For today’s podcast, we have a very inspiring guest who is a true innovator: Glenna Crooks, PhD, CEO and Founder of the company: SageMyLife. She is also author of two books that will be released soon: The NetworkSage: Realize Your Network Superpower and The SeniorSage: Aging-Well-in-Place.
The biggest question that we work to solve everyday is where we spend energy to focus on our priorities or as I call it the daily routine of ‘managing chaos.’ Glenna has taken this a step beyond and took a deep dive with the science of how and why we connect with others to help us live better and succeed, regardless of how much chaos we’ve got to manage. She’s identified a new way to think about our networks and manage them so we can live life fully and achieve the goals we set.
Today, these are the questions we hope to answer:
- What inspired Glenna’s continual reinvention of herself as an innovator? She worked in education, health care and public policy. She was an appointee of President Reagan , a Fortune 50 global vice president, and entrepreneurial global strategist, and now, a techn start-up founder? What is Sage Life?
- When did the seed of the idea occur?
- How has Glenna navigated her innovation journey going from the idea for SageLife to the company?
Not all reinventions are deliberate, mine certainly wasn’t. This is my 8th one and it didn’t come from a plan. Professional career options were limited for women in my generation and worse, my chosen path – to study astrophysics and be an astronaut – was actively blocked. Teachers didn’t like it that I competed against the boys in math and by high school, my guidance counselor told me girls could not be astronauts and I was not smart enough to graduate from college anyway. My parents’ own persistence against great odds provided me with the role models I needed to succeed nonetheless, a story I tell in the book. Despite having to work two jobs, I got a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and worked as a school psychologist. Later, I got a Ph.D. and learned I had a gift for seeing patterns, organizing chaos and solving complex problems. That has been the basis of each career since. SageMy™Life is just the latest iteration.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s an African Proverb. I argue in my book you can do both if you understand how networks work and build good ones for yourself.
I’m an introvert. I like people, but it tires me to be with others. Since creating SageMyLfe, I’m more careful about who allow in to any of my networks – especially social networks – and don’t spend time with people who can’t accommodate my need for downtime.
Seeing the Need
The need found me after I left the corporate world. As a global health policy strategist, I worked with business and government leaders globally. Privately, many shared the stresses they faced and the fears they had about the future. To help them, Jonathan Peck and I built a one-day experience called BestEdge. Together, we met with one person for a day to build a strategic plan for their entire life for the next year. This wasn’t coaching, it was a strategic plan they could implement on their own and it helped. Since Jonathan and I had other businesses to run and I wanted to help more people I went looking for ways to do that.
That’s when Robert Downey, Jr. showed me a way. At the time, it was 2007 and the trailer for the first Iron Man movie made me an instant fan. Then, in W magazine I saw an interview in which he described a ‘pit crew’ of people helping him out: a sensei, a yoga teacher and psychiatrist. He said he needed a ‘pit crew’ because he was not a Model-T; he was a Ferrari and it took more people to keep him on the road. I realized he was right, wondered who was in my pit crew and how they were doing. That made me see I was in other people’s pit crews.
I had looked at pit crews in the past, but without realizing it and only for my business. This time I focused on my personal life, made a list of everyone and learned it took 139 people to help me manage my life outside of work. I have a relatively simple life, by the way, as I don’t have a spouse, kids or pets.
From Pit Crews to Networks
Over time, I identified 7,000+ people who could serve a pit-crew role and saw they were actually networks of people relating to one another while they related to me. Eventually, I organized them into eight different networks. I call the first five of the eight networks birthright networks because we are born into them. Our parents created them for us. If you have children, you created these for them. Like all networks, they change throughout life, but you never outgrow the need for what they provide.
- Family Network. This includes our family of origin and other families that we have been a part of, including the ones we create for our children and any former families from past relationships.
- Health and Vitality Network. This includes those who help us be healthy and fit. It also includes those who help us look good since appearance is important.
- Education and Enrichment Network. This includes those involved in our formal years of education and as we prepare for a job. It also includes those who provide enrichment experiences outside of formal educational settings.
- Spiritual Network. This network those in congregations and houses of worship and connections with others outside of those formal settings with whom we develop a sense of what is spiritual and meaningful in life.
- Social and Community Network. This includes our neighbors and friends as well as those in our community, clubs, or civic organizations and our virtual connections through social media.
As we enter adulthood, we progress through milestones considered to be markers of maturity. As we do, we mature into three additional networks I call coming-of-age networks. Coming-of-age networks do not replace our birthright networks; they build upon them.
- Career Network. This includes people in our workplace: a boss, direct reports, colleagues, and cross-functional or support teams. It also includes clients and customers outside our workplace and others in our chosen field. Even at retirement, this network supports us with retiree benefits and enduring connections created during years in the workforce.
- Home and Personal Affairs Network. This includes those who help protect, maintain, and improve our household and personal property and who support our need for legal and financial advice.
- Ghost Network. This includes people who are not currently physically present in our life because they have passed away, moved away, or drifted away as our life changed. We’ve been gathering ghosts from the beginning of our life, but as we come of age, we gain greater awareness of who they are and how they have shaped us.
Personal Insights and Impact
I learned a lot doing this work, the biggest being: I had no idea who was ‘in’ my life and the impact they were having on me for better, or for worse. Nor had I never considered what mattered to me or how I defined quality about the services I was paying for. It showed me I was a far better steward of the government or business resources I managed than I was of my own.
Not having a language to describe the types of connections I had with others left me with no way to consciously and properly allocate time I spent with them. I spent far too much time letting people who were relatively unimportant drain me of the energy I needed for people who were very important. Too often, people I paid to support me turned the tables and made me to support them.
