In 1936, Dale Carnegie published How To Win Friends & Influence People. Since then, it has become the relationship building bible for 30+ million people including myself. However, not all of Carnegie’s principles work as advertised…
You’re at a cocktail event. You see one of your professional heroes engaged in conversation across the room. Nursing a glass of red wine, you try to watch the conversation out of the corner of your eye from a suitable distance so you don’t look like a stalker.
You’re looking for a window. Finally, you notice the conversation is ending as the group trades business cards and shakes hands.
Without giving your analytical mind a chance to talk you out of approaching, you notice your legs carrying you forward in what will probably be your only chance to introduce yourself.
There is one problem though.
What are you going to say?
How can you avoid asking a question you think is unique and witty, but in reality everyone else has been asking?
What could you possibly offer this person they don’t already have?
Here Is Dale Carnegie’s #1 Mistake
If you were Dale Carnegie, in this situation, you would probably apply rule #4: be a good listener & encourage others to talk about themselves.
To a certain extent, this principle works. Following it will probably lead to good cocktail conversation.
However, you want more. You want an ongoing relationship.
Instead of applying rule #4, Michael Ellsberg, author of The Education of Millionaires applies his own rule, which he calls playing to your home court advantage.
He does not ask questions about the individual’s expertise. He asks questions that steer the conversation toward the other persons’s incomplete goals that he’s able to solve. He looks for an opportunity to proactively give.
Michael Ellsberg leveraged his home court advantage of being a copywriter, Forbes columnist, and book author to get in the door with and build relationships with some of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs despite having little business experience.
Why Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Threw Michael Ellsberg A Book Party
For Michael’s second book, The Education of Millionaires, his goal was to land interviews with famous entrepreneurs who had dropped out of college. Through 2nd & 3rd degree introductions, he was able to land interviews with Peter Thiel and Sean Parker.
By the time his book came out, he had built up so much goodwill with Parker and Thiel they offered to throw him a book party without him even asking.
How did this happen?
After doing the interviews, he looked for ways to leverage his home court advantage of writing to help them. He discovered Sean wanted to blog more. So, he offered to and ultimately did travel with him on a trip for free to help him write several posts. After writing the posts, he also found other ways to help the two.
How can you develop your home court advantage and have the Thiels and Parkers of your industry throw you a book party equivalent?
Here are the four counterintuitive principles to help you get started:
Principle #1: Successful People Have Big Challenges In Different Parts Of Their Life
Growing up, I used to put a halo around people who I thought were successful. I incorrectly assumed they were superhuman and had all the parts of their life working together harmoniously.
As I’ve built deeper relationships with more successful people, I’ve realized the exact opposite is true. Often, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. Their ability to focus on one goal for years and persist through any challenge often results in less focus in other areas of their life such as health, dating, family, and meaning/purpose.
Principle #2: You Don’t Have To Be A World-Class Expert To Help Solve Those Challenges
The beauty of the home court advantage is you don’t have to be the best in the world to use it.
In college, I was able to develop relationships with several older millionaires, something very novel to me at the time, by fixing people’s basic computer problems and talking to their kids about entrepreneurship for free.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was using my home court advantage.
As a student, I had little business experience and I wasn’t a technology wizard. I also wasn’t the best teacher. However, growing up with technology made it so that a basic computer issue for me was like rocket science to someone else. Being the same age as someone’s child and a third party made it possible for me to get through in a way the parent couldn’t.
Principle #3: Finding Your Home Court Advantage Is Like Finding Product/Market Fit
Finding your home court advantage is an iterative process that takes continuous introspection and testing. Many times it is easy to overlook your expertise since its obvious to you.
Patrick Ewers, one of Silicon Valley’s top relationship management experts and coaches, walks his clients through a unique process to help them find their home court advantage. In his words, “I have not yet met a single person who has not had an eye-opening experience by going through this exercise. The challenge is coming up with the time.”
- Step 1 (5 minutes): Free write 20 theme areas that you’re passionate about, care about, and are really good at personally and professionally.
- Step 2 (5 minutes): Narrow down the theme areas to 4-5 where you feel the most resonance.
- Step 3 (5 minutes): Create 2-3 proactive giving activities for each theme that could add value to others (i.e., making an introduction to a specific person, sharing the most helpful piece of content you’re aware of on the theme).
In Michael’s example, his theme would be book writing. A proactive giving activity would be an introduction to his literary agent.
Principle #4: Conversations Are The Best Way To Test Your Home Court Advantage
Until you test your home court advantage by talking to someone, it is just a hypothesis.
