Resolve to Act

Perspectives 3: One month into 2020 and New Year's resolutions are falling by the way side. Veganuary is over. Gyms have emptied out. It doesn't have to be that way though. Discover the simple way to keep your resolutions, and what political, #nextgen and academic leaders are committed to this year.

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February – one month into 2020. How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions?

A poll cited by one of our partner universities, Columbia Business School, said that while nearly half of all Americans will have made a New Year’s resolution this year, one third will fail to keep it. Gita Johar, the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business has advice for how to stay steadfast: make it painful to break your promise. By self-imposing penalties for failing to keep resolutions, you can noticeably increase your likelihood of following through on them according to her new research. “In general, associating a negative outcome with giving in to a temptation should help people to resist temptations” says Johar. Richard H. Thaler, author of Nudge Theory and Misbehaving echoes that. He suggests tactics such as donating money to a cause you truly abhor, or paying a forfeit to a friend, if you fail to keep to your resolution whether it be to lose weight, do more exercise, get your thesis in on time or anything else.

We have three challenges for each other: one sporting/health related; one focused on personal development and one career related.

Many years ago, my lovely Scottish high-flying lawyer friend, disrupted a New Year’s Eve dinner party round table declarations of resolutions by saying that we should scrap them altogether; nobody stuck to them and they were always so negative. They were typically about giving things up or doing things that we didn’t really like to do. Instead we should have challenges – ones that are specific, measurable, inspiring and sustainable. So that’s what we did. Every year since, she and I have proposed three challenges for each other: one sporting / health related; one focused on personal development and one career related. In a nod to Thaler, the person who succeeds in all their challenges, is taken out to dinner by the one who doesn’t .

I challenged her to getting 7 hours sleep a night.

One year she challenged me to 140 instances of exercise a year. I used a spreadsheet to monitor my activity. Another friend found this totally hysterical. I am with Peter Drucker though in terms of what gets measured gets managed. It works for me at least. Having added 10 to the goal each year, this year’s target is 180. I challenged her to getting an average of 7 hours sleep a night and a vacation every quarter. Successful lawyers are in danger of burning out. Because of the challenges, I am a better cook (challenge: learn one new dish a month), have been on a poetry course that I loved (challenge: develop one of your creative skills), have taken part in the Swim Serpentine event twice (challenge: swim a mile in under 45 minutes), do a job that inspires me (challenge: embrace a third career) and much more.

Asked in genuine horror: what on earth I was doing.

Last year I was shamed into adding a couple resolutions. My younger brother told me that he had not bought a single cup of coffee unless he had a keep cup with him. How could the need for a caffeine fix override the need to be environmentally aware? I resolved to do likewise and now carry a reusable coffee cup everywhere. The super smart and all round delightful teenage daughter of a great friend of mine, asked, in genuine horror, what on earth I was doing when I bought a bottle of water at the petrol station at which we’d stopped. Once I realised what she was so appalled about, I resolved never to buy single-use plastic bottles of water again. I now carry a water bottle too. My bag is heavier but my conscience is lighter. It seems a fair trade off. I also now rarely stop at petrol stations - I drive an electric car.

He darted off into the trees... reappearing with an empty water bottle, a beer can and a sweet wrapper.

Between Christmas and New Year, I was walking in Epping Forrest with my litigation lawyer godson/nephew (I am a very lucky - proud and doting - aunt, I have six amazing nephews, two of whom are lawyers, one in London, one in Switzerland). All of a sudden, in the midst of a conversation about where he and his beautiful new bride planned to live, he darted off into the trees. Slightly bewildered, I waited for him to reappear. When he did, it was with an empty water bottle, a beer can and a sweet wrapper. This continued throughout the walk. By the time we returned to the carpark, he was carrying an armful of rubbish. Who knew that I could admire him still more? Instead of talking about tackling environmental pollution and making the world a better place, he was doing it, one piece of litter at a time. 

Leave every place better than you found it.

For many summers, I was a counsellor at the Aloha Camps in Vermont, USA. They have a motto, drilled into every camper before any hike, bike or canoe trip: leave every place better than you found it. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution to commit to still – or want to swap one in because one hasn’t worked out quite as planned – you could do worse than this.

You have two ears and one month for a reason.

A Sales Director I knew liked to tell her sales team that they have two ears and one mouth for a reason. They should listen more and speak less. Typically, we also have two eyes, arms and legs. That means, it is generally 8:1 in favour of looking, listening, and acting versus talking. Ironically (I realise) you can put writing into the same bucket as talking.

It is not so useful to talk (or write) about how shameful it is that e.g. Starbucks, don’t pay their taxes or that Facebook knowingly promotes disinformation, and cheerfully carry on buying from them. It is really not ok to publish white papers on diversity if you have a board full of middle-aged white men or happily partner with companies that do. We absolutely have the power to change corporates' behaviour by voting with our feet (or keyboard) and wallets.

