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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Life without other people “is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience. – Mother Theresa
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In 1989, more than 200,000 college freshmen were asked about their life goals, and one goal stood out from the rest – to be well-off financially.

Money is of course valued for the access it provides to countless resources. But does it make us happy? Asks Matthew Lieberman in his book “Social – why our brains are wired to connect”.

He cites research by happiness researcher Ed Diener who looked at surveys of thousands of US adults who reported their subjective well-being and their income. there was a statistically significant relationship between how much a person earned and how happy they were, but it was extremely modest. individuals’ income explained only about 2 percent of the differences in happiness across the sample. And most of this relationship had to do with being below or above the poverty line. If you are below the poverty line, every additional $1000 you earn dramatically alters your well-being. But once the basic needs are met, increasing income only adds a little bit to well-being.

The Easterlin paradox was discovered by an economist in 1995 when he looked at data from 1946 to 1989 to isolate the relationship between income and well being. While income, after controlling for inflation, more than doubled during this time, and yet well-being did not increase at all. This result was also replicated in Japan.

Psychologists point out that humans have the tendency to adapt to new circumstances, whether they are good or bad, called hedonic adaptation. The famous example of this is where major lottery winners were contacted some time after winning, and reported being no happier than individuals from the same communities who had not won. Economists instead suggest a relative income argument suggesting that earning $50,000 a year in a neighbourhood where most people earn $30,000 a year could make us happier than earning $100,000 a year and having neighbours who earn $200,000 a year.

Robert Putnam, in the book “Bowling Alone”, offers another perspective: social. First, social factors substantially contribute to subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Second, in modern nations like the US, these social factors are in decline.

One study compared the impact of income and social connections on well-being and found that social factors had a more positive impact on well-being than income, once relative income effects were considered.

Lieberman cites these studies:
a) Volunteering was associated with greater well-being, and for people who volunteered at least once a week, the increase in their well-being was equivalent to the increase associated with moving from a $20,000 per annum salary to a $75,000 a year salary.
b) Across 100 countries, giving to charity is related to changes in well-being equivalent to the doubling of one’s salary.
c) Having a friend whom you see on most days, compared to not having such a friend, had the same impact on well-being as making an extra $100,000 a year. (See Gallup study)
d) Seeing your neighbour regularly is like making an extra $60,000

Building more “social” into our lives is very cost effective, having coffee with a friend, giving to a charity  – it could significantly improve your life.

 

Why are we getting less social?

Lieberman puts across that materialism in our culture has been growing over time. This aspiration toward financial success for many of us has come at the cost of our social connections. We have limited time, and spending more time working means less time socialising. In 1965, only 45% of college freshmen listed being “very well-off financially” as a top life goal, At that point, “helping others’ and “raising a family” scored higher. But by 1989, being well-off was at the top of the list, with 75% endorsing it. Although more individuals endorse materialism as a positive life value, the less happy they are with their lives.

Wall mural in Singapore

Wall mural in Singapore

Exams are around the corner. Or perhaps its the weather. In any cases, I am encountering stories of young people being depressed, or exhibiting signs of hopelessness. Some take their own lives. I applaud Havard for highlighting this issue in their article. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/12/10/suicide-harvard-mental-health/

According to an article by the National Healthcare group, depression is the most common mental illness in Singapore. Up to two thirds of sufferers do not realise that they have the condition and so do not seek help. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) lists these symptoms:

  • Feeling down or gloomy or experiencing persistent sadness
  • Losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed, such as socialising with friends and family
  • Losing appetite and weight
  • Staying up at night and not being able to sleep. Or sleep more than normal.
  • Feeling worthless and guilty

On Christmas Day, a friend posted on Facebook a post about the number of suicide calls handled by ISOS, and that more people cared about the Paris bombings so far away while those suffering inside languished away.  Immediately, I pm him, and not surprisingly it was a desperate cry himself.  Posting all the wonderful updates on FB, but internally languishing away. Somehow the holiday seasons bring in the blues especially if you don’t have family members to share it with you.

