Cult Following

This past weekend, I gleefully attended my 10th consecutive Berkshire Hathaway Annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, hosted by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.  I wasn’t alone.  There were 37,000 of us.  Since the arena at the CenturyLink Center holds only 18,000, the remaining 19,000 sad, sad shareholders were relegated to the overflow viewing areas.  As ever, in order to assure our seats in the main arena, Marc and I set our alarm for 4:30am, made it to the event location by 5:15am and stood in line until the doors opened at 7am.  It was joyful; in fact, the first time in years it wasn’t raining.  We stood in line those years, too.

When the appointed moment arrived, we, like the thousands of other line standers, rushed in, run-walking while the security detail hollered, “walk, don’t run!”  PHEW.  Thankfully, we were in!  We placed our pre-made “Reserved” signs on our seats with masking tape that we brought along.  Then, in usual form, we went down to the showroom floor to browse around “Berkyville” and see all of the company booths, grab a DQ Dilly Bar (at 7:15am), have our photo snapped with the GEICO Gecko and the Fruit of the Loom guys, pick up a few kitchen gadgets at Pampered Chef and buy a big box of undiscounted See’s Candies peanut brittle.  Oh, and did I mention that I purchased the Berkshire Hathaway, limited edition, Brooks running shoes for $110/pair?  Most comfy running shoes I’ve ever owned.  Well, the truth is that I can’t decide if they really are that comfortable or if it is what I call the “Berkshire effect” (that is, my perception being skewed by my warm feelings of proudly belonging to the capitalist cult of BRK)…?  I am fairly certain that the really are the most comfortable.

Who does any of that stuff?  It’s crazy!  It’s ridiculous!  It is lemming-like!  And, yet, I’ve done it every year for the past 10… and I’m likely to do it again in the future.  I’ll be there, in the arena, as long as our fearless [cult] leaders, Warren and Charlie, sit up there on the dais for five or so hours answering questions from the press, from analysts and from shareholders.  Hey, I’m not that insane.  Bill Gates and Bono were there, too.  We’re part of the same group, you see.

Culture.  It’s all about culture.  It’s about belonging, too.  Author Seth Godin refers to this as being part of a “tribe;” he has an entire book on the subject.  He says that it is human nature to need to belong – not just to one tribe, but to many, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or arts related.  A tribe, he says, is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.

The only other time that I witnessed firsthand such a strong culture of belonging in a professional setting is when I interned for a summer at Hallmark Cards.  Even back then, I called it the “cult of Hallmark.”  Everyone arrived at roughly the same time (right around 8am or earlier)… everyone broke for lunch around the same time (around noon or so)… from there, many of them (of us) went shopping at the discounted, in-office Hallmark store… and, then, at about 5pm, the parking lot cleared out.  Empty.  People who worked there, at least at the time that I did, loved it.  They felt like they were part of a family.  I felt like I was part of that family… and I was there for only nine weeks one summer!

And, I must admit, when I left Sprint in 2008 to strike out on my own, one of my standard lines about the type of organization that I wanted to work with and for was one that “promoted a culture where I had a seat at the table.”  That’s what I said.  I was focused not on the amount of money that I would make, nor on the specifics of the work that I would do.  Those things were important, too, but the characteristic that most interested me was whether I would like the culture, whether I would fit in.

I think it is great to belong.  It feels good.  It bolsters confidence, pride and a sense of self.  So, where do you fit in?  What type of culture or tribe resonates with you?  Can you readily articulate the traits of a place, of an organization, of a group to which you do or would like to belong?  As you continue your networking journey, think about your affiliations – or affiliations that you would like to make.  In both scenarios, you will find rich ground for networking.  Think first of WHAT it is you would like to affiliate with, then consider WHO is part of that experience with whom you can connect.  Go on… join ‘em!

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