When is it OK to utilize your network?

When is it OK to utilize your network?

Reach out to your connections when in need, but do it right
Reach out to your connections when in need, but do it right

So, if you’ve been reading my latest posts about networking (https://owntrepreneurship.com/2015/07/27/the-advantages-of-being-accessible/

And https://owntrepreneurship.com/2015/07/17/you-are-the-sum-of-your-connections/)

Then surely you realize it is important and very much possible to cultivate a large network of connections.

But when and how can one utilize this awesome network of followers?

First let’s dwell on why I refer to the action of asking something from your network as “utilizing”? well, I consider my network one of my greatest resources, and I utilize it regularly- as a reader base, to ask specific questions and even the odd “ can you help me get a job at your firm” request.

So now that we’ve established this is a resource, one must wonder how not to abuse or over use it- or, simply put- one must ass when and how I can utilize this awesome network of followers?

Well, like everything else in life – the answer is “it depends”. It depends on your need, urgency and level of intimacy with the person you wish to engage.

The need- simply put, is the person qualified to help you with what you need to do? If she is 100% relevant to what you want to achieve (for instance, is in charge of recruiting in a firm you want approach) than it’s ok to approach her and simply ask what it is you want her to do (introduce you to someone, sample your product, provide feedback on your website etc.).

Urgency- this is easy to grasp- sometime speed is of the essence- like when a new job opening is posted on a company website and you happen to know someone from the inside who can make sure your friend’s CV is one of the first to make it to the recruiter’s desk. Or when you really need to reach out to someone now. Most people appreciate that “desperate times” call for desperate means and if you will explain why the request is urgent they are likely to accept even if otherwise they would have rejected the request.

Intimacy- in today’s world of loosely related networks (also known as “weak connections” we cannot expect the same level of intimacy as before. And yet, there is a wide spectrum of degrees of closeness. Starting from the obvious- Family and close friends are pretty much open to help request anytime. Weaker connections and ones which are purely virtual- people you’ve never met, spoken to or even emailed, but are connected to on Social media ) are less likely to assist, given that they don’t actually know you.

Given that you’ve considered these factors and decided to move ahead and utilize the connection, please bear the following principles in mind:

  1. Be polite: You are making a move here, so the reasonability is on you. Be polite, use proper grammar and respect the other side (don’t “Bro” anyone you are not actually bros with). It will go a long way in helping the other side to decide to assist you.
  1. Be specific: Tell them why you approached them, why now and what it is you expect them to do. The worse case scenario is someone telling you it’s out of their reach, but more positive outcomes could be that people who wants to help but can’t/ not capable of, will often direct you (or even approach on you behalf) another individual who could be of help.
  1. Don’t erode your currency- Don’t ask multiple times the same request, don’t bug people if you don’t get an answer. Being “connected” to someone does not mean you have the right to annoy and spam. And respect the “No”- if someone refuses to help accept it and move on. Fighting such a person will seriously erode your credibility for the next time you have a need for assistance.
  2. Be willing to give back- reciprocation, even if not specifically mentioned, is to be expected. If you are not comfortable with someone asking you to reciprocate with an introduction to a guy in your firm, don’t ask them a similar thing in the first place.

Conclusion

It was said that in ancient China, if you managed to get some face time you could have asked for anything, it would have been given to you. This made sense because such a tiny percentage of the population ever had a chance of actually meeting their ruler, so if one had the resources and means to achieve this it was usually important enough so the emperor would abide by the request. Today you don’t have to wait a lifetime to ask anyone (even famous and powerful people) anything. And yet, it might be sensible to think of the story of the emperor and save the requests for important stuff. Building a large network of connection is easier than ever before, but that does not mean we need to abuse this powerful resource.

