Monday, November 12, 2007

Who are you?

I’m stuck on a Delta flight listening to The Who on my iPhone. Roger Daltrey: Who are you? Apparently, he really wants to know.

I’ve never thought about it before and if someone posed the question – so, Chris, who are you? – I would probably smirk and take the Fifth. But, since you asked I would spit out demographic vitals, talk about my wife and our two boys, share that we live in Davis, confide that I went to Cal Poly as an undergrad and UC Davis for grad school, express that I love to start companies, exercise, attend sporting events, listen to music and read, and confess my soft spot for pretzels (Bavarian’s are the best), mini carrots, sashimi, Hot Tamales, and Coors Light. Whew. I guess that’s how I would self-reference.

Which is of no relevance to today’s conversation, except to reference the utility of understanding how people self-reference. If you seek to communicate with or sell to someone – anyone – you need to understand how and when and why and to what degree they self-reference. You’ve gotta understand the context of their personal, professional and social networks. I am like him is a great path to understand how the person will behave. After chirping about this – the power of self-referencing -- for more than a decade in my dissection and attack of markets, I experienced an ah-ha while reading Six Degrees, The Science of a Connected Age:

… people know each other because of the things they do, or more generally the contexts they inhibit. Being a university professor is a context, as is being a naval officer. Flying frequently for business is a context. Teaching climbing is a context. Living in New York is a context. All the things we do, all the features that define us, and all the activities we pursue that lead us to meet and interact with each other are contexts. So the set of contexts in which each of us participates is an extremely important determinant of the network structure that we subsequently create.
In the aisle seat to my left – got stuck; I’m the monkey in the middle – is a large man, a specimen who should pay double for a seat (two seats!). Thirty seconds in to our seatmanship I learned he’s a diehard Ohio State Buckeye fan. Sixty seconds later he volunteered that he’s from Canton, Ohio, and takes immense pride in Canton’s housing of the Football Hall of Fame, particularly that 15,000 folks pack the joint for a high school game. He just inhaled a two-pound chocolate bar (no joke) slobbered down with a can of Coke. His right bicep boasts a Fred Flintstone caricature tattoo. Personal hygiene is not a priority; he hasn’t showered for a few days (weeks?). And, he’s reading one of the Narnia books. Not sure what he does for a living, if he goes to church or bowls in a league, or if he’s in to NASCAR or Harleys or whatever. But I bet he relates well to people like him.

Who are you? Lots of people really wanna know.

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