The One Factor that Ensures Your Kid’s College Success. And Now Yours.

In 1986, Harvard’s then-president, Derek Bok, wanted to know if there was a way to predict whether a kid would succeed or fail in college. What was different about those who kicked ass as undergrads? Bok wasn’t really interested in improving the school’s admissions process. Harvard, after all, already annually fielded a freshman class that was, according to just about every measurable metric, the nation’s best.

What Bok wanted to learn is whether the school could study those kids who transformed those early exceptional metrics into exceptional performance, making the most of their four years in college, and apply those lessons to changing how Harvard served all of its students. A large-scale study was conducted over the course of several years and one finding in particular surprised everyone. Continue reading

Create Your Own Steve-Jobsian Reality Distortion Field

She has been a monk. She’s been a five-time CEO and venture capitalist, scoring Google as one of her investments. She wrote a well-received book, Rules for Renegades, and made it to the White House as an advisor in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.  And she did it all as a high school dropout.

Today, Christine Comaford is a highly sought-after executive coach and her remarkable life made for a remarkable Social Capitalist interview.

Comaford’s ideas are a refreshing integration of her days studying spiritual esoterica as a monk and her later investigations into neuroscience and behavior change, but always oriented by the guiding bottom line dictates of the business world.

Take, for example, her contention that presence – being able to “be here, now” – is the foundation of leadership. At first glance, touchy-feely. But think about leaders you may have encountered or read about. Think about people like Bill Clinton or Steve Jobs, each of whom were attributed with the ability to create a “reality distortion field,” a term coined by one of the early Apple software engineers to describe Jobs’ mix of charisma, charm, bravado, and persuasion, all employed to convince his employees that the impossible was possible. Continue reading

How Introverts Can Get the Credit, Pay, and Career They Deserve

The Social Capitalist is sponsored programming of myGreenlight, the only comprehensive on-line learning platform for critical relationship development skills. The interactive interview series is dedicated to delivering in depth discussion on relationship science with the best and brightest thought leaders in business and academia. Tahl recently interviewed author and business communication coach Nancy Ancowitz. Here are his takeaways from the interview. Click here for the interview’s audio recording and here for the transcript.

I would hide in the bathroom at my own parties. That’s right, hide. A hundred or more people would be loudly mingling right outside the bathroom door – people, mind you, that me and my employees had invited -  and I’d be watching the minutes go by in the solitude of the loo, trying to gauge how long I could stay; where, exactly, was the temporal line between “where’s Tahl?” and “this is getting really weird?”

It was the first business I started, and back then, I still bought into the nearly-pervasive model of leadership that prizes big personalities: those socially assertive charismatics, bold and energized in large crowds. That wasn’t me, but I was trying to fake it. I’d find myself exhausted by these parties and other high octane social situations, needing every so often to slip away and recharge in a bathroom or outside for 10 to 15 minutes. In college, I actually started smoking because it provided a plausible rationale for these mid-soiree Houdini acts.

Apparently, and to my great relief, I’m far from alone, according to a slate of new research, a new cover story in Time, and a just published book called, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. As Quiet describes us: “They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society — from Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.” Continue reading

How to Become the Big-Idea Creative

For much of the last 150 years of economic history, the smartest people gravitated to where the money was. The money, today, is looking for where the smartest people are. To stay relevant, every venture of any size is looking for creativity. Because wherever you find creativity – and, by extension, wherever you find talent — innovation and profits soon follow.

Dan Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind, put it this way: “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind — computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind — creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

So how is one exactly supposed to respond to all that? I think there are two areas where we can learn to become more proficient: one can loosely be labeled “high concept,” referring to the personal aptitudes we can develop that foster creative thought and action in ourselves, and the other is “high touch,” referring to many of the skills and practices myGreenlight teaches that enables people to expand their networks and thus their access to other creative people.

Management guru Bill Taylor, a recent guest on the Social Capitalist, was particularly astute when it came to ideas for improving our high concept aptitude. Specifically, he introduced a profound idea that suggests all kinds of exciting ways to improve creativity: Continue reading

How to Make People Care About Who You Are and What You Do

Here is what you have to realize: if you want to sell something, change anything, woo anyone, you have to get people on your side. And if you want to get people on your side, you have to know how to get people to take notice and care.

Thanks to the new imperatives of the relationship economy as much as to the Web, far more of us have a personal stake in creating advertisements for ourselves than we once did. Attention is the scarce resource we all compete for these days. With the ability to access an infinite array of human networks with one click, we have mere seconds to put forth our best cases for why someone should engage us rather then anyone else. The clarity and effectiveness with which you communicate who you are and why it’s relevant is the lynchpin for expanding your recognition, increasing your influence, and attracting attention.

