4 practical career tips from a new politician

Peter Parker (Spiderman) by Thomas Dhuchnicki via FlickrJobs, jobs, jobs and naive politicians

Headline news today:  1 in 8 households have one adult out of work.  Is that all?  Of course, some households have 2 or more adults out of work.

I am tired of naïve politicians who think people will find work if only they would look hard enough.  I  am depressed by naïve politicians who think the economy is going to “bounce back” just because they say so.   The banking crisis was not a misstep.  It was the collapse of a misshapen economy.  It was the UK and others “getting found out”.

The good times are not coming back until we rejig our economy and focus on today’s opportunities.

Jobs, jobs, jobs and not so naive politicians

I am not a party political animal and hold no brief for any particular set of politicians but I was pleased today to read the blog of one of the new MP’s –  James Morris.  Halesowen and Rowley Regis, just west of Birmingham seemed to have chosen well.  Small business owner, Cranfield MBA and social activist – that does seem like a good combination for keeping your feet on the ground and your eye on the horizon.

“Our national interest needs to be defined by the realities of Britain’s economic interests in this world where economic power is shifting from west to east. We need to ensure that we develop deep and reciprocal relationships with countries which are emerging as the key players in the future. Both economic and political ties must be strengthened with countries like Brazil, Nigeria, China and India and others.

Our view of the world needs to be characterised less by a conception of it as a hierarchy of nations with the U.S. at the apex; but more as network of peer relationships where Britain negotiates and influences at many different levels simultaneously. This will allow us to use our strengths, capabilities and influence to maximise our relationships in a world which will look very different from that which was the case even a decade ago.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs and savvy individuals

What works for an economy works for each of us too.

Define our economic interest

Identify emerging key players of the future

Aim to develop “deep and reciprocal” relationships with those you judge to be emerging key players

Don’t think who is best or worst – this is a network not a pyramid.   Think of  peer network which we are each shaping with our strengths, capabilities and influence to create a set of relationships that go with us into the future.

You want in on the dream team? Meet them 20x before they will hire you!

How much work will it take to land your dream job?

The first time I migrated,  I set up the 100:10:1 ratio.  100 applications: 10 interviews : 1 job.

I set the ratio for psychological reasons.  I was being practical.  My goals and plans include the endurance I need to succeed the race.

Do you go green at the sight of these figures? Want to puke?

Truthfully, most people don’t have the stomach for these figures.  They go green, and then grey.  They aren’t motivated by these figures.  They are depressed.

Now I tell you, that the position is far worse than this

If you are a migrant, which you may be for many reasons, or if you are changing career track, the figures will be a lot worse.  Think of 200 applications.  Think of 300 applications.  Think of 1000!

And think of the worst possible behavior on the part of people who process them.  They ignore you.  They patronize you.  They stand you up (even when they’ve paid for your air ticket).  They lie.

Oh those 999 who don’t hire you are seriously depressing!

This cannot be true you say

“I know someone who got a job first time”, you say.   “This cannot be true!  I have never had this trouble!”  “This country needs skilled migrants.”  “They advertised and asked us to apply!”  “You are being cynical.  You are jaded.  This is just sour grapes.”

Indeed.

Let me tell you how it works

Today I found this mantra for advertising.

“The first time a man looks at an advertisement, he does not see it.
The second time, he does not notice it.

The third time, he is conscious of its existence.
The fourth time, he faintly remembers having seen it before.

The fifth time, he reads it.
The sixth time, he turns up his nose at it.

The seventh time, he reads it through and says, “Oh brother!”
The eighth time, he says, “Here’s that confounded thing again!”

The ninth time, he wonders if it amounts to anything.
The tenth time, he asks his neighbor if he has tried it.

The eleventh time, he wonders how the advertiser makes it pay.
The twelfth time, he thinks it must be a good thing.

The thirteenth time, he thinks perhaps it might be worth something.
The fourteenth time, he remembers wanting such a thing a long time.

The fifteenth time, he is tantalized because he cannot afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, he thinks he will buy it some day.

The seventeenth time, he makes a memorandum to buy it.
The eighteenth time, he swears at his poverty.

The nineteenth time, he counts his money carefully.
The twentieth time he sees the ad, he buys what it is offering. “

This was apparently written by Thomas Smith of London in 1885 and was reproduced to “advertise advertising” and to make the point that we need, what may feel like, excessive redundancy in advertising.

You need 20 contacts to make a sale!

I said 100:10:1.  Yes, that 1 sale will come from 20 contacts.

So if we contact 100 people, and we instinctively home in on that one employer who will eventually employ us, we need to make 100 (inital contacts)+10 (interviews) +20 contacts with the luck employer of me!

And as we are not likely to be so lucky, we need to make initial contact with 100 people and expect to contact each of those 20 times, with the one we stay in contact with employing us!  100 people x 20 contacts = 2000 meetings.

