Help, You Need Someone

“Hope you are well.”

We are all guilty of typing those words. It’s the email equivalent of “Have a nice day,” though usually as a salutation. It means that in a few sentences someone is going to ask you for a favor. In customary parlance, it’s someone you haven’t heard from in quite some time. It’s also likely someone who doesn’t much care if you are well.

Help2In the very early days of this blog, I wrote a piece of advice about networking. I thought about that a lot these past few weeks with the release of my novel. Launching a first book at mid-life is a somewhat absurd task. The odds of commercial success are so tiny, you almost can’t calculate them. When countless people in my network—from high school through college through each phase of my career—rallied to my support across the board, I was literally breathless. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for these people: job referral, job reference, resume review, preparation for a pitch, media training, media intervention, hospital visit, you name it! I am there for them in perpetuity, and they are here for me now.

Don’t take this for granted. It does not happen by accident, nor does it happen as the norm. If you haven’t yet been crushed by that discovery, you will soon enough. Don’t be dismayed. Only you can fix the problem, and it’s a problem worth fixing. But it’s not a sticky patch on a leaky roof.

Networking is still so bizarrely misunderstood, it boggles my mind. It is not a system of stored and replaced favors. It is the building of bonding relationships where people want and choose to help each other. Pay It Forward is about as constructive a strategy for longevity as I’ve experienced. Relentless excellence and indefatigable commitment aren’t bad either.

If you want to have a robust network that might help you someday when you truly need the help, build it now; you’re already behind. If you think you can pull off a big-time favor swap real-time, you’re almost certainly deluding yourself. Build your network for the future by offering to do things for others, even if it’s an inconvenience. If you do it enough, some of that work will create powerful memories of connection, even more than appreciation. That’s a well filled with sweet water when you are someday thirsty.

At the very least, if you have nothing to offer someone, show a keen interest in what they do. A few weeks ago I gave a talk about my book at Stanford. I did it because a friend who loved the book asked me. My friend showed enthusiasm, her friend (the teacher) showed enthusiasm, I responded with enthusiasm. No tangible value was created, no business leads exchanged; it was all just goodwill. Yet that wasn’t what won in the networking. One of the students reached out to me after the class with a well-composed email discussing an enigma surrounding one of the characters in the book. The student asked me how that applied to a real-world work situation. It took me a while but I responded, which opened the door for the student to ask some more heartfelt questions. I liked the heartfelt part, that’s just me, but that student has now bridged access to what was once a total stranger’s network. To me, that’s good business practice. We’ll see how he works it over the next decade. I’ll bet he handles it well.

Here’s another example: A few years ago I was in a weekend workshop, not as instructor but participant. I saw promise in the material and was there for the learning. There were people at all levels of their careers and personal development; ages spanned four decades. One individual was quite young and struggling, fresh from college outside the United States, but passionate and curious about everyone’s life path. I asked her after the workshop to email me once or twice a year to let me know how her career was going. Strangely enough, she has. I’ve received about a half-dozen updates, not too many but enough that I remember her name and long-term goals. I’ve given her some advice, but nothing of real value yet. I’m guessing at some point I will. Maybe she’s banking on it, or maybe she’s just sincere. English is not her first language, but she has not as yet typed the words “Hope you are well.”

Staying in touch is not a onetime event. It takes work to be connected, give and take, sharing ideas and information, not just asking for something. If you don’t want to do the work, don’t bother extending the outreach. You would be shocked at how many people I’ve suggested stay in touch with me after an initial meeting and never do. They forget, or they don’t care, or they don’t see value in it, or they are disheartened by the lack of immediate gratification. I am grateful to them. It helps me manage my workload—one less rising star I might someday champion.

Watching new grads bang their heads against the job market is terribly frustrating, because they haven’t had the experience to know how they could approach it better, with fortitude and resilience. Watching later career professionals suffer the same resistance is even more frustrating, because by now they should have powerful networks of their own, but if they didn’t invest along the way in others, that network today is likely too thin. Remember that LinkedIn and Facebook are tools, but networks are between people. The glue that bonds networks is history, and history comes from doing things, often and selflessly, for and with each other. When it comes to bolstering a platform of human support for your unlikely and unexpected needs, you’ll need to make that brand deposit now for future withdrawal. No surprise, you have to Think Different. It’s not a quid pro quo, you don’t get a favor for giving a favor (not a good one, anyway), but if you authentically invest in goodwill, you’ll enjoy a deep reserve of goodwill. When it’s time to dip your ladle, you want it to be an underground lake.

Networking is not what you can do for me. Networking is what I can do for you. Before you ask.

