Sometimes it’s the actions where we expect nothing in return that give the greatest value.
Jennifer Foster of Florence, AZ was visiting Times Square with her husband on Nov. 14 when they saw a shoeless man asking for change. She writes, “Right when I was about to approach, one of your officers came up behind him. The officer said, ‘I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you.’ The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching. I have been in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life. I did not get the officer’s name.”
Last week I was part of a panel discussion for TiE on the New York startup scene. I was invited to talk about my experience as both a TechStars Alumnus and founder of Red Rover and AlumniChoose.
Before the event officially started, everyone was casually networking around the room. At one point a lady popped into my conversation and introduced herself and asked what I did. As soon as I finished describing AlumniChoose, she tapped the shoulder of someone nearby and said we needed to talk to each other. As soon as she brought the two of us together in a handshake, she walked away without saying anything. Then a few moments later, she tapped another person I was talking with and pulled him, mid-sentence, away from our conversation and into another one. I continued to watch her work her “magic” around the room and she kept repeating the same system over and over.
In Dance Floor Theory, we teach student leaders to be spatulas of the dance floor. In other words, we teach them to be facilitators of relationships and to focus less on the event and more on the introductions that happen from the event. In doing that, we want them to connect people together around shared interests. Then, once that relationship is started, move on to another group and make more connections. By the end of the night, everyone should, in theory, know everyone else, which makes for a great, long-lasting, dance party. Hence the picture above.
In theory, that’s what the lady last week was doing, but it rubbed me the wrong way, and here’s why…
Genuine Interest – When she asked me what I did, I thought she was genuinely interested in what I did, but in reality, she was just trying to figure out who she could connect me to as fast as possible. It felt cold, which is the opposite of a relationship. Had she asked me a couple follow up questions, it would have felt much better.
Right Timing – Knowing when to pull someone into and out of conversations is a bit of an art. But one good rule to follow is don’t pull someone out of a conversation mid-sentence, unless they want you to. This lady not only pulled someone out of a conversation mid-sentence, but it was within a few minutes of having her just introduced us together. We were just warming up our conversation, and she cut it off. A relationship takes time to build roots.
Make It Natural - Once you see how a magic trick is done, the magic is gone. DFT is magical when done right, but like a magic trick, if you reveal to the audience how you are doing it, it’s no longer natural and feels forced. The lady last week made her ‘introduction game’ so obvious, that I then doubted the value of the introductions she was actually trying to make happen. She was going for quantity over quality and in doing so, her magic trick was reveled.
I suspect the lady thought she was being smooth and helping connect everyone to everyone else in the room. Overall, she probably was being more helpful than harmful, because most won’t even think to make introductions like she was. But the real art is in the practice of making it seem like you aren’t even trying and that you genuinely want to connect two people together because they actually should connect, not becuase you want to make your dance floor better.
Guest post by Joe Ginese, Director, Center for Student Involvement at Nichols College (MA).
“Would anyone be interested in an alternative spring break trip?”
The crowd mumbles with a sense of excitement and curiosity.
“It’d mean spending a week, perhaps in New Orleans, doing service like Habitat for Humanity or in soup kitchens in the area that Katrina hit.”
The audience of students at the student government association meeting enthusiastically nods and collectively exclaims mixed reactions including, “Yes!”, “That’d be awesome,” and “Oh I’ve done trips like that.”
Here at Nichols College, perhaps not so unlike other institutions of larger sizes, the students are the inspiration for change and often the drivers of it. If the students want it, we make it happen. After that meeting in the spring I started sharing the idea with colleagues to talk feasibility, connections, and timelines. Sure enough, someone knew someone who has done work in New Orleans on a yearly basis and had a connection with an organization with a great reputation. Momentum was rolling, but this couldn’t be done alone so it was time to find collaborators, which meant more intentional conversations. Turns out the assistant director of residence life was once in my shoes, being the one to start an alternative spring break program and knew what it would take to make it a success. I had the connection to the organization; I had a co-conspirator to help facilitate since I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the trip. Now, it was time for the students to follow through on their initial excitement about the prospect of spending their spring break doing work for and serving others.
