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July 2011

Know and Love Thy Neighbors

Neighbor -- literally translates to nearby dweller. Someone "situated" near us.

In all parts of your life you have neighbors. People who live, work, exist near you. You may share a common fence, a cubicle wall, a pew, adjacent parking spaces, offices or floors. You probably have many dozens if not hundreds of "neighbors". Neighbors you don't know and perhaps will never know. Some of us will search the Internet, trawl the club scene, attend mixers, travel great distances to meet people and yet,we won't meet the people who literally live next door! Go figure! I have learned the hard way that your neighbors have to be part of your due diligence when you buy or rent a house, condo or apartment. That neighbors, especially the ones you share property lines or walls/ceilings/floors with can increase or decrease your enjoyment and your property value. No one told me this. Maybe it sounds obvious, but I did not know I should meet all of my potential neighbors before buying/renting my home. I was young and naive when I rented and bought my first couple of houses. Focused on getting a good deal and THEN met the neighbors. Neighbors I would live next to and with for many years! Never fails that you have a few surprises and I have been pretty lucky. In buying property or renting an office I meet the neighbors FIRST! These are people that will watch your back. They are people who can be helpful and you can help. That's the definition of neighbors.Neighbors

While we can debate the state of community in increasingly technological world, we all know that all relationships can be enhanced with regular face to face interactions. So why is it we avoid our neighbors. A very recent study showed that only 25% of people know their neighbors names (meaning 75% don't) and one out of 12 have never met any of their neighbors! So if you are following along 3 out of 4 of us don't know our neighbors names and 11% of those people never met any of them. So we go through life acknowledging people in a friendly manner, my friend says "phony nice", but avoiding any substantive conversation (including sharing the very personal information such as our names!) Some of you are feeling quite smug because you are part of the top quartile of people who know your neighbors names. Congrats! But when is the last time you shared a meal or got to know them beyond the morning salutations? Knowing their names is so basic but while that is a fine start you have to get to know them and their families.

Every person you meet will open up a world of difference and commonality. Every connection you make help you become a better person. It never surprises me when I meet people and discover a shared life experience and the world shrinks, especially when they are next door.

A few quick neighbor stories:

1. Hey That's My Priest!--We invited our new next door neighbors over for a meal and to meet our good friend Father Jim. And our neighbor recognized Father Jim, because Jim assisted with their wedding in Hawaii 30 years ago. Long story short,Father Jim presided over OUR wedding a couple years later in northern California! Say it together, SMALL WORLD!

2. Keep your Enemies Close--My wife Sarah met a neighbor at our block party last year. Sarah asked what this elderly gentleman did and he said he used to operate the cable tv fanchise in town but his dreams to grow his business were squashed by a company called Falcon (my employer 30 years ago). He expressed his dislike for the CEO (my boss). And then he recalled, "...there was this "Asian kid" who was always with him too." Sarah quickly and astutely pointed at me at another table and said, "think that Asian kid is my husband John." the man's jaw drops open as Sarah summons me to reconnect with my long lost arch rival, who has lived down the street for 45 years! And we have reminisced a few times since.

3. An Office Transplant--Just moved into new offices this month. I got into the elevator and noticed the woman next to me pushed the same floor button as I did. I knew that there was only one other occupant on our floor (I had checked them out before we moved). So I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm John, I guess we are neighbors." She runs the training and research for the largest organ transplant operation in the US--One Legacy. This has led to multiple meetings, introductions and encounters in just 3 weeks. I know that she will become a friend as well as a neighbor!
 
There is no excuse for not knowing your neighbors and I mean more than their names! I won't detail all of the selfish reasons you should do this for safety and support. But who watches your place when you are not there? Having the people around you know who you are is crucial in times of crises and need.
 
A few tips on meeting neighbors:
1. If you have been living next door to people for a long and don't know them, find an excuse to bring over some food and introduce yourself. Invite them over for an impromptu bbq. Or if you are having a bigger event invite the neighbors. Food is the greatest connector!
2. Welcome any new neighbors with some cookies and introduce yourselves.
3. Get involved in the home owner association, the local book club, neighborhood watch--excellent way to engage and to meet people.
4. Get to know the people around you everyday at the office, in the elevators, where you park, and certainly at your kids' schools, at church, and where you play.
5. Stick out your hand, smile and introduce yourself! Don't settle for the impersonal robotic "hi, how are you?" unless you follow-up with an intro and a conversation.
Your network has to begin with proximity.
What puts the goodness into your hood----neighbors! Meet and get to know the people who "dwell" near you.
Thanks for reading and being more neighborly. John

Lessons and reminders from reality

Congresswoman Judy Chu's office called me and asked me to offer my workshop to her Job Hunter's Job Boot Camp last week. I commend Judy and her team for their leadership in helping people get their careers and lives on track.

