Carefrontation: A Powerful Way to Help Prevent Another Boston
If only someone who knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev had cared enough about him to confront him on his misguided thinking and the tragic sequence of events they motivated. I don’t pretend to have the background to assess psychological forces that are strong enough to cause someone to do what he did, nor can I say for sure that what I have to say would have been enough to change his thinking. I can only share the most powerful strategy that I have ever encountered for helping someone recognize flaws in their own thinking and thereby change their behavior and actions. The strategy is called carefrontation.
My first exposure to carefronation, a combination of caring and confrontation, was from a pastor’s sermon during a non-denominational service in Yosemite Valley Chapel. Maybe it was the message or maybe it was that I had 5 hours to think about it as I hiked up Half Dome later that morning, but 25 years later I can still recall it clearly. The reverend’s message was that if you find yourself in a position where you have the opportunity to help another person recognize their own flawed thinking that you have the opportunity and are, in fact, obligated to help them. He went on to explain that this kind of feedback was confrontational and would only be accepted and processed by the recipient if it was delivered in an extremely caring fashion. If someone knows that you truly care about them, you are in a uniquely powerful position to influence their thinking.
As story fragments of the Boston strategy have surfaced it has become clear that Tamerlan, the older of the Tsarnaev brothers, did little to hide his troubling beliefs. Facebook posts and conversations signaled a dramatic—if not clearly dangerous—shift in his thinking that was noticed by those who interacted with him. Was there anyone close to him that could have confronted him about his beliefs? Were there friends or family who saw the changes but adhered to the “not my business” school of thought that has become more and more prevalent in our society? If so we missed an opportunity that I think is critical to our ability to head off future acts of terror.
My central point is that we can’t rely solely on the police and other security personnel to protect us from threats that come from within our own society. Regardless of how many personal liberties we are willing to give up and how much effort US taxpayers are willing to underwrite to prevent tragedies like Boston from recurring, we won’t prevent them all. People with dangerous thinking will often be visible to someone close to them before the authorities know enough or can legally take action. It becomes incumbent on all of us to insert ourselves in the lives of those we care about and help them recognize when they are headed in a dangerous direction. If carefrontation doesn’t work AND you have any reason to believe that there is a danger to others, you have no choice but to talk to the local police and ask for advice.
Carefrontation, as I talk about it in Shortcut to Prosperity, is a powerful tool that I advise business leaders to adopt in order to help develop high performing teams, but I it also applies to the tragedy that occurred in Boston. If you don’t have time to read the book but want to hear more about carefrontation, send me an email and I’ll reply with a copy of the chapter where I cover this concept.
Chaos = Learning!
A highly successful, but static, organization is a lousy place to learn and unlikely to lead to a great next opportunity for you. Why? Because markets constantly evolve and static organizations are, by definition, increasingly out of touch with the needs of their customers. The problem is that success breeds complacency and the tendency to focus on incremental improvement. And that’s why real innovation rarely comes from the industry leader. They get set in their ways—satisfied with the diminishing returns that come from continued focus on the same way of doing things.
Alternatively, dynamic companies are constantly in motion, desperately trying to find better ways to serve their customers. The most common cause of their desperation is a lack of profitability and, unless they have another source of capital (like a patient investor), the fear that they won’t be around tomorrow. That’s why start-up companies are so innovative. They can’t compete with the optimized business model of the entrenched competitor but gain the advantage if they can come up with a better product or service model. Dynamic companies are creating unique and unpredictable opportunities on a daily basis and commonly turn to the employee that seems most capable, regardless of tenure or pedigree.
Cornell NYC Tech
The business sector is not the only place you see dynamic organizations. I was reminded of the linkage between start-ups and opportunity while reading about my alma mater’s new technology campus slated to occupy New York City’s Roosevelt Island. The winner of a competition to build a tech campus on land worth hundreds of millions of dollars and receive up to $100M in capital to help get it going, Cornell University is turning the typical university model on its head. They are offering non-traditional sounding tech grad degrees like “Connective Media” that deals with designing solutions for the collaborative, two-way exchange between creators and consumers of information.
