Lessons from the Labyrinth: Mental Models

“Society bristles with enigmas which look hard to solve. It is a perfect maze of intrigue.”
~ Honore de Balzac

As I mentioned in the last post, we recently went to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island for a brief family vacation. While there, we decided to explore the grounds and in so doing discovered a labyrinth tucked away at the edge of the gardens. It was a simple labyrinth formed by low-lying perennials. The maze itself wasn’t even really a maze, more a path that simply bent back upon itself numerous times with no branches or dead ends. It was a path for contemplation.

Imagine, however, approaching this construct with not the goal of introspection, but rather the desire to get to the center of the labyrinth. You might look at this meandering path of twists and turns and decide that it was just too difficult and time-consuming and give it all up as a bad deal. If you were such a person, by the way, you would not be alone. My younger daughter, Abby, prefers that shortest path — with one exception.

She doesn’t give up, she just uses a different mental model.

She, being a Very Logical Child, looked at the “walls” of the labyrinth and saw them for what they were — perennials laid out in lines that were at most two inches tall and six inches across. She simply stepped over a single intervening line and walked directly to the center. She simply couldn’t understand what was taking the rest of us so long to get there.

Most people do this in networking (and in life) all the time. They look at a situation and place barriers in their way which constrain their progress, limit their options, and ultimately can turn them away from their success. Here’s the thing, though: Most of those “barriers” are no more difficult to surmount than those labyrinth “walls” were for my daughter to step across. You simply need to decide that this is the direction you want to go and often the obstacles that stood in your path will melt away.

“I don’t know where to network.” — So what? Start somewhere — a general group such as a Chamber or Business Association can be good places to start — and as you start refining the groups with whom you want to network, you will find the right places. Remember you can always ask.

“I don’t know what to say.” — So what? Your purpose to to gather information, not give a presentation. Ask great questions about what they do and why and who they are and what they like and where they are from and what excites them and where they went on their last vacation and what they do in their free time and how long they’ve been doing that and how they got started and so on and so on and so on. Be interested. Be curious. Be fascinated.

“I don’t have enough time.” — You were going to have lunch anyway. You can choose to eat somewhere other than your desk with someone other than your coworkers. You were going to be sending emails or making calls anyway. It won’t take that much time to send or make one or two more. Your friends and family and acquaintances and networking connections were going to need access to resources, and information, and services anyway. It doesn’t take that long to make a simple introduction that would benefit both parties involved — and make you look good at the same time.

Before you let the labyrinth walls block you from what you want to achieve with your networking or your life, take a closer look. They may be walls only in your mind and all it will take is to step across that line to find all the gifts you could ever want.

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Greg Peters, president and founder of The Reluctant Networker, LLC, is a business networking specialist. He works with trade associations on both the local and national level to create a culture of better connections and greater opportunity. Find out more at www.TheReluctantNetworker.com or gpeters@thereluctantnetworker.com.

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