Benjamin Button

Jungle Gymnastics

If you always do what you have always done then you always get what you always got.  -Stuart Crabb, Director of Learning at Facebook

Had the chance to spend time with Stuart at an intimate conference last week. Facebook has invested  alot of time and effort to craft a learning culture at FB, from which we can learn a few things. Stuart went through the following myths that FB helps its employees overcome. Myths that can stifle career growth, mentoring, personal and professional development.

  1. I can learn most from those with more experience than me. --I learn from everyone around me. Age and tenure are not the only determinants of wisdom and relevance.
  2. Excellence is defined by what I know and what I can do well.-- excellence is defined by my strengths and what I ship-- not my efforts but what I deliver. Hone your uniqueness, your talents, and your strengths to set yourself apart.
  3. Effective learning is in books and classrooms.--Being more open to continuous education, than just formal education will make you smarter. Small bites of real time learning on the job are most powerful. 
  4. My performance review helps me stay on track and grow.--Annual reviews are archaic and too late. To grow and adapt you seek real time feedback and frequent feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Progression in my company and industry is vertical and logical.--Career development  is more like a jungle gym than a ladder. You have to take risks and follow your heart. You have to gain lateral experiences to move up.

Jungle gym 4

The greatest skills are adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. Key skills for the jungle gym and the jungle of your career choices and experiences. No way to predict the future. No way to have certainty about your life. You will make mistakes. You will ascend and descend. You will fall. You will get back up. The questions are: How much do you learn through change? Do you lose or gain momentum at each of these junctures? 

I use to say that career development was more like Super Mario Bros, which shows you how dated, but yet relevant this analogy still is. The idea of jumping on and off of platforms. The courage to take chances on your passions. The concept of risk/reward. To have the resources, skills and "weapons" to overcome the obstacles, challenges and changes that are thrown in front of you.  

I like Crabb's jungle gym as a much better metaphor for life and career. It is more playful and accessible. It gives you a complete visual for the options you have. That there are many ways to successfully climb and enjoy your journey.

There is always someone who tries to go straight to the top. Some go up and down the slide. Others who look for creative and challenging routes and experiences. All of these paths are real and legitimate, as long as you do not believe that a linear path is your only route, it never is. Like the MD who is required to do "internships" on all aspects of medicine and the body before specializing. Having breadth and depth of knowledge and experience will always help you transfer those skills. And taking a less direct to the top enables you to discover your strengths and passions. We all know people who rise too quickly and fall just as fast. 

I meet people all of the time who want to run for-profit and non-profit organizations with little or no expertise except confidence and ambition. Real confidence comes from learning and understanding how things work. 

Jump on the jungle gym and explore it and see where it takes you. Have fun and discover who you are. Literally and figuratively learn the ropes and steps led by your passions. Then you will define the jungle gym instead of it defining you. 

Thanks for reading. John


Ready for your Big Shift?

Can you feel the shifts going on in the world? Can you predict the shifts that will happen in your life? As a Southwest flight attendant said, "Be careful when opening the overhead bins, because.... shift happens. "One thing is certain,  change is underway and will continue. Some will surprise us. Some are predictable.

But are we preparing for the next shift in our lives?Shift

Interviewed Marc Freedman last week for LiveTalksLA. Marc is the founder of Civic Ventures and the Purpose Prize. He has been working tirelessly to engage "older" Americans in meaningful work and to help us as a society see that value in those contributions.

His book the Big Shift is about the demographic and economic change of how Boomers will become an enormous untapped resource when they retire. That's right the 78 million American Boomers are beginning to turn 65. And most developed countries will see their populations turn grey by mid century. Hallmark sold 85,000 birthday cards for 100 year olds last year in the US!

We all are witnessing our parents living longer, many of whom are unprepared for the time they have on their hands. People planning their retirements in their sixties, not realizing that they will be retired longer than they have worked. Still others going through massive disruption in their lives through the recession forcing them to consider radically new career paths.

Marc's book is a treatise on the size and scope of this change and the great need to understand it and harness it. It is a great read. Filled with anecdotes, research and humor. It is not a how-to shift. It is what we need to do as a country to utilize the great talent, wisdom, and creativity of this growing population. But after you read it you think about how unprepared we are for all of the shifts that are occuring to us.

He discusses our obsession with youth which us gives us disdain for age and the elderly. He says we have to understand that fifty is NOT the new thirty but the NEW fifty!

The questions he raises are thought provoking and should give every reader pause, no matter how old he/she is. In fact, I believe that shift prep is applicable to everyone. We all have to think about "retirement", but we also all have to think about the next unpredictable chapter.

