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 get more women in tech? Let Code Scouts guide you

Want to learn how to make websites, apps, and more but don’t know where to start? Code Scouts in Portland, Oregon can help. This post originally appeared on good.is, a global community of people who give a damn.

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Founder Michelle Rowley and Kevin Turner, who recently joined Code Scouts full-time as their Chief Technology Officer. (Photo by Jason Grilicky.)

At the kickoff event for Code Scouts—a nonprofit providing support and resources to women learning to code—founder Michelle Rowley stands in front of a room of almost all women, welcoming both new and familiar faces in the Portland, Oregon tech community.

She confesses how, at first, she didn’t feel smart or empowered enough to become a software developer. And how it wasn’t until her developer ex-husband said he’d help her learn that she traded her geography and French degrees for hacking.

To get to this point—being one of the 18 percent of developers today that are women—Michelle had a few things in her favor: a father who didn’t think twice about teaching her computer skills when she asked him growing up, a partner who believed in her, and friends in the scene who encouraged her to attend conferences and meetups.

She had hands helping her; now she wants to do the same.

“I want to take the experience and privilege I’ve had and give it to people who haven’t. Just for fun,” she says. “And I think it would change things.”

It’s no secret that knowing how to code comes with all sorts of benefits: good pay, flexible hours, and esteem in the eyes of colleagues and peers. But it’s also an industry known for its competitiveness, locker room atmosphere, and lack of diversity.

That’s where Code Scouts comes in. Michelle, who has been helping lead the Portland Python User Group since 2008, came up with the idea last year as a way to bridge the gap between the people creating the internet (mostly men) and the people using it (mostly women). By creating a safe space for learners to play around with 1’s and 0’s, and, more importantly, be okay with messing up, Michelle hopes to spread the coding love, and wealth, to new faces.

“Code Scouts exists to pull more people out of the woodwork who are thinking about doing it but are scared to even approach the situation,” she says. ” It can be a scary jungle. We’re guides in Code Scouts. We’ll go in that jungle with you.”

Women have come to the monthly event with varying skill levels and backgrounds. Marta McCasland, for one, has been learning coding on and off on her own for the past year. She works as a loan processor at a credit union, and hopes the skills she’s learning at Code Scouts will help her better serve her customers. She also wants to develop a geolocation-based apartment finder app in her spare time.

To do this, her Code Scouts guide will lead her down a path of available resources like Treehouse and Codeacademy. Over the course of the afternoon they’ll work together to find the right starting point, form learning circles with others at her level, and hopefully, make long-lasting connections.

“It feels like I’m surrounded by people who might actually have the same questions I have, whereas in other groups it feels like, ‘Should I ask this? Is everyone going to be like, Why are you asking that?”” Marta says.

While the nonprofit’s formal mission is to get more women in the tech industry, Michelle is also addressing a deeper issue: newbie shaming. Cliques are common, and more often than not, she says, expertise becomes the marker of whether you’re in or out. “Dumb” questions are usually cause for ridicule.

It can be uninviting for outsiders. And not just women.

“Guys are coming out to me and saying they don’t feel welcome in that scene either,” she says.

Michelle allows some men to participate in Code Scouts, and there are some male mentors. The values listed in the code of conduct—respect, kindness, generosity, growth, community—make it clear that no jerks are allowed.

At the start of the event, Michelle makes it a habit to encourage everyone to embrace the mistakes they’re bound to make in the next four hours—as well as in the rest of their coding lives.

“Be willing to do it wrong a thousand times,” she says. “This is the space to be wrong and still feel good about it.”

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Starting with San Francisco, Michelle’s ultimate goal is to have Code Scouts chapters in many, many other places. To learn more or get involved, follow them on Twitter or get in touch with Michelle: adventure@codescouts.org.

Read more from Idealist on good.is.

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6 strategies for nonprofits to face failure head on

We often talk about the value of failure but what does it mean to create an organizational culture that embraces it? Rachel Jansen, Writer, and Ashley Good, CEO and Founder of Fail Forward, a project of Engineers Without Borders Canada, talk about how to move past the fear of failing.

Most of us have thought of changes we’d like to see to make the world a better place. But the first hurdle many of us face is the fear of failure.The Goat is to be Halal - Field-level Lessons on Scaling Community Led Total Sanitation

We’d like to suggest that getting over that fear starts with accepting that, no matter how smart, well-intentioned, and hard working we are, failure is going to happen because almost everything we do has elements of both success and failure.

