Know Your Strengths, Make Yourself Indispensable: Enhance & Leverage Your Strengths vs. Engage & Fix Your Weaknesses…

Know Your Strengths. “Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject matter knowledge, which is the wrong answer.” ~Peter Drucker

Most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths. Instead, guided by our parents, our teachers, our managers and psychology’s fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.

Most people have crazy misconception that the way to grow and become the most that you can be is to ‘fix’ your weaknesses. However, on further thought you come to realize that all you have are strong weaknesses. And a weakness is a weakness no matter if strong or not.

In spending time and energy working on the weakness you have neglected giving your strength the focus it needs to be really useful; so you end up with weak strengths which are not very helpful.  Instead, you should focus as much time, energy and resources on building up your strengths, and learn how to manage around your weaknesses.

In the book Sink, Float or Swim by Scott Peltin & Jogi Rippel they write: The important thing is that you learn as much about your strengths as you can. Knowing how to use your strengths to your advantage will set you up for success. A key to winning is to know your strengths and then to use them mercilessly against your opponents. For example: ‘Martina Navratilova was a brilliant serve and volleyer in tennis.

It’s not that her ground strokes were awful, but without coming to the net, she probably would have never won most of her Grand Slam titles.  In contrast, Chris Evert recognized that her greatest strength was her amazingly consistent ground strokes from the back of the court. By using this strength, Evert won more than half of the tournaments she entered. These are two outstanding tennis players, two totally different strengths, two legendary successful careers.’

Arguments Against Focusing on Strengths: Scott H. Young wrote; there is too much emphasis on strengths, and suggests instead we should focus on things that we are passionate about. Scott makes the point that whatever we are good at may not align with what we are passionate about.

Marcus Buckingham in the book ‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work’, addressed such an argument by saying that strengths must include knowledge, skills, and talent, and true talent (defined as the natural-born abilities) energizes you when you do it rather than drain you from the effort. Some experts don’t quite agree with Buckingham’s explanation, but instead, they believe strength and passion are two independent qualities.

Only when strengths align with passion is when you get the fullest experience of the work, and that’s when passion guides us to the strengths that we should most focus on. Also, Steve Pavlina believes that you should work from your strengths but improve on your weaknesses. His argument is based on the importance of having balance in your life. Balance doesn’t mean doing all things equally well, but instead, balance means doing activities in proportion to how much they add value in your life.

How To Find Your Strengths: There are a number of personal traits tests that can give us some idea what our strengths are, but before any of these tests are taken, it’s important to realize that there is no good or bad strengths. People’s strengths are neutral; there are positive ways these strengths can be applied as well as negative ways. Understanding your true strengths require sincere honesty and knowing that good or bad only has meaning when it’s based on how the strengths are applied.

The ‘Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)’ test is an effective one which categorizes people from a total of 16 personality types. The ‘StrengthsFinder 2.0’ is another traits test and is attributed to Donald Clifton’s study from surveys conducted on over 2 million people worldwide through the Gallup Organization.

‘StrengthsFinder 2.0’ has identified 34 different themes that each person has at some level, and their tests help identify your top five traits. In addition, the psychologist Martin Seligman has identified 24 character strengths, which are new criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

In the article “Ambitious Manager’s Should Work Harder to Fix their Serious Weakness than to Build on their Strengths” by Brad Smart writes: Don’t bother trying to fix your weaknesses and instead go with your strengths; but for ambitious managers must fix their serious weaknesses or your career will plateau! Over the years I’ve worked with some super talented people who simply could not control their negative treatment of people. For example, ‘one management executive was given 2 years to improve his performance, but he got worse:

He had the nasty habit of publicly humiliating his people and peers, using biting sarcasm, insults, etc. He ran the most profitable division, almost single-handedly, but was fired. ‘ One day, the CEO took Peter aside and said, “Pete, you’re brilliant at running one division, but 16 out of 18 peers told me they’d quit if you are promoted to President. So, you’re fired!”

In the article “Don’t Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths” by Sam Davidson writes: Lots of productivity and personal growth gurus will tell you that you need to spend time on your weaknesses so that you can turn them into strengths. What a waste of time. If you’re not great at something, then outsource it. Spend your time building-on your strengths and become the best you can.

In fact, take your best strength and become the best person you can be at it: Actually, become the best in the world at it. You only have so much time. It’s better to be the best at something than okay at everything.

We’ve been trained to focus on our weaknesses.  At school, it’s not how many questions you got right: its how many you got wrong.  At work, chances are you spend more time fixing your weaknesses than growing your strengths.  Want to make the shift? Marcus Buckingham, well-known motivational speaker, says: “Focus on your strengths, not weaknesses.”  Buckingham says focus on identifying one’s strengths at an early age, and develop the unique traits that every individual possesses. 

The transition to Buckingham’s suggested approach has proved to be arduous for corporate America. The majority still think that ‘plugging the weaknesses’ will help them succeed. People tend to focus not only on their own weaknesses but also on the weaknesses of others.Parents dwell on a child’s ‘F’ in algebra rather than praise an ‘A’ in English. In a one-hour performance review, supervisors spend two minutes discussing strengths and 58 minutes discussing the ‘areas of opportunity’ or weaknesses with employees,” Buckingham said. It may sound elementary, but a quick glance around the business world indicates that many companies have yet to grasp this simple concept of putting people’s strengths to use.

That’s because the business world — and the world at large — is obsessed with weaknesses and finding ways to fix them. A recent poll that asked workers whether they felt they could achieve more success through improving on their weaknesses or building on their strengths. Fifty-nine percent picked the former. It’s a pain to work on weaknesses: Who wants to spend energy trying to move from slightly below average to slightly above?

Try focusing on your strengths instead. Make what you’re already good at an even greater asset. After all, if you want to make a difference at your company, it’s your strengths that will lead the way. Of course, it’s more challenging to move from well above average to even more above average, but you’ll enjoy it more since your strengths are things you likely already take pleasure in doing: Don’t worry about having too much of a good thing…

“There are a whole lot of things I stink at. I just make sure I don’t have to do them to be successful.” ~Dr. Marshall Goldsmith

“Your job (as a manager) is to make the strengths of your people more effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” ~Peter Drucker

Know Your Customers –Selection & Value Impacts Profitability & Sustainability: Focus on ‘Customer LifeTime Value’–It Really Matters

Know your customers. “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody” ~Bill Cosby

