We’re posting a five-part series based on co-founder Catherine Cook’s TEDxBay Area Women talk! Check back here for the next installment.
When two people meet, a lot goes on in the background. You subconsciously notice tiny cues as to what the person is like. Maybe it has to with what they’re wearing or how they speak. With all these cues happening at once a person cannot pick out what draws them to someone. When people choose to become friends, although the connection itself isn’t random, it’s hard to realize exactly how or why that friendship formed. Part of the reason this is is because people are notoriously poor at figuring out what they want in another person.
As a study last year by Dr. Finkle from the Association of Psychological Science pointed out, dating-site algorithms fail at predicting successful relationships and there is no substitute for spending 2 minutes with a person over a cup of coffee. Thought they can list out qualities about what they want in someone to date, those qualities do not tend to actually fit with the type of person they typically are attracted to. People are equally poor at figuring out the qualities that make a good friend. When I try to describe my closest friends, I end up contradicting myself because they don’t all share the same personality traits and interests. It’s impossible to pinpoint what makes those friends right for me, and others not. And, if it’s impossible for me to figure it out, then it’s definitely impossible for a company to figure it out.
I learned just how hard it is to pick a friend out of a list as an incoming freshman at Georgetown University. I entered the CHARMS program – a roommate matching system – rather than having a randomly assigned roommate. We had to fill out a questionnaire that described what we were looking for and then we could message back and forth before agreeing to be roommates.
There were a few girls I chatted with before finding one who I thought would be a good friend and roommate. Online we seemed like we would be a good fit, our profiles matched up very well. We even had the same taste in TV shows and music. Unfortunately, within my first day of meeting her in person I knew there would be no way we would be friends, and I’m sure she knew it too.
In comparison, sometimes you meet people and just hit it off. My friend Jessie and I met at the Georgetown bookstore, and in the course of buying books we became great friends. Picking someone out of a list is not only more time-consuming and less magical, but it doesn’t work as well. As Malcom Gladwell illustrates in Blink, you can figure out a lot about a person within the first minute you meet them. You can’t necessarily pinpoint qualities, but your gut-feeling is generally accurate. That’s why algorithms and online profiles don’t matter. Human interactions is all that matters. To know if you have chemistry with someone, you need to talk to them!
It’s important to note that though my meeting with Jessie was serendipitous, it wasn’t random. I wasn’t shopping in a random store in a random city; I was browsing in my college bookstore, surrounded by people in close proximity with shared ambitions and life stages – and, I was looking for friends.