You see, to some people those in front, speaking to the audience are there just to teach; but in reality, besides trying to share what knowledge we have to share, we are also there to learn, to take in new points of view, new ideas and even to remember or re-learn some stuff we thought forgotten.
And that is precisely what happened to me last Saturday during my participation in the Merkado 2009 conference in Acapulco; by the end of the presentation, during the Q&As a person in the audience, with his question, reminded me that everything we do in life leaves a trail of who we are, in other words, it’s a reflection of us.
This is what happened; there was this marketing student who asked me something you might have asked yourselves before: “What’s going on with so many light or fast content that I can seek and copy effortlessly? I don’t have to read or research information anymore to do my school work, I can download it easily, no need to read books, I just read other people’s reviews and I only write shallow stuff on twitter and other networks. What are you going to do avoid that this so called age of conversation that you just mentioned in your keynote, turns in to the age of Bob Sponge?”.
The first thing that came to mind and jumped out of my mouth was to explain to him how, back when I studied my BA in communication sciences, fifteen years ago, the question being asked was how to deal with all the violent and erotic content that was being distributed in mass media, specially on TV; and how the answer was as passive as the action it proposed: “Turn the TV off or change the channel”. Did it solve the problem? No. But at least it gave you an easy way out.
However, I said to the person who made the question, todays interactive media allows us to be a whole lot more active than traditional media like TV ever could.
Today, we do not have to accept a simple “push the off button” answer. Today we can make sure that not only we consume the content we believe to be good enough for us and being more selective about it, but we also can or should, actually, contribute to the creation of content that really adds value to us and to the rest of people too.
Today, digital media opens the door to a real conversation and an authentic interaction.
Today one does not need a big editor to be a published author; it is enough to take the initiative to start writing and sharing through platforms like Blogger or Wordpress. You do not need a TV network to produce and distribute your video content; it is enough to arm yourself with a simple camcorder and a user channel in YouTube to share what you do with millions of people. And of course, today, you don’t need to have a radio station, you can simply use platforms like Audacity or Shoutcast to transmit live or create your own podcast too.
But above all, today we don’t have to consume the content that only a few decide to distribute or impose on the rest. Today we can choose what we want to see, when and where we want to do it too.
Therefore today it is no longer valid to say “What is somebody else going to to?” because today, more than ever before, the responsibility and ability to choose, to collaborate and to contribute is on our hands.
So next time you are tempted to think that the only content you have available today is Bob Sponge, remember that what you see is just a reflection of what you yourself have created.
What moves us? Do we work for money, for safety or because it is what we are supposed to do? Why do we help someone? Is it because we expect something in return or because we owe them?
Is there still people who do things just for the pleasure of doing them or to have a purpose in life, or because they believe passionately in an ideal or simply for the pleasure of helping someone?
This weekend I proved they still exist!
First an old lady who’s smiling face doesn’t hide her more than 70 years of age, tending a hotel souvenirs store (one of those stores that sell everything at a way higher price that anywhere else). She turns to say hi to a young woman who is searching for a simple bag to transport a couple of bottles that she and her husband just received as a gift. The store sells a few artisanal bags that will do the job. There are no other clients in the stores, it is empty. And yet, instead of jumping like a tiger that haunts his pray, the old woman reaches into her desk and pulls out a couple of paper bags (the kind she uses to pack the stuff she sells) and not only does she gladly gives these to the woman, she carefully wraps the bottles in paper as if she had sold them. Always with a smile that only someone with a clean conscience can smile.
Now imagine a waitress in a restaurant at 1:30 am who, when asked, does not reply a simple “we are out” but instead goes to get her own hand bag and out of it she pulls a bottle of anti-bacterial gel of hers that she gladly shares with her patrons.
Imagine now a group of college students who, with no extra grades and no economic compensation, enroll to help with the logistics of a local conference, donating their time and work as if they were actually getting paid.
And finally imagine a group of Young professionals who have a dream, not of getting rich fast and becoming famous, but a dream to help their city business grow. And armed only with that dream, they set out to create a marketing and advertising conference in a city that for years has had no interest in such a thing. And yet they do not do it because there is a business opportunity for the lack of competitors, or because they will fill up their buckets with money, actually they know they won’t. They do it because they know it is what needs to be done to promote their community and market.
None of these four cases earned more money with what they did. None will have, immediately at least, new clients or more revenue for doing what they did. But they all have the certainty of having done what was right, of having followed their own voice; and they have the satisfaction of doing and giving more, because they know that is the secret to becoming remarkable.
What a great example you’ve given me. Thanks Oaxaca. Thanks Fusionados 2009. Thanks for the free lessons. Thanks.
