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How Random Conversations Can Change Your Career

Businesswomen walking in modern office hallwayBusinesswomen walking in modern office hallway
Businesswomen walking in modern office hallwayCompassionate Eye Foundation/David Oxberry/Getty Images

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?” is written by Kara Sweeney Egan, senior associate with Emergence Capital.

As a summer intern at Fidelity Investments, I tried to be nearly invisible when I distributed mail to the executives there. So one day while attempting to discreetly place a delivery on the desk of John Carlson, the manager of emerging markets debt portfolios, I wasn’t prepared for him to engage me in conversation. He asked about my summer, schooling, and goals. I soon learned that what made John successful was an openness to engage with and learn from everyone around him. Since then, I’ve had many conversations with John and have adopted his philosophy, which has become invaluable in my career.

My conversations with John that summer opened my eyes to not only the value of seeking a diversity of perspectives, but also the idea that one’s career path doesn’t need to follow a straight line. In fact, John began his career with a PhD in meteorology. But a trip to Argentina, during which he engaged with waiters, residents, cab drivers, hotel staff, and others, altered his course. Those conversations made him aware of Argentina’s vibrant, emerging economy, and prompted him to invest his own money in its currency. He began a career in emerging markets and eventually moved to Fidelity, where he now manages a multi-billion-dollar portfolio.

John’s experience underscores the importance of being open to the idea that you can learn from anyone, anywhere you go. By taking the time to engage others that you might not otherwise speak with, you can broaden your horizons in ways that may make you more thoughtful in your profession, as well as understand others’ experiences and how they view the world.

For example, in my role as a venture capitalist investing in emerging technologies, being open to and engaged with everyone I meet has helped me identify new opportunities. It also helps me evaluate businesses by understanding how someone working in an emerging industry might think, and what their needs and pain points are. While this approach may seem easy enough to adopt, many of us fail to, and in doing so limit our interactions to those around us or who resemble us. We may lose many opportunities if we act this way. In fact, many entrepreneurs create amazing companies by exploring and understanding areas overlooked by those stuck in their own “bubble.”

You don’t need to venture beyond your own office to benefit from this advice. Engaging with coworkers you might not normally connect with can be incredibly valuable. It can help you create cross-departmental relationships and identify ways to work together or gain a better perspective on the company’s goals and initiatives. Even within your own department, if you take the time to engage with someone who doesn’t often contribute and help bring them into the conversation, it can foster new ideas.

Having conversations with everyone you encounter doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Often a well thought-out question or remark can yield a wealth of information. And while being gregarious may not be second nature to you, it does become much easier over time. Most importantly, you’ll seldom regret a conversation or chance encounter. In fact, it may even help you discover an entirely new career path.