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February 2013

We Need Your Art. We Need Your Cowbells!

Whether you are staring at a painting, watching a modern dance, glancing at graffitti, listening to an opera, or sharing a Youtube video---you appreciate what is creative, artistic, and therefore relevant. But do you understand it? Behind all of the art is an artist. Knowing more about the person who made the art can make all the difference in the world in how you perceive, understand, and ultimately enjoy that art.

I got the chance to learn from and about Jake Shimabukuro, the "Elvis Presley of the Ukelele", in a live interview I attended a few days ago. Like all great interviews you gain insight into the person and what makes them tick. His life is a great profile in passion, persistence, and the assistance of others. I gained some extraordinary life lessons from him that I'd like to share with you. Jakeshimabukuro-com-uploads-album_art-161-430x0

Here's a guy who loves the ukelele (oooh-k00-lay-lay). Born and raised in Hawaii where the uke is a respected instrument and cultural icon. Not something shared by us mainlanders. We think of it as a toy or perhaps a tropical party prop. The ukelele is taught in Hawaiian schools, much like the recorder is in the lower 48. So he learned the ukelele as a young kid and fell in love with it. He literally could not put it down when he was young. He said, "My parents had to pry the ukelele out of my hands, so  I could do other things, like eat." The ukelele has only four strings and so its range is more limited than a guitar, but Jake never thought way. "Once I learned 4 chords I could play 3000 Hawaiian songs." Maybe he exaggerated, but most ukelele players accepted these limits. Not Jake. He experimented, he mastered, he re-invented this tiny instrument over many years. All the while he tried to make a living playing in bands playing covers. After many years, his music won awards in Hawaii. And after a decade or so he recorded a few songs that included George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". He played this song in 2004 on a local Hawaiian tv show. A couple years later, one of the first videos uploaded onto Youtube in 2006 was this tv show starring Jake. Jake still does not know who uploaded it or how they got the video.  People were astounded by what he could do with a ukelele. Long story short it went viral, perhaps one of the first multi-million view Youtubes! It" launched" his career at the age of 29.

I first heard about Jake from the 2010 Ted conference. Watch!


TED Talk: Jake Shimabukuro plays "Bohemian... by TED  

Despite his growing fame and success he is a humble guy who knows his roots. He still loves the ukelele and he has become its greatest evangelist and ambassador. In fact, there is evidence that more people are selling, buying and playing the ukelele because of him! He continues to learn about how he can express himself through it. It is clear he is still an artist driven by his art. Refreshing to see and hear this.

Since he writes all of his own music, he uses a process to get into the emotion and state of mind of the inspiration of the music--like method acting he assumes the role before he plays for each song.

And for all these reasons I appreciate his art, his expressions--his music even more.

Here are the life lessons I got from his interview:

  1. Find your passion and pursue it with all of your heart. He said he feels each strum, each note inside his body before he expresses it. His talent is wrapped in his emotions--that's passsion!
  2. Relish the role of the under dog---the challenger. Don't be daunted by the negativity and the voices of doubt that intend to derail your dreams. Can you imagine how many people told him the ukelele would not be a good career choice?!
  3. Not only become proficient but improvise, free-style and make your passion express the uniqueness of you. One of his heroes is Bruce Lee. He admires how Lee mixed methods, styles, and disciplines to blend a new form of martial art. 
  4. Persistence, practice and never giving up pays off. First you are true to yourself and others will follow. Find people who support you and push you. Success is being you!
  5. When the door of opportunity opens, walk through it. When the kindness of strangers and "lady luck" shines on you--take advantage of it. An unknown person who loved how Jake played uploaded that video and transformed Jake's life.
  6. Use your emotions and passions to guide your best work. To bring the best out of you. Engage your feelings into your work and your "art"--express yourself authentically!

One of his new songs is More Ukelele. Jake wants the world to know and love the ukelele. He said this song was inspired by the following SNL skit More Cowbell!

Never will listen to Jake's music the same way. The same goes for you, the artist in you. When people understand who you are, why you do what you do---they see you, understand you and your causes more clearly. They appreciate you. 

Bang your cowbell---we need more cowbell!

