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April 2010

The Ubuntu Networking Strategy

Familiarity and predictability make us comfortable. Nothing wrong with comfort. But sometimes comfort can breed resistance. The resistance to making changes in our lives. People know what they have to do to improve themselves. The really do. They need to lose weight, become better public speakers, learn more about their computers, develop their hobbies, and connect with others aka network! But life, our habits and change get in the way. Some of us call these excuses. :) Comfortable

How do we get unstuck from this comfort zone. This zone of "I am okay" or "Things aren't so bad" or "What difference will it make?" and "Not sure where to start"

These are the mantras of complacency and resistance. The forces that keep you on that monorail chugging along to your familiar network of stops and destinations.

Our confidence soars when we do things where the outcome is predictable, where our view of the world is affirmed, and where our anxiety levels are low. But this can turn into your personal version of the movie Ground Hog Day and such comfort can create monotony. Your confidence will also rise when you accomplish something new and different. Both life experiences are needed to move ahead. But living only in the comfortable routine will limit your network. Hard to meet new people or be introduced to new perspectives when you rely on your circle of comfort. And the limits of your network will set boundaries around your opportunities.

If you are satisfied with your life and your ambitions are sated, then the strategy of nurturing who you know and care about has no limitations, it is a blessing. You have the great luxury of not being distracted by new horizons or goals.

My view is you have to continually renew your network. Not suggesting you dump your friends for new ones, but just enhance and diversify your sources of inspiration and guidance.

Ubuntu, is a wonderful African thought and philosophy that means many things but it conveys "that a person only becomes a person through others."I think we all believe this. That who you know seriously influences who you are. Does your circle of friends reinforce your worldview or does it challenge/improve it? This is a very hard question, because to understand the limits of your worldview is to know outside points of view. But it is a question we need to ask ourselves over and over to keep us honest and grounded. For me the spirit and essence of ubuntu is to add dimensions to our thinking through the help of others. The world is not simple. By meeting and listening to others we begin to appreciate this complexity. For me, ubuntu means the more people you meet, especially if they add new perspectives to your life, you become more conscious of your strengths, weaknesses, talents, dreams, and opportunities and a lot less comfortable!

Take inventory of your network. And target the gaps. But then also just commit yourself to seeking out people different than yourself. Whatever that means to you. There is a rainbow of possibilities here. Political, religious, ethnic, geographic, sectoral, educational, age, gender, sexual orientation, and your hobbies. Let this carry over into your other habits such as your reading, your musical selections, your dining, your work collaborations etc etcConnections

John Izzo set a goal to make new friends, so he carried a 3x5 card around with him everyday to remind him of this goal. He committed to look at it 10 times a day! He carried it not as a burden but as a precious commodity that he valued. You could have a card that says, "Meet new and different people" It's a pretty anal approach but it  will remind you everyday to reach out and connect.

For me, I have set a goal of meeting one new and reconnecting with one person a week! And it is a joy. It is a new habit that is addictive and so beneficial for me. Every person adds something important to my perspective and understanding. Once you get started, it's hard to stop seeing the world through others and becoming more informed and more of an ubuntu person. You will be inspired in countless ways. You will appreciate more about the world and about yourself.

Being comfortable is a wonderful thing if you have reached your potential as a person. But if you are like me, getting uncomfortable through ubuntu networking has clarified what my potential could be.

Thanks for reading. John


One degree that will advance your career and your life

In the frenzy of admission and graduation season, I am reminded how often I am engaged in what seems like America's second favorite pastime, "The Graduate School Game." There seems to be an obsession with getting another degree. Have you seen this 212Movie?


What's the difference between 211 Fahrenheit and 212? That one degree is the difference between hot water and BOILING water! That's how a lot of people regard the next degree they want. They think it will take their luke warm careers and make them hot!. It could. It might. Might not.

When first year college students are surveyed every year, nearly 100% say they will earn a graduate school degree. Yet fewer than 30% ever enroll and much fewer earn a post-graduate degree. That aspiration does not die easily. And as time marches on that goal can grow into a tumor size thought that festers and evolves into a nasty regret. Worse case scenario is that elusive degree becomes the reason and crutch for a stalled career.

Po Bronson in his seminal book, What Should I Do With My Life?, concluded that another degree was NOT a factor for people who found fulfillment and success in their careers and lives.

Many people keep talking about this mystical magical degree even when the likelihood for them to start one is almost nil.

If you are serious about another degree, stop talking and thinking about getting one and take some steps to apply!Mortar board

As someone who endured and completed three post-graduate programs, mostly because I was constructively procrastinating my life. :) Let me add quickly, that having grad school degrees on your resume can help you get interviewed, but it can never replace real experience and achievements. And after you have a graduate degree or two, then what? PhD?

