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November 2008

Giving thanks for the cards we are dealt

I truly hope your Thanksgiving was a wonderful epicurean and familial experience. There are few times when our entire clan gathers together and converses about life liberty and the pursuit we do on this last weekend in November. My brother Mitch had this crazy idea to have of all things a Gin Rummy card game tournament. We all groaned especially after he posted the tournament board where all 16 family members had to play EVERYONE. In other words 16 matches and then a playoff! But my brother had a method to his madness. By playing everyone you have to visit with everyone, you have to track down everyone. Every uncle, every grandchild, every sibling, every outlaw (I meant in-law:) has to sit toe to toe and engage. Sort of a speed dating for the whole family. It was brilliant and a lot of fun. Yes, some of the youngsters did get bored, but they stuck with it. And believe it or not, they enjoyed this old school game and the family competition. Funny how even in our extended families, regardless how close we are to one another, we lose touch with someone. Not on purpose but just in the haste of life. Beneath the sound of shuffling of cards and the whoops, moans and occasional trash talking of the winners and losers, the emotional sinew between and amongst our family members grew stronger. The greatest thing about our tournament was my 83+ year old Dad won! 

 My daughter Malia and I flank the 2008 gin championMy daughter Malia and I flank the 2008 gin champion

No compromises, no sympathy wins--he just out played and out-foxed us all. I played my daughter Malia in the semis for the honor to play Dad in the finals. We are a competitive lot and yet as hard as I tried my old man won. He taught me gin more than 40 years ago and it was a poetic and fitting conclusion to a magical holiday weekend. 

Funny how a card game can bring the family together, isn't it? What can we do to bring our families together next time.................?

Leave you with more eloquence from our soon to be inaugurated leader

President-elect Barack Obama's thanksgiving radio address

Thanks for reading. John

Got gratitude?

"Now, I have found that I cannot predict the stock market except over very long periods. I cannot tell you when the housing bubble will burst - only that it will burst. I cannot tell you when the dollar will stop rallying - only that it will stop. So I cannot tell you anything that, in a few minutes, will tell you how to be rich. But I can tell you how to feel rich, which is far better, let me tell you firsthand, than being rich.
 Be grateful."  Ben Stein 6.5.05

The art of appreciating and expressing our true gratitude for what others do and what we have achieved seems to be waning. Especially in times like these, there is a perceived necessity to become more selfish and less concerned about others. Gratitude for our declining share of we want can seem misplaced when our unrealistic goals are not being met. 

When I was working at Big Brothers Big Sisters, we started an event called the Big Thank You. It is an event where all of the little brothers and sisters write a note of appreciation to their mentors. These notes are published and delivered at an event celebrating the mentorships. While the event is focused on teaching the mentees gratitude, the mentors seem to get the most out of it. Not just because they are thanked officially, but because they are reminded of what this relationship has done for them to become better parents, managers, and friends through mentoring. Almost every mentor I have ever encountered has said that they got more out of the relationship than the targeted mentee. Saying thank you always benefits both.

There is ample scientific and empirical data to suggest that re-committing ourselves to the gratitude attitude will only yield dividends. A longitudinal study conducted by researchers at UC Davis and the University of Miami called aptly, the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness has recorded many insightful findings:
  • People who record gratitude lists enjoy more success.
  • Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.   
  •  People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others.  
  • Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions   
Take a few moments and make deposits into your Thank Bank:
  1. Think about your blessings this year, even amongst your hardships. Things that you feel fortunate to have and to have experienced. Write down three of them. Read them and appreciate your gifts.
  2. Think of people who continue to be there for you and have provided you with support, moral and financial. People whose friendship, love and care make a difference in your life. Write down their names. Tell these people what they mean to you. 
  3. Think of people in your life whose lessons and teachings continue to make a difference in your life today. People who mentored you. These may be folks you have not contacted for years, but every so often you think about them . Write down three of their names.  Reach out to them, make a call, e-mail them and express your gratitude.
  4. Think about the things you have accomplished so far this year. Things you know made a difference in your life and in the life of others. Things that may not have been recognized or earned you distinction, but in your heart these things mattered. Write down three.  Remember what you do is important and valuable.
By pausing and reflecting for a few moments you will see that the glass is not half empty. But the glass itself is more beautiful than you recall and it is filled with so much good that we have taken for granted or forgotten.  And by connecting and re-connecting with people you care about and expressing your gratitude, you will be inject that warm feeling for them you have into their hearts. Gratitude is one of those gifts that benefits us all. 

As our turkey dinners are being prepared and families and friends gather for our annual tradition, lets take inventory of the cornucopia of things for which we are grateful. And then, express in our own way, to ourselves and to our unique human support networks--Thank you!

Got this message a couple of days ago from a reader: 

I have been following your blog and have been floored with the great take-aways you have been sharing with everyone. I firmly believe the knowledge you are sharing is game-changing, if applied. Again, thank you for sharing your knowledge and please keep up the good work! Aden

I am truly grateful that anyone reads my stuff. :) Nothing is more powerful than getting a message that affirms you or your actions. 

