How Big is Your Comfort Zone?

Fly NYON #ShoeSelfies - Aerial view over Central Park, NYC

I’ve been thinking about comfort zones.  Most of the discussion makes it seem like comfort zones are static.  They’re not.  We decide if our comfort zones:

  • Grow ~ because we’re curious, eager to learn, expand our worldview and meet new people doing all sorts of different, interesting things;
  • Shrink ~ because we’ve been burned, failed, or circumstances have made us more cautious and fearful;
  • Maintain ~ because we feel we are just fine where we are.

When people say, ‘get out of your comfort zone’, are they telling us to make our comfort zone bigger? Hopefully, we get out of the zone, try something different and get a little, somewhat or very comfortable in that new area so it becomes part of our comfort zone – maybe at the edge of it, but now inside it.  So if we want to keep getting outside our comfort zone, aren’t we growing it? Sure, maybe at times we got out of it and boy, we wanted to run back in, and we did.  That’s ok. It happens.  But overall, our comfort zones should keep expanding. 

That said, one my students * wisely notes that sometimes, we need to be in our comfort zone to rejuvenate, refresh and refill ourselves. Getting outside our comfort zone should be for a reason, have a purpose and not become idolized. It’s not an either/or, but And… as long as we get out. 

So, this week, what one little thing can you try to make your comfort zone bigger?

*Samanee Mahbub, one of my students, has turned her junior year into a Discovery Year - expanding her comfort zone beyond what many of us would dare to do.  Please read her posts - there is such wisdom and insight for any person of any age!

How I Found Myself in Berlin

Lessons for all ages at all times - from a 21 year old taking an 'experience' year (I'm trying to stop use of the word gap!!).  Samanee Mahbub shares with honesty, vulnerability and truth - read, think, apply. 

Gap Year: How I Found Myself in Berlin (And everything I learned along the way) Part of the gap year was writing about how it’s not impossible to do if you’re open to adventure and serendipity. So this post is about how I got my current job, the wonders of connections (and why you should keep everyone in touch), the bigger wonders of amazing friends (and friends of friends of friends), my first 48 hours in Berlin, and how I think I may have found a job that’s an actual fit! TLDR; just check the takeaways (particularly my close friends) :) It’s a long post. How I got my job: the wonders of old connections Sometime in October, I decided to leave my first job but didn’t have much of a plan of what to do next. Lucky for me, the universe did! Kidding. Sort of. See, about a month before I decided to leave my job, I met up with a good friend of mine in Venice Beach. He could see I wasn’t the happiest. He planted the idea that maybe I should start exploring some of my contacts. I messaged another friend who had taken his own gap year. His words were the push I needed: “Don’t stay in a place during your time off that you know isn’t right” Two days later, I messaged an old friend I had met two years ago in Bangladesh. He was working at a company that had a strong startup alumni at the time, and he was from Germany. “I could move to Germany,” I thought to myself. I asked if he would be willing to pass my resume to some German startups. He was more than happy to help. Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Don’t sell yourself short either. Seriously, no-one is 100% qualified for the job. Takeaway: Try to keep in touch with people. You never know who can help you down the road. I’ve had lots of examples of this in my life. I hadn’t heard back though for a month so I forgot about it. Then suddenly on “The Day” (aka the 24 hours where I decided to leave LA, cried most of the afternoon cause I didn’t have much of a plan, didn’t think I was cut out for this crazy ass adventure…ya it wasn’t great), my friend replied back apologizing for not getting to passing my resume, did it, and 12 hours later, the place where I’m currently working reached out to me. Takeaway: What’s that quote? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Guess it works for not having plans either haha. I think the point is things can happen when you least expect it. But you can also make an effort to make it happen.