OK so lets get real.  Are you starting cold?

How do some people get jobs more quickly!  Well they are already in a sales funnel.  They are using their Dad’s contacts.  Their university does part of the work for them.  They belong to a network without understanding that they do.

If for some reason you are starting cold, or you get part way down your career and you realize you want to make a big change, you need to take charge and weave your own network.

You cannot afford to act randomly.  You have to be prepared to find out

  • Who you want to work with
  • And assiduously build up contact with them.

If you are at school or university, begin early.

Compare with these figures

In a social network, 1% of people generate content, 9% critique content and 90% consume content (1:9:90).  We see the same “J curve” on student chatter lines and in professional associations.

Ken Thompson of SwarmTeams talks of the 2% economy.  Only  2% of messages to people are opened when they are from someone we don’t know or remember.  We open all the messages from our friends.  And we respond to about 10% of them.

Yup, we ignore 90% of what our friends tell us!

Get cracking!

I strongly recommend listing 10 firms who interest you on 10 old envelopes and look for ways to meet people who work in the department you want to join.

Keep notes.  Add envelopes.  Prioritize them.

Budget your time.

If you are starting a 3 year degree, you need to meet 2 people a day, every day, including Saturdays, Sundays and Christmas, to make 2000 contacts before you graduate.

And think career from the outset.  Don’t think job.  Think career.

Start now

Start exploring now and start collecting information, contacts and know-how.

It all adds up and takes you closer to that team who is doing exactly the sort of work that you want to do and that they need you so badly to do!

(And if you haven’t started and need a job now?  Then divide your time.  Put time aside for this project daily and do whatever you have to do to survive as a separate project.  Just don’t let go of this one. That you will regret.  The lost time will irk you more than flipping burgers.  Begin!)

7 steps to network yourself into business opportunity

Network our way through the recession?

There is a funny video about Linkedin going the rounds that I found from @jackiecameron1.

Unemployed people sign up to Linkedin in a desert of jobs. Everyone is networked, but to each other, to no one has a job.

What use is networking if there are no employers in the group?

Networking is not hitching a ride!

What is very apparent in the rather delightful (and accurate) spoof  is that no one is doing anything.  Everyone is trying to hitch ride on everyone else!

Who in that network is trying to make anything happen? Who is inviting other people to help, even for free?

Networking out of a desert of jobs

To take the metaphor of the desert further, if anyone got the group organized to look for water, they might find some!

Why doesn’t anyone start some useful activity?

The simple answer is that no one there trusts anyone else. If they did, they would invite them to do something!

How do we begin to organize that group?

Here are 7 steps for organizing a group who seem to be out of ideas, out of resources and who don’t know each other well.

A  Show Confidence in Your People

#1 Begin!

#2 Be active.

Do something! Sit down and make a sandcastle! See who helps.

B Help Your People Gain Confidence in Each Other

#3 Change the sandcastle so that people are helping each other.

Move your position so that you are handing sand to the person building. When another person joins in, move to the the end of the line.

#4 Move the line slowly in the direction that seems most promising.

At the same time, get people to sing so that they become more aware that they are a group.

Keep your attention on the sandcastle by-the-way!  People are only going to be bothered with the sand castle if you are!

C Work with People Who Trust the Group

#5 Position a reliable person at the end of the line while you start a new line.

Make sure the person at the end of a line knows to sing out if they see anything unusual on the horizon.

D Bring Information About Opportunities Into the Group

#6 When someone sees something unusual on the horizon, don’t create a stampede.

Move the whole bicycle wheel, by changing the direction that the sand moves. Move the sandcastle builder to the other end and reverse the direction of sand. In an orderly way, move the other spokes. Keep it playful!

E We Are All In This Together

#7 Continue and continue!

You might decide to abandon your group and go it alone.  Yes, it might be slow moving the group along and it might feel as if the group is slowing you up.  But aren’t your chances of finding water higher in an organized group looking out for each other?

It is easier to think straight when things are really bad

It sometimes feel that deserts are too much to cope with.  I am also going to tell you that deserts are better than abandoned farm land. You are lucky. Yes, you are!

Let’s imagine, you simply find yourself in a abandoned but essentially sound farm.  You don’t start building a useless sandcastle. You do something useful.  You start to plough the land and plant seeds.  The difficulty is that you have now fixed your group to that field.  You will be unable to move slowly across the horizon to a better place.  In modern parlance, your solution is not scalable!

That’s why I like the idea of deserts.  We are willing to abandon sandcastles and rebuild them elsewhere.

When you chose your seed project, build something, anything, where we can see results and where we can all help! Keep the projects short and sweet so that people can see results and move them as we spot other things on the horizon.

Experiments in extreme living

What I want you to do is to build something with the resources under your feet.  And invite someone else to join in.

