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Networking 101 Lesson 1

(This article is the first in a series of posts, co-written by Douglas Hoffman and long time ALS Client and friend, Lyle Katz. Lyle is a very successful mortgage banker and an expert in the fine art of generating opportunity. Lyle’s experience forms the basis of this series. At the end of each article, there will be an assignment for the next four weeks.)

Let’s start at the beginning with a definition for networking. This is not the usual definition, nor is it “correct” or “definitive.” It is simply the one that we will use for this conversation:

Networking is the deliberate building of a community for sharing information and services among business people. Ultimately, networking is about helping others.

In our experience, many people miss the opportunity allowed by professional and social gatherings.

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Creating a Blank Canvas: A Christmas Story

“So this is Christmas… and what have you done?” –John Lennon

Here we are in the holiday season, approaching the end of one calendar year and the dawn of a new one. However, just because something is ending, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s truly complete.  Surely you’ve experienced something being finished, maybe a project or a certain relationship, about which there still remains something unresolved for you. I know I have.

I’m inviting you to look with me and see if that’s the case with this year- and if it is, to clean the slate and give yourself the opportunity to create 2012 from a blank canvas.

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Vision, Mission and Values

I have, over the past dozen or so years, spent many hours reading the Mission, Purpose, Vision, and Values Statements of organizations I have encountered. It seems that somewhere along the line, as a community, we have gotten confused about what these statements are, what they offer, and how they can serve the organization over time. I have seen companies write mission statements as if they were writing marketing slogans. Others take their values, inscribe them in stone and place them in their lobby for all to see, never to be considered again. The values of Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence, were engraved in marble and stood in the lobby of Enron, perhaps the most glaring public example of the failure of a value statement to influence the behavior of people and of a company as a whole.

I figured that, as we begin the year, it is as good a time as any to have this conversation. What I will say here is not the only way to look at this. However, looking at the creation of these statements in this way, works. Using this model, an organization’s leadership can be clear about who they are, what they are setting out to accomplish, and how they will accomplish it.

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Creative Communication: Learning to Listen, Part 3

So far in this series, we’ve confronted the degree to which the way we listen to (and interact with) people is shaped and limited by certain developed filters, and explored some of the most common types of filters. Now, I’d like to take a look at what this all makes available, and how we can “upgrade” our ability to listen.

When we are unaware of our own filters, the constraints on our ability to listen are invisible to us and we are left mistaking “our world” for “the” world. In this condition, we are likely to be ineffective in our actions, not to mention completely confused about the actual source of the problem. So our efforts to change are inevitably unproductive, and sometimes counterproductive, as they are cultivated from symptoms instead of the root cause.

So what does it take to free ourselves up from all this?

The first part is simply to notice it as it’s happening; simple awareness is the access point. See, what we don’t distinguish, what stays hidden in the background, runs us. When we see these self-imposed limits in action, when we see them for what they are, their grip is loosened and we are freed up and able to interact with life naturally and effectively.

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Challenging Times

Would we all agree that it is easy to label the economic and social environment in which we exist “Challenging Times”?

As I witness the level of distress that so many people are feeling these days, I find myself torn between participating in the upset, and not. I find that it serves me not at all to participate in and perpetuate the idea that the circumstances we face limit opportunity.

Clearly, it could be said that opportunity is not what it once was or where it once was. And that alone is for many, evidence that opportunity is either limited or missing entirely. I do not concur. I will add that this evidence, taken as proof, prevents us from seeing alternative approaches that may yield new and interesting projects, goals, solutions, achievements and successes.

Consider the concept of infinity. I think back to elementary school mathematics where we learned first of the concept of infinity. The set “whole numbers” included the numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3 and so on forever and the set, “natural numbers” as we were taught in Mrs. Ueda’s 3rd grade class included the numbers: 1, 2, 3, and so on, forever. When we were asked, “which set has more numbers?”, it gave me great joy to recognize that the answer was neither. They are both infinite. And infinite has no limits even if it starts in a different place. So the set, “whole numbers over 5000”, still has the same number of elements as “whole numbers”: it is infinite.

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Creative Communication: Learning to Listen, Part 2

In our last segment, we began to notice the “filters” that constrain our ability to really listen in a conversation. If you took it on, you had a chance to see the degree to which we don’t actually listen, but rather receive, process and distort information through an already-always-there filter of assumptions, beliefs, concerns, frame of reference and overall worldview.

