ground truth

Ambition to Walk the Talk

How do we become who we say we are? Is aspirational language how we grow into our lives? We often describe ourselves in generous terms. Are we who we say we are?. 

I call myself a social entrepreneur. I say I am one so it is so, right. Not so fast. We are not what we say we are!

We are certainly not what our bios say! :) Footprints-in-The-Sand-

I attended the spectacular Skoll World Forum a couple of weeks ago to meet with like minded people from around the world--so I thought.  

For me it was the Skull Forum, because I felt my cranium get filled up!

In my skull sized kingdom, ala David Foster Wallace, I am pretty good at what I do. A legend in my own mind! I know this is not true but I deceive myself by saying things and going to places where I look good. I joke I have always been in the top 10% of the bottom half of my class. :) Never fully convinced I belong or deserve to be there.

So at the Skoll conference I pushed myself to meet real social entrepreneurs. People who put their careers on the line for their ideas, to help others and solve a problem. It was so refreshing and humbling.

There were some sages on the stage--from Richard Branson to Malala who made me think. But the real impact of the conference was in the aisles and in the conference rooms where I sat with people from all over the planet who are dreaming and doing amazing things. (Did meet some wannabes like me too :)

Martin Burt: Changing the definition and solutions for poverty in Paraguay.

Dina Sherif: Growing the social entrepreneur community to energize the evolution of Cairo, Egypt.

Oren Yakobovich: Exposing human rights violations through innovative surveillance.

Monica Yunus: An extraordinary opera singer, daughter of Muhammad Yunus, who is changing the world through the arts.

They reminded me what social entrepreneurs look like, what they sound like, and what they do. Without role models we have nothing. Great inspiration for what I have to do--where I have to walk. Not to be like them, but to become who I am. Make sense?

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the way is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.

antonio machado

Walking the talk is ultimately about authenticity. Who am I and where am I going? What do I stand for? How do I learn? How do I make a difference? The truths.

Once we get real and stop believing our press releases we have a chance at becoming something. 

Ambition, if it feeds at all,does so on the ambitions of others.  Susan Sontag

If you allow it your ambition is altered by others. Your best ambition is open source and needs inputs and energy. It can not be static. And developing your ambition takes effort. When we are younger we just want more, more opportunities, more growth, more responsibility, more titles, more influence, and more money. As we mature, we realize that more is undefined and this type of amorphous ambitiousness is aimless and meaningless. That we must have purposes that energize us. Our paths will be defined by what we do versus what we want. And when we are fully engaged, wholeheartedly entwined, then we see the benefits of connecting to and learning from others. That our mission is not a solo flight but a community fight. Iterating requires the ideas and inspirations of others, not to get there first but to make progress towards the goals together. 

Walking the talk requires walking. Walking down the path of others, with others. Walking in their shoes. Walking to make progress and to push forward. Talking is never walking. Let your walking do the the talking. 

When you walk you meet people, especially if you are not following a single route, but a meandering path to your ambition. That way you can't just walk with your friends or family. You must walk with new sources of ideas and perspectives. 

When you learn new things you change your path, you alter your gait, you become less certain about your original destination and your ambition grows.

To some this sounds wish-washy and unfocused. But to me and others, it is the path to clarity.

When you go through the turnstile to enter the library of ideas-- to check out every aisle and every book--not to peruse the aisles and books you know, then you will confront new sources of truth and reality. 

Ambition is connecting and ambitiousness is isolating. 

Everyone says they want to change the world. But we all know that saying things and doing things are two entirely different universes. Walking your talk does matter. That's your ambition. Change your talk by walking. 

Think about what you say to yourself and to others. -How you define yourself and your future. Then start walking. 

Thanks for reading. John


Thermodynamic Networking

Energy exists in many different forms, such as light, heat, chemical, and electrical. Energy is the fuel and ability to do work. Thermodynamics is the study and understanding of energy.

