Happy Birthday to Me, and How Distributed Cognition Enhances Relationships

It’s 9am on my birthday, and already, 65 people have posted birthday wishes on my Facebook wall.


Several more have Skyped me.


Sure, it’s just a simple act – some might argue it’s only slightly more social than a poke, but I disagree. Frankly, I think this is really what the social web is all about: using distributed cognition to truly enhance relationships.

How so?

Ever heard of Dunbar’s number? Basically, it’s the theory that the size of our social network is limited by the size of our neocortex, and for human beings, the maximum number of “close” relationships we can theoretically have – the number of people whose names and faces you remember easily, who you can remember details about them, like what they do for a living, the last conversation you had with them, etc.

But what happens when our capacity for social relationships is no longer limited by our brain capacity?

Some people think that tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even CRM or contact management systems have created an illusion of having more “real” friends than we actually do. I suppose, for some, that’s true.

I look at it differently, though. I look at these tools as distributed cognition. Essentially, we’re making our brains larger by using external tools to enhance our memory. I can “remember” hundreds of people’s faces, because they’re right there when I interact with them. I can call them by name – one of Dale Carnegie’s most important tips for winning friends and influencing people. I can easily recall the last conversation I had with them with a couple of mouse clicks. I can see what they’re up to and ask specific questions about it rather than wasting my time and theirs with small-talk questions like “So what are you up to these days?”  LinkedIn already knows, so I already know.

Social media isn’t just a way to have a bunch of trivial relationships; used properly, it’s a way to treat more than 150 people that you truly care about like you treat those 150.like you would if you were smarter, or had better memory.

To put it in Virtual Handshake terms, using Information well demonstrates your Character and helps you increase the Strength of your relationships.

This isn’t a new concept, by any means. It’s the same principle behind The Mackay 66, a collection of 66 questions that uber-networker Harvey Mackay used to build the strong relationships that allowed him to build a phenomenally successful company in the face of much larger competitors. It includes information such as the client’s college fraternity/sorority, children’s interests and birthdates, their immediate and long-term business objectives, health conditions, etc. Before every call, Harvey would pull out the client’s file so he could have that information at his fingertips. As he gleaned little bits of information during the course of the conversation, he would note it in their file.

As a result, his customers were constantly amazed at his apparently great memory, and the remarkable personal interest he took in them.

Cynics might say that it’s just a brilliant ploy to manipulate people. Harvey will tell you that it’s just the only way he could keep track of the information that helped him show how much he truly cared about people. And that’s also good business.

So this is why you should wish your Facebook friends happy birthday. Congratulate your LinkedIn contacts on their promotion or new business venture. Comment on their blog about how adorable their new baby or puppy is. It’s not being manipulative. It’s not being trivial. It’s acting like you want to act towards people you truly care about, and like you would on your own, if you were just smarter. Let social media make you socially smarter.

P.S. In the 30 minutes it’s taken to write this post, 7 more people have posted to my Facebook wall and 4 more have Skyped me. What a great way to start the day!

Writing Great LinkedIn Invitations

Idliek2addu2 Great LinkedIn invitations? Are they really that big a deal? Sure, canned messages are lame, but inviting someone to connect via LinkedIn (or any other social networking site) is just a simple matter of record-keeping. What’s wrong with just, “Hey, let’s connect?”

That’s one way to look at it. But consider this: every communication you have with someone in your network is an opportunity to move that relationship forward, to make it stronger. It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with treating a LinkedIn invitation as a simple mechanical action, but it’s a missed opportunity. A few extra seconds can transform it into a relationship-building activity.

There’s another reason your LinkedIn invitations matter: if too many (five or so, best guess – LinkedIn doesn’t publish the actual number) of your invitations are rejected (“I don’t know the sender”) by the recipient, your account may be temporarily suspended and you will lose the ability to invite people to connect without their email address.

One way to ensure having your LinkedIn invitations accepted is to email the person before sending them a LinkedIn invitation and ask them if they’d like to connect on LinkedIn. That’s not always possible, i.e., old friends/colleagues/classmates who you’ve lost touch with. I also don’t think I’d email somebody solely for that purpose. But if you’re having an email dialog with someone already, slipping it into one of your messages is a good way to grease the skids for an invitation.