Know the Customer ‘Look Into the Mirror’: Customer selection is as much about you (your company) as it is the customer. You must first figure out who you are as a company, today; and what you want the company to be, in the future. Only then can you be proactive about selecting the customers that will help you achieve your goals. Some of your customers are more valuable than others and some, well, they just aren’t worth keeping. Among the many customer types; ‘strategic and partnership accounts’ are essential for the success of a business and they are critical factors in valuing the worth of a business. Whatever their size and whatever their markets, companies everywhere need to effectively manage and protect their strategic/key and partnership accounts as valuable ‘assets’. They need to deliver real customer value and invest appropriately in the strategic relationships, or risk account erosion or worse being ‘positioned’ as a commodity supplier. This all sounds great; but, how do you determine who are the most valued-customers and, more important, how do you measure the ‘value’ of the customer/account over the lifetime of the relationship? There are no easy answers and, to complicate the matter further, there is no standard method for determining ‘customer lifetime value’, as a result, the topic is highly debatable with opinions that vary from; ‘it depends’ to ‘it doesn’t matter’.  However, there are several factors that are involved in the process and they include; customer churn rate, customer turnover, customer return-on-investment… Also, most attempts look closely at the customer cost of replacement versus the customer cost of retention… Here are some expert commentaries on the topic:

Go through a lifetime customer-value exercise… Consider the value delivered to the customer/account, the replacement cost, and the investment you need to make in the relationship… customer retention cost. Would you be able to replace this account with another of equal value… what is the acquisition cost? Is there 5% or 10% or 20% rule for acquisition: If a customer is worth $10 million in annual-revenues is the firm willing to invest $500K or $1 Million annually to retain it or acquire it? What is the return-on-investment (ROI)?”

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“There is a spurious ‘fact’ that circulates widely alleging that it costs ‘five times’ as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one; although some people say it’s ‘seven times’ as much, or ‘ten times’ as much. This fact originated with a Harvard Business Review article a couple of decades ago, which was the result of a general study of retention policies compared to acquisition policies across a range of businesses in different (consumer) categories…”

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“The idea that it costs ‘X times’ more to acquire a customer than retain one is an urban myth: First off, acquisition costs vary by industry.  Second, costs to both acquire and retain customers ebb and flow with economic cycles. Third — and most importantly — retention costs are ‘incalculable’. A firm has to first determine what it includes and excludes in the definition of retention costs. For example, do you include all the costs associated with providing customer service in retention calculations?  Do you allocate all IT application maintenance and enhancements to retention calculations?  The ‘ reality’– is that no one has the slightest clue what it costs to retain a customer, because no one has defined a standard for what costs to include and which ones to exclude…”

In the article “Customer Lifetime Value: How to target Your Customer Intimacy” by Jack Springman writes:  For B2B firms, growing existing customer relationships is often seen as an easy way to generate additional revenue and profits. Managers perceive that once the ‘hard part’ (winning the first sale in the account) has been done, then the established relationship provides a platform on which the sales team can build.  Both these points are true, of course, but growing existing relationships must be approached in a ‘strategic’ rather than ‘tactical’ manner.  Solving a customer’s broader problem requires customer intimacy.  Becoming ‘customer intimate’ increases the costs of serving customers. Relatively few businesses can afford to be highly intimate with all their customers, as such, intimacy should only be targeted with customers where the greatest opportunity exists. One means of quantifying this is through calculating ‘customer life-time value’, which recognizes that the relationship with the customer is long-term. Measuring profitability on the ‘current customer revenue contribution’ is, by definition, backward-looking. By contrast, ‘customer life-time value’ is future-focused (forward-looking) and captures the potential value in the relationship, long-term. This encompasses different sources of customer value, and provides a more strategic perspective on relationships; as well as, providing the necessary insight to define ‘how to’ nurture the relationships and which customers to select.  Calculating customer life-time value is not a pre-requisite for growing customer relationships. However, even if a business chooses not to use the process the exercise can still be highly supportive; providing an understanding on how to measure and monitor the key drivers that are the foundation for customer value-based analysis. Thereby, an understanding for growing strategic customer relationships into substantial business opportunities is in effect, turning aspiration into reality…      

In the article “Why Strategic Account Planning is Necessary for Sales Success” by Mark Kilens writes: An essential element for engaging ‘strategic and partnership accounts’ is the ‘account/customer plan’ (or blueprint or guide…). The ‘account plan’ must answer the 5-Ws: who, what, where, when and why, and have a well-designed roadmap identifying different routes and options that connects your positioning to the final destination (i.e., long-term, win-win, business relationship). For sure, the first step is ‘closing the sale’, but more important it means developing an intimate customer relationship. With this objective, the ‘account/customer plan’ must be dynamic, ever-changing, and continuously updated with the most recent information to verify that the connected dots will, in fact, win the sale; as well as, having the right roadmap that will maintain and sustain a productive win-win business relationship.  Some say that 80% of revenue comes from only 20% of their customers, and other benchmarks show that 50% of a company’s revenue comes from 5% of its customers… Whichever the measure, it’s clear that a small and disproportionate number of customers are responsible for a large percentage of a company’s revenue. In fact, strategic & partnership accounts are critically important for a company’s growth and profitability and must be carefully managed as a valued company ‘asset’.  Revenue growth is the new universal imperative; growth is the lifeblood of an organization and executives are increasingly following the mantra ‘back to growth’. There are two approaches for business intent on growing revenue. Expand into new markets and new customer bases, or optimize the business in your existing strategic & partnership accounts. These approaches are meant to be complementary, but with global competition severely limiting market expansion; leading firms are focusing on the second option, seeking to develop untapped potential in their existing strategic and partnership accounts…  

In the article “To Drive Your Sales, Adopt a Major-Accounts Strategy” by Barbara Bix and Beth Somers Stutzman write: Focus on companies that have the potential to become a long-term partnership. Chances are good that you can develop these ‘customers/accounts’ into higher volume purchasers and long-term relationships through a ‘major account strategy’.  A major account strategy concentrates on building relationships with a few high revenue accounts based on your unique differentiated and valued-added products, services, and expertise over a long period of time and across different product lines. The major account salesperson’s role is to cultivate or ‘farm’ a few select high revenue potential accounts for new and repeat business.  The emphasis is on investing in the relationship and creating future opportunities, rather than merely consummating the sale. Each interaction gives both parties the opportunities to learn more about each other, strengthen the relationship, and ideally create additional opportunities to work together.  The desired result is to sell more valued products and services to each major account, create win-win relationships that block competitor entry, build long-term customer loyalty, and ultimately develop a sustainable growing business from each major account. In essence, you are asking the customer to collaborate in the selling/buying process, which will result in a win-win, long-term relationship and contribute to the success of both businesses…

‘Know Thyself’: Know‘where’ your company is today (current position). Know ‘what’ your company wants to achieve (desired goal). Know ‘how’ your company expects to achieve the goal (action plan). Then, you can be proactive about selecting the customers that will help you achieve your goal. The key to a value-driven process is ‘customer discovery’, and an understanding that the customer is the first step in achieving sustainable growth and profit. Discover what your customers need, their value expectations, and what the business relationship looks like through their eyes. This activity of discovery demands a much greater proactive commitment than merely surveying customers or listening to them. It requires attentiveness, creativity, imagination and even speculation. You must constantly be alert to new discoveries which may challenge or change your original plan… Key/strategic customers are the heart of every business. How they are identified and cultivated can be the difference between a thriving enterprise and one that is struggling to survive. Since competitive pressure has never been greater, companies can no longer afford to expend energy on customer development without a well-conceived plan and focus. Sluggish economy, globalization, mergers and acquisition, eroding margins, out-sourcing, the technological revolution, shrinking customer bases; these and other developments are creating unprecedented challenges for business executives, especially for those who manage ‘strategic and partnership accounts’.  More than ever, maintaining and building win-win relationships with key/strategic customers is essential for profitability, and an imperative for company growth and sustainability…

