Young Professionals

The coin toss that wasn't

- Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection

Bizrec1"Why are you here?" someone asked me the other day. "Not just as the Business Record's newest blogger covering young professional topics but as a young person living in Des Moines? Didn't you think of going somewhere else?"

It was a good question -- one that I considered a coin toss as I was approaching graduation with an architecture degree from Iowa State and I tried to decide between Des Moines and Denver.

I love Denver for a lot of reasons. I love its weather where the summers are warm but you can still go snowboarding in the mountains. I love the vibrant arts and cultural scene, the polar bears at the Denver Zoo, advanced public transportation system, its variety of restaurants (including lots of great taco places) and that you can be your own person but it's not too far from home.

But "home" is a powerful word.

There's no getting over the fact Des Moines is home.  But would it be worth staying home if home limited my options? Fortunately, as Des Moines has changed over the past decade, that's not a trade-off I had to make.

I'm here because Des Moines has so much to offer; I'm not the only young professional to figure that out, of course. Just look at the boom in downtown residential living, our own growing variety of restaurants, arts and cultural options -- to name just a few trends -- to get your answer. But, growing up in Des Moines when there wasn't always all that much to do, those changes have only made me love our city even more as time has gone by.

I'm also here because of the influence my parents and other mentors have had on my professional life. (My dad is a principal at FEH Design, the architectural and engineering firm where I am an associate. My mom owns the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction.)

One piece of advice they've given me over the years is that you only get out of something what you put into it. I've seen them put plenty of hard work, hours, brainpower and, maybe most importantly, passion, into their careers and community involvement. They've also invested a lot of energy and emotion into our family, too. That's what makes it all work so well at home, too.

Because of their advice -- and help from others -- I got involved in community activities like the Young Professionals Connection even while I was still in college. That involvement has taken me through various leadership roles in the YPC, where I'm serving as president this year.

Those connections have made living and working in Des Moines all the better.

I'm looking forward to writing in the months ahead about a range of topics important to young professionals and, as a result, important to their employers. From how to find your passion and how to be a great employee to getting your voice heard, giving back to the community and more, I've always benefited from great guidance from my parents and mentors, so I look forward to sharing their perspectives and more with others.

And, I'm glad I knew in my heart that I didn't need to leave my future to a coin toss.


Email Cory at: 



Getting off the hamster wheel

Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

I-want-more-goodbye-hamster-wheel-e1367475769167Have you ever been driving a car while thinking about all the activities that you have in the day ahead when you suddenly realize that you don’t remember the last two minutes of driving?

So many of us go through life unaware that we are on autopilot. We get out of bed, do the same morning routine, go to work and get home just in time to start making dinner, hopefully squeezing in a few minutes to relax before getting up and doing it all over again.

Without being consciously aware of it, our life becomes a “hamster wheel” of our daily schedule. I noticed my “hamster wheel” about eight months into my full-time job. I realized that I was doing the same things at home and work because that was just what I was used to doing! I seemed to do it without even noticing.

One day I realized that I didn’t want to be missing out on the here and now, by living on autopilot. Neither should you. Here are some things that help me focus on the present.  These things have helped me become more creative and productive at work, and in my personal life. I enjoy my life more when I’ve made it a priority to become intentional with my focus.

  • Notice when you are starting to let your mind wander, forgive yourself for it, and bring yourself back to the present.
  • There is never just one way to do your job. Have fun by thinking outside the box and doing something differently than you have before.
  • Make a list of all the things you like and don’t like about your current situation.
  • Create goals to help you change things that are holding you back.
  • Meet people you can learn from and also cultivate relationships with others who can learn from you. Giving back is a powerful motivator.
  • Make time for things that you love outside of work. It is extremely important to give yourself time to regroup and enjoy your hobbies and relationships.

There are many ways to keep yourself from becoming complacent at your job or at home. You can choose happiness and control whether you are stuck on a hamster wheel, or whether you take your life back and get intentional with it.

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Be straightforward

Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

For young professionals in the workplace it is often easier to sit in a meeting with upper management, people you might not know, or even with co-workers and just willingly agree EffectiveComm with everything that is said, (even if you think it is a lousy idea). It could be because you do not feel comfortable disagreeing with your boss or simply because you do not want to rock the boat.

On the other hand, if you do muster up the courage to speak your mind, you may beat around the bush or gently relay your feelings so as not to step on anyone’s toes.

Being straightforward is not a bad characteristic to have. In fact, many people appreciate a simple and easy to understand communication style. I know I do. Being a straightforward communicator can carry a stigma that you are too frank or too impatient. While I disagree with the stigma, I do believe that while being straightforward, you should still always be polite.

I am fortunate that when growing up, all my siblings were taught to “say what we mean and mean what we say.” My family members are all outspoken, straightforward people. I am just hardwired to be that way.

I was also extremely lucky to come into an organization where I was encouraged to speak my mind and bring in new ideas. But even if you are not hardwired like me or don’t work for a company that you feel you can be open with, do not be afraid to be straightforward with anyone.

If done the right way, being straightforward can make you look humble and sincere. Be genuine, be authentic, and be straightforward.

-Meridith Freese  171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Tips about end-of-year performance reviews

- Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

Time-730x284The West Des Moines Chamber has a young professional’s group called New View that I coordinate. At the October New View event I thought it important to bring in an HR specialist who could help young professionals learn how to handle their year-end review along with negotiating their salary.

There was great interest in this topic and we sold out the event within days. Our expert, Sarah Charlier with Merit Resources, gave a 45-minute presentation. A lively question-and- answer period followed among attendees. I wanted to share some of the interesting tips that were given, both for those going through their first review and those on the other side of the table giving the review for a new employee:

  • Do your homework: 60 to 90 days out from your review you should be collecting information about what you have done in the past year. Using quantifiable numbers and percentages will put into perspective how much you’ve accomplished.
  • About 30 to 60 days out, you should be evaluating yourself. What goals have you met or exceeded?  Have you followed company policies?
  • Start the compensation discussion early. Do not surprise your boss with wanting a raise at your performance review. And if you are asking for a pay raise, make sure you have substantiated the amount you are asking for.  Be sure to also express your interest in taking on more opportunities along with the new salary.
  • The day of your review, be ready for any hard truths. Have a response ready for almost any answer your boss will give you. If you receive a no, don’t be afraid to say you are disappointed but then follow up with questions about how to get to the next level in your company.
  • Be confident by being prepared. People giving reviews do not want you to sit across from them giving one-word answers and appearing intimidated. You’ll be best served by making the meeting a conversation.
  • Ask for feedback on how you’re doing. You won’t grow personally or professionally without feedback and sometimes that may come in the form of criticism. 

These are just some of the excellent tips that we received that Tuesday morning. End of year reviews and salary negotiations don’t have to be terrible, terrifying experiences. Be prepared, confident, and use the opportunity of having your boss' full attention to your advantage. 


-Meridith Freese 

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Pick your battles

- Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

Everyone is faced with challenges at work. They can range from a disagreement with co-workers or having to deal with people who disagree with you on any given subject. It does not always matter who the battle is with. It’s more important which battles you choose to take on and how you fight them that matters. Work-argument-openanswer

The first thing you should ask yourself is how important is this issue? Sometimes we have the tendency to fly off the handle and get upset after an altercation. The best thing is to take a day or two to process the situation and then decide how you want to proceed.

If you have decided the situation is important enough, and you don’t want to leave it alone, the next step is deciding if you have the authority to bring the issue forward. If not, you need to find someone you can discuss the issue with and if they will help you bring it to light.

Another important thing to remember in the midst of a difficult situation is to avoid getting overly consumed with the negatives and instead to work toward a solution.

That brings me back to when I was growing up and getting advice from my parents. In a house of five children we often heard “Don’t tattle. I don’t want to hear a problem I want to hear a solution.”

This was an important life lesson. My parents were teaching us to work through situations where we could find logical answers to problems on our own. That is often times what your boss is challenging you to do. Bringing up a problem is not so difficult if it is followed up by a workable solution.

We will always face conflicts in our professional life. It’s how you deal with them that will set you apart.  171A6085

-Meridith Freese

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese


No-phone zone

- Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

20091119-tows-no-phone-zone-300x205Are you guilty of sometimes sneakily checking your phone for texts or emails during meetings? As I step into more meetings, I have noticed that there is usually at least one person looking down at their smartphone.

While our world is becoming more technologically advanced, I still find this to be a bad habit not only in the business world but also in your personal life. 

Here are some things to think about next time you look down at your smartphone during a meeting:

  1. Consideration: It makes you look like you don’t care about what other people are saying.
  2. Respect: It is rude to not look people in the eye when they are speaking.
  3. Engagement: People want to know that you are listening to what they are saying.
  4. Selfishness: It looks like you think your time is more important then theirs.

I am aware that some people will read this and think “but if I have an emergency I am going to answer the phone.”

I am not insinuating that you should not have your phone with you. I think it is perfectly acceptable and more polite to say "Excuse me, I need to take this and step out of the room" than to constantly check your phone during a meeting.

I also think that people assume that millennials believe that it’s ok to be on your phones because this is what our world is evolving to. But I think we can all agree that no matter what age we are, we don’t want to appear inconsiderate of other people.

Especially if you are trying to impress the boss, make the meeting room a no-phone zone. 


-Meridith Freese

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese


Generational divide

- Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

Bridging-the-generation-gap-in-the-workplace-1The West Des Moines Chamber held a Food 4 Thought breakfast series event discussing the differences in generations in the workplace.  There was a panel of four accomplished individuals representing each decade. As I sat in the age-diverse audience, I was listening to all the comments and questions and it lit a fire under me to try to explain how I, as a millennial, look at the workplace. 

I understand that some millennials get labeled “entitled”. I do not think this is the correct description for our generation. I believe that millennials just have a different way of doing things then the generations before them. And although I am a millennial, I think it is safe to assume that the generations before us did things a little differently upon entering the work world compared to generations that proceeded them. 

