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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The Only 3 Things You Need to Live a Meaningful Life
How to live a meaningful life. A man stands in a hallway and has two directions to choose.

April 30, 2019

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There are a few people in life who seem to have it all figured out.

They have crystal clarity on their goals and dreams. They know exactly who they are, what they want to be, how they can make a difference and live a meaningful life.  

Then there’s the rest of us.

Most of us struggle with purpose. Polls show that fewer than 20 percent of Americans are working in a job they truly love and find meaningful. We wind up doing less-than-great work as a result. Less than 30% of employees are truly engaged in the workplace, according to Gallup.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Additional research shows that 9 out of 10 people would go so far as to earn less money in order to have more meaningful work.

So it’s not that we’re not willing to do work that matters. For most of us, it’s that we just don’t know what that work is, or how to go about doing it.

One Man’s Miracle

Jordan Kassalow of VisionSpring stands next to a VisionSpring van.

At a glance, Jordan Kassalow of VisionSpring would seem to be one of those fortunate few who figured it all out right away.

His story appears to start with an incredible “aha!” moment that leads him to be a hyper-successful person doing work that makes a positive difference. To date, Jordan’s work with VisionSpring has helped 4.4 million people around the globe see the world more clearly and live happier, more productive lives.

But as Jordan will tell you in the Crazy Good Turns episode coming out this Sunday, and in his new book, the truth is far more complex.

At age 23, as a first-year student at the New England College of Optometry, Jordan went on a volunteer trip to provide eye care in an impoverished region in Mexico.

Jordan’s very first patient, on the very first day, was a 7-year-old boy named Raul, who was thought to be blind. Kassalow assessed the boy and determined that was not the case.

Instead, the boy was severely nearsighted. His vision could be corrected with a simple pair of eyeglasses. Kassalow found the right prescription, placed the glasses on the boy’s face, and watched as…

“This universal smile of joy just spread across [the boy’s] face. His eyes widened and it was the most joyful smile that you could ever imagine, and it was a look of both joy and amazement at the same time,” Kassalow explains in our next show.  “I knew at that moment that if I could replicate that a bunch of times over that I would be successful.”

The Power of Purpose

Kids in India smile after opening a box of new eyeglasses.

Jordan today calls that moment “a miracle.” But it’s one he never saw coming.

“I went [on the trip] out of curiosity, not a calling,” Jordan writes in his new book, Dare to Matter: Your Path to Making a Difference Now. He says what happened in Mexico was “a miracle — not of biblical parting-of-the-seas proportions, but of the sort where the universe pointed to a future I would never have envisioned on my own.”

In that moment, Jordan discovered a way to make a difference. That discovery reaffirmed him to do work that he otherwise didn’t necessarily love.

He admits in the book feeling ambivalent about being an optometrist for decades even after that miracle moment in Mexico. He chose the career because it allowed him to lead the life he wants, one that would allow him to financially support a family and children. But, guided by purpose, that work has enabled him to meet those foundational needs in life and have a positive impact on the lives of others.

This idea — that one’s day-to-day work doesn’t have to be “the” work — is one we’ve seen come up more than once.

In our episode featuring Graham and April Tam Smith of P.S. Kitchen, April spoke about how taking long volunteer missions made her feel more motivated to go about her work on Wall Street. “Sometimes I come back from a Haiti trip and I’m like, ‘Okay. Let’s trade some derivatives. Let’s go.’” She said.

The 3 B’s Pointing You Toward a More Meaningful Life

A schoolgirl in India smiles after putting on a new set of corrective lenses.

So if we don’t have to be working in a dream job to do meaningful work, and we don’t need to give up everything to have meaning in our lives, what does it take to discover our purpose and do the things we were truly meant to do?

In Dare to Matter, Kassalow argues that in order to live a life that matters, you really only need to do three things:

  1. Believe that the future can be better than the present.
  2. Believe that you have the power to make it so.
  3. Be willing to turn that belief into behavior.

Jordan also says you don’t necessarily need to have experienced a “drop everything” miracle moment. On pages 54-55 of the book, he offers a series of questions to help you mine your past for signs that may have been pointing you toward your true purpose. Each chapter ends with exercises and challenges that can help you discover the way to make the difference you were meant to make.

Our Offer to You

As we hinted at in a previous blog post, we believe Dare to Matter is a superb — and important — book. Which is why we’d like to offer you the chance to get it free.

We’re giving away 50 copies of the book, plus one grand prize package including an autographed edition of Dare to Matter along with 10 additional books that strongly influenced Jordan and his thinking about the world.

Sign up for your chance to win here.

The front cover of Jordan Kassalow's book "Dare to Matter."

We’re confident you’ll find Dare to Matter to not only be thought-provoking and profound. But you may also find within its pages a path to the more meaningful life you want.

