People investing in each other …

October 14, 2018

People investing in each other … something special!

This past year I was involved in mentoring a startup company based on technology developed at UW – Madison. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot along the way. I was mentoring a PhD student exploring the commercial opportunities for her research work. In May she entered the National Science Foundation Innovation – Corps accelerator program.

NSF I-Corps is a very intense 8-week program focused on customer discovery i.e. finding customers with a problem to solve and a solution that they might actually buy. There were sessions in San Antonio Texas at the start and end of the program. The startups had a target of 15 customer interviews per week with an absolute minimum of 100 interviews in total.

My protégé had a good number of late nights to keep up, but she did it and in good form too. While she was very nervous on her first interview, she over came that to complete 102 interviews and in the process select a target market – analytics for innovative workspaces. While that first interview was a manager of the ‘Ripley’s Believe It of Not’ on the Riverwalk — mentor suggestion to start easy — she had good discussions with architects, construction project managers, product managers, VP’s and a CEO or two along the way.

After her final presentation, one of the instructors asked her what is the most important thing she learned. With out hesitation her response was that the most important lesson was that “there are so many people willing to help.” What amazed her was that so many people were willing to share their time and expertise, without a likely return other than a thank-you and an enjoyable discussion. And, I think the good feeling of contributing to this student’s business venture.

That’s people investing in each other. The mentor was definitely proud of that response without taking any credit.

After my NSF I-Corps experience, I ran across a related article in the McKinsey Quarterly, September 2018 “The Overlooked Essentials of Employee Well-being” by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Several points made caught my attention:

“Workplace stress is exacting an ever higher physical and psychological toll. It adversely affects productivity, drives up voluntary turnover, and costs US employers nearly $200 billion every year in healthcare costs.”

He goes on to describes two factors impacting stress/well-being in the workplace, job control and social support. The first seems a matter of common sense …

“leaving people with little or no control over what happens to them at work decreases motivation and effort.”

The second may challenge the shortsighted interpretation of the ‘business of business is business’ idea. Social support? Sounds like a ‘softy idea.’ It is! One with a very positive impact on employees, customers and business results.

“A culture of social support also reinforces for employees that they are valued, and thus helps in a company’s efforts to attract and retain people.”

The author has a few recommendations for companies:

• Demonstrate commitment to offering help … in life’s challenges
• Encourage people to care for one another … in times of personal crisis
• Fix the language … ‘teammates vs employees’
• Support shared connections … volunteering together strengthens relationships.

That’s people investing in each other on-the-job, developing lasting relationships, creating a strong community, a sound foundation for serving customers and building a business.

What does this have to do with us and the WSJ Society? Well, here are a few more citations in the McKinsey article:

“Having friends protects your health as much as quitting smoking and a great deal more than exercising.” (M. Heid, “You asked how many friends do I need?” Time Health, March 18, 2015)

“one review noted that ‘people who were less socially integrated’ and ‘people with low levels of social support’ had higher mortality rates.” (B. Uchino, “Social Support and Health,” J of Behavioral Medicine, August 2006, v 29 n 4 pp 377-87)

That caught my attention. Friends and social activities are not only more fun they’re actually good for your health. How about that!

The people helping my protégé with her startup; people in-career helping each other reach their best aspirations; or, people in-retirement contributing their time and talent to help others, it’s a matter of people investing in each other at whatever stage in life they are enjoying.

The Warren S. Johnson Society, a social organization to continue friendships established during a JCI career, is one means to that end. The members enjoy each other at quarterly luncheons, a reunion every two years, communications through the Newsletter, and this website.

Many of our members are involved in personal service activities – JCI career experiences do promote doing for others. That’s great!

But I wonder, what could we accomplish working together? Maybe with some new ideas from in-career members.

Something even more special I’ll bet. What do you think?

We are better together,
Jude Anders