Story Of Wallflower Experience At Networking Event

Look for the Wallflowers

I was talking about networking with a good friend of mine, Dr. Mark Goulston (a well-known psychiatrist and consultant), some time ago, and he said, “People should always introduce themselves to the wallflower in the room.  Nobody attends a networking event wanting to stay in a corner and be left alone. They’re in that corner because the most technically skilled people are often socially shy. You never know when you’ll meet the next Bill Gates.”

This comment really resonated with me, and it reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was at a party put on by Virgin Galactic relating to the testing of White Knight Two and SpaceShip Two. I walked outside the party and looked over in the corner by the pool where I saw a man standing by himself looking uncomfortable and very much out of his element. Then I noticed who it was. It was the legendary Burt Rutan, Founder of Scaled Composites, and designer of the SpaceShipTwo! He was by himself at a party with hundreds of people celebrating the work of the company he founded as well as Virgin Galactic.

This was an opportunity I could not pass up. So, I went up and introduced myself to him.  I asked him if he went to many of these events, and he said, “Counting this one – that would be one.”  I asked him why he decided to go to this one, and he said, “Because Richard asked me to come.”  By the way, that would be – Richard Branson, the Founder of Virgin Galactic.

Although he didn’t seem very outgoing in this setting, he did seem good with having a conversation, so I pushed on. I said to him, “It must be incredible to see this amazing, long-term vision come to fruition.” He nicely replied, “This isn’t my long-term vision of what the company can do.”  I’m sure I was visibly surprised as I asked him, “What’s your long-term vision?”  He said, “Well, I believe the company can push forward past sub-orbital flights and expand to allow space tourists to do orbital flights around the earth.”  I naively said, “That’s an amazing long-term vision.” He replied, “That’s not my long-term vision.”  I was really surprised and said, “Okay, what’s your long-term vision?”  He replied that he felt “the company could provide orbital flights to passengers who could then stay at a hotel in space for a short period of time.” At this point, I’m completely blown away, and I once again said, “That’s an amazing, long-term vision,” and, yet again, he said, “That’s not my long-term vision.” At this point I’m all in, and I’m completely fascinated with this visionary, so I again asked, “What’s your long-term vision?” He replied, “I believe we can launch flights into orbit, stay at a hotel in space, and then take flights around the moon and back – that’s my long-term vision.”

Burt was probably in his late 60’s when we had this conversation, and I asked him one final question, “When do you think that vision can become a reality?” And he replied, “I think it can be done in my lifetime.”

The British have a term for what I felt at that moment – “gobsmacked.” I was utterly astounded by this man’s vision, and I was incredibly honored to have had this opportunity to talk with him.

I founded the largest referral networking organization in the world, and I’ve met tens of thousands of people during my tenure in BNI. I can easily say that this was one of the most interesting conversations I ever had with someone at a party or networking event. Burt Rutan’s (and, of course, Richard Branson’s) vision of what can be done through their entrepreneurial efforts has left an indelible mark on me.

The important lesson here relates to Dr. Goulston’s belief that we should always look for the “wallflowers” in the room. Not everyone of them will be a “Burt Rutan” but I’ve found that most of them are interesting and well worth the conversation. Just every now and then, you might meet a Bill Gates or a Burt Rutan, and that makes the effort of finding those wallflowers worth it.

Do you have a story to share about talking with someone who was alone at a networking event? Or have you had your own “wallflower” experience when someone came over to talk with you at a meeting or event?




Photo courtesy of:
File:Burt Rutan – Cropped.JPG” by Steve Paluch is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

One thought on “Look for the Wallflowers

  1. Dear readers, I have had an experiance of meeting an absolute stranger and an introvert in a gathering. He was eluding the crowd, those who encourage to mix with others. However, once I struck a conversation with him, he left me with an insite … I think I am open to my customer’s feedback, but when a hard criticisism came, I found myself defending my point of view (I still feel is right). What I discovered is that a hard core criticisism oftem leaves you with an opening to create an intiative that will mak you stand out with competiors. One suct example was to commit to a 0 percent variation from approved estimated project cost and documenting it in renovation projects. This is a big deal for architects & designers as professionals. Thank you for your reading & the insites.

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