When the person joins in, give them a prime spot and support them.  Invite another person.  Keep building.

That’s is the challenge. That is the task!

Land your dream job by knowing your industry inside-out

Career decisions for young and old

I do a lot of career coaching.  I talk to youngsters of all ability ranges. I talk to MBA student making career changes after a flying start in management.  I talk to people who’ve been unlucky enough to lose their jobs and who looking for an echo career.

Are easy when we know what we want

What all these people have in common ~ those who are happy to get work at the minimum wage and those negotiating banker-size bonuses ~ is that they will not get what they want until they decide what they want.

And tracks are laid out for us by someone else

Many of us ~ particularly the talented, able and lucky ~ go through life on a set of rails. We go from one school to another, on tracks laid down by other people, and decision making has amounted to no more than “this” or “that”.   Both are good and we chose on the basis of the frills ~ which perks were more to our taste.

When the tracks are gone, we have to lay them for selves

Then one day, shock and horror, the tracks are gone. We will have to lay them down ourselves.  Suddenly, we realize that we are “institutionalized”. We haven’t being make decisions for ourselves.  We are capable of rolling down pre-laid tracks without thought, but we are totally incapable of laying the tracks.

Smashing Magazine has a very comprehensive list for finding work

It’s a steep learning curve.  Today Smashing Magazine has a list of “do’s” for free lancers. These “do’s” are the basis for job searches as well. Print them and rate your progress at getting them right.

The trouble is that step one is deciding what you want!

I can tell you right now which steps you will find hard ~ deciding which sector you want to work in and finding out about the companies.  That’s the equivalent of laying the tracks. That is the part that you’ve never done before because you always took for granted that the tracks were there.

How to lay your own tracks

  1. Print out the article from Smashing Magazine
  2. Get a shoebox or box of similar size
  3. Keep your envelopes from junk mail
  4. Take envelopes of one color or size and every day find a website relevant to the industry that enchants you.  Read and take notes.
  5. Take envelopes of another color or size and every day find a firm in your industry that sparks your curiosity.  Read and take notes.
  6. Every month sort through. Keep the ten best firms and make notes on questions you want to answer about the industry.
  7. Also sort through and look at the people you would love to meet and learn a little about them

I can be sure that in 1-2 months of doing a little work every night, the industry will come alive.  Smashing Magazine’s list will begin to be easy.  Indeed, I strongly recommend that you start a blog.  Get a Posterous account, which is easy to manage, and start “Expeditions into the Publishing Industry”, or whatever.   In time you will be an acclaimed expert ~ and you will have got there by the first step that you took today.

Stop daydreaming about step 53 ~ take the 1st step

Indeed, if you don’t take the first step, if you keep telling me about step 7 or step 10 or step 53, then I know you are not serious.  Step 1: print out Smashing Magazine’s article. Step Two get a shoebox. Step Three get a junk mail envelope and make your first notes.

And sigh with relief that you live in days of the internet!

And stop whinging!  This is easy in the days of the internet.  Just 10 years ago, this was almost impossible to do!

Help your fellow noobe – or shush up. Some of us see right through you!

Yesterday, I was looking at my Alexa Rankings and was pleased, as ever, that people spend time on my blog.  My style of writing is on the heavy-side; so that is pleasing. I am not frightening people off all together!

Noobes!  Find a richer set of questions than whether the big, cool kids like you

Alexa Rankings have also taught me an important lesson about being a noobe generally.  We have to find a rich mix of questions to guide our adaptation in a new place.

The general question, “How am I getting on?” won’t help us at all.  It only draws us into a cul-de-sac of a pecking order.  Do the big, cool kids like me?

It’s a funny thing. The big, cool kids will never like a noobe. But they have a good thing going making you think you should be liked by them.  This is how it works.

Noobe Fail #1

Big, cool kids stop being big and cool when they hang out with noobes.  So they will never hang out with noobes.  Big, cool kids are going to ignore me anyway.  Their reputations depend on that

Noobe Fail #2

The other noobes probably don’t get point #1 and they think I am cool if they think the big, cool kids like me.  That tempts me to pretend that the big, cool kids like me. Instant path to fame and glory? Or a total waste of time?

Noobe Fail #3

If this is how the world works, why do we care?  Can we all be fooled so easily? Surely, everyone can’t be wrong.

The sociologists have a big word to described what is going on : hegemony.  Hegemony is when the big, cool kids have persuaded us

  • they are big and cool
  • we can’t define something else or some one else as big and cool
  • we all go along with it

AND we don’t benefit, even though we go along with it.

Hegemony.  Genius.  You believe you are right and I am wrong.  And you persuade me of that too!

Yup, we can be fooled. The world works like that.

Noobe Fail #4

The difficulty with challenging the hegemony is that we take on a lot of people.  We are going to cut in to the ‘bigness and coolness’ of  the big, cool kids.  And they are going to sort us out!

It is a bit like telling the Emperor he has no clothes on. The only person who will shout that out is a three year old boy. Anyone older is wiser – not because the Emperor will get mad. He is only one person after all. We don’t say anything because the mob will get mad. They will look pretty foolish too and they aren’t going to like it.

That is how the whole system works. The big, cool kids, the emperor’s with no clothes, don’t have to do their own dirty work.  They will have many willing helpers who will get suckered into it.  Yet, the noobes who beat us up won’t gain any respect from the big, cool kids – far from it.  They’ll be seen as suckers.  But there will always be plenty of volunteers hoping for a quick ascent up the pecking order.

Another term sociologists use to describe this system is “masculine culture“.  Now we all know girls and women who play this game much better than guys.  It is not a guy thing. It’s a label. When the culture is all pecking order, when the Emperor has no clothes and no one is going to say anything, we say it is a masculine culture. It is just like teenage playgrounds that have nothing going for them except the pecking order.

So how do we break out of senseless pecking orders?

#1 Solution One.  Go along with it, if it is worth it.

Join up to playground which has such attractive toys that you can be bothered with the pecking order antics.  Most of us feel that way about good schools, good universities and good workplaces.

But choose wisely.  Don’t forget the pecking order game is a con trick.  Don’t join a queue just because it is there.  Ask people in the queue how long they have been there and what they have got out of it!

# Solution Two.  Go round it.

Spend more time learning the rules that lead to gain than worrying whether you are in with the big, cool kids.  They’ve done a fine job persuading you that they control the goodies.  The truth is they have done a find job persuading you . . .  the rest of the sentence is in our imagination.

But you will have to control your panic.  We are scared of being excluded or beaten up.  Rightly so.  That’s how pecking orders are maintained.  Fear.  Justified fear of getting beaten up. It’s your job to learn how can you get around the fear.

Learn the rules by asking richer questions

In the blogging world, the rich information of Alexa Rankings helps us learn what the rules really are. I am not as big as the A-listers who have been around much longer. But people spend 5x times a much time on my site and my bounce rate is 1/3 of theirs. I have points of leverage that go beyond begging them for attention.

But where can we find rich information in other worlds?

I thought I would test myself by writing down the rules of networking.

Networking

Let’s imagine ourselves at a networking event and let’s compare the typical networking tactics, which I can The Fail Method, with tactics that acknowledge the power dynamics between the ‘big, cool kids’ and the ‘noobes’, which I’ll call The Tortoise Method.

The Fail Method:  Most people at the networking event are judging us by whether we can lead them to the ‘big, cool kids’.  The big cool kids aren’t going to speak to them anyway; but they are convinced there is some magic to it.  So what do they do?

#1 Stand with a bunch of cool looking people

Fail:  No one is going anywhere!  Yep, it looks momentarily as it this group has cracked the code.  But hang on.  The same guys have been talking together for a good half-an-hour.  They are just too scared to talk to anyone else.

#2  Have a great looking card and a great elevator speech that is recited no matter what

Fail:  I am going to ask you whether you know someone who can help me and what are you going to say or do?   I am going to find you out in 5 seconds.

#3  Tell everyone how successful you have been

Fail:  How come you are in the noobe corner?  If you were successful, you would be in the successful corner.  You’ve no more idea of what is going on than I have!

#4  Tick off your successes loudly

Fail:  Some of the people listening have done some of the things you mention and know how they work.  They ‘suss’ your inexperience in a flash and tell others.  Try some genuine conversation.  They they might give you the answers you desperately need!

The Tortoise Method of networking

The Tortoise Method:  I’ll call this the tortoise method because the tortoise really does win the race.  Yes, the hares look down on the tortoise, initially, but that is a good thing.  Because if they realized the tortoise would win, they would get a bit mean and nasty.

#1  When someone is snooty or domineering with their elevator speech  or other bragging, cool.  Find out what they know.

Once you have your bearings, you can loop back and include them on your team in roles they can perform.  But can they perform any at all? The trouble is all the noobes are swanking about hoping to be taken for a ‘big, cool’ kid.  The only thing to do is to be kind and notice they don’t really understand power dynamics.

That is the thing to notice. Those who swank and swagger are going to need management.  A lot of of it.  They don’t have skills and they don’t have smarts.

#2  Figure out the essentials of being a noobe.

The things we need to know right now are rather basic. Where are the ‘loos’?  Where is the food?  What is everyone’s name?  Who are the bullies to be circumvented?   What are the rules and which much be followed and which can be ignored?  What are the signals (bells, notices, etc) that mean something?  What are the hacks?

Make a list of the essential questions. Ask them. When someone can answer them, say thank you, trade some information you have, and remember them as a person whose feet are on the ground.  They are your future team-mates.

#3  Listen to the stories that non-noobes tell

The stories are probably about pecking order – take that for granted.  The stories might not even  be untrue. That’s doesn’t matter. What matters is who are they trying to impress and how they understand (or misunderstand the rules).

By the way: Maybe you are only meeting noobes. Open our eyes.  Listen to bartender, the room cleaner, the door man.  Stop looking past people who aren’t the ‘big cool’ kids! Listen up to the people who have something to offer.  Swagger is only intended to defraud.

#4  Who is really successful in the system?

They probably won’t talk to you, but watch them closely. How do they spend their time?  And are they telling?

In pecking order systems, successful people often do their work behind closed doors.

  • First, they don’t want to say who helped them.
  • Second, they don’t want to admit who didn’t help them.
  • Third, they don’t want to admit in public that working hard is more important than the people who are throwing their weight around.
  • Fourth, many would rather tell you to do the wrong thing so they don’t have too much competition.

Paranoid – am I?  We just joined a system based on pecking order.  There is no generosity here -this is peck or get pecked!

Watch closely and take any opportunity to get behind the closed doors to see what is happening. Fetch the coffee. Become a “gopher”. Do the printing and photocopying. Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut. Firmly shut.  ‘

#5 Don’t ask people to introduce you to the ‘big cool kids”

In asking for that favor, you show you don’t understand anything at all! Don’t follow the big, cool kids around. You perpetuate the system. You learn nothing. AND YOU SHOW EVERYONE THAT YOU DON’T GET IT!

Do your own thing, with other noobes. I am not contradicting #4. You help a big cool kid, if and only if, you get behind close doors – if you see him in his underpants so to speak. If you get to see how things really work. If you get to see the action not the polished, spun version of the action. Otherwise, don’t follow them. Stop being such a burke! Do your own thing.

Does The Tortoise method work?

Well, not fast. But you weren’t going any where very fast anyway. That was just in your imagination! You were going along with the con job. Remember, what is too good to be true, is too good to be true.

The tortoise is a wise animal. They look dumb but

  • They know which race they are running, where it ends, and whether they want the prize
  • They know the route
  • They know what to look for along the route
  • They put one foot ahead of the other, quite calmly
  • They ignore the hares hopping along (and sleeping along the way).

Of course, if you are hare by nature, then this story is not for you! If you like the rough-and-tumble of the pecking order, go for it.

But get out of the noobe corner. Showing off to noobes is taking you nowhere.  If you stay, help your fellow noobe with something concrete. Or shush up. Some of us see right through you!

The not-so Artful Dodgers! Networking in post-Thatcher Britain

Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, the...
Image via Wikipedia

In brisk, post-Thatcher Britain, we go to a lot of networking gigs

Post-Thatcher Britain, you may know, is an elbows-out sort-of-place.  Everyone is touting their wares like a scene out Dickensian Britain.  Do you remember the song “Who will buy?” from Oliver.  Well, it is like that. Except, people don’t sing so well.

Wannabe Artful Dodgers

There are wannabe Artful Dodgers at every gig.  They are not up to making-off with your wallet and silk handkerchief.  But you can see that is why they joined such a convenient crowd!

Fagin will be unhappy

When they get home, they will be in trouble with Fagin, their conscience, who asks them the wrong questions.

  • How many business cards did you give out?
  • How many business cards did you collect?
  • How much free food and drink did you score?
  • Did you find someone to give you some work?

They need to get a better conscience and a better Fagin to ask them these questions:

#1  Did they promise at least 5 favors to at least 5 different people?

If there weren’t at least 5 people at the gig who needed something they could do with their littte finger, they are sooo at the wrong gig, or soooo under-qualified to eat and drink with those people

If they were the Artful Dodger, they would pick a neighborhood better suited to their skills, or start to behave like the people in the neighborhood they’d chosen.

Or, they were so obsessed with themselves, they found out nothing about the other people there.

If they were the Artful Dodger, they would start to watch the crowd while Oliver stood in the shadows, singing mournful songs!

#2  Did 5 different people offer them 5 different favors?

Hmm, did they look at a lot of gift-horses in the mouth?  Maybe they talk too much and not give the other person even a few seconds to chip in and some assistance?

Oliver got help from all over because he was cute and un-pushy.  The Artful Dodger was admired but never got help from  anyone.

Had he washed his face, people may have helped him.  But then he wouldn’t be the Artful Dodger!

I suppose we really have to decide whether we want to work sooo hard or whether want to let luck find us!

#3  Did the person they help, or the person who took their card, write to say thank you?

Did they just hand out their cards like a free newspaper and walk away?  Or did they stay with the conversation to the point that they could offer to do something specific for the other person? Or ask them to do something specific and useful? Did they take the conversation through the stages of forming, storming, norming to performing?  Or. did they jump from forming to adjourning?

The Artful Dodger knew the endpoint – to hand his pickings over to Fagin.  But he didn’t jump there in one fell swoop. He watched, he followed, he ducked, he dived.  He fell into the other person’s rhythm.  Then he cleanly picked the other pocket and moved the contents smoothly to his own!

#4  Did they write to thank people who gave them their card?

Did they have anything at all to say to the people with whom they spent an evening?  Did they waste more time by sending an automated message when they got home?  Or did they talk to people in sufficient depth to remember them and be remembered?  Does their note reflect something they ‘did’ together?

The Artful Dodger would remember the people he met -more clearly than they would remember him.  He would know exactly how many pockets in each person’s suit, and exactly what is in them!

Which is your next networking event?

Maybe I will see you there!  I hope I remember you and you me!

I wonder what we have in common and what we could do for in each other, right there, in the few moments we share together!

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Spread your know-how with (un)classes

(un)classes is a brilliant idea and they deserve to take off.  But they are not going to take off in London unless we all the founders a nudge.  A bit collective nudge!

Would you email them asking them to stop allocating London, England, to Guildford, Surrey!  I’ve explained to them that this won’t do, but I think they need to know that a  lot of us “over here” would use their service if they fixed the glitch.

What is an (un)class?

An (un)class is like an (un)conference. It is an informally organized class organized in a big city by whoever would like to teach a class!

The software allows students to arrange classes too, and ask for a teacher.

There is no obligation to pay, but students can voluteer to pay and teachers can ask to be paid.  Students could also tip the teacher!  That is all left to the teacher and the students to work out among themselves.

Put your bio up

I’ve put mine up and I am waiting for them to fix the glitch!  Please email them for me  .  .  .

My Bio on Unclasses August 2009
My Bio on Unclasses August 2009

Leading with psychology: belonging is the first competence

We can only change successfully when we belong

As a young work psychologist, I was lucky. I graduated just as Zimbabwe achieved Independence and I joined the work force when investment was high and change was rapid, far-reaching and positive.  Everything was being turned inside-out and upside-down, but in an climate of hope & expectation.

The business conditions of today are not that different – except that there is little hope & expectation. Other than Barack Obama, we don’t have leaders who are able to point us in a general direction and say “that way guys”.   And we don’t have investment flooding in. Times are tough. Failure and blame are in the air.

This bring us to a little-talked-about issue in change management. We can only change successfully when we belong.

Rethinking the work of managers

This week, McKinsey published a report on re-energizing senior managers. I almost didn’t read it. Why do I care about senior managers who created this mess, I thought?

That is precisely the point. They can’t think straight when no-one cares about them.

  • Yes, it is clear they made the mess. They know that.
  • Yes, it is clear that whatever business models they used in the past must be wrong. They know that.

But, they can only “step-up-to-the-plate” and help us work out the new rules when they know that we will accept them as they are – not all-knowing.

Remember for a long time we’ve treated managers as if they are all-knowing. We’ve given them conspicuous lifestyles because we wanted to reward this all-knowing.   And now they are not all-knowing, who are they?  What do they contribute? How are they supposed to function?

They are paralyzed.  The only way to unlock the paralysis, the only way to gain access to the skills and know-how that they do have, is to give them permission to be sort-of-knowing.  They cannot function unless we show them as they belong – as they are.

Where does belonging begin?

McKinsey write their report for CEO’s which leaves a second point unspoken. These are hierarchical organizations. The junior people do not decide who belongs and who does not. We don’t give permission to anyone to be anything.

In hierarchical organizations, the process of signallng belonging begins with the Board, goes through the CEO, through the senior managers to the managers and, only then, to the front-line.  Of course, this begs the question of who soothes the Board.  Well, we’ve hit on the fundamental weakness of hierarchical organizations.

Until we have sorted that out, the lesson for senior managers and change management scholars is that change will never happen unless everyone feels they belong. The first competency required of managers in a hierarchical organization is signaling that belonging. I have never seen that competency in an assessment center. It should be there.

How do we communicate belonging?

The American psychologist, Baumeister, can demonstrate in a lab that we are all up-ended rather easily.  He asks people to play a computer game.  Half are treated nicely by the computer.  Half get snubbed.  Those who are snubbed don’t look in a mirror as they leave.  We are that sensitive!

Should we develop thick skins?  I haven’t seen any experimental work but I’d be willing to bet that ‘thick-skinned’ people feel snubs more deeply.  They just pretend to themselves that they don’t and become even more boorish.  We’ll let the lab rats test that for us.

