After we dug deep into more of the organizational lessons-learned in our first four posts (quick reminder: be better, faster, louder, and more focussed than your competitors), let’s shift our focus and talk about you. The next couple of lessons I learned over the last two-plus decades of being in the arena are all about how you, personally, show up.
Our fifth lesson unlocked most of the opportunities I got in my life: Be networked.
I believe we all, intuitively, grasp the idea that it is not only what you know or can do, but also whom you know — especially in today’s world. But being networked is more (and quite frankly very different) from attending countless conferences (well, pre-COVID of course) and collecting as many business cards (again, pre-2020) as possible. Being network is about genuine human connections — connections which take time and energy to build and foster, and which run much deeper than a simple transaction.
In this context, it is incredibly important to pay special attention to your weak ties. Strong ties (the opposite to your weak ties) are the people who are like you — if you are a startup founder, they are other founders, if you are into a specific sport, they are all the other people who are also into the same sport. It is easy for us to relate to each other, as we have many things in common. But strong ties are not that useful from a network perspective — as they see the same things you see, they read the same news you read, and they talk to the same people you talk to.
Weak ties are the people with whom you have little in common — the artist friend, the person with a very different socio-economic background, the person who works in a Fortune 500 company while you are trying to get your three-people startup off the ground.
The reason weak ties are so important and valuable is that they see things you don’t see. They talk to different people than you, they source their information from different places, they see the world differently. And thus they see opportunities which are hidden to you.
LinkedIn, years ago, published research which showed that the vast amount of successful job referrals came from weak ties. Seek and nourish your weak ties — they are what makes your network valuable.
Seneca the Younger said, some 2,000 years ago, that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I believe his insight is spot on — you need to create opportunities for yourself, which you get by putting yourself out there. And when opportunity knocks the door, you have to be ready — something we will dig deeper in future parts of this series. Both aspects require work, patience, nurturing, and perseverance.
Adam Grant wrote one of my favorite books on the topic — boiling it down to the general tendency of some folks to be takers and others to be givers.