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January 2009

Pursuit of happiness and the science of getting it

So the voting in my poll was lighter this week so I broke the tie and selected this topic. Please vote or make comments to help me make these posts as responsive to your needs as possible. Thanks!

President Obama's inaugural speech last week, which now seems like a lifetime ago, (because some of us have waited a lifetime for this moment!) was a great call to action. It was a repudiation of our collective dis-engagement from our local, national and global interests. It was a wake up call to get us re-engaged. Regardless of your political mindset and allegiances, all of us want our citizenry to participate in public and community service. We all want to serve, to come together and use our talents and resources to combat the issues that we face as a society. But to date, we have been lulled into an apathetic, NIMBY, cynical hypnotic state of how irrelevant our actions and opinions are. We have forgotten what a people inspired people can do. I am reminded of what Margaret Mead said, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  This is truly a new day and we must all find our places to contribute. 

Here are a few selected passages of Obama's speech (read the whole thing a few more times!) that are worth further examination:

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

....what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

I have dedicated this blog to connecting people to one another, to strengthen our sense of community and to helping one another by thinking about others first. Our President rallies our intellects and our spirits to think about how we can pursue "happiness", through "selflessness" and to our "duties" to the greater community. (Did I tell you I was enrolled at Occidental College the same time as Obama? Never met him but, aren't we "classmates"? :-))

So let me briefly address this "happiness" thing. In this context, happiness is not merely our disposition, how we feel, it is our holistic sense of our well-being and our satisfaction with our lives. It seems like human nature that if we do not feel personally fulfilled, or that our personal lives are not satisfying then we will struggle with adopting a lifestyle of helping others and deepening our relationships. Right? 

The Founders of our country, especially Thomas Jefferson, showed their brilliance in wordsmithing when he wrote that Americans were born with "certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." (italics added) It is this word pursuit that is so wonderful. Not getting, obtaining, achieving, or entitled to, but the right to pursue it. Also, remember that the original language that inspired this used the word property instead of happiness! Think about that. While for many "property" is an avenue to happiness. Most of us know that the road to true fulfillment is not paved with material things. After all how much stuff can you accumulate? 

Thomas Jefferson also said, "Virtue is the foundation of happiness." That exposes the myth. The truth is that by becoming the best we can be morally (by being virtuous) and professionally, then helping others and deepening our relationships is what will makes us happier. Happiness is not a pre-requisite to the other. Happiness is the by-product. 

But what is "happiness"? 

Just came back from an all day conference on Applying the Science of Positive Psychology. Some world re-known scientists and professors discussed the current progress of research about measuring well-being, life satisfaction, or forms of happiness. What are the factors that shape our well-being, a positive disposition? And does a positive disposition make a difference in our achievement of goals and becoming successful? And how can we use this knowledge to improve our health care systems, our schools, and our workplaces? 

At this 9 and 1/2 hour conference we were treated to a dizzying array of data and studies on "happiness".  Here are a few examples:

  • Study of nuns from the time of their acceptance into the convent to their deaths showed that 3X the "most cheerful" nuns lived to be 90 yrs or more than the "least cheerful" and lived 9.3 years longer!
  • Entering freshman at 18 years old were measured upon admission and then when they were 40 years old. the "happier" students made an average of 30% more money than the "less happy".  
  • Well being and "happiness" are being measured in 140 countries Gallup world poll  The US is relatively better off, but Denmark is happiest.  
  • The ideal ratio between positive and negative emotions is above 3 to 1 for humans to flourish. 

But how how happy are you? Check out authentic happiness, register and take a few of the free tests. At the very least take the Brief Strengths Test, the Authentic Happiness Inventory, and the Optimism Test. 

Some may think all of this is mumbo jumbo, but there is a science around how you perceive yourself, what strengths/virtues drive your sense of happiness and optimism. And maybe most important, how to focus on learning about what makes us happy, than trying to undo our unhappiness. 