Dr Charles Mak, Registrar of General Psychiatry at IMH says “Depression is a complex illness. In addition to the presence of adverse life events or stressors, several other factors seem to increase the risk of developing the condition”. Apparently, everyone has a pre-disposition for depression. The question is why some stay depressed longer.

1. Role of Chemicals
Ironically, people who resort to alcohol to drown the pain can cause even more pain. It is not uncommon for a person to develop depressive symptoms after intoxication or withdrawal from a substance.

In a depressed brain, serotonin is at a low, and an anti-depressant can block the blockers to serotonin, causing serotonin to rise.   PBS episode “The Secret Life of the Brain” Episode 4 and 5 on the Adult Brain, gave insights on how emotions can somehow affect/ distort our perspectives. A few gms of anti-depressant such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help alleviate moods.

In the PBS interview, Lauren Slater suffers from a severe case of depression. She has since rebuild her life for 12 years. She writes about her life in “The Prozac Diary”. We still don’t understand how moods can immediately alleviate from “I’m no good” to “Life’s not so bad”.  She started on 10 miligrams and now takes 8 times on that. She’s one of the miracle cases. She’s not cured, only relieved of her symptoms temporarily. Common side effects include dizziness, nausea, restlessness and anxiety.

[Interestingly, I got the impression from the documentary that she was extolling the wonders of prozac. However, in her book, Slater wrote “I wanted to tell the Prozac Doctor about my hands… seems to be asking questions on the role of the doctor as a healer, whose miracle is a pill. I invited him to play the role not only of technician but “poet, priest, theologian and friend”. Seemed like a cry for a touch, rather than a pill.  Did prozac really help?]

2. Exercise – Exercise produces serotonin and dopomaine which are mood elevators.  This works for me. I exercise twice a day. I climb up 5 flights of steps, although I take the lift down. In normal day, our body secretes stress hormones to create a “fight or flight” response which was useful if there’s a real predator lying somewhere. But in our sedentary life, there’s no such threat, only psychological ones. Its important to get rid of the cortisol levels, otherwise, one will have to “fight” to reduce that tension. Before modern convenience were invented, effort required in walking, drawing water etc took up that excess energy. No surprises why we have such short fuse today. Fear and Aggression is correlated.

3. Talk therapy sessions such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy. Most patients with depression tend to have negative thinking patterns and beliefs, says Dr Mak. This may cause and perpetuate their depression. Undergoing “talk therapy” with a psychologist can help them challenge and change these thought patterns and beliefs”

4. The social circumstances of a patient. Identify and, if possible, deal with specific situations or stressors causing and perpetuating a patient’s depression. Ensure that the patient receives adequate social and emotional support from their family and friends is also important for their recovery, says Dr Mak. In a case cited by Dr Mak, Lydia did not need medicine, seeing a counsellor was all it took. Talking to someone about her problem and draining the pain out of the system was all it took.

Talk therapy doesn’t mean you can talk to anyone. When I moved back from a foreign land to Singapore, and staying with my family, I experienced reverse culture shock, and went into depression, an older female friend once told me “Just pull yourself up by the boot-strap”. It made me sink deeper into depression.

4. Postpone major decisions. Nothing more said. Your mood colors your perspective.

5. Sing
Maybe in karaoke or in a bathroom so as not to torture your friends. University of Manchester researchers discovered that an organ in the inner ear (that responds to singing sounds) is connected to a part of the brain that registers pleasure. So singing, alone in the car, or in a crowd at church (even if you’re very, very bad at it), may make you happier.

6. Read
Different topics interest me, and currently I’m into Jewish history and listening to Jonathan Sacks expound on the current political crisis affecting the world. Where was God during the Jewish holocaust? Fascinating topic on drawing meaning in suffering.

Not too long ago, I was listening to BBC production on “100 objects of history at the British Museum”.
There’re several good websites on what other writers do to keep their depression at bay.
Below is a list:
http://www.health.com/health/calendar/0,,20351621,00.html?viewdate=14
http://www.frontiersin.org/blog/How_to_Keep_Depression_at_Bay_When_You_Are_Disabled/2012

7. Help someone
Former Singapore ambassador to the US, Tommy Koh, wrote of a speech by Mrs Barbara Bush, where she said that “there was a period of her life where she suffered from depression. Instead of seeing a psychiatrist or taking medication to overcome her depression, she decided to be a volunteer. She found that by helping others less fortunate, her depression gradually disappeared.”