Here are some qualities that I think millennials have that distinguish them from other generations (with exceptions of course):

  • Millennials don’t always take the first answer given to us; we are constantly looking for different ways to get things done faster and more efficiently.
  • We have social media in our back pockets.  We are good at it and can use it to our advantage.
  • We don’t believe people should be treated differently because of their gender.
  • We like flexible schedules and managing our own time.
  • We often like “dressing for success”, but other times we would be just as efficient in jeans, maybe even more so.
  • We are not afraid to move from job to job to find what will make us the most happy as we build our career path.
  • We are pros at the work-life balancing act.

Here are some qualities that I believe older generations might stereotype millennials about (with exceptions of course):

  • We don’t respect people in authority.
  • We are always running late.
  • We are not present, or “in the moment” because we are too attached to our phones.
  • We are lazy because we don’t always have to work 8-5 to get our work done.
  • We can’t handle the big projects because we don’t have enough experience.

These are just some of the examples of stereotypes that I see millennials dealing with. I strongly encourage you to look at your workplace and figure out ways for you and your coworkers of different generations to listen to each other’s opinions. Each generation has much to learn from the others. You can find ways to work together to make your organization successful. And millennials, if you want to break the stereotype of being the entitled generation, use it as motivation to work as hard as you can every day to prove that you are good at what you do and you deserve respect and authority. 


Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Take the first meeting

- Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

Coffee-meetingAs a marketing manager, it is important for me to have relationships with people in the media industry, as it is my job to promote the West Des Moines chamber events and get the word out about all that we do. I wanted to expand my media circle but did not know where to start.

A friend of mine and fellow blogger, Danny Beyer, suggested that he was going to meet someone with the Business Record the following week and that I should be there when his meeting wrapped up so that I could meet them also.

I had just graduated college only a few weeks prior and this was going to be my first coffee meeting with a stranger. I was nervous. The introduction through Danny went very well and I was able to turn that new relationship into a productive one. This one casual after-coffee meeting ultimately turned into the opportunity I’ve been given to write this blog today.

In college you take classes about how to successfully manage your time, develop a professional persona, and how to work collaboratively. No matter how well you master these skills -- and they are all important -- there is nothing that will drive your success as a young professional more than going out and meeting people.

I was not an honor student while at Iowa State. I did not have a perfect attendance record. I did, however, have the ability to speak confidently to people face-to-face. Even if you are not naturally outgoing, the more you network and put yourself out there, the more comfortable you will become.

Meeting people and being interested in them is a great life skill, especially when you are beginning to build your professional circles. Never doubt that you have something to offer and always take that first meeting. You never know where the opportunity will take you.

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

How do you sound in emails?

Meridith is the manager of marketing and communications at the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator. 

IStock_000041999824_LargeOne of my responsibilities for the West Des Moines Chamber is to send out weekly mailings to our membership. I enjoy being able to interact with our membership and this task has given me that opportunity. One email that I received last week, however, forced me to contemplate how I come across in email correspondence. Here is a portion of the email that I received:

“First it would be nice that the emails come from The Chamber.  Right now they say they are coming from Meridith Freese.  For the longest time I would not open them because I did not know who this was and thought it was spam or something. Also, I tried to reply to your email, but you made the background brown so when I typed my message you could not read it with that background.”

Right away I noticed that there was no cordial greeting in this letter, and no professional closing or signature at the end. Just a paragraph of criticism for me to read. While I do not mind getting constructive criticism, I do believe there is a way to give a critique in a respectful manner as opposed to an oppositional one. (And I wondered if I would I have received this email if the title of President was in my signature line? I will never know.) But what I do know is that even though this person could have been extremely sincere in their suggestions, trying to be helpful, I did not take it as such. The lack of conversational politeness felt disrespectful to me and it was difficult for me to get past that to “hear” the point.

Being able to understand how you sound in an email in this tech savvy world is critical to your success in your career.  Here are some suggestions that I urge you to consider before you push the send button:

  1. The subject line is crucial to summarizing your intent.
  2. Do not overuse capitalization or the exclamation point.
  3. Always, always, always use a personal greeting, and please take the extra few moments to make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.
  4. Keep your messages short and about the subject at hand.  Respect people’s time.
  5. If it will turn into a conversation, pick up the phone instead.
  6. Ask yourself, how I would feel about this email if it were sent to me?

Even though this may seem like common sense to some, it still is occurring frequently in the workplace. Take the time to make sure that what they "hear" is what you mean. 

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Demand to be introduced


Download- Meridith Freese writes for young professionals

One of my first meetings as a full-time employee was a lunch meeting at Bravo with my boss Dave Schwartz and the Pleasant Hill Mayor and Kum & Go Sustainability Manager Sara Kurovski. 

We were discussing different topics and getting to know one another, but it was after this conversation that I got one of my first lessons in being a young professional in the real world. As we were leaving Bravo, Dave had stopped to talk to two other people who were in the booth behind us that he knew. I stood there with Sara as we watched him catch up and she leaned over and whispered to me, “Demand to be introduced.” I watched Sara leave my side and introduce herself to the table.

I contemplated the idea that I had stood in the background and watched others' conversations many times before. Why hadn’t I reached out my hand and introduced myself? Was it because I thought I was too young to be in the conversation? Or was it because I was trying to be respectful in letting them have their discussion? Whatever the reasoning, I decided that day that I would no longer be overlooked.

As young professionals, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we need to be assertive in meeting people. We want people to know who we are and we want them to know that we are here to make as much of a difference as they do. Even now I will still catch myself standing in the background but the difference is, I notice it and I am able to correct it. I have realized that by extending my hand for an introduction, I am allowing myself to grow my network and quite possibly open a door for opportunities later.

Not only will you empower yourself by overcoming your fear, but the ones you are reaching out to will respect you more. You deserve to be in the conversation as much as anyone. Demand to be introduced.  

171A6085-Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the coordinator of New View Young Professionals in West Des Moines.




Meet new blogger Meridith Freese

171A6085I graduated from Iowa State University in December of last year and I was primed and ready.  I knew it all. I had my college degree in hand and I was ready to take on this so-called “real” world. 

I was, after all, an event management major and who wouldn’t want to bring me on as an employee to change the course of business going forward. Well, perhaps a slight miscalculation on my part. Maybe I was not as ready to change the face of American business as I thought. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now and that’s why I’m writing this blog.

My goal is to soothe the transition for the recent grad and provide some wisdom for those in the first stage of their career who are getting ready to move on to phase II. Everything from gaining that all important first job to dealing with college loans, to generational issues, to taking appropriate credit for your work, to career guidance – mentorship, and on and on. Are you kidding me, you didn’t get all of this in college?? And what do you mean there are no more summer vacations??

With each blog I want to provide you with great insight into this strange world we now find ourselves in. We don’t want to just survive, we want to thrive. We want to make a difference with our employer and we want to make a difference in the community where we live.  We want it all and we’re not going apologize for that.

This transition may have been a little scary at the start, but now I look at it a lot differently. This new world needs the talent, energy and passion we bring every day.  And, each day we can learn a little from our surroundings that will only help us prepare to be effective leaders for many years to come. Get on board, it’s going to be a great ride!

I want to write about things that matter to you! Reach out to me, I would love to get to know you and make a difference for any young professional.

Facebook : meridith.freese

Twitter : @MertFreese

Email :

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-Meridith Freese

Leadership lessons learned from the Cyclone basketball team

Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

First of all, let me go on the record in saying this:

I love this year’s Iowa State Cyclones basketball team. Win or lose in tonight’s Sweet 16 game against the University of Connecticut, this team holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons.

Hilton vs. OSU

Now you know my (strong) bias.

One of the special things about these Cyclones is the leadership that its coaches and players have shown. As a young professional, I try to soak in leadership lessons however I can, and there have been plenty of opportunities while watching this team.

Here’s are a few strong leadership moments from this season:

Keep your cool: In the last few minutes of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina, Iowa State found itself trailing by five points during the last media timeout. The season was on the line, and the team had its back against the wall. What did coach Fred Hoiberg tell his team? Smile. It worked. The team went on a run and eventually won the game. Lesson learned: In trying circumstances, keep your cool and your team will follow suit.

Keep a good attitude: Of course, in that game against North Carolina, the Cyclones were playing without one of their best players, Georges Niang. Niang broke a bone in his foot during Iowa State’s first round game. It was a devastating turn of events for the Cyclones, but not only did Hoiberg find a way to adjust his game plan in less than two days, Niang actually called a team meeting on Saturday night before the game just to get everyone in the same room to talk as a team. The Cyclones could have easily folded, but instead they went out and earned one of the biggest wins in school history. Lesson learned: Adversity will hit, but with the right attitude you can overcome it.

Have confidence: In Iowa State’s final regular season game against Oklahoma State, Naz Long missed a three-pointer late in the game that would have given the Cyclones the lead. During a stoppage of play, Long told an Oklahoma State player “I’ll put any dollar that if I get this ball again, it’s going in.” He got it again, and put in a long three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game, sending Hilton Coliseum into the kind of frenzy I’ve rarely witnessed. Lesson learned: A little confidence goes a long way.

Be a team player: Melvin Ejim just does things the right way. A true student-athlete, Ejim is smart, well-spoken, and full of class. And the Big 12’s Player of the Year. He’s not flashy, and he’s not always the most talented player on the court. But he makes plays within the flow of the offense and often acts as the glue that pulls the Cyclones together. Lesson learned: It’s not always the most charismatic, or the most God-gifted, or the most outspoken person who is the best leader. Hard work and the desire to most-effectively help your team will pay off in the long run.

Learn from hardship: This team is full of guys that have gotten a second chance in some way and made the most of it. Lesson learned: People make mistakes, and sometimes just run into tough circumstances. What counts is how you learn, grow and respond.

