It is often difficult- and sometimes downright impossible- to tell the good apples from the bad.  Upon biting into a shinny, red, seemingly perfect apple you discover it actually is mealy, worm infested or rotten to the core.   Alternatively, one that is bruised can be just fine if you are willing to eat around the bad spot and can work wonders in applesauce or cobbler.

When it comes to business it is even more difficult.  With business, you don’t have the ability to bite into the apple to see if it tastes sweet.   Determining which of your relationships will bear fruit, lead to work, create opportunities, or is otherwise worthwhile is challenging and takes time.  It is hard to know where to invest your time, money, and energy.  If you decide to pass right off the bat, you might miss out.   If you make it six months down the road, it can result in six months down the tubes.

Stuck in the Middle: What is one to do?

Understanding the problem is relatively straightforward.  Coming up with a solution is something else altogether.  The fact is, there is no way for you to protect yourself completely from missed opportunities and time drains.  However, there are measures you can take to mitigate the damage.

You Get What You Give.  If you decide to invest in the relationship, do so without expecting something in return.  For instance, when a friend of a friend wants to have coffee to hear more about what you do, would like for you to submit a proposal, or wants to take you up on your offer for a free a trial, do it.  But don’t plan on benefitting from it.  Say “yes” only if you are in the mood for coffee, your intention is to meet someone new, or you feel like talking.

By adopting this attitude, you accomplish two things – you ensure that you are not disappointed by the encounter and also that the other party involved isn’t left feeling like a mark.  If and when this individual reappears on your radar, both of you will feel good about the relationship.  Moreover, you increase the odds of personally benefitting whether it is in the short or long term by putting your own self-interest aside.  Your best bet is to be the first to give something of yourself.  It is up to you to make the first move.

Embrace the Spirit of Adventure.  Before you begin down the business development path, know upfront that interactions that are total flops in the here and now can be the big winners in the end.  A half-baked pie tastes awful, but leave it in the oven for another fifteen minutes and you have golden, bubbly deliciousness.  Building relationship occur the same way.  If you judge the relationship too soon you might think you have yourself a bad pie when in actuality all you have is a bad bite.

It takes a long while to assess the value of an interaction. Why not have fun with it?  It is pointless to be disappointed when a sales pitch, meeting, or other business pursuit doesn’t turn out as hoped.  It is more productive to suspend your emotional reaction.  Take stock two years down the road and look back when five years have passed.  Only then will you know whether it was ultimately a success.

It is remarkable how in the end we often are hired, offered a platform, and afforded respect.   However, if you are unselfish in your relationships and embrace the unknown when given the chance, you ensure that you will come out ahead- regardless of whether things go your way.