What’s it worth if it doesn’t make money?

Don't dismiss these fish just because they can't fly (copyright by torbakhopper on flickr)

Don’t dismiss these fish just because they can’t fly (copyright by torbakhopper on flickr)

The new year comes with a lot of questions about where I want to go, how I want to live and love in the year to come and who I am. As my friends feel the same way, I have had a lot of interesting and inspiring conversations in the past days and here is one tought I want to share.

I was having lunch with a friend who is free-lancing and we were talking about the project that fills his heart with joy but doesn’t fill his pockets with money. As long as you are one of us, who have to work for a living, that’s a tough place to be in. Rent has to be paid. Bacon (or tofu) has to be brought home.

So, when you are in a situation like this, people may ask you: “What’s it worth if it doesn’t make money? Nice that you have a passion, but if it doesn’t pay the rent, it’s just a hobby!” Really? What do you want to be remembered for? What is going to be your little or great legacy? Maybe this burning passion of yours will change the world. Or make your neighborhood, family, dinner table a better place. It might lead you to do the most meaningful valuable things. And just because it cannot pay rent, you dismiss it?

You could make a long list of people with “hobbies” (things that didn’t pay the rent) whose passions led to legacies that long outlasted their physical existence and made the world a different place… Start with Jesus, Ghandi, Mandela, add most artists, authors and many famous scientists…

Sometimes we are in the lucky circumstances that there is a great overlap between what we are passionate about and what pays the rent. That doesn’t make our passions more valid, it just means we are lucky. If you are not in this space right now, how about uncoupling the two: Find something that is bearable enough that pays the rent. And give your passion all the respect it deserves. Instead of ridiculing it like a fish that can’t fly.

Being a leader without being the boss

... and what lights your fire? (copyright by Neils Photography on flickr)

… or: responsibility without authority.

We’ve all been there and maybe you are there today: You feel responsible for the success of an initiative, change process or project but have little or no formal authority to tell people what to do. Or maybe you just have a passion for making something happen (in your organization, neighborhood, family) but you are not the boss who can order people to do it. Well, whether ordering people to do stuff actually leads to sustainable change is a different question. But today I want to talk about affecting change if you don’t have formal authority.

Some of the most amazing organizational changes and innovations come from the belly and not the head of organizations. And some of the most amazing potential changes just live a sad life in the heads of people who never manage to infect their surroundings with them. So, what do you need to do to lead without being the boss?

I think the first thing to do is to give yourself permission. A lot of people censor what they even try, because they think it is not in their job description to rock the boat. It might not be in your formal job description for this specific position in this organization, but it’s in your job description as a human being to try and make your little corner of the world as better place. Or, to look at it more pragmatically: If you ever want to get into a position of authority, you want to be noticed as someone who goes beyond the narrow letters of the job description and achieves amazing things, no matter what your position in the organization.

Discover what you burn for. The most powerful force in leading without formal authority is your own passion. It will guide you, sustain you when it looks like nothing is working out and draw people to you and your goals. Remember, people can freely choose to support your initiative (as you have no formal authority), so being engaging is one of your strongest assets. Achieving things that go beyond your formal authority can take a lot of energy and be exhausting. So focus on one or two things you really burn for.

Understand how influence works in this system. Every system (organization, neighborhood, family) has different ways how members can gain influence. Some typical ones would be: formal authority, seniority, being an expert, having new ideas, being likeable and engaging, bringing in money, being grumpy, being manipulative, being connected to influential people (inside or outside the system), being of the preferred gender, age group, race etc. Study your system, think about the people who seem to be influential, how are they doing it? What makes them powerful? Don’t narrow your mind when your think about this: In each system different people succeed to gain influence with different strategies.

Understand your own influencer profile. Look at your personality, background and position in the system: Which ones of the above  attributes of an influencer do you have already? Which ones can you realistically develop (changing your race or gender are obviously less likely than changing your level of expertise or grumpieness)? What influencer personalities do you admire and connect to? Don’t try to become someone else, rather become your best and most influential self by developing those parts of your personality and position which will allow you to lead.

