The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), by Seth Godin. Pub 2007
I was led to this brief book via this article. I'm dealing with some team issues at work (people leaving), and I am struggling to understand the choices that people are making. I wasn't (seriously) looking at quitting myself, but to make sense of why others were. The article didn't really help with that, but I was intrigued by the idea that smart people can realistically rationalize quitting, so I picked up this book. I'd read a few blog posts and articles (mostly in Fast Company) by Seth Godin, and a few books by the illustrator Hugh McLeod, so I was expecting something pretty good, if not great. Sadly, I was disappointed.
Scenario: you're at a conference event, and you find yourself seated next to someone you don't know. You introduce yourself and go through the usual back and forth. "What do you do?", "How long have you been with the company?", "Where did you go to school?" And then...awkward silence.
At this point, the default actions are a) turn to someone else and repeat the exercise, b) take out your phone to check your messages (or send out a distress signal), or c) pretend to see someone you do know and move. None of these are great, or effective networking.
Often when we're first introduced to someone, the standard questions seem like the important pieces of information we'll need to know or remember (even if we probably won't). They seem informative and safe, likely because they are the questions we're prepared to answer ourselves. They are the verbal equivalent of exchanging LinkedIn profiles, and don't tell us much more than the statistics of our new contact. They are also (likely) not very memorable, and so a few hours or weeks later when we meet the same person, we may struggle with remembering those mundane details.
Behold a solution. This great little primer on networking and starting a meaningful conversation with a new contact. These outside-the-box suggestions for questions work because they are NOT mundane. You can start with the softball ordinary ones but adding a few of these to your roster will help when the normal pleasantries don't succeed in breaking the ice, or when you need to occupy some additional time.
I especially like, "What are you looking forward to?" This open-ended, forward-looking question can be interpreted as being about the conference event you're at, individual work goals, or life in general, so can open up a lot of areas of dialogue and give you some insight into someone's focus and priorities. Similarly, “What excites you right now?” can fulfill a similar purpose.
While I’m supportive of this approach to unusual questions, I would be wary about getting too personal too quickly. “What do you do for fun?” can sound a bit like a pick-up line rather than a work-appropriate conversation, and “Who’s your favourite superhero?” might be seen as flippant or juvenile, depending on the venue and audience (whom you don’t yet know well or at all). Maybe save these ones for a follow-up meeting.
As always, you should be prepared to answer the same question back, so think about how you will answer these if asked. You don’t have to have a speech memorized but do give some thought to what you might say. Remember that conversations always have two sides, so you should expect to participate beyond asking interesting questions.
Because you won't always be able to start with, "I love your hat!"
One of the steps to achieving a purposeful network is to, well, network. A common opportunity is a networking event – usually a reception of some kind, with people mingling over finger food and hovering around a cash bar. Conferences almost always have one at the beginning of the event – a welcome reception where all attendees are encouraged to congregate and mix with their colleagues and meet new people.
For those with less-than-extroverted personalities or who are newish to their field, these events are daunting – a sea of people in loose conglomerations of familiarity, a noisy and (depending on how long the event has been open) boisterous crowd, an unwelcoming assemblage of mostly unfamiliar faces, perhaps even some famous folks. But look closely and you’ll also see kindreds – individuals with a plate or a drink, shyly moving around and outside the crowds, looking just like you feel: like they’d rather be anywhere else, thinking when can they reasonably leave.
One of the elements of purposeful networking I described in Part 1 was goal setting. When attending a networking event, make a plan and have some goals. Like any good project plan, these will enable to you spend your time at the event purposefully, and to know when you’re done. I applied this approach at a recent conference.
Before arriving, I prepared by making myself knowledgeable about the who and what of the event. For the who, I reviewed the list of attendees and made note of people I knew and people that I wanted to meet (always with the “give to get” principle in mind). Then I reviewed the agenda, and noted which events I was going to be attending and who the presenters were for those. I didn’t memorize these, but I was familiar enough with them that I felt I could remember names and connections.