There’s only one safe way to have a strategic account, and that’s to become a strategic vendor to that account. In other words, you’ve got to set things up so that you’re as important to the account as the account is to you.  That way, if the relationship goes sour, you’re not the only one who gets hurt.” ~Sam Reese

Système D: World’s Fastest Growing Economic Superpower (Not China)– Unfettered Entrepremenurism & Shadow Economy…

Entrepremenurism ; “Système D is growing faster than any other part of the world economy… an increasing force in world trade… wave of the future for the global economy… crucial for the development of cities in the 21st century”~ Robert Neuwirth

Entrepremenurism: Système D’ (System D) is planetary unregulated shadow economy/informal economy/black market economy… concentrated in the developing countries and expanding rapidly; it’s a global phenomenon that has an estimated total value close to $10 trillion. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics blog discussed the growth of the shadow economy across the world.

The post claims that the shadow economy is the second largest in the world. “In 2009, the OECD concluded that half the world’s workers (almost 1.8 billion people) were employed in the shadow economy. By 2020, the OECD predicts the shadow economy will employ two-thirds of the world’s workers”.

If ‘Système D’  were an independent nation, united in a single political structure it would be an economic superpower, the second-largest economy in the world just behind the United States.  ‘Système D’ is a shorthand term that refers back to the French word débrouillard or démerder.

The verb ‘se débrouiller’ means ‘to untangle’. The verb ‘se démerder’ means to literally to remove oneself from ‘the shit’. The basic theory of System D is that it is a manner of responding to challenges that requires one to have the ability to think fast, to adapt, and to improvise when getting the job done.

It has the connotation of getting around the system, managing to accomplish, or breaking the rules.  Likens the use of System D to being a modern-day ‘MacGyver’ (popular television character) … getting the job done with a mix of whatever resources are available and a great deal of personal innovation.  Practitioners of System D are known as ‘débrouillards’, which in French means ‘guy who gets you out of trouble’.

In the article System D” by Charlie Stross writes: System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is.

The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of  l’economie de la débrouillardise. Or, sweetened for street use, it’s ‘Systeme D’.

This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself (DIY) economy. Without doubt, the internet has done much to potentate its growth. As is the case in conventional markets, internet makes communication easier; this in turn tends to disinter mediate supply chains, choking off rent-seeking and arbitrage except where local monopolies emerge.  It’s a useful reminder that the ‘WEIRD’ (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) nominal world GDP is around $64 trillion, but it’s not the only way; System D, as a percentage, is large and growing rapidly…

In the article “Rise of the Shadow Economy: Second Largest Economy in the World by Marco Rabinowitz writes: The fact that the shadow economy (or black market or informal economy or underground economy…) is on the rise in the middle of a global financial crisis should be no surprise to economists.  In a recent article for ‘Foreign Policy Magazine’, Robert Neuwirth writes that System D is a global phenomenon, transporting products across the planet ranging from machinery to computers to mobile phones.

From street selling to unlicensed trade to compensation under-the-table, many workers are off-the-grid. According to Neuwirth, System D is opening up economy and providing new opportunities for those seeking income through labor. Though the ‘black market economy’ has historically been cast in a negative light, Neuwirth believes that System D is giving workers an avenue to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit.

“Even in the most difficult and degraded situation, System D merchants are seeking to better their lives.”  Aside from the legal aspects, the ‘shadow economy’ has negative implications in terms of tax revenue.

In a July 2010 article from Bloomberg Businessweek, Chris Prentice discussed how the rise of the shadow economy affects tax revenue for nations. Based on estimates, Prentice notes that “given US GDP of $14.26 trillion, the world’s largest, that there could still be as much as $1.2 trillion in taxable income that slips through Uncle Sam’s fingers each year”.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once commented, “The black market was a way of getting around government controls. It was a way of enabling the free market to work. It was a way of opening up, enabling people.” Friedman criticized government intervention, price-controls, and occupational licensure. “Such government involvement in the market is what creates the black market in the first place. In some ways, the black market is the free market…”

In the article “Why Black Market Entrepreneurs Matter to the World Economy” by Robert Capps writes:  Not many people think of shantytowns, illegal street vendors, and unlicensed roadside hawkers as major economic players. But according to journalist Robert Neuwirth, that’s exactly what they’ve become.

In his new book, Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy’, Neuwirth points out that small, illegal, off-the-books businesses collectively account for trillions of dollars in commerce and employ fully half the world’s workers. Further, he says, these enterprises are critical sources of entrepreneurialism, innovation, and self-reliance. And the globe’s ‘gray and black’ markets have grown during the international recession, adding jobs, increasing sales, and improving the lives of hundreds of millions.

It’s time, Neuwirth says, for the developed world to wake up to what those who are working in the shadows of globalization have to offer. “In many countries — particularly in the developing world — System D is growing faster than any other part of the economy, and increasing force in world trade.” But even in developed countries, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, System D was revealed to be an important financial coping mechanism.

Studies of countries throughout Latin America have shown that desperate people turned to System D to survive during the most recent financial crisis. The growth of System D presents a series of challenges to the norms of economics, business, and governance — for it has traditionally existed outside the framework of trade agreements, labor laws, copyright protections, product safety regulations, anti-pollution legislation, and a host of other political, social, and environmental policies.

Yet System D is spreading technology around the world and bringing commerce and opportunity to communities that are off-the-governmental-grid and improving their lives…

The shadow economy or Système D is all the money and jobs generated outside the official economy, whether legally or illegally. In more than 50 countries around the world, the shadow economy is at least 40% the size of documented GDP. The size of a shadow economy can be vitally important.

In the report, Shadow Economies All Over the World: New Estimates for 162 Countries from 1999 to 2007 co-authored by Friedrich Schneider, Andreas Buehn, and Claudio E. Montenegro write: One notable finding is that from 1999 to 2007, shadow economies appear to be on the rise in nearly every country the study ranked. (The study excluded what they call ‘typical underground, classical economic crime activities,’ such as burglary, drug-dealing, and tax evasion…)

For example, America’s shadow economy in 1999 was 8.6% and climbed to 9.0% in 2007. (The number was higher for developing countries, where shadow economies increased from an average of 36.6% in 1999 to 38.6% in 2007, as opposed to an increase of 16.8% to 18.7% for the 25 high-income OECD countries.)

The reason behind the rising numbers: ‘Taxation and regulation increased in most countries’ over the past 10 years, says Schneider. As he writes in his report: “reducing the tax burden is the best policy measure to reduce the shadow economy, followed by a lessening of fiscal and business regulation.” Schneider goes even further.

