Posts by Kimberly Maul


What to do when it’s time to walk away

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(Photo credit: Anson0618, via Shutterstock)

While we might know when a relationship, job, or project is over, that doesn’t always mean we’re ready to leave. Recently in the Atlantic, Heidi Grant Halvorson argues that the reason we hesitate to let go is that many of us tend to be prevention focused, or loss-averse. So, we fret over the amount of time, money, or energy we’ve put into something and refuse to walk away because we can’t bear the loss.

The better solution? She argues we should adopt a promotion-focused way of thinking by asking: what will I gain from moving on?

As studies by behavioral economists like Daniel Kahnemen and Dan Ariely show, people are generally loss-averse. Putting in a lot, only to end up with nothing to show for it, is just too awful for most of us to seriously consider. The problem is one of focus. We worry far too much about what we’ll lose if we just move on, instead of focusing on the costs of not moving on: more wasted time and effort, more unhappiness, and more missed opportunities.

Recent research by Northwestern University psychologists Daniel Molden and Chin Ming Hui demonstrates an effective way to be sure you are making the best decisions when things go awry: focus on what you have to gain by moving on, rather than what you have to lose. When people think about goals in terms of potential gain, that’s a “promotion focus,” which makes them more comfortable making mistakes and accepting losses. When people adopt a “prevention focus,” they think about goals in terms of what they could lose if they don’t succeed, so they become more sensitive to sunk costs. This is the focus people usually adopt, if unconsciously, when deciding whether or not to walk away. It usually tells us not to walk away, even when we should.

What do you think? Have you ever had to walk away from something that wasn’t working out? How did you know? And what made you make that move away?

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Lessons on being creative from highly creative people

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Photo credit: Leszek Glasner, Shutterstock

Fast Company recently highlighted its top 100 Creative People in Business, including Nate Silver, Scott Harrison, and actors Bryan Cranston and Connie Britton. (Also Michelle Rowley, who we recently featured on our blog.)

The site went one step further, teasing out five habits that several of these creative people discussed—and what we can learn from them. Here are a few that stood out to us:

Max Levchin: Always be asking questions

We talked to PayPal founder Max Levchin about how he keeps snagging startup ideas. Turns out it’s a lot about controlling chaos in ways we’ve discussed about why ideas come at random and why you need to document everything.

Levchin’s method is like this: He talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles–and reviews–all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies–like his new mobile payment solution Affirm–and loads of paper. Dude has a crate of 200 legal pads sitting in his garage.

Kendrick Lamar: Be an example

What’s it take to make what many consider the best rap album of the decade? Kendrick Lamar unpacked a bit of the origin of his miraculous good kid, m.A.A.d City: he grew up in Compton, the California city that cradled gangster rap and serves as his inspiration.

“There are so many thoughts of being scared of failure when you’re trying something there,” he said. “And that’s what holds a lot of people back–when you’re stuck in this position, when you’re constantly seeing negative things and you want to do something positive but you’re scared that it might not work. I believed I could make an example for those around me–once I did and I started seeing some type of results, it made me believe I could represent the whole city.”

Creativity plays an important role in changing the world, as nonprofits and social entrepreneurs must be creative in their funding and outreach, collaborate with others working toward the same goal, and work toward constant innovation when it comes to solving the world’s problems.

How do you harness your creativity when you’re bringing your ideas to life?

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Want to be more innovative? Go play

Photo credit: Zurijeta, Shutterstock

Photo credit: Zurijeta, Shutterstock

There are many different strategies to brainstorming, developing creative ideas, and getting the juices flowing. Author Bruce Nussbaum talks about using play to get innovative in his recently-released book, Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire. In an excerpt from the book on Co.Design, Nussbaum shares examples of how letting people who trust each other have some fun in a safe space has led to innovation and development.

For some time, American society has viewed play as kid stuff; it’s been dismissed as trivial or marginalized as the territory of those lucky enough to work in creative fields or the arts. And there’s some truth to the misconception. For centuries, musicians, painters, and dancers have utilized the strategies of play to create masterpieces. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, the sculptor Richard Serra, known for his huge installations of sheet metal bent into spirals, ellipses, and arcs, explained his process: “In play you don’t foresee an end product. It allows you to suspend judgment. Often the solution to one problem sparks a possibility for another set of problems. . . . In the actual building of something you see connections you could not possibly have foreseen on that scale unless you were physically there.” Though there are countless ways of playing, play can be defined as tossing aside the rules of “regular life” for a period of time in order to follow new rules or try new possibilities. Play can exist within the structure of a formal game, but it doesn’t have to. (In fact, the words “play” and “game” are interchangeable in a number of languages, including German, though we separate the two in English.)

We often aim to achieve a goal, but sometimes we play simply for the joy of it. Playing can involve strategies–some simple, some very complex. Some games teach you everything you need to know before you begin; in others, you learn to play as you play to win.

When we play, we try things on and try things out. We improvise, taking on new roles, imagining what would happen if we possessed new capabilities or behaved differently. We throw away what doesn’t work and build on what does. We can play alone or compete against someone else; we can collaborate with another person or a team against a larger enemy. We may lose a game or a battle, but there is always the chance to start again.

