Why You Should Engage Peers Who Are Different From You

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.

Image: Burning Man, 2013

Santa Has Peers, Too!

…just don’t tell the little ones!  It appears that Santa(s) got a jump-start on the Year of the Peer today at the annual Crested Butte Santa Ski and Crawl (Pub Crawl, that is). The featured image was taken at last year’s event. I caught up with a few Santas at today’s spectacle (see below) who I could hear sharing all kinds of info that only Santas would truly understand, yet could benefit us all. Unless you’ve sat in Santa’s Chair, with kids sitting on your lap asking you for stuff all day long, you can’t empathize, but you can learn something.

While part of the allure is setting the world record* for the number of skiing Santas, I got the sense that they just really like spending time together, talking Santa to Santa, if you will. It was snowing up on the mountain today, and while the conditions may have deterred some people, the Santas weren’t even fazed – as you might imagine. This was nothing for them. I felt a little guilty eavesdropping, but I learned so much! Everything from how to groom one’s beard in the off-season to what to wear on Christmas eve so that you can stay warm in Minnesota and still be comfortable in South Florida.

If you have friends or colleagues that you would love to give a present to this holiday season, but you really don’t want to spend any money on them (or you want to add to what you’re already giving them), sign them up to receive the weekly Year of the Peer Podcast – it’s free and it will be the gift that keeps on giving in 2017!  Just tell them Santa(s) recommended it!

*As for whether there was a world record set today or not, I’ll get back to you!

12 Must Reads for The Year of the Peer

Listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, you’ll find twelve “must reads” for the Year of the Peer.  Read one a month starting in January.  If you’ve read one or more of them already, offer your reviews or add a title of your own you may not see here!  If you’re so inclined, any one of these books would be a wonderful holiday gift for a friend or colleague!

January –  Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

February – Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi

March – Critical Mass by Richard Franzi

April – True North Groups by Bill George & Doug Baker

May – Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser

June – Team Genius by Rich Karlgaard

July – Learning Leadership by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

August – The Power of the Other by Henry Cloud

September – Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

OctoberPeers, Inc. by Robin Chase

NovemberConversational Capacity by Craig Weber

December – Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger and Richard McDermott

*And of course, don’t forget The Power of Peers by Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary



10 (11) Ways to Prepare for the Year of the Peer

I am sitting in my family room watching the Ohio State/Michigan game, laptop in lap, posting on the topic of preparing for the Year of the Peer.   A few moments ago, I received a text from a friend I met since moving to California about eight years ago. The message read: Just wanted to say that post Thanksgiving, I have a real sense of gratitude for all the family, friends, and acquaintances in my life. Hope I’ve been good to you, too!

Hard to think of a better way to prepare for the Year of the Peer than thanking the people you care about, sharing how much you appreciate them, and letting them know you hope you’re making a positive difference in their lives as well.   It’s something we don’t do often enough, yet being the recipient of such a message has already made my day and inspired me to complete this blog post (game notwithstanding).

After thanking the people who are making a difference in your life, here are 10 other suggestions:

  1. Commit yourself to the idea that who you surround yourself with matters.  Recognize that so much of who you are and what you achieve in life is a reflection of your peers.
  2. Take stock of the people in your life. Who is lifting you up, holding you at bay, or even dragging you down?  Spend more time with the people who will help you raise your game.
  3. Ask yourself:  Who did I meet this year (whom I didn’t know last year) who has made a positive difference in my life?  Consider how you can advance those relationships to your mutual benefit.  (And if you don’t have anyone new in your life, take note of that for next year).
  4. Ask yourself: Who have I lost touch with over the years?  How and why did that happen?  Not every relationship in our life is meant to last forever.  However, often times we can lose touch with someone without even realizing it.  Before we know it, x years have gone by and we just never realized it.  Don’t let that discourage you from reaching out!   You’ll both be glad you did.
  5. Seek out individuals who will challenge your world view.  Too often, we hang out with people who are similar to us – for some of us, maybe too similar.  In the movie The Sure Thing, Professor Taub tells her students: “Have conversations with people whose clothes are not color coordinated.”  Good advice!
  6. Assume a posture of learning rather than judging.  The more often you can take the default position that you can learn from anyone if you just pay enough attention, the more likely you actually will.  Don’t judge others, or rate their opinions/answers to your questions, learn from them.
  7. Ask more questions of people and listen for understanding.   This is tough to do if you’re inclined to judge all the time, which is why being a learner is so essential.  Too often when people make statements we don’t agree with, we counter with our own diametrically opposed viewpoint.  While you can’t fathom how someone could hold such a view, you’ll never find out either if you leap into an argument.  Be curious instead.  If you do, you may never achieve agreement, but you might come to a mutual understanding and even develop a respect for a different point of view.
  8. Share what you do know with others who will benefit from your experience and wisdom.  Effective peer-to-peer relationships are powered by generosity and reciprocity.  As you learn from others, be sure you are returning the favor.
  9. Avoid the urge to make a New Year’s Resolution.  If anyone asks you, just say you’re not doing that this year.  According to the University of Scranton, while nearly half of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, 92% of them fail.  People fail largely because their resolution lacks specificity and because they typically don’t ask for help.  Why be one of them?
  10. Set goals for yourself instead.  Once you’ve defined your goals, whether you want to run a company or run a marathon, surround yourself with people who have done it or want to do it.   This is where joining or starting a peer group can be incredibly effective!

