"At one level, it’s a matter of faith. At another level, it’s a risk-reward analysis. In all the situations I faced, the risk of compromising belief far outweighed the reward of any compromised behavior. At the end of the day, if I didn’t have my integrity, what did I have? At the end of the day, what was the worst thing the company could do to me? Fire me!" read on.....
This is one of most honored posts I've ever ever hosted. Lt. Col. Matthew Fritz is Director, Commander's Action Group of NATO's Air Training Command in Afghanistan. Training a newly formed Afghan Air Force is the epitome in complex continual change management. Matt has become a very dear friend, thanks to Angela Maiers, and fellow blogger at Switch & Shift. I can't put into words my respect, admiration and thankfulness for Matt, his leadership, elegance, eloquence, professionalism and humility. I literally wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for men and women like Matt who fight for, preserve and train others to protect our precious freedom. Please read every word - and hold Matt, his work, our military and their ever sacrificing families in your prayers for safety and strength.
Thank You For Your Service!
by Matthew T. Fritz
Monday started like so many Mondays here in Kabul…wakeup, head through Kabul ice/snow to the Dining Facility to grab breakfast to go, and then trudge over to the office to see what staffing challenges waited in the new day. The routine pleasantries occurred along the way, “Good morning, sir!” and “Nice weather, eh?” The morning prayers of the local population could be heard echoing through the loudspeakers outside the large 25-foot concrete T-walls topped with barbed wire that surround our compound, a Forward Operating Base within an Afghan Air Force base. My feet crunched through the snow propelling my frozen fingers to key-in the cipher code, which opened the cold metal front door of the headquarters building.
Inside, the early risers—tenders of affairs for higher-ranking leaders and those who kept the night-fires at bay while the day-shift slept—were already buzzing like bees busily scurrying from one alcove to another with documents, notebooks, and slides in hand. Everyone in sight was undoubtedly fueled by the gallons of coffee that sustained everybody in this place —some mugs of instant, some of pressed and a lucky-few from a rare, working Keurig machine that had not yet capitulated to 220v power outlets and repeated power surges. Morning greetings arose from the Captains at the door to my office, both of whom had dutifully pre-prepared their tasks for the morning so they could pre-empt the short-term needs before the staff meeting that would begin within the next half-hour. Behind me, I could hear the flurry of activity come to a quieter level of quicktime as the General arrived through the rear entrance enroute to his office for the morning update. Then everything stopped—for an instant the world became brighter and the dreary-winter morning suddenly seemed warmer—for on the edge of my desk sat a white box. “Priority Mail – United States Postal Service” boldly printed on the side, the glisten of plastic peeking from beneath—undoubtedly holding the Customs Declaration form lovingly prepared by the sender. Scrawled on a label placed neatly over the hashtags of packing tape comically sealing every crevice, curve and flap was the name, “Matthew Fritz” in dark, thick-marker lines with my corresponding deployed mailing address below it. In the tunnel vision of the moment, all I could think was, “What could it be? Whom could it be from? “
That is when the greatest surprise was realized.
The name scribbled in the “From” section of the label was not one I recognized. The town, “Tehachapi, CA,” was familiar—as it was the town my family and I adopted when we were assigned to Edwards AFB in 2011. “Well played,” I thought to myself…my interest was piqued. Enough examination of the outside of the package—time to figure out what it contained! I drew my standard-issue Gerber‑tool knife from the rig on my body armor and let the pristinely sharp blade slice effortlessly through the tape and label—while being ever so careful to avoid harming whatever wonders lay inside. Then the decisive moment: the unveiling! I could hear the three teammates who shared my tight office come closer behind me, for they too, were anxious to see what lay inside.
And that's when it happened—the “Gratitude-moment.” Inside lay a massive treasure-trove of candy, cards, toiletries, trinkets and things. On top of the filled-to-the-brim box was a note simply stating,
“You don’t know me, but I work in the church office where your family attends Sunday mass. I saw our Knights of Columbus creating care packages to send your way, and wanted to let you know we are thinking about you.
The Martin Family”
Along with the goodies, there were 25 cards individually sealed in envelopes adorned with the words, “Merry Christmas” and a small label-seal on the flap that said “From the Martin and Sanders Families.” Each card contained personal wishes for good health, happiness and a safe return from children and adults who wanted to tangibly participate in the experience.
We soldiers stood there and marveled for a bit at the effort, time and expense involved in getting the box all the way to this particular desk in Kabul in the middle of winter. We smiled, read some notes and then promptly divided the contents among our comrades throughout the building. To be true—one has to respect the true capability of a group of grateful soldiers to field-strip a care package to its basest components and distribute “just the right thing” to “just the right person” who needs it at “just the right time.” It is a remarkable sight, to be sure.