“We make a living with what we get, but we make a life by what we give”, used to say Sir Winston Churchill.
And last week we met a person who has no doubt make a great life with his deeds!
Vinton Cerf, known as one of the co-inventors of the Internet, its architecture and the TCP/IP protocols (which, for those of you who’ve never heard of these before, are the reason why you are on-line right now, reading this blog), was in Mexico City last week, sharing his points of view, opinions and knowledge of course, with government officials, private organizations, media and students.
And although it would be really interesting to share here, a summary of his comments regarding the nurturing of the Internet ecosystem in Mexico, the world and space (Yes, this gentleman already worked on the Internet Interplanetary system), I rather leave that to other media that does a great job explaining that and focus on 5 great life (and personal branding) lessons Vinton Cerf shared with us during his stay:
1. Despise all your achievements never forget to be humble and simple.
If I had to choose one trait to learn from this man, it would be his humbleness and simplicity.
This is a person who made history more than 40 years ago. Engineers and IT professionals all over the world study him in college and our kids will study him as part of the world history along with people like Alva Edison or Graham Bell; and yet he conducts himself with the simplicity and grace of a teacher trying to help his students learn.
2. Be aware of your context and keep yourself open to the opportunities life brings us every day.
How many chances of doing something great have we missed by undermining or underestimating our job? Vint shared with us: “ I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time…and ended up being a programmer at the UCLA “Network Measurement Center”, which in time took him to create the TCP/IP protocol.
3. Learn to take risks, even when you think you can’t.
Let’s be frank, How many times have not done something because we convinced ourselves that it can’t be done? Vint told us how he learned that “taking the risky option was always the most interesting option.”
4. Surround yourself of people who will challenge you to be better.
Don’t ever stay satisfied with a simple “I cannot do it…” because you already tried it once. Surround yourself of people who will push you to try it one more time!
5. Always be grateful and appreciate the opportunity to serve.
This was, after his humbleness, the most important lesson to me.
Let’s just stop complaining about how our work is not entirely what we expected or about how it is boring or about our clients who don’t understand our work.
The reality is that we all should be, like Vint said: “Grateful of being of service and appreciate the opportunity given to us to do so”.
I would love to summarize each experience Vint Cerf shared with us a few days ago, but that would not be enough, so instead why don’t you watch this conversation with Vinton Cerf, a great person grateful of being of service to human kind.
How many people have we judged wrong and how many friendships we gave away? How many opportunities have we let pass for fear of trying? How many yes have we missed because we fear a no? How many unanswered questions we want?
Each day that comes brings a new opportunity to connect, to learn, to grow, to help, and yet each day that passes we let opportunity go.
Thinking about all of this I could not help but remember the movie The bucket list. Remember it? The movie in which an old and sick Jack Nicholson accidentally meets an old and even sicker Morgan Freeman who in no time becomes his most endearing friend and together they write a list of things they want to get done before their sicknesses gets the better of them: travel to Tibet, visit the TajMahal and kiss the most beautiful girl they’ve ever seen.
My question though is, why do we have to wait until a grave situation comes along to decide to do what we’ve wanted to do for so long?
And maybe here someone will say to me: “well Efraín, seeing death so up close changes the way you see life”.
And I say: I doubt it. What’s more I’m sure that not everybody, not always anyway, is changed by such experiences.
A couple of years ago I wrote an old post in this blog where I explained how I am convinced that such thing almost never happens. A person changes his/her attitude towards life only when they are convinced of doing so, if not they simply don’t. I know.
I myself have experienced similar circumstances, both personally and with people I love, and those things didn’t seem to help make any changes.
So what made me change my attitude? Decision, conviction and a clear vision of how I wanted to live my life.
And so I think, do you really want to wait 1, 2, 20, 40 years to start living the life you want?
In his book “The 4-hour work week”, Tim Ferris, talks about how he under took the initiative of blending to important concepts – life balance and professional success – into one “Life Style Design”, with the basic premise that it is not necessary to wait for a special event to change our life or wait decades until we can have the time to do the things we like. And so he shares with us a series of recommendations, steps and resources we can use to actually start living our lives the way we want to today and not when we retire.
What’s more, in their recently launched book “Trust Agents”, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, take Tim’s idea and explain how technology today allows us to, as they call it in their book, create our own game.
Both books are a really great must read, and even though both titles have been quite inspiring for me, I do not pretend to do such a good job convincing you to do such a radical change in one day as they do.
That said, I do want to present you with an idea that just may be as important as the two prior ones, yet might be easier to start: Give yourself a chance.
