When I was a kid I collected baseball and football cards. Today I collect something far more valuable: knowledge. I add to my collection every day by reading, listening to audio books and podcasts, and talking to experts. I tap into my inner Oprah, and ask questions to try to expand my knowledge, my abilities and effectiveness. Which is why every night I go to bed a little wiser than I was when I woke up.
Pass It On
To return the favor to all those who have shared with me, I try to share what I know with others. That’s why I write this blog. It’s why I guest lecture to college students and why I try to make myself available to those who want to meet with me one-on-one, like Hall & Oates.
Because I have openly demonstrated a willingness to talk about the things I know, I get a steady stream of requests to discuss a wide variety of topics. I am happy to share what I know. However, there is one question I really dislike being asked when people want me to share my knowledge with them.
‘Can I pick your brain?’
No one wants to have their brain picked. The idea of brain picking conjures a variety of unpleasant images in my head, of my head. I see graphic depictions of ice picks to the cranium. And vultures picking at my lobes of squishy gray matter. I imagine someone picking my nose and really, really getting up there.
Brain picking makes me think of picking at zits and picking scabs. In other words, asking to pick my brain is not an intellectually enticing pick up line.
Reframe In The Membrane
Brain picking is really focused on the person trying to extract value. Not the person offering the value. Which makes it sound like a selfish request. So let’s not use this phrase anymore.
Pick Your Pick-Your-Brain Substitute.
The next time you want to pick up on someone else’s knowledge try one of the following pick up lines:
I would love to learn more about __________. And I don’t know anyone who knows more about it than you.
I would love to hear your philosophy on _________.
You are the smartest person I know when it comes to _______. Can I ask you some questions?
You are the Queen/King of ____________ and I would like to be your subject, of this subject.
If I bought you a Butterfinger would you drop some of your knowledge on me?
I am extremely impressed by how much you know about __________. Would you consider acting like Sonny, and share?
I want to learn how you _______________ because no one does it better. (Baby, your the best.)
Note: you are suppose to replace the ________ with the topic you want to discuss. So don’t actually say, ‘I would love to learn about line from you.’ Unless you want to learn about line dancing.
Think about what you are saying before you ask someone if you can pick their brain. There are much better ways to ask those you admire to share their knowledge, guidance and perspective. Including asking someone to share their valuable knowledge, guidance and perspective. Be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes. Flatter, praise and respect those you would like to learn from. You will be sure to create a mutually beneficial exchange that leaves all brains better than ever. And potentially better than Ezra.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I have a strong appreciation for student athletes. As a former track athlete at the University of Wisconsin I understand how hard it is just to earn an opportunity to participate in college athletics. I know how difficult it is to balance the demands of athletics and academics. And I know how well those demands prepare you for life after college. But I was reminded of this lesson again over the past year.
The W Letterwinners Club
A year ago I started attending W Club events at the University of Wisconsin. The W Club is the varsity athlete letter winners alumni club. If you won a varsity letter as a Badger you are automatically in the club. And if I were to rebrand the club, I would name it the W Letterwinners Club, so that the name would express in two words and one letter what it has taken me 2 sentences to explain.
Scott and Stephanie
The incoming club President, Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, and Vice President, Scott Brinen, asked me to join the W Club’s advisory board when I moved from Atlanta to Milwaukee. Because it is much easier to get involved in things centered in Madison when you live in Milwaukee than in Marietta, Miami or Mozambique.
At my first advisory board meeting in October of 2018, Stephanie introduced me to one of the representatives from the women’s track team named Sarah Disanza. Sarah was an All-American distance runner who had just graduated 5 months earlier. It was clear that Stephanie and Scott really liked this young woman and had invited her to join the advisory board right after graduation.
Badger Athlete Reunion
Following the W Club meeting we all migrated to a fun event the W Club hosts annually called the Badger Athlete Reunion. It was held at the most iconic of iconic Madison bars, State Street Brats. The event, as the name so aptly implies, is a reunion of all letter-winning athletes who ever attended the University of Wisconsin.
The Badger Athlete Reunion is athletically eclectic. Like the Badger’s version of Studio 54. Every sport is represented. Every era is represented. Female and Male athletes are represented. And it makes it clear that being a student athlete at Wisconsin prepares you for great things after graduation. Because the room was full of ass kickers and name takers. Not just athletically. But in business, and life.
That evening I spent more time talking with Sarah Disanza and I was impressed. She seemed to fit right in with groups of former athletes who were 10, 20 and 30 years her senior.
