Monday, July 6, 2015

Curiosity, Curiosity, Curiosity

There's the old joke about the three most important qualities when buying a house -- location, location, location. In a similar manner, there are three qualities you must have to be successful as a networker -- curiosity, curiosity, curiosity.

I'm not talking about being curious about how the other person can help you, but rather a genuine interest and fascination with other people and how you can help them.This isn't easy for all of us. Those of us who more analytic or data-oriented in nature or have a personality preference that focuses on the bottom line can see other people's personality quirks and histories to be an irrelevant factor in achieving our ultimate goals.

It's not until you take a step back to look at the bigger picture that you can see your long-term success in life is largely dependent on the relationships you form over time. You can't form those connections without being curious about the people around you what they hope to achieve. Sometimes all you need to do is ask.
  • How did you start working at your company? What made you want to do that?
  • What are the challenges you and your company might be facing in the near future? How are you planning to deal with that?
  • What are you hoping to achieve? Who would you like to help? If everything goes as planned, what would be your legacy?
  • What are some of the goals you have outside your career? If you had one, what would be on your "bucket list"?
Curiosity may not have been so healthy for the proverbial cat, but without it, we're a nice house in the wrong part of town. Be interested. Be fascinated. Be curious.

Be a networking success.

What do you like to find out about those around you? Their sign? Their marital status? Their net worth?

Photo by Wiki Commons user Coelacan~commonswiki

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Electronic Squirrel

"Squirrel!" ~ Doug the Dog from "Up"

Our electronic distractions are all around us.

A young mother is in a restaurant with her three children. Her back is to them as she talks on her cell phone.

An extended group of family and friends is on the shuttle to airport parking. Each adult has their eyes glued to their cell phone screen.

I'm sitting next to my four-year-old daughter's bed as I rub her back, soothing her to sleep. In my other hand is my cell, showing me articles and updates on Facebook.

Please, understand. I am not a neo-Luddite curmudgeon lamenting the coming of the Internet as a harbinger of the end of days. I mean, I've been a computer programmer for over twenty years. You can't do that without some appreciation for technology and its many benefits.

That said, I'm beginning to be a little concerned for how technology has distracted us from what's important. I see it all the time. Parents on their phones instead of interacting with their children -- those same parent who will someday lament about how fast their baby grew up. Participants at my networking programs who pull out their cell phones at the first break -- those same people who complain their networking isn't paying off. Drivers texting while waiting in traffic -- those same drivers who might not make it home that night.

I'm certainly no innocent in this, but recently I've noticed how much I tend to check out electronically. I wonder, have I missed an opportunity to connect someone to success? Could that someone have been me?

When it comes to networking, we can't afford to let our attention be diverted by the electronic squirrels. The living, breathing, caring people who are there, right now, in person are the ones who deserve our focus. The call, email, or text, except in the rarest of circumstances, can afford to wait.

What do you think? Does our technology make us more or less connected? How can we make sure it works to our advantage?

Photo by Garry Knight

Monday, June 15, 2015

Your List of Little Things

It was Magic.

We recently took our daughters, Kaylie (7) and Abby (4) to Disney World for a short vacation. It was our second evening there and we were sitting on Main Street USA waiting for Mickey's Electrical Parade to begin. This is the nighttime parade with brightly lighted floats.

From our vantage, we could see things were moving at the end of the street and would soon reach us. A young castmember approached us and called out to our "princesses".

"Excuse me, ladies, but I was wondering if you could help me. The parade will be here soon and someone forgot to turn out the streetlights. Would you help me turn them out?"

Of course, the girls were more than happy to help. The young gentleman pulled out a sack of "pixie dust" -- Mickey-shaped confetti -- and poured a small amount into each girl's hand. He then told them to think happy thoughts, pass their hand over the dust several times, then on the count of three to throw it in the air. They made the motions and "One! Two! Three!" The dust flew up and, just like magic, the streetlights went dark.

For the price of a few pieces of confetti and a little bit of timing, that young man made sure that I will be visiting Disney on a regular basis for the rest of my life.

One of the loudest complaints I hear about networking and passing referrals is "I don't have time to find referrals for myself, let alone the people in my network!" Here's the thing, though, sometimes it's the little things, relatively cost free to us (in terms of time and effort) that can mean the most to our connections, given a little bit of timing.
  • Are they traveling someplace you've been before? Lend or give them the travel books you have gathering dust on your shelves.
  • Are they looking for new employees? Introduce them to the head of Career Services at the local community college
  • Are they looking for more clients? Send them that article that gave you the breakthrough in your own prospecting.
  • Are they looking for a nice restaurant for their anniversary? Tell them where you and your spouse went last. Oh, and tell them where the good seats are, too.
  • Are they feeling a little confused about their next steps? Lend an ear. Sometimes that's all it takes.
For most relationships, it's not the grand gestures that build the strongest connections. It's the little things.

What are some of the little things you've given to or received from your network? Join in the discussion below.

