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June 2012

Start-Ups and Your Collective Intelligence

.All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed---finding our food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. We have forgotten that we are entrepreneurs. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank

There is an obsession with start-ups. Something very exciting about developing a new thing from scratch. I have had the pleasure and pressure of working for founders—the people who were possessed by an idea. I learned a way of thinking, call it entrepreneurship. I learned that being truly creative and inventive requires an iterative process of trial and error. It requires a passion of purpose. And a critical eye and mind for the elements of success. We all have the capability of an entrepreneur and crave the energy and urgency that comes from a new venture, but only some of us pursue it as a way of living. Vfa

That’s why I agreed to join the initial faculty of VentureforAmerica (VFA). This is its own networking story—VFA’s founder, Andrew Yang, is a good friend of a former Coro Fellow I mentored and Eddie Shiomi, VP of Programs, an undergraduate student I mentored at UCLA. VFA is a brand new non-profit that recruits top new college grads and immerses them in a “start-up” mentality and then places them in new ventures for 2 years to apprentice under veteran entrepreneurs. Its mission is to revitalize America through entrepreneurship---that’s all! J How cool is this?!

So I parachuted into VFA’s start-up boot camp that is 4 weeks of an intense hybrid curriculum of “start-up weekends”, hackfests, and MBA-like case studies. I injected my ideas about career development and networking and performed some team coaching of these 40 wannabe entrepreneurs—VFA Fellows. I witnessed the birth of their start-up mindsets. New parts of their grey matter were being exercised. You could see the learning in their eyes! Unlike many internships or graduate programs, VFA is engaging their entrepreneurial brains and installing a new way of thinking through learning by doing. These Fellows will never see the world the same again.

My entrepreneurial juices were rejuvenated by this boot camp and the bright minds of the VFA Fellows.

On the plane ride back to LA, I finished Reid (Mr., Start-up and Linked-In founder) Hoffman’s book, The Start-UP of You. It is a wonderful inspiring book that frames the issues of career development in new and digestible ways.

For many of us, the most important start-up is the Start-Up of You! Retooling the old self for the new world. Getting new motivation and energy to do some much needed self-re-invention. If you were a company or a concept, how would you evaluate your marketability, your competition, your packaging? This book pushes you to change and adapt and provides some good steps and exercises to get you going. .

Hoffman re-defines and re-positions Networking as the critical element to your start-up. Old networking used to be vertical along the hierarchical lines of the employer. No longer. You need to nurture a horizontal network across companies, sectors, and geography.

“The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.” Is your network aspirational? Or is it holding you back?

 “An individual’s power is raised exponentially with the help of the network (team).”Hoffman asserts a concept of Network Intelligence. That your network is teeming with information and ideas that are being exchanged that you can and should access. And there are other networks that are connected to your network and new networks that have valuable information, ideas, and guidance about your life questions and goals.

In the Global Brain: The Evolution of the Mass Mind, Howard Bloom goes into excruciating detail and scientific evidence to convince his readers that the whole world down to the sub-atomic and microscopic levels is interconnected into a Global Brain. --A network of collective intelligence that influences and informs everything.

Hoffman’s point is we are missing out on the intelligence of our networks and the intelligence of networks we encounter and discover. Networks which are only 2 degrees of separation from us! The people who know the people we know.

You dabble in and rely upon networks of strangers intelligence all of the time. We count on reviews of products or restaurants made by strangers. We read Wikipedia or surf the net with Firefox—open source worlds nurtured by strangers. Imagine if we tapped into the collective intelligence of people we know and the people they know. This is the essence of networking in the 21st century.

Then Hoffman moves into Build Genuine Relationships. I know no one tries to build disingenuous relationships but we do! I love this chapter because it is what I have been preaching for 2 decades. :)

Relationship builders:

  • Help others first. I say, Give without expectation. They don’t keep score. They think about their relationships all of the time not when they need them
  • Don’t focus on quantity of “friends” but prioritize the quality of relationships. Relationships that advance aspirations through a “diverse team of allies and advisors with whom you grow over time.”
  • Focus on getting to know people in their existing network. As I say, It is amazing who you know, who you don’t know. They connect to new people through their network. They avoid cold calling and prefer to be introduced.

“Genuine” relationship requires great empathy and active listening. You have to turn off the most powerful radio station in the world. WII-FM—What’s In It For Me.

