Previous month:
July 2009
Next month:
September 2009

August 2009

Sincerity and Serendipity = Karma

What is Karma? It is the impact and result of our actions, some say it is moral causation. Others, "You get what you deserve. What goes around comes around." Often there is a negative spin or emphasis. In Japanese there is this concept/word Bachi! Loosely translated it is a divine punishment for bad behavior. But for Japanese Americans, it is often used in jest. For example, when my son tries to slug me and misses and hits the wall. We say bachi!-- you deserved that! Karma But karma is a much broader and deeper belief in the actions we take will return to us. That there is a cycle of causality--that good deeds return benefits and harmful acts return harmful effects. We have all witnessed it and maybe wished it! :) In the end, whether we believe in reincarnation, heaven/hell, or destiny, we know that the concept of karma exists and plays a role in our lives. 

Something I espouse here often and try to live up to, is the very basic idea of treating everyone as your equal. That status, demographic characteristics, income, title, or appearances are never effective ways of judging influence, importance, or relevance. 

I met a Beverly Hills private banker this week who told me this story. She was volunteering at an urban school teaching kids financial literacy. Later, she was sitting in her nice banker's office and a 6 year old kid walked into her office and said, "Hey you were at my school!" And the banker confirmed this was true. The young man confidently announced his intention to open up a bank account. His mom was now visible at the door and motioning for her son to leave the busy banker alone. "So you want to open up an account?", the banker queried. The mom nodded as the son emphatically exclaimed, "Yes!" So the banker decided to take the young man through the private banking process instead of escorting him to the tellers' outside. She completed the application and the account was opened.  The banker followed the full personalized process as if this boy was a high net worth customer. A hand written thank you note was sent. A then a telephone call to check in on this valued customer was made--the father answered. "Who is this? You are calling my son and he is 6 years old! You telemarketers are ruthless and stupid!" Before he hung up, the banker explained that his son opened up an account, which was verified by the mom (again!). The father was dumbstruck and handed the phone to his smiling son. Afterwards the father grabbed the telephone to tell the banker that he has lots of money in banks and no one calls him. He thanked the banker for her follow-up. The next day unbeknownst to the banker the father began singing the praises of this banker, regaling his colleagues with this story. He decided to start transferring his assets to the private banker's institution, his investors followed suit at his urging. Reciprocity When the dust settled, more than $50 million was deposited! The private banker set all time records for production and was honored. Karma! It all started out with a real, sincere and serendipitous encounter with a 6 year old boy.

One of my closest friends Rob, told me a story last night about a colleague he had at Wharton. This quirky professor decided to write letters anytime he experienced something good. He wanted to counteract those who only wrote to complain. He loved writing and jotted notes to cashiers, receptionists, clerks, and employees of all disciplines and copied the appropriate executives. He received grateful replies and to his delight, he received complimentary services and gifts. Some of the recipients were so surprised to get a compliment , because few ever came. The Karma here is palpable, isn't it? It's true we are quick and deliberate to acknowledge the bad and accept the good as an entitlement. I am as guilty as anyone. Bachi on us!  I am going to seriously try and acknowledge the good whenever I see it or experience it. I know it makes a difference. 

We encounter people and opportunities everyday through serendipity and through our spheres of influence. If we treat each of these chances as a time to do good and to never underestimate the value of the moment and the person, then our karma will rise and the bachi will fall.

Thanks for reading. John



Patient and Passionate Persistence

Be quick, don't hurry. Coach John Wooden

I have learned over many years that the achievement of important personal and professional goals take much longer than I think or want. Part of being young or stubborn is impatience--being in too big a rush to see the outcome. J0314296 Golfers know that you can not peek to see where your ball is going until well after you have struck the ball. By peeking, you reduce your concentration on making the most of your time, attention and energy to do what has to be done to get the outcome you want. 

Please do not confuse patience with complacency or a lack of urgency. Effective patience is where you have clear goals--the vision of your destination-- an inner sense of passion drive you to that vision, an openness to experiment and have fast failures to learn how to achieve the vision, adopt the best practices of others, and take pride and enjoyment in the progress and process. All of this takes time and patience. 

