Great ideas start with networking

Partnerships may be solidified in boardrooms, but they often have much humbler beginnings

On the third day of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice Conference in Miami, keynote speaker Laura Schwartz hammered home a wonderful point about the power of networking. Pointing out the number of events at conferences like AHF that revolve not around educational sessions but around schmoozing at a dinner or reception, Schwartz pointed out that ideas often germinate in the most social of settings.

"Great ideas do not start in a board room or a corner office," said Schwartz, a speaker and TV commentator who was once events coordinator for the Clinton administration. "They often begin as conversations at social events." She offered several examples: DreamWorks Animation, for instance, grew from a chance meeting between Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg at a state dinner at the White House; Oprah Winfrey's AM Chicago became syndicated nationally through King World because of a conversation Oprah had with Roger Ebert during a dinner date at a Hamburger Hamlet restaurant in the Windy City.

That was particularly sage advice for conference-goers who might not view events like AHF's Auction Finale and Reception as a place to conduct business—which is understandable, given that the theme of that particular event was Pirates and Parrotheads.  But it makes perfect sense. If you are tuned in to your surroundings, even the most inocuous piece of information can stick in your mind and begin to germinate. It also helps if you reach outside your circle, Schwartz notes, by talking to new people instead of hobnobbing with the same old friends.

Remember, you don't have to sign a contract while dressed like Blackbeard; you only have to float an idea. Sometimes you don't even have to do that; all you really need to do is reach out and talk—really talk—to a colleague at a dinner or over a beer.

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