Last month, I heard the most remarkable thing: A group of American journalists, among them a former U.S. Army Ranger, in an effort to learn more about the Hezbollah militia, challenged members of the terrorist organization to a game of paintball in Beirut. Yes, you read me right… paintball! Guns loaded, paint pellets flying, accounts of the event state that the final score was American journalists – 4 points; Hezbollah fighters – 3 points. Apparently, there was a display of mutual respect during the game, decent sportsmanship and some shared laughter and camaraderie between sets. In the article I read, journalist Mitchell Prothero said that, “my motivation for brokering the match was largely driven by the simple journalistic need to better understand the group.” Sounds like some good old fashioned networking to me. Well, maybe not old fashioned, but networking nonetheless.
On a very different note (though, interestingly, also paint related), once many years ago, a business development representative from one of my business partners called to tell me she would be in town the following week and hoped we could get together to talk business strategy. That all sounded fine. What she said next is what took me off guard: She suggested that I, and a few of my colleagues, meet her at a local spa for a mani-pedi so that we could catch up in a more relaxed setting over club soda, limes and a bit of pampering. Hey, sign me up! I thought the idea was brilliant. She was forging a relationship that struck a chord on a personal level and we still managed to get good work done.
While both of these examples are quite non-traditional, they are very intriguing. The venues took all parties to neutral ground in order to enjoy very human, leisure activities while still accomplishing professional objectives (though, it is my understanding that Hezbollah committed no lasting violence during the game of paintball, so it is unclear to me what the players’ professional objectives might have been… perhaps PR exposure and a way to let off a bit of steam?). It seems that more casual settings can disarm the various participants and make for some very memorable networking. Certainly, these types of networking arrangements are more the exception than the rule, and many people I know are not overly keen on mixing professional interactions with more personal ones. But, worthy consideration ought to be given to a few well-placed, well-timed, special networking activities. This could be just what is needed to solidify certain budding networking relationships.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t point out the obvious here, though. Notice that the paintball is very much a stereotypical “guy thing,” while the mani-pedi outing worked likely because all of the participants were women. Bravery aside, I cannot imagine going to play paintball with my male networking contacts… they probably wouldn’t be willing to soak their feet in the luxury massage chair next to me either!
What are your ideas for non-traditional settings for networking goodness? Are you a fan or foe? I look forward to your input.