Entries in Erik Michielsen (6)


Learning From Near Peer Role Models

Last Friday, the New York Times published an article "Sometimes Second Best Makes a Better Role Model" written by Alina Tugend.

In her piece, Tugend looks at on the perceived value of choosing role models who are the best at their chosen profession and why this may not be a good idea. The article references a piece titled "How to Choose a Role Model That Will Really Motivate You" and builds upon behavioral science research from two European business school professors, Chengwei Liu and Jerker Denrell. Professor Liu and Denrell's research finds it may be best not to focus our aspirational attention - from role models to mentors - on exceptional or extreme performers. In short, it may not be helpful for you to focus on learning from the best or trying to take inspiration from the best.

One particular quote caught my attention.

"While admiring those at the top of their game isn’t necessarily bad," Professor Liu said, "a better idea might be to look to those in your own circle who are just one or two steps ahead."

This really resonated with me because this concept is the foundation of Capture Your Flag and its Near Peer Learning model for personal and professional development. 

In his recent blog, designer and educator Joe Houde shares why this is so important.

"[Capture Your Flag] takes advantage of a phenomenon called Near Peer Learning. In studying how learning happens in multiple contexts, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger discovered that most learning occurs not from an expert, but from someone who is a little more experienced than, and slightly farther down the career path than you. Part of this is accessibility. We can access people who are close to us in development – we are more likely to be doing similar work and to be working together. But another part of the draw of near peer learning is that the expert, executive or exemplar may have made the same decisions you are contemplating, but the context was very different due to the time that has passed since they made those decisions."

Capture Your Flag exists because finding those in your own circle is not as easy as it sounds. When seeking advice and role models, it is far easier to turn to direct peers for advice or to look to experts for their nuggets of wisdom. Finding a Near Peer role model can be a bit trickier to come by at the time we need it. There are two reasons for this. One, we do not always know people just like us who may be one or two steps ahead and, two, if we do know someone one or two steps ahead, they may not feel they have accomplished enough or, here's the rub, are "expert" enough to be confident in giving the advice or sharing the knowledge.

So while you may want to follow Professor Liu's suggestion to find more approachable role models, you might get stumped when actually trying to find them.

Capture Your Flag is determined to change this. The people whose stories we capture in our short-form videos are not the experts in their field - they are probably a lot like you, but perhaps one to two steps ahead in their career and their lives. These interviews collectively form a reference library you can use to learn from and turn to at any time. Consider it your virtual mentor network and know that we will bring back our interviewees year after year so we can support you on your journey. 

- Erik


How Do You Establish Trust When Building Relationships?

"How Do You Establish Trust When Building Relationships?"

Since early 2009, I have been asking 60+ Capture Your Flag interviewees questions just like this, gathering their answers and building up a library of knowledge. This knowledge library exists to support you on your own journey. The videos serve as reference material to help you compare and contrast your experiences to the experiences of other people just like you who may be a stage or two ahead of you in their career or in their lives. We call this a Near Peer Learning experience. This experience is about trust and to begin, you need to answer the question yourself.

How do YOU establish trust when building relationships?

Creating, managing and cultivating relationships - both personal and professional - is a fundamental theme of the conversations I have with our Capture Your Flag interviewees. At all levels, from meeting someone romantically to finding the right person to hire for your company to building that bond that will take your partnership or friendship to new levels, our conversations always seem to come back to trust and what it means to build trusting relationships.

Do you see trust as something that is earned over time, that can be assessed and given in an initial encounter, or that should be assumed at the onset of a conversation or relationship? Do you treat it differently for family, friends and/or colleagues or are you consistent in your approach?

It is clear that trust can develop in many ways.

In asking dozens of Capture Your Flag interviewees this exact question, we have learned a tremendous amount about ways to think about and go about establishing trust when building relationships. Since trust is such an important element in relationships, it is my hope you will find it useful turning to the knowledge library for relevant content on establishing trust. One example I would like to share with you in this post comes from Professor Ben Hallen.

Ben Hallen is an Assistant Professor at London Business School where he teaches entrepreneurship and strategy. His research focuses on how relationships develop between investors and startup founders. Through extensive research, Hallen has developed insight on how trust develops between two parties, which goes far beyond business and right to the heart of every relationship we know in our lives.

In his response, Hallen covers four ways to establish trust.


Hallen notes "[If] I were to give you the textbook answer, trust develops historically over time. That’s one way, through repeat interactions, escalating interaction, where each person opens themself up a little bit and the other person opens themself up more. Each contributes a growing amount. It builds slowly - you do put yourself out there, you have to put yourself out there - but it’s through ongoing interactions that trust then really develops over time. So it’s not something you necessarily want to try to rush, but you do want to put yourself in the positions that trust can develop."


Hallen then shares that "[another] way that trust can develop is through signals where you have a reason to believe that the other person is credible, or trust can be transferred through a third party." Signaling often comes about when two parties see there is both a competency to contribute to a trusting relationship and a commitment to allowing that trusting relationship to exist over a mutually acceptable period of time.


