A few weeks ago I took a stroll downtown - from my (now basically deserted) shared office space in Manulife to my (now closed forever) favourite Italian café, Al Centro - a few blocks away. Over the course of my walk, I was struck by a feeling of emptiness exasperated by the nearly empty streets (with the exception of a young man who appeared to be entranced with the prospect of stealing a broken down bike locked to a yield sign).
For months now, the business community in Edmonton (and pretty much the entire planet) has been, for the most part, working from home. The real and obvious economic costs are astronomical, and governments are kicking the financial burden into the hands of the next generation as they subsidize businesses and their employees by the $billions and borrow $billions more to build LRTs and to subsidize street beautification projects.
ANYWAYS... while I was walking the depressingly deserted bike lanes of downtown Edmonton I couldn’t help but think about another hidden economic cost of the pandemic: lost opportunities from accidental collisions.
Upon reflection, every business (and non-profit) that I’ve founded, supported, invested in, mentored and advised has massively benefited from the opportunities that are generated through “accidental collisions”: those brief, unplanned, natural introductions, conversations and interactions that happen to and from places, in cafes, restaurants, at sporting and entertainment events, mixers, dinners and after-work get-togethers. Conservatively, I’m confident that 96.4% of my network (grown to over 20,000 business cards, social media connections and database subscriptions over the past 20+ years), has come from these accidental, natural, non-planned, unsolicited and IN PERSON (non-virtual!) interactions.
By way of simple hypothetical math - in a single meeting at a cafe (including walking to-and from destination plus elevator time) I might typically “bump”, accidentally, into 30-40 individuals, hey-theres, how are yas and nice to meet yous. The economic impact to my businesses? Well, frankly - I don’t think I could have built my businesses without them - with or without social media. I honestly think the majority of opportunities I’ve generated have come from the cumulative effect of these natural, credibility building, hand-shaking, IN PERSON, authentic collisions & introductions.
Meanwhile, BD professionals, fundraisers, entrepreneurs and CEOs are all scrambling to re-create the game via online webinars, virtual conferences and Zoom meetings. Unfortunately however - it just isn’t the same. As one friend put it - it simple doesn’t feel “accidental or natural” to make a random connection (without a perceived agenda) online. People are suspicious, anti-solicitous, and if I had a loonie for every “I’m done with ZOOM!” statement in the last month - I’d be investing ridiculous sums of cash in building my own app to uberize marketing (which I’m sure is now a real thing).
The science supports my claim. According to a study compiled by HBR: “ A face-to-face meeting is 34 times more likely to succeed than an email”. According to Forbes, virtual meetings are “fatally flawed” - ultimately we are social animals who depend on in-person social cues and subconscious gut awareness to bond, connect and feel committed.
Unfortunately - beyond stalking people on LinkedIN, trying to connect to people virtually, reaching out randomly to ZOOM attendees via chat, hosting virtual & intimate in-person meet-ups... I’m not sure what to tell my clients. They should cold call more? Or host more ZOOM meetings - but please don’t cold-call or Zoom-invite me - thanks very much - I’m DONE with cold calls and I can’t stand ZOOM! (Kidding, sorta, kinda, not really).
Meanwhile, while I build out strategies for my clients to recreate the natural in this VERY unnatural world, I’m secretly hoping that I’ll see you soon. In person. Without an agenda or a schedule or a meeting time. Maybe downtown during a workout at Archetype, or somewhere along Jasper Ave after a meeting at LockStock en route to my office at Manulife. I’ll be easy to spot, I’ll be the one in head-to-toe Lululemon athleisure-wear, over-zealously air-elbow-bumping (which is a thing now) strangers with a big indecipherable grin under my black face mask.
References and Resources:
5 Fatal Flaws With Virtual Meetings: Forbes
A Face-To-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email: Harvard Business Review