I hate the word networking. I imagine it means some guy in a expensive suit slinging business cards left and right. Let’s call it connecting instead.
I have a confession to make; I suck at connecting. Wait! Let me be more specific. I suck at in-person connecting. Put me in a room full of business majors and I will awkwardly slink into the corner nursing my apple juice. What do you expect? I majored in Computer Science. I’ve gone to plenty of meetups, tried to talk to a few people and struggling to find the common ground. After a few awkward minutes, do I push through and hope that he’s also into memorizing all the Harry Potter Lore or do I move on and try someone else? You’re time limited by the event to a couple of hours. Once in a while though I meet someone where the sparks literally fly. We both believe in deliberate practice, have a love/hate relationship with technology, text editor geeks. Once in a while, I get a match made in heaven. How do I get this in repeatable manner. Discovering good people with whom you connect is really hard.
On a completely unrelated day, I got an invite to Medium, the new publishing platform. I typed up my thoughts on learning motivations and hit publish. The Blogging Gods must have been smiling on me that day because a Medium editor featured it on their front page. Over the course of 3 days I got over 1000 views. That’s like the size of my entire university graduating class! Even better, people who read my article reached out with comments, emails and even detailed blog responses. By writing an article I got another human being, that I had never met before, to sit down and write a thousand word response to what I said. In contrast, I find talking to strangers for 5 minutes at a networking events to be awkward and my hopes of having an in-depth discussion about a dear topic have been long buried.
Effective connecting is about solving two problems: Finding the right people and meaningfully engaging with them.
Writing has two special properties that make it extremely compelling as a means to reaching people. Writing is scalable and discoverable. These two properties make writing much more efficient than in-person networking events.
Discovery without the sweat
Google is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. It greatly accelerates the bootstrapping process of learning what you don’t know. Writing is discoverable in the sense that it can be searched, linked to and shared. It is not ephemeral and disappears as soon as it’s spoken. We’ve all had that experience where you talk and have the same conversation 10 times because you’ve written it down and can just link it. (Thanks Tim Berner’s Lee – Father of the Web).
Sebastian Marshall estimates that for every 100 people you meet, you’ll have extended interactions with 5 and really hit it off with 1. Gosh, 1/100 doesn’t seem like very good chances. Now if you get 1000 people to read your article, then chances are 10 of those people were really cool and you want to spend more time with them! awesome.
So just by pure numbers, writing is gold.
Networking is really just adding value.
The second reason writing is so effective is because the value proposition is baked in. Michael Ellsberg, James Altucher and Adam Grant all agree that giving value is the best way to network. And more importantly, giving without any expectation of return. I’m a naturally suspicious person. When someone walks up to me at a networking event and tries to be all friendly, I’m like what do you want? You’re probably just a sleaze ball looking for a developer because you can’t code. Honestly, I’m wrong most of the time, but that’s still my knee-jerk reaction. You have to get past my defences. When I’m reading a blog article, if the person has bad writing and is wasting my time I just click the back button. Nobody’s feelings get hurt. Because reading is such a low risk endeavour, many more people tend to give you a chance.
Good writing is valuable because it gives someone a little nudge in the right direction. A bit of motivation towards a cause you both believe in.
Writing and its Rewards
You may have heard this one before: build your network before you need it.
Helping people is it’s own reward. However, writing helps you find your Tribe [Seth Godin] so that you can do great things together.
Opportunities are attached to people [Reid Hoffman] and writing helps those people find you. When a faceless stranger discovers your writing, they receive a little boost without any (more) effort on your part. If your work really resonated, they will reach out and you get to see a little bit more about the world.
Writing is the best way I’ve found of attracting people of like mind. And that’s good enough for me.
If you’re just starting your own adventure, have a blog in draft and need feedback, or just want to chat then drop me an email (louiedinh at google’s email) or hit me up on twitter.