Making the Pivot: Meet Carmen, Deb & Whitney of the #BIF9 Summit

Carmen Medina, Deb Mills-Scofield, and Whitney Johnson share at least two things in common.

  1. For one, all three will take the stage at this year’s #BIF9 Summit hosted by the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI September 18-19th. (Talk about a package tour for innovation junkies.)
  2. Second, these women each played a significant role in personally ushering me (and countless others) to find my story and make the pivot, an unexpected call to action when I might have otherwise stuck my head in the ground.

If Obe-Wan Kenobe was casted a woman, these ladies would make Lucas proud. Allow me to introduce them to you:

Meet Carmina, Rebel at Work

CarmenI first met Carmen Medina in 2000 while working as a contractor in the Intelligence Community. Those were my career ladder rungs where “butts in seats” (profit) came before personal fulfillment (passion), landing me a project where, though grateful to be employed, I cared little for the work. I didn’t “fit” in, and this lack of congruence minimized my self worth, which was already in the dumps, magnified by the divorce I was going through at the time.

Carmen hovered close, not as a supervisor/superior, but as a mentor and friend who not only listened to my somewhat “radical” ideas but fearlessly went against the grain of group think whenever she suspected there a better way, however foreign to government norms. Carmen put my ideas and input on a level playing field with the others—which was huge, considering my subordinate rank and the hierarchical nature of the community wherein we worked. She gave me the time of day where others did not. Most significantly, Carmen encouraged me to keep the faith—not just in the project, or in the Intell Community at large, but in the journey I was on, however muddled and messy. My focus needn’t be about fitting in or being successful, but about learning along the way—a tough pill for this [then] corporate career ladder-climbing businesswoman to swallow.

Carmen credits her friend, Bob, for delivering this message to her. “Sometimes the ‘pivot’ isn’t a pivot, but a willingness to accept and soldier through.” We may find ourselves in a stressful life chapter, unsure or weary of the outcome. What matters is not what happens or whatever success we aim to claim at the finish, but our resolve to keep steady while walking to the other side, to learn to develop equanimity along the way.

A rebellious optimist, as her BIF6 story goes, Carmen gets it that heretics have to learn to live with discomfort, a natural consequence of their willingness to deviate from the norm and to break habits. Carmen just so happens to define innovation as “the opposite of habit,” so it’s only natural for her to be invited back to the BIF stage this year to share her insights from Rebels at Work, a community and collection of stories for “corporate rebels” to share experiences, insights and advice.

Meet Deb, Serial Mentor Extraordinaire

deb-mills-scofieldDeb Mills-Scofield and I first met on Twitter. Her influence and charm was magnetic, and I felt an immediate connection that was familiar and safe—like longtime friends (family, even) reunited long last.

When we met in person for the first time it was by way of a warm, lasting hug at BIF7. Deb asked questions with a curiosity that was nurturing, a “I want to understand you so I can help you” inquisitiveness, followed by the “here are the people I know that you need to know” to-do list for introductions and network expansion.

A serial mentor, Deb credits her “Other” orientation to the influence of many, but especially to her “mommy,” whom she affectionately references by this name today. (September marks five years since her mother’s passing.) A Holocaust survivor, Deb’s mother instilled an appreciation for that which cannot be taken away: knowledge, experience, and the stories that pull it all together. Material goods will come and go; learning stays.

For Deb, it’s always about nurturing others so we can learn, together.

“There’s ‘magic’ in what we learn at the BIF summit that is unique, unlike any other conference. BIF manages expectations in such a way that we arrive not to be seen, but on a level playing field. That’s the magic. And this goes back to the unique, intimate city where BIF is hosted, Providence, and the amazing staff that run BIF: no arrogance, just real down-to-Earth people.”

2013 will mark Deb’s first BIF experience on stage (versus taking her usual seat next to the bloggers). “I’m honored to share my story, and I think it’s cooler to arrive as a participant, whether you’re telling a story on stage or not,” she says, describing the summit as a humble, intimate version of TED without the hubris.

“BIF is very much about the ‘Thou’ and not the ‘I’. And—very important—the intent with which you arrive at the conference makes a difference with what you get out of it,” says Deb, who ascribes to Martin Buber’s I-Thou philosophy: we exist only in the way we encounter others.

“Is the world about me (I), where you inherently seek that which benefits you first? Or is the world about others (Thou, God)” – an outward perspective mindful of making the world better for everyone in it?

Many business leaders strive to create a legacy in the form of a lucrative company, intellectual property that lives on. Deb’s intellectual property is her network, and it’s open-source. “If I can share my network with others and inspire them to grow it for others, then I’ve lived well.”

Meet Whitney, the real-life Working Girl

whitney-johnsonI first met Whitney Johnson when she took the stage at the BIF7 Summit in the fall of 2011. Whitney shared some lessons learned from her own disruptive path, and the pain and reward that comes with the uncertainty of leaping into the unknown. “If it feels scary and lonely, you’re on the right track,” she said, assuredly, “…and you have no idea what will come next.” Then and there I thought the room went black with one spotlight shining on me alone. I felt terrified and validated all at once.

Several months after BIF, Whitney invited me to guest blog on her Dare, Dream, Do site. One brief and brilliant coaching call later, I found my story in its magnificent purity and simplicity.

Finding my story was significant, because the stories we tell about our past shape our vision of the future. And whether our (or other’s) expectation of the future is high or low, we live into it.

This is true for Whitney’s own life-changing pivots, where others believed in and cheered on her greatness – from Smith-Barney, where she ascended from “Working Girl” secretary to investment banker; to Merrill Lynch, where she learned to appreciate her innate capacity to think across disciplines – music, finance, spreadsheets, and more.

“Everyone needs a cheerleader to tell you you’re awesome… And, there’s a reputational risk when that cheerleader applauds you in a public forum. You simply have to live into—not just up to—that expectation,” she explained.

Whitney has had many cheerleaders along the way, from past bosses, to her coach, to Saul Kaplan (BIF founder), all who inspired her to take the dare—to dream and do. She is especially thankful for the encouragement she receives from her husband, whose belief in her instills a confidence to make things happen.

“When I think about my own experience on Wall Street, and then talk to other women, I’m stunned by how few of them have dreams—or worse, they do not think it their privilege to dream. It is everyone’s privilege to have a dream.”

Whitney doesn’t see her role as speaker and coach as giving back or paying it forward. Her motivating force comes from within; it’s how she connects to others and to the world.

“When I can encourage people to name themselves, to dream, then I feel connected. ‘I want you to see you as you are so I can connect with you.’ I do this because I have to.”

Carmen, Deb and Whitney will be among 30 storytellers and over 400 innovators, troublemakers, entrepreneurs, inventors and transformation artists making the pivot at the #BIF9 Summit this September 18 and 19. Now in its ninth year, the BIF Summit has earned its reputation as “one of the top 7 places to watch great minds in action” (according to Mashable). Join us in Providence for two days of unforgettable stories that connect, inspire and transform.

Comments 1

  1. Hi Jen,

    What an amazing great introduction to these wonderful people you have been blessed with in your life.
    Seldom did I feel more resonance with my desire to have such people around as well to help me through my dark period these days.

    I still consider it a great honour to have met you and Tony in Nepal back in 2009 in the villages, during the conference, in the Chitwan area.

    kind greetings and warm hug,

    Jan
    Belgium

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