For the networking event (officially, the welcome reception), my goals were to meet four people:
At the welcome reception, I was able to achieve all four of these objectives. Right away, I saw someone from my “home” and said hello and chatted briefly about travel to the conference, the accommodations, the sessions we were looking forward to, the status of some work we were both involved in, other people that we were anticipating seeing at the conference. Next, I saw some of the conference organizing team talking together; I knew a few of them, but not all, so at a break in the conversation I said hello to the people I knew, and was introduced to the others. I had different connections with these people – the conference but also shared activities like teaching and mentoring – so the talk was no longer small.
After a while, I moved on to mingle. I walked through the room and around the outside of the main tables and circles. There was a woman standing on her own; she had a hand-written name tag, which I knew meant she was a late-registrant. I went over to her and initially we talked about what we both were in that moment: wallflowers. Although I’d been actively connecting for the past 20 minutes, I was taking a break and found a like-minded person. Turned out, she had only recently moved to Canada and was exploring career options in our field. As luck would have it, I’d just been speaking with someone who was looking for resources in her field, and did she want to meet them? Yes, please! We moved through the crowd to where I’d been talking with connections new and old just a few minutes previously. I introduced my new connection to the one who was looking for resources, and was clear about why I thought they’d be interested in one another. We all chatted for a while, learning about each others backgrounds, experience, needs, and opinions, and established good connections. After a while, I excused myself, and after a few more minutes of mingling…I left. Mission accomplished, in 45 minutes.
Having written all this out, I realize that it sounds cold and predatory – targeting specific types of people to check-off a to-do list, and getting out as quickly as possible. But it is only the how, not the why. Having a plan and a list of goals is a tool to accomplishing purposeful networking, but you still need to ensure that the connections you make are real and meaningful, or they really don’t “count” as connections. And the goal is NOT be to get through this as quickly as possible, but to be efficient and comfortable – while this may not be fun, it shouldn’t be tortuous.
Some other tips:
All of this is active well-digging – building and maintaining your network, keeping it active, and giving it purpose.
In my next post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Network (v.): to join things in an informally interconnected association of persons.
When I was first exploring my newly identified strength as a connector, a connection told me about the book “Dig Your Well Before Your Thirsty.” While I didn’t find the book entirely engaging, the book title provided a useful mantra for networking, and over the past year I’ve been more consciously connecting and building and maintaining my network.
The act of networking typically causes negative feelings – fear, avoidance, revulsion. Indeed, the idea of meeting or connecting with people solely to have more people that you can say that you “know” is counter-intuitive to introverts, and can seem superficial and pointless to most people. Purposeful networking is about creating a true community, a lifelong resource where the connections are real, meaningful and mutually beneficial.
A purposeful network is not just a big network. A long list of connections on LinkedIn or Twitter is not a network – it’s a scrapbook. How many of those connections even remember when you met or how they know you? A true connection doesn’t have to be a friend, but it should be someone who remembers more than just your name; they should remember who you are and how you are part of their network. Because if they are part of your network, you are also part of theirs.
Purposeful networking ensures that you stay that way. Here are some ideas to help give your networking purpose and make your connections real:
Give to get – connections have to be based on mutual benefit. Even if the benefit for one person is more immediate and obvious (“please introduce me to your boss”), the other has to believe in the potential for a future benefit. So in your conversation, always be looking for opportunities to add value to them; the opportunities for yourself will naturally follow.
Set goals – typical networking events involve two things that most people (including me) loathe: mingling and small talk. While that feeling of dread as you enter the bustling room full of people at a conference never really goes away, setting some goals about who and how many connections you will meet gives you both something to focus on, and a natural “out” – once you’ve achieved your goals, you’re free to leave if you want to, mission accomplished. I did this at a recent conference, and it made the welcome reception both successful and manageable (in part 2 of this topic, I’ll list my goals and describe how I achieved them).
