I feel grateful for the deep sense of calling and purpose and passion I experience in my work. But it took me over a decade to understand how to effectively lead teams with huge ambitious missions.
Last week, I gave a talk as part of Stanford’s “Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders” series. It’s my advice to future leaders who want to Do Great Things. I take you on a journey through my own story of going from Stanford to Google to Facebook to Asana, and then explore:
- The Tactics you need to lead teams with big visions.
- How to keep teams on track and accountable using management techniques we learned from Apple, as well as a simple effective tool we call the Company Calendar. (36:24)
- How to use Toyota “5 Whys” technique to continuously improve your organization. (25:52)
- How to Manage your own psychology as a leader, and the great advice I got from Ben Horowitz. (39:33)
- How to ignore the voices in your head.
- How to accept that you are not an imposter.
- The Values you need to leading teams with big visions. (22:55)
- How to build a company as a collective of peers, instead of a traditional top-down hierarchy.
- How walking the walk on values like mindfulness and balance lead to healthier, more efficient companies.
- How to be radically transparent, even when it hurts.
- A Vision for humanity in which we come together to create unprecedented global human thriving by seeing past our own limited self-interest. (18:06)
I feel grateful for the deep sense of calling and purpose and passion I feel.
It almost feels like I am not building Asana, but that there is something that’s coming through me that wants to be expressed in the world. Something that will help potentially make human beings happier, reduce suffering, make the world a not only happier but a more interesting place.
I want to talk today first about my own journey in coming to this place in my life, talk about a big vision for humanity that I hope will be inspiring to all of you and can encompass a lot of other visions, as well as how we are manifesting some of that specifically in Asana. And then in the second half we’ll look at some values, some leadership tactics, and some ways of managing your own psychology that I have found invaluable in leading teams that have these big ambitious missions. So practical advice for you as you execute on your own big visions or join other people’s big visions.
When I was 10, I got my first computer, and I was immediately fascinated by this magical box. It was so incredible to me. I started writing little games that I could give to friends on floppy disks, and it occurred to me that I was writing code once but then all of these different people throughout my middle school were getting to enjoy the benefits of that. I didn’t have the word “leverage” at the time, but that was a really great taste of that experience. And as I grew up I wanted to give bigger gifts to more people with even more leverage.
I came into Stanford a not particularly socialized, very nerdy, heady person, and being at Stanford really helped me understand that the benefits of being able to work in the complex juicy space of individual human interactions and how to think about teams and how to lead teams.
After that I went to Google. Interestingly, some of the bigger projects that I worked on were total abject failures. But I managed to make a bunch of contributions along the way. At some point Google was working on a standalone IM client. I asked, why don’t we just put that inside of Gmail, because people are already communication inside of Gmail, why don’t we just add a real time component. My boss at the time said, oh yeah, we thought of that and it’s impossible. I pushed back, but he assured me, even bet met that it will never be done inside a browser. So I went home that night and wrote a simple prototype of chat in a browser, showed it to the him next morning, and the chat inside of Gmail project started. So, the lesson there is, when people tell you something is impossible, be very skeptical.
After that I went to Facebook in engineering management and tech leading. I did a bunch of things that were really exciting to me, including Facebook Pages, which was a really cool way to allow non-human entities to also participate in the social graph. And then my Hackathon project was the “Like” button which I helped lead the development of as well.
Then I helped start Asana. At this point we’re at 40 people, and I’m really proud of where we’ve gotten so far. It has become this communication and coordination system that, for a lot of companies, replaces the majority of their email. We have tons of different tech companies who rely on Asana as a core backbone of what they do. We also have companies in all sorts of other industries that are using it as this deep improvement to the way they communicate. People talk about the impact that it’s had on their ability to accomplish their missions in life, and achieve their visions has just been so powerful, and for me that’s the most gratifying thing of all.
