Why Give and Receive Networking is a Mistake

festival backgroundIt’s probably fair to say that giving has long been a core tenet in diverse religious and moral codes. In fact, charity, or almsgiving, is typically regarded as an act of virtue which leads to societal as well as individual greatness. Even today, there is wide recognition of the benefits of giving. We’re naturally generous with friends, family, and business associates. Yet, we also donate to causes, we give back, we pay forward, or we lend a hand.

And while our generosity makes life better for the beneficiary, it also makes life better for us. It makes us happier and healthier. Insofar as giving freely benefits all involved it’s a good thing, especially as it establishes a virtuous circle that promotes greater joy.

The Perversion of Generosity

Unfortunately, the fundamental principle of generosity can become perverted, and often is. Business / career networking is a case in point. Perhaps there is no better example of an activity where quid pro quo is the rule built into nearly every interaction. You know. Help me get what I want, and I’ll help you get what you want.

Actually, as I was reminded in a post on “give and receive” networking, there is a new twist on that rule. And it’s to give often and unconditionally. Frankly, I think it’s misguided advice. Sure, the author of the post seemed well intentioned, and did a good job of setting expectations, including the meaning of unconditionally giving, not expecting help to come directly from a given individual you’re helping, and remaining open to help that may arrive unexpectedly from any source.

And yet, her conclusion was that it’s more fun when you approach networking as a game of give and receive. It made me think that this only corrupts generosity that’s meant to be unconditional. It creates the expectation that your unconditional giving will flow back to you, some day, in some way. It seems principled, but it keeps you locked in a game that remains the same.

Games Without End

Albert Einstein famously stated that no problem can be solved at the level at which it was created. While many of us believe we know what he meant, we mostly don’t. Fortunately, the three therapists who wrote Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution do explain it.

Drawing on the field of mathematical logic, the authors explain that groups operate in a way that preserves the integrity of their rules. Any effort to produce change from inside the context of the group can only result in an outcome dictated the rules. The system “…cannot generate from within itself the conditions for its own change; it cannot produce the rules for the change of its own rules.”

So, a game of give and receive will remain a game of give and receive. Operating by those rules keeps us forever at their mercy. In other words, unless we find a way to change the rules – and we won’t – we’ll be caught in a continual flow of transactions in which we give with the hope that we’ll someday get. And even if we receive, we’re at risk of being trapped in a game without end.

Leave the Game

Of course, we could always leave the game. We could abandon the illusion that all the selfless giving will benefit us in the long run. To accomplish this we need make a second-order change. In explaining this, Change authors draw on another theory in logic. While the explanation they offer is somewhat abstract, they are really talking about change of change. And perhaps the simplest and clearest example they offer is this:

“The one way out of a dream involves a change from dreaming to waking. Waking, obviously, is no longer a part of the dream, but a change to an altogether different state. This kind of change will from now on be referred to as second-order change.”

So, if the game of giving and receiving is the dream – and very often it is – the best solution is to wake up. That is, exit the game. Because only then can you make higher level changes that will have a positive impact.

Elevate Your Success In Life

Because give and get exchanges keep you focused on transactions, it becomes too easy to overlook the inherent value of relationships in and of themselves. Remaining forever focused on getting what you want traps you in a pursuit that may have limited benefits, no matter how much you give.

Worse, the game can keep you from developing relationships that are consistent, reasonably intimate, and create bonds based on shared experiences. In short, friendships that spark joy, and can contribute to living successfully across all parts of your life. And should you need help, it’s friends who are most apt to rally to support you. Why? Because they already know, like, and trust you.

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Being a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, mutual support, and enhanced well being.

You just need to wake up!

12 Thoughts On How To Stand Out

HiResRecently, I was approached by a colleague on LinkedIn who asked if I had any specific “do and don’t” personal branding advice for the UK College grads he works with. My first impulse was to refer him to several of the past posts I’ve written, and invite him to share those.

Yet, it occurred to me he was providing a fresh opportunity to revisit my thinking, and share my perspectives. After all, my views and work as a “personal brand” strategist tend to be different than those of the many other people who advise on personal branding. And the key difference is this: While I value the discovery process  I use, I think it’s an error to conceive of oneself as a brand or to go down the road of creating a personal brand.

Why?

Fundamentally, a brand is a reputation, and as such is made up of the shared opinions and beliefs about you. While you can influence your reputation, you cannot create it. Rather, you earn it by virtue of what you become known for. For example, Apple founders did not set out to brand the company as innovative; they simply innovated with a commitment to great design and user friendliness.

Lesson: Determine what you’re committed to, and then pursue it. Your reputation, or brand, will emerge over time.

Start with figuring out who you are, including your own unique set of attributes, beliefs, talents, story, and purpose. Then determine how to show up for the people you aim to serve. Put another way, to stand out in a way that matters, you need to develop your credibility and visibility.

Here, then, are two sets of ideas for establishing credibility and for achieving visibility. In each set, there is some overlap, and the ideas are presented in no particular order. In fact, the process is not so much linear as it is recursive. Still, it generally makes sense to start with becoming credible, and then move on to becoming visible.

Credibility: Being Who You Are

Be Clear About What You Stand For. Your actions and words are what define you in the eyes of others. How you behave is influenced by your own deeply held values and beliefs. Unfortunately, we aren’t always directly in touch with what those are. Without critical self-examination, you risk getting caught up in the beliefs and behaviors of others. Yet, true power over your destiny is rooted in personal clarity. Let’s face it, the ancient Greeks admonished “Know Thyself” for a reason.

