Archive for the ‘Serendipity’ Category

According to my yard (AND the dandelions!), Spring is now here. Let’s talk Mystery Gardening(tm)!

I have had myriad conversations with clients, friends, peers, etc. about the seeming lack of progress often present in job search and career development. In ruminating on this ever present phenomenon, I realized that thinking about the process in gardening terms may help resolve this frustrating conundrum.

Allow me, dear reader, to suggest some insights by introducing my Career Development Parable of ImageMystery Gardening™. Basically, here’s how it works:

Let’s suppose you go to the local garden store to buy some packets of seed for planting. On the shelf you discover some discounted containers. The packets are very inexpensive, primarily because they’re old and the labels fell off a long time ago. Oh well, the price is right, so you decide to give them a try. You have very little to lose, after all!

When you arrive home, you dig a furrow in the ground, guessing how deep to go and how far apart to place each seed (you have no clear instructions, remember?). You then cover them up and give them some water (guessing again).

You follow this procedure for each of the packets of “mystery seeds” that you have purchased.

So, what do you have? You don’t really know! Here is what I can say so far about your Mystery Garden(tm):

  • You don’t know if anything will come up at all.
  • You don’t know how long it will take if something does manage to push its way up towards the sunlight.
  • You are unsure if anything you planted will turn into something you’ll like.
  • It’s likely that some of the seeds are completely inert, providing no results at all.
  • Some may have a longer germination period and may appear to be dead but are just working their way towards the surface under their own time frame (a time frame that is frequently not yours!).
  • Some of the seeds may produce plants that hold no interest to you.
  • And, some of them may actually give you excellent results!

Personally, I’m not really much of a gardener, but here is something I do know: if you simply dump the seeds on the ground and walk away, you’re virtually guaranteeing little or no success. Yet, if you take the time to care for these “mystery seeds” by planting, weeding, cultivating and watering, sooner or later something will show up!

In a real sense, this entire process is quite similar to your career development. As you start to plant “seeds” through your various techniques (networking, side bar conversations, social media, research, kibitzing, etc.), you have little or no idea WHAT is going to happen, IF it is going to happen or WHEN it may happen!

You do, however, know three things:

1) You’re “planting seeds” of opportunity and

2) these “seeds” need to be cultivated.

3) In addition, sooner or later, something will come up!

Oh, there is one more thing you should be aware of: if you fail to “cultivate” these “seeds” through continued activity and follow-up, even continuing to add “seeds” to your Mystery Garden(tm), your chance of being able to “pick” the best plants from your vocational harvest is significantly reduced.

The moral of this little parable: Start planting, keep planting, watering and cultivating and don’t stop. It’s the only way to get your best “harvest”!

Conversations with students this week reminded me of this pithy wisdom:

“… le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

In Italian “Il meglio è nemico del bene” (The better is enemy of the good), this phrase is initially credited to Orlando Pescetti and was later popularized by Voltaire, who used the saying in Italian in the article “Art Dramatique” in the 1770 edition of the Dictionnaire philosophique. It eventually appeared in French in “La Bégueule” in 1772, ascribing it to an anonymous “wise Italian”…

“Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien

Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

(In his writings, a wise Italian says that the better is the enemy of good.)

The moral: In insisting on delivering only the best, you may end up accomplishing nothing!

First of all, WHAT is it?

Fuzzy Logic is an approach to computing based on “degrees of truth” rather than the usual “true or false” (1 or 0, on or off) Boolean logic on which the modern computer is based. It was first advanced by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh of the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960’s as he was working on the problem of computer’s understanding natural language. Generally speaking, most computers are literal – they always do what we ask, not what we mean – while human beings are a bit “Fuzzier” in our ways of communicating and interacting.

Fuzzy Job Hunting implies that there is No One Distinct, Guaranteed, Always Successful Method for achieving meaningful employment. Employment search and career development is a moving target, requiring continuous action, adjustment, revision, sometimes even radical change in what you do and how you do it! This “Fuzzy” approach may relate to your vocational targets, your actions, your thought processes – everything involved in the career development and job-search process.

Let’s take a look at WHY you should employ Fuzzy Job Hunting.

