Why Don’t We Have Friendly Relationship Management Software?

There are literally dozens of services out there that help salespeople maintain and develop relationships with prospects. Salesforce, Yesware, Highrise, the list goes on and on. So called Customer Relationship Management tools are key in order to track, remind, and manage these professional relationships. There’s services that tell me who to follow up with when, relevant personal data, the history of our relationship, and everything I’d ever want to know about our relationship.

Yet in the end, I don’t really care about those relationships. They are means to an end – to get a sale. Meanwhile, my life is full of relationships that I truly do value – my family, friends, acquaintances, and everyone else I interface with willingly. Why aren’t there CRM platforms for people you care about?

Spending Time With Friends Is Still Hard

You might say that’s preposterous – if they were truly people you cared about, you wouldn’t need software to remind you their name and background details. But I disagree.

Ever since college, I’ve been amazed at how few opportunities there are as a young adult to connect with anyone outside of my inner circle. I spend plenty of time with my housemates, girlfriend, family, and friends in the regular meeting groups I attend locally. But outside of existing circles, it’s very hard to get together with people.

First one party has to reach out and ask, which is easy to forget to do when one has dozens of lukewarm contacts they’d like to see. Then you have to schedule them into your calendar just the same as a business contact, which is hard since we’re all busy. Then you have to find a place and time that works for both! There is undoubtedly friction here, since even dear friends will often deteriorate down to nothing more than a Facebook Like every now and then.

And yet these are truly people who I care about and want more of in my life.It’s ridiculous. If there were software that helped reduce that friction, it would greatly improve my quality of life, more than any social network app. Instead of creating secondary interactions with online profiles, it would increase the face to face time with real people.

An FRM Would Be Similar to a CRM

What would this look like? I daresay it’d be almost exactly like existing CRM solutions, but plugged into your Facebook and phone contacts rather than Linkedin and email. It would provide relevant information about people you haven’t talked to recently, and streamline outreach, perhaps even with templates like CRM solutions do. The key would be making things warm and personable rather than robotic and forced. That shouldn’t be difficult, given the wealth of information people already share to their social networks. There’s already bots that can post statuses that sound like you – why not use that power for outreach?

The friendly CRM could even prompt me to connect with friends based off what we share. If we both post about similar topics – thats a chance to reach out. If it’s been a year since some significant event, time to reach out. Have an unscheduled lunch hour? Pick a valued friend you’ve been meaning to see, and drag and drop to quality time.

Maybe it could prompt me to share content I’m already reading with friends who it knows would like it. Did Joe just post about Trump recently? Present me with an autocomplete template to send my thoughts on the piece I’m reading right now to him and spark a reconnection.

Integrate with Yelp and help us remove the friction of finding a conducive nearby place. Integrate with Open Table and take away the friction of a crowded restaurant. Cross reference my other dear friends and source up the people who have the most interests in common to allow me to double dip and host multiple friends at once. The options are endless, the data is already there, and the need is real.

You know when you reach out to a loose contact to ask a favor, and genuinely wish you were just reaching out to be friendly? I hate that feeling, but not enough to actually schedule warm contact with friends. There’s friction, and no reason to reach out today versus any other day.

That’s the gap this software would bridge – reasons to reach out, while streamlining the event itself to be as easy as possible.

Transitioning To The Inevitable Robot Workforce Could Get Violent

Robots are going to replace humans in every job, and they’re going to do it within the next few generations.

You either agree with that statement or you don’t. I’m not going to try to convince the naysayers. Smarter people than I have already argued this point at length, in mini-documentaries like CCPGrey’s Humans Need Not Apply and books like Martin Ford’s Rise of The Robots. Plus there’s studies that point to half of all jobs being automated in the next  two decades. It’s a foregone conclusion in my mind, but if you don’t agree, that’s fine. Let’s assume it’s going to happen, and go on a thought experiment.

There’s a lot of rabbit holes on this journey – what humans will do without the need for work, whether we still need currency when robots make everything, and which undesirable dystopian scifi future is the most likely during RobotCorp’s ascent to power. Stick with me!