The bigger wonders of amazing friends (and friends of friends of friends) I have the BEST friends in the world. Seriously, I challenge someone to say they have better ones. At 12pm, I told my best friend at Brown that I was showing up at his apartment the next morning at 10am. I gave him less than 24 hours to prepare for me. And he welcomed me with open arms (and a very comfy futon). I was supposed to stay for 1 week tops. I ended up staying almost 3 weeks.Apartment hunting in Berlin was harder than I expected. But in those 3 weeks, I found so much love, support and comfort amongst my friends.From 5 minute hugs to 5 hour conversations, my friends were the boost I needed to prepare for my next adventure. Takeaway: Tell your friends you love them. So Anthony, Blake, Spencer, Sophie (and Adam sort of), thanks for letting me bum around the apartment in my pjays all day and reminding me I’m trash. Alex for always knowing what to say. Caroline, Ian, Derek, Max, Matt, Bas for being the best OG squad and making me almost puke at six flags and sleep on your couch. Ali and Julia for being two badass women. Emma, Isabel and Lacy for being unicorns. Minoshka and Anna for being so damn brilliant and being my mothers. Shivam for being crazy but somehow making it work. Taylor for being so wonderful. Manny for making me laugh with your life (it’ll be just fine). Adi for your own self discovery stories and keeping salon going. Priyankar for that little bit of home and big brother love. Ali for doing all the things you wanted to do. Valentin for letting me believe that I can dream big. Lauren for your warmth. Miki for really being one of the best people I know. Abel for the words of wisdom. Cherry and Rosa for the dose of love and adventure. Rohan for your inquisitiveness. Aaron for being one of the greatest spirits I’ve ever met. Xiao for being a dreamer. Timmy for being such a bundle of joy. Nathan for letting me be “international”. And so so many more that just said hi, gave me a hug, laughed at my life and said keep at it. You’re all loved ❤ The friends of friends of friends Apartment hunting in Berlin is HARD. I’ve learned I’m really naive. I’m scammer’s ideal prey. Luckily my friends aren’t as stupid and stop me from booking an apartment when the person doesn’t live in Germany and wants a wire transfer. I was very fortunate that one of my friends at Brown connected me with a friend of his in Germany (also a Brown alum. #Brunonia) who then connected me with her friend who’s apartment I’m currently living in. Yay friends! I’ve already hung out with one friend of a friend, and another friend of a friend tonight. And I’ve only been here for 48 hours. Yay friends! Takeaway: If you like your friends, you’ll probably like their friends too. And when you’re new to a city, reach out. Chances are somebody will know someone in the city you’re going to.

My first 48 hours in Berlin My first impressions are gorgeous city, cobble stone is pretty to look at, not to walk on, the public transport here is AMUZING, everything is so CHEAP (€1 falafel people), nobody believes in debit/credit cards (cash is imperative), my German pronunciation is abysmal, I love the people I work with, there’s so much to discover, the rain sucks, Uber sucks here, mytaxi is better (but that public transport tho. I got a monthly pass for €30), can’t wait to travel elsewhere and explore Europe, cats aren’t so bad (as a dog person), still a dog person, I’ll take a small room if I get a big bed over a big room with a small bed, EVERYONE SHOULD VISIT ME IN BERLIN. And that’s it. Takeaway: Travel. Explore. Observe. Experience. VISIT ME IN BERLIN. I think I may like product management? I won’t go into explaining what product management is. This article does a great job if you’re curious to learn more though. I’m more concerned with addressing the fact that it’s often a tech job that has the assumption that you need to be a computer science or related major to be one (heck, even Google’s Associate Product Management internship has “Minimum qualification: Pursuing a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD in Computer Science or a related field”). As a liberal arts major but a pretty firm lover of the tech industry, I’ve been finding it difficult to find a function within this world. I had heard of product management before but because of the CS requirement I was used to seeing, I didn’t think I was fit. UNTIL I read Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Product Managers written by a CS major, HBS lecturer, former product manager, and entrepreneur turned VC. Please please please read that article if like me, you’re not a coder but are interested in tech performing a cross-functional role that leverages multiple skill sets (sorry for the buzzwords). I’m still in the early stages of my product management internship. However, just looking at how my other product managers work, what type of work they do, and seeing how other non-tech roles function (Sales, Marketing, Ops, Biz Dev, Finance, Legal), I think I may have actually found a job that feels right. Takeaway: Keep trying things even if you’re not qualified, have the minimum requirements, or whatever arbitrary barrier someone else has put in your way. It’s the only way you’ll know if something is truly a fit for you.

Published by permission from the author

How to spend $200+ Billion for a Train Wreck

Once upon a time, a paragon of American innovation lost its way.  It embodied Einstein’s definition of insanity, spending over $200B for a train wreck… and they’re doing it again. The story starts in the last century and my part about 28 years ago.

