The Case For Adopting #yearofthepeer in 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.

Add LinkedIn to the List!

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?

What’s Next…

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!


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.







Join Us for the Year of the Peer


Plan on subscribing to the podcast by all means, yet it’s my hope that you’ll join the movement!  In 40 days, the Year of the Peer begins, and on January 12th, Charlene Li will join us as our first podcast guest.  Who you surround yourself with matters and in today’s world, this has never been more relevant.  Have a look at the following five-minute video describing our podcast, which will be available here and on YouTube (video) and on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play, etc. (audio).

Click here to subscribe and invite your peers to join you for the Year of the Peer.  Enjoy!

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.




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!

How's This For Optimizing?

In The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership Growth & Success, we outline four ways we typically engage others.  We connect, network, optimize and accelerate.  We defined optimize in terms of what happens when peers work together toward a common goal – when they chase perfection in the pursuit of excellence.  During my recent trip to Washington, DC and the National Gallery of Art, I never thought I’d discover one of the most remarkable examples of optimizing I could have ever imagined.

The sculpture pictured above is commonly referred to as “The Veiled Nun.”  Until I got close enough to realize otherwise, it looks as if an actual veil is draped over the marble statute.  It’s absolutely breathtaking.  I immediately looked for the plaque that I assumed would identify who sculpted this masterpiece and it read, “Italian.”  How could this be?  How could no one know who crafted this masterful work?  So I thought I’d look into it when I returned home.  Turns out, the story behind “The Veiled Nun” is every bit as amazing as the piece itself.

Purchased in March 1863 in Rome by William Wilson Corcoran [1798-1888], it was gifted to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1873, and later acquired by the National Gallery of Art (2014).  Until recently, it was assumed that it was the work of Giuseppe Croff.  Experts have since concurred that it was actually created in a commercial workshop in Rome, making it unlikely we will ever know the name of the carver(s).  Here’s where it gets interesting, as Lisa Strong, then Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, tells the story:

It is a little known fact that sculpture in this period was produced by a designer (the artist who signs the piece) and a craftsman who actually carved the piece in marble. The artist would have designed the sculpture in plaster or wax and then submitted that model to the workshop for production. Studio labor was specialized, so there would have been one craftsman to select and rough out the block of marble and to confirm there were no flaws in the stone. Next, another craftsman used a mechanism called a pointing device to drill into the block and match the contours of the plaster model. Yet another craftsman carved the face, followed by specialists in hair, eyes, etc. and a final artisan who polished the surface. This commercial production system was the same whether a workshop was producing a signed piece of sculpture under an artist’s supervision or a copy of an antique or eighteenth century design.

Strong goes on to say:

Once Corcoran returned to Washington, D.C. and put The Veiled Nun on display in his home, it received only an occasional mention from visitors. Likewise, its exhibition in the first Corcoran building (now the Renwick) in a niche of the rotunda, elicited little comment. This is perhaps because The Veiled Nun would have been a fairly familiar subject for Victorian audiences who were accustomed to virtuoso sculptural techniques. It was only in the early twentieth century, long after the taste for realistic sculpture had changed and the market for veiled busts had evaporated that the public began to take note. By 1969, when Readers Digest approached the Corcoran with a request for its audience’s favorite piece, The Veiled Nun was an easy answer. It was firmly entrenched as the one of Washington’s most beloved artworks and it remains among its most popular today.

As it should.  I’ll never forget the first moment I saw it or the story of how it was crafted.  It has raised the bar for me forever when it comes to what a group of peers, committed to a common goal, is capable of achieving.  The people who created “The Veiled Nun” didn’t just chase perfection, they caught it.  I share this story with you, so you can share it with your team.  Enjoy!  (Be sure to see it for yourself during your next visit to our nation’s capital).

Image: GW Corcoran School of the Arts

Big Papi, Pedro, the Power of Peers & the Postseason!

I think a lot of Red Sox fans would agree that without the heroics of David Ortiz (Big Papi), the story going into this year’s postseason might have focused on the prospect of a match-up between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs and which team might finally break their respective curse.  What fewer people may realize (outside of New England) is that if not for some heavy lobbying by Pedro Martinez after Ortiz was released by the Minnesota Twins at the end of the 2002 season, Ortiz not only wouldn’t have joined the Red Sox, but may have found it difficult to get a job with any team in major league baseball at that time.

In a piece by ESPN last month, Ortiz and his agent described the situation this way:

ORTIZ: So now you see all these guys signing, and I’ve got nothing. I didn’t think I wasn’t going to play, but I was preparing to just go to winter ball and hope something came up. So I went to winter ball and had a good winter, but I didn’t have anything.

