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February 2010

If I don't, I will regret it!: Avoiding the Regret Matrix

 
No Regrets!
Make service to others, relationships, passions, your priorities, and success will follow.
j.e.kobara
 
No regret I have finished my last 100 presentations, workshops and speeches with this quote. I have believed for a very long time that the number of regrets--what we wish we did, chances we did not take, things we should have done--are a much better measurement of our age than the clock. You know the "shoulda, couldas." Not talking about the micro regrets of daily transactions like buyer's remorse over the cell phone you purchased. Or the tiny faux pas or thought about how you could have done something better. I am really not talking about anything you have done. I am talking about the heftier regrets of not acting, of not doing something that we regard as important or now see as an opportunity lost. I once asked Guy Kawasaki what his greatest regret was. He told me about a company that was formed by some nerdy Stanford students in Mountain View, who wanted Guy to be their CEO. Guy turned the job because the commute was too long and the name of the company was silly. It was Yahoo. Fortunately this is one of many stories that Guy does not regret! But if we accumulate many regrets, then we become old because we are not as fulfilled or satisfied with our lives. We are also not happy, especially when you look in the rear view mirror and keep asking, what if? Once you have a box filled of these regrets, you have the tendency to give up on your goals and dreams. You start to settle. You doubt yourself. You accept your fate and the rest of your story is predictable. And we lose the best you have to offer. And that's why this is the slipperiest of life's slopes. A slope that not only treats your personal and professional expectations as mirages but accelerates your life satisfaction on a downward aging spiral.
 
Met with a former colleague last week who has made great contributions to society and to our community. I like meeting with her because she is a source of strength and inspiration. She is going to complete her 14th year in the same line of work and I began to probe what was ahead. She started telling me how old she is (I already knew this) and how her options have narrowed. Saying meaningless things like, "I am not as young as I used to be." What?!!! She sounded tired and resigned to her choices. She is 60. While controlled, I was furious with her. Not because she is lacking great ambition at this stage of her life. Not because she is thinking realistically about her last few chapters of her life. But because she is starting to give up. In a last ditch effort, I said, "What do you have to do in the next 5 years, or you will regret it?" She began to regale me with her plans with her kids and family, travel that was important, and the specific goals for her organization. Her eyes became the windows to her soul again and were filled with the verve and intensity upon which I have become dependent. How can our ambitions evolve with our lives but continue to energize us? How do we continue to minimize our regrets?
 
Like exasperated fans who leave well before the game ends, their concerns start to turn to the traffic rather than on what they think is an unlikely chance to succeed. After all, giving up is the definition of death, isn't it?Regret
 
What is not understood is if you try things and they do not work out or even if you fall down on your face, these items do not turn into these aging burdensome regrets. Those were opportunities that we did not pass on and we stuck our little necks out of our hard turtle shells and took a chance. As the baseballers say, hard to get a hit if you don't swing the bat. So to be clear, regrets, the ones that grow into tumors and weigh a life down like a bad set of samsonite are the regrets that resonate from chances not taken.
 
There is a great body of mathematical and probability research on decision making based on payoff or regret matrices. On the consequences and antecedents of decisions we regret. Most have to do with consumer behavior. One study published in the journal for the American Psychological Association (2002) concluded, "As a consequence, decisions not to act that are followed by a negative outcome result in more regret than do decisions to act that lead to outcomes." But while regret may be informed by the numbers it is ultimately a matter of the heart.
 
As a parent and a manager of people and someone who tries to lead others for a living, I have experimented with the proverbial carrot and have also deployed the stick. Can you get more from sugar than vinegar? Is a pat on the back as effective as one a little lower? Do bonuses work better than fines? Is pleasure a greater incentive than the pain of the consequences? Shouldn't a dream be more powerful than regretting not pursuing the dream? These debates about human nature have raged on for centuries. Like most complex processes, it depends. But one thing is certain, most people have thoughts about their futures. They can say they want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. They always say this. Inaction, by not doing something, is the source of regret. And considering in advance that regret may be the greatest motivator. Otherwise, life happens and those notions of the future get supplanted by the traffic jam of life rather than what they see down the road. 
 