In the early 90’s at AT&T, I was on a ‘special project’ with some friends to design the next generation core domestic network.  We were from Bell Labs and had “grown up” with the Internet (Arpanet, initially).  We were young and idealistic so our designed was based on the TCP/IP protocol.  This let us move anything over the network – email, faxes, images, movies, songs, phone calls, photos, anything – in real time.  We knew that with enough bandwidth, routers, redundancy and diversity, someday we’d watch or listen to concerts and movies live.   This way, we only needed 1 network (with tons of security & safeguards obviously) to handle everything.  The days of a voice-only network built on big expensive switches was over.  We presented our design to the powers that were. Answer? Nope! They thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.  [About 13 years later, a friend asked me if I still had the designs because they were looking to build that network.]

The 90’s were a battle between the network/telecom providers (AT&T, MCI, etc.) and the PC/Software maker end points (Microsoft) deciding where to put the ‘smarts’.  Microsoft et. al., felt they owned the smarts and just needed commodity dumb pipes to connect them together.  The networks knew if they didn’t have any ‘smarts’, they didn’t have any differentiable value from each other.  The smart ends would win the battle, forever commoditizing the networks. I saw this and worked on this firsthand.  It wasn’t pretty.  It led to a lot of spending with little success:

  • 1999: AT&T pays $44B to buy the cable company TCI, creating AT&T Broadband.
  • 2002: AT&T sells AT&T Broadband to Comcast for $47.5B after having invested about $58B more for a total of $102B in AT&T Broadband.
  • 2015: AT&T buys DirecTV for $49B.
  • 2016: AT&T offers to buy Time Warner (not the cable, the content) for $85B (and I don’t think this is a bargain price).

The networks lost the smart-dumb battle.  So, if it hadn’t worked before, why now? Is “Media” that different from smart-ends? Really? Maybe this is what they’re thinking:

  • AT&T is losing wireless customers with decreasing revenue/customer; 
  • DirecTV is losing customers because of cord-cutting;
  • Content drives revenue (yup, heard that 20 years ago); it uses lots of bits and time;
  • “New” Media companies are becoming networks– Facebook, Amazon, and Google (take special notice of Google – if I were AT&T, I’d worry about them non-stop).

Over 17 years, AT&T spent about $236B (BILLION) dollars to get in, out and back in to the cable and content business.   Having lived through some of this and trying to show why it wouldn’t work financially, strategically, innovatively, and a bunch of other ‘ly’s, here are at least 6 lessons I learned:

  1. If you can’t figure out how to add value to your own stuff, buying other stuff to bolt on, without understanding markets and customers, doesn’t work;
  2. Culture matters, first and only; Making acquisitions outside your traditional space is hard, it’s virtually impossible if your cultures are radically different;
  3. If you’re losing customers, DON’T buy a company in the same situation!!!
  4. If you keep repeating solutions that don’t work STOP! Either figure out something different or figure out how to be a profitable commodity… it works for Coke!
  5. Check the C-suite egos at the door; hanging out on the set of Game of Thrones isn’t worth billions to shareholders.
  6. In my next life I want to come back as a company AT&T buys.

 

Who Are You?

When you meet someone at a party, an event, in the store, at a school, what do we usually ask? “What do you do?” or if you’re in college, “What’s your major?”

There are many ways in which others define us and we define ourselves:

·      Job, title, level;

·      Mom, Dad;

·      Daughter, son, sibling;

·      Aunt, Uncle.

·      College, university, and major or degree;

·      Home town, city, country;

·      Ethnicity;

·      Nationality(ies);

·      Religion;

·      Political leaning;

·      Talents;

·      Causes, volunteer efforts;

·      Board roles;

·      Combinations and integrations of the above;

·      None of the above – something else.

How do you really want to be identified? To be known? You may answer differently depending on where you are in your life and what matters.  That’s normal. But when you strip away all your functions and roles, at a very fundamental, who are you? What do you want to be known for? And why? 

When Disruption Meets Laughter & Fun

I was so honored to be a guest on DisrupTV with my good friend Vala Afshar of Salesforce and Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research.  As to be expected, we had a great time talking blue lobsters, innovation, virtues, strategy and women in tech.  Take a look!

                   

The Hope & Serendipity of #RCUS

The highlight of the year - BIF.  It's the embodiment of my definition of innovation ~ the Network + Serendipity - through Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (#RCUS). It's the place to renew your mind and soul - to see what can and is being done to positively change our world by people of all ages, ethnicities, experiences, industries, sectors, geographies.  This will be my 6th BIF and every year I think it can't get any better... and every year it does.  Why? Because the human desire, passion and spirit to do good is everlasting.  Despite the misery and pain we see in the world around us, there is always hope - hope being realized by action.  That's why I can't miss a BIF - it renews your hope in mankind.