Passion for Life
Pretty much every single day I wake up, and then multiple times throughout the day, I have this moment of complete and utter shock and awe and joy that we are alive. How unbelievably crazy is it that there is a universe at all or that within that universe we are these sentient little monkey beings tooling around with the first person perspective interacting with each other; I love the universe so deeply with all my heart and I am so inspired by this impossibly rare gift of being incarnate and alive and on top of that it’s finite, where we only get to experience this for a short period of time, and that has inspired me to just want to live every single day to the fullest.
Early on that led me to a self-centered hedonism. That’s pretty much how I lived for about 20 years. Until I started to realize that it was not working, you think like the shortest path from here to living life to the fullest would be try to take everything you can, but it turned out that it was really a miserable failure. As I have done more personal growth and studied the nature of man as a social animal, I realized that the way we achieve deep satisfaction and joy is ironically by giving of ourselves. And I don’t mean giving of yourselves all day all the time. There is an inhale and there is an exhale. I spend about half of life being a hedonist, and about half of my life contributing back, trying to do everything I can to help others to manifest love in the world, and to try to reduce suffering and create joy and explore consciousness, but in partnership with all sentient beings.
What are the most leveraged ways I can actually have this impact? I could go and build houses for people one a time. It would be satisfying to them and satisfying to me, I’d get to look them in the eye. But technology has been this huge game changer for our ability to have impact at such an enormous scale. Contributing one feature to Google Search helps people gain more access to knowledge which in turn allows them to do important things which in turn allows them to solve world problems. This is in some ways so much more exciting than building one house at a time. I am really drawn to tech as this outlet for having huge positive impact on the world.
The birth of Asana
One manifestation of that for me has been Asana. Of all the things I could work on this feels like the most important thing given my particular skill sets. When I first started at Google, I had this romanticized notion of, okay, I am product manager now, I am going to spend my time constructing a vision and a bold way forward and being at all these strategy meetings and thinking at this high level of abstraction. I was very wrong. I was spending literally 90 percent of my time on the friction and overhead of coordination. Making sure that the left hand knew what the right hand was doing, running the status meetings, making sure that when this got completed the next person knew their part was ready. More tragic was that individual engineers, individual designers, these people who were some of the world’s best at what they did, they were spending just sixty – huge percents of their time not doing work, not doing the thing they are passionate about but doing work about work. Reading emails and writing emails.
While I was at Google I actually built this small internal project management system that had about a thousand users by the time l left. When I went to Facebook — I thought I had problems!, but the person who recruited me, Dustin, who was the VP of engineering at the time, he had problems just so much worse, he had like 20 managers who reported to him, and they each had 20 reports under them. So, he literally just couldn’t figure out what was going on in his own company, let alone steer the ship as he wanted to as a leader.
And so, he and I just started hanging out until like 3:00 in the morning every night just kind of fantasizing, okay, what would the ultimate solution to this problem look like, if we could build anything, like what would the software look like that would get us basically as close to this asymptote of telepathy as we can imagine. And Dustin being a doer more than a dreamer at some point was like, all right, I am just going to start building this thing. So he was – being VP by day and writing this software on the side, and this thing just took off so much in the company that eventually he stepped down from VP just to be an individual contributor on this tool set. Because he found that was more leveraged as a way to help the company than running the engineering.
And the more we got into it, the more we just like saw the impact on our daily lives. Like the number of meetings I was in dropped dramatically, the number of emails I had dropped dramatically, the speed at which we were going increased dramatically. And at some point we just stopped and we realized like this is not a problem that’s unique to Facebook or unique to Google or unique to tech as a whole, this is a problem of all of humanity. Because basically all human endeavor, so whether you are talking about starting a small company or a Fortune 500, or a non-profit or an art project, or a government but basically everything that we do as a species we do in teams. We come together, we align our energy in a common direction towards some common vision and execute it together, hopefully harmoniously and hopefully in sync. That’s the idea and it’s amazing how much progress we have made given historically how limited our tools were for coordinating our collective action, and obviously email helps a lot, but email has become – we have really reached the limits of what email is capable of. And so the idea there could be something better was just so enticing to us. And to see there actually was something better was so amazing that even though we loved Facebook and that was obviously a super leveraged place to be and to be able to create impact, but at some point we realized this was a Facebook sized opportunity, this was just something that was so profoundly, so profound in its ability to change the world.
