EP 10: How Skateboards Help Get Things Done Faster (& Better)

December 1, 2022

Show Notes

Do you struggle with perfectionism? You’re not alone. 

It’s so easy to get caught up in a rhythm of over-thinking and over-planning that sometimes the “doing” of the work seems to take a backseat. We know it makes matters worse, but why do we do it? Simple. Our own fear of it not being “right” or “perfect” the first time.

It’s time to build a skateboard.

Not an actual skateboard, of course. We’re talking about a minimum “valuable” version of whatever it is you’re working on. This concept is a critical part of leading in the next normal of nonprofit leadership. Learning it (and using it) will increase your efficiency and learning ability so you can make a more relevant impact on the communities you serve. 

In this episode, Tucker and Sarah discuss the different ways they’ve seen the skateboard analogy help nonprofit leaders increase team efficiency, buy-in, and impact. All thanks to the naturally iterative and collaborative approach of this framework. 

Looking for ways to increase your impact in your communities and causes?
We’ve created a modular series of workshops focused on creating impact from the inside out. Explore details and schedule a discovery session at thriveimpact.org/insideout

Want to get notified of new episodes?

Share this episode


Tucker: Hey there, and welcome to THRIVERS: Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I’m your host, Tucker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT, and our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout because burnout is the enemy of creating positive change. And we want to connect you with impactful concepts and mission-driven leaders so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape.

I’m joined today as usual by my wonderful co-host, Sarah Fanslau. Hey, Sarah. Good to be here with you today.

Sarah: Hey Tucker, great to be here.

Tucker: We wanna go real specific on a concept that has grown to be one of those ones that—I think by surprise a little bit—didn’t realize how much it would catch fire of sorts within both our organization and other organizations.

But one that as we’ve unpacked and non-profit leaders have come back to us and said, “Oh yeah, we started incorporating that. That’s been really helpful.” We thought we’d just get into it and talk about that.

This particular one that has really helped with psychological safety, it’s helped with creating a lighter environment, it’s helped with—what other things, Sarah, has this concept helped with around what we’re trying to do?

Sarah: GSD, Tucker, GSD. Which is Get Stuff Done, in this project.

Tucker: GSD. I love it.

Sarah: It helps to GSD y’all.

Tucker: That’s right. I love it. And this concept is, we call it the skateboard analogy. And the skateboard analogy actually comes from web development and just development in general from a coding perspective, but is something that we’ve applied to the nonprofit landscape.

Which is, if you’re trying to build a big, beautiful car—as an example—instead of building all the little mini components like building the tire and the chassis and the door and all these pieces, and then hopefully coming out with the big beautiful car that hopefully people like.

Sarah: Maybe

Tucker: Maybe, yeah, exactly. They may like it. Maybe not. Instead of building that big, beautiful car, what if we built a minimum viable transportation vehicle first because people can’t interact with a tire. I mean, what are they gonna do with it? They can’t get anywhere with it. They’re not gonna… What are they gonna do with a door?

They can’t do anything with a door, but with a skateboard, the minimum viable transportation vehicle, they can actually get from point A to point B. Now it’s gonna feel clunky. Their legs might get tired. It’s gonna be a little hard. But yet, the skateboard analogy is instead of building that big beautiful car one piece at a time, build a minimum viable transportation vehicle, like a skateboard, and then learn from what people shared and say, “You know what? My legs are a little tired. What if we upgraded that and added a couple wheels and a handlebar and make it a scooter?”

And then people go from there, like, “What if we actually turned it into a bike? What if we put some pedals on it and made it two big wheels? And then we can go a little faster.”

And then we upgrade. And we upgrade, and we upgrade up to where we get to the big, beautiful car. But one that has actually, in a sense, been co-created along the way. So that’s this concept that we’ve been talking about, but why, Sarah, why is it, from your perspective, so important? Why is this such a big deal?

Why has this grown in our work to be actually such an incredibly important framework that we use all the time?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s crazy because it’s one that I didn’t have language for before I came to THRIVE IMPACT, but one that I definitely felt the need for, and I’m sure you all have as well.

You’re working on something, it’s not perfect and you wanna share it, right? That’s the scenario here. So skateboard is useful for so many different things. What it does, I think in a lot of ways, is help people—especially those who may struggle with perfectionism—get something out and down and then share it with others for feedback and co-creation before it’s complete.

And I think that’s one of the biggest use cases here, is giving people the language and the tool to share early, share fast, and make it better.

What about you? What are some of the use cases you’ve seen?

