Every conference, breakfast / lunch / dinner interaction, round table and other professional meeting usually left me with a few things. An array of thoughts, usually. If I was lucky, a bouquet of ideas. At other times the chance acquaintance of a someone who had a wavelength that matched and was generous with the sharing. These obviously happened on my lucky days. How I wished it happened in all conferences.
But there were two ubiquitous results from every single conference. One was a guilt ridden memory of having indulged in the dessert a tad more than what I could afford. (sigh)! Another was a clutch of business cards from fellow attendees.
A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of some spring cleaning, I unearthed many stacks of business cards, collected with a fervour matching a fanatic, from a slew of conferences over time. Were they another form of paper , like say currency, I could sit across the Sultan of Brunei and give him a complex. That much. Unfortunately, these were plain business cards.
At the moment of exchanging cards, each business card was pregnant with an opportunity for a conversation and an exchange of ideas. But now, in the midst of the spring cleaning, the silent sighs announced the still born scene sans melancholy. Passing around business cards suddenly seemed a meaningless ritual.
Of course, they carried a logo, a designation, a name. But obviously, these were dead cards. Devoid of a voice. People had moved companies. Or companies had moved addresses or moved company themselves : morphing into new conglomerates or disappearing without a mention. If that were the case with companies and their addresses, less said about titles and telephone numbers, the better.
The cards made people and their positions seem yawningly ancient. ( If you have been to enough conferences, I can safely bet that you would have had the experience of someone telling you, ‘this is an old card. Am transitioning into a new role’, even as he/she is presenting the card to you).
It didn’t take a long while for it to dawn on me that my business cards would have similar antiquated positions in several stacks in peoples homes and offices, bristling with the ignominy of having been ignored! The people that really desired to talk to me, found me nevertheless. So was the case with people I wanted to connect to. We spoke. We continued the conversation. On twitter. On the blog. On Linkedin On Facebook. On Pinterest. On Google Plus. Most found the good old mail box!
The ‘distribution’ of business cards, it became obvious, was a static activity incoherent with the order of the present day world. A ‘in-the-moment’ world, where I am almost always available for a conversation. I just had to make known where I am most available! (Unlike business cards, I could have different places that I would point people to, in different contexts and situations).
Upon a whim I decided to stop using business cards and thought of a badge and a baggage tag as an alternative. The #TechHR14 conference organised by People Matters was the ground for experiment.
The result has been more than merely ‘interesting’. Of course, a certain degree of novelty would have perked the eye. Twitter friends loved it! 🙂
Sunder put it out on twitter later in his fabulous video of the conference as well, and the rest of history is still happening.
— Sunder Ramachandran (@sundertrg) August 22, 2014
There were some interesting conversations on the sidelines though. Here they are. Three of them. Awesome reasons. Read on.
#1. A friend on seeing the badge spoke of ‘immersive connection’ that looking up the twitter handle and a conversation would lead to versus, a ‘passive connections’ that one more business card in the bag will have. It sounded so profound that I felt strangely proud!
#2. A complete stranger, a fellow conference attendee, complemented me on the badge. Proceeding to give me a low down on the history of business cards and them being more a preserve of aristocracy, and how with one action of mine I had helped reiterate the message that the internet doesn’t tolerate hierarchy. It sure sounded as though I had single handedly won a war or something.
#3. Yet another friend, spoke of how my wearing my twitter handle as ‘my identity’ was a massive thing and he couldn’t imagine doing it. I was convinced I had won the world championship in some sport!
Before these read as rotten fatuous self praise, I must confess that these didn’t occur to me at all before these people said it. Truth be told, I was just solving a problem of business cards piling up! Of course, I nodded in knowledgeable agreement and thanked each of them. They were all right and sounded so solemn.
But I was more than merely impressed that this had struck a chord. If you would put me behind a pulpit asking me to deliver a ‘victory speech’ it would go like this : “People, this is 2014. There is global warming that is leaving a gaping hole somewhere up there. The internet is breaking down walls and ways of working. All the feedback that have come my way has only reinforced the belief that the era of the business card and what it stood for is clearly in the past…..”
Of course, I’d be silent on how some folks felt that it was plain wrong (‘bordering on arrogance’) to assume that most people would be on twitter and would want to connect with me on twitter. ( ‘Business cards provide options’, was also heard!). For now though, that argument isn’t going too far with me. Will keep you posted. Also, at the end of this conference, I still have a clutch of business cards to sort given to me by people. I only have the satisfaction of not having given out any.
That day, much after the conference, I was checking in at the airport. I didn’t realise that my shirt continued to sport the badge. An old lady with a quiver in her voice that didn’t energy and curiosity, was seated next to me at the airport She was visiting her grand kids in Mumbai she said. We spoke about the weather and such else. After a while, she asked, ‘what is that trinket pinned on your chest’?
Now, it had been a long day. I was tired. I took a moment to gather my energy and wondered where I should begin. She wasn’t in any mood of waiting though. With a smile and mischief filled half wink said, “Whatever it is, it looks good. I haven’t seen it before. Besides, its close to your heart”.
That settled it well!