Monday, April 29, 2013

The Power of Experts and Networking

Well, I'm back into binging on books that help me understand how people learn and how they choose to navigate life. This time the theme is marketing to help get my head around what exactly I'm supposed to be doing with my new part-time insurance career.

What have I learned so far? Networking will get you very far and even farther if you paint yourself as an expert. Not a pretentious expert, but rather the go-to person about a particular field.

Everything I have been reading lately has helped me frame a concept I latched onto a few years ago after re-discovering Malcolm Gladwell-- transactive memory. In a nutshell, there's not enough time and not enough interest, and not enough brain space for everyone to be an expert on every subject. We all know this, so we seek out those who can give sound advice on the areas we don't understand or have little interest in going deeper with. 

For example, think about artisan bread. Many of us like to buy it, but few of us have the time or the attention to detail to actually make it. We could learn about artisan bread making, but in the world of time vs. cost most of us are just not going to go to that much trouble even for a delicious loaf of bread. Therefore, many are perfectly happy to go to Niedlov's and for $6-$8 continue to let them be the expert in that area. In economic terms, expertise is a scare resource, so we are willing to pay more for the knowledge we don't have.        

Some of you may say, well isn't that why we major in things when we go to college? Of course, but if you really want to be successful in your field you can't just have a degree, you have to invest MORE time and become an expert that people are going to go to meet their needs or desires. This is why we go to specialists instead of general practitioners for our serious medical needs. In my case, there are LOTS of insurance agents in the world, but I have to go beyond just knowing the facts. I have to demonstrate that I am an expert who cares and who wants to truly educate without reinforcing the pushy, egomaniacal, salesperson stereotype.    

The particular book I have been reading the past few days, Gravitational Marketing, is directly related to increasing sales for small businesses. Their premise is that if you follow some basic guidelines of networking, you will have people coming to you for your business instead of you having to market and hound them to death to buy. Honestly, it's poorly edited (i.e. it could have been cut down to about 100 pages and have been just as helpful) and written by extroverts who are clearly better at communicating their ideas through speaking and interaction rather than conveying them in a stationery mode. Even as a extrovert myself, I'm a little turned off by the general vibe that I get, but I have to admit they make some good points. 

People want experts because they aren't going to spend the time (for whatever reason -- not interested, not enough time, too specialized, etc.) to become an expert, so they will be loyal to someone who demonstrates a) exceptional proficiency in the area they have a need or desire and b) a genuine interest in them as a consumer and a person. When people perceive that kind of value from the expert, they tell WANT to tell other people. They want their friends to have the same comforting experience. This eliminates the expert having to beg and plead to get people in the door.

That's where networking comes in. The more people are aware that you, the expert, have a product they need the more you have a chance to help them in a way that is mutually beneficial. 

Now despite what I've said about the book I've been reading, I don't think being an expert or even networking is strictly an extrovert's field. Perhaps in sales it helps to have a passion for people and hard work, but a company is more than its public face. I see some of you wiping your foreheads off now :) One of the best networkers I know is a man from my church who is most definitely an introvert. He is a behind the scenes worker and has served faithfully in a number of capacities for 25 years. Because of the nature of his job, he is connected to just about every business person in town. He is an expert in his occupation, his ethics are informed by his faith, he is very well-read because he has such a variety of interests, and he is exceptionally cultured yet very down to earth. If this man makes a recommendation, you'd be a fool not to listen.

The takeaway here is that new learning and education happen ALL the time within our everyday relationships. We can't just close up shop after we've walked across the stage for our degree and think we're done with what people have to teach us. Learning happens through building/maintaining relationships every single day if we take the time to ascribe them their true value.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

An American Indian

What's it like learning (from birth) about the world in India when you're from American stock? Some precious friends of ours moved to India several years ago and chose to have their son there and raise him there. Their son is 2 months younger than my oldest (so around 3 1/2), so it's been such a unique experience tracking their journey knowing that we were both raising our first children in totally different settings. Justin and I have learned how to love people better and more intentionally from their experiences in India. I encourage you to check out their fair-trade business, Dekko Trading.     