Cornell’s new tech campus is a start-up and is providing amazingly enhanced opportunities for the students who are brave enough to be their first generation students. They have Friday afternoon discussions with leading entrepreneurs (for their current student body of 8 students) that are organized by Greg Pass, the former CTO at Twitter and a Cornell alumnus. They are shaking up the very nature of how a college operates by making fundamental changes such as eliminating all offices—including all professors and deans—in favor of interaction friendly low-divider cubicles. For more information, check out the NYT Education Life article here.
What to Look For In Any Organization you join
Whether your pursuit of prosperity is leading you toward a for-profit employer, an educational institution, a non-profit or NGO—make sure it meets the majority of the following:
– Too immature to be set in its ways
– Hungry enough to be an innovator
– Just a little chaotic looking
– Crazy busy people who are still having fun
– Leaders who are present and interact broadly
And finally, try to align yourself with an organization where the majority of team members are collocated rather than connected virtually. As Cornell’s president, David J. Skorton, says about his new campus in the city, “Interactions can occur at a very long distance now, but you still see that many… serendipitous steps forward are based on the old concept of bumping into people, having lunch, that personal interaction”. The same can be said of the process for pursuing prosperity.
Have a great day and let me know what’s on your mind!
Follow Zuckerberg’s Example and START EARLY!
I recently read an article that talked about the enormous risk that entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg take when they launch a start-up company. After a moment of reflection I realized why I didn’t agree with the article. Entrepreneurial risk is directly proportional to the responsibilities you currently have and what you have to lose from pursing your idea. As a sophomore at Harvard, Zuckerberg had no mortgage, no wife, no kids, no boss, and his living expenses were being provided for by his parents. And what did he have to lose if The Facebook failed? With start-up costs that rounded to zero—I can’t think of anything. In fact a failure would have yielded valuable experience that would be helpful the next time around. And there is no doubt that if Facebook hadn’t succeeded there would have been a next time
What About the 10,000 Hours of Experience that Outliers Need?
Zuckerberg wrote his first marketable code at age 12—a BASIC messaging program (Zucknet) that he “sold” to his dentist/dad to aid in intra-office communication. He followed this up with dozens of video games that he developed with neighborhood kids and even took programming classes at a nearby college while still in middle school. In high school he developed an early version of Pandora called Synapse which garnered offers from Microsoft and AOL to purchase his code.
I do believe that it takes something close to Malcolm Gladwell’s recommended 10,000 hours of deep practice to gain a differentiating level of capability, but even at age 19, Zuckerberg had already exceeded this number. And when the Winklevoss twins showed up at his dorm room with the idea for Facebook, Zuckerberg was ready.
Start Early and Travel Light
What’s the matter—didn’t identify your life’s work by age 12? Don’t worry, Zuckerberg is a freak of nature and an outlier in every sense of the word, but the path of the prodigy is not the most common path to becoming an outlier. You can start whenever you want, but the path of following your curiosity (Shortcut 2) to an area of passion (Shortcut 4) followed by an investment of something close to 10,000 hours (Shortcut 5-7) will be the same regardless of when you start. The only drawback with waiting to get started is that, over time, you gain responsibilities and increasingly have far more to lose from abandoning a more traditional career and pursuing your own breakthrough opportunity.
Life is a trade-off and you may as well know when you are making one. The longer you wait to pursue your passion in an extraordinary way (if that’s your mindset) the tougher it will get to achieve it. Wait, it gets worse. Investing time and money in expensive toys (homes, boats, cars, motorcycles, etc) only makes it harder. You tie up start-up capital that you will need later and invest precious time that you never get back.
There Will Be Time for Everything Else Later—Really!
My heartfelt advice? Live modestly, save your nickels, and throw yourself into feeding your passion while you are young. Do whatever it takes to gain admittance to the organization that offers you the best learning experience and move up your own knowledge curve as fast as you can. At the same time, invest in developing your personal network by reaching out to capable people and asking them what you can do to help with their initiatives (give/get). The lifetime ROI on this investment will astound you.
What passion are you pursuing? What learning curve are you investing in? Write me an e-mail (email@example.com) and tell me how I can help.
