The Unconventional Business Skills &Tips Series: NEVER EAT ALONE

So I once spent a Friday night with a lot of incredibly smart, young people. The kind who know simple unlikely stuff like people like David O’Groats and that Sat Nav rhymes with Dat Rav. Look at that! It was a book club event and I had always romanticized the thought of belonging to one. Here was an amazing platform to connect with equally great professionals and build a sustainable nest of knowledge and experiences all stemming from the proceeds of great minds from all over the world encapsulated in print. Let’s not talk about the intellectual arrogance that fine young men who get my attention reek of. I thought I was going to feel like the new guy; that bit of awkwardness that gnaws at your stomach until names start begin to sink in and jokes draw laughter from you. It wasn’t quite so… I walked into the beautiful home of the host, one that reminded me of mine that I haven’t visited in almost a year, and I didn’t feel new. I just searched the faces of people already sitting and call this cheesy, but I felt like I was looking at what would be tomorrow a gallery of faces whose achievements would line the halls of global business and heck, general life. This, in that moment, had nothing to do with whether they were people of character or whether they were already on the right paths. It was simply that naturally, great leadership always sprung from a hunger to learn and the drive to probe knowledge, and this was just that right there.

Things kicked off nicely with an icebreaker and people were quick to get into the heat of the diverse energy in the room. Then we went into the discussion of what I’d call a powerful book titled “Start Up Nation”. At a phase, we had to be divided into groups where we had a pre-determined aspect of the book to discuss as well as questions. We dug deep and hit the surface again with a wealth of insights. I felt free enough at this time that I gave the presentation to the club on behalf of my group. We went through all groups, raised debates and dissected ideas and then it was time for finger foods and drinks. So everyone got talking and mingling was in full swing. For some reason, I simply picked up a paper plate, got some small chops and settled on a sofa to eat and read a book. I know… I looked at myself like that too. Like what the heck are you doing? Who sits down to read a book at a book club event when other ardent readers with a whirlpool of diverse experiences and a willingness to share that, were all over the place putting stamps on things that could be the beginning of amazing friendships, business relations and who knows? Marriages? Ironically, the new book I started reading was titled “Never Eat Alone”.

This is where my message begins. The author attempted and I’d say succeeded at underlining the essence of building and sustaining relationships in business and career. Beyond all the business and finance terminologies and models, people really just want to do business with people they know and trust with whom they share mutual interest in an agenda. This pretty much sums up why the rich get richer. It is the network of these individuals being fueled by favors and interest in the well being of each other that has generally speaking, been the bane of dynasties that have come to redefine diverse spheres of business. The extent of grounds that you explore as an entity lies in the degree of collaboration that you allow to thrive.

Many individuals have not caught this revelation and are swirling in the illusory brilliance of narcissism; something that should oscillate between selfies and vlogs. In a dispensation hinged to an intricate yet global system of opportunities and agendas, you cannot over-estimate the power of relationships in propelling your schemes to fruition, no matter the dimension and scale you have in mind. Little wonder the power of mentor-ship and peer organizations are not taken for granted by those who have seen the light. Isn’t it amazing how people have broken through socioeconomic boundaries to limitless heights through a phone call made on behalf of them or by having the audacity to make small talk and share their passion over a cup of coffee? Many times, the tipping point we seek lies in basic principles such as this, laced with little mysteries that most often yield the same kind of explosive results each time they are applied.

For a lot of people, the art of building these relationships is a chore that they’d rather avoid and they have created a basket of supposed valid reasons to justify. I believe that just like any other skill, this can be honed. It is also noteworthy that I am not referring to pretentious business ties that people make just to move a personal or corporate agenda forward or offering help and then going around thinking “He now owes me one”. The natural reaction for genuine help received is a provision for reciprocation so you really do not need to keep score. To get this ball rolling, there may be a lot personal issues and mindset blocks you may have to sort out but you can start with keeping an open mind about individuals, becoming a better listener and showing genuine interest or at least curiosity in the affairs of other people. The art of small talk can be improved upon and sustaining people’s attention usually stems from your ability to wield wits and relate-able experiences. On most occasions, you do not hit it off with people because they’ve ticked more boxes off the experience checklist than you have. It is more likely that you both had a similar experience or that they have experienced something you aspire to or are interested in exploring. There are various combinations that can hold water. You can have a lot more to offer by being well-read and/or well-traveled. When you expand the boundaries of your involvement with diverse aspects of life, you increase the possibilities of what you have to offer as well as what you can obtain. The easiest way to stop being a bore is to learn more about anything and share your experience, of course without being over-bearing.

So that I don’t start to ramble, I’ll summarize by emphasizing that Africa is stepping into an era of entrepreneurial revolution and this is the time to position yourself as an individual or business entity. While there is a measure of instability on ground, a sure movement towards another dispensation is happening. Your ability to thrive as an individual, family and business will go beyond academic and professional qualifications; it will be fueled to a reasonable degree by the alignment of your agendas with those of others and how you can collaborate to build sustainable time-wise investments and relationships. I think that “Never Eat Alone” is a great book that delves into the deep as too how to take full advantage of yourself and the relationships you can build to make life worthwhile. Needless to say, from now on, I do not intend to sit around eating with a book in hand when I could be weaving draperies of value and goodwill by reaching out to others.

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