Tucker: You just hit on a challenge that I’ve had. Which is being too perfect—or trying to be too perfect—which I’ve definitely learned from a personal experience that a lot of that is based in fear.

A lot of that can be based in fear of showing that maybe I don’t have all my stuff together yet, or fear of judgment. There’s fear underneath perfectionism. There’s really fear. At least what I’ve experienced in my own lived experience as a leader. And I think what I’ve learned in both doing this myself—in terms of creating my own skateboard—as well as helping other groups do this, is that it created a lighter environment around creativity. Created a lighter environment around testing and trying. And you said the word too, which is co-create. It created a space that people felt like they could see potentially their voice or their feedback in, or something to that effect.

And it’s actually sped up the process of creating things in general.

Sarah: It speeds it up and I think it makes it better. I think one of the things we often… There’s an odd tension where, in many places, we don’t wanna show anything until it’s done or it’s good enough because it’s not done and it’s not good enough.

But the problem is if we don’t show it until it’s done and good enough, then we have a really hard time being open to change around it. Because no, this is the finished thing. This is done. And so I think part of what skateboard does is open up this avenue for people to seek advice and input in a way that’s safe for them and safe for others.

Tucker: So let’s get into specifics. Obviously, I’m assuming, unless you’re a car manufacturing nonprofit—which I doubt there are any out there—what does a big, beautiful car even mean? What are some cases and specific things that we can get into that helps people understand this concept?

Sarah: One of them for us is the impact pyramid. If y’all have been listening to our podcast before, you know that that is the frame we use to help people develop their strategic direction. It’s a three part pyramid, sometimes 3.5. But at the top is a vision. In the middle of the pyramid is impact—that’s the real difference you make in the world—and at the bottom of the impact pyramid are your programs essentially. And I say 3.5 because lately organizations have been adding culture to the impact layer as a way to outline the fact that we can’t do impact in the world without having positive impact in our organization first.

Tucker: Love that.

Sarah: Which we love, of course. So what we do when we take folks on this journey of strategic planning, is we do around five iterations of the impact pyramid, and we start with a perfectly imperfect version of it. It is on purpose, as you like to say, not right. Not completely right.

And I think sometimes Tucker, you even say, “I might have drawn this on the back of a napkin. I don’t love that one.” Cause I’m like, “Wait, no. We did a lot of work to get here. It’s not back of a napkin.” But the point you’re making is that this isn’t right. This is almost transient.

And so what we’re doing is helping people know that we’re starting somewhere and we’re gonna grow it and change it over time as we get new information in. And so we actually call it the journey of the impact pyramid, and we help people see the data we’re gonna collect at different points in the journey in order to create another or a next version.

And with one of our clients, greater Nashua Mental Health—and Cynthia Whitaker, the CEO, has been a guest here on this podcast with her organization—I think we created five iterations or versions of the impact pyramid over about a five month process of data gathering, voice gathering, working with a team to say, “What does the data mean and what does it show?”

And then putting that into versions of the impact pyramid until it felt really right. What I love about this—and we joke about this all the time—is we got to the last board meeting with Greater Nashua Mental Health and this was the time when the board was gonna sign off on the strategic direction.

And you never know how things are gonna go, but everyone was just in complete agreement with what was there, and I jokingly said, “We co-created this thing to death or rather to life.”

Tucker: Rather to life!

Sarah: Which is that you have gotten so much feedback on a thing over time and that’s what skateboard allows you to do. By the end, hopefully everyone’s just completely on board because you’ve spent all this time working with people to get it right. And it is the big, beautiful car at the end. So that’s one case study that I love, and I know you have a bunch of others.

Tucker: Well, there’s this one activity that we’ve done in person that we can’t do—one day we’ll figure out how to do this on Zoom—but we’ve done this activity in person which is called the Marshmallow Challenge. And some of you, if you’ve ever done this before, it’s just a fun activity. Basically what it is, is you break up into groups—This is a great team building reflection type of activity—You break up into groups, usually about four to six people, and everybody gets a big marshmallow, a bunch of raw spaghetti sticks, and like 10 pieces of tape. And the goal of the activity is in 18 minutes, whoever has the highest freestanding tower with a marshmallow on top wins.

It’s so fascinating. It’s fascinating because of team dynamics, like who’s jumping in. But Sarah, who always wins fastest between all types of people? Kids, Adults, everybody in between. Who do you think wins? Who do you think typically wins?

Sarah: The people who try it out a number of times and get it wrong.

Tucker: Exactly. And it’s usually kids. It’s engineers or kids. So engineers because they already know how to build something. But it’s kids when it comes to—and there was actually a whole case on this in a study on this—it was the kids who actually typically would win even in a competition with adults.