Question Everything You Know. Whether you’re a recent college grad or not, you’re likely to have a head full of knowledge that will include what other people think you should know and believe. The problem is, some of those ideas could be wrong. Wrong in the most general sense of verifiable accuracy, or wrong as guidelines for living your life. So, challenge what you think you know, and keep only the ideas that resonate for you. After all, the hallmark of a great education is defined not by how much you know but by the questions you ask.

Calibrate Your Moral Compass. Living in a society generally requires knowing what’s right and wrong, and acting accordingly. Unfortunately, today, we seem to live with considerable moral flexibility. So, right and wrong seem to be moving targets. But by defining your personal code of conduct, they don’t have to be. A good start is to think in terms of personal morality (what’s right and wrong for you) and interpersonal morality (what’s right and wrong between people), and then set your compass accordingly. Just make sure that the values that populate your compass have clear definitions that guide your behavior.

Determine Your Current Reputation. As already noted, your reputation is made up of the shared opinions and beliefs about you. It is held in the hearts and minds of others, and very likely has both positive and negative elements. You probably already have some idea of how you’re seen, but it’s worth getting some fresh feedback. Simply paying closer attention helps, but you can get deeper and richer feedback by asking for it, either directly or by using a formal 360 instrument.

Identify Your Talents. HiResLike most people, you’re really good at some things, but not so good at others. Generally, what you do well is what allows you to produce results that will be valued by others. Typically, the more value you produce, the more successful you become, both at work and in other parts of your life. So, take some time to identify your talents and how you can put them in service of others. To this end, it helps to analyze your accomplishments in terms of the challenge you faced, the actions you took, the results you achieved, and how that made you feel. You may also want to take a StrengthsFinder assessment to identify innate themes for you.

Uncover Your Story. Frankly, there is nothing that sets you apart from others as much as your story. Even if you have beliefs, interests, and abilities in common with others, chances are you arrived at them by a different path. It’s worth tracing that path. You life is continuous ebb and flow that includes failures and turning points as well as triumphs and achievements. What’s more, by uncovering your story, you can identify the themes that give you a sense of purpose and direction. Knowing and being ready to share your story will help you truly stand out.

Visibility: Showing Up

Figure Out For Whom You Need To Show Up. Generally, the main people you need to show up for are the people who benefit from the value you provide. Most often this will be employers and clients, but can also include other organizations or groups who seek our service. Yet, beyond these is an array of people who matter to your success, including other members of your profession and various project partners. Taken together they may be referred to as your community of practice, brand community, or simply community. So, make sure to identify who they are.

Cultivate Relationships Within Your Community. Spending time with people, at work and in other settings, implies you have a relationship. Yet, your goal needs to be developing the kind of depth that makes those relationships professionally, and even personally, meaningful. While you won’t necessarily have deep relationships with everyone in your community, it is the foundation of your professional network. So, take time to connect both broadly and deeply, both in personal and via social media.

Get To Know the Interests and Concerns of Others. Ultimately, your goal in showing up is to become a relevant resource to your community. Yet, to achieve that, you need to know and what their interests and needs are, so you’ll be able to address those. The best way gain that perspective is to listen. Listen during real time conversations, and listen on social media. As well, newsletters and other professional publications can deepen your understanding.

Establish Your Professional Presence. HiResAs you gain a firm grasp on who you are, whom you serve, and what makes you relevant, you need to build your presence both online and in person. This means creating a personal communication set that includes your bio/profile, photos, video, and other media that help your community get to know you online, and especially on a professional platform like LinkedIn. It also means pursuing activities, such as volunteering, speaking, or meetups, where you can bring your professional presence to life by engaging others “live” and in person.

Share Valuable Content. Increasingly, standing out requires sharing your perspectives on matters of interest to your community. While blogging has been, and continues to be, a primary vehicle of many people, it’s not the only approach. Today, commenting on and sharing relevant content, has increasingly become a preferred strategy for gaining visibility. While there are many sources of great content, you can also benefit by finding and sharing the content created by leaders in your community of practice. Not only does this enhance your value, but can also help you develop relationships with those thought leaders.

Don’t Hesitate to Shake Up the Status Quo. Within your community, you’ll usually have one or more group memberships. Part of what establishes your belonging is a set of shared values, views, and beliefs. Mostly, this is fine; however, too much deference to a group eventually blocks your ability to differentiate yourself in terms of your views and approaches. To stand out, you need to express your contrarian positions when they arise. Sure, you expose yourself to challenge and maybe some ridicule. Yet, to the extent that the positions you take provide value to others, you can earn the kind of resect that enhances your reputation.

Why You Could Be Wrong To Hate Facebook

iStock_000035142008_MediumAbout three months ago, a friend of mine commented on social media that she was scaling back her activity, allowing her some refreshing anonymity. Because we’re friends, I know the life events driving her choice. Yet, it also occurred to me that we wouldn’t be friends today, if it weren’t for social media.

Of course, while meeting new people and developing meaningful relationships is still possible, social media has changed.

Based on a recent eulogy of twitter, as well as from personal experience, it seems we’ve left Twitterville behind. It sure seems that social media is different, and it’s future ain’t what it used to be. [Tweet this] Certainly, my friend continues to maintain presence on the social media platforms she’s been on, even if she’s scaling back her participation. Yet, there are whole groups of people who do choose to opt out of various social media platforms – especially Facebook!

