Networking And Stone Soup

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. Afterward, members had the option of giving 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 Power Of Flocking

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 1940’s dairies began to install aluminum seals on milk bottles, effectively preventing the birds from gaining access.

This worked for a while but one by one, the titmice learned to pierce the tops and before long, the entire titmouse population was only mildly inconvenienced by the aluminum caps.

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.

Network Pyramid Capstones

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 Nothing New

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.

30-Second Commercial 7 of 8

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.

262) Network Building From 1,000 Acts

In China for the better part of a 1,000 years, the government practiced a form of torture known as “Death From A Thousand Cuts.” Under this form of execution, the convicted person was not killed mercifully. Rather the villain was executed by a series of daily small incisions. These collectively over time spelled doom for the condemned.

Establishing a strong network is truly the reverse of this. You successfully build a network by consistently performing literally thousands of small and seemingly insignificant acts.

You flash a big, happy smile thousands of times. You perform thousands of kind acts. You exhibit reliability with unfailing consistency thousands of times. No one smile, or single kind act, or individual demonstration of dependability has any significance in and of itself. Collectively, however, they have an immense power to build your network.

Knowing that it takes thousands of insignificant acts to build a great network, continually ask yourself, “What seemingly, meaningless network building act am I doing right now?”


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30-Second Commercial: Part 2 of 8

To build a strong network of contacts that give you referrals, contacts and information, you need to have a concise, yet very compelling, 30-second commercial. The problem is that you have SO MUCH to say and 30 seconds is really not a lot of time.

So to conquer the challenge of conveying lots of information in a short period of time, it is helpful to have a framework to work with. Here is an effective one:

  • Start with a basic introduction for yourself (this addresses WHO you are) …
  • Add to that a Message (which addresses WHAT you do) …
  • From there, you need to Inspire Confidence or create credibility (which tackles WHY you over all the other choices) …
  • Then you wrap this up with a Strong Definite Request of what you need (this is HOW they can help you).

Now, if you carefully draft each of these sub-parts and then piece them together with your own personal flair, you end up with a very effective 30-second commercial. For more, see Part 3.

255) You, The CEO

On the August 26th, 2019 episode of the How To Be Mesmerizing Podcast, host Tim Shurr got his guest Duane Cummins, a corporate chief executive and author, to share his thoughts on the true meaning of being a CEO.

Cummins quickly remarked that CEO really stands for Constantly Elevating Others. In short, he explained that the role of any leader is to raise up those under his or her care. And being a leader is about serving others and not about being served.

In this sense, whoever you are, you are a CEO. It might not be of a far-flung corporate enterprise. It might only be of a single person, but you are charged with ensuring that someone is elevated. Someone is developed. Someone is nurtured. Someone is better today than they were yesterday.

It doesn’t matter what your LinkedIn profile or business card says. You’re a CEO. Lean into that role and elevate others.


Like what you’ve read? Prefer to hear it as a podcast or daily flash briefing? Subscribe to the Networking Rx Minute podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.


227) Light Someone’s Candle

Bob Graham, corporate trainer, speaker and author of the book Breakthrough Communication Skills, points out that a single person with a lit candle can, in mere seconds, be the catalyst for lighting an entire room of candles by simply sharing the light.

Graham’s point is simple: Metaphorically, we all hold a lit candle. Within each of us is a burning inspiration and flames of motivation.

And yet at the same time, we’re all surrounded by a litany of others whose candles are unlit. Their spirits are indifferent, dejected, or bordering on being completely demoralized.

With very little effort, we can use our passion to ignite the spirits of these listless souls. From there, the light will spread to others. And the best part is that sharing this does nothing to diminish the light within us.

So, take a moment today and light someone’s candle. Then watch as that flame fans out to others.


Like what you’ve read? Prefer to hear it as a podcast or daily flash briefing? Subscribe to the Networking Rx Minute podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.


226) Inroads To Thought Leadership

Do you like to stand before a group and share insight and knowledge on your industry or profession? Would you be comfortable writing a similar article or piece for a newsletter?

If the answer is “YES,” from time to time remind your network that a good opportunity for you is an introduction to a group or organization that might be interested in a professional program on your expertise.

Chances are, in your area there are groups and organizations that would truly find value in what you have to say. In so doing, you brand yourself as a subject-matter expert as well as grow your network amongst lots of potential clients (and people who know potential clients).

While this sort of activity may not generate immediate business, it will absolutely build a foundation upon which lots of future business can result.


Like what you’ve read? Prefer to hear it as a podcast or daily flash briefing? Subscribe to the Networking Rx Minute podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.