3 Years of Crazy Good Turns [What I’ve Learned]

August 13, 2019

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Here’s a quote that’s been on my mind recently:

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

It’s a line Anais Nin wrote in 1961, but which has been attributed to many others. (Here’s a long and colorful history of the quote.)  

Whoever said it first, there are splashes of that idea covering every episode of Crazy Good Turns. 

People who see sadness could walk away, grow bitter, or go numb and be unaffected. But instead, upon seeing that sadness, they engage. They do so with energy, care and infectious optimism. 

When they do, they help us see what they see. 

How I’ve Changed In 3 Years of Crazy Good Turns

Brad Shaw and I started Crazy Good Turns in August 2016, three years ago. When we started, I told Brad that I’d be ok if we had only eight listeners — so long as we were proud of the content. 

As of today we’ve done 63 episodes (and counting). We are proud of them, and we hope you have enjoyed listening to them. With the help of our production team at Pen Name, particularly Brian Sabin, we continue to add more listeners, many thousands more than I would have thought. 

Seen from the traditional media lens, where the goal was to try and reach as many people as possible, this is odd content. It’s not about politics or celebrities. The individuals we feature, for the most part, are not household names. But I end each episode thinking: 

Why aren’t they famous? 

Why don’t more people know about them, and what they are doing? 

The problems they wrestle with are often profound and complex. But if there’s a common theme among our guests, it’s that they don’t think of themselves as people who wrestle with profound and complex problems. 

They think of themselves as people who help other people, one at a time.

When we started the podcast, I thought: This will be interesting to try. 

Now, three years in, I view it as one of the great privileges of my life to be able to be in contact with so many inspiring people. 

They see the world differently. I’ve learned from them in every episode. 

A Challenge For You

Try this out when you listen to any of our shows, like the podcast we posted last week on NPX Advisors. 

Listen to Lindsay Beck’s story of how she overcame cancer (hear it here) — then fixed a clear wrong in our medical system. Notice Catarina Schwab’s energy and optimism. 

Then try to borrow their sight for a few minutes.

Imagine if, rather than hopelessness, you saw hope. 

If you notice something broken, ask yourself: How might I fix this? 

When you shift your perspective, and try to see the world as the guests on our show see it, the result is amazing.

Thank you for listening to Crazy Good Turns. Please let me know your thoughts (you can email them to me directly) and how we can do better in the years ahead.

-Frank

P.S. If you enjoyed this blog post, please subscribe to our email list. You’ll get a personal message from me about once a week or so.

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My Favorite Story of Justice John Paul Stevens
An oil painting of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens at his memorial service in Washington D.C.

July 30, 2019

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Two months ago, I wrote a note celebrating the 99th birthday of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

This past week, I was in Washington, D.C. to attend his funeral.

The Justice died shortly after taking a trip to Lisbon, Portugal with other Supreme Court Justices. This was something he chose to do as part of his commitment to living fully, regardless of age.

What Happened When He Walked

At a dinner following the memorial service at the Supreme Court, the Justice’s former law clerks — of which I am one — told personal stories of Stevens and his impact on our lives. The stories had a theme: His humility, kindness and wisdom.

My favorite story was this:

Justice Stevens would take breaks from his chambers to walk outside the Supreme Court building. He liked to get fresh air and have time to reflect.

He mentioned to a clerk that a regular feature of these walks was taking photos with tourists who visited the Supreme Court.

The clerk assumed that this was tourists asking to have their picture taken with a member of the highest court in the land.

“Oh no,” said Justice Stevens. “They want me to take a picture of them.”

An Interesting Contradiction

There is a wonderful piece of advice in Austin Kleon’s new book, “Keep Going.” Kleon writes:

Job titles, if they’re taken too seriously, will make you feel like you need to work in a way that befits the title, not the way that fits the actual work.

I have seen this in the business world over and over.

As people ascend through an organization and accumulate grander and grander titles, they often start to act as though they need to put a distance between themselves and others. They “don’t do dishes.” That’s for someone else.

Imagine how easy it would be, if your title were “Supreme Court Justice,” to assume that everyone should know that.

Someone else in Justice Stevens’ situation, strolling outside the court, might easily respond to tourists with, “No, I don’t take photos of you. You should be taking photos of me.”

Life is full of interesting contradictions. We ought to take most seriously those who don’t take themselves too seriously.

Job titles are best fulfilled by those who don’t care about the title.

And often, you can see us at our best when we do things like take a picture for someone else.

