Monday, June 29, 2009

Having it all

Can we have it all? Motherhood, careers, family, friends, ‘me’ time, health, wealth and vacation time?


Yes because we all define these things differently and can therefore choose our own standard or expectation to which we want to aim.

Yes because having it all doesn’t mean doing it perfectly. Mistakes will happen. Poor choices might be made. So what? Who doesn’t make mistakes? We all know it is how you recover from error that counts.

Yes because all those things are available in life and no one is saying there is a pre-defined portion that is smaller for some women than for others.

Of course my life has sometimes seen poverty, illness and unemployment… to mention but a few. But those are the flipside of “all” and I’m willing to learn, embrace and try it again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Social Networking Technology and Similar Circles

Similar Circles is the philosophy.
Similar Circles: Tea & Networking is the face to face quarterly event. Obviously limited by geography.
Similar Circles: Tea & Blogging is what I do 2 - 3 times a week.

Similar Circles: Tea & Discussion is the next iteration possibility. (and I would dearly love your comments and concepts on this one)

Tea & Discussion could be podcasts, webinars, face to face groups with teleconferencing, discussion boards... The technology is there to allow us to connect.

I want to play... anyone care to join me?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Social Networking Technology 2

So, as a set of tools available to my journey of building personal community, where does social networking fit in?

* If you look at my kid, the entire teen world appears to be in constant tech mode with non-stop texting and online chatting.
* The adults seem to be finding old school mates on Facebook and looking for dates via the virtual world.
* There's LinkedIn and Plaxo and Twitter and host of online sites and tools that add to or distract from the day.
* There are articles telling you that social networking will help/hinder/host your career and life.

My philosophy is never turn down extra help. Social networking tools are one more way to reach out to your community. They are not, however, a replacement for the intimacy and trust-building of face-to-face. They can bridge the gaps between the phone calls and coffees.

My favourite example today is the one my teen realised... having a zillion friends on Facebook didn't mean he had a date for Saturday night. And asking a girl out via Facebook didn't win him any Romeo points either. Having prior chats via Facebook did break the ice. Having friends and events/bands in common did create some reference points.

I think that social networking tools haven't gotten out of their infancy yet. Technology is advancing to the point where we may see bigger grey zones between the face to face/high touch meetings and using technology to have them. I encourage folks to play with them and see how they work. Use them to reach outside your geographic zones for resources, information and counsel. And, please, also still be willing to offer your actual physical presence and time to your community.

Mentors - this is a great dialogue with your mentorees. What do either of you use? What's working? What can you teach each other?

Networkers - success stories are missing at this point. There are lots of examples of why it should work but few are out there at networking events talking about how it's worked for them personally. What a great conversation opener...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Social Networking Technology

Lately I've been involved in an in-depth analysis of social media/social networking technology. I've come to a few conclusions...

1 - The technology can't create or drive the behaviour. The need - or desire - to connect needs to be there already. Giving folks a new tool doesn't suddenly make them want to network. That's akin to buying someone a screwdriver in hopes they gain the will to do home renovations.

2 - Folks seem to respond to the need or use of the technology tools with an emotional response over logical. They seem divided in feeling that the tools answer some visceral need or that they cut into productivity.

3 - Most folks don't seem aware of the public nature of the tools - they think it is as private as a phone call.

4 - Most folks arguing for use of the tools feel they also serve a need to make work life more interesting, more like 'real' life, or more 'comfortable'. A qualitative approach while asking for the ROI or quantitative case.

5 - Most folks use the technology to either find information or find someone to help with information.

#5 is by far the most interesting for me and the work I've been doing around mentoring and networking. Because it points out how the technology is simply one tool in the philosophy and approach.

Yes, we can approach mentoring and networking simply to find information or people to use the information. But in our community-building, hierarchical-agnostic, grey zone approach, we don't always have such a specific agenda. Sometimes it really is just about opening ourselves to new people and experiences and not searching for something in particular.