Let’s look at the “stand-alone” invitation in three scenarios: 1) someone you know well, who you are confident will accept the invitation, 2) an acquaintance or colleague that may not immediately recognize your name, and 3) someone you don’t know personally, but are interested in connecting with.

The basic format is the same in all cases:

  1. Establish context. This is the main thing that will vary between the different scenarios. More below.
  2. Invite them to connect, in your own words.
  3. Suggest a next action. Coffee. A phone call. Sending them a link. Making an introduction. If you’re particularly interested in developing this relationship, make a commitment and then keep it. Otherwise, you can put the ball in their court.

[Read more…]

Standard Answer Soft Launches Open Beta

SAlogo One of the companies I serve on the advisory board of, Standard Answer, has entered open beta and is gearing up for launch at SXSW Interactive. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell a little about the site and why I thought it was cool enough to get involved, when there’s already a sea of YASNS (Yet Another Social Networking Service) out there. It’s a little rough around the edges still, but I think we’re doing something that’s compelling enough for members to spend some of their time there and marketers to spend some of their budget there.

At first glance, Standard Answer could easily appear to be just another social networking service. It’s built around one of the most popular activities in social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook: asking and answering questions of your friends.

We built Standard Answer with the idea of taking this popular activity and 1) making a better experience for users, 2) allowing users to use those questions as the basis for building community, 3) creating a better channel for advertisers and 4) building a really, really cool dataset that’s never been seen before.

So let’s look at how Standard Answer accomplishes each of these objectives.

Better Q&A

Do you ever get tired of answering the same questions over and over again? With Standard Answer, you don’t have to any more. Your “standard answers” are saved, so when someone sends you a new quiz, the questions you’ve already answered can be automatically answered for you. Of course, you’re always allowed to change your mind, and Standard Answer even keeps a history of how you’ve changed your answers over time.

Do you ever take a multiple-choice quiz and the answer you want to give isn’t on the list? No more! With Standard Answer you can add your own answers to the multiple-choice questions.

Standard Answer also does everything it can to help standardize the data, such as looking for similar questions when you enter a question, so as to prevent duplicates. What’s the point of having 100 different people ask “What’s your favorite color?” and having each one have a different set of possible responses?

Building Community

This is where the rubber really hits the road with Standard Answer. One of the problems with most existing social networking sites is that the data is unstructured. You can only do simple text searches to find who you’re looking for. For example, the “pivots”, or hyperlinks on interests, favorite books/movies, etc., in MySpace and Facebook only allow you to find the people who share that one interest.

But one of the things we learned in researching The Virtual Handshake is that one of the best ways to build strong relationships is through the discovery of multiplexity, or in plain English, finding out what you have in common with people. Similarly, if you want to meet new people with whom you have good odds of building strong relationships, then seeking out people who share several common interests is one of the best ways to do that.

So let’s say you want to connect with, say, other people in Austin who love sushi and sci-fi, or people around the world who are fans of both American Idol and American Beauty. Or whatever. Doesn’t matter whether it’s serious or silly. Standard Answer gives you a way to make those connections quickly.

And what’s really cool is that you can either save those searches for your own personal use, to reach out to people one-to-one, or you can create a community around that search and help others with that combination of interests and attitudes connect with each other. We think this will be really compelling for both social and business applications.

Better Advertising Channel

Standard Answer won’t be filled with boring banner advertising. Social media is showing us that companies/brands need to join the conversation. Standard Answer allows them to do that in a fun, interactive way.

What we offer advertisers is sponsored questions, e.g., “Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?” Guess what. Our early results show that people love answering these simple, one-off questions in the Standard Answer context, whereas they might be hesitant about responding to longer marketing surveys. Brands are a part of our lives, and people actually enjoy answering questions about them if done correctly. For example, people are loving answering the question I posted: What’s your favorite Doritos flavor? At the moment it’s a toss-up between Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch. Of course, I want to meet the other person who said Fiery Habanero besides me (see how it works?).

Interesting Data

Now this is where I think this thing gets really fun. Just think of the massive data set we build with this. Without ever putting anyone through a painfully long survey, we’re gathering an amazing amount of not just demographic information, but psychographic information, i.e., info about attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

I can tell you that when I talked social network researcher danah boyd into joining the advisory board, she said there was one condition: “I get to get my hands on the data.” So it’s in good hands. Who knows what she’ll find? 🙂

One thing we’re going to look for is interesting correlations in the data that have maybe never been discovered. Maybe we discover something trivially fascinating, like that geeks prefer maple syrup on their pancakes, but suits prefer honey. Or maybe we find that Lexus drinkers prefer Coke, while BMW drinkers prefer Pepsi. Those companies might like to know that, don’t you think?