In describing his third method of developing trust, Hallen notes "At a very personal level, when I try and develop trust, I think its root is sincerity, that you’re very open, transparent, about what you’re looking for, and you couple that transparency with looking to add value. How can you add value to someone else? You make it more about them first, and so there has to be a real sincerity about looking to build up someone else and to work with them. You know, how can I create value?"


Lastly, Hallen takes his personal point of view one step further, saying "I don’t think it arises from the goal of creating trust but I think it does help with that process, believing that others are worth knowing, just for the very sake of knowing others, that there’s something inherently valuable and important about that."

We found this point of view from Professor Hallen helpful and insightful and hope you found it helpful and insightful too. 

For more videos from our Establishing Trust series, including all answer to this question and more, please visit the Establishing Trust theme page on our website or our YouTube Page Establishing Trust Video Playlist.

- Erik



To What Do You Aspire?

"To what do you aspire?"

This is a fundamental question I ask my interviewees and it seems apropos to be the first question I ask you.

To what. Do you. Aspire?

It's a big question. It's no softball, to lead things off and get you warmed up. And in that answer is not the answer but rather an establishing point that can unlock wave after wave of follow-up questions to understand how past, present and future come together and form, well, your wonderful story. 

The larger context is about story and that aspiration question really kickstarts the conversation. 

To what do you aspire?

It's not about trying to best the other answers. If it were, then I never would have chosen to interview up-and-coming professionals or to ask you. Instead, I would have gone "Full Charlie" (Charlie Rose style) and asked world leaders, industry titans, and celebrities about their aspirations. 

And they would have reflected back or told me about future plans that, frankly, any normal person like you or me would have a difficult time embracing or even understanding. Hello, Mr. Bill Gates. Hello, Mr. Warren Buffett. 

But a Capture Your Flag story is a story that is a bit more approachable because we have so much in common with it. Let's take Shaheen Wirk as an example. As we have seen in our videos since 2009, Shaheen is working his way to find meaning in life and focus in career while managing all the moving pieces life presents - from deepening personal relationships to pursuing cultural enrichment to developing professionally to making a greater difference in the community. Shaheen's story is the Capture Your Flag story. As is the Matt Curtis story. The Clara Soh story. The Slava Rubin story. The Audrey Parker French story. 

It is your story. 

To what do you aspire?

Do you aspire to be a loving parent? Is your answer tied to securing resources - financial, intellectual, relational - that allow you to be happier, safer, smarter? To be more powerful? To be more respected? To be more loved? To be more charitable?

Perhaps you see eye to eye with Ross Floate and aspire to be a good person. Or else you share common ground with Garren Katz or Ramsey Pryor and aspire to live up to your potential. It may be that you identify most with serving others, such as Jullien Gordon or else you find yourself setting an aspiration to find that purpose a la Gabrielle Lamourelle that will allow you to make the greatest difference. Like Professor Ben Hallen, you may aspire to create an impact as a teacher or, like Idan Cohen aspire to leave a legacy for future generations. Your aspiration may match that of Julie Hession where you aspire to find a career where you use your passion every day.

There are so many possibilities! 

Since starting Capture Your Flag in 2009, I've had the pleasure of a lifetime to be able to sit down with these interviewees each year and talk to them about how the decisions they are making and the experiences they are having shape how they plan, pursue, and achieve life and career aspirations. 

In that time, through research, experimentation and testing, I have honed my approach to take the answers to the aspiration question and build it into a sharable methodology or model that you can use to “capture your flag” in your life and career.

To what do I aspire? 

I aspire to help you live a richer and more rewarding life, not by providing advice from celebrities and experts, but rather sharing real stories from real people living their lives as best as they can. In this blog, I'll ask you questions and provide you with a very detailed set of comparable experiences via our videos.

This instructional model (which we’ve termed Near Peer Learning) presents you with stories from people very similar to you, going through many of the same challenges as you, and brings you their evolving story year after year, so you have a virtual mentor resource rich with examples to support you on your journey.

This week you are going to see many people. Your children. Your spouse. Your parents. Your friends. A neighbor. A colleague. Your spiritual leader. Ask them the question: "To What Do You Aspire?" and start a conversation around what it means to “capture your flag.”  

- Erik


RISE Entrepreneurship Conference Video Presentation

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at the RISE Global Entrepreneurship Conference in Austin, Texas to discuss how knowledge video and near-peer learning could be a powerful career education frameworks for next-generation career development.  I believe Capture Your Flag’s mission –  interviewing tomorrow’s leaders today to provide a more approachable means for young professionals to develop aspirational careers – is aligned to not only the entrepreneurial journey but also to any meaningful or purposeful career plan.

Watch the 10-minute video presentation to learn more about why I created Capture Your Flag and how the learning model is enabling knowledge video and near peer aspirational career development and educational experiences.

