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August 2010

A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.

 

John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. John


Network with the spirit of Aloha

I have been going to Hawaii since I was a kid, worked on the islands a few summers, met my wife Sarah on Oahu, my parents and sister Katie live in Lanikai....Probably visited Hawaii 50 times so I feel like a local, although the real locals know I am not! Anyway, there are many reasons I love the islands outside of the fragrant breezes, beautiful views, lush flora, white sand beaches, and the delicious food. There is a feeling here that is different from any other state or state of mind. There is a culture of mutual respect and friendliness that is unequaled. Established in 1959, it is a youthful state that has an energy and culture that is fresh and tranquil. Clearly the surroundings matter. In other words, when beauty abounds, your own beauty and uniqueness shine. Aloha

From the urban go-go-go world I live in, (I know NY or Hong Kong are much faster and intense!) you have to decompress when you get to Hawaii. The mighty spirit of Hawaii always overcomes my impatience and anxiety. It is a certain reliever of my mental pain and suffering.

Think about a state government that has included the following passages in their legislative code to remind government officials and its residents of the spirit of Aloha.

"Aloha Spirit".  "Aloha Spirit" is the coordination of mind and heart within each person.  It brings each person to the self.  Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.  "Aloha" is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.  "Aloha" means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.  "Aloha" is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.  "Aloha" means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable."  (Underlining and italics added)

These last three sentences are powerful words of advice, especially in the context of networking and mentoring. The idea and the practice of giving without obligation is so meaningful. How much we need each other to exist, evolve, and succeed. To dismiss anyone is to dismiss ourselves. Human existence and communication is made up of the verbal and the non-verbal. The said and the unsaid. The known and unknown. When we seek to understand, we ask questions, we listen to one another, and we observe carefully. What was once unknowable is shown to us.

In Hawaii, everyone hugs. Everyone brings food. Everyone defers to others. As an LA driver, I notice things when I drive. People motion for me to turn in front of them or give me their parking space. Unheard of courtesies on the streets of the angels. The universal law of attracting to your life whatever you give time, attention and focus to--positive or negative is part of Aloha. You see these values exhibited everywhere and everyday.

You can't help but be a better person when those around you are generous and forgiving. And when you are generous and forgiving, the people around you benefit too.

So a few thoughts and recommendations:

  1. Give first without expectation.
  2. Treat everyone as you want to be treated.
  3. Surround yourself with an uplifting network of people and inspiration.
  4. See and be the positive and you will attract same.
  5. Visit Hawaii or a place like it!

Network with Aloha and you will have peace and prosperity.

Thanks for reading. John


Network with your Boss: Manage, influence and challenge up!

There are so many misconceptions and myths about networking and mentoring. One of the most ignored and neglected networking opportunities is with your boss. Many people mistakenly think that relationship development is aimed at only new, external prospects, and higher ups outside of your work environment. Those of you who have followed my principles and posts know that the key to effective networking is to focus on your existing network. People that you know and are comfortable with are the keys to your success. And your boss is one of them. Bob Beaudine in his book The Power of Who calls this "The Who". The people in your inner circle. We tend to neglect people we know, or think we know. And one of the most neglected and overlooked targets of networking is your immediate supervisor. I can hear you loud and clear! "That relationship is not going to yield the sort of benefits I need!" "I need new inspiration and new ideas." Perhaps. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, your current boss can determine your fate, your greater influence as an employee and undoubtedly your future path. And if you have invested a great deal of time and energy in understanding your boss and his or her perspective, background and connections, then you are the exception. My experience tells me you just haven't. By the way, this applies double if you do NOT have a great relationship with your manager!  Managing up