Of course, we will never sell personally identifiable data to companies. But we will make aggregate data available, for a fee. And while we may not have the volume of data of, say, Facebook any time soon, the quality will be much higher.

I’m excited to be a part of Standard Answer and watch its launch.

Want to learn more? You can…

Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Even Virtually

2536673130_1131d0de48_m It’s an old cliche, but it still holds true, even in the virtual world.

One of the things we discovered in the process of researching The Virtual Handshake is that one of the best ways to build strong relationships with other people is to help them actually get something done. Small talk is cheap. Actually stepping up to do something that makes a difference in someone else’s business or life costs some effort, but pays much higher dividends in the long run.

I would even go so far as to say that much of the reason that it’s easier to build close relationships face-to-face than online is because of the fact that we work with other people towards common goals more in person than online. Much of our online interaction is “just talk” — bouncing ideas around, sharing opinions, etc.

But there are all kinds of opportunities to have more helpful, valuable and meaningful interactions through virtual interaction. Personally, I choose these interactions over light conversation as much as I can. Sometimes that may mean I spend an hour helping one person actually accomplish something rather than doing courtesy replies to 10-15 other people. In fact, those people may never get replied to — there are so many demands on my time and only so much of me to go around.

Case in point…

Next Monday, I’m conducting a teleclass with Diane Darling entitled Maximizing LinkedIn and Other Online Networks. Diane and I have been virtual acquaintances since early 2003, when David I reached out to several established networking experts as we started working on our book. While we haven’t actually collaborated on a project until now, our history has been one of small, truly helpful actions, not just conversations.  She introduced us to her literary agent (we didn’t end up with her, but still…). And a couple of months ago, I spent a couple of hours helping her set up an Excel spreadsheet in response to a question she asked on LinkedIn about limiting a mailing geographically by distance from a given point.

So when Diane decided she wanted to do a teleclass about online networking, who did she call first?

While a couple of years ago I was “THE guy” about online networking, these days, a Google for “social media expert” turns up 51,000 results, and “social networking expert” turns up 11,000. A few of them actually even know what they’re talking about.  😉

Now certainly it wasn’t that one act of extra effort that put me at top of mind, but I asked Diane about it, and here’s what she had to say:

Your help with the spreadsheet was part of it, you wrote about my business…and you’ve been a generally good guy. You get reciprocity. Not everyone does.

This is why I still contend that for most people, focusing on a smaller number of stronger relationships is more valuable in the long run than chasing numbers and building a list with no substance to support it. There are dozens of other qualified social networking experts who Diane could have found via LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc. But when it came down to it, it was the one who she actually had a substantive relationship with — the one she had actually exchanged favors with — who she picked.

In our article for FastCompany.com entitled Who Knows Who You Know: Leverage and Focus, David and I explained the concept of the “action threshold”:

Crossing the Action Threshold

Many people will respond if you ask them for a favor. But it’s far better if they proactively market you and seek out clients for you. It takes a certain degree of trust and relationship strength for them to act proactively — that’s when you have leverage. If your relationships aren’t above that “action threshold”, they’re not really serving you at full capacity. To achieve this goal, you first and most obviously need a high credibility level in what you’re selling. Assuming you have that, you can also motivate that proactive behavior in others by being proactive yourself in your service to them. A finder’s fee is another way to motivate more people to look out for your interests.

For more ideas on how to build strong relationships virtually, check out Chapter 20 of The Virtual Handshake, which you can download for free, get a paperback copy of for free, or buy at Amazon.

Image: Megan Soh via Flickr

The Power of Google Alerts

Today I got a nice email from Scott Meyer, President & CEO of About.com. The headline read "Great post on 5 years with About", and was thanking me for the post I wrote earlier this week to commemorate my 5th anniversary as an About.com Guide, 5 Things I’ve Learned in 5 Years at About.com. It was a brief note, but had enough specifics in it to show that he had actually read it. It also had the familiar tell-tale signs that he had probably gotten the notification via Google Alerts. I’m guessing he has an alert set on "About.com" and scans those headlines daily.