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The two alternative social platforms you should be using this moment

If you are reading this by all likelihood you’ve came here from Facebook, Twitter of LinkedIn. You probably dwell there daily, follow the links to sites and blogs such as this, and if you are a “power-user” you even contribute from time to time, posting witty twits, posting thought and images on your Facebook wall or longer opinion pieces on LinkedIn Pulse platform. Or you might even cultivate your own blog on a platform such as WordPress or Blogger. And you might feel this is enough, but I’m here to tell you there are 2 social platforms you simply can’t ignore at the moment, especially if your into marketing.

Medium and Quora
Medium and Quora

Medium

Founded in 2012  by two ex- Twitteroids, Medium is fast becoming THE blogging platform of our time.  As the mission statement on the “about”  page says:” Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say” (https://medium.com/about/welcome-to-medium-9e53ca408c48)

And the beauty is that it does just that. If you want to read great content- its all there. If you want to simply start writing and publish it to a potentially massive audience- this is the place to do. With the simplest “what you see is what you get” interface, it’s really is all about writing (it’s easy to combine images too, but it’s not a tumbler-like site at all. Words are the essence here.

Why should you care: well, it’s where I’d go for a great read, and I enjoy publishing posts there occasionally. It’s also free of charge, hassle free and visually appealing.

Quora: you could write posts on Quora too, but that’s not the point. The point of Quora is answering every conceivable question in the world. From silly questions to philosophical ones, anyone can post a question and anyone can answer (the site editors remove duplications and maintain the discussion on proper term). You can ask someone to answer a specific question, “pay” them with credits and even accumulate credits for answering others. If you think this is childish (does sound like a dream machine for any curios 4 years old), just know that many famous and smart people visit the site regularly and contribute from their experience and wisdom. People like Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban, Werner Vogels, Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreesen and many others. The site has a large Indian population and the Quorans seems to infatuated with entrepreneurs in general and Elon Musk in particular. Still, if you have any question worth asking – this is the place (and you do get great answers from people in the know- you can ask VCs what they are looking for in a startup pitch, or ask people how to improve your SEO, and just about anything else). The think I like the most about Quora is that if used properly, you are genuinely helping others (and receive the recognition you deserve in return).

Why should you care: a great place to get answers for just about everything you ever wanted to know, and one of the only places online you can really help others. It’s also free.

So, to summarize, publishing posts on LinkedIn is nice, but you should really be exploring more sociable alternatives. Note that I’m refraining from using the term “blogging platforms”- both sites are much more of a social meeting place than a mere platform. One word of advise- these sites can be fairly addictive, Quora in particular ( you will check your app in the morning to see how many people have upvoted your recent answer, I guarantee it.

What I’ve learned from my grandmother about life and Owntrepreneurship

My grandma passed away last week. She was 90 years old, and until very recently mostly healthy and extremely sharp minded. She was diagnosed with cancer some 2 months ago and the decline was swift and painful.

person-731423_1920 (2)

Putting aside the pain and the longings, I got to thinking about what my beloved Grandma taught me about life, and which of these lessons can be applied to Owntrepreneurship. We’ll, taught is not the right word. She never “Told” me or “taught” me anything, but by observing her life and her behavior I’ve learned many important lessons about what’s really important in life:

  1. Resiliency- we tend to forget this, but Europeans living through the first half of the 20th century, and especially Jews, have had much harder lives than we will ever have and had to overcome many obstacles that later generations don’t have to face- like war, immigration and economic crises.
    My Grandma was born in Sambur- then Galicia, Part of Poland (today in the Ukraine), immigrated to Argentina when she was 10 with her family. She started elementary school in Rosario without knowing a single word in Spanish, but quickly overcame this obstacle and led a happy lives in the thriving local Jewish community. She married my Grandfather, a young doctor and had her first daughter, and then decided to immigrate to Israel. Arriving in Israel in the 50s must have been a big shock- made worst by the fact they settled in a Kibutz (a communal settlements), living in tents and sheds and forgoing all luxury of middle-high society she enjoyed in Argentina. She was a trained optometrist, but that was not a required profession at the new settlement, so she worked whenever she was needed- at the communal kitchen, tending babies and finally settled on a job as a seamstress, where she worked for many many years, mending the clothes of dozens. Since my grandfather was a doctor who worked travelled often she was also tasked with raising my mother and her younger brother. And yet, through all the hardship she remained optimistic, and adjusted quickly to the new, oftentimes worse situation. Perhaps that was the trait of many people living in harder times (I’m guessing one might even call her lucky- had her parents not left Poland the entire family would likely have perished in the holocaust), but to this is one thing I will always admire about her- the ability to adjust, bounce back and keep a smile on the face while doing so.
  1. Ability to re-invent (or pivot)- having been the “Doctor’s wife” for most of her life, when my Grandfather died at 68, she was left with a big hole in her life. But she kept going and re-invented herself as the ultimate grandma. She was the driving force behind our family and always made sure we were together on holiday and family occasions. She became more independent and started to travel the world, go to concerts, movies and shows and never had a dull moment until her recent decline. Even a broken hip in recent years did not hold her back. She was truly another person, no more the shy, appeasing, small women, but a strong, appointed and fun loving.
  2. The power of a supportive network – research shows that one of the crucial elements in longevity is the existence of an embracing community. My Grandmother had just that- a group of friends who were together from their 20’s and stayed together through good and bad, living in a small, protected community. Several of her close friends attended her funeral – all about her same age (90). The ability to create and maintain such a network is crucial in achieving long and happy life. But her network was not limited to her friends- she also cultivated an extended family-like network, of many, many “adopted” children she took care of when they arrived at a young age to the kibbutz (as a result of Israel facing many immigration waves in the 50’s, many kids from large families were sent to more established families since their parents were unable to support them having just arrived in a foreign country with no job or knowledge of the language). These kids grew up, had kids and grandkids and they all referred to her as “Grandma”. Until her very last days she would remember who was doing what, where everyone was living and even kept a small notepad with names, addresses and phone numbers, just in case she would forget someone’s contact details. This large supportive network was evident in her last days when people from all over the country came to pay her a last visit, and the many people who came to her funeral.
  1. The currency of Love- my Grandmother was never rich. Whatever she had, she would always give away, and what she couldn’t in terms of money or physical means, she passed on in the form of the most powerful currency available. That of love. And people loved her back, and respected her for it. By always helping others and being truly empathic, she was able to create such a powerful following, of people who would gladly help her, should she ever ask (she almost never asked anything).

I loved my grandma dearly and already miss her. But thinking about what I’ve learned from her gives me comfort, and also serves as a reminder- she would not want me to feel sad or sorry after her demise, but she did wanted me to apply the lessons I’ve learned in my life, and help other just like she did.

Toxic work environment- What you need to do now

The CEO shouts at everyone. Prior to the annual review meetings everyone is scared as hell. Good people leave, replaced by mediocre ones, replaced by truly bad ones.

toxic
If it’s toxic, move away

Yes- you are now officially working in a toxic environment.

Perhaps it’s you to blame- the signs were there, but you chose to pick behind the curtain anyway… you know- lots of people saying it’s a bad place, some rumors about senior executives from hell.. but you were offered a decent paycheck, and the Lady at HR was really nice.

Perhaps it wasn’t always like that- when you started working there it was a smallish company, and it felt like home. Five years forward, 200 employees in the door and all the original C-Suite replaces by class A assholes, and suddenly it’s not so nice anymore. Regardless, the first step of dealing with such environment is to identify it.

The first part is fairly easy- simply look around and smell the air. That’s right, you can sniff fear, anxiety and evil from afar. Second is to consult with your (trusted only) colleagues- do they feel this way too? Chances are you won’t be the only one feeling this.

 

So you wait. Maybe things will change for the better? (they won’t, they never do. Only for the worst). But once you’ve waited long enough, you need to act to control the situation.

