THE BEGINNINGS OF BRIDGES
By Bob Stein
from the July-August 2000 Issue of Adobe Magazine (two issues before it closed, a dubious distinction) Back Space section, page 84 (PDF)
A hundred feet above the Apurimac River, near the remote village of Huinchiri, Peru, suspension bridges have connected the Lima-Cuzco road since the 1300s. Using four miles of braided coya grass, the Inca constructed a bridge in phases. First a bowman attached a fine thread to an arrow and fired across the canyon. An alert partner on the other side tied a cord to the thread so it could be pulled back the other way. Successively thicker ropes followed back and forth, finally hauling into position the foot-thick 200-pound floor cables.
Like those bridges, strong business relationships start tentatively. A message, a call, a few replies, a visit. Each volley builds upon the last, strengthening bonds of admiration and dependence until trust and value cross with ease. Rapport has always been built in stages like this. This is why email and web sites matter now.
One thoughtfully composed email message to the right person can change everything. Spam and banner ads faintly hint at this power. Taking advantage of the Internet means reaching the individuals behind the computers, and making it easy for them to find you. I hope the suggestions that follow seed your thoughts on making rewarding contacts.
Make original contributions, cast them far and wide. Give a little polish to solutions you've invented along the way and make them available to all: a browser work-around, a technique for drawing raindrops. Pick a topic you know and love, make the best Web site for it, and submit to the search engines. Join mailing lists and answer more than you ask. Contribute to public graphics collections run by enlightened folk, like designheaven.com/GraphicsRing. Write an article for an earnest e-zine like digital-web.com. Free distribution of useful things scatters seeds of goodwill, and the fan mail will swell your ego. These are your little arrow-receptors, so choose subjects aligned with your core interests, areas where you'd like to pay more attention.
Fashion appealing arrows. When contacting someone out of the blue, break the ice and plumb responsiveness with gifts. Generosity doesn't have to cost a lot: a product sample; a redesigned button graphic. Compliment good shareware, helpful answers in a mailing list, or a well-managed resource list. Write glowing reviews for online bookstores before writing the author. Send kudo letters suitable for quoting to the most worthy authors and Webmasters. Recommend useful Web sites on a mailing list.
Share your ideas more than you hide them. When experience amasses to a certain point, good ideas spontaneously generate. And they thrive on development more than secrecy. If you email them straight to your competitors, you could learn a lot from open debate, and be inspired by exposed counterexample. If you fear someone stealing your ideas, they must be raremaybe realization is premature. Share them instead as bait to find great people to work with. A great idea can improve significantly crossing sturdy bridges between minds. Underdeveloped ideas fail easily.
Train like an athlete in respect and kindness. Undeserving fools provide especially useful targets for this practice. Lovingly tend your best relationships as if they were grass bridges: ask an old customer what they're dreaming; exalt a peers work from the heart. Distill criticism until its gin clear. Then drink most of it yourself.
Stay in control. Good deeds will be punished by requests for tedious favors. Email exchanges will bloat cancerously out of control. Practice polite brevity to preserve your invaluable responsiveness. Research and correspondence gets so engaging, I've neglected all else for weeks at a time. Rein in this kind of bingeing so you dont swing back the other way into neglect. Beware distracting fascination and praise. Grant fury and idiocy the peace of your disinterest.
Making first contacts is discouraging work. You fire at dreams of targets and mostly misspeople ignore you, or you wish they had. Worse, you shatter the comforting illusion that all the unaimed-for targets are unworthyyour should-contact list grows inexorably, mockingly.
There can be no doubt: you have missed hundreds of chancesa message unanswered, a great impression unacknowledged, a rope uncaught, falling to the chasm floor. You will miss hundreds more. You may dismiss this as fate. But fate is a comforting illusion. Don't let it cloud against opportunity you can't measure. And the most important thing you can't measure is who you should know, or should know better.
Bob Stein (firstname.lastname@example.org) makes quick reference guides for web designers at www.visibone.com. He designed the web-safe color-wheel swatches in Photoshop, ImageReady, and Illustrator.
This article has been reproduced with permission from Adobe Systems Incorporated. it originally appeared in the July-August 2000 issue of Adobe Magazine, page 84. Copyright 2000, Adobe Systems Incorporated. All rights reserved. This version has been slightly modified.