Nussbaum emphasized that there do need to be rules and boundaries—including knowing that there are no right or wrong answers and making sure it is the right group of people who trust each other—and that play doesn’t always lead to a breakthrough. When using play as a brainstorming tactic, Nussbaum encourages people and businesses to look at problems as challenges to be overcome and to be a bit silly in their actions.

Do you use play in your creative life? What rules do you put in place for your brainstorming? What ideas has playtime given you?

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Are the happiest people changing the world?

Photo credit: photobank.kiev.ua, Shutterstock

Photo credit: photobank.kiev.ua, Shutterstock

Here’s a question for you: are you happy changing the world? Does that spur you on to do bigger and better things? In an article on Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter talks about how people who have the toughest jobs tackling worldwide issues and causes are often the happiest, because they can see how their work has meaning.

The happiest people I know are dedicated to dealing with the most difficult problems. Turning around inner city schools. Finding solutions to homelessness or unsafe drinking water. Supporting children with terminal illnesses. They face the seemingly worst of the world with a conviction that they can do something about it and serve others.

For many social entrepreneurs, happiness comes from the feeling they are making a difference.

In research for my book Evolve!, I identified three primary sources of motivation in high-innovation companies: mastery, membership, and meaning. Another M, money, turned out to be a distant fourth. Money acted as a scorecard, but it did not get people up-and-at ‘em for the daily work, nor did it help people go home every day with a feeling of fulfillment.

I see that same spirit in business teams creating new initiatives that they believe in. Gillette’s Himalayan project team took on the challenge of changing the way men shave in India, where the common practice of barbers using rusty blades broken in two caused bloody infections. A team member who initially didn’t want to leave Boston for India found it his most inspiring assignment. Similarly, Procter & Gamble’s Pampers team in Nigeria find happiness facing the problem of infant mortality and devising solutions, such as mobile clinics that sent a physician and two nurses to areas lacking access to health care.

People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges if they care about the outcome.

While obstacles will arise, working together on human issues can be emotional and bring people closer together. Additionally, Kanter said, such large issues can diminish day-to-day annoyances and issues.

What do you think? Does your work give you a purpose and make you happy even when faced with adversity?

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UNICEF takes a stand against ‘slacktivism’

UNICEF Sweden's Ad

UNICEF Sweden’s Ad

It’s almost impossible to avoid ‘slacktivism’ these days, with people changing their Twitter pictures to represent a cause or issue and liking nonprofit organizations on Facebook with the best of intentions. But how much does that really help? UNICEF Sweden put out an ad and video last week, admonishing those people who just post on social media about their support for a cause. In an article about the campaign, The Atlantic wrote:

Now, UNICEF Sweden is the first major international charity to come right out and say that people who actually want hungry, sick children saved need to donate money and supplies — not just virtual support.

“We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there,” said UNICEF Sweden Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant. “Likes don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines for instance.”

UNICEF’s might be an extreme perspective, but it does raise interesting questions about how charity organizations should spread their messages online without allowing their potential donors to get stuck in slacktivist land, retweeting links and changing profile pictures without ever opening their wallets.

The article goes on to cite a study from Georgetown University and Ogilvy Worldwide, which found that “social promoters were just as likely as non-social-promoters to give money, but they were slightly more likely to volunteer their time (30 percent, versus 15 percent for non-social-promoters).”

Is ‘slacktivism’ really a problem or should organizations enjoy the awareness and buzz, and try to raise money another way?

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Start the year with these professional development opportunities

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Yes, it’s cliche, but January is the perfect time for resolutions, goal-setting, and making plans to better yourself throughout the year. Here are some events, webinars, and other activities of note to help you with your professional development this month.

Job-Hunting Help. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, and one-third of employees are, look for online resources to help you make the most of social media and learn more about potential future careers.

  • Learn how to leverage the new LinkedIn profiles in a paid webinar from Jason Alba, the author of I’m on LinkedIn—Now What??? on January 17.
  • Join #JobHuntChat on Twitter, Monday evenings from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST.
  • @HFChat (Hire Friday Chat) also hosts #HFChat with career experts on Fridays at 12:00 p.m. EST.
  • NY Creative Interns hosts Creative Q&A virtual events, and on January 16 at 8:00 p.m. EST, Tina Yip, community manager for R/GA will talk about getting into and advancing in the social media industry.

Local Events. If you live in one of these cities below, check out the interesting workshops and panels taking place during January.

Free Online Events and Resources. No matter where you are located, you can easily attend several free webinars in January related to nonprofit management and operations.

Conferences. Do you have the time and money to attend a conference that’s not in your zip code? Plan ahead with a couple conferences set for early February.

Fellowship and Mentorship Programs. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth and long term, there are several fellowships and internships in public service, government, and more that have January deadlines.

Management Training. Even if you are a bit farther along in your career or more set at your organization, there are still ways you can grow and learn.

And don’t forget to volunteer. Volunteering during your free time is definitely be one ongoing way you can boost your career, especially when the career is in nonprofits. Martin Luther King, Jr. day is Monday, January 21, and there are many volunteer opportunities available on Idealist and elsewhere for that three-day weekend.

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