For the past eight years, I’ve been following The Do Lectures — an annual gathering that brings together the doers of the world, under star lit skies on the coast of Wales. It’s not really a festival, not really a conference. There are no lanyards, no lecture halls and no rubber-chicken dinners. Just 80 people, huddled around campfires and homegrown food, sharing stories and solidarity, and encouraging one another to go DO. The spirit of this 3-day event is hard to capture in words.
After many years of following from afar, I thought it was about time to throw my hat into the ring and apply for a coveted Do Lectures ticket. Lo and behold, I made the cut. On July 5, I boarded a flight to Wales to come alongside a dynamic family of doers. My mind was stretched, my world was changed. Here are a few big ideas I captured from the experience:
Harness opportunity. The best ideas start at the right time, with the right people, in the right place. True visionaries, skilled as they may be, have something others don’t — that is, the keen ability to identify a favorable set of circumstances that others might naturally bypass. Opportunity surrounds us; take the time to look for it.
Start a lot of fires and see where the energy goes. In the beginning, when starting something new or launching something big, try everything. Experiment and see how the public reacts. Some stuff will stick. Other stuff will flop. You won’t know until you know and you certainly won’t know until you start. Do a lot. See what happens.
You can do anything but you can’t do everything. It’s impossible to be all things to all people. Worse, when you try, the integrity of your work quickly waters down. Know yourself and know your organization. Don’t become a fire station, reacting to every community need, cry or request. Know when to say no. Keep the main thing the main thing.
Creativity dwells in quieter places. Thoreau was onto something. Settling for two quiet years on Walden Pond, the famed American poet/philosopher set out to examine his life next to nature. In solitude. In quiet. In today’s hyper-connected world, we might assume a physical absence from others gives us enough time to dwell in our own thoughts, yet the constant commotion of the digital landscape taunts from our back-pocket, preventing us from every truly navigating our internal space in deep reflection. It’s hard to hear our inner creative voice with all that noise. To redeem connection with our own souls, we need moments of immersion apart from these over-stimulating environments. Nature helps. Woods are great. So are mountains. And campfires. Whatever the landscape, factor in the escapes and observe the new ways your creativity beings to flourish.
Have a side project. Whether you love or loath your 9–5, having a side project is a great way to expand your mind and your skills. Stay curious. Use your hands. The best side projects are the ones that fulfill your curiosities and exercise creative muscles your day job doesn’t. There are no rules to side projects. That’s why they’re side projects. Start something.
Scale your influence. Does it scale? How are you going to scale? What’s your model to sustain scale? Often, it seems the only way we measure a project’s success is by calculating traditional growth metrics. Why? The Do Lectures is what it is because the founders have maintained the integrity of the original vision, rejecting offers to grow numbers by haphazardly replicating the event. David Hieatt calls this approach “scaling influence.” Some ideas scale. Some don’t. Rarely do we ask whether or not they should. Let’s start shall we?
Food is a universal connector. Simple. Share meals, share stories, share life. Strong relationships are key to doing good work. Eat lunch with someone everyday, even if it’s just your cubicle-mate. No telling what will happen, what you’ll learn and how you’ll connect. Share plates if you can.
Our minds are in a state of constant partial attention. Each time we shift our attention, it takes 23 minutes to get back to our original task with the same amount of focus. Stupid. The more we spread our attention, the higher our stress levels get, the less efficient we become. Activity is not the same as productivity; productivity is not the same as creativity. Practice presence.
That in mind…
Email is killing our brains. Too frequently, we allow email to derail our productivity or change our priority list. Stop. Remove email from your phone if you have to. (I did). If it’s urgent, dial. Email is reactive work. It’s not creative. So many of us waste peak creative hours (or those moments of free time between meetings, meals or traffic lights) on inbox maintenance. Stop. Your brain thanks you.
Give people ladders and help them create their own way. Great teams are learning environments. One of the biggest reasons people leave a company is because they stop learning. Think about it. The best leaders lead by example without imposing answers, and work tirelessly to create the conditions that allow others to do their best work. Great teams, create great things. Build yours.
Invest in people. In the face of intractable challenges, citizens are increasingly inclined and able to take action on the problems they’re most passionate about. Engagement and innovation on an individual level can serve as a precursor and driver for wide-scale transformation over time. Projects that invest directly in people have the greatest return on investment and lead to the highest level of impact in the long run. (Note: this is what we’ve set out to explore at People’s Liberty).
Talks from past Do Lectures are available online. They’re free and accessible for all to watch. I suggest you do, then DO.
Megan Trischler oversees the residency program at People's Liberty. Applications for the Fall Residency close tomorrow, at 11AM. Keep an eye on the PL blog and media to see what our residents do in Cincinnati.