The Suggestive Sell
A few months later Stephanie Herbst-Lucke contacted me and said, ‘I think you should consider hiring Sarah Disanza on your team at The Weaponry.’ The Weaponry is the advertising and idea agency I founded in 2016. Stephanie is a rockstar marketer herself, so I took her suggestion seriously.
Sarah was the national runner up in cross country, and a 4 time All-American at Wisconsin. She was still training seriously and had been working at a great restaurant in Madison. But she had met her life quota for garlic smashing. And decided she wanted to start her real career.
I asked Simon Harper, one of my talented account leaders, to meet with Sarah the next time he was in Madison. He did. And he liked her like everyone else does. So we invited her to come to Milwaukee to meet with our broader team. (Broader meaning diverse, not wide.)
Sarah came to our office a week later. She was on time. She was prepared. She asked great questions. Again, everyone liked her. But we didn’t have an obvious opening for her to fill. So we didn’t have an obvious next step forward.
Then Sarah did something that distinguished her from other talented people. Yes, she followed up. Which is always the right thing to do. (See How to impress others with a follow up note for how to crush the follow up letter.)
But what Sarah did went beyond manners, protocol and good form. She added value. When she followed up with me she noted an initiative I had mentioned during our conversation in my office. It was a research project that I wanted to undertake related to new business development.
She shocked me when told me she did the project on her own! When she sent me the file containing her research work it was so good I told her that she had to charge us for her time, because it was truly valuable to us.
The Door Opens
I then invited Sarah to do some freelance work for us on another project for a major client. Sarah always showed up early, ready to roll. She took initiative. Displayed great people skills with our client. And she did such a great job we found ourselves looking for more places to get Sarah involved.
Sarah eagerly jumped at anything we offered. And I was convinced we should add this go-getter to our team full-time. But before we did, I wanted to do one last check on Sarah with someone who knew her as well as anyone: her college coach.
Jill Miller coached Sarah in both Track and Cross Country at The University of Wisconsin. I emailed her, asking if she would be willing to talk to me about Sarah. She enthusiastically agreed.
Jill and I had a fun conversation as we connected dots between the people and places we both knew (#DublinOhio #RachelWeber). Then the conversation turned to Sarah. Jill enthusiastically confirmed all of the great things we saw in Sarah. She talked about her work ethic, her punctuality, her sense of responsibility and accountability. She talked about Sarah’s great family and the strong character that clearly came from her parents, Paul and Debbie Disanza.
Just Do Grit
Jill told me that Sarah had the highest pain threshold of anyone she has ever coached. Which is a clear indicator of grit and determination. Which is valuable in every endeavor in life. I had heard enough. But Jill Miller (who I would like to nickname Jiller) had one more thought to add.
‘As a coach I often think about which of my athletes I would hire if I had my own business. I have had a lot of great athletes that I would gladly hire. But there are 2 that stand out as the first people I would hire. And Sarah is one of them.’ – Jill Miller
That was quite an endorsement. I told Jill how much I appreciated her time and insights. And I had all I needed to know.
In August we offered Sarah a full time position with The Weaponry. She started the day after Labor Day. And she has been as good as advertised. Or better. She is eager. She is a fast learner. She asks great questions. And she has deftly handled everything we throw her way.
Best of all, she is super fun, super funny, and has a great personality that really adds to our team. Which means that she is like so many badger athletes, past and present: Hard working, smart and determined. Yet as fun and full of personality as the kids who fail out of lesser colleges.
But the reason Sarah is on our team is that she took initiative. She spotted an opportunity during the interview process to wow us. She performed her own research that was highly valuable to our business. She built her own on-ramp. And she was so good we couldn’t ignore her. So we didn’t. Anyone can do this. Although very few will. Just those willing to perform like All-Americans.
If you want to get your foot in the door with a new employer, a new client or a new relationship, add value. Show how much you would bring to the table every day. Don’t wait to be asked. Show initiative. It will tip the scales in your favor. Those you are trying to impress won’t want to lose you as a valuable asset. They’ll make exceptions for you. Be patient, but persistent. And keeping adding value. You’ll find that doors will open for you over and over again.
*If you know someone who could benefit form this story, please share it with them.
The legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s why it’s so important to spend your time with the best people. This past Friday, during the University of Wisconsin homecoming weekend, I spent 6 hours with an amazing group of former University of Wisconsin varsity athletes. These Badgers are some of the brightest, most driven, most fun, and most successful people I know.
Business Up Front
I kicked off homecoming weekend in Madison with a 2-hour advisory board meeting for the W Letterwinner’s Club. The advisory board is like Noah’s Ark. Because it features two former athletes from every varsity sport.
