Despite the stack of books at my bedside, I hit a; “I have nothing to read” moment last week. In a surprising turn of practicality, I decided to explore the library in my own home. I landed on blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. What a pleasure to revisit. I expect to mine his fascinating research in future blogs (if you are married, read the relationship research on page 29/30 for a most excellent laugh) but for now, I want to connect his insights about the seemingly spontaneous workings of improvisational theater to the everyday networking events you and I attend.
In our networking workshops, Barbara and I talk a lot about how rule bound “networking” is. And how, once you understand the rules, it is so much easier to prepare for events, set realistic goals, enter and exit conversations, exchange business cards, create meaningful and actionable connections, and develop a system for follow-up. Like a physical sport or game, there are rules; and when you know them, use them, and reference them, networking becomes easier, more fun and way more effective. You can’t just show up anymore with your business cards and hope for good results. We are all way too busy for that.
It turns out that improv theater (spontaneous, unscripted and unexpected) is actually driven by strict rules that allow the actors to go live. There is no script. There is no storyline prepared, but, the actors understand two things. They must agree with everything presented by another actor and they must agree to move the action forward. They can’t stop the action, nor can they say “no.” Everyone abides by the rules. The troupe Gladwell interviews likens themselves to a basketball team. They train. They rehearse. They practice. They prepare for a fast paced, unexpected, intricate and high speed show. They never know what is coming, but they are prepared to make split-second, spontaneous decisions. Gladwell says, (in this example) “Spontaneity isn’t random…how good people’s decisions are under the fast-moving, high stress conditions of rapid cognition (blink!) is a function of training, rules and rehearsal.”
So, networking shares a lot with improv theater. We never know who we will meet, what conversation will ensue, who might attach themselves to us, or what the outcome will be, but when we understand our role, agree to the rules of the game and play our part, we get much better results. It is not random or chance, but to the unenlightened, it sure can look that way.
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