Deliberate Networking; To “mingle” or Not to mingle, that is the question.
I read with great interest post re “Adam Grant on Networking is (Unintentionally) Misleading”, and original NYTimes op-ed “Good News for Young Strivers: Networking Is Overrated” (the same post in simplified Chinese “致年轻的创业者：人脉没那么重要” )
If you cannot invest the time to read this whole article, my personal insight/conclusion regarding networking are in these two equations (with flow diagram ):
1.) Successful networking = deliberate networking (effortful & measurable) vs a higher goal/purpose
2.) Forget all Checkbox networking (collecting cards aimlessly, effortless = useless)
If you would like to know more of how I arrived at that conclusion (& further explanations), please read on. I welcome all feedback/suggestions/contradictions. Please do add your comments below.
A.) Different aspects of networking: Perspective + Altitude and
B.) Lifecycle of networking:
1.) Time Horizon of networking
2.) Pinball of Life & Work (Confidence + Trust vs staying in Comfort zone)
3.) Having the right Goal (or Higher Purpose) + expectations (& 抱負vs 包袱)+ Think & Act LONG
Different aspects of networking
One’s point of view varies greatly based on where each person’s “perceived position” is compared to others (vs personal+business goals), let me explain.
Perspective + Altitude
Setting the scene, here is my perspective: Having networked all my working life in 5 industries and 3 degrees in close to 30years, I dabble a little in networking for business & as my hobby I founded non-profit CXO network for senior business leaders (mostly founder/CEO of firms with at least £3m profit) and also E/MBA club for MBA alum of my business school (before the existence of & multiple-reorganisation of the Alumni office since 2004).
(I’m although a late bloomer, as I only Left Hong Kong when I was 19 years old when I considered English as “chicken intestines”. My alleged network then was mostly young to-be-dropouts/ Triads & Mormon missionaries. All these contacts thankfully have no use for my present business career/personal growth.)
I’m also speaking from a foreigner’s perspective (mostly UK based for jurisdictional purpose but still travel the world when needed, mostly EMEA & AsiaPacific). I thus write this post based on my experience with my expansive international network of contacts+ friends worldwide. I also am accidental ‘friends’ with various teenagers (partly due to my wife using my Facebook to ‘friend’ my teenagers’ friends ‘accidentally’ too often!) Living in the most metropolitan city of the world, we are also friends with foreign builders/cleaners to hard-working cabbies/local business owners to CEOs/UHNWs/Philanthropists/ international Government officials/ ministers. My views are probably wrong though, as my teenagers keep pointing out and would love your feedback back if that is the case.
It is also important to stress that I ONLY focus on long-term win-win relationships (i.e. prefer to keep relationship rather than short-term win) vs Trump’s zero-sum (win-lose by all means “second-hand-car salesman-tatic”), so please stop reading now if you are the latter, as rest of the article will be baffling and annoying for you (although I would love to challenge you to do so, as unlike Trump, you probably can read further than this 😁).
A good example of various Perspective are
- a local MP trying to get re-elected and maybe to play politics to join the cabinet might be rather different from
- the perspective of a Tech entrepreneur who is trying to survive (vs his friend who is already running a ‘Unicorn’ who is trying to play major VCs against Bezos & Sergey through private dinners).
Therefore trying to have one universal rule applicable for both (& for your personal case) might be wanting.
Another 2 examples of Perspective of A-listers
- if you put Tim Berners-Lee in middle of local tribe chiefs of Africa, Tim might be “fish out of water” (do not tell me he frequent Africa since birth!),
- although Lady Gaga might be the same (there is, however, a chance some might be fans of her & recognise her in the right guise?)
Altitudes are much more abstract, not sure many people really consider the likely hard work & dedication needed to achieve & become truly successful. The views from altitudes might not be as envious as you might think. For example, a lot of the millionaires/UHNWs I know are workaholics (some are courteous albeit “seemingly churlish short email reply” automatons!), some are so famous and some became the slave of their success (that their schedules are managed down to 10minutes slots)! Would you be happy with that life?
If you were them, how long can you last for? Indeed based on my own personal contacts/experiences, most will not last 3–6 years maximum, the likes of Paul Paulman are outliers. And most will ONLY have one such gig in a lifetime sadly. No wonder most will also take up endurance challenges at the same time, as that helps them focus.
Readers should therefore also note what psychologists called “Positive Fantasies” fallacy; namely fantasising yourself as millionaire/billionaires as a goal makes you lazy but fantasising the challenges as you work towards success makes your successful (see short review on Forbes re Heather Kappesand Gabriele Oettingen, publishing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology).