Many chroniclers of life have documented what people say at the end of their lives. Just finishing John Izzo's Five Secrets You Have to Know Before You Die. Like Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do With My life? or Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah. People tell us what they wanted in their lives and where they came up short. Regrets play a big part. Those that are the least happy have an unchecked bucket list. The top of the list is filled with relationships that were never consummated, reconciled, or handled well. Then there are a few other regrets. These are passports or experiential tickets that were not stamped. They failed to visit places and try things. They are often described as chances, as opportunities, as things that were vital to them but were never done. Now just a collection of "youthful" impulses that are no longer practical and gather layers of regret dust. Feel the gray hair and wrinkles growing uncontrollably?
 
How do we minimize or avoid this fate? Or how do we stop the slide down this depressing mountain? Pretty easy. Start acting on your ideas, aspirations, experiential wish lists, AND your relationships now! You have heard the ole questions: What will you say to those you love when you are on your deathbed? And why are you waiting until then?
 
Having no regrets, is regrettably a negative way of acting. But I think it works and it is powerful. It is the best way to make decisions of consequence that require your instincts and intuition. Which decision would we regret more? This can be very telling. Graduate schools, jobs, travel destinations. The one, if you did not have it, you would regret the most, is always your first choice.
 
Start listening to your heart and as I like to say, take great notes. Understand what you will regret and act to avoid it. A life without regrets is more meaningful and happier. And you know what you are like when you feel that way and the impact that has on everyone around you. And when we have more people taking chances and pursuing opportunities, we have a more vibrant and dynamic society. So minimize regrets in your life for yourself and for the rest of us too. It is a fool proof way to make you younger and happier and that is something you will never regret.
 
Thanks for reading. John 

Networking for Asians? Lessons from East and West

This is a topic that I am asked to address more often than any other. Let me go off on a brief Dennis Miller like rant before I share some thoughts.

Being Asian Pacific American (APA) has many challenges. Statistically we are still considered the "other" race. Despite the fact that there more APAs in LA County and now in California than African Americans, the research, the polls, the evidence of public information rarely includes APAs. Add the persistent and pernicious model minority myth (mmm), that promotes all APAs as college bound/college educated, financially well off and without problems, giving the general public a warped and/or uninformed view of our community. The diversity of the pan-Asian community in the US defies any generalization. This mmm undermines the response to the growing needs and suffering that new immigrant and low-income APAs face. Apa

Why is this relevant here and to me? Because it has impacted my ability to mentor and network. It has altered how I have been received and what influence I have been able to exercise. Mind you, I am not complaining. I have no reason to. However, I know that experiences that happen to me everyday remind me how other APAs are impacted in their quest to advance their lives and careers. Believe it or not, I still get the, "where are you from?" or "you speak without an accent" comments. Or worse, the look of indifference, until they find out my title.

Many compliments I have received about my leadership, speaking ability, and career accomplishments have been relative to other APAs. "John is one of the most articulate Asians I have met." "John is one of the leading Asians in his field." Hard to be recognized for one's achievements outside of our appearance. Really is. Whether Latino or female, we can see success in narrow demographic worlds. And there will be those that say, that ever since we started using hyphenated American terms, instead of just Americans, we established this separateness. A little truth to this, but the root causes of hurtful discrimination and prejudice would be present regardless.

For the last few years, APAs constitute the largest non-white population of college graduates from 4 year institutions. More APAs than African Americans and Latinos, a little discussed fact (that may contribute to the mmm), but a game changing reality. What does this mean? You will continue to see disproportionately more APAs in the workplace, in leadership positions,  eventually in the corner offices, on corporate boards, in public offices and maybe even on TV. APAs will be a force to reckon with. Everyone will need to mentor, network with, and serve more APAs over time. Networking with APAs is becoming a skill de riguer.

Tensions have been emerging over the last decade at Fortune 500 employers who put a premium on college grads from good schools and therefore have been hiring more APAs. Friction between the APA employees and their managers is caused by not promoting the "most qualified" because of stereotyping and ethnocentrism. Managers are conflicted and APAs are frustrated. Managers do not understand the cultural nuances and APA employees have not fully adapted to their work environments.The most enlightened companies have openly addressed these trends. IBM, Pepsi, Price Waterhouse, Kraft.... have invested in processes to train both sides of the equation. Better prepare APAs and simultaneously educate the managers. They know their companies win in the end.

I have been asked by some of these companies and others, through LEAP, to address this topic, usually focused on "Networking for Asians". The premise is Asians need to network more like Americans. Clearly a faulty objective. I have found all employees and managers need help mentoring and networking without regard to their ethnicity and backgrounds.

