Posts Tagged ‘serendipity’

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). 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 before their car advice (AND raucous Cambridge laughter) leave the airwaves. An absolute delight, they even include good automotive advice at times!

This Latin phrase is one of their deeply held credos. When asked how they are able to respond to call-in gty_car_talk_Tom_and_Ray_Magliozzi_jt_120609_wgquestions as quickly as they do, 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 having it emblazoned over the door to my office (to challenge myself as well as my clients). Why? One of MY deeply held credos is as follows: “We should think less and act more.” My most recent book review on Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind 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 was “chatting” with a client over the Internet regarding career alternatives based on some assessment work we had done to unearth what I liked to call their “Best Stuff.” As he was recounting some of the potential options coming up, his email opined, “Here I go again… rambling…”

One may argue that this was indeed true, but my instinctive response was, “I like ‘rambling’… it’s when you get to see the most scenery.” The more I thought about my response, the more I liked it! (my friend Scott Ginsberg, at http://www.hellomynameisscott.com, once said, “If you don’t quote yourself, no one else will!”)

Here are some of my key points on why I’m a fan of Rambling:

1.   You DO get to see more “scenery.”

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it also reduces your field of peripheral vision. If your travel is a bit more meandering, including switchbacks, occasional detours and winding roads, you may not get “there” (wherever THERE is!) as quickly, but you will certainly have a lot more to look at. I see this as a good thing. The more scenery that you see, the more opportunity you have to discover a marvelous “destination” that you never knew existed.

2.   It bucks the traditional vocational system.Image

I feel for the job seekers and careerists who invest almost all of their time and energy in newspapers, the Internet, employment agencies, company career ladders and other “traditional” resources. To be sure, these methods all represent possibilities for success and may even hold clues to their career development or next position. The problem is: they are investigating the smallest number of opportunities in direct competition with the largest number of candidates. My statistics training goes back a few years, but these don’t sound like good odds to me! Rambling can get you beyond “the smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd” and may actually be the shortest distance to get to the better career destinations, whether you are seeking or new job or wish to grow in your present position.

3.   It starts the “trip” sooner instead of later.

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else, an excellent book by Dr. David Campbell, makes some strong points supporting a targeted career process. The problem is, I’ve had many clients who were loathe to even start a Career Road Trip until they could describe their final destination in clear, concise almost meticulous detail. Since they couldn’t do so, they never started and remained parked in their vocational driveway, never even backing out onto the road. With apologies to Dr. Campbell, I may rephrase his title to “If You Wait to Figure Out Exactly Where You’re Going, You May End Up Staying Right Where You Are.”

4.   It increases the possibility of “luck” showing up.

Luck, serendipity or delightful surprises are hardly ever planned, but they have a greater opportunity to show up for the Rambler than the Laser-Guided Careerist. To requote one of my favorite authors, Barbara Sher, “The amount of good luck that comes your way depends on your willingness to act.” (From I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was). Rambling creates the dynamics for serendipity to show up.

Allow me to “ramble” just a bit more on this subject. Here’s what you should do:

  • Get a general idea of where your trip is headed.
  • Unplug the GPS.
  • Pull out of your driveway, take off and keep your eyes open.

You may be surprised by what you drive by!

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, “I 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 influencing peddling.

ImageNow it’s time to 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 any recent contact with (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 “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 of our contacts. 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, who have you lost touch with 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, or places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, there’s where you can start. The use of social networking applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, 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 for your personal advantage alone), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and insight. 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?

“We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing. “ – Robert E. Lee

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

“Failure is always an option.” – Adam Savage, Mythbuster

“Make excellent mistakes.” – Dan Pink (via Johnny Bunko)

“Oops! I didn’t know THAT would happen!” Have you ever spoken those words after attempting something that didn’t work out? I know I have.

Here’s another question: Did you learn anything from it? My guess is the answer is “Yes.” Some of our best lessons emerge from dismal failure. We all know the story of Edison who supposedly said of his lack of success along way to developing the incandescent light, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Every “failure” is an opportunity for significant insight, if we will only pay attention.

Please allow me to quote the sprite Diana from Dan Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko (if you have not read this excellent little tome, you should, it takes only about 15 minutes!!): “the most successful people make spectacular mistakes – huge, honking screwups! …each time they make a mistake, they get a little better and move a little closer to excellence.”

So, get out there and make a mistake! You could LEARN something!

“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 is the secret to cracking into the “Hidden Job Market,” getting that new deal, linking into a killer contact to land that new promotion, etc.  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 – a chance to move ahead.

