Something for nothing or the fallacy of ecosystem conversations
A few weeks ago I was chatting to my wonderful editor Tanya about the column (mostly about how humbled and childishly overjoyed I am that you wonderful people are not tired of reading a weekly missive).
When asked about topics she thought I could address that I have so far missed she landed on something so ubiquitous that even I (despite priding myself on being “Captain Obvious”) have failed to single it out.
The “can I pick your brain” meetings. The “can we have a coffee” meetings. The “shall we have a call” meetings. The “let’s talk” meetings.
You know them. They populate your diary.
I call them “cheese” short for “big block of cheese” meetings (and if you don’t recognise the West Wing reference, I will pretend not to notice. Go google. You are welcome.)
Sometimes they conceal gems of great usefulness.
Mostly they are unfocused and pointless in that they have no point to begin with.
The person who asked to meet you was hoping for some weird alchemy, a pre-packaged gem that you can dispense so that they can get an answer to the question they didn’t know to ask, a palliative touch to a vague sense of discomfort caused by the life of an entrepreneur, the mandate to deliver something new for the first time in both the organisation’s life and their own, the vertigo of learning in a space that has no end or boundaries.
I get the need. But sadly that’s not how it works.
There is only so much time, says Tanya. I want to help. But seriously. There is only so much time in the day.
So what do you do?
Just say no
I often say no.
It sounds too simple? It sounds too horrible?
It is neither.
I am asked for cheese meetings all the time. Very often the person asking for the meeting doesn’t know why they want the meeting. It is not my job to work that out for them. I am happy to help. But helping work out how I can help is a bridge too far. That’s your job. If you need my help, it’s your job to work out what you need and if I am the person you need.
So seriously. Work it out.
Don’t ask for a meeting and hope for the best. If you don’t value the time of the person you are trying to meet then at least value your own.
Not being funny. Today I got an email:
Can we please meet. I have applied for a consulting role with 11:FS, a product role with Foundry, a programme management role with Foundry and a totally different role with another firm, but I also have my own start-up that I want to grow and could use your advice. On all of those things. On how I should go about them.
I said no. I said, figure out what you want. Show me you are capable of focus, especially if you want to work with me. But above all, show me that you have done some thinking here and you are not just hoping I will do it for you.
Give them homework
Sure I will meet you.
And I will help you.
When you know what you want or need to find out. But I won’t do the thinking for you. Because I really do have better things to do, but, even more significantly, because if I do that I am not actually helping you even if it feels like I am.
So spend some time thinking about what you need and who can help and, if that person is me, then come back with a clear ask, a clear reason why me and a willingness to listen.
But also be prepared for the no.
And have an answer to it.
Why should I take the meeting? What is in it for me?
I often get researchers asking for intros to successful start-ups.
Aspiring job applicants trying to short-circuit the process.
Bank employees who have no budget but have questions.
They all come to me asking for intros.
I can provide the intros. But very often don’t.
Because when I ask, “why should these guys meet you, what’s in it for them”, the answer is about what the person asking needs. And that has nothing to do with the needs and aspirations of the person whose time they want.
Come on guys. Give and take.
You can be selfish. But don’t be stupid.
If you want something, you have to give something in return. Now or later. If you haven’t worked that one out yet, do you even deserve the meeting you are trying to land?
Allocate “cheese” time
That said, and because I like me a nice contradiction, I still allocate “cheese” time.
We actually call it that in the office. (Yes the West Wing reference again. Look it up.)
And just like in the West Wing, a lot of those meetings are a waste of time. Mine and theirs. And nobody learns a thing.
But sometimes true gems emerge. For you or for the other side. And for me that’s its own reward and the reason why I am happy to take the risk and sacrifice some hours. I am happy to give something for nothing because the few times it throws up a gem make up for the rest.
But I am going in eyes wide open.
And I still say no to people who have evidently not done their homework.
I don’t blame them.
This is another side effect of the ecosystem “let’s all hang out and watch things evolve” attitude of the Innovation Centre Era that didn’t work.
And it’s over.
So let’s shed the last of its legacy.
Let’s keep the helpfulness and openness but let’s remember that asking for something in exchange for nothing is not good business. Asking for illumination without actual questions is not a good way of making life choices. And taking endless meetings when you should be doing the thing instead, or at least some thinking, is not good use of anyone’s time.
Have a think before reaching out.
You may find more people say “yes” to your asks when you have thought them through. And they are willing to give you time because it’s not something for nothing: when you’ve done your thinking, what the other side gets in exchange for their help is knowledge, stimulation, food for thought and the start of a relationship with someone they will enjoy watching go far. But it all starts with you. Thinking. Before asking.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!