Many people want to know how to handle working in a toxic work environment. It is a question repeatedly asked in forums and Quora-like websites. It resonates all over the corporate world, meaning that many suffer from this ugly phenomena.

So how do you deal with it?

In three step: acknowledge it game over, mitigate and depart.

Wait. Did you say depart? I did. From my experience (not exclusive to work environment, but in general) toxic environments don’t change. They don’t change without a fundamental change, one that is almost impossible for most companies. Consider this- if the executives are ok but the majority of the established employees are useless, than in all likelihood the company will fail, sending the execs home to be replaces by more aggressive one, which will in turn drive the decent employees away, spiraling ever down. Or the opposite case- where the majority of employees are cool but all the top brass (or just the founder/ CEO) are worthless- the same result- good people (especially in mid- management positons) being pushed away, second tier people brought in or promoted, average people leave, etc.

So the very first step in acknowledging the place is toxic- is also the last- acknowledging you will not work there long before being corrupted yourself.

Once this is behind you (leave the blame game behind – at this it doesn’t matter why and what brought you here- like the Titanic, you are only interested in finding your way out safely.

But in the meantime- you need to create a “safe Zone” for yourself. A place (physical or metaphorical) where you can avoid the daily dosages of poison. It could be a coffee club, a running group, or ideally, a group of close colleagues working together on a project. These will serve as your “buffer” from the environment, provide support and help in need. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking this safe haven can keep you safe for long. Even if you’ve amassed several people who help (or even follow you), and even if you have some senior executive is grooming you to be a future VP- don’t stop looking for way to get out. And this is really your goal- to find a better place for you to work. Not only an “Ok” place, a genuinely BETTER one. Who wants to go from a bad to a mediocre company? And this may mean you will have to settle (for salary, location, position). But don’t despair. These are all temporary setback, and a small price to pay for “cleansing” your environment. I can tell you from my own experience it’s worth it- I’ve left a secured, high paying position in which I could have done pretty much everything I liked (my Boss was located in a different continent and cared little about me and my whereabouts – oh, the wonders of the multinational corporate!), for a less secured one, which paid less in a much smaller company. Why? My first daughter was just born and I didn’t want to spend my days working is such environment- I knew this would reflect on my behavior at home and I was not going to let my company have such negative effect on my little one. Two and a half years later I can say it was worth it and I would done it again given the same circumstances.

And so should you. Don’t be a quixotic hero trying to fix what cannot be fixed. If you’ve identified the toxic vapors in the air, get a grip and evacuate.

 

 

The most overlooked skill required for successful networking

Networking does not come easily to everyone, that’s for sure. If you’re an introvert, it is definitely harder for you to be a good networker (https://owntrepreneurship.com/2015/07/20/growing-your-network-as-an-introvert/).

Your memory is your greatest asset when utilizing your network
Your memory is your greatest asset when utilizing your network

Or is it?

Because there’s one overlooked skill of networking. Sure, it helps that you are open, flamboyant or chatty. But that only gets you that far along. Because in order to be an exceptional connector you need to have a skill that is not immediately associated with communication.

That skill is memory.

Just being able to reach out to people and “connect” with them, means little if you don’t have the ability to catalogue them in your memory and being able to access it at any given time. And even that is not sufficient. You must remember when you’ve met, what he or she are doing, how they connect to others and how you can reach out to them if need be. In short, you need to be able to create and maintain a mental map of all your connections, preferably categorizes into sub-networks (people you went to school with, people you’ve worked with, friend of friends etc.). while this may sound trivial, it is very complicated when you are considering very large networks. Technology helps- LinkedIn contains a lot of information about the people you’re connected to (I have more than 6000 of them), and some people maintain excel sheets or even keep rolodexes filled with business cards with hand written notes about the person. But the really good connectors? They have it all in the most awesome data base the world has ever known- the human brain.

So if you feel the social aspect of networking is difficult- do not despair. Most chances are you can more than much up to it with good memory skills.