And the reason why is because they would try something before. They learned by doing as opposed to learn by planning. And so what adults do is we tend to go at it and like deliberate. We think about it. Versus what the kids do is they’re like, “I dunno, let’s see if this works.”

Sarah: Let me put these marshmallows and sticks together.

Tucker: No, literally, that’s exactly what it is. They create the skateboard and realize, “Oh, that didn’t really. Uh, let’s try it this way.” And then they created the scooter. And then they build their big, beautiful, not car, but their big beautiful pyramid or whatever they’re making.

And kids tend to be the ones that try because they’re not dealing—based upon this study—they’re not dealing with the psychological pressures of coming across in a smart way or anything like that. And so that’s what I’ve loved about that particular challenge, is we actually many times will reflect on that with teams around why is it that most of the time, the last like one to two minutes, everybody’s like scrambling? They’re like, “Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. We gotta do something. We gotta do something.” Because what did you do for the first 16 minutes? We planned, right?

That’s where there was a lot of risk to those teams. And sometimes they get something that gets put up and sometimes they don’t. They’re like, “All right, let go.” It’s like 3, 2, 1, and they have to let go and then it just falls to the ground. But they didn’t learn what worked as they went along the journey.

And so that big, beautiful car, if you will, or that marshmallow tower, had a lot of risk built into it because they didn’t create the steps to learn in a sort of agile, iterative way. It’s a fascinating activity.

Sarah: I think one thing that’s interesting about that is that’s almost counterintuitive for people. I think sometimes you think, trialing and testing, I may fail. But trialing and testing at a small scale is actually less risky than spending all of this time planning to fail big.

And so I think this idea of risk is a really interesting one, when you think about skateboard, and actually asks us to rethink our thoughts on risk altogether. It’s actually way riskier to spend all this time trying to plan something for then it to fail rather than trying and failing fast. But so many of us are just so scared of the fear of failure, however the size, that we put more time into planning rather than trying with the thought that planning is gonna lead to less failure rather than trying.

Tucker: Well, and Sarah, I’d love for you to share a little bit about this. We have a program called Thrivers. We’re doing it with Pike’s Peak Community Foundation right now. It’s a six month program, and we just wrapped up a three part workshop series called The Impact into Story, which we’re gonna go deeper in actually in a couple weeks with the Pike’s Peak Community Foundation and some of the learnings behind that.

But one learning in particular was, how did we create the space of learning quickly in the room? What did you notice around the skateboard analogy being applied in a learning environment where multiple organizations are there, they’re all trying to learn around impact evaluation and storytelling.

What did you notice around how this was applied and helpful from a learning perspective?

Sarah: At THRIVE IMPACT, we use action learning or experiential learning models, which research shows us helps improve satisfaction and generate learning outcomes better than traditional teacher to peer learning. And one of the pieces at the base of that is making the learning about the real work. Is actually the doing. And so in this Impact into Story energizer, in each of the three, two hour sessions, we had folks work in the room. And so for example, in the first session, it was all around logic models, basically understanding the impact at the base of your organization.

We showed folks a relatively accessible form of a logic model because those can be scary—and logic models just outline how the activities of your program align with the change you wanna make—we showed them an accessible one in the form of a storyboard. And then we literally gave them a Google slide version that they could create in the room.

They did so, and then they shared it with each other and got feedback. And this model of learning is very research based and folks have shown that these series of doing, sharing, and reflecting really helped to codify the learning gains and also support the development of critical thinking skills.

So the skateboard, it’s not just about creating the process, it’s the product, rather. It’s also about creating the conditions under which folks can learn and learn more rapidly in order to apply concepts.

Tucker: And get feedback, right? Like it’s user feedback. Does this translate to you? Does this not translate? And also for those who are receiving the feedback or those who are being asked for the feedback—going back to our co-creation component—I remember we asked in the room, how many of you learned about your own logic model based upon somebody else sharing their logic model with you? But there was this like, not only am I able to help provide thought and insight to your logic model, but I’m also learning about my logic model at the same time. So it created like a double effect of iteration in a sense from being able to create that sharing and learning environment around, “put your skateboard logic model together first and get real feedback from real people.”

Sarah: Absolutely. And then as you know, we built on that over time. The first session folks created a logic model, and then in the second session we kind of bridged that into creating story. And people wrote imperfect headlines, and we called them imperfect headlines.

