March 20 – Working the Nets and Happy Accidents

Sunrise/ Sunset:  6:48 / 6:56

Foo Song: This is a Call

Sunrise Pic:

Forgot to take a selfie, so I snapped this beauty (squirrel skull?). Doesn’t really fit with the rest of this blog entry, but I couldn’t foresee what kind of day I was about to have

image (57)

Today was one of those awesome days where I felt on my game. Some days I’m just head down. Other days I’m scatterbrained and get nothing of substance done or have my mind on non-work concerns and am inefficient as heck. And some days even if I’m doing my work, it doesn’t feel so inspiring. But then there are some days like today, where I’m just buzzing and the connections are popping all around, where work and “beyond work” melt into one fluid stream.  I discover connections or make introductions or have people I’ve met separately know each other. Somehow creating a great community of intersecting orbits. I find that thrilling. It’s a calling. No need for any resignation anymore (or self-doubt as to whether I should spend much time on this).

In hoops, it’s a common saying to describe selfless players who go after the rebounds and dish out passes to shooters, keeping their team in the game, as “working the boards.”  In my professional and personal life, I spend a lot of time working the nets via networking, and helping connect people to ideas and opportunities. It’s really what makes me tick. Professor Adam Grant (Wharton School of Business’ youngest ever tenured professor) is a model for me In this article from the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/magazine/is-giving-the-secret-to-getting-ahead.html , the author describes Grant’s “theories about prosocial motivation — the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback …For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”

Grant divides people into Givers, Matchers, and Takers. “Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf.”

Today was one of the days I was energized, feeling a lot like a Giver. I started out with a breakfast meeting, helping Anne, a colleague of mine who began her career at EcoLogic as an intern supervised loosely by me. Anne was getting excited for an upcoming trip to Colombia, so my breakfast with her was all about guiding her through some different itineraries. One of my favorite things to do is to promote Colombia and help people find engaging stuff to do off the beaten path. I still have dreams of setting up some kind of consultancy or operation that helps travelers connect to the real Colombia.

A bit later in the day I submitted an application to Vuka, a co-working space in Austin (recently merged with Center 61 to form ImpactHub Austin). In my application, I wrote that I thrive on an active environment full of white noise, with a design aesthetic that is inspiring (including standing desks, my preferred working position) and with people around me doing work that is really innovative. I would love to be able to find mentors and potential partners and to have a chance to practice new skills, make pitches in a relatively welcoming environment, and to have people to socialize with inside and outside of work. At my current organization, and, I think, anytime one is inside a single organization and steeped in its culture, it’s a bit easy to get complacent and/or not be exposed to a diversity of ideas, something I really enjoyed in my formal studies. I think a co-working environment can increase the chances for happy accidents and co-creation while preventing me from getting stale. I also particularly love unleashing and tapping into others’ talents and assets – serving as a mentor and forging connections between people and ideas. I find this somewhat intangible, loose notion to encapsulate what I’m really good at. I see connections and remember things as a creative, lateral thinker that others don’t seem able to do (or as apt to do). This often manifests itself in new partnerships and skilled use of interns and volunteers to tackle work my colleagues think is too daunting”

Literally just as I was typing the Vuka application, I got a call from the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. They asked me for help vetting a social enterprise they are considering supporting – rfcx.org – which re-purposes old cell phones to combat illegal logging. They connected with me because one staff member is named Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, who recently changed jobs from academia (Harvard Kennedy School), and she remembered me and EcoLogic based on my earlier reaching out to her for help with nonprofit branding / re-branding. I didn’t have her as a prof at the Kennedy School, but I reached out based on that connection after reading an article she wrote (http://bit.ly/npbrandidea) and was able to pull her into the EcoLogic community, setting up a talk with our board and coursework/practicum work with two students in her course. I love that I can help her now in her new role and simultaneously learn about such a cool idea (Rainforest Connection). The fact that people reach out to me for advice makes me feel really good about my knowledge and reputation. I think people feel very comfortable asking for my help, and I love giving back in this way.

