We once held a press conference in Tokyo where one journalist turned up. The media event was hosted by our partners, Nitto Boseki (Nittobo), one of Japan’s largest diversified trading companies. I was embarrassed and expected Nittobo to cancel. What happened instead left an indelible impression on my approach to business. Our presentation to the audience of one pressed on regardless. No abbreviation, no change to the catering, no discomfort on the part of the journalist sitting alone in the auditorium. “He has shown respect in coming. He will have connections,” our account director told me. And perhaps he did. A few years later our work scored front page of the Yomiuri Shimbun, a newspaper with a circulation of 10 million.
I was reminded again this month of the power of one connection, at my childhood piano teacher Rennie’s 90th birthday in Devonport, Tasmania. My connection to Rennie, and hers to the world. I wondered what a single meaningful connection like ours stands for, in our era’s insatiable search for “reach”. My son Tim (34) calls Facebook ‘Unsocial Media’ and Twitter, “Twit”. He claims they are narcissist platforms of disconnection. He says despite unprecedented global connectivity, we have never been lonelier as a society, nor more alienated from one another.
There was a secret we kept from Rennie, right up to her big day. Seven members of her first “girl band” (a cooler description than we were) from the 70s, would re-form for her party. We were one of a number of choirs she went on to conduct to national acclaim during her illustrious teaching career. My cousin Carol was the only co-member I’d seen in the decades since we’d trodden the boards at eisteddfods, local television studios, weddings and concerts. I have barely sung anywhere other than in the shower in all that time.
It was gloriously uplifting to see the delight and surprise on Rennie’s face when we made our entry. We sang well enough to the small crowd, but our audience numbered only one. Rennie’s tears nearly undid us as we warmed up with the Russell Morris anthem, Wings of an Eagle. We sang the fourth verse of Crimond, as is traditional, unaccompanied in unison, and there was nothing that separated us. Just as the notes glided from one to the other with unexpected ease, Rennie’s gift of connection transcended the years between us; our collective lives, loves and losses.
Crossing generations and technologies, (she cites the electric light bulb as the most impactful invention of her lifetime as it allowed her to practice piano at night), Rennie is the embodiment of followers, likes, shares, comments and endorsements. Her way. Connectors bring others together, one unconditional act at a time. They don’t just seek their own advantage, they ‘pay it forward’. Rennie knew all about it. In a small country town, she ‘shared’ stories of studying in busy mainland cities, and exotic international capitals we could only dream about. She inspired and challenged us to push our boundaries, to sail unchartered waters. The whole town ‘liked’ Rennie; she was social, engaged, the musical glue of the community. Staging carols by candlelight, conducting choirs at weddings and funerals, giving lessons to poor kids, rich kids and everyone in between. Changing lives, note by note.
If I were to ‘endorse’ Rennie, it would be for her humility, her grace, and her devotion to the community where she lived. They don’t seem to be measures that readily pop up on my social platforms. We were her ‘followers’, but it demanded more of us than the click of a mouse. Her bar was high and her demand for excellence was unrelenting. It was about succeeding from deserving to, not winning at all cost.
But perhaps above all, Rennie had that indefinable quality that always made me feel like I was the only one in the room. The only one on her horizon. The most important person in that moment. She knew the power of a single, mindful connection. Regardless of the number of followers we attract, the list of endorsements we score, the shares we inspire or the comments we generate, the best connections are personal.
A business can seldom operate one-on-one. We template and replicate for efficiency and market penetration. But there is a way we can reach out to every client, associate and team member, so they know they are our most important connection in that moment. It happens when all our touch points carry our convictions, our passion and our values. It is then that our reach counts for something.