Legacy Foundry Origin Story
Let’s talk about Fear
What do you think about when you hear the word fear? White knuckles and sweaty palms? Sucking your thumb in the fetal position? Our lizard brains give us two options in response to fear: fight or flight. Our thinking brains have provided quite a bit of color to these options but they are still ultimately the same – face the fear in some way or run from it. In the modern world, these fears have evolved. In first world countries, at least in the last generation or two, we rarely fear the giant predator about to eat us or the enemy soldier about to kill us. Our fears have evolved to the workplace, to social media, to relationships, to sickness. Most of us will do anything to avoid situations that involve fear because it feels safe. The problem with that approach is it leaves us feeling empty.
Fear is a valuable emotion. Maybe the most valuable. When we are faced with something life threatening, it forces us to act. When we are not faced with something life threatening, fear becomes much more interesting. It is there to remind us that we don’t have all the answers. Fear tells us there are still experiences we haven’t encountered and don’t know how to react to. It tells us there are problems that we don’t know how to solve. This makes us uncomfortable. We all react differently to that discomfort. Some of us react with anger. Others don’t act at all, falling into procrastination or paralysis. Too many of us quit.
Another option is to acknowledge the fear then embrace it. Most of the people I admire take this route. I don’t condone putting yourself in life threatening situations like croc wrasslin or free climbing. I personally think those people are idiots. What I do condone is putting yourself in situations where you feel out of your depth, where you feel uncomfortable. It’s only then that you grow, that you learn more about yourself, more about others and more about the world. After a while you come to realize: it’s fun to push your limits. It may seem riskier but there are a lot less regrets. When sitting on your death bed, the last thing you want to be saying is – “I wish I had the guts to try that.”
It is with this mindset that I accepted the invitation to be a prospective CEO at 10.10.10. 10.10.10 is a wonderful organization led by Tom Higley. Tom is a billionaire business bad ass who has been through multiple enormous exits. He is also incredibly approachable, super nice and one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
The idea of each 10.10.10 cohort is to bring 10 serial entrepreneurs together for 10 days to work on 10 wicked problems. Wicked Problems are generally associated with complex adaptive systems. These are problems with lots of players with lots of incentives that are often at odds with each other. These problems are littered with known and unknown variables that folks have been trying to crack for many years. So why pick such difficult problems? One of the targets of 10.10.10 is to help foster impact entrepreneurs. These are folks that are willing to tackle the tough stuff to make lasting, positive, social change.
Our cohort was focused on the healthcare industry. Healthcare is an industry that is practically defined by its challenges. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion or problem that they have experienced within healthcare. So, we had plenty to work with. The 10 wicked problems the program presented were well thought out and well researched. Each problem was championed by a thought leader in the field called the wicked problem advocate. At the opening ceremony at the end of the first day, each of the CEOs introduced ourselves to the community and each of the wicked problems were introduced by the wicked problem advocates. We then had 9 days to try to understand these problems and come up with some sort of unique solution to some of the most difficult issues of our time.
Luckily, we had an experienced captain at the helm. At the beginning of day 2, Tom took all of the CEOs into a room. This started one of the most powerful meetings of my career. The theme of the meeting was – “who are you really? Not the marketing version of you, but the real you.” I’m not going to share any of the specifics of the meeting because they are not mine to share. I will say that everyone was incredibly open, often expressing their vulnerabilities, their stories and in many cases their fears. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to that scene in the Replacements when Gene Hackman wrote FEAR on the blackboard and asked the players to share theirs. That’s when the players became a team. Never downplay the power and catharsis of shared experience with fear. Very powerful and funny scene – If you haven’t seen it watch it here. I walked in to that room with 10 strangers and walked out with 10 friends. I also had no doubt that I had every right to be there and that we would each come up with really cool ideas.
The program then surrounded us with amazing, passionate volunteers who wanted to help. Many of these volunteers were CEOs themselves or PhDs or MDs or engineers or healthcare veterans. The volunteers were broken into two groups, ninjas and validators. Ninjas were folks that were there to help the CEOs research the problems and develop their solutions. The validators were experienced healthcare (mostly) veterans who were subject matter experts in one or more specific wicked problems. The quality of both groups of volunteers was stunning. We spent most of day 2 and day 3 diving deep into the problems and starting to fall in love with a couple of those problems.
At the end of day 3 we were assigned our rooms and our teams for the rest of the program. I lucked out. Not only did I get the best team, I also got the best room. My team of Melissa, Paul, Ginny and Clint quickly turned into a cohesive unit. Each person brought different skill sets of process, marketing, finance, design and a good amount of experience in healthcare. The whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. We were basically Voltron but slightly cooler (if that’s possible).