The point is that in give-and-take of life, we do get ‘up-ended’; we do get snubbed.  Our internal equilibrium is upset.  At that moment, reassurances that we belong are invaluable.  Leaders who can accept our misery for what it is, without making it worse by threatening us with expulsion, are invaluable.  From that starting point, we can figure out what to do next, and spread the sense of belonging along to the next person.

How can develop resilience?

Not by being thick-skinned, that’s for certain!

Probably in three ways:

1.  Understand our deep fear of being ‘cast-out’.

People who need to cast-out others are deeply worried about their own status.  We need to reassure them of their worth before they will be more compassionate towards others.

In plain language:  Ask, why is this person being such an [insert your favourite word here]?  What is s/he worried about?

2.  Work with others

We are human!  When we have had enough of someone’s carping & complaining, get people who believe in the person to work closely with them.  Build the teams that form naturally and step-back to make the links between the groups.

“To be clear”, as politicians seem to have become fond of saying, I am not advocating you put up with bad behavior or subject yourself to hours with someone who depresses you.  I am suggesting proactively putting together those people who reassure each. Then when the group is positive, link it to another positive group.  In that way, you remove yourself from provocation and provide positive alternatives.

In plain language:  When you cannot deal with someone, find someone who can.  What counts is getting along, not demonstrating our right to a temper tantrum.  Indeed, when you throw a temper tantrum, we have to ask the question under #1 – what are you afraid of?

3.  Take casting-out very seriously

We aren’t running a TV reality show.  We should only cast someone out when it is very clear that we will really be able to achieve a positive state and knowing that once the positive state is achieved, that we can invite them back in.  Tough criteria but the only criteria that tests whether or not we just throwing a self-indulgent wobbly.

We should make casting-out such a serious event.  We should document it and hold people accountable for getting it right.  I once taught with a Professor from West Point. He told me that if a student there fails, there is a full scale inquiry. The students are bright.  The Professors are good. They have the resources they need.   System fail – what went wrong?  The ethos, I was told, is that you don’t choose who you go to war with.

When we make casting-out difficult, then we are motivated to find other solutions and we may be well pleased with what we find.

In plain language:  Make casting-out rare and hard, so you can’t treat it as a cop-out.

4.  Look after your ‘interiority’

We have to keep ourselves emotionally fit.  Just as we eat, sleep, wash and exercise [do you?], we need to keep ourselves in emotional balance.  It sounds silly to say that our first job is to be happy.  The truth is that emotion is contagious.  When we are miserable, we make everyone around us miserable.  When we are in a good mood, we much more able to make space for others and much more likely to find unusual ways to get along – even if we don’t like each other very much.

But happiness takes hard work, and ironically, discipline.  We are happier when we take time to reflect on the day and get to the point that we are summing up and thinking about what went well and what we should do more of. We are happier when we spend some time in the morning thinking about what is important in life and allowing the pressures of the day find their smaller place under the greater umbrella.

In plain language: We are much more likely to be knocked off-balance when we are too busy to find the time to be happy.

5.  Build a strong positive network

And we do need to remember that we are all sensitive to rejection.  We need to cherish the social support that we get.

A neat trick that most people don’t know is that giving support is almost as good as getting support.   So when your support networks are thin, help others.

Help the person who is obviously stressed-out-of-their-heads at the airport or railway station.  Smile at the rude guy in a paroxysm of road rage (while you are wondering why his wife stays married to him).  Fake like they are human, as the saying goes.  You feel better.  And they calm down.

In plain language:  Don’t network for gain.  Network because it is fun.

Belonging in plain words

We can only function when we belong.  We can only lead positive change in awkward times when we like the people we lead. Sometimes they can be hard to like.  So our friends help us out and work more closely with the people they can bond with and we can’t.   Then we can link positive groups to each other.

We have always known this, but it takes the ‘crisis of capitalism’ and a ‘McKinsey report’ to bring it all home.  Remember that senior manager may still have a big car, but he (or she) no longer knows whether s/he are coming or going.  Someone has to settle them down.

In the meantime, connect with people who are positive.  Connect people to each other.

We will succeed in direct proportion to the amount that we trust each other.

I invest in 10 ways at a meetup and expect to get nothing! What’s your equation?

Carmen asked me what I “get out” of Spicy Networking and my answer is nothing. I don’t get anything.  That is why the meetings are so enjoyable!

Robin, whose last name I didn’t catch, also asked me, and I asked him if he knew the concept of “chi”.  Rooms have chi (or not).  Well, events do too and so do people.

To use an example to explain.  I don’t get anything out of putting a money tree in the wealth corner of my house. Putting a money tree in the right corner simply pays respect to what is respect-worthy, and creates the right environment for good things to happen.  They may or may not.

The expression “make my own luck” is similar. I have to create the conditions to be lucky – but I can’t force luck.   Luck doesn’t like to be forced.

Chi can’t be forced.   Joy can’t be forced.  But I can’t function without chi and joy in my life.

When I try to “get something” at an event, it won’t happen.

But it won’t happen either if I don’t make an effort. It’s the asymmetry that confuses people.  People want a linear equation – if I do it, it will happen.

It works more like this.  If I do certain things, something I value may happen.  But if I don’t do certain things, it  certainly won’t. I know people struggle with this lack of equation.  But there it is.  Life isn’t a straight line graph!

So let me ask the question the other way around.

What do I invest in a networking event?

#1: I am choosy.

Why go to a dull or badly organized event? And certainly why go back? I think people who tolerate rubbish events (and go back) have no respect for themselves.  They are unlikely to be a good environment for me.

#2: I show up

90% of success is showing up, reasonably on time. We can’t benefit if we are not there.

#3: I introduce myself to people

We gain little by standing in the corner (next to the snack table or the bar) having the same conversation that we had with someone last time.  First rule – don’t hold up the bar!

#4: I make time to listen

Particularly to people who haven’t learned the art of networking.  It is hard to introduce ourselves concisely. Like everything it takes practice. Those of us better at it need to give people still learning some air-time.

#5: I try to learn

People can ask amazingly disconcerting questions.  Last night, I often said I was from a small town.  Everyone wanted to know more.  I need to think seriously about what they want to know about my town.  Questions simply tell us what is unclear to people. And we all are unclear to someone!

#6: I (sometimes) ask open-ended questions

It’s smart to end our elevator pitch with questions so the next person learns about us while talking about themselves.  It’s much better than interrogating them or yawning as they stumble though some waffle.

#7: I rephrase what people do and tell them how they benefit me

It’s good for people to hear how their work has value.  It struck me last night that a lot of people have got into the habit of concealing their contributions.  I must think about this a bit more.

#8: I play “happy-families”

How many people can you talk to in an evening? 15? And if we introduce ourselves randomly, how many will share our interests?  If I can speed up the time it takes to find someone with mutual interests by pointing out who has what in common with whom, very good.

#9: I connect after the event

I look up their website/blog and follow up using one of the channels they provided.

There is no point in sending an automated message that does not remind the person of our specific conversation. I am really arrogant if I think  they will remember me among all the people they met.

And to send an automated message via a service they don’t use is just an irritant.  I know I avoid anyone who does that to me.

#10: I am grateful and allow the possibilities to bloom

In a good evening, the ‘chi’ gets my creative mind going. I come away feeling that I want the day off to think through the ideas that seem to come out of nowhere. They came out of my head of course.  They don’t come from anyone I met.  It’s just that being in a good environment sets the process off.

I suppose that’s what I “get” – though I can’t “get” with any certainty because chi, luck, job, connection, belonging, creativity cannot be forced. They can only be encouraged.

Your turn.  Review time!

Should I be striving to “get” something?  10 things I do are a lot – I don’t actually think about it when I do it.  Writing it all down just makes a long list.

What do you do?  What could I do differently?

Are YOU able to bring 100 interesting people together in a party in London?

How do Julius and Carmen find these venues?

Last night, Spicy Networking met up at The Livery on Wood Street, just off Cheapside as we exit St Paul’s tube.

To be honest, in the ordinary course of events, I would never have noticed The Livery.

It is on a side street
It is ultra modern with clean strong lines
It is long, with the seating all the way through to the back.
And to be be very honest, had I noticed it, I wouldn’t have even gone in.  It wouldn’t look like a place that you just drop in.

As a function venue, The Livery is magnificent.

It is near a major tube (St Paul’s, Central Line). It is on a side street so there are fewer fumes.  The ultra clean look is great for a reception where we are moving around the room a lot and shuffling our bags between our feet.  The long bar opened up into a wide area at the back that was reserved for us.

There is evidently a ‘mental model’ that the hospitality industry and event managers understand that allows them to spot these things.

And then, of course, they make the event happen.  We need more than a good room.  We need the right food.  And, we need the right people.

The food at events organized by Carmen and Julius is always fantastic.

The people are exceptional.  In 18 months or so in the UK, Julius and Carmen have built up a network of business people, entrepreneurs and post-graduate students.  Everyone you talk to at these events is interesting.  And energetic.

A good event. A sound business.  An exciting career.  The magic is in getting the right people together.

That is where the real magic lies.   Getting the right people together.

I don’t know how to do this. I could coach you but you would be working it out for yourself as you go.

If you need it done for you, you need to speak to Julius and Carmen.  They know how to do it.  They have done it.  They do do it.

And if don’t have time to help you, they may know people who can.

Check our restaurants like The Livery which are on the side streets!

In the meantime, pop in to The Livery for a beer and light meal.   And imagine it full with 100 of the most interesting people in London.

I’ll be going back, not to relive a great evening, but to see how it sparks my imagination about the magic of life and work around St Paul’s.