neutrality

What Would the Wolf Do?

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  John Muir 

This video beautifully and inspiringly tells the story of trophic cascades, basically where the top of the food chain is disrupted and the changes that follow. In this case, the re-introduction of the wolves into Yellowstone National Park dramatically shifted the course of the entire eco-system from the migration pattern of the elk to the height of the forest to the direction of the river. A great and visual lesson on the unknown consequences of changing things in our environment, in our worlds. We know everything is connected to everything else. We intellectually understand that at the atomic level we are in an infinite sea of life. We are part of this connectedness. What we do matters. There are immediate and unseen impacts from our actions and our in-actions that reverberate out and into the future. 

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. - Mother Teresa 

We also know that we have to do what we were meant to do. We can not hold back. Yes to be fulfilled and to feel purposeful. But we need to do it because of the ripple effect. The waves it sends out to others. We want to help others. We do. That's why I have advocated a lifestyle of networking and mentoring to help others. If we make it part our lives, part of the way we think and act, then it is not special, it is routine. And the ripples reverberate your righteousness. 

When we are wolves seeking our habitat and doing what wolves need to do. We change the world.

When we are not wolves we suppress nature, and the world changes anyway, often without us. 

Intuitively we think we know what happens when we do something. The cause and effect. We naively imagine a linear relationship of our actions and the intended consequences. But what really happens and what happens if we do nothing?

The world without wolves?

But too often we wait. Wait for a sign, for the "right time". We contemplate our navels and consider our options. We take chances or we balk at choices. We embrace the fear or we regret it later. We show up or don't. We say what's on our minds or we shrink from the truth.

There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.  James Baldwin

Consider, if we do not act or speak or assist someone. Consider what happens if we do not build relationships, connect, network and mentor each other. Consider the cascade of events that would happen if you do or do not.

We have many excuses. We tend to think about obsess about what will go wrong. How I will be embarrassed. The inconvenience of the time. 

What if:

If I did not talk to this woman on a plane I would not be married and have three kids!

If I did not take a pay cut for a job I loved I would not be in this career.

If my mother had not encouraged me to be a YMCA counselor I may not have become a Big Brother.

If I did not become a Big Brother I would not be writing this blog.

I am sure you have  a longer and better list, if you think about it. We can think of these as special even magical moments. They are. And they aren't. The more you do the more that these moments occur. And best of all it triggers consequences well beyond you. 

We know your very presence makes a difference. But we forget. 

You avoid talking about politics, religion, or anything controversial or revealing about you, for fear of judgment or being politically incorrect. And your voice is silenced. People that look to you for guidance hear nothing and they adopt silence and neutrality as a mode of living. And your silence begets silence.

It is the slipperiest of slopes. You do less and less to protect what you have.

What our peers do matters. We crowd source. We pride ourselves on individualism but we can default to the lemmings. We follow and fall for what others around us do.

Maybe you need a different crowd. 

We have to be ourselves. Our best selves. Our most generous, compassionate and empathetic selves.

You agree to mentor someone even though "you are busy" and there is a cascade.

What happens to everything around and after you, if you are not you?

Nature abhors a vacuum. So when you fail to act, to show up, to do what you want to do the world changes anyway. The cascade of events that follow your absence is different. 

All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.  Octavia Butler 

But will you be the change that starts a beautiful cascade of events that you can not predict and only your presence generates? 

It all starts with giving without an expectation. 

The future is helping children you will never know. 

Give up on your dream and your instincts and you mess with the cosmos. 

WWWD? The world needs your ripples. 

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 


7 Phrases That Should Be Banned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

 


Breaking the addiction to Zoloft for our souls

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. H L Mencken attributed.

Used in the 1960 Oscar nominated film, Inherit the Wind, where a newspaper editor says, "It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

I think this is everyone's job. This is why we exist. To care for those suffering and to make those not suffering to care.

Harvard released a study that shows that the protesters for the Occupy movement represent the top 1% of the world's population in wealth! We are all too comfortable!

More than ever we medicate our soul to avoid feeling for others. In order to focus on our needs we turn a blind eye to those in need.  

Nature abhors a vacuum. None exist.

Our  souls despise emptiness. Yet many seem to be.

We fool ourselves into to thinking we are caring and empathetic. We wear colored ribbons, and stand when the military is present, we buy products that support our causes, and we talk/complain about the needs of the poor and down trodden. These are all commendable gestures but we know they are insufficient. We know in our hearts that we should do more. We know that our actions are passive and not confronting the real problems. We make excuses that the issues are complex, overwhelming, and beyond our expertise. So we do nothing. It is zoloft for the soul. Each time we fool ourselves by doing or thinking something "good" we take a swig of anti-depressants to numb us from the reality. Numb is dumb. And we know it.Zoloft

We know that all problems are addressed one person, one family, one, neighborhood, and one community at a time. Taht one person can make a difference. But we can easily hide in the shadows of the enormity of the issue or problem. "My kid's school is bad, but it is the system that fails our children, so my involvement with the PTA will do nothing." "Homelessness is primarily caused by mental illness, so what can I do?" "I really do want to volunteer, but I am very busy right now." I remember asking a man on my board at Big Brothers Big Sisters, why he was involved. He said. "I am here for the kids." I told him none of the kids will ever be at a board meeting you have to come to our events, to the schools, or to our offices during the work day to see the kids. He told me he was too busy for that. Our soul cries out for a more fulfillment and more humanity in our lives and yet we pretend, procrastinate and hesitate.

