May 17, 2012 | BY Julia Michaels
Editor: Michael Bungay Stanier
What can an ordinary college student do to save 655,000 lives every year in communities across the world? How can that same student fill her life with meaningful work that she cares about? End Malaria provides an answer to both of those questions, while sharing words of wisdom from dozens of successful leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.
The book itself is a business enterprise with an altruistic goal: for every copy sold, a full $20 of the $25 retail price is donated to the nonprofit group Malaria No More, which provides bed nets to families in areas where malaria is prevalent. Bed nets have been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria-related deaths, and are both cheap and easy to use. Since the nets themselves are valued at $10 apiece, every book sold provides two nets. By releasing the book through The Domino Project, an online publishing enterprise founded by entrepreneur Seth Godin, Amazon Kindle users can purchase the book at a discounted price, ensuring that 100 percent of their contribution is donated to Malaria No More.
If the opportunity to contribute to such a worthy cause is not reason enough to buy the book, the authors’ missives may provide an additional incentive. End Malaria is essentially a compilation of brief essays by successful people from a variety of different fields. Each of the brilliant and tenacious authors offer the reader ingots of insight that helped them get to where they are today. On their own, they seem disparate, but when digested altogether the essays illuminate a pathway to achievement and fulfillment in both the workplace and personal life.
In “What’s the Matter with Millenials?” author Dan Pink challenges the conventional workplace wisdom that members of Generation Y are emotionally needy and require constant feedback to bolster their fragile egos. In fact, Pink argues that modern offices are “feedback deserts” with few opportunities for employees to improve the quality of their work outside of the traditional annual performance review. Pink encourages managers to “fix the workplace, not the workers” and close feedback loops more frequently. Among the strategies that Pink identifies are monthly self-evaluations and goal-setting sessions, peer-to-peer feedback, and anonymous feedback software systems such as Rypple.
Author and social web strategist Gwen Bell encourages workers to unplug more often from our electronic devices. She tells a story from her own personal history, in which a house she shared with five others burned to the ground one night and left her with few possessions. She was forced in that moment to ask herself “what matters?” Bell challenges readers to evaluate how much time we spend consuming information, and whether or not we would choose to devote that same amount of time if we knew our houses would soon be burnt to a crisp. In addition to becoming more mindful of our bodies throughout the workday, we should eliminate distractions one by one until we focus on the things that are most important.
In a similar vein, entrepreneur Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, asks: “Finish this sentence: In a perfect world, ____________.” He argues that answering this one simple question forces us to realize and acknowledge what kind of life we would like to be living, and guides us through all of the daily decisions that we need to make in order to get there. Reminding ourselves of what we should be aiming for creates a healthy distance between reality and vision, thereby allowing us to imagine and create.
Sometimes, however, we can be our own worst enemies. Innovator Ryan Vanderbilt, who has worked for Google among other companies, claims that his own inner monologue held him back for years. The thought, “I have to be perfect,” was crippling – he writes that, “[i]f you remain a perfectionist, you won’t ever achieve up to your full ability because the fear of messing up will prevent you from fully exploring the possibilities.” Pam Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, agrees. Self-doubt, she argues, often prevents great work from ever happening at all. To help combat our inherent tendency to avoid risk, entrepreneur Charlene Li encourages us to embrace failure and celebrate the outcomes of our work regardless of whether or not they are “successful” outcomes.
So how do we get started? Josh Linkner, CEO of ePrize, suggests that we spend 5 percent of our work time (just 2 hours each week) imagining possibilities and engaging in unstructured, creative thought. By setting aside our busy schedules to think and create, we become “more efficient and more innovative at the same time.” Abandoning much of our careful preparation may be another solution, as Lauryn Ballesteros, VP of Strategic Partnerships at The Domino Project, suggests. Opportunities appear when “people trust you and there is a connection.” Good conversations establish such connections, and these types of conversations are never scripted; they are “natural and unplanned.”
When all else fails, a leap of faith may be necessary. Entrepreneur Jonathan Fields argues that moments of creation are never easy, and anything worth doing is filled with uncertainty. What matters most is overcoming fear and making the choice to move forward with something that might, at the time, seem completely crazy. As Michael Bungay Stanier, the editor of End Malaria, reminds us: “[d]on’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”
The cause underlying End Malaria is certainly important, but not quite impossible – if you’re willing to take one small step and read the book.
About the Author
Julia Michaels: Julia Michaels is the Director of Legislative Research in the Austin, Texas, office of Project Vote Smart, an online resource for information about presidential, congressional, and state races. Julia holds a Master of Public Policy degree from Oregon State University and is also a graduate of Saint Olaf College in Minnesota. Prior to joining Project Vote Smart in January 2011, Julia interned with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and with the City of Corvallis, Ore., where she worked primarily with transportation policy.