1.   It will increase activity.

That old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is quite true. There is however, another phrase: “paralysis by analysis.” In a desire to have your act completely together, your resume absolutely perfect, your career target razor sharp, your employment search plan mapped out in 15-minute increments, you may never get started. Fuzzy Job Hunting encourages you to get an inkling of what and where and start moving. Laser-guided job search can create strategic and efficient action, if you ever come up with “The Target!” In the meantime, you are mired in the morass of planning the best course of action and end up going nowhere.

I like to think of this as selecting a basic direction for movement – Northerly, for example. As you move ahead, keep your eyes open. Maybe you’ll end up going Northeast or North / Northwest, but at least you’ll be moving in a direction that is generally correct! If you never strike out in a direction, you’ll never see any sights at all!

2.   It will create opportunities.

I once heard that “If you aim at nothing, you will surely hit the mark.” Well said! As noted above, pick a direction and start moving. Fuzzy Job Hunting creates the potential for Serendipity, “the faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident” (The American Heritage Dictionary). Things happen when you are in action.

As Barbara Sher said in I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, “The amount of good luck that comes your way depends on your willingness to act.” When your job hunt is “Fuzzy,” you tend to move more, get more visible, interact with more people, create more networking opportunities. Oh, sure, some of this may appear to be a waste of time, but how do you decide where the best contacts should be made? Many of my clients have found the most productive contacts they ever made came from the most unlikely of sources. Fuzzy Job Hunting gives you the chance to discover and be discovered.

3.   It will introduce new perspectives.

As open-minded as you are, there is no way to have much of a viewpoint on reality other than your own. As you employ your Fuzzy Tactics, you will get introduced to new ideas, new alternatives and other ways to look at things. Do you remember the story of the four blind men and the elephant? They each approached the animal from a different vantage point. One touched the elephant’s side and declared, “An elephant is like a wall.” The second reached out to the animal’s leg and said, “No, an elephant is like a tree.” The third tugged on the elephant’s tail and stated, “You are both wrong. An elephant is like a rope.” Finally, the forth reached out and touched the beast’s trunk, declaring, “None of you knows what you are talking about! An elephant is exactly like a snake!”

Who was right? They all were, each from their distinct perspective! The Fuzzy Job Hunt works much the same way by allowing you to benefit from the views of others. Each person you meet will have a slightly different slant, evaluating things from another side. Take advantage of their perspective.

4.   It will provide results.

Fuzzy Job Hunting increases activity, visibility and alternatives. I’ve said it before and will say it again: the traditional approach to the job market is chaotic and ineffective. It does not work particularly well, either for employers or for job seekers. The vast majority of job-search success (at least 85%) is through “nontraditional” methods, such as research, networking, social media, volunteering, etc. There is no better way to tap into the “hidden job market” than by thinking and acting “Fuzzily.”

So sharpen up your career development to be more “fuzzy!”

Sorry for YELLING in all caps, but I have heard this phrase too many times to ignore it. spider webHere are some corollaries:

“Do I HAVE to do it?”

“What if I don’t KNOW anyone!?”

“I HATE it! My experience should speak for itself!”

We constantly read about networking. It’s the secret to cracking into the “Hidden Job Market,” whatever that is. Yet most of us don’t have a clue how to do it. What’s more, the vast majority of us are likely to be either frightened or disgusted by the thought of “influence peddling” to get what we really want and deserve – an opportunity to do a good job, have a career for a fair wage.

Why do most of us find networking so awful? Is there a networking secret, a clandestine handshake that one can learn to open the door to Career Nirvana?

No, not really. There are, however, some significant misunderstandings and misapplications of this unfairly maligned process that need to be addressed before I move on to the how-to portion of our little discussion. I liket to call them Networking Myths.

Networking Myth #1

Networking is dead. People have been using it for so long that no one has time to talk to anyone anymore. They know you’re looking for a job or a killer lead and don’t have one for you. Go away!

Nope, networking isn’t dead. If it doesn’t work, it may be that you don’t understand the very nature of the networking process. To be sure, there are people out there who have abused the process, wasting others’ time and manipulating relationships to get what they want, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t network both effectively and professionally.