Thanks for reading. John

Networking with Top Management and Other Intimidating Species

Thanks for all of you who participated in my poll. This topic was overwhelming the favorite. I will continue to use this poll to guide my blogging. After all I am here to serve. :) So as that great American Al Capone said, "Vote early, vote often!" 

Before I dive into this topic, the current environment is waking up a lot of people. As Samuel Johnson stated, "...when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." There are a lot more people with wonderful concentration right now! The good news is it is never too late to discover what you want and who you are. Once you wake up, you got to get up and follow your calling. Check out this WSJ article, but pay special attention to the amazing trail of comments it generated. Laid off and looking Unfortunately, this is a common and widespread experience. Can we get out our comfort zone and see new and different possibilities? Great Portuguese proverb, "When the wind fails, row!"

The Obsession with Networking Up
Of the thousands of people I have met and who have attended my workshops, the most requested topic is this one. There seems to be universal discomfort with conversing with senior management. Some of the reasons are obvious and some of them are silly. I will briefly discuss these issues and how to overcome them. But first, let me address this widely shared and I think misplaced focus on the people above us. 

Adopting the Mentoring and Networking Lifestyle (AMNL) is a 360 degree experience. It is founded on the principle that everyone has power and influence, that every person regardless of their title, classification, band, status, position, or demographic profile, must be engaged and respected. My point here is, we have no idea who people are beside and "below" us. --The people we work with and who work for us. I can tell you a thousand stories about assistants, clerks, interns and subordinates who were mistakenly overlooked by the blindly ambitious as irrelevant. "Lower level" colleagues by virtue of their family lineage, their background, and/or their sheer genius were powerful and influential people. A nephew of the chairman of the Board who was the receptionist, the girlfriend of the CEO who was an intern, cubical neighbors who hold the key to your dreams etc etc. I conduct many sessions for top execs, and one time a SrVP of a Fortune 100 company stood up and said, "Are you suggesting I network with secretaries?" With such a stupid question, I thought he was jesting. I went on to say that only an idiot would not network with assistants. Because assistants run the world! They tell their bosses what is going on, who is doing their job, who is good and who is not. They influence appointments and how your brand is viewed.

For the last 20 years, I have given the receptionist and my assistant veto power over any candidate appying for a job with my organizations. With a simple thumbs up or a thumbs down they could determine the fate of that candidate. Why? Anyone who decides to treat these team members differently than they treat me can not be part of my world. Every position is vital to creating a culture of trust, equity and collaboration. So networking up is only one facet of the omni-directional perspective of AMNL. 

Networking up usually implies meeting top execs to whom you do not report. Execs that you think are important to know. The most uncomfortable setting for this issue is the dreaded reception where the sycophants surround the C level leader. How do I break into this conversation? What do I say? A similar situation is meeting the high level exec one-on-one or in an impromptu setting. Planned or unplanned encounters. Here's what I have learned from my experiences and observing networking mavens:

  1. Do your homework--You may be glib and have the gift of ad lib, but you have to prepare. Google the exec you want to meet. Where did they go to school? What charities do they support? Do they have kids? What teams do they root for? 
  2. Execs are just people--Don't try and quote from the last article in Forbes you skimmed or recite some clever lines you think reflect the Exec's view. Ask questions about things they care about-- Their teams, their kids, their charities. And then, listen and let them lead the conversation. 
  3. Get introduced--Network and find someone that knows the exec and get introduced. Not a referral, but a warm handoff, ideally in person. At a reception, this is the most effective way to break through the crowd. Certainly this can be done via e-mail too. 
  4. Know thyself--My experience is that senior execs will turn the questions on you. After the small talk and the ice breakers, they want to know what you think and where you are going. You have to be confident about these answers. You do not have to be all-knowing but thoughtful and substantive. These conversations boil down to ad hoc interviews and you should treat them as such.  
  5. How can I continue this conversation?--People try to have THE conversation when they meet this senior exec. They try and say everything. The point of the first encounter, like any first meeting, is to get and give a good impression and continue the conversation. Now that you have been introduced and made a good impression, then find out how to continue it.  
Networking up is risky stuff. Don't do it unless you have done your homework and prepared yourself. Once you learn these things and do not rely on your improv theater skills :) networking up can be enjoyable. I have been thrown into situations with the highest level executives and these rules have always served me well. Although there are a few jerks out there, generally execs like to converse about regular things, treated as peers and that instantly levels the playing field. 

