Networking like a chameleon

Collaborative Creation’s Roly Oliver sings the praises of the unfamiliar and the mysterious as he finds himself out of his comfort zone.

People who meet me for the first time at a networking event might think that networking comes naturally to me.

I enjoy finding out about the careers and lives of people I haven’t met before, and I think a genuine interest goes a very long way. People can certainly tell when you’re only talking to them because you feel you should be. Of course, a part of that interest is finding out if we can be useful to each other, but that’s just the nature of the beast.

Without wanting to toot my own horn too much, networking is something (I hope!) I have gotten quite good at over many years working in business development. But it isn’t something that comes naturally to me at all.

I grew up in a working class area of Yorkshire that was really hard as nails. My family moved there when I was 11, from a more middle class area of Sussex. When we first got to Yorkshire, I felt that my Southern accent marked me out as a bit of an outsider, and I had to try and find ways to fit in at school.

The same thing happened when I first moved to London. I was working for a sound company in Nottingham when my girlfriend and I - now my wife - decided we were going to try and make it in the big city. We moved with no jobs, no money and pretty much no prospects. I was forced to spend all day, every day for weeks cold calling anyone I knew who might have some work going, until I eventually landed a job at legendary London venue The Marquee. That kick started my career in touring and the music industry.

It wasn’t always easy, but I think it’s important to be thrown out of your comfort zone.

I was forced to adapt to an unfamiliar environment, and it made me a stronger person. The same thing happens when I walk into a room full of strangers now - I just throw myself into a conversation and try not to overthink it.

It probably goes without saying that if every meeting and networking session you go to is taking place over Zoom, you’re never going to be outside your comfort zone. In fact, the complete opposite is true - we’re conducting meetings from our living room sofas in jogging bottoms. That’s about as comfortable as it gets.

Adaptability is a valuable skill. Perhaps now that the world is opening back up, it’s time for all of us to drop ourselves into situations we’ve not experienced, with people we don’t know, and see where it leads us? It could be the start of something great.