Our organizations tend to be set up in a manner that discourages open communication about tough issues; open admission of failure comes with risk and poses a threat to our self-esteem and worth in the eyes of others.

How can we change this? How do we accept failure and allow ourselves to step outside of the box and try new things?

Embrace and share your failures

Engineers Without Borders Canada has been publishing an annual Failure Report since 2008. From the very beginning, they’ve strived to encourage a culture of learning through open communication and transparency. Employees and volunteers are expected to share their failures all year round.

With such a viewpoint in mind, there are many ways to encourage communication about failures, support collaborative learning, and break down much of the fear associated with taking action. Here are a few:

  • Start with managers. Management should role model the behaviour of speaking openly about their failures. Top-level buy-in is essential as it develops trust, and communicates that we all fail.
  • Gain permission from those involved in a failure before implicating them with your story. This prevents hard feelings and encourages communication between all parties involved in a failure where the various perspectives can lead to deeper insights.
  • Face failures head on. Try not to euphemize or avoid the big issues by tackling less important ones.
  • Recognize and emphasize that just because a person failed does not mean they are a failure. It’s important to separate ego from activity if we are to feel safe sharing our stories.
  • Never blame. The failures that teach us the most tend to be the result of multiple factors and are rarely caused by a single person or error.
  • Build the conversations about failures and learning into formal structures such as team meetings or project reviews to make sure everyone is encouraged to share. The idea is to turn the idea of failure on its head by implicitly saying “If you do not have a failure to share, you’re either not being honest or you’re not being innovative.”

These initial steps are only the first building blocks in creating an environment where it is okay to discuss failures, and more importantly, to learn from and adapt to them.

What barriers do you, your team, or organization face when talking about failure?  Have you used any of the strategies above to overcome them?

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Learn more about building resilience to failure at Fail Forward or by emailing ashley@failforward.org

 

 

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How one woman is connecting all of Chicago

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

I’m horrible at improv comedy. If someone were to tell me that I should sign up for a class by myself, with a bunch of random strangers, and perform to a crowd of 700 plus people at the end, I’d tell them they were crazy.

Which is why I probably need to do it. Saya Hillman from Chicago-based Mac ‘n Cheese Productions agrees. After she convinced friends who didn’t know each other to dance a hip-hop routine on stage with her so she could check it off her life to-do list, she saw the immediate bonding that came with shared vulnerability. Fear Experiment, where you perform an art form that terrifies you, was thus born.

Dancers from the first Fear Experiment show at Park West Theater in April 2010. (Photo via Rich Chapman: richchapmanphoto.com/rwc)

There’s no one succinct way to describe Mac ‘n Cheese Productions. Besides Fear Experiment, other offerings include: minglers, an ideas salon, meetups, dinner parties, events for women entrepreneurs, a newsletter of referrals for local businesses, and most recently, retreats. Her long-term dream, though? A summer camp for adults.

“It can be awkward to go to stuff. I try to remove all the “ick” factors in traditional ways of meeting people and getting out there so to speak,” she says.

Saya is also big on giving back. Fear Experiment participants volunteer as pen pals and teachers to an underserved population, and the students are treated to dinner and the show. Folks from her network, called Cheese-Its, also regularly sponsor a Rwandan boy’s education, and she started a Chicago chapter of BC Cares, the volunteering arm of Boston College alum.

Whether it’s providing opportunities for community service or confronting your own perceived limitations, Saya is all about getting others to “Live a life of yes!”

“I’m trying to help people not be paralyzed by fear and low self-esteem. It’s really hard for people to see the positives in themselves often,” she says. “I hope I’m able to bring that out in themselves. And not only recognize it, but to own it and do something good with it as well.”

Obstacles

Eight years ago Saya got laid off from her job as a video producer. She had no plans of being an entrepreneur; the only thing she knew was she didn’t want “boss” in her vocabulary anymore.

Motivated by having to pay rent and the possibility of being forced to move back home, Saya’s first step was to figure out how long $300 in savings and unemployment checks would last. Turns out not long; Saya had to just jump and figure it out along the way.

Here are some of the challenges she faced:

Obstacle: Plan or no plan?
Solution: Saya started out wanting to create her own video company for special events. She didn’t know the first thing about running a business, and people advised to have a plan. But while she loves lists, having a plan wasn’t her thing. So she researched other companies. Shadowed videographers. Contacted a local business development center. Used collaborative tech tools like Creative Cow.

A year into being self-employed Saya was continuing  with her tradition of throwing dinner parties for friends who didn’t know each other when strangers began wanting in. It was then Saya realized she could make it into a business. Mac ‘n Cheese soon morphed from a media company to a people connector company. “I didn’t imagine any of it, but that’s what I love about it. There’s always something new and exciting,” she says.

