Your Lotus Flower

Sometimes you have to travel far away to understand oneself. We need the perspective, the less cluttered and noisy view of ourselves to see ourselves. Part of it is the true value of comparative evaluation. You know, sizing up what you have or want against others. There is one thing to see someone confined to a wheelchair, which is so different than imagining you are in that chair! Making that little switch triggers a different level of empathy and insight. In the end, how we view what we have, what has been given to us, the so-called hand we are dealt, and make the most out of it? Even the bad stuff. (Say more John I don't know what you mean) Trying to avoid the hackneyed lemonade bromide. Ooops there it is :)  Myanmar Schwe Dagon

I had the great fortune to visit the emerging third world democracy of Myanmar recently. (second most isolated country behind N Korea just a few years ago) One of the most beautiful and brutal places I have ever seen. Immersed in these stark contrasts from my life in Los Angeles, I was pulled into a different mindset. I think the overwhelming vistas of sacred edifices, wrapped in punishing poverty and surrounded by the grace of a welcoming people opened my mind. I know all of these elements exist everywhere, if I saw them, but parachuting into a new environment flips a perspective switch. At first I resisted these forces of self examination to stay on task with my trip. But I quickly surrendered to these flowing thoughts and tried to allow them to take me on a parallel journey.

I know that my first world guilt and privilege were drivers here. But I also know that the mind craves the space for thought and reflection. The incredible fusion of this mindset with the inputs from our trek through the Burmese landscape made this trip memorable and meaningful.

Way too much to say here but want to share several images and ideas that continue to energize me.

Myanmar smilesThe Myanmar smile: Everyone in Myanmar. I mean every single person we encountered was friendly, warm, and open to us. There was a avalanche of authenticity. People saying "minglabar" (hello/welcome in Burmese) with true sincerity. I know this sounds naive, and I know that perhaps some of the people were disingenuous. But I felt I was in their presence. It was hard work to try and reciprocate. Part of my detox from the world of being on guard, of the hard bubble of personal space and the root of distrusting others until proven innocent. In my mind, I try to be open to others, but my struggles to receive and return the emotional and spiritual generosity from Myanmar revealed my true potential. 

In a meditation session I attended in Myanmar, our leader asked us to sense everything about our bodies--but he cautioned "don't react to anything you sense, observe yourself from the outside--let the monkeys play!" Let the monkeys play. Let things happen and see them without judgment. Quiet the mind and let the monkeys play..... 

How can I be more trusting, more welcoming, more open to others? How can I initiate this trust this warmth and this openness? 

LotusThe Lotus Flower: I have always been drawn to the lotus flower. The beautiful bloom atop a glassy body of water. But like most things I knew nothing more about the lotus.

We spent many days on waterways, rivers and lakes and I was re-introduced to the lotus flower. Our guide Czarina made a comment that changed my view of this plant. She said, "The lotus  draws its strength from the dirtiest water, transforming it into a beautiful flower." (these waters were some of the most polluted I have ever seen) What an amazing metaphor for life. How do we convert the pools of negativity that surround our lives into beautiful blossoms by tapping into our inner reservoir of spirit and talent? We all sit in our own pools of impurities--self-made, God-given, environmental--and how do we we convert our circumstances into a thing of beauty? How do we truly embrace "our dirt" own it but also appreciate it to move us forward? For without our dirt we would not understand what we want. Without the dirt we would not have to struggle and suffer. And without suffering we can not live a meaningful life. 

I googled the lotus flower and learned that the lotus flower is associated with purity and beauty in Buddhism and Hinduism. The ancient Egyptians scholars observed that in the night-time the lotus closed its flowers and sank into the water, and was reborn the next day. In actual fact the lotus slowly emerges from a pond and then blooms in the morning until mid-afternoon. And the lotus does thrive in murky/dirty waters.

The lotus emerges from the pollution to be faithful to its beauty and purpose. To open to the sun gracing the world,  like a humble brag,  "Here's what I do!"

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

A smile, your smile. A lotus flower, your lotus flower. How do we take our great capacity to love one another and share it? How can we be more open to being changed? How do we let the monkeys play? How do we fully embrace our dirt to display our beauty? 


Thanks for reading. John

Losing our minds by getting stuck

As we get older we tell jokes about "still being upright", or "nice to be seen" or "still breathng".

We know the moment we can't move is when we are dead. We all know about that many sharks have to swim to breathe and live. Humans stop moving and their spirit can die.  Our ability to see ourselves evolve, adapt, learn, and engage is essential to living and to life.

I meet zombies all of the time. Lifelike forms who go through the motions. They are usually good people who do no harm but lack purpose and deeper fulfillment. Many of them have given up on the future. Life is what happens and they make the best of that. Getting by and getting through the day, week, the objective. All of the obstacles, shortcomings, and challenges have beaten them into a corner of settling for "what it is". It is sad when you see this in a boomer but depressing when you see it in a 27 year old!

I am obsessed by understanding how people untangle themselves from their own web of self-imposed constraints. We all lose so much energy, talent, and ultimate creativity in our society because of this malady.

Daniel Pink studies what motivates us in his terrific book, Drive. He said that we all need Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to keep us motivated and moving.

Po Bronson who chronicled his interviews with almost 1000 successful people in his book, What should I do with my life? He found that all obstacles in people's lives were surmountable. That with very exceptions they were excuses.

Sharks teach us much about the life giving forces of "movement". The need to keep active,  open,  and curious about what lies ahead. Moving to connect to people and ideas. The need to renew one's spirit and goals by forging ahead.

Sea squirts, of all creatures, teach us something fascinating about human behavior. Sea quirts are these simple opaque tube-like tunicates or urochordates that have been swimming in the oceans since the Jurassic era. They swim in schools and like sharks filter water through their bodies to live and survive. But sea squirts do something bizarre, oh so it would seem. They find a place to attach themselves as a group. They then proceed to digest their own brain and nervous system because they will no longer need them! Now attached to a rock or coral, they can survive by merely filtering water without thinking (not that the sea squirts were solving algebra equations or having deep thoughts!)Sea squirts Bluebell

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. Once attached to a comfortable place, way of thinking, surrounded by others who are almost identical, the need for a brain and new thoughts are rendered obsolete. I know and have met permanent and temporary sea squirt humans! People who settle. People who give up. Non-profit board members who eat their brains once the meeting commences. People who are so stuck in their ways, their assumptions, habits, and their networks----part of them dies. Their spirit and energy about change and the future goes into a deep sleep. Their minds are not engaged or necessary!

For the sea squirt, eating your brain et al is an irreversible act. Hope you like the rock selected because that will be your final resting place! But for us humanoids, we still have brains and can choose to keep moving our lives forward. Whether you are 40 or 60 you have a lot more to give and live for. Certainly if you are 27 or 37, you can not be stuck yet. 

Are you a sea squirt? Have you lost your mind because you are stuck? Have you settled into your piece of coral and decided that this is all that life can be?!

One thing I have seen is that the network, the school you swim with, can hold you back. Maybe its time you evaluated the people around you. Maybe you are holding yourself back. Maybe you need a different perspective. Maybe you need different priorities. Maybe more connection to your values and loved ones.

You are not done yet. You still have a bunch of ideas about the future, your future, your family's future, your community's future. We need you to move. Don't eat your brain. :)

As you can see a sea squirt can be quite beautiful. But as we all know, true beauty lies within and we can not allow that beauty and potential to wither because we are anchored to an immobile rock.

Thanks for reading. John

A Fresh Perspective: Swastikas, Uncle Tom and a Nerd

This last week has been a series of situations and experiences that have given me pause. I pride myself in helping people get a new perspective on their challenges and opportunities. The idea is to jolt people out of their semi conscious existence of accepting the status quo and the great inclination of playing not to lose rather than going for it. In these attempts at guidance and direction, I often am the recipient of the jolts, the slap upside the head that wakes ME up. This occurs when I listen to myself :) or mostly when the reactions are poignant or unexpected. A few examples:

  1. Swastika Attack----I regularly show the Sanskrit swastika and describe its 3000 year old origin. I describe how an evil man in Germany bastardized this beautiful symbol for his horrific purposes 90 years ago. We let him change this ancient sign of providence and good fortune into his concocted meaning. I do this to disrupt the audience's thinking and assumptions. After my talk, a very nice man told me how much he enjoyed my talk but he was very offended by my "lighthearted use of the swastika". He became quite emotional and would not let me speak. He told me to stop using this in my presentations. As he left me he said, "it would be as if you used an image of little black sambo!" I apologized for upsetting him and said that I did not understand the last reference as he disappeared from earshot. Whoa, did I shift his perspective or did he shift mine? Clearly I never intended to offend. But I always want people to question their perspectives in order to advance their opportunities. Should the swastika be banned from the land of appropriateness because it was usurped by a psychotic maniac? Maybe more to the point, should one complaint make me change my speech and my public ideas? 
  2. Uncle Tom's Lesson---I attended my nearly 94 year old uncle's memorial and celebration of life. It was a moving and special set of remembrances that were both inspirational and insightful. His story was the quintessential American immigrant story of great obstacles and great triumphs. With humble beginnings my Uncle Tom built a farm business with his brothers from scratch. He served his country in the army as part of the famous 442 infantry unit. He endured discrimination and intolerance for most of his professional life. Yet he not only succeeded but he thrived. His success was so much more than the financial and reputational. He lived a full life. He made his extended family a priority. He enjoyed his passions. He had no regrets when he left us. My cousin, his daughter, was very pleased about the day and the event. She was disappointed that some told her that they wish her father was still here. She asked them why? How much longer should his life have been to be the right length? My mother spoke about her brother and said something that got everyone's attention, "Death truly awakens life."  While I think this is true I wonder why lifeUncle Tom can't awaken life? My sister commented that no matter how much we know someone we never Know them. I agree emphatically. And we never will. The perspective of a sister, a spouse, an employee, a friend are all different. They are all incomplete stories of the story. That's what makes us each unique and different. The questions is, "Did we know what we should have known?" Did we have the deeper conversations to understand one another in our respective roles? This is the stuff of regrets and the source of life's questions. At the end of this wonderful day, we learned that Uncle Tom Saburo Obata tended to his relationships with the same relish and rigor he did with his crops. He woke up everyday to nurture and grow the people around him. Now that's a life to hold up and admire. 
  3. Nerd Network---I attended a community foundation conference last week and went down to the exhibit area to see if there were any vendors I wanted to meet. I spotted a software system called the Common Grant Application. I liked the booth and the ideas it conveyed. I introduced myself to a techie, long haired guy in his 50s who looked and spoke full NERD. I know this because he referenced Farside and Star Trek in the first 3 minutes! He connected with my inner nerd. Jeff was a knowledgeable guy and I quickly sensed his expertise but also his wisdom--he gets it! As he was deftly demo-ing his product, it was clear he knew his customer--both the grantor and the grantee of funds. I started to ask questions about his background and his experiences. He would say superficial things like "I am just a coder" or "I worked in the tech field". I have learned that humbleness is often a disguise or a diversion. So I pressed on. I learned in our 60 minute conversation sales pitch, that he has had his own foundation for years. That his development of this product grew out of his frustrations with the grant application process foisted on grantees by well meaning foundations. He finally revealed to me that he was essentially the former CTO of Intel! Just a coder?!! He retired years ago formed his foundation and and evolved into a philanthropist with a deep understanding of the grantees. We meet people everyday and never know who they are. We work with, live next door to, and talk to people we never know. Every person you meet is a fortune cookie with a set  of connections, wisdom, life's lessons and history that could change our own fortune. 
Another eventful week of reminding me of how precious life is. That we can not measure our life in years but in the relationships that are meaningful to both. That we barely know the people we are with. And even when someone tries to stop you, you listen and learn and then press on with your mission. Life is a journey of connections, reflections, and a constantly informed perspective that makes us want to be better. 
Thanks for reading. John

The Small World of Trash Talking

Thanks for sharing your small world stories. All of us are witnessing how we are interconnected to one another. Basically, if we make the effort then we will discover  connections that we share with people we just met or people we get to know better.

If you play basketball or any competitive sport, then you are familiar with "trash talking." It is the banter that happens during the competition to unnerve your opponent. It runs the gamut from irritating to plain rude to profane. The classic is uttered right when you are going to shoot the ball, your defender yells and taunts you, "WHAT YOU GOT?! "YOU GOT NOTHING!" I have played basketball off and on for 40 years. I have stories of great shots, broken noses, and memorable verbal exchanges--some of them just too obscene to print here!Kobe_kg_trash_talk-150x150

One early morning I was going to my regular pick up game at UCLA's venerable Men's Gym upstairs courts upstairs. Bunch of has beens, athletic department weekend warriors, a few coaches, and an occasional former player would join us. Ususally we would start with the first 8-10 guys who showed up, pick teams and start playing. It was a civil game that could get physical with plenty of verbal exchanges. One morning seven of us we were warming up shooting and stretching waiting for the next player to start our game. There was this young Latino kid shooting across the way, struggling to dribble and shoot. He was using a rubber ball that had Union 76 emblazoned on it. He was not a serious player nor familiar to us so we ignored him. A few minutes passed and we were still looking for the eighth fman so we could go full court instead of 3 on 3 half court. One of my court colleagues, a feisty and chatty African American Muslim named Mandala, pokes me on the shoulder and sticks his face into mine and mockingly says, "Hey why don't you ask your Cuz'n to play!" as he points to the rubber ball boy across the gym. "Then we will have 8! Yeah ask your Cuz'n!" Several others laughed and looked at me for a response. "That's not my cousin, I don't know him", I meekly replied. A bunch of them pointed at the young Latino brother in the other corner who had missed several layups in a row. So I called over to him and asked if he wanted to join us. He nodded and clumsily bounced his promotional excuse for a basketball toward us but we had enough for a game. Basketball%2076%20ball%20large  

I introduced myself to the newcomer, his name was David, but he pronounced it Daveed with what appeared to be a Mexican accent. We started playing and Mandala on more than one occasion said,"How's your Cuz'n?!!" David started to get his game together and was a bit better than any of us expected. 10 minutes into the game David tripped and twisted his ankle and had to sit out. I asked if he was okay but he said he was done for the day and would watch. A few were waiting for the next game by now and we continued on. David watched on the sidelines until the very end. I walked by David to pick up my towel and sweatshirt. David stood up and limped over to me and said, "You don't remember me, do you?" I hate that question because it puts me in a defensive position. "Do I know you?" David nodded and said we met at our family reunion 8 years earlier! Then my mind was awash with memories of the 80 family members and their children who had gathered for the first time in Santa Cruz. I did remember a David Baldonado and his little brother and sisters. One of my cousins through marriage married a Latino man and I noticed these beautiful mixed Japanese Mexican youths--one of whom was apprarently David when he was 13.

I shook David's hand, we embraced and we promised to get together.

I went into the lockerroom and my head was swirling with this odd moment of reconnecting with a distant relative like this.

Then I spotted Mandala and I said, "Hey, he is my cousin!" Mandala yelled back, "I told you! I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU HE WAS YOUR CUZ"N!" We laughed. Mandala knew all along David was my real cousin.

