It has become part of our accepted wisdom that six degrees is all that separates us from anyone else in the world. How can that be? Because some of those degrees (people) know many, many more people than the rest of us.
Call them super-connectors. We all know at least one person like this individual, who seems to know everybody and who everybody seems to know. You’ll find a disproportionate amount of super-connectors as headhunters, lobbyists, fundraisers, politicians, journalists, and public relations specialists, because such positions require these folks’ innate abilities. I am going to argue that such people should be the cornerstones to any flourishing network.
What Michael Jordan was to the basketball court, or Tiger Woods is to golf, these people can be to your network. So who are they, really, and how can you get them to become prized members of your circle of associates and friends?
In his bestselling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell cites a classic 1974 study by sociologist Mark Granovetter that surveyed how a group of men in Newton, Massachusetts, found their current job. The study, appropriately titled “Getting a Job,” has become a seminal work in its field, and its findings have been confirmed over and over again.
Granovetter discovered that 56 percent of those surveyed found their current job through a personal connection. Only 19 percent used what we consider traditional job-searching routes, like newspaper job listings and executive recruiters. Roughly 10 percent applied directly to an employer and obtained the job.
My point? Personal contacts are the key to opening doors–not such a revolutionary idea. What is surprising, however, is that of those personal connections that reaped dividends for those in the study, only 17 percent saw their personal contact often–as much as they would if they were good friends–and 55 percent saw their contact only occasionally. And get this, 28 percent barely met with their contact at all.
In other words, it’s not necessarily strong contacts, like family and close friends, that prove the most powerful; to the contrary, often the most important people in our network are those who are acquaintances.
As a result of the study, Granovetter immortalized the phrase “the strength of weak ties” by showing persuasively that when it comes to finding out about new jobs–or, for that matter, new information or new ideas–“weak ties” are generally more important than those you consider strong. Why is that? Think about it.
Many of your closest friends and contacts go to the same parties, generally do the same work, and exist in roughly the same world as you do. That’s why they seldom know information that you don’t already know.
Your weak ties, on the other hand, generally occupy a very different world than you do. They’re hanging out with different people, often in different worlds, with access to a whole inventory of knowledge and information unavailable to you and your close friends.
Mom was wrong–it does pay to talk to strangers. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “Acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have, the more powerful you are.”
Throughout this book, I try to emphasize that what’s most important is developing deep and trusting relationships, not superficial contacts. Despite Granovetter’s research, I believe friendships are the foundation for a truly powerful network. For most of us, cultivating a lengthy list of mere acquaintances on top of the effort devoted to your circle of friends is just too draining. The thought of being obligated to another hundred or so people–sending birthday cards, dinner invites, and all that stuff that we do for those close to us–seems outlandishly taxing.
Only, for some, it’s not. These people are super-connectors. People like me who maintain contact with thousands of people. The key, however, is not only that we know thousands of people but that we know thousands of people in many different worlds, and we know them well enough to give them a call. Once you become friendly with a super-connector, you’re only two degrees away from the thousands of different people we know.
A social psychologist by the name of Dr. Stanley Milgram proved this idea in a 1967 study. He ran an experiment that set out to show that our big, impersonal world is actually quite small and friendly.
It was Milgram’s experiment that created the notion of “six degrees of separation.” In the experiment, he sent a package to a few hundred randomly selected people in Nebraska with the instructions that they forward the package to an anonymous stockbroker in Boston whom they did not know. Each person could send the packet only to someone whom they knew on a firstname basis, and who they thought was more likely to know the stockbroker than they were themselves. About a third of the letters reached their destination, after an average of only six mailings.
What was surprising was that when all those chains of people were analyzed, Milgram found that a majority of the letters passed through the hands of the same three Nebraskans. The finding drives home the point that if you want access to the social power of acquaintances, it helps to know a few super-connectors.
Connectors can be found in every imaginable profession, but I’m going to focus on seven professions where they most commonly congregate. Each of these kinds of connectors provides me with a link to an entire world of people, ideas, and information that, in a very significant way, has made my own life a little more fun, helped my career along, or made the businesses I worked for more successful.
Fifty-seventh Street isn’t exactly lower Manhattan, but it was downtown to Jimmy Rodriguez, the nightlife impresario who made the Bronx hip for the A-list with his first eatery. Jimmy’s Downtown, his second restaurant, lured the same set of celebrities, politicians, and athletes looking for good food and good times.
When I was in New York, it was my spot. The scene was exclusive without being pompous: soft light, a gleaming onyx bar, and a pumping R&B soundtrack makes the place feel like a hip country club. Jimmy would fly around tables hooking you up with free appetizers and introducing you to people he thought you might want to meet.
It was like a private club, without membership dues.
My memories of Jimmy were of a true-blue connector. In fact, it’s a requisite for most people who own restaurants. When I was in Chicago, it was Gordon’s Restaurant, and in L.A., it is Wolfgang Puck. The success of their enterprise depends on a core group of regulars who see the restaurant as a home away from home.
