Frank Agin, founder and president of AmSpirit Business Connections and host of Networking Rx, interviews David Patrick, a pioneering entrepreneur who is networking the tele-medicine revolution.
In the tale, Stone Soup, stingy villagers have no interest in sharing their food with anyone but their own. However, when a peddler offers to share some stone soup with them (essentially rocks in a pot of boiling water), one by one the villagers begin to share – a head of cabbage here, some salt beef there – and before long a pot of delicious “stone” soup awaits them.
This tale suggests that generosity and altruism are contagious. Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D. and James H. Fowler, Ph.D tested this assertion and shared their results in their book Connected.
120 students were put into groups of four. Each group member was given some money to perform a series of tasks. Members both profited and lost in this capitalistic exercise. After each round, members had the option to give some funds to others at their own expense.
The exercise was repeated, with different group configurations. In the first few rounds, no money was gifted.
Unbeknownst to the participants, one of them was a plant — someone in on the experiment. This person was the “Stone Soup Peddler.” At some point, the Stone Soup Peddler started to give away some of his money to others.
In the exercises that followed this exhibition of generosity, the people who benefited from the gift gave more. Even people who had only witnessed the gifting began giving more. These altruistic gestures began to spread through the group.
In business, you depend on others giving to you. You look for people to give you information, and to share referrals, insights, and ideas with you.
But people don’t just give; they are somehow moved and inspired to do so.
As the tale and the study illustrate, you have the power to inspire generosity through your own generosity. Any simple gesture can be contagious – a simple referral, an introduction, or just sharing valuable information. This will inspire your network to give to you and to others.
The United Kingdom has had a longstanding milk distribution system. Milkmen in small trucks bring the milk in bottles to each country house. Early in the 20th century, these bottles had no top, giving birds easy access to the cream on top.
The titmice and the robins capitalized most on this opportunity, quickly learning to siphon off the cream from the bottles.
In the 1940s dairies began to install aluminum seals on milk bottles, effectively preventing the birds from gaining access.
Other than an occasional few, the robins as a species never learned how to get around the bottle cap and were foiled (no pun intended) from getting at the milky cream.
Why? After all, robins and titmice are similar in size and physical characteristics. The difference was in how the birds interacted within their own species.
Robins are individualistic, self-serving and territorial birds. Rather than cooperate, they chase each other off when approached.
Titmice, on the other hand, are communal birds, relying heavily on other titmice for survival. Through this mutual dependency, they cooperate and collaborate, quickly learning from each other and adapting accordingly.
In short, the titmice won the battle against the aluminum caps because they learned from one another, while the self-serving robins, unwilling to share information, found themselves denied access to the sweet cream.
The lesson here is simple: Birds that flock, like titmice, learn faster, evolve more quickly, and increase their chances of survival. This is true for you as well. When you interact with others, you learn – new information, new techniques, and new ways of helping others succeed.
So, in short, build a network of titmice, not robins.
In addition to the types of people in your network, you need to consider the extent to which you know people in your network.
In Getting A Job, author and sociologist Mark Granovetter found that 56% of people found jobs through personal contacts. Not surprising. After all, it is not what you know, but who you know.”
The surprise was that the personal contacts used to obtain these jobs were not family or friends – “close ties”. Rather, most could be classified as “weak ties”. 55.6% reported that they saw their “job-producing” contact only occasionally and 27.8% saw their contact only rarely.
So, when it comes to job hunting – or finding clients – weak ties tend to be more important than strong ties.
Why? Because close ties tend to occupy the same world as you do. A spouse or close friend may share many of the same network contacts as you and is likely to only refer or connect you to people you already know.
Mere acquaintances, or “weak ties”, on the other hand, are much more likely to know people that you do not. While you might share a small overlap in networks, most of the people they know are completely unknown to you.
The take-away? Do NOT rely solely on close ties to fortify your network. A better means is to associate with people you don’t know well – the person from work that you know casually from meetings or trips on the elevator; the person you see every week at church but, beyond a name, you know little else about.
From a networking perspective, the most valuable people aren’t those closest to you. In fact, the more people you know who aren’t close to you, the stronger your position becomes.
In summary, the quality of your relationships matters and one measure of quality is the strength or weakness of the tie. Having lunch with your long-time best buddy can be fun but does little to build your network. If you want to build your network, have lunch with someone you know … but not that well.
Kevin Bacon is a popular American actor. The idea behind the Kevin Bacon game is to link any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon through the movies they’ve been in.
For example: Mary Pickford was in “Screen Snapshots” with Clark Gable, who was in “Combat America” with Tony Romano who, 35 years later, was in “Starting Over” with Kevin Bacon. Three Steps.
In the 1990s, computer scientist Brett Tjaden determined that Kevin Bacon was on average 2.8312 steps from any actor or actress, which placed him 668th of all actors and actresses. Then he determined the overall connectivity of a host of other actors and actresses. Among the top 50 were names such as Martin Sheen, Robert Mitchum, Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Rod Steiger, and Shelly Winters.
Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz further attempted to determine why actor Burgess Meredith, who appeared in 114 films, ranked in the top 20 when Gary Cooper, with a similar number of films, ranked 878th, and John Wayne, with 183 films to his credit, only ranked 160th.
They concluded that while Gary Cooper and John Wayne appeared in a significantly greater number of movies, the movies were of a similar type. In fact, over 50% of John Wayne’s movies were westerns.
Burgess Meredith, on the other hand, appeared in fewer but a greater variety of films: 42 dramas, 22 comedies, 8 adventures, as well as action, documentary, science fiction, horror, western, thrillers, crime, children, romance, mysteries, and even a musical and one animated film.
