Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

If you'd like to get more ideas like these sent to you each day, it's easy: sign up here.

Posts in Work
Five people who inspired me in 2012

Now that the final month of the year is upon us and writers begin reflecting on the year that was, it's time for my annual post of people who inspired me the past year. (Here are the 2011 honorees.) My only requirement for inclusion in this annual list is that I personally know you (otherwise, all five slots would go to Taylor Swift). So, these are people that I've spent time with, whether over coffee or dinner, people with whom I've emailed or spoken on the phone, and people who wouldn't pretend like they didn't know me if we sat next to each other on a plane.

Nicole Antionette


It's one of those classic stories: boy reads blogger; boy comments on blogger's posts; boy happens to be traveling to blogger's hometown; boy meets blogger and her bestie at In-N-Out Burger where blogger sneaks in wine for everyone. Nicole's blogging has always kept me reading, whether she's writing about her personal life and history or inspiring people to take a bold leap for themselves. She advocates for mental health, is now focused on living healthily herself, and is proof that we're all a beautiful and wonderful work in progress. This year, she ran a marathon, drastically changed her eating habits, and encouraged everyone to just go for it in a talk in front of thousands.

Amber Krzys


Amber is on the CAMPUSPEAK roster with me and when I met her this summer, I was instantly inspired by her personal story and the legacy and and world she's creating due to her work at bodyheart. Helping people love their bodies, Amber is fueling a movement so that we can treat our bodies better than we have been. As a dedicated entrepreneur, Amber continues to expand her impact to college campuses, community organizations, and corporate environments. It'll be exciting to see where she's headed all through 2013.

Kyle McCollom


Sometimes, I meet someone, have coffee with them, and leave knowing that I just met with someone who's on their way up - way up. That's the case with Kyle. He helped launched Triple Thread a few years ago, a company that not only employs formerly incarcerated individuals, but also serves as an earned-income stream for a nonprofit organization. As such, he's on the cutting edge of social entrepreneurship, combining market-based approaches and real-world problems. He's spoken at the Clinton Global Initiative and tells the social enterprise story far and wide. He's now on his next entrepreneurial adventure with Everly. Be on the lookout for that to go big next year and shake up the drink world in the process, all in a way that is great for the planet.

Sarah Peck


I followed Sarah online long before I met her. As such, I was a fan of her creativity, insight, and encouragement. Her posts effortlessly run the gamut from motivation to entrepreneurship, design to fitness, community to goal-setting. This year, she set out to raise $29,000 for charity: water (she ended up raising over $30k). As a result, she swam naked in the San Francisco Bay and was featured in charity: water's new campaign video. She won't stop there. In 2013, she'll be helping people start their dreams and will no doubt keep inspiring me to write, live, and love.

T.J. Sullivan


What began as speaking to a few campuses about HIV/AIDS has now become a high-impact organization. As the CEO of CAMPUSPEAK, T.J. helps to change the lives of millions of college students and professionals by coordinating workshops, keynotes, and programs that make people think and act differently. But his inspiration (for me) isn't limited to running a company or giving a speech. He believes in the power of mentorship and gives his time to advise a local fraternity chapter. There are some people that when you have dinner with them it seems like the meal is over too soon - T.J.'s in that boat for me.

Tell me:

Who inspired you this year?

Want to get creative? Get out of your mind.

I recently finished reading Out of Our Minds, a great read about education, creativity, and technology written by Ken Robinson. He's best known (to me, at least) for giving this TED talk about why schools today are...well...terrible (my take). 

The book is a new edition of one he originally published in 2001. A lot has happened in a decade, thus the updates.

Overall, the book is thick, full of analysis as to why our current view of and teaching of creativity isn't preparing people (children or adults) to succeed in our rapidly-changing world. I liked the book, especially when Robinson helps to imagine new models of learning, working, and community.

