How to Get Your Great Work Project Off the Ground

This is a guest post by Michael Bungay Stanier. He is the Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps people and organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. He’s written several books and especially proud of his own Great Work Project, End Malaria, which has raised more than $300,000 for Malaria No More. You can learn more about Michael here and follow him on Twitter.

As a keen reader of Michael’s blog, you’ll likely remember this interview he did with marketing blogger and provocateur Seth Godin about a year ago. About 3:40 in Seth hints at a project connected with his Domino Project publishing company, and then says he can’t say any more because “… he’ll get in trouble.”

But I can tell you about it. And as tomorrow is World Malaria Day, a time to remember and refocus on the battle against malaria, it’s the perfect time. Let me explain why.

I’m the creator of that idea, a charitable project disguised as a book. End Malaria isn’t directly about malaria at all but a collection of more than 60 thought-leaders sharing their best insights, strategies, and tips on a life of purpose and Great Work.

In September it hit #2 on Amazon.com. But the real magic is that it generates $20 per copy sold and has already raised more than $300,000 for Malaria No More.

Five ways to find, start and sustain your own Great Work Project

But where do big dreams come from? How do you find your Great Work? And how do you start it? Here’s how it worked for me.

  1. Declare a project. You might have heard of Google, a fairly successful tech company. One of the secrets of their success it that they’re a project-led company. Job titles and organization charts play a secondary role to the projects people are working on. Once the project is done, you roll off and on to what’s next.

    Deciding to do a Great Work Project sets a start date, an end date, and a target for success. You know when you’re doing it, you know when you’re not. And you create space to focus on the project rather than letting the everyday work take over.

  2. Check what’s in your kit bag. One immediate impact of saying, “I want to make a difference” is that you quickly feel inadequate. A thousand reasons percolate up that seem perfect arguments about why in fact you can’t really make a difference at all.

    One way to quieten the voices of doubt is to take a good look at the assets you have to make a difference.

    • The experience you have and the scars you bear
    • The courage you’ve displayed and the resilience you’ve shown
    • The person you are and the values you stand for
    • The people you know (and the people they know)

    When I looked at what I had, I knew I had some ability to create a successful book and I knew I had some “weak ties” to influential people through the Great Work Interviews podcast series I’d being doing for years.

  3. Find your horizon. It’s one of the contradictions of creativity that the clearer you are on your boundaries, the easiest it is to focus and have good ideas. So where should you set your limits? A project for your organization? For your tribe? For your neighborhood? Or your city? Your country? Globally?

    Inspired by the work of Mark and Craig Keilberger with Free the Children and their focus on the UN’s Millennium Goals I decided my stretch was to reach globally. Some research determined that the cheapest unit for global change was a $10 mosquito net. That could save lives and help eradicate malaria, a disease killing a child in Africa every minute of every day.

  4. Steal inspiration. At this stage I had some basic assets—book creating skills and some loose connections to influential people—and an idea about raising money in units of $10 to make a difference. But I needed a spark.

    The catalyst was an ebook that Seth Godin had recently published, a collection of smart people writing around that topic of What Matters.

    When you combine assets, limitations and inspiration into a blender, you’ll find ideas taking shape, and I knew there was something magical in the idea of “buy a book, buy a net” with a book co-created by a wide range of smart people.

  5. Don’t give up, file away. Moving from idea to action is never easy. We lurched from hope to despair. Some big names contributors like David Allen and Brene Brown came on board early. But others didn’t. I identified the perfect charitable partner. And they turned me down.

    My publisher offered to underwrite the costs of publishing the books. But I couldn’t figure out how to get the money to the charity fast enough.

    So I gave up. I filed the idea away under It’s Not Working Right Now.

    But then Seth started The Domino Project, a publishing company with a radical new financial model. Suddenly, I could see how the project might work. Nudged on by some of the people I’d already got involved, the project found its new life.

There’s More of Course

Lessons learned about giving up control, inviting others in to play, the art of gentle nagging and the gift of being able to detach yourself from the outcome, knowing that all you can do is focus on the journey to get you there.

But that only happens after you’ve taken the first steps on your own Great Work Project.

What Will Be Your Great Work Project?

Michael’s a great champion for being thoughtful about creating a Good Life. To paraphrase Churchill, we shape our life and afterwards it shapes us. Finding and starting your Great Work Project is a keystone block in building your powerful Life Plan. Now’s a great time to start.

Question: Have you ever considered a Great Work project? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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