3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

2.5 weeks til the magic of BIF2015.  I am blessed with the gift of my network and can't wait to see my students and clients and friends and friends-to-be. Thank you Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij & Saul Kaplan for this honor from TIME magazine. 

"How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.  To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says." Read on...

A Biologist, Computer Scientist & Historian walk into a....

It is through eclectic, diverse, and seemingly random relationships, interactions and friendships that we learn and then change the world.  Andrew Kaplan eloquently sums this up in his post below he wrote right before graduation.  So much of our learning is from each other and I have learned so much from him over the past 3 years. Thank you, Andrew.
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To an old house on Angell Street*

As I sit writing this at my kitchen table, a housemate walks into the room and sits down next to me.

“How do you define religion?” he asks as he combs his unruly left sideburn with bunched fingers.

“What?” I respond.

“Just answer the question.”

I live in an old Rhode Island house on Angell Street with five other seniors. Our floors are sinking and our walls are thin; an open floor plan helps a whisper from the basement be heard in the third-floor attic. The house smelled of fresh paint the day I moved in.

Among my housemates are a neuroscientist, a biologist, a philosopher, a computer scientist and a historian. Or, looking at them another way, they are a dancer, a drummer, a basketball player, a teacher and a founder. And they are the blood pumping through the veins of this house, imbuing it with life.

Because I am about to graduate, people often ask me to describe my time at Brown. They expect tales of hallowed professors pronouncing truths in packed lecture halls. They expect memories of heartfelt conversations about the meaning of life on the quiet greens where foliage helps you spin nascent life philosophies into the early mornings. They expect stories of finding romance in the dining hall and losing it into the wild night. And I’ve had my fair share of those experiences.

But the old house on Angell and the people who live in it symbolize what has made my Brown experience unique. One of the greatest pleasures of the past four years has been discovering things I never thought I would simply by being around people who are so infectiously enthusiastic about topics I never thought I’d learn about.

When I think about my time at Brown, I think about one of my housemates working on a computer science project, describing the mystery of the deep web and the power of torrent — and blowing my mind in the process. Or when another inspired me to take NEUR 0010: “The Brain: An Introduction to Neuroscience” by sketching out an action potential’s effect on the nervous system. Or when yet another sat down next to me and asked me to define religion, prompted by a class project on religious law.

This is for them and for what they represent. And this is to thank the countless Brown students with deep-set passions who have passed in and out of my life, many of whom I consider my friends. Watching a fellow Brunonian’s eyes dance with excitement when discussing a subject they love is a truly special experience, one that makes this place so exceptional.

So here’s to a group of housemates brought together by a university that cultivates passions ranging from the microscopic to the universal to form a microcosm of my Brown experience as a whole. Here’s to falling down an intellectual rabbit hole and emerging hours later with a better understanding of what drives my fellow classmates. And here’s to acknowledging one of the reasons why Brown is so special: Each member of the Brown community has the ability to awaken that same curiosity and passion in you.

Lastly, thank you to the place I associate with that type of enthusiastic learning: an old house on Angell Street with an open floor plan and sinking floors.

Andrew just graduated from Brown University with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science. He was a 2013 C.V. Starr Social Innovation Fellow for Common Sense Action, which he co-founded with Sam Gilman. Andrew is moving back to NYC joining the Urban Fellows Program to pursue his passion for public service, especially for the homeless.

*Originally published in the Brown Daily Herald, May 21, 2015 and republished with permission by the author.

Why Language Matters for Everything

How many languages do you speak? Only 7% of American college kids study a language.  Think this is a problem? It is a huge socio-economic-global-geopolitical-security one!  Amelia Friedman didn't set out to start a business learning languages from her peers - like Bengali, Thai, Tamil... but she has.  We need to communicate like never before - and language is how.  So be a part of the solution - try learning a language and give to Student Language Exchange to make sure our next generation does. 

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em·pa·thy (n): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Building empathy has been a priority among parents and educators for decades. Why? If the next generation of leaders cares for others in their community and across the world, they just might be able to make one another’s lives better.