And, here are some of the best quotes from the book:

Creativity is about working in a highly focused way on ideas and projects, crafting them into their best forms and making critical judgments along the way about which work best and why.
When you follow your own true north you create new opportunities, meet different people, have different experiences and create a different life. 
All organizations are organic and perishable. They are created by people and they need to be constantly re-created if they are to survive.
Creativity is part of what it is to be human.
Television was not squeezed into existing American culture: it changed the culture forever.
We don't grow into creativity; we grow out of it.
Technology, as was once said, is not technology if it happened before you were born.
Many people are diverted from their natural paths in life by the preoccupation in education with academic intelligence and the hierarchy of disciplines.
Human communities depend on a diversity of talents not on a singular conception of ability.
Creativity is applied imagination.
I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value.
I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative, but if you're not prepared to be wrong, it's unlikely that you'll ever come up with anything original.
By definition, creative ideas are often ahead of their times.
When people find their medium, they discover their real creative strengths and come into their own. Helping people to connect with their personal creative capacities is the surest way to release the best they have to offer.
It is through feelings as well as through reason that we find our real creative power. It is through both that we connect with each other and create the complex, shifting worlds of human culture.
Even the most  sophisticated technologies only change the world when they connect with basic human instincts. When they do, their impact is unstoppable.
An organization is not the physical facilities within which it operates: it is the network of people in it.
The first role of the creative leader is to facilitate the creative abilities of every member of the organization.
The second role of the creative leader is to form and facilitate dynamic creative teams.
The third role of the creative leader is to promote a general culture of innovation.
Collaboration involves people working together in a shared process in which their interaction affects the nature of the work and its outcomes.
Organizations that make the most of their people find that their people make the most of them.
Education is not a linear proces of preparation for the future: it is about cultivating the talents and sensibilities through which we can live our best lives in the present and create the future for ourselves.
Transforming education is not easy but the price of failure is more than we can afford, while the benefits of success are more than we can imagine.
Education and training are the keys to the future. A key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and you lock resources away; turn it the other way and you release resources and give people back to themselves.

Affiliate links used in this post.

One of a kind doesn't scale - or does it?

Amidst the Black Friday deals of last week and the Cyber Monday hot bargains of today was tucked Small Business Saturday. And if you need something to carry you through tomorrow, check out Giving Tuesday. (Anyone have an idea for Wednesday that doesn't involve shoes in odd places?)

What Saturday's event was designed to elevate was the idea of the local merchant. And increasingly, the local merchant is actually the local artisan, making something by hand, whether it's putting paint on a canvas or creating what is probably the most beautiful knife in the world.

Of course, this dedication to craftsmanship (or craftswomanship) is becoming more and more mainstream. It's popularity is rising to the point where Portlandia - one of the funniest shows on TV - has spoofed this idea. Take a look.

The hitch always has been, however, that if you everything is handmade, then many of the modern conveniences of today disappear. The benefit of the too-big-to-fail corporation is primarily one of scale so that more stuff can be sold to more people for lower prices. Plus, our furniture can match our friends' furniture so when we go visit we don't have to feel like we even left home.

This is the casualty that scale provides, too. Cheap crap also results in uniformity. But, when we get sick of that, we can find the hand-crafted beer, table, or rug so that we can enjoy owning that which is truly unique.

So if you were going to start your own business today, which path do you choose? Do you build something that can scale and have the benefit of size? Or do you focus on the local and artisan and only crank out what you're able in the hopes that demand will remain steady so you can have steady work for a long while?

Many entrepreneurs choose the promise of scale over the potential of one-of-a-kind. Unique doesn't scale, we're told.

Wrong. May we entrepreneurs stop believing this myth.

One-of-a-kind does scale. Unique can hit it big. The artist can become the tycoon. But only if a commitment to quality and customer remains a priority.

I think where scale gets a bad rap is when the bottom line becomes the chief driver in any interaction, whether it's the selection of ingredients or the time spent treating a customer with respect and delight. Some large companies still offer unique moments despite their growth. Take a look at Zappos, Marriott, Best Made, or Southwest.

My family eats our Thanksgiving meal at Puckett's, which has now expanded to multiple locations. Thankfully, the joint hasn't become a people factory yet, clogging bodies into a food-service machine that strips them of concern or emotion. Case in point: my daughter left her sunglasses at our table. We were getting into the car - around the corner and far away - when the host ran up to us and gave us our cheap plastic sunglasses. That's an example of care that can still happen despite scale. 

Go to a U2 concert, check out a major art gallery, read a book that's sold a million copies. I bet you still enjoy these experiences even though the size or scope is less 1890's and more 21st century. Spreadsheets and supply chains can exist peacefully alongside human interaction and beautiful art.