8. Don’t complain
Trying to find a positive thing to say about someone isn’t about being polite. Its for your own mental health. I found that the more I complain, the more toxic the air around me becomes. When I complain about how bad someone had been to me, I pass on the toxin to my husband, or my relatives who are kind enough to tolerate my complaints. If I can’t find something positive to say, I’d just keep quiet.

I try not to ruminate. Not too many weeks ago, when students walk out of my class, I would wonder if I had a boring class or feel hurt. I would wonder how it would affect my “satisfaction ratings”. I’ve stopped doing that. I found that the times I explode easily was correlated to the mornings when I spend time ruminating over something that happened in the past. Its not worth it.

9. Write
I once attended a talk on the positive effects of journalling. Among the examples of people who journal included Leonardo da Vinci, whose inventions and drawings can be found. I’ve a tendency to ruminate. My mind goes round and round a problem, like a broken down gramophone. I need to break that rut and divert my attention. Reading is sometimes too passive, so I write, and blog, and agree to teach.

10. Give thanks/ meditate/ pray
I find it works for me, especially for the person I’m upset about. Many self-help books say, come up with a list of ten things to give thanks for. Sometimes I need more than ten. Most times its difficult to thank the person, and I start with the mundane. Example. Thank you God for drinking water from the tap. Thank you God for safety in the streets. Although nowadays such things can’t be taken for granted. Its indeed a privilege to live in a safe place and be able to walk the streets in the daytime or at night.

Georgetown, Penang

Georgetown, penang

Love is what makes two people sit in the middle of a bench when there is plenty of room at both ends.

Spend the afternoon.  You can’t take it with you.”
–  Annie Dillard

“Watermelons and Zen students
grow pretty much the same way.
Long periods of sitting
till they ripen and grow
all juicy inside, but
when you knock them on the head
to see if they’re ready –
sound’s like nothing’s going on.”
–  Peter Levitt,

View From The Park Bench
by Andrew Blakemore

Upon this old familiar bench
From which I’ve spent a time or two,
Just gazing at the sky above
And watching chestnut trees,
Which change throughout the seasons
Now their copper leaves do fall,
Which gather on this stony path
And tossed upon the breeze.

For scattered far across the field
And through the air with random flee,
From every bough it seems to pluck
Until each one is bare,
Now soon the winter shall be here
With icy chills the frosts and snow,
When I’ll not stop but carry on
And find no comfort there.

Upon this bench so old and worn
That’s scrawled and etched on every slat,
And smeared with food from yesterday
Yet still to me so kind,
For here within my solitude
Away from all the toil and spite,
I’ll take my time to look around
While others seem so blind.

Within this park the children play
Upon the swings the slide and frame,
And run around upon the grass
Just like I used to do,
But now so many years have passed
And older but no wiser I,
And wish I had my youth again
Reliving days I knew.

Upon this bench I sit and wait
And as the people pass me by,
Some of them do speak to me
Some look the other way,
Yet here the grass shall always grow
Beneath my tired and aching feet,
A friendly place I call my own
Where often I do stay.

I long for daffodils of spring
To watch them all come into flower,
When blossom blooms upon the bough
Such beauty there to see,
Then listen to the birds that sing
As if for me their sweet refrains,
And I alone shall hear them all
Each golden melody.

Upon this bench on which I rest
I think how many things have changed,
Yet here it almost seems the same
As times of long ago,
St. Mary’s there still proudly stands
And in the morning sun does shine,
As ages passed it’s witnessed all
And seen the village grow.

Now as I make my way back home
And walk along this stony path,
Adorned by scattered copper leaves
That through the autumn fell,
I know I shall return again
To lose myself within the view,
And watch the seasons changing
From the bench where I shall dwell.