As a soldier deployed for my ninth time since the events of September 11, 2001 I’ve seen firsthand the amazing impact something as simple as a letter can have on the human spirit. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of citizens who contribute time, money and resources to their programs, formal organizations like the USO, Operation Write Home, and Operation Outreach work tirelessly to bring smiles to troops every day. Local organizations like churches, clubs, Scout troops, schools and businesses gather under the leadership of inspired individuals to send love and warm-thoughts of home to local soldiers, sailors and airmen all the time. (A special shout-out to Tehachapi KofC Council 7821 and Cub Scout Pack 3 for being there for me in this regard!) Moreover, in unique instances, someone takes it upon themselves to directly affect the life of someone they know—either personally or tangentially—through a simple act like the one I described above. The common theme between them is a desire to participate and a willingness to share gratitude. Terms like “Thank you for your service!” and “Come home safe and soon!” are like fuel to those who receive them—renewing the spirit to soldier-on and reminding them that completing the mission successfully is a goal worth fighting for.
The display of patriotism, pride, support and gratitude from a country where less than 1% of its population participates in the military is telling. There is a level of sincerity and empathy that underlies these expressions of gratitude—even when there may be little understanding of the soldier’s true reasons for joining the military, disagreement with political or national policy, or a lack of agreement as to the reasons for military action in the first place. It’s the human element—the connection and bond people feel when love is expressed and love is received or returned—that makes it appealing and repeatable in warzones throughout the world in battles throughout history. In simplest terms, it is a desire to participate in the act of gratitude that motivates people to act.
In 2011, Phillip Carter wrote an article in the Washington Post, entitled “For Veterans, is ‘Thank You for Your Service’ Enough?” in which he contemplated the expression of gratitude to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. His conclusion was one often thought, but rarely expressed:
“I’ve come to see ‘thank you for your service’ as the right greeting to use for returning veterans. It is neither too intimate, nor too distant, and it correctly captures the sentiment of a grateful nation for those who serve in harm’s way. Saying thank you avoids the much more pernicious questions that every combat veteran hates, questions such as ‘What was it like?’ or ‘Did you kill anyone?’ Simple statements of gratitude also avoid labeling veterans as heroes or victims, two moral judgments that can be made only on an individual basis, if at all.”
There is a notion that America has become increasingly out of touch with the men and women who serve and fight the nation’s battles. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lamented in 2011 that, “There is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that … have less and less in common with the people they are sworn to defend.” This was further solidified the following year when Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared that he worried “we could wake up one day and … the American people will no longer know us, and we won’t know them.” His statement was based upon his observance that after ten-years of war, the all-volunteer force came from an extremely small segment of the population and was based in fewer places around the country risking an isolation of the knowledge that the military population was “still there.”
Truth be told, according to the Pentagon, less than 25% of Americans aged 16 to 24 qualify for admittance to the United States Military. That equates to 26 million young Americans who are unable to participate--mostly due to inadequate education, physical fitness or criminality. As such, 75% of Americans seek the opportunity for service opportunities in other ways. General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2011, shared in a 2013 speech entitled “The Military Needs to Reach Out To Civilians” that members of the military don’t have a “monopoly on service or sacrifice.” He went on to share that, “...[a]cross our country, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, coaches, pastors, scout masters, business people and many others serve their communities every day. Military service makes us different, but the desire to contribute permeates every corner of the United States.” His point—that service is a calling, and gratitude can rightfully be shared with leaders throughout our community.
The desire for service is based on a desire for participation. Participation is afforded to each according to the abilities they bring to the table. In the end, it is the expression of gratitude that fuels the fight and keeps the reminder of service – and our connection to servers – in our minds. It can be as involved as raising your right hand to volunteer or as simple as sending a care package. In the end, the result is renewed resolve, unity of effort and strength of heart. Hallmarks of what binds us together in the shared human experience of Gratitude.
As I prepare to close this article, let me once again offer my thanks to the Martin and Sanders family, and all individuals and groups who brighten our days with their expressions of gratitude. There can never be enough coffee, treats, toiletries, letters or warm thoughts to overburden our repository for America’s generosity we affectionately call the #GratitudeCafe here in theater. Rest assured that no matter what it is those of us serving harm’s way receive, every heart is touched and every soldier is reminded that someone back home cares for their safe return. We salute and extend our gratitude back to you!
Matthew T Fritz is a leader and mentor in the field of complex organizational change, emotional intelligence, and organization strategy. A successful DoD senior-acquisition program manager and test leader, Matt has earned documented success in the areas of test and evaluation, assessment, technology development and flight operations. He has specialized experience in cost, schedule and performance management and is an active duty Field-Grade Officer with command-experience in the United States Air Force. Matt is also a certified acquisition professional, as well as a certified Emotional Intelligence Trainer/Practitioner. He and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life with their daughter and son in California.
Many thanks to my good friend Dorie Clark on chatting with me for her Forbes blog! Dorie is a wise woman and being able to share her platform is quite an honor! So, read it here (follow her at @dorieclark and read her book!
