What you do and who you are

Have you ever felt that you will never be able to achieve what you want because of the kind of person you are? Have you thought: “I will never be successful because (and now pick at least one)

  • I am a procrastinator.”
  • I am not good at selling my work.”
  • I am shy.”
  • I am not good with money.”
  • I am [please add your own].

I realized that very often we confuse “What I did in the past.” with “Who I am.”

I grew up in a family with extremely talkative and outgoing women in the most talkative and outgoing area of Germany (that might not mean much in international comparison… but still). Everybody (including myself) knew: Eva is the quiet one. When I moved to northern Germany, where the general culture is much more taciturn and less outgoing, I still knew – and told my knew friends: “I’m a quiet one.” They paused, gave me a confused look and slowly and politely – as is their manner – said: “Sorry to disappoint you, but you are not. We know quiet… That’s not you.” So I realized that being quiet is a behavior that have I shown when I was in loud groups of very talkative people (you can still see me do that every Christmas at home) but that I can also be very talkative and engaged in other situations. Instead of being locked into one personality trait, all of a sudden I saw that there were a number of different behaviors that I could choose from.

I thought about this long ago experience again when I realized last week that often when we say: “I am like this.”, we actually mean: “In the past I have often done this.”

You will see what this means and why this is so important for change, if you try it out: Take the character trait that you have found most detrimental to your success. That could be:

  • “I am a procrastinator.”
  •  “I am not self confident.”
  • “I am irresponsible with money.” 

Rephrase this sentence into a description of past behavior (which led you to believe this about yourself in the first place):

  • “In the past I have often procrastinated.”
  • “In the past I have often not felt self confident.”
  • “In the past I have made some irresponsible financial decisions.”

To give yourself more to work with, be a bit more concrete, describe examples in which you have behaved this way. And see if you can remembers situations in which you didn’t. I was never quiet, when I visited my grandma on my own, because she would listen to what I had to say and there wasn’t a whole group of people competing for the stage. Seek out those situations, where it is easy for you to be a self confident, financially responsible non-procrastinator (or whatever perceived character trait you want to change), because you will enjoy them and you will learn that you have a whole range of behavioural options. And start trying out the new behaviour in your most challenging situations as well, reminding yourself: “In the past, I have done it this way…”

One minute pitch

We just had a “one minute pitch brown bag seminar” at my wonderful shared office space and I recommend you do the same especially if your work revolves around complex and innovative concepts and it doesn’t have a simple name that everybody will get like “I’m a baker”. If you are a baker, everyone will think: “Oh, you bake for a living.”. But what if you say you are a knowledge manager, you develop health care and prevention apps or you design personalized fan experiences? Your audience will think “Soooo…. you manage knowledge…?” and basically be none the wiser.

So we decided to meet, bring our lunch (in a brown bag… as is customary in DC) and everybody would get exactly one minute to tell the rest of us what they do, what problem they solve, why that is so great and why they are the one you should go to to solve this problem. Let me tell you, one minute is extremely short. And this will get your heart rate up. But try it out with some people who will give you tough and appreciative feedback and you will be able to be so much more effective, the next time you are trapped in an elevator with someone who might need your products or services. And the next time you go home for grandma’s birthday and your great aunt asks you what you do for a living again…

Focus. I mean: FOCUS!

Find people who are very different from you ("Altaic People": Copyright Historygirl08 on flickr)

Some people are good at about everything. Though, honestly, I have yet to meet one of them. For the rest of us, we have to deal with the fact that we are great at some things, o.k. at others and will always remain less than mediocre at some.

The question is: How do we deal with this? The eduction system in most countries puts a lot of effort into making everyone o.k. at everything, which means in practice: You spend a lot of time working on subjects that are very difficult for you and where, even with all your time and heart blood, you will never excel. And you spend very little time and effort on those things that you have a special talent for, because you are good enough already. What a waste, you remain “good enough” instead of getting excellent…

And it does, for the most part, discourage collaboration – many cases where you work together with a classmate who is better in the fields that you don’t get would be considered cheating, anyway.

Does that make sense? Well, I suppose there are a lot of arguments for having a basic knowledge in a lot of fields…

But, it teaches you something about learning and about life and work that might keep you from being amazing at what you do, and draw you towards professions that will make you miserable: It teaches you that it is more valuable and worthwhile to focus on improving your weaknesses than on expanding on your strengths. Or, to put it more bluntly: You learn that it is better to waste your time on becoming mediocre in a field where you have little talent than on becoming exceptionally brilliant in a field that is easy for you. If it’s fun, it can’t really be work, right?

