Start measuring the value of your contacts with one key question: Do they challenge how you think?
Business and personal success is all about making the right connections--new colleagues, employees, customers, friends, and partners--and finding the people who will lead you to new opportunities. But for many, it's more about volume than true connection.
We live in a world that is increasingly focused on making and managing connections, and most of us have bought into this notion hook, line, and sinker. As a result, we race to the next networking event where we hand out as many business cards as we can, work overtime to add to our LinkedIn contacts, and create semi-remarkable Twitter feeds in the hope of gaining a massive following.
But according to author and business consultant Alan Gregerman, most of us are going about connecting in the wrong way, based on the wrong model. In his new book "The Necessity of Strangers" he suggests that our real objective should be to connect with, learn from, and build real relationships with people who are very different than us and could challenge us to stretch our thinking.
"We don't need or benefit from having a lot of superficial relationships," Gregerman says. "And most, if not all of our closest connections are people who are a lot like us. Of course friends, relatives, and acquaintances are important, but in business they can only get us so far. To reach our full potential we need to create meaningful connections with a much broader palette of folks who see things differently than we do, ask very different questions, imagine very different possibilities, and challenge us to rethink the way we do the things that matter most."
Here are Gregerman's suggestions for making connections to challenge your status quo:
1. Acknowledge that you need to continually deliver greater value to customers. Also recognize that you don't have all the answers. In fact, you probably have a relatively limited view of your business, its key challenges, and its real potential.
2. Be honest about your biggest challenges and create a culture of curiosity and openness. Encourage your team to ask questions and to regularly go beyond their own walls and knowledge for new and better answers.
3. Make time to search for new ideas and inspiration. Ask your employees and colleagues to leave the office periodically to visit organizations in different industries and are remarkable in some important way. Then seek to build new and meaningful connections with people in those organizations who know something important that you don't know.
4. The world is filled with genius that can be leveraged to improve your business. Visit science and history museums to discover important breakthroughs; go to art galleries and connect with artists to understand how they approach problems and opportunities; participate in the life of bustling neighborhoods to explore what it takes to create energy and enthusiasm; attend lectures on topics far afield from your work; and even go to performances to gain new insights on collaboration and innovation.
5. Make a deliberate effort to connect with strangers from different walks of lifeand invite them to visit your company and share their ideas. Then challenge yourself and your colleagues to imagine how their thinking and perspectives might provide a new framework for looking at your world.
6. Be open to serendipity and the potential of random connections. Put yourself in places where you can meet new people and start meaningful conversations--in a park at lunch time, at the airport, waiting in line at the theatre, or anyplace else. Ask a stranger for directions or a recommendation. Offer to be helpful to someone on the street. Say "hello" and begin a conversation.
7. Make sure that all of your colleagues take the time to hang out with and build closer personal and working relationships with each other. In the process you'll create a powerful culture of conversation in which you inspire everyone to be more innovative together.
"We've all been taught to believe that it is who we know that matters," says Gregerman. "That's simply too narrow a worldview. It's who we could know that matters more. The future belongs to the most curious people on the planet--those who are willing to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with strangers."
MARLA TABAKA is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness. @MarlaTabaka