Give yourself a chance to think, to ask, to give, to teach, to learn, to share, to seek. Award yourself the possibility to do something else, to travel, to accept help and to give help, to meet people and not judge them. Each and every day give yourself a chance to live your life a little more like you want to live it.
As Robin Sharma says, the longest of trips begins with the first step, and every big victory is formed of smaller daily achievements we conquer step by step, day by day.
So, what chance will you give yourself today?
The account executives of today will be the directors of tomorrow…only in a market and in a moment like the one we are living in, this is happening a little too literal.
The sudden change in the economy, the new skills required by technological advancement, the high employees rotation in the work force, the new opportunities and the lack of these too, are some of the factors that have caused that a lot of people who still need to accumulate experience, knowledge, practices and maturity are the ones occupying some positions that up until a few years ago where occupied by professional with a great background in their professional careers. And both organizations and individuals need to be accounted for this.
On one side, organizations, looking for ways to cut down costs have been capable even of assigning the responsibilities that used to belong to a professional with a lot of experience, seniority, and of course, a big salary, to young professionals who are just starting their careers. And on the other hand, these youngsters, who grew up in the era of “instantaneous” that their careers to be exactly that: “instantaneous”. They know that, because of the resources and tools they have at hand they can manage to take on a new position, even if it is just to have a new title.
Without realizing it, the companies that accept and promote this practice and suddenly wake up one day to an enterprise run fully by executive directors…I mean account executives who due to the circumstances became directors. And yes, the situation, almost automatically becomes a time bomb for both the company and the employee. Clients start to complain and instead of growing their business they threaten to take it away. Vendors stop providing their services for lack of payment; and stock holders start to question why there has not been any significant revenue in the quarter. The situation turns into crisis and the only escape valve is the let the new executive director leave.
So now we have a burned out, exhausted and unemployed ex executive director who has to look for a new job, maybe in his original position and hopeful that he’ll get promoted again really soon.
So next time you find yourself in a similar situation take a breather, don’t run just to run.
Analyze the situation; ask yourself if you really are prepared to assume the new position.
I am not saying that you should let opportunity pass, but rather that you need to be more aware of the decision you are about to make.
Give an honest answer to yourself: do you already know what you need to know? Have enough experience? Are you emotionally ready for the challenges that will come with the new job?
Be aware of the impact it will have in every aspect of your life and make sure you are willing to make the sacrifices that it will require of you.
Have a very clear vision of the skills you are already bringing to the table and humbly run an inventory on the new ones you will need to develop and master and how long will it take you to do so.
Don’t just take a new job because of the title in your business card or because you want more money.
Take it because you really are convinced that you can add more value through it.
And at the same time we see these other people too, just as often as the others, and with these, the company, the job, title or income does not matter either.
They interact with each other every single day, they work together, share office space, have lunch together and some even went to school together, and although some of them come also from very contrasting backgrounds they spend more time with each other than with their own families.
The ones from the first group become best friends with members from their group and from the other one as well. Those from the second one, doesn’t even become friends with their own group members.
At first glance they all are the same professionals we see every day at work, but we need only to pay a little more attention to realize one thing that distinguishes them from one another: some smile others don’t.
The folks in the first group, even though they are still in their daily crusades and know that they still have a lot of ground to cover, are content with their achievements and happy with their job. The do what they like and like what they do.
And no! What makes a person belong to one group or the other is not their title or their compensation plan.
So no, title and comp plan does not have anything to do with to which group we belong to.
So, what exactly defines to which group we belong to?
From my personal point of view, people who belong to the second group, the always insatisfied and angry one, do not have a clearly drawn career plan and have no idea as to where they are going, or even worse they do have a very specific career plan which they follow to the letter.
Now, in the first group, the one where folks are happy and content, people also start their career as an assistant, get promoted to coordinator, then to supervisor, manager, and also with time, a litter luck too and an unconditional commitment too, the also become the very important executives they are today. Only the people in this group are not just committed to their career plan, rather they understand that this is just another building block of a much bigger plan: their life plan.
These people do not complain because things are not going just as they would like and when facing the same challenges and bumps we all face, they always keep in mind one thing: this is just another step we need to take to get to where we want to go.These folks don’t get to the highest hierarchy in the organization thinking they are better than all the rest or not knowing what to do once they are there; they do not stay there just staring at their success to then fall. They get to where they want to get, no matter whether that is the biggest corner office in the building, owning their dance school, being part of a symphonic orchestra or opening a bar on the beach; because they know that getting there is part of their plan. Not their career plan but the plan of how they want to lead their life.
So now only one question remains: To which group do you want to belong?