This got me thinking about a couple of things.

First of all, just think about the tremendous networking power rolled up in that one simple practice. He stays up-to-date on what people are saying about his company, and prompted by the alert, in a matter of just a couple of minutes, he was able to reach out to me in a meaningful way, show his appreciation, and just make me aware that yes, he really does care and pay attention to what us 700+ Guides are doing.

Think of the power of that in your business. Rather than getting caught up in the incestuous fishbowls that some online discussion groups can turn into, what would happen if you spent some of that time looking for new conversations going on about your business, your industry or perhaps a cause you support?

It also made me wonder… how many other CEOs do the same thing, using these freely available tools to keep up with the buzz about their company? I’m thinking probably not nearly enough.

I Made the Dean's List

My friend Dean Hua just did something really cool… he put me on The Dean’s List.

Now, I’m not posting about this as an ego thing for me — I’m posting because I think it’s a really, really cool relationship-building thing to do. What a great way to strengthen relationships — to make a public acknowledgment to people who have made a difference in your life, whether recently or long-term.

This would be a good blog meme.

Granovetter's Weak Ties – How Weak Is Weak?

Many business users of social networking sites have heard Mark Granovetter’s 1973 paper, The Strength of Weak Ties, which concluded that “weak ties”, rather than “strong ties”, were more helpful in finding a job. This is often used as an argument to justify connecting with as many people as possible in social networking sites, even with no more interaction than the connection request and its acceptance.

Granovetter’s study is great, but we have to know what the definition of a “weak tie” is that he was using for the purposes of his study. We can’t make our own interpretation of “weak tie” and then use his paper to justify our actions if we’re not using the same definition of “weak tie”.

So what does Granovetter himself say?

It is sufficient for the present purpose if most of us can agree, on a rough intuitive basis, whether a given tie is strong, weak, or absent. [Unfortunately, he was apparently wrong, as people actually don’t seem to be able to agree.] [Â…] Included in ‘absent’ are both the lack of any relationship and ties without substantial significance, such as a ‘nodding’ relationship between people living on the same street, or the ‘tie’ to the vendor from whom one customarily buys a morning newspaper. That two people ‘know’ each other by name need not move their relationship out of this category if their interaction is negligible.

Every single person you meet doesn’t elevate even to the level of “weak” in his definition, nor do people whose “interaction is negligible”. No interaction = no tie.

Let’s look at what another expert has had to say on the topic. Valdis Krebs is one of the world’s top experts in Social Network Analysis (SNA) – the creator of InFlow, a software tool used for analyzing relationships within organizations to help teams improve their effectiveness.

From a March 2004 InfoWorld interview, Capitalizing on Communication:

IW: These projects were about strengthening ties within groups. Where does Stanford University Sociology Professor Mark Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties” idea fit in?

VK: People have a wrong impression about what a weak tie is. It’s not just a casual acquaintance. A weak tie used to be a strong tie; there was trust and shared knowledge. If I go to a conference today and meet somebody new, people will say “That’s a weak tie.” I say no, it’s an acquaintance tie. But if I also run into Peter from Disney, who I used to work with, that’s a weak tie that can be reactivated. A lot of Granovetter’s research on weak ties was based on people who had known each other better before.

Your “weak ties”, as referenced in the Granovetter study, are exactly the people a tool like LinkedIn is designed to help you stay connected with and leverage your relationships with. It’s former co-workers, customers, vendors, schoolmates. Those are weak ties as Granovetter defined them. You don’t need LinkedIn to manage your truly strong ties, because you interact with them every day/week/month.

I’m not saying there’s no value in those “weaker than weak” ties, aka “acquaintance ties”. Yes, some of those can become the weak ties that lead to real value. But to raise them to the point of real valuable — to action, not just presence — generally requires more interaction than just mutual consent to be in each other’s database.

But I do hope people will stop using Granovetter to justify their own “light linking” behavior. It’s a complete distortion of the findings of his study if you’re not using the same definition of “weak ties” that he did.