Here is where our biggest challenge came into play. We had an application process that was standard with essays and references, but it also outlined that students would be required to raise $600 each to attend the trip. Many of our students work hard for their money between part-time jobs, on-campus work study positions, and affording expenses of being a student; $600 was surely enough to stop some people from considering the opportunity. While this seems like something that would be a negative to the program, it was a positive when it came to selection. We didn’t select students who thought nothing of the $600 fee. We selected students up for the challenge of raising $600 in less than 5 months. We selected students who weighed the $600 as the cost of an experience of not only traveling to New Orleans, but to make a positive impact on a community and, to make a positive impact in their own lives.
Together, we have 8 students who vary in just about every possible way. From hometowns, to majors, to class years, to motivations for doing this, to experience with tools; the one thing they share is being prepared to transform from a group individuals going on a trip to becoming a group. Which leads me to my main motivation for bringing this to the Nichols College campus, transforming our students. A shared experience of doing service whether you fly 1,000 miles to do it, or do it down the street from campus has the potential to change a student’s life. This isn’t cliché. I’ve had the opportunity to lead two alternative spring break trips, and each resulted in students returning to campus with more than just a retreat “high”, they come back with new eyes. The change in perspective, the memories, lessons, experiences, and connections established with the students is what makes these trips worthwhile. Serving a community is great, traveling to new locations is fantastic, and making friends is phenomenal, but transforming yourself from someone existing in this world to someone who is an engaged global citizen is the goal. Alternative spring break trips shouldn’t be called trips, they should be called journeys because it is on a journey that one grows, learns, and often ends up in a place where they didn’t expect to be. In 11 days, 8 students and 2 administrators will go on a journey together. In 21 days, 10 people will come back with a shared experience, a shared mindset, and a new perspective on the world around them.
One month ago, we opened the digital doors of AlumniChoose.org and instantly student leaders and advisors from across the country saw how valuable AC was for helping raise funds for their club/org projects and trips.
From attending the ASGA National Conference to bringing fresh water to Peru to building homes in New Orleans, we currently have 10 student projects raising $23,400!
If you can help make these student projects happen, we’ll thank you with more than our usual virtual high-fives. For every $10 you donate, we’ll give you (or anyone you want) a free one-year magazine subscription (or renewal) from the list below. Yes, if you donate $30, we’ll give you three different subscriptions, or three years towards the same subscription.
Just click on a project below, and once you’ve donated, we’ll send you a follow up email on how to claim your subscription. You ready to help make a positive impact on a group of students? Let’s go!
I, along with 100s of other people, received a Tweet from the above Twitter account letting me know about an upcoming event happening at KSU. Here’s what’s wrong with it and why you shouldn’t do your marketing like this…
Irrelevant – I don’t go to KSU. I’m no where near KSU. I don’t know anyone at KSU. You just used Social Media to Spam me. Next time you try and get my attention, I’m not going to listen, if I haven’t blocked you already.
Impersonal – Even if I did go to KSU, if I see you sent the exact same message to everyone, no longer do I feel special about getting a message from you.
Called Out – Social norms exist in Social Media, if you break them, you’ll get called out. I’m calling you out and now your “great” marketing idea just turned into a PR mess.
Like baseball 10 years ago, higher education is focused on what’s easy to measure. For baseball it may have been body parts, batting averages and the numbers on the radar gun. For higher education, it’s the 3Rs: research, rankings and real estate. Each of these areas is easily quantified or judged: research citations or number of publications in Nature and Science; U.S. News ranking (or colleges choose from a plethora of new entrants to the ranking game, including the international ranking by Shanghai Jiao Tong University); and in terms of real estate, how much has been spent on a new building and how stately, innovative and generally impressive it appears.
Unfortunately, the 3Rs correlate about as closely to student learning and student outcomes as batting average or fastball velocity, which is to say, not at all. Buildings are the “ugly girlfriend” of higher education.
Universities that continue to focus on the 3Rs in the wake of the seismic shifts currently roiling higher education (state budget cuts, increased sticker shock, technology-based learning) are either not serious about improving student learning and student outcomes, or they’re like the baseball fan who has lost her car keys in the stadium parking lot at night. Where does she look for them? Not where she lost them, but under the light because that’s where she can see.
“A young player is not what he looks like, or what he might become, but what he has done.” – Billy Beane
Similarly, a university is not what its buildings look like, or what its reputation or rankings say, but what it has done. And by done, we don’t mean research. The link between research and instructional efficacy is unproven at best. We define instruction of students to mean producing measurable outcomes in terms of student learning and employment.”
