By Laura Rittenhouse – Originally Posted on Forbes.com.
Most folks are shy around strangers. Some are not. Recently, waiting in line for a movie, I talked with the couple ahead of me. We laughed about people (like us) who want to be first in a theater to claim choice seats. They introduced themselves, Ned and Viviana. Ned mentioned his book, Mass Flourishing, which explores the connection between economic vitality and widespread invention and creativity. Viviana mentioned that her husband was the economist Ned Phelps. I later learned he had won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics. It recognized his groundbreaking research on the short and long-run impacts from macroeconomic policies.
Since this chance meeting, I introduced Ned to Big Think, the online knowledge forum where the world’s top experts engage the thinking public to explore big ideas that are defining the 21st century. They are thrilled to film him for their project. Ned is introducing me to the Center on Capitalism and Society, a think tank he chairs at Columbia University to discuss my research on executive candor as a predictor of business behavior and results.
Making connections from chance encounters like this is a staple in Judy Robinett’s new book How to Be a Power Connector. Importantly, Robinett challenges the usual definition of power — the ability to influence others. She adds three words: “for mutual benefit.”
Mutual benefit starts by appreciating we have unique talents and gifts. These are revealed in conversations when we talk about our chocolate cravings, pets and kids, or an experience that has touched us deeply. Our authentic stories display our values – they signal if we are generous or stingy, deep or superficial, compassionate or abusive, and if we have the capacity to be vulnerable.
Overcoming her shyness as a child and lack of privilege, Robinett has built a wide, deep and dynamic network that makes things happen for countless others. Get out of your comfort zone, she says, and connect authentically with people who have different skills, knowledge and emotional intelligence.
Mastery of power connecting is based on radical rules. They are simple and, if consistently applied, can open doors you thought were closed, and create opportunities you believed impossible. Here are five:
- Know if a person has gravitas. Does the person you are connecting with command respect? Find out if they have wide-ranging interests. Can they solve problems by connecting the dots from different disciplines and experiences? Are they curious about the unknown and passionate about learning? Do they read widely and have a commitment to excel in a given field. An ecosystem of people with gravitas will be rich and productive.
- Pay attention to emotional truths. When Robinett met Joe Polish, she learned he hadn’t finished college and had no idea that when he started a book club it would turn into an invitation-only Genius network where leading thinkers pay top dollar to connect with other “geniuses”. Humility is at the heart of power connecting, knowing and accepting who we are, both our triumphs and failures. This quality allows us to deepen relationships and build trust. When we can step into the shoes of another person, we sharpen our vision to see what that person needs – even when they cannot.
- Create instant value. Know you have something to offer. Many people are blind to this truth. Remember that one person’s problem is another’s solution. For instance, Robinett connects people who need money for startups with angel investors looking for great business ideas. If someone in your ecosystem is looking for a different job, someone else could use their talents and skills.
- Sharing relevant information creates instant value. Robinett curates articles and reports she finds online and sends them to folks in her network who are looking for solutions to problems.
- Deliver on promises made. When you get an offer or query from someone in your ecosystem, get back quickly. This shows respect and demonstrates integrity.
- Avoid bad apples and sociopaths. Gatekeeping is important to build and maintain a robust network. Be careful whom you invite to join. Bad apples and sociopaths will poison an ecosystem. Oprah Winfrey has said she sorts people into two groups: first are those who offer a feather on the cheek; the second are the brick throwers. Attract feathers.
Every time we smile and say hello to strangers we increase our chances of luck. Every time we share the gifts we were given and activate our purpose, we inspire others to do the same. Have you taken time to discover your gifts? And if you have, how are you using them? The Robinett rules for power connecting are based on a fact: networks (like economies) must be cultivated to grow productively.
L.J. Rittenhouse, CEO Rittenhouse Rankings, Author, Investing Between the Lines