. It feels the same way with COVID-19. How will the unexpected, destabilizing event like this crisis remind us of our relative lack of power? And then, when we’re conscious that perhaps we are in less control of our lives and our organizations than we originally thought, how will we choose to show up?
...Because who wants to read another article about COVID-19? The best thing about poetry is it forces you to slow down and lean close to the page.
- “Moments”, by Mary Oliver
- “Everything is Waiting For You”, by David Whyte
- “When You Are Old”, William Butler Yeats
- “On the Pulse of the Morning”, Maya Angelou
- “Keep Quiet”, Pablo Neruda
- “I, Too”, by Langston Hughes
- “What Kind of Times are These”, Adrienne Rich
- “Won’t You Celebrate with Me”, Lucille Clifton
I visited the redwoods a few weeks ago, and in light of our social distancing and physical isolation from each other, I’ve been thinking about them recently. Redwoods are the tallest living things on earth (can grow 300 feet tall), and they can live to be 2,000 years old. But their root systems are only 5-6 feet deep. Instead of growing down, their root systems grow out, sometimes as much as 100 feet from their tree, so they can intertwine with the root systems of other redwoods. These trees have discovered that the best way to live as long and grow as tall is not to go it alone. Instead, they have chosen to bond themselves to one another where they are literally holding each other up. This is why they cluster in groves; you’ll never see a lone redwood.