The future is already here-- it just isn't evenly distributed.  --William Gibson

We can delude ourselves into preparing for retirement by thinking almost solely about the financial aspects. After all, if we have money the rest will follow. Wrong! Like most things we don't think it through. Most of us have envisioned  a Norman Rockwell retirement, where we live in leisure and pursue our hobbies.

Back at the beginning of the 20th century when we were lucky to live to 50 and that was an attractive goal. But Freedman argues we can not afford to waste the talent and expertise of the Boomers to shuffleboard and Leisure World.

While many Americans who "retire", continue to work and engage in civic life, many do not. They search for meaning again like they were new undergrads who can't declare a major.

As in any change or new chapter, good questions will guide our choices? Here is a sampling of the questions we must ask ourselves to find fulfilling and impactful opportunities in our lives today and as we prepare to "retire".

  1. How do we live a legacy in addition to leaving one?
  2. How do I take risks at this stage in my life?
  3. How can I live a life with greater significance?
  4. How can I continue to make a difference?

Regardless of the age and stage you are in, there are numerous opportunities to work, volunteer, and contribute to the causes, issues and organizations you care about. If you are a few years from retirement or decades from it, you have to find things that are much bigger than hobbies. You need activities that allow you to invest yourself to improve the world, community or neighborhood. Retirement is another life chapter, like all chapters will depend on your preparation and how you listen to your heart.

If you don't stand for something, then you will fall for anything. ---anonymous

Shift happens and is happening. The more your life is defined by ideas and issues, the more durable your life will be to shifts. The more you procrastinate the pursuit of your passions the harder shifts are. And the most foolish mindset is ---"I'll wait until then."

Thanks for shifting. 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


A Sampling of New Year's Inspirations and Tools

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit... start whenever you want... you can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things that you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

  Benjamin Button's letter to his daughter.

Any time you set new goals, reflect on your path, or make new plans to reach your own potential is a good time. If you like new year's then make the most of it. I have included a few things that I review each year to get me focused on what I want for the next year and beyond (like this Benjamin Button quote). I have learned that most goals won't fit neatly into a 12 month time frame. I try not to focus on the transactional and push myself to consider the transformational. The typical and somewhat trivial new years resolutions can be pretty selfish--Lose weight, eat better, exercise more, get my finances in order, read more.....These are your goals if you want to live longer and be more successful. These "goals" are important but are so basic to life. Don't get me wrong, take care of yourself, stop smoking, get your fiscal and physical act together. But seriously, you know these things. Just do it.

If we spend a little less time contemplating our abs and more time planning our futures, we would all be better off. You won't be surprised when I tell you it will always be the relationships that define your life. Relationships you nurture, repair, develop, and engage will define your success and your happiness. Connect with people you care about. Be mentored and mentor others. Develop new relationships around your goals and passions. Tiny advances here are not enough. You need to make big strides, huge compromises, and extra efforts to strengthen your relationships into mutually beneficial ones. You have to take the lead if you want something to happen.

A good friend of mine was telling me about her 84 year-old dad who I guess is starting to lose his senses and whits everyday. He lives 3000 miles from here so she doesn't see him very often. In fact she told me it has been more than 6 months and she could not make the time over the holidays. I let her have it. "You gotta get out there and see him", I urged her. "You have to see him when he recognizes you and he can tell you his stories." She actually was a little offended by my tone. She told me she was going to get him Skype so they could see and talk more. Time and money seem like a small price to pay to see your dad in person. For me, I live by, "No Regrets!"

Here's my popular one-page goal setting sheet called the SWiVEL (Download SWIVEL_new_2009). Strengthen What I Value Enjoy and Love. Spend some quiet time to develop your answers. Feel free to change it. Writing your goals makes a big difference.

Here is my final device for focus--the UCLA System:

Urgency--A sense that time is valuable and fleeting gives you an inner drive to accomplish things. How do we create a continuous sense of urgency without the stress?

Community--Connecting to strengthen a sense of belonging and community around you. How will you connect or reconnect with people that you can help?

Learning--Education is cranial oxygen. You need to learn new things. What will I learn this year? What will you learn or even master this year? 

Action--Nothing matters unless you do something. Take steps to move your agenda. Crawl, walk then leap!

My ever present question always precedes any process: What do you want? 

That answer will guide your vision for the next year. While we all need to lose weight, tighten our abs, get our finances in order, and spend more time with family--we also need to envision what we want in our lives. Not sure where you thought you'd be in 2011 but the next year will go by quickly too. No time like the present to pursue your dreams in addition to renewing our promises to look and feel better.

So there you have it. Benjamin Button, Interview with God, SWiVEL, and the UCLA System. Hopefully something here gets you to quit your membership in the procrastination club and focus on advancing your goals and relationships. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and into a grand world of who you can be.

Here's to an extraordinary 2011! Thanks for reading. John