Understand and develop your influence network. If you haven’t drawn a Net-Map around this issue yet, now is the time. Ask yourself: “Who are all the people, groups and organizations that can influence whether I achieve the goal I am passionate about?” And map all actors, formal and informal links, their goals with regards to your goal and their level of influence. Reflect on what you see: Where do the movers and shakers in this map get their influence from (see above)? Who are you linked to already? What links are missing? What actors or links hold you back?

If you are like most people, you will be connected to a lot of others who are similar to you and few who are different. Let’s say you are a young white male and your  influence comes from being an expert on the issue. I would take a bet that most of the people you go for lunch with are equally young white males and experts, while you have fever connections to people whose influence comes from seniority, bringing in money or making the rules. It’s nice and comfortable to have a peer group of friends of the same kind who share the same ideas. But to become a leader even though you don’t have authority, it is crucial to connect with those who don’t just share your influencer strategy but can bring the missing pieces to the table. Look at your map again: Who has the most different influencer assets from yours? Don’t pick someone whose values you don’t share (like the greatest back-stabber) but just someone who has a different role and personality. Could this person develop a passion for your goals? Or do your goals have a side effect that would be great for this person? Explore. Form coalitions accross organizational or social boundaries.

Connect and share. Now you better understand who you want to join forces with, connect and share with them. Sharing is crucial if you want to have a long term impact: Share responsibility and ownership, access to other network partners and maybe most importantly, generously and publicly share praise once you achieve something amazing.

And finally: Wherever you go, don’t leave your passion at home. Leading without being a boss is a much messier and less predictable process than giving orders. Serendipity is your best friend. Don’t lecture everyone you meet about your goals till they are bored to tears. But be ready to talk about your passion outside of formal work meetings, connect it to other people’s interest in the coffee break, with a stranger on the plane, with a fellow parent at the playground (that’s how I ended up giving a brown bag seminar at Deloitte Consulting, but that is a different story alltogether…) and be in it for the long haul. This leads me back to “discovering what you burn for”. Because that is the only way you will really want to carry it with you all the time.

Is your most annoying opponent really the most dangerous one?

Is this a mosquito? (picture by cheetah100 on flickr)

I have started interviews for my innovation networks study, trying to understand how a new idea materializes and becomes real world change. I am looking at the whole political process you have to go through, building coalitions, spotting and dealing with opposition etc. And while every innovation story is different, I do see some common patterns emerge. One interesting person is the really annoying nay-sayer. Someone who sees their own glory threatened if you are successful, prefers a different solution to the problem, or just thinks that any kind of change is a pain.

The innovation pushers can spend a lot of time and energy being annoyed about them, complaining, building them up as the common enemy. But the interesting insight comes when setting up influence towers and considering: How strongly can this person actually influence that we implement our innovation? And I am surprised to see that some of these people who get a lot of attention end up being of rather marginal importance to the whole project success. Maybe they are like the mosquito in the room, that won’t kill you but can really really distract you.

Now the challenge is: How do you figure out early on whether the person who tries to stop you is a mosquito or a lion? And how can you develop the discipline to react appropriately, focus a lot of attention on potential lions and ignore the mosquitos? This is one of the few monents when you will hear me say: Don’t just blindly follow your gut feeling. Because we all react to certain triggers and the fact that someone is unpleasant, inappropriately competitive or you just can’t stand them, says little about whether or not they actually would have the power to stop you or not. There seem to be two steps to the assessment: Your gut feeling will (most often) tell you who to watch. Then take a step back and ask yourself: In the worst case scenario, what could this person do to stop us? Do they have formal veto power? Do they have access to someone who does? What other strategies could they succesfully employ?

Once you know whether this opposition is crucial to the success of your innovation, you can start thinking about strategies. If your opponent could have a potentially detrimental impact, you should do something and there are basically two directions you can take: Embrace or fight (well, the third option is ignore – but then you are giving the other person control over the situation).

Embrace: Understand the underlying motivations and see if you can find an overlap. Can you do something about their fear (of change), need for recognition, feeling of exclusion? Can you adapt the content of your innovation to integrate some of their ideas or can you change the public appearance to give credit to them in one way of the other? Can you strike a deal: I support yours and you support mine? Do you have a strategy to ease the disruption that change will bring to their work? Often these strategies are enough to defuse the bomb and they tend to cost much less energy and create less damage than a confrontative approach.

