When I give talks to students in college and grad school, they always ask me: What are the secrets to success? What are the unspoken rules for making it big? "So you want the inside scoop," I respond. "Fair enough. I'll sum up the key to success in one word: Generosity."
They are shocked, because they thought I'd help them learn the manipulative tricks of the self-centered "networker," the schmooze artist holding a martini with one hand and scattering business cards with the other, eyes darting around the room in a constant search for a bigger fish to fry. But the time of that insincere, overly ambitious, glad-handing Networking Jerk is over! Then again, it probably never started.
To build a powerful web of genuine, mutually beneficial relationships, you must truly care about making others successful. You have to give your talents, give your contacts, and give your hard work to help others get what they want -- without keeping score.
The Story of a Relationship Hoarder
Here's a story about one person I encountered who didn't understand this at all. When I worked for Deloitte Consulting, there was a period when I was frequently traveling to Los Angeles. I had always been intrigued by the entertainment industry, so in the interest of building it before I needed it, I called Ray Gallo, my best friend from my undergraduate days, who was practicing law in Los Angeles.
"Hey, Ray. Who do you know in the entertainment world that I can talk to for some advice about breaking into the industry?"
"There's a guy named David who I know through mutual friends who also went to Harvard Business School. He's a smart guy doing some creative deals in Hollywood. Give him a call."
David and I met for coffee at an outdoor cafe in Santa Monica. He was dressed in very dapper casual LA attire. I wore a suit and tie, befitting the buttoned-down Midwestern consultant I was at the time.
After a good deal of back-and-forth, I asked David, "I'm thinking about transitioning into the entertainment industry at some point. Is there anyone you know who could lend me some helpful advice?" This seemed like a mild request, given that I was a good friend of a friend of his.
"I do know somebody," he told me. "She is a senior executive at Paramount."
"Great, I'd love to meet her," I said excitedly. "Any chance of arranging a quick introduction? Maybe you could pass on an email?"
"I can't," he told me flatly. I was shocked, and my face showed it. "Keith, here's the situation. It's likely that at some point I'm going to need something from this person or want to ask a personal favor. And I'm just not interested in using the equity that I have with this individual on you, or anyone else for that matter. I need to save that for myself. I'm sorry. I hope you understand."
But I didn't understand. I still don't. He thought of relationships as finite, like a pie that can only be cut into so many pieces. Take away a piece, and there was that much less for him. I knew, however, that relationships are more like muscles -- the more you work them, the stronger they become.
To Succeed, Make Others Successful
Whenever I meet somebody, I try to make that person successful. But David kept score. He saw every social encounter in terms of diminishing returns. For him, there was only so much goodwill available in a relationship and only so much collateral and equity to burn.
Would it surprise you if I told you Hollywood David isn't doing that well any longer? He hoarded the relational equity he had until he eventually looked around and discovered there was nothing more to hoard. Ten years after I met him at that Santa Monica cafe, I haven't heard from him. In fact, no one else I know has heard from him either. Like so many industries, entertainment is a small world.
Bottom line: Don't be a networking jerk. Don't keep score. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.
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