Don't be fooled into thinking it's scale or skill. You can have your handmade cake and eat it, too. Just remain committed to the human part of what you do and you can grow as big and rich as you want. In fact, the only way to grow big is to make sure you are able to help people be who they want to be.

And in that case, I say the more the merrier.

My hope for you is to rest this week

To my American readers and followers: please leave the office tomorrow (or today, even) and stay gone - physically, mentally, emotionally - until Monday.

That email can wait (hopefully, the person on the other end is taking time off, too).

No phone calls. People hate phone calls any time of year.

The holidays are coming. They will smack you in the face with their stress and guilt and travel. Breathe easy now. You'll need it.

Do as Sarah Peck suggests and tell yourself to "take the time I need to be the person I need to be, completely."

Family. Your work is in vain if you don't have the purpose of it providing something better for those you love the most.

Make sure to eat. Food will be aplenty the next few days. Taste the turkey or tofurkey, the mashed potatoes and the sweet potato pie, the cranberry crap from a can and whatever else your aunt makes that people eat out of politeness. Drink deeply with people you think of often.

It's a fine time to be reminded of these words by Anna Quindlen:

You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.

That's right. Even the top players have more to them than a single-minded devotion to output. Use the rest of this week for input - to put inside of you the downtime, energy, memories, hope, enthusiasm, and optimism you need for the rest of 2012.

Enjoy your week. I'll see you back here on Monday.

Where is work?

A few weeks ago, Kivi Leroux Miller posted an infographic detailing how we're all working when we're not at work. While I love the ease and convenience of technology, the facts in the infographic are stark:

  • Just 3% of people say they don't work while on vacation
  • A whopping 98% of workers send emails on nights and weekends
  • And almost 60% of us make business decisions at home

The trick, of course, is to stay balanced. If checking email on vacation lets you actually spend time away from an office for longer, then go for it. If you can attend to pressing personal matters during a typical work day because you can make up for lost time after the kids go to bed, then kudos.

But just because we can work from anywhere doesn't mean we have to work from everywhere. Check out more info in this video:

What do you think?

Is work just a state of mind now? And if so, is that a good thing?

Time, Family, WorkSam DavidsonComment
You don't have to enjoy something to succeed at it

Last month, Felix Baumgartner jumped from outer space (see my recap post here about overcoming personal hurdles). In this interview with the Today show, he discusses the jump and how he felt about it. Fast forward to the question asked at the four-minute mark.

"Did you enjoy the jump from space?" Baumgartner is asked. Very frankly, he replies that he didn't.

For him, this was work. It wasn't fun.

We want so badly for all work to be fun, but sometimes, it simply won't be. Not even if we're attracting international attention and setting world records.

Of course, it's well worth trying our best to find jobs that are fun, but entertainment isn't the only reason to love something. You may also love what you do because of the difference it's making, because you're the best at it, or because others respect and admire your work.

By all means - chase something that's fun. But don't run the minute something stops being pure recreation. Look for all the ways in which your passion can take shape, even on those days when it feels like work.

WorkSam DavidsonComment
Pick one big goal, not one big company

Whenever I speak with entrepreneurs, whether it's over coffee or on a big stage, I always like to drill down to the dream that shapes and motivates them. While many have ideas of large paydays and amassing the kind of wealth that leads to a very specific kind of freedom, I find that usually, there is a deep and profound sense of meaning behind what they do.

I'm not talking about some pie-in-the-sky notion of ending world hunger (although I would love to see that). I mean the very concrete ideas that take the form of a big goal. Things like:

  • Providing the best education for one's children
  • Leaving a meaningful legacy on the hearts and minds of employees and customers
  • Being able to support a cause one is personally passionate about
  • Creating a successful story that can inspire others
  • Making time for one's hobbies and impact areas
  • Being able to create lasting memories with families and friends

Understanding your personal "why" - why you want to be an entrepreneur or climb the rungs of a large corporate ladder - will keep you motivated when it's tough and help you celebrate well when things are going gangbusters. Focusing on why you do what you do will also allow you to quit what's not working and focus better on what does.

I like this post by Caleb Wojcik, where he discusses why successful entrepreneurs are so successful. His theory? Focus. He cites big and well-known examples while also encouraging the upside of a minimum viable product and the notion of pivoting early. All this is startup speak for: try, fail, learn, try again.

