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I am working hard to try to leave the world a little better than I found it. What that means day-to-day is that I would love to spend my time working as a social innovator and as a catalyst for creative projects and social enterprises that improve the wellbeing of communities and that help people live out their dreams. Along the way, that will ideally include launching some projects of my own but will also include instigating, coaching, advising, teaching, and generally supporting lots of others, too.
I would expect anyone who plans to spend their life doing something to want to be as skilled as possible at what they do, so I naturally expect the same of myself. This is the unfolding story of my journey to seek out the skills, knowledge, and experiences I believe will help me become as effective and credible as possible at what I hope to spend the rest of my life doing.
How I Got Here
“I am not here for my piece of the golden calf, but I am invested in rapidly prototyping solutions to big problems,” my friend Max Harper said to me about a year ago. We were exchanging ideas about farming cooperatives, time banks, and other projects over tacos at El Distrito Federal, a great hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Columbia Heights, DC.
To me, that sentence sums up the zeitgeist of a generation. Whatever you want to call it- social innovation, social entrepreneurship, changemaking- I am riding the same wave as many others in my generation. I am invested, like Max, in bringing ideas to life that have a chance of leaving the world a little better than we found it.
But, over the last year I have slowly moved past having a laser focus on my own projects to becoming, increasingly, a supporter, coach, and facilitator for others who are trying to start their own projects. I fell into it at first. I was asked to help organize a weekend retreat for social entrepeneurs in the South. Then another, and another. Then I started getting mentorship requests. Then helping others started to look like a job on its own.
That has been a great transition. First, I love doing that kind work and I hope to do much more of it. Second, I have come to realize that I’ll only be able to get so many of my own projects off the ground in this life, and I get just as much satisfaction- and a much bigger multiplier effect- out of helping others realize their own dreams. Third, I can see that if I maintain this course, I will be able to do some really cool work with the skills I will need to develop along that path.
For example, I would love to work as a connector and facilitator between organizations in the social sector to help bring together high-impact, collaborative projects between them. Or one day I would love to open a systems design studio and a community project incubator in Charlottesville, VA with my long-time friend and business partner, Jeff, through our company- Night Train.
Getting There from Here
The reality is that I know very little today about all of the things that would make me a really effective at doing all of that. For example, I could benefit from dedicating some time to my skills for design thinking, sketching, facilitating and organizing teams, and a few other things would be extremely helpful.
To do that, I am using the Open Master’s program both to help organize my learning process and also to help me build a community of peers and mentors around me in the process. I expect my plans to change quite a bit as I go, but so far I have identified four main themes I want to explore as part of that learning process:
- The Art of Making Things Happen – including the skills of project design, business model design, design thinking, and systems thinking
- The Art of Communicating Big Ideas – or, more specifically, the art of writing, speaking, and sketching to help understand and communicate complex ideas or systems clearly.
- The Art of Hosting – or, the art of facilitating group process for teams and communities that are working together.
- The Art of Being – or, the art of keeping the two drops of oil in the spoon in the process.
I do not expect to master all of the skills in each of these categories, but within each of them I have articulated specific goals for skills I want to master and how I will demonstrate my mastery of each, practical experiences and learning experience I want to have to help get me there, and resources I can use along the way. I will use this site as a public storehouse for these lists as I go about adding, refining, and checking them off, and will use this blog to report and reflect on my progress.
I am not going about everything on these lists in any particular order, but I will be working through them slowly and surely over the next few years, as opportunities present themselves. By virtue of being part of the Open Master’s community, I am already finding that there are opportunities for creating some of the learning experiences I hope to have with others, and I will let that guide my priorities for now.
What “finishing” my Open Master’s would mean to me:
My Open Master’s journey is more of a practitioner’s journey than an academic one. I will be reading and writing about ideas, but I am not seeking publication or literary esteem. The real test of my progress will be in my work and in the skills I have demonstrated in practice. Some possible litmus tests that I will use to know when I my Open Master’s process is drawing to a close could include:
- Feeling totally confident being able to start or run an incubator program, educational program, or investment fund for social innovators.
- Feeling well-qualified to work as a project coach or adviser at a university or other types of education program for social innovators.
- Noticing that I have become very skilled at bringing together any team around an innovative idea and facilitating them through each stage of bringing their idea to life.