Somehow you got this boss. You had something to do with it when you got hired or promoted or transferred. You picked this employer and supposedly evaluated the organization's capacity to nurture your special and unique gifts. You must have conducted some due diligence on your hiring manager, right? It is well understood that the professional development culture, your specific boss' desire and capacity to grow talent AND your chemistry with this person is worth 20%+ of your comp. But hopefully you already knew that. If not, make a pledge to do it in your next transition, especially if you are making a career shift. Really young green inexperienced people do not assess the quality of their supervisor and get distracted by the reputation of the employer (I want to work for Disney for example) or the initial salary and often a not so helpful boss. Your ticket to a sustainable and growth filled career trajectory are placed in the hands of your immediate supervisor and his/her boss.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book Mojo recounts many stories and case studies about these challenges. Here is an excerpt from the book where Goldsmith gives his advice:

Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make that decision--not the "right" person, or the "smartest" person, or the "most qualified" person, and in most cases this is not you. If you influence this decision maker, you can make a positive difference. If you do not influence this person you will certainly not make a positive difference. Make peace with this. You will have a better life, help your organization in positive ways and be happier.

Goldsmith is referring to your supervisor! And the power and choice you have to influence your boss and manage up!

We have all  dealt with difficult and important "customers". Quirks, attitudes, and personalities that we had to endure to get the job done. Just holding our nose, doing the minimum, or avoiding contact would be career suicide. You had to use your full complement of powers and talents to make it work with grace and with professionalism. And many times you would actually enjoy it, the process of the relationship. Yes, there are the jerks that we have encountered. But most people, once you get to know them are decent well-intentioned, and often very interesting. Your boss is your most important "customer". He/she needs TLC but also expects great work and service.

Don't respond like a sitcom husband whose brow beaten wife wants his attention, "I am here everyday ain't I, I do what you ask---that's how I express my love."

The point here is turning your impressive research, charm, attention and relationship development skills on your boss. Not to suck up and kiss butt. But to manage up, influence up and challenge up. How do you develop a more trusting relationship with your boss? How do you generate a more conducive environment to have conversations about your future, the future of the department and of the entire organization? How can you help your boss succeed and add real value to the department and the organization's goals?

Some boss basics:

  1. Do some basic beyond the bio research on your boss? Do you know his/her interests, family, charities, and ambitions?
  2. 360 degree network with other colleagues---How are others relating? What works for them?
  3. Make additional to time to meet to share thoughts and compare notes outside of your regular meeting as often as you can.
  4. Get to know your boss' asst. How else will you know when he/she is in a good mood or how to get on the calendar?

Here are some tips on managing up:

First of all bosses need and want to be managed. It may come from on high, from their assistant and or from their subordinates (that's you!). They need help to do everything that's expected of them, which takes your insane job duties to another level of craziness. In this light here are a few recommendations that have worked on me:

  1. Meet and exceed your job duties: This gives you the opportunity to be influential. A slacker with great ideas is still a slacker.
  2. Prepare solutions to problems: Always have an way to solve a problem, otherwise you join the whiner's chorus line.
  3. Submit new ideas: New ideas are great, but writing them down shows you are serious and your written ideas will be treated as such.
  4. Give honest feedback: Be a source of accurate feedback on presentations, speeches, e-mail announcements from your boss. Few employees provide advice and counsel on how to improve these leadership initiatives and therefore things don't evolve.
  5. Don't gossip or feed the rumormill: Be smart about what you say about your boss, your employer, and your colleagues.
  6. Step up and jump in: Be among the first to volunteer for new opportunities.
  7. Make your boss' world simpler and easier: Advise on systems, processes, and methods to make his/her work life more efficient. Young tech savvy employees have an advantage here!

Do some or all of these things and your influence will rise and your ability to effect change in your workplace and in your career will also increase. Managing up gives you much more to say about your achievements in your job. Building more trust in your relationships, especially with your boss can be very rewarding.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking with the Headhunters

Love the term "headhunters" because it sounds so ghoulish, mercenary, and a bit scary. Of course, we politely call them executive recruiters and talent recruitment. Back in the day, these firms were considered pretty elite and mysterious. Don't call us we'll call you! Hired by larger institutions and corporations who paid at least 30% of first year comp--so very expensive. The key advantage is the good firms have robust databases and can call currently employed people and get them to consider career moves. And at the very least, they network with these people to get referrals. Like great sales people, recruiters network like no others, because searches cross sectors and industries, so meeting great candidates can always be useful for a future search. But the economy has hit these firms too. Searches are down and the pool of highly qualified candidates are way up. While the advent of the web and career search sites has reduced the influence of headhunters, they are still important--especially as you climb the career ladder. Puppet-heads-l

Not talking about the firms which try to place temps or fill vacant entry level positions for a fee. Although some of my advice applies to them.