The first law of thermodynamics: Energy can not be created or destroyed. But it can be changed from one form to another. The total amount of energy and matter in the universe remains constant, changing from one form to another. 

The second law of thermodynamics states that in the process of energy transfer, some energy will dissipate. This is also commonly referred to as entropy. Entropy is a measure of this dissipation and degradation that leads to disorder and uncertainty. The flow of energy maintains order and life. Entropy wins when organisms cease to take in energy and die.

There is human energy. We convert energy into new forms that fuel us and others. Energy propels us to do our work. We feed off others and they feed off us. Without energy we wither.

We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.  ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Whether we intend it or not we transfer energy. We give and we take. We deposit positive and negative energy knowingly and unwittingly. Energy is our human currency. Some people have great wealth others are incredibly poor. Some enter a room with much and others look vanquished. Some seem to have the gift of increasing the energy around them and others make it disappear like David Copperfield. Positive_energy

I have been increasingly conscious of my own energy and the energy around me. How do I add or take from the environment? Yet, I have found it tough to adjust my own attitude or openness to get beyond just reacting versus surrendering to the energy. What I mean is, I can easily spend most of my energy on my negative thoughts about myself or judging the world around me instead of investing my energy positively into others and the world around me.

What I have found, although not able to replicate it every time, that I can be a positive source of energy and surf off the energy around me. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can be a source of energy for me. By being engaged you can focus the positive energy.  Most days, I fill my tank off others with some to spare. If I do it well I leave my own energy trail. But if I do it in that order, that is, to seek the energy of others before I try and give off my energy, then the energy  is authentic. It's simple, the energy around us is so much more potent and unexplored then the energy within us. The combination, the fusion, the blend of energies is what life is. Not the preservation of our own. Protecting our energy by foolishly doling it out to only those deserving of it is where we get ito a real energy shortage. We need others energy to grow and advance. Energy was meant to share and be transferred. That is Thermodynamic Networking!

I used to think that I should inspire others (give them energy). But when I look to be inspired by those present, that inspires me! 

This is real energy!

I have witnessed many imposters and posers who try to add counterfeit energy. Inauthentic energy. I know this one young man who thinks being "up", smiley face, and positive is ALWAYS good. He is never aware of the context.  He is "happy" no matter what. He puts on a show. It is not only irritating but detrimental. Like a commercial you have seen too many times you know how it ends and you are tired of the message.  I know others who are very energetic--about themselves. So it is positive but ego-centric, which may be the worst of all.

A person functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode typically lead ego-centered, competitive, goal-oriented lives. Overpreoccupied with their past and their future, they tend to have a limited awareness of the present and thus a limited ability to derive satisfaction from ordinary activities in everyday life. They concentrate on manipulating the external world and measure their living standard by the quantity of material possessions, while they become ever more alienated from their inner world and unable to appreciate the process of life. For people whose existence is dominated by this mode of experience no level of wealth, power, or fame will bring genuine satisfaction.  Fritjof Capra, Tao of Physics

But I have also seen the masters, who listen intently, allowing others to lead the conversations and who are better interviewers than 60 Minutes. They tease out the energy in others. They make you feel important even though they are the important one. They have a genuine interest in people and topics. They fill the gaps with attentiveness and eye contact. They are present when most people drift and think of themselves. They are in the moment and care about what is being said before they speak. 

Entropy occurs with selfishness and isolation. It comes when people think their success is their own making. Entropy comes from self deception and denying the energy of others.

So how do we gain and give energy? How do we enhance versus detract from the energy wave around us? How do we submerge our selfish thoughts to learn, explore and connect in meaningful ways? How do we adopt thermodynamic networking to positively invest our energy? How do we see the beauty in others before we think of ourselves?

In the end we neither create or destroy energy. We transfer it either intentionally or unintentionally. If we make an effort to be the source of authentic positive energy, then we can energize our life's purpose and the trajectories of others. 

