cliques

The Strongest Weak Tie: Cousins

Just got back from a reunion of our extended family. I do mean extended! It was extraordinary to dive into the gene pool forawhile and explore my roots and my wings. Energized by my younger cousins who represent the Yonseis--4th generation Japanese-Americans a rainbow coalition of beautiful multi-racial and multi-ethnic backgrounds. This weekend I met a national surfing champion, a violinist who played at Carnegie Hall, an actress--and these were among my cousins under 19! Amazing who you are related to and don't know.

We all have cousins. From real cousins to people you are somehow related to (e.g. people married to your cousins, all the way to strangers you refer to as "cousins". In fact we are all cousins in one way or another. Read that Prince William and Kate are 12th cousins (once removed) and Brad Pitt and President Obama are 9th cousins. The further we go back our family lines converge and we are all related. But I digress. 

When we think of our networks, we usually think about the inner circle of our close friends, relatives and confidantes. Mark Granovetter referred to these as our  Strong Ties. In general, we take care of our strong ties. The challenge with strong ties is they usually are not that diverse. We tend to hang around and seek the time and attention of people like us, religiously, politically, and financially.  Therefore a network composed just of your strong ties is limiting. You need people in your network that will transport you out of the box of your limitations to introduce you to new networks. You need a diverse network of opinions, viewpoints and connections. Granvetter called these your Weak Ties

Weak ties multiple groups
Sample Network

Granovetter defined ties: a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.

He concluded that some of the the most important ties are the ones which "bridge" you to new connections, new networks, and new opportunities. His research showed that "no strong tie is a bridge." That weak ties are much better bridges.

One of my mantras is: It is amazing who you know who you don't know.

Great and beneficial networking focuses on your existing network before new connections. The key is reconnecting and deepening your relationship with people you know, especially weak ties--like your cousins--to expand your network.

You want your network to grow, but organically and warmly. Your existing network is a catalogue of warm calls, much different than the icy world of strangers that you don't know. 

Second mantra: Being introduced is the most powerful form of networking.

The most potent network development comes from your existing contact list. Meeting new people through others. 

Get over the "embarrassment" of the time lapse between contacts. Stop letting your benevolent disregard for them stop you from reaching out and re-kindling a good conversation. This is why some gravitate to the casino of meeting new people, rather than than apologizing to an old friend and starting anew. Can you hear the crazy that screams out of this convoluted logic?

Yeah, but we are all guilty of this. It took a reunion for me to reconnect with my cousins.

Focus on making your weak ties stronger and then seek the diversity of other people's networks. 

It is one thing to say you are open to new things and new opportunities. That you believe in serendipity. Everyone does. But it is a giant leap to actively cultivate weak ties, like your cousins, to truly encounter the serendipitous. 

Sometimes you meet  people that appear in your life. I know you are lucky but not that lucky---you are not the magnetic center of the universe. You must make your magnets, your luck, and the effort to make new connections.

Call or e-mail a cousin today. Listen to them. Tell your story. Help each other. The world will become smaller, warmer and bit more interesting. It has for me.

Thanks for reading.  Your cousin John  ;)

 


A Life of Internships

I think experiential learning is the most important and meaningful form of education. In my humble opinion learning by doing has no peer. The idea of internships may be at least 150 years old. Its origins really come from the medical profession where docs in training learn, under expert supervision, about the body and the various disciplines--to understand the whole of medicine and in part to select a specialty. I love this as an metaphor for life and careers--Continuous education about the "body" of your work and your life. A process to adapt, morph, and sharpen your understanding of what you want and the whole of who you are becoming. 

For students in school, internships may be more important than any elective. A student who graduates without experience: volunteer, internship, apprenticeship, or work is at a serious disadvantage. But more important, the student--now just an alum--has not learned about what they want. One's career development can not come from a book or even a blog for that matter. :)

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.  Confucious

For students of life ( that would be everyone!) the concept of internships has to be adopted as a part of your life. Shorter stints that stimulate your intellectual and spiritual self. Internships are "test drives", career dress rehearsals, due diligence with experiences.

So internships have been elevated to a new level. They enjoy a new popularity and status amongst people who left the ivy covered halls decades ago. Now there is even a movie coming out this summer about this! Why? Simply put, people are trying to adapt. Trying to figure out what they are going to do next. They lack the experience in a field that appeals to them. But this movie and the popularity of internships are too often thought of as an emergency oriented intervention. A drastic last resort step that requires sacrifice and risk to reboot a career. While that can and does work, internships are most effective as a mindset. An open mindset of learning, seeking experiences, and for mentorships. Testing new ideas, interests and embracing failure. 