The problem we ended up focusing on was the unwillingness to have the conversation around death and dying. The cost of not having this conversation is enormous both emotionally and financially on families but also on the healthcare system in general. When we don’t have this conversation our default is to provide care to the very end even if that care is inconsistent with the patient’s wishes. If those wishes aren’t know, no one is willing to risk stopping care. Remember death panels?
Part of the reason this problem was so interesting is that our wicked problem advocate was Dr. Jean Kutner. She is an incredibly articulate and passionate doctor in the field of palliative care. For those not familiar, palliative care is, from getpalliativecare.org, “specialized medical care for people with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.” Jean is also the CMO of UCHealth and is very active in the community.
The conversation started with Jean but it certainly didn’t end there. Over the course of the next several days we spoke with a full spectrum of thought leaders. We weren’t drinking from the fire hose, we were drinking from the hydrant. The amazing thing about those conversations was that we were talking to all these highly influential people with little to no preparation. Except for our willingness to learn! We put our minds in full growth mode which meant tossing our egos in the trunk and being willing to actively listen and have our minds changed. If you approach anybody with this mindset, they are almost always happy to teach. The common quality shared by everyone we spoke with about the issue was passion. This was a problem that needed fixing.
Founder / Opportunity Fit & The Process
One of the concepts that Tom proselytized, and 10.10.10 is based on, is the idea of founder/opportunity fit. During the course of the 10 days, when surrounded with that much energy, it is easy to get excited about damn near anything. Founder/opportunity fit means that you find a problem that you can get excited about not just during the event but stay excited about it 6 weeks down the road or 6 months. To do that, you have to find the problem that resonates deep in your bones such that it creates an itch in your brain. As you scratch it with new information, it continues to expand until you can’t help but think about it.
Part of my process when I went back to the hotel at night was to try to understand why this problem spoke to me. I approached this in three ways: what was unique about my experience that made this problem interesting? What skillsets did I have that made me qualified to try to solve this problem? What trends have I noticed in recent years that would make a solution viable to a problem that had some serious societal and cultural taboos attached to it?
I’ll start with question two. I started two companies in the past. I also just spent six and a half years at a company that built workflow software for large hospitals. I had a good healthcare network and a solid investment network. My background in science and engineering taught me to break down big problems into smaller, solvable problems as a matter of course. I also had a lot of experience in gamification and before joining 10.10.10 I was working on another venture in the personal development space. All of these skills would help start the company and provide me with the tools and network to start attacking some of the taboos and motivations around having tough conversations.
As for question three, the trend was timing. We have entered a period where people are living a hell of a lot longer. The boomers are well known for owning their experiences. They did it through war, civil rights, the space race – you name it, the boomers owned the experience. There’s a reason they’re called the ‘me’ generation and self-realization plays a big role. They have also recently dealt with too many poor experiences surrounding the deaths of their own parents. This generation is more ready than almost any other to have the conversation. We are also in a time of great disconnect. Globalization and the nuclear family has prevented most folks from dying at home surrounded by family. Death is becoming abstracted, institutionalized. This is universally loathed and needs to change.
Back to question one, my experience. I was forced to face my own mortality in my late twenties when I was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I was terrified. I made it past it. Almost twenty years out, I look back on that experience as one of the best things that ever happened to me. When you are forced to face your own mortality, priorities become crystallized very quickly. All the petty crap gets swept off the table and you start to have real conversations. This is where I learned that the true marker of strength is vulnerability, not bravado. This is where I learned the power of fear.
One of the things we heard again and again from our validators and thought leaders was the positives that can come out of having the conversation when death is on the line. Estranged family members come back into the fold, stoics express emotion, people talk about what really matters and what they want to leave behind. In another post, I’ll talk about my experience with shadowing the palliative care team where I saw some of this myself. From my own experience, I can testify that facing your own mortality comes with a lot of benefits. The questions we found ourselves asking again and again is: why can’t we experience those positives before we are given a terminal diagnosis? Why can’t we have the conversation about death before we need to and then focus on the power of facing our own mortality? Taboo Schmaboo. It’s time to realize that the benefits far outweigh the petty fears of opening up to your family and friends.
I made a lot of deals with myself when I was going through treatment. The first was that I would never be out of shape again. I’ve kept that side of it. The other was that I was going to face my fears on a regular basis. At first I promised I would do something that scared me twice a year. I changed that to once a quarter. I recently changed that to doing something that scares me once a month. 10.10.10 qualified. I am a better person for going through that program.
Legacy Foundry is being built around the idea that facing our fears by having the hard conversations about our own mortality makes us stronger. We will be providing the tools to have those conversations, to store the important documents but more importantly to capture the positivity that comes from braving these turbulent waters in the form of building legacy. Please explore the site for more detail.
I recently finished an Olympic length triathlon. One of my close friends asked me – “Why? Why would you do that to yourself? All of that pain and training to do something that has no real payoff.”
I smiled and said, “because it scares me.”