From Idea to Impact

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What’s the game-changing play that turns dreams into reality?

center for intentional leadership

Event photos courtesy of Pop Rock Photography


On Tuesday, I took part in the Center for Intentional Leadership’s “From Idea to Impact” event.  I sat on a panel with three other individuals and engaged with an audience of about sixty people.


We all have ideas of how to make a difference, but how do we actually go about doing that? How do we get started? Is it through Social Media? Is it networking or marketing? Does it take big bucks to make a game-changing play happen? Can we do it in our current job or in a large corporation? We put together four people who collectively have done it in almost every environment and situation.


The panelists included: Rye Barcott, the author of It Happened on the Way to War, a bestselling memoir about serving in the U.S. Marines while co-founding Carolina For Kibera, a non-governmental organization that develops leaders and prevents violence in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya; Bridget B. Sullivan, an event industry veteran who launched Ignite Charlotte; and Manoj Govindan, the Marketing and Strategic Partnership Executive for Technology Innovation Portfolio (TIP) at Bank of America (BAC).  I was the fourth panelist, billed as a blogger, motivational speaker, and author


I took notes on my iPhone as my fellow panelists spoke, and I wanted to share some of their thoughts:


Rye Barcott said he was inspired to create his African non-profit because “talent is universal but opportunity is not.”  He spoke a lot about how the “glamour is in starting” – a new project is fun and exciting, but even the best ideas and most worthwhile tasks involve drudgery.  It’s important to keep your eye on the prize and focused on your desired end goal.  Speaking of starting, Rye brought up that old (and oh-so-true) adage: “Start before you’re ready because you’ll never be really ready.”


One aspect of Rye’s talk that really intrigued me was his discussion of the OODA Loop.  This is a concept developed in the military for combative situations (Rye was a Marine). OODA Loop stands for “observe, orient, decide, and act” and the loop implies that the OODA should be done over and over again. OODA Loop is designed to be done quickly and efficiently in order to gain an advantage over your rival.  I love the idea of OODA Looping, but one of my questions for Rye (that I didn’t get to ask, unfortunately) was – “But how do I know that I’m making the RIGHT decision?!”  I have lots of ideas and struggle to commit to one.


Manoj Govindan’s biggest point was that “networking is so 1980s.”  I loved this concept.  According to Manoj, networking is all about selfish intentions.  You want a job, you want an opportunity.  The better tactic is to seek to connect others.  If you know two people who should really meet, put those resources together!  Even if you don’t get an immediate benefit from their partnership, it’s for the greater good, and their successes will eventually help you, too.


Bridget Sullivan talked a lot about CAN’T v. CAN and WILL.  I loved her messaging because I’m all about this, too – remove the negative talk and replace it with something positive and proactive.  Whenever Bridget thinks or says something with the N’T contraction, she replaces it with a CAN and WILL thought. 


Bridget also mentioned The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  I’d never heard of this book before, but I went home to investigate and discovered this site, which sums up the Four Agreements quite nicely:  Be Impeccable With Your Word (say what you mean, don’t put yourself or others down), Don’t Take Anything Personally (be immune to the harmful opinions of others), Don’t Make Assumptions (find the courage to ask and express what you really want), and Always Do Your Best (and your best changes from moment to moment).


What did I talk about?


(I don’t mind when people misspell my name – happens all the time when you’re a Caitlin, Caitlyn, Kaitlyn, Katylin…)


Well, perhaps my notes and what I ended up actually talking about differed, but here’s the points that I wanted to convey:


  • Success is not in limited quantities.  The best ideas are the ones that empower and give credit to others.  I believe this is why Operation Beautiful has been so successful – 12,000+ notes on every continent in four years, spawning two books and so much wonderful press… even the Today Show!  Operation Beautiful empowers and supports the people who participate.  It’s a social media revolution of hope, love, and self-esteem.  


  • Don’t undervalue yourself.  I told a story about how I hired a freelancer to do a project for Operation Beautiful.  While interviewing her, I had a certain dollar amount that I considered the maximum that I was willing to pay.  At the end of the interview, I asked her what it would cost, and she paused and spit out a number that was 1/4 of what I was thinking. It was so low that it was ridiculous. I was tempted to snag the deal, but instead, I gave her some advice, “Don’t undervalue yourself! I would be robbing from you if you charged me that” (I offered her double what she said, and we both went home happy).  The bottom line – business is like dating.  If you undervalue yourself, no one else will value you.  If you have a talent, you’re worth it.


  • Don’t be afraid to take chances.  Here’s how Operation Beautiful began:  In 2009, I posted a note because I was having a bad day; I went home and blogged about my experience.  The idea quickly went viral, and within three days, my lovely HTP readers had sent me about 75 photographs of their own notes.  I didn’t know what to do with all those notes!  I called my mom and I said, “I don’t know.. Maybe this could be a separate blog.  But what if it fizzles out?  What if people stop writing notes?  I’ll look stupid.”  My mom assured me that there was never anything stupid about trying.  I stalled, searching for more excuses – I was really afraid of my idea imploding.  I said, “But Mom… I don’t want to register the domain name. It’s like, $9.99.  What if I waste $10?”  Seriously.  Operation Beautiful almost didn’t exist because I was afraid to spend TEN WHOLE DOLLARS!  I look back on that conversation and can’t help but laugh.  The obstacles that I thought I was facing seemed so important and big at the time, but in hindsight – they were nothing!  Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams… you can never know where they will end up.


