Gary Alston was approaching his first solo journey with some fear. He had never been good at meeting people. His coping strategy was to be open to helping people but hoping they would come to him rather than initiating contact. This trip was going to challenge him, but he also realized his vulnerability and was open to overcoming what had always been a weakness.
His first blue highways conversation really surprised him. In fact, he was approached by a man at a gas station and was asked: “Just passing through or visiting someone? We don’t see many strangers on these back roads.” That let Greg talk about his blue highways journey. The next thing that Greg knew, he was having breakfast at the local diner with friends of the man he had just met. The start of the conversation was an exploration of whether they had any common connections. It was like a LinkedIn conversation.
The confidence Greg gained from this initial conversation allowed him to meet other people in other towns. Again, the conversation starter was to identify their mutual connections. Greg had to laugh when one of the women he met said: “We call this our ‘who’ja marry’ get to know you approach.”
As luck would have it, Greg passed a field of cars and trucks. A sign said: Alston Family Reunion. Greg decided to stop. He doubted if any of his family would be there, but it promised to be an interesting way to get to know people.
What Greg didn’t expect were the family connections he actually did have. He discovered relatives that he vaguely knew about but never met. It was a truly amazing experience and promised to lead to future visits. For Greg, it was the first time he felt grounded with others. He really had embraced his vulnerability challenge.
On the way home, Greg thought about what he had learned that he could share with his colleagues. The one theme from all of his conversations seemed to be connectivity – people connecting with each other.
Then he thought about a recent engineering problem his team had confronted. The device they were designing was a 5×7 box with a light source at the back of the box. The light source generated a lot of heat that would likely fry the electronics in the box. The solution that one of the engineers came up with was a cooling fan. The problem was the fan threatened the connector wires of the electronics. Greg realized that all engineering was designing so that connections are mutually supportive.
When Greg presented his trip report and his lesson theme of connectivity, the team immediately saw how managing connectivity was central to everything they did. Greg summed up the conversation by saying: “We need to develop a “who’ja marry” culture throughout our company, but just imagine the impact it could have on our society.”
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“Connecting to another is one of the most important things in the world and you can keep expanding that connection – one person, a family, a community, a country, a society, a culture.”
– Eric Fischl (artist)