The Mourning Began By E-mail

Boston Globe senior business editor Mark Pothier share his experience of e-grieving. If you’re one of those holdouts who still thinks that e-mail is cold and unemotional, read this:

It occurred to me that a means of communication often derided for being impersonal and casual to the point of carelessness somehow suited this sorrowful occasion. For me, e-mailed sympathy had become acceptable. These electronic notes conveyed genuine emotions. Consoling by computer was fast and effective – perfectly normal. The thoughts people tapped out on keyboards did not strike me as a way for them to avoid the process of composing a handwritten note, addressing an envelope, and affixing a stamp to it. They responded electronically because they cared. E-mail offered an immediacy not possible through the US mail and a level of intimacy that can be difficult to achieve by phone, especially when one or both parties is in a workplace.

Mastermind Group Operating Manual

This is the draft operating Manual for “Junto 2.0”, a MasterMind group based in the New York tri-state area. To learn what a Mastermind group is and how it works, continue readingÂ…

Junto 2.0
DRAFT MasterMind Group Operating Manual
by David Teten and Kaushal B. Majmudar

Outline of Manual

I. Introduction
II. Objectives
III. Benefits
IV. How Does It Work?
V. Requirements for Entry
VI. Process for Joining
VII. Meeting Rules
VIII. Suggested Meeting Structure (Subject to Modification)
IX. Sample Meeting Topics
X. How to Exit
XI. Appendix 1: Ben Franklin’s Junto Society
XII. Appendix 2: Thoughts on cooperation from George Lucas
XIII. About the Authors

I. Introduction

This is the draft operating Manual for “Junto 2.0”, a MasterMind group based in the New York tri-state area. David Teten and Kaushal B. Majmudar have been working together to create this new group.

Jo Condrill’s definition of a Mastermind group: “A master-mind group consists of [a small team of] people who work together in absolute harmony to achieve diverse goals. While these people work in harmony, they may be very different from each other. The common element is that each draws something from the others, and each contributes freely to the group. It is the focusing of each mind on a common issue that triggers thoughts not readily available to one mind. Those in the group draw upon their unique experiences and specialized knowledge to help each other. When many minds concentrate on a single point, the activity generates a power over and above the sum total of each of the individual minds. It is as though an invisible force joins the group and provides additional insight. Personally, I have used the master-mind concept with amazing results — first to advance my career and later to lead a group of volunteers to achieve remarkable results, ranking number one in a worldwide organization, Toastmasters International.” (source) Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, is widely credited with popularizing the concept. For more background, see also this summary from the “NYC Junto”: http://www.nycjunto.com/whatisjunto.htm .

Our motivations in creating this group: primarily, to accelerate our success and personal efficacy in achieving our goals. Anthony Robbins once remarked that only about 5% of his audiences actually acts to implement and benefit from any of his teachings on how to achieve personal and professional success. Many books on success emphasize the value of creating a mastermind group (perhaps using some variant of the term). We decided to actually implement the idea that so many experts recommend. We were also motivated by some bloggers who also are active in Mastermind groups, including the prolific Steve Rubel.

We are posting this manual on the Web in an attempt to gather constructive feedback and share the results of our brainstorming and collaboration with other likeminded individuals elsewhere in the world. Everything herein is a work in process, and is thereby subject to discussion and modification as we receive feedback and as other members of the group provide input or suggestions.

II. Objectives

A. “Create access to advice, counsel, and personal cooperation of a group of people who are willing to lend each other wholehearted aid in a spirit of perfect harmony” (source: Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill)
B. Share best practices and resources
C. Work on self-awareness and self-improvement
D. Create synergies and new possibilities: “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third invisible intangible force which may be likened to a third mind” (source)

III. Benefits

A. Accelerate your personal and professional progress
B. An instant and valuable support community of peers and friends
C. Give back to your peers and to society

IV. How Does It Work?

A. Monthly meeting to be held for 2 to 2.5 hours, typically over lunch or dinner
B. Absolute maximum of 10 members
C. Rotate facilitation — each month has a new leader/note-taker for accountability
D. Occasional special training and learning sessions (possibly with invited speakers)
E. Group will meet in a mutually convenient place (can alternate geographically if to makes sense to do so)
F. Diversity of group is important. Strongly prefer representatives from diversity of occupations: entrepreneur, investment banker/asset manager, policy, legal, media, operating executive at large company, physician, politician, academic. We also strongly prefer diversity across race, religion, etc.
G. Use confidential Yahoo! Group for online communication
H. Democratic Process: everything about the group is subject to scrutiny, discussion and modification by vote of majority of members in the group.