Once attained Altitude, your views of networking from that vantage point is also very different from any mere mortals (who can go into junk food chains and not be recognised!)
Furthermore, how people view you will also be different! The more perceived successful you have, the more you will be seen more like a piece of commodity (I would not like to say ‘meat’) as everyone want a piece of you (from money to resources/mindshare or worst, your time!)
It is worst than from a celebrity’s perspective, as every engagement by celebrity (even more so for reality TV ‘stars) is to validate their existence, the truly successful entrepreneurs (who play long) would generally grow weary of such attention (unless you are the reality TV star type, like Trump, look where you empower him to get US to by giving him attention!).
Anecdotally, I know some top CXOs who are very kind & courteous when they meet people, generally do not have cards to hand out (try asking Richard Branson), who would happily receive cards. Due to overwhelming number of contacts they receive, some would not even pass it onto their secretary. I’ve seen with my own eyes they would secretly leave the cards.
GW: Question is, how does one become the outlier in their extraordinary world?
Definition of networking:
Before we properly start (please bear with me), we should also define what “networking” is. Like my last article on ‘FinTech vs FixTech’ most people might express strong opinions about a subject (e.g. re FinTech) before they agreed on the term’s definition (let alone asking the right question) … thus likely crosstalk/ wrong assumption of the target audience (& their want/ need/ desire/ capabilities) may induce the perceived disagreement of the two professors above. On the contrary, they may be in agreement after all!
For purpose of this article, my personal definition of networking is this:
“Build trusted long-term relationships with people that challenges you; and you can learn from.”
My pet hobby is I often challenge my trusted contacts in different areas, some ignores me, some are reaping long term rewards (you know who you are).
Your definition of networking may vary greatly from mine, and if so, that is also ok! You may need to devise a different strategy to mine, however, I would love to hear whether you agree with my analysis of the ‘Lifecycle of networking below’ which I hope to be more universal.
Finally, lets get down to the nitty gritty of it:
Lifecycle of networking (for the long term)
1.) Time horizon of Networking (Point Of View & Nurture)
It is a given how important networking might be, from getting an internship, next job(s) to auditions to be the next Hollywood A-lister. In short, from selling second-hand cars, being a chef (celebrity or not) and especially aspiring to being an entrepreneur, everyone needs to network at some point in his or her business lives (those that wanted to be more successful anyway).
[ Hope you like the amateur graphics below, love some help in making some free info graph to be distributed, if you can help please ping me a message: FreeInfoGraphHelpViaLinkedIn (at) GarethWong (dot) com full credit will be given to you ofcourse! ]
It is therefore important to note the ‘time horizon’ of networking. The Time horizon of X-axis (horizontal) maybe 3 years (if you are celebrity even shorter?) in a new industry, but typically it would be around 8–10years, even longer if it is family wealth type of relationships (unless you go via intermediary which induces trust like Goldman Sachs, but that still did not prevent but indeed accelerated the Madoff scandal).
Whatever your time horizon might be, every new contact that comes into your life will go through a lifecycle as they change roles through time, shifting from stranger to acquaintances to friendly (or indeed become a friend or even better family friend) to ultimately a trusted contact whom we can rely on in time of celebration (or dire strait for their assistance), all these through different type of contacts/encounters through ‘time’. How do these contacts shift from one role to next then?
Nurture: Timeline of networking
Time: The new contact’s shift in roles (in relation to us, from a “stranger” to “trusted”) would happen through time and different type of engagements. TIME is the very key component. It is paramount to note that like fermentation of best Kimchi/sauerkraut/ kefir/ Kombucha, the process cannot be rushed!
Liaison: How do one help the contacts along the process? Naturally & organically: Activities from one-to-one to meeting (or TED/charity talk) in industry function to invite to family events or even weddings (& funerals).
Best type of liaison would be non-agenda’s typed activities, from drinks with friends, or best via hobbies (kids go to same schools/nurseries) to walking the dogs or climbing the everest etc. Hence my non profit CXO private gatherings in Europe & Asia are exclusive and non-agenda (no sponsors) only who’s who.
I would like to argue that social-network sites like Linkedin (or dare I say it less so Facebook) play only small roles as key to any ‘trusted’ relationship is ONLY via offline gatherings (eye-balling each other). The online or mobile site only is a band-aid to help us ‘keep in touch’ virtually. Therefore, these digital/mobile tools are really bandaid and NOT effective in building a trusted relationship (unless your relationships were already strong! Although for me it is indispensable as we cannot keep up once your contacts are spanning across the world).
