With Internet help, cosmic winks show "meaningful coincidences" happen all thetime
One of the most profound phenomena to emerge from the tragic events of Japan's recent earthquake and tsunami was the speed at which the news spread. Within one hour of the earthquake, an astonishing percentage of Facebook's 500 million users had posted something in their status line regarding the earthquake and tsunami. Today we are flooded (pardon the pun) with evidence of how connected we are as a society — as a world. How many times do we find ourselves saying, "What a small world!".
But this is not a column about Facebook. This is about what psychologist Carl Jung characterized as the synchronicities of life. Jung defined synchronicities as "meaningful coincidences." He believed that experiencing these "meaningful coincidences" provide a confirmation of a relationship between the individual and an expanded world and may have spiritual or psychological significance. I believe that there have always been only six (symbolic) degrees of separation among all of us — the Internet is merely evidence of what has always been true.
We all have stories of how we have met someone only to find they are relatives or next door neighbors of someone we all know. As a native of Birmingham, Ala., it seemed that everyone was related and our grandparents went to kindergarten together. I took these things for granted. It was only after I left Birmingham and these "coincidences" became larger and more implausible to sheer chance that I started taking notice.
Given that there is magic in the telling, here are some of my synchronicities or "cosmic winks" as I like to call them:
HItchin' a ride to Atlanta
While in college, I was a bridesmaid at a Birmingham afternoon wedding and expected to attend another wedding that evening in Atlanta. My only way of making the evening wedding was to get a chauffeur driven limo,which I could not afford, to deliver me to the Atlanta church.
Imagine my surprise when one of the groomsmen mentioned he was from Atlanta and was driving back immediately after the reception. And to add a further "ah-ha" moment....the groomsman lived a block from the Atlanta church where the wedding was held. I made the wedding with only minutes to spare.
The perfect airplane seatmate
In the early years of The Alexander Group, we developed business by cold calling on company heads. In the mid-1980s, few companies were retaining search firms and those that were, were besieged with recruiters. One of these was a Big Four public accounting firm. I had called the managing partner — let's call him Joe Bradner — several times with (not surprisingly ) no return call.
Imagine my joy as I boarded a flight from Boston to Houston the following week. As we spent our second hour on the runway waiting for storms to clear so that we could take off, my seat mate introduced himself by saying "Hello , I'm Joe Bradner....looks like it will be a long day." I replied "Hi Joe...yes, it will be a long day but perhaps longer for you than me....I'm Jane Howze with The Alexander Group."
That wonderful coincidence resulted in a long term client relationship.
I had a similar incident happen a couple of years ago when I boarded a flight to Dallas and found that my seatmate was the person I had called for a reference the day before.
A Swiss connection
Perhaps my most amazing "small world" story happened right before Christmas, compliments of social networking tool LinkedIn. For those familiar with LinkedIn, you mostly accept LinkedIn invitations from those you know or those with whom you have common friends. I received an invitation from a CEO in Switzerland. I usually do not accept invitations from individuals whom I do not know but in this case we knew a common CEO and I figured "why not?".
We communicated briefly about our common friend and then I mentioned that I only knew two people living in Switzerland but my first executive search client was a small Swiss plastics manufacturer. This client rarely made hiring mistakes and owed such unprecedented success to having a graphologist (someone who studies handwriting corresponding to personality traits) on staff.
The Swiss executive told me that his mother was a graphologist — and surprise! — worked for my first client. He then told me how she was a PhD in Chemistry who found her calling working as a consultant to top companies using graphology as a tool.
These "cosmic wink" stories give me such joy and make me appreciate the richness and complexity of our world. I find that if I look for them they happen more often and just looking for them enriches what I do and the life I lead. These vignettes can be helpful to you who may be managing, leading, hiring or trying to land the next position.
1. Start looking for connections
The person you are playing tennis with, in your choir group or next to you on a plane may know someone who can help you with your current challenge. Talk to people. Engage them. Learn what their story and challenges are. Use these discovered connections as a way to embrace the wonder of our world.
2. Offer to help others
A rule as old as history itself: In order to receive, try giving. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey of 30,000 American households, people who gave money to charity in 2000 were 43% more likely than non-givers to say they were "very happy" about their lives.
Similarly, volunteers were 42% more likely to be very happy than non-volunteers. It didn't matter whether gifts of money and time went to churches or symphony orchestras — givers to all types of religious and secular causes were far happier than non-givers.
3. Ask for help
Even if there is not a close connection, we as humans are hard-wired to help each other. Think about the times you have helped a fellow alum, a child of a friend or even a friend of a friend. By asking for help you are giving others a chance to feel better about themselves.
Jane Howze is founder and managing director of The Alexander Group, an executive search firm with offices in Houston, San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Park City.