Like many of you this morning, I woke up reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what his leadership meant to the civil rights movement and our understanding of the efficacy of non-violent protest. As we celebrate the man, the movement, and the progress we’ve made as a society, we can’t forget how much work there is still left to be done.
To that end, I just read the sobering results of the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. According to the Harvard Business Review Daily Alert, “For 17 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and NGOs. This year was the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four of these institutions. In almost two-thirds of the 28 countries we surveyed, the general population did not trust the four institutions to ‘do what is right’ — the average level of trust in all four institutions combined was below 50%.”
Among 10 insights from the study, I point you to #7 (Peers Highly Credible) “For the first time, ‘a person like yourself’ is as credible a source for information about a company as a technical or academic expert (all three at 60%).” And to #10 (With the People) “The trust crisis demands a new operating model for organizations by which they listen to all stakeholders; provide context on the issues that challenge their lives; engage in dialogue with them; and tap peers, especially employees, to lead communications and advocacy efforts.”
One of the most disturbing facts, which we’ve touched on in this blog, is that too many people have stopped listening. In #6 (Media Echo Chamber), we learn that “People are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t believe in; don’t regularly listen to those with whom they often disagree (53%); and are more likely to believe search engines (59%) over human editors (41%).
In my recent podcast with Charlene Li, she said that it will take leaders to move from what she described as the “bully pulpit” on social media back to our having true dialogue and conversations again. So with Dr. King’s powerful example in mind, let’s use the 2017 results as a peer-to-peer call to action to restore trust both here in the U.S. and around the world by having the courage to trust first – to listen more than talk, to learn rather than judge, and to allow the “content of our character” to shine more brightly.
One of my all-time favorite poems is all ignorance toboggans into know by e.e. cummings. In it, he warns us of the dangers of doing what I’m about to do now – offer a simple, singular answer to a complex question. He would most definitely accuse me of striving to achieve ignorance today, with the understanding that I will slide back into knowledge tomorrow (or the day after). To that I’ll plead guilty, and since today is today, and because we all like to boil things down to concepts that are easy for us to grasp, let me take you down the mountain.
In my view, the reinforcing loop depicted above is a big reason that peer groups for business leaders work so well. I’ll start with this comparison: think about any book club worth its salt. Each member reads the book and brings his/her unique perspective on the content to the group. After an hour or two, there isn’t one member who doesn’t understand the narrative and its context more deeply and more broadly than before the conversation began. By examining the book through everyone’s mental models, we become exposed to ideas and perspectives we would never have considered on our own.
We learn best when we learn together. Business leaders who share concepts and ideas with one another also help generate deeper understanding. Better yet, they give each other the courage to act – to actually apply what they learn. It’s one thing to become enamored with an idea, it’s quite another to implement it. Once they try it, and as they work to perfect the new initiative, they begin to achieve the positive results they imagined. The group celebrates member wins together, which only inspires everyone to learn more and continue the cycle.
I’m sure there are a number of you who will help me climb back up the slope to knowledge again by sharing your perspective on what you believe to be the secret to the success of peer groups for business leaders. Since it’s likely there is no one dynamic that deserves 100% of the credit, I hope you will. Where I believe we can agree is that business leaders can help each other in ways they won’t find anywhere else.
Now that I’ve offered my thoughts on why these groups work so well, next week, I’ll take another trip down the mountain and share the how – the 5 conditions necessary for making this reinforcing loop come to life.
Charlene is the Founder and CEO of Altimeter Group and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership. She is also the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell, which was named one of the best business books in 2008. Her latest book “The Engaged Leader” was published in March 2015.
Charlene shares her peer-to-peer experiences at Harvard Business School, Forrester, YPO, and most recently at Prophet. She also offers her perspective about the evolution of how we engage one another in the digital world and talks about why it’s so important for today’s leaders. Watch our interview here or listen to this podcast on iTunes, GooglePlay or any of your favorite podcast platforms.
I first wrote about “tips posts” in 2011, but I thought that as we start the Year of the Peer, it’s a topic worth revisiting. The title, of course, is a play on the line, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts” which comes from the story of Troy and how the Greeks used a wooden horse to trick their way into the city. Sophocles described it as, “foes’ gifts are no gifts; profit they bring none.”
For me, “tips posts” are no different. They should come with a warning label. While I don’t believe everyone who writes an article or blog post that offers 5 tips for this or 10 ways to accomplish something else is necessarily a geek or one’s enemy, I would suggest, however, that we consume such articles with caution. They typically address symptoms rather than underlying causes. And because they rarely provide the necessary background or root principles that lay beneath them, we’re left with one-liners that, while entertaining, will never by themselves help us transform our behavior in any meaningful way. For that, we have to go deeper.
