I picked my youngest kids up from preschool the other day and decided to stop by the local farmers' market on the way home. My kids love the farmers' market -- it's bright and noisy and colorful, and they always get some treat to munch on while I search for the perfect tomatoes.
My daughter loves it for another reason: She seems to know everyone there.
We run into a few of her classmates, of course. But she also knows their parents, their siblings, and their pets -- and greets each and every one of them by name.
It's uncanny. The girl isn't even 5 years old yet, and she seems to instinctively know how to network. Some of the kids she runs into at the farmer's market aren't even in her class at school, and she still knows their names and chats with them like they're old friends.
Now, I know not all kids are like that. Heck, I'm not like that. I'm not a shy person but, like most people, somewhere along the way from preschool to adulthood I grew to worry about things like rejection, appearances, and protocol.
My daughter doesn't. And maybe it runs in my family, because my youngest brother is like that, too. He moved in with me for a few months after college; I had already lived in the area for five years but, within days, my brother knew so many people that when he and I went out for drinks, other customers at the local bar assumed I was the one who was new in town.
People like my daughter and my brother, who can network instinctively, know that it doesn't matter what, exactly, someone can bring to the table -- it's all good. The more people, the merrier, because if one person doesn't have exactly what you need in your network, there's a good chance that he or she knows someone who does. Which is exactly the kind of attitude we need to have, whether we're trying to boost our client lists, our corporate contacts, or our rosters of mommy friends.
Earlier in the summer, we were at the beach, and my daughter noticed a little girl looking at us from a few yards away. I smiled and looked around, wondering if the girl was lost or needed help. But my daughter walked right up to her, smiled, and gave her elevator speech: "Hi, I'm 4 years old. Do you want to play with me?"
The little girl nodded and, without another word, they ran off together to dig in the sand.
I sat on the blanket with my sleepy youngest son and thought, "Now that's networking."