Over My Skis

Photo by Maarten Duineveld on Unsplash

I had been thinking of writing this post a few times in the week and a half leading up to today’s SEAL Awards 2020 Environmental Policy Endorsement.

The title had to be “Over My Ski’s” – a saying I’ve used over the years when over-extended and taking on something too much.

Our presidential endorsement was the second time in 2019 that our impact work at SEAL has led to this “overwhelmed due to an ambitious project of my own making” feeling.

To put it lightly, going it alone and telling the CEO of Yelp to #SuckLess (our branding “play” on reducing straw usage by better highlighting sustainable restaurants in their listings) – especially after a partnership with environmental advocacy group gently fell apart – felt insane at the time.

Stepping into a presidential cycle – way outside our organization’s intended scope of focusing on environmental journalism and corporate sustainability awardswas arguably more ambitious.

Why?

  • The stakes are higher – it is not hyperbole to say the 2020 election has the power to radically impact whether we address the climate crisis or not. With all due respect to Yelp, #SuckLess was at best a building block.
  • The risk of doing harm – the first piece of advice I received when discussing SEAL issuing an endorsement was “to do no harm.”

Will SEAL get over our skis again? 100% for sure. Why?

  • If not now, when? Using the endorsement example, 2024 is a long way out – while SEAL might have more resources and relationship then, our existential crisis will keep compounding everyday.
  • The wildly ambitious project takes a comparable amount of effort as a modest one. To be fair, the mental burden of the ambitious route is higher. But the actual execution involved is pretty similar.
  • Your development rapidly compounds taking on initiatives like these. From Yelp #SuckLess, we quickly learned about the power of youth activists, “things that don’t scale” outreach, and paid advertising. All of those three elements were critical in making our endorsement a reality. I am immensely grateful we had activists from EarthEcho International, US Youth Climate Strike, ThinkOcean Global, and Sunrise Movement serve on our panel.

All in all, projects like this reinforce what I wrote prior to these two wildly ambitious projects:

The thinking required by writing caused me to revisit and grade past decisions in a way I would not have otherwise. Evaluating past decisions showed me that making ambitious bets – like including environmental journalism awards from Day 1 as a pillar of SEAL – generally were the right choices.

P.S. Getting out over your skis is the only way a small, resource-constrained group makes it into Fast Company.

Why Blog Now?

For a person consistently behind and playing catch up, the case for a personal blog is very questionable.

Especially so when I have a backlog of fully researched, partially written articles for APPEALIE which are still unpublished, roughly 10 months behind schedule.

I am a painfully slow writer. I would like this to change.

I also need to improve as a writer and communicator to realize my goals.

I recently made a first attempt at implementing Amazon’s “meeting by memo” to layout my business vision for 2019. I found writing this memo helpful for:

  • Refining my overall business vision, especially for SEAL Awards, and – with a prompt from Scott Belsky’s “Messy Middle” – actually communicating that vision to my team.
  • The thinking required by writing caused me to revisit and grade past decisions in a way I would not have otherwise. Evaluating past decisions as showed me that making ambitious bets – like including environmental journalism awards from Day 1 as a pillar of SEALgenerally were the right choices
  • The writing process also caused me to concretely express a more aspirational goal for SEAL – “To create an unconstrained, entrepreneurial, creative platform that is uniquely capable of pursuing and realizing our own environmental impact and activism campaigns” – relative to our initial awards-driven approach.
  • A secondary benefit: Creating a written record to point back to. To highlight the necessity of compounding incremental efforts for the SEAL organization to realize its goals over a 50-year plus horizon, writing a memo caused me to actually do the fucking work of showing how a believable application of compounding math – basically getting 44% better each year – translates into phenomenal results (see Footnotes for more). Over time I would like to create my own version of Matt Mochary’s “The Great CEO Within” – an excellent and open-sourced founder’s playbook you will find frequently re-shared on Hacker News – that I can point to.

Writing my vision memo has crossed over into a branding binge.

I cannot recommend Michael Johnson’s “Branding In Five And A Half Steps” highly enough. Seriously, buy his book.

The book lays out critical questions for any brand to answer:

Why are we here?
What do we do and how do we do it?
What makes us different?
What are we here for?
What do we value most?
What’s our personality?

If I am a poor and slow writer, I am likely to avoid doing the actual fucking work of actually answering these strategic questions.

With enough practice – like writing this blog – I will at least become marginally faster and a more relaxed writer where I can at least generate more iterations of these brand answers, increasing my chances of something sticking.

Other rationales for writing this blog:

  • I want SEAL to be a public platform that ambitious, talented and creative environmental advocates use to make an impact. I have a theory that transparently sharing my thinking here might help motivate action-oriented advocates to reach out.
  • SEAL’s activism work requires excellent communication. Our 2019 impact initiatives will involve asking massive companies to change. A poorly made case will be quickly dismissed and ineffective.
  • I need to hire writers for both APPEALIE and SEAL. Doing my own writing – no matter how bad – should help me understand what really goes into producing a 600-word article or how to identify writers with real skills unlike me.

A Plea For Your Referrals:

Environmental Advocates: We want SEAL to be a platform that makes environmental impact ideas come to life. If you know of an environmental advocate that would benefit from our platform – like our media relationships, financial resources, and campaign execution skills – please email us at operations@sealawards.com with “Advocate Referral” in the subject line.

SaaS Writers: If you know any freelance writers with a track record writing about SaaS, please email us at operations@appealie.com with “Writer Referral” in the subject line. If we develop an ongoing relationship with that writer, we will pay you a meaningful cash referral bonus.

Footnotes:

The compounding example from my 2019 Vision Memo: