The Point is Production

Right now, I have three main goals:

  1. I want to meet leaders, in person.
    • Once again, this refers back to the “Know” Principle, Christopher Barrat identified when talking about how to network. My original end-goal was to find work. Now, I feel like the networking itself will lead to provision in time, but without any expectations, I’d just like to get to know people-and in turn, maybe be known by them.
  2. I want to discover their stories.
    • It’s as I’ve said previously, I am looking to learn from accomplished people. I’m also listening for their needs, and seeing if perhaps I might be able to connect them with someone else, or help them myself in some way.
  3. I want to stay in touch.
    • Even if only once every other month or so. This will become more challenging as I develop more contacts, which means there needs to be some way to prioritize my time.

In other words, if my overarching goal is to network, making contacts is how I can be productive. This week, however, I started getting that nagging feeling again-that feeling of restlessness. Right now, I’m invited onto two leadership teams, I’ve met and befriended leaders of great accomplishment, and I’m volunteering my time toward greater causes. I believed I was being active.

“What does your day look like,” asked AJ.

“Well, I watch a TED talk, then I play a computer game, I listen to an Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, then I watch a YouTube video for a movie review, I blog, then I go volunteer at the Ministry on Sunday night.”

“What I’m hearing is that you’re not that busy.”

The words sunk into my soul like an anchor.

“Production over Maintenance, Cris,” he said.

You see, in the opinion of my oldest and most esteemed mentor, if I am doing things like blogging, reading leadership tomes, watching videos on leadership-all of these are good things, but none of them involve networking. The blog, yes, minimally-it’s a tool toward networking in addition to a record of my journey and an attempt to help others. But his point: if making new contacts isn’t in there somewhere, I’m not really being productive. And if I’m not being productive, restlessness will set in. Maintenance is very important, but if you aren’t maintaining for the sake of your best form of production, it’s pointless.

Of course, he didn’t even mention the entertainment that I’d thrown in there. Although a little of that is a good thing, I should have seen the excess as a sign.

AJ has been there before. What is happening to me, has happened to him. The bottom line? Real networking is a challenge. It’s always tempting to ask ourselves: “What if I’m rejected?”, “What if they won’t talk to me?”, “What if they are ‘too big’ to talk to me?”, “What if I’m bothering them simply by introducing myself?”, “What if I alienate a leader by breathing wrong?” If we are not carefully paying attention, we might begin to listen to those voices, stop to count our successes, and fail to move forward without ever noticing it.

As AJ puts it: “If there is no potential for embarrassment, it’s probably not production.”

That’s not an excuse not to come into any situation with a leader as prepared as possible, but there are some things you can only learn by doing them over and over again. When growing a network, numbers are a key to success. So is the success, versatile abilities, and other leaders your contact has connections with.

I want to conclude with some thoughts about just how I’ve started collecting stories. For some leaders, the best way to find out who they are and how they got there is to hang around. Some others like the idea of a blog and are interested in being formally interviewed for it-I’m beginning to casually reference Tenets once in awhile, just to see if anyone might be willing to give it a go. Still others, I’ve found, are most comfortable talking about their journey in their office hours, and you’ll want to make a formal appointment. I’m thrilled to have discovered multiple avenues, but I’m still figuring out how to discern which leaders might go for which option.

If you have any positively-oriented thoughts about this or other blog posts, or even if you just want to say “hi”, I’d love to hear from you-feel free to leave me a comment anytime.


The Virtues of Procrastination

“You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” -Aaron Sorkin.

How many of you would have guessed that moderate procrastination is a good thing?

My friend AJ and I took a first step last night: we have started a podcast about the books we read in our mutual journey toward leadership, business, success, and self-discovery! And already, there’s been lots of talk of future procrastination…

In Adam Grant’s TED Talk on “Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, procrastination is lauded as: “…a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue when it comes to creativity.” Fantastic! I think I need to hold off on writing more for this blog and go see if I can dig out my Super Nintendo from my old room! Unfortunately, Dr. Grant, a PhD in Organizational Psychology and top-rated professor at Wharton, founded a study that seems to indicate too much procrastination can actually decrease inflow of creative ideas around a project.

Although AJ and I have batted around the idea of a podcast before, truthfully there was never anything we felt mutually motivated to speak about until my journey toward the subtitle of this blog started a few months ago. That makes this particular venture a new idea. A new idea that we are in no particular hurry to publish.

As Grant says:

“Originals are quick to start, but slow to finish.”

We’ve accepted that we want to do this project correctly. We’ve also accepted that it’s likely it will take awhile to get things right. Grant indicates that successful “originals” skip the step in creative creation where you take poor-quality project results personally, and instead, accept them as an inevitability toward making something great.

So, we don’t have a name yet. We might take a year to get our first material out there. There are lots of things we need to learn about podcasting in the meantime…

“The first movers [have] a 47% failure rate compared to 8% for the improvers.” -Grant

All that said, I think we’re on the right track.

You can find Adam Grant’s fantastic TED Talk on “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” here:

Attention Span

There is a conflict within my personality.

I have a gift where people want to open up to me. It happens even with strangers, and it’s a little like when people find out that someone is a doctor and want talk about their boils-I get all kinds of interesting stories thrown my way from people who have little to no personal interest in me.

Most of the time, I have a vested interest in the person sharing. Especially when it’s a friend, I want to do the best I can to serve them and be there for them through whatever they’re going through.

The problem is, I get easily distracted. I have a self-flattering theory that I am the psychology version of a “meatball surgeon” in a M.A.S.H. unit during the Korean War. Instead of piecing together parts of a bullet hole-riddled stomach, I was designed to help shoulder the emotional burden for people during emergency situations. Emergencies are fast-paced, require quick responses, and short-term, patchwork solutions. None of those things require having to pay attention for extended periods of time.

A real surgeon I am not.

As an extravert, I naturally do best being in front of audiences. As a leader, I should be fully capable of becoming the audience. Listening well to people is imperative for building influence and for being a good leader in general.

Points For Attention-Span Development:

  • Interact. Although I should still let the other person do most of the talking during situations where they need to unburden, there is a concept referred to as “active listening”: remember what is said, ask questions that engage deeper reflection on the part of the speaker, further clarify a murky concept, or encourage the speaker to expound upon what they are saying.
    • This works with textbooks and articles as well, only the interaction there is doing things like note-taking, and even affiliating a piece of music to the information for enhanced recall.
  • Meditate. When alone, I need to consider tuning out all distractions and focusing on one concept in my mind for periods of time that I gradually extend. Eventually, I’ll add distractions and see if I am able to focus on the singular concept despite what is going on around me. Such mental exercises are often thought to increase overall ability to focus in real life.
  • Monitor. Sometimes, when someone has been the sole speaker for ten minutes or more on topics that are not situation critical, they are being poor conversationalists. As a “bottom-line” personality, I will sometimes politely interrupt. Although having a long attention-span is a good thing, I still need to be the guardian of my time. I should not enable people to take advantage of my willing ear. There are those who are natural talkers and those who are natural listeners-it’s good for both types to meet in the middle and actually have an interactive discussion. Think of conversation like a dance-if someone is speaking for more than five minutes on a given topic, it is polite to check and see if who you are speaking with is interested. During that pause, it is polite to either contribute to the conversation yourself, or be honest and politely change the subject.

For more information on extending your attention span, check out this lifehacker article from 2010:

Influence & Unconditional Positive Regard

There is a concept in Psychology circles called: “Unconditional Positive Regard” (or U.P.R.), which gives us a leadership framework for showing our support to others, even those who it might be difficult for us to do so. It goes like this:

  • Accept the person.
  • Praise the effort.
  • Reward results.

Now, I grew up in a crime and punishment household like most of you. I don’t know what would have happened if my parent’s didn’t believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child”. God knows, we don’t want to spoil anybody, that would probably make an already bad situation worse. But if a person is not doing irreparable damage to my institution, I think that institution-wide U.P.R. should be the step I start with long before “retraining” people even becomes necessary. For instance: my parents did reward me for good grades. As a result, I made it through higher education with a firm drive to keep my grades at a respectable level, long after I had aged beyond the reward system. Positive management style, positive employees/volunteers/children, positive results.

The science is fascinating: when you reward people who meet your standards on a regular and unbiased basis, it creates a cognitive dissonance that strongly brings people-with-problems in line with your naturally high achievers or those who already strive to meet your standards. Even if achievement and reward doesn’t drive them to shift their behavior, peer pressure might just do the trick: when your neighbor gets a raise, then your other neighbor gets a raise, human psychology suggests you will emulate what they do in order to join them. I am who I work with.

Furthermore, when the pressure of constant corporate punishment no longer looms over your office, church, bakery, salesfloor or candle shop, it fosters an environment of trust. Trust, if you remember in Christopher Barrat’s TED talk comes right before “Buy”; BUY a product, BUY positive performance, BUY success for yourself as a leader because those under you feel safe, driven and the need to succeed themselves.

Unconditional Positive Regard is unique, and in today’s society, is difficult to find because it is human nature to either directly confront, or passively distance ourselves from people-with-problems. As a result, U.P.R. may actually be a huge source of influence that is largely untapped.

Unconditional Positive Regard was a concept developed by Psychologist Carl Rodgers. For details on the concept, check out the wiki here:

Mosaic Vision

Sitting at Chick Fil’a over delicious chicken-based fare, my friend A.J. and I had a conversation about a leadership opportunity where I wasn’t able to accomplish the goals set out before me. To be fair, the goals were pretty astronomical and the odds of failing were high. That said, it happened, and at the time, it devastated me. A.J., as is often his role in my life, was less focused on my mistakes and more focused on what could have been done better. The line of thought that followed made me consider leadership in a new light.

Have you ever seen one of those collages where the picture of somebody’s face is created out of thousands of tiny pictures?

What if, being a good leader, a good visionary, means that instead of simply trying to create my “big vision”, I interview everyone in my organization, draw out their “small” visions, and piece them together over time?

By doing it this way, I could also throw my full resources into accomplishing the smaller vision goals until such a time as they are either complete or sustained. I might then have budget to throw into the next set of visions.

What results is a big-picture dream work made out of smaller vision pieces that I, as a leader, or as a part of a group of leaders, help to guide and create. Obviously, not every smaller vision makes the cut, but members usually have more than one idea. People generally don’t like change, but if it’s their idea, and comes in small enough parcels, they become enthusiastic about that change, and sell it to everyone else. They are also more likely to buy into the Mosaic vision as a whole.

Credit for this one goes to the sea of books on leadership and business AJ has read and shared with me. Thank you as always, my friend!

The Marriage of Learning and Networking

In a discussion with a well-read friend this evening, we batted around the possible reasons why the children of the wealthy have an easier time of making something out of their lives than the rest of us. Money is the conclusion I normally come to, but if that were true, scores of lottery winners who quit their jobs wouldn’t end up destitute the following year. The answer is found in other aspects of the consistently wealthy.

“If you examine them closely,” said my friend, “you’ll find that wealthy people are constantly learning and they are constantly making connections with others. Not everybody does that.”

Being out of work has driven me into books, like “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles, which both teaches you about yourself, and leads you into a form of networking called “Informational Interviewing”. Over the next two months, I’m going to do my very best to connect with successful people and find out how they got to where they are. I’m going to be reading every book, and listen to every TED talk I think might be applicable to the foundations of this blog. And I will relay everything I learn back to you, dear reader. I hope to prove the points my friend has made, and perhaps in the process, make something of myself.