When I was in the cable tv industry, I met people with Masters in Cable TV. When I was running an online ed company, I met people with Masters in Educational Technology with a specialization in online education. Recently I met people with Masters in Philanthropy. First of all I give great credit to the universities that have diversified their product lines and are meeting customer demands. But the reality is a degree in fill in the blank, gets you some credibility and a limited view of the real world.

Life is my college, may I graduate well and earn some honors!    ~~Louisa May Alcott 

Basically, to keep up in this world you have to be in graduate school all the time. Face it, if it is in a textbook and a course it probably is obsolete. So let's talk about continuous education. Learning to adapt, evolving one's toolbox of experiences focused on expanding one's skills, knowledge and abilities. Formal or informal, you have to adopt this mindset if you want to evolve, grow and succeed. Enrolling in a formal degree program can help if you know what you want and NEED. But I think you should be earning a degree every 2-3 years at work! No, I am not specifically talking about a tuition reimbursement program or going to school at night. I am talking about your intentional educational advancement at your job and in your life.

I just completed my 2nd year in my newest career and I have definitely earned a reality based Masters degree in Philanthropy. I am far from done. As usual, I have learned enough to be intimidated by what I don't know. My goal is to re-enroll myself into a new degree program every 2-3 years and earn a new diploma outside of the classroom.School_of_hard_knocks_2

This mindset of continuous education can be powerful if you are purposeful. Here's how you can make your next 2-3 years on the job a degree program. Imagine you were enrolling in a grad school and choosing your area of concentration and now perusing your schedule of classes, investigating the qualifications of the professors, talking to others about their views, and ultimately making decisions. It would be daunting and fun. All of this would be driven by your strengths and weaknesses, your gaps, your needs, and your interests.

You have those same choices at work and in your life right now. Design your on the job degree program. The great news is you have already been admitted! Take all of the reflection you have done about your next university degree and what you wanted to gain from that experience and apply it to your life and work. What are your gaps and desired areas of concentration that you want to address? What core required courses are you missing and what electives have you dreamed of taking? What does your faculty at work look like? What departments/divisions have courses you need, have the best faculty? And what is your class schedule--how long will it take you to complete this degree?

In the next 2-3 years at work you will spend more time than at any equivalent grad school program. How do you carve a path through the next 24-36 months that make it transformational for your career and your life? Do you want to move into finance or out of finance? Do you want to gain management experience? Are you preparing to run your own business or organization? You have a lot to learn.

So your work world is limited or is not where you want to end up. Consider the full spectrum of options in your life. Again, based on your game plan of needs and desires, you volunteer, you moonlight, you educate yourself by seeking classes and professors who can guide you outside of work. All driven by your degree requirements.

Once you have a basic plan for yourself that is an honest reflection of what you want and heavily influenced by what you need, then you can begin to assemble your degree program.

Put both of your hands on your career's steering wheel and start to drive down the road that will give your more traction toward your goals.

If you believe that small changes can make big differences, then get that extra degree that will heat up your enthusiasm for where you are and where you going.

Thanks for reading. John


The Japanese American Networked Museum

True visionaries see things and do things no one else does. They imagine and act on possibilities. They often pursue these ideas in the face of opposition and obstacles. Yet they prevail.

I attended the 25th anniversary of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) last night. It was a celebration of its founders and the rightful acknowledgment of their accomplishments. One of the most successful stories of any museum founded in the last century. It's story is remarkable and directly parallels the success of Americans of Japanese ancestry in this country.Janm

Many people, including myself, thought the museum idea was too narrow, too ethnocentric, too limited to be "national" and the focus of such fundraising and effort. But that is why I am not a visionary. In less time than most people complete their college education and training, JANM has grown up and become a force to be reckoned with. A towering example of the power of faith and vision. A multi-dimensional research, arts, and educational institution that defies the limits of its name. JANM's mission says it all.

To promote understanding and appreciation of America's ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.

Consider the following achievements since its public opening in 1992:

  • 1,000,000 visitors, 60% non-Japanese
  • 400,000 school children on school field trips
  • Support groups in 17 states 
  • 3600 teachers trained--reaching 4,000,000 students
  • The only Asian oriented museum affiliated with the Smithsonian

The Japanese American population has always been small and today is shrinking. Yet the ripple effects of its history yield enormous value to a much broader community. The major American historical events involving Japanese Americans center on WWII.

  • The incarceration of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry for more than 3 years under the ominous cloud of "enemy aliens" from 1942-45 in 10 War Relocation Centers or "interment camps". There was never a single finding of anti-American crimes or threats.
  • The 442nd fighting unit became the most decorated in American history. Placed in the forefront of battles in the Pacific and in Europe, the 442nd endured more casualties (314%!) and awards (18,000+!)than any US unit in military history. There is ample evidence that without this unit many battles and indeed the war may have been lost.

Despite being wronged and honored, after the war, Japanese Americans returned to racism and discrimination for many decades, including my parents. 45 years later, President Reagan signed legislation that apologized for the internment and authorized symbolic reparations. The act admitted that the internment was based on "prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of leadership."

