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Creative encouragement and following passion

Posted: - Modified: | life, passion

Over lunch at the Craft Burger at Yonge and Bloor, Stephen Brickell and David Ing gave me advice about life, careers, and all sorts of other great things. (I’m such a lucky newbie!) Here’s a story from that conversation that I knew I just had to share with others.

Photo (c) 2007 grendelkhan (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License)

Stephen told me about the advice he had recently given Philip, his 18-year-old son. Philip had initially thought of taking engineering in university, probably because that was what he felt his parents wanted him to do. Stephen and his wife reminded their son that while they were happy to give advice, it was ultimately Philip’s decision, and he should take full responsibility for it. Stephen also shared how people who find and follow their passion end up doing much better than people who just focus on the money.

After a lot of consideration, Philip realized that he was really interested in horticulture. He worried that he’d regret taking horticulture instead of a more promising (and lucrative) career. What if he made a mistake and it wasn’t his passion after all? He didn’t feel that it wasn’t a university-type course, and he knew that his parents strongly wanted him to go to university.

Stephen told him that with global warming and other changes, food is going to become even more important – and an expertise in horticulture could very well be a way to make money. He also encouraged Philip to keep an eye out for opportunities to connect studies, entrepreneurship, and other things. For example, Philip enjoyed the culinary arts course he took in high school, and he could combine that with horticulture and entrepreneurship by growing restaurant-quality herbs in a greenhouse.

What I liked was the creative encouragement that Stephen gave. We’ve all heard advice to “do what you love and the money will follow,” but Stephen went one step further and helped Philip imagine concrete ways to make money doing what he loves.

What if Philip made a mistake and horticulture wasn’t what he really loved to do? Stephen reassured him that even if it was a perfect fit for him now, there’s still a chance that he’ll change his mind, grow out of it, or discover something new–and that’s okay. When that happens, Philip can just figure things out again. (And he might be surprised at how much of his skills he can transfer over to whatever new field he becomes interested in!)

I liked the way that Stephen made it clear that it’s okay not to figure everything out the first time around, and that life is about continuous learning.

What about university? Stephen said that he wanted his son to attend university because it would expand his mind. That said, Philip could go to university later, or take a business degree, or learn about all of these things later. Horticulture seemed to be a better fit at the moment, and the credits that Philip could earn there would be recognized by partner schools.

I liked the way that they had clearly thought out reasons for university, but they weren’t tied to the convention of university immediately after high school.

I’m glad Stephen shared that story with me. I asked him right away if I could share it with others, and he was happy to agree. There are a lot of interesting things in that story that I’d like to learn how to do well, particularly when it comes to encouraging others to find their passions and create opportunities.

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Let’s talk about passion

| connecting, passion

Of all the small-talk questions people usually ask, the one I avoid asking is “What do you do?” I’m not interested in people’s job titles, which rarely lead to conversations. You know how it goes: “What do you do?” “I’m an IT consultant.” “Oh.” If you’re particularly diligent, you might ask a number of questions like “What kind of consulting?” “Software.” It’s like pulling teeth, and it doesn’t tell me anything about what lights people up.

When people ask me, “What do you do?”, I often answer that with something along the lines of “My passion is helping people connect and collaborate,” followed by a brief description of what I do and maybe a recent story showing how I work.

I picked up that tip from Make Your Contacts Count, where the authors advised people to introduce themselves using the “best-test” structure: teach people what you’re best at, and show them a test of that.

But I usually like preempting the question of “What do you do?” with a question of my own: “What’s your passion?” That makes people stop and think. If I know someone already, I ask, “What have you been excited about lately?” It’s much better than “How are you?” because the other person actually thinks about the answer instead of just tossing off the customary “Good. How are you?”

Mireille Massue sent me this link to 25 Passion-Finding Questions to Invite Someone to Talk about What They Love. The list has lots of variants on the questions I like asking. Pick a couple of those questions and use them in your next conversation, and see how much more interesting things get!

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One of Canada’s Most Influential Women in Social Media?

Posted: - Modified: | canada, life, passion, reflection, social, web2.0

I’ve been nominated as one of Canada’s Most Influential Women in Social Media in a poll run by Dave Forde, whom I know from the Toronto technology scene. It’s a little odd thinking about that, because I’m nowhere near the likes of Amber MacArthur (popular geek television / videocasting personality), Leesa Barnes (who made it onto a worldwide list of female social media luminaries), and Sandy Kemsley (prolific Enterprise 2.0 blogger well-known for her comprehensive live-blogged conference notes). Me? I’m a recent hire figuring things out and posting notes along the way. =)

I’ve stumbled across influence by being in the right place at the right time, maybe. My story is now woven into IBM’s story about social media, and we’re helping other large companies figure things out as well. I’ve given numerous presentations helping people figure out what Web 2.0 means for them and for their company, facilitated workshops for generating, developing and prioritizing initiatives, and done a fair bit of hand-holding to get people over their concerns. All of that is pretty cool, come to think of it, but what I’d like to do is make it possible for other people to do even cooler things.