I got there early, as I always do presentations to get the lay of the land. I attended a "Hot Jobs" workshop that was sparsely attended. There were three panelists who gave a wide range of advice on jobs from IT to construction. One thing that struck me is that there ARE jobs. Unfilled positions with futures. They all require more certification and training just to apply and get to the entry level. I am talking about answering the phone and laying cement certifications! But between the three presenters they had hundreds of openings. Looking around the room there was limited interest in these new fields. You can see the questions in people's faces---Should I re-tool for a new career? Shall I invest in a change at this stage of my life? Only a few seemed encouraged.Unemployment  

Even though the focus of this session was entry level, the lessons and advice apply to all. Just a few of the words of wisdom I heard:

  • "No longer are we "break and fix" guys. Help desk staff have to have deeper knowledge, be great communicators, and work collaboratively."
  • "Don't burn any bridges so you have good references--we check them all."
  • "If you are not arriving to work early, then you are late. If you arrive at work one minute late, we send you home. It shows you are not serious."
  • "We fire people who say "that's not in my job classification!"

My session was filled with a very diverse array of human beings from 20 to 60 years old. I introduced some fundamental career change and networking essentials. I pushed them through a few exercises to get them to understand. It was one of the most energized groups I have encountered in years. One thought seemed to perplex  people the most. The contradictory notion of openness to opportunity and the specificity of a job search.

I always introduce the seemingly conflicting concepts of defining your goals with specificity and being open to discovery and serendipity. I make fun of people who are open to anything to not eliminate any possibilities They usually have such general job/career goals that no one can help them. What I call the Rose Parade Theme goal. Here are few of my favorites from the last week: "I want to work with people." "I can't be stuck behind a desk." "I want to do something I believe in."  Huh?

Here's the rub. What you want has to be honed down to reflect your personal needs and interests. If you can't articulate what you want no one can help you find it. Networking is impossible and mentoring is frustrating. When you say you can do anything, most people hear nothing and they do the same.

Once you focus on what you want and say things people can understand, they can provide assistance and support. And, here's the kicker when you get focused and are pursuing and doing what you want--it shows in your energy, effort and passion. This is when others offer you new opportunities. People see you in another sector or field. People see your talent transferring into something else.

New offers and opportunities don't arise when the people around you have no idea what you want.

So specificity breeds success and success enables new opportunity. Get it?

I am constantly inspired by the people that are trying to make changes to get a job and find a new career to be fulfilled. My goal is to just try and give people a little different perspective to get them to accelerate the changes they know they have to make. In the end I get re-charged by their desire to advance their lives.

Every encounter and experience provides lessons, so......

Be specific. Get to work early. Adapt faster. See your job as bigger than the job description. And don't burn your bridges. Some real lessons from real people looking for and offering work.

Thanks for reading. John


The Small World of Trash Talking

Thanks for sharing your small world stories. All of us are witnessing how we are interconnected to one another. Basically, if we make the effort then we will discover  connections that we share with people we just met or people we get to know better.

If you play basketball or any competitive sport, then you are familiar with "trash talking." It is the banter that happens during the competition to unnerve your opponent. It runs the gamut from irritating to plain rude to profane. The classic is uttered right when you are going to shoot the ball, your defender yells and taunts you, "WHAT YOU GOT?! "YOU GOT NOTHING!" I have played basketball off and on for 40 years. I have stories of great shots, broken noses, and memorable verbal exchanges--some of them just too obscene to print here!Kobe_kg_trash_talk-150x150

One early morning I was going to my regular pick up game at UCLA's venerable Men's Gym upstairs courts upstairs. Bunch of has beens, athletic department weekend warriors, a few coaches, and an occasional former player would join us. Ususally we would start with the first 8-10 guys who showed up, pick teams and start playing. It was a civil game that could get physical with plenty of verbal exchanges. One morning seven of us we were warming up shooting and stretching waiting for the next player to start our game. There was this young Latino kid shooting across the way, struggling to dribble and shoot. He was using a rubber ball that had Union 76 emblazoned on it. He was not a serious player nor familiar to us so we ignored him. A few minutes passed and we were still looking for the eighth fman so we could go full court instead of 3 on 3 half court. One of my court colleagues, a feisty and chatty African American Muslim named Mandala, pokes me on the shoulder and sticks his face into mine and mockingly says, "Hey why don't you ask your Cuz'n to play!" as he points to the rubber ball boy across the gym. "Then we will have 8! Yeah ask your Cuz'n!" Several others laughed and looked at me for a response. "That's not my cousin, I don't know him", I meekly replied. A bunch of them pointed at the young Latino brother in the other corner who had missed several layups in a row. So I called over to him and asked if he wanted to join us. He nodded and clumsily bounced his promotional excuse for a basketball toward us but we had enough for a game. Basketball%2076%20ball%20large  