Because, what if you could take every single project and accelerate it by 10 percent or 20 percent or double its effectiveness, I mean the kinds of things we are capable of doing today relative to the kinds of things we were capable before email or the cell phone or the telegraph, these sorts of communication technologies just keep taking you to the next level.
And so, I make enterprise software for a living, which at first sounds very boring. But let me show you why this is so enticing to me. There is a company Emerald Therapeutics that’s literally working on curing viral diseases. They’re all in white lab coats, but all working on interconnected moving parts of this really complex chemistry process. And they said that the impact that Asana had on their ability to work together and collaborate and move forward just enabled whole groups of people to start working on this problem who couldn’t before, because they were stuck doing middle management. So, the idea of literally accelerating the curing of disease through this technological infrastructure is so exciting. And similarly there is this NGO Nyaya Health that’s working on bringing healthcare to Nepal’s rural poor. So they have hundreds of people across two continents working on this complex operation, and they just described the impact that Asana has had on both the quantity and the quality of care they can provide as “mind blowing.”
Those are just two examples, either of which would have been such a great thing to devote myself to all by itself. The idea that we can build the infrastructure layer that helps everyone at the same time is just a super-exciting way to think about this vision. Even bigger than that though, even bigger than helping individual Fortune 500 companies or individual teams be able to work together, I think what’s really most exciting about this vision in the long term – and Asana alone won’t do it — is to imagine if all of humanity could coordinate its collective action seamlessly without effort. Imagine if all of us could work together towards a single common goal, a single project.
Let’s step back and put this in perspective.
A fork in the road for humanity
At this point the universe is 14 billion years old. For the vast majority of that time it was basically just some rocks and some stars hanging out in empty space. And over a very, very recent time slice of that we’ve had this big change where there is all this complexity that’s arisen on planet earth, and within an even smaller time slice of that we have the evolution of consciousness as we know it. And 200 years ago we were wiping our asses with bark. And now all of a sudden, in just the last 50 out 14 billion years, we are empowered with all this technology in a totally, totally unprecedented way.
And strangely it seems that we’re on this cusp where there are two paths that seem equally likely. On the one hand you have the path of “kaput.” Between global warming and biological warfare and other global catastrophic risks, we are at this point where the global warming science shows that, whether it’s 30 years or 300 years, we are on an exponentially increasing trajectory, we are going to consume all the resources and very likely leave the earth in a much less pleasant state than the one we are enjoying today.
That’s basically just rampant short-sightedness and an inability to come together and solve global problems because everyone is focused on their individual desires. There is an alternative world where we are able to solve those problems, if we are able to come together to coordinate our collective action, to see ourselves not as a bunch of individuals vying for what is in our own interest but to instead think about the we as a whole, to identify with humanity’s interest as a whole, which I also think will lead to more individual human happiness. If we are able to come together and see us as basically part of one big Project, not a series of little teams competing with each other, but a single company working toward a single ends. We could break through! Instead of the complexity of earth looking like this exponential trajectory and then kaput, it could instead keep going. We could manage to make the world sustainable, to make our consumption sustainable, to find new ways to do things like solve the ridiculous problem we have that we have enough food to feed everyone but it’s not well-distributed, and to allow everyone to have the resources they need to contribute to the world in the way that they should be capable of, and instead to continue on this exponential trajectory in a world of abundance, in a world where we are all exploring our creative possibilities and our creative potential.
So we really are in this place where we can choose either of these worlds, and it really is a question of “Do we have the will to come together and see ourselves and align our interest together as a single species?”, as well as “Do we have the actual tools and skills and technology in order to be able to effectively coordinate that will even if we all share it?”
Asana is one of these sorts of visions that I think fits into this, what I call the One Project, the single human project for global thriving, where we are all coming together and all contributing our particular unique skills to this grand tapestry of creation and doing something great in the world. But there are all sorts of other pieces of this that are going to be contributing – and it’s everything from things that sound philanthropic like healthcare but I would even put something like Lyft, which is enabling car sharing to allow us to have fewer cars produced.