Great ideas, a great product – it’s not enough. Take the dieting book,
The Moderate Carbohydrate Diet. Ever hear of it? Probably not. Despite its good ideas (at least as far the dieting genre goes), the book was published with a thud. Repackaged as The South Beach Diet, the book became a cultural phenomenon. How do you apply these kind of branding insights to yourself?

There’s an entire industry of answers, most of which are crap. That’s why I invited Mark Magnacca to be my guest on a skills and tactics segment of The Social Capitalist. Mark, the author of So What? How to Communicate What Really Matters to Your Audience, has a no-nonsense, practical approach that helps people tailor their messaging to ensure people will care. It’s all about relentlessly focusing on how what you do benefits whoever your audience may be.

In the podcast, Mark introduced us to a couple of helpful protocols to
help hone your message. Here are two: Continue reading

James Altucher: Groping His Way to Success

Here are a selection of things people have said about James Altucher that you can find on the Internet:

“Hedge fund hotshot”

“the best blogger of our generation”

“i’m going to kill him and eat his remains”

“an entrepreneurial savant”

“I hope you’re not starting a cult but if you are, I want in…”

“an absolute moron”

“a genius”

Like many of the examples and case studies used in the myGreenlight curriculum, the guests on the Social Capitalist are often smooth, connected players with the right pedigree, the right suits, always ready to say the right thing. James Altucher is none of those things. His pedigree is a portfolio of astounding failures. His dress is less Wall Street than Occupy Wall Street, if the movement employed an IT guy. And above all, the things Altucher says inevitably piss off at least half the people who hear him say them.

That’s what makes it so remarkable that Altucher has grown a loyal tribe of hundreds of thousands that read his blog, opened doors to everyone from the super-secretive hedge funder Steven Cohen to Mad Money’s Jim Cramer, and built enduring relationships while reinventing himself and his career in multiple industries. He’s done it as an outsider, with an unorthodox style. And there are some powerful lessons to learn from that style:

You’re afraid. Now you have a choice: Fit in or stand out.

Much of the work world is built around your fear and giving you a way to hide from it. There will always be someone around to tell you how to fit in. Because it’s not too hard to figure out how to fit in, you’ll have no problem finding plenty of examples and advice on what to wear, what to say, and how to act. Standing out is harder. You have the choice in everything you do to stand out or fit in. Fear will always play a role in that decision. There will always be a voice in your head that tells you not to speak up, stand out and do work that matters. Altucher writes: “Fear is the enemy of honesty. Fear of losing clients. Fear of pissing off family. Fear of going to hell. Fear people won’t like you. Fear of being alone. I very much have these fears. But fear never made anyone money or anyone happier or healthier…” It’s not that Altucher isn’t afraid; he’s always afraid but he knows the choice to stand out is the only one that can bring him success. Continue reading

Former FBI Interrogator Joe Navarro Teaches How to Read Every BODY

If you could see me now, you’d see that my head is slightly tilted and my hands are clasped, and I’ve got a pleasant smile going with a gaze that’s gently focusing on you. You couldn’t hate me if you tried! With my head tilt exposing my neck just so, your unconscious limbic system is yelling, “Oooooh, la, la. This guy makes me feel so comfortable!”

Non-verbal communication is as powerful a tool as language itself, whether it comes to creating immediate rapport, maximizing your influence or reading other people to discover their true intentions. That’s what Joe Navarro learned how to do during his 25 years in the FBI interrogating suspected criminals, spies and terrorists.

As one of the original founding members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, Navarro mastered his ability to read non-verbal body language. When he retired in 2003, he discovered his expertise and skills could be taught and benefit everyone from professional poker players to executives who wanted an extra edge. Since then, he has authored numerous books including the now-classic, What Everybody Is Saying.

In our interview Navarro shared his incredible insights. Here’s a small sampling:

They Might Lie, But Their Limbic System Tells The Truth

“Our needs, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and intentions are processed elegantly by the brain’s limbic system. It doesn’t have to think, it just reacts to the world in real time and our bodies show how we feel. Someone gives us bad news and our lips compress; the bus leaves without us and we are clenching our jaws and rubbing our necks. We are asked to work another weekend and the orbits of our eyes narrow as our chin lowers. These are discomfort displays that our limbic brain has perfected over millions of years, whether we are in China or Chile.” Continue reading

How Legendary Silicon Valley Networker Heidi Roizen Gets Lucky

Before there was Keith Ferrazzi, for me at least, there was Heidi Roizen.  It was about eight years ago when I was a cub reporter for Inc. magazine and I’d read the Malcolm Gladwell profile, “The Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg,” which gave name to those rare types who seem to know everyone and who apply that knowledge to generate a seemingly endless torrent of opportunity.

Lois was a master of creating and managing social capital. Gladwell called such people connectors. He wrote that these connectors’ skill was so distinct and valuable, so vital to any environment dependent on the free-flow exchange of information and skill (which is to say every environment populated by humans) that in some oblique way they run the world. And then, in what seemed at the time a needlessly taunting postscript directed personally at me, Gladwell hypothesized that connectors were born that way. That this powerful skill was innate.

