Who’s Skiing in your Wake?

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Water Skiing in a Boat's Wake

On Christmas day in 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” debuted at the box office. The Frank Capra film barely covered its $3.18MM production budget and was widely considered a major disappointment, although the movie has gone on to become a holiday classic, even making the American Film Institute’s top 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (#20).

It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfect example of a concept that Kip Tindell, Founder & CEO of The Container Store, calls “wake.” Essentially, wake is the cumulative effect of your actions and inactions. Think about the wake behind a speed boat. In It’s a Wonderful Life, a suicidal George Bailey (James Stewart) gets the rare opportunity to glimpse the size of his wake when Clarence, his guardian angel, takes him on a journey to see what his home town of Bedford Falls would be without his presence and influence. In this alternate reality, George sees that his brother Harry is dead because George was not there to save him. His former boss, Mr. Gower, is in prison because George was not there to stop him from accidentally poisoning a young child. The town, now renamed Pottersville, is a seedy den of crime because George Bailey was not there to check the greed and exploitation of the wealthiest man in the city, Mr. Potter.

Lollipop Moments

Unfortunately, none of us will have the opportunity to visit an alternate reality to observe the size of our wake, but that doesn’t mean we can’t become more aware of what Drew Dudley calls “lollipop moments.” According to Dudley, a lollipop moment is “a moment where someone said something or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better.” In the following 6min Ted Talk, Drew Dudley explains a powerful story of how a simple act changed the life of someone he didn’t even know.

I am convinced that there are potential lollipop moments all around us, yet will you be able to act when they are staring you right in the face? In order to do so you need three qualities: awareness, engagement, and humility.

Be Aware

As I mentioned in my article, Drowning in a Sea of Paper, narcissism is on the rise. In fact, noted psychologist Jean Twenge has found that “two-thirds of current college students score above average on narcissism.” The rise of selfishness in our society is also accompanied by an increase in social isolation. A 2006 study found that only half of survey participants in 2004 had a friend with whom they could confide, compared to nearly three-quarters in 1985. In many ways, communities are becoming fragmented which I believe makes us more internally focused and less externally aware. By simply opening our eyes to the people around us, we increase the likelihood that lollipop moments will find us.

Don’t be Afraid to Engage

I must confess that I’m not as nice now as when I lived in the South. Back home, people greet one another on the street and they are not afraid to speak to someone in the elevator. In contrast, people in the North East largely keep to themselves. Subway cars are full of people trying their best to avoid eye contact with others. It’s a constant struggle to wake myself up from this propensity toward disengagement. While awareness enables us to spot potential lollipop moments, engagement requires us to have the courage to act. Last week, I encouraged people to try their own day on the streets. If that is too daunting then start small. Try engaging people in the supermarket line and build your way up to more challenging types of engagement. The key is action.

Approach Others with Humility

If there is anything I’ve learned from all my travels around the world it is the need to approach others with humility. As Americans, we have the tendency to be know-it-alls, especially when surrounded by quieter people who we perceive as being weak. Don’t try to help someone in the way you think best. Listen to them to hear how they need to be helped. International Development history is littered with white elephant projects that have wasted billions yet helped few. Part of the problem is that there was little importance placed on hearing the perspectives of the target communities. Encouragingly, co-creation is on the rise. Co-creation is a movement that jointly engages companies and customers (or aid agencies and beneficiaries) in actively crafting a solution. By approaching lollipop moments with humility, you increase the likelihood that you will actually have an impact in someone else’s life and increase your wake.

The Internet is full of lollipop stories like the anonymous real estate magnate who hides cash around the city or the woman who purchased $17.38 worth of groceries for a needy family on food stamps. These stories speak to our hearts and remind us of our common humanity. Don’t forget your awareness, engagement, and humility as you walk out the door today and a lollipop moment may be waiting for you. Like George Bailey, you may never know how such a simple act will increase your wake.

Photo Credit: Ted Van Pelt

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  1. […] and 14,000 employees to over $4B and 25,000 employees. He develops a reputation of being a bit like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” treating Market Basket’s workers as his extended family. He attends employee weddings and […]

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