And it’s quite easy to get to know a restaurateur. The smart ones will go out of their way to make your experience delightful. All you have to do is reach out and go there often enough.
When in a new city, I generally ask people to give me a list of a few of the hottest (and most established) restaurants. I like to call ahead and ask to speak with the owner (though the maître d’ will do) and tell them that I go out regularly, sometimes in large parties, and I’m looking for a new place to entertain, a lot!
If you don’t go out as often as I do, find one or two restaurants that you enjoy and frequent them when you do go out. Become a regular. Make a point of meeting the staff. When you’re entertaining for work, bring others there. When you have to cater an event, use them.
Once you get to know the owner, it’ll become like your very own restaurant–a place that has the patina of exclusivity and cachet a private club imparts with all the warmth and comfort of your own home.
With some advance planning and a little loyalty, a restaurateur will not only share the bounty of his kitchen with you but introduce you to his other roster of clients as well.
Recruiters. Job-placement counselors. Search executives. They are like gatekeepers. Instead of answering to one executive, however, the really successful ones may answer to hundreds of executives in the field in which they recruit.
Headhunters are professional matchmakers, earning their wage by introducing job candidates to companies that are hiring. Should you get the job, the headhunter gets a sizable commission, typically a percentage of the successful candidate’s first year’s compensation.
As a result, headhunters are an interesting blend of salesman and socialite. To find candidates, headhunters often place job ads. They also contact likely candidates directly, perhaps on the referral of a friend or colleague. In the industries in which they specialize, they become invaluable resources of names and information.
The sweet spot for a headhunter revolves around two issues. You’re either hiring them to do a search or you’re helping them do a search on behalf of someone else. If you’re in the market for a job, let as many search firms as are willing hit the phones for you.
I keep a file of headhunters: who they are and what they’re looking for. And I return every call from them, helping to tap my network to find people for their jobs. I know they’ll help me with access to some of their clients when I need their help. After all, they are in the networking business!
Can anyone contact a headhunter? To be honest, headhunters prefer to be the one contacting you. But if you’re careful about not trying to sell yourself before you offer up the network of contacts you can provide to them, they’ll be receptive. In the early years of my career, when I was not in the position of hiring them and didn’t know people who were using search consultants, I would ask pointedly, “What searches are you working on? How can I help you find people?”
The other advice in this area is to act as a pseudo-headhunter yourself, always on the lookout to connect job-hunters and jobseekers or consultants and companies. When you help people land a new gig, they’ll be inclined to remember you if they hear of a new position opening. Moreover, if you help, say, a vendor of yours land a new client, they’ll usually be more open to negotiating prices on your next project. Helping others find good employees is a real currency.
Well informed, persuasive, and self-confident, lobbyists are generally impressive networkers.
By virtue of their job, they are intimately familiar with the ways of large organizations and how local and national government work. They are almost uniformly passionate people whose goal is to sway politicians to vote on legislation in a way that favors the interest they represent.
How do they work? Lobbyists will often host cocktail parties and dinner get-togethers, allowing them to interact with politicians–and their opponents–in a casual atmosphere. Their more grassroots efforts involve long hours spent on the phone and in writing letters, trying to rouse the community to get involved behind an issue. All of which makes them a rather easy group to please. Can you hold an event for them? Volunteer your services? Refer other volunteers to their cause? Introduce them to potential clients?
Lobbyists tend to bump up against a lot of people who it might be helpful to know, including those who are powerful and successful.
“Follow the money” are words fundraisers live by. They know where it is, what it will take to get it, and most important, who’s most likely to give it away. As a result, fundraisers, whether they work for a political organization, university, or nonprofit group, tend to know absolutely everybody. And while they have the unenviable job of trying to convince people every day to part with their well-earned money, they are almost always incredibly well liked. It’s a selfless job often done for the best of reasons, and most people recognize that anyone who has a good friend who is a fundraiser has an open door to a whole new world of contacts and opportunities.
5. Public relations people
PR people spend their whole day calling, cajoling, pressuring, and begging journalists to cover their clients. The relationship between media and PR is an uneasy one, but at the end of the day, necessity brings them together like long-lost cousins.
A good friend who works in PR can be your entrée into the world of media and, sometimes, celebrity. Elana Weiss, who coleads the PR firm I used called The Rose Group, introduced me to Arianna Huffington (through someone she knew in her office), the noted author and political columnist. Arianna has since become a friend and confidante and one of the dazzling lights at my dinner parties in L.A.
Politicians at every level are inveterate networkers. They have to be. They shake hands, kiss babies, give speeches, and go to dinners, all in the name of gaining the trust of enough people to get elected. The stature of politicians is derived from their political power rather than their wealth. Anything you can do to help them gain power with voters, or exercise power in office, will go a long way to ensuring you a place in their inner circle.
