My Three Cents

I am in the Yale University Art Gallery, a masterful museum that speaks to us through paintings representative of nearly every era.

My focus is drawn to a couple of pieces by Edward Hopper and similar artists, nearby.  I immediately see a theme in the paintings that attracts my attention:  they feature people not communicating, but merely observing, each other. 

One depicts two people, a man and a woman, at two different tables — a moderate distance from each other — in the same restaurant.  Somehow, the painting enables you to feel their modest attempts at “communicating.” There is an edgy stillness about it all.  You can sense the unsettling tension as the subtle stares continue.  The two people probably will never talk or  meet.  That’s probably too bad. 

What can we conclude? Certainly not that every person we look at is someone we have to meet.  But sometimes we see a potential encounter that we pass up, due to shyness or just an internal debate on whether we should take the initiative to introduce ourselves. 

Business is filled with missed encounters and opportunities because one or both parties did not take the initiative to venture out.  I am talking, for example, about breaking clusters at cocktail parties consisting of either people we already know, or people we don’t. I am talking about introducing yourself to a perfect stranger at a party.

Okay.  The painting may be an extreme example.  But it does make a point.  Who knows what might have been had these two imaginary people met?

Here is an example of exactly what I am addressing. Stuck at O’Hare Airport recently, following the cancellation of all flights to New York due to a blizzard, I was waiting “on hold” for over 30 minutes on a public pay phone to make a new reservation.  I noted a person who had likely also been waiting for as long as I.  I signaled to her (via a rueful expression and rolled eyes) how crazy all this was.  After our calls were completed, I approached her and introduced myself.  She was traveling with several business associates and we all took a taxi together to downtown Chicago.  The group  of us ended up exchanging business cards and having dinner together. 

Several weeks later, an opportunity arose in the company she was with and she called me.  The result?  A $1 million client!  It was a stroke of good fortune that was the direct result of taking the initiative, walking up to a person “standing alone” and introducing myself.

thought leadership


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