Quality over quantity – review your lists of contacts on social media, with a view to keeping it purposeful. Reconnect with some people that you’ve perhaps neglected, and delete people from the list that are no longer purposeful – for either you or them; if you can’t remember how you know them, they likely can’t either, so it’s time to go. You might think about applying Dunbar’s Number theory here, and consider this network to be the Acquaintance level (~500 people). I do this myself fairly regularly, on all of my social media platform.
Follow-up – once you’ve met someone who you can purposefully network with, follow-up with them. If you discussed something that they expressed an interest in, email them a link about that. If they mentioned something you’re interested in learning more about, email them to ask for more info. And especially if they invite you to email them, EMAIL THEM. You can also invite them to connect on a professional social media site such as LinkedIn.
Maintain the network – don’t be a stalker, but also don’t let a connection get too cold. You don’t have to email and connect with everyone all the time, but work to keep connections real and active. Especially for key contacts, make an appointment for yourself to reconnect with someone a few months down the road.
All of this networking, this well-digging, has a purpose: making sure you’re prepared for when you get thirsty. The network – and not the connections – is the well. Building and maintaining your network, even when you don’t need it, ensures that it’s there when you do. There’s a certain karmic element to this: you may not always get something from all of your connections, but if you are purposeful and consistent (“mindful” to use last year’s buzzword) you will get as much or more out of your network as you put in. And it is the network – not just the connections – that is the well.
Next post, I’ll go through an example of my networking experience at a recent conference. In a third post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Last month, a colleague was up for a new job. After searching for some time, they at last had an interview for a project manager-research administrator-type role with an organization that had never had a position dedicated to that work. The research team had grown sufficiently over the past few years that they were now considering it. My colleague asked for some input, as they were working to “justify” the idea of a dedicated project management position to the team. There was no clear job description yet, so they asked if I “could shed some more light on your day to day as a project manager.” Happy to.
Why have a project manager?
1. It’s required.
2. It makes good business sense.
There is an increasing requirement from institutions and funders for responsible conduct of research (RCR) – both doing it and demonstrating it. The traditional concerns of RCR cover ensuring that work is:
In addition, the efforts required to secure funding for research continue to increase, with ever-challenged public and private funding sources, more competition, and higher standards for awards, as well as the en vogue requirement for matching funding or co-funding of research.
All of these mean that the demands on research leaders extend well beyond the conduct of research to include the ongoing demonstration of responsible conduct, including in areas that are time-consuming and often outside their areas of expertise and interest. With the researcher's time being the most valuable strategic asset of a department or institution, maximizing their time and energy to focus on the science is essential.
While it is important that research leaders and scientists have a good understanding of research management principles, more important is to have resources and infrastructure, in the form of a project manager or research administrator or both, to assist and support them. People in these roles in an organization can both free up the researcher's valuable time and better ensure that the requirements of RCR are being met.
As a research project manager, my day-to-day work is in exactly these roles with the research leaders, enabling their focus on science while maintaining and demonstrating RCR. This includes:
I’ve heard the argument from researchers that spending money on these functions and positions takes money away from research. While that may be true, I refer you to my short list of reasons above. Funders now often require these functions to be performed, and many often require or at least allow some of the funding award to be used for project management personnel. By extension then, these funds are allocated to support the management work, and so research activities are not eligible expenses for them. Regardless, whether you allocate money from the budget for management, or you allocate a valuable research resource like a leader or a research associate, the requirements of RCR must be met, and so it is more efficient and effective to spend those dollars on the specialized resource of a project manager.
It is difficult for less senior researchers to have access to the funds to support these roles. This is where the power of collaboration comes in. Junior researchers can pool their limited resources to engage and share project management and research administration expertise. As their own portfolios grow, so too will the requirement for project management expertise but also their means to be able to support it, resulting in the development of an expanded resource pool for them and their colleagues.
So when asked, “why should we have a project manager or research administrator for our team?”, the answer is, “why wouldn’t you?”
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.