V. Requirements for Entry

A. Nominated by existing member.
B. Within driving or commuting distance of group meeting locations (in our case in the New York Tri-state area).
C. Has a compatible current level of career and professional achievements and aspirations. Some evidence of being a significant achiever in chosen field. Potential to be at the top of their chosen profession or business.
D. Thoughtful and analytical.
E. Has the desire and inspiration to make this year, decade, and life extraordinary. Has an “internal locus of control”: knows he/she is ultimately responsible for his/her own success. Ready to let their desire to be passionate about their life and work overcome their fear of change.
F. Is an active listener. Responds well to, and acts on, feedback. Open-minded.
G. Wants to win based on values; has a greater purpose. Cares about and wants to give back to their community and society
H. Realizes that cooperation is far more powerful than competition, i.e., people who are committed to helping others succeed. Has an abundance mentality. Understands and cares about what drives his/her partners’ businesses.
I. Ideally, not working in the same industry as any current member, and with a significantly different personal background than every other current member.
J. Enthusiastic about participating with intent to actively participate in the group and attend meetings in person (commits to provide advanced notice to other members in case absence is unavoidable in a given instance)

VI. Process for Joining

A. Nominated by existing member of the group
B. Submit resume and statement of personal goals (1, 5, and 20 years)
C. Interview and approval by all existing group members

VII. Meeting Rules

A. Better to give than to receive (but the law of reciprocity works – give that which you would like to get)
B. Try to emphasize solutions, encouragement and pointing out possibilities vs. focusing on problems, criticism, and pointing out hurdles
C. Share time, ideas, and best practices, but donÂ’t dominate
D. Listen actively and intently with a desire to understand. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Source: Steven Covey)
E. Maintain confidentiality. No one outside the group (not even life partners/spouses) should have access to any information about what is discussed by other members of the group, particularly the personal information of individual members. It is OK to share best practices and ideas that you have learned with others.
F. No putting down, arguing with, or directly contradicting other speakers. All discussions should be conducted “without fondness for dispute or desire of victory.” “All expressions of positiveness of opinion or direct contradiction are prohibited.”(Source: Ben Franklin).
G. Mutual respect and supportive environment to be maintained at all times

VIII. Suggested Meeting Structure (Subject to Modification)

A. Brief (one to three minutes) check-in by each member. Start with the best/most positive thing to happen since last meeting.
B. Book report by one member – distribute 1-2 page summary of book and lead discussion (15 to 20 minutes)
C. Person I admire report by one member – distribute 1-2 page summary of person’s life and what can be learned from him/her (15 to 20 minutes)
D. Update and ask. Each person must state a goal they will have accomplished by the next month’s meeting and review how they did on last monthÂ’s goal. Members can also share issues/problems they are currently grappling with and ask for help/suggestions from the group to unlock strategies, resources, etc. that might be helpful in overcoming these obstacles. (5 minutes each)
E. Free discussion time – discuss one question or topic of the day (e.g. see questions below) (30 to 40 minutes)
F. Distribute notes/highlights from the meeting to those (rare members) not in attendance, but who are committed members of this group

IX. Sample Meeting Topics

A. What is the function by which we should measure our life’s actions? Proposed formula:

Maximize: (Power * Money * Health * Spiritual Growth * Community Impact * Family Strength * Friend Strength) / Age,

subject to constraints of: ethics, law, and resources

B. Accountability Sessions (potentially a recurring topic): Each person to ask and answer the following questions: What are my most cherished goals for this coming decade, year, and month? What concrete steps have I taken to realize these goals? What are the steps that I should take, but have not yet done so to advance in the direction of my goals? Why have I not taken these steps and when do I commit to start? – group participants to ask and HONESTLY answer these questions once in a while in front of the entire group to encourage each of them to realize and take corrective action, but in a more self empowering and positive way than if it were to come in the form of critique from others.
C. Play the Game, a success technology developed by Sarano Kelley.
D. Learning about Thinking Sessions/Thinking Partners (See book: Time to Think by Nancy Klein).

X. How to Exit

A. Member no longer wants to be a part of the group (voluntary exit).
B. Member fails to attend 2 meetings in a row without advance notice AND good cause.
C. Consistent failure to participate in or contribute to the group, as noted by one or more current members.
D. If there is a consensus among more than 66% of the members that you should not remain in the group for any reason.