You just never know when you might run into a cousin. Or when trash talk really is a serious conversation. :) The world is tiny and getting smaller. No matter if you believe we started in the Garden of Eden or evolved from a place in Africa. We are all related. We are all "cousins". (geneticists believe we are least 50th cousins) Even my trash talking friend Mandala and I are cousins. :) If you add that we are 3-6 degrees apart, the world is not only small it is US. What would the world be like if we all started as "cousins" and learned about our commonalities and our connections? That is the power of WE.

Thanks for reading. John


Sideways view of life expectancy

Had the great fortune of interviewing Tom Tierney last week. We discussed his book, Give Smart for the Drucker Business Forum and for the local NPR affiliate, KPCC. His book is really aimed at high net worth donors and would be philanthropists--how to effectively give away your money. As we prepped for the interview I told him this is a basically a career guide for the wealthy people who want to enter the world of philanthropy. He agreed.

Tom's book is a set of questions that apply to anyone who wants to start a "new career". Giving away money just seems easy to most people with wealth. What's there to think about?!! You pick needy organizations that are doing good and you give them money. How can that be hard? Any self respecting "successful" person who has built or grown a business, started a company, invested in start-ups or managed a for-profit enterprise can give away money! Wrong!

There is a prevailing by erroneous point of view that you just apply the most fundamental business practices to non-profit or even government work and you could solve problems so simply. What's wrong with this country is we have not take a business approach to the problems we face. Poverty, cancer, educating our children, and immigration would be solved. Really? C'mon anyone who feels that way, especially business executives, have no idea what they are talking about. I remember when David Gardner, former President of the University of California was discussing the issues of diversity in admissions and said, "Anyone who says they understand the issue does not understand the issue." Classic example of the more we learn the more we understand what we don't know. Tom's questions help people learn about what they don't know about themselves and the opportunity of philanthropy.

One of the most insightful moments for me came at the reception before the interview. We were discussing our concepts of time and what we expect from life in a small group. He took his pen and he looked down the shaft like it was a telescope. He said that we mostly look at our futures this way. He said that we see an infinite line of possibilities, of opportunities, and own deferred thoughts about success. This view gives us the false perception that we have a lot of time. But he said that it is more important to understand the finiteness of life and look at it sideways. He took the pen and looked at it in his hand. The pen's limits now come into view. How long life will be is a guess, but it will be brief. Thinking about the present and finiteness should give us a sense of urgency. Achieving things now instead of waiting for a future time when the "stars will align" or "luck will prevail" or the absolute most fallacious wish, "when I am not as busy". Pen

People think anxiously about the future and forget the present, such that they live  neither in the present or the future.

Two young people heard Tom's message as he was holding the pen sideways and immediately pointed out what they were doing to focus themselves on the present. It was clear they did not fully understand--they hopefully will. Planning their futures is still their career strategy.

While we plan for long lives, we also do many things in anticipation of a shortened one. We buy life insurance. We assign the guardianship of our kids. Nevertheless. we all expect to live at least the average life expectancy. After all, we are all better than the average, so we DESERVE, at least an average length of life, right? 80 years minimum.

But stuff happens. Plans change. Almost all of life does not happen exactly as we wish and thank goodness for that! Can you imagine if life was predictable? No surprises. Just a linear existence. If it were predictable then you would know your date of death and could plan accordingly. Sorry, not in this world.

We should be ready for the end anytime. We should be ready to lose things and loved ones anytime. Because that's when it happens. Did we do what we wanted to do? Did we nurture our relationships? Did we have a full life? Or are we deferring most of our living and loving to a future time when things will be better?

People live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.

Once we see the pen sideways and appreciate its finiteness, we can see that everyday, that every moment, that every conversation is important. That the future we envision may not come for you or others.

Life and death are irrational. When your time is up will not be up to you. Yes, eating right, exercising, and taking care of yourself are advised, but no guarantee.

Looking down the road of life or up the staircase of our careers and we can get intoxicated by the what appears to be the infinite dimension of time and opportunity.Stairs

Once you see and understand the finiteness of it all, you will think about giving now. You realize that the one thing you have is your ability to help others. To love. To support. To ease the suffering of others. Deferring those human instincts to a future time that will be more convenient is only reserved for children.

Look at the continuum of life sideways, embrace its boundaries and surrender to the urge to give and live.

Life expectancy: Live every day.

Here's to a long and prosperous life of living and giving, fulfilled in every moment.

Thanks for reading. John

Meetings that network

Like all of you, I attend a lot of meetings! Meeting are a necessary evil in our lives. We have to get together to discuss, brainstorm, report, decide, and to share. But do they have to be "evil"? No one starts, leads or participates in a meeting with the intent of wasting time, but more often than not it happens.

A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted. -Captain James T Kirk

I have been in, led, and endured thousands of meetings. I am guilty as anyone on not doing my part to make that experience more meaningful. I can not go into all the ways that an effective meeting should be run or organized. Most often the number one benefit of a successful meeting is the networking. I want to focus on this networking and relationship opportunity we can miss when we meet.Nice meet you

Just in the last week I attended face to face (F2F) meetings, an online/teleconference meeting, and a purely telephonic meeting. Not referring to regular check-in meetings that by their nature must be highly transactional, but periodic gatherings to get ideas and push an agenda.

I traveled 14 hours roundtrip and stayed overnight for 7.5 hours of meeting. So basically 3 hours of travel to 1 hour of meeting. So you would expect the payoff to be great. Let me be clear, the value of F2F is immeasurable in establishing and nurturing trust. Online and virtual relationships and work are definitely enhanced when anchored to good F2F time. I also attended a kick-off meeting for an event and both a quarterly and a semi-annual board meeting. As I said I attend a lot of meetings. In all three of these meetings people traveled great distances and took out time from their busy lives as volunteers. It's a very different story if one is being paid for their time.

The single biggest benefit of bringing people together is strengthening the network. Strengthening the sense of commonality, community and camaraderie. We all know once these virtues are emboldened then cooperation and productivity go up. We all know that we need to do "the work" but we want to gain perspective and learn a few things too. We constantly yearn for new intellectual connections that help us think about what we do and why.

In my humble opinion, I think meetings that network need to have these basic components:

  1. Introductions--More than the business card and name rank and serial number. A little something that gives insight and background that would help the members connect. Ice breakers for even the long serving of groups can reveal new connections. Amazing who you know who you don't know.
  2. Connections--Time for people to informally talk without the gavel and the chair. Over meals, or in an activity--time for the most powerful networking.
  3. Perspectives--Brief report outs from every member on the the best and worst things about their professional and personal worlds. This is a timed and well moderated session.
  4. Reflection--A very brief wrap-up session (30-60 seconds each)that allows for quick observations from every member about the quality of the meeting and insights gained.

So let me rate 2 of the meetings I attended based upon the quality of the networking.

Meeting A was a full day of discussions and actions. It was a day filled with great conversation and decisions. An "effective" meeting that did little for networking.

  • No ice breaker or intro exercise
  • No sharing of perspectives
  • Good informal networking time with a small group break out activity
  • No reflection at all

1 networking point---Weak networking meeting

While people appreciate the efficiency and effectiveness of this meeting, they wanted a bit more humanity and connection without wasting time. A tall order, but one that has to be at least sought.

Meeting B was another full day that may have been even more successful and effective than Meeting A. I would say that this was due to the investment into and integration of the networking.

  • Ice breaker that revealed surprising commonalities and differences
  • No sharing of perspectives
  • Good informal networking over meals that were not programmed
  • Reflection time which provided ideas and momentum for the future

 3 networking points---Strong networking meeting

If we meet then lets network.

In designing, chairing and participating in meetings think about the value of networking. Making connections advances "the work", gives us valuable insights, and justifies our extraordinary investment of time.

Thanks for reading. John

Break out of your comfortable prison cell

The prison of comfort keeps our dreams locked up.

This prison of comfort has many amenities. Soft cushy habits that we know well. The warm feeling of certainty about what is right and wrong in our lives. And a furry blanket of our friends and family who agree with our view of the world.Prison

This prison has a huge impact on how we view our networking and mentoring opportunities and possibilities.

By the way, I am painfully aware of the size and dimensions of my own cell and I try to advance my escape plan everyday! It is hard work. What I have discovered is making a serious adjustment to the lens I employ makes a difference. How am I limiting my perspective of the world? Trying to switch from a telephoto to a wide angle lens makes a big difference for me. Yes, seeing the forest of life, rather than gazing at our own little tree.

My painful experiences as a counselor working with incarcerated youth for the California Youth Authority taught me about prisons. One of the impediments for juveniles to get out of the system was the certainty and comfort provided  by the system. --Their growing dependency on the structure of stability was way more powerful than any dream of a different tomorrow. Human nature makes us loyal to comfort.Our perception of certainty imprisons us to avoid change and stress.

This week I had several glimpses of the prisons we build:

  • Invited a colleague to hear Michelle Rhee speak about the state of education--She told me in declining my invite, "I don't agree with anything she says." (Btw, never heard her speak in person)
  • Referred an acquaintance to a job opportunity--"Not what I am looking for", I was told.
  • A psychotherapist told me (not mine:), "My clients are incapable of pursuing the desirable path of greater resistance."
  • Headline in the Pacific Citizen: "Asians do not make great leaders"

Reminded me of the exchanges in that extraordinary film My Dinner with Andre, like this one:

Andre: But, Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

Andre: They've built their own prison, so they exist in a state of schizophrenia. They're both guards and prisoners and as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made, or to even see it as a prison.

"No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.”

Marilyn FergusonPrison door

I have had many hard yet gratifying lessons by "pre-judging" opportunities. The mistake of dis-associating myself from entire groups of people because of my experience with one or two. By limiting my experiences and therefore my understanding by defaulting to my comfortable certainty. These lessons have helped me traverse sectors and make career changes. It has shown me that I am the guard who has the keys to my own prison cell.

Here is one of the simplest keys to get you out of prison--Consider the possibility that you are wrong about your assumptions. Wrong about your assumptions about people, paths, possibilities, and opportunities. The very possibility that you could be wrong opens doors and maybe your mind.

Don't misinterpret me. This is not a command to turn your life upside down and abandon all of your comfortable people and things. But at the very least you need to take brief leaves from your prison cell to exercise your ideas about your present and future. See things before you dismiss them. Experience them before you avoid them. Don't limit your network or your mentors to your prison mates. And most of all listen to your heart, your calling. What is calling you? And why aren't you unlocking your prison door and going down the desirable path of greater resistance? The world outside of our prisons is vast and amazing.

Thanks for reading. John

Are you SWiVELicious----Can you SWiVEL?

SWiV·EL   (swvl): to link, pivot and move freely

Yes there is a new look and banner for my blog.  After more than 150 postings and about 30,0000 page views I decided my blog needed a makeover. SWiVELtime is a bit more succinct, plus the url SWiVELtime was available :). SWiVEL is a one page guide I developed many years ago to help people focus on their career paths and directions. Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy, and Love. Networking and mentoring are like everything else in life they are driven by goals--what we want. So to network and mentor well you have to SWiVEL. I try to SWiVEL everyday. (by the way, the "i" is lower case in SWiVEL because "I" should always be smaller than the things I want to achieve and the people and ideas I want to support)

Let me know what you think of the new look and give me feedback on my blog. I relish your requests and suggestions. Please click the feedback tab above and help me improve my blog. Thanks!

I have distributed thousands of these SWiVELs in my workshops, workplaces, and downloaded from my blog. It has evolved over the years. The SWiVEL is one page because I was told that "no one has time for anything longer." But as Coach Wooden said, "Anything that can be put into a nutshell belongs in one." So the SWiVEL is jammed with questions and thoughts that are not simple or easy to blurt out. To be done well the SWiVEL needs time and thought.Bad_boy_ent 

A combination of people asking me for resources and a meeting with Jon Cropper triggered the birth of the SWiVEL. Jon, who was the brains behind Nissan's cool ads and Shift campaigns 10 years ago, and I had several energetic and pyrotechnic conversations. Jon liked to use a dialectic process of basically starting an argument by asking a pointed question. He liked to induce verbal collisions and to see the new products, ideas, and thoughts which were generated. He was a creative guy who lived off of the creative process. I liked his energy and his non-stop thought process. I wanted to hang with him to see if I could learn something by enduring his sado-masochistic intellectual process. At one of our first one-on-one meetings, he asked in an antagonistic tone, "WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR KOBARA?!! WHO ARE YOU?!" I was momentarily stunned and then proceeded to recite some drivel about what my title was and my duties at work. He interrupted me, I AM CROPPER! The C stands for Creative, the R for Responsibility, the O for Original, the P Passion.....(I actually forget the rest:) WHAT DOES KOBARA STAND FOR?!! I feebly tried to make my Japanese surname into a compelling acronym as Jon stared me down across the restaurant table. The pressure was on! "K is for knowledge and O for opportunity and B is for.... " I threw up my hands and said, "I am not going to do this!" I started to discuss what was important to me and my life. We had a pretty deep conversation, especially between two people who did not know one another well. The conversation was provocative but not very satisfying.

Jon's question haunted me and I did not sleep well for a couple of days. WHO WAS I and WHAT DID I STAND FOR? Important questions that can not be answered by what I was doing or by tasks or projects. It lead me to write down my thoughts and questions. Out of this process the SWiVEL was created.

A month later, I saw Jon again. We met over lunch and before he literally sat down, I confronted him. "HEY CROPPER, WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR TODAY?! CAN YOU SWiVEL? CAN YOU?!! He meekly says "Swivel?" YEAH SWiVEL?, I retort. I pull my one page SWiVEL out of my back pocket and slam it down on the table like I had won a card game. Jon picks up the SWiVEL and starts to read. He looks up over the page with an evil smile---"I made you do this didn't I?"  He certainly inspired me.Caves

Like so many times when I have entered a scary cave of ideas led by new spelunkers I met through  networking, and emerged unharmed and more courageous. I like being mentored and confronted with reality. I gained from the process of not accepting the meaningless words we tend to use to describe ourselves, our lives, and our futures.

Jon Cropper moved to NY to pursue his career in marketing with his disruptive take no prisoners approach. There was little doubt he would be more successful. I lost touch with him and recently learned that he is CMO for Bad Boy entertainment, Sean Diddy Combs' multi-faceted entertainment firm. Perfect.

Try to SWiVEL. Complete the online version by clicking the SWiVEL tab above or Download SWIVEL_new_2011 for your writing pleasure.

The SWiVEL attempts to focus you on what's important to you right now and how those thoughts propel you ahead to greater success and helping others.

Nevertheless, it is always SWiVELtime!