Robots Will Take All Our Jobs, and We Revert to Art

Once robots take all our jobs, what happens? In theory, it’s a utopia. Robots do literally everything that humans don’t want to do, from manufacturing, to transportation, to providing meals, to entertainment, to sex dolls. Given a humanoid body and sufficient intelligence, robots will do them better than any human could. They will take care of every human need imaginable, and all sorts of wants that don’t exist yet. 

So, what will all the humans do? Now that robots do everything better, we can’t compete in the job market. How will we get paid? Will money still exist? Now that we’re cut out of the means of production, we’ll have a lot of time, but no way to earn money.

The best solution I’ve seen to this is the idea of a Universal Basic Income – guaranteeing a steady paycheck to everyone on Earth. Now, that’s a thorny proposition, filled with perceptions of a welfare state and socialism. But it’ll be different this time around – since robots will creating all the value. Before, if you got free money, it was because some other person worked for it, and you’re mooching. But when robots do everything, you’re mooching off robots, and they don’t care- that’s what they’re there for. As long as everyone mooches off the robots and they keep working, there’s no issue.

Basic income is another controversial idea that other smart people have delved into, so I won’t do it here. Let’s continue the thought experiment. In fact, a smart man (and famous venture capitalist) named Marc Andreessen has already done so – here’s what he says the future will look like:

“Since our basic needs are taken care of, all human time, labor, energy, ambition, and goals reorient to the intangibles: the big questions, the deep needs. Human nature expresses itself fully, for the first time in history. Without physical need constraints, we will be whoever we want to be. The main fields of human endeavor will be culture, arts, sciences, creativity, philosophy, experimentation, exploration, and adventure.

A planet of slackers you say. Not at all. Rather than nothing to do, we would have everything to do. Curiosity, artistic and scientific creativity have full rein resulting in new forms of status-seeking (!). Imagine 6 billion or 10 billion people doing nothing but arts and sciences, culture and exploring and learning. What a world that would be.”

In a robotic utopia, there’s only two ways to create value: make the robots more efficient at creating it, or make art. Art is subjective, and for the time being, it’s something humans still do better than robots, since it requires creativity rather than logic. Andreessen thinks we’ll come up with new human wants that robots can’t satisfy which will provide jobs, but I don’t agree. Either way, humans won’t need to do anything.

For those of you who recoil at this lazily luxurious future where nobody has to work, get off your high horse. Work for the sake of work isn’t a good thing – you only think so because you grew up in a Western culture that prizes hard work, thanks to Puritans and robber barons.

 The labor market today entails an unnecessary 40 hour work week and vast amounts of administrative work that don’t really need to be done. All this is due to automation – we got used to working a lot during the Industrial Revolution, and once machines started taking care of manufacturing and whatnot, we just kept finding new work to do, because our culture prizes working for the sake of work. The same thing could easily happen when the robots come – we’ll just keep finding useless jobs to do.

VICE thinks this will happen, because that’s what capitalism does. That’s certainly a possibility, but as the author notes, “There’s no inherent reason that automation could not be harnessed to provide more social good than harm. No, a technologically-motivated movement is not what’s needed. Instead, a political one that aims to divest technological advancement from the motives of capitalism is in order.”

Agreed. Most workers eke out livings with jobs they hate, and spend what little money they have on the weekend dulling themselves to a whole new work doing more of the same. Surely a robotic utopia with no  reason to get up in the morning is better than the modern reality where they have a reason that they hate. Some people might go crazy when confronted with a nihilistic life where they don’t have to do anything, but we’ll all eventually find rewarding ways to spend our time, either in Brave New World-esque entertainment or by creating art.

Long story short – humanity should want to get to robot utopia with universal basic income. But getting there is tricky.

How Will We Get to Robotic Utopia? It’s Up To The Robot Master

I don’t see how we will get to that point without massive upheaval. When robots do all the jobs, nobody needs to worry about a living wage. But when robots do only some of the jobs, they take away livelihoods from the least skilled workers. It’s already happened in the manufacturing and agriculture industries, and it’s going to happen soon in the retail and transportation industries. This transition period between the present and the robotic utopia is the most dangerous.

