When I was in college, I lived in this old eight-unit apartment complex (for $400/month including electricity) with my roommate who I'd known since high school. We rented this apartment from a sweet old lady named Edith who had us sign a lease saying we'd be in bed by 10pm and wouldn't say any swear words.
Around 6 months after we moved in, one of Edith's neighbors knocked on our door while I was busy trying to figure out how in the world calculating the trajectories of monkeys getting shot out of cannons would ever get me anywhere in life. I opened the door, and to my surprise was presented with a fresh baked Pineapple cake that was still warm to the touch. I think she said something about wanting to make sure we were eating but I was so dumbstruck that I really don't remember.
Apparently, my roommate stopped and talked for a couple of hours with Edith's neighbor and her husband a few days earlier. The happy couple was so elated that someone actually took the time to chat about their lives, that they wanted to return the favor with some tasty baked goods. "See that..." my roommate said "That is why relationships will take you further in this world than smarts."
This experience really opened my eyes to the immense value that relationships can bring to not only my life, but the lives of the people around me.
Good relationships will not only help you live a happier (and more sugar induced) personal life, but it can also be the key to running successful projects. According to Peopleware the success of a given software project very rarely hinges on how good the technology is. Most software projects fail due to a breakdown in human interactions.
Fostering strong relationships can be healthy for your career as well. According to the Harvard Business School 65 to 85 percent of jobs are found through networking.
One of the keys in building relationships is to offer more than you take. When meeting new people, as soon as you start asking "what's in it for me?" you have already started down the path of squashing an already fragile relationship. This seems like common sense I know, but I'm always surprised at how many people don't follow this and spend their efforts taking advantage of others for short term gain.
Remember, you can't always rely on building a better mousetrap so go out and meet someone new today and figure out what you can do for them.
Not sure where to get started? Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great place to begin. Even though Dale's book was written in 1936, it contains a treasure trove of insight into human interaction and what you must do in order to make friends.