“Lean In” Before You “Lean On” a Mentor
I listened to an HBR IdeaCast interview with Sheryl Sandberg (author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”) on the flight to visit my family for Easter. Sandberg made a lot of great points, but the one I want to focus on today is the mistake that a lot of women (as well as men) make regarding mentoring. Many young people take the cold call approach and just ask an accomplished leader with whom they have little or no relationship to be their mentor. Unfortunately effective mentorships rarely begin that way.
The most beneficial mentorships occur between two people who have invested time in the process of coming to know, respect, and care about each other. Why? It’s difficult to be a good mentor to someone you haven’t taken the time to get to know. The mentor has to care enough to dedicate precious time to mentoring activities, and that won’t happen until the mentor as come to know and respect the mentee. From the mentee’s perspective, it takes time before you feel comfortable entrusting your hopes and dreams with someone you haven’t already come to know and respect. That’s why the most natural mentorships aren’t arranged marriages but are relationships that begin as something else and evolve into a mentorship over time.
Where Should You Look for a Mentor?
Prime candidates for mentors are former bosses, teachers, or, in the best case, a family friend. Mentorships like these are extremely powerful. Mentors have the opportunity to combine their personal relationships with a mentee with a core competence in their area of interest. The mentorship builds on an existing foundation of mutual respect and, from there, forges ahead into the fun stuff—the discussion of what the mentee wants to achieve and the shortest path to realizing it, based on the mentor’s experience.
If you are fortunate enough to know someone who has succeeded in the same space that you are targeting, you’re already a step ahead. If not, make a list of the accomplished people that you already have a relationship with who are successful in a space that is at least in the same ballpark as your area of passion. You will be amazed at the similarity of the advice you will get from this person and someone who has succeeded in exactly the market space you are targeting. It’s more important that they know and like you than it is for them to have done exactly what you plan to do.
My Best Mentor? My Dad!
I was fortunate to have a dad who had experience with businesses of all shapes and sizes, and even more fortunate that he was a numbers guy. He grilled me for business plans and financial projections, and those projections killed a lot of ideas that sounded pretty good in my head but would have led me down a disastrous path. While he wasn’t an entrepreneur, he believed that being an entrepreneur was the surest path to the prosperity I wanted. And he told me the single most valuable piece of advice that anyone has ever given me: It didn’t matter much where I started my entrepreneurial journey. He was confident that over time I would be able to direct my path toward what I wanted. The important mindset was to get in the game. He gave me the confidence to pull the trigger.
Whether your vision is to become a leader within a large corporation or the chief executive of your own start-up, one of the toughest hurdles you face is the need to believe you can actually do it. Most of us sell ourselves short and don’t aim high enough. An experienced mentor can take the pie-in-the-sky vision that you are hesitant to even say out loud and, through experience and personal example, lead you to the point where you can see yourself making it happen.
There is a chart in my book called “Attributes of a Great Mentor” that gives more details on what you should look for in a mentor. Write me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy of the chart!
Prosperity and the Denver Nuggets Win Streak
During their streak the Miami Heat have won 27 in a row compared to the Nuggets win streak that just ended at 15 games. Maybe it’s only because I live in Denver but I think the fact that the Heat’s top 3 players earn 50% more in salary than the top 3 in Denver make the Nuggets win streak a more interesting case study. Like most entrepreneurs, Denver couldn’t afford to buy their way to a win streak—they had to find another way. In start-up businesses, capital is one of the scarcest of resources and the leader who can achieve more results with less capital is blazing a Shortcut to Prosperity.
Part 3 of Shortcut to Prosperity is about Recruiting Allies to your cause because an individual acting alone rarely achieves the most meaningful goals. No, you need to surround yourself with people eager to work with you to achieve something special and money is not the best way to attract or retain them. The most capable people are attracted to winning teams—teams whose products and services are in such high demand that the organization is constantly growing and creating opportunities for its employees to learn and grow. It is a rush to be involved with an organization that is winning and is an acknowledged leader in its space.
How Do the Nuggets Do It?
