The Sweet Spot of Shared Interests

Kare Anderson '71 has a seemingly paradoxical relationship with first-person pronouns.

On the plural side, the columnist, speaker, and leadership coach is an unabashed fan of "we" and "us." Her 2012 e-book, Moving from Me to We, extols the creative energy of collaboration. Her current book in progress has the working title Mutuality. She encourages her clients and audiences to seek out meaningful connections with others with whom it may at first seem they have no common ground. "Look sooner for the sweet spot of shared interests," Anderson counsels. "That's where sustainable accomplishment happens."

But until people are clear about what they have to offer in their own particular line of work, she says, they aren't ready to connect and create the synergy with others that generates new and fertile ideas. So the other half of Anderson's work is getting her clients to identify and honor the first-person singular, their individual "I" and "me"—the thoughts, talents, and goals they hold that are particular to them. Or, in today's communications lingo, their identifiable "brand."

"Be specific," she says. "That's when things come alive."

Anderson, 65, lives and works in the Bay Area. Her work with the Say It Better Center, which she cofounded, includes consulting, teaching, and working with companies and organizations ranging from Google and Siemens to eBay pioneer Jeff Skoll's social entrepreneurship nonprofit, the Skoll Foundation. She also collaborates with several small tech startups, "which I adore," she says, and writes columns for Forbes and the Huffington Post. She has spoken in 18 countries, attended a Toastmasters meeting at San Quentin State Prison, and counseled freshmen at Harvard University on how to network face-to-face, as opposed to using screens. In a March 2014 TedxBerkeley talk, she advised her audience to "shut up sooner. Shut up more. Say things so specifically that they will sink in."

Anderson's advice and tips don't come only from professional experience or common cultural assumptions. She draws inspiration and insight from behavioral science research as well as current authors and thought leaders, among them organizational psychologist and Wharton School professor of management Adam Grant, author of the 2012 bestseller Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, and Joe Calloway, author of Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison. She also borrows some tenets of Buddhism. "There's a thing in Buddhism that the more clear and specific we are about our top goal, the more we are able to pull synchronicity into our lives," she says. "The more vivid something is, the more able we are to step outside of ourselves and see others with less projection."

A self-described introvert, Anderson didn't aspire to be in the spotlight. After graduating from the UO's School of Journalism and Communication, she spent five years in London working for the Wall Street Journal. She then returned to the States and worked for NBC in San Francisco, where she won an Emmy in 1994 for a story that investigated issues with United Way fundraising techniques. Her turn toward public speaking was a matter of opportunity and timing—a friend who was scheduled to give a speech fell ill and asked her to fill in. Her topic was a precursor to what has become a major theme in her writing and coaching work: how people can accomplish more together than they can on their own. After that first talk, she says, the speaking gigs began to flow in.

Friend and colleague LaRae Quy, a leadership coach and author of Secrets of a Strong Mind, says she values Anderson for her ability to "reduce complex thoughts into simple, yet pithy, sentences." Today, Quy works mostly with faith-based women entrepreneurs and business leaders who are in transition or stalled in their careers. But years back, when she first met with Anderson, Quy hadn't yet identified the group she wanted to reach. During their meeting, Anderson pushed Quy to define her audience and refused to accept her broad answers.

"It was one of the most useful and constructive conversations I have ever had," Quy says. "She left me stunned. I didn't expect her to be so abrupt and to the point. I went home and started thinking about what I needed to do to carve a niche for myself."

Anderson's commitment both to clarity and to the creative potential that arises when people of differing backgrounds find a "sweet spot of mutual interest" has led her to be a matchmaker for some unusual pairings. Following her talk at San Quentin, she became friendly with an inmate who was later released. She asked him what being incarcerated had led him to value. He told her that after the barrenness of the prison, he relished looking at objects, such as statues, "that he could be drawn into."

Anderson detected a sweet spot of mutuality in the making. She knew an arts advocate in Los Angeles who was backing a proposed ordinance that would allocate a small percentage of funding for new public buildings toward artwork. Anderson introduced her friend to the former convict, and, despite their different backgrounds, the two quickly found their shared interest. They appeared together at the Disney Performing Arts Center and spoke in favor of the ordinance. She dazzled in Dior; he wore blue jeans given to him by his brother and a dark red shirt. "Contrast is everything," Anderson says. "You want as sharp a contrast as you can." The ordinance passed, and the former inmate found a job working in a chain of gyms owned by his collaborator's husband.

It's a combination Anderson swears by—unlikely allies who share common ground in a particular area. She is currently working with a group of lawyers who are trying to boost citizen and political support to close private prisons, in the United States and abroad, that indefinitely hold people accused of terrorism.

Anderson says her focus on connection and collaboration has led her to be less judgmental of others, and has allowed her to be more specific about the people she wants to surround herself with, both in work and in her personal life. "I have pulled in people who are pretty conscious about how they think," she says. "They make mistakes, but they don't make the same mistakes. They go on to make even better ones."

Her work has also taught her to be attuned to the magic that arises as a result of collaboration and shared focus. Recently, she says, she attended a concert by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. "There were 200 men of every shape, color, and size, all dressed in beautiful suits," she says. "They sang with warmth, connectivity, and talent. People were swaying and moving together. I got the shivers and started crying." Afterward, an audience member who had seen her weeping came up to her and grabbed her hands. "It's okay, honey," he told her. "We all get moved by this sometimes."

Anderson continues, "It was one of those numinous moments we remember all our lives. When people are showing their best talents together, it brings out a side we like seeing in each other."

By Alice Tallmadge