As you go out into the world, I encourage you not to focus on how do I get as much money and accolades as possible. That seems to be a fool’s errand in terms of happiness and it misses out on the opportunity to contribute to this giant opportunity that we have to make the world a more exciting place. Here are some things that have been working for me. Leading big ambitious visions can be on a day-to-day basis very rough on the psyche — this stuff is not easy — so hopefully this will help.
Values for leading big visions
“Values” are so important to a company’s success. I learned that here at Stanford. Values aren’t the things you put in the new-hire packet and never mention again. Values are the things that you repeatedly come back to, words we use on an hourly basis inside meetings, deeply embedded in the culture. Here are some unusual ones we have at Asana.
Mindfulness. Know what you’re doing. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how uncommon it is. Stay focused on “Is this what we want to be doing? Is this aligned with our values? Are there other things we should be doing instead?”
Every other Friday, we have an all-hands TGIF, and everyone goes around the room and says (1) one thing about the company that they’re excited about and (2) one opportunity for improvement. (Not “one thing we’re doing badly” — problems are just opportunities.) Many things are cool about this process. One is the energy that you accumulate going around the room and everyone saying what they are excited about. Everyone knows to do more of that, and it’s a celebration. By the end of the meeting, we are typically kind of on this high together it’s like, wow, we really are doing something really exciting. It emboldens us to continue our hard work. On the things we could be paying more attention to, what’s so great about that is, you never end up in the situation as I have seen before where a problem festers for six months and everyone is kind of thinking about it in the back of their head, but they are not sure if they are alone, they are not sure if it’s okay to voice it to their peers or to management and then it’s only six months later that it’s not only festered but it has gotten out of control and it’s hard. But on an at least a biweekly basis, we’re going through and surfacing what people think we should be spending more attention on, so we just don’t get that festering – we don’t get stuck with those things. Everyone is very open and honest in contributing what could we be going better.
And it’s actually gotten to the point where we go around the room now and everyone says something they are excited about, but only a few people, sometimes no one says something that could use improvement, because we have just addressed each thing so systematically. Every time someone does mention something, we address it, and get a little bit better, a little bit better.
A related process is ‘Five Whys.’ It’s part of the lean startup movement, but was originally pioneered at Toyota. Let’s say that the site crashes or we have a PR snafu or something else happens that we really wish would never happen again. We do this exercise called ‘Five Whys’ where we ask, Why did the site go down? We ran out of memory. Okay, why did we run out of memory? There wasn’t code in place to check that edge condition. Well, why wasn’t there a code in place? And you just keep going until by the time you get to your fifth why, you might get something like “Because we don’t sufficiently emphasize test driven development in our engineering onboarding process.”
That’s the less interesting part. The more interesting part is you then say for each of those ‘Whys’ what is the proportionate response that we can take in order to help avoid this happening again. You don’t want to go overboard. But you typically want to do something to help make sure that this is better in the future. “5 Whys” doesn’t take that long, but by taking the time to stop and reflect and think, we have an extremely stable product despite the fact that we push code every day. And engineering is just one example; throughout the company we run this process to always get a little bit better. If every day you get one percent better as a company, by the end of the year you will be 40x better.
Balance. Almost every time you are faced with a decision (which is all the time), there are typically two different extremes that you could take. And as a leader it’s tempting to say, let’s do one of these. Because by picking an extreme, you can be very clear. You can tell your reports this is exactly the trajectory that we are taking. But in general, both extremes are really bad.
The solution isn’t necessarily even to find a compromise that gets you half of the benefits of one and half of the other. Ideally you want to find a Middle Way that transcends the negatives of both of these things. So, I’ll give you a couple of examples on this.
Typically when you are doing any product decision there is a question of should we do this the Right Way or should we do this the Fast Way. This comes up in product, this comes up in engineering, in everything. This is a great example where either extreme is clearly terrible. If you spend an unbounded amount of time making things perfect before you ever ship, the market will pass you by and by the time you are ready to launch someone else will have taken that market share from you. But on the other hand if you just throw spaghetti at the wall and hope to see what sticks and maybe it will work and maybe it won’t, then you’ll really tarnish your brand because people will know that this is not a quality brand that we can actually rely upon.
