Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

What is my problem?

I am not who I think I am. I am a work in progress. I need to be in perpetual beta. And to do that, I have to begin someplace. Where?

Two weeks ago, on the back of recommendations from Kavi Arasu, who leads the corporate learning and development function at Asian Paints, and my co-founder Indrajit Gupta, I signed up for a six-week-long course on Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM). Conceptualized by Harold Jarche, the only demand it places is for you to invest three hours of your time a week and $329. I’m just a few days into the programme, but I think it the best investment I have made in an awfully long time.

So, what exactly is PKM and what compelled me to sign up for it? I have articulated in the past that I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I have to wade through to make sense of the world we live in.

I’m pretty much off all social media platforms. I maintain a cursory presence on LinkedIn, mostly as a tool to look up the backgrounds of people, and Twitter for links to interesting resources. Apps like that ridiculously popular WhatsApp are a strict no-no. In spite of all these self-imposed restrictions, I continue to feel lost.

This is exacerbated by the fact that my transition from a journalist to an entrepreneur has been a painful one. I have had to unlearn all of what I had learnt over 20 years. Not just that, the nature of entrepreneurship is changing.

Assuming for a moment I had continued as a journalist, given the relentless pace at which the profession is changing, it would only be a matter of time before I became redundant—or struggled to keep pace—because how technology is driving the nature of how the profession ought to be practised is mind-boggling. Nobody seems to know the answers.

In any case, there is so much out there to process, absorb, learn and savour. But what exactly ought you process, absorb, learn, savour and—most importantly—ignore without regret?

In any case, to stay relevant as a professional, the onus is on us to take control. “The active practice of PKM," writes Jarche, “can help increase connections, develop meaning, and improve autonomy, all important skills in the network era." Some more reading into the material on his blog and egged on by Arasu and Gupta’s recommendations, I took the plunge.

To say the very least, the outcome of his first exercise on understanding myself had me stunned.

Allow me put that into perspective. Until roughly two years ago, I thought of myself as a liberal. But when I took a fairly sophisticated test on what my moral foundations are, the outcome stumped me. As the chart below indicates, deep down, I am actually a conservative man. While I believe in liberal values like inflicting no harm, and place a premium on fairness, this one starkly shows I am deeply wedded to loyalty, and purity—all of which are conservative traits.

In much the same way that these results stunned me, Jarche’s course started by asking me six questions. The intent of these questions are to measure the breadth and depth of my professional network. At the end of the exercise, on the outside, I can potentially have 28 people to whom I turn and rely upon for advice.

I had always taken it for granted that my network is a wide one and that I know all of the right kinds of people. After answering Jarche’s tough questions, which took me roughly 30 minutes, I was stunned again to discover my real network comprises only eight people. These include people I work with, my family and two close friends. Is something the matter with me?

In the strictest sense of the word, no. I am what Jarche calls a maven. These are the types who have intellectual capital on their side. They research themes deeply, know what they are talking about, but are perhaps not the best communicators. They see the big picture and are often loners. Not a bad thing at all if a maven chooses research as his primary calling.

The downside to being a maven is that if anybody from these eight people were to move out of my network for whatever reason, my support system would take a hammering and I would be lost.

In hindsight, now I know why in my earlier avatar as a journalist I wasn’t the kind who could break stories. I had it in me to go deep into a theme, talk to multiple sets of people, research and then write out whatever it is that I had to. My problem was, and continues to be, that after connecting with the people whom I am introduced to so that I may understand a theme, I don’t have it in me to sustain those relationships. My instinct is to go back to the eight people that pretty much comprise my world.

To get around the problem I have on hand, Jarche’s suggestion is I need connectors. These are the kinds who have the most diverse networks and bring creativity to the table. And finally to get things done, I need salespeople, the ones who have the energy in them to influence people.

What it boils down to is that I may think up the best ideas in the world, but do not have it in me to give them life by bouncing them off the creative ones and taking them to a large audience. Connectors have salespeople on their side as well the muscle to take whatever it is I have thought about and influence people into taking action.

The ideal thing then for professionals like me is to go about building a network that helps me find my “sweet spot". This, Jarache writes, lies at the intersection of what you care about, what you love doing and what you are uniquely good at.

To understand the import of what this means, may I suggest you look at the diagram below and this post. One look at the image and I know I cannot progress without connectors in my network. They have it in them to understand me, a wide network of relationships with the world outside and salespeople on their side to take my ideas to the world outside.

To interpret and understand myself better, Jarche’s footnotes suggested that while not mandatory, I visit TrustedAdvisor and consider taking the Trust Quotient Assessment. While a summary of the report is free, curiosity compelled me to pay $29 and opt for a more comprehensive report.

Here again, what emerged caught me by surprise. I always thought everybody around thinks of me as a trustworthy person. But when measured using the Trust Equation developed by Charles Green, I score low on trustworthiness.

This equation is an interesting one. It adds up what you score on credibility, reliability and intimacy, all of which are divided by self-orientation. So, while I may be credible, reliable and intimate with people, the eight people in my network and the world outside think me as somebody focused on myself to the exclusion of everything else.

My gaze is inwards. To be a better professional, I need to work hard at convincing others I am indeed interested in them, that I will not try to control who they are and that I will check my ego out at the door when I walk in to meet them.

I couldn’t agree more.

The takeaway for me in all of this is that to sift meaningfully through all of the noise that surrounds me, I need to build a larger network of people. Not because large is good, but because if I have to see and understand the world better, I have to be with people of different kinds. And to do that, I ought to turn the gaze outwards as well at people, instead of being too focused on myself all of the time.

This understanding in hand, I wrote to Jarche and asked for an interaction. We connected on Thursday night. As it turned out, his, for all practical purposes, is a one-man outfit. He lives in a small Canadian city with just about 5,000 people. The closest hub to where he needs to get to if he has to fly someplace is 1,000 miles away.

He has been writing on themes close to his heart for 14 years now. But he is happy where he is, understands what his strengths and weaknesses are and, over time, has developed an extensive network of people from across the world who frequent him for advice—and this includes global majors in the business.

I suspect he is a maven—much like me. But over time, he connected with just the right kind of people so that his network expands and people like me now reach out to him. To my mind, this is what I need to do to make my transition as an entrepreneur an easier one.

Charles Assisi is co-founder and director at Founding Fuel Publishing.

His Twitter handle is @c_assisi

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