A blog by James Pickles
Last week I had lunch with a stranger. It wasn’t date, it wasn’t quite social and it wasn’t a meeting. He’d seen and liked a post or two of mine, and I liked his perspective so we connected.
For most of my adult life, meetings always had to have a point or objective in order for it to happen – this was far more true as soon as I had a client facing role and the higher I rose, the more true this became.
I had invited him to lunch just because I wanted to spend time with someone to hear their point of view and share mine on a mutually interesting topic. In short, we were networking, the definition of which is: the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
For the last 20 years or so, networking mainly meant something different for me – it was something I should do in order to meet the right contacts that might want to buy services I had to offer. It was important that I be clear on my offering and value and elevator pitches would be practiced for just that purpose. I would listen carefully to what they had to say and always be looking for an angle.
The value of the relationship and interaction therefore, was primarily (initially at least) based on what I had to offer and how good a prospect they were; ultimately determined by the value of a sale that came from it. The value of me in that context was the same and if it looked like no immediate sale might be forthcoming, I’d wonder how many introductions I might get from them that could lead to a sale.
All very mercenary sounding as I write it here, but I never really thought about it and anyway, it was relentlessly drilled into me by numerous training courses and internal meetings. As I write, I was at Quirks London yesterday, so I’m guessing anyone that planned to go to that, may have done some version of the above.
Anyway, back to the lunch….
We met, were honest about how we were and how our day/week was going which in itself was unusual and refreshing – usually I would have pretended I was living my hashtag best life and so would he.
We shared stories of climbing the corporate ladder, leading successful sales teams, smashing targets and also of being a bit broken by it all.
Of the many useful and interesting points made and shared was the idea that we had in the past we had defined our personal value by the results we had or hadn’t achieved.
Ever heard the sales maxim – you’re only as good as your last sale? Could easily change that to your last month/quarter/pitch/proposal/debrief/report.
How toxic is that? Your value derived by the last piece of work you did whose quality or magnitude was probably defined by someone else against an arbitrary scale…
What if you’d done a proposal or pitch that was your sistine chapel but unbeknown to you, you had only been invited to pitch to make up the numbers to fulfil a Procurement team’s legal obligation. What if you were pitching against an incumbent run by the CEO’s cousin’s beloved firstborn. What if you could never have won that pitch no matter what you did?
The calibre of your work, the effort and skill and sheer magnificence of it would all be deemed worthless and in the moment so would you.
I think now that I have far less agency over the impact of my work on others than I previously thought. It’s not up to me if they buy from me, appreciate my work, use it or find it useful.
It is, however, up to me to remember that my value as a person is not scored by the amount of pounds somebody may pay me for the work that I do.
I define my work, not the other way around and my work is a part of me – a part that is much smaller and more transitory than I previously gave it credit for.
All of that came from taking the time to meet a stranger only because it seemed a nice idea, not because I wanted anything from him. Sometimes it takes a stranger to help see things differently…