We meet to discuss how we can help our members develop more meaningful relationships with each other, both personally and professionally. We discuss how we can offer assistance, guidance and mentorship to graduating Badger student athletes. And we explore ways that our network can add value to the mission of the University of Wisconsin and its world class athletic department.
Up In Da Club
The former Badger student athletes on the board are inspiring. They include Big 10 Champions and National Champions. They include All-Americans and professional athletes. They include school record holders and Hall of Famers. They include athletes who made it to the Final 4 and the Frozen 4.
Our youngest members just graduated from Madison. And our most senior members used to get run with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Alan ‘The Horse’ Ameche and Paul Bunyan when he was just a babe himself.
Today these W Letterwinners are crushing it in their post-collegiate careers. They are executives and entrepreneurs. They are administrators, professors and coaches. They are leaders and volunteers. And they are great parents, wives and husbands. Just spending time with these badasses enhances my own false sense of badassery.
Party In The Back
On Friday night, after the work was done, we did what Badgers do. We played. We migrated to the iconic State Street Brats, and joined hundreds of others at the annual Badger Athlete Reunion. We spent the next few hours together, talking, laughing, sharing memories, making new friends, connecting dots, drinking beer and eating brats.
While it certainly looked as if we were having fun, we were doing more than that. We were strengthening our personal bonds. The bonds between former student-athletes who know just how hard it is to live up to the demands of academics and athletics at the Big 10 level. We were strengthening the bonds between Badgers who know that if you can excel in both the classroom and athletic arena at The University of Wisconsin, you have the critical tools and the skills to be successful for the rest of your life.
If you want to be great surround yourself with great people. Find rockstars who inspire you. Spend as much time with those special people as you can. It will make you a better person. I know it will. Because I learned that lesson in Madison as a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.
*If you know someone you think would benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Recently I made the cardinal sin of business cards. I ran out.I didn’t realize it was about to happen until it was too late. I stash my business cards everywhere. In my wallet, my work backpacks, in the pouch of my Moleskin notebooks, in my car, my suitcase and my gym bag. Because you never know when you will need a business card. Or said differently, because you always need to be ready with a business card.
Your business cards are the most important part of your marketing weaponry. They are mini ads that you can place directly in the hand of a prospective client or potential partner right at the moment when you make a strong positive impression on them. (Not when you do a great impression of them.)
Business cards are bread crumbs you leave behind that lead people back to you.
Business cards are like Trojan horses that gain access into the businesses and homes you want to be in first. Once they are in, they help you and the rest of your business gain access too.
Business cards become powerful pop up ads when they suddenly surface in a pile of cards.
The Ultimate Ad
The most impactful ad space you could ever buy would be an ever-present ad on your prospect’s desk, ready to serve up a direct line to you the moment the prospect needed one. They only thing I know that can do that is a business card.
Your Business Card Scorecard
A great leading indicator of how well you are doing at marketing yourself or your business is how many business cards you are getting into circulation. In other words, running out of business cards is a sign you are actively and personally promoting yourself and your business. It means you are meeting people and they are either asking for your card, or you made it to a natural place (or semi-natural place) in the conversation to offer your card.
If you want more opportunities, hand out more and better business cards. Your business cards are a direct line to you when a prospect needs the kind of help you offer. In this high tech, digitally-empowered, over-analyzed marketing age your business cards are the most underutilized marketing and networking tool you have. Because they are a reminder of a personal interaction and a personal relationship. And despite what you may have heard, business is all personal.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I recently watched the movie Green Book. The film is about a blue collar caucasian who who becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour through the 1960s American South. You know, the typical Hollywood formula… I enjoyed the movie and recommend it. But the highlight for me was a great quote from Viggo Mortensen’s character that jumped off the screen and sucker punched me in the earhole:
‘The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.’ – Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, Green Book
Make The First Move
On a planet of 7.5 billion digitally connected people, none of us should feel lonely. Yet we often do. Most people wish they had more, deeper or more fulfilling personal and professional connections. But we fail to recognize that the easiest way to make this happen is to make the first move.
If you want more or better professional contacts be the one that makes contact. You are the one that should make the first phone call, send the first text, or write the first email. It’s that simple.
If you want to reconnect with your high school friends, cousins or former co-workers from that place where everyone bonded over the stupid boss, you should do the connecting. Your mobile phone offers at least a dozen ways to make this happen. If you are not weird, and there is no guarantee that you are not, chances are very good that others will be happy to reconnect with you too.
