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How to Walk Through ‘Forbidden’ Doors

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How to Walk Through ‘Forbidden’ Doors

As a Small Business owner, I imagine that you must sometimes be intrigued, if not desperate, to walk through ‘forbidden’ doors.

This ability can help you steer your business in new directions, reach new heights, and also have more fun. Well, there are two strategies I know of that could help you get into those promising places. The first one is for Mavericks with great courage and charisma who enjoy playing games of tactics. The second one is for people who prefer to keep things simple, act authentically and go with the flow instead of trying to control the situation.

1. Act as a VIP.

This idea originated from one of the most ingenious Hungarian authors of all time, Frigyes Karinthy, who wrote during the first few decades of the 20th century. In one of his humorous pieces, the title of which I’d translate as Getting In, he acknowledges that trying to convince others with logic to allow you access into certain places often fails (even when you, in fact, should be there). A better approach is to act, not just as an insider, but as a VIP. This way you may even be able to gain access to some rather improbable places.

Say you decide that you want to sing Wagner on the stage of the National Opera House. First, you need to enter through the back door with the ‘No Entry’ sign. As you confidently and loudly walk through the corridors, you should not tell anyone you meet why you are there or ask any questions. However, feel free to give people instructions on what to do, or theatrically check if everything is in order. When you reach the stage, just walk up there, take your coat off, and grab the music sheet out of the hands of one of the actors already on stage trying to rehearse. Express your shock about the fact that no-one is prepared for your arrival, or can even recognise you. And then it’s time for you to start singing.

According to the author, you can use the same strategy for getting into meetings and leading conversations. Of course, this piece of literature was written with wit and irony, but it touches on something very real.

2. Be the real ‘you’.

Earlier this year, after visiting my parents in Budapest, I spent a few days in Berlin before flying back home. This was my first time in Berlin, and I arrived without firm plans; as a traveller, I actually enjoy discovering things as I go. On my first day I accidentally found out about an innovation district on the outskirts of the city, and since I was researching similar facilities in relation to an Australian project I was working on, I thought I’d go and check it out.

Being trained as an architect, it’s second nature for me to walk into pretty much any public and commercial building with open doors. And while I can be shy in many situations, I’m actually quite relaxed about checking out buildings that I don’t even know the function of. Once I have the chance to look around inside I can usually figure it out.

As I was exploring this innovation district, I walked into a library, an event space, a university building, and a couple of research facilities. One of the buildings I came across had an intriguing, circular-shaped wing. And while I could easily access the rest of the building, it was clear that this circular-shaped wing was some sort of high-tech research lab, clearly off limits for me. To satisfy my curiosity, I thought that I’d at least walk to the door and peek through the small glazed panel.

At the precise moment when I arrived there, someone from inside opened the door and looked at me curiously. Our conversation went something like this:

B: “Hello. Can I help you?”

A: “Hello. My name is Anetta, and I’m a workplace specialist. I’m exploring this innovation district as part of my research because I’m involved in the planning of a similar facility in Australia. I came here to see what I can learn.”

B: “To get in here you need a permit and protection.”

A: “That’s ok, I don’t actually have to go in. I can continue my research elsewhere. I’m happy to look around wherever I’m allowed.”

B: “Have you talked to anyone in the building?”

A: “No. I’m actually on holiday in Berlin. I only found out about this district yesterday, and I thought it would be great to come here and see whatever I can see.”

B: “Do I understand correctly that no-one knows you’re here?”

A: “Yes, that’s right.”

B: “It usually takes a week to arrange a visitor’s permit.”

A: “No worries, I understand.”

B: “Let me see what I can do for you. Maybe I can organise something …”

10 minutes later I was starting my private one-hour guided tour with my host, Ingo, around Berlin’s particle accelerator facility, with all paperwork completed.

After this tour, I knew more about electron accelerators and radiation research than I had ever dreamt of knowing. However, if you love exploring other countries and cultures as much as I do, you know that conversations with strangers often become most interesting when you go off topic. So I also learnt a few fascinating things about German work culture and the way they innovate.

Later on, I wondered how I managed to get invited. I was wearing trainers, a pair of jeans, a softshell and a backpack, so I definitely didn’t present myself as an authority. I didn’t say anything smart or witty either.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time, which was pure luck. Ingo was the ‘boss’ of the facility, having the power to speed up the paperwork and show visitors around. And he incidentally also had some free time before his next meeting.

But I think there was another factor at play. My host must have been as interested in learning from me as I was in learning from him. Me being perhaps surprisingly straightforward and honest, and a fair bit out of place, might have triggered his curiosity.

What works for you?

In my experience, being intriguing and authentic almost always helps open doors. Being assertive and calculating is not my approach. But it’s best if you decide for yourself what strategy works for you. Perhaps you know of a third one.

There’s one thing I’m sure of. The world is full of doors ready to open for you and allow you into amazing places. If you live and work with a curious mind, a light heart and the spirit of an adventurer, you’ll more easily notice these doors and find your way in.

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