Networking intelligence, collective intelligence and accessing the Global Brain are essential to your start-up and a greater community of sharing and learning from one another. Enroll in your own boot camp. Take on the most important start-up----YOU. After all, you are an entrepreneur, now start acting like one.

Thanks for reading. John



7 Phrases That Should Be Banned

Obviously not talking about George Carlin's seven curse words. And if you have never heard of George Carlin, may he rest in peace--get with it!  George-carlin

I am talking about 7 career phrases that set me off. Seven word configurations that people blurt out with casual regularity that I find profane. These phrases push my buttons and require great restraint from me to not say something more offensive! :) They are toxic to networking and mentoring. They mask real issues that hold back careers and potential. 

These are robotic reflexive automaton utterances that mean nothing but say volumes about the speaker. They are symptoms of issues which are being denied or ignored.

Banned-stamp-clipartHere they are the seven career/life phrases that should be banned:

  1. I'm very busy- We hear this everyday, many times a day.You say:"How are you?" and we hear: "Very busy." Everyone is busy and we are busy all of the time. We breathe air, gravity keeps us put, the earth circles the sun, and we are busy? Anyone not busy?!! The question: What are we busy doing? My truly favorite is when a subordinate comes into my office and says, "Are you busy?" "Not sorry to interrupt." or "Do you have a moment?" I usually, say "So funny I was just napping. Doing nothing. What do you want?" We know in our hearts that busy-ness can not be the focus of our business. Stop saying this!
  2. I need more balance in my life--You don't. I know what you mean, you want more. You want more time for family, hobbies, and life outside of work. But you also want more from work--more money, more growth, and more fulfillment. Balance is a mythical pie chart of equal pieces. Never happens. You want a bigger pie! You need to prioritize and to invest more time to expand your life.
  3. My life is going according to my plan--Yikes! So you have a plan for yourself and the rest of the universe? Please share it. Because if your plan predicts the economy, world events, your bosses mood, and your employer's next re-org--then you have to buy lotto tickets! Your plan needs to be to become the best you can be and to adapt rapidly. To nurture who you are and to engage your talents with the world. A linear chronological plan that provides a lock-step map to your future is an insurance plan for self deception. Quit planning and start doing. 
  4. I am going to wait and see what happens--Confused by change and chaos? We wait for a calmer moment to make our move. "When the economy improves..." "After this new VP gets settled.." "When the company completes this restructuring.." Let me tell you a secret. If you want to be competitive, speed is the deciding factor. Unless you are Benjamin Button, you are not getting any younger. Waiting is for wimps and frankly waiting is a giant pile of procrastination. Not saying be impulsive and stupid, I am encouraging you to move and act on your instincts. Wait and you will miss the window of opportunity.  It's only your dreams that await you.
  5. I want more stability--See #2 above. I meet a lot of people that say they want stability. They say they don’t want change. They want to keep what they have. These people are lying to themselves. No one who is ambitious and wants a better life wants stability. No parent who loves their kids wants things to stay the same. Nobody who is alive, who is conscious of the needs in our community, of the inequities in our society wants things to stay the same. You want change.
  6. What's so tough about non-profit work?--I am so sick and tired of big shot execs de-valuing what non-profits do. I think the word non-profit hurts our work and our reputation. The non-profit sector is an essential economic engine in this country. Last year it was $1.4 trillion in size. Sorry for that rant, but I wish I could implant these facts into the minds of some of the arrogant people that I encounter. Having worked multiple times in both for-profit and non-profit. It is not a contest. Non-profit work is so much more difficult to be successful. You have a business model that can not scale based on demand. There is a nonsensical lack of appreciation for overhead for non-profits when a corporation can have 85% "overhead" in their product. If you want to transfer your skills to non-profits--humble yourself ---become a student. Lose your assumptions, learn the differences,  apply your talents and success will follow. Then I am all ears. 
  7. I am really not passionate about anything--You can't believe how many times I hear this. Young and mature. Exec and student. Men and women. All ethnicities. People who have devoted themselves to a "plan"--go back to #3 above--and thought passion would be delivered to them. The skies or their hearts would magically open up and they would get a healthy dose of the passion thing. So distracted by what they thought the formula for "success" is, they missed themselves and the world around them. No passion. New grads without a clue and retirees with nothing to do. You have to get lost to find yourself. Passion comes from your pursuit of happiness and the happiness of others. It comes from connecting who you are and the world around you. Never too late, but your time here requires you to find this.

