A good friend of our team, Jesse, has always had a passion for sports and improving the lives of people through athletics. In college, Jesse played lacrosse and witnessed the tragic death of a teammate. His friend that passed had planned to work for Teach For America upon graduating college, and Jesse became determined to commemorate his friend’s life with an annual dinner that would raise money for Teach For America among other causes. He meandered with the idea for quite some time. But as he shared the idea with teammates and other college friends, he gained momentum and ultimately raised many thousands of dollars from hundreds of people. It seemed that just sharing the idea, soliciting feedback, and sharing his enthusiasm was enough to hold him (and others) accountable to actually make it happen (despite a full-time job).American Express recently launched an initiative called “Members Project.”
Anyone is invited to submit a non-profit idea that would make a positive impact in society. While the winning projects will share $2.5 million in funding, perhaps another outcome from the initiative is the “pressure” and accountability it provides for the founders – the people with the bold ideas. Each submission includes the inspiration behind the idea, the problem being addressed, and a statement related to the impact the founder envisions. Since everyone is allowed to nominate (vote for) the projects, the people behind the ideas are emailing them around – to their friends, family, co-workers – all of the people that might hold them accountable.
Another great example of holding one’s feet to the fire occurs at the world famous TED Conference – a gathering of the world’s leading minds in technology, entertainment, and design. The attendees, ranging from Google’s Larry Page to Al Gore, converge in California annually to share ideas, discuss trends, and consider aspirations to solve global problems. Every year, a few “TED Prizes” are given to participants with bold ideas to improve the world. The acceptance speech for the prize is framed as a “call to action” – an attempt to get the audience to help make the idea happen.
However, my conspiracy theory is that the purpose is really to hold the recipient accountable. If you had to share a goal in front of hundreds of leaders including Al Gore and the Google founders, wouldn’t you feel some pressure to make it happen? It is also important to note that the winners of the prizes are also always people that have the capacity – the resources, industry experience, and power – to make their idea happen. Every TED Prize recipient is asked to report back one year later on the progress – a mini documentary on what has materialized from their idea. Talk about accountability!
It is scary to put yourself out there. When you share your goals broadly, you risk “failing” in the eyes of those you respect. However, ideas never happen in isolation. The forces that push ideas forward are around us, and the first step is broadcasting them broadly.
Our friend Jesse is stepping it up a notch. His new ambition is to launch “The Coaching Corps,” an organization that will recruit, train, staff and develop recent college graduates to be coaches in our nation’s most under-served schools. These coaches will improve the lives of millions of children in high-risk communities. He’s shared his vision with friends and family, and he has even submitted the idea to the American Express challenge where people can support him by nominating the project or, better yet, hold him accountable to making the idea actually happen!