The Nuggets Coach George Karl was asked how he manages a team without a superstar to rely on. Karl replied that he did have a superstar, it just happened to be a different guy every night. No one knows at tip off who it is going to be, but a combination of strategy, game flow, and who is feeling it that night puts someone in the superstar role and the team adjusts to support the hot hand. Why does it work? One word: TRUST. Every student of basketball knows that one of the keys to scoring is ball movement. Good ball movement happens when each team member trusts the next to keep passing and moving until someone gets an open look. It’s called unselfish play and it only works if every member understands they will get the same number of shots under this scheme, but the shots will be easier shots to knock down. It takes only one weak link to undermine the strategy and devolve into every man for himself. Coach Karl’s job is to make sure that there is never a weak link on the floor.
What’s the Business Analogy?
Companies built on a foundation of trust outperform other companies. It’s that simple. Instead of sharing the ball, their mindset is to share information better, cooperate better, and move resources to where they can do the most good. They create a culture that recognizes that a rising tide lifts all boats (careers) and build compensation systems that encourage everyone to be on the same page. The result is a reduction of people working at cross purposes which means better performance, less tension and an environment that is just a whole lot more fun to work in. Success for the company and increased prosperity for its employees becomes a slam-dunk.
Do you know of any trust-based business organizations that are ready to start a win streak of their own? If you do, I’d like to hear about them!
Finding Your Passion–Take Two
I had an interesting teleconference with a reader this week, Brad, who reminded me of the trial and error process most people go through before finding a meaningful career focus. Finding something that you are passionate enough to invest the time (think 10,000 hours) required to develop a differentiating level of expertise is difficult and usually doesn’t happen on the first try. What makes it even worse is that our passion is a moving target. As we pile on more knowledge and experience we become interested in different things. Julia Child serves as a great example. She was a copywriter before going to work for the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA) before finally attending Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and discovering the passion we knew her for. So if this sounds like you, don’t worry, you’re in good company. For many people it takes a while to find something that you are driven to explore over an extended period of time. Unfortunately most people just give in to the status quo experience that their life has, through a random series of interactions, become.
Expect to Flail a Little
Brad’s experience is pretty typical. He started college as a pre-med major but the coursework didn’t interest him enough to motivate the grades that it would have taken to push through to medical school. So he switched majors—not to something that he was dying to learn about, but to Spanish, a major that he thought he could tolerate long enough to graduate. He couldn’t…and he didn’t. Instead he followed a real passion into restaurant and bar operation where he excelled all the way to restaurant management but eventually, like with his pre-med studies, Brad exhausted his interest in the hospitality industry. Eventually he found himself “wandering deeper into the industry with no real plan other than getting by”.
Eventually You WILL Find It!
After some soul searching and advice from a trusted friend, Brad identified an interest that had more staying power. He took the courageous decision to go back to school to study civil engineering because “I wanted more meaning in a career… and I liked the idea of producing infrastructure to help society grow.” Fueled by his new vision, Brad powered through a BS and MSCE and recently passed his PE (Professional Engr) exam while working for a firm on the west coast. Is he done? Heck no. He actually is pretty bored by the repetitive nature of the CAD based work he currently does and sees this work as just a prerequisite to earning the opportunity to work more synergistically with teams (in his own firm!) who are solving pressing infrastructure problems.
What Can We Learn from Brad?
Brad’s experience illustrates the best advice that I can give to people trying to find their true passion. Follow your naturally curiosity where it leads you and keep at it as long as you find the work (and the learning) interesting. If you get to the point where you are bored with the subject—no big deal–It’s just time to pivot to something else that you have become interested in. It might mean a change to a whole new arena or, like Brad’s next move, just a change of structure within a continued area of passion. And don’t worry, the process will converge to a career direction with staying power in less time than you think.
Want to See Brad’s Most Recent Personal Vision?
Brad reached out to me for advice on how to move forward in his pursuit of prosperity. I think I gave him some perspective that allowed him to refocus his effort on leveraging the sizable foundation that he has already built while moving more consciously toward the life of his dreams. Completing the personal vision exercise in Shortcut to Prosperity was key to Brad’s understanding of his next move. You can find the blank template here. Brad has graciously allowed me to share his completed template with anyone who thinks it would be instructive for the development of their own personal vision. Please e-mail me at email@example.com if you would like me to send you a copy. It’s pretty exciting stuff and I have no doubt that he will achieve it.