Thank you so much for your continued support and participation in the Capture Your Flag journey! 

- Erik Michielsen



"On Establishing Trust" by Erik Michielsen 

In assessing, naming, and aggregating roughly 100 common character shaping elements across Capture Your Flag rising leader experiences, “Establishing Trust” seems an appropriate topic to begin sharing my thoughts with you in 2010.

We are motivated and supported by those around us.  Trusting relationships offer clarity and openness that lead us to act more sincerely and receive more honest feedback when making decisions.  Clarity removes obstructions.  Without obstructions, we each can then use the tools necessary to inform, make, and follow-through on our decisions.


When I polled several friends about what matters most in establishing trust, “Follow-Through” was most frequently cited.  Is it surprising that follow-through then creates the bonds with others that lift them in their own ways, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and professionally?  Certainly our many world religions and their underlying emphasis on faith will not think so.

What role does establishing trust play across the Capture Your Flag interviewees?  Childhood is a great place to begin.

Today, Jennifer Duberstein is an attorney for Major League Soccer in New York City.  Her path into professional sports started to take shape with a childhood embrace of sports – at age five she was reading the sports page – and an ongoing interest in how sports enriches society and community.  Jennifer shares the importance of building trust through the teamwork, group preparation, project settings, and shared goals playing sports provides participants.  As a result, participants learn how to better communicate and manage relationships in different settings. 

As a teacher for Teach for America in New York City’s Bronx borough, interviewee Andy Epstein shared how his experience building trusting relationships with young children in a classroom setting facilitated a better collective learning experience.  Like Duberstein, Epstein mentions practice – repetition – in creating open sharing environments.  Listening to students, asking them questions, and engaging them daily not only proved effective teaching, it also proved personally gratifying.  


Interviewee and “Start With Why” author Simon Sinek said it well in our conversation connecting authenticity to trust when he shared, “What authenticity means is the things you say and things you do you actually believe.  We are social animals and trust comes from the feeling we have when you get a sense of somebody.”  He continues, “We are good at figuring people out.  It is what makes us successful as a species.   So when you are authentic, when you only say and do the things you actually believe, people will trust you.” 

Stand-up comedian Matt Ruby shares Simon’s approach and has learned to embrace it while developing his career as a comedian.  Several years performing stand-up five nights a week has taught Ruby the importance of being unscripted, spontaneous, and in-flow with the audience.  This openness invites interaction between the comedian and the audience, not only creating conversation and engagement but also, as a result, creating trust between the parties.  The support boosts Ruby’s willingness to explore new topics and fail if necessary.  The crowd’s trust provides Ruby the extra rope to extend himself, not hang himself. 

What about giving that extra rope to a 19-year old kid you have hired to reprogram your entire business’ website?  At age 19, Joe Stump had this opportunity not once but twice.  The first experience involved completely redesigning the website for Affordable Computers (www.acinc.com).  The second opportunity situated Stump squarely in the middle of big time Silicon Valley Internet life at Care 2 (www.care2.com).  Establishing trust in relationships often involves a comforting feeling, a shared acceptance.  It also means taking chances by supporting a Joe Stump or a Matt Ruby and seeing what they can do.  Stump undoubtedly had the education and training to program at high levels. The trust instilled upon him by company management opened the longer-term doorways for Stump to apply that aptitude as a leader.  

Establishing trusting relationships pushes us to stretch farther when setting goals.  Real estate developer Brett Goldman has spent nearly a decade at Triangle Equities in New York City learning from his boss about the marketplace.  Goldman has been entrusted with more responsibilities, become more confident in his actions, and as a result created more trusting bonds with partners and clients. 

Before a shared experience can occur, pieces must be put in place to enable a connection.  For Jennifer Duberstein, this meant joining a team.  For social media and Carrot Creative co-founder expert Mike Germano, this means joining a social network and communicating through that medium.

In our interview, Germano provides insight into how trust is not earned by simply connecting with another person, but the ability to learn more about another’s interests, connect with those commonalities, and build trusted bonds through them.  Openly providing information about oneself not only puts others at ease in that you want to participate, but also it provides the necessary pieces to make a connection. 


It is apropos that in my first note writing about what Capture Your Flag interviewees have shared about building trust, I should reference our very first interviewee, James McCormick, and our March 26th, 2009 conversation about how he, as a legal career advisor with Empire Search Partners, builds trust in his relationships.   

In addition to being honest and engaged, McCormick shares the importance of effort and time in developing trusting relationships.  A long-term focus when building connections goes a long way to enjoying and embracing the incremental steps that make for fulfilling relationships regardless of their origin. 

Understanding how interviews use and apply common themes, including "Establishing Trust" to connect passions to purpose and shape a sense of fulfillment is an ongoing goal to which Capture Your Flag aspires.  I look forward to hearing from you and continuing progress toward bringing out the best in interviewees and learning from experiences, individual and collective.

*** For a complete list of all "Establishing Trust" chapters, click HERE ***

- Erik