More than a few times I have gravitated to early stage ideas and visions that captured my imagination. There was always the visionary who so clearly and passionately painted a picture of the ultimate goal. We know that only a few ideas take off instantly. And even those seemingly over night viral successes have long struggles that preceded their debuts and meteoric rises. The Twitters, Facebooks, iPhones have to be contrasted with the landfills of ideas that never made it or had 15 seconds of fame. Anyway, I have taken some pleasure out of watching how ideas that have hordes of early critics eventually find their place in the sun. Either by the shifting needs and circumstances or by sheer persistence and incremental progress over many years. 2 examples:

  • Online education: I was fortunate to have been recruited by visionary founder Alan Arkatov to lead an online education company called OnlineLearning.net, now part of Walden University, one of the largest online universities in the world. Anyway, back in 1996, online education was decried as "diploma mills" as a cheap imitation of an education institution. As an early pioneering company, we took the slings and arrows of these higher ed hecklers. Fast forward, 3 years ago online courses for students ON college campuses surpassed face to face classes. Look at this report in the NY Times and the Dept of Education's comprehensive study:
    • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better....
    •  Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction...
  • Virtual/digital textbooks: In late 2006 I was recruited by Neeru Khosla, one of the most passionate and visionary people I have ever met, to join a team at CK12.org. CK12 is a non-profit org that endeavors to create virtual/digital standards based no-cost customizable textbooks for the K12 classroom. The ways books are published and selected is so archaic, not to mention costly. Pluto is downgraded as a planet and it would take up to 7 years to update the textbook given the system in place! And the naysayers about virtual books, even at no-cost, were there to block the doors. Now that the budget crisis is forcing schools to defer expenses and make impossible choices, the allure of virtual books is dramatically increasing. This will be good for the school coffers but even better for the students and teachers. So no-cost books are becoming quite popular! Check out this article NY Times that describes the promise and need for this service. 
My roles in these organizations were at the margins, but I got a view of the power of patient and passionate persistence. Early on, It would be easy to give up or give in. 
J0424372 Just like running a race, the early aches and pains can be a deterrent to keep on, but every long distant runner knows the strength that comes from fighting through it all. I have drafted off of the energy and vision of these marathon runners. I admire the Alan and Neerus of the world, for they and many others have inspired me with a model of passion and patience that drives and energizes me. 

In our lives we must remain persistent, passionate and patient. But, we are not getting younger! Engaging your talent, time, and soul in things you care about and things you see as important is crucial. This is where your urgency has to kick in. Finding your place. Finding a vision for yourself and for the world around you that will sustain and nurture you. I meet hundreds of people who think another university degree, taking a workshop, or finding a great mentor will unlock the doors. They might, they might not. Most of these people think they are being patient, but often they are procrastinating their confrontation with what they want. And if too much time goes by, it will be too late. The regret matrix is a deep and dark pool of quicksand that does not let go. And the greatest tragedy is we lose your ideas, genius, and contribution.

Coach Wooden's quote at the top of this blog guides me everyday. I am moving quickly and urgently, but patiently. And that has shown me that visions for new products, services and for oneself can be realized. 

Thanks for reading. John


Networking through the silence of neutrality

When things are utterly quiet. When you truly hear the silence, it can be one of the most peaceful and tranquil moments. Quieting the relentless noise in our minds, averting the cacophony of messages that attack us everyday, and letting our minds go blank are the most illuminating moments for me. Some call this meditation. Others name it reflection and introspection. Whatever the label it is a source of energy to me. 

Some of you know I hosted a live weekly radio program for 10 years at KPCC here in LA. J0440402 One of the things you learn in radio is dead air is deadly. Silence is a taboo. Makes perfect sense for the broadcasting medium. Listeners are there to be engaged, and silence, while a potentially powerful, is fatal in radio. Some people translate this idea into the way they talk and communicate. They don't listen and their mouth motors away. There is this nervous need or assertive assumption that they have to fill the space. Even, if they do not know what they are talking about the words keep coming as if their mouths will catch up with their ideas--always a dangerous move. The resulting monologue may be more fatal than silence, because your audience's attention span shrinks, especially when the onslaught is a rambling wreck. 

Been interviewing people for lots of jobs. And the Gong Show of having the vaudeville acts come in to audition is always fascinating. 250px-Gongshowtitle You remember the show where Chuck Barris would strike the gong to mercifully dismiss the untalented contestant (sometimes I wish I had a gong!). In this job-interview radio show like environment, I serve as the host and ask a few questions and then see what happens. Some candidates just blather on wandering around the planet to see if some of the random words and thoughts they express will return to the continent where the question resides. I know nerves play into it. But if you are semi-prepared AND you are listening then this fire hose approach to watering the daisies could be avoided. The most entertaining part is that they are not even listening to themselves and not knowing they have digressed, they never ask me, "Did that answer your question?" I rarely follow-up with questions if I have to pick through the pile of arbitrariness. Not worth the time. So I ask my next question to see if the brain and the mouth of the candidate sync up. If not, I ask if they have questions. About 50% of the time this is a perplexing question. Hard to believe that candidates have no questions. And that's when one of the last finishing nails goes into their shiny coffins.

