‘Asker’ or ‘Guesser’?

I have some good news and some bad news.

I wrote in my last blog about the universal advice to get a ‘Dream Team’ around you and I talked about the challenges of actually finding the people to be in it. The good news is that the solution is to join a community and get to be known, liked and trusted.

The bad news is that you need to know if you are an asker or a guesser. And if you are the latter, then a difficult challenge just became a whole lot harder.

So what’s the difference between ‘Askers’ and ‘Guessers’, and why does it matter?

It depends on how you have been raised to ask for things.

If you have been brought up in an ‘Ask’ culture then you are taught it is fine to ask for what you want because the other person always has the option to say no. You are not offended if you request is turned down because that’s always one of the possible outcomes. If you were told as child “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”, then you’ve been raised as an Asker.

If you have been brought up in a ‘Guess’ culture, then you avoid asking for something at all costs unless you are pretty certain that the answer is going to be Yes. You are particularly skilled at putting out feelers and dropping hints. Sometimes you are able to get the other person to offer the thing you want, which is a brilliant result for you. If you were told as a child “It’s rude to ask”, well, you can figure out what you are.

The problem for Guessers is that they depend on tight net of shared expectations and that only works with other Guessers. They think that Askers are a bunch of insensitive idiots for not picking up on their subtle signalling and realising what is going on.

If you’re a Guesser, then enlisting people to your dreams and asking them to be on your team becomes hugely difficult. You put an enormous amount of time and energy into putting out delicate feelers that a large percentage of the people are oblivious too and get distressed and frustrated that you can’t seem to get your team together. Meanwhile, the Askers in your group have ploughed ahead and got their support team together in no time at all.

So Guessers have to take a deep breath, pull their pants right up tight, and become Askers. Much to their surprise, they will find most people don’t even bat an eyelid and they’ll soon find people doing exactly what they asked them to do. It turns out that it’s much more acceptable to be an Asker in a business environment than in a social one. (Who knew?).

It’s not all good news for Askers, however. They may think it’s OK to ask anyone for anything but the Guessers are horrified by their presumptuousness. They may feel obliged to say Yes but then will fail to provide the support or even become silent saboteurs due to their resentment.

It’s important, then, to understand where the other person is coming from, not to simply project your worldview on them but to see things from their perspective. There isn’t a right or wrong here, there’s just a difference and you need to understand and acknowledge that and behave accordingly to get the outcome that you want. Even if that means asking for it!

(This terminology comes from a 2007 web posting by Andrea Donderi)

Come and meet some potential collaborators and practice being an Asker at one of our London meetings, or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

Creating your ‘Dream Team’

There is a piece of advice that you will find all over the internet, from all the top business coaches and start-up gurus, every ‘how to’ blog about growing your business or even making personal change. (Hell, even I’ve put it in my ebook “Five ways to flourish when you escape the corporate grind”). So what is this ubiquitous instructions, this universally agree wisdom?

“Get a great team around you”

Well, you can’t argue with that, can you? We all know we can do more when we have people supporting us than we can on our own. We all know that we’d do much better if we could focus on what we’re good at and have other people to do all the stuff we’re crap at (and probably hate with a passion, too.)

Some people say this is pretty much ALL you need to do. Get a good enough bunch of people around you and you can do ANYTHING!

It’s seductive. So simple. And it’s reassuring, isn’t it? To think that we don’t have to take all strain by ourselves but can have other people to share the burden with.

The only problem is that hardly anyone tells you HOW you pull together your dream team. I mean, it’s not like people are hanging around on street corners with cardboard signs saying “Genius, at a   loose end, ready to commit myself to your dreams.”, is it? You can’t just drive around and pick up the people you need on your particular bus. So where do you find them?

And even when you find them, why are they going to help you? What’s in it for them? Why would they join your support team rather than someone else’s? If these are good people, then they are not going to be short of options.

Of course, these two questions are interrelated. And the answer is community.

