Entries in Networking (11)
In the midst of getting back from Bangkok, heading to Las Vegas and officially launching her new book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, Dorie Clark took the time to guest post! As I mentioned in my review, this is a Must Read book for anyone at any stage in their career. Please pay it forward and buy a copy for yourself and one to give away!
As a leader, it’s painfully easy to be misinterpreted. Some people aren’t paying that close attention to you; they’ll take a few impressions and haphazardly fill in the blanks. Others may overanalyze or try to “read tea leaves” that may not even exist. If you want your message to get out intact – whether it’s about who you are as a leader, or the vision you have for your company – you need take a step too few executives bother to do: create your leadership narrative.
As I recount in my new book from Harvard Business Review Press, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, when Toby Johnson graduated from West Point, her first job out of college was the furthest thing possible from entry-level paper-pushing: she became an Apache helicopter pilot, the only woman in a class of 30 trainees. Her performance – over seven years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq - won raves. She was lauded by her supervisors and was even featured in an Army advertising campaign. But when she decided to leave the military to attend business school, she faced one big disadvantage compared to her classmates, many of whom entered with corporate experience: “The only big organization I’d ever worked for was the United States Army.”
So how do you compete for job offers with talented peers who have clear, compelling stories to tell about their time in the corporate world? After all, flying a helicopter may not seem directly relevant to corporate success. Toby knew the lessons were transferable, but she’d have to connect the dots for potential employers. Her mission was to create a narrative that both made sense and captivated them. “I used my military experience as an advantage,” she says.
She had to craft a story that made sense to skeptical hiring managers, stressing the management experience she’d gained in the military (at 24 years old, she was in charge of eight $30 million Apache helicopters, plus the 30 people who managed them) and the rapid learning made possible by her early leadership experience. Many of her peers, trying management out for the first time, wouldn’t yet have found their unique style – and could make some costly mistakes in the interim.
In other words, Toby took charge of her story and ensured that what was clear to her (she’s building on her management and leadership experience and taking it to a new arena) was also understandable to others (who might otherwise question what a helicopter pilot could bring to a corporation). Her strategy worked; today, she’s a fast-rising executive at a multinational consumer goods company.
Similarly, all executives need to think through fundamental narrative questions, for themselves and their companies: where did we start, where are we going, and how are the lessons we learned making a difference in that journey?
You don’t have to have a leadership narrative; plenty of executives and companies get by without one. But what they’re missing is the sense of meaning a narrative can bring. It shows how our past, present, and future connect – an arc that makes sense of everything we’ve experienced before. And perhaps the most inspiring and comforting message a leader can give is that our past hasn’t been for naught; the lessons we’ve learned can help us find the way forward.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the newly released Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant and speaker who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
We are in an age of immense disruption: industries, societal codes, politics, demographics, you name it. If we are going to handle this continually changing the world, we have to adapt ourselves. All we can really control is how we react, and more importantly, pro-act to our world. While we should hold our principles and values dear, we need to reinvent the how, where, and why we live those out. Grateful to call her a friend, Dorie Clark’s new book, “Reinventing You” is an indispensible guide to just that – reinventing ourselves, continually, to adapt to and thrive in the 21st century. Many of you may familiar with Dorie’s view on the subject through her Forbes and Harvard Business Review blog posts.
Dorie’s book is a practical, applicable, actionable guide on how we can reinvent our role in the world, and hence our impact. One of the powerful aspects of the book is Dorie’s ability to go from very specific, tactical details on how to network and reach out to others (e.g., when to call, how to find out nicknames, etc.) to more the more strategic issues around why we need to reinvent ourselves in the first place. Dorie gives us very actionable advice on how to identify our starting point, why we are starting from there and then discovering possible destinations. She continues with a ‘how to’ plan that is so easy to follow and execute on our own.
Since reinventing ourselves can be daunting, Dorie uses a ‘lean startup’ approach to help us experiment and prototype (as she says, “test drive”) our path and develop the skills we might need. As someone who loves mentoring, and being mentored, her chapter dedicated to finding and learning from a mentor hit home. Reinventing You shows us how to find our value, communicate our value and continue enhancing our value to others.
Dorie’s book is a much-needed guide among the noise of books on career development, personal development and ‘how to’. This is a book of truth and practical advice, based on Dorie’s experiences and those of others she shares in the book. It is a book leaders and managers should share with their people and encourage and support them in pursuing. It is a book students in college should read as they think about what they may want to do. It is a book even those of us fully satisfied and complete in our current positions should read. It is a book you will read, mark, re-read and want to loan out to others, so buy a few copies to give away – because paying it forward is part of the book!
I met Sebastian Olma of Serendipity Lab through my friend Joe Pine. Yes, you can orchestrate serendipity!! Sebastian, an organization hacker, is the author of The Serendipity Machine - the inspiring story of the highly innovative, international coworking network Seats2meet.com. Sebastian and his partner Yulia Kryazheva travelled to many of the company’s locations worldwide (85+) to talk to stakeholders involved in the mesh on which the company is thriving. This is a fabulous story - let's make it work here!
