think and sync

Finding Ourselves in Loss

What do we say when there is a tragedy, a death, something really bad happens to people we care about? 

Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. But Ian MacLaren noted wisely, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”

When I was younger I would try to draw on my capacity for empathy, but I had a fairly dry aquifer of emotional intelligence. Life, death, disease, and unexpected mishaps were frankly just part of the hand you were dealt. Our feline life expectancy dropped a year or two each chapter of our experience until we accept we have one life to live and it is very short.

As we mature and age we are exposed to more suffering, more tragedy, more death. It is a jolting reminder of our mortality and the mortality of the ones around us. We feel more compelled to express our sympathies and condolences. To offer support to the survivors. We struggle with doing the right thing at the right time. We write notes, emails, sign cards, and say things to comfort family and friends. Sometimes we rely on Hallmark for the words, say or write the same thing we always say, or we do nothing. At least for me,  it is an awkward process.

What can I say? What should I say? What can I do? What should I do?

I have learned so much being the recipient of these communications. Nothing like learning about yourself by how you are treated.

The golden rule always applies. Say/do unto others as you would have them say/do unto you. What would comfort me?

A rude awakening for me is how selfish I have been and others can be in trying to comfort each other. It is not about me. It never really is. But we can lead with "Me too", or "I know how you feel". 

The oddity of our clumsy and sometimes hurtful attempts to help is this: we have clear ideas from what has helped us in our suffering, but we do not adopt it when seeking to love others. We do not always speak to others in the way we would like to be spoken to.  Edward T. Welch

I remember a comedy routine, where a distant friend goes up to the grieving mother of a murdered child at the vigil to pay his respects. He gets nervous, then tongued tied, and blurts out, "I apologize."  Not the same as "I am sorry." :)

What I learned and others have taught me--Less is more. Stop before you start into your robotic motor mouth routine. Put your well-intentioned pie hole on silent. Silence is better than words. A hug says more than any profound phrases. Everyone deals with grief and suffering in their own ways. But there is a universal understanding that your very presence is more powerful than anything you say.  Bearhug

"I'm sorry." Is enough. 

Again, stop and look both ways before you stick your foot in your "me too" mouth. 

I really try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I hope people have done the same for me! A dear friend, expressed her condolences and tried to comfort me. Then she took the safety off of her verbal trigger and away she went. "Yeah, not a day goes by where I don't cry about my husband." I knew what she was trying to do, but it was our first conversation and the second thing she said.

"How are you doing, today?" The today part is sensitive to what is happening. "How are you?" is auto-pilot and invokes the silent "How do you think I am?!!"

Do not say: “If you need anything, please call me, anytime.” Another well intended thought but.........

– If ‘comforters’ knew anything about real hardship, they would know that sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need.

– If comforters knew anything about the sufferer, they would know what the sufferer wants or needs. 

– If comforters really knew the sufferer, they would know that he or she would never make the call. Never.  Tara Barthel

In his book, "The Reality Slap," Russ Harris presents two lists — the first, a few responses that genuinely make you feel supported and understood; and the second, a number of responses that, although meant to be helpful, aren't really all that compassionate. Let's start with the less compassionate responses (many of which I myself am guilty of, and if we're being honest, most of us have said at times):

  • Telling you to "think positively"
  • Giving advice: "What you should do is this, "Have you thought about doing such and such?"
  • Discounting your feelings: "No use crying over spilled milk," "It's not that bad," "Cheer up!"
  • Trumping your pain: "Oh yes, I've been through this many times myself. Here's what worked for me."
  • Telling you to get over it: "Move on," "Let it go," "Isn't it time you got over this?"

