May 15, 2018 by David Gambrill
Tired of attending yet another insurance industry cocktail event, idly stirring your drink with a swizzle stick and talking to everyone you already know?
Go ahead and skip that schmooze-fest. There’s a better way to meet new people.
High-stakes shared activity is more likely to draw you together with new people, according to David Burkus, a best-selling author and associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University.
“Potent networks are not forged through casual interactions but through relatively high-stakes activities that connect you with diverse others,” Burkus writes in a blog for Harvard Business Review. “In other words, schmoozing at a mixer is far less likely to lead you to a powerful network than jumping into projects, teams, or activities that draw a diverse set of people together.”
His opinion is based on the research of Brian Uzzi, a sociologist and “network scientist,” as well as Richard L. Thomas, professor of leadership and organizational change at the Kellogg School of Management.
The problem with networking events is that there’s no bigger purpose other than just having conversations with people, Burkus says.
“Without that bigger purpose — without that high-stakes activity — there’s little incentive to move beyond conversations that make us comfortable,” he writes. “When the stakes are higher, however, we end up needing more than what existing contacts and similar-seeming people can provide. So, we push further to meet more diverse people.”
Examples of more effective networking opportunities may include serving on a nonprofit board, organizing a charity drive, playing in an amateur sports league, or taking up a new hobby. The key is to draw a more diverse set of people than normal to come together and work toward something big enough that it can’t get accomplished alone.
The objective is to get people outside their comfort zones — which they don’t do when attending casual industry cocktail events.
One research study examined the social interactions between 100 executives, consultants, entrepreneurs, and bankers gathered together for food and drinks on a Friday evening.
Before the event, the researchers surveyed the executives to learn who among the invited guests they already knew, and what their intentions and objectives were for the event. They found that on average, each guest knew about a third of the other guests, and that most of them planned to use the event to meet new people.
When the guests arrived, the researchers told them to “Act normally. Talk to whomever you want to while enjoying food and drinks.” Tracking badges monitored who talked to whom.
Even though 95% of executives attending the event expressed a desire to meet new people, the average participant spent half of their time with the one-third of the people they already knew, the researchers found.