There are some, a lucky few, who have a network they can draw upon that contains the skills they need and people who are disposed to helping them. For the rest of us, we need to find a community where potential members of our team are likely to gather. By interacting, sharing and doing things together, we discover who the people are that we need and at least identify who we’d like onboard.

But then the question still arises, why would they help us? Well, people will work with us when they know, like and trust us. The community has provided one part of the puzzle because they know us but now we have to work on the other two elements – we need to get them to like us and to trust us.

Again, the community provides the context in which we are able to build these relationships. They will see us contributing and engaging in the community and helping others. They’ll see us as whole people, not just in a narrow business or professional context. They will also experience us, get feedback from others and be able to evaluate our social capital. They will be able to make their own mind up as to whether we are trustworthy or not.

We need to show up and take individual actions to prove ourselves but it is the community that gives us the platform to do it, the opportunity to take action. We have to show we area willing to be open and honest, to be vulnerable and to want to contribute and help others. That means we have to willing to be on other people’s teams and support their dreams and ambitions.

The way that we often seek community is by joining a networking group or attending a course (either in person or online). These can work but they are not always a great fit for people who are still trying to determine what they are going to do with their life and the next part of their career. If you do not yet have an established business then you are not ready for networking that is focused around business development and lead sharing. If you are taking a course, the focus will only be on a narrow area and that’s only a small part of what you need.

That’s why I started After the Mothership, to create a space for people who are transitioning from corporate and don’t know what they need or what direction they are going to go in. To create a community of people who are working through the same sorts of challenges, asking the same questions but who have different skills and experiences that they can share with each other.

In other words, a place where you can find your dream team and become part of someone else’s.

Experience some new ideas and new people by coming to one of our our monthly meetings in London. Book your place for our September event “After Corporate Life – What next?” HERE

Or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

Finding out what you don’t know

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary during the second Gulf War, once gave a famously oblique response to a question, in which he talked about “Known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns”.

It was a diversion tactic, a deliberate obfuscation to avoid answering the question about a lack of evidence. It’s actually an application of ‘Johari’s Window’,a cognitive psychology tool used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. The statement brought much publicity to the concepts and introduced them into the popular lexicon.

When you leave corporate life, there are an awful lot of ‘known unknowns’. Setting up your business, doing your accounts, your website, social media, and a million other things. There may also be specific areas of skill or expertise that you need to acquire, such as public speaking, coaching, web development, cooking, carpentry – seriously! It depends on what you decide to do next.

You can address some of these by taking training courses but choosing the right ones can be a challenge. How do you decide where to focus your efforts, which ones to master and which to outsource to specialists? It’s not straightforward but it is possible, with some thought, to decide a course and navigate your way through these ‘known unknowns’.

However, there’s a hell of a lot more unknown unknowns. Things you have absolutely no awareness of, things you have not even heard of, much less understand their relevance to you.

So how do you discover your unknown unknowns? How do you find out these things that will be crucial to your success?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

Firstly, you need to expose yourself to new ideas and people. Get out and mix in some new groups, try some new pursuits, read books and publications that you haven’t before.

Secondly, find some people who have been on a similar path, who have made the transition from corporate or are doing something similar to what you want to do. Ask them for their advice, share your thought and ideas and ask for their feedback (people love to be asked for their opinions). Learning from them will greatly shorten your own learning curve and save from you repeating common mistakes.

I’m trying to make this easier with After the Mothership. Through this blog and the newsletter, through the events, through the Facebook group, I am trying to expose you to new ideas and people; and to connect you to people who are going through this transition, fellow travellers on the path you are following.

There are many other ways you can go about this, both online and in real life. Be open, follow your curiosity, and enjoy your exploration. You never know what you will find!

Which is why they are called ‘unknown unknowns’.

Experience some new ideas and new people by coming to one of our our monthly meetings in London. Book your place for our September event “After Corporate Life – What next?” HERE

Or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

When I grow up, I’m going to be…

I often joke that I haven’t decided what I am going to do when I grow up. It’s a way of using my self-deprecating humour to deflect awkward questions about what I am doing. Like everyone else, I am just making it up as I go along but I don’t want to admit that I am winging it.

