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February 2011
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April 2011

March 2011

Flash learning, Lightning talks, Fast pitches, and You

Our ability to communicate quickly and effectively is more valued than ever before. If you use twitter, you know the limit of 140 characters and that all texting and social media require brevity--Driven by our shorter attention spans and our multi-tasking lives. We can futilely bemoan this inexorable trend toward speed and all of dire consequences. But we all agree on one thing, we want people to make their point. What are you trying to say?, and spit it out! :) We want people to articulate their thought with a bit of substance and a little style, right?Blah

The issue here is not just attention spans, it is our choices. As I say all the time--we have more choices and less time. So if you do not say something interesting quickly, people will shift their precious bandwidth to something that is more engaging. Imagine the challenge facing older middle school teachers today who don't have a Facebook page and never played a video game since Pac Man--and their up hill attempts to sustain interest in the curricula from a group born and bred on social media--WHEW!

All learning is going through massive change, especially outside of the ivy covered walls. More content on college campuses is delivered online than face-to-face. In other words, students can take more of their classes from their dorm room than in a lecture hall! The real and interesting change is occurring in training workshops, presentations, conferences, and informal education. Generically called "flash learning". Delivering interesting and compelling content in very compressed and often structured chunks. There are many movements, organized systems and events that feature and celebrate this form of learning. Consider the following:

  1. Ignite--5 year old global event where you have 5 minutes to present your thought/idea/theory. 15 seconds for every powerpoint slide, auto advanced. You have a max of 20 slides and you have to be well rehearsed.
  2. TEDtalks--My primary addiction :) TED may have been the inspiration for much of these changes. Started in 1984, TEDtalks have become a worldwide phenomenon with over 11,000 events. In a Tedtalk you are roughly given 3 minutes, 8 minutes or 18 minutes to make your presentation with or without slides, no auto advance requirements.
  3. PechaKucha--Developed in Japan by architects and designers to share ideas. Literally translated as "chit chat". Like Ignite you have 20 slides and 20 seconds, auto advanced. So, thre are 6 mins and 40 seconds max to do your thang.
  4. Fast pitches--Los Angeles Social Venture Partners and others developed this program to coach and mentor non-profits on how to pitch their stories to raise money and support. The winners get cash prizes for their orgs. Non-profits are notoriously poor at concisely communicating their mission and their need.
  5. Lightning talks--Developed in 1997 for techies to share ideas, speakers were given 5 minutes max to convey their newest project or solution.
  6. Speed Challenges--Just learned about these and I love the idea. This is a timed brainstorming exercise to help individuals in a group. Person with idea, problem, goal gets no more than 2 minutes to say their piece. The group has a max of 2 minutes to clarify and understand the concept. Then the group goes for 5 minutes in generating help, resources, and further ideas. So in 10 minutes you get great feedback and support. Brainstorm 

We all understand that the brain can only endure and absorb so much. Brain scientists have shown that 5-7 minutes is our ideal attention span. Think about the length of a song or a poem.

We have heard of, maybe even participated in, speed dating and other networking events that try and accelerate opportunities. Ice breakers are one of these old school devices.

My work on live tv and radio taught me quickly how being clear and fast is essential. Because the opposite is deadly. It always is.

So what does this mean to you and to networking. Everything!!!!

We all have heard of the elevator pitch that originated with the venture capitalists to engage and secure investors in the span of an elevator ride. But today every organization and everybody needs a brief, well thought out message. No matter what you are selling, trying to get a job, pushing a cause, raising money or just trying to make a point.

As Mark Twain said:

"It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Nothing replaces preparation, brevity and putting a little of yourself into your communication. It takes a great deal of work to say something that makes a difference.

What is your ignite, PechaKucha, fast pitch, or TEDtalk about yourself or your cause or your idea or your organization?

All of this has to start with knowing who you are and what you want?

I developed the BIT, (brief introductory talk) to focus us on how we even introduce ourselves.

I love flash learning opportunities. I have long believed that if we pay attention and assert ourselves there are moments, events, and people that will teach us and change us in an instant. Life is so fast and we have to see the choices and the chances we get everyday.

Yes, we should slow down. We should savor long walks on the beach, enjoy a good book, and smell the roses along our meandering journey of life, as long as we know what we want and how to articulate it. And did we meet someone on the beach, learn something from the book, or did the sight and scent of the flowers make us think about someone else? How will our experiences advance our learning and our goals to help one another.

