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September 2010

The Sources of Inspiration--The Network of TED

We obtain our ideas, inspirations, and aspirations through our experiences and our interactions with other people . We find these people through our quests for meaning or through the serendipity of life. People with purpose, people with needs, people who overcome their challenges, people like us and very different from us, who are making a difference in the world. Pretty obvious, but without making connections to others we will miss many sources of inspiration. The result can be a life less fulfilled. Regrettably, I meet these people all of the time. People who are competent, educated, and confident, and who lack passion. Who see life as an accumulating list of obligations and tasks. Time is a burden. They either think that there will be a pot at the end of the rainbow or worse, have settled for the "hand they were dealt". We have to see the opportunity ahead. Inspiration can shake us from our slumber and awaken our potential. Inspiration does not make an appointment or wait in line. Inspiration has to be pursued.  Inspiration_quotes_graphics_c2

I have been a semi-obsessed fan of TED and TedTalks. If TED was a person, I would have been subjected to a restraining order many years ago. TED was started by Richard Wurman 25 years ago. He hosted a private almost secret salon of thinkers and doers in Monterey California. I read about it in Wired Magazine in the dot com era. In 2002, Mr. Wurman ceded control to Chris Anderson and then TedTalks was born and distributed for free. TedTalks are a weekly routine for me. I use these talks to inform me, to open up my world to new things, to inspire me, and to push me. While I am not rich enough or famous enough to be invited and pay to attend the annual TED conference, I get a great view from my iPhone and iPad! Probably watched 125 talks so far. 

I elbowed my way into the first TEDx conference in 2009, a local version of TED organized by community members under the umbrella of TED. Thousands of TEDx events have been hosted around the world. Like American Idol and all of the other reality talent shows, there is so much talent and so many inspiring stories out there. TED shows us there is so much good being pursued by good people all over the globe--you would never know if you watch the nitely news! Watch a TedTalk and/or attend a TEDx event and be inspired. 

Last week I spoke at TEDx Santa Monica. I was asked to talk about "education". Education is the great transformer. However, I decided to not address the important trends and solutions I see in the educational institutions around us. Instead, I focused on what I see as the greatest tragedy, the waste of human potential. When people never find meaning and a connection to what they care about and what they were meant to do. In my opinion, the top educational priority is understanding ourselves so we can apply our uniqueness to the ideas, issues and causes we care about. To live with passion!

Here's my talk entitled Find Yourself by Losing Yourself.  The video production value is lacking but the good news is the dark setting makes me look better!

 

Please explore TedTalks even if you did not like my speech. :) Hopefully it becomes a source of education and inspiration to discover and apply your greatness. We need you to be the best you can be.

Thanks for reading. John


What's your BIT?---How you introduce yourself matters

I conducted workshops for employees of PepsiCo and Gavina Coffee on multicultural networking and mentoring last week. How to connect with different people, from different backgrounds. How to inform your path by actively seeking new perspectives from other cultures and demography. There is always a fascination with my exercises to develop your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk.  Something I have written about several times. The process of obtaining those perspectives, of reconnecting with people you know but don't know, and meeting new and interesting folks, starts with a conversation. All relationships, new and ongoing are about the conversation. Continuing the conversation is the key to all great and fulfilling relationships.Could be e-mail, facebook postings, telephonic, or face-to-face. These exchanges of words and ideas build and deepen relationships. They all start or re-start at the beginning when you introduce yourself or re-introduce yourself.First-impression  
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." I pointed at 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. :)
 
Most people need to improve their BITs. This is not only what you say to introduce yourself, but how you respond to an initial inquiry. You know, "What brings you here?" or "What do you do?" etc etc  Here's a few basic questions to freshen your tired and auto-pilot BIT:
  1. Is your BIT an invitation or a roadblock?
  2. Is your BIT jargony or industry or company specific?
  3. Is your BIT customized for the situation and the audience?
  4. Is it delivered with some enthusiasm and a smile?  

Listen to yourself. Do you know what you are saying and to whom you are saying it? Be focused and remember where you are and who you are at the moment. Like Mr. Williams in my story above, he is a father first and foremost when he is at the school. No one cares about his classification at work when he is visiting his son's school. We all take on multiple roles and identities in our lives and each one deserves a BIT.