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 we move on to the how-to portion of our little discussion. Let’s call them networking myths.

Networking Myth #1Networking is dead. People have been using it for so long that no one has time to talk to anyone anymore. They know you’re after something and they don’t have it. 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 #2Networking is telling everyone, everywhere, all the time, what you need. Don’t stop until someone gives in. The more people that know what you want, the higher the likelihood that someone provide it to you.

Wrong again! Telling everyone you need something from them 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 dissatisfaction bug.  It’s much more effective (and positive) to seek information and advice.

Networking Myth #3Networking is pretending to be interested in people until they like you, then going for the vocational jugular. Ask them for help 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 #4Networking is the ultimate answer. It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.

Wrong again! Although extraordinarily effective, networking is only a part of effective career development. 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 identify opportunities and generate serendipity.

Networking Myth #5You 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. Our experience has shown that the most effective networking contacts are frequently NOT the members of the “Star Chamber,” but typically people you have not spoken to in a while. 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. This is not to say that networking with movers and shakers is a waste of time, but effective networking with all sizes and shapes of people from diverse walks of life has the potential to yield extraordinary results.

Networking Myth #6Networking is a means to an end. Once you have what you want, 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 career development) will continue to enrich you personally and professionally, while providing opportunities for you to help others.

The Key to Effective Networking

There is one, honestly! A single word that covers all that can and should be involved in the networking process. Are you ready? Here it is: DIALOGUE. If you look it up in a dictionary, you will find that dialogue means “an exchange of ideas or opinions” (American Heritage Dictionary). Did you notice the word “exchange?” Networking is a give-and-take interaction. Each party has to have something to offer. We admit that, in the beginning, you may have little to give and more to get. You can, however, initially offer your desire to learn, to hear someone else’s story, to consider another perspective. Virtually everyone, when given a true opportunity to share his or her insights, will rise to the occasion. This may be how you start the dialogue. In subsequent contacts, you may share an idea of yours, recommend a book or an article you read, send them an e-mail about a concert or event coming up that they have an interest in, etc.

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 (both in person and online) 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!

How to “Get Lucky” . . .

Posted: September 30, 2011 in career
Tags: , , ,

Life experiences can be really tough at times. Take job search, career development or trying to grow your business as examples. For those of us who have firsthand experience in these adventures, this is a gross understatement. Cold-calling, networking, spending weekends at the office, earnestly looking for opportunities and challenges can make for some tough sledding! Add to this the fact that, at some level, it appears to be nothing more than an incredibly cruel numbers game. Keep plugging away until all of the stars line up, the Heavenly Bodies are in alignment, and you have success.

How can we promote serendipity (pleasant, unexpected surprises)? It would be nice if we could engage “Lady Luck” in this process, perhaps reducing some of the wear and tear on our psyches and increasing the likelihood of success before we run out of money, positive attitude, energy, or all three! Well, I have some good news – A British psychologist, Dr. Richard Wiseman, did research on the luck phenomena and developed a program to “improve your luck,” as described in his excellent book The Luck Factor – Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: Four Essential Principles. He presents some practical guidelines to improve your luck and experience Serendipity– better represented as realized opportunity – in all you do. By the way, there are 12 corollaries to his four key traits that are very helpful as well, but you’ll have to get the book to learn about them!

Let’s consider the four key traits of “lucky” people, as defined by the good Doctor, with an eye towards how they can be applied to our daily activities..

1.   Lucky people maximize the results of chance opportunities. As a matter of fact, they even create them.

Everywhere you are, everyone you meet, every situation you encounter has potential. Bumping into an old friend at the grocery store, enhancing your use of Twitter, etc., or chatting with an acquaintance in the dentist’s waiting room could be your introduction to a totally new network of people and ideas. You can even “create” more of these activities by increasing your interaction with others at your place of worship, your neighborhood, LinkedIn groups, summer barbeques, etc. Be sure to hone your networking skills, however, or you are more likely to create an island for yourself where all those around you give you a wide berth to avoid being harassed. Learn to ask questions and be honestly interested in their answers. Lucky people aren’t all that lucky. They just have more opportunities for something to happen than most. Make those opportunities for yourself.