It’s Not What You Need, It’s Who You Help

Networking Can Be Learned, Once You Dump All Your Bad Habits
by Ken Goldstein
Fourth in a Series of Ten

Networking is of the most misunderstood and underappreciated activities in which we partake.  We are taught to begin networking as early as we can, in high school and college, to build our network of contacts so we know important people downstream who can help us improve all our metrics — financial results, recruitment, sales leads, and career development, just to name a few.  Yet even though we know we are supposed to network, do we have a clue what effective networking is?  How do we calculate an ROI on time spent, and oh how I despise this word, schmoozing?

Let’s start with the basics — schmoozing is not networking.  Idle chit chat at industry cocktail parties is not going to help you achieve a record quarter or land the gig of a lifetime.  You can point to examples where it worked, but you can also point to people who win the lottery.  In my experience, with the exception of sales people, no one really likes schmoozing — it’s weird, it’s thin, it’s shallow, and it’s uncomfortable.  To be clear, the best sales people I know only pretend to schmooze, what they are really doing in these circles is selling, because professional sales people are selling all the time.  So for everyone who is not in sales, let’s toss out schmoozing as a way to move forward.  If you have that kind of time on your hands, spend it with family and friends, you’ll have a much better and more honest day or evening.

Networking is the single best chance we have to make an impression on someone, an impression that lasts, possibly for the rest of the time you are on the planet.  What better way is there for you to make a positive impression, to get someone to remember you and care about you and think about taking your call?  Help them.  Help them any way you can.  Answer their email, return their call, listen to their problem or concern, and if you have something relevant to share, share it.  You want to know what we really appreciate in life and business?  Any simple act of kindness or respect.  Do it, do it often, trade your schmoozing time for helping time.  Do it now, it doesn’t matter if you are at the top or bottom of your game, if you are busy or bored.  Don’t discriminate, you are building a base of support and trust, you have no clue whatsoever where anyone around you will be in several years time.  They may be CEO, they may be down and out, they matter equally; in another year’s time, the tables can turn very quickly.

So once you help someone, it’s like The Godfather, right?  They owe you a favor?  Fuggedaboutit.  You give and offer to give because it’s the right thing to do.  You do it selflessly and without expectation.  You do it because it feels good and right to you.  You do not keep score.  If you network correctly, you forget every act you ever did to help someone so you never make the awful mistake of reminding them.  Let them remember.  They will.

Successful networking is like successful investing, it’s long term results that matter.  I can’t tell you how immensely consistent a theme this has been in my own life.  My contacts list is something I cherish, I can call any one of the people I consider contacts and they will get back to me promptly.  Why, because they think I have something for them?  No, because we have a human connection.  With that human connection comes access and trust.  Do not mistake this for friendship, it might be friendship, but that is rare.  It is a covenant of interchange, where connection and productivity are rooted in history.

You want history?  Start now.  Help someone today, then again tomorrow.  You will be shocked at just how powerful your network grows in the years to come, and how satisfied you feel to be part of an endlessly winning circle.

What I’d Wish I’d Known

Ten Tips Now for Then
by Ken Goldstein

About a year ago I was asked to give a talk to a group of high school seniors with aspirations to pursue entrepreneurial careers.  I though at length about when I could tell a bunch of young men and women who hadn’t even left home yet, in a voice they might actually hear and not ignore.

The path I picked was a series of tidbits that I wish I had known at their age, that might have made the next thirty years a bit easier to navigate.  My thinking was that if they only remembered one of the ten for even the next few years of their lives, the talk would have been successful.  I invited them to contact me any time and let me know how it was going, and a few have been in touch.

I thought I would d share the summary of the those ten tidbits here, and then over the next few weeks riff on each with a bit of cake under the frosting.  Understand that these have been borrowed and adapted, cut and pasted from friends, writers, bosses, and colleagues over the years, so if you smell poetic theft, you smell correctly.  I promise attribution as best I can in the follow-on entries.  These are not necessarily in order of importance, but emotional resonance at this particular moment in time.

1) The most important career decision we make is who we choose as a life partner.

2) Talent is precious — and rare — revere it!

3) The world is filled with 90 percenters — a.k.a. good enough is not good.

4) Networking is not going to parties — it’s helping as many people as we can as often as we can.

5) Investing is not the same as speculating.

6) A plan is something you have,  until you get hit.

7) Our greatest strength are our greatest weaknesses.

8) The harder you work, the luckier you get.

9) Tell people what you are going to do, then do it.

10) The journey is the reward — it will take longer, cost more, and return less than you think, so you better enjoy it.

Stay tuned for a more detail on each individual theme…