Test your networking skills to avoid hitting the skids
Also published in the Boston Business Journal here.
It was rainy, cold, and windy -- in other words, a typical spring day in New England. There were roughly 20 of us huddled in a trailer in a parking lot. The group was made up of parents and teenage children.
We were getting ready to learn, test, and challenge ourselves at Stevens Skid School. The idea was to make us better drivers and more prepared for unexpected situations.
We went through a variety of exercises -- from emergency stops, to the slalom, to participating in a mock tailgating drill. Statistics show that first-year drivers have a 40 percent accident rate. Graduates of this course have significantly fewer accidents.
When I got in the car, my instructor ordered me to "floor it." I gladly obliged. We were getting closer and closer and closer to a set of orange cones. "Brake!" he exclaimed. And brake I did. Much to my racing heart's delight, when I opened my eyes the cones were neatly lined up in front of the car, unscathed.
Next we did the slalom, switching back and forth between the cones while increasing our speed. Then we combined the two exercises, turning and then stopping, which people typically do when trying to avoid an accident. But it doesn't work -- the vehicle usually skids and may even rollover. We practiced what to do instead.
All of this got me to thinking: "Am I prepared if my networking hits the skids? Do I have the skills I need? Am I prepared for an emergency? How do I avoid a rollover?"Here are my takeaways:
- Be willing to tackle challenging situations. I like challenging driving. However, it was definitely out of my comfort zone to be in skid school pushing my skills to such an extreme.
- Trust others. Immediately it was clear the driving instructors were patient, thorough and confident not only in their ability to teach, but in our ability to learn.
- Practice. It was definitely worth spending a day learning new driving skills and practicing them over and over again. Inexperience is often the cause of mistakes.
- Get feedback. Often we go about doing things by ourselves. In many cases, self-taught skills are fine. But getting feedback and instruction from an expert was worth the early morning wake-up call that day.
- It is never too late to learn, but learning is easier if you start early. While being a life-long learner is important, I wish I had learned some of these skills earlier in my driving career.
- Even experts can learn something. Police and other emergency responders often attend the class. Even though they have lots of experience given the number of years they have been driving and the situations they encounter, they can still learn something new. In networking, you can always pick up pointers from others.
- Putting it all together is what makes it really work. It is one thing to stop a vehicle, but much more is involved in the effort to avoid skids. The same idea works for networking. Combine skills, strategy and serendipity to maximize your efforts.
- It takes energy to perform. At the end of the day I was exhilarated, and exhausted. Putting yourself out there to learn and gain experience in networking can be wearing. But you definitely get charged up when you make those successful connections.