My years in business have taught me that relationships pay. To reap those dividends, you first need to find the right people and invest in making connections. Daily life is full of opportunities to connect. It starts with taking out our earbuds and actually interacting with people.
The formula for connection has a simple foundation: be open and express genuine interest in other people. Waiting in line at the grocery store checkout, sitting next to somebody in a cafe, or just bumping into another pedestrian on the street, are all chances to meet people who could enrich our lives. Usually it goes nowhere, but sometimes we have a chance at friends, deals, or even a mate. All that depends on saying yes to random encounters with other people.
Sadly, it’s never been easier to shut people out. Whenever I go out in public, I’m struck by how many people are walking around in a tech cocoon. Earbuds, phone screens, and people’s general vibe too often say leave me alone. If that’s how you present yourself to the world, you are guaranteed to miss out on business opportunities as well as the richness of life. Your perfect spouse or business partner will simply pass you by.
I once sat next to a real estate broker on a plane trip. In my line of business, I’m always looking to develop strong relationships with brokers. They can steer great deals my way, and when there’s a good fit, I can pull together finances and help them close a deal quickly. Meeting this guy on a plane seemed like great luck for us both, but once we were wheels-up, he just put on his earphones and watched a movie. Those hours sitting together were a golden opportunity, wasted.
There’s probably a generational divide at work here. Business culture increasingly emphasizes “networking” events, connecting through technology, and using time efficiently. Efficiency has clear advantages, but you include the costs, it doesn’t always create long term value.
For example, phone calls are cheap, easy, and sufficient for negotiating most deals, but face-to-face meetings create a lot of relationship capital that pays off in the long term. That’s why I regularly fly all over the country to meet with partners. We can get to know each other, take each other’s measure, and build the kind of deeper trust that only pays off over time. It’s not efficient, but it’s definitely effective.
If I have any advice for younger professionals, it’s to carefully cultivate relationships. Seek out connections with other people, and build on those connections patiently, over time. Don’t let a comfortable technology cocoon stand between you and opportunity.