Sara Sperling is the definition of change-agent, she changes culture and communities and she does it fast. When Sperling joined us at the summit she was the working at Facebook on the Diversity and Inclusion team. This past August she moved to Snapchat, a company Facebook tried to acquire last year, to be the director of human resources. Prior to Facebook she worked at Yahoo! and has a degree in Math and economics from UC Irvine as well as a MA from Stanford and a MBA from Santa Clara University.
Sperling begins her talk by acknowledging the fact many people have been wondering how she got from being a math and economics major to heading up diversity and inclusion at Facebook. She says that she realized early on in her life that she would have to take jobs that fed her soul or she would need a lot of therapy. After years of taking jobs that fed her she realized the question she was really asking herself was “How am I going to move through this life in an authentic way?” She admits that about ten years ago she started taking improv lessons at a local theater and fell in love quickly because of the “Yes!” attitude.
Sperling continues on to share how “the improv state of mind” got her the life and job that she could have never planned or expected. The four things she learned that are vital to the improv state of mind are, “1. Yes, and… 2. Be fully present. 3. Fail gloriously. 4. Tell a story, Your story.” She starts at the beginning with “Yes, and…” by explaining how saying yes to a situation can change it. Saying things like “I can’t, I won’t, Yes, but..” blocks a situation, it prevents it from moving forward; blocking she explains is a sin in improv. She carries on to give an example of saying “Yes, and..” when the LGBT affinity group at Facebook wanted to bring in a guest to speak about being an out veteran. The LGBT group asked the veterans group to join them for the speaker, to which the veterans group said “Yes.” The result of saying “Yes!” is that now a large amount of collaboration is happening between the two affinity groups. She encourages us to think about the places we say “No.” to and to think about how we can say “Yes!”
Sperling moves on to talking about the second part, “be fully present.” She says when we are fully present the focus moves from me to we; away from a self-centered mindset and into a space where opportunities are created and growth and collaboration occur naturally. She recounts a moment when a colleague told her that if she didn’t “fail gloriously,” she would never know what success felt like. Shortly after college, Sperling organized a concert for the group
“No Doubt,” and unknowingly failed to recognize their popularity. When 5,000 people showed up for the concert, so did the cops. However, she notes that her success in that moment (when she could have easily been shut down) was owning up to her shortcomings.
Finally, Sperling closes with the last point she learned, “Tell a story, Your story.” She recounts a time when she recognized in herself that she didn’t know very many muslim men. She didn’t meet one until she started working at Facebook. He opened up to her and shared his unique and passionate cross-continental love story with her and she became connected and invested. His authenticity and vulnerability caused her to form a connection and relationship with him. She concludes with encouraging us all to adopt an “improv state of mind” and step into the YES!-fully-present-failing-glorious-story-telling-life.