Storytelling can feel scary to folks. It’s like, “how do I do it?” If I’m not a storyteller, I can often think I’m no good at it. And so part of the skateboard can be used in heavier or lighter fashion. There’s almost a spectrum to it. And the lightest way to use it is just to say, “Write your imperfect X, or try your imperfect Y.” In any meeting, because it automatically says to folks, this is safe to try. Whatever I put out there is okay. Tucker, I think you were talking earlier about it, it kind of lightens the psychological or cognitive lift.

Tucker: Yeah. Because I’m not worried about whether or not you’re gonna judge me. Now, maybe you still might, I don’t know, but… And this actually gets into a really important how component of, if you’re the one who’s wanting to do a skateboard, but you don’t necessarily have a culture around that.

What are some tips that you have, Sarah, around how do people start to incorporate this? Especially if you’re the one who’s like, I’ve got a document, it’s not ready yet. Or I have a graphic design, or I have a deck, or I have a whatever. I mean, it could be anything, right? A logic model. Anything. Anything at all in terms of something that you’re trying to build, how do people bring people into this type of an experience, even if they don’t have a culture?

Sarah: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m almost gonna ask you to answer it because, I think you… So you’re the one, I think, should share Tucker, about how you start using the frame. Because I think the frame’s at the base of it. People need the language, they need the tool in order to understand it. So tell folks about how you leverage the frame to help build the base of understanding, if you would.

Tucker: Well, I mean, share the frame first of all.Which is, can we agree that we’re trying to big build a big, beautiful X right?

Program model, revenue strategy, strategic plan, I don’t know, whatever it is, that big, beautiful thing that you’re trying to build six months from today or whatever. From an enrollment language—we call it enrollment language—but language that helps people come into this. You may even share the frame, which by the way, we’ll have in the show notes. We’ll have a visual for you that you can actually see an example of this. So take a look in the show notes on our website, thirveimpact.org/podcast.

Words create worlds. The language we use really matters. And so I might just flat out say—you like to say this—this old Brené Brown-ism, which is “Clear is kind.”

You might just be clear about it, Sarah, you were just saying, “Hey, this is an imperfect social media post for our… or, an imperfect…it’s not done yet. It needs help, it needs support”. You might just be blatantly honest about that and say, “I’m doing this because I really want to co-create the best possible way forward. I really want to engage your wisdom” That speaks to that they actually have something to offer in the creation of whatever it is that you’re creating. So I think that’s a piece. Another piece of it that I use when facilitating, especially is I, generally speaking, am kind of anti deck.

Meaning if it looks done, then it’s gonna feel done to others. And so, when we think about minimum viable, this is why we say the napkin idea is the first impact pyramid. We jokingly say it’s on the back of some napkin, we sketched. Or I’ll draw it on my iPad or something that doesn’t look done intentionally like blatantly, intentionally. Because it helps people to feel like it’s not done and that there’s room for improvement too. Hence why you were talking about when we do the impact pyramid. And we’re like, “This is not ready yet. Let’s make it ready. Let’s continue to iterate on this, and here’s our journey.”

So there’s both the language you might use… So if you’re going to a staff member or even your CEO, you might go to them if you’re a fundraiser, as an example, you might say, “Hey, I’ve got a deck here, or I’ve got an outline of a deck.Here’s my talking points and it’s not ready yet, and I wanna just engage your wisdom on this. I want to give you something to react to.”

So like little bits of language like that, that help people come into that type of an experience. It’s really expectation setting is what it is, right? If they’re expecting a done product and you give them a not done product, then that’s gonna be tough for them to interact, and then you’re probably gonna feel judgment, or some form of, “Is this really done? Ew.”

But if you actually co-create it with them, it gets to—as you’ve been sharing—it gets to done in a potentially faster way. But in one that already has incorporated the buy-in of other people in the journey.

Sarah: For sure. And to unpack a little bit what you said, and as somebody who has come in and watched you do this, starting with the visual—which again we’ll put in the show notes—of the literal skateboard, and giving people not just a verbal language, but a visual in their mind around this, I think is super key.

And so at the organization level, if this is something you wanna lean into, use this visual. Bring it to a staff meeting or whatever meeting you’re at, and you’re gonna go, “I wanna try a new process with y’all, and let me show you this visual to tell you what I mean.” So I think that’s step one.

And then step two is that using that language as you just shared to say, “I’m gonna share something with you that’s at the skateboard level.” And something you do frequently, Tucker, then take that visual back up and circle the skateboard. Again, you’re setting expectations, but in a visual way about where folks are in the journey. And you could use that diagram almost throughout. You could say, “Okay, we started at skateboard. You know what? Now we’re here, we’re at Scooter y’all, which means that we’ve done some work to get here and we still have a ways to go.” And then as you continue to go, it’s really helpful to help orient folks to where you are.