He and his co-authors suggest that the solution is not just more efficient tax collecting and lighter regulation, but also to find ways to make ‘work’ in the official economy more attractive and reduce the incentives to participate in the shadow world. In short, the shadow economy tells us more about what is wrong with government policies:

The increasing tendency to engage in shadow economic activities should be perceived as a warning signal of increased resistance against the existing norms and laws in the economy… governments should reassess and reform the bureaucratic regulations, bureaucratic processes, and all other forms of red tape… thereby benefiting citizens, firms, and the rest of the world as well…

Système D was the economy-of-desperation. But as trade has expanded and with globalization it has scaled up, too: Today, it’s the economy-of-aspiration…

“I’m totally off-the-grid… It was never an option to do it any other way… it was financially absolutely impossible… System D opens the market to those who have traditionally been shut out. This alternative economic system offers the opportunity for large numbers of people to find work… support their families… improve their communities… and live a good life…”

Neglect Organization Health and Risk Becoming Another– Enron: Focus Exclusively on ‘Performance’ and Risk Long-Term Success…

Organization Health is Critical for Business Success: “Organizational health is about adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition.

Healthy organizations don’t merely learn to adjust themselves to their current context or to challenges that lie just ahead; they create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time. This is where ultimate competitive advantage lies.”

How healthy is your organization (how is it ‘really’ doing)? Sure, there are basic metrics like; total revenue, profit margin, employee turnover… which can paint at least part of the picture.  However, all of these measures have one inherent flaw: they measure  things  which have already happened. In book ‘Mastering the Rockefeller Habits’ by Verne Harnish writes; there are four interlocking principles that drive growth and good health. When taken individually, each of the principles: people, strategy, execution and cash, are good business practices.  A focus on any one of them will create a tighter more harmonious business.

Together they interlock to create a business in good health and poised for growth and sustainability; no matter what is going on in the economy. Since the publication of two landmark books, ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, and ‘Built to Last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras; 20% of the companies profiled in these books no longer exist and 46% are struggling to regain their former positions in the marketplace.

Clearly, it’s a tough world out there, and it’s not getting easier to find sustained success. The book ‘Beyond Performance’ by Scott Keller and Colin Price, both at McKinsey, tackles this topic by looking at what is done by companies that have found ways to endure. According to Price and Keller; “health is the capacity of the organization to compete not only today, but tomorrow,” and there are three key elements:

  • Organization alignment: Does the organization know where it’s going? Are the people within that organization aligned about that direction? That may sound simplistic, but in many organizations it’s not the case. There isn’t a deep level of alignment around purpose and mandate from the leaders all the way to the frontline employees that make a difference to customers.
  • Capacity for execution: This is the ability to turn ideas into action. How much interference is there? How much complexity slows a company’s metabolic rate?
  • Capacity for renewal: Is the organization changing at or just above the rate at which it’s changed in the past? Or is the organization really focusing on changing at the rate required by the industry?

In the article “Characteristics of a Healthy Organization” by Rose Johnson writes: Companies should periodically take an assessment to measure their health. For companies to achieve long-term success, they must create and maintain healthy environments in the workplace. Healthy organizations understand that it takes a collaborative effort to compete in their market segment and produce continuous profits.

Healthy organizations have certain characteristics ingrained in their corporate culture: A healthy organization shares its business goals with employees at every level of the organization. Management shares goals with employees and gets them on board with the mission and vision of the organization. Healthy companies know how to develop teams that collaborate to achieve common goals.

Good leadership is one of the main characteristics of a healthy organization. Employees have good relationships with management that are based on trust. Managers know how to get employees to function together. When correction is needed, employees readily accept the constructive criticism offered by leaders. Companies confront poor performance instead of ignoring it.

Upper-level management values the input of employees who make suggestions on how to improve productivity and achieve high performance rates. Healthy organizations understand the risks they are open to and take the necessary steps to protect themselves against them. Healthy organizations know how to recognize and seize good opportunities.

They also know how to adapt to technological or operational changes. They try to stay ahead or inline with changes in the industry and business environment. Companies possess a sense of order and organizational structure. The structure and order of the organization does not limit innovation and growth…

In the article “Building a Healthy Organization in Challenging Times” by Patrick Lencioni writes:  The current state of the economy has caused many of us to question what we can do in this market to succeed. Now that most companies have cut staff and minimized any extraneous expenses, the question remains, ‘what else can we do?’

New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, claims that most companies have enough organizational intelligence, intellectual property and human capital to succeed, even in a down economy. Unfortunately, many fail to leverage those assets because they lack something he calls ‘organizational health.’

He defines a ‘healthy organization’ as one where internal confusion and politics are minimized and an atmosphere of clarity and employee productivity can flourish. Built upon his model in the book ‘The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive’ helps leaders understand the disarming simplicity and power of organizational health and reveals the four actionable steps that allow them to achieve it:

  • Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team: Cohesive team trusts one another, engages in constructive conflict, commits to group decisions and holds one another accountable.
  • Create Organizational Clarity: Healthy organizations clarify topics such as values, strategies, goals and roles & responsibilities.
  • Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity: Healthy organizations align their employees by repetitively and comprehensively communicating all aspects of organizational clarity.
  • Reinforce Organizational Clarity Through Human Systems: Organizations sustain their health by establishing simple structures around the way they make decisions, evaluate job candidates, manage performance and reward employees.

In the article Management Vs. Leadership in a Healthy Organizational Culture by Jason Gillikin writes: Healthy organizations balance leadership and management to improve the bottom line. The tension between management and leadership can be hard to cut through at times, but in a healthy organization, the roles and duties of leaders tend to mesh well with the roles and duties of managers.

Both leaders and managers have functions that sometimes overlap, but through solid communication and a well-accepted strategic vision, these two roles work seamlessly in a high-performing organization. In a healthy organization, managers will accept the strategic direction shared by the leadership team and find ways to carry it out.

Leaders will communicate clearly and honestly, and establish clear milestones. Managers will accept direction from leaders and add to it, adding the muscles and sinews of operational effectiveness to the bones of strategic vision. In turn, managers will honestly communicate successes and failures to the leadership team, to help keep the vision in sync with reality. In a poorly performing organization, the relationship between leaders and managers breaks down.

Leadership might fail to articulate a clear vision, or to communicate new priorities to managers. Managers, in turn, might tell leaders what they want to hear without actually working to achieve the vision–or, the management team might simply be inept. Without a solid, symbiotic relationship between leaders and managers, a business cannot maintain a healthy organizational culture.

In the article “Essentials for an Effective, Sustainable, Healthy Organization” by Fredia Woolf writes: What’s the point of any organization? “To make money,” says the businessperson.  “To fulfill our mission,” says the non-profit person.  And so begins the false debate that keeps the two worlds separate and often leads to missed opportunities and wasted potential. 

