Seven Billion Dreamers

Somewhere in the world today a baby is born and unknowingly pushes the population ticker to 7,000,000,000.

Seven billion people. Seven billion dreamers.

It is humanity’s unique blessing to envision things that never were and by our work to make them real. We are a species of dreamers.

And whether we are born in American suburbs or Ugandan villages we dream of the same things. We dream of finding love, finding a calling, finding success. We dream of good lives for our families. We dream of a world where more people, where all people, have the liberty and resources to pursue their dreams.

Our dreams unite us.

The Evolution of Good Ideas

artwork from Barabeke on flickr

Evolution works because it’s not afraid of its children dying. It’s constantly trying new ideas and new combinations of ideas, and a lot of them are really bad. For example, I have asthma and bad eyesight. Thanks evolution.

But evolution doesn’t care. And because its willing to throw so many failed ideas out into the world for testing, it comes up with a lot of good ones as well. Like the brain. Like those little hairs in your ears that keep you from falling over. Like the nuchal ligament on the base of your skull that keeps your head from flopping around when you run (just learned about that today).

Our own idea-making is an evolutionary process as well. But most of the time we hamstring it by holding back most of our ideas, waiting until we find one we’re almost certain will succeed. We’re afraid of our children dying, and maybe even more afraid of how it will reflect on us if they do.

But 2 billion years of R&D tells us that, when it comes to ideas, the more you try, the better. So release a few more into the world for testing. See what happens.

Powerless, Senseless Kindness

Our friends over at Plywood were kind enough to publish a piece I wrote about one of the quotes that inspired the Ember Arts ethos. Here’s an excerpt:

Life is not given special treatment on our planet. Life struggles. The elements wear down life far more quickly than they do a stone.

But against what often seem terrible odds, life persists. Mothers have babies and teach them to be good. Babies grow and try to make a difference. People find each other and commit to love each other for life. Communities gather to encourage and support and build safety nets for one another. People care for each other.

Somewhere deep in this human thing is a drive to care, a realization that alone before this universe we will perish, but together, somehow, we will persist.

To read the rest, go here.

Soccer, Noise, and Steve Jobs

Yesterday I sat in a crowded bar with about 200 Ugandans (and a handful of Kenyans) and watched a big soccer match between Uganda and Kenya on television. The experience of being there with all those people was great, but my experience of the game itself was awful. I could barely follow the action.

There were vuvzelas and whistles blowing, a busted television, horrible ads splashed across the action, and the TV cameras were so lo-res that you could hardly see the ball.

The two teams were playing only a few miles away, but between them and me were so many layers of noise that I missed much of what was happening on the field. (I don’t mean noise in the auditory sense (though that was definitely part of it), but in the signal-vs-noise sense, noise meaning anything that degrades the information being sent.)

It made me wonder, how many layers of noise come between me and Ember’s customers?

It won’t surprise you that I thought about Steve Jobs, about how he controlled the noise between himself and Apple’s customers. He was a legendary perfectionist and notorious micro-manager, ensuring that his vision came through in Apple’s products. And he built an online and physical retail empire, giving customers direct, noiseless access to that vision.

He even responded with legendary regularity to customer emails. Jobs built a company that stripped noise out wherever possible so that he could broadcast his message loud and clear. I’d like to transmit the Ember message with as much clarity.

Steven Pressfield and Resistance

“On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon.
You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”
-Steven Pressfield 

Art comes in a million forms. It’s the book you want to write, the meaningful words you want to say to your spouse, the healthy diet you want to start. But why are we sitting around wanting these things rather than doing them? What is stopping us?

That’s the question that Steven Pressfield answers in his books ‘The War of Art‘ and ‘Do The Work.’ And his answer is: Resistance.

If you have ever tried to do something creative, or something that would benefit other people, or something that would make your a healthier or better person, you have felt Resistance. Resistance, according to Pressfield, is what tells us that we’re not good enough, that we are going to fail, that we’ll blow it, that we don’t actually want these good things anyway.

Some critics of Pressfield’s books have called them simplistic, trite, cliched, and overly and amorphously spiritual. According to my readings, this is all true. And yet the power of these books remains. If anything it grows.

