Are you craving serendipity? I’ve run into a few “valuable things not sought for” lately, and I could get addicted to this. There seems to be an underlying theme. You have to take risks, try new things, get out there, network, learn, and even do things that make you uncomfortable. Somewhere, somehow, you’ll be surprised.
Example: I lunched with Allan McKillop last week in Palo Alto. Allan works at VMware and has spent much of his tech career managing super talented software engineers. We were at Coupa, a meeting place for geeks, VCs, and entrepreneurs who like spicy coffee and free wifi. Or tea. There’s a Mac on almost every table. I’m not sure they’ll even let you in with a PC.
Allan and I hadn’t seen each other in ages. During my 2+ years at A9, I was heads-down, focused on product launches, usability feedback, use cases, customer needs. Result: I lost touch with some friends.
So there we were, catching up, and two men walked by our table. They paused for a split second, almost imperceptibly, and gave each other a look. Allan and I both noticed, but didn’t stop our conversation—there was too much catching up to do.
Later, as the men were walking out, one of them stopped and pointed to a library book on our table. A book littered with little orange post-it stickies that I use to mark passages. I always bring a book to meetings, just in case someone is late. Don’t want to waste a moment when I can be reading. The book: Paul Graham’s Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age.
I explained that I used to update my Facebook status with quotes I had found, to share with friends, and I thought there were lots of interesting quotes in the book.
And then it hit me. He looked familiar. Could he be? No. Well, maybe. No. How to find out? I couldn’t just ask him if he was Paul Graham. Or could I? I wanted to know. I like writers. Admire them, even. So I stuck my hand out and introduced myself, and asked what his name was.
I shared a few of the interesting quotes. Paul said he puts a lot of effort into making sure there are quotable quotes in his essays. He was surprised by the quotes I chose and thought one of them was not even quotable!
One trick Paul uses to see which quotes his readers find quotable: he’ll look at the delicious annotations. People who use delicious to bookmark online articles will sometimes annotate the bookmarks with a comment about what they liked or why they’re bookmarking the page. Sometimes they’ll even annotate with a specific quote.
I wouldn’t have met Paul Graham if I hadn’t followed Stephen King’s advice to always have a book with you. I wouldn’t have met him if I weren’t going out of my way to reconnect with an old friend. I don’t think Paul would have stopped if the book weren’t full of those little orange stickies. And in the past, I wouldn’t have introduced myself, wouldn’t have told him that I’m a fan of Anyvite, a Y Combinator startup. I certainly wouldn’t have given him one of my beautiful new Moo cards.
Someday, perhaps I will walk into a cafe and run across someone who’s been reading and enjoying my book, too. After I’ve finished it, of course, and after it’s published. Now that would make my day.