I’ve written about networking before. I believe it should feature in anyone’s job search, as a way to increase the likelihood of new opportunities coming your way. And it’s a great way to meet like-minded people since you won’t know if you really connect with someone until you have a chat with them.
But the idea of networking makes me squirm. It conjures up memories of awkward moments in conference happy hours, with everyone talking in twos or threes except me. I swear I go there in my nightmares.
It also gets a bad reputation. If done badly, it can come across as insincere. Especially if all you’re doing is trying to acquire people for your own means.
But I want to praise the other side of networking. That is, simply chatting with someone to feel a human connection.
When working from home, I believe it’s essential. We can feel so isolated behind our screens, assaulted with a barrage of enticing rabbit holes only a click away. There’s no water cooler moments or chit chat with colleagues over lunch either.
Meetings with colleagues are mostly functional too. We have an agenda and the desired outcome. We’ll ask how everyone is and give some a quick anecdote or two about the weekend and dive straight into the serious stuff. It’s a glimmer of connection but I’m often left wanting more.
So lately, I’ve been holding what I call serendipity chats. I send a message out via social media: “Who wants to connect?”. No agenda. We just chat.
To some people, it can feel quite weird. I had a call with one guy who DM’d me on Twitter and he started the call sheepishly telling me he’d never done this before and didn’t know how to “do” them. I told him I didn’t have an instruction manual. We just chat.
After 20+ serendipity chats over the last few months, I’d say the benefits are strong:
- I get better at explaining what I do or what my company does;
- I get feedback on an idea I’ve had recently and by explaining it, it gains more clarity in my mind;
- I get better at articulating my past experiences and get feedback on what resonates with different people;
- I observe what I feel comfortable talking about, which points to what I’m naturally good at;
- By bringing together two world views, we’re more likely to surface new insights.
While I’m on the call, I’ll always make a few notes as I go along – just a word here or there to remind me of what we talked about. And then when we’re done, I go back and use the prompts to capture more of what we discussed.
I like to think of these as the seedlings of ideas that have the potential to grow into mighty oak trees of persuasion.
If serendipity chats are not part of your idea factory then they should be. They’re a key part of my creative process and I always emerge brighter.