“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein
My Back Story
Hi I’m Saeed! I write at the intersection of personal, professional and organizational development.
I was born in Iran and I moved to the States with my dad when I was ten years old. We moved around a lot. Immigrants often do. As a result, home has been elusive. Teenage years were typically rebellious. I was bad in math but great in language arts and social studies. I wanted to be a (photo) journalist. In my early 20s, I spent nearly 4 years traveling through Asia – most of it by backpack or bicycle. I ran out of money and stopped in Taiwan to teach English so I could travel some more. That’s how I got interested in education.
But I wasn’t done traveling yet.
Next, I rode my bicycle from Alaska to San Francisco. That’s me in the picture up above. I’m obsessed with anything that has two wheels. Especially motorcycles. I love Steve McQueen. Don’t even talk to me about Marlon Brando. When I was a kid, I loved Jack London. White Fang was the first book I remember reading. That’s why I went to Alaska and the Yukon. I wanted to see the places for myself that once fired up my boyhood imagination. Kerouac’s On the Road was another one of my favorite books. Much respect to Hunter H. Thompson who pointed the way to the frontier.
Four years in, I still wasn’t done traveling. I was going back to Asia when I found out my dad was terminally ill. So, I stayed behind in San Francisco to take care of him. I am currently working on my memoir so you’ll find out more details about the back story later. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I focused on work. I love mentoring and working with kids so I figured I’d leverage my interest in education and build a career around it.
At first, I was teaching and running child care centers. Fast forward 20 years, and I’ve managed to put some decent leadership experience under my belt working in public and private philanthropy and in the nonprofit sector. No one knew I had it in me – least of all me. I love building the capacity of people and organizations to do more and to do it better. I love strategic planning, facilitation and grant-making – bridging the work of nonprofits with the giving community: individual and family donors, foundations, and corporations. I am passionate about leveraging philanthropy for positive change. All you need is great ideas and proof points. All you need is resources and relationships.
I also do a lot of writing for work: Grants, proposals, annual reports, strategic plans. But the kind of writing I love is literary journalism. I am a journalist and an essayist at heart. I love and value the process of research and writing that uncovers a new insight into a subject, one that I might not otherwise have. I love to offer that insight to help people level up. I also love training and coaching people to success. I am curious to a fault. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Over time, I’ve realized that most organizations are dysfunctional and kinda kooky. So, I try to use what wizardry I can conjure to get them back in shape. I’ve also realized that the issues that significantly vex individuals and organizations are the people relationship issues and not the subject matter or the content of the work itself. Research also supports this idea.
That’s kind of what brings me here. I write articles at the intersection of personal, professional and organizational development to empower people to be their most effective self. I believe that if I can do that for one person, they might do it for others and that this domino effect might lead to a better world. Maybe I’m naive but that’s what I believe.
I also believe in the power of conversation. I believe Margaret Wheatley when she says: “Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change—personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive.”
I’ve been invited to sit on Boards of Directors and Advisory Committees at the local, state, and national level. That’s been fun. On my path to discovering my passion, I also started a couple of small businesses including a training company and a photography business both of which I sold.
I’ve also worked internationally. Those were some of my favorite assignments. I’ve helped design education projects in South Africa, used photography as a vehicle to solicit empathy in Israel-Palestine, taught communications planning to NGOs working in Rwanda, and for my favorite assignment ever I ran a visual storytelling workshop in a bomb shelter in the West Bank. Awesome!
How I Strive to Create Value
Here is the thing. I am innately curious about people. I got my Masters in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Maybe it was my curiosity about people that made me want to study anthropology.
I love people watching and constantly wonder what on earth is going on inside their head. I can’t help but wonder where they’ve been and where they’re going. I can usually complete their entire life story in a few short minutes…all in my mind, of course.
I need to know what makes people tick; what makes them say ‘yes’ to something, even when it goes against their rational best interests. What makes them turn crisis into opportunity.
Part storyteller. I am able to take the internal story and bring it to life with passion, creativity and confidence, keeping listeners engaged and interested. I love film, photography, and literature.
Part master distiller. My curiosity leads me to research and the research today is vast and endless. Despite the chaos of the research, I have an ability to distill and simplify data, in order to extract an insight and make it the backbone of a post, a training, a presentation, or a report.
I am a full on idea junkie. I love ideas in all forms – conceptual, innovative, groundbreaking, iconoclastic! Being an anthropologist, I love qualitative approaches: storytelling, ethnography, empathy interviews. Visual ethnography appeals to me because I am a photographer. I want to document all the dying cultures of this world through my lens.
I’m quick. To learn. And to think. I have a reputation for getting to the bottom of things fast. If you’re having a brainstorming session, I’m the guy you want in the room.
I connect dots for people they can’t see for themselves. I liken it to the image of fish who don’t know they’re swimming in water. It’s hard to tell sometimes. I love facilitating dialogue and getting people to a place of common understanding and agreement.
I geek out on sifting through disjointed dialogue and information just to synthesize ideas and extract the insight nugget that becomes the core of an inspiring strategic story. This is how individuals, teams, and organizations develop new, powerful ideas that make them do something different. This is where transformation begins.
I value intuition, independence, and creativity. I just do.
I’m not scared of uncharted territory. Actually, I welcome the unknown. I think fear is the place where the known ends and the unknown begins. When it comes to fear, I am a dragon slayer.
I am fascinated by the human condition. I love to excavate minds and souls; especially my own! I treat my soul like a motorcycle engine that needs to be rebuilt. I take it all apart and put it back together again.
My travels have taken me through China, Taiwan, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Pakistan, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Greece, Germany, Spain, and Morocco.
I love to travel and I’m not done yet.
In January of 1952 Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Alberto Granado set out on a nine month motorcycle trek through a large part of western South America. In total, the journey took Guevara through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and to Miami, before returning home to Buenos Aires.
I plan to retrace their route on my own motorcycle before I die. I’m adding Brazil to the list. I don’t know why they didn’t go. Seems like a cool place.
I always wanted to be a combat photographer. It’s my only regret.