Making the Right Connections

Greetings. Making the right connections is essential to our business and personal success. In fact, it is probably much more important than the classes we took in school, the grades we earned, the first jobs that we held, or the specific expertise we developed along the way. Not that classes, grades, working hard, and gaining knowledge and experience aren’t important. But in today’s fast-paced world, who you know—or more appropriately, who you could know—turns out to be vital to making things happen. Connections create opportunities. And the right connections can open doors that we would have trouble opening on our own, or might not even know existed.

One could also make the case that achieving success is harder for some people simply because they lack access to the right connections, not because they lack the talent, drive, grit, or ingenuity to accomplish great things.

To illustrate this point, I would like to share a short video about a young woman named Malaysha White who is about to graduate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with a degree in computer and information sciences. I met Malaysha after getting a call from my sister Sandy, who wondered if I might have any connections with companies looking to hire interns in something related to computer science. I should note that Sandy came into Malaysha’s life as the Director of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program—a pioneering program that creates exciting opportunities for undergraduates, with a focus on students from diverse backgrounds, to work on research projects in science, technology, and a range of other fields.

During the weeks that followed, I called Malaysha several times to build a bond and learn about her interests, talents, hopes, concerns, and the areas in which she might need a bit of additional support and encouragement. I also learned about all of the connections she had already made and how this network of devoted people had helped her to navigate the journey from foster care to academic success at a great but challenging university. I then connected her with a colleague at Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest technology companies…and the rest, you might say, is history (of the somewhat recent variety).

As you watch the video I would love you to think about the remarkable potential in everyone. I would also love you to think about your own ability to make the right connections and be part of the puzzle for someone in your community or from a high school, college, or university you went to or are committed to. Someone filled with promise who might simply lack access to the right connections.

http://amp.wxyz.com/2566613423/u-of-m-senior-who-spent-time-in-foster-care-realizes-her-college-dream.html

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All of us have the ability to open doors to people, places, companies, organizations, and possibilities. Connections that can make a compelling difference for everyone involved. And it is often simpler and way more rewarding than we might imagine.

Cheers!

The Power of Purpose

Greetings. In the last few years, I have become enamored with Lush Cosmetics—a British company that sells intriguingly fragrant soap that looks like cheese. Not only have I become a reliable customer for their “fresh and handmade” personal care products, but I also bring groups of business leaders to visit their stores here in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and even Kuala Lumpur. Visits intended to give leaders from a wide range of industries a sense of what it takes to create a business that is loved and respected by almost all of its employees and customers. Granted, many of its customers are relying on their parents to buy their soaps, lotions, perfumes, shampoos, bath bombs, and other products but that’s a different story. What interests me most is the “power of purpose” in this global company that is widely regarded as being innovative, caring, collaborative, customer-centric, socially and environmentally responsible, and successful.

Let’s face it, having a clear and compelling sense of purpose is vital to business success—especially today. Yet too many companies fail or neglect to make clear why they really matter, the core purpose they are trying to achieve, and the role that the folks who work there and the folks who buy from them play in making important things happen. At Lush, they wear their purpose on the walls of their stores and even in the ink that adorns some of their employees. It is a purpose that is all about products that are natural, good for you, not tested on animals, and good for the planet. All made by real people whose pictures and names appear on every package, unless a product comes without a package as a way to reduce the use of unnecessary material that is likely to end up in landfills. And purchased by customers who care about the products they buy and use. It is also a purpose that inspires the company  to invest a significant amount of its proceeds to support nonprofit organizations around the world that are working to improve the lives of children and low-income communities, and the welfare of animals—organizations recommended by employees.

All of which begs the questions:

“What is your purpose as a company, organization, or individual?”

“Is your purpose something that inspires all of your employees, customers, and stakeholders to be passionate and knowledgeable advocates for your brand?” and

“What value do you really provide?”

If your purpose is not as clear or compelling as it could be, you might want to take a field trip to your nearest Lush shop where the colors are intense, the fragrances are strong, everything can be sampled, customers are loyal, employees are engaged, turnover is low, the sense of purpose is everywhere, and the soap looks good enough to taste.

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Cheers!

The Power of Distraction

Greetings. For most of the past twelve months I have allowed myself to be distracted. Wandering around looking for new ideas and possibilities to share with our customers, imagining new ways to unlock the genius in all of the people we work with, exploring new topics for my next book, learning about the work of innovative nonprofit organizations as I try to find the right new opportunities to volunteer, and spending a lot of time thinking about creative approaches to some important challenges that our family (and most families) seem to face. Doing my best to be distracted as I acknowledge the importance of innovation in every aspect of life. Because its hard to make progress if we are not moving forward, stretching our thinking in new ways, and being different in ways that matter. And the best way to do this is by being distracted and wandering around in a world filled with ideas, insights, energy, and sparks of inspiration.

Unfortunately, most companies and organizations think that innovation is all about looking inward rather than looking out. When faced with the need to solve a pressing challenge or to seize a great opportunity, they quickly decide to hold a “retreat”…a well-intentioned but slightly absurd activity that brings together a bunch of their smartest people to brainstorm in relative isolation. Hunkering down at a remote conference center or in a very private conference room they do everything possible to avoid being distracted, as though distraction is the real obstacle to innovation and progress.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Times Square

In “The Necessity of Strangers” I shared a simple notion that I call the 99 Percent Rule. It states that 99 percent of all new ideas are based on an idea or practice that someone or something else has already had. And it suggests that instead of hiding, we are more likely to create breakthroughs by engaging the world head on. Instead of retreating, we should be regularly exploring. Getting out and looking for the brilliant ideas of others, around the corner and around the globe. Instead of relying on our internal knowledge and expertise we should be casting a much wider net.  Then using the most brilliant ideas of others as a starting point for reimagining our businesses and industries in fresh and more compelling ways.