Wow, do I feel better. I have vented and maybe you have understood. Now there is a possibility that you will not say these things and disabuse others from saying these phrases too. Thanks George for inspiring me. 

Thanks for reading. John


When is your next Graduation?

Tis the season of graduations and the festivities marking the completion of specific educational milestones. Been to a few more "commencements" over the last week. For the young people in our lives, graduation from a specific grade/level in school is important and momentous. We are proud of them and their achievements. We want to inspire them to continue on their path of education and career. So far, I have attended more than 50 graduations and have heard the best and worst of the speeches. Lots of trite and hackneyed phrases are used at these moments. Talk of dreams, potential, challenges, opportunities. "You can be whatever you want to be." Or multiple YOLO (You only live once) references. As  a speaker and an attendee, no one really listens to these well crafted words of inspiration at the end of a course of study. By the way, they don't listen at the beginning during convocations either!

Graduate: To change gradually or by degrees.

I would add "To change gradually and constantly". Degrees

As someone with multiple degrees, changing and adapting matter more than the diplomas. Never one to argue against completing formal education or graduate education. They add value, but frankly are of of no value if you stop learning and educating yourself.

"But John, I am always learning new things!"

Not talking about the latest youtube you saw or the insightful article you read.  Talking about diving into topics and subjects you dream about that are outside of your work, your "major". You have to keep up with your job, that's your job! I am talking about your education as a human being and a citizen of the world. The education that is going to complete the unique you.

Some of us think about graduation as a nostalgic concept of our youth. A nice memory when we turned a tassel marking our "commencement" into a new phase. Graduation is a good memory that resides in our past. It may trigger thoughts of what could have been and even some regrets. But I submit to you, we graduate every year of our lives. If we are 25 or 65, we continue to grow and advance. Our days are no longer marked by bells or class schedules, but by milestones and lessons. The university of life is so much tougher. The finals are really final! And everything is an elective! And for many it is is a DIY endeavor that can be lonely and challenging. To be successful we have to be our own post-college counselor. 

But the beauty of a graduation event is it makes you take stock of the effort, contemplate the future, appreciate the opportunity, and fear the challenges. After our formal "education" we rarely do that, except at funerals. :)

Maybe you will listen now at the mid point of your 2012 "curriculum". How are you doing on your plans and goals for 2012? We are half way through this calendar year. Course corrections? Recalibrate? Reset? How would you grade yourself? Passing? Failing?

Reminds me of the story of the guy who has swum half way across a lake and is too tired to finish so he swims back to the starting point? Huh?  Maybe you have not made enough progress with your goals or maybe you have not started them. Don't fall into the trap of waiting until next year to start again. Start again now. Keep swimming. You may have set a goal of 12 months to finish. Just finish. Keep going. Ignore all of the distractions and excuses to stop trying. By the way, the  forces of resistance will never give up. So you have to be stronger and remind yourself of the benefits of your goal. 

How do we renew our pursuit of knowledge and experience? How do we overcome the feelings of fatigue and even disillusionment about our choices? 

Isolation is your problem not your lousy attitude. Barbara Sher

To renew you have to reconnect. To renew you have to re-enroll. Your ideas need to be shared. Your passions need focus. Your challenges need feedback. Your goals need to be challenged. Your weaknesses need support.

Nip the blossoming of your regrets in the bud. 

We gain energy, inspiration, and clarity by engaging our network of family and friends. Ask for help and advice.

Ask someone to "coach" you by holding you accountable for your new mid-point goal(s). Tell a trusted colleague your goal--why it is important to you and exactly what you want to achieve. Then ask them to check in with you periodically and push you to make progress towards this goal. To support you in achieving this goal. We do not do this enough. We try to do it ourselves.

You never finish your education. You finish steps. You gain perspective. You gain confidence. But it does not stop. And you do not have to do it alone. 

Today starts a new semester of study. What classes are you taking? And who are your professors? What do you want to learn? Life is an endless series of degree programs and commencements. When is your next graduation? Re-enroll today!

Thanks for reading. John


5 Micro Habits to Renew Your Networking

We all know how important small things are. Chaos theory asserts how tiny movements create tsunamis. Just think about an atomic bomb. Or consider our DNA. Or the March of Dimes. Think about the advancements in nano-technology. Or micro lending. Little things matter. We ignore these small things at our peril. The details of life. We know how our daily lives are made up of thousands of assumptions, perceptions, and habits that keep us going or hold us back.