The first time I asked an advisor of mine to write me a letter of recommendation back in college he said, “sure, fill out what you want me to say and I’ll adjust as needed and sign.” At the time I thought that was cheating, but once I realized that he also got asked from 30 other student leaders, I thought it was pretty smart. Now that I’m on the other side, I often find myself saying, “sure, fill out what you want me to say and I’ll adjust as needed and sign.”
The other day, however, I had a student leader ask me for a letter of recommendation via Linkedin. This was a first for me. I’d filled out Linkedin recommendations for work colleagues and consultants, but never for a student leader’s work. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of a Linkedin recommendation over a paper recommendation.
The advantages included…
Unlike a paper recommendation that is often used once or twice and then tossed. A Linkedin recommendation is posted online for as long as that person feels that it is relevant.
A paper recommendation tends to be distributed only to a select group of people who are asking for it (e.g. job applications), which limits the potential impact of the recommendation. On Linkedin, people are constantly coming and going from profiles, so now your letter of recommendation can be seen my hundreds of people who might also be interested in your skills.
Digital Identity Enhancement
While the numbers keep shifting, the data generally shows that 50-70% of HR people scan an individual’s digital identity during the hiring process. Of that group, 86% say that if they see positive information, they will use that to the advantage of the applicant. The more Linkedin recommendations you have, the more positive your digital identity will look and that can only help you in the hiring process.
Are Linkedin recommendations becoming the new thing? It’s only happened to me once from a student leader, but I suspect it won’t be the last time. I wonder if students will start asking teachers to write a letter of recommendation on Linkedin for them about their in-classroom abilities. What do you think?
Over the weekend I watched the movie classic, Rushmore. For those unfamiliar, the basic plot is a hyper-involved high school student, Max, falls for a teacher while getting kicked out of school for bad grades and abuse of power. There’s a montage in the movie (see below) of all Max’s extracurricular activities that he’s either a part of, or started himself.
Not seen in the clip is that at the end it cuts to his report card showing he’s doing poorly in every class. This got me thinking in two different directions…
1) Can a student leader be too involved?
If you work with student leaders, you most likely know at least one student that is trending in this direction. They start off being involved in one club, but by the end of the year, they are leading three and a part of four others. They can’t get enough of “life outside the classroom” and all looks great from your seat as the head of student activities because this student is hyper-engaged. Then, you start to hear that they are slipping in their grades. It’s like a star quarterback who gives 100% of his time to the team, but fails every class. A bad coach would just focus on the fact that he is helping the team win. A good coach would see his star player is failing elsewhere beyond football.
If I were to graph it, I think it’d look like this…
So, what is the right amount of time spent in extra-curricular activities that maximizes the value without hurting academic performance? My guess is whatever the amount of time it takes to be involved in one to three clubs. I’m hoping someone reading this can point me to research on the topic of when too much is too much.
2) Who would I rather hire?
The second direction of my thinking is related to the person I’d most likely hire if four different students, as seen in the graph below, came to me for a job.
Student #3 would be the easiest to dismiss in an early screening because they were neither academically successful or involved in extra-curricular activities.
Student #4 would probably get a pass from me because, even though they excelled academically, they didn’t display any usage of their knowledge. It’s one thing to be smart, it’s another thing to be able to do something with your smarts.
Student #2 would be the most obvious pick because they showed they can managed a massive work load on multiple fronts. They display the ability to be book smart and street smart (which is what I think co-curricular activities teach a student). Student #2 would be the shining star, though I think this type of person is an extremely rare case.
Then there’s Student #1. This is Max in Rushmore. This is the wildcard in the application process. He/she could be a creative genius who loves to make stuff happen and doesn’t care for the “game of school.” He also could be extremely aloof and forget the purpose of the role he’s in. If I had to pick between Student #1 and Student #4, I’d prefer Student #1 because he/she shows action with real-world results.
So in the end, if I could only interview two, I’d probably choose to interview #1 and #2. Unless I were hiring for a very technical position, (doctor, mechanic, etc) then I’d probably pick #4 over #1.
What about you, If you could only pick two to interview who would you pick and why?