I have attended a LOT of networking events. In some of those cases, I’ve come away with some real value, but more often than not, they feel like a perpetual grind. I was struggling to put my finger on the exact problematic theme, but then I got introduced to the work of author and researcher Adam Grant. After reading “Give and Take”, Grant’s first book, I realized something: Traditional networking events favor the selfish (a “Taker” in Grant’s parlance). To create real value attendees have to survey the room, identify the co-attendees who are the highest value targets, and then capture those individuals’ attention long enough to squeeze in their pitch. I may have taken few liberties with cynical hyperbole there, but you get the idea.
I wondered what would happen if that concept was turned upside down. What if people came together at an event with a purposefully selfless approach instead? What if everyone’s first thought upon a new interaction was “how can I be of help to this person?”. What if elevator pitching was downplayed in favor of sharing insights and advice? Now that might not be an event for everyone, but it certainly seemed like something I had yet to experience.
And with that, the Spark Series was born. This collection of lunch and after-work events are held periodically in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts. Participants arrive with (or evolve into) an “otherish giver” point of view (Grant’s concept of focusing on helping others without entirely disregarding your own self-interest) and spend a few hours finding ways to benefit their newfound connections.
- Attendees should have a direct or indirect connection to the innovation economy. Entrepreneurs, executives, investors, advisors, mentors, skilled professionals, and connectors are encouraged to participate.
- Participants should possess both a sincere willingness AND a legitimate propensity to give to others. In an environment like this, “fakers” will stand out like a sore thumb.
- Don’t come in search of near-term reciprocity. Help someone for the sake of helping, and not in the hopes of payback. When this “pay it forward” model works as it should, your benefits will come, but possibly in most unlikely of times and places.
- Commit and execute. A Spark Series event is only the first point of inspiration. We encourage everyone to forge new relationships at an event, make a commitment to be of help, and then hold yourselves accountable to actually make good on that promise.
Spark Series Evening Edition events are held in Cambridge every few months. Attendees have an opportunity to meet a broad and diverse cross-section of the innovation economy over light food and drink. At an Evening Edition event, admission never has a fee, but we ask that each attendee adheres to the following 3 “costs of attendance”:
- Broaden the tent: Good deeds benefit from a network effect. Prior to attending we ask you to be thoughtful of the criteria mentioned above and make a recommendation to us of an individual who fits the bill and would benefit others should she attend. The value of future events will diminish without the introduction of new faces.
- Make an offer: During the event, we ask each attendee to create at least two new relationships (hence the reason for requirement #1). Both those interactions should kick off with the question “How can I be helpful to you?”. Make these offers very seriously, because we ask that you…
- Follow through: In the weeks following the event, we ask that you spend a total of 30 minutes doing something good for one or more people you experienced at the Spark Series. This could be sitting down for a half hour mentoring session over coffee, or it could include six “5 Minute Favors“. Break it up however you choose.
Spark Series Lunch Edition events are more intimate and curated than their after work counterparts. At a lunch, approximately 10 individuals come together over good food and conversation to forge tighter bonds than might have been possible at a larger event. We try to bring together new lunch groups every few weeks, and we encourage these pods to find repeated ways to stay in touch long after sharing an initial meal.
Interested in the Spark Series?
We are constantly looking to include more unique, diverse and skilled individuals as participants in the Series. All events are by invitation only, If you are interested in personally participating or recommending a guest, please contact us. If you would like to reach out to me personally instead, I would be happy to hear from you via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing you at our next event.