We crushed it this year. We also crushed our noses on the wall on more than one occasion and we tried not to care about bruises (mostly on the ego, as the vast majority of bruises are). Somehow, between the crushing and the ego bruising, an alchemic core has emerged. From it, we bring you a few gifts:
A shift that helped us grow and focus when choosing what to work on and what to prioritize. This shift is asking the following question every day: “If I do THIS, what is it that I cannot do? And If I don’t do THIS, what am I denying – to myself, my family and the world?”
The best books we read in 2017: ”Bold” by Peter Diamandis (if you read just one book on exponential thinking and crowdfunding, this should be it); “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelly; and “Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
Our biggest learnings in 2017:
- “The place you want to be in, is a place that requires your voice and the full expression of your ideas, embracing discomfort and the commitment to boldly enter a space where at first you feel you do not belong.” (Jessica)
- “Simplify and be present – No matter how well you plan or think you know what’s going on, the universe has its own time line for you. Trust yourself and what the world gives you.” (Roselma)
- “Keep going straight and build your own self-reliance while beefing up skills.” (Taimur)
- “I learned how to calculate travel time and made vast improvements in organizing meetings, ultimately lending to increased peace of mind.” (Julie- AI assistant)
- “While there is no substitute for massive amounts of hard work, there is so much more in us and outside us that simply waits for our command in order to manifest itself”.(Cristina)
An Insight: time doesn’t care about us. From time’s point of view, we are beautiful, tiny fish swimming in its strong and immutable current, moving forward, faster or slower, and never stopping. “I want to pause and reflect” is an illusion, as by the time I typed that sentence, I already moved downstream 30 more seconds. There is no such thing as stopping; it is a quantum impossibility. But we can take our eyes off the road and look into the rearview mirror to see where we came from, and we can plan and adjust while stepping on the gas. Add a zero to every single one of your goals, particularly the quantifiable ones. BE BOLD and trust the road!
MOVING THE NEEDLE…Stats are easy to grasp, so it’s worth noting that 2017 at Sky(lark) was a year of massive growth in scope and reach. We grew 513% in contracts with 300% revenue in the door; focused on family foundations, universities and grassroots nonprofits; run 4 GG Society Fellowship Cohorts; designed our new Nonprofit Accelerator Lab; strengthened and expanded our presence in the San Diego market; acquired our first contract in Asia; worked in South America; and carved a deep (or at least deeper) path into our 2018 expansion to the EU market, with several very exciting pots simmering on front burners. We did this by saying “yes” to a lot of crazy ideas; by refusing the idea of competition; by incorporating AI (have you met our Julie?) and offshore labor into the fabric of our operations; and by lifting the type of work we do a few levels up.
JUMPING A FEW HURDLES….This is an honest account, so it’s worth mentioning that it wasn’t all fun and games in 2017. It was many white nights. It was a lot of HARD work. It was a constant renunciation of possibilities that have to be pruned. We also lost a bid on a contract we really wanted, and we had to cut a client relationship that was giving me heartburn despite being very lucrative and despite the fact that the client was happy. Walking away from money always hurts a bit more than the ego bruises, and we learned a lot. How do you heal such blows? By having a pipeline that has more prospects that you have capacity to serve.
CIRCUMNAVIGATING THE GLOBE…In addition to California and Colorado, we covered a lot of ground: Jessica and I traveled to Austin, New York, and Germany together for work, I connected in Prague with the largest NGO in Central Europe, facilitated a cohort in Oslo for the Human Rights Foundation, jumped head first into a BMW Foundation brain trust in Canada, dissected inequity and disenfranchisement in Reykjavik, made new connections in Baltimore, and by now just about purchased a monthly pass for the Berlin subway in our efforts to shore up the civil society on both sides of the Atlantic. And to stop the humble brag, let’s just say that between Jessica, Roselma, Taimur and I, we touched ground in 19 countries on 5 continents this year.
SHOOTING FOR THE MOON…We created a 30 year strategy with clear goals for each decade (you read that right: 30 YEARS) and we shifted our attention from addressing operational issues for individual change agents to working more on large scale exponentials. In 2017, we tackled four Grand Challenges:
- Alzheimer ’s disease
- The Future of Work and the impact of automation on communities
- Accelerating Democracy/ Decelerating Dictatorship
- Strengthening the Transatlantic relationship between US and Germany (looking at the thread between education, connecting citizens, refugees/immigration, authoritarian rhetoric, and cultural narratives for youth and women influencers)
We are continuing in full force the work on all the dimensions above in 2018, shifting the focus from Alzheimer’s to Diabetes 1.
ON THE HOME FRONT…Our California effort has been focused on capacity building, strategy (planning and fund development), leadership development and executive coaching. While saying the word “innovation” makes my mouth pucker with the tartness of overuse, we have been highly innovating this year, infusing neuroscience and cognitive behavior therapies into the GG Society Fellowship, leadership development and executive coaching strategies. We pushed really difficult questions to the core of what it takes to build capacities and create plans that work for people. We brought enterprise sales processes and start-up-accelerator approaches to the nonprofit field in order to hack growth.
The Sky(lark) Triple Bottom Line commitment has deepened in 2017. Our dedication to continuous learning has also deepened, with 20% of our hours spent on R&D, conferences and workshops. We collect, generate and disseminate new knowledge. We spend time and we spend money to learn. This is what makes us pretty much the best at GROWTH + CHANGE through philanthropic strategy. That ain’t bragging; it’s fact and I invite you to throw your hardest problems and challenges our way. We’ll help shift your perspective and discover new solutions.
THE CAT’S OUT OF THE BAG… AND WE”RE NOT SLOWING OUR PACE ANYTIME SOON…And at the end of the day, the secret sauce of Sky(lark)’s success in 2017 is three-prong:
First, we fully gave into obsession, relinquished completely the idea of balance, and infused massive amounts of action into each day keeping a tight eye on cash flow.
Second, we scaled our goals up (10X!) and in the process owned our greatness, intensity, and expertise with deep compassion and deeper listening.
Lastly, we GAVE a lot; of ourselves, of our time (over 500 Pro Bono hours for Sky(lark), 400 of them mine), of our money (we donated 13% of our gross proceeds), of our knowledge, of our openness to jump into the unknown without a safety net, of our willingness to jump on a plane at the call of the universe, without a concrete understanding of the potential of this call – only knowing that the potential was there beyond anything we could conceive. Because we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and the time is now.