Here are some compassionate responses highlighted in Harris' book:

  • Asking how you feel
  • Giving you a hug, embrace, placing an arm around you or holding your hand
  • Validating your pain: "This must be so hard for you" or "I can't begin to imagine what you're going through."
  • Sharing their own reactions: "I'm so sorry, "I'm so angry," "I feel so helpless; I wish there was something I could do," or even "I don't know what to say."
  • Creating space for your pain: "Do you want to talk about it?" It's OK to cry," or, "We don't have to talk; I'm happy to just sit here with you."
  • Offering support: "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I took a thanatology class in college---Death and Dying. I learned about the 5 stages of dying that was asserted by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Most of us have heard this. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It made so much sense to me. It clearly applied to romantic break-ups :) But death? And the grieving? 

Pauline Boss' research disputes the application of these 5 stages to grief. That Kubler-Ross never intended to have them applied to grieving. We all want steps and stages. We want a linear routine to replace the organic reality. Boss' basic thought is closure for grief is a myth. While time heals, you will never be finished with your grief--and closure is only good in real estate. You don't want to forget or get over it. I know there are nuances here but really important ones. 

This myth of closure has helped me be more sensitive, more compassionate. Time heals but never erases. I know this to be true.

A colleague who did not know my Dad, said "Sorry to hear about your Dad. Tell me about him." I smiled, because I got to tell a Dad story and share my love and gratitude. For me, that was one of the nicest and most comforting things anyone said to me.

Part of building and maintaining a vibrant, authentic and altruistic network is our ability to connect to support one another. No time is more crucial than in times of loss and suffering. 

Remind yourself what would comfort you. Stop, pause, and be present. Say less. Suppress your needs and surrender to the needs of the other. Good advice for all of us almost all of the time. Be kind: For we are all fighting great battles and carrying great burdens that are not known to one another. (my interpretation of Philo)

Thanks for reading. John


Ambition to Walk the Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren Yakobovich: Exposing human rights violations through innovative surveillance.

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

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

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

antonio machado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambition is connecting and ambitiousness is isolating. 

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Thermodynamic Networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is real energy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

  


What's New? and Making Something from Nothing

Without the salutation of "Happy New Year", we return to our old rote greetings or conversation starters. "What's new?" is one of the most popular.

How we answer this question could change our life and the lives of others.  But instead we all tend to perpetuate an empty robotic exchange of nothingness. 

I know we are "busy" and short cuts and auto-responses expedite, streamline, and generally make our lives more efficient.

But what about the unintended consequences? What is lost in the these meaningless transactions?

A lot.

Everyday, we enter into many micro transactional conversations that involve these queries. Our brains are not engaged, we blurt out things in this short attention span edition of our ADDHD lives. 

So someone you know or don't know innocently and probably automatically says, "What's new?"

My unscientific survey reveals these most popular and ineffective answers:

  • Nothing
  • Not much
  • Keeping my head above water
  • Busy. Very busy
  • Same ole same ole
  • Nothing to complain about
  • Nada mucho, how about you?

You say you want conversations. You want want less "small talk" and more substance. And yet, your answers to this question often leads to a laughable script for the least substantive conversation possible.

What's new?

Nothing. Really busy.

Yeah me too. Nothing-to-say

Wow. Weird to be able to mouth the conversation as it happens, like a movie you have seen too many times. You know what the next line is so your interest and attention fall off.

Are you a network node that leads to other people, ideas and places or are you a predictable dead end street?

We have to stop these robotic meaningless, missed opportunities to connect! And it is not just the hollow responses. It is also the duty of the initiator to follow-up. A "nothing" response can't be accepted. The lack of sincerity and veracity have to be called on the carpet.

"Nothing!" And then you launch into a list of the things you have monitored and tracked because you are a master networker. You ask about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, their charities. You are following the updates of your network. And you know from FB, Linked-in, blog posts, and the media that--"Nothing" is simply not true.

So YOU ask about the new things that your colleague is too busy or lazy to mention, to resurrect their attention and the conversation.

Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?  You attract to yourself what you give your time, attention and words to---Negative or positive. 

So when you have nothing to say you attract nothing. 

So now change the setting to an interview.  Are your answers different? Of course.

How about when your boss' boss sees you in the elevator?

How about when you meet someone you do not know who will be your next boss?