If all organization leaders recognized that both financial viability and an inspiring mission are essential, they could then focus on the key levers that would make their organization effective, sustainable and healthy, thus transforming experience of work for so many people, which, in turn, would transform the performance and results of the organizations they serve. Here are some guidelines for how to do this:

  • Leadership Ability and Commitment: At the heart of every successful organization lie the quality, competency, vision and drive of its leader or leaders.  The culture, tone and nature of the environment stems from choices they make and priorities they favor.
  • Strategy: Organization leaders who have a clear strategy understand where they are going and what they want to achieve.  If the time is taken to align individuals with this strategy and to use the strategic priorities as a way to remember what’s important, you will have the makings of a productive, efficient organization.
  • Communication from and Visibility of Senior Leaders: Highly capable leaders who craft a brilliant strategy and stay in their offices or out of sight will not create high performance or healthy organizations. It is a primary function of leaders not only to be the voice of the organization to the outside world but also to keep their people ‘in the loop’ by updating, including and recognizing them.
  • Accountability: Building a sense of personal responsibility is part of a healthy culture.  Setting goals and clear expectations about roles and responsibilities is fundamental to a performance culture.  Setting limits, boundaries and clear expectations gives necessary structure and order and facilitates the accomplishment of goals.
  • Remove Structural Impediments: In some organizations, effectiveness is not impeded by people’s attitudes or practices.  It may, instead, be hampered by structures intrinsic to the organization.
  • Creating a Sense of Team and Trust: The three T’s of a successful 21st century organization are: Technology, Technical Expertise, and Teamwork.
  • Focus on Coaching/Development: Seeing each employee as an asset filled with potential and talent and whose passion and needs can be met by their work fosters a worker whose output can benefit the organization financially and existentially

If you were asked about the health of your organization, you would probably respond with financial measures such as; revenues, profitability, return on investment… According to Bradley Norris, these measures may or may not be correlated to durable adaptable companies. Examine any top 100 list from years past: Fortune’s top 100 best places to work or the Forbes 100.

Very few of these companies have endured the changes inherent in markets, industries, and society. In Andy Grove’s book, ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ he states: “We must be ever vigilant, never-resting on the laurels of yesterday’s success. We must always worry that a competitor will satisfy the customer better tomorrow, if not today.” The healthy organization combines this fear with a faith in their ability to prevail, to win, to profit, to endure…

“Organizational health and corporate culture are the most important drivers of results… they are clear predictors of financial health… organizational health drives performance.”

Suffocating Choices: Making a Living vs. Making a Killing vs. Making a Difference– Wake-up; You Are What You Do…

Making a living & making a killing & making a difference. “I do everything I love; end of story. There is nothing I don’t do that I don’t enjoy doing, and I don’t feel guilty for it.” ~Scotty Hicks

Making a living, making a killing, making a difference. ‘Make a living, not a killing’ has appeared on signs in the 2011 ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests. The saying plays upon the slang use of ‘make a killing’ (i.e., a large, quick profit). Make a killing –to have great success, especially in making money. Killing, n. –A large profit; a quick and profitable success in business, etc. (slang).

In the article “Making a Living… Or” by Dan Miller writes: How many times have you heard someone say about their work; Well, at least– I’m making a living.’ Maybe it would be more accurate to say– ‘I’m making a dying.’ The work they describe is unfulfilling, boring, and stressful.  They dread going to work on Monday morning, and every other morning.  Often they are embarrassed about their work and admit readily they are doing nothing meaningful; only extracting a paycheck in exchange for their time.

If you’re caught up in the typical American view of work you may say you’re ‘making a living’ when in truth something inside you is being killed each day.  Every day, millions of people rush to get to jobs they don’t love and yet those people defend their choices as responsible, practical, and realistic. How can it be responsible to live the biggest part of our lives devoid of meaning, joy, and purpose?

‘Making a Living’ implies that you are releasing those skills and talents that make you fully alive.  Doing work where the time just flies by; work that you would want to do even if you were not paid for it; work that is meaningful, fulfilling, purposeful, and profitable. In a recent newsletter by Rick Warren, he writes: “Only someone too stupid to find his way home would wear himself out with work.” How do you like that? Have you been worn out at work lately?

Did you know that you’ve just been put in the category of being ‘too stupid to find your way home?’ Well, maybe that’s a little harsher than it was intended, but I like the message. Don’t be so busy trying to ‘make a living’ that you’re too busy to ‘make a life’. And I have not yet begun to describe what most people are doing to themselves when they think they’re ‘making a killing’

In the article Making a Living vs. Making a Killing: Creating a Healthy Democratic Foundation for Economies” by Zeus Yiamouyiannis writes:  Everybody says they want free enterprise in a democratic market exchange economy that seeks to maximize life engagement, enjoyment, responsibility, and fulfillment. So how come we are currently stuck with the opposite? How could the laziest, least inventive, most crony-connected, monolithic, and parasitic companies siphon up the cash, feast on the bailouts of the industrious, and make it more difficult for us to live a good life?

It was not supposed to happen this way, but it did, and it continues to persist. Part of the problem is that ‘prosperity’ has been degraded and falsified and been made synonymous with getting your ‘goodies’; profits, entitlements, benefits, windfalls, special favors, and bonuses. Real prosperity created from effort has withered and needs to be revived. We can see with our own eyes that productivity, ingenuity, diversity, and diligence have been either given lip service or taken a good beating in the face of rewarded fraud and self-indulgent consumption.

This needs to be inverted.  We can also notice how this latest mutation of capitalism has grown to encompass the global system, since most citizens from Greece to America to China fell for the ‘too good to be true’ hype including, promises of never-ending stratospheric government benefits and forever skyrocketing housing prices and stock valuations. ‘Don’t work for a living. Let your money work for you’, became the new mantra. Contributing to society, applying oneself, and caring for others became quaint notions for old-fashioned dupes.

Now that we have tasted the fruits of this false prosperity and experienced the consequent world-wide indigestion, what should be done? I assert that whatever we do requires a different foundation that rewards and supports productively adding to economies (‘making a living’) and discourages using the levers of society to parasitically subtract from productive growth (‘making a killing’).

‘Making a living’ does not need to be eking out survival at an underwhelming job. It can and should mean literally what it says; ‘making a life’ with all the most energetic and interactive tools at our disposal. ‘Making a killing’ should not be the ‘I’ve hit the jackpot’ bounties that people pretend, either. It can and should mean what it literally says; ‘killing the economy and people’s well-being’…

In the article In Praise of Small Success” by Dustin Wax writes: Everyone these days is chasing after the billion-dollar idea. We look at the giants in the technology industry – Google, Yahoo, eBay, even Microsoft – and see companies that only a few years or decades ago were tiny startups struggling to get by. When they hit, they hit big, and made their owners more money than anyone on Earth had ever dreamed of having. Good for them.

But their success has radically distorted the way most people look at their own lives, businesses, and prospects. The Google model of success is great– hooray them! But frankly, it’s a little irrelevant. Most of us won’t have a billion-dollar idea. And even if we do, we’ll have it at the wrong time without the resources to make it a billion-dollar company. And you know what? That’s fine. Peruse the shelves of your local bookstore’s business section and you’ll see book after book analyzing, studying, describing, and generally fawning over the huge success stories.

