Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Hidden Benefits Of Getting Away From The Office

A few months ago, Ken White, who has been involved with MIT Sloan Alumni Career Services ever since I met him some 10+ years ago, called and asked if I would be on a panel that he was putting together for this year's reunion.

When I asked him what the topic was he said networking. When I asked who else was to be on the panel he said it would be Lawler Kang, who had just published a book Passion at Work : How to Find Work You Love and Live the Time of Your Life and Ian Ybarra (an MIT grad) who works with Keith Ferrazzi the author of the current best seller Never Eat Alone (you have to love the title!)

The event was in Boston which isn't all that far from my home in Rhode Island, and since it was to be held on a Friday, I thought it would be a great way to be able to spend some extra time at home since I would have to come up from our offices in Connecticut beforehand.

When I asked Ken why would he want me sandwiched between two books, he said that since we had been in the networking world for close to 20 years he thought I might bring a different perspective (translation: feedback from the real world?)

So I thought, why not, and besides, I thought it was pretty neat that the school was offering a program like this to returning alums since so many alumni offices are under such stress from a workload they are usually no where near staffed to meet or funded to deliver.

By the time I got back to Rhode Island after experiencing my first (and I hope my last) homeward commute from Cambridge at the absolute zenith of a Friday Boston rush hour (and if ever there was an oxymoron it's "rush hour") I had had more than enough time to reflect on the day's program. All in all it felt pretty good, and I enjoyed listening to what my fellow panelists had to say as well as the time we had to dialogue with our audience.

One of the really beneficial things of getting out of the office and participating in events such as this one is that you get to hear how different people can focus on the same subject but the way in which they communicate it helps to drive home the point with a sense of clarity that had not come through before. In short, you learn from each other.

Case in point was when I was trying to help people relate to the kind of relationship that's necessary when it comes to effective networking. The example I used was asking people to visualize a scene that we all have experienced time and time again. It was: when you get back from lunch and you have a stack of "while you were out" slips and a ton of email that just piled up, but you have a meeting in ten minutes...Whose message do you always return and whose do you put off until later?

After the formal program, a number of participants told me that this particular example helped them to "get it" - it was a nice feeling.

For my part, when Ian was talking, one of the key points he made was around the word "generosity". His coming at the same idea but from this angle, helped me to recall that while there were other reasons as well, one of the key motivations
that made me pick "the" call I was going to return was that it came from someone who at some time (and often more than once) had done something for me for no other reason than they were generous with their time, experience, or information, and the time that had passed between contact with each other was irrelevant.

Said differently, “People do not remember what you say or what you do, over the years, but they never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

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