How about to a head hunter? Or a prospective new client? 

The point is you may never know who you are talking to until you do. 

The challenge is your brain and your mouth get into bad habits. They start talking before you think.

Pause before you answer any question? Think then speak. Listen then respond. Awaken in the moment! 

Never say "nothing" or that "I'm busy". We are all busy!

Start by bragging or complaining? No way! Start with something positive.

Personal or professional? Yes! Talk about what is new that is on your mind. Work, your kids, your hobby, the book you are reading--anything and everything is available to mention.

I try to put myself in the mindset of an ambassador. How am I representing my country, my people? Who am I trying to help? How can I be authentic but also diplomatic? How can I assert my ideas without offending? How can I engage people in my work in a mutually beneficial way?

You can't win with just defense. Responding to all inquiries is good but what do you think? What will you assert or advance? Who are you trying to help--besides yourself?!

Your reputation is built on your impressions. Listen to yourself. How are you doing? 

I have always asked my external teams, my sales reps, my fundraisers--anyone who interacts with the public as part of their jobs--How do you answer the question: "What's new?"

This is a softball pitch, right down the middle. You have to be ready to hit it out of the park.

I coach my teams to use this wonderful question to discuss something that is personally exciting to them about our organization. Something that is new, fresh and interesting. Something they know about. Not the elvevator pitch. Not the company line, or that last press release necessarily. Their genuine energy and enthusiasm will be contagious.

Nothing is never interesting or engaging. Nothing is worse than boring. Nothing is a lie. Nothing is not even possible.

What's new? A great question that deserves an answer. A fantastic conversation starter. Let's not waste it.

Adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking requires us to be the ones who put a stop to these meaningless conversations and help others make something from nothing.

Thanks for reading. John


Do You See You? The Meta-Mindful-Mentoring Method

Do we see and hear ourselves? Do we know how we come off? Other people do. But how do we gather, curate, and ultimately utilize these insights and observations to improve?

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author HBR blogger recently wrote:

“If you want to be more successful — at anything — than you are right now, you need to know yourself and your skills. And when you fall short of your goals, you need to know why. This should be no problem; after all, who knows you better than you do?

If we are going to ever improve, we need solid evidence about where we went wrong. Unfortunately, that's the kind of evidence that usually doesn't make it to our consciousness, making self-diagnosis practically impossible. And your own ratings of your personality traits are NOT well correlated with the impressions of other people (who know you well).”

We need help getting the right answers. This is not a DIY exercise. Self awareness

That's why I have 360 degree evaluations everywhere I have led teams. That's why I am such a big advocate of mentoring. You need to actively seek, receive and digest, honest and constructive feedback on a regular basis.  To get an accurate picture of you and the you, you want to be. You have to learn how to see and hear yourself.

It is almost impossible to see yourself, hear yourself, and understand yourself-by yourself. 

The challenge is we get into a mode of talking and behaving  where we are say and do comfortable things or phrases that don’t connect us to the real world at that moment. We are not present and self-aware. Our concentration and focus drifts so easily.

  • I just saw a new and very young magician at the Magic Castle. Her sleight of hand was fantastic, but her verbal routine was stilted, memorized and robotic. She was not feeling the audience she was going through her lines. For example, there was an audience member who was verbally reacting to almost everything the magician said. But the magician ignored him, instead of using him as a foil or engaging him. Technically her magic was terrific. But how does she get feedback? Who tells her how she did? With a little more experience, maybe a few video tapings, and some feedback will free her to see herself and be herself.
  • I interviewed this guy and he was well spoken. Told his story well. Answered my questions confidently but without any emotion or personality. What do I mean? Without revealing himself. There were a number of micro clues about his family, his volunteer work, and his passions, that I was collecting during the conversation. So near the end of the interview, I asked, “What don’t I know about you?” He stared me down for a mini eternity in silence and said, “I think we are good.” Whoa! Now here is someone not able to adlib, veer from the script, improvise, and get real. Here is someone who is not comfortable in his own skin and not very self-aware. His script was excellent but his engagement was horrible. I knew things about him he was not going to share with me! I always look for self-awareness and self-reflection in people I meet.
  • I have an employee who complained how unfair it is to provide the 360 degree reviews for staff outside his dept. "I really don't know what she does. I mean I work with her from time to time but I am in no position to evaluate her." I said to him, "Do you ever review restaurants, and their service on Yelp? Do you recognize good service at a store? I know you are observant and you can make quick accurate judgments and you are telling me you can't review and evaluate one of your colleagues that you worked with for a year? Hmmmmmm" 