So for us the middle way here is what we call pragmatic craftsmanship, which is to say, there really is no intellectual answer to how to make this call, but instead we hire people who have really, really good judgment. On the engineering side, technical chops are the minimum bar. We’re not just looking for technical ability, but also that wisdom that comes from deeply understanding “Should I take more time in this case or should I take less time in this case?”
Another good example of this is like “work-life balance”, which often implies “don’t worry too much about work,” but I mean it in a slightly different way. I find that if I work 40 hours a week, I can’t get done all the things I want to get done. But sometimes I try working 60 hours a week for week after week after week, and I find I get diminishing returns – I am actually just burning myself out by week five and not getting as much done as I would if I were spending less time.
So, instead, we invest both in the inhale and the exhale – working really hard on the exhale, but then taking the time to replenish on the inhale. That takes all sorts of forms including offering yoga at the company or really delicious free food or having social events together.
Radical transparency. At every board meeting, we take copious notes, and send these out to the whole company afterward. Often one randomly-selected person from the company who’s not on the board is invited to come to Asana board meeting, just so they can observe and learn and in some cases participate.
We have a weekly planning meeting that includes me, Dustin, our head of engineering, and our head of business. There are some things like HR issues, where it’s not our prerogative to share that with the whole company. We don’t share salaries; that’s really their personal information to share. But for almost everything else, again, we take copious notes, send those notes out to everyone in the company, and sometimes it starts a dialogue where people voice support for other options. Sometimes we just say we can’t explore every option, but generally we engage, and that creates this really collaborative process where people can have a lot of trust that we are thinking about the right things and making the right decisions.
Radical transparency also empowers people with enough knowledge that they don’t have to be micro-managed. Plus micro-management is impossible at the level of detailed required to build great products. Even when you are writing an individual `if` statement, or making an individual decision about some caching scheme, or designing small product details — all these can be improved by understanding the bigger picture, understanding who the customer is, how are we trying to serve them, what are the market conditions we are under, what are the ways in which we are trying to advance our brand is important. By providing people with context about their work, context about the overall goals of the company, context on our values and how we think it’s good to make decisions, rather than trying to control people’s actions and control people’s decisions, asanas are more effective. And we can hire people who are more seasoned and senior who are excited about contributing in a way that respects them as peers.
Company as collective of peers. The last 5 or 10 years, there has been this fetishization of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. People like Paul Graham are saying you’re a chump if you go and work for another company. I think this is ludicrous. Sometimes the most leveraged way to impact things is to start your own project, but usually there are just so many great ideas out there where the opportunity to play a big role in making those things a reality is at least as interesting. We can all be visionaries, if we find environments that allow us to come together and collaborate. I can see how people have come to Paul’s conclusion, because traditional companies are run in this way where there is a strong two-class structure, with visionaries on top making all the decisions and their peons executing.
Because of we run Asana as a collective of peers, we’re able to hire extraordinary people who could be running their own companies but who instead have come together to create this kind of super group. One example of a practice that embodies this is Roadmap Week. Every “episode” (basically every quarter) – we have a roadmap week where the whole company largely stops doing normal work and instead everyone is in a bunch of committees. (What’s nice about this of course is that we have a lot fewer meetings during the rest of the quarter. So, it’s again this rhythm of concentrated meetings and then fewer meetings.)
We’ll have a committee about mobile strategy, we’ll have a committee about our values, we’ll have a committee about how we are going to expand the design team, we’ll have a committee about the recruiting team, etc. Sometimes these committees consist of the people that you would expect, but sometimes they have someone in the customer support team who has read all the mobile complaints and so can represent the voice of the customer in the committee. Those committees are given again a lot of context ahead of time on overall values and how we broadly see, say, mobile fitting in with our strategy. But it’s up to the committee to reflect on where are we now, where could we be going, what are the different options, what are the pros and cons of those different options. Given those pros and cons what is our evaluation of how we should step forward, who are the right people to work on this, what are our requirements, what resources do we need, and they just put forth this plan for the next quarter for what we should do.