Take advantage of the moment: Maybe my favorite story so far: There’s been some speculation that playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City will be a bit intimidating to the Cyclones, especially since their opponent has already played there twice this season. But according to a photo on the Iowa State Athletics Facebook page, Hoiberg gathered his players at midcourt during Thursday’s practice and said “See those bright lights up there? This is what we played for all year.” Lesson learned: Enjoy the moment. Don’t fear it.

Have some fun: Oh, I almost forgot. After Iowa State’s win Sunday, Hoiberg broke out his dance moves in the postgame locker room celebration. Let’s put it this way: The Mayor dances about like me, which is not a ringing endorsement. But he owned it, and his players loved it. Lesson learned: It’s OK to cut loose every once in awhile.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Hopefully I can learn a few more lessons, but whatever happens from here on out, I’ve enjoyed the ride.

Go Cyclones!

Keep Des Moines cool

Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

I am somewhat ashamed to say that I’ve never been to Austin, Texas but I’ve always heard good things.

Austin seems to be one of those small cities that everybody knows about for all the right reasons. In my reporting at the Business Record, I have heard people compare Des Moines to Austin and Madison, Wis. - as in, “we can be as cool as those cities.” Those are cities I have started to refer to often when I gush about how great Des Moines is becoming. We’re not a big city. We don’t have oceans or mountains. But we’ve got a lot going for us.

So when the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Mary Bontrager told the story of an Austin-native calling Des Moines “Austin-cool” at a recent Business Record Power Breakfast, I nearly did a fist-pump.

You see, even though I’ve never been to Austin, or Madison, I have a very positive connotation in my head for what those two cities represent. Those cities are cool, and everyone knows it. Why else would there be any reason that I know Austin’s slogan, “Keep Austin Weird?”

Well, in my opinion, Des Moines is cool. Everyone who lives here knows it. And those who don’t are starting to take notice. Did anyone see the “Today” show feature?

As Iowans, we’re a pretty humble group. We know we’ve got a good thing going here, but we haven’t always been the best at touting ourselves.

It’s time to change that.

We’ll have our opportunities. Bontrager made multiple mentions of the Partnership’s CarpeDM site, a forum for people to share what they love about Des Moines. That’s a pretty simple way to highlight our successes.

For perhaps a more complex way, think about this: The Iowa Caucuses will make a visit in early 2016, which means candidates and the national media will soon be making visits to our state. From what I’ve noticed, Iowa doesn’t always get the most, well, flattering national press (insert generic ‘B’-roll of cornfield). But guess what: Here in Iowa, we feed the world, and that’s really cool. Not only that, we have a world class city that has almost all of the amenities a person could want, with a fraction of the traffic, and maybe the nicest people you’ll find anywhere.

I’m not saying to bang our chests or let our heads get too inflated. What I’m saying is this: We’ve earned the right to brag. We don’t need to be “weird” like Austin, but Des Moines is cool. Tell your friends.


I welcome feedback and ideas. Email me, follow me on Twitter, or comment on this blog post.

Twitter: @KyleOppenhuizen

Take advantage of the moment in 2014

-Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

One of my favorite television shows is The West Wing, the fictional White House-based show starring Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet. I was recently re-watching an old episode that helped me identify my motto for 2014.

The scene that caught my attention was one in which President Bartlet is having a particularly tense dialogue with a senior White House official, Toby Ziegler, played by Richard Schiff. Ziegler tells the president that a charge against him is that he watches the pitch go by.

As a baseball fan, that made me think: What pitches do I watch go by when instead I should swing for the fences?

I recently had coffee with a Greater Des Moines leader (I won’t mention a name, since this conversation was off the record). This person mentioned an important lesson learned in leadership - take advantage of the moments worth taking advantage of.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I often try to set the tone for my year by setting a motto, one that seems particularly fitting to where I am in my life. This year that motto is “Take advantage of the moment.” In other words, don’t watch the pitch go by.

So what’s the “moment” that your business or organization could take advantage of this year? What pitch should you swing at?

Maybe it is finally time to launch that new product. Or is the moment right to plan that next big event in Des Moines? Perhaps it is something smaller, like picking your moment to recognize your team of employees or nonprofit volunteers for a job well done.

Whatever it is, find your moments and take them. You never know when you’ll get the moment again. And if you watch the pitch go by, you can’t expect your competitors to do the same.

-Kyle Oppenhuizen

Young and optimistic

-Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Kyle mug Professionals Connection (YPC). 

I went to my first Young Professionals Connection event shortly after I moved to Des Moines in 2010. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I remember what the event was, although I’m pretty sure it was a happy hour and I’m absolutely sure I left thinking there was little chance I’d get more involved in the organization.

Fast-forward three or so years, and here I am taking over as president-elect of YPC.

I’m also taking over as the Young Professionals blogger for IowaBiz. As a Business Record reporter, I have helped manage IowaBiz for a couple of years. One thing I always tell new bloggers is to keep the focus of their blog content on helping others; not promoting their organization. Yet here I am, writing my first blog, with the overwhelming desire to shout from the rooftops about how great YPC is.

So let’s get this out of the way.

I’m young, motivated and pretty much in love with Greater Des Moines. You can read why in a previous guest blog post here. There are so many opportunities to get involved in this area. Why have I chosen to make such a strong commitment to YPC?

Personally, the organization has given me a chance to connect, learn and grow in this community. Rewind again to 2010. Before I joined YPC, my life consisted of: Go to work at 8 a.m. Get off work at 5 p.m. Go home. Repeat.

I dragged my feet on getting involved in the community, or doing much of anything outside of work and driving up to Ames to watch Cyclones football and basketball (not that I’ve given that up).

Two things happened. One, as a writer at the Business Record, I got to see the accomplishments of other young professionals in the community. Most of them were part of YPC. Around that same time, the Forbes ranking came out. I wanted to be a part of that.

Two, great people, such as former YPC President Jason Wells, kept hounding me about getting more involved.

YPC became my way to make friends. It became my way to get involved in and connected to Des Moines, and helped me grow as a person and professional. Without YPC, I might not still be living in Des Moines.

Now is my chance to give back, and to do everything in my power to give other people the same experience. And ultimately, make Greater Des Moines a better place for all of us.

The good news is that YPC is a top-notch organization in this community that truly connects young professionals to everything Des Moines has to offer. The even better news is that we can and must do better. In the past year, we have sought and listened to specific feedback from our membership, and as a board, we spent eight hours with a consultant, Alan Feirer, to evaluate who we are as an organization. We are not resting on our laurels, and that is exciting.

I’m passionate about YPC. Hopefully you have found something you are equally passionate about to give your time to.

Moving forward, I hope to share with you lessons I’m learning as a young professional in this community in the hope that YPs and non-YPs alike can learn something. I like to learn, and I like to share what I’ve learned. Luckily, I have plenty of opportunities to draw experience from my reporting duties at the Business Record, my aforementioned role in YPC, and even through my everyday interests. Don’t be surprised when you see me share life lessons that I learn from watching Iowa State University football games. (No. 1: Never give up when times are tough. See how easy that was?)

Thank you for reading.

-Kyle Oppenhuizen

I welcome feedback and ideas. Email me, follow me on Twitter, or comment on this blog.

Twitter: @KyleOppenhuizen

6 steps to successful "out-of-your-league" networking

Emilee Richardson is the president-elect for the Young Professionals Connection, and is theDC
marketing and communications coordinator at the Science Center of Iowa.

Last week, I was in Washington, D.C. as part of the Greater Des Moines Partnership's annual trip.

In case you don't know, each year, the Partnership takes roughly 200 business executives and community leaders to D.C. for the purpose of education and advocacy. Each year, the YPC president-elect is sent on the trip. This year, that privilege was mine.

This trip is truly unique. The Greater Des Moines Partnership represents more than 4,700 businesses and 150,000 employees in Central Iowa. And on this year's trip, 190 of us came together to represent one unified voice advocating for the issues most important to our region.

That's a powerful voice, wouldn't you agree?

The trip consisted of meetings, workshops and receptions... essentially, it was 60 straight hours of networking (which was evident by my lack of a voice on Friday).

Now, I’m no newbie to networking. But at the Iowa Congressional Reception on the first night, as I mixed and mingled my way around the room of seasoned business leaders, I realized that I was a little out of my league.

Networking is easy with your peers, but when it seems that everyone knows everyone - and everyone has been doing this since before you were born - it can be a little intimidating. I didn’t go all the way to D.C. for nothing, though, so I decided to dive in. And as I did, I found a pattern... one that weirdly resembled a military maneuver.

6 steps to successful networking, Top Gun style:

  1. Find a wingman. This way, you won't look really awkward while trying to accomplish the next several steps. Your wingman can be a friend or acquaintance. Preferably, your wingman will be someone who also is looking to meet a few of the movers and shakers in the room.

  2. Identify a target. In these situations, there are often people in the room who you know of but haven't officially met; or maybe there’s an acquaintance who you want to chat up or pitch an idea to. Find this person (or persons) in the room.

  3. Move into position. Many times, your target is already in a conversation. Prepare to network by meandering through the room with your wingman and positioning yourself within 10 feet of the target. This is important so that you will be able to swoop in as they're leaving a conversation or jump in during a lull. Avoid awkwardness by conversing with your wingman. Leave yourself available by glancing around the room. [Pro tip: Do not make eye contact with your target until you are ready to swoop. Otherwise, you'll blow your opportunity.]

  4. Make a smooth entrance. When you see your target moving away or notice a lull in conversation, make your move. If you know the person's name, follow these steps: (1) approach, (2) say the person's name and (3) say something along the lines of, "good to see you!" If you don't know the person's name, follow these instructions: (1) approach, (2) say something along the lines of, "I don't think we've met. I'm ____."

  5. Introduce your wingman. After initial hellos, introduce your wingman to the target with a simple, "Have you met ____?" There’s value in knowing people, and successful leaders know this. By making the introduction, you appear well-connected and gracious. Plus, you’re helping out your wingman, too!

