Tarah Wheeler tweeted a thread recently. Seems pretty clear-cut, right? Agenda-less meetings are a waste of everyone’s time and demonstrate that you don’t know how to get things done. Glib, empty phrases about getting time are content-free soundbites.

But, not all meetings are the same. In my current job I am lucky enough to encounter many opportunities, of all sorts: jobs at our companies, companies to found, projects to deliver. I’m also lucky enough to meet and know lots of intelligent and interesting people.

Seems like a pretty straight-forward matching problem, right? Understand the opportunity, think about who the best candidates would be. Email a simple yes/no question, as Wheeler suggests.

But that’s not how I make introductions. Why not?

I’ve learnt that people are not your conception of them, they are no longer what they once published and they are not what they have done before. If I think I have something that is interesting to someone, I don’t get to decide if it is interesting to them. If it is interesting to them it will have captured their imagination in some way I didn’t forsee. The company that I think I want them to found is not the company they will found.

But the only way to discover this is by having a chat. No agenda, no goal. Share the problem, share solutions, and, most importantly, get to know each other. Start to trust one another. A great outcome is when you can create together, when you can be smart together. In the end you will create something from the parts you understand, and the parts they can add that you didn’t even know they had to hand.

I’m going to assume that Wheeler understands all this, too. Those contact requests that she mentions do sound awful, and I’d probably just ignore them out of hand, too. What are some effective things to try when you want to open a conversation?

  • Explain why part of you is relevant to them and their world: “I run a fintech incubator; I’m interested in talking to you about that idea for a neo-bank you tweeted.”
  • State what your current best guess for an outcome is: “We’re interested in starting businesses like that.”
  • Ask for a short chat: “How about a coffee or a quick phone call?”

Importantly, keep it passive. Don’t put people in the situation where they have to say no to you. If they want to work with you, they will make that clear. If they’re not sure, don’t force them to say no. It makes many people uncomfortable, and making people uncomfortable is not a great way to start collaborating.

Yes, this not how you’re supposed to close. But, you’re not closing, you’re opening. Set it up so that they can carry, if they want to.

The simplest way? Ask for advice. On something you’re working on, that you believe that they’re interested in. You’re almost guaranteed to learn something that way.