Fast Company: “Help,” “Thank You,” and “Reach”–My Three Words for 2010 (What are yours?)

My first post of the year was going to be my predictions for 2010.  But prognostication is a tricky business, especially this year when so many variables are in flux.   I decided to take another tack and focus on what I could control—my actions.   Specifically, what actions in 2010 that would achieve the results I wanted to see personally, professionally and culturally?  Even more specifically, what three words best embodied those conscious actions?

Three words?  My inspiration for this word-based approach came first from Seth Godin’s recently released free e-book, “What Matters Now.” It is a compilation of 50+ experts from a variety of industries and disciplines musing on a single word that’s important to them.  Then, I came across Chris Brogan’s “My 3 Words for 2010” blog post.  It turns out he has been picking three words to guide his efforts for the coming year since 2006 and has found it very powerful.

Following their lead, my three guiding words for 2010 are “Help,” “Thank You” and “Reach.”

“Help”…Preemptively

I’ve always tried to be helpful, but honestly my helpfulness was, more often than not, reactive.  If someone said they needed help, I would readily provide it.   Then, last year I began to wonder, “What if I offered my assistance proactively, before people asked?”  It started with Jonathan Fields, a career author/blogger, who signs on to his Twitter account (@jonathanfields) everyday, “Morning, great people!  Who can I help today?”

Even though I’d never met Fields, who is a “Dad, husband, author of Career Renegade, lifestyle entrepreneur, marketer, and blogger,” when his question popped up on my Twitterfeed each morning, I found it made me think differently about my day.   I’d ponder for a moment, “Yeah, who could I help?”

Then I turned thought into action.  I began to test “preemptive” helping.  Most people responded to my unsolicited offers of help with surprise and, “Thank you so much.  I can’t think of anything right now but I will let you know.”  I realized that unprompted, sincere offers of help are so rare that they caught people off guard.  But it felt great to ask, so I decided to continue, “How can I help you?”

I didn’t appreciate the lasting impact of this simple question until my friend, the Authentic Organizations management expert, CV Harquail told me what happened after I asked her, “How can I help?” a couple of months earlier.

Because CV is not only smart but very generous, it was easy at the end of our lunch two months prior to say, “How can I help you?”  While clearly surprised, she thoughtfully considered my offer and asked for my input on a couple of issues.  She thanked me.  I loved our conversation, but didn’t give it much further thought.   However, to CV, my question had become, “Cali’s killer question” (not realizing at the time that Jonathan Fields was the original inspiration).

It turns out that after our lunch, CV decided she would begin to ask others, “How can I help you?” because it had meant so much to her.   But she wasn’t prepared for the intense reaction she experienced after posing the question to a longtime colleague whom she hadn’t seen in awhile.  Toward the end of their visit, she said to him, “How can I help you?”  As she recounted to me, “He stopped.  You could tell he was shocked.  And then he began to tear up and said, ‘No one ever asks that question.’  He was visibly moved and stunned by my offer.”

I’m not the only one motivated by Jonathan Fields’ daily offering of service on Twitter.   Alexandra Levit, author and Wall Street Journal columnist wrote a piece entitled “A Habit of Generosity,” mentioning the power of Fields’ daily missive.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would be like if all of us started our day by asking how we can be of assistance.   Perhaps grown, successful businessmen would no longer be brought to tears by the simple question, “How can I help?”

So, wonderful readers, “How can I help you?” in 2010?  I really want to know.

“Thank You”…Concretely and “Reach”…Widely (Click here for more)


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