  6. Make a graceful exit. This is the tough part. If your target doesn't initiate the exit, you can oftentimes be left with nothing more to say. A few strategies for a graceful exit: (1) excuse yourself to get another drink / check out the food, (2) say “well, it was really nice talking with you” and exchange cards or reiterate how you plan to follow-up. Always end with a firm handshake and by thanking them by name.

Note: While these tips are said with a hint of silliness, they are mostly accurate. Networking is a skill that can only be mastered with practice. It is good to have a few guidelines going in, but what works for me might not work for you. If you have other successful networking tactics, I’d love to hear!

-Emilee Richardson

Our people are our attraction

Note: Kyle Oppenhuizen is a reporter for the Des Moines Business Record

Every now and then, I run into one of those moments that make me want to stick up for DMskyline_night Des Moines.

The most recent example involved a co-worker. I made a sarcastic comment about a 40-degree rainy April day being “beautiful,” and she responded by saying, “Don’t you go anywhere nicer. We don’t want you to leave.”

She was, of course, referring to what has to be a universal sentiment among Iowans on cold, rainy days: “Why don’t I just move to California, Florida or Hawaii?”

But it made me think about the comment on a deeper level, as journalists are prone to do. I’m 26 years old, single, childless, and, for all intents and purposes, not tied down. What is stopping me from going to a land with beaches, or mountains, or warm, tropical weather? Or New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C.?

The immediate response when I ask that question in my head?

“Because Des Moines has great people.”

There are so many examples of this:

  • We’re Iowa Nice. That almost goes without saying. (Warning: linked video contains adult language).
  • We make our own fun. I can’t go skiing, but in the summer, I can step out the door of my downtown apartment complex almost every Saturday and find something fun going on within blocks of where I live. That includes the Downtown Farmers Market, the Des Moines Arts Festival, the 80/35 music festival and Cityview Brewfest, just to name a few.
  • We want to be more like Austin, Texas, or Madison, Wis. So we MAKE ourselves more like those cities. It’s easy to see it covering the business community. Our business leaders make things happen. It’s always been that way. But recently, you can feel a groundswell of others stepping up to make Des Moines a cooler place to live. There are groups like the Young Professionals Connection (full disclosure: I’m a board member and very passionate about the organization) and the Des Moines Social Club. There are regular people, such as Mike and Kate Banasiak, who, on a whim, create their own events. There are businesses like Full Court Press and Raygun that make Des Moines more fun and a little bit edgy. The list could go on and on.
  • We try things. Some fail, like Project Destiny. But that’s OK. We try more things, like Capital Crossroads.
  • We’re humble. We almost have to make a point to remind ourselves to brag every now and then. But hey, we do have a trophy case of Forbes magazine honors to do the bragging for us.
  • We’re passionate. We don’t just get involved in the community to put it on a resume. We do it because we care about what we’re doing. Our city leaders make volunteering a full-time job; just look at our United Way numbers and the work that goes into those campaigns. Those who aren’t leaders yet aren’t afraid to get involved; just look at the profiles of our Business Record Forty Under 40 honorees.

There are many other things I could have listed, and in some ways that’s the point. Des Moines is a cool place to live, work and play, and it offers many things to many people.

So it’s true. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have oceans. Sometimes the weather sucks.

But in Des Moines, we, the people, are our own attraction.

-Kyle Oppenhuizen

Business Record 

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Let’s talk about Iowa’s “brain gain”

The East Village in Des Moines, Iowa, a neighb...The East Village in Des Moines, Iowa, a neighborhood west of the Iowa State Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone’s heard about Iowa’s “brain drain.”

Educators, policy makers and business people have woefully cried for years that all of the state’s “best and brightest” are leaving Iowa for higher paying jobs on the coasts. They exclaim, “what have we done wrong?” and “we must do something about this!”

But what about those of us who’ve chosen to stay in Iowa?

I attended a YPC Civic Cafe luncheon a few weeks ago, and the topic was the history of YPC. Mary Bontrager of the Greater Des Moines Partnership was one of the panelists. Mary has an especially relevant perspective because she played a major part in the creation of YPC in 2000, when leaders in the Partnership realized that YPs were a growing segment of Des Moines’ population and deserved a voice in the community.

During the luncheon, Mary mentioned that YPC’s original founders had a big issue with this idea of the “brain drain.” And I agree!

Yes, it’s true that some students are leaving the state... but a lot of smart, talented and driven young professionals also choose to stay.

YPs throughout the state are bringing new ideas to the table, making a difference and doing big things. Need proof? Just check out the Register’s YP Spotlights or read about the Business Record’s 40 Under 40 class. Look around... I’m sure there are young people making a difference in your workplace or community.

What we realize is that Iowa is special. It’s a place where your big hairy audacious goals can become a reality, because there are people who will listen to and support the big ideas you have. Des Moines is a large metro area with the supportive community of a small town, and that’s just not something you can find on the coasts.

We recognize that. We’ve stayed here. We’re the “brain gain.”

-Emilee Richardson

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How to survive in a post-report card world

Report CardReport Card (Photo credit: AJC1)

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Women Need to Realize Work Isn’t School.” It can be summed up by this one simple but kind of radical idea: “In school, being disruptive might get you sent to the principal's office, but in business, disruption is a proven path to success.”

Having spent my whole life as a good, well-behaved student, this really caught my attention. But to be honest, I think it’s much more than a woman’s issue...

Many of my peers are a handful of years removed from college. Most of our lives have been dictated by a system that favors following the rules, picking up on what others expect of you and generally doing what you can to make interactions as painless as possible.Those things are good; disruption is bad. Or so we’ve been trained to believe!

However, many young professionals - both male and female - graduate and enter the workforce only to find that the skills that propelled them to the top of the class may just be holding them back in the office.

So what’s a YP to do? The article offered five suggestions to “disrupt yourself,” and I’d like to adapt them to apply to this young professional demographic as a whole. So here are their tips with my take:

1. Their tip: Figure out how to challenge and influence authority.
My take: It’s not about making others happy. It’s about trusting your ideas and being confident enough about them to stand up and challenge the status quo. Instead of working your tail off to figure out what your boss wants from you, figure out what you can solve, on problems they haven’t even thought of.

2. Their tip: Prepare, but also learn to improvise.

My take: If you were the studious type who spent long hours in the library and felt well-prepared going into every exam, this one’s for you. Believe in yourself! Take a chance. Speak up in that meeting. Volunteer to do something out of your normal comfort zone. It’s scary, but it’s bound to pay off.

3. Their tip: Find effective forms of self-promotion.

My take: In school, you got a report card to validate your exemplary performance. In order to make an impact in your office, you have to work hard, perform well and make sure people know about it. It’s easier said than done, but if you can master it, you’ll go far.

4. Their tip: Welcome a less prescribed, full of surprise, career path.

My take: Our whole pre-adult life, our lives are on a fairly straightforward path... We go from 1st Grade to 2nd Grade to 3rd Grade; from Algebra 1 to Algebra 2 to Pre-Calc; from elementary school to middle school to high school. Real life doesn’t work like that - and that’s OK! Most careers paths are a lot more random. In fact, millennials are projected to hold 14 jobs by the time we’re 40. Once you accept that, you can welcome the surprises and see them for the great opportunities they are.

5. Their tip: Go for being respected, not just liked.

My take: This one is especially hard for those rule-followers. In business, your ideas aren’t always going to be popular and you’re not always going to please everyone. However, you can have an opinion and gain the respect of your colleagues, and in the end, respect is always better than popularity.

The working world is not the classroom, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave all of those skills behind. The most successful will be the ones who can blend the skills of the school place with the skills of the workplace. A bit of both will help you get ahead.

-Emilee Richardson
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To work well with others, understand yourself

Linkware Freebie Image Teamwork Puzzle Concept...Linkware Freebie Image Teamwork Puzzle Concept. Photo credit to: or (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Group work is a delicate thing.

From classroom groups to workplace groups to extracurricular groups, how you behave and the ways you interact can make or break the outcome. To make your work more successful and productive, it’s important to realize that people work differently, and those differences make us more creative.

I recently learned about the “Four Essential Working Styles” of a group. It’s a way to identify a your personal working style, to learn about the personal working style of the other members of your team and to understand how being aware of these differences can improve your group’s interactions.

Here’s how it works: The activity is based on a compass, and you pick the compass point that you most identify with. As you read the descriptions below, think about which style most suits you:

North - Action: Just get it done! Like to act, try things out, plunge in. People are apt to say, "Enough talk. Let's move on this!"

South - Community: Consider everyone's feelings. Like to hear and honor all voices before acting. People often check to see if everyone is OK. They may speak up when a break is needed.

East - Vision-Making: Look at the big picture. People will often inquire about why something is being done, what the purpose is or if an idea has implications that haven't been considered.

West - Structure: Pay attention to the details. People often ask when, how, who says, how long, what time?

Once you’ve identified your personal working style, the next step is to analyze yourself a bit further. What are the strengths of that personal working style? What benefits do you bring to a group? On the other hand, what are your limitations? What challenges might you bring to a group? And lastly, what do people need to know about working with you to make work more productive?

Thinking this in-depth about your own style can be quite eye-opening, but it’s especially effective when you do it as a team.

The last time I did this activity was with the 2013 Young Professionals Connection board, and as we went around the room, the differences between the groups were plainly apparent. The West group (Structure) said, “We need all of the details. Send us bullet-pointed emails,” while the East group (Vision-Making) said, “Don’t bog us down. We prefer phone calls to long emails.” The South group (Community) said, “We want everyone to feel comfortable, and we take criticisms personally,” while the North group (Action) said, “Give it to us bluntly.”

At this point, I suggest looking around the room and taking note - especially of the people on the opposite side of the room. Once you recognize your different preferences, working together becomes much more productive. We don’t all work the same, but we can work together.

-Emilee Richardson
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New Year's resolutions for young professionals

Downtown Des Moines, Iowa as viewed from the s... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions.

But I am big on lists. And since 2013 is a big year for me, I decided to combine the two and give it a shot.

