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Meeting Smart People, Rejecting Starbucks, and Making Memories

For those of you that know me, there are 2 things I really enjoy doing–drinking coffee and meeting smart people. I enjoy these things on their own, but even better together. Luckily I live in the most awesome city in the world so I get to engage in both activities fairly regularly. In New York there’s no shortage of smart people in which to meet and talk to about a variety of different topics–Human Resources, business, comic books–that allows for building an enriching relationship. These informal get-togethers have helped me be a better HR practitioner and blogger, amongst other things. 

New York City also boasts plenty of places to get coffee. Oftentimes, I tend to meet people at a Starbucks. It’s convenient; in many parts of the city there are multiple locations situated quite close to each other. This, I found out some time ago, was a deliberate attempt on Starbucks part to gain market share in the city. They discovered that New Yorkers don’t like to wait long to purchase a cup of coffee (naturally). So they opened several in high traffic areas so that if one was too busy the pedestrian overflow could go elsewhere, in many cases right across the street. While not my favorite (I far prefer my home brewed Café Bustelo coffee), Starbucks does make reasonable coffee and offers a comfortable and familiar place in which to spend time. 

I realize now that I may need to alter this approach. There’s no political or economic motive behind it, although I do believe that Starbucks doesn’t need any more of my money. It’s about differentiation, which in this case means making a unique impression with those I choose to meet with. Remember, I talked about coffee and people. While none of the people I meet with are total strangers (we’ve connected prior to our first meeting, usually through social media) it’s often through these coffee sessions that we’re coming together offline for the first time. So, if I wouldn’t want to compromise a person’s impression of me by, for example, wearing pajama jeans, why do it with generic coffee?

Let me tell you a story…a few years I was doing research on corporate alumni groups for a former employer. Through my research I came across a person from IBM who was in charge of their alumni programs. As you can imagine, it’s an important component within the organization, as it’s over 100 years old and one of the most profitable and well respected companies in the world. Fortunately for me she was based out of New York City. I was able to contact her and we set an appointment for, you guessed it, having coffee.

For convenience sake she chose a place near her office, a cafe/restaurant in Grand Central Station. If you haven’t seen it, Grand Central Station is a gorgeous building, rich in history and architectural details. The restaurant, Cipriani Dolci, is beautiful as well, situated on the Station’s west balcony overlooking the Main Concourse area, which you can see in the photo below.

It was a great place to meet. And as we sat drinking our coffee she talked about her role at IBM. One of the threads of conversation that stood out to me was when she described an alumni event she put together that took place in Grand Central Station. Using the surrounding landscape to illustrate her point, it was clear that she enjoyed her work and understood its importance to the organization. No matter where people went outside of the company, they were and always remained IBMers. The alumni programs this woman managed allowed them to remain dynamically connected to a powerful, global, and like minded network. It’s almost needless to say that the location, along with the great conversation and coffee, created wonderful memories for me.  
Convenience is important for sure, as is making a unique impression. So as you make the effort to build relationships with others it’s important to consider all aspects on how you wish to positively impact a person’s perception of you. Ideally, as was the case for me that day in Grand Central Station, you want to walk away from an encounter with him or her having a story to tell about you. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it count!

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