 No Names Required

Let’s face it. Lots of people hate Facebook. [Tweet this] Not only is Facebook merely hated, but there has emerged an alternative social media platform that seems to hold itself morally superior. That platform is Ello. Actually, I base my sense of the founders’ lofty sense of self-worth on their manifesto which, among other views, states:

“Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.”

I told you it’s lofty. It’s also idealistic. But it makes Ello seem detached from reality. [Tweet this]

So much of what Ello rejects about Facebook are the kinds of social hooks that help people identify common views, interests, and activities. And no matter what your feeling on the ads and commercial elements on Facebook, we actually get to know about people by seeing what pages they like, the content they share, videos they watch, the products they buy, and more. Which I think is a lot like how we get to know people in “real life.”

Nor do I think Ello’s position on privacy is based in reality. After all, if you have a credit card, have banking and investment accounts, fly on airlines, shop online, or join loyalty programs, the data you generate is already being sold. What’s more, you don’t need to be on Facebook to get ads displayed to you. [Tweet this] They already show up in your e-mail inbox. So, it seems to me you face a challenge to stop it all; that is, unless you want to go off the grid.

I’ve tried Ello, and am not particularly thrilled. Valuing simplicity, Ello presents a very clean (if poorly designed) environment. Perhaps too clean. Unlike Facebook, Ello makes no suggestions. Since it doesn’t track my activity, it doesn’t know me. Nor does it know anyone else. In this sense, Facebook is like that friend who introduces you to new people. Ello is a disinterested bystander. [Tweet this]

Perhaps, though, the biggest objection I have is Ello’s no name policy. Specifically:

“You have the right to be anyone you want. You’re safest when you control what you disclose on a social network. You should not be required to give your real name, age, sex, race, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, education, home address, or any other personal information which could be sold to third parties.”

While there are some people for whom this may make sense, it makes it really hard to build relationships with others. After all, if I don’t get to know who you really are, how can I trust you? If I don’t trust you, how can I feel comfortable sharing with you information about myself? [Tweet this]

A World That Doesn’t Exist

I don’t want to imply that every one who gets fed up with Facebook skips over to Ello. Some simply chose to delete their accounts. In fact, the author of a LinkedIn post I just read, as well as many of the commenters, have simply deleted their Facebook accounts. Why? Well, in the case of the author: “I’m tired of wasting my time and energy interacting with a world that doesn’t exist.”

He goes on to explain that his decision was based on a recognition that Facebook had become an addiction for him, saying he found himself checking it constantly. Worse, he says:

“Facebook gave the illusion of engaging with others. Of course it allowed me to engage with a vast audience comprised mostly of people I never see and don’t care all that much about.”

He’s okay with LinkedIn, though, where he has 500+ connections. Of course, it made me wonder about the actual existence of his LinkedIn world. Yet to be fair, based on the balance of his post, my impression is that he’s more oriented to publishing his ideas than he is to building relationships. I’m actually okay with that.

Real People, Real Lives

What I’m not okay with, though, is the dismissal of Facebook as a “world that doesn’t exist.” [Tweet this]

Whatever you may feel about Facebook – or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or Instagram – it’s populated with real people who lead real lives. FriendsPeople who have challenges and aspirations, just like you do. If you don’t care about them, it’s really your issue. It doesn’t make them less real. Yet, if you regard them as real people and take an interest in them, you may find that you can make real friends in a digital world.

Still, if you find that Facebook – or any other platform – doesn’t bring you joy, break it off. But you may also need to acknowledge this: “It’s not you, it’s me.” Because it usually is.

Beyond Networking: Creating Supportive and Lasting Friendships

Making FriendsWhen was the last time you made an effort to brush up on your networking skills?

Well, if you’re in job search or trying to improve your ability to connect in business situations, your appetite for networking help may be related to the level of pressure you feel to get results. Fortunately, networking tips are not hard to find, and there are some excellent books that can help you. Of course, there are some great online resources too. In fact, my friend, Ora Shtull, posted a helpful video on using body language to enhance likeability. Great tips, and well worth checking out!

Yet, it’s what Ora said at the end of her video that really caught my attention. She said: “Let’s make sure our body language matches our words and intentions.” In a comment to her post, I noted that how we frame our intentions can be a big influence on how we experience meeting others. More often than not, openness and a genuine curiosity about people can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and building rapport. When we create an internal frame of receptivity, meeting others can become much more enjoyable. [Tweet this]

How Can I Help You?

Unfortunately, that’s not how most individuals approach it. Most are reluctant to meet new people. Until they have to. [Tweet this] In fact, based on what I’ve seen in my career consulting work, it’s often some need – often desperate – that gets people to reach out to forge new contacts. So, they brace themselves to venture out to networking events and other meetings to connect.

Some still work the room, leaving a trail of business cards in their wake. By now, however, most people realize that coming across as too needy or too aggressive can be a turn off. So, they seek to avoid appearing to be someone who is merely using people. To that end, most people follow the advice of networking advisors who suggest uncovering needs, and to lead with giving. In fact, recently, this idea has taken on such momentum that some see it as a paradigm shift from taking to giving.