The committees collectively will sugget more work than we could possibly do, so the leadership team cuts things back a bit. But, in general, those committees really are making the decision. In theory, Dustin or I could override them and say, no-no you’ve missed the mark entirely, we should do this other thing. But that’s never actually happened. We trust people to make good decisions, collect input from the right people within the company, and then we go forward with those as the plans of record. That’s a much better situation for everyone.
Tactics for leading teams with big visions
Constantly taking the time to reflect on what you could be doing just a little bit better results in institutional processes that bake in, and over time you just get much-much better. We have tons of things like this. Here are just a couple that were surprising to me in their simplicity and how well they work.
Directly Responsible Individuals. For anything in the company, whether it’s as big as our security or as small as fixing a bug, there is exactly one person — not zero, not two — oneperson who is the “DRI,” a term we took from Apple. The DRI may have a huge team behind them that’s helping them execute that work, but there is always someone accountable who owns that particular thing. So it’s always clear who has the ball, who is driving this forward.
This works really well with the Company Calendar. You want to get a lot done, you want to have accountability. But I’ve always felt stuck in the past picking between two leadership styles. There’s the soft leadership style where you say “okay guys, let’s all work together to make this happen. Oh you missed your deadline, no problem.” And then the other side which is the hard driving, yell at people, tell them that they screwed up style. Neither of these appeals to me. So what we have done instead is this Company Calendar, a simple process where every Tuesday, everyone comes together and every team lead (or sometimes someone on their team) will update the calendar and say “here is a milestone that I commit to” in front of the whole company. So, to all their peers, not just to me, but to their peers they say, by this date I am going to ship this thing, or I am going to achieve this internal milestone.
We also go through all the things that people had committed to doing in the previous week, since last Tuesday. The leads just go around the room and generally say something like “Three weeks ago I said that last Thursday we would ship this thing, and on Thursday it shipped.” Then there’s a round of applause, and everyone is very excited, and we support each other, and it’s great – 90 percent of the time that really is what happens. People feel this strong sense of communal pressure, not coming from me — I just set the process — but coming from the team as a whole. And that comradery of “we worked really hard to make this happen,” and when you have a DRI, you guys have four people working with them, the four people are working late into the night not for me or for Dustin, but for the vision and for the DRI who put their name on – put themselves out there and said our team is going to get this done.
And in those rare times when people don’t meet their milestones, we don’t scowl at them, we don’t tell them “you screwed up.” We have them run a “Five Whys” process! They go through and ask, why didn’t I meet this, why did that happen, why did that happen. They send out those notes to the entire company and everyone gets to communally learn and so we are just getting better over time at accurately predicting when those milestones will actually be completed and being able to execute them effectively which has been really cool. So it’s a judgment free process that empowers everyone to do their best work.
Managing your own psychology
A couple of years ago, we were starting to grow the company, we hadn’t even launched yet, and I was starting to get extraordinarily stressed. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was very attached to this thing succeeding, but was starting to doubt whether I would be capable of it, and it was getting to the point where I was so stressed that I was just like coming into work for a whole week and staring at my screen for a couple of hours and not doing anything.
It was around that time we had our Series A, which Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz participated in, and Dustin and I were out to dinner with them. I really respect Ben as a mentor, so I wanted to get his advice on this though I was a little intimidated — I didn’t want him to feel like “I just gave you all this money and you are telling me that you are scared of doing the job I am paying you to do!” But instead he matter of factly said, “Yes, this is actually a good thing for you to know. The most important part of being a leader is managing your own psychology,” and proceeded to tell me all these stories of times that he struggled with this. So I just want to finish by telling you a few things that I’ve found really helpful in this area.