I think the only chance of safely navigating this period lies in the hands of whoever controls the robots. Whichever human holds the reins of the retail-bots and transport-bots will be the most powerful person on the planet. (At least before their job is taken over by a benevolent AI – fingers crossed on the ‘benevolent’ part.) Their robots do all the jobs, and thus provide all the value, which means by extension that that person get all the money that the robots earn. Let’s call this person the RobotCorp CEO.

They’re more powerful than the president, since they control the national economy from RobotCorp’s central control panel. If the state does something RobotCorp doesn’t like, they can flick a switch and drop the national GDP by ten percentage points. The state could try to seize the bots by lawful force, but who’s to say RobotCorp didn’t use that same efficient robot technology to make war-bots capable of defeating any human force? (They’ll probably be called peacekeeper-bots, for branding purposes.)

There also could be more than one RobotCorp – think Apple/Google duopoly. That would be safer, since neither RobotCorp will hold ultimate power, and they can hold each other in check while working together to get humanity towards robot utopia. Alternatively, they could myopically focus on sabotaging the competitor’s business, and end up plunging the world into a robot war in order to prove the superiority of their specific type of robot. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, and it’s more of a Cold War type scenario, which two robot superpowers racing to get to robot utopia and spurred on by the others’s efforts, like the Space Race.

It sounds straight out of military science fiction, but in a world where machines are more capable than humans it’s eminently feasible – just look at the wars in today’s world, where humans are as capable as humans. Never mind that for now – let’s assume the robot overlord is the most powerful person in the world for the sake of the thought experiment and move on.

Humanity Can Do Things the Easy Way or We Can Do Them The Hard Way

The RobotCorp CEO gets to decide whether humanity gets to the robot utopia the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is through decreeing basic income to all workers her robots displaces, using the massive profits RobotCorp reaps from making and moving everything in the country. Doing this in a way that doesn’t fatally shock the global economy and is fair to the people still working the non-robotic jobs will be tricky, sure, but it’s the simplest step towards the happy robotic utopia above. The less resistance the RobotCorp CEO gets from stealing jobs, the faster she can get to that future.

But maybe the CEO doesn’t see things this way. Maybe she thinks that the robot utopia future is unattainable within the next few generations, or that basic income is a bad idea, and therefore decides not to do anything for the millions of workers her company has rendered obsolete. What then?

It is at this point in the conversation that my futurist friends bring up a Marxist revolution. The proletariat masses of workers will rise up against RobotCorp (owners of the ‘means of production’-robots), dethrone them, and make things right. To that I say – “Preposterous! Did you forget about the war-bots?”

RobotCorp’s CEO  would surely have seen the logical consequences of not providing for the displaced workers, and prepared to defend her assets using military force. And don’t tell me she won’t have war-bots, because DARPA is the single most innovative force pushing forward robots today. Silicon Valley exists solely due to defense spending – the most exciting part of technology for humans remains its potential to kill other humans, sadly.

Of course she will have war-bots, and of course they will defeat the Marxist revolutionaries! Any force less than the US military would surely fail, and even they would be up against tough odds unless they can take out the robot manufacturing centers. It’s possible, but then you just took a step backwards, and now the government is in control of RobotCorp. Depending on how you feel about public versus private entities, that’s basically the same as RobotCorp in power, maybe a tad more bureaucratic. Whatever.

Whether its RobotCorp or the state, now you have a despotic force that controls all jobs with absolute power, and isn’t interested in helping out the poor humans who they’ve booted out. This is the hard way. As long as the despots continue making robots (which they will, since robots aren’t  commodities yet), humanity will eventually get to the robotic utopia described above. It’ll just take a lot longer and result in a lot more human suffering than the easy way, and instead of a benevolent AI as our chaperone, it’s a malicious robot-backed oligarchy.