While the intent is admirable, I don’t believe most people carry this out particularly well. Frankly, I become uncomfortable when someone I barely know follows up a meeting or an online interaction with an offer to help me. Call me cynical, but my first thought in these instances is, “What do you want?” That’s often followed with me thinking that if I need help, I’ll turn to my friends.

As I see it, networking has typically been about getting what you want. In the process, you may be willing to help others get what they want. In other words, it tends to be transactional. Friendship, however, allows for helping each other get what we each want – without the forced reciprocity. [Tweet this]

To be fair, Selena Soo, an advocate for leading with giving, takes a long-term view. That is, by being proactive in meeting people daily, and then nurturing these relationships, you’ll build good will and trust. Sounds to me like sowing the seeds of friendship!

Mere Exposure

Incorporating this longer-term approach into daily life makes sense. But how? Fortunately, not every situation is a networking event. Life presents us with many natural opportunities to meet others. And in situations were people are consistently exposed to each other, it’s often easier to connect.

Almost magically, through mere exposure, whether in person or online, the barriers come down and relationships get started. Familiarity, it seems breeds not contempt but likeability. [Tweet this] With consistent exposure we get opportunities to reduce our anxieties and break through barriers to establishing new relationships. Often, at a comfort level and pace that can work for us as well as the other person.

While the level of intimacy in these budding relationships may be low, consistency leads to what Shasta Nelson calls Contact Friends, that is, people with whom we are friendly when we see them in a shared context, say at a class or in an online group. Over time, consistency and growing intimacy allows these friendships to mature.

Cultivating Both Happiness and Success

In her book, The How of Happiness, among other practices, one happiness habit Sonja Lyubomirsky identifies is nurturing social relationships. More recently, Gary Vaynerchuk made this point in a compelling way that applies to both life in general and to business in particular:

“How we cultivate our relationships is often the greatest determinant of the type of life we get to live.  Business is no different.   [It] … happens in the small, personal interactions that allow us to prove to each other who we are and what we believe in, honest moments that promote good feelings and build trust and loyalty.  When given the choice, people will always spend their time around people they like. When it’s expedient and practical, they’d also rather do business …[with]… people they like.”

Friends enjoying the viewClearly, the level of success we attain in life most often depends on our ability to earn the positive regard of others, and to establish the kind of intimacy that leads to satisfying and sustainable relationships. Of course, while developing friendships seems like it should be natural, they don’t just happen. [Tweet this] They start with intentionality, but also take attention, interest, and sharing; and as trust grows, more transparency.

Take Small Steps

Certainly, there are some basics for relating to other people that work both in person and online. In fact, your mom probably taught you some of these. Yet, I think that fundamental to establishing relationships is draw out (or maybe nurture) your spirit of generosity and genuine interest.

When you take an interest in other people, they take notice. And more often than not, they take an interest in you. [Tweet this] But let’s face it; too much interest too soon is simply creepy. Rather, it’s important to do this in small steps. With care, you can make friends, even in a digital world.

Take that long view, and get started. Your life will be better for it!

Why It’s Important To Find Belonging

“I want my real life to be as fun as the one I paid for.” ~ Doug Harris (Josh Gad)

Group Of Friends Enjoying Drink At Outdoor Rooftop BarI don’t know about you, but sometimes we rent movies that we think of as mindless entertainment. They can be fun, but often not enlightening. So, it always amazes me, on those rare occasions, when one of these movies makes a great point.

So it was with the Kevin Hart movie, The Wedding Ringer. In it Kevin plays Jimmy Callahan, a “wedding services consultant” who provides best man services for guys without friends. In the process he shows his client, Doug Harris, played by Josh Gad, what having a full life can be like! Not only does Jimmy serve as best man, but assembles a misfit group of groomsmen, throws him a bachelor party, and in the process shows Doug the best time of his life!

It got me thinking how important friends and a feeling of belonging are to living a full life.

Unfortunately, as Gad’s character discovers, keeping our relationships narrowly focused on work can be a big mistake. And too many of us are guilty of it. Often, we let an obsession with becoming better networkers hold us back from building longer and stronger relationships. [Tweet this] That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage.

Make A Diverse Array of Friends

As I see it, we do well to recognize opportunities to make friends in a variety of situations, both in person and online. In some cases, doing so can mean stepping outside your comfort zone to put yourself “out there.” Yet, since most people focus mostly on building relationships related to business, let’s consider friends at work.

In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, business, health, and well-being author Tom Rath points out that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction! [Tweet this]

Add to these findings, the perspectives of his latest book, Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, and you begin to see the impact of meaningful human interactions and relationships on the quality of your life.

Don’t limit yourself to work friends, though. Let’s face it variety is the spice of life, and this is true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. [Tweet this] Fortunately, this is much easier than ever in today’s social media rich world.

It Comes Down To Belonging

Friendship comes down to belonging. Yet, although “circle of friends” is a well known metaphor, we don’t often think of the groups of people to whom we “belong.” Perhaps it’s because too many of us still cling to the distinction of friends and acquaintances. [Tweet this] While we think of friends as people who we can trust and rely on, acquaintances are “just” people we know. Frankly, this is not a helpful distinction.

A better distinction is one made by GirlFriendCircles.com founder Shasta Nelson, who sees five circles of friendship based on levels of consistency and intimacy. In her model:

  • Contact Friends are people we are friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom share a common activity, but also with whom we make an effort to expand the relationship, and who make the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom we have expanded our relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.Three mature ladies smiling
  • Committed Friends are people with whom we have intimately and consistently shared our lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  •  Confirmed Friends are people with whom we share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when our connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes easier to see our various relationship circles. And when we can see that it becomes easier to enhance our belonging across multiple circles of friends.

