Why Intangibility is the Most Important Asset

In the past month, I have been fortunate enough to speak at two different leadership conferences around Western Pennsylvania about my work with The Smile Project, and while I love inspirational writing and speaking, I found the actual explanation of said work to be very difficult.

When I completed that senior research project for my university, as I have alluded to in many blogs, I thought I would also come out of the semester with a fool proof business plan and ideal life trajectory. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

As part of those aforementioned speeches, I found myself reading:

“The other problem though, as I started to say earlier is the idea of picking one thing. Like, TOMS is brilliant! It’s so simple and effective and tangible. I buy a pair of shoes; they donate a pair of shoes. Done. You know your shoes gave a poor child a pair of shoes. It’s an incredibly brilliant business model and I wish I could, to some degree follow it. But like I said, I get stuck.

I was discussing all this with a friend who has become my go-to for business advice when I realized that maybe I didn’t exactly need a plan right now.

When people ask me to explain The Smile Project, I still find myself stuttering, despite having spent years working on it, writing about it, and speaking for it. I struggle to explain it because it lacks tangibility.”

In my presentation, I then went on to highlight some of my more tangible accomplishments since I posted my first “Happiness is” four years ago. I talked about the merchandise sales and the donations to charity. I mentioned hosting a Joy Week to kick off Year Four and I showed pictures of the giant paintable rock on my campus that we had transformed into a smiley face for Day 1000. I talked about some of my favorite marketing campaigns and focused on where I want to see things go in the future.

But then I included something else—my biggest highlight:


I’ve always struggled to explain The Smile Project, especially in its current transitionary form, because you can’t hold onto my main export: a feeling.

Artists leave murals and architects, buildings. But what I want to do, what I hope I do, is leave invisible sparks on the soul.

To understand a human and connect on a deep emotional level…to give them the courage they need to carry on. That is the art form of inspiration…and I’m happy to say that is The Smile Project.