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Wild Hope Now: The power of books for causes

Non-profits and charities depend on the emotional and financial support of their backers. And that support is always based on a story. A story of possibility, of justice, of community. They serve to right wrongs, to fix problems, to shine a light and to make things better.

I’ve discovered that a book is a powerful tool for sharing this story.

This week, Afya is launching a book by my friend Danielle Butin. It’s only available on their site.

Wild Hope Now is the story of one person who saw a problem and refused to turn away. And it’s the story of how she began in her backyard, organizing one person, then ten, then entire institutions. Afya is now saving lives around the world.

Books like Wild Hope Now and the ones I’ve listed below humanize the magic of these causes. While a video can go viral, a book can make it easy to not only share the story with others, but actually make an impact.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Walk in Their Shoes by Jim Ziolkowski

Manifesto for a Moral Revolution by Jacqueline Novogratz

Thirst by Scott Harrison

Creating Room to Read by John Wood

The ideas in these books and books like these really resonate with me. I find myself hearing the authors’ voices as I go about my day, a reminder that better is not only urgent, but it’s possible. Possible here and possible now.

Sharing books like these is a triple gift. You learn something. The person you buy a copy for feels seen and respected and learns something as well. And the growth in support for the cause makes a difference for the long haul.

The sixty-day staircase

In the moment, it’s really difficult.

l’esprit de l’escalier means, “the spirit of the staircase.” That thing you wished you had a said just a moment ago, the bon mot or the clever riposte. It only comes to us as we’re walking away.

But this sort of quick comment is good for the movies, not so much for the work we seek to do.

When we’re in the middle of it, when the speed bump or emergency arises, perhaps it pays to write a blog post about the incident that will go live in two months. Or to simply think about what you will remember about this moment then.

Two months ago, that thing that happened, could you handle it better now?

We’re able to build the habit of finding that staircase.


Here’s a simple grid that might change the way you think about internal stories:

When we believe in something that’s useful but not true, it can serve a helpful purpose. The tooth fairy, perhaps.

When we act on something that’s useful and also true, we’ve found a resilient path forward. That’s because the truth doesn’t vary based on whether or not others choose to acknowledge it.

In the top left is the cynical corner of focusing on things that while true, aren’t particularly useful. Thinking about the fact that a critic hated your last film isn’t going to help you with your next film, especially if the work wasn’t designed to please the critic in the first place.

And in the bottom left is the common trap of believing things that aren’t true, and that aren’t helpful either. These beliefs lead to ennui, to frustration and to division.

When was the last time you used a compass?

How about an astrolabe?

Or even a watch?

Technology advances, and sooner or later, the old stuff gets left behind. It’s easy to romanticize some of the classic devices that we built civilization on, and it’s worth remembering that the tech we’re wrestling with now will soon be faded away, with some folks nostalgic for the good old days.

Everything doesn’t always move toward better, but everything moves.

When the committee decides

They’re almost always conservative. Whether it’s a governmental body, the strategy group at a big company or the membership panel at the local country club, we can learn a lot by seeing what they approve and when they stall.

Of course, each of us know a lot about our offering, the change we seek to make and why it’s better. It’s easy to believe that, “If I were you I’d pick this obvious, rational choice…” and pitch accordingly.

But they’re not you. They’re the committee. And the committee almost never makes what outsiders might say is the ‘right’ decision, instead they choose what’s right for them, now.

And that is usually a combination of:

Persistence. A new idea is almost never embraced right away. It might take years. It’s easier to wait to see who will be there tomorrow than to grab what’s here today.

Urgency. Advance planning is clearly the smart move, but with fear, risk avoidance, and competing priorities, it’s the urgent that is often put on the agenda.

Affiliation. “What will our peers say?” is an unspoken but powerful force. Everyone else, or the appearance of everyone else has a huge impact.

WIFM. Not a radio station, but the truth that each person choosing begins with concern about what’s in it for them. It might be status, affiliation, avoidance of fear or a simple desire (or a complex one).

Compromise. It’s a committee, after all. Group acceptance of a small benefit might be seen as better than a bigger benefit that’s divisive.

Status. There are the status roles within the committee (who suggested this, who will benefit the most from this) and the status roles the committee sees within the organization and across organizations. Moving up (or not falling behind) is at the forefront of many decisions.

A better idea has little chance in the face of these forces.

The thing about Hobson

People talk about Hobson’s choice as if it’s always a bad thing. A liveryman in pre-industrial London, he rented horses. And every customer was allowed to take the horse closest to the door. Hobson’s choice is no choice at all.

Of course, this system meant that the horses were rotated, and the fanciest ones weren’t overworked. It meant that you didn’t get to insist on a selection that was sub-optimal for the ridership as a whole.

It’s tempting to imagine that when each person chooses, we all come out ahead.

But sometimes, Hobson has a point.

The art of estimation

If you’re a freelancer or a contractor of any kind, it’s typical to be asked for an estimate or a quote.

And if you’ve been doing business for a while, it’s likely that you’ve heard about price more than just about any other factor in losing an opportunity.

So the pressure is on to sharpen your pencil, find the lowest price and do the best work you can under the circumstances.

This leads to a grind and an endless race to the bottom.

The glitch lies in how we interpret the objection about price. What the client is actually saying is, “All things being equal, the other alternative is cheaper, so we went with them.”

But all things don’t have to be equal.

There are plenty of clients who don’t actually want the cheapest choice. They want the best one, and a powerful estimate is the clue they use to choose.

If your estimate:

  • is clear and easy to understand by the sort of people you’d like to have as clients
  • if it demonstrates full understanding of the work to be done
  • if it highlights alternatives
  • If it includes examples of proven satisfaction when you’ve done this work for others
  • and if it’s delivered ahead of schedule

…then you’ve restated the problem. You’ve brought the client along on the journey with you, and established that they’re not spending more for the same thing, they’re spending more for a better, safer, higher status, more reliable thing.

What’s the best proposal/estimate you’ve ever seen? In your industry or any other? Do you have a standard for this that’s as high as the standard for the craft you do?

Of course, you don’t have the time to do this sort of estimate for every prospect. Which is the second half of the art. Politely declining to do estimates for people who are simply seeking the lowest price. Eagerly and happily send them to the people who used to be your competition.

PS Ava Morris is running the Significance Workshop this Friday. Use the code Matter to save 15%.

Study groups

If I had to choose one metric that would determine how well someone would do in law school, it wouldn’t be the LSAT or another test. It would be whether or not they formed a study group, and who else was in it.

Of course, the same is true for your project, or any sort of adult learning.

It’s easier than ever to organize a group like this… in fact, we almost have to work hard to avoid it.

The speed of our forward motion is directly related to the velocity of the people around us.

The hard part first

If you’re trying to reduce risk, do the hard part first. That way, if it fails, you’ll have minimized your time and effort.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for buy-in and commitment so you can get through the hard part, do it last. People are terrible at ignoring sunk costs, and the early wins and identity shifts that come from the easy successes at the beginning will give you momentum as you go.

The long-range forecast keeps shifting


That’s why it’s a forecast, not an accurate account of what’s going to happen in the future.

This seems axiomatic, but our desire for certainty keeps letting us down.

The shifting of forecasts is evidence that they’re merely forecasts.