Spinny’s Networking Tips: Working a Room

I’m going to post a kind of series on this, starting today. No, I am not a “guru,” nor a “rockstar,” nor any of those silly over-used social media terms. I’m just a solopreneur making his way through the business jungle and sometimes I feel like I have a glimmer of an idea worth sharing.

So, you’re at your local Chamber of Commerce mixer, beer in hand, some hors d’oeuvres in your belly, and a room full of people surround you whom you know diddley about. Yikes. Rule one: they’re all here for the same reason you are, to network. Relax, they’re not going to recoil in horror when a stranger approaches them.

How do you worm your way in to a stranger’s notice without obnoxiously being “that guy?” It’s not really hard. Size up a smallish group that’s chatting, causally work your way into the circle. Nod and listen. C’mon: this isn’t rocket science. Odds are they’re making small talk, you can feel your way into how and when to toss in your two cents (I’m assuming here that you’re not pathologically terrified of small talk; if so, I can’t help you). At some point other people will drift in or out. I’m also assuming there are name tags involved: I’d be very surprised if not. The guy next to you is probably primed with his own elevator speech, so as things calm a little greet him by name and ask him about his business. Guess what? He’s probably in the same boat as you, and gravitated to a safe group. You’ve just handed him the keys to the kingdom! Score one for you.

Listen to him (okay, also her. I’m not going to get silly trying to stick with gender neutral pronouns. Deal), I mean, really pay attention. No matter how boring or mundane or unrelated to your interests his business might turn out to be, I guarantee you he has some “pain,” as in, things that could be better. As he talks, what are his pains, and can you do anything about them? Do you know anyone who might be able to? If not, the worst you’ve done is met someone you can add to your circle. If you hit pay dirt and there’s some pain you can help with, now you have a real in! Take it from there. If you didn’t score to that degree, odds are he’s going to ask you about your business. Now it’s your turn for the elevator pitch, show your demo if you have one, and so on. I say this without being facetious: be assured and interesting. Stammering and stuttering and acting terrified gets you nowhere. Keep reminding yourself: this guy is here because he WANTS to hear from people like you.

Here’s how the network works in the second degree (after you’ve moved on): yesterday someone approached me at a Chamber mixer out of the blue. She’d heard about me from someone she’d just talked to, with whom I’d talked earlier in the evening, and who remembered me and (correctly) realized she and I should talk. He fired her my way, and voila. Make sure you do that for others! Be a facilitator as much as a networker.

And lather, rinse, repeat. You can float from circle to circle for as long as the venue will put up with your event. Don’t be afraid to spend some time working older contacts you’ve already made, either: reinforcement is always a good thing. I’ve been at this for a couple of years now and at this point I try to divide my time equally between reinforcing old contacts and making new ones. This isn’t a science, it’s an art, and you should trust your gut.

I can’t stress this enough: these people WANT to meet you, that’s why they are there! Relax, relax, and relax some more. Have fun! Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time listening to some insurance sales reps talk about how they make cold calling fun. I laughed and laughed, and also got the business cards of every single one of them and have a couple of them potentially interested in how I can jazz up their logo with animation. No one is a waste of your time.

Next time I think I’ll talk about what you do The Morning After.



What Makes Spinny Feel Old

You know when I start feeling old? When I interact with situations like the “night life scene” and with people into “street” culture. Maybe those aren’t even the right words for it.

Noise and crowds bother the shit out of me. I avoid them whenever possible. When I think of fun live music my image is sitting on a couch where someone with a guitar (acoustic, of course) and a mike is all there is on stage, and you can hear the person next to you talking at a normal volume. Sure, I like to “rock out” to groups like Led Zep—but on my own, in my own space, and the volume is pretty low. I’m that guy complaining about a neighbor’s noise, not the one making it.

The “street” thing I also don’t get. Crooked caps and saggy pants? Straighten out and pull up, man! Making weird signs with your fingers? What the hell is up with that?

So, yeah: contrasting myself to that kind of stuff is what makes me feel old. While I’m at it, all you kids get off my goddamn lawn.