The Voice in Your Head. How many people in the room have experienced, maybe every day, some voice in your head that sounds like it’s your voice, but it’s telling you, you are doing things badly? To the few people whose hands aren’t raised… I think you’re lying 🙂 There is a voice that is self-doubting and judging. And it’s very easy to confuse this voice for yourself, especially because it speaks in your own voice, but it’s not. It’s like having an annoying judgmental roommate living in your head.
You’ll notice this now that I point it out. I’ve done a ton of meditation and other work, and I stillhear this voice. But the difference is that I have a new relationship to it. I hear the voice, I say thank you, I appreciate that you are trying to be helpful. You can keep hanging out in my head, that’s totally fine. Kick your feet up, make yourself comfortable, but that’s not me, and I make decisions from a different place. So I continue to act in the face of fear, even when the voice keeps telling me, “you are screwing this up.”
Impostor Syndrome. Have you ever found yourself in a group of people where you thought to yourself, oh, all these people clearly belong here, I understand why they are all here. But Imust have gotten here by mistake. Or worse, you find yourself in a leadership role where you are like, oh man, these people are about three seconds away from realizing the emperor has no clothes. I do not know what I am doing, they should not be following me, they should just do a coup right now.
Has anyone ever experienced this? I appreciate your honesty. What I have so far observed and what psychology researchers observe is that this is pretty much a universal human phenomenon, at least in the Western world, if not globally.
I find it useful to recognize that so many of us experience this so regularly. But it doesn’t mean that you are an impostor in the situation, it’s just a voice in your head that’s had some evolutionary purpose and today is vestigial. Actually, even in writing these notes I had to chuckle because I was thinking, oh ETL, I remember being a student for that and all these smart people would come with all this great stuff to say. I really appreciate Tina for having the soft spot for me that she let me slide in ;-). But hopefully, I was not an entirely inappropriate guest for you.
Equanimity. Again, there are two extremes that are both unfortunate. You have the stereotype of someone who’s lackadaisical, doesn’t care, isn’t working hard, is just getting by, doesn’t get a whole lot done.
Then you the stereotype of someone who is intensely engaged in their project and passionate about what they are doing, with this sense of stress and fear all the time that “we got to make this happen, we got to make this work.” Both of these seem like unfortunate outcomes, because the former is not effective, and the latter gets burned out and eventually isn’t effective either.
What I have discovered, and I am not saying it’s easy, is willful intention with non-concern for results. On my best days, I come to work and I am fiery and passionate and so excited, like the universe is moving through me, to build and manifest our vision into the world. And I recognize that it may not work out, and if it doesn’t, that’s okay too, the world will go on. My world will go on, I will be safe, it will be fine, I’ll get over it.
Now that doesn’t mean that I am going to give up. If things are going very badly and there is any chance we still might succeed, I will fight and fight and fight to make that thing still work. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
Do Great Things
We’ve looked at different ways that you could, given a very ambitious vision, work with a team of people or even just be the leader of yourself to have these different tools and techniques and tactics to be able to work more efficiently, work more effectively, be able to achieve these visions.
But, mostly, I really hope that you guys have or would like to join the global cause, the species-level cause, that provides you the opportunity to participate in something that is just much, much bigger than yourself.
We are today writing the story of human history. This is not a foregone conclusion. There is not manifest destiny here. We are the actual people who are going to decide whether we go to the kaput scenario or whether we take off. And on a smaller scale, just what the future holds for us, the people we love and for the whole of the human race. A hundred years ago, thinking at that level would have sounded crazy, because who could have that much impact? But today we just have countless examples that people really can start projects in their dorm rooms and do things that have massive world shaking impact on the world.
And you guys are those people. I know I was sitting here 10 years ago and I know tons of people who were sitting here 10 years ago who are doing bigger things, who are really movers and shakers in the world. You will be the next generation of that.
And so the opportunity to devote all of that power and all that time you spent investing in your skills and intellect and human capacities, the choices of whether to invest that in something that is something that will make some money or that will have some short term gain versus the opportunity to find something in the intersection of your deepest passion and the possibility for having a huge positive impact on the world is just so exciting, and the primary reason I came here today to want to share this stuff with you, so thank you.