Networking Myth #2

Networking is telling everyone, everywhere, all the time, that you need a job or a new career. Don’t stop until someone gives in and hires you. The more people that know you are out of work or dissatisfied with your career, the higher the likelihood that someone will help you.

Wrong again! Telling everyone you need a new job is a good way to start a career as a hermit. Most people will not be aware of opportunities right away and are likely to feel that they are “put upon” to help you. What is more, they may actually feel that they can “catch” your unhappy (un)employment status. It’s much more effective (and positive) to seek information and advice instead of job leads.

Networking Myth #3

Networking is pretending to be interested in people until they like you, then going for the vocational jugular. Ask them for a job while you have them warmed up.

Oh, please – people are smarter than that! Individuals who try to practice this mangled type of networking will soon be “blacklisted” by every potential networkee out there. A genuine desire to learn from others is the only way to make networking work for you.

Networking Myth #4

Networking is the ultimate answer. It’s not what you know, it’s WHOM you know.

Wrong again! Although extraordinarily effective, networking is only a part of the employment search process. It’s a very important part, to be sure, and something that should command a large percentage of your time. The what / who you know issue is an important one. If you have nothing to offer, and know everyone out there, you are likely to remain dead in the water. Conversely, if you are replete with knowledge and ability and are a complete unknown, you will also be vocationally adrift. Networking allows you to create the “positive visibility” you need to discover and identify opportunities.

Networking Myth #5

You need to have killer contacts, people in the corridors of power with whom you are on a first-name basis to be an effective networker.

Sorry, not true. My experience has shown that the most effective networking contacts are frequently NOT first generation contacts (the first person you talk to), but typically referrals from that contact or people that you you’ve not talked to in some time. My clients have also found that many of their best results come from people who would not appear to be at the top of the corporate ladder, people “in the trenches.” This is not to say that networking with movers and shakers is a waste of time, but that effective networking with all sizes and shapes of people from diverse walks of life has the potential to yield extraordinary results.

Networking Myth #6

Networking is a means to an end. Once you have a job, you can cut out all of this networking nonsense.

Try again! Networking, the exchange of ideas and opinions, the give and take of sharing perspectives, should be a lifelong endeavor. Developing and growing your network throughout your work and life (networking does not have to relate only to employment) will continue to enrich you personally and professionally, while providing opportunities for you to help others.

The Key to Effective Networking

Give and take. Listen and talk. Any networking session you leave without offering something in return is not a good one. Phone calls and e-mails also count, by the way. Building relationships through constantly cultivating and expanding your network not only allows you to stay plugged into the world of work and beyond, it provides opportunities for you to give back to your networkees (and others) in appreciation for all of the help that you’ve received.

So, GET NETWORKING! (Yes, I AM yelling again!)

A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines,Reverse shiftI think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in job search and career development, precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to get anywhere in our work and life.

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that create “win-win” relationships rather than bold-faced influence peddling.

Let’s discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a then sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or had not had contact with in years (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money. The application for career and personal development is obvious!

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change, although I would argue that it is equally useful in employment search and career development. If we continue to connect only with people who know us well, we get caught up in what Ibarra termed as “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities.  If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, the surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Or, with whom have you lost touch from your deep, dark past? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, hobby organizations, places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, that’s a good place to start. The use of social networking applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can be particularly helpful in finding out “whatever happened to…?”.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking Information-Advice-Referral, not working them exclusively for your personal advantage), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and shared insights. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam, you will be “unfriended” and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

Dizzying, isn’t it?

What’s that? You say your Latin is a bit rusty? This extraordinary phrase comes from two of my Saturday morning heroes – Tom and Ray Magliozzi (a.k.a. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” from Car Talk, now airing classic shows with the sad passing of Tom). If this does not connect with any of you, I urge you to tune in a PBS radio station in your area at 10 AM on the afore-mentioned day for their car advice (AND raucous Cambridge laughter). An absolute delight, they even include good automotive information at times!

This Latin phrase was one of their deeply held credos, notably accredited to Tom (on the left). When they were queried as to how they were able to respond to call-ingty_car_talk_Tom_and_Ray_Magliozzi_jt_120609_wg questions as quickly as they did, their response (translated into Latin for the more erudite among us) was “We’re ‘unencumbered by the thought process!’”