Alright, so now robots provide everything and someone controls all the robots. Whether the robot overlord is a benevolent Skynet or malicious RobotCorp CEO, they’re fine with people doing whatever as they don’t rock the boat. What’s left that’s not destroying the new world order? Same as before – making the robots more efficient, or creating art. Woohoo – we’ve arrived in the robotic utopia future!

What Can We Do Today?

In summary:

  • We’re at World Order A today – humans do jobs and get paid for them.
  • World Order B is the inevitable robotic utopia future, where robots do jobs and humans do what they want.
  • World Order B is preferable, since humans can do whatever they want rather than what needs to be done.
  • Getting from A to B is scary because violent myopic humans will gum things up, as all we’ve ever known is World Order A.

In the best case, the RobotCorp CEO institutes a basic income for her dispossessed workers early on, and we transition to B without incident. In the worst case, there’s a long period of strife where  humans fight over the robot reins, and do nothing for all the dispossessed workers. This hard way could prevent us from ever getting to Point B, through nuclear war (Matrix scenario) or through a malevolent AI (Terminator scenario). Who knows? Given humanity’s dismal track record, the hard way seems more likely.

So, what can we do today to make the easy way more likely? We as a society need to make sure that the robot overlord is a nice person (so far Elon, Larry, and Sergey seem like they’re on our side, that could just be me). And we need to institute laws that help ease the transition period from World Order A to B. Namely, laws that provide living wages for the robot-displaced workers, maybe using the robotic profits.

It’s gonna be tricky. There’s going to be a lot of unrest at first. But there’s no reason why we can’t do things the easy way, and minimize human suffering along the way. That’s always been what technology is about, and robots should be not exception.

Let’s welcome our new robot overlords, and take steps to hand over the economy in a way that doesn’t gut the rest of us.

Three Relationship Truths Learned From One Night Stands

Originally published (with more typos and clickbait) at Thought Catalog

I’ve never had a ‘real’ one-night-stand. Have I? I’ve had whirlwind sexual encounters with new women that lasted less than 24 hours and left us out of contact, but I’ve never met and bedded someone in the same night, never to speak again. That sounds incredibly unsatisfying. What made these encounters rewarding wasn’t sex – it was the brief snapshot of life I shared intimately with a total stranger.

They were rewarding in the way that real relationships are rewarding – shared experiences, emotions laid bare, and the insight of a perspective other than your own – a person to share all the ups and downs of life with. The only difference was that these relationships were compressed into the period of one night (okay, sometimes well into the next afternoon). These relationships burned brightly and then exploded, leaving powerful memories that color my perspective to this day. These women taught me invaluable truths about the nature of real relationships, no matter what you call whatever it is we had.

Here are three such truths, and how to use them in ‘real’ relationships.

Truth 1. The Power Of Shared Novelty

There’s not much to commiserate over in an alcohol-soaked nightclub evening, unless it’s the mutual distaste for creeps who can’t take a hint. Maybe that’s why one-night-stands born in such environments don’t last long, neither temporally nor in the emotions they leave behind. But when a one-night-stand becomes a shared adventures, filled with new and exciting experiences for both parties, it can strengthen even the most tenuous of connections into something more powerful.

I think back to the night spent exploring the colorful and otherworldly grounds of a desert music festival with a new female friend, and the experiences we shared. Dancing on stage, clambering on top of neon sculptures, and the beauty of a desert sunrise are all wondrous things on their own, but they gain new significance when viewed alongside a pair of attractive new eyes. Now I’ll remember the girl as vividly as the spectacle – they’ve merged together as one happy memory unit.

Just like your favorite shared song becomes bittersweet every time you hear it after the breakup, the memory of a new experience becomes stamped with the person you shared it with. Take the excitement of novelty, mix it with a special person, and stretch it out over a day of adventure, and you’ve just turned a lucky night into an exceptional one.

Learning: Never Stop Dating Your Spouse

There’s no reason why you can’t do the same with someone you see more often. As the saying goes “never stop dating your spouse”. Continue doing new things together, whether that’s trying out a new restaurant together or making time to go explore the world at large. It’s easy for a significant other to become an excuse to stay home and cuddle over movies. Comfortable and easy, yes, but also staid and expected, which means you’ll start to associate them with such feelings, or worse, take them for granted.