I like to hear that failure is okay. I hope you do, too. Knowing that it's okay to fail and learn something in the process should let you know that it's time to get going. Understanding also that success may not look like a high-profile acquisition or an IPO should also enable you to truly create the kind of company you can be proud of, enjoy working for, and want to see grow.

Growing for growth's sake is boring. Just follow a formula in your average business textbook. But growing because growth helps you realize a deeply personal goal or dream - now that's something worth chasing.

This means our ideas can come and go; we can try and try again. This doesn't look like jumping around due to boredom. It looks like doing what's necessary because we're focused on a big personal goal.

And that's the reason we threw our hat in the entrepreneurial ring to begin with, right? We started this journey because we were chasing meaning, not money. 

Worry less about going big. If you go big and can't go home (because the going big is taking all of your time), then was it all worth it?

Selected quotes from "Start With Why"

I finished reading Simon Sinek's Start With Why this summer, and now am finally getting around to sharing some of the best ideas and quotes I found therein. While many criticize the book as being a 200-page regurgitation of his wildly popular TEDx talk, reading the book may still be worth your time. Sinek does share more anecdotes and examples, which are worth taking in. Or, just skim the following quotes below: 

Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.
There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers don't often even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won.
People don't buy WHAT do you do, they buy WHY you do it.
The part of the brian that controls our feelings has no capacity for language. It is this distinction that makes putting our feelings into words so hard. We have trouble, for example, explaining why we married the person we married.
It is not logic or facts but our hopes and dreams, our hearts and our guts, that drive us to try new things.
The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe. When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges.
Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience.
Great companies don't hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.
The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.
When people come to work with a higher sense of purpose, they find it easier to weather hard times or even to find opportunity in those hard times.
If the people aren't looking out for the community, then the benefits of a community erode.
Charisma is hard to define, near impossible to measure and too elusive to copy. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of WHY; an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.
Passion without structure has a very high probability of failure.
Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.

And here's Sinek's talk:

Buy Start With Why on Amazon.

Affiliate links used in this post.

For the fun of it

I've just begun reading Ken Robinson's book, Out of Our Minds. From the onset, he draws the distinction between how all of us were creative as kids but seem to find being creative hard to grasp as adults. What happened?

While I've got quite a bit of reading to do until I find his official answer, my hunch is that a lot of it has to do with our understanding of fun.

Photo by   afu007

Photo by afu007

As a child, our worlds revolved around that which was fun. Learning at school (initially) was done through tactile play. Our rooms became castles or forts in an instant. Cartoons were fun, cereal was fun, spending time with our parents was fun.

And then we grow up and the world becomes much different. Leo Babauta encourages us to keep having fun in this post on his blog. His big reminder? If you're having fun, the point is simply to do something, not to carry on at all costs to some arbitrary goal you've set.

I think the notion of fun is especially important for us business owners, leaders, and creatives. We need to make sure that fun is present in what we're doing. If we're not having fun, the money we're making and the success we're having are devoid of a very important context.

Do you enjoy what you're doing? If not, then it's time to do something else.

For fun's sake.

Affiliate links were used in this post.

WorkSam DavidsonComment
Doing what's difficult

While waiting on my flight to leave Buffalo after a speaking engagement a few weeks ago, I watched as a lone helicopter took off and landed several times over in the spitting rain. I'm not versed enough about helicopters to know what kind it was (commercial aircraft, however, is my jam), but it appeared to be some kind of military or rescue outfit. Over and over again in the wind and the rain, this helicopter took off, circled part of the airfield, and landed.

Why would they be landing over and over again in the rain? I wondered. Why not wait for a better day to practice landings?

And then it hit me: if they can land in the rain, they can land on a clear day. This training run was planned. If they can do it when it's hard, they can do it when it's easy.

The lesson for us is to do hard things. Trying to start a business that's easy or solve a simple problem won't get us very far. Taking on a big challenge, raising money when the economy's tight, selling your wares to customers who are skeptical - these are all opportunities to test your reserve and see if you have what it takes to succeed. Anyone can sell to a willing buyer in need of a quick fix. It takes someone skilled to present her solution to the customer who's not aware that they need what you have.

Going for a jog on a cold Monday, telling your boss the truth, listening to rejection from clients 100 times, finding a way to beat the deadline - these are all difficult things worth doing. Do them well and then the easy days will seem like a vacation.