What’s your game-changing play?



  • Ali February 21, 2013, 10:28 am

    I’m a brain cancer scientist so my entire life is devoted to coming up with new, creative ideas and then putting them into action. I take my job very seriously because to me, it’s not just a job-people’s lives are dependent on the ideas that I can come up with to save them. My brain is my business and I’ve never thought about any the concepts you mention here-maybe I’m just a confident person to begin with? And I guess social media doesn’t impact me either-which I’m very happy about because I really don’t like the idea of it (as weird as that sounds). I have had HUGE successes staying in contact with people in person (the old fashion way).
    Thanks for the info!

  • rebecca @ blueberry smiles February 21, 2013, 10:32 am

    This is such a great post! Thank you, Caitlin. Exactly what I needed to hear today.

  • Ashley @ Life and Fitness February 21, 2013, 10:33 am

    Great post! I vow to never sell myself short and realize my self worth.

  • Lindsey February 21, 2013, 10:57 am

    Awesome post! I love The Four Agreements. A dear family friend and successful business executive game me that book a number of years ago, and it’s been a constant reminder of the best way in which to live our lives.

  • Sarah @ Yogi in Action February 21, 2013, 11:22 am

    I love this post- and I love your tips!

    I definitely agree with never selling yourself short- I’ve heard women are especially bad for it and will often accept the first offer for wage, rather than trying to get it higher. Which is one of the reasons men are paid more than women, since men will get that value up!

  • Katie February 21, 2013, 12:20 pm

    Thank you so much for a good inspiration/education post!! I’m amazed you can take such great notes on your iphone, when I’m watching presentations I have to handwrite to get it all out quick enough.

  • Ali February 21, 2013, 12:31 pm

    I LOVE the idea of “talent is universal but opportunity is not.” Absolutely love it. I have been working in creating science programs for all children, regardless of economic status, gender, etc. and though the work is hard and I have days where I just want to go home and be done, I try to remind myself that giving these children these opportunities can make such a huge difference in their lives. I love teaching students who also think they “can’t do it” because that’s what they’ve always been told. When given the opportunity to thrive, they can accomplish the most amazing things and the look on their faces is enough payment for me to do it for free. I guess “don’t underestimate yourself” would be on that level. I do it to myself and I always have people telling me this mantra. Maybe I should print it out and pin it up on my desk. 🙂

  • Carly @LifeInTraining February 21, 2013, 1:19 pm

    This post is great. Thanks so much for sharing your and the other speaker’s points. The Four Agreements is awesome – we would live in a better world if everyone lived by them!

    Oh, and your mom saying there’s never anything stupid in trying? Best mom advice ever. Actually, just best advice ever.

  • Jenn February 21, 2013, 1:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing. This is great

  • Kerin February 21, 2013, 2:19 pm

    Thanks for this. Great advice!! I’m so good at coming up with reasons why I can’t or why I can’t right now.

  • Babs February 21, 2013, 5:45 pm

    I think a key to success is to keep believing, which is difficult. The fact is you can either be positive or negative about your situation, and neither feeling will necessarily change your position (only action will) so why not just be positive and appreciate what you do have. This has been my attitude as I deal with the frustration of being qualified to practice in the States and in Australia and still cannot find a stinking job!

  • Jon @elements2lead February 21, 2013, 9:24 pm

    Love your recap Caitlin. So glad you could join us. Your authenticity is always so inspiring and it resonates so well with people. Hope to see you soon.

  • Catherine February 22, 2013, 6:15 am

    You made some great points. I especially struggle with the third one. I’m trying to lose the mentality of “It probably won’t work out so why waste my time/resources?” It’s tough to change your thought process! I’ve never been a very big risk taker, but the few big risks I did take always landed me somewhere wonderful even if it wasn’t exactly what I intended.

  • Karen @ Runner Girl Eats February 22, 2013, 8:32 am

    Seems like a great event! I have dozens of ideas but have a really hard time trying to figure out which ones are worth perusing and where to start. I need the shot in the foot to take the first step!

  • Simply Me February 22, 2013, 8:37 am

    I like this post. So “harrd” to put into action though. I’ve spent years and years doing wasting time and losing everything. Now I have a big decision to make and am so darned indecisive I can’t figure it out. I know what I want and really need to do…but I’m worried I can’t do that because it jeopardizes too much for the future. It’s killing me. SO much that can be so impacting.

    I like that you say “I never know what the right choice is”. The difference is that YOU are making choices so you gather a LOT of life and accomplishments (whether a sucess a failure) into that life. I just sit and let it all float by like clouds across my still body.

    I so need advice, help, some kind of sane awakening. If anyone out there is a sensible “guru” email me 🙂 Ha!

  • briana February 22, 2013, 9:10 am

    you are inspiring!!

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