Can they be helpful from time to time? Sure. Do I read these articles just like everyone else? Absolutely. Heck, I’ve written a few, although I try to avoid it. Let’s face it, any post or article that promises a simple, numerically organized way to address a timely, complex issue can be hard to resist. That’s why writers write them and readers read them. It’s link candy. I’m just suggesting that a steady diet of these posts without something more can be bad for you.
So what are we to do? Two things: 1) Next time, you read a really good “tips” article, engage the writer in the comments section and ask for a deeper dive. Most of the people who write these posts really know what they’re talking about and are more than happy to share what they know. The better you understand the advice, the more likely you will be to adopt it. 2) Read more posts that take you on a more meaningful journey. Click on headlines that don’t give away what the piece is all about. Explore more often and you’ll discover more frequently. Your peers have a lot to offer you!
By balancing our “tips” fascination with a deeper dive into underlying causes and the mindset that drives our basic assumptions, we stand a good chance of converting short-term tips to life-long best practices.
How about this for a post? Five Ways To Convert Short-term Tips To Life-long Best Practices!
Happy New Year and welcome to the Year of the Peer! This is the year , starting today, when we’re going to challenge ourselves to listen more than we talk, read more than we write, learn rather than judge, and operate from a spirit of generosity and sharing that will enrich our own lives as well as the lives of those closest to us. Let’s make it a year where dialogue trumps debate, where compromise is not regarded as a four-letter word, and where we think abundance rather than scarcity. The world only operates as a zero-sum game if we allow it. Let’s not.
It’s a year for meeting new people, distancing ourselves from the individuals in our lives who drag us down, re-kindling old relationships that have atrophied over time, and advancing our engagement with peers who support us and can help us be our very best selves.
Forget about new year’s resolutions. What are your goals for 2017? What promises are you prepared to make to yourself during the coming year? And more importantly, who are the people in your life who will help you keep those promises? The promise I’m making to myself is to complete by dissertation during 2017. Anyone who is willing to share their wisdom, encouragement, and experience in this area will be greeted with open arms! (Thank you in advance!)
If you’re looking for another device to help you get started, Chris Brogan has been advocating identifying 3 words to live by for a given year, since 2006. I’m going to borrow my three words from the book we released earlier this year titled The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success. (A handy Year of the Peer manual by the way if you haven’t read it). My three words are network, optimize, and accelerate. In a nutshell, it means I’m going to be more selective and purposeful about the people who surround me in my life; I will pursue perfection in the pursuit of excellence more often, and I will seek out relationships with more people who have completely different backgrounds from my own in an effort to expand my world view.
What promise(s) are you prepared to make to yourself in 2017? What three words will guide you? How will you contribute to making the Year of the Peer the best year ever? Share your thoughts and insights on your favorite social media platforms using the hashtag #yearofthepeer. Let the games begin!
As promised, for 50 weeks during 2017, I’ll bring some of the best minds and most fascinating people in the world to the program. They will share their insights, stories, and recommendations about effective collaboration, leadership, accountability, vulnerability, and much more. We’ll talk about what’s next and look at how, together, we can prepare for a future most of us can barely imagine.
It all starts on January 12th with Charlene Li, and I’ll invite guests to the program from all walks of life each and every week throughout the Year of the Peer. If there’s a guest you’d like me to invite to the show, I welcome your suggestions! For both the cause and the podcast to be a success, it will take all of us, so I encourage you to share this post with your peers and get involved!
January 12th, Charlene Li, CEO of the Altimeter Group and Best-Selling Author
January 19th, Rich Karlgaard, Publisher and Global Futurist for Forbes
January 26th, Lewis Schiff, Founder & Executive Director, The Business Owners Council
February 2th, JJ Ramberg, Host of Your Business (MSNBC) and Business Owner
February 9th, Jim Kouzes, Coauthor of The Leadership Challenge and former CEO
February 16th, Vitaly Golomb, Investor & Global Startup Evangelist, HP Tech Ventures
February 23rd, Rahfeal Gordon, Inspirational Speaker/Author
March 2nd, Etienne & Beverly Wenger-Trayner, Scholars/Authors/Consultants
March 9th, Laura Goodrich, Co-Founder, GWT Next and author of Seeing Red Cars
March 16th, Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor Emeritus, Stanford Graduate School of Education
March 23rd, Leon Shapiro, Coauthor of The Power of Peers and former CEO
March 30th, Bri Seeley & Thais Sky, co-founders of The Amplify Collective
Who you surround yourself with matters! Who’s surrounding you? See you in 2017! #yearofthepeer
I got a jump-start on the Year of the Peer today (the day after Christmas), as I participated in my CEO World online group meeting, where we reflected on 2016 and talked about our goals for 2017. Sharing my goals out loud with a group of my peers helps me hold myself accountable to what I want to achieve in life. Rather than make a New Year’s resolution I’m likely to break, I make a promise to myself that I’m far more inclined to keep, not only because I expressed it to my peers, but also because these are the people who will be there for me next year and who will help me do what I said I want to do. And I’ll be there for them as well.
