If you want to succeed at networking, one of the best starting places is to work hard at becoming luckier.
That may sound like an oxymoron, but as I describe in my new e-book “Stand Out Networking,” it’s not at all. According to research by Anthony Tjan, CEO and managing partner of venture capital firm Cue Ball, and his colleagues, a full 25% of top entrepreneurs and executives identified as lucky — which, it turns out, an attitude of openness that anyone can cultivate.
“In many instances, when we talk to people who describe themselves as lucky,” he says, “it’s really their outlook toward relationships that helps them create the circumstances for luck, and their attitude helps them take advantage of it.”
So how can you become luckier? Tjan recommends adopting three attitudes: humility (so you’re open to new people and learning from them), curiosity (because genuine interest creates connections), and optimism (which sparks energy to dive into new opportunities).
“People who are laid-back and luck-driven are the ones who discover the wallflowers,” he says, “and they benefit disproportionately later in life from some of those relationships.”
After all, not every future success is obvious: “There are many great leaders who, if you met them at a cocktail party, you’d just skip over [them] because they have a different personality type.” Says Tjan, “Lucky people have an openness, an authenticity, and a generosity toward embracing people — without overthinking ‘what’s the value exchange?’ It’s just, that’s an interesting person.”
That kind of lucky curiosity and humility is exemplified by Chris Brogan, who is now a New York Times bestselling author of books including “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.” But he vividly remembers the early days, when it took him — an early adopter of blogging — eight years to reach his first 100 subscribers.
He’s grateful to the people who helped him when he was starting out, and tries to pay it forward by helping newbies. Many people focus on how to get the attention of high-level “influencers,” and Brogan could choose to surround himself exclusively with those people.
But instead, he suggests building relationships with up-and-comers. There’s an opportunity to learn from them, and to build loyal, trusting relationships because you helped them when you didn’t have to. It all starts with an authentic interest in other people, regardless of the immediate “value” of that relationship.
Like Brogan, innovation expert Deb Mills-Scofield believes most people miss the point of networking. Sure, it’d be nice to make friends with celebrities like Richard Branson or Larry Page or Sheryl Sandberg.
But Mills-Scofield says connecting with a big name may not be as helpful as you’d think. If you really want to learn from your network and use it to spark new ideas, you may be better off looking at the periphery.
“The known names are, in a way, lagging indicators,” she says. “They’re already famous and known for what they are doing. . . . Now, these are important connections. However, if we only look at size and status, we’ll miss the emerging patterns coming from the edges or miss the weak signals from other disciplines that can upend our industry, market, and customer base. Sometimes, people with smaller and less flashy networks have very eclectic, fascinating networks in some particular area that could have a big influence on our thinking.”
Sometimes luck means listening to voices and perspectives that aren’t obvious to others, who are still chasing the big names.
Another key to increasing your luck is building diverse networks.
“Where everyone does this wrong,” says Brogan, “is they make vertical networks based on either locale or industry. ‘I’m in the auto industry, so I should know people in the auto industry.’ Then you lose your job, and you learn how dumb it is to know only one industry.”
The antidote, he says, is to build a network that’s “horizontal, not vertical.” Specifically, you should reach out to connectors in other fields that may be slightly outside your orbit but to which you can add mutual value.
If everyone you know reads the same things, talks about the same things, and knows the same people, you’re going to get a limited view of the world. Luck creeps in at the intersections of different world.
In fact, Mills-Scofield, who is a visiting scholar at Brown University and teaches Business Model Innovation at Oberlin College, believes that many executives have networking all wrong.
It should never be viewed as a short-term transaction, she says: “I think most people measure a network connection by how many doors it opens, how it grows their own network or provides job opportunities, instead of what ideas they were exposed to because of this network connection, how they may think differently, what new experiences they have had, and what amazing people they have met.”
Luck, it seems, isn’t just luck. Instead, it’s having a mindset of opportunity.
When you take a real interest in people — because of who they are, not what they can do for you — and make a point to introduce yourself to diverse ideas, serendipity has a way of finding you.
Increasing your luck benefits you and enables you to help others.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of “Reinventing You” and “Stand Out,” and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook and follow her on Twitter.
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