Thanks for reading. John

  


Suffering Indifference

Total humility comes from when you have nothing. When you are without your status, your stuff, and your pretentions, you are reduced to the real you. Not just being devoid of your material things. But when you have lost your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your hope for the future.  I know I protect myself with many trappings, devices, and artificial comforts. Some of you have been there and know the truth about this basic suffering. I can only imagine this scenario—which means I know really nothing about it. Most of us are fortunate to live far from this level of humility. Far from the bottom or middle of Maslow’s. We take for granted what we have need and want. As a result,  our ability to be compassionate---literally--with suffering—disappears. We are numb to what separates us from the real and genuine feelings of others—especially those in need.

Like me, I am sure you appreciate the opportunities you have been given and the good fortune that has smiled on us. We all know that a few fine twists in our storyline and things would be much different.

It is a brutal world filled with heartbreaking images and ideas. We have to cloak ourselves in emotional Teflon so that we can function, right?

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. - J.K. Rowling

So we become very adept at faking our emotions. We are skilled at pretending to care. Our compassion banks only can dispense so much otherwise we will be bankrupt. We have to use our emotional outlays sparingly—reserve it for the people close to us. Isn’t that right?

Some people say, "I know what you are going through?" “I can only imagine how you are feeling?" “I know what you mean.”

Not sure most people do. We mean well but we are not well meaning. We say these things in the transaction oriented speed of life. We do not have time to care. Few of us have the capacity to engage ourselves emotionally in every tragedy, every hardship, so we get very adroit at feigning sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

Zen Buddhist monks in training have a ritual called takahatsu. These young monks must beg for food on the street to learn their role, to understand who they are, and to learn humility.

So we build our defenses and protect ourselves. We even get uncomfortable when we and/or others show their emotions. We find it hard to look at people who are suffering. We avert our eyes when we see nameless homeless people. As if our eye contact will hurt us. We know in our hearts, that indifference will hurt us more. Blessings

I was struck by this blog by Optimus Outcast, an anonymous film exec who sat on a freeway onramp for a day—his takahatsu. Here is an excerpt from his observations:

Why is it so hard to make eye contact with someone in less fortunate circumstances? Why is it so scary just to look? We lock ourselves away in our fortresses with the openings sealed tight. A you-can-sleep-peacefully-at-night guarantee that the outer edges will be kept safely at bay. We will never be required to be uncomfortable. Our cars, our houses, our offices all offer these qualities. But, then if you think about, so does a coffin.

Maybe the scary part isn’t just to look. The scary part is to look and then look away.  A reminder that, in all of our professed capabilities, sometimes we are still helpless to change things. If we look away, is this our own cardboard sign that reads, “I have given up.”?

I am a born sucker. I take some pride that I have not lost all, but I have lost a lot, of my trust in strangers.  I give time and money to almost anyone. I have incredible and disastrous stories of my unsuccessful attempts to help others. I was regaling some colleagues about how I have been duped by panhandlers.  This resulted in a spirited discussion with a colleague who said, "There is no doubt what happens when you give a panhandler money. No doubt." She won't give panhandlers money because she is convinced that ALL panhandlers are addicts of some type. The money goes straight to drugs or alcohol.

I understand this logic. And I know that it is mostly true. But this logic becomes part of the thickness of our Teflon coating. We begin to make generalizations about “those people”. But don’t we need as much pathos as we do logos? I also believe that we cannot dismiss an entire group because of a theory, even a “factual theory”.  Because we are wrong too many times. I have seen and continue to seek out the people who have beat the odds. They renew my faith in the great potential of all people. The hundreds of death row inmates who have been exonerated through the Innocence Project. The countless kids from the ghetto who have succeeded in school and life. The online teacher I met who typed with her toes because she has no hands.

But how much effort should we expend to save the few? Remember the old story about saving the starfish? It does make a difference to the one.  StarfishBoy

Sometimes it is easier for us to give up on each other than a product. How many times has a product or service not lived up to the hype or advertising? I know. Yet we still buy. Maybe a bit more warily and carefully. But we buy.

