I hate asking for help and almost never do. (Before Siri, I’d rather spend hours driving in circles than ask for directions.)
Yet at moments like this — when I have time to reflect on what I’ve been able to do in my life — I can see most of my accomplishments were due, at least in part, to the help I received from others.
So let’s talk not about networking (a word I dislike because it seems at once nerdy and predatory), but about the importance of making friendly acquaintanceships.
I have a lot of friends. More than most people do. I have several friends that date back to grammar school… at least a half-dozen from high school, college, and graduate school… and several from my years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. I have writer friends, book club friends, partner friends, jiujitsu friends, etc.
But for the most part, these aren’t the people who’ve helped me in my various careers.
They’ve enriched my life in the realm of friendship.
But when it came to business and investing, it was friendly acquaintances — not friends — that mattered most.
I’m drawing an important distinction here…
There’s a big difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend.
For me, friendship is more valuable than business. And that means if I go into business with a friend (not usually a good idea) and he disappoints me, I have to forgive him, forget the loss, and continue on as friends.
If I can’t do that, I don’t really value the friendship. And, therefore, I can’t pretend to be a good friend. (This also applies to family.)
It’s different with friendly acquaintances. I love meeting new people — especially people who are smart and/or talented, interesting, resourceful, creative, etc.
And I’m happy to develop these relationships into business and/or investment relationships any time there’s a sensible opportunity.
But in doing so, I don’t pretend this happy and mutually productive relationship is a true friendship. The difference is with a friendly acquaintance, business can sometimes come first.
Cultivate widening circles of friendly acquaintances
So back to the topic at hand: building ever-widening circles of friendly acquaintances — the people who might be helpful to you (and you to them) in the future.
Question: Should you do it?
Even if you’re like me — and will never, ever ask anyone for a favor — you should still build out your network of friendly acquaintances. Sooner or later, you’ll benefit from their help.
You won’t ask for it. In fact, it’ll work the other way around.
You’ll do something first to help them. You might help them get a good job or teach them a skill or introduce them to a potential partner. Or you might simply give them suggestions or advice or a book recommendation. In every case — at the outset — it’ll be about you helping them.
And you’re not going to do it with a willful intent. You’re going to do it because it gives you pleasure. You’ve learned through experience that giving is its own reward. So you do it, and you enjoy it.
And with all those you’ve helped who are good people, you’ll be creating a deposit in the bank of reciprocity. A deposit you may one day — at least in part — tap into.
I could tell you a hundred stories about people I’ve helped who have, some years later, returned the favor happily… and with dividends.
But you don’t need to be convinced. You know this is something you should do.
So today, you’re going to promise yourself you’ll extend your network of friendly acquaintances in 2016. A reasonable target might be to add one new person to the list every two weeks — 25 new friendly acquaintances this year.
That’s today’s resolution.
And here’s the promise: If you build your network by 25 people next year, you’ll have (a) more fun, (b) more opportunity, (c) more money, and (d) fewer problems.
What kind of people should you be looking for?
Seek out people who would be in a position to help you now — i.e., people who have things you lack, such as money, power, knowledge, etc. It makes some sort of sense… but it’s something I’ve never done.
In fact, I’ve done quite the opposite throughout my career — resisting every possible chance to meet or further my relationships with important and/or powerful people.
Again, it’s a question of not wanting to ask for help. It comes from my instinctual bias against debt. I want the obligation account in my reciprocity bank to always be zero… while the debt account on others’ ledgers gets bigger and bigger.
What I’ve done is give help where I can — usually to people who lack some of what I have — and then allow the universe to pay me back years later.
And that’s what you should do.
But if you want to do both — give help and seek to get help — then the following suggestions should be helpful:
To get help:
- First, consider this question: If you could be on a first-name basis with anyone in your trade or industry, who would it be? Whose power or position would you most like to gain access to? Who — among all the people you know of — could have the most positive impact on your future?
- Make a list of all the people who could give your career a real boost. It could include someone who runs a successful business similar to yours, or someone in a completely unrelated field who has qualities or skills you’d like to have yourself.
- You’re going to send a short note to one or two of the people on your list every month from now on. And you’re going to continue to add to your list.
Start today with the name at the top of your list. Think about something this person has done that you admire. It may be a product he’s recently developed. It may be the standard of service he sets. It may be something he’s written or accomplished, or an award he’s won. Anything you genuinely admire.
On some very nice, dignified stationery, you’re going to express your feelings in a handwritten note. Don’t fawn. Be direct and complimentary. End with some sort of effort to establish contact. You might ask his opinion on a certain matter… suggest a possible joint venture… or simply request a personal interview.
For example, you can say something like this: “I know you’re a very busy man — but if you ever have a spare half-hour, I’d love the chance to get some advice from you on my own career.”
Insert your business card and send it.
Don’t expect to get a positive answer from every note you write. But do expect to get some responses. If you commit yourself to this program, you will eventually be on a first-name basis with a handful of very influential people.
To give help:
Be selective in giving, as giving is always a dangerous act. Never give to takers. Takers take and never give back.
Give to people you admire for any number of reasons: because they’re smart, or skillful, or intelligent, or funny, or wise. Give voluntarily but with restraints. Teach fishing rather than give a fish.
And do this all for the pleasure of giving — knowing that somehow, in some way, your gift will be returned… with interest.