– Frank

P.S. – I’ve read — and re-read — Jordan’s book and can’t endorse it strongly enough. Sign up for your chance at a free copy here, and please share this post with anyone who you think might also like an opportunity to get the book.

 

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A Book Recommendation (Plus: Upcoming Giveaway!)
VisionSpring Founder Jordan Kassalow, left, fits a young boy for a set of reading glasses.

April 16, 2019

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Next month’s episode of Crazy Good Turns features an interview with Jordan Kassalow. He’s the Founder of VisionSpring, one of the biggest social impact businesses in the world.

Jordan’s story is an amazing one, and his pioneering work has enabled millions of people around the world to live a fuller and more productive life through the gift of sight.

But this note is not about the upcoming podcast. It is about the book Jordan has written.

A Profound Work About Making a Difference

When we’d originally him for the show, we had no idea that he had written a book or that it would be published roughly at the same time as the episode.

The book, which goes on sale at the end of this month, is titled Dare to Matter: Your Path to Making a Difference Now.

I received an early copy, read it and then re-read it. And I’m so impressed by this that I have decided to give away fifty copies to go along with our upcoming episode. Stay tuned for more details on that. In the meantime, I thought I’d offer a little hint as to what’s inside this great book.

I took many notes while reading. Jordan offers many profound insights about the path to making a difference — a path that I think would interest anyone tuned in to Crazy Good Turns.

A Great Question Worth Considering

For example, I’ll share just one excerpt from Dare to Matter.

It’s not at the core of the book. In fact, it’s almost a throwaway line in a longer passage. But one of the things I “collect” in life is great questions. And while discussing how to live a life that matters, Jordan poses a wonderful question — a question that can be a tool for thinking about our own lives:

What, and who, makes you laugh out loud and smile without effort, even when you don’t think you have a laugh or smile inside you?

The more episodes we do, the more people’s stories we get to hear, the more I reflect on all the different meanings embedded in the ‘crazy’ of Crazy Good Turns. Jordan’s question snapped into focus for me at how often I smile or laugh — sometimes in wonder, sometimes in joy — at the things people do to help others.

I hope you’ll read Jordan’s book, which you can pre-order here. I hope it brings you a laugh or a smile on your own path to making a difference.

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How to Make More Than a Living
April Tam Smith and Graham Smith hold hands on their wedding day.

April 2, 2019

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How can people be so cheerfully, radically generous?

That was my reaction after speaking with Graham and April Tam Smith, the guests on our upcoming episode of Crazy Good Turns.

After you hear their story, which comes out on Sunday, April 7, you may have the same reaction.  

What it Means to be Radically Generous

Graham and April aren’t two folks you’d typically tag as radicals. They are young professionals living in New York City. But they stand out through their dedication to living a lifestyle of generosity. And that is an understatement.

For example:

  • They spent their honeymoon volunteering in Haiti
  • They’ve used their salaries and their talents to launch a restaurant called P.S. Kitchen in NYC, which is remarkable because:
    • The restaurant is committed to employing people who are in need of a second chance, such as former addicts or people with criminal records
    • They donate all of the profits from the restaurant to charity
  • They give in many other ways too. In fact, when you total it all up, they do what’s called “reverse tithing.”

Reverse Tithing: Giving Away (Nearly) Everything

“Tithing” is a term with which you may already be familiar. Traditionally, to tithe means to give away 10 percent of what you earn. That’s a laudable achievement, and certainly generous from most perspectives.

But April and Graham flip that equation. They give away 90 percent of what they earn and live on the remaining 10 percent.

To me, that definitely puts the “crazy” in Crazy Good Turn — and does so on a sustaining basis. It is radically generous.

Yet when you hear Graham and April describe their lives, they are very matter-of-fact about their generosity. They are not boastful. They don’t go out of their way to draw attention to it. And they never make mention of any difficulties brought about by that lifestyle, or speak of things they’ve had to give up.

In fact, what was crystal clear in speaking with them was how much they felt their giving enriched their lives.

A Highly Provocative Idea

As I listened to April and Graham, the uppermost thought in my mind was:

These two unassuming people are living one of the most provocative lifestyles I have ever encountered.

They “provoke” because of the confident generosity with which they live their lives. The things they do call into question: Why not me? Why can’t I do that? And what could I do to approach that standard?

They are questions I am still reflecting upon. But the first part of an answer, at least for me, can be found in a quote attributed to Winston Churchill:

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I hope that when you tune in to April and Graham’s story this Sunday, you’ll get a sense of their joy in making a life, not just a living.

– Frank

P.S. – Want to make sure you don’t miss April and Graham’s story? Sign up for our newsletter here and we’ll make sure you receive it as soon as it comes out.

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