But, when we do need to search, the tech tools are valuable!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's not personal...?

Other than how to work a large event, I think the question I get asked the most is "How do I keep my professional and personal lives separate?".

Short answer? You can't. Not really.

I don't mean you should want to take everyone you meet home for dinner. But you should be at least willing to have a social coffee with them, even if the conversation revolves around business or career issues.

If you're not willing to share even the smallest personal details about you and trade a few stories, you're not going to see much reciprocation in your other asks. It's a grey zone for sure - but one you can easily manage. You just can't avoid it.

I really believe there is something to enjoy about most folks I meet. Sometimes I have to dig for it (lol) but finding a point of connection always works out for both of us.

And grey zones aren't just about those we would rather didn't cross our paths. Eventually, many mentor/mentoree relationships evolve into friendships and/or business opportunities. You then know a great deal about each other and you have to manage the boundaries more deliberately.

Sincerity in networking requires a crossing into the grey zone too. If you ask me how I'm doing but don't really care or listen to my answer - skipping ahead in your mind to what I can do for you - then I'm not likely to play in your sandbox.

So it's personal. You'll run into each other in line at the coffee place. You'll care enough about your contacts in ways that will range from "Let's have dinner" to a personal email that says "I heard the news...".

My November post - Please Like Me may be the most controversial posting I've written in light of this question! Why spend any effort avoiding connecting with people if you really wish to build a community?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Connecting regardless...

I spend my life doing too much. It's almost a badge of honour except I wear it as bags below my eyes. And just when I pat myself complacently on the back about how I hold a management job (I mention that it's management so you will know it's 45+ hrs a week), sit on boards and committees, write plays, direct a few, hold a few workshops, do some teaching, parent an ungrateful teen, keep up with friends, keep the house in groceries that sometimes require actual cooking vs. defrosting AND manage to keep up with the dirty underwear and socks pile (teen reference again)... well just as I'm doing a pat, I trip over my feet and sometimes go straight down.

So lying on the rug.. or sidewalk... facing the sky/ceiling/piece of something under the couch (I never said anything about vacuuming)... I get a new perspective. Today it was that even when we've listened really hard, we've only heard a snippet of the whole conversation.

You can't know what's in someone's head because words are only part of the story. As is body language. Your gut can fill in some blanks but really, Sandra Boyton (children's book author) put it really well in a greeting card which I just gave my wretched child "You and I are very different. Although I guess I'm even more different than you are." We listen in sound bites. We process against the only frame of reference we have - our own.

And yet we manage, with some folks, to learn enough to connect. It's fascinating. I'm going to go make chocolate mousse for the pot luck dinner tonight and think about this one some more.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Influence is Viral

We've heard about viral marketing campaigns... we know rumours are viral.... we know germs spread while you're not even looking (sleeve sneeze anyone?)...

But really, your influence is viral. The recommendations we make, the comments we offer and the ideas we share are often repeated and spread. Ok, not always in their orginal form, but usually with the credit attached.

So you're not just affecting, supporting, helping one person. Your participation creates a ripple.

Be generous with your influence; infect your communities thoroughly and with good cheer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Open Conversations

I spend lots of time talking about greetings ... but yes, there's a whole other piece called the actual conversation that probably needs a few words.

If you think about the better conversations you have, they probably feel like you both listened and shared in equal measures. The problem comes when you try and figure out how to make that happen deliberately.

You've heard of open questions - a great technique for getting teenagers to talk with their parents more (lol)? The premise is that you only ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no".

Sometimes even that fails as folks still answer with one or two words and no explanation. You can't change someone else's behaviour but you can monitor your own.

The next time you're looking to really engage someone in open conversation, try a few of these:

If you're asked a question that merits a one word response... follow with the word "and". Allow "and" to be a link to an explanation of your answer - a story, an anecdote or even a follow on question. That way if you're faced with someone who is also fumbling in the conversation, you have an easy technique to keep it going till you reach easier times.

