Paul's Blog

Cleaning out some folders …

Came across two  great Can’t Not Do people – one across town, the other around the world. Cleaning out some old folders because I’m moving, i.e. my family just a few miles away. I save stories I come across and should’ve shared these awhile ago –   Foster High School in greater Seattle would be your “stereotypical” inner-city, challenging, demographically-diverse school. Their AP Calculus pass and Graduation rates have both risen sharply in the last few years. One paragraph stood out for me — “… Stable leadership was crucial, too, which the school achieved two-and-a-half years ago, when (Principal) Larson arrived with her strong listening skills and a deep commitment to the school. She graduated from Foster, as did her children, her parents and her grandparents. Listening = active listening (ch. 5), deep commitment = determined optimism (ch. 1), graduated from Foster (who she is at her core, ch. 2). There are a lot of elements going in the right direction at Foster, just like at White center Heights Elementary (pages 4-6), less than 5 miles away as the crow flies. Principal Kim Larson and Foster’s story –   The other was Christa Preston with, whom I met be chance at a meeting in SF last year, and she sent me this followup note a few days later – “Per your suggestion, here is what I can’t not do what I do — Oliva is 17. She speaks three languages. She loves cooking and wants to work in a restaurant and own a house with a room for her mother. If she had been born in America she would be in... read more

The Most Common Question …

… I’ve been asked what I’m out on the road – Is there one trait that each of the 17 Characters in Can’t Not Do have in common? And the answer, when I was first asked in Boston about a month ago, was really pretty easy – GRIT. My favorite definition of that word is the disposition to pursue long-term goals with passion and perseverance. That definition comes from Angela Duckworth at the Univ. of Pennsylvania and her widely-watched TED talk.   Duckworth studied children and adults in challenging environments, including West Point military cadets, national spelling bee contestants, and rookie teachers in difficult schools. In each study, she and her research team asked essentially the same question: “Who is successful here and why?” Across numerous contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success: grit. Grit is the quality that allows an individual to work hard and maintain focus – not just for weeks or months, but for years. That takes my mind on a direct path to – David Risher and his work to end illiteracy, going on 5+ years. He’s in for the long haul Connie Ballmer and her work to improve the foster care system for kids, at 8-year mark Paul Gross and his tireless work for hydrocephalus, nearly 10 years in I could go on and one. More than any one trait, Grit …... read more

Can’t Not Do in Utah, Long Island, and DC

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard stories via radio interviews I’ve been on, about a friend of someone at the publisher (Wiley), and from a guy at the US Fish & Wildlife Service — Bryson Garbett took Going to Hard Places to a whole new … place. He’s a home-builder and was building next door to a homeless shelter. Even though he and his family lived a few blocks away, he told me he had “no idea” what went on and how bad the problem was (see Kerry McLenahan, Ch. 1, early learning). Last September, he put his wallet, phone, and ID on the kitchen table and walked out the door to spend three days living the life of a homeless person, to get close enough to the real problem that he could feel it and know first-hand what and who this problems really was. What he found, he told me, was “the worst place in the universe” – 3 hours in line for a bed to sleep on (he ended up on the only place available, the floor), 40 drug deals while waiting in line two hours for food, and a playground 10 feet away where syringes were dumped. WHY would he do this, in the first place? As he answered, he sort of paused, then said he felt “… this this … this compulsion (see Heidi Breeze, Ch. 7, kooky drive) to do something more.” If that isn’t Cant’ Not Do, I don’t know what is. A little over a year ago, the mayor said there wasn’t much they could do. Today, Bryson is sort of an... read more

Not that I’d Tell The Best CB and Female MMA in the world…

… how to live their lives or do anything for the matter, if I don’t want to get my b— kicked. But I gotta say, they are two athletes that really live Can’t Not Do in very tangible ways. Really? Yes, really. Sherman, known for being cocky and bombastic as well as smart and the best cornerback in the world, is an exemplar of Q2: Who Are you at Your Core? Last summer, he spent some of his “give back” time back home in Compton; check it out. I don’t know what he will choose to do to make the world a better place as he amasses more and more financial and social (more valuable) capital in the world, but I hope like heck he never leaves “home,” i.e. Compton. I think his work there will go deeper, last longer, and be more effective, just like it was for David Risher and reading and Vu Le and the Vietnamese community. Just sayin’ that as politely as I can Sherm, I’m not Michael Crabtree or anything. Rousey, known for kicking the crap out of any MMA opponent within less than a minute, has said “I like snakes, bugs, heights, but fear of failure? Losing literally feels like dying to me.” Hating to lose even more than you want to win wasn’t one of the seven main chapters in Can’t Not Do, but it’s an expression, an attitude I sensed from many of the heroes in the book. Winning might be good, but losing is wretched. It’s the kind of mindset that gets people to stick with the work through “hard places”... read more

Planting Your Pole

The first week of a new book has been fun, educational, and hectic. For me, this is about way more than a book, it’s about what the people that read it DO about it. Last week, I heard a great story about one of the 16 people in the book, learned how it resonated, in unique ways, with people around the U.S. (and world, we sent 100 copies to China), and was challenged to define, even more deeply, why I wrote Can’t Not Do.   Feelin’ Some Love – I heard about Heidi Breeze-Harris, she leads off Chapter 7, who put up a Facebook post about the book at 405pm on Aug 10th and back was an avalanche of support and kudos for HER awesome work. That was cool Plant Your Poles – I learned how the kind of intentionality and focus I hope the book inspires resonated with another soon-to-be author, Kathryn Guylay. It’s powerful when people connect with Can’t Not Do from a whole different reference point. Hers was that “breaking down a ski run into a series of manageable pole plants (like the questions in the book) is the way to overcome the fear of starting the journey and gives you pivot points to work from as you change direction.” We had a great conversation on the radio last week. That was fun Change.This – One of the major book retailers,, asked me to write down why the positive social impact one person can create has never been clearer, stronger, and more urgent. Why finding your Can’t Not Do means more now than it ever... read more

The Why, What & Who of Can’t Not Do

It’s quite a feeling, much of it fortunate, but kinda “naked” publishing a first book! Today is the publish date for Can’t Not Do, all the info is at It’s been a great “pre-start,” about 3,000 pre-orders, Amazon reviews strong! But this “book,” for me, is not so much what I wrote down, but what I deeply hope it will do for thousands of people –   WHY did I write it? I’ve spent 17 years working, first-hand, day-to-day alongside nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, engaged citizens that want to help change the world. Inspiring doesn’t begin to do it justice. At some point, you feel like you just have to (can’t not?) share their stories and what you’ve learned, in the hope that it will not only inspire, but activate more people to do the same. Because if more of you get engaged, the world can change.   WHAT do I hope the reader will take away? That we have money for and solutions to a lot of our toughest social challenges, much more than people know … that our world today is made up of social multipliers like technology, globalization, connectedness that have changed so much of our lives and can now do more to empower each of us as change agents … that each reader will know there has never been a time when one person can have more positive power for their community.   WHO is this book for? If you feel like everything around you in your community is fine and good, it’s not for you. If you’d rather sit back and let someone else make... read more

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