Rest in Peace, Justice John Paul Stevens

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The Event Everyone Should Experience Once
17-year-old pianist Darrius Simmons has only 4 fingers and prosthetic legs below the knees.

July 16, 2019

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Darrius Simmons strode across the stage atop his prosthetic legs, sat down at the piano, and beautiful music poured out.

Hundreds were gathered inside the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. They listened, transfixed, as Simmons’ hands glided across the keys.

The 17-year-old from Warren, Ohio has only four fingers — three on his right hand, and one on his left. He also has prosthetic legs below the knees. For seven breathless minutes of the Not Impossible Awards, Simmons did not miss a note.

(The Not Impossible Awards hasn’t yet released the video, but below is a video of Darius Simmons playing the song he performed that night.)

“Do Not Be Afraid to Dream Big”

As powerful as it was to watch, Simmons’ performance was actually the 6th incredible scene of the Not Impossible Awards.

Anyone who attended the awards, which took place June 1, came away with a new perspective on the things human beings can do.

It’s literally a mind-expanding event. You bear witness to the most powerful stories, each seemingly more jaw-dropping than the last, and come out different.

“We can all reshape the world. Do not be afraid to dream big,” Mick Ebeling said that evening.

The “Do-Gooder Anarchists” Who Will Warm Your Heart

Ebeling is the founder and CEO of Not Impossible. We’ve featured him in a past episode on Crazy Good Turns, and an inspiration in his own right. But at the awards, Ebeling and his crew of “positive, do-gooder anarchists” (his description for the team at Not Impossible) paid homage to others.

The night began with Adriana Mallozzi. She’s a computer scientist and  CEO of Puffin Innovations. Puffin gives people facing severe mobility issues more freedom and control over their lives. They’ve created a hands-free joystick one can control with their mouth, which syncs with everything from a smartphone to a computer to a wheelchair.

When Mallozzi speaks, you can hear the fight in her voice. It’s difficult for her to speak, but her determination in getting across her message is evident. So is her good humor. She cracked jokes on stage, and as you’ll see in the video above, she’s nearly always wearing a smile.

Then came Flare. They’re a technology company, but their work is probably best understood by its end result. Before Flare, if you were to be in Kenya and call for an ambulance, you’d have to wait for more than 4 hours. Now, with Flare’s infrastructure in place, in some cases that response time is down to 4 minutes.

The evening also honored the work of three other groups innovating to make an impact:

  • Saathi Eco Solutions, which is helping more women throughout India get access to proper sanitary pads. Importantly, they’re also making those care products environmentally friendly.
  • Butterfly Network, which makes medical ultrasound technology available at a fraction of the traditional cost. They developed an app that allows people to conduct these life-saving scans through their smartphones.
  • HotSpot, which is trying to bring the internet to the 3.9 Billion people around the world who currently do not have access to it. Oh, by the way, the three founders of this company are all 18-year-olds.

How An Event Like This Changes You

By the end of the Not Impossible Awards, some in the crowd felt like a football team who had just received the greatest pre-game speech of all time. You were ready to charge out and take on anything.

Ebeling could sense this at the event. Toward the closing of the show, Ebeling called the crowd gathered there as a “bubble.” He then asked: How can you take what you’ve felt here tonight out into the world?

That’s why I say the Not Impossible Awards are something everyone should experience once. Walking out of the theater that evening, you knew the following statements are true:

You can do anything in life.

And:

You can make a difference doing it.

So:

What are you going to do about that?

The Value of Inspiration

The honest answer for me was: I don’t know.

Maybe that’s yours too.

Don’t worry if that’s the case. There is value in feeling so inspired, even if you don’t immediately have a direction for it. Research indicates as much.

“People who were generally more inspired in their daily lives also tended to set inspired goals, which were then more likely to be successfully attained,” wrote Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Columbia University, in summing up the findings. 

The word “inspire” comes from Latin inspirare, which means “to breathe or blow into.” Just as you expand your body when you inhale, inspiration makes our figurative lungs bigger for whatever the task.

Through inspiration, we become more capable and ready. So when the time comes, we can recall that feeling almost like muscle memory.

Then we apply the power of what we’ve seen from those who’ve gone before to our own task at hand.

Brian Sabin is a producer for the Crazy Good Turns podcast.

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Discover a Different Kind of Fearlessness
Thinking differently, represented by a red paper airplane breaking formation from a string of white paper airplanes.

