Monday, December 31, 2007

First date

It's less than one-hundred minutes shy of the new year. My boys are pecking away -- Club Penguin tonight, with Green Day blasting via iTunes -- on Mac laptops, winding down 2007. They're both aiming for their first stay-up-til-midnight year; doubt it will happen, though I'd wager they'll make it before me.

The holiday break, a tonic of friends, football and brain-numbing farting around, conjurs thoughts of firsts. Firsts as in new experiences, unknown unknowns (prospective firsts), and wonderous what-ifs. A world sans firsts is, to quote my mother-in-law, beige; firsts are a reason for living.

Beyond the wonderment of my five- and eight-year-olds' daily firsts, I conjure a wonderful lesson from my friend Sydey (Prince's Rasperry Berret, which reminds me melodically of Syd, cranks on my son's PowerBook). As the marketing maestro for a kick-ass law firm, she shared an apt story.

Parked in a weekly meeting with the firm's partners, she analogized business development with dating. Think of the first time you took your wife or significant other on a date, Syd set the table. Blank faced, the lawyers nodded. Just like your first date -- I'm paraphrasing here -- you took it easy. Maybe you held hands, perhaps you shared a first kiss.

Courting a prospective client, Syd shared, is similar. You may make it to first base, but the future (a double, triple, or home run?) is engagingly and tantalizinlgly, left for future days. Right?

Syd surveyed the audience. Blank stares, incredulous (what, are you naive?) looks. Getting to first, second, or third was not in the cards; the teach-me-how-to-market lawyers shot for (and hit the) moon on the first date.

Reminds me of a story Tom Wolfe shared in a talk a few years ago at UC Davis. In his quest to author Hooking Up, he parlayed a similar metaphor. Again, I paraphrase (this time Wolfe): When I grew up, people used a metaphor to describe their progress with a mate. First base was kissing, second base was heavy petting, third base oral sex, and hitting a home run: Going all the way. Today, in college, first base is heavy petting, second base oral sex, third base intercourse, and a home run was learning their partner's name.

Syd's point -- perhaps the great Tom Wolfe's too -- was that meaningful relationships are a slow build. You do not need to hit a home run in your first plate appearance. Getting to first, building trust, is a viable initial stride. Business (or relationship) development is a slow build; patience is truly a virtue.

The haste entrepreneurs share to make it happen oftentimes conflicts with reality. Business is based on meaningful, trustful, fruitful, mutually beneficially relationships. Relationships are not transactions -- transactions (results) residue based on the strength and longevity of the relationship. Hitting a home run in your first at-bat may feel good, but it's not necessarily the most healthy product of your effort.

Happy new year. Best wishes for a bountiful 2008 filled with firsts.

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