One of the interesting side effects of hosting a show about success is that you encounter a lot of excuses.
Excuses for not being generous. Excuses for being off-track. Excuses for not acting abundantly. Excuses for hitting a taco truck after a night of binge-drinking with your roommates instead of getting to bed by 11 so you can make that high-intensity interval training class you swore you’d do in the morning.
Every single day, I get emails from listeners asking for advice, but buried within them are subtle reasons for not doing the work, whatever “the work” might be.
The most interesting thing about these excuses? They usually don’t sound like excuses.
Oftentimes, they sound like questions: “I know I need to work on my ambition, but isn’t being overly ambitious kind of obnoxious?”
Well, sure. We all know ambitious people who make you wonder if there aren’t, in fact, some pretty good reasons for punching somebody in the face. But aren’t you really asking if it’s okay to not be ambitious? Have you actually associated ambition with being annoying, and that’s how you’ve managed to avoid taking your career seriously?
In other cases, the excuses take the form of a problem: “I want to lose weight and get in shape, but my job comes first. How am I supposed to hit the gym and stay on top of my career?”
Well, I won’t argue with you about work-life tradeoffs, but what’s stopping you from going to the gym on Sunday mornings? Can you take your phone calls as you walk around the parking lot at work? Or is your dedication to your career actually a way to justify hitting the vending machine and never leaving your chair?
But my favorite kind of excuse is the catch-22. “I want to date people who elevate me, but I’m not at a point in my life yet to attract high-value people.” “I want to get promoted so I can have more responsibility, but I need to be given more responsibility to prove I’m worth promoting.” “I need to invest in my education, but I don’t have enough education to know where to start.”
And look, I get it. I’m not saying these catch-22s aren’t tough. Our minds are very clever at twisting themselves into paradoxes. But more often than not, what gives a catch-22 so much power is the fact that we use it as an excuse to not do the work to become successful.
And one of the most common catch-22s I hear goes like this:
I know I need to be introducing people in my network to build my social capital, but I don’t have enough social capital to know anyone worth introducing.
By “worth introducing,” they usually mean “important,” “powerful,” or “famous.” Someone who would be “impressive” for them to introduce to someone else.
If they can’t connect the CTO of their company to the Head of Engineering at Facebook, how can they really create social capital?
If they can’t put the author of The Hunger Games in touch with the President of Knopf, then will they ever be able to turn them into mentors?
I’ve heard hundreds of versions of this question, and they always come down to a common fallacy: that introductions only matter when one or both parties are important, wealthy, famous, or otherwise powerful (whatever that means).
This form of all-or-nothing thinking — either I introduce super important people or I don’t introduce anyone at all — prevents us from creating value among the people we do know. People who could benefit from knowing each other right now. People who, the second we put them in touch, could be building social capital — for us and for themselves — the moment we hit send on that email.
The truth is, a good introduction doesn’t have to be any of those things in order to be worthwhile.
An introduction only needs to be one thing: useful.
Because when it comes to building relationships, utility is the name of the game. Utility is what creates value. Value creates social capital. And social capital is the fuel that propels your relationships, your opportunities, and your success in life — which creates even more utility.
A truly useful introduction will always mean more than an important / wealthy / famous / powerful / fancy one, every single time.
Everything else, in my view, is just networky bullsh*t.
Value: The Secret Superpower
So what actually makes an introduction valuable?
To put it super simply, an introduction is valuable when it fulfills a need.
That’s it. That’s the only metric by which you should judge your prospective introductions.
Will introducing these two people help one or both of them fulfill a need?
If the answer is yes, then introduce.
But what are those needs? And how do you identify them in the first place?
Well, they can literally be anything. And they’re actually very easy to spot.
A lead on a handy plumber. An answer to a business question. Troubleshooting on a piece of technology. A recommendation for a good therapist. A guest pass to the gym. An anecdote for an article. A vendor for a project. Travel tips for Spain. Friendship. Love. Support. Perspective. Connection. Opportunity. Hope. Guidance. The list of human needs is virtually infinite.
The way I see it, every single person walks around carrying one of these lists inside of them, looking for pieces of the puzzle that make up their life. These needs can be big or small, urgent or minor, complex or simple. Sometimes people will come right out and articulate them; sometimes you’ll have to ask a few questions to suss them out.
But they all share one thing in common: they need to be met. And they’re all relative to the person and situation.
To a single mother of three struggling to fix an overflowing toilet before she leaves for work, a fast and reliable plumber is a godsend.