People generally do not advertise their challenges publicly. Furthermore, asking a direct question like, “What are your health challenges?” without having some sort of bond can actually come across as creepy.
Going back to the cocktail party at the beginning of this article; let’s imagine I was the person making the approach instead of you. Through years of testing my home court advantage, I have learned almost everyone secretly wants to write a book at some point in their life.
This knowledge helps me guide the conversation after small talk, “You have a lot of great knowledge. Have you ever written a book?”
“No, I haven’t actually. I have been thinking about writing a book on XYZ.”
“Oh. That sounds like a book you could get an agent for. Do you know how to get an agent?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Oh. I know a bunch of agents. Well, I can introduce you to a few people if that would be helpful.”
“Thank you! That would be amazing.”
“Great. I will go ahead and follow up with you tomorrow with an introduction.”
This example shows how with just a few questions, I took the individual through 4 stages:
- Bonding & rapport
- Identification of one unaccomplished goal that you can help with that the other person wants to start moving toward now
- Displaying that you have the capability and desire to help
- Establishing a clear, mutually agreed upon next step
By following through on your commitment, you have an opportunity to build the goodwill and trust even further.
How To Identify Your Home Court Advantage
I used a particular type of home court advantage; my relationship to someone else and my expertise. However, a home court advantage could stem from any asset you have:
|Asset||Proactive Giving Activity|
(ie – home / car)
(people who know, like and trust you.)
There are home court advantages that are completely unique to you because of your passions, professional expertise, etc. These require brainstorming (see principle #3 above).
However, there is another category of home court advantages that anybody could use.
The Massive Power of Local Home Court Advantage
By leveraging your home court advantage, you can turn a lonely, expensive business trip to your city into an action-packed, people-filled, inexpensive experience.
If you live in a major city, ask, “When do you plan to be in [XYZ city] next?”
As an example, Rachel Gerrol, co-founder of the Nexus Youth Summit, has two extra rooms in her Washington DC apartment she offers.“Over the last two years, we’ve had over 60 people stay with us including individuals who later took on leadership roles with Nexus or became donors or in-kind sponsors. The best conversations are in our pajamas at 2 AM.”
Kevin Conroy Smith, founder of the Kevin Smith Agency, based in Chicago, takes Rachel’s concept a step further by having one of his employees pick key people up from the airport and drive them to his house. He also sets up meetings between the visitor and his network while recommending venues to have the meetings.
In order to stay on top of your network’s travel schedule, you may want to consider using TripIt.
If you don’t live in a major city, you can bring them to you with, “I’d love to get to know you better. You should visit me so I can give you the [XYZ City] experience.”
Jason Duff, founder of COMSTOR Outdoor, has turned his small, rural town of Ada, OH into a destination for top entrepreneurs to do weekend retreats.
After creating 15+ weekend experiences, Jason has everything down to a science. On day one, he picks people up from the airport. On the trip to Ada, he shows people major landmarks, including his network of billboards and the Wilson football factory, the only place in the world where NFL footballs are made. On day two, they visit his family’s stone quarry business where they mine for rocks and fossils. They also visit downtown historic buildings he is renovating and a mall he owns, which he rents to local businesses. For lunch, they make and spin their own authentic pizza with Food Network pizza celebrity, Michael Shepherd, who Jason has partnered with to create Six Hundred Downtown. On the final day, they relax and mastermind on boats and jet skis on a local 6,334 acre lake.
“When people visit, they get to see the intimacy of small town in Main Street America and leave the noisiness of a major city. Many times, the CEOs of local businesses are the first people to greet us. It’s underrated adventure that often leaves my guests bragging to other entrepreneur friends.”
Welcome To The Connection Economy
Once you realize the power of home court advantage and proactive giving, you realize you’re not just a friend or a colleague. You’re a dating agency, tourism bureau, coach, volunteer, and mentor; all wrapped into one.
You’re part of the unmeasured, often under-appreciated connection economy. Instead of just creating products and services for money, you’re sharing your gifts without the expectation of anything immediately in return.
By doing so, you’re deeply enriching your life personally and professionally while also improving the world by improving the lives of those around you. Given your unique passions and experiences, there is no one in the world who can make the same impact you can.
[Editor Note: Michael Simmons is a bestselling author, international keynote speaker, award-winning young entrepreneur, and columnist for Forbes, Business Insider, and Harvard Business Review. Simmons is the co-founder & partner of Empact, a global entrepreneurship education organization that has held 500+ entrepreneurship events including Summits at the White House, US Chamber of Commerce, and United Nations. Connect with him on Twitter (@michaeldsimmons) and his Blog.]