Cycling through Georgetown, Penang

Cycling through Georgetown, penang

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. –Desmond Tutu

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for future of the human race. –H.G. Wells

Bike Snob NYC: Words of Wisdom: The 21 Most Memorable Cycling Quotes

The Bicycle Song

The Bicycle Song by David Rovics (Puts a smile on my face)

Everybody’s wondering what they’re gonna do
Everything’s a mess and folks are feeling blue
If your troubles get you down so much you can’t abide
Get on that bicycle and ride

Yeah, get on that bicycle and ride
‘Neath the sunny skies or along the oceanside
Just ride, ride, ride, ride, ride

They’re doing it in Eugene, Havana and Shanghai
Even folks in Boston-town are giving it a try
Throwing out their gas tanks, the clean air by their side
Get on that bicycle and ride

Yeah, get on that bicycle and ride
‘Neath the sunny skies or along the oceanside
Just ride, ride, ride, ride, ride

It’s good for your heart and it’s good for your brain
When those fluorescent lights are driving you insane
Your toes’ll tingle in your shoes, when to the pedal they’re applied
Just get on that bicycle and ride

Yeah, get on that bicycle and ride
‘Neath the sunny skies or along the oceanside
Just ride, ride, ride, ride, ride

If you’re having troubles with your lovers, the tandem’s made for that
You’ll work together wonderfully or else you’ll just go splat
Gonna shut down Main Street, make the bike paths far and wide
And get on that bicycle and ride

Yeah, get on that bicycle and ride
‘Neath the sunny skies or along the oceanside
Just ride, ride, ride, ride, ride
// ]]>

“Your mind is the garden, 
your thoughts are the seeds,
the harvest can either be flowers or weeds.”

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Japanese man seriously flying his kite

 

Hobbyist propagating his air plants from seeds

Hobbyist propagating his air plants from seeds

 

Several years ago, in between jobs after my MBA, himself had a crazy idea that I do a temp job with Starbucks as a coffee barista. I did not take up his suggestion as I was worried about running into my friends in this down-and-out state. Many years later, I would be paying good money (instead of being paid) to learn café culture and how to do latte art.  Café culture is really big time in Asia now, and something I really wished I had picked up.

How to make good use of your downtime, whether its voluntary or involuntary. No experience is ever wasted. Steve jobs took time out to learn western calligraphy while figuring out his next step, and the landscape of printed font has never been the same again. (I can’t stand courier.)

The author of Roget’s Thesaurus, Dr Peter Mark Roget, published his Thesaurus with a useful list of antonyms and synonyms in his 70s. An obsessive-compulsive, with a family history of depression, making lists helped calm him down. You can read about his story in this website on late bloomers.

Coincidentally, I’m reading a biography of Deng Xiaoping by Ezra Vogel. Vogel’s snippet of how Deng whiled away his time in the Jiangxi countryside wilderness was quite inspiring,  Some of his other compatriots fell into depression. Deng, the chief architect of China’s economic rise, on the other hand, was planning in his mind, how to reform China, while doing manual labor in a factory. He was 65 yrs old then.

85 Ideas on what to do with your downtime.

Some ideas here came from “How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free – Retirement wisdom that you won’t get from your financial advisor” by Ernie J. Zelinski. Since this came from an author residing in the US, I’ve added my own cultural specific ones. Many free lessons can be obtained from the internet (Youtube), borrowing books from the internet, local library or local community centres.

