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August 2011
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October 2011

September 2011

A Fresh Perspective: Swastikas, Uncle Tom and a Nerd

This last week has been a series of situations and experiences that have given me pause. I pride myself in helping people get a new perspective on their challenges and opportunities. The idea is to jolt people out of their semi conscious existence of accepting the status quo and the great inclination of playing not to lose rather than going for it. In these attempts at guidance and direction, I often am the recipient of the jolts, the slap upside the head that wakes ME up. This occurs when I listen to myself :) or mostly when the reactions are poignant or unexpected. A few examples:

  1. Swastika Attack----I regularly show the Sanskrit swastika and describe its 3000 year old origin. I describe how an evil man in Germany bastardized this beautiful symbol for his horrific purposes 90 years ago. We let him change this ancient sign of providence and good fortune into his concocted meaning. I do this to disrupt the audience's thinking and assumptions. After my talk, a very nice man told me how much he enjoyed my talk but he was very offended by my "lighthearted use of the swastika". He became quite emotional and would not let me speak. He told me to stop using this in my presentations. As he left me he said, "it would be as if you used an image of little black sambo!" I apologized for upsetting him and said that I did not understand the last reference as he disappeared from earshot. Whoa, did I shift his perspective or did he shift mine? Clearly I never intended to offend. But I always want people to question their perspectives in order to advance their opportunities. Should the swastika be banned from the land of appropriateness because it was usurped by a psychotic maniac? Maybe more to the point, should one complaint make me change my speech and my public ideas? 
  2. Uncle Tom's Lesson---I attended my nearly 94 year old uncle's memorial and celebration of life. It was a moving and special set of remembrances that were both inspirational and insightful. His story was the quintessential American immigrant story of great obstacles and great triumphs. With humble beginnings my Uncle Tom built a farm business with his brothers from scratch. He served his country in the army as part of the famous 442 infantry unit. He endured discrimination and intolerance for most of his professional life. Yet he not only succeeded but he thrived. His success was so much more than the financial and reputational. He lived a full life. He made his extended family a priority. He enjoyed his passions. He had no regrets when he left us. My cousin, his daughter, was very pleased about the day and the event. She was disappointed that some told her that they wish her father was still here. She asked them why? How much longer should his life have been to be the right length? My mother spoke about her brother and said something that got everyone's attention, "Death truly awakens life."  While I think this is true I wonder why lifeUncle Tom can't awaken life? My sister commented that no matter how much we know someone we never Know them. I agree emphatically. And we never will. The perspective of a sister, a spouse, an employee, a friend are all different. They are all incomplete stories of the story. That's what makes us each unique and different. The questions is, "Did we know what we should have known?" Did we have the deeper conversations to understand one another in our respective roles? This is the stuff of regrets and the source of life's questions. At the end of this wonderful day, we learned that Uncle Tom Saburo Obata tended to his relationships with the same relish and rigor he did with his crops. He woke up everyday to nurture and grow the people around him. Now that's a life to hold up and admire. 
  3. Nerd Network---I attended a community foundation conference last week and went down to the exhibit area to see if there were any vendors I wanted to meet. I spotted a software system called the Common Grant Application. I liked the booth and the ideas it conveyed. I introduced myself to a techie, long haired guy in his 50s who looked and spoke full NERD. I know this because he referenced Farside and Star Trek in the first 3 minutes! He connected with my inner nerd. Jeff was a knowledgeable guy and I quickly sensed his expertise but also his wisdom--he gets it! As he was deftly demo-ing his product, it was clear he knew his customer--both the grantor and the grantee of funds. I started to ask questions about his background and his experiences. He would say superficial things like "I am just a coder" or "I worked in the tech field". I have learned that humbleness is often a disguise or a diversion. So I pressed on. I learned in our 60 minute conversation sales pitch, that he has had his own foundation for years. That his development of this product grew out of his frustrations with the grant application process foisted on grantees by well meaning foundations. He finally revealed to me that he was essentially the former CTO of Intel! Just a coder?!! He retired years ago formed his foundation and and evolved into a philanthropist with a deep understanding of the grantees. We meet people everyday and never know who they are. We work with, live next door to, and talk to people we never know. Every person you meet is a fortune cookie with a set  of connections, wisdom, life's lessons and history that could change our own fortune. 
Another eventful week of reminding me of how precious life is. That we can not measure our life in years but in the relationships that are meaningful to both. That we barely know the people we are with. And even when someone tries to stop you, you listen and learn and then press on with your mission. Life is a journey of connections, reflections, and a constantly informed perspective that makes us want to be better. 
 