Photo by Flickr user HarshLight

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Riding the Roller Coaster

We whooped and hollered through the curves, screamed as we hurtled down the hills, and when we finally arrived back at the loading zone of Goofy's Barnstormer Ride at the Magic Kingdom, we all had huge grins on our faces.

Except for my four-year-old, Abby.

Please understand, I did not force her to ride on this ride. In fact, I suggested that maybe she would prefer to go on something else, but Big Sister was riding on it, so Abby was, too. As soon as we came to a stop, she looked up at me, not scared, but not happy either. With a wrinkled brow, as if she were trying to understand the secrets of the universe, she asked:

"Why did we do that?"

A lot of would-be networkers fall into this same trap. We start attending a group or a regular event. We have fun meeting new people and maybe even get some real benefit from the program. At the end of the day, though, we aren't getting the networking results that we've heard others have been able to achieve. Eventually we start to ask ourselves:

"Why am I doing this?"

What we need to remember is the group or the event are just a means to initiate connections. It gives us the opportunity to meet new people and potentially expand our network. They cannot, however, be the venue where we build the network from start to finish. That comes later, when we spend time and effort to build those connections, the same way we would any other successful relationship.

Abby may not have been sure of the reasons we were on that roller coaster, but if we want to be successful networkers, we'd better be certain why we're attending the event. Otherwise it was a nice lunch with strangers with nothing to show for the long term.

Who are you hoping to meet at your next networking opportunity?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tending the Fire

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
~ Albert Schweitzer

In my last post, we talked about the similarities between networking and starting a fire and how, like fire, networking requires a lot of work before you get to sit back and enjoy the results. The similarities don't stop there.

What happens if you "sit back" for too long?

Eventually the fire burns up all its fuel and begins to go out. The heat that felt so good before, now barely warms you. You try to move closer eking out the last gasps from the glowing embers, but eventually it will go cold. If you notice, you can throw another log on and it roars back to life, but depending on how long you've waited, you might have to go back to kindling and small sticks before you can build it back to roaring health.

Same thing happens in networking, and, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I've run into this myself lately.

You've built a great network and it begins to really pay off. The number of opportunities coming in keeps you busier than you can imagine. You don't mean to ignore your network, but you've got so much to do, you no longer have time to attend the events and groups you once did. You are sitting back (working hard) and "enjoying the warmth".

You might not notice for months, but if you don't "feed the fire", the jobs that used to be keeping you too busy are now drying up. If you catch it early enough, you can get back into your regular networking practice and the benefits will return in short order. If too much time has passed, you'll almost have to start over from scratch. You'll have to connect and reconnect with your network and live through the sometimes long dry period before your network begins to pay off again.

How do you avoid this? I'll admit that I'm still working on this one myself. The big thing seems to be to create a regular practice. Find ways to fit your networking into your schedule every day -- even if only for a few moments. Sending even one email on a consistent basis is better than leaving large gaps where no one hears from you at all.

Keep the fire burning, before it gets cold.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Starting the Fire

I'm constantly amazed at the number of relatively commonplace activities that mirror or point to important concepts of a good networking practice. Take campfires, for example.

A few times over the course of the summer, we'll have a little campfire in the backyard. The girls love it. We'll roast hot dogs, drink lemonade, and, of course, make s'mores. The center of the whole process, not surprisingly, is the fire.

What does that have to do with networking?

Well, just like networking, the fire requires a lot of effort at first -- effort which seemingly grants us little return on the investment. We've got to clear the fire pit, gather the wood, find kindling, build the fire, light the tinder, coax it and feed it and occasionally fan the little flames to encourage them to grow. Only then do we get a chance to sit back to enjoy the fruits of all this labor.

With networking we have to put in a lot of effort at first. We've got to find good venues for our networking, attend the events, meet new people, find those who we can help, meet for coffee, develop the relationship, and occasionally go out of our way to help those we've just met. Only after we've grown the network and served those around us, do we get a chance to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all this labor.

Those who don't understand this natural process tend to get frustrated that they aren't seeing the results they want from their networking. Of course, that's like getting frustrated that a stack of wood isn't giving off warmth. We've forgotten that we are the ones who have to provide the spark to get things going.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Waiting at the Airport

That is not my flight
I glanced at the information board over my gate. My flight time was now thirty minutes later than originally scheduled.

Mildly frustrating, but time to sit and think.

I can read a book. I can get some other activities done (like writing this post). I can even chat with the ticket agent, the baggage handler, and the TSA folks (it's a small airport). I know, even though there's a little delay now, sooner or later, my plane or another will arrive and I will be on my way back home.

Of course, if I discovered my flight was never going to come, I might be a lot more upset.

I think this is what causes a lot of frustration for new networkers. They attend the events. They go to coffee with their contacts. They might even ask for help. When the results don't appear when they expect them to (which usually means right away), they get upset and think that networking doesn't work.

The best thing to do is adopt the "waiting at the airport" mentality. Yes, the results aren't here right now, but -- assuming you keep pursuing your networking activities -- eventually the results will show up. In the meantime, read a book, get some work done, and make connections with those around you.

It's only a delay.