Ignite NYC: What Would Kermit Do?

Here’s my Ignite NYC VIII talk. If you don’t know what Ignite is: it’s a 5 minute talk, with exactly 20 PowerPoint slides, that move automatically every 15 seconds. Whee! You can also check out the slides and notes below, and read all about how I prepared for the talk.

These are my notes after breaking up the talk based on timing,

1. Who remembers the first Muppet Movie? (1 beat) It’s the origin story for the Muppet canon, if you will. One major plot point is that Kermit’s offered a bunch of cash to shill for a chain of frog leg restaurants.

2. Not wanting to abandon his dream of making millions of people happy, he turns it down. Doc Hopper pursues to the point of hiring a frog assassin (!), and Kermit lays in on the line. ’Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy.

3. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And, well, it kind of makes us like a family. You have anyone like that, Hopper? I mean, once you get all those restaurants, who are you gonna share it with? Who are your friends, Doc?’

4. Kermit knew what he’s about in that moment. There’s a lot we can learn about changing the world from him. We all know that social networks and media can help us get the word out about our cause or raise money for something, but those are just the trees in the forest.

5. When we choose to share our experiences, connect with one another, we’re fundamentally shifting the consciousness of the culture away from apathy and isolation by infusing our values, our opinions, our stories. That starts with authenticity.

6. Being authentic isn’t about airing all your naughty bits (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s about finding a place where you’re comfortable with what you share. That mix can be different for different people,

7, but ultimately, being authentic is what helps us connect to each other. Kermit also teaches us: FIND PEOPLE WHO AREN’T LIKE YOU. This is key! Kermit knew he couldn’t be the only one out there with dreams of singing and dancing and entertaining in Hollywood,

8. but do you think he really planned on picking up a bear, a Gonzo, a chicken, a pig, and dog and a rock band along the way? But you know, his dream was all the better for having different creatures involved! How interesting would it have been to have a bunch of banjo-playing frogs out there trying to make a go of it?

9. Instead, this rag-tag crew gets together and creates a whole movement where no idea is too silly, no goal too high. If you’re going to change the world, it’s key that you don’t just surround yourselves completely with people that look like you, or come from the same ideological background.

10. Sure, birds of a feather flock together (that’s called ’homophily’ for you smartypants out there), but when you get a bunch of the same DNA mixing around together, the species mutates poorly and dies off. NO GOOD.

11. We’ve got to infuse new voices into our conversations about social change, and that’s going to require very intentional cross-pollination of ideas across social boundaries. Mix it UP, people! Who are you reaching out to? Who are you connecting with in your travels?

12. Also, TRUST EVERYONE. On paper, it doesn’t seem like a great idea to get into a Studebaker with a bear that has a questionable stand-up routine. But Kermit knows better than to just look on paper– he knew Fozzie was a good guy

13. in a rough spot at the El Sleazo Cafe. And he kept trusting more and more folks along his journey. Why? A big part of it was because they were authentic with one another right from the get-go. Every time Kermit met a new character,

14. they shared their story with one another. Gonzo wanted to go to Bombay to become a movie star, Piggy was already on her track to modeling and acting stardom, Dr Teeth & the Electric Mayhem were opening up a coffee shop in a church.

15. That kind of sharing and storytelling builds trust. It helps people say, ’Yeah, me too!’ Kermit didn’t worry if it sounded silly that he wanted to go to Hollywood to audition for Orson Welles. Building trust with the people you’re connected to is fundamental for any kind of movement building or change-making.

16. Last, EMBRACE EMPATHY. Note that I’m not talking about sympathy. That’s where you feel bad about something bad that’s happened to someone else. Empathy is where you actually share in the emotions that others are experiencing.

17. Why is empathy important to changing the world? Without the ability to identify with others, especially those not exactly like us, it’s hard to motivate people to make serious changes to how they operate. People fear change and unknowns. Empathy shifts that fear.

18. Kermit’s empathy — like when he rescued Fozzie from a bad gig, commiserating with Ralph the Dog when Piggy leaves him, what have you — is based on the trust he’s built in his friendships. It deepens their bonds. It helps them feel less isolated. And when push comes to shove,

19. when there’s a showdown with Doc Hopper in a western ghost town, and Kermit’s out there in the dirty street, staring down the barrel of a frog assassin’s gun, he finds he’s surrounded by all his new friends, who aren’t about to let him go down alone.

20. Despite imminent danger, they face Hopper’s gang and they make a stand together for friendship, justice and dreaming. And isn’t a world based on those values something we can all get behind?

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