First, though, a little background. I’m Emilee Richardson, 25, and the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the Science Center of Iowa. I’m a native of Clarinda, Iowa, and a graduate of Drake University. I’ve been in Des Moines for almost eight years, and 2013 is a big year for me because I am assuming the role of president-elect for Young Professionals Connection (YPC).

YPC is a focused extension of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and our mission is to attract and retain young professionals to Greater Des Moines through through social, civic, charitable and professional development endeavors. 2013 is also a big year for YPC, because we recently surpassed 700 members. That means the impact we can have on the community is... big.

This list of resolutions is mostly a series of challenges I’ve set for myself, but I’m hoping other young professionals can relate. So without further ado, here are my BIG resolutions for 2013:

1      I resolve to be better at remembering names and faces. More than anything I’ve found while networking my way around Des Moines is that people really notice when you remember their name. And doesn’t it feel great when someone remembers yours? There are plenty of tricks for name memory. One is to repeat the name immediately after you’re introduced and again before you end the conversation. Another I’ve tried already this year is to have the person spell their name. I’m a visual person, and since my name has an odd spelling, I like to know whether Caitlyn is spelled with a C or a K and if Stephen is with a ph or a v. Find what works for you.

2      I resolve to listen more intently. When you’re talking to someone at a networking event, where there are crowds of people and distractions all around, it’s hard to devote your full attention to a conversation. But to get to know someone, you have to listen to them - and not just superficially. Really focus on listening intently. First and foremost, listen with you’re introduced (see #1). Then, if your conversation has to be interrupted, promise to follow-up (see #3). Ask for a business card or, if you already know the person, plug a reminder into your smartphone to send an email later (see #5).

3      I resolve to follow-up. Following-up can take many forms... Maybe it’s following up on a conversation you had when you met someone. Maybe it’s following-up on one of those to-do items from your meeting. Maybe it’s following-up on an email that’s been sitting in your inbox. Even if it’s a simple, “Got your message. I’ll get back to you by X date,” it at least shows initiative and gives you a deadline. Following-up makes you look more professional and more personal all at once... It’s a win-win!

4      I resolve to make real-life connections. Des Moines is full of smart, engaging, interesting people, and you can learn something from every single one of them. The good news is that there are far fewer than seven degrees of separation for most people in the city. So reach out. Connect. Meet people. Another great way to make real-life connections is to connect other people. (No, I’m not suggesting you play matchmaker.) Connecting people you know - whether they have similar interests or business ideas that align - can be rewarding, too.

5      I resolve to use my smartphone and tablet for good. Our generation gets chastised for having our noses in our phones all the time. But who says you can’t use your iPad to learn a new language, manage your time better or read articles and news while you’re on the go? Go beyond the call, text and game features. Use your calendar to add that event you just heard about or schedule a reminder to email that new contact. You know the saying... There’s an app for that. Use it!

These are my resolutions for the new year. Can you relate? Can these five little tips can make a big difference in your personal and professional life?

Shameless plug: Test out these skills at YPC’s Kick-Off Party on January 25 at The Exchange. There will be 300+ young professionals to meet, listen to, follow-up with and remember their names. Put it in your smartphone now so you don’t forget!

Cheers to a big year - Happy 2013!

-Emilee Richardson
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col•lab•o•rateintransitive verb : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.

Des Moines is great at embracing new opportunities.

Collaboration remains one of the best opportunities for young professional organizations in Des Moines. It is something more and more community leaders are looking for and may have a larger impact than you think.

There is no doubt Des Moines is near the top of the list in terms of having some of the most developed and diverse YP groups in the country. If you can dream it, I can just about guarantee you there is a group in Greater Des Moines for you to join. Heck, before I moved to Des Moines I didn’t even know YP groups existed or could be nearly as effective as many are.

This past week I had meetings with three different area YP groups and the same discussion came up with all three. Des Moines number of YP groups per capita has got to be off the charts. However, the next question was always: Where is the collaboration?

The next logical question you are most likely asking yourself is: Why collaborate? Young Professional groups in Des Moines already have a strong influence in Des Moines, which is one of the reasons there are many of them. Just imagine what kind of affect a collective, cohesive voice could have.

I remember when I was first learning about the young professional and networking scene in Des Moines having lunch with Zach Mannheimer, Executive Director of the Des Moines Social Club. He said something along the lines of Des Moines having the opportunity to set precedence…

Sure there are many groups in larger cities. But how much of an impact does each of those groups have in a city like New York or Chicago? Mannheimer went on to say this opportunity for Des Moines was to truly bring these groups together in a way no one else has… yet.

I couldn’t agree more. Sure you will see different organizations team up for an event here or there or work on a project together. But what is needed is the opportunity to make a truly collective voice. And trust me, there are strides being made and efforts to truly unite groups around Des Moines. In fact, as much as I love discussing this, I can’t say I even know the right solution to fulfill this opportunity.

Maybe you do.

- Jason Wells

Des Moines' New Year's resolutions

Who still has their New Year’s resolution intact? 12 days would probably beat any record of mine!

Now maybe it's not your resolution, but a goal I often hear, especially from young professionals, is to take more action and be a stronger part of their community. This is the year to go with that!

David Elbert’s column for the Des Moines Register got me thinking about upcoming projects for Des Moines in 2012. Here is my take on a few that he notes and a few others to keep in mind:

1) Principal Riverwalk – I know, I know, they've been saying this project would be finished for a while now. This is the year I think it finally happens! Finishing the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates was a great step in getting the riverwalk area ready for completion. This riverwalk will do a lot for Des Moines in making the best use of its most aesthetically pleasing geography.

Here is the page where Principal outlines the projects still to be completed. There is a contact us page for those looking for volunteer opportunities on projects.

2) Walnut Street Transit Mall – Well the first attempt didn't go so well. In fact, the only thing that travels down Walnut Street as it is today is buses. That is all about to change. The plans for Walnut Street plans aim to make it a retail and entertainment attraction area, and hope to open the road to normal traffic as well.

This is something I can't wait for! It should expand the arts and culture feel in downtown Des Moines as well as help make downtown feel complete. I've always felt this is the one area I'm supposed to avoid downtown. It should be quite the opposite soon!

3) The Tomorrow Plan – Led by the Metro Planning Organization, The Tomorrow Plan is aiming to create a 30-year sustainability plan for the Des Moines region. While the process has been underway for some time, the majority of the effort and results will come out in 2012.

There are many opportunities to get involved in this initiative, from a speaker series to public hearing events. This sustainability outlook should be especially important to young professionals as it is taking a look at the best use of the region for the next 30 years. Be sure to visit The Tomorrow Plan online to stay up to speed and see upcoming events.

4) YPC Rain Garden – The Greater Des Moines Partnership's Young Professionals Connection (YPC) had been approved to build a rain garden for downtown Des Moines. The exact location is still awaiting confirmation. Already making plans and mapping out resources is YPC's Impact Downtown committee which will take the lead on the project.

This initiative is a great opportunity for YPC to aid downtown Des Moines in a very tangible way while adding to the sustainability of the area. The Impact Downtown committee meets monthly and is open to anyone wanting to take part in the process. Please visit Young Professionals Connection's calendar online for upcoming meetings and a soon to come webpage for the project.

Now, jump off the couch and take a part in seeing Des Moines take some pretty darn cool steps forward in 2012!

- Jason Wells

Occupy a responsibility

David-goodner-speaking-at-march-on-wells-fargoI never did receive high marks in sociology. So you may want to stop reading now. 

Otherwise Occupy a seat and weigh in with your own thoughts.

I had planned to start a discussion on some of the specifics regarding Occupy, meaning, looking at the specific needs, protests and arrests. However as I sat down with Des Moines own Cat Rocketship, who is on the communications team with Occupy Des Moines. She enlightened me to look at Occupy in more of a way that encompasses many aspects. It was a way that brought culture and social values more into play.

Des Moines may not resemble much about Wall Street, but Occupy Des Moines is doing its part to support the social movement. Is this movement something that is going to take shape? Time will tell.

Don't be so quick to judge. When the Occupy movement first launched “We are the 99%” grabbed me right away. While I think it carries a positive message, I had the same question you did… "Can an organization really represent 99% of a population?" Of course not. And just as any new uprising, Occupy is an organization that is still figuring out who it is while taking on several stereotypes.

Let me say this about stereotypes. Criticizing a group without offering any advice along with it, does not help anyone. Those of us who are involved in many organizations know that your critics are always the loudest. Complaining without suggesting makes one part of the problem, not the solution. Same goes for the organization itself.

So does Occupy have suggestions for solving the problems they have identified? I would say the movement is young and still has a lot to prove in this area. Not having a cohesive message and not knowing what you are fighting for breeds chaos. But chaos has been the basis for many strong social movements in our country.

According to Rocketship, Occupy is still trying to grow a voice and be heard. I think it has a long way to go to show that it is actually going to propose a way to change things for the 99%, but the voice is loud enough to have the potential to do so.

Rocketship enlightened me on one aspect I originally never looked at. The principals our country was founded on. That all men are created equal. That all different groups of people have a right to the same tools for success. And this isn't something Occupy wants to turn into a party or political debate. But rather start the conversation on a basis of democracy that we can all agree on. And making sure the 1% is doing its part to help others achieve their goals.

Some have looked at Occupy and brought into question at what level does personal responsibility come into play? Suggesting that those taking part in Occupy are looking for handouts. While that is a concern, this is one area I strongly appreciate about movements like Occupy. Protesters are taking the time and energy to be heard and to question our leaders. That is taking responsibility. As citizens it is our duty to question our leaders.

Regardless of your opinions on the topics Occupy is bringing to the forefront, I think there is a lot to appreciate about the way the movement is starting the conversation. I personally plan to attend a general assembly of Occupy Des Moines to educate myself if nothing else, with the understanding that 99% of us can't agree on many issues.

Will Occupy make a large enough difference to change Corporate America?

“It's tough to tell people they have the power to change,” said Rocketship.

And making sure people have that power is something worth fighting for.

- Jason Wells

Generation what???