Each of us comes to very fast conclusions from the things we observe, experience and encounter. We assign values, preferences, and judgments to OTHERS. We rarely turn this amazing power on ourselves.

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and  experiencing that moment. You hear yourself talk. You see yourself act. You  think about the way you think. Mindful

Emotional Intelligence EQ is simply put: “.. the ability to monitor one's and others feelings/emotions and understand them to guide your behavior and actions.” Daniel Goleman 

 According to Goleman there are 5 emotional competencies:

  1. Self-awareness (Knowledge of one’s preferences and intuitions)
  2. Self-regulation (Management of one’s states and impulses)
  3. Motivation (Awareness of your emotional tendencies that guide goal attainment)
  4. Empathy (Awareness of others feelings and needs)
  5. Social Skills (Skill in inducing desirable behavior in others)

I am really focusing on #1, #4 and #5. How does the way you come off genuinely represent you, the needs of others and results in something desirable?

Many sources out there to develop your EQ, your mindfulness. Meditation helps many. I like this post on Overcoming the Obstacles to Mindfulness.  

Once self-aware you develop empathy for others and your ability to lead your life and persuade others increases.

I See You. Do You See You? If we are more mindful and share these thoughts we can start to see ourselves. When we see ourselves we engage others in authentic ways that reflect the time, the moment, the feelings of the others. Your EQ is high. That’s when you make a connection. Not just a transaction for goods and services, but you connect. That’s when networking and mentoring pay off. When you reveal yourself and reveal the needs of others. Then we help each other see our truths, our true selves.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Are you Entrepreneurial? I Doubt It.

Our brains are not always connected to our mouths. We say stuff that sounds good that gets embedded in our hard drives and flows out our pieholes without any awareness of the meaning of these words. I meet lots of people who tell me their dreams, goals and ideas. I listen to the words they use. Robotically spoken words that have become de rigueur to sound smart and modern. Apparently if you are human with a pulse you now have certain traits because everyone now utters these attributes as their own. Here are the top 2 that have become commodities and to me suspicious:

  • Entrepreneurial
  • Creative/Innovative
These words once meant something important and special. No longer. 

What people really like is being in environments described by these words. Everyone loves to work in "entrepreneurial", "innovative" or "creative" organizations. But that does NOT make you these things. This is the confusion.

Breathing the air in Africa never makes you African. Being around talent does not make you talented. Being the son of an artist has never made me artistic. :)

First of all you have to prove with evidence that you are any words you use. Like Robin Williams, you would have at least 5 stories queued up ready to "ad lib" your proof that you are what you say you are. I know this sounds basic, but most people don't have any proof ready so there is nothing behind the curtain. In my experience these people are not evil purveyors of deceit, but they usually have not filtered what is directly flowing out of their craniums. So they do deceive themselves. These words and many others are part of their memorized routines, reflexive habits that occur well outside of their consciousness. IAmEntrepreneur1240-copy

When you use these words and all of you do, please be prepared to defend them with other words and examples you have thought about.