Thanks for reading. John

Networking at the Conference

No matter what industry or professional association I have been affiliated with, I have heard this refrain: "best thing about the conference was the networking". While we hope to be inspired and informed by the sages on the stages, by colleagues on panels and or by well known speakers--it rarely happens. Truth is our needs as a conferee are unique. We represent organizations that are different sizes and shapes and in different ages and stages of development. So it is no surprise that the "general sessions" of a conference never quite meet our needs.Conferences

It is It the hallway conversations and informal exchanges that often yield the most value. "Networking" becomes the best source to answer questions, get recommendations, learn new and different ways of doing business that APPLY to our circumstances. Meeting colleagues from across the state or country also gives you resources that you can tap into later. Most important, networking can be fun. Meeting different and new people who care about the same things with interesting perspectives strengthens your sense of belonging to your professional community of work.

So if you don't actively network at the conference, save some money, time and angst--stay home.

The best networking and the easiest networking is at conferences. Conferences bring us together so that we can literally get out of our boxes, reflect on our roles, challenges, and opportunities and ultimately get injected with a bit of new fuel to keep our motors running.

Funny thing, is while "networking" is the consensus greatest benefit from conferences, only a small subset of the attendees develop and execute a networking plan---except the vendors and exhibitors ;)

You have to remember to stick your hand out and introduce yourself. You are in warm and safe waters. Jump into the conference networking pool with both feet!

For non-profit industries and conferences there is a huge advantage and difference from the for-profit world. Many years ago I was on the national board of CASE, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. When I first learned about CASE, I asked a colleague what it stood for. He told me, "Copy And Steal Everything!" I laughed, but realized quickly that in non-profit land we really were not competitors that had secrets. In fact it was the exact opposite, if you asked people they would give you everything. I learned that if you reciprocated in sharing, people would open up their minds and their hard drives! One of many reasons I have returned to the non-profit world.

Let's assume you are reading the trade publications, you follow the industry trends, you know who the leaders are (both individual and organizational), and of course you know well what you and your organization needs. And you are not one of these conferees who just goes to "see what happens." As in everything, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, as Coach Wooden would say.

Here are a few tips on how to maximize the networking benefit from your next conference:

