Get more kismet, or making your own opportunity

photo courtesy of

Getting more opportunities to change your destiny might seem to be a dangerous choice if you are focused on loss aversion. But making more decisions (and creating additional ways to succeed and to fail) is another way of increasing your learning, opening more doors, and what Rand Fishkin calls “manufacturing serendipity.”

To folks worried about losing their time, the process of spending “at least 30% of my days filled with coffees, calls, and communication to folks outside the company from whom I’m seeking absolutely nothing and where my goal is merely to be helpful” might be ludicrous. But think of it this way: meeting new people ensures new opportunities. New opportunities beget other opportunities. And you can always choose whether to act upon (or merely think about) those opportunities.

My small contribution to this idea of manufacturing serendipity is to make a practice of introducing people in my contact universe. How does it work? Easy – every day I think either about questions people have asked me (“Do you know someone who is an expert in the non-profit world in Seattle”) or people who should know each other (“I’m new in town, and I’m wondering who would be some great people to meet”), or friends who are seeking new team members (“I need a professional Yak Herder who also knows Ruby on Rails.”)

The resullt? Between two and five personal introductions a day that have the following components:

  • The who – who are you meeting?
  • The why – why would this person be interesting to know?
  • The what – what is something that they are likely to be able to do for you?

The feedback that I’ve gotten from people who’ve been introduced this way is that this technique provides them with a great opportunity to connect, relevant context to make a better connection, and more opportunities to meet cool people.

What is an example of this sort of introduction?

An example might look like “Mary, meet John – he’s a Product Manager in Seattle who gets things done with a smile and is a great resource for learning more about Agile techniques. You should know John because he’s been a part of several small companies in the space and because he recently published an article in Fast Company – here’s a link.” I’d write a similar paragraph to introduce “Mary” to “John” and then step away and let them meet.

The goal of facilitating this introduction is just that – starting the conversation. I believe in manufacturing serendipity by connecting some of the amazing people I’ve met and making more of these connections every day. Is it work? A little, and it also increases the chance of meeting people who will enlighten and enhance your life (who you just haven’t met yet.)

Postscript – you should also read Fred Wilson’s excellent piece on the Double-Opt-In introduction, which as Dan Shapiro points out in the comments is an even more effective way to introduce people by making sure that they both want to be introduced – thanks, Dan, for the suggestion!

The Power of a Pause

At first glance, it seems like any other beach scene you’ve ever noticed. And then – right when you’re not expecting it – there is a strange and wonderful pattern in the water right in front of you. You only see it when you’ve unfocused a bit, and it’s only there for a minute – and then it’s gone.

What do you get when you breathe?

Alex Bard, one of the founders of Assistly, talks about the importance of taking time off from work as key to his success at finding the parts of his business that provide the most value, and of his success in maintaining his family. Whether your definition of success is building a successful company or simply finding marvelous, unexpected images like the one above, what are you doing to pause, wait, and see what happens?

It’s Ok, Work Will Be There When You Return

It’s easy to think that the world will fall down if you’re not there to do your job. And it’s true that if that happens when people are expecting you to excel, you might not succeed. But you can’t succeed without also taking more than a few moments (on a regular basis) to unplug, look around you, and see what you’ve got.

This photo is a good metaphor for that ability that Alex describes to identify and capture great moments – the current was the result of a number of forces coming together (only for a moment) and I happened to be lucky enough to be there at that moment and skilled and practiced enough to take a shot that turned out like I wanted it to resolve. There’s one in a row.



You never know when you’re going to see a cactus flower

Cactus Flower, by

This week I went from the 48 degrees and rainy world of the Pacific Northwest to the 90-plus degrees of the Sonoran Desert near Scottsdale, Arizona. I thought I was going to see cactii, cactii, and more cactii (it was true – I saw Barrel Cactus, Saguaro, Prickly Pear Cactus and more.) And one of the coolest things I saw was a cactus flower on what locals called a “Big Red” Cactus.

Cactus flowers are startling – they appear in an instant, last only a little while (in the case of these flowers, they peaked in one day), and then are gone – and surprisingly, appear in a wide array of colors. We saw white, red, purple, yellow, and pink examples of these flowers — neat.

So why is work (or is work) like a cactus flower?

Work can be incredibly hard and only bear fruit once in a great while. The surroundings of that work can be prickly and dangerous, and still might produce a beautiful thing that smells great. Take advantage of it when it happens.

Interesting surprises don’t always last long, so it’s vitally important that you celebrate them when they happen. And don’t forget – it’s not just about work. Work will always be able to wait for the really important things in your life (even if you don’t feel like it at the time.)

Good things happen at unexpected times, so be on the lookout

The rest of the time — when you don’t see a cactus flower, when it’s hot outside and you’re ready to give up — is hardly a time to slack off. The cactus contributes to its ecosystem just by being around (support for the environment, shelter and potentially nourishment for desert creatures, and looks cool too.) You can still keep working to produce beautiful things, celebrate them when (and if) they happen, and keep on supporting whatever you define as your ecosystem. The woodland and desert creatures around you will appreciate that, and you should too.

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