Let me just focus on Entrepreneurial. This one bugs me more than the rest. This is a sacred word to me. I know and have worked with true entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are friends of mine. And you are no entrepreneur! (you know who you are)

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Are You Entrepreneurial? This means you like taking chances; you take risks; you embrace failure and love to iterate. You are driven by passion and the problem you desire to solve. Most entreprenuers have been fired multiple times. They quit cozy jobs with dental benefits to pursue a passion or an audacious concept with no benefits.  Entreprenuers have glorious stories of failure. They have some stories of success. They always have side projects they are building in their proverbial garages. You are not entrepreneurial sometimes. You can't just turn on your entrepreneurial talent. It is in your DNA and it manifests itself everywhere you are. 

So if this is not you and you have no proof, stop saying you are entrepreneurial!

Big difference between claiming to be entrepreneurial and wanting to become an entrepreneur! It's great to aspire to be an entrepreneur. Seek them out as mentors, engage in entrepreneurial ventures, and explore your entreprenerial side. Try it on for size. The bug will bite you or not. You will know when it happens. Then this term will be true for you. Only then will you understand why true entrepreneurs recoil at hearing imposters cheapen this way of living and working by recklessly and irresponsibly adding "entrepreneurial" to their list of words in their resumes.

Let's also help others stop using these words when they are not true. Evaluate the words you use and be prepared to back them up with deeds.

Thanks for reading. John


Name Dropper Syndrome

I used to have NDS--Name Dropper Syndrome. The superficial use of other people's names to impress and where the user does not know the named person well at all. I am a recovering name dropper. I  went through Name Dropper rehab. 12 steps to cure my addiction. But it takes vigilance and the support of others to manage my temptations. I want to Name Drop all of the time. I have urges to tell people who I met or who I "know". But I realized after a long time of name dropping and hearing others do it--we do it because of our own insecurity ( I know Duh!) But like many bad habits, no one told me. My mentors never counseled me. No one ever said, "Hey stop using other people's names to make yourself look good." It was through my own self awareness that I got on the path to addressing my problem. Name dropper

We all know NDS sufferers. People who have a Tourette's like ability to cough out names to impress you. I now play a game with these people. People I interview or I meet that clearly have NDS-- I count the names. I have always counted ums, ers, uhs. I know this is weird, but you know me. :) I counted these interrupting and distracting sounds when I became aware of my own usage. I went through trainings where others counted my ums or rang a bell! I do the same with names dropped. It is like a fantastic video game in my mind. The bigger the names the louder the whizz bang sound in my mind. The name dropper mentions someone I know--small splash sound. They mention a celebrity --Kapow! They mention a world leader, Bill Gates etc--fireworks!

The other day I met one of the world record holders for my game. He was a machine gun of name dropping. Hard to keep up with him. My mind was awash in explosions and bright lights and whatever he was trying to tell me was lost. I know I may need a different kind of rehab!

Don't confuse NDS with being referred by someone you know!

Be aware of yourself. Never show up and throw up. Think before you talk. Self edit. And Get feedback.

Name dropping done in excess and done recklessly hurts your brand. Can make you look superficial and egotistical. 

If someone you know has NDS--help them . Friends don't let friends name drop. Now that is mentoring I could have used. 

Thanks for reading. John


The Commodity of Crowds

We are a product of our environment, right? No doubt that everything we do and everyone we encounter changes us a little or a lot. But how do we take advantage of the crowds arounds us? How do we avoid being dragged down by the crowd? And regressing to the mean? Everyday we can be pushed to realize our potential or pulled to be like everybody else. 

The nail that sticks out gets hammered.  Japanese proverb

It is human nature to to fall in line. the Asch conformity experiments demonstrate that we will lie about what we see to conform. 

I meet thousands of people who are in the federal witness relocation program. No not real former witnesses hiding out. But people under assumed identities--identities that they assumed from the advice of others. People told them what they should be, what they should study, what jobs made financial sense. They ignored their own interests to make the crowds around them happy.

Don't accept hand-me-down dreams. 

If we were a product how would we market ourselves? How would we promote our brand? What would differentiate us from the other products? Your resume? Your job? You?