 Cory Booker planned to be more conscious with his consumer choices.

In one of my favourite Podcast’s this year, PodSave America, Tommy, Jon and Jon ask some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls about their New Year’s resolutions. I love the fact that Cory Booker said that last year he planned to be more conscious with his consumer choices, particularly in relation to food choices and how they impact regenerative agriculture. This year, he is going to extend that to fast fashion and the consumer choices he makes about clothing; noting that his choices should empower the values that he promotes. He quotes Gandhi:  be the change you wish to see in the world.   

A couple weeks ago I met with the completely inspirational Edward Fidoe, Founder and CEO of the Interdisciplinary School. He is someone who acts. Concerned that traditional university educations were no longer fit for purpose, he set up a new university “for those who want to shape the world, not just fit in.” Opening in September 2021, it is already wildly oversubscribed. Serious kudos.

It is a powerful reminder of the dangers, idiocy and shamefulness of swallowing nonsense propaganda wholesale

I am on my way to the US to meet with some wonderful universities who believe as we do that it is deeply disturbing that so many of today’s leaders brazenly lie and are rewarded for their dishonesty. I just watched the film JoJo Rabbit. It is an extraordinarily beautiful, original, funny, heart-breaking, heart-warming, searingly-truthful, award-worthy satire. I urge you to watch it if you haven’t seen it yet. It is a powerful reminder of the dangers, idiocy and shamefulness of swallowing nonsense propaganda wholesale; of how terrifyingly easy it is for good people to be swept up in hate. It made me laugh, wince and cry. And made me surer than ever, that developing a new generation of leaders for whom moral leadership is an ethical imperative, is critically important. 

Next time I will tell you about my journeys around N.E. America.

Susanna Kempe (she/her)

CEO, Laidlaw Foundation

A graduate of Cambridge University, Susanna’s professional experience includes over 15 years in senior leadership roles in international B2B and learning businesses. Susanna began her career at the Institute for International Research (IIR) where she first worked with Lord Laidlaw, rising to Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). When IIR, which was the world’s largest organiser of commercial conferences, was acquired by Informa plc in 2005 Susanna was appointed CMO of the enlarged group and also led the public company’s investor relations programmes. She subsequently joined Emap Ltd as Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer and CEO of Emap Networks, that group’s conferences business. Later she became CEO of the fashion industry forecaster WGSN and was latterly Group Content and Marketing Partner of the leading strategy consultancy Brunswick Group. A German-American raised and educated in the UK and a committed internationalist, Susanna has been involved in globally trading businesses throughout her career, directing activity in the Americas, across continental Europe, and the Asia Pacific. Susanna has been extensively involved with education and professional development over many years. She was Head of Group Training and led the commercial acquisition and integration of a portfolio of corporate training businesses whilst at IIR; and created learning academies at both Informa and Emap. She believes experiencing and appreciating different cultures promotes better global understanding, creativity and leadership. She is passionate about the power of education to transform lives; and believes that we need to develop a new generation of diverse leaders who are curious, bold and devoted to decency, truthfulness, and innovation. Susanna is committed to diversity not only as a societal imperative but as a critical component of commercial success. As an advisor to the trustees of the Foundation, Susanna first learnt about its purpose and programmes before becoming its Chief Executive responsible for the Laidlaw Schools Trust, the Laidlaw Scholars and its other education programmes. Susanna read English and Philosophy at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. She has five half blues in swimming and water polo; and played netball and rowed for Newnham.


Go to the profile of Charles Thiede
over 1 year ago

Hi Susanna, love this and thank you for the inspiration. The little things add up. A month of big resolutions vs. 12 months of small monthly resolutions. Love hearing what your nephew did. Beer cans and sweet wrappers. A couple years ago I started picking up three pieces of plastic while running. I then calculated that if I ran 2x a week that would be 312 pieces of plastic. That's not a lot of plastic. There are 60m joggers in America, So let's say on average they run 1x a week. If they picked up three pieces of trash on every run, it would be 9,360,000,000 pieces of plastic a year! In the USA alone. And I guarantee there would be plenty of plastic to pick up every year.  Did I do the maths right?

I told a friend about this who is Norwegian. He said to me with a smile, "oh we already do this". Its called a Plogging run! Plogging

It's the little things that add up and the more people that do them, the more they take shape and it becomes a movement. Your article inspired me to go out and run and plog! Thank you for all your inspiration.

Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe (she/her)
over 1 year ago

I love the concept of plogging- we absolutely need to embrace this. I wonder if we could get everyone who does a Park Rum to commit to it?

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede
over 1 year ago

That is a brilliant idea! Let's conspire soon on this.