I’ve shamelessly adopted this as one of my mantras, to the point of once having it emblazoned over the door to my office (to challenge myself as well as my clients. I even donated to my local PBS station to score the coffee mug!). Why? One of MY deeply held credos is as follows: “We should think less and act more.” In Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, the author Guy Claxon notes how “thinking less can make you more intelligent.” We often spend so much time thinking through options and potential outcomes that action never ensues. This impacts opportunities for all, since failure to act on something virtually guarantees failure to achieve much of anything.

To be sure, we need to engage what Hercule Poirot called “the little grey cells” as we move ahead in our work and lives, but I would humbly suggest that you include this Latin phrase in your “career toolbox” as well.

Don’t be so encumbered by the thought process! Think a little less and act more!

I am particularly enamored of this concept of mine, although I will confess that it HAUNTS ME AT TIMES! This does not reduce its value, however!

Life is full of decisions, and career development has more than its share of them. As Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

WithConfused man due respect to the sagacious Yogi, that won’t work! So how can you decide whether or not to move ahead in a particular direction, return a call, schedule an interview, take a promotion, mail out a resume, etc.? I suggest that you apply what I have termed my “WHY NOT?” Principle(tm): simply stated, if you cannot answer “No” to a question (e.g., Should I consider taking on this new project?), the next answer is always “Yes.” In other words, until you can make the case for “why not?” – why you should not investigate the opportunity – you should move ahead at least one more step. After all, no answer will come to you if you just sit there!

Let’s investigate some scenarios where you can apply my “Why Not? Principle(tm).”

1.   You’re called by a company for an interview. The position under consideration seems to be significantly below your qualifications, but they still want to see you. Do you go in to see them or not?

WHY NOT?

No good answer. You don’t have adequate information to make an informed, intelligent decision. Perhaps the position is better than it seems from the outside. The company may see your skills and identify a better fit for you in the organization (this really does happen!). This is not the only position that will ever open up in this organization, and you have the opportunity to make a positive contact with the company.

  • Check it out. You have nothing to lose.

2.   A longtime friend provides you with a lead to a job that does not interest you at all, nor does it allow you to use any of the skills and experience you want to bring to the job market. Do you follow up on the opportunity?

WHY NOT?

Following up on a situation that you have no interest in is a waste of the company’s time and yours, as well as being less than honest towards your friend. It would be much better to thank your friend for the advice and the intended opportunity, explaining why you would not be interested and helping your friend better understand your career targets and employment goals. Also, you could damage your relationship by not telling your friend the truth.

  • Be kind but honest. Thank them but help them to help you better.

3.   Your company is pressing you to interview for a position that you know has no relationship to your career goals or personal interests. You know you can do the job, but don’t really want to! Do you go for the interview or not? After all, isn’t every promotion a good move?!

WHY NOT?

Wasting their time is not a good way to invest yours. Some people might consider this a “no risk” opportunity to get some interview practice, but I see it as a disingenuous act, wasting the time of a company that obviously only wants to see  interested applicants. Here’s an additional concern: since you’re not under pressure, you may interview very confidently and end up receiving a promotion offer you didn’t want in the first place! THEN what do you do?

  • Politely turn down their kind offer, using this opportunity to help your organization better understand where your interests and best abilities to contribute lie.

4.   An acquaintance in the community wants to meet you for lunch to help you in your career development. This is someone you know to have no “clout” or real connections with any “heavy hitters.” Do you schedule or work up a believable excuse?

WHY NOT?

No good answer here, either. Everyone knows someone. You may think this person is not connected (and you may be right), but some of the best opportunities for serendipitous, extraordinary surprises can come from the most unlikely situations. It’s nice that this person wants to help. Give him or her the time and the benefit of the doubt. Remember: you don’t have to take all of the advice you get, just listen to it. The relationship you enhance may be much more valuable than any information you may get!

  • Have lunch with them and listen to what they have to say. There is no way of telling what opportunities could result.

Try employing my “Why Not Principle(tm).” It will press you into more action, reduce your second-guessing, create serendipitous possibilities and perhaps even help you to see more results.

“WHY NOT?”