Here's a little preview from their latest blog post called "The Global Child". It describes the unique perspective their son will have with India being his home versus the America they grew up knowing.  
"I heard recently how multi-national companies are searching for employees who grew up cross-culturally. Their reasons are smart and simple. People who grew up in a cross-cultural context know how to navigate through multi-cultural situations, not to mention the maze of Heathrow Airport! Usually they have increased language aptitude, if they aren't already proficient in two or more languages.They are comfortable with people who may look, act, or think differently and can recognize the value that people from different backgrounds bring to the work table. In this ever-increasingly flat world, companies are looking for anything that will give them an edge, and globally savvy employees are a key component to their solutions. 
Now I'm not looking for our boy to land a multi-national job anytime in the near future! But I'm thrilled to be mom to a global child. Love the lessons that he's learning at such an early age. That life is about people. That life is not something you watch on TV but something you experience with your best pals. That food (and life) is best enjoyed when you share it with others. And that there's always room for one more person in the rickshaw..."  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Not my children,'s been pretty busy around here.
For those of you who have been following my blog posts, you may have noticed the infrequency as of late. 

Let's just say I've been busy. Busy with sickness. Busy with studying for to get licensed to sell insurance. Busy with church obligations. Busy with pursuing a homeschool opportunity for my oldest. Busy with planning out our vacations this year (including a special one with some of my college friends). Busy with a consistent Bible study program one day a week. The gym has been neglected for about a month now. I feel like I have barely kept up with my in-laws (who I usually talk with pretty frequently) since Christmas. My children have had more TV than I care to admit (mostly when we were sick)! I even forgot to do my monthly series here on people's education because I was so relieved to have passed the insurance tests on April 1st. You don't want to see the playroom down here where my 20 month old has lived up to her nickname "tornado". 

We all have those days... or weeks... or months... 

All of this to say, I got a glimpse into how busyness can be a scary teacher sometimes. Let me provide you with a few examples:

  • As I said, I've been a little preoccupied as of late, so those times where I would normally be following up on my 20 month's old activities, I've had my 3 1/2 year old "doublecheck" on her sister. This has led to quite a bit of "I'm in charge entitlement" that reared its ugly head today when we had a playdate with several friends here on "her turf". My oldest is a rule follower, so when she saw a child doing something that was not within "the rules" she tattled. A LOT. No matter how many times I corrected her, she persisted. No one wants to have the bossy child, but here she was staring me in the face today. Couldn't help but wonder if at least some of that was a product of my relying too heavily on her assistance.
  • Both my girls have been extra clingy lately. I read an article once that said before you complain about how clingy your children have been, you need to make sure you're not part of the problem by pushing them away or diminishing quality time. That article, which is still floating somewhere out on the Internet, makes me have major Mommy guilt during busy times. I feel like since I am staying at home (AND homeschooling) that part of the "deal" is giving my kids all of me, but what exactly does that mean?        
  • My husband came back from the church men's retreat sunburned pretty badly from a golf outing. He always has sunscreen in his bag, but he wondered if he took it out for something and did not put it back (which as I have mentioned here, is not like him at all). Understandably, he's been pretty miserable and tired and with my busyness we haven't been able to do our usual chat about our day and read books or news articles routine that we cherish after the kids go to bed. I'd been taking care of the girls all weekend by myself anyway (because he was on the retreat), so last night I just found something else productive to occupy my time. Some evenings it's amazing how quickly we can, each in our own way, find something more "productive" to do rather than spend quality time together. If you want to know the truth, that that is totally how "gray divorce" is popping up more and more in our culture. You do your thing; I'll do mine. Eventually I'll stop needing you and realize that I am financially stable and would be happier doing something else anyway. How utterly tragic to treat vows that way, yet I saw how in 4 days the patterns can start forming if you don't head them off. Ironically, I noticed this on my parent's 35th wedding anniversary yesterday.                   
  • Also last week I had a very good conversation with another homeschool mom about trying to keep our schedules clear as we move into doing a few more things structured for homeschooling in August. There are SO many good choices for our children. We could have a playdates every day with a different group of kids and something church-related almost all week if we wanted. Not to mention sports and playground time and family time and oh wait... SCHOOLING and and and....The possibilities are endless for us to take advantage of, but just because you CAN do it, SHOULD you? Should I show disrespect to Justin by "letting the house go" in certain rooms that I can get away with? Should I yell at my children instead of disciplining them appropriately because it's easier to yell? Should I stay down here and check my e-mail and all my social media instead of talking a walk with the girls? I've been guilty of all of these things at one time or another. My life is not perfect and my parenting isn't either.        
In the name of good things what are we sacrificing? I think I just listed several above from my own life. I am trying to make sure I see early on that my kids don't need so much constant socialization as they need quality time. It's all about balance which needs to be reassessed more frequently than a lot of us probably do. 