XI. Appendix 1: Ben Franklin’s Junto Society

Source: Ben Franklin’s biography, by Walter Isaacson

“Ben Franklin was the consummate networker. He liked to mix his civic life with his social one, and he merrily leveraged both to further his business life. This approach was displayed when he formed a club of young workingmen in the fall of 1727, shortly after his return to Philadelphia that was commonly called the Leather Apron Club and officially dubbed The Junto. Franklin’s small club was composed of enterprising tradesmen and artisans, rather than the social elite who had their own fancier gentlemen’s clubs.

At first the members went to a local tavern for their Friday evening meetings, but soon they were able to rent a house of their own. There they discussed issues of the day, debated philosophical topics, devised schemes for self-improvement, and formed a network for the furtherance of their own careers. FranklinÂ’s Junto initially had 12 young members. Besides being amiable club mates, the Junto members often proved helpful to one another personally and professionally.

The tone Franklin set for Junto meetings was earnest. Initiates were required to stand, lay their hand on their breast and answer properly four questions: 1.) Do you have disrespect for any current member? 2.) Do you love mankind in general regardless of religion or profession? (Editor: add race, for the modern context) 3.) Do you feel people should ever be punished because of their opinions? 4.) Do you love and pursue truth for its own sake?

The pursuit of topics through soft Socratic inquiry became the preferred style of Junto meetings. Discussions were to be conducted ‘without fondness for dispute or desire of victory.’ All expressions of positiveness of opinion or direct contradiction were prohibited under small pecuniary penalties. Though the youngest member, Franklin was by dint of his intellectual charisma and conversational charm not only its founder but driving force.

The topics discussed ranged from the scientific to the metaphysical. E.g. Did importing indentured servants make America more prosperous? What is wisdom? In addition to such topics of debate, In Franklin’s original Junto, the members used as a guide a series of 24 questions, such as:
1. Have you met with anything in the author you last read, remarkable or suitable to be communicated to the Junto, particularly in history, morality, poetry, physic, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge?
2. What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
3. Hath any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
4. Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
5. Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
6. Do you know of any fellow citizen who has lately done a worthy action deserving praise and imitation?
7. What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately heard; of imprudence, of passion, or of any other folly or vice? What happy effects of temperance, of prudence, of moderation, or of any other virtue?
8. Do you think of anything at present in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind?
9. Have you any weighty affairs in hand in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service? In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist of in any of your honorable designs?
10. What is the most interesting or unusual thing you have read, seen, or heard about in the last month? What is the most potentially dangerous or harmful? The most beneficial? The most significant for the people here today?
11. What can we learn from world events today? Has there been any notable failure or success, financial, political, or otherwise, from which we can gain insight and understanding?
12. Can a man or woman arrive at perfection in this life? What is the proper balance between idealism and pragmatism in our existence? (Franklin’s own question)
13. How can we judge the goodness of art, music, drama or literature?
14. Is science compatible with religion? What is the appropriate role of religion in our lives, if any?
15. What is the most important political issue facing this country in the next five years?
16. Have you lately observed any defect in the laws of your country of which it would be proper to move the legislature for an amendment?
17. Has anybody attacked your reputation lately and what can the Junto do toward securing it?
18. Is there any man whose friendship you want and which the Junto or any of them can procure for you?
19. Whom do you respect most? Why?
20. In what manner can the Junto or any of them assist you in any of your honorable designs?”
Franklin was in turn influenced by Daniel Dafoe’s essay “Friendly Societies” and John Locke’s “Rules of a Society which Met Once A Week for the Improvement of Useful Knowledge”

XII. Appendix 2: Thoughts on cooperation from George Lucas

Source: interview at Academy of Achievement at www.achievement.org, in response to the following question: “You mentioned the words “communal” and “connecting.” Your generation of the top film makers all seem to be friends. How did you band together in a field that is so competitive?”

George Lucas: “I think that’s the advantage that my generation has. When we were in film school and we were starting in the film business, the door was absolutely locked. There was a very, very high wall, and nobody got in.

All of us beggars and scroungers down at the front gate decided that if we didn’t band together, we wouldn’t survive. If one could make it, that one would help all the others make it. And we would continue to help each other. So we banded together. That’s how the cavemen figured it out. Any society starts that way.

