Making An Impact

If you think you are too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.  

– Anita Roddick

Today kicks off the first of a three-week series on Impact: For your business, for others, for yourself. Let’s begin with the basics; what it means, what it doesn’t mean and why it matters.  

What it is and what it is not

Mission statements are not impact. Dumping ice on our heads is not impact. Even grandiose acts of kindness or donations of time or sums of money are not impact. Confused? 

All these things – worthy and important as they are – come back to being about us. We give with an anticipated outcome. We enjoy the psychological and physiological (yes actual hormone boosts) of giving.  We revel in our great work or great generosity and use it as mental justification for being a good human. 

Now none of this is to say we shouldn’t do those things. All of these acts make society incrementally better.  But let’s not confuse them with impact. These are point in time actions. They are controllable and conscious. Impact, on the other hand, is not about us. Impact is not something we can control. Impact is the unconscious reaction the universe has to a consistent stream of authentic actions – whether that “universe” is your organization, home, community or greater society.  Impact is what happens when you adjust your mindset so as to transform point in time actions into a continuous way of thinking and acting. 

Easier said than done? Of course. However too many organizations, particularly nonprofits, hide behind their mission statements and even the work they do without really stopping to understanding impact. Do you feed 7500 homeless people a year but tell your administrative assistant she can’t leave early to take an art class and feed her passion? Does your company provide the best quality product in your industry but pay your employees too little to afford it? Do you promote a child’s character development through sports but then model poor coach or parenting behavior? 

These examples are all internal, however, misconstrued ideas about impact exist in external relationships as well. If you have ever read the story of the PlayPump or the impact of indoor plumbing on social relationships and suicides in developing countries, you have witnessed the antithesis of impact. Single, well intentioned actions made based in an egocentric mindset that says “we know best what you need”. 

Where to begin? 

Begin where you are. Get clear about what you, or your organization stands for – both present reality and in the ideal. Let go of dogma that tells you what you should stand for and get vulnerably honest. Want to raise your organization’s salaries above the market value? Begin a small business element to your nonprofit? Take your kids abroad for a year? Whatever is authentic is fair game. But always keep in mind, impact isn’t about you. So when thinking through these options, they can’t be based in narcissism or the ROI of the investment. They must simply reflect a genuine belief in the good of the decision for what it is. 

Once you gain your own clarity, use that filter for every decision you make. Over time the small decisions reflecting consistency of purpose will far exceed the single acts of grandeur. 

Let Go

The most important element in all of this is, you must let go of the outcome. Whether or not your assistant becomes a paid artist or your employees invest the extra salary in homeownership makes no difference. Real impact is not about actions you took but rather about the way people receive them. And reception is not something you can control. You simply have to trust.

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