Wait for it. Wait for it...

I can't wait any longer! This isn't a game. It's my career! It's my life!

According to the New York Times, today's young professionals are part of a new generation...

Welcome to "Generation Limbo."

Those words really caught my attention, and in a way they seem accurate. But only to an extent.

In many ways Allison Jones is right on with "What to Do While You’re Waiting It Out." Yes, the economy needs to see a period of continued growth. And yes, young professionals should look to new ideas to gain experience and knowledge in the meantime.

But you only live once and I don't want to spend my one life waiting it out.

Oh no, you're stuck in the middle of reading another "It's the economy, stupid" post...

But anyone who thinks the magical day is coming when the stock market starts to jump 100 points a day and companies start hiring millions of workers may be dreaming. In fact Generation Limbo could apply to anyone in the workforce. Even if you work for a well-established company your job is temporary. Just ask Bank of America employees.

For young professionals still defining their career, there is more and more evidence that the best way to do so is to create it on your own. Whether it be through entrepreneurship, freelance or contract work you can put your future more in your own hands by working for yourself.

More than anything, be open to new opportunities. Take the chance to get involved where you can. You never know where the road less traveled will take you. As young professionals, let's stand up to Generation Limbo and prove that it is actually code for Generation Opportunity!

P.S. Get excited for my next post in two weeks when we take a look at the new monster that is Occupy! Or is it?

- Jason Wells

Bridging the gap

Too often I get asked who are the next group of leaders in Des Moines? Who is working to make sure Des Moines stays at the top of Forbes rankings?

There are countless networking events and conferences around the city and state. However, what there aren’t enough of are cross-generational opportunities. To be honest I think there are a lot of young professionals in Des Moines trying to step up and take the reins. But how often are they put in front of the current leadership?

I have had the opportunities to attend various events and sit on leadership boards. By now I can just about tell you what the demographic will be for most events. And it isn’t a wide range. Too often I am in a room where 90 percent of the attendees might be mistaken for my parents. Too often I am in a room where 90 percent of the people are within a few years of my age.

Did you know that Iowa has a statewide YPIowa Conference every year to help YPs stay on the path to success through leadership, professional development and social skill building? Each year a different YP organization from around our great state gets to host the conference as an opportunity to showcase their region and organization as well as to gain the experience in putting on such an event.

This Friday the Sioux City Growth Organization (SCGO) will host the 2011 YPIowa Conference in an effort to help put young professionals on the “Fast Tract to Success!”

For those needing more of a background, YPIowa is an organization focused on helping young professionals around the state grow their communities to help ensure long-term success in Iowa. There is no organizational structure. For example the SCGO is not a “chapter” of YPIowa. However, YPIowa does host events to help the YP organizations from around the state come together to share ideas and opportunities.

Our neighbors to the West in Omaha host an annual Omaha YP Summit, which is one of the largest YP conferences in the country. Now the YPIowa Conference is not on that level yet, but it continues to grow across the state and attract more attention every September.

So why is this conference important to the state of Iowa and what makes it deserving of more attention?

Because the YPIowa Conference is about finding the next group of young leaders. This week attendees of the Sioux City hosted event will attend breakout sessions focused around professional development, personal growth and young professionals. Teachers and mentors from those already considered a thought leader on their particular topic will educate and converse with professionals to help advance them towards their career and life goals.

If you live in Iowa and are still looking for those breakthrough opportunities, are you attending? Current leaders wondering who is going to keep Iowa on top, are you attending?

In Iowa let’s do more to put the next generation of leaders in front of the current mentors. Let’s rid ourselves of the perception that young professionals aren’t ready to look for a chance to step up or that leaders don’t have time to share with the next generation.

The opportunities are available. It’s what we do with them that counts.

- Jason Wells

A better Des Moines through 2050

Official seal of City of Des MoinesImage via Wikipedia


You’ve probably heard this word bouncing around the Central Iowa region recently. I question how many of us actually know what it means.

Sustainability: “The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”

In other words it is about being responsible in order to make a better future for Des Moines and the Central Iowa region. At first, I’ll admit the subject seemed a little dry to me. But I’d be willing to bet it seems that way for a lot of young professionals.

On Tuesday, the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will publicly launch The Tomorrow Plan with an event at the State Historical Building. In short, it’s about “Planning for a Greener Greater Des Moines.” Makes sense, right?

After taking a step back and educating myself on what this is really about, it’s a topic that should be anything but dry to young professionals. The Tomorrow Plan is trying to provide for a better Des Moines through the year 2050! (Read a Business Record Story)

2050? Even I’ll be past my prime by then! All the more reason sustainability should be something young professionals not only take an interest in, but an active role in.

I’m not an expert on sustainability by any means, but I’m in the process of learning what goes into it… Everything! Whether it be transportation, environment, construction, etc.; it all goes hand in hand. You need to factor in all the different components just to make a simple improvement to one.

Everything about Des Moines points towards a city that is poised for growth and success. Whether you are looking for a great city for young professionals, a place to raise a family or quality of life, you notice Des Moines is at the top of all these lists.

In order to keep Des Moines ahead of the curve, studies of the regions projected growth and existing conditions will help MPO leaders put together a plan and the necessary framework to allow for a bright future. As a young professional building a future in Des Moines, now is the chance to take part in what that future looks like.

The Tomorrow Plan kick-off event in Des Moines is planned to be interactive. Not just a chance to listen, but a chance to take action. Come check it out from 4 to 8 p.m. at the State Historical Building. (Click for details)

Part of planning for success is never being satisfied!

- Jason Wells

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Stay on the tracks...

I’m perfect.

Ok, well how about close to it? Of course not!

That’s mistake number one I’ve seen from young professionals in my short career. And I’m as guilty as the rest of them. You’re not perfect and you don’t know everything despite what your mother may have told you growing up. :)

3 Common Mistakes That Derail Young Professionals” is a great read. In fact, I think it was nice Susan Davis-Ali only pointed out three mistakes because there are definitely many more. However, she does point out that these common mistakes should be avoided. To this I argue that making mistakes is all part of the learning process. So while young professionals may be able to dance around these after reading, there are still many more hurdles to trip over.

Belaboring a point, showing off and offering advice are all valid concerns brought up by Davis-Ali. They all fit into that umbrella of trying to be perfect and know it all. If I’ve learned one thing so far it is that you really start to learn once you realize how little you do know.

It’s only natural for young professionals almost done with or recently graduated from school to feel on top of the world. It’s an exciting and nerve-racking time when you are trying to start your career off right. But it doesn’t have to show. Hopefully these tips will help us start our train off on the right tracks as we look to begin our careers…

1)  Show you want to learn – I’ve long suggested to young professionals starting a new position or internships to schedule a meeting with managers outside of your day-to-day interactions. Show you want to learn what they do, how they do it and why it is important.
2)  Ask questions – Well, not too many. But let your co-workers know you are there in a positive way. Show you are taking an interest in meetings and want to help out.
3)  Be yourself – There is such a thing as being too professional that comes off arrogant. Be friendly. People work well with people they like.

What are some of the mistakes that have tripped you up? How can others avoid those pitfalls?

The Changing Job Market - Part II

Finding a job in large corporate environments isn’t what it used to be. Yp

And this isn’t saying large corporations can’t be a great place to work. Major companies provide jobs for a large number of people in the Des Moines area, just like in most other cities. What is changing is twofold: the desires and expectations once you are in a position.

Before we dive into the specifics of that, let’s also consider the other side. Generation Y. Yes, the YPs out in the work force today are definitely searching for a new path to success. Many of them have watched their parents work for the same company for 20 or more years. A larger percentage of those entering the workforce today are more eager to try new things, jump around and not commit to one opportunity.

I particularly like this post on "6 Ways the Recession Has Changed Hiring Practices."

Sure these “movements” or changes are generalizations and not hard set rules. There are still many young professionals working hard up the old corporate ladder. And it isn’t a bad time to be doing so. After all, the baby boomer generation continues to get closer and closer to retirement. Consider this piece of information shared by Ben Stone at the 140 Character Conference in Des Moines this week: By 2014, half of the workforce will be Generation Y.

Yet many young professionals are determined to find their own path. I’ve heard several hiring managers say how today’s workforce is more willing to turn down guaranteed, solid corporate salaries in order to go their own way.

However, maybe the lasting recession we are still fighting through has much to do with that. Some Generation Y workers have been forced to take a new outlook and have a jaded attitude towards corporate America after getting laid off so early in their career. One could argue that corporations have still yet to prove post recession that a job there is much more stable than beginning your own start up company.

Many of the retiring baby boomers may have built their career with just a few different endeavors and spent their last two decades with the same company. I don’t see that in store for today’s young professionals. Some corporations don’t give out incentives for employees to stay like they used to and Generation Y workers seem to always be looking for a change.

It isn’t a debate of a right or a wrong way, but more a sign that with time, things change. What I take out of this is “value”. How are companies going to show they still truly value each seat at the table? How are young professionals going to show they value their position and have the necessary dedication?

- Jason Wells

The Changing Job Market

San Francisco Peaks from Kendrick Mountain Fir...Image by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr

While asking around on hot young professional topics to blog about, as you can imagine, the word “jobs” came up several times. As overwhelming of a topic that it is to blog about, I’ve decided to tackle it in a three-part series. Hopefully, in reading this, you can learn as much as I did researching and drafting it.

Things aren’t what they used to be. The recession is going to have permanent effects and younger generations are demanding a cultural change.

First let’s explore a couple of facts for our three-part series…

1) Entrepreneurialism is at an all-time high, especially in the YP community.
2) Corporations are contracting out more and more work/projects.
3) Younger generations demand a more casual and flexible work-life balance.

Part I: “Why Now is a Great Time to be a Young Entrepreneur

The 2007-2009 recession naturally spurred a jump in entrepreneurialism. However, it’s not going away. More and more success is being had by start-up companies. Beyond that, today’s young professionals have a strong case of independence. No, it’s not a disease! But it is a desire they have to do their own thing.