Thanks for reading. John


3 Perspectives on Our Opportunities

1. Tsunami of emotions and the power of WE

As we watch the ongoing tragedy in Japan, we are conflicted. Our hearts are pained by the images and stories that we are engulf us through the news. We feel helpless. We do not know what we can do. We can send money, but is that enough? Doing nothing seems wrong. Our desire to help expands and our ability to help is constrained. As in all traumatic events, we think of ourselves. How lucky WE are. I was in a conversation this week where we were urged to launch a campaign here in LA to get people to prepare for the BIG ONE in Los Angeles. We want to help, but it did not harm us. The horrible thing about this conflict is that it freezes us, it prevents us from doing what is human--to help each other. It is what I have called the Brentwood Triangle. So proud of my kids because they made donations to help the Japanese recover. We have to give. There are many wonderful organizations you can support with the confidence that the money will get to where it is needed now. Here's what my foundation recommends.

I must tell you these articles, columns and blogs that are telling people NOT to give to Japan, because they are "wealthy" or "they don't want our help" or "they have not asked for our help" are painful to read. Inhumane. The more we think about "us" vs "them" the more we divide ourselves. The world is not only flat it is inextricably interconnected. We are them. Our destinies are tied to one another. We give to help ourselves. There are no victims or perpetrators or enemies--there is only us.

If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to one another.  Mother Teresa

2. Be a Seller then a Buyer

Looking for a job, applying to grad school, promoting a cause...

Too often we resign ourselves to just the role of the seller. Hat in hand we humbly or not so humbly push our ideas, our "wares", and our personal agendas. We feel lucky if people are interested and are recoiled by declination and rejection. Often the seller is in a position of weakness. I used to joke about this when I was dating. Guys have to sell by asking for a date and the Gals are the ultimate decision makers as the buyers. The buyers have great power (unless there is a monopoly)if they exert it. They can always walk and go somewhere else. The seller has to sell and promote.Buyer seller

My point is that once you have options, you have to become a buyer. My daughter Jenna got into a bunch of grad schools and they offered her financial packages. We talked and determined which of the schools were her favorites. Mind you she has choices for which she is almost indifferent about. But the differences are not insignificant. A school back east a school close to home. Travel and living expenses and of course, the weather! We strategized and I told her to call her two top schools and see what else they could offer her to persuade her to go there. At first she hesitated and then she agreed. Her first instinct was this was wrong or not appropriate. I assured her this was perfectly up front and normal. I told her, "You are a great student that is in demand. You are now the buyer. You have what the schools want. Now it s time to turn the tables and use your power." The schools both increased their packages, one by 80%!

The lesson here is when you know what you want and have just a little leverage, you have to sell less and become a discriminating buyer.

Unless you are destitute or in grave financial straits, your buyer mindset should be dominant. Feeling empowered and confident in what you are offering. Being in control of your destiny and your journey. Seeing down the road and the consequences of your decision. Avoiding the expedient and embracing the excellent. Doing everything you can do avoid settling. Looking to see if an employer, a boss, a donor, a partner is the right fit is vital. Selling AND conducting due diligence on what will be best for you and your needs have to be intertwined. Just selling will never get you what you want and what you need. Just as in dating, after the party manners and things start clicking, the buying begins.

3. What is your story?

I literally start every interview and many new encounters with this question. An open ended, soft ball question that begs the respondent to talk. After a brief moment of humility, many people launch into their story. In interviews, it is an attempt to allow the candidate to fill in the blanks and between the lines of the carefully constructed truths of their well written resume. Those that flunk the one question IQ test, merely recite everything on their resume and just what's on their resume. Crazy. Kinda of a name rank and serial number response. These same people also define themselves by their job title, when  asked "Tell me about yourself." The fact that they are a father of twins, a trombone player, little league coach and on a prominent non-profit board are left standing on the alter of betrayed opportunities.

I interviewed this young man last week. I started with THE QUESTION. And he preceded to tell me about his education, job experiences, and accomplishments in chron order. He was poised and well spoken. Only thing is he did not know his story. And in his lack of preparation he made up things. He was not lying, but winging it. His new story begged questions and raised doubts. It was unclear where he had lived and where he worked, what he did and where he was going. Unfortunately his story ended with our interview.Stories

Your story, a brief but reflective articulation of:

  1. Who you are. What makes you different. (stuff you care about)
  2. Where you have been
  3. Why you went there and why you left
  4. What you are doing now. (And if a candidate, why this position fits into your game plan)

If well prepared, not memorized, then the story makes sense out of a resume (hopefully does not conflict with it :) and gives dimensions to a person that you are trying to get to know or help others get to know you. The story has to be authentic, it need not be clever.