Thanks for swiveling and reading. John

3 Perspectives on Our Opportunities

1. Tsunami of emotions and the power of WE

As we watch the ongoing tragedy in Japan, we are conflicted. Our hearts are pained by the images and stories that we are engulf us through the news. We feel helpless. We do not know what we can do. We can send money, but is that enough? Doing nothing seems wrong. Our desire to help expands and our ability to help is constrained. As in all traumatic events, we think of ourselves. How lucky WE are. I was in a conversation this week where we were urged to launch a campaign here in LA to get people to prepare for the BIG ONE in Los Angeles. We want to help, but it did not harm us. The horrible thing about this conflict is that it freezes us, it prevents us from doing what is human--to help each other. It is what I have called the Brentwood Triangle. So proud of my kids because they made donations to help the Japanese recover. We have to give. There are many wonderful organizations you can support with the confidence that the money will get to where it is needed now. Here's what my foundation recommends.

I must tell you these articles, columns and blogs that are telling people NOT to give to Japan, because they are "wealthy" or "they don't want our help" or "they have not asked for our help" are painful to read. Inhumane. The more we think about "us" vs "them" the more we divide ourselves. The world is not only flat it is inextricably interconnected. We are them. Our destinies are tied to one another. We give to help ourselves. There are no victims or perpetrators or enemies--there is only us.

If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to one another.  Mother Teresa

2. Be a Seller then a Buyer

Looking for a job, applying to grad school, promoting a cause...

Too often we resign ourselves to just the role of the seller. Hat in hand we humbly or not so humbly push our ideas, our "wares", and our personal agendas. We feel lucky if people are interested and are recoiled by declination and rejection. Often the seller is in a position of weakness. I used to joke about this when I was dating. Guys have to sell by asking for a date and the Gals are the ultimate decision makers as the buyers. The buyers have great power (unless there is a monopoly)if they exert it. They can always walk and go somewhere else. The seller has to sell and promote.Buyer seller

My point is that once you have options, you have to become a buyer. My daughter Jenna got into a bunch of grad schools and they offered her financial packages. We talked and determined which of the schools were her favorites. Mind you she has choices for which she is almost indifferent about. But the differences are not insignificant. A school back east a school close to home. Travel and living expenses and of course, the weather! We strategized and I told her to call her two top schools and see what else they could offer her to persuade her to go there. At first she hesitated and then she agreed. Her first instinct was this was wrong or not appropriate. I assured her this was perfectly up front and normal. I told her, "You are a great student that is in demand. You are now the buyer. You have what the schools want. Now it s time to turn the tables and use your power." The schools both increased their packages, one by 80%!

The lesson here is when you know what you want and have just a little leverage, you have to sell less and become a discriminating buyer.

Unless you are destitute or in grave financial straits, your buyer mindset should be dominant. Feeling empowered and confident in what you are offering. Being in control of your destiny and your journey. Seeing down the road and the consequences of your decision. Avoiding the expedient and embracing the excellent. Doing everything you can do avoid settling. Looking to see if an employer, a boss, a donor, a partner is the right fit is vital. Selling AND conducting due diligence on what will be best for you and your needs have to be intertwined. Just selling will never get you what you want and what you need. Just as in dating, after the party manners and things start clicking, the buying begins.

3. What is your story?

I literally start every interview and many new encounters with this question. An open ended, soft ball question that begs the respondent to talk. After a brief moment of humility, many people launch into their story. In interviews, it is an attempt to allow the candidate to fill in the blanks and between the lines of the carefully constructed truths of their well written resume. Those that flunk the one question IQ test, merely recite everything on their resume and just what's on their resume. Crazy. Kinda of a name rank and serial number response. These same people also define themselves by their job title, when  asked "Tell me about yourself." The fact that they are a father of twins, a trombone player, little league coach and on a prominent non-profit board are left standing on the alter of betrayed opportunities.

I interviewed this young man last week. I started with THE QUESTION. And he preceded to tell me about his education, job experiences, and accomplishments in chron order. He was poised and well spoken. Only thing is he did not know his story. And in his lack of preparation he made up things. He was not lying, but winging it. His new story begged questions and raised doubts. It was unclear where he had lived and where he worked, what he did and where he was going. Unfortunately his story ended with our interview.Stories

Your story, a brief but reflective articulation of:

  1. Who you are. What makes you different. (stuff you care about)
  2. Where you have been
  3. Why you went there and why you left
  4. What you are doing now. (And if a candidate, why this position fits into your game plan)

If well prepared, not memorized, then the story makes sense out of a resume (hopefully does not conflict with it :) and gives dimensions to a person that you are trying to get to know or help others get to know you. The story has to be authentic, it need not be clever.

As Peter Guber, big shot Hollywood producer and author of Tell to Win, differentiates story telling from telling a story with your heart and with purpose. Anyone can tell a joke or a story, but how do we engage people in conversation, captivate their imagination for a moment, and move them to action? To think, to vote, to buy, to care, to hire....Guber evangelizes about being in the "emotional transportation business." He's right we are, if we are successful.

Here's several of the key takeaways from his book:

  • Capture your audience's attention first, fast and foremost
  • Motivate your listeners by demonstrating authenticity
  • Build your tell around "what's in it for them"
  • Change passive listeners into active participants
  • Use "state-of-the-heart" technology online and offline to make sure audience commitment remains strong

Love the state of the heart technology! Bottomline, prepare and speak from the heart and your stories will transport you and your audience to new levels.

Thanks for reading. John


Developing a meaningful philosophy of life and the lifecycle of career development

A close friend of mine sent me Tina Seelig's new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I just finished it. It is filled with a collection of stories, advice and inspiration about how to be more creative about your choices in life.

When I was 20 I don't think I could have understood her advice or any advice. I think the window of opportunity in ones life opens well after you can drink and after you graduate from college. Over the last 20 years, I have seen this pattern emerge and developed a theory that ones career life does not start until about the age of 26.26jpg

After talking to thousands of people of all ages, including hundreds of parents of college age kids, and more between the ages of 20-30, I have concluded that 26 marks the beginning of a pivotal chapter in ones career consciousness.

And if you are over the age of 26, don't worry this applies to you too! ;)

While you were in high school you formed the basic view of yourself, what you think you are good at and what you weren't. Your parents and others probably pushed you. We know that your brain's synaptic activity fell dramatically after the age of 15 due to the formation of neural pathways, your habits and your preferences. Puberty and your view of the world kicked in and altered your view of yourself and your chances by the time you got your high school diploma and headed to college.

According to the annual Freshman Survey, the three top goals of first year students in college, in order of preference, are expertise in their field (don't even have a major :), raising a family and financial comfort. The survey reflects the responses of 1.5 million college students from every state. These results have been consistent for 45 years. Because of the economy, financial comfort moved up the last 2 years.College students

Average college students change their major 2.5 times to find an enjoyable AND practical area of study. Most college grads do not use their major to find a job. They are almost all poorly prepared for the workforce and few have acquired real career development skills. Their ability to use networking and mentoring is rare. They defer their "dreams" because they have to make money to pay their student loans and if they were fortunate get off the parent's payroll. Although this is a much longer process than ever before.

About 5 years after graduation reality sets in. This is where I have encountered the 26 year old whose perspective shifts and search for meaning starts. All of the same Freshman Survey goals come back onto the dasboard. What is my expertise? (Do I need grad school?) When will I get married and/or when will I have kids? What is my plan to get the things I want? (house, retirement etc)

Why do we spend money we have not earned, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like?   Deepak Chopra

That's why I found it fascinating that the Freshman Survey did a follow-up study 10 years later when these former 200,000+ freshman were now 28ish. They were asked the same questions. So what were their top three goals now that they have a degree and had a healthy dose of the real world?

  • Raise a family
  • Develop a meaningful philosophy of life!
  • Become an expert in their field

Help others in difficulty was 4th and financial comfort fell to 7th. Heart vs money

Develop a philosophy of life?! Yikes. A decade had passed and nothing changed except money was less important, they had not gotten married or had kids, they had no expertise, they still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up and they needed a career GPS system! And on the bright side, they saw others needed help. That's all. :)

If your goal is to make meaning by trying to solve a big problem in innovative ways, you are more likely to make money than if you start with the goal of making money, in which case you will probably not make money or meaning.    Guy Kawasaki

If you are not yet 26, invest in your search for meaning now, while you work and while you play. Start developing your philosophy of life---your pursuit of a life that interweaves your passions and your goals. Mixes and blends your strengths with a contribution to the greater good, however you define it. And answering the question: What is meaningful to you?

If you are over the age of 30, it is not too late. Afterall, 48 is the new 26! :) Raising a family, a meaningful philosophy of life and expertise still may be very important to you. Your quest for greater fulfillment and your sense of contribution to something larger than you probably is growing. You are much more focused and time is more precious. You can begin a process of preparing for a life or career change, may be more challenging, but never too late to develop and amend your philosophy of life.

Regrets age you. Regrets can kill you.

The key to all of this is engaging others in your quest. In your journey. In your dreams. Getting help to pursue your ideas. Getting advice on what others have already learned and tried. Connect! Don't fall victim to the "do-it-yourself" trap. It never works!

A meaningful philosophy of life is not a job but a way of living--not just thinking and planning, but living! Living to do what you love doing AND strengthening the relationships that give you meaning.

Thanks for reading. John



Chances are not your enemies, they are your change.

As I try to preach and practice: Make every effort to meet people. Go to events and gatherings with an open mind and most times you will encounter fascinating people. People who will reveal  something new to you about yourself. And more often than not, these ideas and people create opportunities in your mind and in your life. The opposite is even more true. When you limit yourself by not meeting people, hearing different perspectives, and ultimately not developing options and opportunities, your life can be so much less interesting and fulfilling.

I am invited to so many events or gatherings that my immediate instinct is to try and bail and to just go home and veg. The gravitational pull of a quiet night on the couch is powerful. But I try to remind myself of the incredible things I have seen, learned, and been inspired by, if I just elude the nearly overwhelming feelings of resistance. And every time I do, something happens. Chance-change

Last Thursday night was no different. I was out of town and flew home after a full day of meetings and travel. Somehow I agreed to a dinner on the other side of town that evening. As I was making my way from the parking lot to the restaurant, I was kicking myself for not saying "no". All the way into the restaurant I kept thinking, "How can I leave early?" "How can I get out of this?" Negative thoughts were darkening my mind and my outlook.

I break out of my foggy darkness to see my host Ted Habte-Gabr, who by the way I reconnected with a couple of months ago. Ted and I met in the good ole dot com days when he was running an extraordinary venture called Fathom and I was trying to advance the field of online education. We met in NY in what later was a failed strategic alliance. Lost touch with Ted for 10 years until he showed up on my radar screen and FB the end of last year. I remembered I was going to meet his girlfriend Lisa Napoli and learn more about newish book Radio Shangrila, her personal journey of self discovery in Bhutan. I smiled because I realized that my negativity was to be once again reversed!

I ask Ted where Lisa is. He looks at my quizzically and says she's back east promoting her book. And before I can digest this bit of off-putting news, Ted pulls me into a group and introduces me to Phil Bredeson, the former Governor of Tennessee (completed his second term 4 weeks ago). I am handed the Governor's new book Fresh Medicine. The black birds of regret return to my cranial roost and I begin to think about my exit again. How did I get into this situation? 225px-Governor_Bredesen

7 of us dined with the Governor and I quickly realized what a privilege it is to talk to somebody who was running a state , even one as distant from my world as the Volunteer State.

Over some very good food I heard another great American story of a boy who grew up in a small rural town in upstate NY and developed a healthcare company. He sold this company at the age of 46 and could have retired, but looked for new challenges. He followed his new wife and crossed the Mason Dixon line and moved to Tennessee. He decided he could run for office and apply his considerable business skills to politics. He becomes the mayor of Nashville on his second attempt and is easily re-elected. He runs for Governor in 1994 and loses. He runs again in 2002 and wins by a narrow margin. In 2006 he wins with almost 70% of the vote in a landslide. What is remarkable about this story, there are many things, but the fact that a "northerner" can move into a state, become mayor of one of its most prominent cities in less than 5 years after moving there! And then Governor!

Governor Bredeson is a humble guy. He has no aires or pretensions. In many ways, the anti-politician. What you see is what you get. He explained that his rural upbringing helped him relate to people at the  "Waffle Houses". He spoke plainly to them and he connected. He discussed how he did not let his mindset get in the way of his chances. For example, he successfully recruited the Titan NFL franchise to Tennessee by building a new stadium. Previously, he had never attended a professional football game!

What I loved most was his advice, "Chances are not your enemies." By keeping an open mind, listening to your heart and to others, you will discover new things and opportunities.

He also discussed his meetings that day with students at Claremont College. The Governor explained that he enjoyed these interchanges because he gets to hear the fresh ideas of the young and they get to see that a leader, governor, or someone who has enjoyed success is pretty normal. That up close and personal "leaders" are just people who have pursued their opportunities and chances. Governor Bredeson hoped that such exposure would give the students more confidence that they could do it too. He said that's what happened to him. When he was much younger he met leaders and big shots and learned how achievable those positions were. I had the same experiences many times when I meet and got to know prominent executives. The lesson repeats itself: meet people, especially people who are doing what you dream to do. When a long shot is brought up close, it becomes real and tangible.

I  was very grateful that I agreed to have dinner at an inconvenient time and place, with someone other than the person I wanted to meet. :) My mind was clear and refreshed again. I learned many things that evening from a regular guy who achieved extraordinary things. We were fortunate to have leaders like Governor Bredeson. If you have the drive and focus you can do impossible things. That being humble will always win out. And overcoming resistance to take a few chances usually pays off in ways you never expected. Chances are never enemies.  I recommit myself to befriend new chances that I encounter on my journey.

 Thanks for reading. John

Doorways of Opportunity

What lies behind the next door? The next door you open or the next door that is opened for you? Sounds like a poor version of that great 60's show, Let's make a deal! Remember Monty Hall and the contestants discussing the options? Do you want the bedroom set or what's behind the door where Linda is standing? Are you a gambler? Feeling lucky? Greedy? Adventuresome?Lets make a deal

We enter and exit many doors everyday. I do not mean just the ones with hinges and doorknobs. I mean the metaphorical doors where opportunities and dangers lurk. We pass into or pass by many chances to explore ourselves, our passions and our professions. Relationships get advanced or ignored. Doors of opportunity are the conscious or unconscious choices we make. Sometimes we are surprised but most of the time we visualized the consequences of our actions. The question is did we make a choice? Did we take action?

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.  --EB White

In the martial arts or in police training you learn a lot about doorways, exits and entrances. There are ways you enter these places to minimize risk and maximize understanding and opportunity. You never enter a doorway right through the middle. It is the most vulnerable, the least aware, and really the most uninformed way to act. Think about someone who is not even aware that he/she is entering a doorway, to them it is just another unimportant action or routine. Have you ever entered a Japanese restaurant  where there is a cloth (noren) hanging down that requires you to bend or lower your head? That is a prop to make sure you humble yourself and that you are conscious that you are entering an other's place. While it may not change your ego, it will slow you down and give you pause. Naginata Back to the martial arts perspective. My mother told me about her naginata training. She was instructed NEVER TO ENTER A DOORWAY THRU THE MIDDLE. That it is critical to consciously choose a side to enter. It is your self awareness that will help you with what happens as you enter the doorway. Let's say you choose the right side. Instead of being mindless you become aware of what and who you see especially to the left which is unimpeded. You only have to worry about the right side. You can survey what is to your right. The point here is to choose a perspective to see what is in front of you and what is not. Going through the middle of doorways without perspective will lead you nowhere.