Still amazing how many Americans do not know this relatively recent history. Less than 25% of US states require it be part of their curriculum. If Texas can now expunge Thomas Jefferson from its textbooks, then the fight to tell the truth in our history books is far from over.

Yet the story of placing ethnic soldiers on the front lines and the threat to Americans who look like the enemies of the United States continues to be played over and over again. Arab and Muslims are the newest targets of prejudice, racism, and civil rights violations.

The story of the Japanese American experience and success is one that goes on teaching and inspiring. On the threshold of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, we have to remind ourselves that we all came through Ellis Island, or off a boat or over a fence. That the story of America is one of diversity.

Tapestry Norm Mineta, former distinguished congressman and cabinet member under President Clinton and Bush, told a small group of us that the "future of JANM is to weave together a tapestry of colorful cloths, each strong and colorful on their own, but much stronger together."

Each of us must find our sense of community by looking within and then connecting with others. The greatest and most potent networks are those that begin with a personal connection or cause. Then the power of those networks is manifested through the ability to connect to other networks and exponentially increase the impact. Isolation is the biggest weakness of any network. Thinking bigger than ourselves is always the goal.

JANM has come so far so fast. It has become a hub of networks. It has exceeded the wildest expectations of its founders. It has even defined its mission by putting its self-interests after the greater good. JANM has transcended the Japanese American community to become an invaluable resource for all of us.

Thank goodness for visionaries. For people who dream without regard to the obstacles. For the leaders who connect others to their visions and dreams. For taking us to higher grounds so we can appreciate their vision and to see the next mountains we must climb.

Regretably, racism, prejudice, and ignorance abound.

Typical of the Japanese American community, their work and achievements are less about fanfare and more about commitment. We all owe the founders of JANM a debt of gratitude.

Thanks for reading. John


Re-inventing Yourself to Get Back to Work--The 360 Degree Job Search

More than ever I am having conversations with former execs, managers, and senior professionals who are in protracted searches for the same level positions they held. They are using their existing resumes and applying for the same titles, same/similar industry, and certainly the same compensation. They are exasperated but undaunted despite the lack of results. The overused quotation from Einstein is apropos here, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Albert

I hear many focused and definitive statements like these:

"I will not accept a position below Sr VP." I have to make more than $100,000 to live." "I have never been paid below this level. "I will never apply for a position below this level/salary."

But it is basic marketing 101 to evaluate your strategy when things are not working. Focus can become myopia. You have to change it up. You have to expand your search to jobs and industries and sector outside of your current world and where there are more prospects. You have to start looking 360, sideways and down instead of just in the same places. This inevitably starts the conversation about position, title and compensation. What is a lateral move? What is beneath me? What will compromise my entire career?

Settling for something lesser is not preferred but may be necessary. It may require huge changes in your lifestyle. Downsizing or rightsizing your life is probably smart now. Just like the entire business community that has cut back jobs, maybe one of yours, and is now prudently hiring at a very slow pace.

Looking for a new job is a brutal experience, especially if the search yields few leads and fewer interviews. It can be frustrating and discouraging. It triggers all of the worst feelings about your competence and confidence. Been there and it is no fun. The sooner you can get back to work the better.

Ladders When I was laid off I had to re-think my career and my life. I took a serious pay cut to re-build my experience in a new world--non-profits. So far, I have taken three pay cuts, two demotions, and 1 lateral move to make career changes. You have to go down the ladder to climb up another. It is just the law of nature. It is the method of surviving and sustaining your professional career.

You have to swallow your pride and your irrational ego and find a path that makes sense. Not working is the worst strategy. A big and growing gap between your impressive position and nothing raises more questions than not filling the void.

Piecing together a new career after a set back is one that all employers will sympathize with. When you show your desire by doing what is necessary, your story is more compelling.

You say you are creative and innovative. Then re-invent yourself!

The candidates that are having success are using a combination of volunteer work, consulting, related but "lower level"jobs , and education to fill in their resumes---to stay fresh and to keep the rent paid.

Hard to even get a look or a call back if your time between jobs is approaching a year and you have nothing on your resume.

Customizing your resume and your cover letter may be more important when you shift directions in your job search. I have advised many people to remove items from their resume to make them more aligned with a new industry/sector and/or lower level position, so they don't receive the dreaded "overqualified" response.

  • Align duties and achievements with the job requirements
  • Remove degrees or additional information that give you "too much" experience or education
  • Shorten your work experience to the last 10 years or so

In times like these you have to reach down and unplug your vanity and get back into the game. Demonstrate your resolve, your creativity, and your resilience and you will look and sound like a candidate worth hiring. With your new resume and targets, connect to your network to get new leads and feedback. Seek advice from your mentor. Hopefully, this re-energizes your search and opens up your eyes to opportunities and optimism.

Thanks for reading. John