I had the great pleasure of attending Google Zeitgeist last week in Arizona. Now celebrating its tenth year, this is an annual thought leadership and inspirational summit that Google organizes for its key partners globally.
Think of a two day Ted talk with visionaries and revolutionaries from every walk of life including Kanye West, Lynn Hill (rock climber), Scott Kelly (astronaut), Alan Eustace (Google executive who went 132,000 feet into the stratosphere by balloon), Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy (Surgeon General of the United States), and Nobel Prize winning Child Rights Activist Kailash Satyarthi. It was an extraordinary gathering of folks who have pushed the boundaries of mental, spiritual and physical elevation and contribution.
But one speaker in particular stood out for the story he told and the way he told it. Bryan A. Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) which is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners and others who may have been denied a fair trial. He has gained national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, and pushing for reform in the administrating of criminal justice.
In describing his work and efforts to change institutional bias and the institutions themselves, Bryan described four key factors that have helped him succeed in tackling daunting challenges and overcoming them.
- Proximity– If you want to tackle a challenge or opportunity and conquer it, you need to live inside and become intimate with it. You need to make it personal. Bryan’s term for this was Proximity, a Latin word which literally means nearness in place, time, order, occurrence or
- Narrative— In addition to a proximate relationship, you need a story. Supported by fact and finesse, you need to craft the content and storyline that compels change and commitment. And stick to it!
- Hope–- Every challenge or opportunity requires persistency in the face of obstacles and disappointments. Hope is the greater equalizer that keeps those that want to change their world on the path to do so.
- Discomfort— Change also requires being comfortable with the uncomfortable, embracing discomfort as a norm and an expected part of the experience.
Extraordinary contributions are driven from a place of proximity, a compelling narrative, perpetual hope and comfort with discomfort. Sounds like a formula to drive the change we all seek every day in our personal and professional lives.