More recently, empathy has become a priority for business leaders. In fact, entrepreneurs regularly use empathy maps when trying to understand their target customer. Empathy has become part of an entrepreneur’s tool belt, helping them rise above the competition.

There is debate about whether empathy is something that can be taught. I believe we can teach empathy by listening to and learning from people who are different from us. By asking questions. By meeting others on their level. By immersing ourselves in another culture.

In other words: We can build empathy by learning another language.

lan·guage (n): the system of communication used by a particular community or country

Language is so much more than a collection of words and rules for the order in which they should be spoken. It includes all aspects of communication: the way you should greet someone when they’re in mourning, the requirement that a gift need be refused three times before accepted, or the importance of covering one’s hair when in public— that is all a part of language.

A language is a doorway into another culture; it paves the road toward empathy.

ex·change (n): an act of giving one thing and receiving another in return

I didn’t originally found the Student Language Exchange with the intention of changing the world. The first courses we ran were a reflection of my curiosity and the curiosity of students around me. We just wanted to learn from one another’s experiences, so we ran semester-long courses where our peers could share their languages and cultures.

We came to understand dowry practices in Kenya, limitations of French language in Haiti and the aftereffects of English colonialism in Calcutta. We gifted one another the knowledge that we had gleaned in the first 20 years of our lives. And we learned to listen, ask questions, and empathize.

My formal coursework in language didn’t always allow me to really understand the people that spoke it, and the communities I could learn about at my university were limited, mostly to those of Europe.

At last count, there were 197,757 U.S. college students studying French and 64 studying Bengali. Globally, there are 193 million people who speak Bengali and only 75 million who speak French. In fact, Arne Duncan tells us that 95% of all language enrollments are in a Western language.

We tend to learn about cultures that are similar to our own. But this is holding us back. It keeps us from building empathy, from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, and from building bridges between peoples.

Our world isn’t perfect. Tragedies, whether man-made as in the case of the Rohingya Crisis or natural in the case of the Nepal earthquakes, plague our global society. We can’t be perfect either, but we can strive to empathize with those affected and respectfully communicate with people in these regions. Through open communication—and through connecting our privilege with their opportunity—we can do our part to make the world a little bit better.

In our SLE courses, students learn to think differently; they learn about other languages and cultures so that they can better understand different people.

I may not have originally intended to build a social enterprise, but somewhere along the way we began to see the impact we were having on our students and the communities they touched.

Today, only 7% of American college students are studying a language. Few Americans—our next-generation leaders—take the time to learn about a new culture and to build the skills they need to communicate with its stakeholders. If we can push that needle a little further to the right, we can make an immense impact.

And as these students will tell you, we already well on our way. Will you join us?

 

Amelia Friedman founded the Student Language Exchange while a student at Brown University (’14). An active advocate of global engagement, she has written about language education for the Atlantic, USA Today, Forbes, and the Huffington Post. She is the product of a marriage between a Jew from Maryland and a Catholic from Montevideo, Uruguay that demonstrate the importance of empathy every day. Amelia is a current Halcyon fellow living in Washington, DC.

In full disclosure, I have been Amelia's mentor since her time at Brown and am on the board of SLE, with great pride and admiration for her work.

Savory Tales of Connection

 

 Fried Twitter Tales is a collection of stories on the WHY of twitter by some amazing people and I got to be included! Honored! The story that Vala Afshar and I love about twitter, the network and making amazing things happen (like CCChampions & the Celtics) is the first story.  So please download this free e-book, read it, share it and build relationships with amazing people. 

 

Some Stories Need Retelling

With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought this was a story worth retelling - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah and a new year ahead.  I am continually overwhelmed with the blessings in my life and this remains one of the most powerful in my entire career - thanks to Vala Afshar & Sidney Kushner
 

Life by Design

I had the privilege to share a panel with New Yorker Staff Cartoonist Liza Donnelly and Social Entrepreneur Superstar Susan McPherson on October 8th at the Granoff Center's Martinos Auditorium, Brown University, discussing our professional paths.  This was the first Creative Mind Lecture of the 2014-2015 series.  Many thanks to Ian Gonsher for using his iPhone as a video camera and to Nicha Ratana who made the video as 'followable' as possible and has made the Creative Mind Lecture series a reality. 