One of my major gripes is the linear nature of people's approach to education, career development.... There are steps, there is myopia, there is a focus that ultimately ends the same way--too many eggs in the same narrow basket of experience. Wow, is that risky!

How do you become multi-talented, multi-facted? How do you invest in your career to make it more recession proof? More resilient to change, turbulence, and downturns? No financial portfolio that intends to grow and survive is invested in one thing. You need growth opportunities, and less risky investments that "hedge" the downside. You need international and domestic. You need large cap and small cap. The same applies to a career. Silly to rely on a single job to sustain your development.  

Every good job is an temporary assignment that is an adventure, a seminar and is fulfilling. Dick Bolles 

I think life is an internship, many internships. You enroll in internships to continue to grow, experiment, and learn. Your job is your core internship. Your hobby is an internship. Your start-up on the side is an internship. Your volunteer work is an internship. 

Your approach to all of your internships is the same. Who will mentor/teach me? What do I want to learn? What will make this experience meaningful to me? 

If we understand the truth that nothing is permanent. That our expertise is perishable. That our connection to our evolving personal, spiritual, financial, and professional needs needs to be dynamic. Then we realize that doing our job will predictably and inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and worse--the inability to transition to other worlds. This always makes the whole of life less rewarding. So how will you change this outcome? 

Fish out of water
Courtesy of Start-Up You

Throughout my career (of internships) I have worked with and met many people who have used internships well. A few examples:

  • 24 year old employee who asked to do "extra work" at a school mentoring project I was managing. This was an internship added onto her job.  She wanted experience with "education". Today she is a principal of a school.
  • 48 year old consultant with an MBA who interns to use his expertise to help non-profits become more sustainable. 
  • 30 year old lawyer who wanted to go into marketing and volunteered for the marketing committee of her favorite charity. Today she is the head of marketing at a telcom company.

They came to the realization that there current "portfolios" were inadequate. They needed to branch out. They had to diversify.

Here's the kicker, internships super charge your network. New colleagues are a new network. While you should invest in reinvigorating and deepening your network at your job, having a constellation of mentors and networks has gigantic advantages.

So I am advocating that you evaluate your current opportunities for internships. Follow your heart and find intentional experiential assignments both in your job and outside that will deepen your understanding of the body of your work and life.  

Thanks for reading. John


Why I use the N word: NETWORKING

Well intentioned people approach me and tell me that "networking" is so passe. It is an old school technique and phrase that really has not role in today's modern society. That I should be really talking about "relationship development" or "connecting" or  using social media.  And this is exactly why I have continued to use the term networking. :) Networking is a well worn word but it also still conjures up resistance. My view is we have to confront our fears and shortcomings. We are inclined to euphemisms and political correctness. We prefer to change the word instead of our behavior. So let me set the record straight, "networking" is a word that has been around a long time. And yes, its description and definition were archaic but they have evolved as well. And today, I think it is perhaps more relevant than ever before.Networking

I believe that networking has been  poorly defined and even more poorly taught and learned. In the beginning it was perceived to be a tool you would employ for a job search and to meet new people, especially to get new sales leads. You would turn on or off your networking mode based on your needs and the situation. You were a selfish hit and run driver who met people and got what you needed and moved on. Networking got a bad rep over many years and that made people, even today, cringe when they'd hear it. Like public speaking, networking was an unnatural skill that people loved to hate. However, unlike public speaking, networking felt wrong, even unethical. The underlying premise that you were going to "use" other people. Networking was really for the extroverted. It felt forced and contrived. It seemed superficial and hollow. These ideas became the dominant and mostly offensive characteristics of networking that made it easier for most people to turn their backs on it. Yes, that me-oriented networking is anchronistic and actually toxic when it comes to your career and your life. 

Since 1991, despite people's objections I decided to use the N word and re-define it. Make it more accessible, usable and actionable. Like so many things, I have learned to embrace the fear versus trying to manipulate the words or my thinking. My goal has always been to help people conquer an old foe that they have shunned and procrastinated. I wanted to help people get back on the old networking horse and see it from a different perspective. That networking was not a selfish skill but a community building skill. That networking was not a technique but a lifestyle of engaging others and learning about oneself. I can not tell you how many thousand people have told me that adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking to help each other is not only more beneficial, but more important, it is more doable!

A brief survey of the last 75 years shows us how networking has evolved and is evolving.

