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.

The “Kevin Bacon” Game

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.

264) Life Is Choices

“Life is choices. We are constantly making decisions, and the decisions we make today determine who we become tomorrow.” These are the words of Matthew Kelly, New York Times bestselling author, speaker and a business consultant.

Kelly is right. Every moment of life is a choice. You choose to listen to this program. You’ve chosen to continue. You’ll choose whether to take action on what you hear or not. Every moment is a choice.

But also remember that each and every choice leads to something. Good choices raise you up and lead to better opportunities. And these opportunities offer you better options to choose from.

On the other hand, bad choices lead to objectionable challenges. And these challenges present you with undesirable options to choose from.

Remember, success comes from a string of great choices. One by one they build to something wonderful. With that, endeavor to make good choices.


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263) Courageously Forge Ahead

Know this, if you don’t already: As you embark upon success, not everyone will be firmly behind you.

There will be well-intentioned people holding you back because they don’t truly understand what it is you are after. They’ll say things like, “You better not; you might get hurt.”

And there will be people pulling you back because they are so afraid that you are going to achieve something that they won’t. They will attempt to assert peer pressure to deter you with criticism, such as “that’s a waste of time” or “you’re such a workaholic.”

Sure, it can be difficult to forge ahead in the wake of these detractors, especially when some of them are family and friends. Nevertheless, put on blinders, insert earplugs and courageously forge ahead.

Success is a special thing. And it’s special, in part, because you’re willing to take on challenges even when it feels like you’re all alone.


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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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261) Magnets And Pushers

As author and consultant Paul Edwards says in his popular book, Business Beyond Business, “The difference between a pusher and a ‘magnet’ is that magnets create gravitational ‘pull’ that draws people towards them.”

Edwards goes on to write that “pushers see people more like transactions to be carried out.” The pusher believes that someone has money and they seek to get it. While the exchange is generally fair – money for a product or service – the pusher mindset is one of “what can this person do for me right now?”

Edwards indicates that magnets are different. They see people as untapped reservoirs of knowledge, ideas, passion, dreams and connections, in exchange for similar resources and energy.

With that, today, stop and look around. When you see someone new, see a wealth of long-term mutual potential. See a person with whom you can exchanges contacts, thoughts and opportunities. If you condition yourself to do this, you’ll have the power to attract people to you.


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.


260) Airplane Maintenance Mindset

While air travel is faster, more efficient and safer than ever before, we still need to contend with gravity – the Earth’s unrelenting pull on all physical objects.

Therefore, to keep air travel safe, those in air transportation vigilantly maintain aircraft. While they might never change the engine in their car, you can be sure they replace aircraft engines on a routine basis … whether it needs it or not. After all, being stranded on US-41 is no big deal but being stalled at 10,000 feet is.

So, as you cultivate the relationships within your growing network, care for them as you would maintain an airplane. Don’t wait for a relationship to be broken before you tend to it.

Never chance that something might go wrong. Rather, routinely reach out to the important people in your life, whether personal or professional. See how they’re doing. And in so doing, you’ll show that you care. That will serve to keep your entire fleet of relationships airborne.


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.


259) Own Your Failures

If you’ve been at this game of business long enough you will no doubt experience failures and setbacks. Some will be relatively small, such as not upselling a client at the 11th hour on the last day of an already record month. Others will be large, such as not getting the promotion or losing that big client. And a good many will be somewhere in between.

Whatever the case, these moments will leave you feeling a degree of disappointment. And that’s okay, as that’s part of being driven and goal oriented. What’s not okay, however, is blaming others or circumstances as you ruminate on your shortcoming.

Whatever the “would have’s”, “should have’s” and “could have’s” might be, in the final analysis on some level it’s your failure. Own it. Commit to doing better. Then move forward with your pride and the respect of others.


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257) The Hunchback Prince

Centuries ago, a kingdom had a prince with a hunchback. Though it was his destiny to be king, he was so tragically deformed that even the most loyal of subjects dreaded the day he would ascend to the throne.

Undeterred, the Prince ordered the royal sculptor to carve a statue of him in a manner that looked exactly as he would look if he had no deformity.

When the sculpture was finished, the Prince would approach it each day and try to bend his back straight up against the back of his statue. Then one day, bending upward, his shoulders touched the statute.  He now resembled the statue he’d ordered constructed.

Your life today is riddled with imperfection and deformities relative to where you want to take it. In your mind, carve a statute of your perfect future self. Then each day bend a little more towards it. Like the Prince, one day your imperfections will be cast aside.


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.