I introduced myself to the newcomer, his name was David, but he pronounced it Daveed with what appeared to be a Mexican accent. We started playing and Mandala on more than one occasion said,"How's your Cuz'n?!!" David started to get his game together and was a bit better than any of us expected. 10 minutes into the game David tripped and twisted his ankle and had to sit out. I asked if he was okay but he said he was done for the day and would watch. A few were waiting for the next game by now and we continued on. David watched on the sidelines until the very end. I walked by David to pick up my towel and sweatshirt. David stood up and limped over to me and said, "You don't remember me, do you?" I hate that question because it puts me in a defensive position. "Do I know you?" David nodded and said we met at our family reunion 8 years earlier! Then my mind was awash with memories of the 80 family members and their children who had gathered for the first time in Santa Cruz. I did remember a David Baldonado and his little brother and sisters. One of my cousins through marriage married a Latino man and I noticed these beautiful mixed Japanese Mexican youths--one of whom was apprarently David when he was 13.

I shook David's hand, we embraced and we promised to get together.

I went into the lockerroom and my head was swirling with this odd moment of reconnecting with a distant relative like this.

Then I spotted Mandala and I said, "Hey, he is my cousin!" Mandala yelled back, "I told you! I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU HE WAS YOUR CUZ"N!" We laughed. Mandala knew all along David was my real cousin.

You just never know when you might run into a cousin. Or when trash talk really is a serious conversation. :) The world is tiny and getting smaller. No matter if you believe we started in the Garden of Eden or evolved from a place in Africa. We are all related. We are all "cousins". (geneticists believe we are least 50th cousins) Even my trash talking friend Mandala and I are cousins. :) If you add that we are 3-6 degrees apart, the world is not only small it is US. What would the world be like if we all started as "cousins" and learned about our commonalities and our connections? That is the power of WE.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The world shrinks if you don't

How many meetings do you attend and later think about the question you did not ask? Do you attend events or social outings where you avoided meeting people who you share a warm and common connection? When is the last time you reached out to "friends",  acquaintances, or your boss's boss without a request or an agenda?

We are all so busy. Sometimes inattentive to the people and opportunities around us. Each of us experiences these small world moments. Moments when we discover a connection between people we meet that surprises us. These moments arise when we pay attention, when we listen, and when we get to know each other beyond our superficial and often selfish interests.

 So are these moments luck or fate?Small world

Neither. We are connected to each other in ways that we will never know without making an effort to have a conversation that wanders, explores and learns about one another.

You probably have heard of Moore's Law--which essentially states that computing power/speed doubles every 2 years. This has been true for more than 46 years since Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, made this prediction in 1965.

I believe that our interconnectedness, our degrees of separation, or the smallness of the world, if you will, is also increasing at exponential rates. Much has been studied and written about our connections. In the late 60's Stanley Milgram conducted legendary experiments that remain the foundation of the theory of six degrees of separation--the idea that every person on the planet is no more than 6 people apart. Other research from the 70's, showed that Americans were 3 degrees apart. This was all before the internet, email, cell phones and of course social networks. We are so much more connected. I think in the last 5 years, we have doubled our interconnectedness. So what does that make people in the US--1.5 degrees of separation?!! So the world IS getting smaller.

One of the things I like about Linked-in is the way that you see how you are connected to people, the levels of the connections and the proximity of the relationship. It facilitates ways to check up on people and to request introductions. You can quickly see the people who are well connected and those who are not. Of course sheer numbers do not tell the complete story, as much as the quality of the people in it.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his seminal book, The Tipping Point about the Law of the Few. That a small group of people are better Connectors who have a much stronger ability to develop and maintain relationships. The Connectors are network hubs and can accelerate connections.

How many Connectors do you know?

Every time I make the extra effort, it always pays off. One of the most amusing moments happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at a large meeting of my national foundation colleagues and I took note of several I wanted to meet to compare notes. I saw an open seat next to one of them at dinner and introduced myself. His name was Sean from Chicago and about 25 years my junior. So there were no apparent connections. I resisted talking too much or grilling him like an aspiring 60 Minutes reporter. Instead I asked, "What are you working on now?" He launched into an energetic and engaging description of his work on a new strategic plan. That's when we had our "small world" moment. He mentioned one of my closest friends Nat Irvin, who lives in Louisville Kentucky, as a great source of "out-of-the box" ideas. My eyes opened up wide and I realized that Nat's assistant emailed the day before to introduce me to Sean. I agreed to be connected to Sean. Early this morning I received an e-mail from my dinner mate to schedule a long distant conference call. Clearly, he had not put 2 and 2 together either! I looked at him with a smile, "You e-mailed me this morning!" He looked at me with real surprise and he blurted out, "Who are you?!!" It was so funny. Nat referred him to me to also assist with his strategic planning. That morning we were planning an inconvenient telephone call, and now we were having a robust face to face meeting. Now thats a small world.