That last part was particularly troubling to me as I had just come to recognize two unsavory realities for an ambitious young man intent on becoming a big success: the reality that a lot of the big successes I was encountering in those days seemed kind of like Lois and the reality that I was nothing like her. What I lacked in sociability, however, I made up for in angry obstinacy. I decided I’d challenge Gladwell’s hypothesis.

The simple plan was to find other Lois Weisberg-types and try to extract a common set of rules and principles by which these people navigate the world. If I could do that, then those rules and principles could be taught. Maybe the only truly helpful documents I discovered early in my research was a Harvard Business Review case study on a woman named Heidi Roizen, the subject of this month’s Social Capitalist interview.

One of the few female power players in Silicon Valley at the time, she had started and sold a successful tech company, become an executive at Apple and then a well-known venture capitalist.  She called both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs friends and was known to have one of the deepest, most extensive networks in the Valley.  She was undoubtedly a connector, and unlike anything else I found, the case study laid out some strategies for how Roizen operates. It convinced me that I was on the right track. Continue reading

Gratitude: The Relational Elixir

Very skilled social capitalists often receive attention for the really clever, grand activities they incorporate into their work life, everything from the organizational systems they implement to the fancy parties they throw. In the context of these elaborate strategies talk of something like the power of expressing gratitude can seem so small and so overblown — until you read the research.

Want a quick booster shot to immediately improve a relationship? A minor thankful gesture, according to the following study, has a transformative impact:

This research was conducted to examine the hypothesis that expressing gratitude to a relationship partner enhances one’s perception of the relationship’s communal strength. In Study 1 (N = 137), a cross-sectional survey, expressing gratitude to a relationship partner was positively associated with the expresser’s perception of the communal strength of the relationship. In Study 2 (N = 218), expressing gratitude predicted increases in the expresser’s perceptions of the communal strength of the relationship across time. In Study 3 (N = 75), participants were randomly assigned to an experimental condition, in which they expressed gratitude to a friend, or to one of three control conditions, in which they thought grateful thoughts about a friend, thought about daily activities, or had positive interactions with a friend. At the end of the study, perceived communal strength was higher among participants in the expression-of-gratitude condition than among those in all three control conditions. We discuss the theoretical and applied implications of these findings and suggest directions for future research. (Source: “Benefits of Expressing Gratitude, Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Changes One’s View of the Relationship” from Psychological Science.)

Gratitude doesn’t just immediately improve a relationship, it can make it more productive. Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, covers another study on the power of “thank you” in the workplace:

The simple act of having a boss come by and offer a public thanks to one group, and but not the other, really packed a wallop.  These fundraisers were paid a fixed salary, so Grant and Gino compared the number of phone calls made be each fundraiser before and after the “thank you” intervention.  The results were pretty impressive, as while there was no change in the average number of calls made by the group that was not offered thanks, the folks who heard a warm two sentence thank you from a boss made an average of about 50% more calls during the subsequent week. (Source: “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.)

Piling up daily small interpersonal wins with seemingly trivial gestures is the social capitalist’s bread and butter.

Tahl Raz is the host of myGreenlight’s Social Capitalist Series.

The Research-Backed Two-Word Solution to Tripling Your Productivity (no, really)

I love planning. Planning gets an invite to my dinner party every night of the week. Planning is like a devilishly charming raconteur thrilling you with their adventures in far-flung locales like the Laotian Mekong. Then there’s doing – doing is like an autistic geographer detailing in monotone the troubled and complex history of that same locale.  Doing is hard, something to be avoided, but planning — the clean slate, the bold ideas, the big-eyed promise of all you’ll do and how — comes easy.  And the centerpiece of planning is the to-do list.

Oh, the gratifying joy of merely jotting down a list of tasks. To have begun is to be half done! Unfortunately there’s not much of a market for half done and so, over the years, I’ve tried nearly everything to make me more of a doer. In fact, much of the time when I’m not doing, I’m reading or talking about the productivity tips and systems of super-doers, everything from Lifehacker.com to Behance.com to David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

And then along comes Heidi Grant Halvorson, a recent guest of The Social Capitalist, who made the startling declaration that the last 40 years of social science research tells us the single most effective strategy for improving productivity, greater than all these other tips and systems combined, can be summed up in two words:

If. Then.

Heidi isn’t so easy to dismiss. With popular blog columns in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Psychology Today, and a new book book entitled Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, she is a motivational psychologist at the forefront of the science of success.

Turns out that the doing part of our brains is indeed a bit of an analytical bore that processes information in the language of contingencies. Our unconscious remembers information in “If X, then Y” terms and is constantly scanning the environment, ready to turn X contingency into Y behavior (e.g. Unconscious: It’s April 24th.  Me: It’s my wife’s birthday!! I must get a present or I’ll be murdered!!).

Continue reading