Make Everyone Look Good
Chances are you won't agree with much of what folks tell you. When you meet them, is it more important to connect or to debate? You don't have to agree but you don't have to point out the obvious flaws in their logic either. "Thanks for bringing that up. It reminds me of an article..." "You've obviously thought about this. So have I. Do you think we're the only two?" etc. Keep it light and keep it moving till you know them well enough to get into the finer points.

No Perfect Answer
I'm still working on this one myself... There's no perfect/right/wrong answer to a question. Conversation is discussion - not closed proclamation to closed proclamation. You can explain yourself. You can elaborate. Speak from your gut. Fumble a bit. That's always more interesting. More nerve wracking, but interesting.

Keep the conversation flowing like a good tennis game... and don't worry about being an ace player.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Helping your mentor

Just because your mentor is an expert in somethings, don't assume she knows everything and everyone. As mentoring is supposed to be active on both sides of the relationship, here's a few things you can do to help.

1 - Don't assume your mentor has already combed their network for the right connection for you and your current questions.

Always ask your mentor "Who else could I talk to about this?"

On the flip side - don't be afraid to offer your mentor new people with whom they can connect. We don't know everyone in the world... yet...

2 - Don't assume your mentor is an encyclopedia.

Always ask your mentor "What associations/groups/websites might be worth exploring on this topic?" Don't assume your mentor will hand you everything in one neat package.

On the flip side - bring your mentor good sources you find! We're always looking for fresh insight too.

3 - Don't assume your mentor's network is boundless.

Invite your mentor to explore some of the events and meet new people with you.

On the flip side - make sure you've investigated the sources your mentor has offered you before suggesting exploring the unknown.

4 - Don't assume your mentor is a strong networker.

It's a difficult skill at the best of times. I am the consummate "reluctant networker" and people come to me for advice!

It seems to be an assumption that with mentoring comes networking and invitation to new folks. But, sometimes, the focus is on a one on one discussion of the subject matter only.

Discuss your questions around networking and ask for advice... but on the flip side... ask your mentor what their challenges and hesitations have been and how they've been overcome (or not).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Laugh a little

Consider this... humour is a wonderful networking and mentoring tool. It breaks the ice, relaxes folks and offers a small bridge towards the grey zone (see Oct posting: Grey Zones).

I'm not talking about stand up comedy or poorly conceived jokes. Just the little quips, observations and silly asides that can liven up a conversation.

It's using your 'inside voice' judiciously. It often has a grain of truth to it. And it creates a point of connection between you and the person who also found that something humourous.

Networking events and one on one coaching sessions can be so deadly dull! Folks can come away feeling disconnected, bored and/or overwhelmed. Laugh a little together.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mentoring & Networking

#1 - Mentoring and networking are two sides of the same coin.

#2 - You can possibly network without being deliberately involved in mentoring (giving or receiving) but you can’t deepen relationships purely through networking.

#3 - Networking is a key component of your personal ‘brand’. Mentoring can help you examine that brand.

#4 - Networking takes preparation, practice and commitment.... as much as mentoring does.

#5 - Mentoring and networking are vital to any person doing anything at which they want to excel.

#6 Both mentoring and networking are your choice. There are many folks who are very happy not doing either. Mentoring and networking don't guarantee you success but they sure can help.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Questions excite me

Someone tried to pay me a compliment (publicly) last night and I did what I always do - I shrugged and ducked. I said, "I just ask questions and then folks credit me with the answers; it's a neat trick."

As I walked up to the streetcar an hour later, I had a small epiphany. It is all about the questions.

Questions excite me - challenge me - inspire me. Questions are the journey.

Don't get me wrong - there are answers out there too (some of them even good!). But you don't know they're good unless you've been asking - and trying - other variations.

Ask. Listen. Try. Ask some more.