Karten Design’s 2012 Conversations series started out with a bang with Jim Moriarty, CEO of Surfrider Foundation, as our guest speaker.
Founded in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves, and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research, and education.
We were honored to have Jim come speak with us not only because Surfrider’s mission resonates with everyone in our studio, but also because he is extremely talented and accomplished. It can be said that Jim has found the secret sauce to harnessing people’s passion around an idea and inspiring them to create change. His 20+ years of leadership, business, and team building experience has helped refine the ingredients he uses to connect and engage people to affect fundamental change, and transform cultures and communities through Surfrider Foundation.
No matter what industry you’re from or passions you have, the following three strategies can be used by anyone for inspiring change.
FIND WHAT YOU LOVE
After seven years working with Surfrider, Jim has learned that the foolproof way you get people to care is to connect to their love. He encouraged us that we only live life once and in our life we need to figure out a few things. “One of the things,” he said, “is figure out what you love, and know that love or else you will skip stones through life and never really dig in.” Once you find what you love, he urges, act on that love because as Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great things is to love what you do.”
Connecting people through their love of the coast is what makes Surfrider Foundation so successful. They’ve found the sweet spot in so many people’s lives and hearts and leveraged it. And it works. While it seems simple to communicate that love, it’s significantly harder than we think, Jim said, so he advised, “focus your message.”
FOCUS YOUR MESSAGE
When Jim first got to Surfrider Foundation, he wanted to change the fact that nobody knew what they did. He admits that they weren’t focused on packaging what they did so a consumer could understand it. That ambiguity that he and so many other people experienced ceased once Jim decided to focus Surfrider’s message on victories. A victory for Surfrider Foundation, Jim explained, is a coastal decision made by a formal governing body that leaves the coasts better off. This really crisp messaging has been the key to the organization’s success, but as Jim asserts, arriving at the simplicity of that message “was the hardest thing.” Yet, once you have a focus, he explains, everything else becomes easy because your message is tight and it’s repetitive.
Jim also kept his message to us tight and focused. He asked us “if you leave this talk and do just one thing, never accept another single-use plastic bottle or bag.” I challenge you, reader, to ask yourselves: if your audience could change or do ONE thing, what would it be? …Not as easy as it sounds, right? Most of us have three or four things that come to mind that are, to us, of equal importance. But choosing just one message and one goal is critical. No matter if you work on a corporate 20-person team or for a small two person business, it is always beneficial to have a focused message so that you know what you are working for, what you can rally around, what you have in common.
ACT AS A CITY, NOT AS A COMPANY
“What makes us different? What is Surfrider’s special sauce?” he asked. “The reason we kick ass all over the world is our powerful activist network.” What makes their activist network so powerful, you might ask? Answer: Because Jim runs Surfrider Foundation like a city, not a company.
The theory of acting like a city, not as a company is described in Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine. Cities and companies are very similar, Lehrer writes, except for one thing: cities never die and companies do. He attributes this to a few ideas, but to put it simply “cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant.”
Top down programs, such as those seen in large companies, stifle what they are trying to create. If you give people the autonomy to create on their own and not try to maximize creativity, they will be more creative. In Surfrider’s case, when given more autonomy, chapters and members are more inclined to volunteer their time, do everything in their power to protect the coast, and spread the word about Surfrider Foundation.
Jim admitted that he misguessed this truth. He initially thought that pushing power – including fundraising ability – to local chapters wouldn’t work. But he quickly learned that it does. He has found that at every Surfrider meeting he’s been to around the world the people are so intentional. There is a stewardship element that exists that perhaps wouldn’t if people felt they were being stifled by a larger power such as Jim and the board of Surfrider Foundation.
Chapters provide a forum for locals to voice what they care about, get involved, and take action. All the campaigns each chapter picks are picked locally, said Jim. Never has he dictated what a chapter is involved in. By placing that autonomy in the hands of the members, and allowing them to make the local chapter their own, more action happens, more victories occur, and the Surfrider network grows – in short, Surfrider’s overarching goals get achieved more often. Jim indicated that if he were playing “campaign cop or Surfrider cop” the same results wouldn’t happen, but he also notes that though chapters have autonomy, they are all aligned where it counts: around one, simple message: protecting something people love – the coast – through victories.
CEOs, managers, bosses – take note. If you want your team members/employees to be more productive and creative, and to make things happen – give them the freedom and space to do so. Let them take ownership and add value to their work and the workplace because they want to. Let them have a voice. Act like a freewheeling city.
Taking what I learned from Jim, I will leave you with one, simple message: Jim Moriarty was a fantastic speaker.