What goes around comes around.
You reap what you sow.
Whether or not one believes those things, we all hope to enjoy the boomerang benefits of good behavior. In his fantastic book “Give and Take,” Wharton professor Adam Grant argues that “success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people.”
If that’s true (and I think it is), then you should try these two ways of improving your interactions with others.
1. Many of us are like fish swimming in static schools of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, occasionally sharing a nibble of kelp with someone from another, loosely affiliated school. Network science researchers call these self-reinforcing groups “echo chambers.” The thing about echoes is that no matter what you put out there, you never get back anything new or different.
In order to access fresh insights, opportunities, and introductions, you need new people to whom you can offer your own insights, opportunities and introductions. That means expanding your network. I suggest reaching out to two people every week. One person should be someone you know but haven’t talked to in over a year. One should be new.
For existing but inactive relationships, LinkedIn is a great tool. Surf your network, looking for people doing new and exciting things. Send someone a message: “It’s been over a year since we connected. I just noticed some of the interesting things you are working on and would love to touch bases for 15 minutes by phone (or a quick coffee), just to say hello. What do you say?”
Forming new relationships is harder. You meet new people all the time-;at conferences, trade shows, customer events, visits to different cities and neighborhoods. You have a conversation, exchange cards, and that’s the end of that. Instead, you should turn those brief brushes into concrete connections. When in conversation with a stranger, listen closely and decide whether he or she might someday do something-;no matter how small or indeterminate-;for you, or whether you might someday do something-;no matter how small or indeterminate-;for him or her. It doesn’t have to be a favor. Maybe this person just makes you think in new ways. If there’s potential, then lock them in. Say, “I’m glad we met. It sounds like we might be able to help each other at some point. I would certainly value your insights on X. Any chance to grab a coffee sometime to discuss that?” Put like that, the question is neither awkward nor aggressive. It’s the human-relationship version of closing a sale. So ask.
2. You’ve done the good work outlined above, expanded your network, and gained many opportunities to help and be helped by others. Let’s do some easy math.
Within one month of escaping the echo chamber, you will have gained eight connections (four people with whom you’d fallen out of touch and four new ones). Now how many people do you already know pretty well? 20? 50? 100? If these are fish in your school, you probably have a pretty good idea what currently occupies them. Some are writers; some are consultants; some are entrepreneurs; and some are parents. Everybody is working on something.
Chances are good that one of your eight new or revived connections, Beth, will share with you something or someone that could be helpful to Joe, one of the 20-to-100 people you already know well. Chances are also good that Beth and Joe would benefit from knowing one another.
So be the broker. Introduce Beth to Joe with a clear, concise statement; “Joe, I recently met Beth at a conference. She told me that she is working on X, and she’s got a really interesting take on it. Beth, my friend Joe has been pursuing X from a different angle. I think you two might really be able to help each other. It’s always great to put two interesting people together, and that’s what this is about. Let me know how I can help. Thanks.”
By getting out of the echo chamber and making such connections, you do real good for people. And one of those people is you.