The map is not the territory.  Alfred Korcybski

We have to deep dive into these issues we care about to understand them. We have to pursue them with passion and compassion. We have to see and experience the issue first hand. What is the truth about my kid's school? Or about the homeless in my area? Which organizations are devoted to this issues? How can I help? What are others doing? Does my charitable giving follow my heart? We have to answer and pursue these questions with our network and our mentors. We have to advance our thoughts to test our convictions and our commitments.

We talk more about the next product we are going to buy, the video we saw,  complain about our dental benefits, or feed the rumor mill with our gossip. All of these diversions are part of the way we medicate ourselves.

Many people I meet talk about "helping others" or "changing the world" like it is a European vacation they will take upon retirement. They envision themselves having more time and flexibility in this utopian time ahead. That's when they will take the off ramp from the medicated freeway and put what they care about in the center of their lives. We know it is a lie. I get so depressed when I hear these false promises to become more altruistic and caring in a future time. It makes me want to take Zoloft, but  don't. :)

What people don't understand is we don't have much time. If you are 25 or 65, your time to define your life by your deeds and not just your thoughts is limited. You have to care AND act on those feelings now. Maybe you feel guilty. Maybe you are "doing enough". The truth is each of us can and should do more. We have to detox our souls from the comforting meds of avoidance and emptiness and replace them with heavy doses of the the realities of the opportunities to reduce the suffering that surrounds us.

The irony is once we do this, we fill our soul and we become more engaged in our lives. We meet people who share this lifestyle. We become more successful because our lives are more aligned with who we are, they become more reality based and less numb. We do it not just to comfort the afflicted but to afflict our souls with the comfort of truly being human.

 Thanks for reading. John


Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading. John


Networking through the silence of neutrality

When things are utterly quiet. When you truly hear the silence, it can be one of the most peaceful and tranquil moments. Quieting the relentless noise in our minds, averting the cacophony of messages that attack us everyday, and letting our minds go blank are the most illuminating moments for me. Some call this meditation. Others name it reflection and introspection. Whatever the label it is a source of energy to me. 

Some of you know I hosted a live weekly radio program for 10 years at KPCC here in LA. J0440402 One of the things you learn in radio is dead air is deadly. Silence is a taboo. Makes perfect sense for the broadcasting medium. Listeners are there to be engaged, and silence, while a potentially powerful, is fatal in radio. Some people translate this idea into the way they talk and communicate. They don't listen and their mouth motors away. There is this nervous need or assertive assumption that they have to fill the space. Even, if they do not know what they are talking about the words keep coming as if their mouths will catch up with their ideas--always a dangerous move. The resulting monologue may be more fatal than silence, because your audience's attention span shrinks, especially when the onslaught is a rambling wreck. 

Been interviewing people for lots of jobs. And the Gong Show of having the vaudeville acts come in to audition is always fascinating. 250px-Gongshowtitle You remember the show where Chuck Barris would strike the gong to mercifully dismiss the untalented contestant (sometimes I wish I had a gong!). In this job-interview radio show like environment, I serve as the host and ask a few questions and then see what happens. Some candidates just blather on wandering around the planet to see if some of the random words and thoughts they express will return to the continent where the question resides. I know nerves play into it. But if you are semi-prepared AND you are listening then this fire hose approach to watering the daisies could be avoided. The most entertaining part is that they are not even listening to themselves and not knowing they have digressed, they never ask me, "Did that answer your question?" I rarely follow-up with questions if I have to pick through the pile of arbitrariness. Not worth the time. So I ask my next question to see if the brain and the mouth of the candidate sync up. If not, I ask if they have questions. About 50% of the time this is a perplexing question. Hard to believe that candidates have no questions. And that's when one of the last finishing nails goes into their shiny coffins.

Back on silence. When you make a habit of choosing silence in networking or meeting settings, you can be labeled shy but even arrogant or ignorant. Shyness evaporates as an excuse after people get to know you. Then silence can be interpreted in pretty damaging ways to your rep and brand. When you do not speak, your silence can communicate volumes.J0430507

Here's what Harvard Professor Leslie Perlow says:

"Silence is associated with many virtues: modesty, respect for others, prudence, decorum. Thanks to deeply ingrained rules of etiquette, people silence themselves to avoid embarrassment, confrontation, and other perceived dangers. There's an old saying that sums up the virtues of silence: "Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to talk and be known as one." The social virtues of silence are reinforced by our survival instincts. Many organizations send the message—verbally or non verbally—that falling into line is the safest way to hold on to our jobs and further our careers. The need for quiet submission is exaggerated by today's difficult economy, where millions of people have lost their jobs and many more worry that they might. A Dilbert cartoon poignantly expresses how pointless—and perilous—many people feel it is to speak out. Dilbert, the everyman underling, recognizes that a senior executive is making a poor decision. "Shouldn't we tell her?" he asks his boss, who laughs cynically. "Yes," the boss replies. "Let's end our careers by challenging a decision that won't change. That's a great idea." 

Couple of days ago a former of colleague made a confession to me, "I regret to this day that I did not speak up. (3 years ago) If I did our employer could have averted that disaster." 

Yes silence is safe. Not rocking the boat can assure smoother sailing but somebody better say something about the icebergs. In times like these, adding value to your jobs, doing more than we would usually do, is better job insurance than sheer neutrality. J0437293

Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality” 

 John F. Kennedy

In my opinion, choosing what I call the stealth syndrome as a career strategy, where you silently keep your head down and stay productive, will relegate you to anonymity. And when push comes to shove, no one remembers you and what you look like. 

Enjoy the silences to calm your mind and energize your action orientation towards your goals. But pay attention, listen to what is being said, and contribute your ideas to the conversation. That's the best way to avoid the labels of ignorance, arrogance, or irrelevance.

Thanks for reading. John