Back on silence. When you make a habit of choosing silence in networking or meeting settings, you can be labeled shy but even arrogant or ignorant. Shyness evaporates as an excuse after people get to know you. Then silence can be interpreted in pretty damaging ways to your rep and brand. When you do not speak, your silence can communicate volumes.J0430507

Here's what Harvard Professor Leslie Perlow says:

"Silence is associated with many virtues: modesty, respect for others, prudence, decorum. Thanks to deeply ingrained rules of etiquette, people silence themselves to avoid embarrassment, confrontation, and other perceived dangers. There's an old saying that sums up the virtues of silence: "Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to talk and be known as one." The social virtues of silence are reinforced by our survival instincts. Many organizations send the message—verbally or non verbally—that falling into line is the safest way to hold on to our jobs and further our careers. The need for quiet submission is exaggerated by today's difficult economy, where millions of people have lost their jobs and many more worry that they might. A Dilbert cartoon poignantly expresses how pointless—and perilous—many people feel it is to speak out. Dilbert, the everyman underling, recognizes that a senior executive is making a poor decision. "Shouldn't we tell her?" he asks his boss, who laughs cynically. "Yes," the boss replies. "Let's end our careers by challenging a decision that won't change. That's a great idea." 

Couple of days ago a former of colleague made a confession to me, "I regret to this day that I did not speak up. (3 years ago) If I did our employer could have averted that disaster." 

Yes silence is safe. Not rocking the boat can assure smoother sailing but somebody better say something about the icebergs. In times like these, adding value to your jobs, doing more than we would usually do, is better job insurance than sheer neutrality. J0437293

Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality” 

 John F. Kennedy

In my opinion, choosing what I call the stealth syndrome as a career strategy, where you silently keep your head down and stay productive, will relegate you to anonymity. And when push comes to shove, no one remembers you and what you look like. 

Enjoy the silences to calm your mind and energize your action orientation towards your goals. But pay attention, listen to what is being said, and contribute your ideas to the conversation. That's the best way to avoid the labels of ignorance, arrogance, or irrelevance.

Thanks for reading. John  


A Tourist in Latin America

Special thanks to Helpguide.org for using portions of my blogs to create articles about networking, job search and resumes. Helpguide is one of the world's leading sites to empower you and to assist you in surmounting the challenges of life. A great resource for the entire family. 

First of all it's nice to be back home after traversing South America for last 14 days. Went through Peru and saw the remarkable Machu Picchu. (one of my "bucket list" items) Then went to see Chile and my oldest daughter who is studying down there. Like any trip out of your neighborhood and country, you see and experience things that force you to examine your values and your own worldview. Hard not to have your ethnocentrism tested when you are a tourist. Traveling can be a trip into introspection and self evaluation.

Standing at the foot of the great redwoods, the edge of the Grand Canyon, traversing the Great Wall, or ascending the Eiffel Tower, stunning natural or man-made phenomena give us pause to consider our significance and insignificance. How vapid our lives can seem when we are so focused on the accumulation of material goods that never will be enough. What am I doing here? What will my contribution be? Out of the box travel can be a type of mentoring. You are forced into reflection by shared experiences, by what you see and what you think. That's the way it works. Your experiences create thoughts and those thoughts have emotional content and if you pay attention, they can shift your perspective and your future plans and actions. That's powerful mentoring! 

I had two modest goals for this trip:DSC03483

  1. To get my teenage kids out of their little electronic cocoons and be inspired by reality, without technology. 
  2. To see and experience a little of different cultures, to understand and appreciate our commonalities and differences
I realize that as a tourist you most often see a highly skewed part of that world. Your view is warped by the magnetic economic forces between the tourists and tourism. Yet, if you venture off the path and explore a bit, you will see more reality and more truth. I could easily argue that most of us are de-sensitized to the special qualities of our own home towns and neighborhoods, which in turn excite tourists. We do not stray from our routines and similar to tourists we see and know only a limited view of our worlds. As a visiting tourist you have fresh eyes and you can ask questions that often stump the locals. Putting on the tourist hat even when we are home could yield many benefits. 

