Out of Network (Issue 624)

In which we are reminded that setting goals or strategic direction helps us build our networks.

“Island casual” was the suggested dress code and there was no missing ME at the party. My just-slightly lighter than Kelly green shorts and my vigorously pink-and-blinding-white vertical striped cotton shirt stood out a bit….well, a lot….sort of like a lighthouse on a treeless coastal promontory ….amidst more the gentle colors and tropical prints worn by other guests. Island casual I was… but for a different island!

Well, never mind…. On the theory that, since there really was no missing me and I didn’t know anybody at the party except the host, I nestled into the crowd, introducing myself, learning peoples’ names and faces, collecting stories, figuring out relationships, and connecting dots.

While chatting with one couple, I heard another guest mention something about health care.  Since my wife is involved in health care, I sidled up to him to enliven that conversation.

“I heard you say ‘healthcare.’ Who do you work for,” I asked?  On hearing a familiar name, I said, “Oh, amazing. Great company! Do you know Bob Smith?”

“YES,” came the reply! “I work for Bob,” he said. “How do you know Bob?”

“Our wives are very good friends,” I replied.

So we talked about Bob for a while and then about my companion’s life story on fast forward. He’d been in the hotel business, the restaurant business, and now health care.

“A restaurant? Which one?”

I recognized the name. “Yes, “he said, “my wife and I started the restaurant and ran it for several years. The first of its kind in the city. But we got tired, so we closed it down to focus on catering and my wife is about to publish a cook book based on the experience and a new way of looking at cooking.”

“Really? I would love to meet your wife.” So, he introduced me to his wife, very energetic and funny, who, with the book finished, is focusing on consulting to small businesses on strategy and operations improvements… building on experiences in managing a government agency and running the restaurant. Interesting!  A bureaucrat turned well known restaurateur/chef turned author turned consultant. Fascinating!

Another person joined the conversation and, when the “strategy” discussion petered out, I learned that the newcomer is a lawyer, specializing in law for small and medium sized companies.

And on and on it went. The CEO of a relief agency.  An administrative assistant.  A money manager.  Two money managers. A senior leader in a community bank. A customer service rep with a passion for economics. A software company marketing manager. A guy in operations at a mutual fund company.  The president of a small high tech firm.

So now, the morning after: What to do with those conversations?  Which conversations were the most fascinating? With whom did I connect well?  With whom was there a shared personal interest or business interest to explore?  For whom could I do a favor?  To whom in my networks could I connect anyone? With which ones to set up a lunch?  With which to stay in touch by email? Which ones to remember with a smile and let go?

The more specific we are about where we want to go in life, the easier it is to make these decisions and build or nurture networks. While we sometimes meet people opportunistically (like the party last night) and sometimes with more specific intent (“Do you know So-and-So?  Would you introduce me?), a clear goal or sense of “where we want to go in life or in business” guides our listening; helps us filter, sort, and set networking priorities; and informs our post-introduction follow up.

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