8 Easy Ways To Create New Connections Or Reconnect Old Ones:
Coffee/Chocolate Milk Meetings You don’t have to drink coffee. I don’t. Heck, you can eat caramels or enjoy them apples. It’s all arbitrary. #namethatfilm
Afterwork Happy Hours My friend Susan Stearns’ Happy Hour game is super strong. She gets a group of former co-workers together a few times a year. Thanks SS!
Book Clubs My friends Betty Garrot and Stacy Sollenberger are both half bookworm, and are in 3 book clubs right now. It’s a great way to facilitate social interactions and improve your bookmarking skills.
Dinner Parties This is a great way to jumpstart or turbocharge personal relationships. My neighbors Yassir and Ghada are excellent at this.
Video Conference Meetups I created a monthly video meetup with my college track teammates. It’s now a highlight of my month. On Wisconsin!
Group Texts Several of my high school classmates and I have a group text that regularly flares up with jokes. Like it did this week when our classmate Dan Richards was interviewed on NPR. Thanks to Marcus Chioffi for starting that one!
Meeting At A Restaurant or Bar. In a 2-day span this week in Atlanta I met with 10 different people at restaurants: Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, Diana Keough, Theresa and Jabari Pride, Harper Cornell, Nicola Smith, Scott Jenkins, Heather Hudgins, Kim Hoey and Mark O’Brien. I am pretty good at this game. And lucky that people agree to meet me.
Go for a hike or ride. This is a healthy way to multi task. The opposite of #7.
The Golden Age For Human Connections
Never in history have people lived so close together, had such phenomenal resources to facilitate interactions, yet felt so isolated. This is bullshit. And it’s all because most people are longing for someone else to make the first move.
Don’t wait for anyone. Be the initiator. Create an alumni group that consists of people from a school, employer, program or organization you enjoyed. Invite people to be part of the group and watch how positively they respond.
Form a group around shared interests. Develop a professional organization of people who do what you do. Be the spark. Be the glue. Heck, be the who dang craft closet that brings the project to life, and see what happens next.
Phone A Friend Friday
I have long considered Fridays, Phone-A-Friend Fridays. So every Friday I contact someone I haven’t talked to in a long time. You can this too. You are sure to surprise and delight someone. All while reducing global loneliness levels.
There is nothing more important to your personal and professional happiness than meaningful connections with other humans. Don’t be afraid to make the first call, text or send the first smoke signal. Start today. Because we all get ahead when we get together.
*Please don’t just read this. Do something about it. You can start by sending someone this blog post as an icebreaker. If you send it to me, you will make me laugh, and cause my ice to break.
Your network is one of your most valuable assets. But how much work should you put into building and maintaining your network? It’s an even more important question to ask than how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would. But I bet you don’t have a good answer to either question. And neither did I. Until now.
Recently I bought a couple of books by Gary Keller. In addition to being a best selling author, Keller is the co-founder of Keller Williams Realty. Which, my Spidey Sense tells me, is how the company got its first name.
In The Millionaire Real Estate Investor Keller writes a lot about Your Work Network. He breaks this network down into 3 concentric circles:
Your Inner Circle,
Your Support Circle
Your Service Circle
The inner circle is comprised of your mentors, partners and consultants. The support circle is comprised of the core people you need to support and advise you on specific work transactions. The service circle consists of all the people that you may need to perform specialized tasks with a limited scope.
Your 3 Rings
Regardless of whether you are involved in real estate or a stay at home mom or dad, you have a network with a similar 3-ring structure. Which is not to be confused with the 3-ring circus, 3-ring binder or the 3-ring rule when answering a call after a first date.
Envisioning your network as concentric circles is useful, but not not mind blowing. However, I found Keller’s recommendation on how to maintain your network relationships thought provoking.
Maintaining Your Network
Keller writes that to maintain your work relationships you should:
Call Them Every Month
Mail Them Something of Interest Every Month
Meet With The Members of Your Inner Circle Every Month
This is a great rule of thumb. Most of us probably fall nowhere near this level of contact with our network. But we should. Calling is easy. If you broaden the term mailing to include email and texting you can certainly do a whole lot of #2 (#snickering). And meeting with the members of your inner circle once a month should be a no brainer, scarecrow.
You get out of your network what you put into it. Try Keller’s advice to stay connected to those in your network once a month. Start with your inner rings. We should all fully invest in our inner circle on a monthly basis. However, increasing your investment in your middle, or even your outer ring could pay huge dividends for you both personally and professionally. So as Rhianna said, work, work, work, work, work on putting more work into your network. And you are sure to draw more great things your way.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.