FERNANDO CUZA, AGENT TO DAVID ORTIZ: David was calling me five times a day. He was nervous as s—. I’ll never forget being in that coffee shop with him at the Sheraton in Santo Domingo [capital of the Dominican Republic]. That face.

Every day that went by, you could see it. He was saying, “I’m young. I have no other skills but to play baseball, but nobody wants me. What am I going to do? How am I going to provide for my family?” I told him if you get the chance, you’re gonna be a son of a bitch. You’re gonna tear it up. I didn’t think his career was over, because he was a great hitter.

DESPITE HIS AGENT’S words, Ortiz was in a full panic by January. Spring training was six weeks away, and he had no job. There were no offers, no workouts, no invites. The Red Sox now had Jeremy Giambi, Zuleta and Hillenbrand on the roster. Then came an intervention from an unlikely source — perhaps the greatest Sox pitcher of all time.

A Boston Globe article last week provided then Red Sox President Larry Lucchino’s account of the call from Pedro:

“[Martinez] called me after the Twins cut David and said, ‘I’m not calling about my contract. I just want to call you directly and make a suggestion.’ I said, ‘Yeah, go.’ He said, ‘David Ortiz is out there. He just got released. It baffles me as to why he was released. But he’s really a good guy, No. 1, and he can really hit, No. 2, so it would mean a lot if you can give him a chance to make the Red Sox.’

“It was that call that set in motion the events that led us to signing David Ortiz.”

When the Twins cut Ortiz, his agent, Fern Cuza, sent faxes to every team informing them of Ortiz’s availability. No team showed meaningful initial interest. Ortiz believes Martinez changed that.

When the Red Sox organization and its fans paid tribute to Big Papi on the final day of the regular season at Fenway Park, Ortiz publicly thanked Pedro Martinez for being the guy he credits for making it all possible.  If the power of peers could rid Boston of the Curse of the Bambino, then imagine how it could impact your life.

As we prepare for the Year of the Peer, here are two things you can do today that will have an immediate impact on your life and the life of someone else:  1) Think of a peer that helped you at some point in your life.  Call, email, text, create a video or pen a handwritten note and thank them!  You’ll make their day and you’ll feel pretty good, too! 2) Think of a peer who could either benefit from your encouragement or expertise (or both) and let them know that whatever it is they are trying to achieve in life, that you are in their corner.  Show them you believe in them and if you think you can help by making a “Pedro-call,” don’t ask, just do it.

Simple acts.  Big impact.  The power of peers.  Go Red Sox!


Why NPS & Our Peers Matter More Than Ever

A company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) may matter more today than when it first came on the scene in 2003 – not the score so much as the behavior it inspires.  Here’s why:

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer  revealed that “respondents are increasingly reliant on a ‘person like yourself’, who, along with a regular employee, are significantly more trusted than a CEO or government official. On social networking and content-sharing sites, respondents are far more trusting of family and friends (78 percent) than a CEO (49 percent).”

Richard Edelman said, “We must get beyond ‘The Grand Illusion’ that the mass will continue to follow the elites.  This ‘Illusion’ was predicated on the belief that the informed publics have access to superior information, their interests are interconnected and that becoming ‘an elite’ was open to all who work hard. But the democratization of information, high-profile revelations of greed and misbehavior, coupled with rising income inequality, have squashed those beliefs. The trust of the mass population can no longer be taken for granted.”

As trust in institutions erodes – when 92% of people trust their peers over branded content (The Shelf) – then people will continue to turn to their peers in increasingly high numbers.  This is where a company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) enters the picture.

Here’s a quick refresher on NPS: It is the brainchild of Bain & Company partner Fred Reichheld.  Reichheld created NPS as an answer to conventional, often lengthy customer satisfaction surveys that were largely ineffective.  A company’s NPS is determined by obtaining the answer to what’s now regarded as The Ultimate Question:

On a zero to ten scale, how likely is it that you would recommend us (or this product/service/brand) to a friend or colleague?

Respondents are placed in one of three categories: promoters, passives, or detractors. Customers identified as promoters, who answer the question with a nine or ten, are far more likely than passives or detractors to be ambassadors (or even evangelists) for a product or service.

Today, because people trust their peers far more than institutions, seeing NPS only as another customer satisfaction metric would be missing the boat – the same one we’re all in, by the way.  Companies that understand how to use it, see the score as a verb rather than a noun.  Doing so serves to encourage reinforcing behaviors and a culture that inspires and creates even more promoters.   The more friends and family members who graduate from passives to promoters, the more likely sales of that company’s product or service go up.  Pretty simple really.  It’s how (and why) the power of peers matters now more than ever.




