The time has come to step away from playing pirate with the Fast Company Influence Project. The last four days have been fun and interesting, but last night Mark Borden left a response to my initial challenge in the comments of the Hijacking post. He stated that Fast Company is not interested in working with ItStartsWith.Us to move this project in [what we think is] a more meaningful direction. He was a gentleman about it, and I would like to be a gentleman in return, and gracious in defeat. Congratulations, sir, on a game well played. We will now shove off and leave you to your business.
So there you have it, folks. No more Captain Nate and the good ship ISWU. We had a good run and managed to capture the attention of those running the Influence Project, which is no small feat. Congratulations on that, and thank you all so much for your help. I hope you guys had as much fun as I did.
At the end of the day, however, all of these shenanigans can be broken down to a small, simple question: would Fast Company work with someone like me (and us) to try something a little bit different? They said no, and I take full responsibility for that. When I was thinking about the Influence Project last Thursday, I wanted to figure out a way to change the tide of public opinion from mostly negative to mostly positive. I thought that if Fast Company kept everything else the same, but added in the single component of giving everyone in the project a chance to pool their collective influence to do something positive, together, then they could get some good value out of the project and sway the public opinion. I knew that I could help them with this, since this is what I’ve done with a large degree of success over the past year or so, utilizing the micro-giving concept in large groups, but forming it into a meaningful, personal activity for every individual involved.
Usually in cases like this I would go directly to the point person for the project (in this case Mark Borden) and have a chat with them to see if this is something they’d be interested in. But this time I decided to try something a little different. I thought that since there’s already this swirling controversy around the project, and many of the participants are on the brink of mutiny, I could use that existing energy and channel it into a cohesive message, one that gets the point across in an obvious way and attracts attention to the idea at the same time. Hence the whole hijacking concept and pirate theme. I thought that a lot of people would get behind it, quickly understand the possibilities of what we could do, and agree to follow my lead in building a shared service component to this project.
I was wrong.
I went about it the flashy way, the attention-getting way, instead of my normal sincere, one-on-one way. And now I’m left wondering if I made a big mistake and missed a golden opportunity to work with a brand that I really respect to help them improve one of their big projects. I’m sorry for causing even more of a negative stir for a lot of people with this endeavor, and I’d like to apologize to anyone who jumped on board with me and is now embarrassed that they did so. I took a chance, and I failed.
I’ve written about failure before, and I truly believe that failure is okay as long as you learn from it. With that in mind, here are the top few things I learned from this exercise.
1) Sensationalism attracts attention, but warps perception
I built a cool little campaign around the hijacking theme, but by necessity it had to be over the top, and my role as the pirate captain had to be over the top as well. I found myself forced to be more egocentric and self-righteous than I wanted to be. It did not feel good. An even bigger downside is the fact that now my public perception for a lot of people is as a loud, brash bully. And that is totally not what I’m about, as everyone on the ISWU team can attest. But now I’ve gone and branded myself that way to a lot of people. Dang it.
2) Context matters – a lot
Mixing messages is confusing for people – and for me. Usually I’m able to talk about what the ItStartsWith.Us team does with great clarity and effectiveness, and people get the concept very quickly. And once they get it, they usually want to be a part of it. It’s really an incredible thing. But I couldn’t get that to work with this project. I was consistently surprised with how difficult it was to get across the point that we are a sincere group, with no ulterior motive, who have been touching people’s lives for a long time. I learned that if you try to convey that message while dressed as a pirate who’s hijacking someone else’s property, it doesn’t go over so well.
3) When riding a negative wave, prepare for negativity
I did not see this one coming, and I should have. When I talk to people about the ISWU team and what we do, I’m used to seeing people’s hearts. When I speak at a conference, or talk to an executive team, or get interviewed by a reporter, more often than not there are tears in the other person’s eyes. I’ve seen it time and time again – when the impact of this personalized micro-giving concept hits people, and they see how lives can literally be changed, it touches their heart. In this case that didn’t happen. I was fighting negative perception the whole way, and I just wanted to scream out “this is NOT what we’re about!” If you use negative energy to propel you forward, you wear that negativity like a cloak – it goes with you everywhere.
Those are the lessons I took away from this little escapade. I’ll remember them for next time, and hopefully do a little better. But for right now it’s time to pick myself up, dust off and move forward with the mission. We still have to change the world, after all.
We’re still moving forward with the final project next Wednesday. Believe that. We will execute with our existing team, as well as anyone from the hijacking team or the general public who wants to be a part of it. We’re going to illustrate the idea that you can combine micro-giving with personalization to make a huge impact with a small effort, and you can create stories out of these actions that last a lifetime.
You are indeed more influential than you think, and our final project next week will demonstrate that you are powerfully influential in the lives of those people immediately around you, and that you can change their world . . . your world . . . with just 15 minutes of effort.
