Lesson No. 1 of networking: You can't accomplish great things alone.
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One of the best books I’ve ever read is Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone (here are some of my notes on Never Eat Alone). It really opened my eyes to the idea of how building lots of relationships based on something real can be really valuable and useful for all parties involved.
Prior to that, “networking” really seemed… cheesy to me. I’d been around people who seemed to be “networking,” but it constantly felt like I was just another person to push a business card on and call a “contact” while their eyes were searching the room for a bigger fish to talk to. It felt almost deceptive, and it felt like something I didn’t want to have any part in.
Since then, I’ve been slowly building my list of personal relationships that I value, which, in the end, is what networking really is. If the relationship you’re building has no real value (and value is built by exchanging things of worth with each other, whether it be time, information, assistance, or other things), then that relationship is worthless.
This brings us to Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. This book by Harvey Mackay has been recommended to me more times than I can count by people who have read my Never Eat Alone articles. I always resisted it because I had this general impression that it espoused the type of networking that I didn’t really like.
I finally gave this book a shot when a great reader sent me his copy of the book, insisting that I read it. Was it worthwhile? Let’s dig in.
Jump In, the Water’s Fine
You can’t accomplish really great things alone. You might write the great American novel all by yourself, but you can’t publish it and get it noticed without others. Every big thing you really want to accomplish in life, at some level, relies on the people around you. Thus, one important element of making those things happen is to build good relationships with lots of people. The more good relationships you have, the easier it will be to achieve the things you want to achieve.
Time to Prime the Well
If you want to start building these relationships, you can’t stay at home. You have to get out there and interact with people. This means doing things you might not have otherwise chosen, like going to conventions related to your field, going to community events, and so on. It also means that, when you go to these events, you have to interact with those people. Don’t worry, the more you do this, the easier it gets.
You can’t expect others to start the relationships, either. You have to start, and the best way to start is to provide positive value for others. First, figure out a problem that the other person has. Then, offer your expertise. Offer a bit of your time. Offer a connection you already have. Help that person solve the problem they have. Mackay uses a “well” metaphor throughout the book, and he makes the point that each time you do this, you dig your “well” a bit deeper. In other words, every time you do this kind of positive thing, you build a new relationship or strengthen an old one.
Sharpen Your Edge
Your life is full of chances to build relationships. Think about how many people you see or interact with every day. There are likely many people in your work place. There are many people in your neighborhood. Each one of them is an opportunity for building a connection. You’ve got to make the first step, though. Each one of them is an opportunity, even if that opportunity is nothing more than the chance to sharpen your social skills and interaction skills.
Excavate Your Unique Skills
What kinds of things can you offer that are unique or at least fairly unusual? Everyone is good at certain things. Almost everyone is trained in a particular narrow area. What can be mined from that area that would be of use to others? What skills have you built throughout your life in other areas that sets you apart? Having a skill set that’s actually of broad use is perhaps the most valuable tool you can have in building professional and social relationships.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t happen from merely having a circle of relationships that doesn’t have any outside connections. You need to build relationships with a wide variety of people and feed those relationships over time. Don’t just associate with the people in your department at work. Know people in other departments. Know people in other organizations. Know people outside your workplace, like your neighbors and people in the community. If you know someone who knows someone that seems interesting to you, don’t hesitate to ask for an introduction. Use your spouse’s social network, too.
Don’t Fall In
Some people, like the sleazy networking guy I mentioned at the start of this article, think that having a network is all that matters. It’s not. It might help open a door just a bit for you, but you have to have the character and the skills and the value to pull that door the rest of the way open. A network is just a network. It’s still up to you to be the right kind of person to handle whatever’s behind that door.
Minding the Well
If you want a relationship to be valuable, you have to maintain it. That means you have to maintain some degree of contact with that person. Perhaps even more important, you should maintain that relationship when things are up and particularly when things are down. When the chips are down, people remember who was still there for them and who didn’t have the time of day for them.
Is Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty Worth Reading?
I was surprised to find that Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty covers much of the same ground that Never Eat Alone covers. They both espouse building relationships that provide real value instead of merely “networking.”
For me, the biggest difference in the two books was the way I perceived the authors. Mackay, the author of Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, feels like an extrovert. Ferrazzi, the author of Never Eat Alone, comes off as an introvert. This bleeds over into the value of the book, in my opinion.
If you find starting conversations to be easy but haven’t ever really thought how that all comes together for you in terms of building a big set of relationships, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty is a great book to read. On the other hand, if you find the mere mechanics of human interaction to be difficult at times, Never Eat Alone will perhaps click better.
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