Why Bother?

Studies show that belonging enhances your well-being. Yet, if you need a more pragmatic reason, consider this: When you belong, you don’t usually need to worry about getting help from others. You just ask. And naturally, you’re always ready to return the favor. So, imagine if this were true in every part of your life – from getting support for your fitness goals to finding new work. Whatever it is, the support of others helps you be successful at much of what you want to achieve in life.

So, as Doug Harris discovered, imagine how great your life would be if you enhanced your belonging across all your circles of friendship.

Tell Me, Who Are You?

iStock_000023596130Large“I woke up in a Soho doorway / A policeman knew my name…” ~ Pete Townshend ♫♬♪

If asked to give a clear statement of who you are, what would you say? Like most people, chances are what you say will depend on the circumstances. In a job interview, you’d draw on one set of details. On a date, you’ll choose others. No surprise, really. After all, we are complex beings with various abilities, beliefs, interests, values, passions, experiences, and more!

Chances are you have, and convey, various stories that express who you are. But it’s unlikely you consider yourself to be fictional. [Tweet this]

Yet, as a commenter on one of my LinkedIn posts, pointed out, Professor Bruce Hood, author of The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, argues that the self is essentially a fiction we create. Based on this, she asked, “…how do we be true to a self that’s fictional?”

She has a point.

Nonetheless, as a practical matter, I’d guess you don’t ordinarily think of your illusory self. Rather, like most people, you engage life with a sense of the essential being that separates you from others. When you think of being true to yourself, you typically mean staying aligned with your view of your unique character. [Tweet this]

Yet, based on my work on “personal brand,” I see story as critical to identity, and have long agreed with Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, who says, “This story that I tell about myself is only based on a true story. I am in large part a figment of my own yearning imagination.”

While I believe that we can uncover, and be true to, a core sense of self, I do know that story does permeate our being.

We Live In Story

Any time you relate a personal experience, you’re telling a part of your story. [Tweet this] And even if not crafted with the skill of an expert storyteller, your story gives the listener a window into your life and a glimpse of who you are. And when those views reveal shared experiences, they foster a bond or emotional connection.

For most of us, this process is so natural as to be nearly imperceptible. We experience the benefits of stories without a whole lot of thought about the nature of story, and why stories are so deeply woven into our every day experience. In fact, the science of storytelling tells us that we are “hard-wired” for stories. So much so that they have emotional and cognitive effects that shape our beliefs and our choices.

Stories You Tell Yourself

Stories are as powerful as they are pervasive. On some level, I think virtually everyone believes this. Yet, if I were to say, “Your story is powerful,” you, like most people, might become a bit self-conscious and tend to downplay that power. But you shouldn’t.

In a compelling blog post, Seth Godin discusses the power of narrative to keep our lives consistent and predictable. He points out that making a life change that could lead to more effectiveness and success is often so risky that most people will choose to double down on their current story. In his words:

“If you went to bed as a loyal company man or an impatient entrepreneur or as the put-upon retiree or the lady who lunches, chances are you wake up that way as well. Which is certainly safe and easy and consistent and non-confusing. But is it helping?”

He goes on to say:

“The truth though, is that doing what you’ve been doing is going to get you what you’ve been getting. If the narrative is getting in the way, if the archetypes you’ve been modeling and the worldview you’ve been nursing no longer match the culture, the economy or your goals, something’s got to give.”

Put differently, your stories can fuel your success. [Tweet this]

Controlling Your Narrative

While Godin’s intent is to challenge you to change for the better, his view may seem stern. Yet, as the craft of screenwriting suggests, a narrative – any narrative – is driven by selecting, interpreting, and arranging events to lead to a specific conclusion.  Of course, not all narratives drive frustration. The stories that successful people tell themselves support behaviors that make them effective. Sometimes, following a narrative can be intuitive, and seemingly without effort. Yet, for most of us, navigating on autopilot is a choice we can ill afford. [Tweet this]

Today, in our social media driven conversational world, people seek to connect, partner, and do business with people who “get it” and therefore “get them.” And the way they determine this is via the life/career story others convey! So, controlling our narrative has become critical. It’s a process that requires both external feedback and introspection. As creative writing instructor Robert McKee points out, “Self Knowledge is key – life plus deep reflection on our reactions to life. [Italics his].”

Hey! It’s Neuroscience!

As Lisa Cron documents, in Wired for Story, there is solid brain science behind storytelling. While her book is aimed primarily at writers, it actually makes a great case for uncovering and telling your story.

Of course, referencing neuroscience brings us back to Bruce Hood, who in a Wired interview, says, we are “…a complex system of evolved functions.” I agree. Yet, he also makes points that seem to me to support a stable identity over time. He says,

Our consciousness of the self in the here and now is the “I” and most of the time, we experience this as being an integrated and coherent individual – a bit like the character in the story. The self which we tell others about, is autobiographical or the “me” which again is a coherent account of who we think we are based on past experiences, current events and aspirations for the future.

