Five times in the past week, I have had business card ceremonies.
You know those moments, not very long, a second or two, the cultural practice repeated millions of times every day across the business world, the moment in time for the passing of a little piece of card from one person to another.
I don’t want your business card, and I don’t think anyone else wants yours or mine either. And I’ll tell you why.
Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Welcome to you, you’re in the right place. If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
I call myself the Chief Connector at Safety on Tap. Some people might think it’s a pithy title, the prerogative of a creative, or maybe cheeky, business owner.
For me, my title is not for you as much as it is for me. If you are confused or don’t understand my title, you’ll ask about it and I’ll gladly explain, or assume it means something that makes sense to you, and the odds of you being on the mark are in my experience less than even.
The reason why my title is more important to me than you is who it’s for. If I want to convey status, seniority, experience, whether or not any of those things are true, I will call myself a CEO, or a Managing Director, or the President of my company. That may or may not have the desired effect on you, but it has some cultural recognition if it seems similar to you, or recognisable.
But I see my title far more often than you. I see it on my desk, I see it on my reports, on my Linkedin profile and mostly in my emails. Andrew Barrett, Chief Connector at Safety on Tap. It took me a while, but my email signature actually has in brackets, after my title (Ask me what that means). So really, if anything, the purpose of my title for you, is to make you curious.
But because I see my title and think about who I am, and the work I do every day, far more often, my title is for me. My title guides my work, who I am in the world and how I serve the people I seek to serve, like you. My title holds me accountable.
Andrew Barrett, Chief Connector at Safety on Tap. What that means, is I spend my time doing three things: First, I connect people with new ideas. Second, I connect people with each other. And third, I connect people with their better, future selves. If you have listened to this podcast for a little while, I’d like to think that makes sense to you, that you can see how I bring those three things to life.
So think about your title. The words matter. Are you a safety advisor? What do you advise on? Is your advice welcome by those who get it? Is advice what people need? How do you craft your advice, what enables you to give advice? Is advice a kind of telling? Do you wait for someone to ask for advice? Do you not advise in some situations, and why? What situations suit giving advice, and on what situations is advice not ideal?
What about a manager. A Safety Manager. What are you managing? People? A system? Actual work? If, as the cliché goes, we should manage things but lead people, how does managing and leading fit together for you?
It might sound like splitting hairs, but the words we use matter. And they matter most to us, how they shape our understanding of our role and the way we go about our work. Remember that the people you work with will make sense of you by what’s on the label if they haven’t seen what’s inside the can.
So I’m a Chief Connector. Which might help explain this business card thing.
I had five business card ceremonies in the last week. I should say that I really don’t seek these out, so I’m not biasing the numbers here. I spoke at two different events this week, met lots of new people, so not surprising the ceremony was happening.
The first ceremony was like this: I said to someone, do you have a card? They said they didn’t have one on them. So we connected on LinkedIn.
The second business card ceremony was someone asking me for a card. I said I don’t use business cards, but instead, I would send them an email with some details with the info we had been talking about in the context of this other person situation.
Third ceremony was when I met someone new at an event, separated by only one degree of separation. Never met them before, they offered me their hand to shake as they walked out the door, and thrust a business card in my hand. I left it on the table.
Fourth was during a conversation with someone, a card emerged and was slid across the table at me. It came with a request: when you are back in town Andrew, they wanted to catch up with me. I’m not sure why, and I think that was more about them wanting something than there being a generous exchange of value in that kind of catch up. But I’m not entirely sure.
Fifth was sitting on a plane, I was having a conversation with two blokes in the same aisle. They started talking and ended up chatting about a few things I thought were interesting so I joined the conversation. When one of them figured out that we worked in a similar field, he reached over the guy between us to push not one but two different business cards into my hand, and then to the guy in between us. Maybe he wanted the guy in the middle to not feel left out. As we left the plane he explained a little more of what he did and shared that he actually knew who I was and was involved in an industry group who he thought would be good for me to connect with.
Before I get to why I don’t want your business card, I should reiterate that I don’t have cards. In fact, what I say, is I don’t DO cards. Having a card means it is an object. The purpose of having cards is to get rid of them. ‘Doing business cards’ is an action, the ritual I described, this business card ceremony.
You can get married in a beautiful sacred place, with your family and friends, lovely words spoken, culminating in the public proclamation of your union and celebration of your love. You can also go to the wedding registry, the town hall, wait in line, show your ID, fill out the paperwork and have someone stamp it, and you get the same end result.
But the ceremony makes it different.
Business card ceremonies are the same. Shoving a card in my hand not knowing why or who you are, is different from a Japanese business meeting, where the exchange requires a particular order based on seniority, each individual exchange is slow and personal and deliberate, each person then lays out the multiple cards on the table in front of them during a meeting, which must be in the correct order. Card exchange often accompanies a gift exchange.
So what’s the ceremony for?
A wedding ceremony is a public commitment and celebration of love, not the collection of a certificate. A Japanese business card ceremony is about a deeply held cultural tradition anchored in seniority and your position in the pecking order, a necessary precursor to building the trust required to do business.
I don’t want your business card. I am a connector, not a collector. I connect with purpose. I connect personally, I connect with stories, I connect based on the things important to you, not to me.
I don’t use or need business cards for myself, because they made me lazy. Handing out 20 business cards is easy. It’s not easy, sending 20 personalised follow-up messages, LinkedIn connections, phone calls a week later, the introduction I promised. In fact, I won’t do 20, I’ll do 5, based on fewer but higher quality human connections. Because that’s better for you, and it’s more congruent with what I think the world needs more of. You won’t remember me because I threw you a business card. You might remember me if we had a nice conversation about something relevant to you, and I was helpful, regardless of a business card.
I don’t want your business card. I want to connect with you.
Having business cards, and doing business cards might not involve much thought. But it’s little interactions like this, and we do hundreds of these kinds of things every day, which affect the relationships we have and the culture we want to create around us.
Are there things you do as a ritual, a habit? How much do you act guided by these, rather than the outcome – a result of some sort? How much of your action is based on what you want to thrust on others, instead of what they might want or need or be interested in?
Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!

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