One Million Cups

1 Million Cups at Kauffman Foundation Kansas City As a marketer concerned primarily with technical solutions, many hours are spent with my computer. And at the end of the day it seems like there’s nothing like human connection and inspiration. For this I like to attend the weekly One Million Cups event at the Kauffman Foundation near the Plaza in Kansas City. This morning’s event had  two inspired speakers, as usual, and provided inspiration to a room full of people.

One of the founders of the event, Nate Olson, once read that communities are built through a million cups of coffee. Although there’s tea now as well, provided by Hugo Tea (one of the recent presenters), the community builds every week.

A year after it’s first meeting, the program is spreading around the country, connecting entrepreneurs, developers, investors, consultants,  and marketers like myself.

While a  ton of the presenters have technology based solutions, we all need human connection. A survey of participants completed earlier this year supported that. People reported that  that face-to-face contact was the big draw to the weekly events.

“The word-of-mouth growth of 1 Million Cups suggests the value of interpersonal networking among entrepreneurs,” said Yasuyuki Motoyama, a Kauffman senior scholar who researched the program. “

Starting with Why

Simon Sinek made his mantra: “Start with Why.” He says (and I agree) that people do what they do not because of the inherent value (or lack of) the activity, but because of some underlying reason – the why. People become loyal customers, part of your tribe, donate money, and buy your art because of the underlying why they resonate with.

Most people are intent on getting the what right t……the plan, the business model, the proposal, the product images, the features and benefits.

But why do you care about any of it? Because the Why actually causes (and then flavors) the What.

Imagine two teachers helping two students. One is doing it because her why is because is nearing retirement and doesn’t want to learn to do something else. The other is doing it because she cares deeply and wants to make a contribution right there and then.

The potential impact is clear, yet most of us in business (and even in our personal lives) continue to focus on measurable results caused by actions.  It’s up to each of us to determine our own whys, the context from which we live and carry out tasks. It’s from this place that new ideas are hatched.

Remember, Martin Luther King Jr. had an I Have a Dream Speech, not I Have a Well Reasoned Business Plan Speech.

Then vs. Now

The thought of planning for the future and retirement overwhelms me, and the gerbil that sometimes runs my brain gets sweaty.

Watching my parents age and suffer has been as awful as it is excellent gerbil food.

Recently I came across the story I’m posting below. I’ve read it before, and I like it every time I read it. It reminds me when given free range and ample food, the gerbils of life will thrive and keep you what really matters to you.

When you stand up and say what it is that matters to you, there’s the risk of looking “bad” to some people’s ….maybe even in your own eyes (as if being happy isn’t “good” enough). It seems like my life is often a struggle involving my commitment to what really matters to me and the fear that fuels purchase after purchase of those gerbil wheels….so to speak.

An investment banker stood at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The investor scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.

The investor continued, “And instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would then sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution! You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But how long will this all take?”

To which the banker replied, “Perhaps 15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the fisherman.

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”

“Millions. Okay, then what?” wondered the fisherman.

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I don’t know who to attribute this to. I’ve seen it published many places and no one ever attributes it. Sorry to the person who wrote it. If only the author had a nickel, right?!


Art vs. Business

What’s the difference between art and business? Does it matter? Art is creative, passionate, personal …and it resonates.  A lot of entrepreneurs would say that’s what they do.

Isn’t real art primarily about intent and communication, not the content of the creation? Don’t artists use bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo?

If so, then isn’t Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod for Apple, an artist?

Tom Peters, corporate writer and writer, takes a stand, takes the work personally, knows people are going to disagree and then does it anyway. He’s compelled to share. That’s art.

The medium is not what determines if it’s art or not, it’s the intention.

Being a Listener

Marketers are the worst at this – spending so much time developing elaborate and varied communications and strategies for saying what we want people to hear…and almost no time getting in another person’s world.Listening and Marketing

I’m not talking about the pauses we have in our communications – the ones that occur when someone else is talking. I’m talking about really getting in someone else’s world. The kind where you actually ask them, “hey, this is what I’m hearing, is that what you meant?” and then the other person has time to clarify.

If we assume we know what someone else is saying all the time, we’re not really giving them a chance to get heard. That gets us off the hook. It’s much easier and way less satisfying, to make it all about us.

Once you do really get what’s going on with someone, it opens up the possibility for everything – trust, authentic relationships, engagement, and business.

Try just being a listener to others for a day, and watch what happens to your day…. and watch the impact being heard has on other people.



The Worldwide Icarus Sessions

It can be frightening to stand up for what we believe in…. and frightening to do something that might not work.  All too often we settle for what’s reasonable, predictable, and ordinary. When it becomes personal and fraught with the possibility of failure, it becomes scarce and valuable, and it matters.

Saying “Here, I made this,” and “Here’s why it matters to me” is something we rarely get to hear.

Seth Godin created Icarus Sessions for people to share just that. For the first time ever, people all over the world in 1,300 communites did that on Jan. 2, 2013.

We had 25 people at the Kansas City session at Californos (organized on

People volunteered to give 140 second talks about what they were creating or building, and shared it with vulnerability, passion and generosity. And then sat down and listened to the next person. It was a chance to find fellow travelers, artists and those making a ruckus and hear what they’re passionate about.  Generally, everyone followed the  “No pitching or selling” rule.

Although these are not networking sessions, several great connections were made. For example, one person’s project needed a filmmaker, and the one filmmaker that happened to be there loved the project and stepped forward to help.

“Difficult and frightening” are not typical elements of social or networking events, but they are components that contribute to creating meaningful, sustainable connections… and being witness to our humanity.

Stand up, tell people what you care about. Be a listener for what matters to others. Contact me (Brigid Greene) to get on the speaker’s schedule. The next session will be March 6 (location will be posted here  and on when confirmed).

Read Seth’s overview of the rules and reasoning behind the Icarus Sessions here.


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