I’ve always been pretty comfortable taking a go-it-alone approach to things. It allows me to do things my way and follow my own priorities.
But I’ve realized from looking back on my career that, too often, I missed an opportunity. I didn’t seize the moment to build community.
You might think I’m simply going into Networking 101 here. But it’s more than that. Anyone can show up at the Chamber of Commerce mixers or join the industry association group, and there’s absolutely value to doing that. But I’m talking more about seizing the opportunity when the chance to build community comes to you.
Consider the scenario in which one of your kids gets involved with scouting. You attend some of the meetings – maybe as a leader, maybe just as a parent. But you’re surrounded by all kinds of people you could be connecting with. Do you connect with them? You’re there anyway. Do you introduce yourself?
Or maybe you belong to a church. Do you walk in at the start of the service and walk out at the end of it? Or do you get involved with serving? And if you do that, do you make high-value connections with the people who serve alongside you? Do you find out what you can learn from those who are there?
I am certainly not suggesting you go to church to make business contacts. What I’m saying is, if you’re there anyway, why would you not take the opportunity to build community?
I used to find this very unnatural. I would go to events that were supposed to be for networking, but not get a lot out of it. And this is not because I’m a shy person. Far from it. But making contacts in this way seemed awkward and unappealing.
Then I realized that I could be seizing so many opportunities. Just about everywhere you go could be a chance to build community. It’s simply a matter of interacting with people and finding out who they are, what they do and what they know.
I started building community in places people never even thought of. Once, at an industry trade show, I spent considerable time interacting with competitors. Now you might ask, why would I do that? Aren’t you competing for customers? Sure, but you also find out from those conversations that we use a lot of the same suppliers, and there’s value in building community around that.
Of course, when you allow your competitors to learn from you, it might make them better. There’s nothing wrong with that. If your team is in a division where everyone is good, that’s good for business and good for fan interest. It also keeps you sharper because you know you have to be your best at all times.
I’m happy to have my competitors learn from me. And of course, I learn back.
One of the earliest lessons in this regard came more than 20 years ago, when I decided to take a course to become a certified Microsoft engineer. I invested a lot of money in this course, and I borrowed most of it. I had a lot riding on this.
It will sound funny today, but back in the late 1990s, the class got most excited by the introduction of concepts like the MP3 and the Winamp. Music you could download? Listen to without a CD? What?
When a student shared this discovery, we quickly became animated, and soon almost the entire class was sharing thoughts, ideas and insights. By the end of that class I’d learned more about Microsoft and engineering from those discussions shared among students than I had learned from any class session. And it was all because we built community. People got engaged with one another and turned the mere presentation of facts into a stimulating conversation.
This was a powerful moment of building community. It’s the principle of the hive mind, which recognizes that we all learn more when we learn together. I should have learned sooner to apply it to building my business. In recent years I’ve learned it and applied it well.
And remember, you don’t have to go out of your way to do this. You can build community in the normal course of your life. When I find myself in a space where I can see there is value to be found in community-building, I’ll go at it like a madman.
If you don’t have a natural or obvious situation for building community, there are things you can do. You can join entrepreneur groups, or mentoring organizations, or networking groups. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of this if you’re determined to build community.
But the key is to resolve to do it anywhere and everywhere you go. You can always interact with people, and you can always find value in doing that.
There’s so much value to building community, and so many ways to do it. Just don’t let too much time go by while you fail to realize the value of it.
Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors, West Michigan Scaling Up Coach