They all claim the same thing: follow the example of Apple, Starbucks, GM, Warren Buffett, or whomever and you, too, can be successful. Don’t follow their example, and you’re… well, doomed to failure. Few companies ever operate at the scale that the business gurus’ plot success at. And few of us need the kind of validation that building a billion-dollar business, or even that a million-dollar business provides. I’m speaking out in praise of small success: ‘Making a living’– a good, solid, stable living– doing something you love.

It’s a living built on community-mindedness, social spirit, and a solid relationship with the people who buy or use your work. Yes, it means giving up the ability to ‘monetize’ every interaction between a potential customer and whatever it is you make. But in return you gain the ability to focus on the thing you love, and the value it brings to other people’s lives, instead of the bottom line. Most of the business books on the shelves, and most of the businesses functioning in our contemporary society, don’t have that luxury.

They’re not focused on ‘making a living’ but on ‘making a killing’– bringing in the big bucks, milking whatever they’ve got for whatever it’s worth… More importantly, the ‘making a killing’ approach really is killing. Celebrate the little successes, and for most of us, they are more than enough to lead us to happy, healthy, and in the end regret-free lives…

In the articleMaking a Living is Killing You” by Gino Lomelino writes: How many times have you heard someone use a phrase such as ‘it’s a living’ or ‘keeping my head above water’ when referring to their job? What do you think when you hear it? Do you think that person enjoys devoting the majority of their waking life to that activity? Or do you think there are things they’d much rather be doing? Lately, when I hear phrases such as ‘making a living’, it triggers an instinctive disgust; a reflexive backlash against wasting my life.

I understand that everyone needs money, but to say that you’re doing something to ‘make a living’ doesn’t imply that you’re actually doing anything meaningful in your life. It’s settling for mediocrity; the equivalent of giving up on life. That’s not to say that the act of ‘making a living’ is bad in itself. There are valid reasons that you could be doing something you don’t enjoy at the moment.

For instance, if you can honestly say ‘I’m doing X to support my passion of Y’, that’s more than just ‘making a living’. So how do you go from ‘making a living’ working a job you despise or just aren’t interested and pour yourself into something you’re passionate about?  Take stock of your life. In order to improve anything, it’s necessary to understand what’s wrong…

One of the greatest things about the Internet is that it has opened up a new world of possibilities for people who want to pursue their passions. It has removed a large portion of the wall that kept people from pursuing their interests. Activities which were once hobbies can now become small businesses. Whether you want to ‘make a living’ doing something you hate or you’d rather put your time and energy toward something you love is ultimately up to you…

What is the economy and society meant to serve? What is most fulfilling and important in life? According to Zeus Yiamouyiannis: When asked these questions for themselves and their societies, most people offer answers like: health, family, community, friendship, love, learning, creativity, collaboration, liberty, new experiences, diversity, meaningful work, cultural enjoyment, literacy, curiosity, responsibility, spirituality, faith, and so forth.

If you ask those same people how much time, energy, and money they are spending enacting these practices, principles, and values, the answer would likely be (if they were honest), comparatively little. Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do’. ‘Making a difference’ is ‘making a life,’ adding something to an economy, providing a necessary good or service that enhances survival and thriving. In ‘making a difference’, you are producing something for exchange.

You are not merely consuming, nor are you merely taking up space, pushing paper, selling snake oil, or exploiting other people’s production. In other words, you cannot ‘make a difference’ by simply being self-serving. You have to provide something of real value to others.

“‘Making a living’ is doing something you care about, enjoy, or are passionate about. Wake-up and smell the flowers! Have your cup of coffee and feel the excitement of the day!” ~ John Evans

Collaboration –Key Driver for Success in Business, Globally: Diversity of Ideas, Strength in Unity, Power of Innovation, Leveraging Shared Business Model…

Collaboration: “Global companies that collaborate better, perform better. Those that collaborate less, do not perform as well. It’s just that simple.” ~ Jaclyn Kostner.

Collaboration can change the dynamics of companies, markets, industries, and nations. Among firms and individuals, collaboration has been shown to signficantly improve their performance and innovation outcomes. In business, collaboration can be found both inter- and intra-organization and ranges from the simplicity of a partnership to the complexity of international corporations.

Recent improvement in digital age technology has provided people, globally, with the ability to effectively communicate and share ideas through the internet, web-conferencing, and social media without any geographical barriers. Collaboration is the ability to leverage each others strengths to produce results that no party could have achieved alone, and where each member contributes to the mutually agreed-upon objectives and goals with an outcome that says, ‘we did it together and we both are better off for it’.

In the study Meetings Around the World: The Impact of Collaboration on Business Performance” by Frost & Sullivan says that a global culture of collaboration exists, but that there are regional differences in how people in various countries prefer to communicate with one another. “The study results show that collaboration can positively impact each of the gold standards of performance; i.e., profitability, profit growth and sales growth; it can determine a company’s overall performance in the marketplace,” said Jaclyn Kostner. The study surveyed 946 information technology and line-of-business decision-makers from a cross-section of 2,000 small-to-medium, mid-market and global companies in the U.S., Europe (France, Germany, and U.K.) and Asia-Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan).

The researchers created a ‘collaboration index’ to measure a company’s relative ‘collaborativeness’ based on two main factors: An organization’s ‘orientation’ and ‘infrastructure’ to collaborate. The study found that the high impact of collaboration on a company’s overall performance was consistent across Europe and Asia-Pacific, and across the six key vertical industries that were examined: healthcare, government, high technology, professional services, financial services and manufacturing.

In addition to measuring the relative ‘collaborativeness’ of companies, the study uncovered general positive attitudes about collaboration, along with specific preferences and regional differences. For example, among the professionals worldwide who responded: An overwhelming number (9-to-1) see their collaborative efforts as highly productive and believe that collaboration through communication technologies provide a competitive advantage.

Many like to work with teams (10-to-1) preferably from home (3-to-1) and not necessarily face-to-face. A majority (5-to-1) feel that conferencing provides a good alternative to travel. Many like to be reached wherever they are (2-to-1) but not necessarily all the time (9-to-1), which may be one of the reasons why e-mail is preferred to using the phone (3-to-1). As for the regional differences, American professionals were more likely to enjoy working alone, and prefer to send e-mail rather than calling a person or leaving a voice message.

They are also more comfortable with conferencing technologies than people of other regions and tend to multi-task the most when on conference calls. Europeans thrive on teamwork more than their counterparts elsewhere and prefer to interact in real-time with other people. Professionals in the Asia-Pacific region, more so than anywhere else, want to be in touch constantly during the workday.

