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Traditional business cards and CDs-as-business-cards are dangerous because:

1. They assume old-style communication: I have a message for you.

This is a transactional view of communication. If you simply put your card in someone's hand as a way of marketing, chances are it will end in the trash can when your back is turned.

To ensure your card becomes a treasured artifact and entered into someone's Rolodex you must generate value on the spot, interacting with the other person and creating something they can use. This is what I call generative communication. When you want to hand someone your business card, ask first, "Have I generated value for this person?" If you can't answer that question in the affirmative, why should they take your card other than politeness?

2. The act of giving a business card is almost always about the person who is giving it.

I believe there will be new smart business cards that will reflect the relationship and the circumstances rather than the giver. Think about that! These intelligent credit card like devices will provide different information to different people, taking into consideration what you can achieve together. You can't predict this in advance. It is situation and context dependent.

So smart business cards of the future will generate new possibilities. In the meantime, while we wait, what are you doing to generate new possibilities with the people you meet?

3. Traditional business cards are about a limited number of roles.

How many titles can you put on a business card? One, three - I have seen fifteen, but only in jest. Smart business cards will be responsive to multiple contexts and even promote innovation; ie, identify hidden potential and facilitate its emergence.

Until these wonder cards arrive, you must scan for emerging possibilities. You must inform your stakeholders of all that you can create together, and do it in a way that is compelling, exciting, and fruitful. Do you know when a new idea is ripe for the plucking? Are you cultivating the emerging reality of new possibilities with the people you meet?

When you meet someone for the first time, try asking these questions:

  • Have you thought about what is new in your field? What excites you most? Where is the highest potential? 
  • What kind of media attention is your industry getting? Is that an accurate reflection of your situation? 
  • What has to be fixed for your sector to really grow? Is anything holding you back? 
  • What trends have emerged that have real impact on the way you do business? How are you keeping in step with them? 

Make interactions about more than exchanging unwanted information. Step them up to a new level. Have a conversation that matters and will be remembered. Then, give them your business card. They will be sure to file it in their system. Better yet, you may get an appointment to talk in greater depth about how you can help them achieve their goals.

Seth Kahan ( is a Change Leadership specialist. He has consulted with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps, Marriott, Prudential, American Society of Association Executives, International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association, Project Management Institute, and NASA. 

Seth's next book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, will be published in May by Jossey-Bass. Visit his other blogs, for more info on the upcoming book and for tips on how to succeed as a free agent.  Follow Seth on Twitter. Learn more about Seth's work at

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