If they don’t work for the other person or for you, be strategic in the fight you are looking at: Who in the network is influential and on your side already? Any powerful people who are still sitting on the fence? Who are the people both you and the naysayer are connected to? Can you pull them toward your position? What are the missing links and actors in your innovation network?

Now while I encourage you not to spend too much energy on the mosquitos, not to obsess about them, I will say: Keep an eye on them. Check every once and again to make sure they didn’t become more influential without your knowledge.

Find the Atoms of your Happiness

Small islands of success in a vast sea of failure (copyright by hrvojeah on flickr)

I meet a lot of people who know exactly what will make them happy and fight with determination to get it: Be an entreprenneur, work for google, conceive a child, earn a million, whatever it is. And that’s good, have a goal and go for it! Unfortunately, what often happens is that we define this one goal as being success and everything else becomes failure by definition. If you define “being an entreprenneur” as your mark of success, then being an employee is a sign of failure. If your eyes are on google, working for anyone else reeks of failure. If your single mission is to conceive, then adoption or being a favorite aunt would be a failure. By these limiting definitions of success we divide the world in a very small island of success and a big sea of possible failures, making failure (as we define it) the much more likely outcome.

But once you are caught up in this most passionate belief that you have to work for google or have a biological child, how do you get yourself out of it? Because saying: “Stop being so single minded!” is about as successful as telling a shy person: “Stop being so shy!”

I recommend that you break down your goal into smaller and smaller pieces until you find your atoms of happiness, the building blocks that you need to build a happy life. Look at your goal and ask yourself: Why will this make you happy? You will have to ask this question a number of times. Let me show you how this works:

Goal: I have to be an entreprenneur!

Why will this make me happy?

Because then I can devote my whole time to doing, spreading, teaching Net-Map.

But why will this make me happy?

Because I love the way Net-Map lets me understand the complex issues people are dealing with and come up with good solutions with them.

But why will this make me happy?

Because I feed on the magic moments when the temperature in the room changes and you feel like a door opened the other person’s mind and all of a sudden they see a solution to a complex, messy problem they have been struggling with for a long time.

But why will this make me happy?

Because it gives me a feeling of connection and being meaningful in other people’s lifes and having an impact and empowering others to better cope with their problems.

O.k., let’s stop here. You see how I move from a rather specific goal to a much broader and also more emotional exploration of what makes me tick. Now take this last statement and forget for a moment how you have gotten it. Just read it as it is: It makes me happy to have a feeling of connection and being meaningful in other people’s lifes and having an impact and empowering others to better cope with their problems. This is one of my atoms of happiness. To have a complete periodic table of my happiness, I would have to take other concrete goals I have and break them down the same way. Now if I want to take this as a building block and develop concrete goals out of it, I have to ask myself: So what are all the things I could do which will give me these feelings? I see that being an entreprenneur is one of them, but all of a sudden I am surrounded by all kinds of options for success.

From seeing the world as a sea of potential failure with a small island of potential success I moved to seeing a whole diverse landscape of success with the occasional ponds and pitfalls of potential failure. I’m not planning to stop being an entreprenneur any time soon. But being aware of the many different ways I can lead a happy life gives me the feeling of doing this by choice and not because this is the only possible way.

Net-Map Level 1 Certification Course (Washington, DC)

We offer Net-Map certification courses on 4 levels:

Level 1: Net-Map Facilitation

Level 2: Net-Map Qualitative and Visual Data Collection and Analysis

Level 3: Net-Map Quantitative Data Collection and Analysis

Level 4: Net-Map Mastery – Train the Trainer

Join us for a 2 day, Level 1 Net-Map class on the 4.-5. of August in Washington DC!

You will learn how to use this pen-and-paper method in meetings, individual interviews and to structure your own thinking process. It will improve your project planning, monitoring and evaluation, team work and strategic networking.

From years of Net-Mapping experience, I have distilled the most common prototypical influence network structures, which I will share with you. This will help you detect network problems, bottlenecks and opportunities while you are mapping the network so that you can immediately develop improved networking strategies. By mapping out your own case studies (challenges from your work experience), you will learn the method, develop a networking plan for a complex work related issue and improve your “network eyes”.

Because the most difficult questions normally come up once you are back to your own work, wanting to implement what you have learned, we have added a free 1 hour phone or skype consultation, redeemable within 6 months after the training, to the package.