I’d say: Put most of your energy into getting really good in the areas that are easy for you. Spend some time getting just good enough in the tasks that you have little talent for but that are unavoidable. And learn how to spot people with talents vastly different from yours. We intuitively are drawn to people similar to ourselves (I have written about homophily here and here before) but make a point of finding partners who are weak in the areas you are strong in and strong where you are weak. Because you want to get to a situation eventually where you can spend the majority of your time being amazing at what you do best and other people will take care of the rest – people that are amazing at these other things. Well, at least I want to get there…

Tell me how you are partnering with people who are different from you and how that changes your life/work!

Net-Map class in Italy in June!!! Not July!!!

Sorry, the last post has a confusing mistake:

We are planning to hold our Net-Map class in Vicenza, Italy on the 27 and 28 of June. Not July. Sorry for the confusion.

Net-Map Class in Italy: Eat Pasta, draw Spaghetti diagrams…

They made Vicenza World Heritage Site for a reason...

I believe in having your cake and eating it. If you want to have a seminar and learn something you are really interested in, why not do it in a beautiful place? How about Vicenza, a UNESCO World Heritage site close to Venice, Italy. So you can have your mind blown in the day time and stroll the historic streets like a tourist in the evening.

This is the deal: A two day Net-Map seminar, where you will learn how do use Net-Map for your own projects, to undestand:

  • Who influences the outcome?
  • How are they linked (formal and informal links)?
  • What are their goals?
  • How strongly can they influence that we achieve our goals?
  • What are the crucial opportunities, bottlenecks, breakpoints in the system?
  • And, what are we going to do about this?

You will learn how to facilitate change through Net-Map, develop strategic networking plans, use Net-Map with groups and individuals in research, coaching, strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation. You will enter the Net-Map data you produce to a social network analysis software and learn the basic concepts of social network analysis that will help you interpret the results better.

Throughout the training we will work with your own case studies, so on top of learning the method you will also go home with some very concrete strategic networking plans and a much better understanding of at least one complex issue that you have struggled with. A further goal of this training is to build on our Net-Map community of practice, so I hope that we will stay in touch afterward and continue learning together.

The wonderful person who has put this package together and invited me to teach in his home town is my colleague Paolo Brunello, Net-Map philosopher and practitioner, Africa expert and ITC for development enthusiast.

The logistics:

Two days (16 hours) of intense Net-Mapping for 190 Euros per person.  We are now looking at the 27th and 28th of June, but that session is filling up quickly. If we have a lot more applicants we will consider offering another session before this one.

No prior knowledge of Social Network Analysis required (but you will also learn a lot if you know some SNA already). Any person who has to deal with complex problems involving multiple actors will benefit from learning Net-Map.

Send me an email at eva-schiffer@web.de if you are interested.

Net-Map hungry in Europe? Help is on the way!

That would be perfect. If you read this blog and belong to an organization in Europe that would like to work with me some time between the 11th and the 30st of June, you might be in luck. It’s not easy to get me to travel these days (as I am focusing more on working where I live), but as I am planning for some time in Europe (mainly Germany) anyway, I might as well come by your organization and teach you some Net-Map, facilitate a strategic network planning meeting or plan and implement an organizational development intervention with you.

Or maybe you are just an individual with a bunch of friends and all of you want to learn Net-Map together. If everyone (up to 10 participants) chips in and you can provide a training room, it should be rather affordable for you. And I will teach you exactly what you need, working with case studies out of your own professional experience. So basically it’s a 2 in 1 deal, you learn the method and get some strategic networking advice to achieve your professional goals.

Or are you looking for an executive coaching session, looking at where you want to go and who can help you get there (and what can you do so that they will actually help you…)?

If any of this sounds interesting to you, or made just made you curious to discuss more options, send me an email now (eva-schiffer@web.de) and we might find a way to collaborate.

Amazing advice

Yesterday I continued drawing my professional Net-Map (an ongoing project) around the question “Who will influence that I get there?” (there being a complex mix of goals, from “more work in the US” to “exciting, inspiring, learning oriented interactions”).

It was rather easy to come up with a list of current clients, potential future clients, Net-Map practitioners and other who are part of the game. But what really took a lot of pondering was to come up with relevant links. It would seem obvious that “flow of money” would be one, but it also is a bit repetitive and boring, the fact that I identified clients by the color of their actor card meant that I had all this information on the map already.