What can a politician do for you? Local city hall politicians can be key to working through the thicket of local governmental bureaucracy. And politicians at any level, if successful, are celebrities–and their networks reflect that.
How can you reach out? Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Local executives, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs generally populate the Chamber. In every community, there are plenty of young politicos looking to climb the political ladder. Early on, before their rise to prominence, you can engender a lot of loyalty and trust by supporting their goals and chipping in when they decide to run for office.
Journalists are powerful (the right exposure can make a company or turn a nobody into a somebody), needy (they’re always looking for a story), and relatively unknown (few have achieved enough celebrity to make them inaccessible).
For years, since I was back at Deloitte, I’ve called on journalists at different magazines, taking them to dinners and pumping them full of good story ideas. I now know people in top positions at almost every major business magazine in the country. Which is one of the reasons why in less than a year after I took over YaYa, with barely a shred of revenue to its name, the company–and, more important, the idea YaYa was trying to sell–appeared in publications like Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, CNBC, Brand Week, Newsweek, the New York Times . . . the list goes on. These are seven different professions tailor-made for superconnectors. Reach out to some. And there are others–lawyers, brokers, etc. Become a part of their network and have them become a part of yours. Cut the umbilical cord to the folks around the office water cooler. Mix it up. Hunt out people who look and act and sound nothing like you do. Seek out ideas from people you don’t ordinarily talk to who inhabit professional worlds you don’t ordinarily travel in.
In one word: Connect. In four better words: Connect with the connectors.
CONNECTORS’ HALL OF FAME PROFILE
Paul Revere (1734-1818)
Understanding Paul Revere’s legacy to the world of networking is as simple as grasping the following: Some people are much more well connected than others.
If you moved to a small town and wished, for some reason, to meet everyone in town, what would you do? Go door-to-door, greeting one resident at a time? Or would you try to find one plugged-in resident who could open all the doors for you?
The answer is clear.
Today, that plugged-in townie might be, say, the high school principal, the Little League commissioner, or the church pastor. But in Paul Revere’s day–think of the 1770s in the Boston metro area–the most plugged-in people were like Revere, the owner of a silversmith shop in the city’s North End, businessmen and merchants who dealt with individuals at every level of Boston society and culture.
Revere was also an extremely social individual: He formed several clubs of his own and joined many others. As a teenager, he and six friends formed a society of church bell ringers; as an adult, he joined the North Caucus Club, a society founded by Samuel Adams’s father to choose candidates for local government. In 1774, when British troops began to seize munitions, Revere formed yet another club, of sorts, responsible for monitoring the movements of British troops. In addition, Revere belonged to the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew, through which he was friendly with revolutionary activists such as James Otis and Dr. Joseph Warren.
All of which helps to explain why Revere, among all Bostonians in the year preceding the Revolution, served as courier for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, riding express to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It was also he who spread the word of the Boston Tea Party to New York and Philadelphia. Revere, in short, was a man who knew not only people–he knew gossip, he knew rumors, he knew news, and he knew it from every level of Boston society.
In April 1775, Revere caught wind of British orders to capture rebel leaders and forcibly disarm the colonists. So Revere and his fellow rebels devised a warning system: Two lanterns shining from the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church (the city’s tallest building) indicated that the British troops were advancing on Boston by sea; one candle indicated a land advance. Either way, the rebels in Boston and its surrounding suburbs would know when and where to flee and take up arms.
We all know the “one if by land, two if by sea” part of this story. What’s less known is that Revere’s networking savvy is what allowed him–and maybe only him–to be the one entrusted with illuminating the church steeple.
The church, as it happened, was Anglican; the rector strongly supported the Crown. But Revere knew the vestryman, John Pulling, through the North Caucus Club. And through his shop, he knew the sexton, Robert Newman, who had a key to the building.
Revere’s connections were crucial to him that fateful night. After lighting the lanterns, Revere needed to reach Lexington, to warn rebel leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock. First, two acquaintances rowed Revere across the Charles River, to Charlestown; there, a horse was waiting for Revere, lent to him by another pal, Deacon John Larkin.
Chased by Redcoats, Revere was diverted north of Lexington, to the town of Medford. Because he knew the head of Medford’s military, Revere rode to his house and warned him. With the militiaman’s help, Revere alerted the town of Medford before heading to Lexington.
Most of us know the Lexington part of the story. Less known is that on the same night that Revere made his midnight ride, a man named William Dawes went galloping off in the other direction to muster the militias to the west of Boston. Revere’s ride stirred up an army, while something like three people showed up from the towns Dawes visited. Why? Revere was a connector: He knew everybody, and so was able to storm into one village after another, banging on all the right doors and calling out all the right people by name.
Historians say Revere was blessed with an “uncanny genius for being at the center of events.” But it doesn’t take genius for that–just involvement and active interest in your community and a friendship (or two) with a connector.