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“Of all the ideas you’ve ever had,” he said, “that’s one of ’em.”  That was his kind way of telling me I had hit rock bottom with an idea.

I was thrilled.

This was years ago when I was a freelance copywriter and marketing communications consultant. My graphic designer counterpart and I were brainstorming playfully on promotional campaign ideas for a new client. Part of our process, which to outsiders may have seemed sick and twisted but to us was a total blast, was to start with the really awful, trite, bogus, affected, weird, offensive, and just plain dumb ideas.  Once we got those out of the way, we could move on to more acceptable, if not fresh and effective ground.

Coming up with a bunch of terrible ideas also did something else for us:  it helped us find the exact opposite ideas, which were often very good.   (Although one of our truly sick ideas, if you’ll pardon the pun, involved gluing an airline motion sickness bag into a brochure we developed. Guess what?  It wowed our client, who was a bit on the eccentric side. The brochure became a legendarily effective piece of marketing collateral. It may have even won an award – I forget – which proves there are exceptions.)

But back to my point.

This technique of coming up with a list of what’s bad or offensive in order to find the good and exceptional isn’t original. I’m certain others have used it for years.  It’s probably taught in courses and workshops on creativity all over the world. You may already be using it yourself.  Regardless,  it’s a fun and easy technique, and it can prove itself valuable over and over again in many areas of your work and life.

For example, I was at a branding workshop recently where we were instructed to think of the types of clients we didn’t want to attract. Next, we were encouraged to take it a step further and mention these types of clients on our websites.  As in, “If you’re looking for _________________, I’m / we’re not a good fit for you.”  Or “Sorry! I/We don’t offer __________________________.”  Or even “If you want to _________________, that’s not what we/I do.”

So – eureka! – why not apply this bad-ideas-first technique to your networking and relationship-building activities as well?  You don’t have to walk around announcing who you’re not interested in meeting or blowing people off. And you don’t have to get all public about the types of networking events or scenarios you despise. But you could get out your journal or a sheet of paper and make a list of the types of people you don’t want in your world or what consititutes a hellish networking experience for you.  No harm in that.

What would be on your list?

Studies show that some of the least attractive and most energy-draining traits in human nature include:

  • Negativity
  • Anger
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Disloyalty
  • Being a gossip
  • Whining and complaining
  • Being insincere or inauthentic
  • Being manipulative
  • Haughtiness
  • Insecurity
  • Being controlling
  • Having to be right all the time
  • Being disrespectful
  • Having to be in control
  • Being inconsistent or flaky
  • Being boring or shallow
  • Wanting something for nothing /cheap-skatery

Who wants to hang around with or do business with people who exhibit these traits?  You’d have to be nuts.

Similarly, a lot of people don’t like going to networking or social events where:

  • The hosts are not interested in making you feel  welcome
  • People are clique-y, unfriendly, boring, boorish, sales-y, or self-absorbed
  • The food and beverages are awful
  • The programs suck
  • It’s held in a location that’s hard to find or get to – or there’s no parking

Next, take another sheet of paper and turn these negatives into the exact-opposite positives: the traits of people you do want to hang around and work with and the types of social / networking settings you think you’d enjoy a hell of a lot more.

Try it. See if this kind of self-examination and quest for clarity doesn’t start moving you closer to what you do want – and farther from what you don’t.

Want to dive even deeper into the topic of discovering, rediscovering or refining what you really want? Chapter 2 of my award-winning book The Intentional Networker is the perfect read for you!  It’s available with most online book retailers. Or if you’re in the ATX,  you can find copies on the second floor of BookPeople, Austin’s coolest and biggest indy bookstore.