I believe in serendipity. It is one of my strongest held beliefs, actually. It is the way in which I find much of the passion that I have for technology, education, and business. I make contacts on Twitter and at Coffee Shops that have very little chance to pay off with real relationships, but on occasion have yielded some of the most enduring friendships of my life. I take serendipity as a given. I proclaim that given enough time and enough creative output, I will meet the people that I am supposed to and traffic in enough new relationships to be fulfilled.
One recent encounter has shaken that hard-fought foundation.
A few weeks ago, I was meeting with a colleague and we decided to grab some coffee. After our meeting was over and I was finishing up some e-mail, a woman (who was clearly stood up by her business contact because of the awkward phone conversation I overheard which contained quite a few apologies on both sides from the sound of it) introduced herself to me. She asked what I did for a living and she wondered about the type of meeting I was having in the middle of the day. As I often do when in interesting conversation introduces itself, I gave her my card. I didn’t think anything of it. It seemed serendipitous, but probably not all that useful in the long-term.
And yet, that weekend I received a phone call from this woman. I returned her call on the following Monday and we had a short conversation about her new business and potential dovetailing of interest. She told me that she had a e-commerce website like Amazon.com and was looking for other people to help with it. I am always interested in seeing what else is out there (although I struggle to find any reason for someone to start up an e-commerce website that is “like Amazon.com” having a close relationship with that retailer already). So, we set up a day and time to meet to talk over what continued to seem like the logical extension of serendipity.
Then we met and she brought out her computer. We talked a bit about things that were going on as she connected to the free Wifi. I told her about doing some professional development with online school teachers and she reacted with an overly complementary response, which I thought nothing of because she seemed very interested in each one of our short conversations so far. Then she pulled up a rather obscure URL and turned the laptop toward me.I immediately recognized the site for what it was: a specifically designed presentation for a “business opportunity.”
Not wanting to get too judgmental (the meeting was serendipitous and all), I let her talk about her business as if we had always known that this was where we were headed. She went into details about her “e-commerce” site that she purchases all of her household items from. She showed me logos of every major player in online household and consumable products. We talked about my goals for the future and what I wanted to see happen in the next three years economically. I did my best to play along as much as I could.
Then we came to the org charts and one very small detail that was intentionally missing from the previous 20 slides.
At the bottom of the org chart, almost obscured by the arrows in the chart pointing to “me” was the Amway-Global brand. As she begins to reassure me about this company’s presence in the presentation she says this: “I’m sure you have heard of this company.” She pointed to it. She didn’t say the name. She just pointed and allowed me to process. She explained her progression of coming to terms with working for Amway. It was a real soul searchers story.
She said that she had wanted to run straight out the door when the person sitting in her seat now had introduced it to her. She said that her uninformed opinion was, well, uninformed at that time. She received some sage advice from her uncle to give it a chance. She is so glad that she did because she is doing quite well for herself now. I, on the other hand, just wanted to see how long she was going to go on about how it wasn’t a Pyramid scheme. I wanted to see how many different ways she was going to obfuscate the referral process. I wanted to know how she was ever going to get around to how she convinced other people to purchase all of their household items in bulk from a website that seemingly provided no benefit to anyone except for the person who owned the website (other than perhaps having a lot of off-brand discount products).
By the time she got to the point of asking for feedback after this revelation about what we were really talking about, she was pointing to a $117,000 annual salary. This was supposed to elicit a reaction of rabid interest from me, but I just felt dirty. I was being asked to consider “owning my own business” as nothing more than growing someone else’s model. I was being asked to believe that money was the measure of success that mattered most.
The problem with her pitch wasn’t that this seemed too good to be true. I am fairly confident that many people who get into Amway and work hard at it make a good amount of money. I am also pretty sure that given the right situation, this type of work would seem awfully attractive. The problem with her pitch was that I already consider myself a success. I don’t require that kind of salary to validate it. Furthermore, the purpose and passion I feel for everything I do has always provided me with enough money to feed my family and purchase all of my needs and many of my wants.
I believe in education and good ideas. I believe in creating a life for ones’ self. I do not believe in manufacturing it out of consumable goods. While you may be able to sell a lot of them, they will never last. That is the metaphor for why I felt so betrayed by serendipity. I create things based upon the reciprocal nature of shared ownership. She took that ownership of our communication and bent it toward her will. She tried to reengineer it until I became the perfect client, the next in a long line of “business owners” that she had converted. Well, that is not serendipity. That is manipulation. That is false advertising and bait and switch networking.
No thank you.
So while I still believe in serendipity, I will be on the look out for those who try to trade on it and are unwilling to give creativity back. I will still give out my card, but I will ask for their’s next time as well.