A number of times I have done this workshop, Networking for Asians, I have had a majority of non-Asians attend! They thought the workshop was focused on how to network WITH Asians. There is a pent up demand by non-Asians to make their professional relationships with APAs more productive and effective.Got rice

I was recently presented with a copy of this book by Yang Liu, a young Chinese girl who lives in Germany. She developed this powerpoint show a few years ago on the differences between the perspectives of east and west. Liu observed first hand these differences in her bi-cultural immersion in Berlin? These slides definitely relate to networking and relationships that you may find amusing and educational:

The tools of mentoring and networking are universal and cross-cultural. Sure there are some cultural differences and there needs to be much greater sensitivity on both sides. This is life. This is adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Always seeking commonalities. Being open to meeting and helping others. Even if they are different, even if they are APAs. Chances are they will be.

Thanks for reading. John


Email and Phone Interviewing: Think and Sync

When there is furious competition for scarce few jobs, employers invoke intuition, subjectivity, and instincts to govern their decisions. Assessing talent has to be done quickly. Otherwise, you lose the great candidates. Great candidates are perishable and the not so great have a much longer shelf life. Quicker and "more efficient" filters to determine which candidates move ahead are being instituted. Job openings are precious and making a mistake would be inexcusable. Being smart and fast is vital. That position has to be filled with someone who "fits" to keep up with the increased workloads of the surviving employees and the great desire to keep the ship afloat and moving ahead. Scarcity

A friend's brother, who I have been coaching thru job interviews, just had his 6th phone interview for the same position! He was not prepared for this. He is anxious to meet the people in person, but has had to endure protracted inquisitions with teams of telephonic interviewers. It has tested his ability to remember that each successive group had not heard his answers before. Without body cues and facial expressions, he learned he had to listen, think before he answered, and confirm he was in sync with the interviewers.

Everyone knows why this is happening. Everyone understands that there are a lot more qualified people chasing a fewer number of jobs. Interview and selection processes have changed with these circumstances. However, many candidates have not adjusted their approach to respond in kind. They just prepare their resumes, cover letters, and interview the same way they always have. And many hit the buzz saw of change and don't know what hit them. The key is to think and then sync.

Business computer and phone Email and phone interviews are just two of these changes.

E-mail interviews: Either a follow-up to your online application or just a regular interview step, email is being used to clarify questions about your resume and your qualifications. This is a quick test of your writing ability. Can you write about yourself and about your candidacy? Writing clearly and completely is a must. Here's a sample of e-mail interview questions.

  1. Why did you leave your last position?
  2. Why are you applying for this one?
  3. What is your minimum salary requirement?

Seemingly innocuous questions. But how you answer matters. Short terse answers show you do not care. Long rambling ones show you can't write. Thanking the sender for the opportunity and crafting a few pithy sentences that directly address the questions is the goal. Think and sync.

Phone interviews: Your preparation here is no different than for an in-person interviews. In fact, they carry more weight because they determine whether you advance. Most phone interviews are trying to see if the candidate is a fit. Increasingly, these are group phone interviews. Multiple people to listen and participate, again to speed up the process and gain consensus. The big difference is using your ears to connect to the interviewers.

Some basic tips:

  1. Schedule the interview when you are in a quiet place and ideally not on your mobile phone.
  2. Write down the names of all of the participants on the call, so you can address them by name and then thank them at the end.
  3. You smile while you talk. People can't see your face but they can hear your smile.

Here's more on etiquette and tips for phone interviews.  

In the end, all interviewing is about thinking and syncing. Listening to the question (or reading), answering it, and verifying you answered it. Did you help the questioner understand your unique qualifications and what makes you a great candidate? Did you express yourself in a way that helps the reader/listener get to know you?

Knowing your story and your BIT is crucial. There is no substitute for practicing your answers to questions you know will be asked, so you can be confident and comfortable.

This new world of supply and demand gives the prepared candidates an edge over the under-prepared. The positive candidates a better chance over the hesitant ones. Whatever interview process they throw at you, you should think and sync. If you do, you will distinguish your candidacy and show off why they should meet you in person. 