The simplicity of Pressfield’s diagnosis of the problem, taking all the various fears and forces that keep us from creating and bundling them up in the term Resistance, allows us to see our task as manageable, to see our enemy as singular and defeatable. And his prescription is equally simple: acknowledge the Resistance that you feel, call it what it is, and then sit down and do your work anyway.

‘The War of Art’ introduces us to Resistance, and to the work of becoming a “pro,” someone who pushes through Resistance day in and day out and gets work done. In ‘Do The Work’ Pressfield acknowledges that many people get mired in Resistance even before starting a project. So he lays out a dead simple framework for quickly planning and starting your project, whether it’s a book or a symphony or a workout routine. And it works.

At Ember we support people in pursuing and realizing their Good Dreams. Pressfield’s books are some of the best in the world at helping you overcome the various faces of Resistance and get to work on your best dreams.

If you find yourself stuck or procrastinating or second guessing yourself on your goals (don’t feel alone, we all do it every day), pick up one or both of these books, read them, and then get to work.

The War of Art: Paperback, Kindle
Do The Work: Hardcover, Kindle

Dream Update: Mama Esther

Ember Arts: Esther Dream Update

Our Ugandan partner Esther is a comedian, an entrepreneur, and a dreamer. She cares for nine children, has cultivated six different sources of income, and has countless nicknames. When we asked her for three dreams she’d like to accomplish in her life, this is what she told us:

1 – To send her children to college
2 – To build her family a home in her ancestral village
3 – To buy and drive her own car

This year, thanks to her partnership with Ember, she has made some amazing progress. Here’s an update:

1 – This year her eldest son started studying at a local university, and she has several kids making their way through high school and primary.
2 – She has laid the foundation of a 12-room house in her village (including bedrooms, sitting rooms, kitchen, etc.) and has already built the brick walls up to window-level.
3 – The car, she says, will have to wait until after the house is finished and she gets a handle on university tuition. But you can bet she’ll do it.

Esther has a dream, and through her partnership with Ember Arts, she aims to achieve it. Below is a poster celebrating Esther. Click on it to download the hi-res printable file.

(Our deep thanks to Caava Design for creating this poster for free, so that we can offer it freely to our supporters! Follow Caava on Facebook.)

The Ethics of a Dream

Dream Good Dreams
(click thru for wallpaper sized image)

It was business ethics that taught me the importance of a dream.

I was on a plane to Uganda and I was thinking deeply about my ethical responsibilities as a business owner. Specifically my responsibilities to the Ugandan women I call partners.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This line came back to me as the foundational ethical statement. But how, I wondered, do I actually love myself?

We’ve all asked ourselves this question, but it struck me that I didn’t really know the answer. I mean, I brush my own teeth and feed myself and earn my own paycheck. But is that it? Is that all it means to love myself?

I tried to take a larger view, to ask what preference I naturally give myself that I don’t naturally give other people. And this is what I came up with: Every morning when I wake up, after brushing my teeth, I go out and try to make my own dreams come true.

This, I realized, is how I truly love myself. And so this is my ethical responsibility: to support my neighbors as they pursue their dreams, just as I pursue mine.

To me, this was a deeply revolutionary thought, that people’s dreams were ethically important. And as I thought further I realized that maybe they are more than just important. Maybe they are primary.

My ethical responsibility is to support other people in pursuing their dreams, and their ethical responsibility is to support still more people in pursuing their dreams. So opening opportunities for dreaming and pursuing those dreams is an ethical mandate.

For many years I have tried to define what Good with a capital G is. I’ve tried to figure out if there is some universal way for humanity to talk about how we should and shouldn’t act. This is the closest I’ve come:

Giving more people the chance to dream and pursue their dreams is Good.

A Good Dream then is a dream that, when realized, ensures people the liberty and resources to pursue their dreams. And those people ought to be encouraged to dream Good Dreams as well. In other words, a Good Dream makes it more likely that other Good Dreams will be realized.

This idea has profoundly shaped my life and work. I encourage you too, dream Good Dreams, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Life. On the road.

Right now we are driving through the rain; slowly and steadily approaching the Kansas state line.  We are about a week and a half and 5 states away from our home.  My U.S. geography is coming back!

So here is what our world looks like:

two kids that now call our traveling caravan home,

one Tahoe packed full with Ember jewelry and displays,

a roof box that holds our clothes and is collecting stickers from our favorite places,

and a Viking trailer that folds up and down like an accordion.