Take these 10 thought starters (11 once you’ve thanked your peers for the year), add to them as you see fit, and share any ideas you may have for how you will prepare for the Year of the Peer in the comments section.  In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our Year of the Peer video podcast on YouTube.  The link to iTunes will be available soon.   Enjoy your Saturday!

Image: Thank you.







Reflecting On The Company You Keep

I was visiting a neighbor recently and there was a man in his mid-to-late 80s, who happened to be at the house as well.  During the course of conversation, he started to quiz me about my book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, which I coauthored with Leon Shapiro.  He asked some incredibly good questions.  I loved his curiosity and offered him a copy, which he graciously accepted.  In return, he jotted down a quote in Italian (see graphic above), which essentially means: “Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

While it’s strikingly similar to the English expression, “You’re known by the company you keep,” I found the translation of the Italian especially powerful.  There’s something more pointed about the idea that the people with whom I surround myself reveals something larger about who I am as a person.  I can only hope so because about a week or so later, I spent an incredible day in San Francisco with two people whom I not only admire and respect, but also really like.

André Eidskrem and Karen Floyd were kind enough to treat me to a taste of Europe with visits to the Royal Norwegian Consul General, Hilde Janne Skorpen and Spain Tech Center Director, Christian Prada.  Again, I marveled at the insightful questions and the immediate grasp of two things:  1) Who we surround yourself with matters; and 2) we don’t pay nearly enough attention to number 1.  Whether you’re a CEO of a Norwegian company, founder of a Spanish tech start-up, or just trying to spread the word about the power of peers and peer advantage.  We’re all far more effective when we surround ourselves with great people – people who will support us when we ask, challenge us when we need it, and provide a perspective that offers a new way of thinking or a new way forward.

As I reflect on the past year, I think about all the amazing people I’ve met who have already made my life richer.   I hope the company I keep, as the Italian expression suggests, is the truest reflection of who I am as a person.  Next time you look in the mirror, rather than look at your reflection, turn around and take stock of the people in your life.  Make this the reflection that matters most and it will change your life for the better.




A Culture of Accountability

I was recently invited to contribute a video for a webinar that was led by Vistage (UK) titled: Accountability – The glue that ties commitment to results.  When it comes to creating a culture of accountability, either for a peer advisory/mastermind group or for a team inside any organization, the five factors outlined in The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success provide a fitting framework.  Here’s the video I submitted, which served as my small contribution to the larger conversation about accountability.  Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts!!

Jonathan and Cultural Legacy

Meet Jonathan the Husky, the mascot for the University of Connecticut.  He’s an enduring and evolving symbol, named in honor of the last colonel and the first governor of the “Constitution State.”  There’s a costumed version and an actual canine.  I’ll leave it to you to guess which one is standing with me in this photo taken at last night’s game – an exhibition between the 2016-2017 edition of the UCONN women’s basketball team and Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).

My interest in attending the game was to see firsthand how a team that lost its top three players, who also happened to be the top three picks in the WNBA draft, would reassemble itself for this upcoming season.  With the leaders of last year’s team gone, who would step up this year?   While it’s way too early to tell, it may turn out that there’s no natural go-to player, so much as they play as a jazz ensemble that features a different solo performer each and every night.  (A scary thought if you’re tasked with preparing to play them).

You might also argue (as I do) that last year’s stars Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson may have graduated, but they are ever present.  The peer-to-peer culture that these players learned from those who came before them, lives on in the team who stepped on the floor last night.   They played with an energy, excitement and athleticism that showcased their own personality, and yet at the same time, they were strengthened by the cultural legacy that makes Connecticut uniquely Connecticut.  Turns out, UCONN received a pre-season AP ranking of #3 in the country.  Rebuilding year?  Doesn’t look like it.

Last night’s game score was 111-39.  Buckle-up for the 2016-2017 installment of UCONN women’s basketball.  Join Jonathan and me for as many games as you can!

The Power of a Good Question

Expert DOjO’s Head Honcho Brian Mac Mahon invited Ryan Foland and me to speak for a full morning session at the Digital Hollywood Conference in Los Angeles last week.  What an amazing event!  Brian provided the kind of insights that only someone whose lived in 30 countries and has consulted and started companies the world over can provide.   Ryan, a gifted presenter in his own right, delivered a masterclass in communication for entrepreneurs.  I reinforced the value of coming together for conferences and the need for extending that experience through participation in peer advisory/mastermind groups.  During the final 45 minutes, we actually set up a spontaneous mastermind group comprised initially of about 10 volunteers, and soon after we got underway, everyone joined in the experience.