In today’s and tomorrow’s economy, the folks who are easily and purposefully distracted are likely to be the ones who win.

Cheers!

To a New Year of Dreams and Dreamers

Greetings. After a bit of a sabbatical from blogging, I am delighted to be back with a new sense of energy and focus about writing and business. In addition to dealing with a couple of pressing family matters, I have spent the past nine months continuing to think about the importance–or should I say the “necessity”–of strangers, the real keys to unlocking the genius that exists in everyone in our companies and organizations, and the value of stretching our thinking in order to live lives of meaning and make a real difference in the world around us. I have also been thinking about the value of dreams and why daring ourselves and those around us to dream is a vital ingredient in innovation and success.

As I begin to write a new book about how we can all discover and leverage our greatest abilities in today’s fast-paced economy, I am inspired by people from all different backgrounds and walks of life who dared to dream about what could be possible. The brothers Wright from Dayton, Ohio, who turned their skill as bicycle mechanics into a compelling passion for empowering humans to fly. Martine Rothblatt, a renowned telecommunications entrepreneur in Silver Spring, Maryland, who changed fields in the middle of a remarkable career in order to find a cure for her daughter’s seemingly incurable respiratory disease. In the process, she created one of America’s most successful biotech companies. Shahid Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan who bought a small auto parts supplier named Flex-N-Gate from his employer and through hard work, vision, and innovation turned it into a global company with more than 24,000 employees based in Warren, Michigan. It is worth noting that he is also the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League.

The list of people who dreamed about a different and better life and world is one of my favorite lists, and a constant inspiration to continue our work with our customers and in the local community. Work that we hope inspires people discover their own potential and imagine what is possible. Because it turns out that there are powerful and important dreams in all of us. Yet sadly, too many people lack the opportunity to make their dreams come true. People struggling to simply get by. People stuck in cities and towns that have been hit hardest by economic and technological change. People fleeing countries devastated by natural, economic, or political disasters. People discouraged from believing in themselves and their ideas. People who lack the financial resources or legal status to continue their educations in search of a better life.

Dreamers of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Dreamers with the promise to innovate and contribute in so many different ways if simply given the chance.

Throughout our history America has, at its best, been a place to hope and dream. Which makes it especially troubling to see how quickly we have changed our view of people, opportunity, immigrants, equality, and what is right. Throughout our history America has, at its best, been a place where anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules had a chance to make a meaningful life or even make it big. Which makes it especially troubling to see how quickly we have changed the rules to limit so many of our greatest assets from dreaming because of fear, ignorance, politics, or racism. Let’s hope that this is simply a blip–and a call to action–on the road to being more caring, enlightened, and prosperous. And let’s all commit during the year ahead, beginning with this week when we pause to honor the legacy of Dr. King, to dream dreams of kindness, innovation, and growth, and to support everyone among us who dreams of making a difference in our workplaces and communities.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15:  Dozens of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally outside of  Trump Tower along Fifth Avenue on August 15, 2017 in New York City. The activists were rallying on the five-year anniversary of President Obama's executive order, DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Security throughout the area is high with President Donald Trump in residency at the tower, his first visit back to his apartment since his inauguration. Numerous protests and extensive road closures are planned for the area.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We succeed in business and in life when we dare to dream, and when we nurture the dreams in those around us.

Cheers!

New Insights on Innovation and Creativity

Greetings. Looking for new ideas and insights on innovation and creativity? If so, the “Innovation & Creativity Summit 2017” might be a valuable (and free) resource. Organized by UK consultant Nick Skillicorn, the Summit is a collection of 45 thoughtful conversations with global innovation leaders…each with their own unique perspective on how to unlock brilliant ideas and bring them to market successfully.

Let’s face it, innovation is essential if our companies and organizations are to remain vibrant and relevant. But it is also hard to do, especially in established companies and organizations. In fact, more than 90% of all new ideas fail. Not only that, recent studies have shown that most people do not consider themselves to be creative and that people are becoming less creative than they were only a couple of decades ago. Kind of a scary thought given all of the tools, resources, and technology at our disposal. But you and your colleagues can improve the odds of innovation success dramatically…or at least do a better job of picking opportunities…by understanding how the best ideas actually happen, how to rediscover your own innate creativity, and by learning from others who have cracked the code.

Here is a short introductory video that will give you a better sense of what the Summit is all about in case it might be of interest…

And in the interest of full disclosure, I am glad to say that I am part of this online event, and that I will be sharing some of my latest ideas on the necessity of strangers, the “99% rule,” and the power of exploring the world around us in order to discover new connections that can spark our best thinking.

In terms of logistics, the Summit will run from April 2nd to April 11th, and each of the 45 sessions will be available at no cost for three of those days. My session will be up and running (for free) from April 3rd through April 5th. And once you sign up, you will get a schedule with all of the sessions and topics. You will also have the option of purchasing unlimited access to all of the sessions until the end of time, or at least some date in the distant future, at what appears to be a pretty darn reasonable price. And if you decide to watch my session, I would welcome your feedback and your latest thinking about innovation as I am continually trying to get way smarter.

Cheers!