I can reduce this to a simple networking application. You are about to enter a cocktail party. You can just walk in and see what happens. If you are fearless and super social, then this can work well. But for the other 90% of us, we need a bit of a plan. So, you approach the doorway of the cocktail party and you begin to focus and think. You choose the right side of the doorway to heighten your awareness and look to the left and scan the room for friends, acquaintances, the host etc. You look to the right and also spot the bar. You enter the room thinking and aware and armed with some basic information. You have identified a few starting points for your encounters, and at the very least you know where to get a drink! :)

For me this metaphor of naginata and doorways is much more than networking, it is about making conscious choices. To choose your path and your perspective. To pick sides. To be alert and on guard. Neutrality, the middle of the road, to be ambivalent, yes, gives you options but few opportunities. What do you care about? What matters to you? It has been my experience that knowing people has been very helpful, but knowing where you stand has been the most important. Doorways open to those who make choices, have points of view and take actions. One of my fav anonymous quotes: If you do not stand for something you will fall for anything. Making choices makes connecting with others so much easier and more rewarding.

Think about the doorways, literal and figurative, you pass through everyday. Make an effort to be aware of where you are going and where you are leaving. Select a side to gain perspective and to focus on the unknowns. You will draw people to you and your network will grow. Going right down the middle of life is tantamount to being average---half way from success and halfway from failure. Make a deal with yourself, choose to open and enter more doorways for yourself and others!

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with in us." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for reading. John


Triangle offense for life---Getting parallel lines to focus

How do you get parallel lines to cross? Of course they never will without intervention. I see people's paths as parallel lines. We go off on our direction, our path, our journey--focused on goals or not--moving with speed through time and space. Everyone moving on their separate trajectories, along side others who seek the very same things or very different things. Most of the time we do this thinking, planning and advancing by ourselves. We struggle with our destinies and finding meaning alone. Until something happens. A road block, an unexpected and usually unwanted event, you meet someone who changes your life, you have a kid, someone dies etc etc. These "interventions" force us to stop, make detours, and hopefully reflect. Parallel lines intersect.

Remember when you were a kid and you had a magnifying glass or some other convex lens and you held it so the light would flow through the glass? You could see the the light through this prism and then play with the lens to see if you could burn a hole in a piece of paper. You would conduct a mini experiment to find the focal length of the lens and voila, fire! You were getting the parallel lines of the light to triangulate and concentrate their energy in one spot. Magnifying

Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Jackson's long time assistant coach Tex Winter, used the triangle offense to win 9 NBA championships. Winter originally called it the "triple post offense" when he literally wrote the book on this strategy. Simply put a guard, a forward and the center form a triangle on one side of the court giving them many options to pass and score. A process to focus the strength of the team to be the most productive through a triangle.

For me, there are many lessons here. Focus and strength come from the intervention of others. They can be your lenses. Triangulation.Think about parents and a child. Consider a mentor and mentee and their mutual goals. Even your boss and you and your definitions of success. To reach the intended result, you have to find the focal point that gives everyone what they need. Parallel lines have to intersect to be focused to be stronger.

We can rely upon random intersections to focus us. Things happen and that becomes what is important. This can work, but it can leave out your true interests and visions for yourself. If you lead by pursuing what you want or who you are, then the intersections will inform your journey. And knowing what you want and who you are can be revealed by your pursuit of your interests and self improvement. Either way, you can not do it alone. You need help, support, guidance, and inspiration. You need interventions and lenses. Every opportunity, every goal, every relationship, and every connection has the potential to triangulate. Here's the key: It may not be your specific idea that gets focused. It may be a new idea, a hybrid, or a new point of view that is revealed. Be open to the new focus that comes from triangulation.

Triangulation verifies where you are. It is your career GPS. Getting input from 2 independent sources (the second opinion). Examining with your mentor, your strategy, your resume, your skillset by comparing it to your goals. When I was in Big Brothers Big Sisters, it was the mother, the big brother/sister parallel lines focused on the well-being and advancement of the at-risk kid.

How do you engage others to intervene, validate, strengthen your focus on your goals? And who do you engage? Many of these people you already know. They are just not engaged in your triangle strategy. Enlist and engage people to mentor you and focus you. And true to my philosophy, you have to think about the people in your life who need YOU to be a part of the triangle offense. To give them options, and insights, and direction. In life, we all have to be player/coaches.

We know parallel lines will intersect at crises. We come together when it is very late or too late. We find humanity and a spirit of cooperation after a tragedy. That triangle is predictable. How do we wake up ourselves and the people around us to snap us out out of the parallelism of our far too busy lives and connect now? How do we deepen our relationships with others before time has run out or we regret it?

Parallel lines never cross. Infinitely going in their own direction without a change or detour. I have learned that intersections are infinitely more rewarding, life affirming, and most important, helps define who I am and who I want to be. And with those intersections comes focus, strength and fulfillment.

Thanks for intersecting for a moment. John

A Sampling of New Year's Inspirations and Tools

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

  Benjamin Button's letter to his daughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Act your age, whatever that is. And is it time to upgrade your network?

One of your year-end inventory items, is your age and the age of your network. Hold old are you? I know you "feel" younger than you are. I know you can't believe how time has flown by and you THINK you are younger. One of the great challenges of life is to age gracefully AND maintain your youth. Becoming more mature while remaining open to change.

As a society we are obsessed at LOOKING younger or preserving our appearance. So much time is wasted on creams, surgery, potions, and pills. We are more concerned with our graying heads than our aging gray matter. Barber

I used to have this wonderful barber. When I started to lose my hair, I asked him what should I be doing? "he said, "What do you mean?" "Do I need to take something or use anything?" I sheepishly queried? He looked into the mirror in front of us and grabbed my face with both hands. He said in a grave and serious tone while staring into my eyes through the mirror, "Is your hair the source of your dignity? You look great and a little less hair will not make you any less of the good person you are, right?!" I looked back at him, nodded and smiled because I knew he was right. My barber was wiser and more profound than I gave him credit. My hair was shorter but my wisdom was lengthened. And my barber got a larger tip. :)

The barber was right in his Popeye-esque philosophy, You are what you are.

The sooner you accept the changes to your appearance, the more time you have to focus on important matters.

So how old are you? If you want to know what your real age is check out I like the way they ask you intrusive questions about your health and well-being to determine your real age. Questions that if answered truthfully yield a more accurate picture of yourself. Is the result true and accurate? You will know. Like in anything you can lie and get a more acceptable answer. Self-deception must be like smoking, you enjoy the immediate gratification even though you know you are killing yourself.

I  have been exercising my pre-frontal cortex with brain games for many years. My current brain age is 21! I know that is not true, but I also know it has kept my synaptic activity a little more lively.

We all know your age is a state of mind. It is how you live and what you think. Are you optimistic? Are you positive? Are you resistant to change and new ideas? How cynical are you? What kind of mental shape are you in? How are managing stress?

Your physical condition also matters. Your resting heart rate, your blood pressure, your diet, and exercise regimen make a difference in how old you feel.

These are all things you control. You do.

There are so many reasons to not take care yourself or think about these questions. After all we are so busy. We have so many things to do. We have many demands on our lives. We seem to be spinning our wheels in a quixotic quicksand in a timecapsule of futility. Really? Cue music for the smallest violins. 

So when were you going to address these issues and make some changes?

Our attitudes and our outlook on life need to be seriously tweaked. What used to work 5-10 years ago, won't work today!? Our young feeling needs to be  accompanied by a healthier lifestyle AND new and fresh sources of information and ideas.

Your network can be an important anti-aging process. Is your network tired and increasingly irrelevant to your future? Does your network have different perspectives and diverse view-points represented within it? Are there younger members? Are there people at work, at church, at your volunteer organization who can open up your mind and give you a dose of new thinking? How can I improve my network of advisors and supporters next year? Meet new people. Your age will be reflected in your network. Oldman to baby

My work on university campuses gave me a boost of youthful energy. Being around younger minds can innoculate you against the weight of rational and practical thinking. Being a parent is an opportunity to regain sanity by reflecting on your childhood and the future of your offspring. Young children are so free from all of the issues we older humans have. They act and speak without the baggage and parameters of adults. Their imagination is pure and unfiltered. That's why I continue to teach. Not so much to transmit knowledge as to seek the energy of fresh minds.

In my first job, my new boss told me he was hiring me into this new field of cable tv because I knew nothing about it. "Anyone who thinks they know cable tv will have to unlearn it, because the future of this business will be so different. "

Hard to unlearn things. Easier to learn new things. In many cases, different people and younger people can be your faculty. Learning will rejuvenate you.

Your age is also a function of your regrets. Stuff you have not done but wanted to. Your fading hopes and expectations for yourself. Things you wanted to experience and see, but are resigning yourself to never do. That pile of dreams that you are discarding--those would be regrets. The more you get the older you become. Have no regrets.

So take a look in the mirror and see the dignity that is you. Is the routinized slide down and over the hill of life acceptable? Then make a change. Take inventory of your literal and figurative vital signs. Think less about how you look and more about what you have left to give your family and your community. Start pushing back father time with new energy and ideas that come from not becoming complacent and settling for a growing pile of regrets. Plan to turn some of those almost regrets into memories and milestones.

What age will you be in 2011? It could be an extraordinary year. Will it be for you?

Thanks for reading. John

Reflecting on our glass barriers and the road beyond

Starting my own process of reflecting on the last year--what I accomplished and what did not get done. Always like to start BEFORE the year end, to get a running head start on the new year. I have been blessed to encounter many new people and ideas during the last 12 months. These experiences have revealed many things to me about myself and the world around me. Most prominent to me is the amount of talent that is wasted or untapped. Talent that is obvious to everyone except the person with the talent. It is easiest to observe in children. You see their genius manifested in little things they do or say. Moments of brilliance, of enlightenment and joy that speak volumes about their essence and their possibilities. Then, over time layers of experience and nurture can suffocate the nature. External limits, preferences and rules unwittingly strangle that potential. As people grow up, this pattern continues and many enter the Federal Witness Relocation Program of assumed identities, where they adopt a life path that others give them. They become who others want them to be and accept somebody else's dream for themselves.This road rarely leads to a life fulfilled. Why does this happen over and over again? One less travelled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--   
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost

We have to break the cycle, the habits, and the routine of traveling a road that is too comfortable and too predictable.

But practicality and reality form glass walls between our current selves and parts of our true selves. We see them but can't get to them. We know these limitations are mostly self imposed. We have conditioned ourselves to keep these goals and visions of ourselves distant. Not big crazy dreams, but our own progress towards our health, education, family matters, financial fitness--things we can achieve, but don't. If you will, new year's resolutions unfulfilled.

There have been many experiments with fleas and pike fish that show that conditioning limits their abilities. Fleas trained in a glass container for flea circuses would only jump at 50% of their ability after the lid was removed. Fish separated from their prey by a glass wall would not pursue the prey even after the glass wall was removed. Conditioning and doubt are both self imposed "glass impediments" that limit us.

So the glass walls and barriers don't really exist, we imagine them.

And for myself, I have a much better fix on my potential. I see the talent that I have not nurtured and cultivated. Partly due to sloth, partly due to priorities, partly due to chances and choices. All glassy excuses of different names. I have gotten great snapshots of that potential through my community of support. They give me pieces of feedback and guidance that when assembled, reveal a work in progress puzzle picture of my potential. I am so grateful that I have people in my life that give me these perspectives and insights.

I can't settle for what is. I sincerely believe that we are never done developing ourselves. Never. That the road of self discovery and self improvement is infinite. When you understand this, it is neither frustrating or exasperating. However, you do realize how precious time is.

So how do we break this cycle? How do we develop our own talent and the talent of others? We must focus on our strengths. We surround ourselves with people who know us and stretch those strengths. We connect with people who can help us identify our hidden goals and visions. There is a tendency to surround our selves with clones, with similar people, with similar perspectives, abilities, means, and backgrounds. That is human nature. Likes do attract. But when you see, experience, and learn from more divers and talented people, you can see the potential you have more clearly. Am I bumping up against a glass ceiling or wall of advisors and/or colleagues who no longer force me to see what is possible and focus on the status quo? How will I change this? Broken glass

We articulate our goals, visions, and even dreams to others to help us achieve them. Secret goals never get accomplished.

Reconnect with your dreams for yourself, your family, your community, and beyond. Reinvigorate your understanding of your great talents and find ways to nurture them. Expand your network of peers and mentors to include people who will push you and pull you through the glass walls and ceilings to attain your dreams through your talents and strengths. And help others do the same.

The sounds of "breaking" glass ceilings and walls makes glorious music. Lot easier to break the glass with others than by trying to do it yourself.

As I continue to reflect, I have a lot of glass to break, roads to travel, people to help and dreams to fulfill. Next year is shaping up to be pretty interesting. :)

Thanks for reading. John


Self Awareness Networking and Mentoring

Met with a grad student who needed to conduct an interview on leadership for a class. As I preach, I make time for these interactions because I know I will always learn something new and invariably, something about myself. This interview was a bit different because the focus was on "self-awareness". He started off the interview with unexpected questions: "What is the role/importance of self awareness in effective leadership?" "How are you aware of your own development and your own issues?" "How do you become more self aware?" The student was well prepared and I became aware of how poorly prepared I was.

Self awareness is so intuitive and simple, isn't it? Just be aware of what you are doing and how it appears to others. How can you see yourself? And how does this vision/understanding reconcile with your authentic self and what you intend?

When you are a floating observer of self, you see and hear things differently. You can more easily judge yourself, praise yourself, and advance yourself. However, like most self improvement, from cutting your own hair to self diagnosis, this is very hard to do alone. Getting outside assistance is not only advisable but most often more effective.

It was a challenging interview for me. While it is a subject I think about, I rarely discuss it. I was making statements about self awareness as I was becoming hyper aware of what I was saying and how I was saying it. Listening to yourself CAREFULLY takes enormous effort. My conversation with the grad student progressed on the importance, relevance, and benefits of self awareness. I wish I had a video tape of my interview. I must have been a sight to be seen. Talking about self awareness and trying hard to be self aware! Not a pretty picture.

Cat self-awareness

I started to think about the media training we conducted for some of our executives at work. These are people with great confidence but who have not been placed under the microscope of the media. Intellectually it is never difficult--answering questions about a subject one knows well. Not even talking about the 60 Minutes antagonistic approach. Listening to your answers and watching your facial expressions on a video tape is a whole new world. The revelations for our colleagues were abundant! What we say and how we say it vs. what we think we say and think we look like can be two alien planets. Going through this training many times and watching others endure the ugly and beautiful mirror is a lesson in self awareness. Videotape is the most amazing teacher. Seeing what others see is an eye opener!