  1. Learn art of Japanese tea making
  2. Experience Café Culture
  3. Coffee Appreciation class
  4. How to create latte art
  5. Learn western calligraphy
  6. Learn Chinese calligraphy
  7. Learn to bake Hokkaido milk bread
  8. Join a club such as the Lions or Rotary.
  9. Join public speaking club such as Toastmasters
  10. Learn to grow plants
  11. Record the history of your hometown
  12. Create a drawing of your family tree
  13. Write a book on how your ancestors have affected your life
  14. Become a connoisseur of inexpensive restaurants.  (ieatishootiblog)
  15. Chinese tea appreciation
  16. Grow a herb garden
  17. Go back to university and get a degree
  18. Watch interesting court cases at the courthouse
  19. Go sailing
  20. Gaze at the stars
  21. Write poetry
  22. Memorise a poem
  23. Learn famous quotations
  24. Start a collection of …
  25. Write a mobile app
  26. Teach children of low income families to read
  27. Teach English as a second language
  28. Practice the art of gratitude
  29. Do something for others for 29 days
  30. Declutter your room/ drawer/ cabinet
  31. Paint a self portrait
  32. Write a novel
  33. Write a “How to” book
  34. Compile lists of … (remember Roget’s Thesaurus)
  35. Play guitar or ukulele
  36. Learn to speak a foreign language (Spanish, German, Chinese)
  37. Paint watercolors
  38. Take an online writing course
  39. Write a diary/ journal
  40. Take a one hour walk everyday
  41. Visit the museums
  42. Volunteer as a museum guide and attend their training
  43. Learn pottery making
  44. Volunteer in a home for the aged
  45. Visit your parents
  46. Bestow gift of real listening without interrupting
  47. sign up for a counselling course
  48. Sponsor a child in Haiti/ Vietnam
  49. Meditate for 30 mins daily
  50. Practice a new habit for 21 days
  51. Spend an hour by the beach/ riverbank and listen to the sound of water
  52. Speak to your plants
  53. Make a list of favourite music in different genres (Jazz, Classical, Opera, Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop)
  54. Watch movies of different genres (e.g. Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Kurosawa, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai
  55. Learn different form of photography (portraiture, black-white, nature, children, night, action)
  56. Learn martial arts (e.g  Tae Kwando, Akido)
  57. Go mountain-climbing with a friend.
  58. Take up dancing (Ball room, waltz, Zumba)
  59. Have friends over for lunch
  60. Volunteer to Teach a children arts-and-crafts class
  61. Volunteer to build in “Habits for Humanity”
  62. Learn about other religions
  63. Go to church.
  64. Keep a sketch book
  65. Learn to hash-tag on Facebook
  66. Have a long conversation with a child and see where the conversation takes you
  67. Play a game with young children (depending on age, e.g. playdough, card games, guessing names)
  68. Cook
  69. Invite your friends for tea/ lunch
  70. Visit a different part of town you’ve never visited
  71. Bake a tart
  72. Make a list of all your friends
  73. Email/ send a card, written note (one person a day) on what you appreciate about them
  74. Learn art of gift wrapping
  75. Learn the art of small talk
  76. Start a web page of inspiring quotations
  77. Sweep your floors everyday
  78. Try finger painting
  79. Cook a different cuisine (e.g learn to make Vietnamese Spring rolls or Thai Pomelo salad from Youtube)
  80. Learn to swim
  81. Learn to play chess/ mah-jong/ bridge
  82. Learn about fashion/ colors that suit your skin tone
  83. How the internet works
  84. Climb to the top of the hill and watch the sunrise
  85. Walk for 4hours (that’s what Charles Dickens does to de-stress from writing!

Create your own 85 things to do in your free time. Make it 100!

 

Tomita Farm, Furano, Japan

Tomita Farm, Furano, Japan

Myth #5 Networking sounds opportunistic

In “Social- why our brains are wired to connect”, neuroscientist Michael Lieberman proposes that the size of our brains, in particular the size of our prefrontal cortex, the front part of the brain sitting right behind our eyes is larger than other mammals, not to do abstract reasoning as originally thought but to facilitate social cognitive skills – interact and get along well with others.

What’s so beneficial about living in groups? From studying primates, we know that the advantage to larger groups is that predators can be strategically avoided or dealt with more successfully. Its dangerous to be out in the open looking for food by yourself. However, the downside of larger groups is that there is increased competition for food and mating partners within the group. If you’re on your own and you find food its yours. But in a larger group, its likely that one of the others in your group will try to poach it. Lieberman argues that primates with strong social skills can limit this downside by forming alliances and friendship with others in their group

Networking is not opportunistic. Instead, it is a survival skill, not just leading to a division of labor and collection of diverse information, but also a way for self protection. Most of the people I hang out with socially are either current/former colleagues/ classmates or Lang’s former/current colleagues or spouses.  In today’s world, our world of work represents our major source of identify and influence (if not income). We spend most of our waking time with colleagues than with relatives/ loved ones. This is not always healthy, but colleagues come from the same socio-economic background and mindset. Since we spend so much of our waking time with colleagues than our family, why not work with people whose company you enjoy. Indeed, in many of the top MBA schools, including major strategy firms, one of the questions to the interviewer is, “Would you dread being stuck at the airport for 10hrs with this person you’re interviewing?”