To the CEO of American Express who works 90-hour weeks, a great assistant is a gamechanger.
These two people probably lead very different lives with very different needs. But the intensity of those needs — how badly they need to be met — that’s exactly the same.
And the fact that they need to be met is what creates the opportunity for social capital.
When you fulfill a need for someone else, then you automatically create value, which is the lifeblood of all great relationships.
But when you create that value by making an introduction to a specific person, then you create even more social capital. Why? Because you’re not just delivering a solution, but a relationship.
The value of that relationship then amplifies in all directions — for each person individually, across the new connection, and within your relationships with each party.
That’s why introducing someone to a great fitness trainer will always create more value than sending them an article from Men’s Fitness called “8 Crazy Ab Workouts!” Just like connecting your colleague with a potential business partner will mean more than sending them thoughts on how to search for candidates on LinkedIn.
Those other favors are good acts of service, and in many cases, they can be great little social-capital boosts. But they’ll never approach the open-ended value of a high-touch personal introduction.
If you’ve ever met just the right person at just the right moment, then you know awesome that experience is. It’s the most profound and efficient form of value around.
But the best part about useful introductions? Anyone can make them.
We have the potential to make introductions between all sorts of people, as long as those introductions are meeting a specific need — no matter where we are in our lives, our careers or our relationships.
Which means that you don’t need to know the CEO of Uber or the author of Game of Thrones in order to build your social capital. (And how would you, if you’re just starting to build it?) All you need to do is identify needs in the people you already know, and find the right people to help fulfill them.
This is your job as a relationship-builder: To identify needs, find someone in your network who can help fulfill them, and connect those two people.
Your goal isn’t to find the most “important” person to do the job. Your goal is to find the right person to do the job. Because the right person will always be more useful than the important person, all else being equal. And when you’re just starting out, that’s usually the person you can actually find.
But here’s the really exciting thing: Once you start focusing on value, you’ll automatically begin building connections with more and more valuable people, which will raise the overall social capital of your network, feeding a virtuous cycle.
In fact, that’s how you meet the important, powerful people you want in your network. Not by waiting until they magically appear so you can start networking, but by connecting the people you know right now, and watching as that social capital makes its way back to you in the form of your own valuable introductions.
That’s what happened with Morgan.
Using Value to Build Important Relationships: A Case Study
As a college intern at a major publishing house in New York, Morgan could not have been a less important person at her new employer.
In fact, that’s why she took the internship in the first place: to gain some experience, learn the trade, and begin her slow climb into more important roles when she graduated.
The one advantage Morgan did have, however, was being at the center of her new colleagues’ lives.
By covering the phones, she heard when the head of sales needed a new babysitter. By riding the elevator, she overheard when an executive needed a restaurant reservation for dinner. By reading submissions in the bullpen, she overheard people complaining about query letters and manuscript coverage. By having lunch in the cafeteria, she found out when her fellow interns were looking for a new yoga class, a research report, or somebody to hit a museum with.
Morgan realized that her real job that summer wasn’t to boost sales by 30 percent or find the next Harry Potter. It was to be of service. She wasn’t a publishing veteran or a marketing savant; she couldn’t compete with her more senior colleagues for power and influence. But she could earn social capital by helping them achieve their goals — either directly, by working on them herself, or indirectly, by finding someone else who could.
By the end of the summer, Morgan had done something rare for a lowly, inexperienced intern: She cultivated true social capital and made herself indispensable.
She did that was by making introductions between her new colleagues — from the highest executives to the most junior employees — and other people, inside and outside of the company.
For example, she introduced the head of IT to her friend’s brother, a freelance software support engineer who ended up debugging a critical app for the company. She introduced the other intern in her department to her freshman-year roommate, and the two started dating that summer. She got a group of people from work together to hit a yoga class on Saturdays, creating new bonds among her colleagues. She introduced her boss, the VP of sales, to her sister’s babysitter, who took a huge load off of her shoulders during an intense period at work.
She wasn’t trying to save the company. She wasn’t trying to find the next George R.R. Martin. She wasn’t even trying to carve out a specific role for herself. She was just trying to be useful, in whatever way people showed her she could be.
As a result, she ingratiated herself with her colleagues, got access to more and more important conversations, and soaked up everything she could about the industry — a reward she earned for just making those introductions.