So what kinds of connections really have an impact on my strategic direction? I have realized in the past that the advice I get from others is crucial for what I do and how I do it, but drawing a link that is just plain “giving advice” would not help me think strategically about my network. Because I would link everyone who gave me amazing, mediocre or even bad advice and end up with a messy spaghetti diagram. So I called the link “amazing advice”. Now think about it. Think about all the people you interact with on a daily basis or just every once in a while: Who has given you amazing advice? Who has given you advice that made you feel like they get you and they understand something about the world that wasn’t clear to you? Who has given you clear words and concepts for things that you just intuitively felt but weren’t sure about? Who can you go to, when you don’t even quite know what the problem is? Who can show you a new perspective on a problem you have been struggling with for ages, where you think you have looked at it from every angle and there is just nothing you can do about it? Who will challenge your beliefs and assumptions in a way that is encouraging and helps you grow instead of putting you down or making you feel stupid?

Instead of drawing a general advice link, I used this much stricter definition, I am only really interested in thinking about: Who gives me amazing advice? Because the normal kind of advice I can either cook up myself or it doesn’t really matter much who I go to (let’s say I have a tax question, I can go to about any tax guy). In my current network and with the current question, I drew four “amazing advice” links, and one or two dotted lines, that’s it. I feel blessed to have so many amazing advisers in my network. Then I wrote down in detail what advice it was that amazed me, what I had done about it, why I found it amazing, how I could learn from their ability to become better in giving advice myself and what I want to do to keep these links alive.

I realized a number of things about amazing advice and some of them might be different for different people. But here is what I found:

  • You don’t have to interact with and get advice from this person all the time. All four of my top advisers are people I only talk to once in a while and that might be why they can give me a different perspective and see my development from a birds eye view.
  • While I admire these people to no end, I need to talk with them as two professionals who speak from the same level. If someone wants to teach me with the attitude of: I know more than you and you need some teaching, you will see me run.
  • All of them make me feel more clever and more capable. Not by telling me: You are so clever and capable. But by talking and listening and treating me as if I was. And by expanding and building on what I know already instead of giving me the feeling of “you got it all wrong”.
  • One crucial prerequisite for advice, which makes a difference to me, is connection. I remember these few and precious moments when it was like there was electricity in the air and I felt like: This person sees something in me that I didn’t know how to give words to. Or: This person sees the next steps of my road so clearly that finally the fog lifts. I think the issue of connection is also related to the fact that I wouldn’t be open to advice from someone if I didn’t like them – even if my brain told me it was reasonable advice.

And once you have found out who the amazing advisers are, what do you do? Treat them like gold! Ask there advice when you really need it (not when you are to lazy to think or look it up). Listen well, do what they say (if it makes sense to you), and tell them of the great things that happened because of it. Thank them, acknowledge them and see what you can give back (chocolate, ideas, contacts, whatever you have that they would like). Maybe ask one of them to be your mentor (I once had a “one hour a month” arrangement with someone I admired that was helpful for me and engaging and little effort for him…). And every once in a while just go and have coffee together and see what you will talk about.

Have you gotten some amazing advice lately? What did it look like? What do you need so that you feel this was amazing instead of just pretty solid ordinary advice? How do you maintain your advice relationships?

What’s the purpose

Never eat alone (copyright: donjd2)

Working independently means you are in control of your time and what you do with it. A lot of the issues that are relevant for everyone in their work, like motivation, keeping focus and direction, being worth what you charge, feeling like you make a difference, learning etc. come to the surface with even greater clarity when you are independent. There tend to be more external structures to keep you in line when you are employed, your boss tells you what to do and when to work your hours, they might even pay you when you are sick and can’t come to work (ah, and being independent you can never lie to your boss – yourself – that you are sick just because you want a day off…). But basically, all of us, if we want to make sense and have a direction in life instead of just being tossed around by forces bigger than we are, need to deal with these issues.

Sometimes I find that the simplest tools are the best and most powerful and one thing I am doing a lot lately is to make a list of: “What’s the purpose? What do I want to get out of this?” I write these lists on the Metro driving to a client meeting, on the plane going to a conference, before going into a 3 day facilitation marathon and they give me clarity of purpose and direction. And don’t get me wrong, not all of the items on the list are about taking and getting stuff, I often add purpose around giving and connecting. And when I went to the Sunbelt Conference in Florida, one of the things on my list was: relax on the beach…(alas, it rained the whole week…) But I need to know why I go there so that I can focus on making these things happen.

If a main reason for going to a conference is to network, I will make sure that I never eat alone. If I realize in this engagement I want to learn as much as I can from a senior and admired colleague I make sure I ask her the questions that I am struggling with and observe how she does it. Being clear about my purpose feels like being wide awake instead of going places in a passive dream-state. It tells me a lot about my assumptions and makes me just a bit more active and go-getting than I naturally would be. And in the evening I can have a look at my list (in the metro again, my third office) and see: Did it all happen? What else happened? What were good or bad surprises? Would I do it again? And how?