They say it’s not what you know, but who you know.
I’m going to suggest it’s who you don’t know (all that well… or yet…)
Everyone knows the value of an extended network yet we often stick with those in our immediate vision, believing familiarity breeds interest.
But opportunities can often be found outside of an immediate circle.
A funny thing happened when I left the corporate world to start my own gig.
Not funny in a ha-ha kind of way.
Funny in a hey-I-didn’t-see-that-coming kind of way.
I had counted on my years of media experience and many established contacts to serve as supporters, connecting me to their extensive networks and, by association, to opportunities so numerous I’d have to turn many of them down.
That didn’t happen.
Some stepped up to say they’d help. Some chose not to.
Many disappeared altogether.
If you ever want to test the solidity of a friendship, try removing the company brand name from your bio and see who sticks around.
If anything, once I no longer had the name of the network behind my name, the only thing to consistently arrive were the crickets.
Calls, texts, emails, unanswered.
Hello, is this thing on?
I’ll be honest. It hurt.
And yet, it helped me realize that in order to create the new you have to clear out the old. And so I did that, going into Edit Mode, re-assessing priorities, even getting rid of 10,000 items in my house.
And an amazing thing happened when I did that.
Those who departed opened up time and space for me to expand my network, revisit friendships and make new and valuable connections. And people – new and unexpected people – stepped in to fill that empty space.
Loose connections wanted to learn what I was doing. Mere observers became opportunity creators. Random colleagues became great connectors.
The most interesting opportunities I’ve had since launching my Commander-in-She workshops have come from those on the periphery of my previous social and work circles.
A childhood friend… A sorority sister I hadn’t seen in twenty years… The husband of a neighborhood acquaintance who followed me on Facebook…
But wait, there’s more:
Current members of a board I served on more than 15 years ago… A new connection on LinkedIn… A fellow panelist at a conference who became a monthly breakfast date…
Each was instrumental in opening doors and providing key introductions, allowing me to create the continued conversations to what would become my biggest audiences of the past year.
How did they do this?
Easily. Openly. Generously.
Why did they do this?
I suppose they were curious about what I did and heard/observed enough to feel comfortable recommending me.
Or maybe I was just new and different enough to capture their attention.
Or maybe the universe provided them to fill the hole left by those who had ghosted and I’m just really, really lucky.
Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. And give it back, pass it on, pay it forward…
We work on teams, in departments and divisions and companies. We spend our days with a tight circle that unintentionally becomes a silo. We say we’ll start networking and growing our professional circle “as soon as” we clear our plate. But we find the plate tends to continuously fill itself.
And then, when we are looking for a leg up or that helping hand or that next opportunity, we assume the work we’ve put in will work for us and that it’s who you know.
I’ll make the case it’s not what you know or who you know but what you know PLUS who you don’t know all that well or yet…
There’s an amazingly tight community in loose connections!
The best opportunities are the ones you’re not yet aware of. It makes sense then that the best connectors and the ones to open the doors to those opportunities are also not yet on your radar.
Don’t silo yourself off to a small professional network, to those who know you well. Consider your loose connections, those six-degrees-of-separation relationships that might just yield an entirely new universe you’ve not yet explored.
1) Think beyond those you spend the most time with aim to extend your reach. Who’s doing work you admire? Who is deserving of an overdue catch-up? Grow your network through past and six-degree connections.
2). Don’t underestimate the power of a loose connection. If you have a service or skill to offer and there is a market for it, put it out there.
3) If you find those once in your circle are no longer available to you due to changing job circumstances, location or loss, don’t bemoan the empty space. Fill it with people who share your passion. Your next opportunity or big breakthrough is just one click, call or email away.
4) Be a co-connector and serve in someone else’s Cast of Supporting Characters. As you seek info and opportunity from them, don’t forget about the value you may bring to them. Better to lead with it than make it an after-thought.
5) If I’m not among those you know but I can be of value to you, consider this an open invite to connect. Comment, message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now we know each other!
Valerie Gordon is an award-winning producer who has put hundreds of stories on television for HBO Sports, CBS News, ESPN and Weekend TODAY. Now the founder and president of Commander-in-She, a career and communications strategy firm, she speaks at conferences and to corporate groups to help clients harness the power of story for greater success and satisfaction at work.