During our group meeting, I was asked, “What did you learn last year?” I immediately thought about what Rahfeal Gordon said to me when we recorded his podcast last week (which will post February 23rd). Rahfeal said that he lives his life by living up to high standards as opposed measuring success or failure against his or others’ lofty expectations. I feel as if I’ve approached my work on peer advantage and the Year of the Peer with that in mind – in part because I’m not sure what to expect! 😉 Yet, I couldn’t help appreciate the manner in which Rahfeal articulated it for me in such a powerful and simple way. He taught me how to express this idea more clearly to others.
If there’s anything the audiences at events, readers of this blog, or listeners to my podcast can do for the cause (and me) next year, other than to spread the word, lend a helping hand to your peers, and contribute your own thoughts and ideas to the dialogue, it’s to hold me to a high standard of delivering peer-to-peer value. With that, I would appreciate anything you have to share with me on that front, and I promise you that I’ll work to be better each and every day. (There, I said it out loud!)
With a great deal of help, I hope that, together, we can inspire a new consciousness about what peer advantage can mean for all of us if we just put our minds to it. If we embrace the concept “who you surround yourself with matters” just a little more tightly, I think we’re in for a prosperous 2017.
In 2017, I’m convinced that, together, we will inspire a positive change in the way we engage one another in business and in life. If you contribute to the Year of the Peer in just one small way, you’ll see how effective the power of peers, the power of “us”, can truly be.
The good news is that contributing is easy: 1) Be on the lookout for positive stories and examples of the amazing peer-to-peer interactions that are happening all around us each and every day – in our schools, businesses, communities, social media, peer advisory groups, etc. They are not getting the attention they deserve, so let’s shine a brighter light on them. 2) Take the lessons from those examples and bring them into your own life and to those closest to you. 3) When you encounter something worth telling the world about, or you have a story of your own that could inspire someone else, see to it that it’s captured for all of us on your favorite social media platform using (hashtag) #yearofthepeer.
As I write this, the voice of Ryan Foland is ringing in my head, asking me to answer the question, “What problem are we trying to solve for?” It’s a fair question, and I hope my response creates a sense of urgency as to why it matters so much, especially now.
What problem are we trying to solve for?
We’re coming off the most divisive presidential election in modern U.S. history. As a society, we’ve come to debate more than dialogue, talk more than listen, and judge rather than learn. Trust in our institutions is low and the political climate for compromise has never been more toxic. It’s classic boiling frog syndrome. It’s become a big problem and we’re paying a high price.
Consider this sobering example, the 1948 “Do Nothing (80th) Congress,” as labeled by Harry Truman, passed more public laws (906) than the 112th, 113th and current 114th Congress combined (as of October 2016). Apparently, it’s become more acceptable for our respective representatives to be intractable and come home empty-handed, than to accomplish something that would actually benefit the American people.
That said, blaming our political leaders is not a solution, nor is it entirely their fault. It’s bigger than that. Collaboration and compromise breed casualties across all sectors – winners and losers, leaders who “caved to the other side.” As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who collaborate to reach sensible compromise continue to be marginalized by the media (and the public, by the way), we’ll all be the biggest loser.
Neither collaboration nor compromise are four-letter words. This is where CEOs have an opportunity to lead by example. Consider that in 2013, a study conducted at Stanford Graduate School of Business concluded that nearly two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive outside leadership advice. Seeking the help and assistance of others is a sign of strength, not weakness, no matter what position you hold in an organization.
Together, we have the power to send a message to every sector of our society that it’s time for a change, because somehow, somewhere along the line, we stopped listening to what our elementary school teachers taught us all those years ago: We’re simply not working and playing well with others nearly as well as we could. This is the problem we’re trying to solve for, and if we don’t start now, it’s only going to get worse to our detriment.
A Positive Example of What’s Possible
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from two decades of watching the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and studying their program (4 consecutive national championships and currently riding an 84-game winning streak) is that being a good teammate is more important than the individual stats or accomplishments of any one player. That’s why in 2015, Nate Silver dubbed it the most dominant basketball program on the planet. We need to borrow a page from UConn’s playbook. What if all of us just committed ourselves to being better teammates?
In addition to speaking and writing, let me talk about another small contribution to the larger cause. For 50 weeks during 2017, I’ll bring some of the best minds in the world together to share their insights, stories, and recommendations about how we can work together more effectively – how to seek common ground and see one another for our gifts rather than our differences. Guests appearing on my podcast: Year of the Peer with Leo Bottary during Q1 will include Altimeter Group CEO, Charlene Li; Forbes publisher and global futurist, Rich Karlgaard; Founder and Executive Director of the Business Owners Council, Lewis Schiff; Host of MSNBC’s Your Business, JJ Ramberg; Inspirational speaker, Rahfeal Gordon; global start-up evangelist, Vitaly Golomb; and best-selling coauthor of more than 30 leadership books, including The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes, among others.