Please share your own story of pursuing passion by posting a comment below. And know that you are always welcome to reach out to me via e-mail if there is anything I can help with.
Guest Blog: Shortcut to Prosperity Featured on the Executive Roundtable
Pursue the Passionate, Avoid the Zombies! Mark discusses his thoughts on the importance of surrounding yourself with passionate people and you will see a transformation through osmosis.
Read the entire post here:
48 Hours of Idea Exchange and Hysterical Laughter
Alex, Glenn, and I went to college together a lifetime ago. We’ve each had a different career and entrepreneurial experience, and that’s what makes it so much fun to get back together and compare notes. I see Glenn on a semi-regular basis but hadn’t seen Alex in 5 years. Last Friday evening I picked him up at the airport, extracted Glenn from an executive planning meeting, and repaired to a local bar to kick off a weekend ski trip that was like our own micro TEDx conference.
Our conference itinerary ranged from a discussion of how to fix the US educational system (while sampling Glenn’s homebrew beer in a hot tub) to ideas on improving wealth distribution without screwing up capitalism (while titrating the ingredients for the perfect margarita). At other times we talked about the process of going public, maintaining the right corporate mindset when growing through acquisition, carried interest, ideas for a new company in the physical security space, and how to bounce back from a career reset. Even though the subjects were heavy, we kept the mood light by interjecting favorite college stories that could have been big hits on a Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks segment. I laughed so hard this weekend that there were a couple of times that I thought I might dislodge a rib.
Find Other Entrepreneurs with a Similar Mindset
You might ask why any of this belongs in a blog on entrepreneurship. In Shortcut 5 of Shortcut to Prosperity I talk about learning from the best people and organizations. And while I spend a lot of time talking about working for a great company that excels at what you are passionate about, there is as much or more learning that can be achieved by finding and befriending like-minded entrepreneurs. As I begin this week full of new and better ideas, I wish I had done a better job of cultivating friendships with high energy, thoughtful people like Alex and Glenn. Whether you are still in school or busy building a career, take the time to look around you and identify the people that you can learn from and enjoy being around. Find ways to spend time with them building rapport and breaking down the barriers that keep most people from sharing what’s really on their mind. Here’s what you can expect if you do.
Better Ideas: It’s easier to come up with new ideas in a group setting. Testing your own insights against other people’s life experience allows you to sharpen and intensify your own mindset.
Heartfelt Challenges: Testing your ideas with people you trust opens the door to having the holes in your logic identified in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling stupid. This frees you up to patch the holes or move on to better ideas
Broader Perspective: Your own knowledge, life experience, and analytical ability are all that you can bring to bear on an opportunity. Harnessing the combined knowledge and experience of talented people is like illuminating a problem with a 5,000 Watt spotlight instead of your cell phone flashlight.
Better Appreciation: It is easy to forget about all that is right with our lives and focus instead on all of our own—usually petty—problems. Hearing about the seriously unfortunate experiences of people helps you appreciate the blessings of your own life and the need to help others and occasionally accept help yourself.
Game Changing Support: The right introduction or connection can be the difference between experiencing the thrill of exploiting an opportunity and the agony of watching another person or organization beat you to it. Execution time is more important than ever and gaining the support of the right person can change everything.
Please join me in my effort to inspire others by sharing your own experience Learning From the Best and adding a comment below!
Q&A with John Mertz, Thin Difference
Mark’s leadership and life lessons while at Hewlett Packard and Emerson Electric are examined in a Q&A session with blogger, John Mertz. Thin Difference was created in 2010 to help people discover how to lead an inspired life. The basis of the blog is that the daily choices we make, define who we are. Mark’s interview includes working with Millennials as entrepreneurs, generational differences during a career path, and the focus on giving back through non-profits and micro-lending.
Read the entire interview here: http://www.thindifference.com/2013/03/04/moving-beyond-career-status-quo/
Guest Blog: Two Daughters, A Shortcut and Leadership
Mark recently spent time with blogger John Bossong and answered questions about his inspiration for the book, leader influence, and advice for readers in today’s current job market/climate.
Read the entire post here: http://johnbossong.com/2013/03/05/two-daughters-a-shortcut-and-leadership/