Where One23 Meets Peer Advantage

We all have a story, but few people can leverage its narrative as Rahfeal Gordon has done so brilliantly in the 2nd edition of his riveting book One23.  In it, Rahfeal reveals a chronicle of hardship that delivers a promise of hope.  After sharing his deeply personal story, he also gives back to us, as others gave to him, by sharing 23 powerful strategies and a daily approach for how we can all find value in ourselves no matter where we came from.  Among them is enlisting the help of others.

As you’ll discover in the book, Rahfeal understood that everyone had something to teach him.  He received active and passive lessons from people from all walks of life.  By always paying attention, he apprehended the good from the good, and the good from the bad, and used what he learned to create personal clarity about the kind of man he wanted to be.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Rahfeal, and I will tell you that the man matches the narrative.  He’s every bit as thoughtful, positive, curious, inspiring, and generous as the account of his life reveals.  What’s most obvious is that Rahfeal understands the importance of surrounding himself with good people – people who lift him up, people who he can learn from, and people who hold him accountable to his lofty goals and his dream of making the world better than he found it.

Rahfeal does this by seeing the emptiness in the glass half-full as opportunity.  It’s a little like the story of the two shoe salesmen, who upon their return from a business trip to a village in India, each shared their assessment of the market potential.  The first salesman concluded, “Bad news.  No one was wearing shoes there.”  The second exclaimed, “Great news!  No one was wearing shoes there!”

While it’s easy to chuckle at the first salesman’s perspective, it’s far more common than you think. Earlier in my PR career, one of my clients was a 75+ year-old regional engineering firm. Everyone in the firm openly thought of themselves, and the company as a whole, as stodgy and resistant to change. (They practically wore it as a badge of honor).  My task was to update the messaging the leadership was using to communicate to the marketplace, which essentially reflected how they saw themselves.  This meant that my initial task was to convince the leaders to see themselves differently first.

In reading a book on the history of the firm, I discovered one story after the next where the company faced seemingly insurmountable odds only to reinvent itself, no matter what the market threw in its way.  The firm always figured out how to change its business to stay in business.  The history didn’t say stodginess, it screamed agility!  Only after the leadership saw it this way could they communicate their new message convincingly to the market.

You want to learn how to take your story (no matter how tough it’s been) and change the narrative?  To use your past to create a new foundation for a brighter future?  Read Rahfeal’s book and surround yourself with the kind of people who will help you see in you, what you may not see in yourself, and keep them close by.  It’s where One23 meets peer advantage.

To learn more about Rahfeal Gordon and read more of his books, visit his website at

The ANJE Advantage

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the ANJE – Associação Nacional de Jovens Empresários (National Association of Young Entrepreneurs) is an association based in Portugal that promotes entrepreneurship by establishing new development paradigms in business and encouraging less conservative attitudes regarding risk, making it easier for early stage companies to access capital.

Part of the ANJE’s charge is to promote professional training for its associates and young entrepreneurs and to encourage a robust exchange of information and experiences.  Last week, the ANJE was generous enough to invite me to Porto to deliver a master class on (Success in Business [and Life]: Who You Surround Yourself With Matters), mentor several entrepreneurs, and participate in a two-hour peer advisory group session led by Miguel Dias, CEO of CEO World, based in Porto.

What an experience!  The energy, enthusiasm, and intellect evident among the more than 200 attendees was palpable.  It reminded me of what I experienced in Chicago at 1871, when I participated in a panel discussion there earlier this year.  There’s just nothing quite like an environment fueled by entrepreneurs and leaders of early stage companies armed both with the ideas and the ability to bring those ideas to life!   The atmosphere of collaboration and sharing was magical.

Personally, I could not have been surrounded by a group of finer people.  I learned so much!  Porto is an incredible city.  The people set the standard for hospitality through the shear warmth of their embrace.  To top it off, we celebrated together on Wednesday evening when Portugal defeated Poland in the quarterfinals of the EUFA European Football Championships, as we watched a nail-biting round of penalty kicks that would eventually secure Portugal’s victory!

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the two other master class speakers, both of whom inspired and enlightened me and the audience – Rafheal Gordon and Ryan Foland.  Looking for some amazing presenters for your next event?  Check these guys out!

Who you surround yourself with DOES matter.  Peer advantage is the ANJE advantage!  Make it yours, too!