How much of our humanity dies when we come to these conclusions that ALL of somebody is not good or able to be helped or have ulterior motives? 

We lose a little of ourselves every time we think and act this way.

We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.  Thich Nhat Hanh

In my professional world of philanthropy, we talk about those who need our help. We rarely talk to those we want to help. It's crazy. Our ideas become so sterilized from reality. So intellectual. So safe from the truth. 

How do we renew our sense of reality by visiting the suffering we are trying to address or lessen? How do we truly get into the shoes of our colleagues, neighbors, brothers and sisters? How do we help our network by allowing ourselves to suffer with them---to have compassion? To listen, to learn and to love. To have the vulnerability and humility to know.

I write this not to preach but to confess. I write this not to inflict guilt but to remind. I write this to help me suffer with you.

Thanks for reading. John


Avoid Career Alzheimers--Reconnect to Your Purpose

Through luck, fate and my own assertiveness, I meet incredible leaders and people who have achieved success. In these encounters they have said things that have altered my life. They have mentored me. Things I adopted as models for my own trajectory and just as often, things that frightened me. I have learned as much from those I want to emulate as from those I want to not be like. Just as in art you gravitate to the positive spaces because of the negative spaces. People's lives have become my yin and yang of life. Yin yang

Here are several of my favorite true encounters (some details were altered to protect the innocent):

  • After losing the vote to become Prime Minister of his country, he was stripped of his executive privileges, "How in the @&!# did I think I could run this country, I didn't even know what it costs to park in my building." 
  • 6 months before he was fired, this prominent Div 1 coach said to me, "I don't have time to go to practices as much as I should." 
  • After declaring bankruptcy, this owner of a chain of restaurants told me, "It had been a long time since I had eaten at one of my restaurants." 
  • A colleague of mine worked for a hyper wealthy family and was seeking permission to spend $100,000. She was told, "Why are we wasting time on this? I made this much money in the time we have been talking."

"Success" can breed an over confidence that can ironically lead to an utter disconnection from the very work and people that generated the success. That form of arrogance almost always leads to disaster.

Every week I meet executives and managers who have early onset of what I call Career Alzheimers. These are people who are getting tired (not necessarily old!) of their work. Yes, we all want less hassle, fewer people issues, and more theoretical work. Here's the rub. Once you lose connection with the customer (not the data), the staff (not the metrics), the community (not the view from your office), you have lost your way. You have Career Alzheimers!

Here's my mythical wikipedia post for Career Alzheimers:

Career Alzheimers (CA) is a common form of professional dementia. It worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to career termination. Although Career Alzheimers develops differently for every individual, there are many common symptoms. Early symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be 'age-related'. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering what they love about their job. When CA is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with telltale statements that rely too heavily on abstract concepts, theories, and metrics demonstrating a growing disconnection from real things and people. Some show confusion, irritability, mood swings, trouble with language, especially concerning their passion for their work. As the sufferer declines they often withdraw further and further from the day to day work, from colleagues and from the society. Gradually, these conditions worsen often leading to end of career. Since the disease is different for each individual, predicting how it will affect the person is difficult. CA develops for an unknown and variable amount of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years. The cause and progression of CA are not well understood. My unscientific research indicates that the disease is associated with the increasing depersonalization of the success metrics of work. Fortunately, CA is curable. Self awareness is the first step and then to seek mentoring help to confirm the disorder and treatment. Treatment is simple—take steps to humanize your work. Get out of your office. Get tactile, visceral, palpable stories about the solutions you are providing, unmet need, nuances and challenges of the execution of the work your department/team/company does. Regular doses of the humanity of your work will immediately combat CA and can keep it from reoccurring. 

I love that Warren Buffett drives his own car and talks to his shareholders and people in general. He may be elderly but he is still grounded to the basics of what makes him a success. He will never have CA!