"Self awareness', I rambled on with my attentive grad student, "can be a bit masochistic. It is the reconciliation of intention and reality."

I tried to impart the following lessons of self awareness to my interviewer (now with the benefit of hindsight a bit more eloquent:)

  1. Know thyself---Who you are and what you stand for is critical. What is your vision for yourself?
  2. See thyself---Finding "mirrors" to see your true self is a life long process. The best "mirrors" are mentors and confidantes that never shade the truth. They help you become your best. They reflect your flaws and your talents. They guide your trajectory and your development.
  3. Reflect---Taking time to contemplate the events of the day. Re-running the videotapes from the previous events, conversations, moments--to appreciate what you have done, what you have left to do, and what could have been done better.
  4. Connect with others---Establishing meaningful and substantive connections with diverse people will always expand your sense of self. Finding examples and moments that teach us who we are and who we are not is the true power of networking.
  5. Seek the mirror---Pursue and ask for feedback. Seek opportunities to learn about yourself. Not just an open door but an open mind.
  6. Become a mirror----Helping others you care about see themselves in the best and worst of times. Constructive praise. Supportive advice that helps your inner network improve and advance.

Self awareness must be stalked and hunted. It does not arrive in a box with a bow on your doorstep.

I am fascinated by the Buddhist thinking of Naikan. It is a process of introspection and was an early form of a "time out". Using deprivation as a way to have people, including young criminals, reflect on the wrongs they have committed. It evolved into a series of three questions about our relationships and focusing on one person at a time:

  • What have I received from (person's name)?
  • What have I given to (this person)?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)?

The fourth question that naturally follows in this series. "What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)? Is NOT part of the reflection because we are so adept at thinking about this question! And this focus on our own misery and not the misery of others is part of our problem.

We are all works in progress. Disconnects between who we are and who we think we are are deadly. Like reading our own autobiography and being impressed! So easy to delude ourselves by settling for what we have become and expecting others to deal with it. Much harder to face the videotape of life and learn from the truth.

 In the end, I hope my interviewer got what he needed to complete his assignment. I got what I wanted. I learned many things. I became more self aware and had the great luxury of sharing some thoughts with him and with myself.

Thanks for reading. John

Waiting for Weekends---TGIF, Hump Day, Monday Morning Blues and other forms of Resistance

These strange cultural anachronistic phrases can prevent us from seeing the opportunities in every week. We make cute little monikers for every other day in the week to make time go by fast and give us wimpy little breathers. It's like we are still in 5th grade staring at the second hand of the clock as it ticks off seconds in slow motion and we crave a snack or a nap to get us through the day. Really?! Breaking time into these little digestible chunks takes our eyes off the prize. We focus on the short sprints instead of the marathon and the finish line.

 I get it, if you are stuck in a hard labor, assembly line, toxic job where you have no intellectual or emotional connection to the meaning or purpose of the work. Somehow, you took a job in some sort of prison camp. :) YOU have to plot your escape plan. I'm talking to the rest of you who put in your exhausting 40 hours a week (national average is closer to 35) as a runway for the weekend or evening pursuits. :) And then of course, Mondays and Fridays are the most frequent "sick" days. They still recommend that you avoid purchasing cars made on those days!Weekend So a three day work week for a four day weekend.

I see tremendous waste in talent and potential everyday. People who say they want to excel in their lives but who have erected so many barriers to their own success. Yes, they sabotage themselves! One of the greatest psychological syndromes that we impose on ourselves is our perception of the work week and weekends--How we view time. We inherited or invented rules and mythology about these artificial time lines. Times when we "work" and times when we "rest" and times when we "play". The irony is we know these distinctions do not make sense. We know that life and work get intertwined and interlaced whether we like it or not. We can't turn off our brains or put parental locks on certain of life's channels. You can't compartmentalize your life--"weekends are for me" or "once I leave the office I stop thinking about my career." These are ridiculous ideas if we care about your work and you have ideas about our contribution to the world. Because life happens. Or as the the Southwest flight attendant said, "Be careful when opening the overhead bins, because shift happens." It takes relentless pursuit to catch our dreams. And the clock ticks on..... Photo-clock14

Some of you have heard me rant about the fallacies of a well-balanced life and that we need to pursue a well-lopsided one!

Your minimal 40 hours of work is out of a possible 168 hours a week. If I give you 8 hours of sleep and 4.5 hours of free time everyday. That still leaves you with another full work week!

Yogi Berra said, You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left. 

I know some of you moonlight, go to school, pursue your "art", work at non-profits. Fewer of you have set goals and milestones that will define your life--places to see, experiences to attempt etc. But most of you get arrested by the powerful gravitational pull of the couch! Author Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Resistance or friction in your life that impedes the development of your uniqueness and greatness. Some of you smirk or roll your eyes. But your life is different and whether you want to admit it or not you have very tangible and special ideas about you future. Your legacy is still being written.

I met a guy on the golf course who told me he would play 3000 rounds of golf before he died. At first this doesn't sound like much. Do the math. He is 62 and he already racked up 500 rounds. So if he plays until he is 75, he has 13 years of golf left. If he plays 4.5 times a week almost every week he barely makes it! Once you start quantifying your goals into years, months and weeks, I know you will view time and Mondays and Fridays differently.

Once I came to these conclusions about time, I re-arranged my whole life about 20 years ago. The difference between Mondays and Fridays melted into days, just days. I started waking up earlier on weekends, earlier than I did for work at that time. I realized how precious time was. I put in more time into every phase of my life. But especially into my career. I realized how I could be more exasperated with myself and others if I did not make more progress towards my goals. Goals that got re-defined by what I valued, enjoyed and loved. That's how I came up with my Download SWIVEL_new_2009 document to help people prioritize these goals.

I must tell you that once I came to this epiphany about time. That I was the master of my time. I am more satisfied and fulfilled with what I am doing and the progress I am making. I am more engaged and focused on who I am and where I am going. And I am told, I am more pleasant to be around. :)

My mother used to say every morning, "Let's get going. Your life is wasting away!" Like so many pieces of advice I was given as a child, I now understand these words.

As Coach Wooden said so well, "Make everyday your masterpiece." And he was definitely talking about weekends too!

Thanks for reading and for your time. John

When will my luck change?

Had the great opportunity to hear Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame speak about his new book Delivering Happiness. He is a very inspirational and passionate speaker about how to achieve increased meaning and fulfillment in life. Topics that I constantly try to advance in my work and words.

Tony talked about the role of luck in his life and the lives of others. It is something people have said to me too. "Wish I was as lucky as you!" I am offended by this on one level and deeply understand it at another. How much does luck play into our chances and choices? Where does this luck come from?  

 Fortune cookieTony cited the well known research about how "lucky" people perceive things so differently than "unlucky" people. One of the questions they ask all Zappos candidates is, "Are you lucky or unlucky?" And then they listen. People start to describe their good or bad luck. Some say, "Not sure why so many bad things happen to me." "Or I just seem to be at the right place at the right time." Zappos never hires the former. He said, "We just don't want that bad luck to come to Zappos." :) He went on to say that "lucky" people see opportunities in challenges and change. And the "unlucky" see the problems and the negative. And we all know that what you focus on, give attention to, attracts more of the same. Complainers attract more complainers and hang out together. While the "lucky" people just seem to get luckier.

My mom taught me this point of view by the way she lives and the way she sees the world. Her glass is not only full, but the glass is crystal and the water sparkles. It is not enough to be positive. No one will admit to being negative! You have to see the upside and the path to extend your sense of challenge and meaning. The "unlucky" get caught up in the whirlpool of obstacles and see a conspiracy of bad fortune. But the lucky just move beyond the stuff that holds them back, they regard it as inconveniences rather than the focus of life. 

Professor Richard Wiseman executed a ten-year study of the dimensions of luck, and published his findings in a book called The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind.

In his famous test, 400 participants of all ages were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper, and subjects who described themselves as "lucky" were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

This experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one's good fortune is not random, but rather due to one's perspective.

He concludes that luck is not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which amplifies "lucky" events. Here are my interpretations of his conclusions:

Lucky People

Unlucky People

Encounter opportunities, people who help them

Rarely have these experiences, attract negative people

Listen to their intuition and their hearts

Make decisions without these influences

Expect luck and have self-fulfilling prophecies

Do the opposite

Turn ill fortune into good, do not get overwhelmed

Get overwhelmed and things get worse

I have said over and over again, that depending on "luck" is the most foolish of career strategies. Luck visits those with their eyes open for opportunity, those who are not focused on their next step but the next horizon and those who take chances and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. If luck happens at all it will occur when you fully explore, experiment, and engage the world around you. 

The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.  Winston Churchill

Want some more luck? Look up instead of down. Collaborate instead of comiserate. Push yourself out of your current world and meet and reconnect with people and you will be surprised how lucky you are. 
Thanks for reading. John

Lexicon of Life---Be defined by what you want not by the words you use

The word swastika is Sanskrit not German and is more than 3000 years old. The version on the right was high-jacked 70 years ago. Nevertheless swastika still means good fortune and well-being to much of the world.

I recently heard the remarkable Howard Bloom speak about the brain and our views of the world. He exhorted the audience, "To see everything as you never seen it before!" Why? Because we do not see things as they really are. We scan and assume. We pre-judge, we are governed by our habits and our moods. We gravitate to the easy answers that we often know are under-informed and possibly wrong. We rely on our instincts and intuition way too much. Ultimately, we see things, have thoughts and feelings, convert them to words and vice versa. Words generate thoughts/feelings and our perception is framed. Sometimes we let words drive our thoughts. And a bunch of swastika like words can get embedded in our mouths and our minds. We get off track because we don't question what we say and see. How we see our selves and our opportunities matters. So the words we use to describe our futures make a difference. Right?Dictionary

Last week I met with a group of grad students. I ask them, as I always do, what career/job/position do you want when you graduate? This is not a trick question, nor hopefully, a surprise query? :) But it always seems to startle these post-graduate recipients. Often I get a litany of buzzwords, jargon, and phrases intended to impress. Words such as CAREER, PROFESSION, JOB, and OCCUPATION are bandied about. Loose words and even looser thinking. Yet these immature thoughts are guiding behavior and establishing unintended goals. Sound familiar? Easy to make fun of grad students, but the lesson here is examine our words to keep us focused on what we want.

Words are so important. What they mean and how we use them. Most words we rely upon like the oxygen we breathe, we don't think about them or question their origins. Do we say what we mean or mean what we say?

Here is the John Kobara lexicon watch list of words to keep you on your toes:

CareerFrom the French word Carriere, which means two-wheeled vehicle like a chariot, a racecourse, similar origins as careen, so out of control. Supposedly became a "course of life". But it began as a vehicle going in circles very rapidly nearly out of control! Lily Tomlin said, "Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat!" A career can seem cyclical and circular, speedily heading to a finish line that looks very much like the starting point.

Profession: Originally the "professing" of one's vows to religious faith. An occupation requiring specialized knowledge and training.

Job: A regular activity in exchange for payment.

Occupation: Process of filling up time and space. To be busy. To have a job.

Vocation: From vocare or vocatio, meaning summons or calling. Originally, a divine calling to the religious life. This is what your heart whispers to you or you have heard in the back of your mind, the work or activity that you prefer and like doing--even love doing, including your so-called passions. Are you heeding the calls? I have had many vocations and that's all I want!

Amateur: From the Latin word amator, meaning lover or someone in avid pursuit of a goal. A person who does an activity for the love of it.

We all want more than a job or an occupation. Do you want to be an amateur or a professional? To have a career or a vocation? Like the swastika, the words can limit what we see.  And our perceptions can deceive us. 

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!     Yogi Berra

Our questions have to be guided by what we want. Do we really want a new or different career or job? Or are you deeply and seriously interested in linking who you are to your like, your work, and your achievements?

A report by the British think tank Demos describes the rise of what is called the ProAm Revolution. There has been an increase in the number of amateurs who excel, rival and even exceed the standards and achievements of the professionals. People with day jobs who are accomplished in other areas. People who have dual careers, one paid and one un-paid. They are lawyers who paint. Doctors who volunteer. Teachers who write textbooks. Accountants who play the french horn. My blog and speaking have become my amateur work. This career duality helps them feel fulfilled and challenged. Finding one job that will totally encompass the needs of a person is far fetched. Therefore it has been my experience that this strategy is not the exception but the essential one. 

Our jobs can be what we do to pay the bills, hopefully it is work we care about and that makes a difference in the world. Most of us will need to be an amateurin something else to give our life well-lopsidedness. We have to have multiple interests and work to meet our different needs. Ideally these worlds can help each other. Being a tri-athlete, sing operas, coach at-risk youth.... 

Seeing your life as big enough to include your ProAm strategy is the start. And begins with the words and thoughts that describe your vision for yourself. How about a Vocational Amateur? :)

 Thanks for reading. John


The Sources of Inspiration--The Network of TED

We obtain our ideas, inspirations, and aspirations through our experiences and our interactions with other people . We find these people through our quests for meaning or through the serendipity of life. People with purpose, people with needs, people who overcome their challenges, people like us and very different from us, who are making a difference in the world. Pretty obvious, but without making connections to others we will miss many sources of inspiration. The result can be a life less fulfilled. Regrettably, I meet these people all of the time. People who are competent, educated, and confident, and who lack passion. Who see life as an accumulating list of obligations and tasks. Time is a burden. They either think that there will be a pot at the end of the rainbow or worse, have settled for the "hand they were dealt". We have to see the opportunity ahead. Inspiration can shake us from our slumber and awaken our potential. Inspiration does not make an appointment or wait in line. Inspiration has to be pursued.  Inspiration_quotes_graphics_c2

I have been a semi-obsessed fan of TED and TedTalks. If TED was a person, I would have been subjected to a restraining order many years ago. TED was started by Richard Wurman 25 years ago. He hosted a private almost secret salon of thinkers and doers in Monterey California. I read about it in Wired Magazine in the dot com era. In 2002, Mr. Wurman ceded control to Chris Anderson and then TedTalks was born and distributed for free. TedTalks are a weekly routine for me. I use these talks to inform me, to open up my world to new things, to inspire me, and to push me. While I am not rich enough or famous enough to be invited and pay to attend the annual TED conference, I get a great view from my iPhone and iPad! Probably watched 125 talks so far. 

I elbowed my way into the first TEDx conference in 2009, a local version of TED organized by community members under the umbrella of TED. Thousands of TEDx events have been hosted around the world. Like American Idol and all of the other reality talent shows, there is so much talent and so many inspiring stories out there. TED shows us there is so much good being pursued by good people all over the globe--you would never know if you watch the nitely news! Watch a TedTalk and/or attend a TEDx event and be inspired. 

Last week I spoke at TEDx Santa Monica. I was asked to talk about "education". Education is the great transformer. However, I decided to not address the important trends and solutions I see in the educational institutions around us. Instead, I focused on what I see as the greatest tragedy, the waste of human potential. When people never find meaning and a connection to what they care about and what they were meant to do. In my opinion, the top educational priority is understanding ourselves so we can apply our uniqueness to the ideas, issues and causes we care about. To live with passion!

