I’m easily inspired. Tell me the story of an 8 year old that raises $1,000 for earthquake victims during a penny drive at her school and I’m inspired to make a donation. Introduce me to a teenager who broke his back in a drinking-and-driving incident and now tours high schools telling his story, and I’ll be inspired to share his message. But give me a book such as John Wood’s Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and I’m inspired to actively participate in a movement that’s making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
Being inspired to think about change and being inspired to actively make change are two very different effects. Perhaps it’s because Wood, himself, is such a shining example of actively pursuing change that his story has so inspired me to get actively involved. In his bestselling book, John Wood tells how he left his executive position at Microsoft in the heyday of the burgeoning technology industry and set out on his odyssey to bring education, reading and a love for books themselves to children in developing nations.
In 1999, John Wood was working in Microsoft’s Asia division when he set off on his first vacation in seven years…destination: Nepal. While trekking across the Himalayas, John met a Nepali man named Pasupathi, whose job it was to find resources for the 17 schools in his rural province of Lamjung. The children of Nepal were eager learners and placed high value on education yet they didn’t have the buildings, resources or trained teachers to help them be successful. Pasupathi offered to take John on a trek to visit some of his rural schools, to experience firsthand the bleak educational situations the Nepali citizens were living with – a trek that would ultimately be the catalyst to change the course of John’s life.
The Big Idea
What is Possible?
"Right now what I need is to think about what would be possible, not all the reasons I can’t make a change."
Let’s go back to inspiration for a moment. How many times have you read a story or heard a speaker and been inspired and motivated only to turn hesitant and uncertain over time? Why is it that when we start thinking through the logistics and details of what inspired us, our natural reaction is to think “nah, that’s too complicated”, or “I’ll have to give up too much”, or “what would my spouse/kids/parents/friends think”?
The beauty of what John Wood taught me in this book is that when we focus on the possibilities instead of all the reasons “we can’t”, the potential is limitless. As John wrote “This is not a time for incremental thinking. If a cause is worth devoting your time to, then you owe it to yourself – and those you will serve – to think in a big way.” There will be plenty of time for detractors and ney-sayers down the road – think big picture before getting in your own way. Think “blue sky” with no limitations such as time, money or other resources. Imagine what is possible… then we’ll figure out a way to make it happen.
"We were always in 'do' mode and had never taken the time to actually pull everything together into one coherent document. Did I really just agree to meet, in less than 24 hours, with one of the world’s most foremost venture capitalists?"
The subtitle of this book is “An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children”. John describes it as an odyssey…if that’s not a daunting descriptor of the dream, I don’t know what is! I can only imagine how overwhelmed John first felt by all the things he needed to do to make his dream a reality and how hard he worked to overcome his natural instinct to just not do anything at all. When an opportunity seems too daunting, it helps to break the large idea down into smaller, actionable tasks and establish timelines to when those tasks should be accomplished. Spending some time breaking down the idea, the deliverables and the critical path to complete each task will make each goal easier to achieve and give you a strong sense of accomplishment each time you cross a completed task off the list. Ask for help in these planning stages – support and clear thinking from people who also believe in the cause will make easier work. But don’t spend too much time – the more time you spend planning is more time you’re not spending actually making the dream happen.
"I have a near constant interaction with people who believe that in education lies independence, self-sufficiency, a better life, and progress for humanity. Best of all, they are willing to take action, rather than sitting around talking about the problem."
There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing people talk about the ways in which they want to make a difference; listening to the excellent ideas they have around making a difference and improving the world, “if only someone would do something about it…”
There’s a time for planning, and recruiting and there’s a time for action. What is accomplished by only talking about your ideas? For sure, talking about the idea gets other people on board, mobilizes the troupes, and probably opens wallets to fund the ideas. But, if everyone’s just talking and no one’s taking action, how could we ever expect change? Stop talking about it and get things done. Send those emails to supporters, engage manufacturers, suppliers, government officials and whomever else you need to make this change happen. Start crossing those tasks off the critical path and get them out of your head so you can move on to the next idea/thought/challenge/action. Moving the idea forward makes it real, has immediate impact and gets you more of what you want. If you need to, engage the person/people that helped you put the plan together in the first place and use them to help keep you accountable, assist where you need assistance and recognize and celebrate the milestone achievements as they happen. Because believe me – there will be lots to celebrate.
Over the past 11 years, Room to Read has built over 1,100 schools, established over 10,000 libraries, published more than 430 local-language children’s titles, donated over 7.4 million children’s books, established more than 125 computer and language labs and funded nearly 9,000 long-term girl’s scholarships. In 9 countries, over 4.1 million children have benefited from the efforts of Room to Read. And it all started with one man on a mountain, answering the request of a Nepali man, “Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books.” I’ll say.