One of the bravest men I know is my friend, Mike Brennan. For over 20 years at the United Way, Mike served, through leadership and empathy, the less fortunate people of Detroit, well respected by everyone. About a year and a half ago, Mike and I sat across from each other and he was explaining to me his “no matter what.” I didn’t get it, “no matter what?” And he said “yep. No matter what. I’ve got a vision for a world I want to create and how I want to help people, and I’m going to create it. No matter what.”
6 months later he resigned as the CEO of the United Way.
Mike has now opened a Center for Social Innovation in Detroit called Civilla. They’re doing some amazing, innovative work focused on people less fortunate than you and me. He’s doing it no matter what. One of their first projects was to tackle the monster that is the 64 page assistance program with the State of Michigan. For 6 years Mike has been carrying around a scroll that, when rolled out, spans multiple rooms of any building. Now Civilla is using human centered design to make the process of getting assistance from the State of Michigan more friendly. I’m seeing all sorts of parallels to our work in story, at Final 5. Mostly, the need for the type of courageous leadership Mike brings.
Story Requires Courage
The type of story work I’m talking about isn’t simply about sharing what’s happening with your organization on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a window into a journey that you’re taking, out in the open, for all to see. Often times the journey of story begins with a significant amount of internal work, before a story is even discussed. And therein lies maybe the biggest part of the challenge, the internal work that happens, both at a personal level and a professional level. Our work opens eyes, and in the process of opening eyes, sometimes one is forced to answer difficult questions. Questions that maybe a person doesn’t want to answer. Because once those questions are answered, it can become clear that one’s life and work might be in conflict with the answers to those questions. Then hard decisions must be made, and sometimes hard things must be done. For those not courageous enough, it’s much easier to continue waking up every morning and doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years. With the same people, because it’s easy. But the journey of using story to not only propel one’s life and business, but to find perfect balance and contentment init, can lead to breakthrough possibilities.
I know this isn’t palpable for everyone. It’s hard for some businesses and some professionals to imagine that their life can change in immeasurable ways by understanding their story, how they act it out and how it shapes their life, decisions, family, friendships, and so many other things. That’s sometimes a tough sell to a business. And I shared this with Mike last week as I shared with him a few of the stories coming out as a part of our work. And I asked the question, “I just don’t know that that’s a very palpable business strategy. How do I get companies to buy that?”
And his response was: “No matter what, Matt.”