Ultimately, we are who we tell ourselves we are. And it’s fair to say our sense of identity arises in story. [Tweet this]

Embracing Possibility: Why Glamour Fuels Your Vision for Success

BeatsI don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a big fan of top brands. Part of the reason is that I’ve found that the premium you pay is often worth it. But I’m also cautious.  So, as I’m now in the market for Bluetooth headphones, I’ve been reading and watching a lot of reviews. Among the models I’ve been looking at is Beats By Dre Wireless Headphones. Interestingly, in his review Kevin Nether said some things that struck me as compelling, and set me thinking about the power for branding – especially what makes for our emotional connection to brands we love.

Specifically, he noted that after being introduced by Dr. Dre, Beats headphones gained visibility via Hip Hop producers and celebrities as well as product placement. He went on to explain that over time, these headphones have become more of a fashion statement, “rather than a premium audio set up.”  While making the point that the product doesn’t skimp, he says,  “You end up paying more because it has a Beats logo on it, point blank, period.” [Tweet this]

And as you may already know, countless people do!

Branding and Glamour

Up to now, I’ve taken emotional connection to brands for granted, and not looked any deeper. Yet, in recently reading Virginia Postrel’s The Power of Glamour, I’m getting a deeper appreciation of the emotional connection we have to our favorite brands. Fundamentally, the attraction starts with the glamour conveyed by the brand. That is, with its power to tap our longings, even if only barely formed, it gives them an object of focus. It is pleasurable, even if only for a few moments.  Glamour can make an object attractive. Yet, glamour is double edged.  [Tweet this] As Postrel says:

“Glamour is an illusion and, according to its critics, a dangerous snare. But because it recognizes and concentrates real desires, the mirage can also prove a valuable, life-enhancing inspiration. Glamour, we can now say, is … an illusion “known to be false but felt to be true.” It focuses inchoate desires and embodies them in the image or idea of a person, a setting, an artifact, or occasionally a concept. By inviting projection and making the ideal feel attainable, the glamorous image intensifies longing and, in some cases, moves the audience to action.”

If you think about it, what’s attracted you to particular brands goes beyond packaging and promotion. Rather, what makes a brand attractive is it’s promise of transformation. [Tweet this]

That transformation is very likely multifaceted, but also includes how the product bolsters your social status and sense of identity. As Nether points out in his Beats review, “…let me tell you, people comment, ask to listen, and even give me awkward fist pumps because I’m wearing Beats. It seems like there is a silent camaraderie when purchasing Beats headphones, with other owners and people who just envy you.”

While quality and the underlying performance of a brand matter, loyalty is more about the added benefits the brand provides. And perhaps one of the most powerful benefits is the sense of exclusivity that comes from being an insider. In fact, the glamour of a brand also taps a desire for fellowship and belonging. [Tweet this] It’s not that people merely envy you, it’s that they see a bond of shared community. You can see this in operation in a widely diverse array of brand communities – from Apple Stores to Harley Owners Groups!

Beyond the Unimagined Life

As you’ve no doubt heard, Greek philosopher Socrates once said the unexamined life is not worth living.  Yet, have you ever stopped to consider the value of the unimagined life? I’ll bet you haven’t. Because, as a human being, you regularly tap into a powerful engine of imagination. It’s called story.

Stories, both other people’s and the one’s we tell ourselves, are key to our survival. We’re wired for story. We live in story. Stories teach us, entertain us, and inspire us. They show us what we can do in life, and often move us to action. In this way, story can drive transformation. And so can glamour. [Tweet this]

Catwalk Ready

As with story, the essential elements of glamour are a promise of escape and transformation, grace, and mystery. Each, in its own way, serves the illusion that is glamour but also it’s appeal. Interestingly, glamour is meant to hide the details, to keep us at a distance. It is the runway show, not the tailoring. Yet, it is this very distance that supports an ideal extension of self. Glamour fires our imagination, and creates a possibility we can live into. [Tweet this]

It’s a Vision Thing

Let’s face it. While you respond to it, glamour is just not something you ordinarily think about. And when you do, you may tend to think of it as a fantasy, or even trivial. After all, because glamour is an illusion, it’s dream like. And yet, what is a vision if not an expression of a longing for a better world? On some level, it seems fair to say that glamour and vision are two sides of one of the same coin. Each enables a broad-brush promise of future fulfillment, leaving us to work out the details for ourselves. As Postrel concludes:

“… the American Dream is an exercise in glamour and, however illusory the dream may sometimes be, the country is better off for the inspiration. When used as a guide rather than as an impossibly perfect goal in itself, glamour can point its audience toward a better, more satisfying life…”

If you haven’t noticed the longings that glamour stirs in you, it may be time you did.

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How does glamour enrich your life? What are the possibilities you are living in to? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Making Real Friends In A Digital World

Digital WorldHow much effort do you put into making friends? If you’re like most people, I’d guess you focus more on networking, than on making friends. After all, friendships take care of themselves. Only they don’t. [Tweet this]

According to Shasta Nelson, friendships don’t just materialize. You need to make them happen. Friendships typically start with some initial attraction, usually based on shared activities or interests. But there’s more. As Nelson points out, there are five steps to friendship: being open, consistently initiating, adding positivity, increasing vulnerably, and practicing forgiveness. Certainly, these steps take time and regular interactions online and in person.

In other words, friendships require investment.

So Much More Than Business

Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, investing time in making friends may seem too demanding. After all, you’re life is already busy. Really busy.  Besides you’re already meeting new people at business functions and meet-up events.  Yet, you’ll likely regard the majority of people you meet as business contacts.

