Networking not just about who you know but what you’ve done

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, September 18, 2017

I am a gigantic fan of Adam Grant, professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, he is on my list with whom to have a last dinner before I kick the bucket. Recently, he wrote about one of my favorite topics — networking — in The New York Times.

My book, “I’m There For You, Baby,” contains 221 rules on entrepreneurship, and Rule No. 2 says, “Networking is a profession, become a professional at it.” Grant has now reframed my thinking deeply.

He says, “Success is supposed to come to the suave schmoozers and social butterflies, but this obscures the opposite truth — accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.” My original thinking was that who you know really matters more than what you know, but now I think it is not just who you know — nor what you know — but what you have done. It is about the doing, not just the knowing.

Grant lists multiple examples from George Lucas to Justin Bieber to Sara Blakely. In each instance, it was the work they did that got them the introduction to the person who then catapulted their career. I admire Grant for calling this out. I have often promoted networking as a skill to be developed, but I think Grant is right that achievements are exponential to the network. There are a limited number of times you can just make small talk at the mixer.

Grant says, “Who you’ll know tomorrow depends on what you contributed yesterday.” One of the ways of contributing is to take the time to return emails and phone calls. My friend and partner, Cliff Boro, says, “Dig the well before you need the water.” I am always surprised when people thank me for calling them back. I am usually good for a couple of minutes to listen — because I don’t know what you have on your mind — and I would like to find out. Sure, sometimes it is a waste, but on multiple occasions I have gotten deals and clients and money from blind phone calls or emails. It was a random email from a woman I had never met who suggested that I speak to the prisoners (including her fiancé) at the brig at Miramar. That event led to my deep involvement in the prison business.

More from Grant, “The best way to attract a mentor is to create something worthy of the mentor’s attention. Do something interesting, and instead of having to push your way in, you will be pulled in. The network comes to you.” As a small-time deal guy, I am attracted to people who have achieved something and now want my help as opposed to just wanting my time or money with no plan.

Grant makes the point vigorously that your achievement needs to be told. He contends, “You have to put your work out there.” Today that means social media. But the self-promotion needs to be about your ideas, not just about yourself or where you vacationed or a picture of your expensive car or meal.

Most of us hate to toot our own horns — and the evidence is that self-promotion is not very effective. The better result is to be praised by someone else. I have more than a few acquaintances who are shameless shouters, and I am deaf to them. Grant says, “Let your insights and your outputs — not your business cards — do the talking.”

Grant and I finally do come to a minor divergence on the issue of networking events. My Rule No. 3 says, “Go to all of the events and meetings, in particular the ones that you are sure are a total waste of time.” I find those events are the ones where the best stuff happens for me. It is because I am totally available — no expectations, no defenses, no agenda. Grant argues for networking events where there is a shared purpose. It is an organizing principle for sharing thoughts and feelings. I like that, but I am also down with doing some unstructured hanging (I can still do 45 minutes before they go in for dinner and I have to head for the hills).

Rule No. 529:  Buy a trumpet, but play it softly.

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