I have been fascinated with people who start things. It is embedded in my definition of leadership.
“All leadership begins with personal initiative …’
However, to start something is to recognize that there is a reason for doing so. Some things we start are experimental projects to see what works. Others are business ideas that we think will gather loyal customers. Then there are those people who love to solve problems.
In my short book, Solving Problems: A Guide To Being A Person of Impact, I write about the world’s leading physicists and mathematicians, many of them Nobel Prize recipients, who attended the 1927 Solvay Conference on Physics. Seventeen in the picture posted above were either then or later awarded a Nobel Prize for their work. Here’s a bit of what I wrote about them.
We know them today because of the solutions that they brought to their fields of science. They didn’t begin as the great men and women of science. They were people working in obscurity. Through their research, they became aware of the problems of knowledge and science. They labored hard. Many with insufficient support until their discoveries brought them recognition and honor.
Every one of these scientists were problem solvers. They are the scientists who developed quantum theory that open to us the nuclear age.
We don’t wake up one morning and say, “I going to solve problems today!” Most likely we lay in bed, awake in the middle of the night, wrestling with a question that we have to solve. It has to be solved so we can take care of the responsibilities of life, family, and work.
In my conversations with people, this is what they tell me. They see problems at their work or in their families. It bothers them. Something though stands in the way of solving it. These (physicists) … also faced obstacles to their problem-solving. They forged ahead treating every obstacle as a problem to solve.
They found out, as I believe we can too, how important it is that we need each other to solve the problems that we face. The problems that I want to solve, of human purpose for impact, can’t be done just by writing books. The problem of human initiative must be solved collaboratively in action.
To solve a problem is to respond to a creative drive that resides in each of us. Starting something new is the same impetus. We make a decision to resolve a question that we have in our mind. I started my consulting practice because I saw problems in organizations that I wanted to fix. The first two problems to resolve were “What is a consultant?” and “How do I run a business?” I solved those two problems and many more since. I am so glad that I chose to start something new, rather than just repeat what I have been doing.
Last summer, I started the Global Impact Network because I saw a need to address the growing isolation that many organizational leaders are experiencing. These networks have a purpose and a focus. I help the members get started and participate as one of the group. These are not my networks, but those of the participants. Each of the networks has started slow. We try to find how we can work together, and why. In each, there are problems to solve for the participants. We solve them together.
It is valuable to recognize that whatever the problem is, it matters to you because it has shown itself to you. Don’t let it slide away. Grab ahold of it. Work it out so that the opportunities that may come from its solution will show themselves to you. This has been my experience.
The New is A Problem
There are four reference points that I follow in starting something new. In every case, I view the new thing as a problem to solve. I don’t assume that I already know how to do it. I plan to figure how to make it work. These four reference points form the fifth principle of the Circle of Impact Guiding Principles*.
Start Small. Act Locally. Share Globally. Take the Long View.
Let me use the experience of publishing the Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change to illustrate these four ideas.
The Circle of Impact was published in September 2018. We had grandiose plans of selling a thousand copies on launch day. We were very far from it. Our ambition to be a big seller made it difficult to be realistic about what was possible, and even more what was needed to achieve great success. The lack of initial sales pointed to a failure to connect with people about the book. As a result, I spent the next year traveling the US meeting people at book events.
Now three years later, I am close to achieving our launch day goal. I am very pleased with the reception that the book has had worldwide. In addition, a Chinese publisher approached me last wanting to translate and market the book in China. It has been available for sale there since May. This year, a revised edition for African leaders will be published.
Reflecting back on the experience, Whether by choice or poor executive, the book began small, was marketed for local connections, was shared globally, and if there was a long view, I would have probably never followed through on solving the problem of our initial approach. In other words, I live by reference points of this guiding principle.
Starting small provides the room to learn, to change, and to figure out what works today, rather than depending on what worked in the past still succeeding. Small doesn’t mean you don’t want big success. After all, I do want to inspire and equip one percent of the world’s population to become persons of impact. Obviously, you don’t start with a billion. You start with one, then three, then 50, and on and on.
As I am writing the follow-up book to Circle of Impact, I am daily thinking about how to build momentum in the public’s expectations for the book’s release. More about that in a future post.
During the book tour, it was very evident that connecting the book to local needs was essential in its future success. For every event, I would apply the Circle of Impact model to the questions, stories, and problems that people described to me.