I saw I didn’t value the unique role I play in the world and the unique contributions only I can make and didn’t value how living this life well would help others have an even better life.
One of the biggest ‘aha’ moments was learning what a mistake it was to be a home owner during some stages of my career. I wish I’d been more consciously aware of the management bandwidth a home required and how it distracted me from career-building.
Finally, I’ve reinterpreted my entire life through this new lens, identifying important ways others helped me that I was not fully aware of or grateful for. On the flip side, I’ve forgiven some people, now that I see how they were trapped by their own vision-limiting networks.
I am healthier, happier and far more successful than I knew was possible. Beyond that, I have a great sense of satisfaction as I watch it help others achieve their dreams. I never tire of hearing their stories.
Trends and Gender Differences
According to Evolutionary Psychologist Sir Robin Dunbar, we can manage only 150 connections well. He cites evidence from historical records and contemporary experience. For example, people can follow the research of only about 150-200 others and a field splits into sub-disciplines when it gets large than that. You can manage more in ideal circumstances, but everyone ‘hits a wall’ at some point.
Based on my data, women manage far more connections and for several reasons. Children come with lots of connections – and can have 150 by the time they’re in first grade—Moms carry more of that management load. Pets come with lots of connections and 80% of pet care is done by women. Homeowners need lots of people to help them maintain and improve the home, typical division-of-labor gives women more of those tasks. Women tend to ‘step in’ and ‘take over’ even when they’re not asked to do so and even at great sacrifice to themselves.
Finally, women are often the social connectors within families and among friends. Widowed men tell me that without a wife, they’ve become isolated from friends and even from their adult kids. Older women tell me they worry about their husbands if they were to die first.
I don’t have good data about this yet, but I suspect women have more direct reports at work then men of a similar rank. I even hear women bragging about it. One of my attorneys was formerly the General Counsel at a major health care company he suspects that is true, saying “…everyone knows women are better at managing others than men are,” and in his group, women did have more direct reports. That means women are spending more energy managing down, not up or out, yet another reason for the glass ceiling they face.
SageMy™Life is not just about delegating, though that’s lots of people start. It’s where I started. I sorted my pit crew list of 139 into two: people I needed to personally manage – like my tailor – and the other, people I didn’t –like the dry cleaners and the post office clerks or grocery store cashiers. The second list became a job description for a community college student who could benefit from a few hours of flex-time work.
Delegating was not easy for me and I’ve seen others have trouble too. Some have no role models because their parents didn’t delegate tasks. Some have high standards—even about how beds are made—and either ‘do’ or ‘redo’ the job themselves. Some have trouble holding others accountable and dealing with the conflicts that can result, often because they’re too tired. Some tasks are easier to do yourself unless you delegate by ‘bundling’ tasks like I did. Finally, delegating is more difficult if other people in your life don’t support it. None of my friends have help like my college student and I’ve been criticized for it. They told me I was being elitist and recommended I never talk about it.
In our pilot work over the past decade, men gravitate towards understanding and managing their business better. They set better boundaries, disconnect from bad connections more easily and seem to feel less guilt doing so. They also delegate, often to the women in their lives. Women tend to look at the whole of their lives. When they do, by the way, they underestimate the connection-load they manage for children and households. This might be one reason why me want their wives and daughter to use the tools we’re developing. They want the women in their life to focus more on themselves and less on others. And, as one said, “If my wife had this, we could have more fun.”
Risks of Network Mismanagement
The biggest risk is missing opportunities and failing to see the support we have that is ‘hiding in plain sight.’ Another is mismanaging our time and financial resources and, for women with a career, risking never being as successful as men. A bold statement, but one I know is true.
Parents put children at risk when they don’t build networks to support them as they manage the many demands of parenting, or when they don’t realize how the people in a child’s networks today can create lasting ‘hungry ghosts’ that can bring harm to the child decades later. They risk their child’s well-being today if their desire to have ‘let’s all get along’ social relationships get in the way of asking whether there is a gun in the homes where their children play, and whether it’s locked away in a safe place. They risk their child’s future if they don’t have custodial plans in place in the event of their death.
Because couples share workloads, they place one another and their family at risk by not sharing network information. For example, I know men who were left without even basic information about a child’s pediatrician and school calendars when their wives died. This applies to all of us, by the way. When my Mom got sick, I navigated from 1,000 miles away with only the phone number of one neighbor. That was harrowing.
My book will be released soon. We’re developing a mobile platform that will be available in about six months. When we launch, we’ll be promoting it to older people, their families and the professionals advising them to remain independent and avoid expensive institutional care. In reality, it can be used by parents of young children, single people, families with pets and entrepreneurs.
Action Steps for Listeners
The ACTSage roadmap has three steps.
- Become AWARE of those in your networks;
- CLARIFY what you want and need from them;
- TRANSFORM networks to support your life
With that in mind:
- Start a list of the people you see during the week and organize it by network;
- Next to each name, note how important they are to you;
- Note whether there might be someone missing you need to live a better, easier life;
- Contemplate what’s ‘working’ for you and what’s not. Who on the list is a great connection and who’s not.
- Consider what changes you need to make. First, tackle the ones that are easy or are important. Then tackle the rest.
The website is www.sagemylife.com
- The NetworkSage blog (sign up at www.sagemylife.com or www.glennacrooks.com)
- The NetworkSage: Realize Your Network Superpower (to be released 3-4Q 2017)
- The SeniorSage: An Age-Well-in-Place Workbook (to be released 3-4Q 2017)
Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below. Who is in your pit crew? Do you have hungry ghosts? Do you have a strategic plan for managing your network?
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