An inveterate networker, in general and on behalf of her consulting clients, she considers networking “a form of continuing education,” since you can learn so much through the connections you make. For those who’d like to hone their networking skills, she first suggests opening yourself up to possibility. “Use any event or situation you’re in as a networking opportunity, even if it doesn’t seem like it,” she says. “By simply reaching out and talking to people wherever you are, you can learn,” such as the time she met someone at a grocery store checkout line and heard about a recipe that’s become a family favorite. “Don’t dismiss people out of hand by title, company, looks, etc., because you just never know what pearls of wisdom and great opportunities for innovation and creation may arise by talking to them.”
Next, she says, you can proactively “identify the areas you’d like to grow in and what you’d like to learn about, and intentionally seek out people in those areas to meet and learn from.” This will also help you make connections for friends, clients, and colleagues, by seeing “how that person’s interests and experiences can connect them with others in your network for mutual interests and potential innovations.” She practiced that principle when she connected a student she worked with at Brown, Sidney Kushner, with Vala Afshar, an executive whose company did work for the Boston Celtics. When Afshar told the team about Kushner’s work connecting athletes with children with cancer, they decided to honor him as part of their “Heroes Among Us” program.
Not every professional feels comfortable networking, especially if they’re introverted. But Mills-Scofield often coaches them on networking, as an essential part of their innovation strategy. “Find one interesting event or conference in the next six months that’s not in your industry and go to it,” she advises. Last year, she says, “three rather introverted executives from one of my clients went to [the innovation conference] BIF with the assignment to individually meet three new people at each break, not to hang out together. They did! This led to a major shift in strategic thinking, especially on business models, that is driving the business to a whole new level.”