I realized that people live in two worlds. There is the social media world that is very much a Matrix-like simulation where there is really nothing that we do that has much of an impact. Clicking subscribe or like doesn’t change much of anything. I am speaking tangible change. Change that you can see, touch, feel, and recognize.
This is why acting local matters so much. You can see a direct effect of your actions. This is what impact is. A direct change that makes a difference that matters. Talking to people about their lives, their work, and their communities convinced me that local is where we find our true selves because our lives actually matter there.
One of the reasons that I created the Global Impact Network is for connecting people on a global scale who can share their stories and approaches to solving local problems.
A story that I heard years ago came back to me when a minister in Uganda reached out to me asking for helping in feeding his community during the early months of the pandemic. I remembered this story of a local person reaching out to an elected official for help. I suggested that he say, “If you can get the food, we’ll distribute it.” This is what took place. It can happen anywhere you have people who want to help their neighbors.
When we share our stories of direct local impact, we can also have a global impact by helping someone we have met through a network of relationships. People feel an increased sense of isolation today. Especially in their local communities. If you feel at times that you are not having the impact that you should then start by forming a network with friends and colleagues to talk about it. The fourth guiding principle is Impact expands through networks of relationships. If you need help, ask me. Let’s see how we can develop a local network that can have a direct impact on your community. Then, you can share your story through other networks and on social media so that your impact expands.
Take the Long View.
If I didn’t take the long view about the success of my book, I would probably felt on launch day that I was a failure and that I should quit. I’m not a quitter. I simply see the present moment’s difficulties as problems to solve.
By taking the long view, it means that we cannot see everything that is possible in the future. I would not be in the place that I am if I had tried to plan it out in detail. I would not have planned to reconnect with a college friend, who connected me with a global organization that took me to Thailand where I met people from around the world who now share an interest in making a difference that matters in their local communities.
To take the long view in this respect means that you carry two perspectives with you. One is that you never give up. The other is that you always have in your mind that at some point, it is time to stop and start something new. I did this after the year-long book tour. The shift was from selling books to marketing personal initiative for local impact. I made a significant change in direction, but I didn’t give up
To take the long view is a function of our capacity to adapt as we work out our initial plan. I apply the Five Questions that We Each Must Ask** as a planning process that also keeps me focused on the changes that I need to make in route to my goals.
The Five Questions Directed Forward
Here is a restatement of the traditional version of the questions designed for looking forward.
Ask yourself and write your answers down:
1. Over the next three to five years, what changes do I need to see in my new business or project? What does it look like as a series of transition points, moving from one stage to the next?
2. In three to five years, what is the impact that I want to see fulfilled. Impact is a change that makes a difference that matters. We are, therefore, asking what difference have we made that matters five years from now.
3. Over the next three to five years, who do we want to impact? Why do we focus on these people or community? What is the impact that they are looking for from our business or project.
4. Over the next three to five years, what opportunities should we expect to have that represent our growth in impact?
5. What problems have we created that we need to resolve in order to create the impact that we want in three to five years? What obstacles must we overcome in order to reach our impact goals?
The Four Reference Points Aligned
It is important to understand that these reference points as I call them are not individual guiding principles. They represent one guiding principle. It is important to see this because to truly be a person of impact, and to have an impact that makes a difference that matters, each of these reference points matters.
It is important to start small in order to see where you are going.
It is important to act locally in order to have a close understanding of the direct impact that you are having.
It is important to share globally because your impact expands where others take your experience and translate it into actions that impact their community.
It is important to take the long view so that you don’t quit too soon or get discouraged.
The four reference points will help you start well or solve problems with solutions that are sustainable. It should make your life and work a bit easier.
* Circle of Impact Guiding Principles
1. All Leadership begins with Personal Initiative To Create Impact.
2. We are ALL in Transition. Every one of us. ALL the time.
3. Impact is the Change that Makes a Difference that Matters.
4. Impact Expands through Networks of Relationships.
5. Start Small. Act Locally. Share Globally. Take the Long View.
** The Five Questions That Everyone Must Ask
1. What has Changed? How am I in Transition?
2. What is my impact?
3. Who am I Impacting?
4. What Opportunities do I have because of the Impact that I am having?
5. What Problems have I created? What Obstacles do I face?
*** Solvay Conference Group Portrait –