2.   Lucky people listen to their intuition as well as to their logic.

The mind is not only a terrible thing to waste, it is also a terrible guide if you base your actions only on what “makes sense.” Wiseman found that lucky people were more open to hunches, more likely to listen to their “gut” as well as their reason. Be sure you don’t experience “paralysis by analysis” or make the “perfect the enemy of the good.” I like to call this my “Why Not?” Principle ™. If you don’t have an iron-clad reason not to move ahead, take another step. The world is full of individuals who engaged their intuition as well as their intellect, moving into new and at times uncertain, if not terrifying, territory to discover exciting opportunities. These actions, by the way, may not have been as much based on a logical analysis of the facts as they were founded on hunches. Lucky people will listen to their hunches as well as their logic, exposing themselves to opportunities that Mr. Spock would have never considered.

3.   Lucky people have an expectation that things will work out. They cultivate a positive attitude.

It can be quite sad but is inexorably true. You can get up in the morning and decide you’ll have an unproductive, frustrating, nothing-but-trouble-day and everything that comes your way will affirm your opinion. Interestingly enough, if you decide to have a better day, not perfect but productive and opportunistic, the very same situations can provide some alternatives, suggest options, create opportunities. Does this mean that all you have to do is be positive and magic takes place? Nope, not even close! It does, however, mean that cultivating a positive attitude (called “Learned Optimism” by Dr. Martin Seligman in his book of the same name) can allow you to see situations that Eeyore would never identify. Look for the best in things.

4.   Lucky people, when faced with negative situations, find ways to turn them into positive results.

Bad situations frequently have good alternatives hidden within them. The loss of a job or a key promotion may free you up to consider a career change or an adjusted business plan. When you don’t win, you can use the experience to be better prepared next time. Dr. Seligman claims that you can acquire this ability if (like many of us) you are not born with it. He says that, just as individuals can develop Learned Helplessness (in other words, there is no sense in doing anything, it will fail anyway) they can acquire Learned Optimism (seeing the opportunity in unfortunate events).

In investigating the personality traits of “lucky” people, Dr. Wiseman found these three constants: luckier people are more extraverted (they interact with others constantly), less neurotic (they don’t let things get to them) and more open (they allow themselves to think “outside of the box”).

Start developing these traits and may find yourself becoming one of those “lucky stiffs.”

I was recently “chatting” with a client via the Internet. This person was in the process of considering career alternatives based on some assessment work we had done for some general identification of what I like to call one’s “Best Stuff.” As he was recounting some of the potential options coming up, his email opined, “Here I go again… rambling…”

You could argue that this was true, but my response was, “I like ‘rambling’… it’s when you get to see the most scenery.” The more I thought about my response, the more I liked it! (Scott Ginsberg once said, “If you don’t quote yourself, no one else will!”)

I’d like to make some brief comments on the advantages of rambling.

1.   You DO get to see more “scenery.”

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it also reduces the field of your peripheral vision. If your travel is a bit more meandering, including switchbacks, occasional detours and winding roads, you may not get “there” (wherever THERE is!) as quickly, but you will certainly have a lot more to look at. I see this as a good thing. The more scenery that you see, the more opportunity you have to discover a marvelous “destination” that you never knew existed.

2.   It bucks the traditional vocational system.

I feel for the job seekers and careerists who invest almost all of their time and energy in newspapers, the Internet, employment agencies and other “traditional” resources. To be sure, these methods all represent possibilities for success and may even hold clues to their career development or next position. The problem is: they are investigating the smallest number of opportunities in direct competition with the largest number of candidates. My statistics training goes back a few years, but these don’t sound like good odds to me! Rambling can get you beyond “the smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd” and may actually be the shortest distance to get to the better career destinations, whether you are seeking or new job or wish to grow in your present position.

3.   It starts the “trip” sooner instead of later.

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else, an excellent book by Dr. David Campbell, makes some strong points supporting a targeted career process. The problem is, I’ve had many clients who were loathe to even start a Career Road Trip until they could describe their final destination in clear, concise almost meticulous detail. Since they couldn’t do so, they remained parked in their vocational driveway, never even backing out onto the road. With apologies to Dr. Campbell, I may rephrase his title to “If You Wait to Figure Out Exactly Where You’re Going, You May End Up Staying Right Where You Are.”

4.   It increases the possibility of “luck” showing up.

Luck, serendipity or delightful surprises are hardly ever planned, but they have a greater opportunity to show up for the Rambler than the Laser-Guided Careerist. To requote one of my favorite authors, Barbara Sher, “The amount of good luck that comes your way depends on your willingness to act.” (From I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was). Rambling creates the dynamics for serendipity to show up.

Allow me to “ramble” just a bit more on this subject. Here’s what you should do:

  • Get a general idea of where your trip is headed.
  • Unplug the GPS.
  • Pull out of your driveway, take off and keep your eyes open.

You may be surprised by what you drive by.