Thanks for reading. John


Passion Diagnostic: Three A's and the Pursuit of Happiness

Passion Diagnostic: I came up with this phrase a year and a half ago to describe a process for people to find their passions. To understand what gives their lives meaning and to invest in those things. To make those things a greater part of their limited time and attention. As the phrase suggests it is an agnostic process--neutral to what you should do, or others want you to do. It is what you want to do and best, if it is what you were meant to do. The phrase gives the impression this is a science or that there is a formula to uncover your passions. Nope. And while there are wonderful web based filters, tests, and processes that may reveal your dating compatibility, your shopping habits, and predict your movie preferences, this requires you to think and know thyself.

In the world of philanthropy and given the world today, most serious donors are now questioning their "passions" and searching for more rewarding forms of giving. I started seeing sites which try and help donors choose charities, such as Donation Dashboard, very rough attempts to help a truly passionless person find potential recipients of philanthropy. Passions are a much deeper more personal set of items. I even hesitate to use the P word because it intimidates so. J0438796Your passions are within you and there are ways to reveal them.

To find out what you are passionate about will never be discovered by looking at lists of random charities, surfing the internet, or worse, copying what someone else does--even your mentor. It is an introspective process of self-discovery. It is understanding things that trigger great joy, emotion and intellectual curiosity. Passions get your heart beating, you love talking about them, and they make you smile or emotional. Every week someone says to me , "I don't know or don't have any passions." Yikes! These people have just not taken the time and effort to explore and to reflect. 

I hate giving people tools and techniques because some believe these are the answers. I use tools and techniques to provide models and examples to help the "user" figure out their own way and to hopefully invent a process that works for them. For example, I developed the Download 2010 SWIVEL document for the same reason to help people define their career paths. So I give the following to you in this spirit.

What you do says more about you than what you think you do or what you want to do. Now some or many of your personal passions may be secrets because you don't talk about them for fear of judgment, because that are mal-formed or new, or because the contradict who you say you are.

So this process is to awaken the real you and to make you be real with yourself.

Great success, great citizenship, great leadership, great parenting, great partnering, certainly great mentoring and networking have three fundamental strategies that ultimately reveal your passions. Let me explain.

Ambassadorship--Representing yourself but more importantly others, people, issues, organizations, well is an invaluable skill. We are all ambassadors whether we like it or not. Like in a foreign country the ambassador is a diplomat, a mediator, and a leader. The power and effectiveness of an ambassador is to be ego-less, self-less, and to put your cause, country, or community ahead of you. You are positive about this affiliation but you can be passive and more reactive. For whom are you an ambassador? For whom would you like to be an ambassador? It could be a personality, an organization, a product, a sport or hobby, a restaurant. This reveals much about you. Sometimes hidden here are submerged feelings or roles that you want to expand. Write down these thoughts.

Advocacy--This takes ambassadorship to a different level. These are things, people, causes where you pro-actively push your views. You have strong feelings about these things. These things create strong emotions in you. They need to be addressed and or remedied, and can not be ignored. Your tolerance on these matters is much lower. In other words, your emotional reaction , both positive or negative, can be quite powerful. This takes a thousand forms, "isms" (racism, sexism), cancer, the education system, civil rights, politics, religion, abortion, a homeland....These are personal issues/causes/ideas that you have a very personal connection to. Write down these thoughts and feelings!

Altruism--This may be the most revealing indicator in the passion diagnostic. Where do you give your time and charity now? And if you had more time and money, you would give more to this cause, organization or issue. Not destinations of loyalty giving, because "you have to" or "feel obligated to", may not be your alma mater, but could be. Often this is closely aligned to your advocacy. And should be. And sometimes connected to your ambassadorship. Definitely write these thoughts down too.

J0405208 So, what these three A's have in common is you and something bigger than you. Professor Jonathon Haidt, University of Virginia notes that one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is your work with others on a cause larger than yourself.

Some people embark on passion tourism, visiting many new places and things to try them on for size. Maybe that works for some, but I think "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Emerson

Read these rough notes and refine them, erase them, re-think them. There. These are the results of your passion diagnostic! There are no bad or wrong answers. It is where you are and who you are. See the trends, threads or obvious patterns. These are you passions or your potential passions. Use these as a guide to test and develop your plans and commitments. Then compare them to your life and the amount of time you spend on these three A's. How do we make these things a bigger part of our lives. Living your values is the pursuit of happiness. Having wonderful ideals and beliefs without action is the opposite.

These three A's say a lot about you and your future. Follow their lead. The strongest network always starts with a powerful link with oneself. Live passionately and without regrets!

Thanks for reading. John