When you are growing either your business or your career (and increasingly, the two are inextricably linked), it’s tempting to focus your time on activities that directly lead to either revenue or job opportunities. The Sirens of Dwindling Bandwidth and The Refrain of Anxious Spouses can easily drive you to flee exploratory, undefined activities, viewing them as luxuries you simply cannot afford.
But these open-ended activities are precisely the things you should be doing. In fact, the greater the degree of turmoil, flux and transition your company (or you) are in, the greater “allocation” you should make to pursuits that may not yield obvious outcomes at the outset.
This is because phases of transition bring ambiguity with them as part of the territory. You are creating a new market or product that doesn’t exist…or you are writing a job description for something you (nor anyone) has done before. Therefore, it’s time to create rather than transact. And creativity requires exploration of things – and people – who know what you don’t.
Specifically, this means you should be intentionally making (or taking) meetings with interesting people, even if you don’t know what will come of it. If someone has a good track record, an interesting background and good connections, something good is bound to come of it at some point (long-term thinking often liberates you to enjoy and explore more freely and authentically).
Some guidelines to increase your odds of making a non-specific agenda meeting effective:
- Be face-to-face. Email and even phone calls are limited in the amount of information that is exchanged. It’s amazing how much more you can glean over a cup of coffee, which by nature will reveal even the “small stuff” (like where the person just came from, where they got the fancy laptop bag, etc.) that can bring forth other connecting points. If you fear they may not meet with you if you lack a specific agenda, make one: come up with a few ideas of how you may help him / her out (or vice versa or both), and allocate a bit of time for this. But be sure to save some time for additional exploration that may yield something surprising and even better.
- Prepare. Not knowing the outcome does not equate not preparing. Research who you are meeting with: where did s/he go to school and work? Do you have mutual relationships or interests? Have they invested in something that you can provide assistance with or input on? Basically you increase your chances of connection by doing some groundwork. It’s fun if you embrace a curious approach.
- Ask questions. Some recent sage wisdom came from my current boss: “people perceive meetings where they are being asked (questions) as more valuable & memorable: Human nature is to help other humans.” So despite doing lots of research in advance (see above), your goal is not to demonstrate how much you know, but rather have them share all that THEY know. Not only will they enjoy and value the process, but it will help you uncover areas of collaboration (either now or in the future).
- Follow up. If someone is courteous enough to spend time with you, acknowledge it with a thank you note. Refer to something you discussed during your meeting to show you really paid attention and found the time to be valuable.
- Help them. To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki (whose Art of The Start‘s final chapter addresses “Being a Mensch“), the most enlightened people pay it forward without thinking about the payback. Because it is the right thing to do.
Meaning that all of this goes both ways: if someone wants to meet with you, do it. Follow all the steps above – still research them and ask them questions even when they ask you to meet. And if they need your help, help them. Because that is all part of mensch-hood, which is way more important than an exit or a bullet point on a resume.