Fear, the change around us, doubt about our chances, make us conservative and practical. We pull back our dreams, our aspirations, and our talents. We accept less of ourselves. Less of who we are and what we want. Not talking about our personal budgets. Financial prudence should always govern. I am talking about carving out a life and career that truly reflects you.  Fish

If you always do what you have always done then you always get what you always got.  Stuart Crab

Finding what makes you different requires hard work, experimentation, fast failures, iteration, and certainly not settling. To live an authentic life you have to pursue who you truly are. So the journey is a self discovery of what you love doing, what defines you, what your talents and strengths are. Your network and your mentors can help guide you through this journey if you open your mind and heart.
A true life starts with talking straight about who you are and who want to become. Taking chances to become your best authentic self. Stop using false statements---the use of other people's words that mean nothing to you but satisfactorily answer the question of "Where are you going?" Or "What are you doing with your life?" Glib but disingenuous answers that are meant to stop the conversation. A great mentor would never let you get away with such answers. 
It would be much easier to live a life that "happens". You take what comes to you. Settle for what others want for you. The authentic life is the opposite, you chase it. You hunt it down. You stalk your passion and purpose. 

Why be a commodity of a crowd?  Are you different? Are you average? 76% of Americans say they are above average. So I guess above average is the commodity. :) We can't accept that. 

I leave you with a wonderful Carlos Casteneda quote: 
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. ... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

There is wisdom in crowds but don't get lost in them.

Thanks for reading. John

The world shrinks if you don't

How many meetings do you attend and later think about the question you did not ask? Do you attend events or social outings where you avoided meeting people who you share a warm and common connection? When is the last time you reached out to "friends",  acquaintances, or your boss's boss without a request or an agenda?

We are all so busy. Sometimes inattentive to the people and opportunities around us. Each of us experiences these small world moments. Moments when we discover a connection between people we meet that surprises us. These moments arise when we pay attention, when we listen, and when we get to know each other beyond our superficial and often selfish interests.

 So are these moments luck or fate?Small world

Neither. We are connected to each other in ways that we will never know without making an effort to have a conversation that wanders, explores and learns about one another.

You probably have heard of Moore's Law--which essentially states that computing power/speed doubles every 2 years. This has been true for more than 46 years since Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, made this prediction in 1965.

I believe that our interconnectedness, our degrees of separation, or the smallness of the world, if you will, is also increasing at exponential rates. Much has been studied and written about our connections. In the late 60's Stanley Milgram conducted legendary experiments that remain the foundation of the theory of six degrees of separation--the idea that every person on the planet is no more than 6 people apart. Other research from the 70's, showed that Americans were 3 degrees apart. This was all before the internet, email, cell phones and of course social networks. We are so much more connected. I think in the last 5 years, we have doubled our interconnectedness. So what does that make people in the US--1.5 degrees of separation?!! So the world IS getting smaller.

One of the things I like about Linked-in is the way that you see how you are connected to people, the levels of the connections and the proximity of the relationship. It facilitates ways to check up on people and to request introductions. You can quickly see the people who are well connected and those who are not. Of course sheer numbers do not tell the complete story, as much as the quality of the people in it.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his seminal book, The Tipping Point about the Law of the Few. That a small group of people are better Connectors who have a much stronger ability to develop and maintain relationships. The Connectors are network hubs and can accelerate connections.

How many Connectors do you know?

Every time I make the extra effort, it always pays off. One of the most amusing moments happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at a large meeting of my national foundation colleagues and I took note of several I wanted to meet to compare notes. I saw an open seat next to one of them at dinner and introduced myself. His name was Sean from Chicago and about 25 years my junior. So there were no apparent connections. I resisted talking too much or grilling him like an aspiring 60 Minutes reporter. Instead I asked, "What are you working on now?" He launched into an energetic and engaging description of his work on a new strategic plan. That's when we had our "small world" moment. He mentioned one of my closest friends Nat Irvin, who lives in Louisville Kentucky, as a great source of "out-of-the box" ideas. My eyes opened up wide and I realized that Nat's assistant emailed the day before to introduce me to Sean. I agreed to be connected to Sean. Early this morning I received an e-mail from my dinner mate to schedule a long distant conference call. Clearly, he had not put 2 and 2 together either! I looked at him with a smile, "You e-mailed me this morning!" He looked at me with real surprise and he blurted out, "Who are you?!!" It was so funny. Nat referred him to me to also assist with his strategic planning. That morning we were planning an inconvenient telephone call, and now we were having a robust face to face meeting. Now thats a small world.