So if after all this you’d like to learn more about the ItStartsWith.Us concept, please check out what our team does every week, and also take a look at the incredible impact you can have on a life in just 5 minutes a week with our Love Bomb team.
In all sincerity, if you’d like to join our team, you may do so below. No hijacking, no pirates. Just thousands of people who work together in a free, easy, fast, fun and effective way to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those around them. (p.s. This team is still going to execute on the final shared event for the #hijackFC project, so if you want to be a part of it, jump on in. We’re just going to brand it as ItStartsWith.Us)
I’m ready for anything you guys have to say – let me know what you think in the comments below.
And thanks for listening.
UPDATE: 8/3/2010, 12:24pm – I just got an email from one of my ItStartsWith.Us advisors, and I think he captured perfectly what I did not. I asked permission to share it with the rest of you.
First, your post today was exceptionally well written Nate – nice work. And while I agree with your comments, I’m not sure you captured what might have been the real and single most important reason it didn’t work out as you had hoped. As it always is, the focus of ISWU was logically on the end target; that person at the end of the line who ultimately receives the love, fame, attention, notoriety or whatever else the good people of ISWU lavishly and generously volunteer. In this case, however, the one suffering was Fast Company, and rather than look to help them with their work we elected to jump on the you’re-not-getting-it-done bandwagon. You know, it’s possible that what didn’t feel right with the project was the concurrent negative message we were sending to Fast Company along with the usual positive aim of our mission. In my thinking, there is a mission for us all in our near future – find a way to help Fast Company and its leadership in our usual positive and productive way. Something to think about anyway.
UPDATE: 8/6/2010, 12:53am – After a good conversation with my dad tonight, I realized that this entire situation is best explained by this exchange from the comments on this post. I decided to pull it up here to give it the attention it deserves:
Question from Warwick:
Sorry my friend but, what am I missing here? This is *your* mission of course, but you’ve invited comment here, and it seems to me that you steered your ship so brilliantly, and then turned tail at the first sign of resistance. Of course maybe something went on that hasn’t been made public, but on the face of it, I’m a more than a bit disappointed.
Fast Company, without a doubt, created The Influence Project to be noticed. They’re not doing it for fun, they are doing it for profit. They are performing on the world stage; a publicity stunt. They are a great company that we all respect, doing something clever and fun. They put a challenge on the table for those with the most influence to come and take the stage. You did that brilliantly. The rewards for both Fast Company and for your own project were world-wide recognition and massive exposure. A (harmless and fun) controversy would drive both objectives. Indeed that’s how I learned about you and your mission.
Fast Company seized the opportunity, eagerly publicized your move and made more even headlines out of it for the both of you. They refused to co-operate, totally understandably (we don’t negotiate with Terrorists), and now you’ve just given up and said sorry. All the fantastic impetus that you put in place has disappeared in one move. I’m gutted. Conformity does not change the world. Otherwise change would be un-necessary. You are undoubtedly a really nice guy, and intelligent, creative and bold, but I question whether the “failure” (wrong word anyway) lies where you think it is. Their project is about influence. Influence is power, and power is taken, not given. You aren’t actually going to kill anybody, or *really* take hostages, it was just a fun way to make a huge amount of publicity, and a great time for all concerned. Any bold move will have some dissenters, this is unavoidable.
That said, and my disappointment aside, I commend you for following what you believe to be the right course of action. It’s your project, and your call, and you’ve alerted some more people to change the world, so it can’t be all bad.
Response from me:
Excellent points, Warwick, and well stated. And yes, of course more went on behind the scenes than was public – that’s always the case with things like this. But that’s not what made me back down. And in what I’m about to explain, yes, “failure” is indeed the right word.
I failed not in hijacking the Fast Company project. You’re right, they did the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” thing, and I could’ve played up that angle and gone back-and-forth and continued with the publicity. You mentioned conformity, and I believe that the whole generation of popularity and publicity in this specific way is just another variation of said conformity. It may be the most clever and fun and interesting way, but conformity it is nonetheless.
And here’s why I say that – in fact, it goes right along with what you said above: ” Influence is power, and power is taken, not given.” That is exactly how it works most of the time. That is how this world is both wired to think and trained to think. But it is not the truth. REAL power comes when it is freely given. Power that is taken may influence actions, but power that is given can change hearts. And THAT’S what I want to do – change people’s hearts.
And that’s where I failed.
I forgot for a moment that the reason this group has been so successful is because I’ve been ALLOWED to lead them, and I’ve stayed true to the spirit of the mission every single time – except Monday. Once I realized what I was doing, I put an end to the project and said sorry . . . to Fast Company, yes, but mostly to my own team, for misrepresenting them according to our standards.
So today it’s back to business as usual. Thanks so much for the comment, and I’m glad to have you with us.