Like all the best jokes, it has more than a little basis in truth. I really haven’t decided on the one thing I am going to do, the single career, the identifiable profession that can be contain in a neat little box so that everyone can see it and know what it is. The thing is, I don’t think I ever will. I am just not like that.

It’s not that I am scared of commitment, or that I don’t take life seriously, or that I am indecisive (although other may disagree!). It’s just that I like to have variety in my life. I am interested in many different things. My curiosity takes me in many different directions. Just doing one thing, being one thing – well, that sounds like hell to me.

I know you are probably thinking “Uh-oh, a jack of all trades and master of none”, because that’s the normal way we put people down who do multiple things. Such is the cult of specialisation in our society today that anyone who doesn’t go down a single path is seen as deviant, some sort of misanthrope to be pilloried and denigrated. But let’s look at the full quote,

Jack of all trades, master of none,

though oftentimes better than master of one.

You see, having multiple skills and interests is really strength, not a weakness. It’s a strength that’s increasingly sought after as employers look for people who are able to fulfil multiple roles and adapt to meet the rapidly changing requirements of business today.

In fact, specialisation can become a bad thing, a trap for us as we hit the middle of our careers. It’s been defined as ’Over-competence’, the situation where an individual has become so good at their specialisation that they can’t escape it. They are so valuable because of the large revenues they can generate for their employer or themselves that the opportunity cost of doing something else is too high. However, the work no longer challenges them or stretches them and they lack opportunity for personal or professional growth.

So being a ‘Jack of all trades’ is no bad thing. It is a positive virtue that allows for personal growth and development. It is the way to become the ‘best you’ you can be.

What’s more, I am not alone. There are loads of us out there, people who never quite fit into one role, never quite manage to stay in the box that we are given. There are lots of names for us too (no, not those sorts of names. Positive descriptors!).

‘Scanners’ is a term that has been around for some time, originally coined by Barbara Sher, the original advocate of creating your own job (and also promoted by John Williams, author of “Screw Work, Let’s Play”). People who are just too curious to stick to one thing, who have multiple passions and ideas and inspirations.

Or if you prefer, you can call yourself a multi-potentialite, a neo-generalist or someone with a renaissance soul.

Marianne Cantwell, author of Free Range Humans, and someone who I have worked with to develop my own ‘free range’ career, has given an excellent TEDx talk where she talks about ‘Liminality’, this state of not ever being one thing or another but being somewhere in-between. When you are in a group but still seem to have a foot outside. When there always seems to be a bit of you that doesn’t quite fit.

And here’s the thing. Whatever of these descriptions you feel best suits you, you feel a bit ashamed because you aren’t quite what society expects you to be. You are supposed to fit in a box (because that makes it easier for everyone else) but you just don’t, just can’t, just won’t. You are doing ‘grown up’ properly. You aren’t ‘adulting’ in the right way.

This is where it gets really serious and why this is important. That shame that you feel is completely mis-placed but, more importantly, extremely dangerous. It’s corrosive, debilitating and doing you harm every day. Furthermore, it is a barrier to you making the best of your talents, making the best of yourself and bringing your best stuff to the world.

Far from feeling shame, you should be proud of your breadth and spread, your scanning abilities, your boundless curiosity, your multiple passions and interests, your ability to find the spaces in between that everyone else misses. We are the innovators, the creators, the change-makers. We find the connections that others can’t see, we brew up the concoctions that no-one else can cook up, we see a future that no-one else can imagine.

The world needs us to stay young, stay curious, keep playing and keep exploring. We aren’t meant to settle down and stay in a box, we are meant to find new places to play and to live and to grow.

So never grow up. Don’t decide what you are going to do. Decide who you are going to be.

Join us at After the Mothership where we’re all figuring out what to do when we grow up.

Get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

or come along to our monthly “After the Mothership LIVE!” meeting in London. Book your place for our September event HERE.