That disorienting feeling when you have little competence in the language or where things are definitive parts of being a tourist. However, there is an overwhelming tendency to seek comfort in things we know and trust. In the extreme, when abroad, we stay at the Hilton hotels, get coffee at Starbucks, and never try to utter a word other than English. All of the trappings of the ugly American. When I travel I awkwardly try to converse and understand what I see, eat, and experience. That was my focus this time too. My kids would say, Dad you are still ugly! All of us tried to resist our less adventuresome impulses, try new things, and show respect for the new cultures.
DSC03411

Without getting off on a giant historical and anthropological tangent, the Incans have always impressed me with their accomplishments. But ascending to the top of Machu Picchu brought my admiration to pure awe. The innovative technology, the sheer devotion to precision, the respect for nature, and the focus over a long time horizon. Not fully understanding the hierarchical systems and the means by which "incentives and motivations" were sustained, the results are stunning. No surprise why this is one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. Our guide Fabricio kept urging us to see beyond the images. Imagine what effort and work it took to accomplish these feats. Think about the journey rather than the destination. What sets Machu Picchu apart from many other extraordinary wonders, is the treacherous location of this complex agricultural and urban development. It sits atop of a 8000 ft mountain.

In the end, we return to the beginning and we are different. (apologies to TS Eliot) We accomplished our goals. We have traveled far and our experiences have altered our perspectives. We have an appreciation for Peru and Chile, that heretofore did not exist. We have a greater appreciation for what we have. Our respect for the Incans and the inspiration of Machu Picchu will not fade. But will the mentoring we received from our travels last? Will it make a difference in how we act or what we do with our lives? That's up to us to maintain that slightly uncomfortable, curious, and experimental tourist frame of mind. Our journey continues. 

Thanks for traveling along with me. John


Starting the conversation or what's my BIT?

This is an update version of a popular post I wrote last November. 

Say what you mean and mean what you say.  March Hare, Alice in Wonderland


What you say, how you start the conversation, how you introduce yourself--really matters. Most people have a bunch of auto-pilot, semi-Pavlovian responses and routines. They say things that may or may not be relevant to the situation or worse, may not be something they even believe! 120px-Robot_icon.svg

What's Your BIT?
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." (because that's my identity in this context)I pointed at my son, Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)

Ups and Downs of Elevators120px-Feature_elevators.svg
The LA Social Venture Partnership held a contest for the best "elevator pitch" from a non-profit. Non-profits were trained in the business art of delivering a compelling investment message about their work in 180 seconds. The winners received $20000 and all of the participating orgs received invaluable insight into how to articulate what they do and why it deserves support.

While non-profits are learning their pitches. We all have something to learn about making a concise and compelling pitch about our business idea or why someone should hire us. Intuitive as this is, it is no simple task. 

David Rose, the serial entrepreneur, gives in 10 things to know before you pitch a VC for money He discusses how you convey Integrity, Passion, Experience/Knowledge/Skill, Leadership, Commitment and Vision. These are essential qualities for any investment including the hiring decision. What is your elevator pitch for yourself? How do you convey these qualities in the answers to the interview questions? In other words, how are you expressing your qualifications, differentiating yourself from others AND conveying a great sense of comfort that you will fit in. Like a VC pitch, this take work, practice, and feedback. Being brief and concise is much harder to do. It is far easier to babble, ramble and make it up on the fly. :) Mark Twain said, "Sorry I have written such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one." 

The personal elevator pitch is used when you are asked the hardest and easiest question in the world, "Tell me about yourself." This is where you can shine. You can't rely on your ability to improvise or ad lib. You are ready for this question with your prepared story that is relevant to this context, this job, this pitch. You get to communicate what led you to this moment and opportunity. You are given the chance to highlight your progression and what you learned. A career without failings and therefore learnings is one that is surreal and pretentious. All brag and no fact. So be prepared to talk about your mistakes as well as your successes. One of my most memorable interviews was with the legendary Vinod Kholsa, he asked my to "review my greatest failures in reverse chron order and do not tell me the lesson learned." Never had that one before, he was trying to see if I could reflect on mistakes and whether my mistakes were big enough. In the end, your story gives some clues as to who you are and what makes you tick. Your story can be 2-3 minutes long and it will lead to follow-up questions and your interview will turn into a conversation. This wiki-how page has a good summary Personal Elevator Pitch As recommended, write it down, practice in front of a mirror, make an audio recording of your pitch, work on it to make it feel and sound natural. You can only do that with real preparation and practice. And get feedback from your mentors. They will tell you if your story is believable and engaging.  You can only do that with real preparation and practice. 

Everyone can use a little or a lot of work on their story and their pitch. The buildings where these elevators reside are much shorter today. So stop the audiotape answers, smile, be conscious of the context and tell your story

Thanks for reading. John