My hope is that you’ll subscribe to the free podcast and invite your friends and colleagues to do so as well. Of course the podcast is just one small part of a larger movement. If you see this opportunity before us in 2017 as I do, I also invite you to read these two blog posts to get you ready for the Year of the Peer and, in turn, for you to share your ideas and stories with all of us during the coming 12 months.
This fast changing, complex world is going to ask more of us than ever before. We’ll have to rely on one another to meet the challenges of a future most of us can barely imagine. Going it alone isn’t going to cut it. Who you surround yourself with matters. Remember to use (hashtag) #yearofthepeer, share this post with your friends and colleagues, and join us on January 12th for our first podcast with guest Charlene Li! Thanks for reading!
It was Christmas ten years ago that YOU were named TIME’s Person of the Year! My guess is that most of you never noted it on your resume or added it to your LinkedIn profile. I’m just wondering, “Why not?”
For all these years, you probably believed that “you” wasn’t specific to you; it was more of an “us” thing. You may have thought that because you didn’t earn this distinction entirely on your own, including it among your list of honors and awards would have been considered a stretch, so to speak. That’s understandable. So let me invite you to think of it this way instead: No other human who has ever been named TIME’s Person of the Year did it entirely on their own either. (Check out the list). They had help – lots of it. Here are a few excerpts from Lev Grossman’s 2006 piece, You — Yes, You — Are TIME’s Person of the Year, just to put what you did in perspective:
“The ‘Great Man’ theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men.’ He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year. To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened in 2006…
“But look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”
I encourage you to read the entire article, but here was the kicker for me:
“But that’s what makes all this interesting. Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail. There’s no road map for how an organism that’s not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion. But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It’s a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who’s out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you’re not just a little bit curious.”
Fast-forward a decade. In my first Year of the Peer podcast, to be released January 12th, Charlene Li suggests that despite the fact that we have more ways of connecting with one another than ever, real conversation has given way to the Bully Pulpit. I agree with her assessment. There’s too much talking, not enough listening, and not nearly enough dialogue. If that’s the case, we’re not maximizing our potential as a society when it comes to building international understanding – citizen to citizen, person to person. We’re just not.
I don’t think we’re failing at what Grossman described as a “massive social experiment,” but I do believe we’ve gotten sidetracked. My hope is that if, together, we embrace the Year of the Peer – or at least the sentiment behind it – that we can realize our global collaborative potential. With any luck, we’ll be named TIME’s Person of the Year for a second time. And when that happens, whether it’s 2017 or 2018, you can add another Person of the Year honor to your resume!
If you asked someone to define the word peer, or to describe a peer, he/she might respond by saying, “Someone like me.” While that’s partly true, it doesn’t mean you can’t have peers who are very different from you as well. When you think of the word peer in this way, you can start to consider the implicit value of peer diversity.
The very notion of peer diversity may feel like a contradiction, but by broadening your definition of peer, it allows you to consider the value of engaging people from different backgrounds and various walks of life. When I interviewed iHeartMedia Chairman & CEO, Bob Pittman for The Power of Peers, he told me:
“I go to Burning Man every year. I go there because it’s the most radical departure from the life that I lead in business that I could imagine. It’s great for me because, for a week, I’m seeing the world completely differently. I like to travel to exotic places and countries. I like to go to Bhutan, where they have “Gross National Happiness” instead of gross national product, and spend a week there just to sort of sense, okay, how can I change my perspective? I think everyone in this company is looking to my leadership to be open-minded. They’re looking to me to find a new path, to help find the pivots, to help find the transformations. Anything that can guide me on that is the most important thing.”
Peer diversity is not an oxymoron. As you prepare for the new year (the Year of the Peer, if you will), think about spending time with people outside your social circle or vertical industry sector. Step out of your comfort zone. Hang out with people whose experiences and backgrounds are different from your own and who likely know things you don’t. When they espouse an opinion that’s different from yours, rather jump to making a judgment about it (as many of us often do), ask questions in the hope you can discover where they are coming from and how they formed their opinion – even if you ultimately don’t agree with it. This is how we learn and how we keep that open mind Bob Pittman talked about.
Consider this quote from Seth Godin: “A fundamentalist considers whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it. A curious person explores first and then considers whether they want to accept the ramifications.”
As you prepare for the upcoming year, rather than make a lofty new year’s resolution, make yourself a promise instead: engage more people unlike yourself and stay curious.