Of course, research has also been proven that ‘weak-ties’ aide helping to get jobs as Prof Mark Granovetter’s seminal paper “The Strength of Weak Ties.” in 1973, and Prof Adam’s book on Give & Take also mentioned that only 17% heard of new jobs from strong ties vs 28% heard of new jobs from weak-ties. I have not heard of facebook research but they are also professing greatness of weak ties see their post in 2016 (How strong and weak ties help you find a job). To be on the safe side, I work on both weak-ties but focus mostly on building strong-ties. One will have to do so when I am trying to fix things, rather than sell gadgets or future value.
Therefore, I’m at fault however not able to spend more time with friends (as I try to focus on family also), let alone industry contacts, hence, my sincere apologies for those that I really want to spend time with. My priority of goal of life has now moved towards helping shift world’s narrative to #FixTheWorld.
[I will spend more time with you guys once I deliver on @GamBond® (new asset class focus on Cash data, better than treasury bonds), @Be_Champion (#FixTheWorld) and @CorpParent (Simpler to understand & implement form of CSR/ESG), as we owe our children & their grandchildren’s generations a viable world].
(if you would like to see the solution video and/or support us, email me directly with your details or via BeChampSolutionViaLinkedin [at] BeChampion [dot] org )
Seems to me therefore, Prof Adam’s article make sense (as it was aiming for younger professionals) indeed, if that is the case, I would agree with his article, as goals of the youth (as I told my children) must be to try out many things (from lectures/events/hobbies to jobs) and see what might fires their interests. Once interests are found (seedlings), we can easily put some more nurture in place to test their mettle (sunlight, water & manure) and see if that is the right path to find their passion (thriving plant). For parents that want the best for their kids (& adults that want best future for themselves) I would heartily recommend the “Hard Thing Rule” by Prof Angela Duckworth (I previously called this self-challenged in my 2015 blog post, but hey its better to adopt the proven methods based on research & by famous professors!)
Once the interests found & nurtured, the youth would have already developed networking skills naturally (by attending the right lectures/ events surrounding those interests). However, from the beginning, they most likely have to go out of their “Comfort-zone” though as by definition they are probably the youngest (or dressed in school uniform & thus stand out) in the crowd!
Now the question is how does one find one’s interests? Can we find that by going out networking as Prof Jeffrey suggested? My take is that it is yes and no.
“To find yourself, think for yourself.” ― Socrates (born 469BC)
I’ve sadly met many people (young & old) in networking situation that has NO clue of what they want to do (they might not want to tell me or they just regurgitate what is ‘hot’ at that moment, blockchain & Uber? or what ever just covered, “it was very interesting, wasn’t it?”). Often many have not tried to do anything in their life (maybe too harsh comment), many sadly have no true point of view.
(In reality: some were there for the canapes/biscuits or meals. This was in fact ‘the joke’ I often tell people that “I am a gate crasher there mainly for the drinks/food”, sadly, often that was really the reason for most people there!).
Therefore, for people young & old, once you find yourself, and think for yourself, networking will be part of your journey to your goals (knowledge, insight, links, careers or deals etc.). With experience & insights gained, your goals & POV will be further developed (independently through thinking/studying/working) and thus form a virtuous circle and make you much more effective in networking.
Quality must come over quantity though (in both networking and contacts), consequently taking my own advice, I do not network much these days and try not to speak to many people as my work ethics dictates that I will try to follow up with people I’ve met.
Either way, once we got the good contacts that fit into what we want to do, you may ask, what then?
2.) Pinball of Life & Work [(Confidence + Trust) & not staying in Comfort zone]
It is a good time to quote Sun Zi 孫子(born 544 BC, 74yrs before Socrates) Art of war above, roughly & correctly translate, “Know thyself, know the enemies, you will not be in danger.”
Applying to networking perspective, I would like to assert that:
“Know thyself and know others + your own goals; only then will your networking life be effective & successful.”
Otherwise, might as well enjoy yourselves with friends down the pub/club?
Once the young person/executive devised their chosen interest(s) [POV], he/she would start accumulating more contacts that conform to their world views (there is a risk of confirmation bias, therefore one must do our best to counter that & other psychological/cognitive bias risks), example meet people who disagree and who might think your goals are crazy (I’ve been told that plenty!).