July 2, 2019

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One of the great joys for me in hosting and producing the Crazy Good Turns podcast has been to celebrate the fearless decency of people — and to see that it exists all around us.  

The show is in its fourth season now, and we never struggle to find amazing people who have powerful stories. 

But one of the great surprises of producing the show has been to find that there’s another kind of fearlessness that often goes with crazy good turns:

People who are fearless about thinking differently. 

Thinking (and Giving) Fearlessly

That fearlessness is not uncommon in the business world. “Thinking outside the box” is a business cliché. Some of the most innovative businesses, products and services are rooted in someone’s willingness to think differently. 

I didn’t expect that to be reflected in the world of philanthropy, but it is. In fact, you could see that fearlessness as a theme within our most recent episodes. 

  • Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible tackling seemingly insurmountable problems 
  • Jordan Kassalow of VisionSpring applying a completely different model than one would find in traditional philanthropy — and giving better sight to many millions more around the world as a result. 
  • In our next episode we’ll feature one of philanthropy’s most fearless and compelling thinkers: Dan Pallotta.

Who Is Dan Pallotta?

Dan Pallotta presenting at his TED Talk: "The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong"

If you aren’t yet familiar, Dan is credited by many for creating the multi-day charitable event industry. Those three-day walks to fight breast cancer, or multi-day bike rides against AIDS? He invented that.

More recently, Dan delivered one of the most-watched TED Talks ever. It’s title: “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”

So I knew going into the conversation that Dan had a bold — and important — message. And I won’t try to summarize the conversation we had, except to say that the substance of Dan’s comments on the non-profit sector, and his brave re-thinking of it, are very compelling.

Instead, my comment now — a little less than a week before the episode featuring Dan will be released on Sunday, July 7 — is less about the substance of his message than the sense I got from talking to the person himself. Interestingly, that sense may have been best summed up by a Supreme Court Justice nearly 100 years ago. 

“That Unspeakable Something”

In one of life’s curious synchronicities, I found myself reading an address by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes shortly after finishing the interview with Dan. 

The address was given many years ago, obviously, and on a completely different topic. But while reading it, the following passage struck home:

“You know your own weakness and are modest. But you know that man has in him that unspeakable something which makes him capable of miracles, able to lift himself by the might of his own soul.

Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.”

When you listen to the episode, which I hope you will, please keep that phrase in mind: Someone lifting himself through the might of his own soul. 

Crazy good turns, and crazy good thinking, touched with fire.

– Frank

P.S. – The interview with Dan will not disappoint you. You can be among the first to hear it when you sign up here for our email list. We’ll then send you notice as soon as the show goes live — and we’ll never share your email with anyone else.

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“A CEO is Not Significant” — What Bernie Marcus Taught Me About Leadership

June 18, 2019

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Bernie Marcus, a founder of The Home Depot, turned 90 recently. There was a major event here in Atlanta celebrating his birthday, and also thanking him for his amazing philanthropic contributions to the city, the State of Georgia, and to the world.

Bernie was the subject of a Crazy Good Turns episode during Season 2. So I’m not going to repeat here his many substantial acts of generosity, which have had such a positive impact on the lives of millions.

Instead, I will pass on two of the many pieces of advice that Bernie gave me during my eight years as CEO of Home Depot. They are easy to understand and remember. And in my opinion, it is advice that any leader at any level should keep in mind.

Why Being a CEO is Not Significant

Bernie’s first piece of advice was one of the very first comments he made when I became CEO. He told me:

“You now have a prominent job. But you don’t have a significant job. Don’t confuse the two.

“You have a prominent job because you’re the one who talks to investors, does interviews and so on. But you don’t have a significant job, because the only significant jobs are the ones that help customers.”

As we move to higher and higher levels in an organization, we tend to forget that. We tend to equate prominence with significance — and that creates all kinds of bad behavior, as well as an overall loss of bearings.

It is interesting that an echo of Bernie’s comment appears in many Crazy Good Turns episodes: The primacy of doing for one. That is where every organization draws its strength.

A Note for Every Leader’s Desk

Bernie’s second piece of advice was:

“Now that you are CEO, you will tell a joke and the people around you will laugh. Just remember: You are not funny.”

I think this quote should be on every leader’s desk or screensaver. It’s a reminder that the people around you will agree with, laugh with you, or nod their heads when you speak not because you are funny, smart or compelling.

They will do it because you are the boss.

You can impact their lives, and they want to keep on your good side.