With that comes more of a demand for work-life balance and an ability to drive your own schedule. There is a lot less desire in the younger generations to find that 8-5 desk job. Many of today’s entrepreneurs consider their local coffee shop or a co-working space to be their office. It’s not a barrier to entry anymore, and it’s where young professionals want to be.

Social networking has enhanced the tools available to YPs looking to make it on their own. There is more of a focus on personal branding than ever before. With personal branding comes the need to determine what identity you would like to take on. Find me a young professional working through the corporate grind that considers their 8-5 jobs as part of their identities. If you can find one, I’ll show you 1,000 that don’t.

As a young professional, now is the time you can afford to take the risk and make it happen on your own. With a good business plan in place, there are more and more grants becoming available at both private and state level for entrepreneurs.

We all want to have a job we can truly love. What better way than to make it happen on your own?

Next week: Part II – “6 Ways the Recession Has Changed Hiring Practices”

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Connect to the Unconnected

Pop!Image by chrisafer via Flickr

Wait. What? You mean I need to know people who don’t know many people? That seems to defeat the purpose of networking in many minds.

But after reading the post “The Most Important People in Your Network” by Rob Cross on the Harvard Business Review, it all started to make a little bit of sense.

We have all heard that it’s not what you know but whom you know that counts. However, many young professionals out there building their network, myself included, seem to be focused too much on the quantity of contacts they have, instead of the more important one: QUALITY.

But wait. Don't I need to be “in the know?"

In today’s social media age, there are too many people waking up each morning with the thought, “How am I going to gain 100 more followers on Twitter today?” Now, I’m a believer that it is important to have a social media presence, but maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is, “How am I going to gain one great new contact today?”

Cross does a good job outlining why bigger is not always better. What I took away from it that we need to be making sure our contacts are working for us. You can have a presence on as many social networking tools as you want, but if you are running into the same group of people or stretching yourself even thinner, what are you really accomplishing?

Having fewer contacts that keep you top of mind might just be a more powerful tool than a handshake with 100 different people each morning. Those few excellent connections will be more likely to share new ideas, be a better learning tool and be more likely to introduce you to others you REALLY need to know.

I’m actually hoping to see a few constructive responses to this post. After all, I have a hard time piecing together why it would be a negative to have more connections. Maybe you feel the same way?

However, there is one golden rule we all need to take away from this post - especially those of us who are young professionals with popped collars thinking we just have to know everybody.

Build relationships, not connections!

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Get well soon!

A frisbee made by Wham-O.Image via Wikipedia

I was driving around downtown Des Moines last week, enjoying one of our rare 50-degree days in an unseasonably warm February. I couldn't help but notice the lack of public activity available downtown.

Now don't get me wrong, Des Moines has really improved and downtown and continues to. But it got me thinking about the importance of wellness opportunities within the young professional community. After all, YP athletic organizations are seeing a lot of momentum.

No matter the size of the city you live in, health and wellness (great blog!) is something necessary to a successful community. Gyms and other fitness programs are one thing. However, that isn't something visible.

Where can I drop what I'm doing to shoot some hoops, play some tennis or get a game of flag football going? What's a kid got to do to get a playground up in here?

I'm a big proponent of physical activity no matter how you choose to get it. Today's YPs make a good effort to stay active, which can be a big factor when choosing a place to live. There have even been whispers that Des Moines is focused on becoming a "wellness capital." That would be a big step in attracting a younger demographic to the state as well.

At work, you hear about it more and more. If your employer doesn't already have some sort of incentive package for staying in good health then I'm sure there is one coming your way. It's true, staying active relieves stress and happy people make better employees.

Here are a few things vital to having a culture of wellness to attract people to your city:

  • A central park: A place to throw a Frisbee or to knock a tennis ball around downtown.
  • An events schedule focused on wellness: Okay, so maybe you can’t run a marathon, but you can do the 5K!
  • Wellness center: Where are the healthiest places to eat around town? What intramurals can I join?
  • Incentive package: Cities need to be incenting businesses to incent their employees to be healthy and cut health care costs.
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Hi, my name is...

Example of an American grocery store aisle.Image via Wikipedia

"The name's Bond. James Bond."

No matter what field of work you are in, I could list 100 reasons why it is important for you to get out and NETWORK.

Don't worry, I'm not going to. However, in constantly being bombarded with networking events to attend, I can tell you that it is a skill you need to learn.

Yes, networking is a skill. And like anything else, it comes easier to some than to others. There are many types of "introverts" who have difficulty walking into a crowded room where they may not know a single face.

If you fall into that cateogy, please read "The 4-step program for successfully networking as an introvert" by Jamie Millard and Chris Oien, both of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities.

Understand that learning how to network and building a network takes time. For the introverts who need that extra push into the room, know that everyone there is in the same shoes you're in. They wouldn't be there if they weren’t interested in meeting you. :)

After giving the 4-step program more thought, I think these tips are excellent even if you are the most outgoing person in the room. Networking takes a plan. When you go to the grocery store with a list you have a plan. And nine times out of 10, you walk away with a completed plan plus a little extra. Think of networking the same way. Go in with a mission as simple as connecting with five new people. You'll walk out meeting 10 and being well ahead of your goal!

My favorite point made in the 4-step program blog is "know your talking points." In other words, have a plan for what you are going to say. To take this advice one step further, I would suggest beware of getting backed into a corner with one or two others. Hit on your key points, sustain the connection and move onto someone new.

Oh, and as you move on to introduce yourself to someone new, be sure to extend your "Hi, my name is..." with the same confidence Mr. Bond delivers his famous line.

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Elbows off the table

Modern Manners Guy LogoImage via Wikipedia

Mind your manners.

Now it may seem that having good manners is just common sense, but let's not take anything for granted. After all, we have manners, or maybe we should call them unwritten rules, which help make for a more stable office environment. As a young professional, are you following the "7 Tips to Help Young Professionals Fit In" as noted by the International Business Times CareerWise?

While all these tips are important, there were a few that stood out to me, such as, "Don't text!"

I know you are thinking, "OMG, did u really just say that?" While smartphones may bring many benefits, nothing will bother your boss more than walking into a meeting and laying that phone out on the table. Unplug for a few hours, roll your sleeves up and get to work!

And for those of you bringing your phone to the treadmill with you to work out... trust me, you're not that important. :)

Getting back to rolling up your sleeves, you should understand that it just isn't fair. In the real world, you are only as valuable as the work you produce. While many young professionals still look for that nod of approval, believe me, there is no report card with a star on it that you can bring home and show your mom anymore. Take your "good work," if you even get that, and get back to it!

But let's finish up on a positive note. Continue to dress to impress because many of us actually do. While office codes have become more and more lax in terms of appropriate dress, I actually see many young professionals looking to turn business casual back into business professional. It doesn't hurt to be the best dressed in the office, so keep putting that tie on.

There may be a generation gap in terms of what are acceptable manners, but as young professionals we are the ones who need to come forward and bridge that gap. After all, no matter how much time passes, your mom will still be telling you to keep your elbows off the table.

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But, umm, so, you know...

image made by myself. Front view of the mouth ...Image via Wikipedia

Ten minutes?

You seriously expect me to get up in the front of a room without any note cards or PowerPoint slides and talk for 10 minutes?

These thoughts ran through my head the first day of the Toastmasters program that I hesitantly entered into at my previous job. Ah, the timeless art of public speaking. This probably won’t be the last time I write about it. But that is because it is a blast! Yeah, I said it.

It is one of the most humbling skills there is. No matter how good you think you are, you can always get better. For the young professionals of the world, it is a skill to embrace and learn early on.

I’m glad I did.

I seriously had to be talked into this free Toastmasters program at my first job out of college. That is how crazy I am! And like many young professionals, I stumbled my way through my first speech using my fair share of the words “but,” you know,” “like” and so on.

But people say “practice makes perfect” and with time I got better. And as my public speaking ability improved, the more excited I got for my next speech. I am still nowhere near being an expert on public speaking, but now I can at least say I look forward to the opportunities I get to speak to a crowd. Not only that, but strong vocal skills can be a huge asset in being successful in the workplace.

Take the time while you are young to improve this invaluable skill. Ever ramble in a job interview you didn’t get called back on? Ever walk out of a networking event thinking I should have handled meeting so-and-so differently? Ever give a presentation to a client that left them scratching their head?

Want to rock your next 10-minute presentation? Check out Toastmasters' 10 Tips for Public Speaking.

- Jason Wells

What about the pants?

TrousersImage via Wikipedia

Let’s begin with the moral of the story. Who puts your pants on each morning?

Here’s the question: How have you let the recession affect your attitude in the workplace?

As I dwell on it more and more, I suppose I don’t actually disagree with Cindy Goodman’s remarks in her blog: New Gen Y reality: Recession forces younger workers to update their work attitudes.

It is more of a concern that maybe she is correct.

In the current landscape of the economy and job market, any job is a good job. And Generation Y professionals entering the work place need to put more focus on development. But that is true recession or no recession.

Getting back to the question at hand, Goodman’s post gives me the impression that young professionals are currently accepting what they have at hand instead of demanding that next big step. While the recession may mean we all need to work a little bit harder, it is critical to not let today’s struggles prohibit you a prosperous future.

Get a grip my friend! Grab those reins and make sure you are always in the best shape to prosper no matter the environment.

You only live once! Make the most of it! Don’t let life pass you by! Any other overused phrases we should add here?

Wake up each day with the attitude that you may have a new job the next day. Still give today’s job 100 percent. I don’t know many young professionals that land their dream job right out of college. But you need to be working toward it:

1) Get out and network. Build those connections that will put you in the best shape to succeed when more opportunities become available.

2) Find your expertise. What is it that you know you can do better than your peers? Practice and strengthen that skill to the point employers can’t afford not to hire you.

3) We’re all entrepreneurs. Can you think of multiple entities that need that skill you’re best at? You might be on the path of creating something of your own.