My new favorite BIT, depending on who I am talking to, is "I help wealthy people give away their money?" Always starts a conversation!

Students of all ages are the worst. They erroneously think being a student is a weakness. Everyone wants to help a student. So declaring your quest for knowledge and experience is endearing and engaging. "I am just a student," says you lack confidence and self respect. Versus "I am a 2nd year student at (school) and I am thinking about becoming a teacher." That invites questions and interest.

Weave in your hobby, avocation, current professional development pursuit. "I work for Gavina Coffee and a new mother of twins."  or ...."sit on the board of (your charity)"..........

Stop, think and listen to what you say about yourself. It may surprise you. Your BIT is the start of a great conversation or not. It is a key part of your first or newest impression. If you are not listening to what you are saying and how you are saying it, then odds are your recipient is less interested too.

What's your BIT?

Thanks for reading. John


Back to School: Enroll in your Continuous Education

I get to meet so many interesting people. How?---because I talk to them! :) Picked up by a taxi driver named Ed at the airport this week. (the most interesting source on what is going on, are the drivers of yellow cabs) I ask him about his family and we launch into a 30 minute discussion about education. He tells me all 5 of his children are back in school. His youngest is 25! He went on a fascinating and long winded description of all of his children's efforts to re-certify, re-position, re-invigorate, and re-fresh their careers. All face or have faced turmoil, change, layoffs, and obsolescence in the last few years. His middle son wanted to be a butcher, but abandoned that line of work because there is a 5 year apprenticeship requirement. His older son works for Amgen and applied to med school, but is now going to enroll in an MBA program. His third son is getting certified as a physical therapist. His daughter is taking online accounting courses to complete a business degree. His youngest son is enrolled in his third community college after finding out yet again, that the lack of a degree has hurt his job prospects. Not an atypical story but illustrative that the path to the next level nearly always requires ascending the educational steps to more knowledge and new expertise.

 Back to school  
To keep up and get ahead, you have to adopt a lifestyle of continuous education. Education that comes from many formal and informal sources. Training that addresses weaknesses, shortcomings as well as areas of new competency. It is not your passive openness to new ideas or change, it is the active and never-ending acquisition of new skills. You have to enroll yourself into continuous education!

Education is the great transformer. I used to have this quote pinned to the bulletin board in my office,

If it works, it is obsolete.

Some of you want to go back to school to get or finish a degree. No time like the present. Waiting makes no sense. Just talked to a young couple who both enrolled in different grad programs this Fall. They considered the typical polite approach of taking turns. They concluded, if they both enrolled they could study together and would not have to defer their plans for a family. They enrolled and jumped into their education with both feet!

I was helping my kids with their class schedules. Remember that chore of picking dates, times and subjects? Thinking about the general ed and major requirements? Considering the quality or reputation of the professors/teachers? I used to see this as a hassle. I try to help my kids see the enjoyment of choosing what you are going to learn and from whom. It was a stretch for them. Youth is wasted on the young!

This ritual of picking classes and professors is a wonderful model for continuous education that should never get old. Think about the next three years of work and life as your new masters degree in (fill it in). When you do that, you have to think about what "courses" you will be taking and who you want to teach you. Like my kids you have freedom of choice. Who at work can help you learn? Who at your volunteer workplace can teach you something new and needed? Who at your church can share their knowledge and expertise? You are surrounded by potential professors!

And how can you enhance your day job with outside activities to continuously learn? Love to write, then write. Have a favorite charity, volunteer. Have a business idea, develop it. Use these goals to guide your class schedule and professor selection. Build your continuous education with real-life experiences. Experiences that are driven by your passion and curiosity. That way enrolling in your continuous education curriculum will be easy and natural.

The alternative of resting on your past achievements and waiting for weekends to rest even more, is the best way to watch your career circle the drain accompanied by all of your regrets.

Here's another benefit. Once you enroll in your course work, you meet others with similar interests. You start connecting with people you know in different ways. And encounter new people along the way as well. Continuous education is a wonderful way to strengthen your network and your relationship with your mentors.

