Is the Rolodex Obsolete?

Last week I responded to a tweet in which Tom Peters referred to people who are 40 as “elderly.” I asked, “If 40 is elderly, what happened to ’40 is the new 20?'” To which Tom replied directly to me, “Speaking of age and looking at your bio & book title, can one be understood in 2013 if he/she uses the word ‘Rolodex?'”

Now, I’ve been razzed before about using the term “Your Golden Rolodex,” but never by someone as renowned as Tom Peters. Mr. Peters, as you may know, is an über-guru of management consulting, a prolific author, a highly sought-after speaker and someone whose work I’ve admired since the 1980s when he blasted onto the scene with his co-author Robert Waterman with In Search of Excellence.

After the initial mortification of being called out on Twitter by one of my business idols, I recovered and tweeted back, “Excellent point.” Then I assured him that I always check in with my audience to make sure they know what a Rolodex is. We had a few more volleys via Twitter and while I know I sound like a schoolgirl with a crush, my heart nearly burst when I saw that Tom is now following me on Twitter.

RolodexesWhen it comes to using the term “Rolodex,” I am, like Tom Peters, a contrarian. Just because it isn’t “hip” to say you use a Rolodex doesn’t mean people don’t still have them. They do–and sometimes two, as you’ll note in this photo. These Rolodexes are on the desk of Dave Brewer, the office administrator at my church. Dave is the guy with the Platinum Rolodex. I learned very early in my days here in Wheaton that if I needed a resource, any resource, all I had to do was call Dave. He knows everyone, and he has the Rolodexes to prove it.

Anna Jane Grossman blogged on Gizmodo about “The Life and Death of the Rolodex” as she shared about her book Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. She tells the story of her dad’s attachment to his Rolodex, which reminded me of my own dad. And Anna Jane reported that during her research, she reached out to the daughter of the inventor of the Rolodex, Arnold Neustadter, to let her know that Anna Jane would be including the Rolodex in her book Obsolete. Jane Revasch, Mr. Neustadter’s daughter, got “huffy.” Here’s Ms. Revasch’s response, from Anna Jane’s blogpost:

“They still work! You just can’t carry them around… You know, look at it this way: computers get viruses! But the Rolodex, it’s never taken a sick day in its life.

Just for the record, I gave up using a Rolodex a while ago… I now store all my precious contacts in ACT!, a contact management software program with all the bells and whistles. But the concept of a Rolodex–a place to store key connections, to hold everyone near and dear to you, colleagues and friends, a treasure trove that represents the rich index of possibility based on relationships in which you’ve invested or plan to invest–that metaphor “Rolodex” will be with us for a long, long time.

I’m counting on it.

 

 

The Tenacity Gene

This week I heard a great interview on National Public Radio with an author named David Epstein who wrote a book called The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. There are some wonderful insights Mr. Epstein shared about the book, but the one that really caught my imagination was a story about the success of sled dogs who help win the Iditarod race in Alaska.

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey couldn’t afford to breed fast dogs. Instead, he bred dogs that were slower but would “just go and go and go,” according to Mr. Epstein. These dogs had the drive to pull the sled all the time, never wanting to stop. He says these dogs have been bred for motivation and for “work ethic,” something that’s kind of funny to think about when you’re considering sled dogs–but there it is, supported by science. These dogs are pulling longer, not faster.

This story brings new meaning to the old Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare. And I can’t  help thinking about it when it comes to our own work habits. My most recent habit is to focus more deeply on follow-up and follow-through. I know that networking is only as good as the follow-through, so I’m holding myself accountable for new habits in connecting with people.

I receive a business card and follow up with an email, written expressly for that person and highlighting where we met or what we may have talked about. I remind them they’ve given me permission to add them to my “Golden Rolodex.” I thank them for their time and offer an open invitation to be of service to them in any way I can. Then I go to LinkedIn and write a custom invitation to stay connected via LinkedIn, too–referencing my earlier e-mail. I ask for nothing in any of these communications–this is just my way of reinforcing we’ve met and laying the groundwork for future connections.

This takes time and I feel a little like a sled dog, plodding my way through the snow. But I know that these investments of time and custom connections are critical to building relationships that will last. Whether or not I have the tenacity gene, I’m working on my tenacity muscle, accomplishing what Gregg Levoy in his book Callings calls “the pick-and-shovel” work of making connections. And I feel stronger every day, building the skill to just “go and go and go.”