Lieberman proposes that perhaps Maslow is wrong on one count. That the primal need of humans is social and it underscores everything we do, including the lower order needs such as physiological. The most basic human need is to be in touch with other humans, and to find an environment which we are comfortable in, and underpins our sense of security.

Many of the Masters students I work with, are curious how career change can happen. Why are some people able to make career switch so successfully? Recently I chanced upon a quote, on the tributes to Mr LKY, by the current CEO of SPH, Mr Alan Chan, on how he switched from being a civil servant to managing a newspaper giant. In 1994,  Mr Lee had invited Mr Lim Kim San, then Executive Chairman of SPH who had then lost his wife to join him on his trip to China. As then principal private secretary to Mr Lee, Mr Chan was on the trip, and spent 17 days with Mr Lim discussing all kinds of issues. Eight years later, in 2002, when Mr Lim needed to find someone to replace the CEO, he remembered the young man with whom he had many happy conversations with. http://www.herworldplus.com/leekuanyew

Networking is about having meaningful conversations with people whose paths we cross. Through such conversations, we understand each other’s aspirations, values and work ethics. Those who are more attentive, get “lucky”.

Myth #6 Networking is for the extrovert. I’m too shy

Some of us have a higher sense of self consciousness and lack self-esteem. Introverts, socially awkward. You may need some practice in non-threatening situations.

Knowing that I’m an introvert doesn’t give me an excuse. It liberates me to use areas of my strengths. I’m better at one-to-one or small group relationships. I get over-stimulated by large groups, and need to balance this with “alone” time. My extrovert students tell me they like introverts. Introverts make better listeners. Giving someone your full attention and clearly listen is a skill. Susan Cain’s “Quiet”.

Remember Mona Lisa. “The ideal smile, according to Leonardo da Vinci is a half smile, because it enhances the quality of gently gazing eyes.”

Do you smile because you’re happy or are you happy because you smile? In “Words can change your brains“, Newberg and Waldman cite researchers who found that when a mother sees a happy infant, dopamine is released in her brain’s reward centres, and she smiles too. But if a mother is being inattentive (italics mine), the smile will quickly fade away.

Myth #7 I’m afraid to be rejected

Not everyone will like you. Think of Mandela, Gandhi, Jesus or even Steve Jobs. Being rejected can happen to everyone. Perhaps there’s no match or appreciation for what you bring to the table. [Sometimes, the person could be deep in thought with their own issues and miss what you’re saying. This happens to me quite often, and my friends would ask if I was angry or something bothering me.]  Move on.

All of us have our own inner baggage, and the people you may be working with, may have their own set of values, stereotypes and bias. Ask if you’re banging your head against the wall. Or you simply need more practice in building social skills. Networking is a skill that needs practice. There are books teaching you how to create small talk. Read them.  Practice in a safe environment.

Myth #8 Don’t talk to strangers

How to be a Power Connector, the 5+50+100 rule” by Judy Robinett, who says to people who tell her they hate talking with strangers, “I was a stranger five seconds ago and you’re talking to me”.

Robinett suggests making it a game. Talk to 3 strangers a day, starting with people who are “trapped” next to them in a grocery line.

Observe your inner speech. When it turns negative, it can bring about a downward spiral of inattentiveness, negative emotions, retaliation and other problems. You may want to generate positive self-talk, think kind thoughts towards the people you are interacting with.

If that still doesnt work, understand what motivates you and what is your networking style. Extroverts for instance, like bigger groups of people. Introverts on the other hand, are not socially isolated as previously believed. Rather, they are motivated by their passion. An introvert can talk non-stop especially in their area of interest. But as it takes less to stimulate an introvert than an extrovert, take time out and rest. Know when you’re spent.