As the young person (or mature person starting networking) trying to maintain new contacts; it is very much akin to playing pinball, we try to keep them into one circle or another. Their roles in our life also shifts/changes due to time or circumstances.
Trick is how best to juggle their relationships with family & friends and jobs/schools/neighbourhood and hobbies & keep the “pinball in play”.
More you are in touch with the contacts, generally, the more ‘trusted’ they become in time (if there is right chemistry, and both parties wanted to.)
One can cheat slightly by digital means (email/SMS/instant messages), but best would be via offline ‘catch-up’ (e.g. to invite each other or meet at functions or even better during some common interest events).
Linking back to A-lister example I gave in “Perspective” above, if you were to meet Tim or Lady Gaga as a fan is very different in a much more differentiated scenario (once you are on a journey to your higher goals). For example, if you were to be introduced to Tim as guy/firm that aim to (no need to be successful yet!) disrupt/fix WorldWideWeb ; or you get introduced to Gaga as an up & coming artists from middle eastern or other exotic continent that might become next muse for the “Gaga enterprise”.
Indeed, even people think your ideas are crazy, and if you have not yet the right insights/solution, and perseverance, you might, in fact, be doing the right thing, think James Dyson.
Naturally, sometimes few of these contacts will drop off your pinball game altogether due to various reasons (e.g. moving physically or industry); one’s interest may shifted, or people just do not get along (or lack of time).
The goals are (or should) still be trying to keep your goals/mission in mind. Try to keep everyone in play (when you can and not for acquisition purposes), and more you are in touch with each contact, in time, there is more likelihood that they will become the ‘trusted’ contact/friends that everyone is coveted for. Learn from the top guys (about networking) with likes of Rupert Murdoch & John Brockman who host their legendary annual gatherings.
However, one MUST also give quality attention to family members (unless they are abusive/ toxic/ negative/ hateful, if so, some may argue that it is ok to drop them off for your sanity sake, hopefully after many years of trying and failing. Best to ask your psychologist though.) if not, do feel free to join ranks of millionaires/billionaires & celebrities and play family musical chairs with other models & celebrities, not my cup of tea.
One key suggestion is NOT to stay in the comfort zone and actively engage and learn on a daily basis, by all means, set an unsurmountable mission like some other great people previously from Darwin to Jim Marshall and even JFK (see my other blog post in 2015).
Why put ourselves out of our comfort-zone though? As explained by Prof Angela Duckworth in her talk about Grit (& the book), IMHO, networking can also be differentiated between ‘deliberate networking’ & soso networking (I will explain the equations at the end of this article).
Most relevan bit starts from 12m45s into the talk see here if you cannot wait.
You may ask, surely this is hard work, and this article too long, that maybe the case, that was reason I already given the answer at the beginning, but if you persevere, you might find the reason of why/how likes of StarWars and iPhones come about?
For example, Success of Lucas Film (George Lucas of Star-wars) or Apple’s iPhone (Steve Jobs) will not exist as they did not self-challenged to do something Difficult AND Different. Best book to read about this is Ed Catmull’s brilliant book on Creativity, book is ofcourse better than this talk (still great from our friends at Milken Institute & insights re Steve Jobs):
It was NOT luck Nor chance but self-determinations to disrupt (not yet fix though!) an industry whilst keeping close to the established market leaders (yet keeping them at arm’s length).
Applying this to networking, having your higher goals, thinking differently like Steve Jobs did, then when meeting presidents/CEOs even government Ministers, they will probably take 1 of 2 views of you:
A.) this guy/girl is crazy
B.) wow, this person is “making me think” because he/she has really thought about this: they might ask “who is he/she again?” (this is probably the time when they are ASKing for your cards/details).
If all these sounds hard work, your question then might be, gosh, how long do I have to do this for??
3.) Network-wide, Having the right Goal (or Higher Purpose) + expectations (& 抱負vs 包袱) + Think & Act LONG
Of course, like me, you may only truly start this process in your twenties/thirties, (or even later in fifties, but it generally still follows similar trajectory). The only exception to this rule is if you are famous (or suddenly became famous, hope not another reality TV “star”!), powerful (hope you are not Gadaffi or worst Drumpf), rich (hope it is your money & not other people’s money or worst another Madoff).
As agreed already, the goal of your networking efforts will be to shift the contacts towards the right side of the above diagram by placing them (keeping in touch) via ‘pinball of life’.