I remember when we were working with Greater Nashua, and we were almost done and we would say, “We’re at the place where we’re painting the color of the car.” Do you remember who used that? And we set that expectation like that because they knew then the level of feedback we were looking for. We weren’t going back to skateboard. We were at paint color level. And so I think one of the things that that visual does is it doesn’t just help you teach on it, if you continue to use it, it helps orient people to where you are and continually set those expectations.

Tucker: Yeah. That’s great. Well, and we’ve even seen this. I think it was Indy who shared with us she started hearing the word skateboard in their regular staff meetings all the time.

And it created a language that people could use. Like, “Oh, what’s the skateboard version?” And they understand what that is. It became a common language. It is a common language for them and again, it creates that space of psychological safety and a lighter psychological lift in general.

And that way, people can now start saying—we do this all the time with each other—“All right, here’s my skateboard version.” And we’ll do V1, V2, V3, V4, like I did that with a fundraising deck as an example. I was like, “What is this? This is not ready to go. This is not ready for primetime.” I’m in a place where there’s way too much in it. I just went out of my way to say all those things. And that allowed you guys to come in and feel the freedom—actually, this is another point—to feel the freedom to provide real, honest, legitimate feedback too. You didn’t feel like you were gonna hurt my feelings, or you didn’t feel like you were gonna completely blow up all of my work, and feel bad if you were able to actually give honest, legitimate feedback, because I set the conditions for that to happen. And that’s a really important piece because at the end of the day, we want honest feedback.

Like it’s all about learning, and it’s all about creating that impact. It’s not necessarily about my ego or your ego or anybody else’s ego. We wanna have contribution, but how do we create the conditions that allow for others to contribute in a way that is honest and it’s real? And the skateboard is another way of doing that.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been such a dramatic tool, and for me—I was sharing with you earlier—at my last organization, I naturally had this instinct—and in some ways I’m a bit of perfectionist—that I like to get things perfect. But I also love… Co-creation is part of my dna. I always… more feedback is better. That’s just my opinion, because I found it to be true, and yet I didn’t have a language to use. And so I would often start things and literally within like 45 minutes of starting a document—and that’s a long time for me—I’ll be itching to send it out because I’m like, “it’s good enough, I’ve gotten enough down so that people can interact with it and give me something back before I spend more time there.”

And that for me as someone who’s always thinking about how to use my time. productively, I think the skateboard, for me, that language has given me the freedom to not do more work than is necessary based on the stage that a thing is at. So if it’s at the V1 level, put in an inch of work, that’s it.

Because all you’re doing is putting something up on the wall for other people to help you make better right now. As the stages go on, you may need to increase the depth of your work. If you’re a busy non-profit leader, this is gonna save you time if you use it because you’re gonna have to spend less time up front doing work that you’re then gonna have to change based on feedback, because you’ve gone too far. So I definitely think it’s a time saver and a prioritization helper for busy nonprofit leaders.

Tucker: Awesome. Well, I love this episode. It’s pragmatic, it’s specific. I think if you’re a nonprofit leader out there, give this a try. Work on your way to enroll people into this type of an experience.

Take a look at the show notes again for the visual itself and test it out with your team, if you’re the CEO or the ED, do the same with your team. That’s actually a great idea because it shows that you want their feedback. That’s a great way of co-creating, your own strategy.

So wherever you’re at, if you’re managing up or managing down, or managing across, wherever it is you are, this is a helpful tool that you should be able to use and test it out. See how it goes and create more of that learning environment that we all actually wanna be a part of, which is continuous improvement and ongoing iteration.

Any last, any last thoughts before we go?

Sarah: Give it a try. Right? As we say, “It’s safe to try” at THRIVE IMPACT. So, you know, safe to try. Just give it a try.

Tucker: Awesome. Well thank you everybody for joining us for this episode. Hopefully this was helpful and if it was, we’d love for you to add a review wherever you listen to your podcast. Maybe that’s Apple or Spotify or Google or wherever it is, please add some stars and let us know.

We measure our own impact. Hence why our name is THRIVE IMPACT. Literally, we actually do measure our own impact. And so we want to know if this is having impact on you. Leave a review for us or shoot us an email [email protected].

We’d love to be able to connect with you and see what other episodes you’d actually like to hear about from Sarah and I and our team, or from the people that we interact with, some great non-profit leaders.

Have a wonderful day, everybody.

Sarah: Thanks y’all.