As a result, they find the phone to be an indispensable tool and prefer instant messaging to e-mail.  According to the study, these differences highlight an opportunity for greater cultural understanding to improve collaborative efforts around the world…

In the article “Six Degrees of Collaboration” by Colin Brown writes: While business was once all about keeping one step ahead of your rivals, in today’s socially networked society, working together can lead to greater success.  Steering the enlightened path is a new C-word that has emerged as the way forward for business:

Collaboration. In today’s hyper-socialized economy, it’s not who you know that really counts, but who you don’t. The priority for many CEOs today is to break down the barriers that stand between them and their employees, their customers, their partners, their vendors – even their rivals. National boundaries are being bridged, corporate walls breached, expertise shared.

Google’s Eric Schmidt’s prevailing mantra is ‘collaborate or perish’. Similarly, conglomerates, such as IBM and Cisco, have got collectivist religion and are bent on replacing the top-down managerial model of benevolent dictatorships and proprietary ownership with flatter hierarchies and reciprocal relationships. They know that no single industry, company, or individual has a monopoly on useful ideas.

Failure to adopt this new collaborative mantle also leaves dyed-in-the-wool companies vulnerable to agile entrepreneurs who now have all the communication, technology and information at their disposal to become global competitors. There is no one rigid philosophy or management practice that is driving this shift, but rather a spectrum of changing attitudes, techniques and tools that combine to promote sharing, aggregation, peer group coordination and social cooperation. Together, they amount to one giant ‘reset’ button for business.

In the article The Human Element, Key to a Successful Partnership by Francine Allaire writes:  Professionals and companies are facing perhaps the most challenging environment in decades, making internal collaboration and strategic partnerships more relevant and important than ever before. Whether in business or in life it’s often the human element that makes or breaks any form of relationship, collaboration or alliance. People create alliances, companies don’t.

Technology does not run an enterprise, relationships do! So, at the end of the day…it’s about people, relationships and trust. ‘Tools are the Enablers’ but ‘People are the Key’. Why collaborate at all and why now? We live in what I call the ‘New Normal’. So why, then, is successful collaboration so difficult to attain? Humans are tribal creatures, constantly drawing boundaries between friends and foes. We are constantly surrounded by potential partners; colleagues, neighbors, friends, fellow volunteers…

But powerful partnerships– the kind in which you and a collaborator regularly work together, reach goals together that you never could have accomplished apart, and gain the deep satisfaction only such an alliance can bring– are still elusive for most of us. We are crowded in offices, airports, and subways; frequently within arms reach of dozens of people, but often on a very lonely pursuit.

In a study by Gallup Research they discovered that there were elements that are crucial for two people to become a successful team (in business or in life) and came up with ‘8 Critical Elements of Successful Collaboration’. They are; complimentary strengths, common vision, fairness, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communication, unselfishness. Being a good partner is hard work!  Take off your headphones… Break away from the screen…Get out of your office…Unleash the Power of Collaboration!

In the article Collaborative Business: Companies that Dare to Share Information are Cashing in on New Opportunities by Paul McDougall writes: Collaboration may sound like one of those mom-and-apple-pie business ideas that everyone supports, but the reality is that many companies remain wary of opening-up too much. Only half of the companies surveyed by ‘Information Week Research’ will share data with suppliers, and just 39% make collaborating with customers part of early product development.

Yet companies that embrace collaboration find that the more they do it, the better it gets. Eighty percent of companies that share data with more than one partner give the strategy a thumbs-up, but only about half of the companies that share data with just one partner feel that way. Most businesses just aren’t built to take full advantage of collaborative networks, says Dale Perrott at ‘Cap Gemini Ernst & Young’. Collaboration calls for decentralized decision-making structures that let knowledge workers act on the information: “This requires a revolution in the thought processes and operating structures of a business,” he says.  

Businesses haven’t yet approached the Zen-like state in which suppliers and customers interact unconsciously in an infinite, virtuous cycle, where customer feedback ripples back organically through the supply chain. Though increasing sales is the most common goal for collaboration, companies are also collaborating to cut costs. More than half of respondents to the ‘InformationWeek Research’ survey view collaboration as a means to squeeze expense out of their supply chain and target other pockets of inefficiency.

In addition to saving money, companies are creating collaborative environments to help build customer loyalty.  Collaboration requires trust and a leap-of-faith that once customers get a good look inside your business, they’ll like what they see.  Despite its potential, true business collaboration is being adopted only gradually by corporate America.

Notwithstanding the onslaught of new tools and services and some notable success stories, most businesses still don’t routinely collaborate with customers and suppliers, according to the ‘Information Week Research’ survey. Only half of respondents say they regularly share information with customers, and only 37% routinely share information with suppliers. Participation in more specific collaborative activities such as the development of customized solutions for each partner was even lower.

Today, people and firms are reaching out to one another in ways that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago and, indeed, the fear that competitors will glean information and skills is becoming more of a non-issue. Businesses today are built less on proprietary secrets and more on execution and connections.  Mary Parker Follett, early twentieth century management guru, described management as ‘the art of getting things done through people’.

She essentially believed in the power of people working together and forming a community; a process for collaboration. Now-a-days collaboration is one of the most important success factors for organizations. Collaboration is a process through which people who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible. Effective leadership in the current climate requires; collaboration, listening, influencing, and flexible adaptation, rather than command and control.

According to Arnoud De Meyer; one of the important elements of collaborative leadership is restraint and an ability to walk the fine line between the clear and the dark side of its characteristics. The right approach is often; not ‘either-or’, but ‘and-and’:

The need to conform to the group and yet creatively think out of the box; need to be formal and informal; need to listen to experience and at the same time challenge it through experimentation; need to make money and the need to be socially responsive; need to compete and the need to collaborate. It is uncomfortable to live with such dualities. But in a collaborative world we have no choice.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” ~attributed to Charles Darwin

Everyone is Connected Degrees of Separation: Facebook says– Four; Twitter says– Five; Earlier Study says– Six…

“Just Think About It: Somebody you know knows somebody–who knows somebody else, who knows someone who is very tight with someone who you want to meet– for your next great customer”

Six Degrees of Separation is the theory that anyone in the world can be connected to any other person in the world through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. According to a study by Stanley Milgram, each person on Earth is six degrees from any other person on the planet, which says that; you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows me.

Whereas, a study by Facebook in collaboration with ‘Università degli Studi di Milano’ says that the degrees of separation between any one of Facebook’s 800 million users is close to 4, on average, which is much less than the often discussed ‘six degrees of separation’. Within the same country, the degrees of separation between any two users declines to nearly 3.

Although the ‘six apart’ theory hasn’t been proved conclusively, it is generally accepted that with digital age communications, we live in a ‘shrinking world’ where distance between people is less of a barrier. So what has this got to do with customers, people of influence, and increasing your business? Well, if you are only a maximum of six steps away from anyone, and if you know who you want to connect with, then by a series of connections (networking) you can gain access to anyone…

In the article Six Degrees of Separation? Facebook Says Try Five by Deborah Netburn writes: According to the Facebook data team, the number of degrees of separation between people appears to have shrunk — at least for the more than 721 million Facebook users. The company’s data team says that as Facebook has grown over the years, the global population on Facebook has steadily become more connected.