As I have said, you don't know who you are sitting next to.

We all have these stories. I am telling you they are not luck or coincidence. The world is small and shrinking. The world will remain a daunting, vast and mysterious place, unless we look for, listen for, and reveal the amazing connections we share.

Thanks for reading. John


Sideways view of life expectancy

Had the great fortune of interviewing Tom Tierney last week. We discussed his book, Give Smart for the Drucker Business Forum and for the local NPR affiliate, KPCC. His book is really aimed at high net worth donors and would be philanthropists--how to effectively give away your money. As we prepped for the interview I told him this is a basically a career guide for the wealthy people who want to enter the world of philanthropy. He agreed.

Tom's book is a set of questions that apply to anyone who wants to start a "new career". Giving away money just seems easy to most people with wealth. What's there to think about?!! You pick needy organizations that are doing good and you give them money. How can that be hard? Any self respecting "successful" person who has built or grown a business, started a company, invested in start-ups or managed a for-profit enterprise can give away money! Wrong!

There is a prevailing by erroneous point of view that you just apply the most fundamental business practices to non-profit or even government work and you could solve problems so simply. What's wrong with this country is we have not take a business approach to the problems we face. Poverty, cancer, educating our children, and immigration would be solved. Really? C'mon anyone who feels that way, especially business executives, have no idea what they are talking about. I remember when David Gardner, former President of the University of California was discussing the issues of diversity in admissions and said, "Anyone who says they understand the issue does not understand the issue." Classic example of the more we learn the more we understand what we don't know. Tom's questions help people learn about what they don't know about themselves and the opportunity of philanthropy.

One of the most insightful moments for me came at the reception before the interview. We were discussing our concepts of time and what we expect from life in a small group. He took his pen and he looked down the shaft like it was a telescope. He said that we mostly look at our futures this way. He said that we see an infinite line of possibilities, of opportunities, and own deferred thoughts about success. This view gives us the false perception that we have a lot of time. But he said that it is more important to understand the finiteness of life and look at it sideways. He took the pen and looked at it in his hand. The pen's limits now come into view. How long life will be is a guess, but it will be brief. Thinking about the present and finiteness should give us a sense of urgency. Achieving things now instead of waiting for a future time when the "stars will align" or "luck will prevail" or the absolute most fallacious wish, "when I am not as busy". Pen

People think anxiously about the future and forget the present, such that they live  neither in the present or the future.

Two young people heard Tom's message as he was holding the pen sideways and immediately pointed out what they were doing to focus themselves on the present. It was clear they did not fully understand--they hopefully will. Planning their futures is still their career strategy.

While we plan for long lives, we also do many things in anticipation of a shortened one. We buy life insurance. We assign the guardianship of our kids. Nevertheless. we all expect to live at least the average life expectancy. After all, we are all better than the average, so we DESERVE, at least an average length of life, right? 80 years minimum.

But stuff happens. Plans change. Almost all of life does not happen exactly as we wish and thank goodness for that! Can you imagine if life was predictable? No surprises. Just a linear existence. If it were predictable then you would know your date of death and could plan accordingly. Sorry, not in this world.

We should be ready for the end anytime. We should be ready to lose things and loved ones anytime. Because that's when it happens. Did we do what we wanted to do? Did we nurture our relationships? Did we have a full life? Or are we deferring most of our living and loving to a future time when things will be better?

People live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.

Once we see the pen sideways and appreciate its finiteness, we can see that everyday, that every moment, that every conversation is important. That the future we envision may not come for you or others.

Life and death are irrational. When your time is up will not be up to you. Yes, eating right, exercising, and taking care of yourself are advised, but no guarantee.

Looking down the road of life or up the staircase of our careers and we can get intoxicated by the what appears to be the infinite dimension of time and opportunity.Stairs

Once you see and understand the finiteness of it all, you will think about giving now. You realize that the one thing you have is your ability to help others. To love. To support. To ease the suffering of others. Deferring those human instincts to a future time that will be more convenient is only reserved for children.

Look at the continuum of life sideways, embrace its boundaries and surrender to the urge to give and live.

Life expectancy: Live every day.

Here's to a long and prosperous life of living and giving, fulfilled in every moment.

Thanks for reading. John