One of my favorite games to play is Connect The Dots. Not the game we played when we were kids, where you drew lines between numbered dots to form an image of a kitty or Jack-In-A-Box. The version I like to play is with humans.
It’s pretty simple. When you meet someone new, you try to discover their dots and connect them to your own. This helps build a bridge or a common bond between two people. Note, I use the term ‘dots’ symbolically to represent someone’s key facts, personal history, experiences and friendships. I don’t usually draw lines connecting someones moles and freckles. Although I am not above it.
Two weeks ago, after watching our local high school win a state championship at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, my daughter Ava and I attended a UW Madison track and cross-country reunion hosted by The National W Club. There were over 200 alumni gathered on the eve of the NCAA Cross Country National Championships in Madison. I saw dozens of former teammates and friends. But I also met new people. And we played Connect The Dots.
A Young Couple Walks Into A Bar…
Ava and I were standing near the entrance to the bar, when a nice looking young couple walked in. I recognized the woman immediately as Taylor Amann, a recent UW graduate and an All-American pole vaulter from Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wisconsin.
I had connected with Taylor in the spring, after I saw her LinkedIn profile and recognized that I may be able to assist her with some career connections based on her interest in fashion and retail.
We had exchanged a few emails, but had never met in person. So I approached her and introduced myself. Taylor was very nice, and acted as if she totally remembered our email exchange. She talked about her great new job as a buyer at the UW Bookstore. We talked about the interesting challenges of transitioning from college to the real world, and discovering our new identities after the end of our athletic careers.
Then I started talking to her boyfriend. And that’s where things got really interesting. His name was Clay. And since we had never emailed each other before, I started playing Connect The Dots.
I asked him where he was from. He said Ohio. This was a very good start. Because Ohio is dot-rich territory for me. I asked Clay where he went to college. I learned that he was a recent graduated from Ohio State, where he also played football.
I asked, ‘Where in Ohio did you grow up? He said, ‘Dublin.’ Boom! I said, ‘We lived in Dublin for seven years.’ I asked, ‘Where did you go to high school?’ He said, ‘Coffman.’
At this point I knew we would have at least 2 connections. Because my friend Mike Ulring is the principal at Coffman High School. And I figured that Ava’s former babysitter, Rachel Weber, would have been in high school with Clay.
But I kept asking questions.
I asked, ‘Where did you go to Middle School.’ He said. ‘Karrer.’ That was the school our neighborhood went to, not far from where we lived in Dublin. So I told Clay that we lived across from Avery Park, in Hawks Nest subdivision. His eyes got wide and he said, ‘The stone that says Hawks Nest on it was in my yard!’ I asked, ‘Did you live on Jacana Drive.’ He said, ‘Yes!’ I said, ‘I have been on your roof!’
It turns out Clay Raterman and I lived 3 houses apart. And as soon as we connected the dots I knew exactly who he was. Not only did he remember me, he remembered Ava as a little girl who was always playing outside. We talked about our neighbors the Philbins, Sherbuns, McGoverns and Ashs. We recounted a legendary neighborhood story about Clay and his brother who ding-dong-ditched our next door neighbors, who found little humor in the prank. (The boys had painted a marshmallow to look like dog poop and left it in an unlit bag on the porch).
We also talked about the time when hurricane Ike hit Columbus and took part of the roof off of Clay’s family’s home. Mike Sherbun and I climbed on the roof to nail down a large corner section that had been blown off by the wind. We scrambled to cover the section with a tarp donated by my neighbor, Phil Turner, before nightfall came, and rain wreaked havoc on the exposed home.
Two ships in the night.
Clay and I may have spent the evening within feet of each other and never talked. Or we could have said a pleasant hello and left it at that. We would have had no idea just how much we had in common, and how many people and places we both knew. We talked about Donatos Pizza and Jeni’s Ice Cream and other favorites Columbus originals.
There is something wonderful about discovering our common bonds. It makes us feel connected. It makes us feel like someone else knows us and understands us. Networking is nothing more than building your own safety net. When I play connect the dots, I am trying to make each of our nets a little bigger, and a little stronger.
Get to know as many people as you can. Discover your common ground. We all have it. It’s just a matter of whether or not we find it. Turn strangers into friend. Make the world feel smaller and friendlier. You never know who you may be able to help along the way. Or who may be able to help you when you need it most. Like when a hurricane hits central Ohio, and dark is closing in. Or when you are a Buckeye, and you walk into a bar full of Badgers.