As Peter Guber, big shot Hollywood producer and author of Tell to Win, differentiates story telling from telling a story with your heart and with purpose. Anyone can tell a joke or a story, but how do we engage people in conversation, captivate their imagination for a moment, and move them to action? To think, to vote, to buy, to care, to hire....Guber evangelizes about being in the "emotional transportation business." He's right we are, if we are successful.

Here's several of the key takeaways from his book:

  • Capture your audience's attention first, fast and foremost
  • Motivate your listeners by demonstrating authenticity
  • Build your tell around "what's in it for them"
  • Change passive listeners into active participants
  • Use "state-of-the-heart" technology online and offline to make sure audience commitment remains strong

Love the state of the heart technology! Bottomline, prepare and speak from the heart and your stories will transport you and your audience to new levels.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Life starts at 26

A close friend of mine sent me Tina Seelig's new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I just finished it. It is filled with a collection of stories, advice and inspiration about how to be more creative about your choices in life.

When I was 20 I don't think I could have understood her advice or any advice. I think the window of opportunity in ones life opens well after you can drink and after you graduate from college. Over the last 20 years, I have seen this pattern emerge and developed a theory that ones career life does not start until about the age of 26.26jpg

After talking to thousands of people of all ages, including hundreds of parents of college age kids, and more between the ages of 20-30, I have concluded that 26 marks the beginning of a pivotal chapter in ones career consciousness.

And if you are over the age of 26, don't worry this applies to you too! ;)

While you were in high school you formed the basic view of yourself, what you think you are good at and what you weren't. Your parents and others probably pushed you. We know that your brain's synaptic activity fell dramatically after the age of 15 due to the formation of neural pathways, your habits and your preferences. Puberty and your view of the world kicked in and altered your view of yourself and your chances by the time you got your high school diploma and headed to college.

According to the annual Freshman Survey, the three top goals of first year students in college, in order of preference, are expertise in their field (don't even have a major :), raising a family and financial comfort. The survey reflects the responses of 1.5 million college students from every state. These results have been consistent for 45 years. Because of the economy, financial comfort moved up the last 2 years.College students

Average college students change their major 2.5 times to find an enjoyable AND practical area of study. Most college grads do not use their major to find a job. They are almost all poorly prepared for the workforce and few have acquired real career development skills. Their ability to use networking and mentoring is rare. They defer their "dreams" because they have to make money to pay their student loans and if they were fortunate get off the parent's payroll. Although this is a much longer process than ever before.

About 5 years after graduation reality sets in. This is where I have encountered the 26 year old whose perspective shifts and search for meaning starts. All of the same Freshman Survey goals come back onto the dasboard. What is my expertise? (Do I need grad school?) When will I get married and/or when will I have kids? What is my plan to get the things I want? (house, retirement etc)

Why do we spend money we have not earned, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like?   Deepak Chopra

That's why I found it fascinating that the Freshman Survey did a follow-up study 10 years later when these former 200,000+ freshman were now 28ish. They were asked the same questions. So what were their top three goals now that they have a degree and had a healthy dose of the real world?

  • Raise a family
  • Develop a meaningful philosophy of life!
  • Become an expert in their field

Help others in difficulty was 4th and financial comfort fell to 7th. Heart vs money

Develop a philosophy of life?! Yikes. A decade had passed and nothing changed except money was less important, they had not gotten married or had kids, they had no expertise, they still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up and they needed a career GPS system! And on the bright side, they saw others needed help. That's all. :)

If your goal is to make meaning by trying to solve a big problem in innovative ways, you are more likely to make money than if you start with the goal of making money, in which case you will probably not make money or meaning.    Guy Kawasaki

If you are not yet 26, invest in your search for meaning now, while you work and while you play. Start developing your philosophy of life---your pursuit of a life that interweaves your passions and your goals. Mixes and blends your strengths with a contribution to the greater good, however you define it. And answering the question: What is meaningful to you?

If you are over the age of 30, it is not too late. Afterall, 48 is the new 26! :) Raising a family, a meaningful philosophy of life and expertise still may be very important to you. Your quest for greater fulfillment and your sense of contribution to something larger than you probably is growing. You are much more focused and time is more precious. You can begin a process of preparing for a life or career change, may be more challenging, but never too late to develop and amend your philosophy of life.

Regrets age you. Regrets can kill you.

The key to all of this is engaging others in your quest. In your journey. In your dreams. Getting help to pursue your ideas. Getting advice on what others have already learned and tried. Connect! Don't fall victim to the "do-it-yourself" trap. It never works!

