The Power of Networking
The power of networking is wildly undervalued in business. Knowledge and skills certainly play a key role in achieving success, but without a foundation built through the support of others, it can be difficult. Establishing and nurturing personal relationships often present new opportunities and open doors, and I’ve always wondered why it is not instilled in us earlier on.
I was able to build a InRhythm from the ground up by working with people, not against them. It’s a practice I adopted after reading Never Eat Alone, a complete guide to managing some of the most important relationships in your business life, by author Keith Ferrazzi.
Never Eat Alone had a profound impact on me because it changed my approach to how I meet and service people, by focusing not on the results, but by being fully present instead. When the book was first published back in 2006, there were a lot of misconceptions and taboo associated with networking. There was this perception that networking was just for shaking hands and handing out business cards, but for me it was the holy grail of business transformation.
In his book, Ferazzi boldly states ”No tabulation of dollars and cents can account for one immutable fact: Business is a human enterprise, driven and determined by people.” Business is about people selling to people, which means networking should be about helping them. To build the career and life you want, you need support from colleagues, friends and family and in order to obtain that support, you need to be willing to give as much as you’re able to take, if not more.
As a CEO, I’ve experienced countless situations where I’ve required just as much help from others as I’ve possessed to offer. I’ve leveraged existing clients to facilitate introductions for new business, and have been asked to provide professional references for those seeking new job opportunities. I have lent a hand without ever receiving something in return, and am still waiting for the moment to help those who have in one way or another helped me. My experience with networking has never been quid pro quo, which Never Eat Alone strongly prescribes.
Many years ago, I worked with a client who was suddenly laid off after fifteen successful years in an established media company. When I reached out, I learned he had hit something like rock bottom. I helped his craft his resume, made several introductions and acted as his accountability partner. I was with him through his trying three month job search, and what I got out of it was a good friend, whom I’m still in touch with to this day.
I consider myself fortunate to have started diligently networking so early on in my career. At the time, I’m not sure I realized what I was doing, but I quickly learned that in order to use my network, I had to build it first to ensure I had existing relationships to draw upon. My best advice to anyone, regardless of where they are in their career is to keep your calendar full, reach out to people, attend events and create a pipeline that encourages you to remain active. “The great myth of “networking” is that you start reaching out to others only when you need something like a job. In reality, people who have the largest circle of contacts, mentors, and friends know that you must reach out to others long before you need anything at all.”
You should never attempt to measure who you think is important in comparison to who isn’t. I attend multiple conferences a year, and go into each and every introduction with an open heart, which allows my mental model to open up and become genuinely interested in others. I practice I’ve adopted is connecting people based on interests. If I meet someone who loves to rock climb, and I know someone else who has just started on their climbing journey, I always try to connect them. In Never Eat Alone, Keith refers to it as “becoming the host of the party,” and it’s something I’ve found people really value.
Always try to be open, honest, and willing to share vulnerable moments from your life. I’ve told personal stories to people I’ve met for the first time, because the opportunity presented itself and I wanted them to know I felt comfortable enough to move past small talk. It’s these instances that create what Keith calls relationship glue, and turns your network of acquaintances into friends.
Circling back to those misconceptions and taboos I mentioned earlier. Networking shouldn’t be “Hi, I’m Gunjan Doshi, Founder and CEO of InRhythm, angel investor, board member, etc.” when it has the potential to be “I’m Gunjan, father of two. My four year old son is a few weeks away from getting ear tube surgery and it’s causing me a lot of anxiety.” The true test of connectivity happens when people can empathize with you during your hardest times, and not just look for opportunities to further themselves.
Over the course of my career I’ve adopted a strong belief in the power of learning and growth, not just for myself, but for those around me. I’ve found that investing time in helping develop others ties directly to the power of networking, in that by giving mentoring the energy it deserves, you help to create your own brilliant network of people simultaneously teaching and being taught. The best people want to be grown and mentored, and forming peer groups and becoming a part of peer groups makes all the difference.
Thirteen years after Never Eat Alone was published, I had the pleasure of meeting Keith at A-Fest, an annual global conference for connecting, growth and learning with brilliant minds from around the world. It was an honor and a privilege to meet the person who wrote the book that helped get me to where I am today. If you haven’t read Never Eat Alone, I highly recommend it as inspiration to better understand how to create a strong, impactful and reliable network to build a career you love.