Remember, while networking up maybe your goal, your networking opportunities are all around you!

Thanks for reading. John

Desperate times do not call for desperate networking

I get lots of funny and helpful feedback from my loyal readers. I know my job as a blogger is very easy, because everyone tells me how to do it! :) My future blog topic list has grown over the last few months and I would love your help in deciding what I discuss next. So cast your vote on my poll over to the right. Thanks for your help! 

Don't network desperately
Unemployment rate now tops 7% nationally and in the golden state will top 9% when the latest figures come out. Some metropolitan areas have hit 25% unemployment. Job losses are now the highest since WWII. No wonder fear and desperation are increasingly evident in the working and networking world. When people get scared several things happen.They can get really focused on on what is truly important to them, or often they just start flailing about with little direction and thought. Employing a quantity theory to their actions--more is better. Throw as much as you can against the wall and something might stick. The consequences can be wasteful and reputationally damaging. See my post on speed networking

While these are desperate times, calling for desperate measures, we should not appear to be desperate or stupid. Often, we mirror our circumstances. When things are good we reflect that in our mood, our tone and even in our body language. When things aren't so good we do the opposite. And maybe even lead our conversations with how bad things are etc etc. Michale Losier says, "You attract to your life what you give time, attention and focus --positive or negative." Clearly this goes for networking too. Being calm in a storm takes energy and concentration. Panicking and over reacting is instinctual, but toxic. Treating your network like an ATM, where you input your transactional impersonal messages and expect value to just pour out is nonsensical. So desperate times require more strategy, more thought, and more thoughtfulness. Old American Indian proverb: "When you are lost in the forest, STAND STILL."

Here is an example of the "dumbest" networking request for assistance or advice I now get on a daily basis. 

"John, can you help my brother? I have attached his resume. He either wants to work in CA or NY. He is interested in for-profit or non-profit. Please let him know if you hear of anything. Thanks for your help." 
ANALYSISThis e-mail was exasperating on many levels. It violates the basic principles of networking at every turn. Ironically, the sender thinks he is doing a good deed, when in fact the damage to the network can be serious serious. 1. A generic networking request for jobs is worst than no request at all, because you can lose that networking contact and opportunity. 2. An unfocused networking request, says to me you don't know what you want, where you want to live--any job will do. -the greatest fallacy is they think they are being open to possibilities in different sectors or geography.The reality is this "openness" creates a black hole that sucks all of the networking potential out of the connection. And this is a deadly combo. The only thing that would have made this worse is If the brother cold contacted me directly. If I do not know this person well, I delete the message. If I know them, meaning they are in my network, I explain the disservice they are doing to, in this case, his brother.(FYI, I have finally connected with the brother and we are getting things focused)