Somewhere in all of that we are finding a rhythm to everyday life on the road.  Like knowing where the diapers are at all times, or making sure the top hatch in the trailer is closed when a lightening storm and downpour comes out of nowhere in the late afternoon.  Twice.

We figure that most days we will find a campsite as home base and unfold the Viking while we visit a new town and meet with an Ember account.  And there will also be the occasional night where we will appreciate the reprieve of a hotel room to clean up and do some laundry.   And then there will be days where in order to cover some ground, we need to drive late into the night and we will just transfer the sleeping babes into the half pitched Viking for a quick over night stop.

A couple of nights ago was one of those nights.  We were nearing the end of an epic drive through southern Utah.  We had stayed in breathtaking Zion for a couple nights, then were awed by the hoodoos of Bryce canyon, and were on our way to Arches National Park before crossing the state line into Colorado.  It was late when we pulled into Torrey, Utah hungry and tired.  At this point we hadn’t quite worked out dinner on the fly outside the Viking’s small kitchen area .  (Don’t worry, we have since coined the term “road-dillas” thanks to the Colman stove and a few tortillas).  Against all odds we found the only restaurant open at that hour in the tiny town.  Diablo cafe quickly seated us and served one of the best meals we have ever had.  This place is a diamond in the rough with two professional chefs creating unique southern style dishes.  Better yet, our waitress suggested a close by spot where we could pull over and camp below the radar.  She instructed us to go to the end of a nearby dirt road and park anywhere and not to worry because it’s BLM land.  I’m still not sure what that means.

So we found this little spot and although we agreed that it was a little too close for comfort to the few surrounding homes, we were too tired to switch course and we popped the Viking just enough to fit inside.  Meanwhile another car pulled up, intending to do the same. It was a little awkward, but as soon as we decided we were safe, we all climbed in and hunkered down for the night.

Within an hour both Clay and I woke up to the sound of a raging windstorm ripping through the canvas of the Viking.  It sounded like large objects were being thrown against our small trailer.  It was impossible to sleep and we spent the night checking in with each other every hour or so wondering if the whole trailer was going to blow over.  Luckily the girls slept through the whole thing.  So when the sun finally rose, they were bright eyed, rested and full of energy and we crawled out of the trailer about the same time the people in the car next to us did…all feeling like we had been beat up.

So on we went, laughing about our attempt at some quick free camping.  Later that day we crossed the Colorado state line and wound our way up to Gunnison, a small town nestled in the beautiful Rocky mountains.  We met with Western State College and introduced them to the Ember story and welcomed Deb and the bookstore staff to the family of Ember retailers.

Driving down the east side of the Rockies, we got an invitation to stay at the Peace home.  6 years ago when we moved to Shell Beach the first thing we did was inquire about a bright red VW bus for sale on the side of the road.  This led us to the home of Jeff and Terri Peace and thus began our friendship and our bus story. Little did we know they had moved to Greeley CO, and they had answered our call for places to stay.  We enjoyed warm beds, laundry and Colorado brewed beer for a few days before hitting the open road to the mid-west; uncharted territory for both of us.

To be continued…

The Prosperity Line

A couple months back I wrote about the “true poverty line,” the income level below which transformational change is nearly impossible, and above which it becomes feasible.

I’ve renamed it the “Prosperity Line,” and we’re going to find out where it lies. At least for the women we work with. My friend Max and I have been working on a questionnaire to determine how much income one of our Uganda partners really needs in order to pursue her dreams. Dreams of educating her children, building a family home, starting a business, and more.

Not only will we keep you updated on our findings, we’re also going to post the questionnaire here when it’s completed, so other businesses and organizations can use it.

The poverty line is only step one. Here’s to chasing the Prosperity Line.

The Poorest Man

Last week I ran into my friend Tyler at a restaurant. He was there with one of his business mentors, a Ugandan real estate mogul by the name of Anatoli Kamugisha. Tyler introduced us and luckily for me Anatoli thought it appropriate to share one of his favorite quotes. It quickly became one of my favorites.

Download this photo of Mama Esther (click thru for the big version) and add one of your favorite quotes. Share it with us on facebook.