As I reflect on the 2 1/2 hours we spent with this impressive group of entrepreneurs, it’s apparent that the most powerful moments of the entire session were found not in the answers that were given, but in the questions that were raised.  Answers tend to guide us to a conclusion, while questions promote additional learning and further discovery.  The audience asked Brian some very pointed questions – questions which often got to the heart of what was burning inside everyone in the room.

Ryan offered a version of the $64,000 question back to the audience when he asked them to identify the problems their companies are trying to solve.  Not “What do they do?” or “How do they do it?  Ryan asks the bigger question because until you know “precisely” what problem you’re trying to solve, you’re going to have a difficult time communicating the relevance of what you do and surviving as a company.  Ryan’s 3-1-3 pitch coaching model, which helps you get to the heart of that very question, should be part of every entrepreneur’s toolkit.

As for my role, after setting the stage for the value of mastermind groups and why they work so well, we invited people to come up on stage and give it a try – to participate in a real-time experience where one of the members would ask the group for assistance in addressing her most pressing challenge.  This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to asking the right question.   By taking a few moments to assist the member with crafting the question as accurately as we could determine in that moment, it prevents the group (most of the time) from eventually giving the member some great ideas that turn out to have no real utility – which wouldn’t be much help at all.  After helping the member frame the question, it was time for the group members to start asking questions of their own in an effort to gain a greater understanding of the situation.  Here, we established just three rules for asking questions of the member seeking assistance:

  1. Ask open-ended questions (ones that cannot be answered yes or no).
  2. Do not ask “why” questions (in trying to create a safe environment for sharing, “why” questions can tend to put a group member needlessly on the defensive).
  3. Do not frame a question as a question-mendation (meaning ask questions that improve your understanding what’s going on, not “Have you considered trying x, y, z?”).

Everyone jumped right in and followed my three rules to the letter.  Best of all, the richness of the exchange, along with the ideas that came from the participants after the initial question session was completed, demonstrated to everyone that even in 45 minutes, among a group of people many of whom only met that morning, they could deliver and receive real value.

I’d like to think that on the way out of the room, the audience members were asking themselves this question:  How is it that I’m not in a mastermind group of my own?  Let’s hope so.


Don't Stay in Airplane Mode

Perry Maughmer, a Vistage Chair in the Columbus, Ohio area recently shared that he was reading The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have On You From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond – and What to Do About It, by Dr. Henry Cloud.  When smart people tell me they’re reading a really insightful book, I’ve learned over the years that it’s a good idea to buy it right way and start reading it while it’s fresh on my mind.  I’m really glad I did.

Two points that struck me early in Dr. Cloud’s book are 1) “…the neglected truth is that the invisible attributes of relationship and the connection between people have real and tangible power” and that “it begins at birth.”  I often speak to audiences about how early it starts, but only as it relates to childhood memories of wanting to “belong.” It’s my way of helping people reflect on how peer influence has been part of all of our lives for as long as we can remember.  Dr. Cloud speaks to it as a biological and physiological imperative.  This explains a great deal about why our need for human connection is so visceral.

2) Our smart phones serve as a fitting metaphor for maximizing human potential. When your phone is in airplane mode, for example, it has limited functionality.  Connect it to a cellular or wi-fi network, and it transforms into a device with exponential potential.  We are capable of a great deal as individuals, yet we can realize so much more when connected to a network – a network of people who will cheer us on, share their perspectives and wisdom, and hold us accountable for achieving our own self-expressed goals.

In today’s fast-paced, complex world, there’s no need to go it alone.  No need to fight biology and stay in airplane mode.  Challenge yourself to engage in meaningful exchanges with others and take your life (personally and professionally) to new heights.

Image: Chinavasion

Peer Advantage at Expert DOJO

I started my day yesterday with a visit to Expert DOJO in Santa Monica, CA where I met with Brian Mac Mahon and Dustin Dye.   Brian is the head honcho and Dustin is the membership guru – yes, their real titles ;-).  Expert DOJO is what the website describes as  a “one-stop success factory” for entrepreneurs and leaders of early-stage companies.  It was actually my second visit to the dojo, which I found to be appropriately named, largely because of the palpable energy you feel as soon as you enter.  Very impressive.

The word dojo comes from the Japanese term “place of the way.”  It’s described in Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s book Holding the Center – Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion as: “A dojo is a space of commitment in which people practice together. What is powerful about the dojo is what it tells us of learning, and ultimately, of waking up, of being alive.”

The words commitment, learning, being alive, and discipline (my word) describe for me what makes Expert DOJO so effective and why so many people are so passionate about giving of themselves to benefit others in this environment.  Have a listen to Brian’s TEDx talk and you’ll understand why I know this to be true – why life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game and, most especially, why who you surround yourself with matters both in business and in life.

Check out Expert DOJO’s website, and better yet, if you want to experience a brand of peer advantage you can only get in a dojo, come to their event on the morning of October 21st and discover your “place of the way.”  I look forward to seeing you!