So what would be acceptable alternatives: E-mail or voice-mail (a call doesn't hurt from time to time, if it is important or you have not connected in awhile)
  1. GOOD- "John, you have not met my brother, but he is thinking about locating to LA. His resume is attached. Can you carve out a few minutes to give him some advice?"
  2. BETTER-"John, my brother is trying to locate to LA from NY and wants to get a handle on the non-profit landscape. He is thinking about working in education. Can you talk to him and share your thoughts?"
  3. BEST-"John, my brother has an extraordinary background in for-profit and non-profit work. Check out his resume. He is very interested in working in charter schools in LA. Can you talk to him and give him your thoughts?" 
If his brother knew the exact employer or had his sights set on a specific opportunity, then the full power of the network can be engaged. Do you know a specific person or employer? is the basis for the most effective networking. Otherwise we are conducting informational interviews and helping each other. That's perfectly fine, just call it that. The key to this example is the way was paved by my friend's referral of his brother. See my post on opportunistic networking
Consider for a brief moment that the competition for any attention has been increased to a crazy level. Quality of the candidates, for vendors, for any business has reached a fevered pitch. Plus the readers of such e-mail or letters have less time and patience for poorly thought out appeals of any sort. What do you think the number one concern, besides quality and price, of the employer hiring or the organization engaging new suppliers/partners?  Trust. Confidence that they are making the right decision. What makes the difference in a crowded and chaotic marketplace?--recommendations from trusted sources. You want to get the time and attention of the decision maker:
  • Personalize the approach
  • Be referred by a close colleague/friend of the decision maker    
  • Demonstrate your qualifications 
It is a buyer's market! If you do not have the goods, the skills, the track record, then focus on how you can compete. But if you have the resume that matches the opening or the products/services that meet the need, then you have to be ushered in by a warm connection that lowers the anxiety and increases the comfort of the targeted decision maker. Comprende? BTW, this is always the case, but in times like this it is a absolute must. 

Thanks for reading.  John 

2009--Okay I am going to get serious!

Happy New Year to all! I truly wish you and your families a year of resilience and fulfillment. There are many sources of optimism for our future. Regrettably, I have to agree with the experts that things may not get much worse, but they are also not going to get better soon. As I have discussed these many weeks, there are many opportunities amidst the recession and the challenges.  In fact there is more latitude to make changes in times like these. So don't procrastinate, make this the time to advance your agenda, your ideas, and your dreams. Probably a time to adopt the mentoring and networking lifestyle :) Don't fall victim to the "Let's see how things go" or "I think I'll wait until......" No better time then NOW to make it happen! 

Check out this slideshow. I discovered it more than 10 years ago. I have shared it with every group I have led or addressed. Regardless of your religious views the message is profound and forces you to pause and reflect on what is important. 

Interview with God

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: godinterviewphilosophy)
A few additional thoughts to help you jump start your plans for 2009. 
  1. Write it down. Try out my new and improved  SWIVEL (Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy and Love)vision and planning tool. Download SWIVEL new 2009 Writing down your goals and ideas dramatically increases your commitment and therefore your follow-through. Even if you do not like this form, please write down your goals or your new year's resolutions. 
  2. How's my network doing? Conduct an assessment of your inner circle, your kitchen cabinet, your closest and dearest confidantes. Are any of these folks holding you back to where you want to go?  Does this group have the experiences and background to push you forward? Think about how you can enhance this group to add new perspective and energy to your journey. If this is the board of directors of your career, what changes, if any, should you make? 
  3. Who's my mentor? Getting good counsel in times like these is invaluable. Don't think of your next job as much as your goals and vision for yourself. What I mean is, your mentor(s) will give you an objective view on your plans and your thinking. Mentors can give your great advice on a job but may provide important insight regarding your career path. My mentors have pushed me out of my comfort zone so many times, I do not know the boundaries of the box anymore.:) Reconnect with your mentor(s) sooner than later. Maybe share your SWIVEL with them. Schedule your annual reality check up now!
  4. Connect and Reconnect. Make a list of people you want to see and get off the couch and go see them. Go to every opportunity to meet new people and experience new things. You need stimuli to see new opportunities, to try on new visions of yourself, to break bad habits/routines, to get inspired, and to earn how others see the world. If you are hesitating, this is a good primer on networking  I hate networking...  Jan 2 was the 25th anniversary of the day I sat next to this mysterious dark haired woman in row 21 on United Airlines. I was on my way to Hawaii for a vacation and she was returning home from Colorado. We started a conversation and we have been married for more than 23 years! Meeting people and good conversations can lead you places that may surprise you.
Where will you be in 2010? This is the time to think about that question. These are extraordinary times. If you are not motivated to get serious, then you have been either in a coma or highly medicated. :) If you make this a lifestyle choice, something you think about all of the time, then your transition will seem effortless. Take little steps everyday. Like the old saying, "By the inch it's a cinch, by the yard can be very hard." Make this a year to remember. Thanks for reading. John