Most conferences are organized around mass, not around individual interactions that last. It takes an effort to seek out conversations that matter.

I had this thing I used to do when I would get drinks after work with two friends that didn’t know each but I felt would make for great conversation. It would be at max a table for three. It was fruitful on so many levels. I so need to start that up again.

Facebook famously co-opted the word “friend” and created a new verb.

This NYTimes’ article, “Are 5,001 Facebook Friends One Too Many?,” as well as the fact that Facebook apparently isn’t going away anytime soon with the failed “Quit Facebook Day,” got me thinking about how I  choose “friends” on FB.

I used to have this crazy rule that I needed to at least have had a drink with someone before I accepted or extended a “friendship.”  Better yet if I can recall the topic of our last conversation. Then I noticed how many of my old high school friends were on FB and it would nearly be impossible to go by the “drink” or “last conversation” rule.

And then I noticed how some folks were using it as their own branding tool and used it to extend their network. I would imagine that these folks accepted any request for friendship. I tried that out for a bit but quickly realized my news feed became all but meaningless. Now, I’m a bit more selective in industry circles, as I continue to use Facebook for personal social networks and Twitter for professional networks for the most part.

On occasion, my wife and I play this little game where she goes down through my list of friends on Facebook and if I can’t identify how I know them within five seconds, I un-friend them.

Extraordinary Opportunities

The business obit story of H. Edwards Roberts, inventor of the personal computer and early mentor to Bill Gates, reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write ever since reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”: to thank those who gave me extraordinary opportunities.

It’s not an exhaustive list by all means. The list doesn’t include family members and significant others who all deeply influence who I am daily.

But from friends, co-workers, teachers and to everyone in between, the people I have connections with affect me in one way or another. And there are individuals who have gone above and beyond the role of mentor. These friends inspire, open new doors and encourage me to expand on who I am without pressure or judgment. I’d like to recognize a few:

  • Dr. David Eakin (or “Doc”) - My science teacher from John Swett High gave me extraordinary opportunities in so many ways. The first time was the summer of my freshman year in high school when he allowed me to take home an Apple IIe from school. I ended up spending the summer tinkering with it and learning basic programming. And I remember the day in which the school received their first Macintosh computer. He instructed me to set it up and to learn everything I can about it to eventually teach him and others on how to use it. And it was then that the news bug bit me as we launched and produced the school newsletter with the very same mac. Doc also took groups of students to Yosemite during the summer and winter to learn about life outside of the classroom. They were amazing experiences and to this day, I consider Doc as a major influence on who I am.
  • Sheldon Carpenter - My first art director Sheldon mentored me from being an editorial assistant to staff artist at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, California. I still recall the day he showed me how to draw with a mouse and Bézier curves. He encouraged me to stretch my wings in the art department by embracing new visual approaches and finding my illustrative style. Sheldon also introduced to me the power of user groups by getting me into the Berkeley Macintosh Users Group (BMUG). He also showed me the joy of Star Trek.
  • Andrew Skwish - My great friend Skwish doesn’t tolerate BS. He’ll tell it the way it is and can clearly articulate his point of view. Not only is he extremely talented but he’s always open to learning more. He naturally cultivates a learning environment by encouraging others to go beyond their abilities. And because of this, I was extremely honored when he recommended me as a potential speaker at The Poynter Institute years ago. With that introduction, he opened a new door for me, which over the years, opened many others.
  • The Poynter Faculty - From Ron Reason, Mario Garcia, Pegie Stark Adam, and to Kenny Irby: many at The Poynter Institute have given me enormous opportunity to grow and to hone in on my skills as a visual communicator and teacher.

To those above… I want to say thank you for your belief in me and for preparing me to go beyond my own abilities.

I hope to add more as life continues to expose me to great people and/or remind me of those I’ve met in the past but whose influence I didn’t come to realize back then. And I hope that I can, in turn, offer extraordinary opportunities to others.