I was recently invited to speak at an event in the Tin Tabernacle to commemorate the end of Escape The City’s Escape Tribe. I was one of a dozen or so speakers that day, and whilst most the day whizzed by in a blur of excitement and stage fright, one piece of advice from one particular speaker stuck in my mind and refused to budge.
The advice was simple:
Meet two new people a week.
Colin recounted how in his early years in London he had made this personal pledge as a way of forcing himself to expand his network and expose himself to new people and new ideas. Four years – and a lot of flat whites – later and he is still going strong.
The advice stuck in my head for three reasons. It’s simple, it’s actionable, and nobody does it.
Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1944 existentialist play No Exit famously wrote that ‘Hell is other people’. It’s something of a career advice cliché by now, but when it comes to our careers opportunities are other people.
The trouble is that for a great many people networking in the traditional sense has become a dirty word. It’s seen as a hallmark of a world of work characterised by professional superficiality, an awkward exchange of business cards, an uncomfortable shuffle to the refreshments and a brief introduction that’s no sooner over as it is forgotten.
I’ve been there, and it made me squirm.
But Colin’s advice is much more powerful than it first appears, and when we unravel it we can begin to see why:
1. It’s Deliberate
Colin isn’t talking about the type of networking we do when we mingle in lobbies. He’s also not talking about spontaneous meetings, the kind you might expect at a Meetup (although these are also very valuable!). He’s talking about making a deliberate effort to reach out to somebody in your community simply because you feel a deeper connection to who they are and what they do. When we take deliberate action incredible things begin to happen. We attract people, opportunities and new ideas, and we experience breakthrough after breakthrough. If you’re starting to feel like a passive participant in your own career, taking the time to do something deliberate can often lead to unexpected results.
2. It’s Proactive
People won’t come to you, and opportunities don’t come to those who wait but to those who make them happen. By reaching out and connecting with two new people a week you aren’t waiting to be chosen, you’re choosing yourself. You’re making a statement to yourself and to others that you’re here, you care and you’re listening. The 21st Century is witnessing the rebirth of the self-directed career as increasing numbers of people seize back control over their work. Whereas a traditional career path is often reactive by nature, the self-directed career is a proactive pursuit. Proactivity is a mindset, and it begins with the agreement that we always make the first move and take the initiative to make things happen.
3. It Adds Up
One of my favourite mantras I use to guide my career is never overestimate what you can do in a day, but never underestimate what you can do in a month. Two new people a week may not sound like a lot of people. You probably meet half a dozen new people every Friday night already. But that’s 8 new people a month, 24 people over 3 months, and nearly 100 new people a year that you deliberately sought out and connected with. With each new connection you are spinning your web, and the larger and stronger the web, the more likely you are to catch something in it.
4. It Self-Generates
By reaching out and making deliberate connections with people in your community you’re fostering much deeper and more personal relationships than you may be currently at work. It’s more than likely that if you hit it off with somebody then they’ll connect you with other people from their own network. In the 21st Century we are all connectors, and people love to be given the opportunity to connect two strangers if they believe it would be mutually valuable. Sometimes a single chat over a coffee can lead to two, three or more new introductions, like the heads of the Hydra. Just don’t be afraid to ask!
5. It’s About Who Knows You
Related to point number 3, by making deliberate connections you are stacking the odds of opportunity in your favour not just because of who you know, but because of who knows you. Who’s talking about you when you’re not in the room? What are they saying? How many people out there in the world truly know who you are, what you do and why you do it? The larger the number, the more likely it is that the opportunities you want to find you will do so.
This strategy works.
I’m only writing this post right now because it works.
TalentRocket Founder and CEO Chris Platts was one of the first people I reached out to. We met for a coffee in Old Street, had a fascinating conversation about the future of work, and the seeds of a relationship were sewn.
TalentRocket Blast Off:
3… Make a list of 10 people that you follow, admire or find interesting, find them on Twitter and hunt for their email address. Allow yourself to be lead by your natural curiosity, regardless of what you currently do. Do you work as an accountant but are fascinated by a university robotics professor? There are no boundaries or rules, so be honest with yourself.
2… If you don’t have a blog, think about how you could create one to document your conversations.
1… Take the first step today to reach out to somebody you follow and offer to buy them a coffee. Send them a Tweet or an email and tell them how much you would value a short conversation.