Thanks for reading. John


Re-awaken Your Possibilities

In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.   Ben Zander Zander

We invent so many reasons why we can't do things. Some of them are the familiar demons of our habitual laziness, our busy-ness, or our fear of failure. We can see the world as a narrowing set of choices, options and opportunities. Yes, I know we are getting older and we need to act accordingly. I get it. But we also have to make the most out of the time and chances we have left. No matter if you are 25 or 65, you can't make decisions soley based on risk management or let the practical be the enemy of the possible. 

I engage hundreds of people every year in the exercise that Barbara Sher developed--The Wish Obstacle

I always wanted to ________, but__________.

When you fill in the blanks you will be surprised at what you say and why you have not done it. Usually what stands between you and the possible---your wish--- is YOU. Not much else.

I had the great honor of meeting and hearing 74 year old Ben Zander--the mercurial and magical maestro for the Boston Philharmonic. But to think of him as just a conductor is like saying the Beatles are just a rock band. He is an extraordinary teacher, author and motivational speaker. He lives in the world of possibilities and pushes anyone in his path to awaken their possibilities. 

Here are some of the nuggets I got from him: 

On leadership: The conductor does not make a sound he depends on the orchestra to perform.
On negative thinking: You can make everything in your life seem like a downward spiral. It is up to you to see the possibility.
Evaluating others: Give everyone an A. Start with the possibilities and give everybody a chance to be their best. 
On doubt: Don't let that nagging voice in your head eliminate your possibilities--your potential.
On vision: A true vision includes everyone. It is not a win lose proposition.
On failure: Raise your hands and say "How fascinating!"
On the language of possibilities: What if? What's next? 
On reality: Everything is invented. All of the goals, standards, and metrics in our lives are self imposed. They limit what is possible. 
A rule for life: Don't take yourself so seriously!


There is no time like the present to consider and stand in the possibilities. That nothing but our attitudes egged on by the voices of doubt in our heads stand in our way. Otherwise we are trapped in a prison we built. Walls and bars that we invented block  the way of our freedom to do what we want. 

Possibilities are sleeping inside each of us. They are the beautiful sculptures trapped in the marble of our minds. They are dormant, latent, and restless seeds that yearn for a moment in the sun to sprout and grow. Let's set them free! Let's re-awaken these possibilities within us and in others. 

The neglected passions, interests and ideas that turn sour and fester will burden us with the weight of regret. Do you want regrets or possibilities? 

Need I regale you with the countless people who on a daily basis overcome their physical, financial, mental challenges that dwarf yours, and excel? If we consider ourselves lucky, then let's see what's possible.

I really got a dose of energy and motivation from Ben---to be more positive, to live more in the land of possibilities, and to help others awaken these great attributes in others. Did it work a little for you? 

Thanks for reading. John


Help Other People Get What They Want

You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.  Zig Ziglar

(If you don't know who Zig is, research him, read him, listen to him. We lost him late last year. He was one of the greatest motivational speakers ever.) Zig

People who don't understand this quote do not understand the true power of their lives--they do not understand the power of a networking lifestyle. I have met thousands of people who think networking is a process of take and give. For these people they loathe networking because it feels so disingenuous. But Zig has captured it perfectly in his quote. You help other people get what they want first and you get everything. Skeptical?

Networking is always about giving without an expectation.

It's not about you, it is about WE. 

It is turning off the most popular radio station in the world WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When that station dominates the thinking process you will never get what you want or you will settle for short term gains that are neither sustainable or rewarding.

We want the same things. We want a sense of purpose. We want health and well-being. We want happiness and fulfilment. We want meaningful relationships. And we want to be financially comfortable. 

When we see our selves as helping others, we achieve all of these things. We see our connection to one another. We see that our destinies are tied together. That our purpose, our health, well-being, our relationships and ultimately our financial success is linked. Sure if you just want money this is the worst strategy. Focusing on money first inevitably means that some or all of the other things you want will suffer. 

Yes, you should be compassionate to others who have less and you should give generously of your time and resources to others in need. But I am talking about your network. So besides responding to requests for help affirmatively, what do you do to help others--people in your network.

Here are fundamental ways you can help others in your network. Four proactive ways that strengthen your connections. These are habits that the best networkers practice.