The hard days are what make the easy days easy. So, thank God for the hard days.

Six ideas to make you happier at work

Work. Ugh.

Rarely does that word excite or motivate us. More often than not, when I have a conversation with someone about work, their face drops and the complaining begins. While not scientific, I'd say that over half the people I know simply don't enjoy their jobs.

That's why it's called "work" after all - no one would do it for free (including you). So, you get paid to show up, slog through a day, and go home to your family or cats or family of cats.

But I don't think the solution to our collective malaise about our jobs has to do with the simple reflexive property that work = work and it'll never be anything else. Time and again I'm amazed and impressed by the ideas I'm seeing when it comes to how people can be happier at work, find more meaning in what they do, increase output, and see an improvement in all areas of life.

So, in order for you to be a bit happier about work, I bring you several links I've found in the past few weeks that will help you look at your job differently. None of them suppose that you must quit your job or work from the beach. All of them include helpful ideas for the leader and employee who is feeling a bit stuck in their day-to-day routine. Enjoy.

Caring matters

As USA Today reports, the chance to give back at work can help you focus more and do something that makes a ding in the universe. Your charity at work doesn't end with an easy donation. You may have the chance to impact policies around the world.

My conclusion: look for ways to give back at work. Then, pay attention to what happens next. It could be the start of an amazing and unexpected professional journey.

Go for work/life integration

I love this article in the New York Times about new perks companies are doling out. From housecleaning to counseling, more and more companies are helping their employees be less stressed at work and home. The notion is quickly being accepted that there is no "work/life balance" and that instead work and life should be integrated so employees can focus on each appropriately given the unpredictable situations life throws our way.

My conclusion: ask your employer for help not just at work, but at home. Even if no perks currently exist, begin to plant the seeds for a workplace that understands people have obligations at home, too.

Work whenever

As startup PR firm Onboardly suggests, ditching the time clock is an idea whose time has come. With many companies moving to a ROWE (results only work environment) model, as long as work is being done, who cares when it's happening? Flexible schedules make us all happier; see if you can add a little time flexibility into your day.

My conclusion: bend your work hours. While not every workplace will be on board, see if you can find someone willing to give it a shot. Just make sure you hit your numbers and everyone should be happy (especially you).

Work smarter, not harder

A big report just came out that shows working longer hours may not equate to an increase in productivity (or happiness). Our peers around the world work much less than we Americans do, and we're the worse for it. As it turns out, we all need to step back a bit, relax when we can, and then work hard when it's time. In other words, we need to be on vacation when we go on vacation.

My conclusion: relax like it's your job. When you're not at work, try your best to be fully immersed in your personal or family life. You'll be much happier when you return to work the next day.

Work for a leader, not a company

A new study shows how good supervisors affect the bottom line, meaning, a boss's impact on employees can be measured quantitatively. So, you'll be better off if you have the right leadership in place. While it can be difficult to get a new boss or manager in place, you can seek out mentors within your company, even if they don't directly supervise you.

My conclusion: align yourself with good leadership. You'll be happier when you respect your boss and you can feel more secure knowing that your company will be more successful longterm.

Embrace all the perks

As Rosetta Thurman points out in this excellent blog post full of ideas for nonprofit employees and managers, perks don't always have to be big, like tuition reimbursement or use of the company jet. SImple ideas like leaving early on Fridays or scrapping the idea of vacation time can have a huge boost on morale.

My conclusion: find something small and treasure it. Whatever small benefit you can find about work, hang on to it and celebrate it. Or, look at Rosetta's article and run one of her ideas up the flagpole to see what gets approved.

What about you?

How have you found happiness at work? What ideas do you want to share that have made you happier at work?

WorkSam DavidsonComment
What you don't need

If you want to preach, you don't need a church.

If you want to write, you don't need a pen.

If you want to teach, you don't need a school.

If you want to sing, you don't need an accompanist.

If you want to dance, you don't need music.

If you want to paint, you don't need a canvas.

If you want to help, you don't need an emergency.

If you want to act, you don't need a stage.

If you want to invent, you don't need a laboratory.

If you want to heal, you don't need a hospital.

If you want to play, you don't need a sandbox.

The old structures that once bound innovation and opportunity to a particular time and place are fading away and nearly gone. The time and place, then, to do what you must is here and now. If you can dream it, you should do it.

WorkSam Davidson Comment