I hope I’ll remember magical nights like the above when I finally find a person I want to share the rest of my life with. It’ll be the spark needed to galvanize us to action after a long day of work. There won’t always be desert festivals to explore, but there will always be evening walks to roads not taken, exotic restaurants, or at the bare minimum an award-winning Netflix documentary. I can’t wait to associate novel memories with someone who can reminisce about them with me for years to come.

Truth 2. The Importance Of Clear Intentions

Most of my one-night-stands happened on the road, which means there’s an impending airline reservation looming over the interaction. Instead of being a buzzkill, I find this synthetic expiration date reinvigorates things. Both parties know that they don’t have to discuss the far future together, which lets them relax and let loose in the moment. It’s liberating.

When you meet someone new at home, questions are quickly raised. A first date has a lot more social pressure and expectations involved than a chance encounter. As my father says, “There’s always three questions at the end of a first date – Did we have a spark, Will we see each other again, and Who will follow up first?”

With a classic one-night-stand, such questions never get asked, likely because alcohol smothers the need to worry about the future. But with whatever I’ve had, all three are self evident: Of course there’s a spark, since we haven’t left each other’s company since the moment we met; Maybe, but only if we’re ever in the same town again; and Whoever swings by the other’s hometown first. Now that future worries are taken care of, the couple is free to focus on the present.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve have some of the best times of my life under these circumstances, regardless of what happened between the sheets. I felt real, strong, emotional connections to these women in the scant hours we had together, and I still harbor them good will. I hesitate to say it, but I might even regard them better than my ex-girlfriends, since we shared one short Up together rather than a roller coaster of Ups and Downs complete with a negotiated breakup. If my night partner had personality traits I didn’t like, it didn’t matter, because I knew there wasn’t anything serious coming soon.We knew where things stood.

Learning: Discussing Expectations Is Sexy

There’s no reason why you have to rely on impending flights to know where things stand with your partner. That’s something relationship counselors encourage all the time – to discuss and set clear expectations with your partners, balanced by mutual feedback. Sitting down to talk about deal breakers might fracture a casual relationship, but doing so with someone you care about is a clear indicator to them that you intend to keep this relationship healthy and intact. Sounds sexy to me!

Promise to get out of the way when she has friends over, or ask her to respect your Sunday basketball games with the bros, or whatever other annoyances you see as  trivial but are actually important to them. En masse, such frivolities can kill a relationship if they are not addressed, but once discussed aloud, they are easily navigable and harmless. They tame the terror of a unknown shared future, warts and all, to a known future, where at least you can be sure they’ll be there to pick you up from the airport when you need it. One-night-stands do it by rendering the shared future moot, but you can do it through talking.

Truth 3. The Joy Of Sharing A Lifestyle

One of my favorite things about any relationship, platonic or otherwise, is the sneak peek into the life of another. My own perspective is great, but since it’s all I’ve ever known, it can become mundane. I hold the same morning routine every day, maintain my stances on theoretical issues, and generally reside comfortably in my own cozy niche of reality. It’s nice here – I know how things work.

Turns out everyone else alive has carved our their own reality niches as well, and they’re completely distinct from mine. Other people have their own routines, world outlooks, perspectives, and life experiences. All shaped from a life lived entirely outside the bounds of my own. I can get a taste of this alternate reality –  by spending time with them!

I spend time with others every day – with best friends, acquaintances, and people from work or social events. But these people share commonalities with me by definition. We choose friends off shared interests, our work friends have the same job we do, and even social event people are at most a few degrees removed from our existing circles. Plus, it’s tough to dig deep into who they are and what they stand for when you’re caught up in the idle chit chat of where they work and where they’re from.

Compare that to an entire night and day spent with a complete stranger, lived in the closest of intimacies while learning everything about them in the process. Surely that is the cleanest window into another life as it possible! I hardly ever spend 12 hours uninterrupted with my closest friends. To do that with someone entirely new, whose only life commonality was attending the same bar I did on a certain night? There’s so much to learn.