My best opportunities have come from headhunters. I have been placed by some of the largest firms in the business. Korn Ferry, AT Kearney, Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, but there are zillions of small specialty boutique local firms as well. And the giant companies like Google have their own internal search "firms". I probably have a conversation or e-mail from a head hunter every week. So I have cultivated relationships with many firms over my career and many view me as a hub for contacts. This has served my network well. Like all firms, the quality of the firm is measured by the quality of the rep and there is a range of talent in the best and small firms.

In general, head hunters are akin to commission salespeople. They need to produce and they need to think about the next gig. So if they are any good, they will be a bit pushy and want to know if you need their services, that's their job. Passive recruiters will be looking for new work. You accept that as part of the conversation.

I was given advice early in my career to treat inquiries from headhunters as special calls. Like warm network calls, make time for them. Why? Simply put, brand management and development. Your reputation and thereby your potential is sculpted by others, by the marketplace, by the 360 degrees of your sphere of influence. And headhunters can play a role in the shaping of your brand. What if every headhunter had you on their list? Remember the general rule of networking that I preach here ad nauseum:The more people who know you, your skills, your helpfulness, your career trajectory, and your smiling face--the better! 

But is your head worth hunting?...........Let's assume it is :)

By the way, headhunters call about specific searches and call people they are recruiting who also know candidates. They don't call the unemployed very often. So thinking, you will talk to them when you need them is the dumbest thought. Breaks the cardinal rule of networking: Give first, then receive. And besides you know that desperation networking or emergency job networking are the most dangerous varieties.

I was talking to a close friend who has an amazing background and career. Her reputation and brand are spectacular, better than she thinks. She is very successful, but has a disdain for headhunters. She is a linear career planner. She does not look at new opportunities to remain focused on her current role. Therefore headhunters are distracting. She does not interview or talk to recruiters, until she needs to. This approach has worked for her, but as you might suspect, I disagree adamantly with this mindset. Despite her personal view, I have pushed her recruiters and opportunities on a regular basis. I see her potential as much bigger than she does. Finally got her to pursue a few leads. I got her to consider these in the context of brand management for the FUTURE. I am trying to help her see beyond her current horizon, because the future is not predictable. And luck and certainly the past are not guarantees of what could happen tomorrow.

Here are my quick tips on head hunters:

  1. Do some research on headhunters: Find out who and what firms are considered the best in your field and which ones are not so well thought of. What firms would you hire if you ever needed one?
  2. When they call or e-mail, respond--Be a resource. Don't just reject this as a nuisance because you are not interested. Find out about the opportunity, get the job spec, give them advice and then try and refer them candidates. I usually give my network contacts a head's up and send them the spec vs just giving the recruiter a name.
  3. Refer great candidates to headhunters unsolicited. Not desperate unemployed friends. But terrific people you meet and know that are gainfully employed and should be on the talent radar screens. Encourage them to meet and try to make that connection. Not all firms will do this, but again based on your relationship with a specific recruiter, it can work.
  4. Meet with a recruiter face to face--After you get to know the recruiter or you sense some chemistry, meet with them to better understand their business and for them to get to know you. You know that every informational interview IS an interview, so be prepared.
  5. Invite recruiters to events to meet your circle of people. This can be a win win.
  6. When do I call the recruiter for myself? Almost never. I call them to get advice on career moves, on their take on certain employers and to get insider info on that sector/company/industry. You don't call them to announce your general availability. No No.

Building your brand is a full time job. Part of that process is engaging headhunters proactively to help them. Instead of viewing them as annoying salespeople, see them as part of a larger network that can assist you and your network. Like all great networking that is driven by helping, the benefits can be career changing.

Thanks for reading. John