As your ‘altitude’ shifts upward by working hard on yourself/your job, hopefully (gaining more success, vantage view will also shift, and how people view you will also be different); more people wanted to be in your circle and thus your task is to locate & develop the trusted ‘friends’ will become easier in time.
In fact, it is counter-intuitive, as you become more successful (power, money, deals), you will have a reverse problem, namely, you will have so many contacts that you will not be able to deal with, and thus you will have to make the hard decisions to drop people (even good contacts) of your pinball machine.
Indeed, if you are at the ultra-high-net-worth categories (with $50millions+ investable), you may be doing a deliberate ‘trim’ of contacts, as many are like vultures now for you (from your POV, who are trying to grab your attention/time/money). If you are lucky enough (or cursed depends on your point of view), I sincerely hope you will still be challenging yourself to ask the right questions & do the right thing, as how you use your money (on top of growing it) could help make the world worst or help fix it (if our present world does not exist, your money will become meaningless, do not forget.)
I would not recommend you to signup to living pledge (as like climate deal, it is not binding anyway! but you do have access to Bill & Warren) but my challenge to you is to either by yourself (if you are really rich) or band together with other UHNW to truly fix ONE thing, that will make your foundation obsolete (not focusing on raising money, but Fixing something of your local area/or at the world scale).
Having the right Goal or Higher Purpose + expectations (& 抱負vs 包袱)
A paragraph then must be spent on what might be the right goal? Or alternatively, I would like to highlight equivalent idea of Fixed and Growth mindset of Carol Dweck, look at the brilliant animated video from RSA
It may be different if you were to just network for your job/role, or the enterprise, you created. But as Jack Ma mentioned in his talk, the future is the enterprise that fixes the society in some way (& find your company’s mission, see his talk in mandarin here starting 41m50s) : his full speech:
Thus I would like to highlight the difference between these two words in Chinese:
抱負 (Higher Purpose=ambition/ideology) vs 包袱 (burden)
Having a Higher Purpose, or the right ambition/ideology (抱負) is much better than having none. Or worst seeing the same goal as a burden (包袱) and choose not to take it up is also like seeing treasure/gold but not recognising it. Ultimately, having 抱負 Higher Purpose might become your TRUE differentiator.
Think & Act LONG
Such higher goals are usually for the long term, not buy and sell and get 3x or 10x the money. Whilst most engaging in either gambling or speculating, they share same trait, which is the ecosystem is mostly losers and a limited number of winners. This is very much different from nurturing a child responsibly, one would hope no parents will give up on the child even when she is 60 years old!?
If you have worked out your ‘higher goals’ on your own, deliberately devised what you might want to do (by probably trying out different careers/hobbies and speak to many people), then networking through the 3 stages of networking above might just be a perfect roadmap to success.
This video of Three bricklayers combined the ideas of Higher goal & Act long perfectly (thank you to Kaizen Teaching):
In Summary, my Equation of networking success (for the long term):
1.) Successful networking = deliberate networking (effortful & measurable) vs a higher goal/purpose
2.) Forget all Checkbox networking (collecting cards aimlessly, effortless = useless)
1.) All successful networking is effortful, as hopefully, you will be learning something new (unless you are performing a PR function, or selling yourself/your company or trying to get cheap PR like Branson). If it is effortful however, it will be out of your comfort-zone by definition. Meeting industry/thought leader in a particular (new) field and engaging right means invariably your knowledge/insights gained (can be empircially measured).
2.) Avoid checkbox networking at all costs (better to learn something by reading a book or even watching a useful TED talk). Avoid especially those events where people sell you tickets and particularly those where speakers are ‘protected’ from the audiences. Even worst are those gatherings whereby they focus on numbers over quality (e.g. lacklustre alumni events where events are created to show how many gatherings hosted per year & are frequented by mostly new graduates wanting to meet senior guys and thus NOT on creating long-term relationships between those attending).
Swapping cards are thus usually meaningless unless it is amongst peers (or those that are challenged).
Not sure if you agree with my point of view above, would love to hear your thoughts/ideas/suggestions.
see my previous post on LinkedIn:
or #DoingtheRightThing in Philanthropy (how to decide what are the right things to do?)
Feel free to click on “follow” above to follow my (future) LinkedIn posts. or private twitter on @GarethWong (mainly for senior business/philanthropy leaders or my offline contacts) or public tweets on: @CXOAsia@CXOEurope and @GamBond .
I am an amateur photographer, welcome all feedback on pictures I take, public ones are listed via Pix.GarethWong.com
© 2017 Gareth Wong, All Rights Reserved.