In this issue’s article I draw upon nature, mainly biology, to find a new paradigm for relating to others. In short, it is this: When we do more than connect, when we add something that gives more vitality to those we connect with, everybody gains. 

Definition of pollinate: To transfer pollen from a stamen to a pistil; fertilization in flowering plants. 

Without bees and butterflies, no pollination. Without pollination, no flowering, no honey or corn. Pollination helps both to co-evolve. 

Definition of networking: To meet people who might be useful to know, especially in your job, but also in social life. 

Many business and professional meetings set aside a time for “networking” during which attendees chat and exchange business cards. But often that time is too short for people to make meaningful connections. Then it becomes a “meet and greet” that resembles “hit and run.” 

I’ve come to believe that effective networking requires pollination, which adds something of value to both participants. The pollinator gets a reward such as nectar for pollinating the plant. 

Here is a description by George Bernard Shaw of humans pollinating. 

“If I give you an apple and you give me an apple, we both have one apple. But if I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we both have two ideas.” (Both prosper by gaining a new idea.) 

Of course, for human pollination to work, both persons must be receptive to the transaction. (We all know people who resist 

ideas different from what they already believe.) People who interact only with like-minded others do not grow very much. 

Four ways to pollinate are to: 

  1. share your useful ideas and new perspectives 
  2. validate people with your respect and enthusiasm 
  3. Be curious and learn about others 
  4. help people connect with those they don’t know. 

My late friend Anne Boe, author of “Is Your Net Working?” was clear that participants should “give without an expectation that doing so will reap an immediate reward.” Instead, she recommended that you give because it’s the right thing to do. Often a “go-giver” will eventually reap a benefit. 

As psychologist Robert Cialdini describes in his book, “Influence,” the principle of reciprocity is powerful. When we give a gift, compliment a person, or do them a favor, the receiver usually feels a need to reciprocate, if not immediately, then later on. 

When those interacting have different experiences or ideas, both can gain new perspectives. For example, when an an artist interacts with an engineer, a realtor with a teacher, a young adult with a senior, or a man with a woman. 

Such “cross-fertilization” is more likely to occur when it’s planned. That’s what regularly happens in small Mastermind groups with a mixture of people and in “Knowledge Cafes” where participants take what they’ve learned at one table, then share that with new people at other tables. 

The principle is this: Pollination is more likely to occur when an event like a business mixer event has a variety of people. Not birds of a feather gathering together, but birds of different feathers. 

The most satisfying experiences of my professional life as a university professor of communication came from interacting with colleagues of different disciplines such as philosophy, religion, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, music, and art. I did not want to remain only in my own “silo” of thought, and I was greatly enriched by interacting with a variety of others. 

So I ask you: How and where can you apply the methods described above? 

Until next issue, 


“The old ways are dissolving and the new has not yet shown itself. If this is true then we must engage with one another differently, as explorers and discoverers.” 

–Margaret J. Wheatley, Speaker, Writer, & President of The Berkana Institute