No prior knowledge of social network analysis is needed. However, even SNA experts will learn a lot of new things in this training.

Sign up!

Sell… without selling

The other day I answered the question “What is your best advice for selling a product?” and that really got me thinking. I come from a family of entreprenneurs, so selling what I do is no only my bread and butter now but might have been in my mother’s milk as well. But we are also the kind of people who will run a mile if we feel like you are trying to sell us something and will not buy your product (even if we like it) because we hate being pushed.

So, how do you sell without selling? The answer isn’t a sales trick but a genuine change of attitude. From thinking: “I have a product I want to sell to you!!” to “Tell me about your problem and I might be able to help you solve it.” Because, honestly, nobody wants to buy your product because they want to buy your product – they want to have their problem solved and if your product can do that, great!  That means instead of having a perfect, one-size-fits-all sales pitch and attacking your victims (a.k.a. clients) with it, your three most important skills for developing business relationships are

1. Listening

2. Empathy and

3. Thinking on your feet.

These things are especially important if you are providing a product or service that is complex, customizable and personality-based, where people don’t just buy a physical gadget from you but engage in a service relationship, where a lot of the value they get is linked to what kind of person you are. If it will be your role to advise or teach them something, they have to first like and trust you to even want to engage you.

So start by listening and finding out what your client’s problem is. Often they will have a vague idea and your first service is to help them frame the problem, give it a compelling name and together developing a story line of 1. This is what it is at the moment, 2. This is where it comes from, 3. This is what we would want it to be and 4. This is how we could achieve that. And only number 4 on this list is where your product may come in.

But what do you do if you realize on the way that your product or service actually won’t solve their problem? Then don’t waste everybody’s time by pushing it on them and stay focussed on your mission of solving their problem. Tell them honestly what you would do in their situation, recommend a product, service, book, colleague or course of action that might help.

That is the final test of whether you use this strategy as a sales trick or you really mean it. And the person you are talking with will be mightily impressed when they realize you REALLY just want to solve their problem. Also, it saves you the pain of doing a bad project that might pay you now but harm your reputation in the long run. You can choose between being remembered as: “The guy who talked us into wasting a lot of money with false promises” or “The generous and competent person who helped us solve our problem.”

Who wants to learn Net-Map and why?

Strategic positioning analysis for an international research institute

Paolo Brunello and I discussed who our potential participants for the Net-Map Summer School in Vicenza would be. Why would they want to learn it, what would they want to do with it? I came up with this list:


What they want to do with Net-Map:
These are people who want to change the world together by using Net-Map. They need to learn strategic network planning for groups that will help you achieve their goals even if they are not the most powerful actor in the field.

Who they are:
Staff of development organizations and their donors, environmental organizations and their donors, members of social movements, unions, lobbyists, staff of government agencies involved in multi-stakeholder processes etc.


What they want to do with Net-Map:
They are interested in combining qualitative and quantitative methods, might or might not know quantitative network analysis, might be involved in research for social change, exploratory research, intercultural research. They need to know how to use Net-Map as a data collection tool, what makes it stand out from other tools and how it connects to the existing literature and other complementary tools.

Who they are:
Social scientists, development researchers, political scientists, social network analysts, staff of universities and think tanks, monitoring and evaluation specialists

Managers (in the broadest sense):

What they want to do with Net-Map:
They want to advance themselves, their brand, organization, career etc. by being more strategic in their networking and in handling complex situation and power plays at their work. They want to learn how to use Net-Map as a tool to deal with the people aspect of success (after they know everything about the numbers aspect), use it as a tool to support strategic thinking and team planning.
Who they are:
Managers, CEOs, project and team leaders, entrepreneurs, students in their last year, people stuck under a glass ceiling in their career development, moms (dads)  returning to the workforce after baby break, people in mid-life career change, marketing people

Trainers and Facilitators

What they want to do with Net-Map:
They want to use the method to add to their existing toolbox and use it to assist all of the above. Mainly with a focus on the learning and process aspect as opposed to the data collection aspect. They are most likely to work with the managers (in the broadest sense) and the advocates.
Who they are:
Trainers, facilitators, knowledge managers, internal/employed and external free lancing trainers and facilitators, career and executive coaches.

Does this list have your name written all over it? Then we should talk.