What can you take away from the Kevin Bacon game? If your network looks like Burgess Meredith’s career, with lots of variety and diversity, you’re probably doing great! But if your network resembles John Wayne’s career – lots of connections but from relatively few sources – you need to diversify.
To explore the real potential of your network, you need to live in lots of worlds – work, church, PTA, youth sports, trade association outside your profession, etc.
In the 1960s, Harvard social psychologist Stanley Milgram studied what he termed the “small world” problem. He wanted to better understand how people were connected to one another.
So, he sent to 160 randomly selected people in Omaha, NE a packet with the name and address of a stockbroker from Boston. He instructed each individual to write their name on the roster in the packet, then mail it to someone they thought would get it closer to the stockbroker.
On average the packets reached the broker in six steps (thus the phrase “six degrees of separation”). Milgram initially reasoned that if the packets started from 160 random points, they would arrive at their destination with similar randomness. Many of the packets, however, followed the same asymmetrical pattern. Half of the responses that got to the stockbroker were delivered by three people. So, the phrase “six degrees of separation” doesn’t mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those few.
Try this. Write down the names of 40 friends and trace them back to how they were introduced to you. This will reveal that what people term as their “social circles” are really inverted pyramids. A large percentage of your contacts likely originated from relatively few individuals – your Network Pyramid Capstones.
Consider this – to “jump start” your network or determine where your time is best spent, find your Network Pyramid Capstones. Then reconnect with each over lunch, coffee, or whatever.
Make an effort to develop a great relationship with these people – find ways to help them and be sure they understand how they can help you. These individuals have been instrumental in building your network to this point and will likely do so in the future.
Networking is simply human interaction and it has been with us since the beginning of time. These human interactions are really just the relationships we have with one another. How we connect. Some connections are passing. Some connections are more lasting. Some connections are seemingly lifelong.
Given this, networking is, more or less, really just human behavior. Talking. Listening. Understanding. Being empathetic, encouraging, inspiring, smiling, laughing, and being a friend. Thus, all human behaviors involving other people are relationship-based and is networking.
The wonderful thing about human behavior is that there are patterns to it. While the patterns may not be perfectly predictable – as you might find with a chemical reaction or a physics experiment – there are patterns generally there.
Whenever there are patterns, however, there is curiosity. And whenever there is curiosity, you will find people of science trying to explain the patterns through studying, observing, and examining them.
Human behavior involving our relationships is no different. The social sciences – sociology, psychology, and economics, just to name a few – for years have examined how humans relate to one another, both personally and professionally.
If you think about it, considering all these different options and orders, there are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of different 30-second commercials for you. So, do not stop at just one. Rather, select a handful of the ones that you feel are the most powerful for you and where you are the most comfortable saying them. Go with these.
Like anything, however, you will not get good at delivering your 30-second commercials without preparation, planning and practice.
Write Them: Using something as basic as a small note pad or 3×5 cards, neatly write or type your commercials for future reference.
Review Them: Once you have them written out, keep them handy so that you can practice or review them from time to time (just a few minutes each week is plenty).
Use Them: When someone then asks, “Who are you?”, do not hesitate. Have the courage to launch into one of your 30-second commercials (picking the appropriate one for the time and place).
Refine Them: Your 30-second commercials are always a work in process. You should look for ways to update them to make them more clear or better represent you.
An effective 30-second commercial is good, but having more than one is better. You have a lot to offer and it won’t all fit in one commercial.
No two people are the same and no two situations are the same. Thus, it only stands to reason that you have different messages to fit different situations and people.
Plus, if you consistently say the same thing, it eventually becomes “white noise.” Don’t fall into the “one size fits all” trap. Consider the following:
1) Develop a variety of Message Bodies – some informative or educational, others flippant or amusing, still others something with a little shock value (where you really want to grab some attention quickly).
2) Vary the reason WHY people should refer you. What information about you or your company will instill confidence and boost your credibility? What makes you uniquely qualified or sets you apart?
3) Vary the request. In some settings you can outright ask for people to refer you clients. In others, ask for a connection to a strategic partner (an accountant or attorney, perhaps). Or maybe you need to ask for information (such as details on networking events, job transition groups or background on people).
To summarize, make your 30-second commercials effective by having different MESSAGE BODIES, relying on different things to establish CONFIDENCE, and altering the REQUEST.
The order in which you present this information can vary. The above framework is a suggested guide. It is not an ironclad rule of thumb. Lead with something to inspire CONFIDENCE or, perhaps, your strong definite REQUEST, or even an amusing MESSAGE BODY.
It does not matter how you slice or dice the framework. The key is conveying the message with all the bits and pieces in about 30 seconds.
Now clearly articulating WHO you are, WHAT you do and WHY you are uniquely qualified is nice. However, in a sense, it is like having a souped up car with no wheels. To complete your 30-second commercial, you need to clearly state WHAT it is you need.
I hear a lot of 30-second commercials and many of them have a weak finish. This is because they have a wimpy ASK or request. The best way to illustrate this is through an example … an example of what NOT to do. Do not make your HOW statement something like, “A good referral for me is someone in transition or not happy with the direction of their career.” Rather, here is a better example.
“If you know of someone in transition or not happy with the direction of their career please introduce me to them.”
The main difference between these two is that the second has a “call to action.” If you see or know of this, please send it my way … Or give me their number … Or invite them to my seminar.
The first example, “A good referral for me is someone in transition or not happy with the direction of their career” gives the same information, but it leaves someone wanting to say, “That’s nice.”
It is like my kids. They will say, “Dad, I am hungry.” And my response is, “Thanks. That is good to know.” They know now they need to make a Strong Definite Request. “Dad, can you cook me Mac-n-Cheese?” They are asking for action, which is far more powerful.