Alex Banayan was on a stage in front of thousands of Dutch Bros Coffee employees. He had given the keynote at their conference and was just wrapping up a Q&A session. His time was about to be up when he decided to take just one more question. Let’s press pause for a moment because what happens next is important on a number of levels. To him, this was a room full of strangers. To Amanda Sanchez, the young woman who was about to ask a question, the only things she knew she had in common with these people were their employer and their proactive culture. What happened is a lesson in the power of networks we all can apply.
Amanda Sanchez had originally gone to college without really being sure what she wanted to do. After not being able to make up her mind, she dropped courses, switched to a community college, and got a job as a barista with Dutch Bros. A few years and a lot of reflecting went by until she decided she wanted to be an event coordinator. Not for little stuff, but for festivals and corporate events. She was ready to go back to school, for real this time, with a declared major. She reenrolled, and thanks to some grants, she was able to afford to attend.
Before the semester started she was at the Dutch Bros’ conference in San Antonio. Dutch Bros is quite the organization for those unfamiliar. They invest in their people and their community, which is why several thousand baristas were gathered in an arena to hear Alex Banayan talk about dropping out of college to interview successful people and write it all down in his best-seller, The Third Door. Before she heard his talk, Amanda got an email from her school. Due to a technicality, they were withdrawing her grants. She was about to have to make a choice – scramble to see if she could secure loans and go into debt, or drop out of school and figure out her career path on her own. Shell-shocked with this heavy on her mind, she took her seat and heard Alex’s keynote.
When it came time for the Q&A, Amanda got into the line. Alex had dropped out of school and pursued his dream, would he advise her to do the same? It didn’t look like she’d get to ask, but as the session was ending, he called for just one more question. She was next in line. Amanda didn’t get up to tell her whole story and she definitely didn’t get up to ask for money – she got up to ask for some advice on staying in school versus dropping out. But, when we take a risk, all sorts of things can happen. If you haven’t seen any of the viral videos of this moment, check it out on YouTube (try local news station CBS47 KSEE24’s coverage).
Alex probes deeper into what’s behind her question and draws out more of the story. He pledges support from the room (the arena!) to help her figure out how to solve the problem. The crowd starts shouting for her Venmo. She starts crying and a stranger gets up to give her a hug. It’s a blur, but next thing they know the donations are pouring in and the audience is screaming in support. This is the power of networks. Disconnected we’re alone. Connected we have support.
There are high-level takeaways here. For Alex, Amanda, and any of us:
- Find an audience who will listen. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person or an arena full.
- Open up and be vulnerable. Alex shared how he overcame a problem, Amanda asked for help with her own.
- Find a common connection. It could be a problem, an employer, a set of values, or anything really. Commonality is everywhere if we’re willing to look for it.
- Rally support behind the connection. This often happens organically. Most humans like making connections. Show or look for a pattern and find a match.
- Harness the power of the network. For good, not evil. Ask what we can accomplish together that I alone could not? See what happens.
We don’t need to be the same age, to like the same music, to be from the same city. All we need is some common connection, even one as basic as a tough situation where we just need a little help. If we can find someone to listen, if we’re willing to open up, if we’re willing to find a connection and rally support behind it, we can create force-multiplying networks. Unless we engage others, we’ll never know what we can accomplish, just ask Alex Banayan and Amanda Sanchez. Two different people, one very powerful network effect.
With just a little connectivity, anything is possible.
*check out Cal Fussman’s interview with both Alex and Amanda on the Big Questions Podcast for more background on the whole story.