Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of our core conversation, “Great Connections Lead to Great Ideas.” In our last contribution, Jen Louden shared three things that prevent us from having great conversations. In this post, Les McKeown speaks candidly about how networking doesn’t work for him, being an introvert, and instead gives the introvert’s guide to making great connections. I particularly enjoyed the alternative perspective, and I hope you do, too.
A few things I’ve learned about making great connections. Your mileage will most certainly vary:
People will tell you that meeting and mixing with others – networking, hanging out, socializing, tribe-building, whatever you want to call it – is a vital part of the path to… something. Greatness, maybe, or creativity. Perhaps just contentedness.
Honestly, I haven’t found that to be so. In fact, I find most of the connect-y, conference-circuit-y, business-socializing stuff to be vacuous, painfully false and a waste of time.
Full disclosure: I’m an introvert. I don’t like being in crowds, and I haven’t been able to sit through a complete workshop or seminar since my mid-twenties (an incredibly long time ago), so I’m not the best person to ask about this. But since you did ask (well, Charlie asked on your behalf), here’re a few thoughts on how, given the aversions noted above, connecting with others works for me:
Great ideas rarely come directly from great conversations
When I have an incredible conversation with someone else – one of those sparks-flying, truly bonding, mind-enlarging idea-fests where we each build on each other’s insights, filling napkins with grand plans and changing the world as we know it, the ideas that arise as a direct result – at least in my experience – rarely stand the test of sunlight.
There are exceptions of course, but more often than not what seemed like a great idea the night before usually collapses like an over-heated soufflé the moment I try to implement it – or, after a honeymoon period turns into a grinding, joyless, profitless venture that I wonder how I got myself into.
Great ideas come instead from what great conversations do to us
Any time I have truly benefited from knowing someone, or even just interacting with them, it has come not from the great ideas we sparked in each other (though that may sometimes happen), but from a real change they ignited within me: an encouragement to be more of who I am, say, or a silent rebuke to my cowardices; a glimpse of the depth that I want to attain, or the freedom to laugh at myself.
It’s those changes – the enlarging of my own ‘footprint’, the ability to be more of myself because of the influences, large and small, of others, that has in turn enabled me to be more creative – in my own way, and without needing (I hope) to piggy back or emulate others.
Great conversations don’t turn up on your schedule or follow your plans
I gave up bringing business cards to events years ago (unless it’s an event I’m being paid to attend), and I long ago stopped pressuring myself to meet, well… anyone. I no longer seek out specific connections or conversations because I’ve learned over the years that I can be stunned by complete strangers, and bored out of my socks by household-name superstars. And vice versa.
I prefer to be surprised by serendipity than disappointed by my imperfect plans. (click to tweet – thanks!)
Truly great conversations happen when I’m relaxed, open, and have no agenda
When I wind myself into a knot and try to ‘make’ a connection with someone I’ve been told it’s important I meet, it almost always turns to dust in my hand. When I drop all the trying, the effort and planning, I meet someone I’ve never heard of who blows my mind.
You don’t need to leave a mark
I see a lot of people trying to make ‘important’ connections who seem to think that the ‘important’ part is that the other person should acknowledge, remember or otherwise take them under their notice. I understand this. But it’s ultimately irrelevant. Three of the five people who have most influenced me almost certainly don’t know they’ve done so, and I’d guess it’s the same is for you.
So if you find the drumbeat to attend every event and make the most of every interaction to be artificial and manipulative, try the introvert’s way: just turn up (or don’t – great conversations are as likely to turn up at your local Starbucks as at the next ‘must-attend’ conference), be yourself, listen, engage (or not – sometimes listening is quite enough) and leave. Works for me.
More about Les: Les McKeown is the President & CEO of Predictable Success. He has has started over 40 companies in his own right, and he advises CEOs and senior leaders of organizations on how to achieve scalable, sustainable growth. His clients range from large family-owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies, and include Harvard University, American Express, T-Mobile, United Technologies, Pella Corporation, The US Army, Microsoft and the NSA.
Based in Marblehead MA, Les now spends his time consulting, writing, teaching, and speaking. Les has appeared on CNN, ABC, BBC, Inc, Entrepreneur magazine, USA Today and The New York Times. His latest book is Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On The Growth Track–and Keeping It There.