The average distance between two random people on Facebook in 2008 was 5.28 connections, and now it is 4.74. The original ‘six degrees’ finding, published in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, was drawn from 296 volunteers who were asked to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb.

By comparison, the Facebook data team examined all 721 million active Facebook users (more than 10% of the global population), with 69 billion friendships among them. The Facebook data team notes that its research, which was conducted via complex algorithms developed at ‘Laboratory for Web Algorithmics of  Universit degli Studi di Milano’ is not fully compatible with Milgram’s research. In the Facebook study each time a connection between two random people was measured, it was always the shortest possible route.

The people in Milgram’s study were just guessing which was the shortest route, and we can assume that at least some of the time, they were wrong. As the report puts it, chances are one of my friends knows one of your friends, as long as we’re all on Facebook.

In the article “Six Degrees of Separation, Twitter Style” by Alex Cheng writes:   Over the past year, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring Twitter, and one of the things we’ve been curious about is how connected people are to each other within the Twitter network.  So, we sliced and diced more than 5.2 billion Twitter friendships (the number of friend and follower relationships) to investigate the connectivity of the Twitter network.

We discovered that Twitter is, in many ways, a network with only five degrees of separation. This means that nearly everyone on Twitter is just five steps away from each other. We describe this separation between two people as ‘friendship distance’.  Of all friendship distances, five steps is the most common, while a friendship distance of four steps is the second-most common. One way to measure the connectedness of Twitter is by looking at the percentage of Twitter users that can be touched by reaching out a certain distance.

Using the Twitter network graph, we discovered that, on average, a Twitter user will encounter 83% of all other Twitter users by visiting everyone’s friends, up to a distance of five steps. If the user visits all friends of friends, up to six steps, 96% of all Twitter users will be covered. This means, the Twitter network has good social connectivity, and that, in theory, a re-tweet does not have to propagate that much to reach a potentially large number of people.

How far does a Twitter user have to roam before they meet a follower of their own? Apparently, it’s not that far. We discovered it only takes 3.32 steps to find someone who is following you (with a standard deviation of 1.25 friendship distances). This means, if you trace your friends, and their friends and so on, in 3.32 steps on average you will discover a follower of your own; there are many small, circular connections on Twitter…

In the article “Six Degrees of Separation? Facebook Says It’s 4.74” by Hasan Guclu writes: It’s a little creepy, but a recent Facebook study shows our connections are becoming a little less coincidental and a lot more scientific. Using fancy algorithms, researchers were able to determine that the average number of links between users is shrinking—the average distance in 2008 was 5.28 degrees, while now it is 4.74. The magic of social networks.

In a feel-good paragraph stuck to the end of the study, Facebook said social networks are “well-connected, in the sense that you can reach anyone from anyone else in a relatively short number of hops, but at the same time, they are very locally clustered, with the vast majority of connections spanning a short distance.”

So even though Facebook users tend to cluster by nationality (84% of all connections are between users in the same country) and by age (even 60-year-olds have mainly 60-year-old friends), the study found that as Facebook grows, it represents a larger and larger fraction of the global population and becomes more and more connected. Although the results aren’t mind-blowing, they’re interesting.  When we meet someone for the first time, we often search for some sort of common ground upon which we can build a conversation and, possibly, a friendship.

Often, this common ground is a place, or a type of music, or a friend. If you’ve ever played ‘the name game’ with a new acquaintance and found that you have a friend in common, you’ve experienced what network theorists call a ‘small world’. The small-world concept implies that we are all connected through chains of acquaintances.

This is often expressed in the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ theory; the idea that we are, at most, six handshakes away from anybody on the planet. This popular concept suggests that all of us are more interconnected than it may seem. The accuracy of the six degrees story is debatable, but the small world that it implies is very real.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, said sites such as, Facebook and Twitter had provided a mechanism which allow more people to be in touch with each other at the same time around the world. “I think Facebook and Twitter have allowed people a tool by which they can be in touch with far more people than ever before. However, people may now have more ‘contacts’, but that should not be confused with the number of actual ‘friends’ they have,” he cautioned.

Wiseman said that it would be dangerous to conclude from these studies that people had more real friends because of social networks, and therefore were actually closer to a greater number of people. “I doubt the algorithms, which were used to create this research, took into account how many people out of a user’s list of ‘friends’ were actually people they knew personally. The ‘six degrees of separation’ research was all about people who knew each other and forming a chain. This is loosening that term.”

The Facebook analysts also found that when they just looked at people’s connections in a single country, most pairs of people are only separated by three degrees. In Milgram’s original experiment, he tested the idea that any two people in the world are separated by only a small number of intermediate connections. This gave rise to the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory in popular culture.

In the article “Yahoo Study Seeks Algorithmic Answer to ‘Six Degrees of Separation’” by Miranda Miller writes: Yahoo’s Small World Experiment, led by Duncan Watts and Sharad Goel at Yahoo, aims to conclusively answer the question of ‘degrees of separation’. The topic has been much debated and widely studied, but so far remains unresolved.  In a 2009 paper ‘Small-World Experiments’; Watts, Goel, and Roby Muhamad examined a common problem in ‘small-world’ experiments; ‘high attrition rate’ where, chains fail to be completed. They also highlight the differences between topological and algorithmic small-world hypotheses.

The  ‘Facebook/University of Milan Small World Study’ is an example of a topological study. Researchers calculated the average distance between any two people by computing sample paths between two users using Facebook’s large population: 721 million Facebook users, or over 1/10th of the world’s population. With access to the entire network, they found that the average number of acquaintances separating two people was 4.74.

This gives the impression that the world has become smaller; in the sense that the Facebook results show 4.74 degrees of separation, whereas Milgram’s work pointed to ‘6 degrees of separation’.  The biggest problem people had in these experiments was that most of the chains don’t get to the targets. “Attrition is really making it hard for this to work and we don’t really know why”, says Watts. There are certain types of people who are very good at networking, and there are circumstances that are more likely to succeed, but we still have questions…

The notion that we are connected by some number or degree of separation apart from each other is all very interesting in the hypothetical, but just exactly how does this little bit of trivial speculation get you in touch with that key customer or person of influence who you are looking to establish a connection? Think about some companies you would love to do business with– but at present, you don’t have a contact there.

Based on these experiments, you can say that on average there are four, five, or six people standing between you and some of the most desirable contacts in the business. Maybe it’s about time you conducted a little experiment yourself. Target five or six people who you don’t know–potential customers–people with whom you really would like to have contact.

Select some people you do know, who don’t necessarily know this person(s), but they might know someone who does– or someone who knows someone else who does. Using your first connection point(s); your customer(s) or colleague(s) or your business contact(s); these are people who know people.

Begin the process by leveraging these connections, and remember that there is someone out there that you know, that knows someone, that knows someone… that you want to know. Think about it, key customers and people of influence are a whole lot closer than you think…