Keep your eyes forward. You don’t have to be a product of the economic climate. Wake up tomorrow and put on the pair of pants that fit you best!

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Twice your age

Freaky Age a Belgian four-piece Indie-rockband...Image via Wikipedia

I’m smarter than I look. No, seriously.

Or at least we are all trying to tell many of our co-workers that.

Scott Ginsberg, also known at the “Name Tag Guy,” recently posted “How to be Taken Seriously by People Twice Your Age.” He points out that it is not rare these days for a young professional to be working alongside someone twice their age.

I often hear varying opinions of the latest workforce generation by the Baby Boomers we are now in business with. But as young professionals, that is not something we can control. However, we can control the image we project as we try to establish ourselves as idea generators and reliable professionals in the work place.

A brief excerpt from Ginsberg’s blog post:

THE QUESTION IS: How are you supposed to be taken seriously when you’re the youngest person in the room?

SHORT ANSWER: Being proactive and powerful without coming off as arrogant and annoying.

Most of us can admit to exuding a little arrogance when we landed that first job out of college. Did you walk in like you owned the place; like you were ready to take over as the president on day two? More of us did that than we’d like to admit.

On any given day, many YPs are ready to conquer the world. Or are we? While that enthusiasm is something to be embraced, maybe it could be put to better use.

Time and learning can be humbling. If there is one thing that is clear to me now, it is that there is no replacement for decades of experience. We need to embrace those we work closely with that have it.

Once we can admit we have a lot to learn, we will open ourselves to a boundless book of knowledge. And we’ll gain respect along the way from our more seasoned peers.

But we also need to stick to our guns! We may be right a lot of the time. Some of the most innovative new ideas are coming from the younger generation. And with solid data to back up our ideas, people will listen.
Yes, we will create our own paths. But we also have take off the blinders and observe the established culture around us.

It is one of the building blocks of success.

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The Triple Bottom-Line

It's tough to be young and in the business world.  Rather than relying solely on my observations on the impact of young professionals in Iowa's business world, I've been seeking the perspective of others, both young and older.

This month, I talked with my good friend Christian Fong, founder of Fong Strategic Consulting , a management consulting firm, and a former candidate for the governor of Iowa. Still in his 30s, Christian has never been afraid to make bold decisions, which should be expected from someone who graduated from high school early and attended business school at Dartmouth College. I asked him to give me some insight on what Next Generation Iowans should be focused during these uncertain times.

Here is his response:


Vogue US v. Vogue NipponImage by superfem via Flickr

Iowa has never been a place where we embraced a “greed is good” business philosophy.  We never bought into the economic philosophies built on the presupposition that self-centeredness was a virtue, and the key to free markets. Instead, we know that while free markets are vital to a healthy economy, narcissism is not.

That Iowa way of doing business is now in vogue. Corporations have decided that they can do well by doing good. They talk about the triple bottom-line, where they have financial profits, and at the same time do good for their community and the world around them.

Individual Iowans, especially the professionals that are emerging as today’s leaders, should think about a similar approach of a balanced life with a triple bottom-line.

Bottom-Line One: This is the traditional bottom-line, measuring financial profit. You need to be good enough at what you do, and make a product or service that people are willing to pay for, so that you can make money.

Bottom-Line Two: Beyond the profit motive is a second bottom-line: being a productive part of your community. After all, professionals, like businesses, do not live in a vacuum.

Here in Cedar Rapids, I led an effort after the Flood of 2008 to have businesses release their employees to help clean up houses, churches and even competing businesses. I did not have to twist arms of corporate executives to make it happen. They understood that what was good for their community and good for their employees. Andhappy employees are, of course, necessary for a healthy bottom-line profit. Each individual made the decision to give up potential business deals or progress on career strategies and get into their community to help make it better.

You do not have to wait for a flood. Choose to go vote, buy local, volunteer at your church or join a nonprofit organization’s board. Good citizens, whether corporate or individuals, are great for a community and the benefits work both ways.

Bottom-Line Three: Simply put, mission matters. A good income and a good community can create a good life. But people want more than a good life. They want a meaningful life, and they want to work for a company that is making a difference. Some will define a mission as ecological – perhaps it is a focus on sustainability, in all its forms. Perhaps it is meeting the real needs of people around the world. Perhaps it is a spiritual focus on healing the hearts of broken people around you. But without a mission, it is hard to keep pointed in the right direction as individuals and companies.

Are you making a difference? Are you meeting needs of the people in your community in ways that put them first? Are you making a good living, being excellent at what you do? If so, you are showing a profit across your triple bottom-line. - Christian Fong

Fong Strategic Consulting specializes in helping small and medium-sized companies define a strategy, and obtain the financial resources, to grow.

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Becoming an entrepreneur

24-inch x 2 Workspace (iMac)Image by liewcf via Flickr

It's tough to be young and in the business world. Rather than relying solely on my observations on what is the impact of Young Professionals in Iowa's business world I've been seeking the perspective of others, both younger and older, to get their perspectives.

The first person I talked to was Alexander Grgurich, a young professional entrepreneur trying to make his way in the business world. Alex is already on his second successful start-up company and has even dived into actively participating in municipal politics. I asked Alex to give me some insight as to what inspires a twentysomething to become an entrepreneur. - Isaiah McGee

Here is his response:

I’ve been fascinated with entrepreneurship from an early age, selling candy out of my locker or running my own placemat advertising business in high school. I think it’s the sense of adventure and knowing that you’re risking it all to forge your own path that keeps me coming back for more.Thankfully, Des Moines embraces young entrepreneurs like myself and is developing a collaborative work environment that is spawning more and more innovation at every turn.

I recently opened Foundry Coworking, a collaborative office space for other innovative entrepreneurs and creatives in the area. Coworking is an international movement taking root where people can share office space and amenities while building a community centered around success and making each other better. Cheap office space can be found anywhere, but what really separates coworking environments is the community of “doers” in the space, the relationships that form, and the events that are held to make the community that much better.

As much as the entrepreneurial life is rewarding and exciting there are times where that inspiration and positivity can be difficult to keep up. I’ve found that being surrounded by people with the same challenges that I have has been a great motivator to pick me up and keep me focused when I need it. Although my fellow office mates are all in different industries than I am, we all share an ethos that pushes us to help each other and strive for success.

The economic trends of late have pushed a lot of people into the realm of freelancing or creating new ventures. As this trend continues and more people come to value the freedom and rewards in having your own business, collaborative work spaces will continue to satisfy a need in the community.

Whether it’s Foundry Coworking, Impromptu Studios, or Performance Marketing Group, Des Moines is blessed to have so many coworking spaces and I recommend everyone stop by each one for a day to get some work done, attend an event, or just to visit and meet new people. - Alex

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Generations in the Workplace

Kudos to the Business Record and Merit Resources for bringing in David Stillman of Bridgeworks to Photo_david2 discuss Bridging the generation gaps at work. David's lively presentation covered the nuances of the four prevailing generations in the workforce, while at the same time providing insight and solutions that workplaces should be implementing. Stillman was in town to promote his new book "The M-Factor." Stillman's presentation analyzed each of the four generations their influences and traits, and pinpointed areas of engagement for each.

Traditionalist - Influenced by roaring 20s, Great Depression, World War II, patriotism, loyalty, conservative, and have faith in institutions. Stillman pointed out that most workplace culture is based on Traditionalist influences. The key take away was that the legacy of traditionalist can not be dismissed. While it may appear traditionalist don't like change, a look at their historic experience says otherwise. They can accept change if it is an evolutionary change rather than a revolutionary change, or something that builds on their legacy rather than dismisses it.

Baby Boomers - influenced by Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights, suburbia. Stillman pointed out the 80 million boomers in this demographic has forced them to be competitive in order to stand out from their peers. Growing up in an amazing time, they wanted to, and and still want to do, amazing things. They are masters at internal politics, but flunk at delegating. Aging parents and close knit relationship with their kids has made them a very needed generation, but it has also caused some burnout. Reminding these workers how their work is having a positive impact on not only the job, but themselves and the world will go a long way with keeping Boomers happy.

Generation X - Grew up during a period with high divorce rates, more than 23,000 hours of TV viewing per person and the personal computer. This generation, while often chided as lazy, slacking and pessimistic, doesn't see itself that way. A very self reliant, resourceful and eclectic group, Xers have supply and demand on their side. The relatively few 45 million of them has allowed the group to be less competitive and more independent. Their experiences  have caused them to be more skeptical and rightfully so. Stillman encourages work places to embrace this skepticism, for there is at least a kernel of truth in it usually.  And while members of Generation X are realistic in their understanding that Boomers are not going anywhere so their chances of vertical movement are limited. there is an innate desire to still move, to still learn, to still grow. Providing Xers with more frequent feedback, keeping opportunities for professional development and allowing for additional opportunities to move laterally within the company may satisfy Generation X's workplace need.

Millennials - Influenced by terrorism, technology and their Baby Boomer parents. Concerned about global outlook, more collaborative. We've touched on many of their traits, concerns, and approaches in this blog before, so I won't rehash any of those, except one. Stillman did emphasize that with this group meaning matters, and being able to demonstrate how their job helps accomplish the larger mission goes a long way with this generation that is apt to give back. He also encouraged workers to allow Millennials to be part of the decision making process, even if their approach is naive it still creates an opportunity for them to learn and be mentored.

Great insights from a team I consider the best on the subject of generational behavior. This event was more broad based than the last time Bridgeworks was in town with their Millennial speaker Seth.  It would have been interesting If the two could have switched with David coming to the Power Breakfast and Seth speaking at this event, given the marketed focus of each event. More Millennials and Gen X young professionals need to hear these insights, but at this time and place in their career it might be tough for them to attend events like these on a weekday morning. But scheduling events like these with high demand speakers are never easy. It would also have been nice if Mr. Stillman could have stayed longer for followup and questions. But again, scheduling events like these with high demand speakers are never easy.

Kudos again to the Business Record for bringing him in.

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