Carve out more time to meet with the beneficiaries of your work. Make scheduled and unscheduled visits to partners, customers, offices, and even competitors. It will shift your perspective every single time. It will energize you! It will trigger a small and sometimes large reminder of the purpose of your work that too often gets boiled down to a "bottomline" that has sucked all of the humanity out of our existence. Yes, we need to measure things, but we also have to remember the measure of our purpose. 

Self diagnose. Ask people you trust. Early signs? Late stages? Re-engage or retire--and find something new to reinvigorate you. Never too late. You hold the cure. 

Thanks for reading. John 


Mentor First: Pay it Forward

The most popular radio station in the world is WII-FM. WII-FM is shrill and repetitive. WII-FM is What's In It For Me. We have to  turn down the volume and listen to the real music of our lives--Your heart, your mind, and the people around you. Yes you have needs, but you still have much more to offer. We all want and need things but the best way to receive is to give. That's correct, your mom was right again! Same goes for mentoring.  Pay_it_forward_
Almost everyone I talk to wants to find a mentor, the "right" mentor, a "better" mentor. They crave advice and counsel to help them advance their lives. Most people expect this new improved and very special mentor to point them in the right direction and provide them with the answers. Those of us who mentor others know that's not what usually happens . Mentoring is a two-way conversation that helps one another discover the truth--the truth that lies within. So that's why everyone should be mentoring others as much as they seek mentoring. Once you put others before yourself. Once you practice what you preach. Once you teach, you understand the role of the student.  The world comes into focus as you are not waiting for a mentor but helping someone else. You take control again. You drive instead of waiting to be picked up. That's why I advocate a lifestyle of mentoring. It is not passive or dependent. It is pro-active and direct.
Choosing to mentor is to choose to help others, to engage others, thereby helping oneself.
 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
 
Always give without an expectation. That is the cardinal rule of this lifestyle of mentoring and networking. And the returns to you will be plentiful.
  • A cousin seeks your advice
  • A friend's daughter wants to discuss college options
  • A long time colleague at work needs your help, but has never asked for it
  • One of your best friends is stuck in life
  • A former employee has a friend that wants to discuss careers

All of these are warm sources of need. Make the time to help, mentor and share your wisdom. 

No matter what stage you are in your life, there is another you can mentor. Someone you care about who could use your perspective. Someone you are going to help be accountable to themselves. Accountable to their own goals and dreams. A mentor is not the source of all knowledge, they have experience, perspective and the will to be candid.  Not just kind and encouraging. Not just helpful and sensitive. Not the type that winces and cringes on the  inside and smiles on the outside when we hear others say crazy things. Not phony nice. We need to be a bit more intolerant of the BS and the loose language that comes from people we care about. We need to help others rein in their weak plans and weaker efforts. Most of all we need to be truthmeisters.

My best mentors reflect me, my words, my goals like an HD mirror. They show me the good, the bad and the ugly that I emit. I get to see and hear myself like never before with much better clarity.
 
The mentor always gets the most. Because to mentor is to tell the truth and to tell the truth is to learn the truth. Mentoring is the hard work of listening and reflecting. It is not about answers. It is about understanding. And that's why it is the most rewarding.
 
Articulating advice and doling out the truth is not credible or relevant if you don't live by it. That's why the mentor always gains, because the act of advising another reinforces your values, your behaviors and your goodness. Mentoring is about vulnerability. Mentoring is not the coach who says "do what I say and not what I do." Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

Still doubt the mentor is rewarded more?
Recent research now shows that those that mentor achieves far greater benefits. Mentors make substantially more money, are more successful and the mentees are more likely to help others--mentoring creates more mentoring.
Mentors pay it forward.
 
A quick review of the benefits of mentoring: 
  1. You always get more--including pay and promotion!
  2. The mentee benefits
  3. The mentee helps others
  4. The world benefits from people more connected that help one another

Any questions? :)

Mentoring is not a service YOU provide--it is the human act of helping one another that advances YOUR life. 

Mentor first, then seek mentoring. Pay it forward and it will always come back to you.