Thinking about this poll on Canada’s most influential women in social media, I realized that I didn’t consider myself any way equal to all these role models I have here and around the world. =) I also realized that I had a pretty good idea of a future me that would feel perhaps at home in that list. So here’s what I think “influential” looks like for me:

  • I would organize regular events that brought together interesting people and helped people connect. These events would include workshops on social networking, storytelling and presentations, quarter-life crises, lifehacking and productivity, happiness, geek growth, personal finance, and other topics I’m interested in or passionate about.
  • I would also build a bit of infrastructure that would help transform the networking aspects of these events: sign-up pages with more details, aggregators to bring together people’s blog posts, business card prints and other in-person networking aids, active matchmaking both online and offline, and so on.
  • I would be one of those people that people mention their projects and ideas to in the off chance that I could recommend people to talk to, books to read, and sites to check out–because I would. =) In order to do this, I’d find ways to more effectively capture information to support a somewhat fuzzy associative memory. (It’s _so_ frustrating to know that you’ve seen something before that people will like, but not be able to find it again!)
  • I would help lots of people to figure out what their passion is, deepen their skills, and share the results with lots of people through presentations, new and existing businesses, and other good things. I’d do that by asking people, helping them connect and make things happen, and helping them find a forum or opportunity where they can talk to other people.
  • I would have a big archive of things I’ve thought about and shared with others so that I can pull useful resources out and give them to people.
  • I would build systems to make it possible for other people to do this kind of awesomeness as well. =)

So that’s what “influential” looks like to me. I’m not there yet, but I think I can get there. =) I can learn how to hold external events, and gradually get into the swing of it. I can keep blogging and summarizing interesting resources, gradually refining my collection of resources. I can keep tweaking my addressbook, and someday I’ll build systems to help other people try this out. =)

Stay tuned.

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On Changing the World

| life, passion

Like Daniel at Young and Frugal, I am going to change the world.

I’m changing it already, and as I grow, I’ll do better and better. I won’t always succeed, but I’ll always learn. I’ll get better and better at finding better and better fits between what I’m passionate about, what I’m good at, and what the world needs.

It’s not because I can be anything I want to be, but because I’m becoming more of who I am. Let’s face it: I’m unlikely to become an Olympic swimming champion or the CEO of a wildly successful social networking platform. But there’s so much I can do right now, and there’s so much I want to grow into in the future.

There are amazing people around me who encourage me to keep following my passion, keep exploring new areas. They know you can’t train people to do what I do, and that I create a lot of value you can’t put into a job description. If people around me weren’t this supportive, I’d just look for a different environment. I would keep following my passions, because I can’t imagine living any other way.

I have what-am-I-doing moments. I have do-I-really-have-to-do-this moments. I have just-get-me-through-this-day moments. But I also have I-totally-rock moments and I-helped-someone-else-totally-rock moments, and I’m going to have more of those.

When people tell me I’m special, I tell them that I’m just like they are, and I ask them what it would take for them to live like I do. What would it take for people to live with passion and joy?

I’m Sacha Chua, and this is not just about Generation Y. =)

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To dream the impersonal dream

| entrepreneurship, passion

I’ve been trying to find words to explain what it’s like wanting to make things happen, how it’s not about me but rather about the possibilities I see. One of the books I just picked up from a library has a good quote about it:

Entrepreneurship is nothing about the one who creates a thing and everything about the one who consumes the thing. Entrepreneurs don’t care about the thing they create, in and of itself (as much as they may love what they produce or do). They care about creating it because of the impact it can have on someone else. It’s about that thing as an answer to a question others have long ago stopped asking, or long before they even consider the possibility of it changing for them. (p.50)

And another snippet:

Unless your idea for a business exceeds anything you have ever imagined doing before, is bigger than anything you have believed yourself capable of before this moment, has the potential of transforming a large enough number of people’s lives in the world to make a huge difference in how the world works, and challenges you sufficiently to risk everything you have to make it a reality, don’t do it.