I was in the classroom as a student for many years, 22 to be exact. Partly pursuing my calling and mostly procrastinating my future. Studying with others, led by an expert, did help me think about my life and what I wanted. Having multiple degrees has never hurt my job prospects. However, what I learned is the classroom education was dwarfed by my experiences, training and continuous process of updating my skills. The moment you rest on your sheepskins is the moment you lose your mind. Stephen Covey preaches that sharpening your saw is a critical habit of effective people. Honing the edges of your brain and keeping your skills sharp takes ongoing effort and attention. As soon as you leave the ivy covered halls, close your last blue book, and turn your tassel on your mortar board, you have to re-enroll in your continuous education. The two online courses I am currently taking are so eye-opening! The world just keeps changing and an unattended toolbox gets antiquated.

My driver Ed's "kids" are all enrolled in their next classes, what are you doing? 

Thanks for reading. John


Non-verbal networking

We all know how important the non-verbal cues are to effective communication, relationship development, and networking. Our body language, inflection of our voice, our eye contact, facial expressions dominate the words we say. Those that study this stuff have said that words are only about 7-30% of the communication we intend. As I said, we know this in our heads, but we are not conscious of it.Body language 2

Tell your face---You see this one everyday, if you are paying attention. We have these robotic exchanges that have become meaningless transactions. You enter the elevator, or the office in the morning and you say something to greet anyone and everyone. It is neither sincere or intentional. We say things like "Good Morning", or "How are you?"--even if the morning sucks and you are not interested in or care about anyone's well-being. In fact, if the target of our pre-recorded pablum speaks, we are awakened  from our slumber and struggle to respond. My assistant for years, Patsy, would greet me every morning with a confusing happy voice and an enthusiastic Good morning! and a severe frown. At first I thought she had been part of a botox experiment gone awry. :( The first time she did this, I said, "if it is a good morning, tell your face!"

Do you remember the Michael Dukakis passionless response to the question about whether the death penalty should be applied to the murderer and rapist of his wife Kitty?

Without putting energy into your daily deliveries of words and messages, you will communicate poorly. Your posture, handshake, intonation, and your facial attention can undermine your persuasiveness.

A few basic tips to remember to keep focused:

  1. Engage the other person by looking into their eyes, listen and observe their body language.
  2. Keep your hands in front of you, instead of folding them, on your hips or in the "fig leaf" position.
  3. Smile. It will always brings energy into your voice and your eyes.

Lead with your passions--When people talk about what they care about, they stand up straighter, their eyes light up, and their voice is overflowing with expression. So funny, because many people have asked me if I have ESP. I listen to and watch people, and when they really smile and start becoming more animated, I tell them how obvious that this is an important subject to them. "How could you tell?", they query. Find out what others are passionate about, then your encounters and conversations will feed off one another.

How can you understand, see and hear any incongruences or distracting body language you create?

You practice in front of a mirror. You videotape your presentation skills. You get candid feedback from colleagues and confidantes. When I started the process to refine my speaking and presentations, I immediately improved. Seeing and hearing is believing. You become a student of yourself. How do others see you? How big is the gap between what you think you are doing and what others see? This is a critical skill, your accurate awareness of you. I became painfully aware of my strange an previously unknown habits and body language expressions through a thorough and relentless examination of my schtick. Still working on it and never again took it for granted.

Always suprised how under prepared people are for making impressions. They wing it. They hope that the right words and body language magiacally appear when called upon. Some people think they are Robin Williams! Most of us know that Robin doesn't ad lib, but draws on a library of practiced and rehearsed routines. I am not saying that you need to script yourself, but preparation with a keen eye on what it really looks and sounds like is essential.

As Allen Iverson said, "Are we talking about practice?" Yes we are!

Connect your mind to your body through your conciousness. Don't let your folded arms, furrowed brow, repeated "ums", shifty eyes, or inaudible voice, steal your opportunities and your compelling ideas.

Carry yourself, express yourself, with the spirit and energy that it matters--because it does.

Your ability to network is directly tied to your trustworthiness, believability, and likability. How you present yourself deserves at least as much prep and attention as your clever words and phrases.

I dedicate this post to my brother in-law Andrew Kim Weaver, who was tragically taken from us this week. Andrew was fiercely candid and famous for his non-verbal communication.

Thanks for reading. John