Here's my talk entitled Find Yourself by Losing Yourself.  The video production value is lacking but the good news is the dark setting makes me look better!


Please explore TedTalks even if you did not like my speech. :) Hopefully it becomes a source of education and inspiration to discover and apply your greatness. We need you to be the best you can be.

Thanks for reading. John

Non-verbal networking

We all know how important the non-verbal cues are to effective communication, relationship development, and networking. Our body language, inflection of our voice, our eye contact, facial expressions dominate the words we say. Those that study this stuff have said that words are only about 7-30% of the communication we intend. As I said, we know this in our heads, but we are not conscious of it.Body language 2

Tell your face---You see this one everyday, if you are paying attention. We have these robotic exchanges that have become meaningless transactions. You enter the elevator, or the office in the morning and you say something to greet anyone and everyone. It is neither sincere or intentional. We say things like "Good Morning", or "How are you?"--even if the morning sucks and you are not interested in or care about anyone's well-being. In fact, if the target of our pre-recorded pablum speaks, we are awakened  from our slumber and struggle to respond. My assistant for years, Patsy, would greet me every morning with a confusing happy voice and an enthusiastic Good morning! and a severe frown. At first I thought she had been part of a botox experiment gone awry. :( The first time she did this, I said, "if it is a good morning, tell your face!"

Do you remember the Michael Dukakis passionless response to the question about whether the death penalty should be applied to the murderer and rapist of his wife Kitty?

Without putting energy into your daily deliveries of words and messages, you will communicate poorly. Your posture, handshake, intonation, and your facial attention can undermine your persuasiveness.

A few basic tips to remember to keep focused:

  1. Engage the other person by looking into their eyes, listen and observe their body language.
  2. Keep your hands in front of you, instead of folding them, on your hips or in the "fig leaf" position.
  3. Smile. It will always brings energy into your voice and your eyes.

Lead with your passions--When people talk about what they care about, they stand up straighter, their eyes light up, and their voice is overflowing with expression. So funny, because many people have asked me if I have ESP. I listen to and watch people, and when they really smile and start becoming more animated, I tell them how obvious that this is an important subject to them. "How could you tell?", they query. Find out what others are passionate about, then your encounters and conversations will feed off one another.

How can you understand, see and hear any incongruences or distracting body language you create?

You practice in front of a mirror. You videotape your presentation skills. You get candid feedback from colleagues and confidantes. When I started the process to refine my speaking and presentations, I immediately improved. Seeing and hearing is believing. You become a student of yourself. How do others see you? How big is the gap between what you think you are doing and what others see? This is a critical skill, your accurate awareness of you. I became painfully aware of my strange an previously unknown habits and body language expressions through a thorough and relentless examination of my schtick. Still working on it and never again took it for granted.

Always suprised how under prepared people are for making impressions. They wing it. They hope that the right words and body language magiacally appear when called upon. Some people think they are Robin Williams! Most of us know that Robin doesn't ad lib, but draws on a library of practiced and rehearsed routines. I am not saying that you need to script yourself, but preparation with a keen eye on what it really looks and sounds like is essential.

As Allen Iverson said, "Are we talking about practice?" Yes we are!

Connect your mind to your body through your conciousness. Don't let your folded arms, furrowed brow, repeated "ums", shifty eyes, or inaudible voice, steal your opportunities and your compelling ideas.

Carry yourself, express yourself, with the spirit and energy that it matters--because it does.

Your ability to network is directly tied to your trustworthiness, believability, and likability. How you present yourself deserves at least as much prep and attention as your clever words and phrases.

I dedicate this post to my brother in-law Andrew Kim Weaver, who was tragically taken from us this week. Andrew was fiercely candid and famous for his non-verbal communication.

Thanks for reading. John

A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.


John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. 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


To What Do You Give Your Intention and Attention?

Had the great fortune of attending a terrific workshop on the principles of grant making, the art and science of giving away money from foundations. I know it sounds like an easy and enviable job, but much harder than you think. Anyway, had the pleasure of being trained by Bob Long, former VP of the Kellogg Foundation and Ken Gladish, former national president of the YMCA and president of the Austin Community Foundation. Both are faculty at the Grantmaking School. (Yes there is a graduate level school dedicated to this work!)

Over time I have learned that all "best practices" for effective work,  regardless of sector or industry share the same basic principles. And that these principles are often wonderful guides for your life, your career development, and your relationships.

Bob introduced us to the concepts of Intention and Attention.

  • Intention--What are/were you intending to do? i.e. Goal

  • Attention--What are you paying attention to given that intention? i.e. Measures of progress

Remember, he was talking about grants from foundations. And the point was to articulate your grant making goal and identify measures of progress. Then constantly remind yourself of that intention and those measures. Why? Because we digress, we drift, we lose focus. Like right now when your mind is wandering, finish reading my blog! :) In non-profit work we often refer to this as "mission drift". Straying from your goal AND from what you are good at. You can see the broader applicability of these ideas already.

Coach John Wooden's used the word Intentness. It was a word he made up, always apologized for this by the way, and it resides in his Pyramid of Success. The Coach taught us all that paying attention to your intentions leads us to the actions that determine success in everything we undertake.

Take these very simple and important questions and apply them to your life, your job, and your career. Apply them to your faith, your volunteer work, and your hobbies.

What is your intention? And what are you paying attention to to see that you are making progress toward your intention?

Please do not say, "I am just trying to enjoy what I do and see what happens." Because you think you are either lucky or lazy? You may be niether. As I have opined, a Wait and See strategy is the certain path to disaster.

Don't be confused. What's nice about the word intention is it is what you want and hope for. It is as macro or as micro as you desire. It is personalized and customized to you. It is as ambitious and achievable as you want. To be ambitious you need ambition.

Here's the kicker. When you have clear or clearer intentions, to which you are paying attention, you will attract opportunities and people. The gravitational pull of commonalities is powerful. Not always positive though. Negative intentions are just as sticky as the positive ones. You saw the studies of obese people and the likelihood they are connected to other obese people. Smokers too. Aimless, goal less, ambitionless people also connect and friend each other. Why hang out with people that are the same as you if you are lost or unhappy? Your network spirals up or down depending on your intentions and actions.

I am constantly monitoring my kids' friends. I love the diversity of interests and backgrounds they represent. But I watch for too much group think/peer pressure about school or courses. I want my kids to always be exposed to smarter, more ambitious, harder working people. Not everyone they know, that would be irresponsible and ineffective. But enough exposure to see different intentions and paths through their own experiences and contacts, not because their sage father says so.

And such is life, your intentions and attentions determine your networks and ultimately your mentors. The Buddhist saying applies, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. No way your teacher/mentor will appear with out clear intentions.

Your conversations, engagements, and encounters are greatly influenced by what you focused on. Without these concepts mentoring and networking are non-substantive and frustrating exercises.

What is your intention today? Tomorrow? And are you paying attention to your progress?

Thanks for reading. John

Think Out Loud and Connect!

I do this exercise with new college graduates or graduate students. They are the most confused, especially these days. I hold up my fist and point at it. And then I tell them, "I have your ideal job in my hand. It will engage your heart and your brain. It will pay you comfortably. Good dental benefits. Commute time is reasonable. It will help you grow and develop as a professional. Just tell me what it is and I will give it to you." 99% of the time they don't know what it is. That's not the point. The surprise is they don't even know what to say. They start mumbling things but almost always end with a joke. Because that's what what we all do when we don't know what to say. We try, I say try, to be funny. One of those slapstick defensive reflexes we verbalize to deflect the attention from our brain freeze. Similar to when we jokingly say, "No I meant to that," when we trip on ourselves or spill a drink. Brainmouth

It's really funny how our brain and our mouth are not connected. Accessing the grey hard drive, get the binary codes to come out of the speaker system and make sense is not always easy.

We harbor many ideas and thoughts in our minds about what we want and who we are. They rattle around between the neurons and the synapses. In the brain they seem comfortable and clever. In fact sometimes in our minds we are geniuses. However, when we utter some of these ideas with words and phrases they get garbled. We rely on our mouths to translate our elegant brainstorms into eloquence. Often it does not work and can be quite embarrassing. We forget the lips and the frontal lobes are not always directly linked.

I remember when I was talking to a very ambitious employee about her hobbies. It was a fun and light hearted, easy going conversation. I started thinking about an opportunity for her. It occurred to me that I did know what her ambitions were. So I asked somewhat abruptly, "By the way what do you want to do next?" She was horrified, froze and became inarticulate. She told me this was not fair and that questions like that could only be asked in a formal review session! I was not expecting THE answer. But to start a robust conversation about the options, pros and cons. To hear her thoughts, but I never did.

Pat head rub tummy Thinking and talking on our feet can be the equivalence of patting our heads and rubbing our stomachs simultaneously. Not easy. With practice it is always easier. With preparation it looks like it is second nature. Robin Williams' "ad libs" have been tested in private, honed in comedy clubs, and tweaked by his writers. It is the delivery that matters. But I am not suggesting you memorize anything, the best speaking is extemporaneous. Your preparation allows you to share thoughts that have been considered and certainly are not alien. 

The ability to think out loud is a lost art. When you don't know the answer, especially if it is personal, you have to demonstrate your thought process, display that you have considered the subject matter--such as your life's direction!--and honestly share a little of yourself. That would be refreshing. An authentic discussion of the challenges and issues the question or the dilemma conjures.

This is where mentoring comes in to save the day. When can you trot our your intimate thoughts? Where can you conduct your dress rehearsals and get feedback? And not be instantly criticized and judged. Mentors are the greatest sounding boards. They expect to talk to you about these raw and mal-formed concepts. Share your thoughts, questions, quandaries, and curiosities with your mentor. Expressing these thoughts as wishes, things you want for yourself is also very effective. Think out loud with your mentor, often and then listen for the feedback. Just the practice of converting your neural sparks into words will do wonders.

Doing this in isolation, by yourself, never works as well.

When people ask you things all of the time? When you know people will ask you the same questions over and over. Or questions that you ask yourself repeatedly. There is no excuse for not having answers or well-formed thoughts about your quest for answers.

In my intermittent posts on questions, I urge the readers to work on their answers. Literally verbalize them to get them to sound like YOU. To convey what you are thinking. Like an artist who dreams up new images, getting it exactly right the first time is rare. It takes a series of trials and errors to have the canvas look the way you imagined.

Last week, I asked a grad student what type of job and career he really wanted after graduation. After an awkward pause he replied, "Nothing but happiness." He looked at the ceiling and then at his shoes and then smiled impishly. He knew he was being funny, wasn't he? Just wanted him to think out loud with me and maybe we could work together on refining those thoughts and actually discover a path to his happiness.

Thanks for reading. John 

Seeing "Invisible" Networks through Inclusivity

All of us think we are open minded, free of prejudice, and sensitive to differences. We also know that trying to uphold these values is a struggle. Often our sensitivity and compassion are limited by what we know and see. Our eyes can be opened to new dimensions, attributes, and new understandings by a shift in perspective that reveals new truths.

I have given a number of talks about diversity and networking in Canada. Canadians talk about "visible minorities", a more politically correct colored people. Diversity is very different in Canada for obvious and not so obvious historical reasons. Nevertheless, they differentiate between the visible and the invisible.

Invisible man I remember when I was working at UCLA and was responsible for recruiting its top undergrad scholars. We formed this UCLA Ambassador group as the creme de la creme to represent UCLA and recruit more scholars. The Ambassadors were presented to a very diverse group of leaders and a prominent African American leader expressed her disappointment at the lack of diversity of this student group. We had the Ambassadors introduce themselves and the audience was treated to a United Nations set of multi-racial, religious, immigrant, sexual preference, and economically diverse biographies that made everyone proud. Diversity is not visible and is most often not skin deep. Often we only talk and think about the visible. Many populations are invisible to the naked eye. Populations with wonderful histories, unmet needs, and under represented potential.

This week my perspective of my fellow humankind was forever changed. This shift tested my comfort and sense of how inclusive I am. How open minded I am. How accepting I am of differences. I saw something right in front of me for the first time.

I had the great fortune of attending an intimate meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Been around a lot of leader types over my varied career. Admiral Mullen is one of the most genuine, compassionate, and competent leaders I have ever encountered. He speaks from the heart, he listens, and he discloses his weaknesses. Pretty amazing for a command and control 4 star general!Mullen

His focus was on the fate of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 2,000,000 men and women have been deployed to these wars and their return back to civilian life has been very rough. A few facts that made me think and view things differently:

  1. 25% have traumatic brain injuries(tbi)
  2. 25% have post traumatic stress disorder(ptsd)
  3. Homelessness is 4x bigger, 4x faster, and 4x more severe than Vietnam Vets

He discussed in great detail the challenges that the government has had to make sure that returning soldiers have a successful transition into civilian life. He admitted that these two systems are separate bureaucracies that are not well coordinated. The system has many holes and many soldiers and their families fall through those gaps and the consequences can be brutal. Admiral Mullen is on a tour of the country to raise the visibility of the needs of veterans and the role of local communities to provide assistance. He admitted that government could not do it alone. He asserted that local communities will be an important third component.

There are many organizations that support veterans, and he is grateful for the groups that recognize veterans and put on parades, but he wants to help grow and invest in organizations that are involved in the long term treatment and education of veterans.

During the meeting, many examples where veterans are not being included in the services, programs, and outreach for homeless, mentally ill, substance abuse etc. Veterans are not turned away, but they are not being included or recruited.

Hopefully your perspective may shift a bit and when you encounter a vet or a family, engage them and if they need help, guide them. Here is a couple of great resources for veterans and their families:

Warrior Gateway

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Inclusion is not a passive act, It is a proactive act. Inclusion is not just an open door or an open mind. It is a process of engaging and understanding. It is building bridges. Inclusion requires awareness, education, and targeted approaches. After listening to Admiral Mullen I realized that serving veterans would require this mindset. That serving veterans and their families will require great intention and effort. That veterans are not a "visible minority" they are hidden and not easily identified. Veterans, like immigrants, or the undocumented, or other groups need encouragement and doors opened. They need sensitive and proactive processes.

For example, I am going to pursue adding the population of veterans and their families as a evaluation criterion for the grants my employer the California Community Foundation makes. Just adding those words and a little help in understanding why, will shift the perspectives and outreach of all of our grantees.

When we realize that all members of our communities are connected and that our fates are tied together. We support diversity, by understanding differences, by actively reaching out to learn about and include visible and invisible peoples, including out veterans. Then will we be more inclusive.

Thanks for reading. John

Truth and Candor: Key Ingredients in the Recipe of Mentoring and Networking

Remember in Liar Liar when Jim Carrey's character was only allowed to to tell the truth. "Do you like my new dress?"-- he was asked. "Whatever takes the focus off your head," he replies.

No need to put our truth tasers on the kill setting! Taser

The truth is, we are less than candid everyday. How we answer the question, "How are you?", for example.

