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Emails, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other digital solutions are great for information sharing but are killing innovation, collaboration, and efficiency in modern knowledge-based companies. It’s time to enter the era of meaningful conversation. I just rediscovered an old book that shows us how.
Just the other day I finished re-reading the New York Times bestseller, “Never eat alone,” written by Keith Ferrazzi. The book is basically a cookbook in achieving success by building and utilizing your personal network to get better jobs, more business, new opportunities, or whatever you crave in life.
The concept is simple: if you build a large personal network, the network will, over time, reward you with more opportunities in life. All you need is to plan your targets and execute your plan, and, of course, buy Mr. Ferrazzi’s book.
“Never eat alone” is about your personal success; re-reading the book made me realize that it also holds a hidden gem for the successful companies of the future. Most modern companies praise collaboration as the key to efficiency, innovation, and thus, business success. And in a world dominated by LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, and trillions of emails, networking with colleagues has never been easier. But I dare to challenge the idea that the quality of our network is getting better. I will actually bet you a nice dinner that the quality is, in fact, deteriorating.
Online networks are efficient and far reaching. However, the way we use them today primarily build us a tremendous amount of acquaintances – and very few real, value-creating relationships. Companies’ investments in new technologies help us to communicate more than ever before. But our ever-expanding networks are not necessarily benefitting us or our company.
And that’s when I realized why “Why I never eat alone” must again become a bestseller in the business community. The skills he teaches us are the ones we need to succeed in the network economy. Most importantly, the book explains the (soon lost?) art of starting and maintaining meaningful conversations with another person. Honest, open, meaningful conversations that go beyond the chitchat and the digital iron curtains separating us all.
So what’s the secret? First of all, you should invest in your relationships without expecting something in return. Make yourself available and interesting. Don’t fear small talk: it initiates real, meaningful conversations. And keep getting back to your relations frequently to let them know you are still “there,” thinking of them, even if you don’t have anything specific on your mind.
Another important element is sharing. Ask tons of questions to your relations to get to know them better on their own terms. Don’t be shy to share your own passions and thoughts. And always keep the many small promises we all tend to give during fruitful conversations (send that link, you were talking about or that contact that might be useful and so on…).
Quit the desk sandwich
But most importantly, you should never eat alone (hence the title of the book). Food has a unique ability to facilitate conversation. People are usually open, even eager, to be amused while eating. Sit with your colleagues from other departments at lunch. Take your visitors, network group, or business associates out to lunch. Buy a cake to share on your next departmental meeting so that you get some time to talk about other stuff than all the boring practicalities on the standard agenda.
If we all invest just half an hour a week following Mr. Ferrazzi’s simple advice, innovation will soar, the number of emails will diminish, and small challenges will never develop into big problems. Everything will be settled between friends with a short phone call or a quick lunch at the company canteen.
Half an hour a week is all I ask. It will save us all hours of work. So quit your planned sandwich while answering emails today and join me for lunch. Together, we will change the world!