Why is this so? Aside from the nature of the events themselves, I think it’s because we tend to overly subscribe to the notion that business is business. Perhaps it’s a cultural artifact from The Godfather. You know, it’s not personal, it’s just business. Somehow, that theme is so strong that it’s easy to miss an even more powerful message. One delivered by Don Vito Corleone himself:

“Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

If research is any guide, friendship is also equal to health, happiness, and longevity.

Actually, making friends is personal. It goes well beyond the aims of networking objectives. True social connectivity is so much more than big numbers of friends, fans, and followers. With lots of contacts but few friends, you’re at risk of being lonely. [Tweet this]

Real Friends

Fortunately, our digital world supports us in pursuing friendships. [Tweet this] Certainly, it’s one way to keep up with friends we already have. Yet, it’s also possible to start and nurture new relationships online. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other social media platforms, the idea of online friends is not quite as inconceivable as it once was. Well, as long as you’re able to get past the distinction between online friends and real life friends.

Friends

Over time, if you take a real interest, the people you interact with online not only emerge as real people, but can also end up as friends. Sure there are differing depths to these friendships, but where possible to connect by phone or in person, these friendships can blossom into some of the most important relationships in your life. Case in point: One of my best friends ever is someone I met and long interacted with on Facebook and Twitter – before ever chatting by phone or meeting up!

Digital Chemistry

Frankly, the shared activities and interests that are the basis for growing friendships typically happen in person. Yet, interacting with people online can nurture the consistency and intimacy that makes bonds stronger. It also helps to when you “click” with the people you meet.

While you probably wouldn’t associate chemistry with online relationships, social media is not without relationship dynamics.  In fact, online relationships can be driven by subtle influences that create a kind of digital chemistry. [Tweet this]

One influence is the mere-exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle. As it applies to people, it means that the more you see someone, whether in person or online, the more likeable they appear to be. [Tweet this] Sure, there are going to be exceptions. Yet, overall you’re most likely to warm up to and interact with the people you see most often.

The other influence on digital chemistry is something called ambient awareness. It is a peripheral awareness that comes with exposure to fragments of social information. As discussed by Clive Thompson, in the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” this awareness “…brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.”

Sure, that’s not always a good thing. Yet, what it does for budding friendships is truly powerful. Online social information about people we meet gets us beyond mere familiarity to allow for enhanced intimacy. [Tweet this]

It Starts With Genuine Interest

Of course, not only do friendships take time, but they grow out of two-way sharing and caring. Yet, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” So, for new relationships to have a chance, especially online, the first step is showing you care.

Showing you care means taking a genuine interest. This involves showing empathy and establishing rapport. It also means getting others to share what they enjoy, and making them feel good about themselves.  In other words, make your initial interactions about them, not you.  Doing so conveys your interest, caring, and generosity. As well, putting others first, is time-tested advice for making friends.

In the long run, becoming adept at the art of friendship will enrich your life[Tweet this]

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How do you distinguish between connections and friends? How important is it to you to cultivate friendships? Do you have online friends, and how did you meet them? Have you experienced digital chemistry? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Forget Networking Tips and Start To Think Different

Like-Minded People If you’re like a lot of people, you either don’t like to network, or know people who don’t like to network. Or, maybe it’s both. I’m thinking about this because I’ve just watched a video on networking tips. While the expert’s tips were actually good, her first point was this: “Regardless of experience or position, many people loathe networking.” Sorry, but my most immediate association upon hearing those words was to an old Lisa Barone post, It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck.

Harsh. I know.

A Logic of Desperation

Frankly, there is a certain logic that sustains resistance to networking. After all, nearly everyone says they dread it. So, you can say you dread it too. With that out of the way, there isn’t a whole lot that anyone, including you, should expect.  And when you find that you have to network, you can always brush up with a couple of networking tips, attend events, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, pressure to network typically leads to an approach that’s one sided, agenda driven – and often desperate. Although you may not want to believe it, most people you meet under these circumstances see that. So, you risk alienating them. Worse, when you don’t get the results you were hoping for, you whine about networking being loathsome. [Tweet this] It’s a vicious circle. Worse, it keeps you chained to beliefs that keep your expectations low.

Think Different

As I see it, one of the biggest obstacles to putting yourself out there to meet new people is the mindset that’s attached to it. And very often that mindset – your mindset – is fed by the prevailing beliefs around you. If you like, you can continue to subscribe to them.

Or not.

Consider, for a moment, what our world would be like if Steve Jobs had not dared to think different. How would the world of technology have developed? What options would you have for how and where you create and consume content? And to what extent would you be able to find and seize new and exciting opportunities for work and life?

So, ask yourself this: How do you limit yourself by subscribing to prevailing beliefs? [Tweet this]

Take some time to consider this. Look for examples not only in what you believe about meeting new people, but also about what it takes to have a rewarding career, and a rich and meaningful life.  Do this honestly, and I think what you’ll see is this: The only one holding you back is you. [Tweet this]

Change The Frame

As I see it, “networking” is not the best frame. Rather, the best frame is “like-minded.” That is, meeting and developing relationships with like-minded people. Those like-minded people can enter your life via business events, but also via any of a range of activities where people come together around shared interests. When you’re open to meeting like-minded people, you have the chance to meet people who matter to your long-term success and well-being.

According to Wikipedia, “Business networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.”