All the best to your networking!

I facilitate a workshop at the local university on “networking skills”. Having worked with superb connectors, colleagues who were diplomats in the Foreign Service, and headhunting, I am aware how lacking I am in this area.  Which makes me humble to ask for advice from the experts and be an empathetic listener to students making their first steps into their career.

Why network?

Myth #1 Networking is only for insurance agents, real estate agents and sales reps

Many people don’t realise that even if you do not need to generate sales, networking is part of our work. Today, we do not work in isolation. As long as your work involves interacting with another person, you need to influence and persuade them to work with you. Job titles, job description or what is known as the Formal organisation, i.e. hierarchical chart, is only on surface.

I learnt this the hard way.  Working for a French company in Asia where the IT proprietary software was controlled out of France.  When IT problems arose with customers, my emails to the IT Coordinator in France often go unanswered. Not because he couldn’t speak English. Complaints to the French IT Director during his visits to Asia were to no avail. Until I asked my direct counterpart, PJ in France for help as intermediary. PJ, British, married to a French, 20 years veteran in the organisation would regularly have coffee with the IT department.  So when it was time to ask for a favour, she has amassed a reservoir of goodwill through regular coffee/ lunch sessions. This is what Max Weber termed the Informal organisation. Possibly the IT Director was amazed at my naivete to expect people to do the work because their job description said so. Elton Mayo in the Hawthorne experiment in 1950s discovered that workers were more responsive to the social force of their peers than to the incentives of management.

Myth #2 No time to network. I can’t even finish my work.

See Myth #1. Networking is part of your work. Ever wondered why your boss had no time to see your report? As a young officer, I believed in being respectful to the secretaries of my bosses.  We lunched. Many times, they have helped me beat the deadline by putting my report on the top of the in-tray for my boss or warning me to re-type a piece of work in the format boss preferred.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book ” Outliers” called them the gatekeepers. He had other terms for influencers in the organisation. The “sneezers” are those who report on office gossip ahead of the official circular, the “grapevine” where information is passed by word of mouth. Be careful not to share too much, as the sneezers can turn against you by broadcasting your woes and gossip to the rest of the organisation.

“Its not what you know, but who you know that matters”. All things being equal (ceteris paribus) the one with a better upward network gets the promotion.

Michael Watkins in “The First 90 days” advised that you may need to rework your network as your progress. In the early part of your career, you may want to cultivate people who are good technical advisers and help you get the work done. As you get promoted, it becomes important to get good political counsel and personal advice. The typical iceberg analogy can be used to understand the culture of the firm. Culture is the unseen, beneath the surface, and divided into organisational, professional and geographic and influences how people behave.

Myth #3 I’ve 150 friends on Facebook, and constantly networking via Twitter and social media sites

The size of your rolodex and the number of namecards you collect do not equal the size of your network. Notice patterns in your power circle. Too many relationships can overwhelm you.

Often HR Managers complain that their Gen Y consultants prefer to email clients/ customers instead of picking up the phone or meeting clients face-to-face. You need to “press the flesh”. Politicians understand this, and so shake your hands and carry babies during election time. Nothing beats “Face time” in developing rapport.

Drop by their office, spend some time with small talk. If you run into colleagues at the office pantry, exchange some pleasantries. Arrange to have lunch/ coffee together. As Keith Ferazzi would say, in his book by the same title “Never lunch alone“.  Your lunch/ dinner slots all filled out? As my boss in the Foreign Service would say, “how about breakfast?”

Myth #4 I’ve nothing to offer

Make a list of your personal strengths, accomplishments and eco-systems. The Bible says its better to give than to receive.  Step into the shoes of the other person, and help them identify a potential solution to their problem. We all have problems.  Always do what you say will do. Giving without strings attached usually is rewarded, in ways you do not expect. Don’t ask too soon.  http://paulcbrunson.com/2013/06/its-called-networking-not-using/

Add value to the other person (opportunities, information, money and connections). A quote attributed to Woody Allen, that 80 percent of success is showing up. I would agree with that for networking. Many of the clients have told me  that my showing up more often at their events, being offe with their issues increased my credibility.