As I have said, you don't know who you are sitting next to.

We all have these stories. I am telling you they are not luck or coincidence. The world is small and shrinking. The world will remain a daunting, vast and mysterious place, unless we look for, listen for, and reveal the amazing connections we share.

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

  


Email and Phone Interviewing: Think and Sync

When there is furious competition for scarce few jobs, employers invoke intuition, subjectivity, and instincts to govern their decisions. Assessing talent has to be done quickly. Otherwise, you lose the great candidates. Great candidates are perishable and the not so great have a much longer shelf life. Quicker and "more efficient" filters to determine which candidates move ahead are being instituted. Job openings are precious and making a mistake would be inexcusable. Being smart and fast is vital. That position has to be filled with someone who "fits" to keep up with the increased workloads of the surviving employees and the great desire to keep the ship afloat and moving ahead. Scarcity

A friend's brother, who I have been coaching thru job interviews, just had his 6th phone interview for the same position! He was not prepared for this. He is anxious to meet the people in person, but has had to endure protracted inquisitions with teams of telephonic interviewers. It has tested his ability to remember that each successive group had not heard his answers before. Without body cues and facial expressions, he learned he had to listen, think before he answered, and confirm he was in sync with the interviewers.

Everyone knows why this is happening. Everyone understands that there are a lot more qualified people chasing a fewer number of jobs. Interview and selection processes have changed with these circumstances. However, many candidates have not adjusted their approach to respond in kind. They just prepare their resumes, cover letters, and interview the same way they always have. And many hit the buzz saw of change and don't know what hit them. The key is to think and then sync.

Business computer and phone Email and phone interviews are just two of these changes.

E-mail interviews: Either a follow-up to your online application or just a regular interview step, email is being used to clarify questions about your resume and your qualifications. This is a quick test of your writing ability. Can you write about yourself and about your candidacy? Writing clearly and completely is a must. Here's a sample of e-mail interview questions.

  1. Why did you leave your last position?
  2. Why are you applying for this one?
  3. What is your minimum salary requirement?

Seemingly innocuous questions. But how you answer matters. Short terse answers show you do not care. Long rambling ones show you can't write. Thanking the sender for the opportunity and crafting a few pithy sentences that directly address the questions is the goal. Think and sync.

Phone interviews: Your preparation here is no different than for an in-person interviews. In fact, they carry more weight because they determine whether you advance. Most phone interviews are trying to see if the candidate is a fit. Increasingly, these are group phone interviews. Multiple people to listen and participate, again to speed up the process and gain consensus. The big difference is using your ears to connect to the interviewers.

Some basic tips:

  1. Schedule the interview when you are in a quiet place and ideally not on your mobile phone.
  2. Write down the names of all of the participants on the call, so you can address them by name and then thank them at the end.
  3. You smile while you talk. People can't see your face but they can hear your smile.

Here's more on etiquette and tips for phone interviews.  

In the end, all interviewing is about thinking and syncing. Listening to the question (or reading), answering it, and verifying you answered it. Did you help the questioner understand your unique qualifications and what makes you a great candidate? Did you express yourself in a way that helps the reader/listener get to know you?

Knowing your story and your BIT is crucial. There is no substitute for practicing your answers to questions you know will be asked, so you can be confident and comfortable.

This new world of supply and demand gives the prepared candidates an edge over the under-prepared. The positive candidates a better chance over the hesitant ones. Whatever interview process they throw at you, you should think and sync. If you do, you will distinguish your candidacy and show off why they should meet you in person. 

Thanks for reading. John