"Would you like to add Richard Branson to your network? How about Larry Page, or Sheryl Sandberg, or Marc Andreessen? That’d be great, of course, but innovation expert Deb Mills-Scofield says connecting with a big name may not be as helpful as you’d think. If you really want to learn from your network and use it to spark new ideas, you may be better off looking at the periphery..."
This guest post is by fellow mentor/advisor to the Social Innovation Fellowship (formerly C.V. Starr Fellowship) Robin Pendoley, Founder/CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders. This is a must read for innovators and entrepreneurs of any type. Please read on!
“I have failed.”
This phrase opened Natasha Blackadar’s summer blog post about her first social venture. Warning: This is not an inspiring story about how resilience and perseverance created a dramatic recovery.
Nope. Natasha’s venture failed. Spectacularly. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps the most important part of this is that Natasha has recognized, accepted, and courageously made it plain to the world. Fortunately, this young social innovator lives on to fight another day, stronger for the experience.
As a Social Innovation Fellow at Brown, Natasha spent this past school year (her sophomore year of college) building a social venture that would bring college student volunteers to support a local development agency in a small South African community. As part of the fellowship, she received funding, coursework in theory, and mentorship. This process consumed her life, shifting the focus of her learning from theory to practice. Being a social entrepreneur and leader of her venture became her identity.
When she arrived in South Africa, she quickly realized that, despite months of communication and planning, the community partner did not want her or her team of student volunteers there. Within just a few days of the start of a 10-week project, she became concerned for the safety of her team. Natasha came to the conclusion that the relationship with the partner organization could not be salvaged. To try to continue would be disruptive to the community and put undue strain on local relationships.
Natasha pulled the plug.
As any resourceful project manager would, she utilized her network to create new opportunities for her team elsewhere in the country. They completed service, had a cross-cultural experience, and learned about international development. But, Natasha’s vision of a sustainable venture that would provide assistance to the community and learning opportunities for students has died.
Reading her blog posts makes it clear that Natasha was heavily invested in this venture. Yet, she did what so few social entrepreneurs are able to do – recognize a failed project and move on.
There has been a lot said recently about the importance of recognizing and accepting failure in social entrepreneurship (Jonathan Lewis in Huffpo, Failing Fast by Anna Ebbessen, Harvard Business Review). Not only can it result in better ventures, but accepting failure is crucial to ensuring we don’t create negative impact. “Resilience” seems to be the new golden ticket to social entrepreneurship. To succeed, social entrepreneurs must try, fail, and repeat until they succeed.
Outside of college programs, accepting failure is not easy to do. The social innovation sector is filled with perverse incentives. Ventures are rewarded with funding and exposure for visions of delivering grand scale and fundamental system change, all with a business plan achieving sustainability within 18-24 months. These aren’t perverse because they aren’t great aspirations. They are perverse because they reward early stage ventures for taking enormous risks.
There are risks for every stakeholder. The entrepreneur invests not just their time and energy, but often their whole identity in their venture. The funders invest resources in vetting, funding, and supporting the venture. Partners commit their time and energy to collaborative efforts. These stakeholders risk losing both their resources and their clout if the venture fails.
But, it is often the most vulnerable stakeholder group that carries the most risk – the community to be impacted. Social ventures target populations with a fundamental need like nutrition, health care, or education. Ventures that fail to deliver positive and productive impact risk squandering the efforts and resources of the community.
That, however, is not the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that, despite good intentions, the venture negatively impacts the community. And, because the rest of the stakeholders are not incentivized to recognize and accept failure, the venture continues delivering this damage unabated.
What no one tells you in this sector is that the venture is not truly failed until the social entrepreneur deems it so. As support dries up, the social entrepreneur can continue to iterate, try new approaches, and keep the venture alive – even if it should be scrapped.
There are two conclusions to draw from this story:
- For the sector to be viable and maintain its focus on creating meaningful and positive social impact, the incentive structures must change to support entrepreneurs to recognize and accept failure.
- Programs like the Social Innovation Fellowship are crucial to preparing future social entrepreneurs to be effective. While the funding, studies, and mentorship are key components of that learning, providing a safe space to fail is crucial.
Robin Pendoley is the Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, a nonprofit that designs and leads
international gap year programs for students to prepare for a lifetime of commitment to creating meaningful social impact. Robin also serves as a mentor for the Social Innovation Fellowship (formerly known as the C.V. Starr Fellowship) with over a decade of experience in international development theory, education, comprehensive internationalization, and nonprofit management.
"Ah, New Years hype! New resolutions, habits, goals, priorities. We make it so grand and complicated that we set ourselves up for failure. Seriously, what’s the difference between December 31st and January 1st? Is it really different than June 30th and July 1st or October 31st and November 1st? And really, January 1st as the New Year is a bit artificial"...read on..