Why Wednesday October 8th Could Change Your Thinking

What if you gathered with creative minds from all disciplines and talked about how you got to where you were and how you were going forward? Join me, New Yorker Staff Cartoonist Liza Donnelly and Social Entrepreneur Superstar Susan McPherson on October 8th at 6:00pm in the Granoff Center's Englander Studio at Brown University for a discussion of what kinds of paths, careers, serendipity Creative Minds create!  

Designed by Nicha Ratana

What Gives You Hope?

Summer is ending, leaves are changing and we know what is coming, and I'm so filled with Hope!  Yup! InBIF10 Top Row L-R Marlea Brown, Andrew Kaplan, Nicha Ratana; Bottom Row L-R: Faisal Khurshid, Isby Lubin, Fiora MacPherson, Sarah Kandath, Me  what, in Whom do you Hope? Hope is a powerful force in life.  It is based in what is both possible and probable, not in hallucination. That's why September is Hope Month for me...because of BIF10 

BIF is the most amazing gathering of humans from all over the world sharing stories about perseverance, innovation, impact…and Hope! Every year we wonder how can the next be better and it always is.  Because of HopeHope in what the human spirit is capable of achieving:

I urge you to look at the videos, photos, and posts…. And sign up for next year!!

The Power of Your Network is the "Ask"

Originally published in Harvard Business Review, this post needs to be reread since my friend Vala Afshar will be a storyteller at BIF10 and Sidney Kushner will be attending - in just two weeks!  
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One of the biggest assets in anyone’s life is a generous network. It is a gift that grows simply by sharing it. Think of it as the Law of Accelerating Returns — the more you share your network, the more people share it in return and the more the rate of sharing accelerates. For me, my network has literally and figuratively been a source of survival. For most of us, networks have played a critical role in our lives, whether we realize it or not.

I asked executive and super-networker Vala Afshar if he thought there were any common traits or patterns that could be ‘taught’ or encouraged for networking.  We came up with a few unsubstantiated traits based on the people we know who are great connectors: 1) hard working (it does take work to network); 2) humble (now that’s pretty arrogant of me to say!); 3) quietly confident that connecting the people they introduce will result in something great even if it’s not yet clear; and, perhaps most importantly 4) who understand the power of the ask. For instance, Vala remembers arriving in America at age 10, escaping the 1979 Iranian Revolution not knowing any English, not blond and blue-eyed, and not stylishly clad. He also remembers the very few kids who overcame their shyness to ask him to play kickball — and how happy he was to be asked.

Too many of us worry that asking will appear self-serving, even if it’s not. We fear rejection. We fear looking stupid. Perhaps some of us actually fear hearing a “yes” — what would we do then? It’s tempting to say that asking takes courage. But really, think about it — what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll hear a “no.” No one’s going to throw you in jail. Let me share a brief story about a couple of normal (well, in their eyes) people and a kid to illustrate the Power of the Ask.

I first met Vala, CMO and CXO at New Hampshire-based Enterasys, now Extreme Networks, on twitter and reached out to him, since his tweets seemed so spot-on to me. We conversed over email and twitter, sharing stories of our jobs and of eating lobster, which we both love. We met last September on my way up to Maine for my annual vacation. I was greeted at Enterasys’s headquarters like a long-lost relative — even including an epicurean delight of lobster salad*. Needless to say, we really hit it off. I also learned that Enterasys provides network services to companies like the New England Patriots and the Boston Celtics.

Meanwhile, one of my mentees, Sidney Kushner**, has been creating CCChampions, an organization that creates connections between professional athletes and children with cancer to provide a source of inspiration and excitement during a very trying time in children’s lives. To date, CCChampions is working with over 6,000 professional athletes plus health care professionals, child psychologists, local students and community partners. Sidney’s compassion, drive and entrepreneurial savvy are contagious.

But let’s face it — Providence, RI, where Sidney lives, is not exactly a professional sports powerhouse. Yet Boston is nearby! So, sucking up courage, I ask Vala if he’d talk to Sidney and, if willing, then introduce Sidney to the Celtics. What’s the worst Vala could say? No. And I’d perhaps look like a fool… but I’m very used to that. But Vala said that after about 5 minutes of talking to Sidney, he wanted help. Still, since the Celtics were a fairly new client, Vala was a bit nervous about making the ask. Nevertheless, he did, and a 30-minute discussion ensued in which the Celtics offered to honor Sidney as part of their Heroes Among Us program at their January 9th game in a special in-game presentation. Vala said he had goosebumps and when he told me, I certainly did. When the Celtics called Sidney, he was speechless — all he could do was text me, not even talk.