Yesterday, my oldest and I were having such a joy-filled time when we sat down and did some worksheets. For about 30 minutes we went over a few concepts and really just had a great time together learning. I always think that if I whisk her off to some exciting program that I'm doing her a favor, but time and time again she shows me that she just wants me. 

Can anyone else relate to what I am saying?             

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review: Team of Rivals -- The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Here is Justin's book review on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Last year many of you probably saw Spielberg bring this book to life in his film Lincoln. I've added this book to my account :)    

This volume found its way to my mental "to-read" list when it first came out, but life and other books got in the way until I'd almost forgotten about it.

Last fall, thanks to Stephen Spielberg and a low-price copy from the used book store down the street, I finally got to sink my teeth.

Two overriding takeaways from Goodwin's epic cover all other assessments. 

1) This is not a biography of Lincoln. The title implies as much, and though Lincoln probably gets the lion's share of space, the book is as much about the rest of the "rivals" (William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, Edwin M. Stanton, Montgomery Blair, Gideon Welles) who composed Lincoln's cabinet. Various supporting characters in the tapestry of mid-19th century America (George McClellan, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, Roger Taney, Charles Sumner, Horace Greely, Thurlow Weed) get a good look as well. If you're expecting straight biography, you'll be disappointed. As is, the book is an excellent snapshot of one of the most critical periods of American history.

2) The book is worth the hype. Goodwin chases down the various threads of that tapestry to condense a thousand stories into one readable and relatable narrative. She keeps it scholarly (the last 180 pages or so consist of endnotes), but writes engagingly enough to dip into the popular marketplace.

The subtitle gets to the heart of what this book is about--politics. Goodwin has provided the archetypal case study in the compromises, concessions, deals, and late-night wrangling that makes American government tick. 

Lincoln in his time was not the enmarbled statesman hovering at one end of the national mall, but a lawyer who argued his way into the national discourse and only stumbled into the White House because everyone else running had made as many enemies as friends over the course of their careers. His way with words brought him fame, but it was his ability to shrug off offenses and turn enemies into friends that earned him the respect and cooperation needed to be politically effective. He is today remembered as a great man largely because he was willing to be reviled and unpopular rather than waste his energy defending himself. In time, his quiet confidence in the correctness of his actions (right or wrong) won the day instead of the vitriolic denunciations of his opponents.

One aspect of Lincoln's legend that is reinforced by Goodwin is his writing ability. She shows from various sources that Lincoln himself wrote most of his speeches, the words of which still echo across America, often with little input or critique from his advisors. Love him or hate him, everyone was in awe of his ability to condense massive themes of human life into simple, punchy sentences. Even if he had never been president, he would likely be remembered as one of America's greatest writers and orators.

Team of Rivals is certainly worth the time investment to read, and it will certainly expand your knowledge and appreciation for the uniqueness of the man and his times. For me, though, it only gets four stars for two reasons: 1) Goodwin doesn't have much to criticize about Lincoln (such as the constitutionality of his policy choices or his parenting), so he still comes across as somewhat saintly. 2) Good storytelling notwithstanding, some of Goodwin's side trails into other events and political figures can get distracting at times. 

On balance, this is another fine example of why history is fascinating and enlightening and can be almost as much fun to read as the best of literature.