Recently, I went through a series of video golf lessons that revealed micro habits and physical aspects of my swing that I did not know were there. Things I felt were the exact opposite of what the video showed. Once I reconciled that my perceptions and feelings were wrong, I could alter my swing. 

We can't see what we are doing or not doing.

There are zillions of examples how micro things can lead to changes or challenges if unattended or ignored. Making a change, getting better at something requires a series of changes in habits, assumptions, and muscle and neural memory. Change it up

In other words, new habits require the breaking of old ones. And at the micro level, you have to be aware of what you do or don't do.

In our minds we have figured things out. We think we are doing things well or the best we can. We are in control of what we do and who we are. If we stop and think about it, we know we are deluding ourselves. Our lives are made up of of thousands of routines that are reflexive and non-thinking moments of reaction. We are constantly disconnected from our consciousness while reality is ignored. Again, like the way I thought my golf swing was dramatically different from my real golf swing.

Sorry I left the planet of concreteness there for a second. I am getting to a point. :) In order to advance your life and your career you need to confront and understand your habits, your micro habits.

HR consultants say they can tell a good resume from a bad one in 8 seconds. Executive recruiters say they can size up a candidate in the first 30 seconds. Scientists tell us that we form an opinion about another person in 100 milliseconds by just seeing their face.

Your face is worth a thousand words. But what does it say? 

So let's consider how you make the initial connection with people. What do you do? What do you say? What does your face say? What is your body language communicate? Sorry to make you self-conscious but taking an inventory by answering these questions is important. 

I am asserting here that you need to adopt several new micro habits to shift your self awareness and your networking---and ultimately your life.

Here are 5 micro networking habits that will change your life, get you to enjoy and appreciate networking and your ability to do it.

  1. Say Hello--You get on the elevator. You meet eyes with someone at the grocery store. You sit next to somebody on a plane. Whereever you are acknowledge the other with a "hello" or a "Good morning." It connects the world for that moment. And often a brief conversation ensues. Force yourself to greet and acknowledge strangers.
  2. Smile more--Really this is a huge change. You think your face always looks pleasant and even happy? Wrong. Not a request to plaster a fake clown face on your mug. My favorite is people who say they are "glad to meet me" with a frown and a scowl. :)When you greet people, when you meet people, smile! Watch the other person's face when you smile, it's contagious. You have a great smile use it! It makes others feel comfortable and it opens up the world. 
  3. Introduce yourself differently-- Don't just mumble robotic words that no longer mean anything to you. Think about a way that engages people and invites conversation. I call this your BIT--Brief Inroductory Talk. Most people provide no energy, no information and no invitation to talk. Don't just utter name, rank and serial number. Reveal something about why you are here. Recently I met a guy that had "Dr." on his nametag. I said, "Nice to meet you Dr. so and so." He said, "I am a medical doctor but now I run a business training immigrants." He anticipated my question about his mdeical profession and gave me a huge opening. I met a woman the other day who said, " Hi I am a lawyer and a soccer Mom." 
  4. Reconnect with someone you care about--This is so easy. Call or send an e-mail to someone you know and like, but with whom you have disconnected. Schedule it. You are not too busy!! I guarantee that your reconnection will be fulfilling and worthwhile.
  5. Say Yes--The next time someone asks you to go somewhere, to meet someone, to experience something new--say Yes! Get out of your routine and  experience new things and meet new people. Don't make excuses to preserve your convenience or your routines. Everyone says they are spontaneous, but they aren't. They prefer plans and limited risk. 

The point here is taking little steps of progress can lead to huge changes. I know this seems simple and intuitive.  Break some little habits and start some new ones. Just try it. New intentional habits lead to new experiences and opportunities. Little changes can push yourself further and further down these paths to connect and reconnect. 

Start by doing what's necessary, then what's possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible. St Francis of Assisi 

Thanks for reading. John


Networking with a Money Back Guarantee

"And if for any reason you don't like it.........." This ubiquitous phase and thought is tattooed in our brain. It is part and parcel of our disposable and short attention span consumer society. Almost any choice we make comes with an "out clause". Like so many contracts, we discuss and agree to a"pre-nuptial" and a "divorce" in the same document. As an aside, unless you are a billionaire, a pre-nup discussion before your wedding vows makes no sense. Before you say "to death do us part" you sign a document that describes the consequences of your divorce. Pre-nups have not only been embedded in our consumer lives but into our lives. We sow the seeds of failure or dissatisfaction before the actual experience is harvested. "Your complete satisfaction" is guaranteed. Even though we know we are rarely if ever "completely satisfied", because we have trained ourselves not to be. This marketing gimmick would not work if everyone who was not "completely satisfied" asked for their money back and returned the "unused portion" and kept the bonus "as our gift". But our gullibility and our impulse buying gene are only out performed by our laziness. So this idea of a satisfaction guarantee is an effective business model.