  1. Shopping list: Write down a menu of items you are shopping for. Things you need to understand better. Trends you want to learn about. Solutions to challenges you face. Use this menu to evaluate your session attendance. Evaluate this list while at the conference and certainly when you return.
  2. Your BIT: Your brief introductory talk--your BIT--how you introduce yourself matters. Yes, name rank and serial number, but it could also include your needs and interests. For example, "Hi I am so and so from such and such." (firm shake hand and smile) "What were you hoping to get from this conference?"  "I am really trying to find out who could help me with (subject), do you have any suggestions?" At the very least it will start a conversation. Engaging people in your quest and listening to theirs is always beneficial.
  3. Help others: The copy and steal everything world for non-profits or the sharing of great insights in for-profit circles only works if you reciprocate. You share and others will. The marketplace of meaningful networking exchanges depends on your willingness to assist.
  4. Benevolent stalking: These are thought leaders, innovators, achievers, or just plain interesting people you want to meet and or pick their brains. First, are these folks speaking/presenting? Who do you know who knows them? Ideally you would introduce yourself BEFORE the conference through a colleague or even a cold e-mail, to say you want to connect at the conference. You will be surprised how few people do this kind of prep and how receptive people are even to coldish e-mail intros. So you might even attend a session where the topic is less interesting than the speakers to hear what they have to say and possibly connect before or after they speak.
  5. Out of your comfort zone: Don't just mingle with your colleagues from your shop or people you already know. While there will always be benefits from that type of easy socializing, you could do that at other times. Meet people at every session you attend. Meet people at every event. Don't get so caught up in your list and menu that you don't connect with the person next to you. Make it a point to meet new and different people along the way.
  6. Take notes:Write down the names of people you meet and what was discussed or promised. Use the business card as your notecard or your smartphone to record a few words to jog your memory. Nothing worse than a pocket full of cards you don't recall. I refer to this as the cardboard network!
  7. Three foot networking: Meet anyone within 3 feet of you! I have learned over and over and over again, that you don't know who you are standing or sitting next to. Greet people, say hello and introduce yourself. Serendipity is powerful. Remember the object is not quantity it is always quality. Take some time to listen and connect. And if you click or find some commonality, you can reconnect later.
  8. Follow-up: Don't just collect cards and file them. Inevitably you promise people you will send them things. Others made promises to you. You heard several great speakers that piqued your interest and you could contact them to chat or get more info. You met a few interesting and nice people with whom you hope to stay connected. Send them a quick e-mail note. Do all of this in the first day or so when you return, before the work world you left gets its revenge! 

So yes, conferences are great places to network, IF you network! If you do a little planning, focus on your needs, help others, and also push yourself to make connections, then the conference will deliver on its networking promise.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Endurance Networking: 10 Tips for the Longer Term Job Search

Labor Day is the time to consider and help those without jobs. Regrettably that is a huge percentage of people around us. People we know and people we don't know. More and more frequently I am encountering people from my former lives and people who are in my extended network who have endured an interminable and for some, brutal process of looking for a job. The time and effort to get a job from a layoff, termination, or job transition can be a marathon of frustration and exasperation. The toll this process takes on ones psyche, confidence, and self dignity can not be exaggerated.This is where doing the same thing over and over is insanity. Let's be honest, most people have never been taught or know how to conduct a job search in good times. So looking for work when competition is furious requires a much different mindset and approach.Distance 

Many approach this like a video game. They are under the hypnotic trance that the internet will find them a job. They are seat belted to their home computer and go through the maze of job sites over and over and over, and impulsively lob resumes at them. It has become a game of numbers where quantity matters and you want instant gratification. These same people send out FB and Linked in requests without personalizing the invites. Because amassing more impersonal connections will help you win the game but not a job.

I remember a friend who had developed a condominium project for a specific price point and target market. It was not working, people were not buying. As we know, people look at certain price bands that they can afford and avoid other bands as "too low" and "too high". We sat around and discussed discounting strategies, promotional tactics and other ways to essentially lower the price point and move into a lower band. Then someone suggested that the product was positioned poorly and would have less competition if we RAISED the price and re-positioned. We decided before we discounted we would try to retain the value proposition and move into a different band of buying. The condos sold out quickly and the lesson is one of human myopia on both the buy side and the sell side. We operate in narrow bands of behavior based on what everyone else is doing. And in doing so we have forgotten the most important principle of marketing oneself--differentiation. How do we stand out of the pack, the pile of resumes, and separate ourselves from the sea of candidates?

I see this in the job market today where for some reason we gravitate to the common denominator strategies where the great majority of the candidates are operating and competing. See the same thing in college applications. People follow a formula that others told them, they read on the web, or they got a tip at a workshop--and then become the unattractive average. Surveys always tells us that more than 75% of us are above average! So why would we adopt a job search process that your competitors employ? This behavior is proof of the gravitational pull of conformity and the centripetal force of mediocrity that leads to an insurance policy that your job search may never end.

If it works, it is obsolete. (attributed to Marshall McLuhan)

If we agree this market is different then you have to be, think and act differently.