At lunch,  I took the friend of an acquaintance out to help him brainstorm his next steps in his career. He sought advice after being pulled out of the Peace Corps earlier this year, along with all Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador, where the program has been shut down (I’m not certain how temporary the shutdown is). I told him about my experience moving from teaching in Colombia to the neighborhoods of Boston and then into my current focus on international development and conservation while listening closely to understand his interests. The single clearest outcome of our meeting was connecting him with Vilas Dhar, founder of the Next Mile Project (somewhat similar to what Center 61 was about as far as I can tell) http://nextmileproject.org/ and setting him up with a meeting that was sure to provide him even more direction than I’m capable of providing.

I’m definitely known at EcoLogic as the guy who always runs into people he knows. After building community outside of work over the past 15 years in Boston, I’ll be craving an opportunity to do the same kind of thing in my new city.

Later that afternoon, I spoke with a woman namedTanya Dimitrova – she has some cool stuff going on. I recently had the good fortune to meet her and learn about her organization, Earth Science Journal for Kids: http://www.earthsciencejournal.org/organization.html  Tanya and her team select published science articles and work with the authors to adapt them for children’s education / classroom curriculum.Her mission with the Science Journal for Kids is to translate peer-reviewed open source journal articles on science topics to a student audience. For example, she took this article on “A comparative analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of wheat and beef in the US” and transformed it into “How Much Does it Cost When Cows Burp”   I had been trying to connect her with folks in the PARTNERS network. I wrote folks to tell them how impressed I’ve become by Tanya’s spirit and entrepreneurial drive, especially shown via her journal, which translates some of the most cutting edge published research into an engaging format for a high school audience- kids and their teachers alike. Tanya’s also been an author on Mongabay, which is where a former intern of mine, Julian, knows her from and how he connected her to me (and I had connected Julian to the PARTNERS network …)  She’s also written for Ecosystem Marketplace and Grist, including a focus on carbon/REDD+ in Colombia 🙂

Last but not least, I helped a kid I met in Colombia find his way into applying for teaching in Colombia, and then it turned out that a former intern of mine at EcoLogic, now based in Colombia, was going to interview him. She wrote me, “Christian just messaged me, and he is interviewing to be an english teacher in the program I work for!  You’re definitely a pro-networker. How’d you get in contact with him?”  And I responded, “Pro Networker? Ha! I listed something like that as one of my top three skills on an application for a co-working space in Austin, where I think I’d thrive (called ImpactHub, formerly called Vuka, a very Austin kinda place).  I met Christian along with his parents at the Feria de Cali (the big salsa parade called the Salsodromo). His dad actually tapped me on the shoulder, and it turned out we had a lot in common, including a mutual friend, a guy I taught with in Cali in 1998. And his company (he works in science textbook publishing) has a contract with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (promotional videos and educational videos). I have to say I have more of these kinds of accidental run-ins than seem normal. It makes me wonder, in an existential kinda way, what’s going on.  It freaks me out and excites me at the same time!! Just last weekend, we had Jessie Norriss here for a Colombian patacon and music fest with friends and neighbors, and my neighbor cornered me in the kitchen and said “I think I know Jessie but don’t know from where,” and it turns out that Jessie was a camper in my neighbor’s summer camp for many years, the same camp we sent Mateo to last year (Jessie would come up each summer from Austin to be with her grandfather in Newton). Crazy, right? Anyway, I helped Christian connect with my former boss, the woman who hired me in 2006 at EcoLogic, who was head of training in Peace Corps in Paraguay (now heads all of Peace Corps in Panama), but she didn’t have any way to influence the bureaucracy in the Peace Corps selection process. Then he and I corresponded a few times about options. He seems like a great guy. His mom is Colombian, so he must be wonderful ;)”

Interwoven connections. A lot like the image on my wedding ring:

endless knot.jpg

 

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