I see this mindset in the people that seek my advice week in and week out. They reveal great truths about their lives. Their interests, curiosities, experiences, and once in awhile their passions. They see options and opportunities now or ahead. They want to know how to choose, how to have more certainty. They are conducting a due diligence process to evaluate these choices. 

Can I/should I leave my job?

Can I switch sectors, industries, or careers?

How can I keep what I have and make this change?

What is my downside risk if it doesn't work out?

Will I damage my future career options by making this switch?

These are reasonable and important questions. They focus almost entirely on the object--the choice, the job or the career. Again, like a consumer who is trying on a business suit or new cocktail dress, we are making an important but ephemeral decision. We are trying on a career costume and want to know what the return policy is. Heart-path

A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use. Carlos Casteneda

If we are dating, then we are seeking a life partner at some point. When you meet someone special you know because you have emotional and physical reactions that are impossible to quantify. Your heart tells you so much more than your brain. And in the end you listen to your heart, if love is your goal. Otherwise it is just another M and A deal. You merge your assets and acquire a partner. Regrettably this occurs a lot. 

Your search for greater meaning and fulfillment can not be quantified--unless you believe money will buy you happiness. :) Your quest for a new career can not be solely guided by a shopping list of questions that compare and contrast the attributes of the existing marketplace options. They have to be driven by what you want? The source of the answers to your questions lies within you. Sir Ken Robinson calls it the element. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it the flow. Daniel Pink calls it your purpose. I call it your SWiVEL.

Some of you are saying, "That's great John. I need a job and you want me to do soul searching. Thanks  a million." As I say on these pages all the time, if you are in crises, your process is different. Get out of your crises and then think. Yes, this process is better suited for those who can plan. It is also a crises prevention plan. But most people are dominated by their consumer mindset that has removed their heart from the decision making process.

The study where a group of 1500 people were given the option of joining two groups. Group A was a group of people who were going to pick a career they believed was going to be a practical way to make a lot of money and then they were going to follow their passions after they made enough money. 1255 people joined Group A. Group B was a group of people who were going to pick a career that they were interested in and passionate about and just trust that the money would come. Only 245 people joined Group B.

20 years later there were 101 millionaires out of the 1500 people who signed up for the study. 100 of the millionaires came from group B, the group of people who followed their passions and just trusted that the money would come. Only 1 out of the 1255 people who picked a career because they believed it was a practical way to make a living actually became a millionaire.

My unscientific study of thousands of other people, including myself, have proven to me these findings are true. .

I met a woman last week who asked me, "How did you retain your financial goals and still work in non-profits?" I caught myself laughing and saw she was not amused. It is a good, practical, "want to keep all my marbles" and do something "good" question. I told her I discovered that compensation comes in many forms including happiness. Yes, I had to save for my kids' college tuition, but our family has worked around careers of happiness and personal satisfaction. We have decided that more is not better, that better is better. My family and I have endured three substantial pay cuts and took a second mortgage on our house in making these choices. Not just cuts in pay but in upside equity and bonuses. I described to her how our family discussed these decisions (when the kids got older we voted on my career choices) knowing that my pay and our lifestyle would be cut back. Let me be clear, I made these choices out of pure selfishness. This has little to do with my virtues as a person. Once I learned that my passion bucket had to be full--that my heart had to be satisfied--that my non-financial pay was more important than my salary and my 401k--I sought that work and those careers. I also learned how much less we needed as a family, how I felt better as a husband and parent when my career was in sync with my heart. When I am professionally fulfilled, my heart grows and my ability to give more of myself to my family and others expands.

Lead with your heart. Listen to your heart. Help your heart grow. Be prepared to take the chance, the risk of falling in love. Of making a real committment to yourself and reap the rewards for the people around you.

The door of opportunity opens from within your heart. 

Picking paths with a heart render money back guarantees irrelevant. 

Thanks for reading. John