A meaningful philosophy of life is not a job but a way of living--not just thinking and planning, but living! Living to do what you love doing AND strengthening the relationships that give you meaning.

Thanks for reading. John

 

 


What triggers change?--My week long journey to the center of meaning

Last Sunday, I got the chance to catch up with Glenn, my best friend from high school. We met out in Palm Springs to golf and to, as they say in Hawaii, talk story. Our friendship has spanned 45 years and endured many challenges and been punctuated by many adventures. Anyway, as we age, Glenn I end up talking about serious things. The meaning of our lives. Our kids futures. The future of the world. As we looked out onto the Palm Desert landscape, Glenn asserted that the "next generation is not as motivated" to put in the effort and sweat equity to obtain the lifestyles and more important the type of country we all want. This is partly the classic and inevitable discussion of all older generations complaining about the next generations. But it was also a conversation about what will it take for young people and all of us to return to the basics, set aside our cushy expectations and entitlements, and actually invest time and energy in work. Glenn and I believe that you learn about yourself, you establish values, you appreciate what you have, by working and literally and figuratively making a living. I can hear the, Typical Boomers! chant. It is true, we are creatures of our upbringing and OUR parents lives.

We came to many conclusions on how the world could be a better place--of course if Glenn and I ran it! :) However, one of them was really disturbing to me. Only hardship, tragedy, and the threat of either will get people to change. Change, meaning people engaging in the fundamental process of taking responsibility for their own destinies. For people to work at their lives instead of hoping something good will happen. For people to commit to new goals, values, habits, new skills, strengthen relationships and to become who they were meant to be. To take responsibility for their own lives and fully understand that they can drive their own destines.Carrot

So the stick is more powerful than the carrot?!! Really. We can not be motivated to take action with inspiration alone? It takes an "enemy" and fear for us to change? It is well known that money will never sustain our motivation or ever truly inspire us. The research on that is conclusive. Daniel Pink's new book Drive reviews 5 decades of research on this subject if you have doubts. But I was unsettled by the fact that I could not refute this conclusion: That fear may be the greatest and most effective motivator.

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."  Samuel Johnson

Losing our job, getting cancer, death of a loved one, and bankruptcy force us to take inventory of our lives and potentially change. Learning about somebody else's misfortune is not the same. It gives us pause, but we always think WE are different. So we only redefine our lives when tragedy befalls us?

I attended a community meeting where the subject was the future of at risk youth. It was a robust and emotional discussion of the causes and consequences of "the system" vs the individuals. One mother asserted that her kids had no chance with the "institutional discrimination" and "economic racism" that is embedded in our society. A man stood up and said, "My track coach taught me to focus on the finish line. And if there are hurdles in the way, just get over them. The more we feel like victims, the higher the hurdles will appear." We know there is truth in both perspectives. The challenges for the poor and vulnerable are daunting. And without a mindset of self determination and self-reliance no one can succeed. The finish line can provide focus, but the hurdles can add motivation or they can deter.Hurdles  

On Wednesday I led a workshop in Plano Texas for a group of FritoLay managers and leaders who were tracked for accelerated paths. My job was to help them think about their opportunities and what they wanted. I used the carrot of the chance their employer was providing them. We discussed career and life strategies. We reflected on where they were going and why. One of the participants came up to me after our 4 hours together and said, "How will I know who I am? And what I want? I want to change, but there are so many expectations of me." I marveled at his candor and his moment of wonder about himself. I simply said, "Keep listening to yourself. Keep listening to your heart."

My week ended up at a celebration of the life of a dear friend who is dying. While we all are dying, few of us really live. A group of us did not want to wait until her memorial to express our gratitude and appreciation. For me, it is too late. I hate learning things about people at their funerals. We spent a wonderful afternoon learning and celebrating her diverse life. It was inspirational. It was uplifting. It gave all 120 of us a view of what is possible if we live to our fullest. It reminded us of how precious life is and how brief our time together can be. So were people inspired to change their lives by a great role model or by the fear of their own deaths?

I know it is both. And it really does not matter. Whatever helps us re-define our lives to push us to improve is great. We need examples of what life can be and we need the whack in the head from fear. We need to let people hit some hurdles so they can get back up and re-focus on the finish line. I am so optimistic about the future and the next generation. However we must guide, not coddle, our young people to let them find themselves so their dynamic DNA can flourish. We need to actively seek ways we can motivate ourselves and each other through the amazing blend of fear and inspiration that life gives us everyday.

Thanks for reading. John