Spinny’s Mini Review of Godzilla 2014

The verdict up front: generally good and a satisfying monster movie, with lots of homage to the original. Monsters going all WWF on each other is, after all, at the core of a Godzilla movie.

I found the beginning slow, but they managed to start ramping up the tension towards mayhem before I got too restless. The rationale behind one of the principals ending up in the thick of every major event felt flimsy, but again a hallmark of the genre is seeing colossal mayhem through humans trying to survive it and that character’s perspective gave continuity to the epic action happening all around.

My main beef was with a seeming incomprehensible decision by the military to move some critical assets via a means that appeared doomed to monster interference from the beginning. The decision generated a lot of opportunity for tension, drama and outright fright but that whole section of the movie could easily have been avoided by a trivial change in what was, frankly, a dumb plan.

I give it 3.5 stars out of 5. This isn’t high drama but it’s a kick ass monster movie and worthy homage to the genre.


The Power of Prayer

This is potentially controversial. So be it.

In light of the recent joint prayer for peace (including Jewish and Islamic leaders) facilitated by the Catholic Pope, I wanted to hold forth on why I consider such events to be important:

  • People hear/participate in a prayer.
  • People believe in that prayer.
  • People modify their behavior based on that belief.
  • Things thereby happen.

That’s how it works. I respectfully submit that if you merely say the words (regardless of how devoutly or fervently) and then passively wait for Divine Intervention you are destined for disappointment.

“God helps those who help themselves.”


Great profile piece on my Studio in today’s Observer-Dispatch.

Image of Mark at work

Image credit: Mark DiOrio / Observer-Dispatch

All his life, Mark Dyson kept his two passions – art and technology – separate.

That was until about two years ago, when the 53-year-old Deerfield man quit his job as a computer graphics designer with the Northrop Grumman Corporation and combined those loves into his own 3D animation business called Spinland Studios.

“I went back and forth with my wife for about a year before finally pulling the trigger,” Dyson said. “It just felt like the right time … and I knew that the Mohawk Valley was historically underserved in this area and I could hopefully fill the gap.”

Operating out of his home studio, the retired U.S. Air Force member creates 3D animations and logos that can be used by local businesses and organizations for advertising and presentations, and by independent filmmakers as special effects.

Read the whole article at the Utica Observer-Dispatch here.


The Fisherman and The Businessman

I’ve seen several variations of this brief story. All are similar in the basic premise, differing only in trivial details. I believe it’s a powerful answer to the question, “What are you working for?”

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

“But… What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually to New York City, where you could run your expanded enterprise with proper management.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years, 25 tops.”

“But what then, señor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions señor? Then what?”

“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll into the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


The Lemon Squeezer

Another fun little tale courtesy of my mother. This is the perfect time of year for it.

At a local bar in downtown St. Paul the owner and bartender was so sure that he was the strongest man around that he offered a standing $1000 bet: he would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass and then hand the lemon to the patron. Anyone who could squeeze two more drops of juice out of it would win the money. Many people had tried over the years: weightlifters, truck drivers, North Dakota oilfield workers, etc. Nobody had ever been able to do it.

One day this scrawny little fellow came into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit. He sat down, ordered a glass of draft and started looking around the bar. After reading the sign on the wall about the lemon challenge, he said in a small voice: “I was just reading your sign, and I’d like to try the bet.”

After the laughter had died down, the bartender said, “Okay.” He grabbed a lemon and squeezed the hell out of it and then handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little fellow.

The crowd’s laughter soon turned to total silence as the man clenched his little fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass.

As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the guy his $1000 and then asked the little man, “Do you mind if I ask what do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weight lifter, or what?”

The little fellow quietly replied, “I work for the IRS.”


On Science

There seems to be a habit of humans where we try to simplify discourse by replacing complicated concepts with simplified labels. While this might be convenient, I find that all too often it masks the original meaning when the label gets misconstrued over time.

Take “science.” What is it, exactly? A belief system? A joke? A thing of any sort? No, not at all. As I see it, it is a word that describes a methodology for discovering things. That’s it, nothing more.

