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
 

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!!!

Why Higher Ed Needs Flying Lessons

Anita Verna Crofts is a Flight Instructor at the University of Washington.  © Tony Asgari PhotographyYes, you read that correctly. She wrote this post last year and it's only appropriate to repost as we start the new academic year.  Anita is one amazing lady who is taking education to new heights - Flying Lessons. There is hope for higher-ed!  Thank you Anita! Come meet her at BIF-10!!

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The University of Washington Announces Flying Lessons

I have never flown a plane or sat in a flight simulator, but I’ve been teaching people how to fly for years. This spring the Department of Communication at the University of Washington made it official by naming me their Flight Instructor.

Everyone has wings. Sometimes you need to be reminded to use them.

Choosing to be named the Flight Instructor reflected my approach to teaching, which encourages students to lead and soar higher than they ever imagined possible, inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to the classes I teach, my punch card includes:

  • Encouraging students to see their education as an opportunity to build knowledge and relationships that spread their wings. A degree isn’t just about making the grade, it’s about making a network that lasts a lifetime.
  • Reminding students, faculty, and staff to seek the perspective that comes with altitude gain. The broader landscape looks different and reveals patterns that are invisible from the ground.
  • Supporting faculty efforts to move students from co-piloting planes to taking over the controls themselves. Everyone has the ability to pilot their own plane.
  • Championing opportunities for students to lead in class, on campus, and in the community. The sky’s the limit.

© Tony Asgari PhotographyThe vision for my role reflects the entrepreneurial instincts of the Communication Leadership graduate program, where I teach and serve as Associate Director, and the department as a whole. Our program houses two unique degrees in digital media and community/networks, both aimed at creatives who are on the frontlines of shaping superb communication strategies through story-driven content, audience engagement, and insightful analytics. The freedom faculty, staff, and students enjoy to dream, build, and grow is my fuel.

As the Flight Instructor, I help students navigate takeoffs, weather turbulence, and stick their landings. Last week an incoming student tweeted to me, “I would love to talk to you about my flight plan.”

Buckle up. It’s time for takeoff.

Fly the friendly skies with Anita on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and avcrofts.com.