I’ll never forget the mundane things these women did that set them irrevocably apart from my reality. One charming Mexicana kept a tiny bottle of hot sauce in her purse that she’d daintily sprinkle on every meal we ate, whether it was sandwich or chips. Another saucy New Yorker took me on a narrated journey through her Instagram feed in the morning, introducing me to East Coast cultural mainstays like ‘@thefatjewish’, and Queen of The Night dinner theater, which were things I may never have encountered in my San Francisco bubble.

Ever since, hot sauce and @thefatjewish bring back fleeting memories to happy nights spent in Mexico and NYC. But unlike the shared novelty, these mementos mean nothing to them –  it’s a part of their daily life. That’s what makes them doubly tantalizing – now it’s more than our little shared memory – it’s all mine. Mine, and mine alone, but everything to do with her.

Any seasoned traveller eventually realizes that the endless parade of landmarks and exotic dishes isn’t the fun part. It’s the snatches of foreign lifestyle that you glimpse through cultural norms, eating traditions, and slang terms. Take that foreign lifestyle and make it intimate. Now you get a taste of the personal stuff nobody sees but them; where they live, how their bedroom is decorated, and the ways they start their days. It is the glimpses of this alternate lifestyle, completely alien from my own yet fulfilling the same daily goals, that endures for me far beyond the transitory pleasure of night in bed.

Learning: Keep The Honeymoon Alive

Newly minted couples’ excitement at a shared life is so well known that it has its own term. The ‘honeymoon period’ at the beginning of a marriage is when everything they wear, do, and think is new and fascinating. What starts as new and different quickly becomes normal and mundane, which leads people to seek out novelty in mid-life crises in the form of an affair, sports car, or exotic hobby.

David Sedaris hilariously relates the difficulty of this in his New Yorker essay Old Faithful.

(My partner and I are) “two people so familiar with one another they could scream. Sometimes, when I find it hard to sleep, I’ll think of when we first met, of the newness of each other’s body, and my impatience to know everything about this person. Looking back, I should have taken it more slowly, measured him out over the course of fifty years rather than cramming him in so quickly. By the end of our first month together, he’d been so thoroughly interrogated that all I had left was breaking news—what little had happened in the few hours since I’d last seen him. Were he a cop or an emergency-room doctor, there might have been a lot to catch up on, but, like me, Hugh works alone, so there was never much to report. “I ate some potato chips,” he might say, to which I’d reply, “What kind?” or “That’s funny, so did I!” More often than not we’d just breathe into our separate receivers.”

I’m not saying you should ration information about yourself to your partner as Dave wishes he did. But hopefully, you still have something exciting to show them. Maybe a hidden hobby, or a skill learned in childhood but since forgotten. It takes years to truly get to know someone, and even then, there must be corners of their mind you haven’t yet encountered.

For couples before marriage, offer up thoughts to your date. Muse aloud. Get them inside of your head. If they’re really somebody you want to spend time with, shouldn’t you bare your mind as well as your body? You never know which boring aspect of your reality they’ll find enchanting. What’s their ‘bottle of hot sauce’, destined to become a token of you in their memory?

What Makes A One-Night-Stand Exciting Is What Makes a Relationship Exciting

Do new things together, be clear about your intentions, and share your lifestyles freely. These look like great recipes for any healthy relationship, not just romantic ones. I bet we do all this with our friends without thinking twice. Funny how it takes unorthodox relationships like one-night-stands (or whatever it is I had) to make us notice the successful ingredients.

Your Age is Irrelevant In Your Twenties

Ever notice how young people talk about their age versus the old? When we’re children, we always round up. “I’m almost 8”, or “I’ll turn eleven this year.” Then, around middle age, the verbs get indistinct . “I’ve just hit 40”, or “I’m past 50”. That’s understandable – once you’re an adult your age becomes a taboo, rather than a celebration. But have you ever noticed how in your twenties there’s no standard procedure? Your age doesn’t come up as much, if at all.

