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Do you hate networking? I do. Always have.
I’m the guy who happily admits that if faced with two doors from which to choose – one that leads to a room with 300 very interesting people (all strangers) with whom I can spend 3 hours and the other that leads to a room with 6 random people (also strangers) with whom I can spend 3 hours – I’m inside door number 2 before you can finish the proposition. It seems infinitely more fun for me to really get to know 6 people than to go on a network fishing expedition hoping I can somehow run into a person – or a small collection of people – who will go deep enough that I can really understand them.
But that’s me.
I hate small talk. I hate shallow conversation. I hate pleasantries.
I love getting to know people, including their back story and what they hope will be their future story. It feels human and right to me.
Study after study have proven that people tend to feel dirty about “networking.” It feels icky.
I’ve read plenty of networking books. 100% of them were a waste of my time. While I’m highly motivated to grow – which necessarily means, to change in ways that benefit my life – I’m completely disinterested in trying to be somebody or something I’m not. Or trying to be something or somebody I don’t want to be. Namely, “that guy.” You know what I’m talking about?
It’s why I don’t get out much. 😉 Except with smaller, more intimate groups where I know the conversation can be about more than – “this is who I am and what I do and what I have to sell.”
It’s also why I started reading David Burkus’ book published last year, “Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career.”
I’ve been intending to read it since it came out last May, but I’m just now getting around to it. Mostly because I know how badly I need to grow in this area of my life. Besides, I’ve been a fan of David’s writing since I read “The Myths of Creativity” in 2013. Since then I’ve sort of followed his work at HBR and his own website. It doesn’t hurt that he got his Master’s Degree at OU (I didn’t attend OU, but I’m a lifelong Sooner football fan). 😉
The premise of the book, which I haven’t yet completed (but you can expect a more full report in the future), is that it’s not just who you know that counts. Or who knows you. Networking is deeper than that. It’s who you know who knows who you need to know. Or who you should know. In other words, it’s the strength, depth and proximity of the people you’re connected to with regard to the other people they know who may benefit from being directly connected with you.
Six degrees of separation is explained by What Is? like this…
Six degrees of separation is the theory that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.
That theory began in 1929. I’m not a scientist so I have no idea how true it may be, but I understand the premise. If you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody and you dive deeply enough to go 6 deep, then you’ll reach the target person. For the fun of it you could see if you’re 6 degrees away from some famous person. Pick anybody. If you were able to reverse engineer it, you should be able – according to the theory – to track it back no more than 5 people to yourself. Here’s the interesting part, and why it matters to me. It starts with you knowing the one right person who knows the right person…and so forth.
David’s book begins with a similar notion. That that you’re a certain number of connections away from any particular target person, but that your life will be enhanced – and your success will be positively influenced – by not thinking of more, but by thinking of how people are connected.
This was rather instinctive for me because I learned as a teenager selling stereo equipment how powerful a referral was. As an entrepreneur, you do, too. Today we all know the power of social proof, as well. But that existed long before the Internet.
During road trips my father would know – just as every father of the era knew – if you wanted to stop for a meal along a stretch of never before traveled highway – you stopped at the diner with the most cars in front. Wherever the crowd was, that’s likely the place with the best food for the right price. Social proof was measured by the number of cars parked around the joint.
Today, David’s book, Friend of a Friend, has a 5-star Amazon rating with 72 reviews. Decent social proof about how 72 people feel about the book. I don’t know any of those people. Well, to be fair, I didn’t scroll through every one of them so I may know somebody, but that’s not the point. Not with Amazon reviews. Or really any other reviews. We just assume more is better and if it’s 5 stars, then it must be good. It’s like a car count around a diner in the 1960’s.
But we all understand the real power is in the power of a personal connection. Back to the referral reference – it’s powerful when somebody we know and trust refers us to somebody we don’t know. We can instantly go from not knowing somebody to trusting them, even before we’ve been formally introduced, because of our connection with the person vouching for them.
Recently, I got a new roof installed on my house. The young entrepreneur who did the work was somebody I didn’t even know was in that business. It’s a young man in his 30’s who I knew back in his high school days because he played hockey with my son. My son reminded me of Rodney, the roofer – a kid I remember from hockey. Well, I knew Rodney from back in the day and he did a great job on my house. So naturally, I told friends and neighbors about him. Vouched for him. The high school where he and my kids attended is the high school for our neighborhood, too. So that doesn’t hurt. My neighbors don’t have to know Rodney because I know him. By being connected to me, they’re now connected to Rodney if they need a roof repair, a new roof or a host of other things that Rodney does, including fencing. That’s how the world has always worked.
Somewhere along the way we bought into the notion that you have to Always Be Selling. Self-promotion means putting yourself out there to as many people as possible. Wrong. Quantity doesn’t matter nearly as much as quality and context. Me knowing Rodney isn’t beneficial to you if you rent. Or if you don’t live in DFW. Or if you have no need for the professional services Rodney offers. But if you fit the bill, he’s ideally who you need.
Think about the people you may be able to connect. Look around. Is there somebody you know who might benefit from somebody else YOU know, but they don’t know each other. Be a human hub. Be a person willing to connect others for their mutual benefit. It doesn’t feel dirty. It feels really good because you’re helping both of them. And that kids, is the power of a friend of a friend.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!