Dale Carnegie in his legendary, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he espoused the basic  principles of how to connect back in 1936!

Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Mark Granovetter's ground breaking research in the 70's showed conclusively that "weak social ties", people we know but not well, provide us with more opportunities and new perspectives than our strong and close ties. In other words, we have to break out of our enclaves of comfortable and familiar connections and make and strengthen new ties.

Fast forward to 2000 in The Tipping Point where Malcolm Gladwell introduces people who are Connectors. Connectors are people who know a lot of people ( we all do) and they connect others to one another. They are the hubs of the networks.

2003 and 2004, Linkedin and FB were respectively launched and changed the sheer quantity of people we are connected to---strong and weak ties. But they create more opportunities than networks.

Whatever you call it networking is an essential skill to engage people around you to strengthen a mutually beneficial community. Each of us has a network. And we network. Relationships from work, life and family. The question is, are you actively connecting to others and people in your network to one another? Do you do it without an expectation? Are you strengthening your weak ties? Are you a connector or aspire to be one? Is your networking skill evolving or is it stuck in the past? Call it what you like just don't let the word interfere with your inner desire to help others and yourself.

Thanks for reading. John

 


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

New deadly STD: OMBYism

In my recent encounter with Father Greg Boyle, the famed gang interventionist and founder of Homeboy Industries, he quoted Mother Teresa. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." He said the measure of our ability to care about one another will be realized "when we love more than who loves us." He has spent most of his life loving gang members and helping them put their lives back together.

In contrast, many people overwhelmed by the world around them have decided that taking care of themselves and their own immediate families is all they can do. And they have convinced themselves that if everyone else just did the same then the world would be a better place. This way of thinking has led us to a number of socially transmitted diseases. (STDs)

NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) is one of the long standing STDs.These infected people want everything just not in their neighborhood. Freeway off ramps, trash disposal, mass transit, homeless shelters, commercial development, schools, elder care etc. I remember well the families that appeared at a local City Council meeting to protest a Montessori pre-school operated out of a Victorian home for more than 100 years (Julia Child went there). The school served 76 kids! "The sound of children" was just too much for these sensitive and angry neighbors. Ultimately, the school had to build higher walls around it to better contain the laughter and pitter patter of little feet. These NIMBYists wanted better schools in the neighborhood but not next door, even when that school was there decades before their homes were built. I know it makes no sense, but that is how toxic the seemingly incurable NIMBYism disease can be. Backyard

I have discovered a vicious new strain of NIMBYism and the fastest growing STD--OMBYism--Only My Back Yard--this deadly disease triggers several brutal symptoms causing the sufferer to experience extreme self-centeredness, myopia, and ethnocentrism. These are followed by an uncontrollable penchant to live in gated communities, a significant decline in empathy for others, and an obsessive desire to maintain the status quo. OMBYists are devoted to only taking care of their back yard and their family. They have very stunted and homogenized networks. Their credo is: Love only who loves you, especially if they are like you.

The infuriating flaw with this selfish approach to life fails to recognize that a pampered family will have to live in a real  world that looks nothing like that back yard. The OMBYists superiority complex and self righteous attitude are artificial prophylactics against reality. And that the children of these infected parents breed unnecessary prejudice between their kind and the rest of the world.

Only loving who loves you is the breathing standard of living a meaningful life. Of course we love our families! Yes we love people back. But our lives will be defined by how we pro-actively broaden that circle. How we embrace others outside of our families and our clone communities. Father Greg Boyle talks about how learning to love gang members has deepened his perspective to see the other side of the tracks literally. There is no purely good and purely bad when it comes to humans and the human struggle. The world is becoming more complex. The easy way out is to define the limits of our spheres of influence as our family, immediate circle of friends and the edge of our fence lines. To over simplify the world into the good and the evil by deluding ourselves that somehow we are better than the others.

I recently met a man who wanted to make a shift from working at an elitist and highly privileged institution to a community based organization. He said his life goal is to help the "under-served" and the "less fortunate" people in our society. It sounded a bit insincere, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I said, "That's a wonderful life mission. So how do you help the "under-served and less fortunate" now?" He looked at me like I called him a dirty name. He was flustered and said, "That's my goal, not what I do now!" He went on to explain how busy he is, how demanding his job is, that he has a couple of teenagers, and he likes playing golf occasionally........His words faded as I saw the letters O--M--B--Y appear on his forehead. In other words, he has no time for others outside of his backyard. No time to do anything except take care of thyself and thy heirs. He only thinks about the "under-served and the less fortunate",when he is trying to impress others and feel less guilty. Kid

Adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle is an antidote to the onset of NIMBYism and OMBYism. While we should take care of and enjoy our verdant back yards, the world outside of those walls is so much more beautiful and filled with real people who are under-served and less fortunate. We have to break down those fences and walls. We have to create connections and relationships that add value and build  broader communities that can confront and overcome the challenges we face, by loving many more than love us.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Opening Cliques, Circles, and Closed-mindedness

Some habits are ingrained in us at such an early stage of our lives. We try to change some of these things we do but change is tough. When we look back at our childhoods we can laugh at our immaturity and our uninformed ways. But if we are honest and take a comprehensive look at our upbringing and our early experiences, we can see how some persistent habits in our lives formed long ago are still with us. What am I talking about? How we relate to others and others different than ourselves. The formation of our circles of friends. The creation of our networks. The ultimate membership in our communities. All can be heavily influenced by our childhood experiences. Who we are, who we like, who we are comfortable with, who we trust.....

Remember when we were in junior high (middle school) and then high school? We had to start choosing the groups of friends that would define us and sometimes categorize us. Jock, preppy, brainiac, emo, stoner...the ethnic clusters and any other attributes that could determine where you sat at lunch or who you were seen with. Circle of ceramic friends And once you self-selected or where peers pushed you, it was hard to be a part of multiple cliques that crossed groups. It was especially tough on those who were un-affiliated--the loners. We now know that most of these choices had little impact on our success or future paths. Or did they?

A number of school districts, including Hawthorne California, are attempting to disrupt the formation of these cliques they see as reinforcing stereotypes and even bigotry. Before we discard this as another liberal initiative to have political correctness in our schools, read on. Well established that cliques or friendship circles are essential to the normal development of a kid. You play soccer, therefore you hang with the futbolers. You are academically oriented so you cavort with scholars. You think looks determine success so your crew is "beautiful". etc etc. No program is going to change these natural gravitational and centripetal forces. But taken to the extreme, say in prison, your "clique" is an ethnic gang and you have to maim or kill a rival prisoner as part of your initiation. I am still personally distraught over a white kid I was counseling 30 years ago who had to join an Aryan prison gang that guaranteed his life imprisonment. And today, the sophistication and the segregation by gangs and ethnicity is out of control. Regrettably some of these prison behaviors start to manifest themselves on our school campuses. In diverse communities in LA and other parts of the country, young students may have to bond with their ethnicity over their interests. So segregation around race, income etc starts to show up. Yes, yes, this starts with parents, but our schools are where peer pressure plays out.  

Don't get me wrong, cliques can create structure and reinforce the good and the moral. But they can also do the opposite. 

So back at Hawthorne public schools. These schools are trying gentle and innovative ways to get students to mingle and to connect to different students. I guess early childhood education now includes early networking education--love it! They sponsor "Mix-it-Up Days", a national project sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance Program Mix it upthat encourages social boundary crossing. But also helps many students form new social connections. The disconnected are as worrisome as the exclusively connected. So starting in elementary school, Hawthorne has provided the Mix it Up sessions with good success as reported by LA Times reporter Carla Rivera this week. One student, Paige(11)said she was not able to join groups with the wealthy kids. Shayna, another student, "Before I might have chosen to sit alone rather than with new people because it felt safer." So at an early stage young people recognize and start to internalize where they belong or not.

I hear the exact same things In the workshops I do for adults that have been out of high school for 20 years+!!  Making connections outside of our comfort zones that expand our networks is an elusive goal because of our learned and comfortable habits. Introducing ourselves to people we interact with on a daily basis--like our neighbors or work colleagues, remains a challenge for mysterious reasons. I have written and spoken about the proven health benefits derived from forming diverse relationships that test your thinking and challenge your assumptions. Yet, our habits, our socialization and our own fear keeps our orbit close to the planets we know and further from new discoveries. So, if we don't make an effort to connect to new and different people, our personal and community healths are at stake.

My parents helped me understand how important it was to learn new things and to meet new people. It has never been easy, but the benefits of expanding my horizons, disabusing myself of stereotypes and old falsehoods has kept me going back for more. Never too late to learn a lot from kids and our children. Mixing it up has to be the never ending goals of avoiding the complacency of settling for the status quo of our existing clique or circle of friends, strengthening our sense of connectedness by meeting new people AND rejecting our limited world views as the truth. It all starts by sticking out your hand out and introducing yourself

Thanks for reading. John