Transforming your Business into a Serendipity Machine: The Case of Seats2meet.com
Step 1: Opening up
About 5 years ago, a then rather traditional Dutch meeting business started to scan its environment for innovation stimuli when it noticed a new group of professionals the company had never really dealt with before: independent professionals, aka knowmads, digital bohemians, free agents and so on. Mariëlle Sijgers and Ronald van den Hoff, owners of the company that was to become Seats2meet.com, knew instantly that they wanted this dynamic new breed of professionals within their company but weren’t entirely sure how they should go about it. So they did something that is actually against the law of business: they put a table into their lounge and invited them in free of charge. Van den Hoff recalls:
“In the beginning, we had this one table with 20 seats. I mean, we thought that would be the size of this thing, the number of people we could perhaps expect. And we didn’t want to register them or anything, or make them pay for their lunch. We just thought it would be great to have this new group of independent professionals around, give them some space to work and connect, and get some liveliness into those otherwise empty spaces in return… But we were literally overrun by them.”
By opening its lounge to the growing network of independent professionals, Seats2meet.com began to build an interface between its business and the wealth of social networks. The company understood that having 100 people sitting in your lounge tweeting, posting, texting and emailing about how great your space is is priceless. The power of viral marketing makes it sensible for Seats2meet.com to provide workspaces without asking for financial compensation.
Of course, this strategy only works because Seats2meet.com also offers a premium service: its meeting and office spaces. In the Seats2meet.com flagship location in Utrecht, for instance, the viral buzz in the open lounge leads to an average 95 per cent utilization of the meeting spaces. So formally, Seats2meet.com has created a freemium model that enables it to share a substantial portion of its physical assets with the growing number of independent professionals on a noncommercial basis. In return, they were able to get rid of their marketing department.
Step 2: Inventing a Currency
The next step was to use to find a way of formalizing the exchange taking place in the lounge. So Seats2meet.com invented a currency for nonmonetary, nontransactional exchange, aptly calling it social capital. What Seats2meet.com accepts as a payment for the use of its open lounges is simply the adoption of a particular attitude. It is an attitude of openness and sharing that anyone operating within a social network needs to have anyway.
For this purpose, Seats2meet.com requires its users to register via its app or website before they book a workspace. Each prospective user is asked to include a photo (or a hookup with his or her Twitter and/or LinkedIn account) and specify his or her particular skills and expertise. Every time a user books a workspace, he or she signs an agreement stating:
“As you are not paying with money for your workspace, we expect you to pay with social capital: to be open to unexpected and valuable encounters and to share your knowledge and talents!”
Clearly, paying with social capital doesn’t exclusively mean paying Seats2meet.com. It also means paying tribute to the social network physically present at the location by contributing to its strength and purpose. At Seats2meet.com, they have a term for this: “serendipity.” In the Seats2meet.com context, serendipity means the increased likelihood of an encounter that will add value to a user’s entrepreneurial activity. The company understands it as the fabric out of which value is created in the network economy. Serendipity is fed by the constant exchange of social capital. Seats2meet.com makes an enormous effort to develop the best technology available to support this serendipity. This is why it asks users to sign in to the system: doing so allows them to see the current state of the Seats2meet.com social network.
This is done via a real-time community dashboard, which lists the registered users and organizes their skills in a cloud. This enables the user to decide on the best Seats2meet.com location based on the skills of people available at each. A dashboard screen on the wall is also an integral part of every Seats2meet.com location, giving users the opportunity to always see who is present at every site. A web designer we met in the workspace at Utrecht railway station says, “This is a great tool! I always use it to Google who’s around before I start working.” For other users, it serves as a contingency tool, something they can use “to always find an accountant or a developer in case of emergency.”
Whatever its different modes of application might be, the dashboard screen visualizes the Seats2meet.com network at any given time, turning the open lounge into a veritable serendipity machine. As soon as one enters a Seats2meet.com open lounge, one is able to see the skills and competencies of everyone present at the push of a button.
Step 3: Building a Mesh
By combining the traditional logic of money capital with the new logic of social capital Seats2meet.com has not just created a mutually beneficial interface between those worlds. The company has also created a platform for new kinds of value networks that together are co-creating a new economic playing field. There is indeed a “mesh” that has formed around Seats2meet.com, i.e., a constellation of networks of professionals forming a dynamic collective intelligence to which everyone contributes meaningfully in his or her own way. The mesh dynamically connects networks, raising their capacity exponentially. This is not your relatively static Facebook or LinkedIn group: people come and go all the time; networks connect, disconnect, and reconnect. Yet the mesh as an ecosphere remains intrinsically stable; it evolves, and this is the condition for its survival.
In mesh networks, people act as sovereign “nodes,” deciding for themselves whether or not to share information with other networks. Therefore, the networks themselves become extraordinarily dynamic and flow into each other, forming a mesh. This makes it difficult to determine the exact place of value creation within the mesh. It no longer happens between four walls under a single roof in a building with the company’s name on it. The actual site of value creation has, in fact, become a non-space, a mesh of distributed relations waiting to be engaged by an organization in order to do what the mesh does best: create value.
The future will belong to organizations that embed themselves within their “own” mesh. You cannot, of course, own or control a mesh. However, it is possible for an organization to turn itself into a serendipity machine by connecting to and sharing resources with potential stakeholders. This is the way to co-create a mesh, and the only way to construct a resilient guarantor of future value creation.