On January 9, 2013, because Sidney will be honored on the famous parquet floor of TD Garden, more kids suffering with cancer will have an opportunity for joy, inspiration and valuable distraction from their pain. As parents, both Vala and I can only imagine what this would mean to our children.

And let’s face it, Vala and I have gotten great great joy from bringing Sidney and the Celtics together — beyondSidney and KJ (an 11 kid with cancer) are high-fiving on center court as CCChampions got honored as a "Hero Among Us" by the Boston Celtics! expression, so perhaps it’s very selfish of us. And in the end, despite feeling awkward at certain moments, we really risked very little to help make this happen.

When we don’t use the “Power of the Ask” we are in essence saying “no” before the question has even been asked — saying no to opportunities that change our businesses, our organizations, ourselves…and actual lives. So even if it feels uncomfortable, look for even just a small way can you use the “Power of the Ask” in your network — for someone you work for, with or manage. Make this your year of the Law of Accelerating Returns.

*This feast has become an annual tradition and on Sept. 15, we will be celebrating our third year dining upon the epicurian delights of Chef Brian Townsend (aka Director of Global Technology Services & Operations at Extreme Networks)

**Sidney graduated from Brown in 2013 and CCChampions is having an impact beyond his dreams. I am also very honored to be on his board. 

3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

Wow! TIME magazine (online)!! Thank you Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij & Saul Kaplan for this honor and story  about BIF10.  I am so privileged and blessed to be a part of BIF.

"How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.  To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says." Read on...

Sign up ASAP for BIF10!!!

If You Haven’t Gone Social, You Should Be Very Very Worried

Mark Babbitt and Ted Coiné have written a book you MUST read, A World Gone Social, if you don’t want to fall prey to Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  Mark and Ted make it clear, with concrete examples, that the Social World’s implications for 21st Century business are enormous:

  • Customers have more power than they’ve had before; Settling for mediocre won’t work!
  • Employees have more power than they’ve had before; Their ideas and insights matter!
  • Command-and-Control is a delusion; Wake up and get flat(ter)!
  • Top talent chooses where it wants to go; Would you want to work for you?  
  • Transparency is a requirement and expectation; If you’ve got something to hide, forget it!

Transparency is foundational to me on at least 2 levels:

First, when information is open, available, accessible and shareable, awesome can happen.  Ted and Mark’s concept of OPEN: Ordinary People | Extraordinary Network gets right to this (Chapter 9). My life has always been about the network, so of course I’d love OPEN.  I measure my professional success by my ROImpact  - my form of ROI.  The broader, deeper and mover diverse your network, the larger the impact you can have.  Ted and Mark state “No matter who we are, the more OPEN we are, the more global our impact.”  OPEN is how we connect diverse expertise around the world to solve wicked problems. It’s how we democratize knowledge, access and opportunity.  OPEN truly makes the ordinary extraordinary – something each of us can do.

"No matter who we are, the more OPEN we are, the more global our impact."

Second, when everything is OPEN, walking the talk isn’t a cliché it’s a requirement.  Your products, services, customer support - all your interactions have to be consistent with who you say you are and what you say you stand for.  Does your organization really care about your customers? Does it truly want to understand their problems and create meaningful solutions? In A World Gone Social, it’s not about what you get (output), it’s about what you can give (outcome).  Some do this because they think it’s the route to success, which it is.  But those who cherish and relish giving do it because it’s a route to making the world a better place – from making it easier to get your prescription drugs or pick up the dry-cleaning to stopping malaria or providing emergency housing in natural disasters.  We may never know the fabulous outcomes of connecting people together, but we know fabulous things happen. 

Get A World Gone Social
Read it, mark it up, share it, give it away – but most importantly, live it! 

The Paradox of Trust, Vulnerability and Leadership

Thank you Switch and Shift for this series on trust!

"We usually think of great leaders as strong, unflappable, all-knowing, all-confident and ready to forge ahead.  They have all the answers, they know where they are going, and we trust them without doubt and question. Wrong! Great leaders are strong but don’t hide all their emotions. They know a lot but not everything, they are confident but not arrogant and they are ready to forge ahead – with the help of their team’s insights and inputs.  They want to be challenged and they want hidden assumptions brought to light and questioned." Read on...