House of Genius

I attended a novel networking event last week organized by House of Genius and held at Think Conservatory. House of Genius shares DNA with a lot of tech networking events — three companies presented and received feedback — but the genetic connection is like that of penguins and ostriches.

The defining novelty of House of Genius is that for almost the entire three hours the twenty attendees are known to each other by their first names only. Last names, work talk and credentializing is forbidden. I spent most of the subway ride to DUMBO trying to think of acceptable opening chit-chat lines and finally came up with: “What did you do today besides work?” The line worked well enough that I’m considering using it in other contexts although it’s a bit more cutesy and twee than I generally like. 

After 15 or 20 minutes of non-standard chit-chat and milling about, we took seats at a bunch of tables set up in a rectangle so everyone could see eachother, which formation brought to mind certain English high school classes. The format of the company presentations was a two-minute overview (i.e., not a demo or a walk through of a pitch deck but a bit more than an elevator pitch), a couple minutes of clarifying Q&A, a trip around the circle with everyone saying their first thoughts and impressions, and then 20 minutes or so of open discussion.

I won’t go into details about the companies that presented — all three seem to have plausible ideas and a lot of work to do — but will focus on the quality [definition 1] of the conversation, which is the entire point of HoG. Not knowing anyone’s background or credentials meant that comments had to be taken and valued on their own terms; a commenter without credentials is only as persuasive as his ideas since listeners have no expectations about the quality [definition 2] of what he’s saying. The final 20 minutes of the session were dedicated to ‘the reveal’ when everyone finally introduced themselves in the conventional way. It was a nice way to finish and I found myself thinking back on each person’s comments from the night and trying to understand them anew in light of who said them.

A few observations.

  • Some attendees managed to exude expertise/competence/influence even without credentials. I think the relevant factors were: (1) Age — two of the attendees were ~50+ and I think the room figured they must be someone worth listening to; others in the group simply read as more or less experienced and I think their influence correlated with that. (2) Personal style — a couple attendees had a distinct aesthetic which to me signaled that they had attained a level of independence that correlated with their level of success and I gave them ore attention. (3) Length of comments — less is certainly more and people who made their points in 30 seconds were more well-received than those that used 60 seconds or more. [NB: I note the irony w/r/t the length of this post.]
  • The longer people had to think, the better their comments — The first impression comments started off as sort of nit pick-y but but became more nuanced and substantive as people had more time to think and process and as their questions were raised by earlier commenters. This is something that I should know and will keep in mind in the future: While there is something appealing about talking first — people are still paying attention, maybe you can set the tone and direction — taking a few moments to think is probably worth it.

  • People are interesting even when not talking about their work — This is not meant to be an anti-work observation, just a statement about how amazing people in New York (and probably elsewhere) tend to be.

House of Genius holds events around the country and they are doing one in Los Angeles next month.