  1. Refer: Send information about potential clients, partners, vendors to your network. Refer people directly to them. Connecting people that can help one another. Everyone is grateful for a warm reference for a service provider. Be the Yelp for your friend network.
  2. Share: Send your network articles, research, and books that you think will advance their thinking for their businesses, careers, and avocations. Amazon loves me. I send out a couple books a week. Few things can link people like a book that can be shared. 
  3. Compliment/Congratulate: Send notes, posts, and tributes to people for no specific reason except that you were thinking about them. This is more random than birthdays, Xmas and new jobs. Send them a note about good things you have heard or how you refer to them to others. I make dozens of donations every year "in honor of the leadership and commitment of ______"--I send it to the favorite charity of people in my network. People are hungry for compliments, especially from a friend or someone they respect. I was asked in an icebreaker once "who my hero was". I did not hesitate I said the principal at my kids' school. She was a force for good. I later told her what I said. This was twenty years ago. I recently saw her by chance and the first thing she said to me was how much that story meant to her.
  4. Introduce: One of the most powerful things you can do is introduce people to one another. Not a romantic matchmaker but a connector of human spirits that could help one another. Different than referrals, this is the active process of linking people in your network to one another. One of our roles as networkers is to make the world smaller. So introduce people at receptions, at meetings, and online. Be a connector. 

If you go out looking for friends, you're going to find they are very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you'll find them everywhere. Zig Ziglar

Like everything, your perspective matters most. If you see making friends as a hassle and time consuming and distracting from your real goals, then you will not have complete success. If you see the world as a bunch of potential friends and connections, then you will meet many people and your life will be richer. And when you help those people proactively, then your life will reward you in all the ways you want. 

Choose the lifestyle of networking and helping others and you will get everything you want.

Thanks for reading. John


Curate Your Network

I like cooking. It is like therapy for me. It is a chance to be creative and then you get to literally enjoy your work! :) I follow two basic approaches. I either start with a recipe that I have cut out of a publication that intrigued me. Or I look in the frig and see what is there. The first method requires me to plan, buy stuff, and take time to read and learn. The second is a challenge but is the lazier alternative. I enjoy both forms of cooking.

Life is like my cooking analogy. (stay with me). You can always rely on what you have, what you know, and who you know. Or you can add new learnings, new connections, and new ideas to your process. I know this is not an either or proposition. We all have our tendencies, our habits, and our default modes of living and cooking. Frig

I have seen that people network this way too. They have a few people they rely on for their career nourishment, their advice, and their direction. Not talking about your mentors now. I am referring to your network that is beyond your friends and family. These are people that may occupy your extended reference list, including former bosses, colleagues--people who you from time to time rely upon for advice and connections. How fresh or stale is this network?

This is the network that is in your frig. 

Now think about where you are going with your life and career. Your ambitions, goals, and career aspirations--(your recipes, if I have not overstretched this analogy already). How does your network relate to these thoughts? In other words, does your current go-to network have the experiences, background, passion, connections to help you get to where you are going?

If you have read any of my posts you know that you can never under-estimate your existing relationships--that you often don't know who you know. 

But I also want you to take an inventory of your current network. To see whether you need to add to your network or uncover your needs in your existing network.

The point is to design your network. Curate a network that has the dimensions and facets that reflect your interests, career objectives, and passions. 

I meet so many people who want to work in a non-profit. That is what they say. "I want to work for a non-profit." They might as well have said they want to live in Asia. The lack of specificity will engage no one in your quest. After I pummel them with questions about the specifics, I always ask them, "Who do you know that works in a non-profit (especially one they want to work for)?" Most tell me they do but HAVE NOT HAD THE TIME TO CONNECT WITH THEM? Hmmmmmm. 

Our networks have to reflect where we are going and certainly match up with what we tell others are important to us. 

Look in your frig. See what you need to acquire, learn about, read about---specifically who you want to meet. Is everyone in your network more or less like you? Then you need to add some variety to your cooking! Talking to yourself will only get you so far! You need new ideas, inspirations, and energy. Once you have a good idea about your goals then seek people with names you want to meet. People with certain titles. People in specific orgs. Which orgs are the leaders in this field/industry? Who are the thought leaders?

Are you following the people, organizations and publications that reflect your goals? 

Curate your own network. Not just by adding friends on FB or linking on Linked-in. Do it with intention and purpose. Not just to get jobs, but to deepen your understanding and your commitment to your goals--the ones you say to yourself and to others. Once you connect with others those words and thoughts will change but your path will become more clear.

Thanks for reading. John