Unsurprisingly, Morgan received a full-time offer at the end of her internship. And to give her latest hire even more experience, her boss then introduced her to the editor of a literary magazine, who hired Morgan to read submissions during her senior year — a favor her boss was more than happy to do after everything Morgan had done for her.
In just a few short months, Morgan had accomplished more than most people do in years. She earned the loyalty and trust of two high-ranking executives in the publishing world, locked up all the experience she could get before graduating, and secured her first full-time job — a full year before she would even graduate — simply by making other people’s needs her needs.
Morgan is not unusually connected, privileged, or lucky. She’s a 21-year-old college student who hustled her way into a summer gig. She didn’t have a direct line to the head of her department, an uncle who sat on the board or an Ivy League network to draw on.
All she had was a few key qualities: a sensitivity to people’s needs, a generosity with her resources, and a commitment to be of service.
Most importantly, she had an understanding that the only way she could build bigger and better relationships was to invest in the ones she already had — which turned out to be more than enough.
Needs-based Networking: The Key to Leveling Up
As we’ve seen, everyone has needs they’re trying to fulfill, big and small, regardless of their position in life.
That also means that anyone — regardless of their position in life — can help fulfill those needs.
Needs are windows into meaningful relationships.
They signal that there’s potential value to be created. They reveal an opportunity to get to know someone by being of service. They open the door to real connection.
That window is what allows you to build relationships with people who are more established, powerful, or successful than you are. But to do that, you have to appreciate that you already know people who could be immensely useful — and commit to introducing them.
Mark Cuban, for example, is unimaginably wealthy and well-connected. But if you happened to chat him up in an airport, you might learn that he’s having trouble finding, say, a food-delivery app litigator in California. That lawyer could be your neighbor, your professor, your uncle. If you put them in touch, you could be the person who helped Mark Cuban take on Postmates, and just like that, Mark Cuban is in your network.
(And just to be clear, I 100 percent made this example up, although it’s kind of amazing to imagine Mark Cuban suing Uber Eats for being suuuuper late on his pad thai order.)
Let’s imagine a more common example.
Say you’re working at a co-working space when you overhear that the founder is launching a podcast. You might reach out to her, and find out she’s getting bids from some pricey, bespoke production companies. You could introduce her to someone who can edit the audio file for her pilot episode for a fraction of the price, helping the show get off the ground with a simple introduction. With one act of service, you can build a relationship with a founder desperately in need of help with her new show — and maybe even stumble into a side hustle while you’re at it.
Let’s imagine one more.
Say you’re a college student hoping to get into a competitive Ph.D. program with the help of an important professor. When you visit his office, you see that he’s building a website for his new research program. He’s having trouble; he hasn’t built a website himself in years. You might know WordPress and offer to help him build and manage the site. Or you might know someone on campus who does and introduce them. Maybe you earn yourself a lunch with the professor to talk career paths. Maybe you become part of the research team. Or maybe you just deepen your relationship with the guy who’s going to be writing your recommendation letter down the road.
When you introduce two people, you’re almost as useful as the person who’s actually doing the job. In some ways, you’re even more valuable, since you’re the source of the relationship.
Even better, you only had to put in one percent of the effort. That’s another great thing of introductions: they’re highly scalable and create a ton of leverage — very little investment, huge return.
The Utility Mindset
So you don’t have to be “important” to be useful to important people. In fact, the only importance that truly matters is utility — because utility creates value, and value is what makes you important. Power, fame, influence — all of that comes later.
That’s why prioritizing value over importance is the key to great relationship-building.
As you fulfill needs for the people around you, you automatically deepen your relationships, continue meeting more and more important people, and elevate your overall network. That puts you in a position to identify even higher-impact needs with even more important people, perpetuating a really exciting snowball effect.
That’s what I find so ironic about people who hold off on networking until they become more [insert desirable quality here]. They don’t realize that if they connected the people they already know in a way that fulfills their needs, they’re guaranteed to become [insert desirable quality here] much faster. Instead, they discount the importance of simple needs, push their networking into a hypothetical future, and then wonder why they’re stagnating in their lives and careers.
My advice? Drop the excuse. Commit to generous behavior. And introduce people on the regz.
And if you’re struggling to find a need to fulfill for someone else, try this exercise: Ask yourself what you need right now, and then work to meet that exact same need for someone else. You’ll be amazed by what you discover — about yourself and about other people.
Starting with the fact that your own needs will begin to be met much, much faster than you anticipated. And life will be a lot more fun along the way, too.
[Featured photo by KayDee Owens]