Sometimes being vague, evasive and telling a little fib is the only thing to do to avoid a fight or an unnecessary confrontation. We all have friends where we have to avoid certain political, religious, and parenting conversations, because we just have to agree to disagree.

There is always a time and a place to be the diplomat, the nice person. You know, the person who couches things in lovely and euphemistic ways. Where between the lines is a vast and cavernous space where the truth lives comfortably and invisibly.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place."

I am talking about candor, frankness, and directness in conversations.

Candor: Unreserved, honest, or sincere expression 

I am more focused on the sincere side of this ledger. Less on the brutal portion.

We have all experienced the broad gamut of styles from the flame thrower who uses the truth to burn everyone and everything. Then there are the “happy” people who smile and even giggle during a challenging moment and will do anything to not ruffle feathers or make anyone uncomfortable. Like all things we need to use the middle lanes of these communication freeways.

But if the truth was a more common currency in our everyday exchanges and transaction, we would be better off. Candor of the sincere type, would speed up so many things in our lives. Getting people to contribute their ideas and real thoughts frequently would facilitate change, improvement, and greater outcomes in our personal and professional worlds. Having people get to what's bothering them and complimenting the good would be so efficient not to mention pleasant.

Truth begets truth.

As a friendly reminder to myself and you good readers, the truth also includes the good and the praiseworthy. Sometimes, we hear "tell the truth" and we think give the bad news or make a confession.

Scales So many candid truthful good things go unsaid. How much we love, care about, appreciate the people and things around us too often remain unexpressed thoughts.

For those of you following along, mentoring and networking require a few extra scoops of candor if the recipe is to work. Both mentee and mentor need to get to a place of truth telling as fast as they can. Otherwise great time and effort can be wasted and misunderstood if it remains a polite game of mutual admiration.

Party manners are in order at the beginning of any relationship. We all know that this period is not real, later we will share ourselves with greater transparency.

Office politics is the most brutal and most challenging of all worlds. More than 2 people in an office and controversy, petty thoughts and behaviors can ensue. Getting beyond the rumor mill, the conspiracy theories, and the repetitive whining is a challenge in every office I have occupied. Part human nature, part management, and part culture.

Not speaking up. Not saying what you think. Not being an active contributor to your organizations’ development and evolution is a cardinal sin if you want to grow into a more effective manager/leader. The higher up the food chain you go, the more truth based on evidence and judgment is demanded. Less time for nuance, interpretation, and just plain waiting.

Sure it would be nicer and better if your boss, the work culture, your friends, your family all modeled this behavior more. And if they did it you would do it. What?!! There you go again, sounds like a whiny person who is not in control of their life and actions. Why not be first to model the behavior you want to see. Request more candid feedback and answers in your conversations. Seek and tell the truth.

Remember in Alice in Wonderland when the March Hare says to Alice, "Then you should say what you mean." And mean what you say.  200px-MarchHare

Thanks for reading. John

The Power of Following

As humans we follow. The concept of leadership is only valuable if there are followers. It is just another version of followership. CEOs, US Presidents, Ministers, Generals, all follow somebody, all take their orders from someone, all succeed another leader. We follow--We all move in accord with a model. Another way of saying mentoring, isn't it? We are all mentored and we follow that example. So great leadership is great followership? Great leaders are great mentees too. You follow? :)

I think we can easily get caught up in our own press releases and start to think that we, alone, invented our leadership abilities. That we were born with innate skills to lead. We know that batch of kool-aid is spiked with self-deceit and blind egotism.

And even if that was true, you need followers to make any form of leadership relevant and effective. Again, without followership you got no leadership.Fish followers

Most of us do not want to be at the bleeding edge of trends or ideas--too much risk and controversy. By the same token there is nothing worse than being at the end of a trend or a cause, that makes you out of step, out of touch and un-hip. So we follow our instincts and check our risk dashboards before following.

You know the questions we ask ourselves---Will I raise my hand and ask the "stupid question"? Will I speak out when something offensive has been said? When will I evangelize about my ideas and beliefs? At what time do I express a contrarian view? These are the day to day forms of followership/leadership that emerge. Sometimes we act and sometimes we regret acting or not acting.

It is rare and I would assert non-existent, to start something entirely new, that was not inspired or motivated by something/someone else.

I love this video

Let me reiterate the lessons here:

  1. Leadership is defined by the followers
  2. The leader needs to nurture the initial followers
  3. The first follower transforms a lone "nut" into a leader

Don't get caught up in just becoming a leader. Start leading by following. Look for ideas, mentors, role models, profiles, case studies, stories, that resonate with you and where you are going and who you are becoming. Talk to your network about these ideas, follow their leads. Invariably, what you want and seek is being done or being pursued. Who is doing it well? Who is considered the best? Who do you know that has these answers?

It all starts with what you want and what you value. Following is not a sign of weakness. It is a necessity. Follow something and/or someone to bring the best out of you.

By the way, maybe more than any other person you have been following, is your mom. :) Hope you acknowledged how much you appreciate being her follower this weekend and everyday.

Thanks for following along and reading. John

Re-inventing Yourself to Get Back to Work--The 360 Degree Job Search

More than ever I am having conversations with former execs, managers, and senior professionals who are in protracted searches for the same level positions they held. They are using their existing resumes and applying for the same titles, same/similar industry, and certainly the same compensation. They are exasperated but undaunted despite the lack of results. The overused quotation from Einstein is apropos here, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Albert

I hear many focused and definitive statements like these:

"I will not accept a position below Sr VP." I have to make more than $100,000 to live." "I have never been paid below this level. "I will never apply for a position below this level/salary."

But it is basic marketing 101 to evaluate your strategy when things are not working. Focus can become myopia. You have to change it up. You have to expand your search to jobs and industries and sector outside of your current world and where there are more prospects. You have to start looking 360, sideways and down instead of just in the same places. This inevitably starts the conversation about position, title and compensation. What is a lateral move? What is beneath me? What will compromise my entire career?

Settling for something lesser is not preferred but may be necessary. It may require huge changes in your lifestyle. Downsizing or rightsizing your life is probably smart now. Just like the entire business community that has cut back jobs, maybe one of yours, and is now prudently hiring at a very slow pace.

Looking for a new job is a brutal experience, especially if the search yields few leads and fewer interviews. It can be frustrating and discouraging. It triggers all of the worst feelings about your competence and confidence. Been there and it is no fun. The sooner you can get back to work the better.

Ladders When I was laid off I had to re-think my career and my life. I took a serious pay cut to re-build my experience in a new world--non-profits. So far, I have taken three pay cuts, two demotions, and 1 lateral move to make career changes. You have to go down the ladder to climb up another. It is just the law of nature. It is the method of surviving and sustaining your professional career.

You have to swallow your pride and your irrational ego and find a path that makes sense. Not working is the worst strategy. A big and growing gap between your impressive position and nothing raises more questions than not filling the void.

Piecing together a new career after a set back is one that all employers will sympathize with. When you show your desire by doing what is necessary, your story is more compelling.

You say you are creative and innovative. Then re-invent yourself!

The candidates that are having success are using a combination of volunteer work, consulting, related but "lower level"jobs , and education to fill in their resumes---to stay fresh and to keep the rent paid.

Hard to even get a look or a call back if your time between jobs is approaching a year and you have nothing on your resume.

Customizing your resume and your cover letter may be more important when you shift directions in your job search. I have advised many people to remove items from their resume to make them more aligned with a new industry/sector and/or lower level position, so they don't receive the dreaded "overqualified" response.

  • Align duties and achievements with the job requirements
  • Remove degrees or additional information that give you "too much" experience or education
  • Shorten your work experience to the last 10 years or so

In times like these you have to reach down and unplug your vanity and get back into the game. Demonstrate your resolve, your creativity, and your resilience and you will look and sound like a candidate worth hiring. With your new resume and targets, connect to your network to get new leads and feedback. Seek advice from your mentor. Hopefully, this re-energizes your search and opens up your eyes to opportunities and optimism.

Thanks for reading. John

Multi-generational Networking and Mentoring

If we are honest with ourselves we all harbor prejudices about others who are different from ourselves.Stereotypes persist because they contain a grain of truth. However, we learn that stereotypes confine a group to a convenient little box. Stereotypes ultimately hold back a group, especially if they are not in control.Once we discover for ourselves the truth by meeting and getting to know people, we find out how limiting and pernicious stereotypes can be.

One of the most misunderstood prejudices is between the generations. Always been the case, but today it is amplified by life expectancy the profound differences in the accelerated changes, experiences, and historical events that have shaped each group's point of view. Like all discussions of differences, there is a fine line between education/awareness and reinforcing stereotypes. That being said, thinking about and understanding these differences is a part of appreciating commonalities. Generational

Take this Generation IQ test to see how you fare. And then check out the chart below to remind you about  the basic differences among the generations.

Boomers and the Millennials may have the biggest generation gap. Not just in years, but in world views. One irony is the former formed the latter's mindset. This is highlighted in the workplace. Boomer bosses can't understand the work ethic or what they perceive the lack of one. And Millennials are peeved by the attempts to make them fit into the old set of rules that have not proven to make the world any better. Like all divergent points of view, both are correct. Nothing gets done unless there are bridges of mutual benefit and understanding are built.

This is where networking and mentoring come to the rescue. Everybody wants to be listened to and to be understood. Spending the time to get to know one another will enable you to find out that you want the same basic things. Some of the issues are pretty insignificant. Some flex in the rules and hours. Making the impact of the work more palpable, more meaningful, and more understood. And giving the youth guidance on the path to their goals. I have found these steps help. Bottom line: listen and find the common grounds before making any statments or pronouncements. 



born 1920-1944

Baby Boomers

born 1945-1964

Generation X

born 1965-1976


Gen Y

Born 1977-1994


Great Depression, WWII

“Sixties”,Vietnam Advent of TV, Civil Rights

Iran Hostages, Divorce, Latch-keys, Microwave Ovens

Computers, Internet, Helicopter parents, 9/11


30 million

36 million

50 million

77 million

Work Style

By the book - "how" is as important as "what" gets done

Get it done - whatever it takes - nights and weekends

Find the fastest route to results; protocol secondary

Work to deadlines - not necessarily to schedules


Command/control; rarely question authority

Respect for power and accomplishment

Rules are flexible; collaboration is important

Value autonomy; less inclined to pursue formal leadership positions


Formal and through proper channels

Somewhat formal and through structured network

Casual and direct; sometimes skeptical

Casual and direct; eager to please


Personal acknowledgement and compensation for work well done

Public acknowledgement and career advancement

A balance of fair compensation and ample time off as reward

Individual and public praise (exposure); opportunity for broadening skills


Work and family should be kept separate

Work comes first

Value work/life balance

Value blending personal life into work


To the organization

To the importance and meaning of work

To individual career goals

To the people involved with the project


"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

Necessary for progress

Practical tools for getting things done

What else


























However, mentoring offers the most powerful tool to span the ravine between the boomers and the millennials. Millennials want to learn and grow and they want to define success. Boomers need new ideas, technology and energy. On the surface this is a marriage made in heaven.

"Mentoring young employees is a tested way to transfer knowledge, and there are mutual benefits. "There's a lot to be said for reverse mentoring," says Piktialis. "Younger workers can learn about the organization and social networking from older employees, but experienced workers can also gain so much in terms of new technology and proficiency." Use your younger employees for sharing and training on the latest software and hardware; they will feel valued for their skills, and your older employees will benefit by staying current. says Diane Piktialis, research working group leader of the Conference Board.

I learned this the hard way when I led my first start-up. I realized my limitations in the new tech world and I swallowed my pride and engaged younger mentors to help me understand and lead with the best information. In exchange, I showed them all of my bag of tricks and gave them more opportunities. Later I turned this into a more intentional process to make sure we captured this two-way mentoring process to benefit the organization's mission. In the end mutual goals were achieved and both the mentee and the mentor were better off.

Consider a skill based mentoring program where mentor and mentee are matched on interests, not seniority or position in the organization. Here's an excerpt from a program touted by the University of Texas:

Consider creating a mentoring program based on your workers’ skills and not based on their function or seniority in the organization. This new and different approach gives any employee from any generation a way to transfer or receive a new skill. For example, an employee might want to learn how to “tweet,” another employee may want to learn how to coach. Whoever possesses that skill within the organization, on any level, can share that information with their co-workers. This model allows all generations to learn together in a way that doesn’t threaten anyone’s position, because it centers on learning different skills from a variety of co-workers.

While technology is the easiest focus for some boomers, look deeper for other connecting points. And for the millennials, leadership and management may be the obvious topic. If you take a complete interest inventory, you will discover other opportunities to enhance the skill and knowledge needs in your organization.

Being a leader today requires you to engage tools and processes to optimize the talents and potential in the people you manage or work with. It requires you to create new partnerships, alliances, and mentorships to be successful.

No one wants to be accused of discrimination or prejudice--although it exists. Understanding these generational differences makes us better employees, managers, marketers, parents, and customer servers. Advancing mutually beneficial ideas that connect parties of different generations may be a productive first step across the generational canyon. Connecting and listening always help. Skill based mentoring may be a tangible way to make more progress between the cubicles and offices and beyond.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking to our Future through our Past

Re-acquainting ourselves with ourselves can be the most powerful experience. Clearly the elements of your uniqueness, your passions, and but it may be your story and your genealogy that paves the most revealing paths to expand and diversify your network. We are all multi-faceted, multi-talented multi-racial----we are all immigrants, we are all diverse---probably more than most of us understand or know. Just the discovery process of asking your parents, grand parents or any relatives will give you insights into who you are--and I promise will set you on a new networking journey.

Went to the opening of Kip Fulbeck's new exhibit called Mixed Race. Check out the book. Multi-racial Americans are the fastest growing demographic/ethnic group--that will be again confirmed by the 2010 Census.

My mother's family traced her family back 1100 years! And in Japanese families, these family trees always lead to a famous Samurai! And of course so does ours. That inspired my own roots search. I went to Japan with my best friend Willie Banks, who happens to be African American and is more Japanese than me. I wanted to find Kunta Kobara.:) Believe it or not Willie was my interpreter, like a sitcom, quite the site! Just imagine Japanese people talking to me, my mouth is not moving, and a perfectly accented response is coming from Willie's lips towering above me. We traversed my grandparents homeland and met some of of my Samurai relatives. I confronted my past and my friendship with Willie deepened. My view of myself was altered.Samurai

In Hawaii, most everyone is "hapa" meaning part Asian and other races. On the islands, there is a pride in the number of ethnicities one claims. Some used to say they are chop suey like the made up Americanized Chinese dish that combines many ingredients.

One of my parenting goals is instilling pride in our children about their heritage. My kids are hapa. Half Japanese, a quarter Korean and a quarter Irish, Welsh and German. Kind of a sukiyaki, kim chee, irish rarebit stew with a splash of sauerkraut.