Until Marriage, You’re All The Same

I started noticing this effect while abroad in Barcelona at the tender age of 21. I partook in the usual expatriate behavior: partying, exploring the city, and generally being social with anyone who spoke my language. Everyone was excited and full of life – because they were as young as I was (or so I assumed.)  Imagine my surprise when I discovered my fellow playmates were 25, 28, even 31 years old! Turns out the opportunity to go live in Spain and take classes is just as appetizing for a 30 something as a 20 something. The lifestyle we were living was one familiar to any unmarried cosmopolitan around the world – it doesn’t matter how old you are as long as you can keep up with the nights.

Up until this point in my life, I spent time almost exclusively with people born within 18 months of me. In school, your friends are your grade. To associate with or date someone even one or two years ahead or behind was a spectacle worthy of school-wide gossip. I remember talking about 8th graders like they were a different species in middle school, and while the grade boundaries broke down slightly as we neared graduation, these arbitrary divisions were still the primary determinant of one’s social circle. After college, your age doesn’t matter – everyone is an adult.

Now I regularly spend time with people who are old enough to be my parents, if they had made some exceptionally poor life decisions 15 years ago. Imagine the scandal that would cause in high school! It’s still cause for gossip when the relationship is romantic, but somehow it doesn’t matter as much when you’re just friends. Yet I’m not hanging out with teenagers, so the gap still exists when I look down.

What brings about such a drastic shift of age range? I think it’s two things – the shift in activities, and the shift in maturity.

You Befriend People Doing What You’re Doing

 Your options in life are always limited by what you’re exposed to, and in school you’re only ever exposed to people very close to your age, due to classes and sports. In college the lines blur somewhat to include any other undergraduate, since you’re both on campus doing the same things  blur to any other college student. But the moment you choose to venture off campus into the world at large (or are forced to do so by graduation), the sky is the limit. It’s no longer how old you are, it’s what you’re interested in.

Whether it’s salsa classes, car modding, or  yoga, there’s a group of people out there you’re going to interact with once you dive in. And they don’t care how old you are – all they care about is how interested you are in the subject. You don’t have to talk about age related things like jobs or classes. Instead you can talk shop about the intricacies of some dance move, a sweet new racing stripe, or how to hold a warrior pose. The language of a craftsman is universal, as soon as you’re old enough to appreciate it.

(Who Are In The Same Stage of Life)

Therein lies the maturity aspect.  The difference between a 14 year old and a 15 year old is much greater than the difference between a 24 year old and 25 year old, even if the time differential is the same. When you’re young, your mind and body are developing at a rapid pace that makes it hard to connect with someone at a different stage. Activities change fast – from toys to sports to girls to drugs, or whatever it is for you. Once the 20s roll around development is essentially over, which means you can connect with anyone else. You’re just another adult talking with the grown ups.

Now the stages are much larger. I see only three left, after this current young bachelor stage: married, kids, and empty nesters. Once you enter those stages there’s no going back – you can’t live a freewheeling life once you’re chained at the hip to someone else, and that gets even more so once the kids come around. Then you’re back to associating with others of the same ilk, whether it’s at couples dinners or the kid’s soccer practice.

It sounds obvious when laid out like this, but for me it’s still a shock to be able to walk into a room and get treated as an equal by 30 somethings. I used to be the kid getting shouted off lawns, and now they care about my opinion? I sure don’t feel like a full fledged adult yet. But I also don’t want to be in the same place I am now in 15 years. Does that mean I’m just associating with the slackers and n’er-do-well’s of the last generation who never got the ‘Marry and have kids’ memo? No, I think I’m just finding the people who are super into the things I’m into. And sometimes I know more than they do about such subjects, which remains another shock, but one that makes sense. I’d hang out with someone younger if I thought I could learn from them.

I’m interested to see if others find this as noteworthy as I do. Do you notice the age gap in your social group lengthening, then contracting again once spouses and kids come into play? Is there another plateau later in life when the generations blur or coalesce further? I guess I’ll have to grow up and find out.

