Your Network is your Net Worth

We love to live in silos.

Silos are our comfort zones where we do what we like. We stay in familiar surroundings. We meet with whom we are comfortable with. We do things that make us secure. This is typically our default behavior.

Well that is very – for lack of better word – comfortable. Life is good. What’s the problem?

The problem is that while comfort zone is very comforting, it is not where progress happens. All smart people proactively get uncomfortable as soon as they start getting comfortable. That is what leads to growth, however you define it.

One comfort zone is to only meet with people we want or have to meet. This is typically four sets – family, friends, people with similar interests and co-workers. We make all efforts to stay within this ‘network’ and filter out the rest. What can be worse than talking to that monster creature called a ‘stranger’?

Well, what can be worse, is that you stay within your ‘limited network’. Your net worth is your network, and that does not improve. One can argue that it actually depreciates with time. It is like reading the same books again and again. You are constrained with the constraints of your network.

You can guess where I am getting to. You need to get uncomfortable. You need to proactively, deliberately and consciously expand the set of people of people you know. You need to reach wider. It is like picking up new – and different – books to read. The benefits are immense: you grow as a person, your capacity to do more increases, you become more ‘worthy’.

One caveat is that your network is not just a function of how many people you know, but more importantly of how diverse a set of a people you know. Think of groups of similar people as clusters – a cluster of software engineers, a cluster of marketing folks, a cluster of academics, a cluster of people who love cars and dogs. The default way of growing your network may be just getting to know more people in your own clusters. Software engineers getting to know more software engineers. Marketing folks connecting with more marketing folks. People loving cars and dogs talking to others loving cars and dogs. It’s like reading more books of the same type. The problem statement remains the same – you are still in comfort zone, its just a bigger comfort zone.

A key component of the net worth of your network really is how many you know across these clusters. Are you standing alone at an island, or do you have bridges to other islands? If you are a software programmer, do you know bankers, people who sell cars, someone who can get you a plane ticket quickly when you are desperate for it, someone who is CEO of a software firm and is not your boss, someone in the investor cluster who can give a reference?

While this diversity defines the breadth of your network, equally, if not more important, is the depth or quality of your network.

As a matter of fact, I do not like the term ‘network’. It somehow sounds mechanical. The connotations can be misleading – you just need to know people. It can mean just having them on your LinkedIn or Facebook. The term that matters is relationships. That is what defines the depth or quality of your connection. That is the reason LinkedIn does not show you exact number of your connections once it increases past 500. It is not a numbers game.

Relationship is a two-way street. You have to provide value to someone before you expect anything. You need to know about the other person before telling her about yourself. You need to know what matters to them before you start telling them what matters to you. Relationships are funny – you help yourself by helping others. It is not a sales pitch. You give and then it comes back to you manifold.

Relationships across diversity of clusters is what really defines your net worth. The only way to achieve this is to be intentional and proactive about it. Once it happens, you will start seeing what you have been missing out on.

Happy relationship-ing!

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Hiring for a Marathon or Sprint?

An executive’s life is rife with decision making. Small or big, strategic or tactical, he seems to be always deciding. The worst backlog is that of pending decisions. The worst executive is one who is stalled and paralyzed.

Of the decisions that get to his desk, most critical ones are on people: promotion, hiring, firing, transfer, selections. They have the most profound impact on organization. Picking a wrong strategy or incorrectly prioritizing a project can be undone. A bad people decision sticks longer and cuts deeper. Smart organizations treat people as drivers of success, not as tools to achieve their targets (that is why I hate using the term ‘resources’ for people).

President Nixon wrote in his book “The Arena” that the President of United States is always making important decisions. However, if he messes up an economic policy decision, that is not so damaging as the US economy has a solid base. However, one bad foreign policy decision can have dire consequences.

People decisions for an executive in an organization are like foreign policy decisions of the state.

Hence, when faced with a people decision, specially a new hire, the executive has to understand the burden of responsibility. A bad hiring decision is easy to make, difficult to undo and keeps haunting every day. It is like incurring a bad debt with a long payout.

In making the choice, the executive must avoid some common mental traps. For example, he hires someone like him, essentially building a team of his clones. Or he lets his biases or experiences let him drive the decision rather than the facts on the ground.

But the most important trap is to let the demands of the present dictate the call. It is preferring urgent over important. If you are hiring someone for a 3 month project, then it does not matter. You pick the most prepared option. However, most hirings are with a long term focus. They are for running a marathon, not sprinting a 100-meter. Just because there is a failing project needing a thrust should not drive the choice so the new hire can ‘immediately add value’.

Whom you select for marathon should be based on strong fundamentals and right attitudes rather than a particular skill set or specific experience of the candidate. The skills can be learnt, experiences can be created, exposures can be made, but its difficult to redo the foundations. You buy a car that works better for you for years rather than just the upcoming road trip (for that you can always rent it out).

So next time a people decision comes to your desk, ask whether you are making the choice to run a sprint or a marathon. That will help you make a better pick.

The Story of Story-telling

Jeff is a great guy. He has a knack of making others get his point. He is an excellent communicator. He engages others. He is convincing and persuasive. He generously quotes stories, anecdotes, historical events, personal experiences and real world examples. He uses these examples to get his point across. His narratives are realistic rather than abstract. People get him better because they can immediately become part of his stories.

Jeff is a great example of an effective communicator and teacher. He uses stories. Real or fictitious stories. He narrates them in a way that the listener can relate to with the events and characters inside them. He takes listeners for a ride through his narrations. When they reach the end, they have lived an experience and have learnt something. The objective is the learning and derivation at the end, not the joyride. The joyride is just the vehicle, an enjoyable one though.

OnceUponATime

Stories are Jeff’s most effective tool to communicate, persuade and teach.

What Jeff is doing is neither novel nor unique. Using stories to teach and communicate has been done for ages. It is one of the most effective tools ever. A story is relayed, in a manner that engages the listener or reader, and then lessons derived at the end. Sometimes the lesson derivation is explicit (e.g. in formal education), sometimes it is implicit (e.g. in kids movies or books). Either way, the path to a lesson or message is through an entertaining journey of an environment, characters, events and emotions. Whether they are real or fictitious sometimes becomes irrelevant from a learning perspective.

Isn’t this what I did at the start of this post? I made you a part of Jeff’s daily life to convey you a message.

The examples are abound.

Pick up a Time, National Geographic, Fortune or a Wall Street Journal. Any report that is not a live coverage of an event will typically start with a story and then expand to generalize and communicate the key idea. Kids learn their first life lessons through story telling. Historical novels and movies convey their message and learning through stories of people living through those times. A BBC documentary would run through lives or experiences of one or more people to convey its key messages. Motivational speakers and writers use real world stories to motivate – most of the times their own. Most of the TED talks you would hear are ideas wrapped in a story.

Harvard’s ‘Case Studies’ model is an example of an entire formal educational program learning pivoted on stories. A Harvard MBA student would go through a tonnage of case studies in her coursework. A typical class session would consist of a series of case studies – a narration of an event or experience – that the class goes through together, followed by discussion and then the derivation and interpretation of ideas, models and principles. That is obviously a model that is no more just restricted to Harvard anymore.

Stories are even the best way to transport history and culture through generations. That is what grandparents did. This is what happens in museums and historical sites. There were even professional story tellers that use drama and emotion to captivate their audience and relay the message. Even the religious scriptures and books use stories of past times to teach and learn. Stories are even a currency of exchange of messages and ideas across cultures and societies. Everyone can understand stories (That is why foreign language movies just need to be translated and they are good to go!).

Communication is what the listener does. And a listener works better with stories!