We want them to appreciate their lineage, but if you have kids, their identities are their own.  They care less about race and ethnicity than us adults. They are smarter! No matter what you do, birth order matters. Our oldest daughter Jenna enjoyed a comprehensive education about her histories. And my youngest Bobby, also got a good dosage to help him form his self-concept. This story tells the tale of our middle child, Malia. For and knife

I took my three heirs to a local Mexican restaurant. We are munching away quietly and Malia, about 8 or 9 years old, says, "Dad this food is really good, what is it?" "Malia, it's Mexican food! We have it many times", I retort. ","Oh yeah," she says, "because we are Mexican." My brain freezes and instantly turns to panic. I have done such a bad job as a parent! I quickly recover and assert, "No no no, we're not Mexican. Nothing wrong being Mexican but we're not." I pull my plate to the center of the table in front of Malia and Jenna knows what I am going to do. Jenna takes over as the big sister. She takes her knife and lays it down the middle of the plate and says, "Malia this is you", pointing at the plate. Malia looks on with curiosity. Jenna points to left half of the plate, "this half is Japanese, you are half Japanese", picking up her fork. She lays the fork across the knife to form a cross on the the plate. Malia points to the other side, "What's over here?" "This is you too", pointing at the top right quadrant, "You are also a quarter Korean." Jenna's forefinger glides down to the bottom right corner and finishes, "Oh this is you too, you are also a quarter Irish, Welsh and German." Malia was carefully following Jenna's place setting lecture and a look of understanding washed over her face and she exclaimed, "So we are not Mexican!"

Parents can only do so much and frankly are only one source of information! The process of discovering who we are forces us to network beyond our parents. To network with our families. Network with people we truly care about or relatives we don't know. Those discoveries will trigger conversations, questions and inevitably interests that will expand our universe dramatically.

And those discoveries lead to new interests and other networks you previously were unaware of.

Right now your concept of yourself is limited. It always is and always will be. Because the process of understanding who we are is never ending. I meet people who settle on their identities, on their possibilities, on their destinies and it makes me crazy. They don't even see the incredible potential others do. Part of that process is the comprehension of where our chromosomes have been. Not to understand our differences but to fully appreciate our commonalities. Do you really know who you are? Make this discovery part of your life's quest to understand your history and your network will expand in ways that will open your eyes to the future.

Thanks for reading. John

If I don't, I will regret it!: Avoiding the Regret Matrix

No Regrets!
Make service to others, relationships, passions, your priorities, and success will follow.
No regret I have finished my last 100 presentations, workshops and speeches with this quote. I have believed for a very long time that the number of regrets--what we wish we did, chances we did not take, things we should have done--are a much better measurement of our age than the clock. You know the "shoulda, couldas." Not talking about the micro regrets of daily transactions like buyer's remorse over the cell phone you purchased. Or the tiny faux pas or thought about how you could have done something better. I am really not talking about anything you have done. I am talking about the heftier regrets of not acting, of not doing something that we regard as important or now see as an opportunity lost. I once asked Guy Kawasaki what his greatest regret was. He told me about a company that was formed by some nerdy Stanford students in Mountain View, who wanted Guy to be their CEO. Guy turned the job because the commute was too long and the name of the company was silly. It was Yahoo. Fortunately this is one of many stories that Guy does not regret! But if we accumulate many regrets, then we become old because we are not as fulfilled or satisfied with our lives. We are also not happy, especially when you look in the rear view mirror and keep asking, what if? Once you have a box filled of these regrets, you have the tendency to give up on your goals and dreams. You start to settle. You doubt yourself. You accept your fate and the rest of your story is predictable. And we lose the best you have to offer. And that's why this is the slipperiest of life's slopes. A slope that not only treats your personal and professional expectations as mirages but accelerates your life satisfaction on a downward aging spiral.
Met with a former colleague last week who has made great contributions to society and to our community. I like meeting with her because she is a source of strength and inspiration. She is going to complete her 14th year in the same line of work and I began to probe what was ahead. She started telling me how old she is (I already knew this) and how her options have narrowed. Saying meaningless things like, "I am not as young as I used to be." What?!!! She sounded tired and resigned to her choices. She is 60. While controlled, I was furious with her. Not because she is lacking great ambition at this stage of her life. Not because she is thinking realistically about her last few chapters of her life. But because she is starting to give up. In a last ditch effort, I said, "What do you have to do in the next 5 years, or you will regret it?" She began to regale me with her plans with her kids and family, travel that was important, and the specific goals for her organization. Her eyes became the windows to her soul again and were filled with the verve and intensity upon which I have become dependent. How can our ambitions evolve with our lives but continue to energize us? How do we continue to minimize our regrets?
Like exasperated fans who leave well before the game ends, their concerns start to turn to the traffic rather than on what they think is an unlikely chance to succeed. After all, giving up is the definition of death, isn't it?Regret
What is not understood is if you try things and they do not work out or even if you fall down on your face, these items do not turn into these aging burdensome regrets. Those were opportunities that we did not pass on and we stuck our little necks out of our hard turtle shells and took a chance. As the baseballers say, hard to get a hit if you don't swing the bat. So to be clear, regrets, the ones that grow into tumors and weigh a life down like a bad set of samsonite are the regrets that resonate from chances not taken.
There is a great body of mathematical and probability research on decision making based on payoff or regret matrices. On the consequences and antecedents of decisions we regret. Most have to do with consumer behavior. One study published in the journal for the American Psychological Association (2002) concluded, "As a consequence, decisions not to act that are followed by a negative outcome result in more regret than do decisions to act that lead to outcomes." But while regret may be informed by the numbers it is ultimately a matter of the heart.
As a parent and a manager of people and someone who tries to lead others for a living, I have experimented with the proverbial carrot and have also deployed the stick. Can you get more from sugar than vinegar? Is a pat on the back as effective as one a little lower? Do bonuses work better than fines? Is pleasure a greater incentive than the pain of the consequences? Shouldn't a dream be more powerful than regretting not pursuing the dream? These debates about human nature have raged on for centuries. Like most complex processes, it depends. But one thing is certain, most people have thoughts about their futures. They can say they want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. They always say this. Inaction, by not doing something, is the source of regret. And considering in advance that regret may be the greatest motivator. Otherwise, life happens and those notions of the future get supplanted by the traffic jam of life rather than what they see down the road. 
Many chroniclers of life have documented what people say at the end of their lives. Just finishing John Izzo's Five Secrets You Have to Know Before You Die. Like Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do With My life? or Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah. People tell us what they wanted in their lives and where they came up short. Regrets play a big part. Those that are the least happy have an unchecked bucket list. The top of the list is filled with relationships that were never consummated, reconciled, or handled well. Then there are a few other regrets. These are passports or experiential tickets that were not stamped. They failed to visit places and try things. They are often described as chances, as opportunities, as things that were vital to them but were never done. Now just a collection of "youthful" impulses that are no longer practical and gather layers of regret dust. Feel the gray hair and wrinkles growing uncontrollably?
How do we minimize or avoid this fate? Or how do we stop the slide down this depressing mountain? Pretty easy. Start acting on your ideas, aspirations, experiential wish lists, AND your relationships now! You have heard the ole questions: What will you say to those you love when you are on your deathbed? And why are you waiting until then?
Having no regrets, is regrettably a negative way of acting. But I think it works and it is powerful. It is the best way to make decisions of consequence that require your instincts and intuition. Which decision would we regret more? This can be very telling. Graduate schools, jobs, travel destinations. The one, if you did not have it, you would regret the most, is always your first choice.
Start listening to your heart and as I like to say, take great notes. Understand what you will regret and act to avoid it. A life without regrets is more meaningful and happier. And you know what you are like when you feel that way and the impact that has on everyone around you. And when we have more people taking chances and pursuing opportunities, we have a more vibrant and dynamic society. So minimize regrets in your life for yourself and for the rest of us too. It is a fool proof way to make you younger and happier and that is something you will never regret.
Thanks for reading. John 

Networking for Asians? Lessons from East and West

This is a topic that I am asked to address more often than any other. Let me go off on a brief Dennis Miller like rant before I share some thoughts.

Being Asian Pacific American (APA) has many challenges. Statistically we are still considered the "other" race. Despite the fact that there more APAs in LA County and now in California than African Americans, the research, the polls, the evidence of public information rarely includes APAs. Add the persistent and pernicious model minority myth (mmm), that promotes all APAs as college bound/college educated, financially well off and without problems, giving the general public a warped and/or uninformed view of our community. The diversity of the pan-Asian community in the US defies any generalization. This mmm undermines the response to the growing needs and suffering that new immigrant and low-income APAs face. Apa

Why is this relevant here and to me? Because it has impacted my ability to mentor and network. It has altered how I have been received and what influence I have been able to exercise. Mind you, I am not complaining. I have no reason to. However, I know that experiences that happen to me everyday remind me how other APAs are impacted in their quest to advance their lives and careers. Believe it or not, I still get the, "where are you from?" or "you speak without an accent" comments. Or worse, the look of indifference, until they find out my title.

Many compliments I have received about my leadership, speaking ability, and career accomplishments have been relative to other APAs. "John is one of the most articulate Asians I have met." "John is one of the leading Asians in his field." Hard to be recognized for one's achievements outside of our appearance. Really is. Whether Latino or female, we can see success in narrow demographic worlds. And there will be those that say, that ever since we started using hyphenated American terms, instead of just Americans, we established this separateness. A little truth to this, but the root causes of hurtful discrimination and prejudice would be present regardless.

For the last few years, APAs constitute the largest non-white population of college graduates from 4 year institutions. More APAs than African Americans and Latinos, a little discussed fact (that may contribute to the mmm), but a game changing reality. What does this mean? You will continue to see disproportionately more APAs in the workplace, in leadership positions,  eventually in the corner offices, on corporate boards, in public offices and maybe even on TV. APAs will be a force to reckon with. Everyone will need to mentor, network with, and serve more APAs over time. Networking with APAs is becoming a skill de riguer.

Tensions have been emerging over the last decade at Fortune 500 employers who put a premium on college grads from good schools and therefore have been hiring more APAs. Friction between the APA employees and their managers is caused by not promoting the "most qualified" because of stereotyping and ethnocentrism. Managers are conflicted and APAs are frustrated. Managers do not understand the cultural nuances and APA employees have not fully adapted to their work environments.The most enlightened companies have openly addressed these trends. IBM, Pepsi, Price Waterhouse, Kraft.... have invested in processes to train both sides of the equation. Better prepare APAs and simultaneously educate the managers. They know their companies win in the end.

I have been asked by some of these companies and others, through LEAP, to address this topic, usually focused on "Networking for Asians". The premise is Asians need to network more like Americans. Clearly a faulty objective. I have found all employees and managers need help mentoring and networking without regard to their ethnicity and backgrounds.

A number of times I have done this workshop, Networking for Asians, I have had a majority of non-Asians attend! They thought the workshop was focused on how to network WITH Asians. There is a pent up demand by non-Asians to make their professional relationships with APAs more productive and effective.Got rice

I was recently presented with a copy of this book by Yang Liu, a young Chinese girl who lives in Germany. She developed this powerpoint show a few years ago on the differences between the perspectives of east and west. Liu observed first hand these differences in her bi-cultural immersion in Berlin? These slides definitely relate to networking and relationships that you may find amusing and educational:

The tools of mentoring and networking are universal and cross-cultural. Sure there are some cultural differences and there needs to be much greater sensitivity on both sides. This is life. This is adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Always seeking commonalities. Being open to meeting and helping others. Even if they are different, even if they are APAs. Chances are they will be.

Thanks for reading. John

Your Career Kitchen Cabinet

We all know that any great organization, company, even celebrity, certainly political leaders need a small circle of trusted advisers. And as we see in the news headlines everyday, if that counsel is not real and provides only encouragement for the wishes of the leaders(s), then trouble is imminent. --Like the old drunk who relies on the lamp post more for support than any illumination. True advisers provide accountability and a reality check on actions and plans. Who advises us? The regular folk who are not famous, rich or elected? We all have goals and dreams, but many of us need help to keep us on track. Otherwise, we can get away with saying and thinking things we never do. By the way, thathabit will give you a monorail ticket to a very undesirable place called Regret City!

Less than a couple of weeks into the new year you are probably still committed to your resolutions -- please say you have not bailed yet. :) One way to insure longer term success is to form a "kitchen cabinet",a group of your trusted advisers to monitor your progress and hold you to your goals. Similar to a board of directors, your cabinet knows your goals and asks for status reports. Like a a good board they are not interested in effort and activity, they want results. They are interested in a better you. BoardBoard room

However, unless you are such a popular person where you can attract people to serve your needs and you alone, then you should build a different structure based upon reciprocity. A group, no more than 6, that agrees to help one another. This kitchen cabinet gets together on a regular basis for the expressed purpose of advising and assisting ALL members succeed. This is a group of serious colleagues that care about each other and are committed to helping one another. Career guru Barbara Sher calls these success teams. It is a mentoring seance, where you are joined by the futures you see for one another.

Here are some basic tips on how you get started buiding your career kitchen cabinet:

  1. Forming the cabinet--Clearly, picking the members of your cabinet is the toughest part. Start with a couple of the people you know well. People you trust and getting together with them more frequently would be fun. If they know each other that is even better. Meet with them and broach the idea. I advise against couples only because invariably it introduces elements that can distract from the group goals. Things like chemistry, candor, and buy-in can be factors. If you are daring, each of your closest associates could invite one person that would add new dimensions and breadth to the group. And there is always something about having new people there to make you more attentive to the process. The key is getting people that have rapport, agree on the group goals, and are committed to mutual success. Try to avoid a group that all have the same backgrounds, political beliefs, or industry connections. This is where diverse thinking is powerful.
  2. Convening the cabinet--Without consistency this will not work. Sher recommends weekly meetings. I think monthly will work. But like a good book club, you got to prepare and show otherwise all is lost. Each member rotates to convene the group by choosing the location and date and time (if you have not settled on a regular date and time which is recommended.) You can set standards about the quality of the establishment, cuisine, newness etc to add a little incentive for the group. One group I was in required the host to cook "extraordinary" food so at least the food might generate thought. The group should make a one year commitment--12 meetings.
  3. Common ground for the cabinet--This is critical. Getting everyone familiar with the bios and backgrounds of each member is essential. So spending time on the introductions, in-depth and revealing understandings of one another will generate a new network of opportunities. Next, everyone needs to write down their goals. Use my SWiVEL or devise one based upon the needs and interests of the group. Having a common form that gives everyone a starting point for the conversations that will ensue.
  4. Cabinet sessions--After the intros and written docs, the sessions just have to make time for every member to report on their progress and allow for feedback. Not so formulaic that it feels too structured but focused on your purpose as a group. The assumption is every member is there to offer advice, expertise, and their network.

Hands together
But this is not a business as usual approach that helps one another achieve mediocrity. The secret to this concept is others will invariably see your potential more than you do. Your ideas become more polished or get abandoned because of the feedback. And when the group gets some momentum built on respect and trust, then the cabinet can become an incubation lab to explore new ideas and aspirations.

The reality is WE is always better than ME. We have to work together to refine our ideas about where we are going. A kitchen cabinet can be a powerful advantage that strengthens your network and your path to achieving your goals.

Thanks for reading. John