If we strike a couple of words from this, then a simple truth emerges: There are lots of situations where like-minded people come together to create or act upon opportunities. [Tweet this] Here are a few examples:

  •  Arts Committees allow like-minded people to come together to create or act upon opportunities to promote the arts.
  •  Not-for-Profit Boards bring together like-minded people to create or act upon service opportunities.
  •  Online learning sites, like those offered by Chris Brogan, enable like-minded people create and act upon opportunities for self-improvement.
  •  CrossFit classes enable like-minded people come together to create or act upon fitness opportunities.

Now, ask yourself: What are the natural opportunities you have for meeting and getting to know others? [Tweet this] And in answering that, consider both in-person and online opportunities.

Take advantage of opportunities to get together with people who care about the same things you do, and before you know it, you’re part of a community. And being part of community brings opportunities for mutual support and mutual recognition.

Think about it.

As you do, consider the story of a guy who took last place in an athletic competition. Horribly overweight and out of shape, Greg was skeptical about trying CrossFit. He was concerned about his ability and what other people would think. And he didn’t want to be made fun of.

But he tried and stuck with it. In fact, he even rose to the challenge to compete in the CrossFit Open. Yes, he set low expectations for his performance, but he surpassed them. Yet, what really surprised him is the acceptance and encouragement he received. Here’s what he said:

“…I learned what community means. It is more than a collection of people… It is coaches and athletes. It is friends. It is people that care about your success. It is people that cheer where you are going more than where you are at today….”

So, who are you ready to cheer on, and who’s cheering for you? [Tweet this]

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What are your perspectives on meeting people? What beliefs hold you back? How do you need to change your thinking?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that bring you together with like-minded people? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Why Making Friends Matters To Your Success

Make FriendsAh, networking and relationships! How well they fit together into a larger framework of success. And while it’s easy to complain about having to network, most of us want success. So, we work at becoming better networkers. I get it.

Still, I often feel an obsession with becoming better networkers can blind us to what it takes to build longer and stronger relationships. That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage. Okay. Yes. I’m talking about friendship.

What Networking Often Lacks

If you’re like me, and a lot of other people, you know that having the right connections is critical to success. You also know that those relationships often come your way via networking. At a most pragmatic level, you realize that growing and tapping into networks opens doors. You may also be starting to see that the broader your network, coupled with your ability to navigate it, the more valuable you become.

Of course, while giving a passing acknowledgement that “relationships matter,” many people keep their eye on the prize. That is, they pursue specific new opportunities, such as qualified prospects and sales or job leads. In short, networking often becomes transactional.

This networking approach too often leads to shallow connections. What’s more, it’s typically transparent and off-putting. Nor is it a sustainable approach to achieving continued success. After all, there’s little long-term benefit in linking with people with whom you have only passing acquaintance. Most often, the people who think of you, when they see a relevant opportunity, know you well, and like and trust you. [Tweet this] Those kinds of relationships take time to build.

 Genuine Sharing, Genuine Caring

Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of the transactional mindset has been the common advice that networking is about “giving to get.” It’s not. So, approaching it that way is a turn off. Overall, I believe the sounder approach is to focus more on creating and nurturing bonds with others.

Traditionally, people have developed and strengthened their bonds via meeting up for coffee, meals, and other shared activities. Clearly, meeting in-person is a key part of cultivating relationships. These days, however, you also can take advantage of technology tools to support bonding. Used well, social media increases your ambient awareness and supports brief interactions over time. [Tweet this] As a result, you can interact more regularly, adding depth to your relationships.

Yet, however we connect, basic social niceties matter. When you begin to pay attention to the little things in other people’s lives, you not only get to know them better, but also may discover more areas of shared interest. And the more you do, the stronger your bonds can become.

A Lot Like Making Friends

Over time, as bonds become stronger, you may find you have the basis for true friendship. If so, it’s worth investing more in those relationships. For as Shasta Nelson points out in her excellent book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!  Although making friends seems like it ought to be automatic, it’s not. In fact, she says, if you’re simply waiting for friendships to develop, chances are you may be well networked but lonely. [Tweet this]

So what’s it take to develop friendships?

Well, genuine sharing and genuine caring. And time. In Shasta’s words,

“The strength of our friendship isn’t as dependent on how much we like each other, but more on how much time we spend together developing our friendship in broader and deeper ways.  …two primary factors that create friendship…[are]… consistency and intimacy.  …consistency is regular time spent together, and intimacy is sharing that extends to a broad range of subjects and increases in vulnerability.”

Since these factors can change with time and circumstances, there are different categories of friendship. Yet, a key point to grasp is this: Making, keeping, and even changing friends is perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to have. [Tweet this]  Especially if you want to enhance the overall quality of your life.

Friends Are Key To Life Success

An old saying reminds us that on their deathbed no one says, “I wished I’d spent more time in the office.” It’s a sad reminder that in the pursuit of success, people can miss out on life. Yet, if we measure success based on a better quality of life, then friendship is surely a critical element. In reimagining success, it’s clear that while networking is driven by self-interest, making friends is about enlightened self-interest. [Tweet this]

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Friends and SuccessBeing a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, and even enhanced longevity.

I will have more to say about friendships in future posts. Meanwhile, even if you already have friends, you could probably make more. Look for opportunities to make new ones both in-person and online.

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What are your perspectives on friendship? How are you making friends?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that are at the basis of your friendships? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.