Don’t want to take just my word for it? Here’s what Google (and we all know what an authority that source is!) says about it:

Google's definition of "science"

Google’s definition of “science”

Why do some people embrace the actions that take place under the umbrella of the term? Quite simply: if you attempt to gain new knowledge using a methodology other than the careful steps described in the so-called “scientific method” you leave yourself open to a high probability of forming incorrect conclusions based on invalid or insufficient evidence.

Here’s how to approach learning something new:

Steps of the scientific method

Steps of the scientific method

Once you’ve formed an evidence-based conclusion, you publish your findings—as well as the steps you undertook to get there. This is the point where the skeptics evaluate the solidity of your claims, including replicating your experiments to make sure the results are as you say. If the experiment isn’t verifiable and repeatable, you blew it. Note to skeptics: your rebuttal, if any, must follow the same constraints. That you “don’t believe it” or “don’t agree with it” does not qualify as an effective rebuttal unless you can back it up. If you are unqualified to understand the process that led to the disputed conclusion then you are also unqualified to refute it and must rely on the assistance of those who are. Unfortunately “qualified” also must include free of financial (or other) incentive to overstate one’s case.

There is a lot of “controversy” out there that is not valid controversy at all: the rebuttal in such cases is on shaky factual ground but is forcefully submitted as though it held equal footing. One also needs to be wary of the ad populum fallacy where something is perceived to have validity because “a lot” of people agree with it. Don’t confuse overwhelming consensus among qualified researchers with popularity; they are two very different things. Louder is not more correct.

Why should you care? Unless you are comfortable with being led astray into forming invalid conclusions about what’s around you, you do well to understand and follow “the method,” and to respect others who do the same.


Just A Pseudo Random Event in Spinland

Heh. Just a little off topic rambling, feel free to skip this as irrelevant.

I’m normally in bed early, and asleep soon after. One of my night time habits is to do some reading or web browsing on my iPad before I pack it in. Last night I was awake later than is typical for me, when all of a sudden the network seemed to go to crap. I couldn’t reach anything, not even my local computers. I switched the iPad over from wi-fi to LTE and all worked fine.

Damn, I thought, now I’m going to have to spend the morning troubleshooting my home network and maybe calling Time Warner (a process I loathe).

Then I looked at the time.

There’s a reason I schedule all four computers in the house to start their online backups at 9:30PM: we’re both usually asleep by then. D’oh! I was just seeing the local equivalent of a DDoS attack on my network as they all scrambled to back up everything before morning.

Ain’t I silly?


Spinny Finally Sees “Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” On Stage

So, our little town of Utica, NY hosted two performances of the Rice/Webber hit as the troupe ironed out their final kinks before heading out on a national tour, and my wife & I were privileged to have a couple of tickets to see last night’s performance. As a birthday gift to each other (we were born 8 days apart) we splurged on a couple of the better seats in the house.

My impression?

I grew up with the sound track on vinyl, played so often I knew all the songs by heart (that and “Superstar” were the backbone of a Rice/Webber phase I went through as a tween), but I had never seen it performed. I was entranced. There were a couple of minor sound system glitches, and the lead’s voice (to be brutally honest) was not as good as that from my memory, but it was a wonderful show.

One of the “wow” moments came when I realized the part of the Pharaoh had been intended to be a shout out to Elvis. I honestly did not get that from merely hearing his signature dream song on the album. It was a riot! I loved the choreography as well as the music, and the stage production overall was excellent. The tone was upbeat and positive throughout, and even the more melancholy notes were never allowed to become heavy-handed.

The finale medley was a total tour de force and it was obvious the cast was throwing it all out there and having a total blast with it. The audience was very much into the rousing spirit and they brought down the house on a very high note.

We are indeed so very fortunate to have The Stanley Center for the Arts in Utica, and that the Broadway Theatre League of Utica does such a stellar job booking high quality off-Broadway acts and technicals for us to enjoy in our little slice of Central New York.

Utica Rocks!