How to Network Unforgettably

I love networking. The practice gets a bad rap, since it conjures visions of slimy self promoters eager to hand you their business card before they even know your name, or professional events where nobody cares about each other. At certain events, this may be the case, but at the good ones, you’re just finding new friends who work in similar industries. Who can say no to that – someone who adds value both professionally and personally?

I love meeting people who I can discuss esoteric tech principles or marketing techniques. I love meeting exotic entrepreneurs from other countries who have come to Silicon Valley to make it big. I love meeting bloggers, authors, and artists who have stories about their creations and passions.

I may have to have dozens of dud conversations before I find someone I want to follow up with, but the return on investment on the Wins far outstrips the drudgery involved in finding them. Through networking and conferences, I’ve discovered sites like CollegeInfoGeek, PartTimeTraveller, and LifeLong-Learner.com, which are all great sites I enjoy. But more importantly, I count the people behind them as friends – friends who can help me along my own entrepreneurial path.

Anyways, after all this networking I’ve picked some mannerisms that help me do it better. I’m certainly no expert networker (or slimy self promoter), but here’s advice I would give to anybody:

Repping the red pants at SXSW 2014

Dress Remarkably

My default outfit always includes pair of bright red pants with a white contrasting belt. It’s just different enough as to be remarkable, without me looking ridiculous or overbearing. Anybody can walk up and comment on my pants to start a conversation – it’s one less hurdle between us talking. If you dress in a way that sets you apart, it’ll allow the more gregarious (or inebriated) of the crowd to start conversations easily, while ensuring people don’t forget you as easily.

This is a tactic that started in bars, where men ‘peacock’ by wearing outlandish costumes to stand out from the pack. No need to go overboard – Dave Kerpen accomplishes this through bright orange shoes. Just different enough to be memorable when you’re trying to remember him among the dozens of people and names you met at a conference.

Don’t Use Business Cards

Foisting your business card on someone too early in an exchange is a surefire turn off. Wait till the end, and only do it if it makes sense and you really want to follow up. Too often I’ll end a conference with pockets full of business cards I’ll never look at twice, since they felt obligated to give me one. Connect if it makes sense, and if not, it’s no big deal.

Personally I don’t ever use business cards – if I want to connect I’ll add them on Linkedin right there on my mobile. Or they can take a picture of me holding up my wallet, which has a business card of sorts on it, with my name, website, and contact info. That way I 1) stand out from the hordes with business cards 2) don’t waste paper with an easily deletable photo, and 3) tie my face to the information. But that’s just me.

Present Yourself Strategically

Look for groups of people with odd numbers, so that you can easily slide yourself into the conversation without drawing them away from each other. Single people wandering around or playing with their phone are also easy prey. If you have to join an even numbered group, do so directly, by entering from a direction where everyone can see you, maintaining eye contact, and introducing yourself when the conversation lulls or it seems awkward that you’re there. Of course you have to read the body language, but it’s easier than you think.

Once you’re in, remember that many of the people you meet will never see you again – you’re looking for those who share interests or business opportunities with. So present yourself strategically, by selecting the parts of your story that help them figure out where you could fit in to their future. I introduce myself as a content marketer and blogger, citing my startup marketing past  and self-published book as proof. (Oftentimes I’ll have the book with me, as a sort of instant wow-resume.) That gets the conversation oriented around what I can bring to the table, or just around topics I care about.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Too often conversations get mired in boring work talk. Find the good stuff that one or both of you are interested in, and talk about that. Start with open ended casual questions like ‘What do you want to take away from this event?’, ‘So, what’s your story?’, ‘How can I help you?’, or ‘What are you passionate about?’. Then they can take the discussion in almost any direction, and it spares them from immediately relating what their job is or where they’re from over and over.

Take it easy!

It’s not networking – it’s just talking with friends you haven’t met yet! Listen as much as you talk, maintain eye contact without being aggressive, and feel free to end conversations you think aren’t going anywhere – most people understand a simple ‘It was great talking to you, I’m going to go [get a drink, check out upstairs, whatever] now’. If I’m tired I’ll often find a couch with one other person on it and recharge with light conversation instead of serious discussion.  The night is up to you – there’s no need to make it an ordeal.