Thanks for reading. Thanks for Giving Thanks. John


Context, Lies, and Audiotape............

Say what you mean and mean what you say.  March Hare, Alice in Wonderland

What you say, how you start the conversation, how you introduce yourself--really matters. Most people have a bunch of auto-pilot, semi-Pavlovian responses and routines. They say things that may or may not be relevant to the situation or worse, may not be something they even believe! 

What's Your BIT?
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." I pointed at Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)

Ups and Downs of Elevators
The LA Social Venture Partnership held a contest for the best "elevator pitch" from a non-profit. Non-profits were trained in the business art of delivering a compelling investment message about their work in 180 seconds. The winners received $20000 and all of the participating orgs received invaluable insight into how to articulate what they do and why it deserves support.

While non-profits are learning their pitches. We all have something to learn about making a concise and compelling pitch about our business idea or why someone should hire us. Intuitive as this is, it is no simple task. 

David Rose, the serial entrepreneur, gives in 10 things to know before you pitch a VC for money He discusses how you convey Integrity, Passion, Experience/Knowledge/Skill, Leadership, Commitment and Vision. These are essential qualities for any investment including the hiring decision. What is your elevator pitch for yourself? How do you convey these qualities in the answers to the interview questions? In other words, how are you expressing your qualifications, differentiating yourself from others AND conveying a great sense of comfort that you will fit in. Like a VC pitch, this take work, practice, and feedback. Being brief and concise is much harder to do. It is far easier to babble, ramble and make it up on the fly. :) Mark Twain said, "Sorry I have written such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one." 

The personal elevator pitch is used when you are asked the hardest and easiest question in the world, "Tell me about yourself." This is where you can shine. You can't rely on your ability to improvise or ad lib. You are ready for this question with your prepared story that is relevant to this context, this job, this pitch. You get to communicate what led you to this moment and opportunity. You are given the chance to highlight your progression and what you learned. A career without failings and therefore learnings is one that is surreal and pretentious. All brag and no fact. So be prepared to talk about your mistakes as well as your successes. One of my most memorable interviews was with the legendary Vinod Kholsa, he asked my to "review my greatest failures in reverse chron order and do not tell me the lesson learned." Never had that one before, he was trying to see if I could reflect on mistakes and whether my mistakes were big enough. In the end, your story gives some clues as to who you are and what makes you tick. Your story can be 2-3 minutes long and it will lead to follow-up questions and your interview will turn into a conversation. This wiki-how page has a good summary Personal Elevator Pitch As recommended, write it down, practice in front of a mirror, make an audio recording of your pitch, work on it to make it feel and sound natural. You can only do that with real preparation and practice. And get feedback from your mentors. They will tell you if your story is believable and engaging.  You can only do that with real preparation and practice. 

Everyone can use a little or a lot of work on their story and their pitch. The buildings where these elevators reside are much shorter today. So stop the audiotape answers, smile, be conscious of the context and tell your story! 

Thanks for reading. John

Matters of Mentoring and Marriage

Rosa sat... so Martin could Obama could our kids could fly...  John Rothmann

One of the extraordinary impacts of Obama's election is the new definition of "possible." Many thought this would never happen in their lifetime. Others thought it might never happen. When that mindset persists then it trickles down to what the children think and how they dream. Today, kids sit in sandboxes and are talking about becoming president that never previously considered it. Not just African-Americans either. All people of color relate to this change and to how it opens up possibilities. Obama is someone who hails from so many places, from Hawaii to Kenya, from Illinois to Indonesia. His mixed heritage makes him appealing to nearly everyone. When the glass ceiling is pierced then people see paths that did not heretofore exist. You combine this with the dramatic increase in voting, in political activism, new interest in our country's status in the world and you have the formula for real change. Any President-elect has the power to mentor to serve as a role model, but Obama's victory has created new goals and new dreams for millions, especially among the youth. When people believe in a leader that is influence. When the leader enables them to believe in themselves, that is the most powerful form of mentoring imaginable. 

The other phenomenon I am witnessing is the new gravitational pull of public service and government work. Dozens of people have told me they are considering moving to Washington DC  to help, not seeking high level appointments but to pitch in. Students across the country are changing their majors. Young and more mature people want to make the dream a reality. A huge shift from "I hope someone does something about it" to "I should do my part, my share. " Of course, some of the bubbles will burst with reality and we may heap too much hope on top of a pile of political promises. But, don't we want a movement of engagement over the silence of apathy?

Here is an excerpt from a statement my boss sent to the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week:

"President-elect Obama must capture that passion and energy at the polls and convert it to a lasting commitment to make our society a better place. He has motivated and inspired  people – and our youth in particular – to act, whether it’s through volunteerism or more active civic participation in our communities. Antonia Hernandez, President CCF

Sometimes we hear a whisper from our conscience or subconscious telling us what we should do. And now we hear a clarion call to engage and to offer our commitment to work together. The mentor has set the bar and now we have to leap!