So a small crazy good turn we can do for all those who work with us is to remember this fact and filter our interactions through humility.

For these great pieces of advice and many, many other things, I am truly grateful.

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How to Set Crazy Big Goals (And Achieve Them)
Mick Ebeling (left), the founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, gives a high-five to a Sudanese boy wearing a prosthetic Ebeling built.

May 28, 2019

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A wonderful book I’m currently reading (and in which I’m making notes in the margins) is “Keep Going” by Austin Kleon. The subtitle of the book is: “10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad.“

While the book focuses on artists, its wisdom could apply to all walks of life — especially when it comes to how to set goals and achieve them. 

One of the 10 ways Kleon asks the reader to view their own art is as a gift. Very specifically, a gift to a single person.

Kleon writes: “You never know when a gift made for a single person will turn into a gift for the whole world.”

Gifts That Grow

Kleon gives the example of bestselling books which began as bedtime stories for specific children, such as A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh.” He also quotes Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who said: “What I’m really concerned about is reaching one person.”

It’s this idea — affecting one person for the better — that drives the work of two amazing people you’ll hear on our next podcast.

The episode features Mick Ebeling, the Founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, and his chief technology officer, Daniel Belquer.

Laughing at “Impossible”

As you might guess from the name, Not Impossible sets out to solve seemingly unchangeable problems. They make the impossible possible through groundbreaking technological solutions. For example, in just a few short years they’ve developed…

…and the list goes on. Ebeling, Belquer and their team are high-energy people who thrive on the craziest of crazy good turns.

The Power of Starting with One

Not Impossible tackles enormous problems, but not with broad goals of addressing poverty or illness or hunger worldwide. Instead, they set out to fix ONE PERSON’s issue.

As Mick explains it, if you view the problem in its entirety, it is easy to get discouraged. But if you set out to help a single person, now it’s an issue you can relate to. You won’t want to give up. You don’t want to abandon the individual. And by helping one, you can help many.

This idea has come up in other Crazy Good Turn episodes. The more that people who do crazy good things for others share their stories, the clearer the power of “doing for one what you wish to do for all” becomes.

Austin Kleon ends his discussion of this topic by saying that giving gifts to individuals is a habit all artists should have. “Making gifts puts us in touch with our gifts,” he writes.

True for all of us.

-Frank

P.S. – The episode featuring Not Impossible comes out this Sunday, June 2. If you want to hear Mick and Daniel’s story, sign up here to get the podcast as soon as it’s live.

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What I’m Still Learning from Justice John Paul Stevens

May 13, 2019

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I had the privilege recently of attending a 99th birthday celebration for Justice John Paul Stevens. 

Justice Stevens served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 until 2010 — 35 years of service. I was a law clerk to Justice Stevens very early in my career, and he had a significant impact on my view of the world. 

The celebration included law clerks from all his years as a Justice. Typically, he had three law clerks per year, so there were a lot of people at this celebration who shared in the appreciation of an exceptional person.

What It Was Like to Work for Justice Stevens

Justice Stevens had achieved the highest position in his profession. Yet to those who worked for him, he was unfailingly thoughtful, helpful and approachable. He wore his accomplishments lightly. 

A new book that he’s written, “The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years,” provides a window into his sly sense of humor. the work also offers great insights into Justice Stevens himself, the decisions he wrestled with, and the Supreme Court.

What struck me the most about Justice Stevens’ birthday — and the reason I’m telling you about it in a Crazy Good Turns note — was that part of the celebration included an interview with the Justice conducted by a former clerk. During the discussion, Justice Stevens opened up about the mistakes he thought he had made — including the death penalty. 

What Justice Means

If we can put aside the politics, the legal, and the constitutional aspects of the death penalty, what was most striking to me was how he talked about the critical importance of reading the records closely in each case, and about how his approach to those cases changed over time. During his 35 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Stevens moved from upholding the death penalty to being against it. 

It was a very human discussion. I thought: I would want to be judged by this man. I would have confidence in his fairness. 

A quote I’ve kept comes from French Philosopher Michel de Montaigne. It reads, “Justice for others is charity for ourselves.” 

It’s also true that justice is both societal and individual. We get overly focused on the societal aspects of it, but we should always want our judges — and our system of justice — to recognize that it’s individuals who stand before the bar of judgment. And the judge should recognize that, “There, but for the grace of God, stand I.”

That is true for individuals, true for a nation, and a good reason to celebrate a crazy good Justice.

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