Thanks for reading. John


Ground Truth and Economic Diversity

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.  ― Jane Wagner

I have learned the hard way that the further you get from, what a colleague of mine calls "ground truth", the less capable you are to make decisions that are relevant and meaningful. This is pretty intuitive. Yet all of us consciously and unconsciously remove ourselves from the "ground" of our businesses, our neighborhoods and our communities. The consequences present us as individuals and our society with serious challenges. 

And among all of the disconnects from ground truth, money and success can separate us from reality more than anything else. The more money we make and can remove us from the worlds of needs and realities of the people and families "below" us. We tend to reside in a band of commonality that surrounds us with people more like us than not. Again, not driven by conscious choices, but by the centrifugal forces of life. Our economic profile will largely determine where we go to school, where we live, who we meet, who are friends become, and shape the worldview of our kids.  Velvet rope

Michael Sandel  in his book, What Money Can't Buy, discusses how these centrifugal forces are powered. Sandel says, "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common lifeWhat matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life." But what he calls the "skyboxification" of our lives is minimizing if not eliminating the chances people of very different economic means interact. If you can afford it, you don't stand in lines any more or have a special line based on your customer status or premium payment. Fast passes at Disneyland. exclusive floors at hotels, American Express ticket perks...... This is becoming the exception rather than the rule.

I wrote a piece for LA Magazine online a few years ago about the Brentwood Triangle. About the bubbles we live in the protect us from seeing and experiencing the needs in our communities. 

Our ability to govern, to solve problems, meet customer needs, and run successful organizations is increasingly dependent in understanding the totality of our society--from top to bottom. Nearly impossible to do anything relevant from an ivory tower or a Brentwood Triangle.

How Diverse Is Your Network?

Well established that people with more open minds and with networks with more diverse perspectives live longer--up to 9 years! Maybe the most important attribute to diversity is economic. Clearly people with very different net worths and income have different realities. The collision of these realities is where truth emerges.

Ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation and religion can provide different perspectives. However, I believe economic diversity is the most potent and the most insightful of perspectives. Why do universities spend so much money on financial aid? Because they believe that diversity and especially economic diversity is essential for a complete education. Education happens in the hallways and corridors of life. Who you meet, disagree with, compare life experiences with, matters at school and for the rest of our lives.

But we intentionally and unintentionally limit or eliminate diversity. The "best" neighborhoods, schools are rarely  chosen for their economic diversity. Hanging out with, living near people "below" our standard of living is perceived by many as unimportant and to others dangerous. Generally, it is not a priority. 

Therefore you have to make efforts and take conscious steps to stay in touch. You have to build and nurture a diverse network. It rarely just happens. In fact the opposite is more true. We keep and maintain networks even when they are ineffective and unfulfilling. Habits are hard to break. 

Evaluating and constructing your network is neither an "affirmative action" process or akin to the selection of Noah's ark passengers. You gravitate to people through your worlds of contacts and don't reject people who "don't make as much as you." People's economic status in life should not exclude them from your network---People you meet through your kids, at church, at work, on the golf course, and through others. 

I can hear some you getting defensive. I don't doubt your compassion or your intention to be open to meet and embrace others. But take a hard look at your network, your neighbors, your kids' closest friends, and your own close friends. How diverse is it? Economically? How insulated are you from reality? Is it good, good enough? 

I remember when my aunt told me about when she pulled her kids out of an exclusive private school with great academics and little ethnic and economic diversity. Like all middle class parents they made sacrifices to provide the best for their mixed race children. In the sixth grade, my cousins were asked repeatedly about their "stock portfolios." No one in their family had equity investments! But at this school it was part of the casual playground conversation. Then my cousins came home singing, "Ching Chong Chinaman!" They never heard what they thought was a catchy song before and did not know it was directed at them. They left that school and my uncle and aunt got more involved in the selection of the next school choice.

Your network reflects you, where you are and where you are going. Stay grounded to the truth.

Thanks for reading. John