This afternoon I officiated my first wedding. I took an oath and became a Deputy Commissioner of Marriage in Orange County! What an honor but an awesome responsibility to preside over the ultimate networking moment. :) It is one of life's greatest miracles when two people meet and become soul mates. Too often people are wrongly matched or grow apart, but when two strangers collide randomly and then conclude they are meant for one another--that's amazing!

 I have known Quan Phung for 15 years, since he graduated from Stanford in American Studies and started talking about becoming a TV producer. His family fled Vietnam right after the war, with 30 minutes notice and $5 to their names. They ended up near San Diego. Quan's introduction to America was through the Del Mar race track of all things, where his uncle introduced him horse racing. Long story short, Quan became an expert handicapper and won a science award for his probability model. It led to his acceptance at Stanford and then as a Coro fellow, where we met. Quan was intelligent and creative beyond his years. He had a hunger that came from his immigrant roots and a blind belief that he could become anything he wanted in the land of opportunity. He came LA to be a TV producer. In spite of my mentoring, Quan became one of the biggest TV producers in Hollywood. Producing and creating such shows as House, Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, Bernie Mac, My Name is Earl, How I Met Your Mother etc etc. He came from humble beginnings, learned the culture, got his education, and dreamed big. And he has never forgotten his heritage and remains one of the biggest advocates for fair and equal representation of Asian and Asian American images in the media.

His soul mate is Michelle Ko, another super talented individual, with her doctorate from Columbia, has chosen education as her medium of change. Her family came to to this country from Taiwan seeking a better life and had to overcome great hurdles to assimilate and raise a family. Today, Michelle is the Director of Asian Pacific Student Affairs at Loyola Marymount University. In 2002 she was chosen as one of the most influential Asian Pacific Americans in the nation.

Just another great American story of immigrant families making sacrifices for the next generation. Michelle and Quan have made the most of their opportunities. And their newly combined love and talent will yield untold new achievements. A marriage built upon the visions of possibilities..........

I met Quan and now Michelle because I took a few moments to "mentor" Quan and now they mentor me. One of the miracles of mentoring is when the students teach the teacher. 

Thanks for reading. John

Keep asking the question "WHY?"

First of all, got a bunch of inquiries about the Yiddish calendar, which is pictured below. Andrews and McMeel discontinued the calendar after one year, “because we don’t know why it sold.” Oy Vay! I know, lame excuse, but today there are many Yiddish calendars, I think inspired by our pioneering efforts………..Calendar


The WHY question can be irritating, because it can never end. And at times it can seem juvenile because it requires no thought. When I was a Coro Fellow in Los Angeles, one of my favorite learning experiences and my best networks, the WHY question was prohibited. The basic message was to fully understand the WHY you should ask the "what?" the "where?", the "who?", and the "how?" questions. Nevertheless, as we mature finding out WHY? may be the most important question we ever ask ourselves or the people in our network. Fully understanding the reasoning, the motivation, the origin, the incentive of an action or an event can clarify so many things. We tend to assume or worse view it as irrelevant.

A friend of mine from Coro, Joe, was telling me a story about his family. His wife is a busy executive and Joe often plays Mr. Mom. Their mornings are hectic and frenzied scenes where getting ready for work, feeding the kids, and getting everyone out the door in a timely way is the goal. Pretty typical setting for most families. His wife is cooking some eggs, Joe is tending to the one year old and the 4 year old son chimes in, "Dad, what's a hard-on?" Multi-tasking Mom overhears and wheels around and expounds, "WHAT did he say Joe?" And proceeds to lecture Joe about the evils of TV and their responsibility to monitor what he is watching and gets off on a good rant. Joe holds up his hand to his wife and says, "Wait!" Joe turns to his perplexed son and asks "Why do you ask? And where did you hear these words?" Mom has her arms folded and is IMPATIENTLY glaring at Joe. His son replies nonchalantly, "On Winnie the Pooh," and goes back to eating his cereal. "Really, Winnie the Pooh?" Joe queries. Joe sneaks a glance at his wife. His son continued, "Yeah, I just wanted to know why Rabbit is so hard-on Tigger."

The WHY question can be pretty powerful and revealing!

A couple of days ago, I met Charles Collier from Harvard. He is a much sought after speaker on family philanthropy, how to engage families of wealth in legacy and estate planning. He was addressing some of the well-healed donors with whom I work. His book Wealth in Families is a great primer for families to have these conversations, especially in how to engage the next generation or two. His lessons apply to all families and to our lives in general. He poses many WHY questions. Questions that will create "break through" moments, questions that help families understand who they are and what they want. 
  • Why are we involving you, our children, in our estate plans?
  • Why is philanthropy important to this family?
  • Why do we care about legacy? 
Collier also wants the family to understand HOW the family made money, what values and struggles it took to achieve their success. Having a series of family meetings around the future of the family triggered by estate planning will yield great benefits. 
The idea of constantly asking ourselves and the people we care about around us break through questions is essential. When we ask ourselves WHY we are doing something or why this is important, we have to reflect and evaluate the path we are on. When we ask WHY of others we help them pause and reflect too. The WHY question used judiciously can be very helpful in finding the truth. Besides, WHY does Tigger bounce so much? :)

Thanks for reading. John