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On having a bender and what else we might learn from Kony2012

So Jason Biggs appears to be the first serious contender for a Jason-Russell-style naked-meltdown parody. I expect more people will follow Jason's example and there might even be some niche products and T-shirts on their way.

Ring-tone, anyone?

I chose not to blog the Kony2012 uber-trending event. Sorry if you were expecting me to jump on the wagon. I was quite busy at the time, driving through Eastern Europe and negotiating with corrupt border officials so I didn't have much energy or time for it.

And besides that, there are so many organizations out there LIVING among the global poor rather than talking about them, pursuing economic and spiritual possibilities rather than military solutions, and spending MOST of their budget on impacting vulnerable people rather than salarying themselves to create cool videos. So I decided to let it go.

Actually, the whole trending thing made me roll my eyeballs. It was like a day at the races, watching how fast and how high this thing could go, as if success became the all-encompassing reality and measurement criteria. Is philanthro-tainment a word?

However, I WAS tempted to send $10 to Invisible Children if Jason Russell would put his pants back on!

Jason Russell Kony Poster

On the other hand, the Kony2012 became a social media event and it would be just downright disrespectful for me not to acknowledge that Jason Russel launched the most viral video EVER!. 55 million in 4 days! That's something! 80+ million views total. That blows us all out of the park. Well done, Jason. Perseverance rewarded!

And not only that but it was a wonderful and marvelous thing that the most viral video in history was not about anything trivial like mating mutant cockroaches or elephant excretions but instead was about a real need in a real place that called for righteous anger and justice. Well done, planet earth for responding!

But the project has not gone according to plan, as you know, and there are a few lessons here for the rest of us who are launching and leading social enterprises.


1. Keep Bender's Private.

A lot of great leaders have benders, also known as emotional meltdowns, or as Jason Russell's case, a "reactive psychotic episode". It's not the end of the world. But if you feel a bender coming on, and you have the luxury of choosing your location, let yourself go in a somewhat private space. Or even better, go to a retreat center and have your meltdown in front of some trained counselors and supportive empathizers where you can wave your privates around and shout at the devil in a secure environment.

2. Prepare for Ridiculous Success.

It's not always failure that kills a social enterprise. Sometimes it's too much success, too soon. Learn to put the brakes on, install limits on your project, don't be afraid of stopping the machinery once your target is reached. You should also have a RIDICULOUSLY SUCCESSFUL strategy which includes what to do if your project greatly exceeds expectations, where the excess funds will go and how you will fulfill all obligations (millions of action packs??) in case the response is exponentially swollen above what you originally planned for. You might not achieve anything like ridiculous success but at least you will be prepared for it if it comes your way.

3. Focus on Facts, not Feelings

We all want to move people, somewhere deep in their bowels, with the essential importance and great eminence of our cause, but if we have to choose between presenting accurate facts and portraying moving stories in which the underlying reality might be somewhat dubious or at least untested, go for the facts every time! People want to give intelligently and they need the info. Beware of manipulating your givers through "emotional pornography" which can lead to Giver's Regret the morning after.

4. Shield Your Celebrities.

If you are lucky enough to have some well-known celebrities take on your cause, make sure they will come out looking better than they did when they entered your world. This involves marrying the campaign with the celebrity and ensuring they are a good match for each other. If there is potential conflict, don't let them go further. Their celebrity-ness is in your hands and you need to deal with it sensitively. They DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS. They are too busy looking good so you have to do it for them.

5. Filter your Funders

Funders are privileged to partner with you in your worthy cause. Filter them carefully. Find out what other causes and projects exist in their portfolio before you accept their money for BOTH YOUR SAKES!. It's better to get a smaller chunk of funding from the right organization than it is to get big dollars from foundations and trusts that have embarrassing bedfellows or a jarringly different philosophy than you.

6. Lean on Local Knowledge

It's hard to appreciate the nuances of a far-off situation when you are living in a suburb in San Diego. There is no substitute for living with the locals ON LOCATION. There is much dumb-tax to be paid by those who choose to comment or act by remote. Much dumb-tax indeed!

How about you? Did you learn anything from Kony2012? Feel a bender coming on?