Economic disruptions like this cause irrational behavior. Job seekers who start to second guess the market where they adjust their resumes and their job search process may or may not work. They can lose their way going down the rabbit hole of confusing self-talk and behavior that can distract them from their strengths. Simply put, straying from who you are and what your competences are is risky. Not saying you should not traverse sectors or make major job shifts.  But if you are a finance, marketing, or human resources professional with years of experience, you have to play those cards. Otherwise you are reduced to a new grad with a liberal arts education---you can do anything! And how does that differentiate you in the pile of resumes?

The following assumes your resume, your basic understanding of your story (including gaps, challenges and transitions), and your goals are fairly well established. So here are 10 tips to keep you on a pace to to survive the long distance job search:

  1. Stay positive. Put any semblance of embarrassment, shame, self consciousness and self doubt in a box and lock it in the attic. These demons keep you in a mode that is less willing to ask for help, less able to show your vulnerability, and less of the authentic you.
  2. Every day is a work day. Your search has to consume the equivalent of a full time position. This is not just playing the job boards, it is the process of getting leads and networking. Energize yourself to go at it every morning.
  3. Think about your "band of behavior". What types of jobs/opportunities are you willing to take? Remain open and pursue opportunities that make sense but you have never considered. How big of a pay cut are you willing to take? Will you relocate? If you are making a sector transition, are you willing to essentially start over? Expand your band with specificity.  In other words, describe all of the attributes of your minimums (we know you want more!) What are your true minimums? 
  4. Stay active. Pursue or maintain volunteer, consulting, pro-bono and/or part time gigs to keep your juices going and to keep a warm place on your resume. Substantive charitable or non-profit volunteer work can be part of your story that fills the time and the gap in your work history.
  5. Continuous education. Take a class to sharpen your skills and find another networking platform.
  6. Apply early and often. Apply for everything that interests you AND where you have a real chance to add value. You need the practice interviewing. When in doubt apply. Focused on your goals, you do need leads and options. Even if you are "over-qualified" give the resume reader pause by considering someone who can do the job easily.
  7. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. How will you make your resume, your candidacy stand out? The key is who you know. Who you know and who they know.
  8. Go Face to face. Devote more than half of your search time to meetings or telephone conversations. Get out of your house and talk to people. You have to be able to push yourself and those around you to get out from behind their computers and literally and figuratively "pound the pavement" and "knock on doors". Hopefully you have gone beyond the basic networking and have a good inner circle of supporters. People who know you and you have a trusting relationship with. Have you met with all of them? No you haven't?! Connect and reconnect with your existing network--your relatives, your friends, your former colleagues, and your former bosses.
  9. Get on the insider track  As you expand your connections, you will begin to become aware of positions that are open and not posted. This happens when your focus is also on employers not openings. The biggest mistake is ONLY talking about positions that are posted. Most jobs are like houses in the most coveted neighborhoods, they are not listed, they all start out with private processes that are not made public unless they did not work. The word about a good job is put out to the employer's inner network to talk to the "best" candidates. The only way your name comes up in these searches is if someone you know is aware of it.
  10. Be introduced and referred This is the most powerful networking and the biggest differentiator. Having influential people you know or meet introduce you to prospective employers is enormously helpful. Instant credibility, good brand management, access to information, and an expansion of your network. Clearly, the ability to drop a name on the cover note of your resume when applying/inquiring for a job may be the biggest differentiator. The bigger the name the hotter your resume becomes. That resume has to be separated from the pile, people have to track it and you get a better chance to get to the next level of consideration. Please don't misunderstand me, you don't need referrals from the C Suite, you need to be referred by an insider. That implied endorsement is big, regardless of the level.

Jobs are opening up everyday behind the curtain and posted on Monster. So persistence and vigilance are essential partners for the longer term job search.

Networking is ALWAYS a long term if not a life time process. A process of staying in touch and exploring opportunities. It is a marathon lifestyle where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Meeting people to appreciate who you know and who you are will energize you. To learn of new opportunities and ways to approach old ones. To keep the mind sharp, the blood pumping and keep the finish line in sight.

Thanks for reading. John