Obstacle: Financial insecurity
Solution: From buying video equipment to coordinating events, Saya continually opted for the most economical ways to get things done. She was careful not to get herself into situations that would cause a huge debt to hang over her head.

She would also occasionally do pro-bono video jobs, and anytime she has given something away for free or low-cost, it has always come back to her in a positive way. “More often than not people say ‘yes’ to my outlandish requests and go above and beyond what I was expecting,” she says.

Obstacle: Working solo
Solution: Saya knew not having co-workers to bounce ideas off of was going to be hard for her, so she immediately started reaching out to her networks. She kept with this trend, and a few years later, began going to events in the city by herself as part of an experiment called the “The Solo Life.

The amount of people she knew in Chicago increased exponentially, and now connecting and collaborating with people from all walks of life is her bread and butter. “When you go into situations where you’re meeting people, I learned the power of listening, and the power of not going into something just thinking about what you need out of the situation,” she says.

Advice

Saya is thrilled that she was fired all those years ago. From meeting her fiancé to inspiring a woman to start a dog walking business, the amount of friendships, partnerships, and startups she has encouraged through her events are numerous and far-ranging.

“I love infecting people with ED, entrepreneurial disease,” Saya says. “It’s the best thing in the world.”

Saya introducing Fear Experiment. (Photo via Rich Chapman.)

Here’s how she thinks you can move forward on your idea:

Starting out

  • When you can’t find something that you want, create it. Or attempt to create it at least.
  • Make lists. What would you love to get paid for no matter how crazy it sounds, what your ideal job looks like, super-connectors you know, skills you have.
  • Ask. Once you have your lists, email the super-connectors. “People won’t know how to help you if they don’t know you need help.”
  • Steal ideas. “When you’re designing your own life of yes, there are a lot of smart people who’ve already created a lot of amazing things.”
  • Figure out what your priorities are. Know what you can and cannot sacrifice, because you’re not going to do or have everything you want in the beginning.
  • Don’t worry so much about money. “If you can find other things that you do have, such as a skill, people are really willing to trade and barter these days.”

For the ladies

  • Refer, refer, refer. “Word of mouth is something women are really good at. This will come back to benefit you ten-fold, as it’s usually win-win-win.”
  • Don’t be afraid to self-promote. It’s totally fine to boast.
  • View others as collaborators, not competitors. There’s always an opportunity to work with someone new.

Staying motivated

  • Meet people without expectations. “If you go to a networking event with the idea that you want to get three new clients, it will be a total disaster.”
  • Don’t wait for the perfect time. Stop coming up with excuses; it’s never going to feel like the right time.
  • Take the leap. What’s the worst that can happen?

“You have to figure out what’s good advice and what’s bad advice. What’s good for someone else might not be good for you,” Saya finally says. “Trust your gut.”

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Want to live your own life of yes? Feel free to chat with Saya about entrepreneurism and self-employment through @sayahillman on Twitter. She is also available for speaking engagements.

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[Idea File] FailFaire: An event of errors

Confronting mistakes head on is often done in the business sector, but not so much in the nonprofit world. Why? There can be a lot at stake – maybe you have to answer to donors, or you work with vulnerable populations, or you’re worried about offending someone.

But mistakes happen. They happen often. And if we’re honest enough to admit our mistakes to ourselves and to others—and have a sense of humor about it—we can learn a lot.

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Photo via Kristen Taylor (Flickr)

This is the philosophy behind FailFaire, an event hosted by MobileActive.org. The gathering focuses on errors related to MobileActive’s mission (using cell phones in development work). Attendees discuss how X project slipped through the cracks or why Y grant never came through. But instead receiving stern looks of disapproval, the atmosphere is open and supportive. Drinks and food are served alongside failures, and presenters are encouraged to be honest, light-hearted and even irreverent.

The idea is quickly catching on. The first FailFaire event was held in New York City this summer. The World Bank co-hosted an event in Washington, D.C. a few months later, and recently the Social Capital Market’s Conference copied the model and held one in San Francisco revolving around social entrepreneurship. The potential for FailFaire to be replicated all over the world, covering not only facets of the nonprofit sector but other fields as well,  is enormous.

If you’re failure-friendly, the site has a tip sheet of how to host your own event and a blog with some great stories and advice.

FailFaire could very well be the beginnings of a cultural shift in the nonprofit sector – and I have a feeling it won’t fail.

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