Any society begins by realizing that together, by helping each other, you can survive better than if you fight each other and compete with each other.

Farming cultures started this way, and the first hunting cultures started this way. Everything started in city-states. We have a tendency to lose it when we forget that, as a group, we are stronger than we are as individuals. We start to think we want everything for ourselves and we don’t want to help anybody else. We want to succeed, but we don’t want anybody else to succeed, because we want to be the winner. Once you get that mentality — which is unfortunately the way a lot of the society operates — you lose. You can’t possibly win that way. Part of the reason my friends and I became successful is that we were always helping each other.

If I got a job, I would help somebody else get a job. If somebody got more successful than me, it was partly my success. My success wasn’t based on how I could push down everyone around me. My success was based on how much I could push everybody up. And eventually their success was the same way. And in the process they pushed me up, and I pushed them up, and we kept doing that, and we still do that.

Even though we all have, in essence, competing companies, if my friends succeed, then everybody succeeds. So that’s the key to it, to have everybody succeed, not to gloat over somebody else’s failure.

We continue to do that, and we do it with younger filmmakers. There’s no way of getting through any kind of endeavor without help from friends. And trying to be the number one person, ultimately, is a losing proposition. You need peers, you need people who are at the same level you are. You never know in life when you’re going to need help, and you never know who you’re going to need it from.

One of the basic motifs in fairy tales is that you find the poor and unfortunate along the side of the road, and when they beg for help, if you give it to them, you end up succeeding. If you don’t give it to them, you end up being turned into a frog or something. It’s a concept that’s been around for thousands of years. It is even more necessary today, when people are more into their own aggrandizement than they are in helping other people. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s become successful who doesn’t understand how important it is to be part of a larger community, to help other people in larger communities, to give back to the community.”

XIII. About the Authors

David Teten is CEO of Nitron Advisors, an independent research firm that provides institutional investors with access to frontline industry experts. He is coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, the first mass market book on online networks and social software. He runs TheVirtualHandshake.com resource site, co-writes a column for FastCompany.com, and writes a personal blog, Brain Food. David holds a Harvard MBA and a Yale BA.

Kaushal Majmudar
, JD, CFA – Kaushal is President and Portfolio Manager of The Ridgewood Group, a value oriented money management firm based in Short Hills, NJ, that runs managed accounts and hedge fund investments for individuals and institutions. Kaushal was previously an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. He is co-author of “Create the Business Breakthrough You Want: Secrets and Strategies from the World’s Greatest Mentors” and is working on his second book. Kaushal holds a JD with honors from Harvard Law School and a BS from Columbia University.

Selective vs. promiscuous linking

One of the great dilemmas of online networks is what does a ‘link’ mean? Orkut offers several levels of ‘friendship’, whereas Friendster and LinkedIn just offer the binary option: yes i am your friend, no I am not. In several conversations with the LinkedIn team, I have heard them say very strongly that they want to promote a culture in which linking is meaningful–it indicates that you would actually pass on a request from the person to whom you link. Which, after all, is the whole point of LinkedIn and similar systems.

I agree 100% with this. When I get link requests from people I barely know, my standard response is:

IÂ’m sorry, but I have a policy of not linking to anyone on LinkedIn with whom I havenÂ’t developed some sort of significant business/personal relationship. This is nothing personal against you; this is a general policy I have to prevent me from getting deluged with requests and to keep consistent with the LinkedIn philosophy. IÂ’m happy to get to know you in other contexts. I hope everything is well with you!

However, cultural realities — the desire to appear more popular and connected—may make it hard for LinkedIn to hold by this idealistic position. On their home page is this ad:

Get Exposure with CV Advantage
Is your resume lost in a sea of 1-2 page resumes?

Which leads to http://cv-advantage.com/CVA_LinkedIn/
, which says on it:

Don’t forget to send us LinkedIn invitations if we’re not already connected!

This is an invitation to the most promiscuous possible linking. If LinkedIn wants to make their system functional, and not have it drown in a sea of spam and unwanted requests, I suggest they make a stronger effort to discourage this sort of approach.

Which leads to a broader question: how can LinkedIn and similar systems create a culture and design a system to prevent such activities? by imposing a maximum number of connections? by grading people on % of requests which they accept? other?