Connecting the dots

Unsolicited advice on becoming the kind of person that others turn to for help

Everyone has that friend or colleague.

If I asked you to describe the most connected person you knew, the stories would come easily.

There’s the woman who seems to know every single person in the office. Do you have a question? She always knows where to go and who to talk to.

The guy who—incredibly and simultaneously—appears to be separated by only two degrees from Bill Gates, Oprah, and the editor of a large media publication.

A friend who consistently comes up in conversation when you tell people that you just moved from NYC? “Oh, New York! Do you know _____? She knows everyone!”

That person.

Last Monday I wrote a few friends to let them know that I accepted a new job.

Beside a few congratulatory responses, an email from Leslie caught my attention. She ended her note with a simple question:

“Excited for you. How can I help?

Leslie is a natural connector. Her immediate response to my good news was to take action—to wonder what I needed and ask how she could help.

The response was as genuine as it was unique. It was simple, but impactful.

I’ve always enjoyed connecting people, ideas, and concepts. But Leslie’s response made me think that I could do even more of something that I enjoy.

So, I began to wonder: how can I be more helpful?

I went through emails and memory, searching for ideas that I’ve used and that I’ve seen used around me from connectors like Leslie.

One thing became clear. Contrary to popular belief…

It’s not the number of people you know, it’s your willingness and ability to selflessly help those people.

There’s no one key to building a network and being helpful to that network.

That said, there are hundreds of little things I’ve seen—and some I’ve attempted to make my own—that stand out as unique to connectors and to folks who are just plain helpful.

The following is that collection of tips, tricks, and suggestions.

How to become a better connector in a few easy steps.

No guarantees, but a few are definitely worth a try.

  1. Ask how you can help. Explicitly. At all times.
  2. Host a dinner—or happy hour, or any event—invite 5-10 people that you know but others don’t.
  3. Alternative to #2: Ask each attendee to bring a friend.
  4. Begin meetings and calls by asking, “If you want to get one thing out of this meeting today, what is it?”
  5. Keep an active address book.
  6. Schedule calendar reminders to follow up with friends, colleagues, etc.
  7. Keep a clean inbox. Respond to as many emails as possible.
  8. When you meet someone, repeat their name. Remember it. And if you can, listen to a story or fact about them (helps ground the name in memory).
  9. Write down follow-ups. Be prompt in those follow-ups.
  10. If something will take time, communicate that. Trust is built on transparency.
  11. Reach out (via Twitter, email, LinkedIn, anything) to someone you find interesting, important, or relevant to your work.
  12. Seriously: Go back and do #11. Nobody is out of reach. This feels self-serving—and it is—but it’s also one of easiest ways to build connections that will (eventually) prove helpful to those around you.
  13. Consistently identify ways to help connect those around you. Focus those connections around mutually beneficial situations.
  14. It feels unnatural, but constantly force yourself to meet others at events.
  15. It’s all in the details. Remember a friend’s birthday. Note a big launch or sale for a business partner or colleague.
  16. Listen up! People love talking about themselves. Lend an ear, ask good questions.
  17. Follow up when you meet someone. Surprises are memorable. Send a note, direct them to a helpful resource, suggest an article or book they’d love (note: ideally suggestions are rooted in a previous conversation topic.)

But why bother?

Who cares about being a connector—is that even a goal we should strive for?

The short answer: Yes.

The world is an increasingly connected and social place. Following your passions takes every possible bit of hard work, luck, learning, and more.

Connecting people and ideas is just the first step.

Can I help you with anything? This post would be a complete failure if I didn’t offer that up. I’m easy to find, please reach out (@al0nd0n is best).

Thanks for taking the time to read!