This phenomenon has a very real impact on our ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively in the situations we find ourselves in, whether they be in business, social situations or anywhere else. The basic idea here is that you can’t act appropriately if what you’re dealing with is not the actual circumstances at hand, but instead some distorted version of your circumstances. If you’re missing something that is happening, or adding something that isn’t, you will be left ineffective- AND upset, frustrated and confused about the source of the problem. So let’s explore some types of these filters further.

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Leadership and Management

Over the past four weeks, I have been preparing for an October 14 presentation at the United Nations.  The audience list was created by a Member of the UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the host was the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.  The attendee list included some of the most notable Non Government Organizations as well as leadership from UN organizations UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Women and many more.

As I prepared for this, I had as an operating premise the idea that these organizations face unique challenges unlike the corporations with whom I most often work.  I have since come to the conclusion that I was probably wrong.  Organizations seem to face the same challenge set no matter what their type of commitment.

As I see it, there are four primary factors in the success of organizations:

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Creative Communication: Learning to Listen, Part 1

It is well-known that in business and organizational effectiveness, clear communication is key. There’s a substantial amount of information and training available on how to communicate: books, articles, workshops, seminars, the list goes on and on. Have you noticed that the bulk of these resources are predominantly focused on what’s said or not said, speaking powerfully, public speaking, persuasion, influence, negotiation, etc.?

In other words, it’s all about talking.

Any focus on the other side of the equation, on listening, is largely relegated to tactics and strategies that are intended to set you up well for your turn to talk. Even the classic “active listening” approach is speaking-heavy: repeat back what they said to (at least appear to) confirm that you heard it, and then take your turn to talk.

What if your listening is just as crucial as your speaking? I assert that it is. More relevantly, what if what we think is real listening actually isn’t? What if you could create a whole new level of clarity, relatedness and power in your relationships and interactions- and the pathway to that result is being willing to see and acknowledge the degree to which you haven’t been listening? I assert that you can.

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What Drives Extraordinary Performance?

What is it that drives human beings to extraordinary performance?  When I say, “extraordinary performance,” I am speaking about performance beyond what is predictable.  The domain in which it occurs can be business, athletics, science, or anywhere.  I suggest that there is a palpable commonality between our client, the physicist, working to advance the study of Turbulence Theory, and the individual who sets out to climb Everest/double organizational productivity/take a new company from innovation to public company, etc.

I am writing this from the middle check point on the route of the Adirondack 540, Ultracycling race.  For those of you who don’t know, this is a bit of an obsession of mine.  I am a member of the board of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association and spend much of my time on the bike, riding in big circles and striving for more. This year I am not at a fitness level that makes is reasonable to participate in this event with four separate races of 136, 262, 408 and 544 miles.

I will not be offering an answer here, only questions.  And I suggest that these questions are the same whether we are talking about the people I am supporting here today, or the people who work in our companies. What makes human beings strive for performance? What makes people run marathons or climb big mountains?  What makes them strive to win championships or lift more weight, go faster than they ever have before, make more money, invent new means of production or new avenues for sales?

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Ask The Consultants- Eliminating Problems 2


The game we are playing in my business is creating powerful performance. I keep finding myself dealing with crisis and breakthrough at the same time; it seems that some aspect of our infrastructure or culture or both limits our capacity for consistent performance. How do we make the switch to being high performing always?”

Well, in short, the answer is: You don’t.  There is an old adage that goes, “there is one way to stop having problems in life – die.”  And dramatic though this is, it does point to an understanding of life that is valuable and carries over well to business.  Problems do not end, we just get new ones. True mastery is in being able to choose your problems.

In business, we tend to produce the results that we manage for. In our experience, the greatest volatility comes from the combination of striving for high performance and managing for consistency.  It is a little like taking on the project of building a marvelous house but only measuring the foundation. Consistency will only take you so far and no farther. Instead, it is wise to notice where your breakdowns (crises) occur.

Are they persistent; meaning the same type of breakdown happening repeatedly (we call this a chronic breakdown)?  Or are the breakdowns new each time?  If the breakdowns are in new territory each time, congratulations – you are stretching the limits of your company, and the breakdowns are a sign that you are expanding into new territory.

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