Just don’t do it, dear reader, because it will likely disappoint you in too many ways to mention.  Don’t do it unless you’re ready to rumble.  Don’t do it unless you can put all your fears behind you. Don’t do it unless the pain of not doing it will exceed the probable pain of doing it by a factor of ten.  Don’t to it, because it’s not a game one plays casually.  Don’t do it, because it will confound you, confuse you, threaten to overwhelm you, every single dangerous step of the way. (p.104)

Awakening the Entrepreneur Within: How Ordinary People Can Create Extraordinary Companies
by Michael E. Gerber

Read more about this book…

Here’s what I care about at work:

  • I care about helping new hires, interns, and other fellow Generation Y-ers connect with the rest of the company, and vice versa. I care because I think it would be pretty amazing if all of us newbies were engaged, passionate, and sharing what we’re learning along the way. Ultimately, I want to affect not only the way IBM connects with its new hires and interns, but the way leading enterprises bring these new voices into the conversation.
  • I care about helping interested colleagues learn more about how to use Web 2.0 to improve their personal productivity and collaborate more effectively. I care because I’ve seen how people use these tools to connect and collaborate across the organization for unexpectedly wonderful results. Ultimately, I want to see these tools become part of the culture not only at my company but also in others.
  • I care about helping clients learn from IBM’s experience with social media, and helping IBM learn from them. I care because I believe in what we’ve got inside IBM and I want to help other organizations explore this kind of culture of openness, trust and collaboration. I care because I know we can learn a lot from other companies as well. Ultimately, I want to connect evangelists and champions in different companies so that we can learn from each other’s experiences.

So I guess I’m a bit of an intrapreneur after all. Technology evangelism around Web 2.0 and emerging technologies is officially part of my job, but all of these things are things I do because I have to do them, because I can’t imagine not doing them. =) I’m going to need a lot of help, but there are a lot of people who are glad to help out because these are their visions too. (I like to think that I’m the one helping them!)

Let’s find out how wonderful it can be. =)

What’s your dream?

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Networking for new hires

| connecting, passion, presentation, talk

I gave a presentation on social networking for new hires to the GBS Application Services Foundations new hire network.12 people attended, and a few more dialed in, including one person from Poughkeepsie. (Yay international companies!) We had a lot of fun during the roundtable introductions. After things settled down, I gave my presentation.

The key thing I learned while preparing the presentation is that people can get by without paying special attention to social networking, but some effort can help people really transform their lives into extraordinary ones. I talked about the intersection of passion, knowledge and skills, and opportunities. If you learn more about what you’re passionate about, you’ll find or create or attract opportunities to learn more about and practice those passions or to use your knowledge and skills. The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to appreciate your passions, and the more opportunities will be open to you. It’s a beautiful cycle that makes things get better and better.

I also gave a number of quick tips on how to be more effective at social networking using events, conversations, notebooks, business cards, personal sites, blogs, articles, presentations, and other tools and opportunities. All these things can help you learn, reach out, and share what you’re learning.

The key thing I learned while giving this presentation was that although people could quickly identify passions outside work, job-related passions didn’t come to mind. I believe that it’s possible to love your work. My dad taught me this. I know that even if there are difficult days and boring days and lost days, if there’s that underlying passion, all those days will be worthwhile.

I’m glad to say that my work allows me to exercise some of my passions. So, what am I passionate about?

I’m passionate about helping people connect. I believe that interesting things happen when we bring different kinds of people together, and that’s why I love how blogging and other forms of social media allow people to bump into people outside their teams. I not only get to help people connect and collaborate, I even get to help companies figure out how to help their people do so.

I’m passionate about helping new hires connect with the rest of the organization and vice versa. I believe that a good social network can not only help new hires learn what they need to learn but also get opportunities to discover and make the most of their passions. I want to help new hire networks challenge and catalyze people’s growth in addition to providing basic social support. I want to help new hires get connected and share what they learn. Because I’ve been helping people connect using these new tools, new hire networks approach me to find out how I can help them. =)

I’m passionate about helping people share what they’re learning. I believe that teaching as you learn helps you learn more effectively. I want to help people share the tidbits that they’re learning and passing those tidbits along to others who are learning too. I not only get to lead by example, I also get to coach others.

I’m passionate about spreading enthusiasm, energy, and passion. I believe that people can be happy at work and in life. I want to learn from people who are happy and successful, I want to be an example to others, and I want to help others along the way. I not only get to share my passions with my coworkers and with other people outside the organization, I also get to encourage others when they need that extra burst of energy.

I’m passionate about communication skills, presentations, public speaking, and storytelling. I believe that presentations should be more than just bullet points and that communication should be more than just talking at people. I want to share what people are learning, inspire people to action, and help them inspire other people in turn. I not only get to learn more about communication skills and practice them by frequently giving presentations, I also get to share what I’m learning and influence the way other people communicate.

What are you passionate about? What knowledge or skills do you want to develop, and what opportunities would help you be even more effective?

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Teaching passion

| passion, teaching

Ideally, teachers would focus on one single thing: getting their students really, deeply excited about the subject of the course. Everything else, the students can do on their own.

Peter Turney, Apperceptual: Genius, Sustained Effort, and Passion (blog post)
Link from Michael Nielsen

Here’s another of my favorite quotes:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

=)

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