You Never Know [en]

[fr] On ne sait jamais d'où (et par qui) viendront les opportunités qui nous permettront d'avancer dans notre vie professionnelle. C'est la raison pour laquelle je préconise de "ratisser large" quand il s'agit de réseautage. Cibler, c'est se limiter. C'est fermer la porte aux surprises que peuvent nous apporter nos "liens faibles". Le monde en ligne est le paradis des liens faibles. Mais pour en profiter, il faut y être en tant que personne, car c'est entre les personnes humaines (et authentiques) que se tissent les relations.

One of the points I strived to drive home during my talk on the professional importance of a personal online presence is that you never know where opportunities might come from.

I do not believe in a guiding hand or external mystical forces which direct our lives. I believe there is no inherent meaning in the world other than the meaning we humans inject into it. This means that I accept that luck and circumstance can play big roles in our lives. Meeting the love of my life “by chance” does not mean that the universe conspired in bringing us together at one incredible moment in time. It just means that it happened, and something huge grew out of it, but it could just have well not have happened.

Left or right

Back to opportunities. Think of the jobs you got, the gigs that came your way. The important people and moments in your life and how they came to be. With hindsight, we deliver sense in everything. But let that go for a minute. Could you have planned for it? Could you have made it happen?

Granted, we sometimes make things happen. Of course. But more often than not, we don’t. We’re happy to overestimate how much control we have on our lives. It’s less scary.

People who have “made it” will come and tell you how they did it. Again, hindsight.

I had a really eye-opening moment about that myself just three years ago, when I was asked to come and give a workshop on how to build a successful online presence for oneself.

I’d already noticed that when it came to social media strategy, most people telling us about their success story would come up with something along the lines of “we had no idea what we were doing, we were lucky, but here is how we should have done it and how you should do it”.

Halfway through my workshop, I realised that I was doing some variation of that: I was giving the participants an exercise to try and put them on the track I had followed — but actually, there was no exercise I could give them, because I had arrived where I was precisely because I wasn’t trying to get there. I had just followed my interests (chatting, people, more chatting, writing stuff, reading stuff, people, chatting) and opportunities had sprung out of that. Then, I had made something of those opportunities. But I had no intentional hand in creating them. It was a very humbling moment.

I think it took the last three years for this realisation to fully mature into one of the cornerstones of the slightly revamped way I present what I do for a living.

Back to my talk. Once you understand that you are not fully in control or in charge of making opportunities happen, you can try to examine what circumstances are favorable to them. And I would answer: “a diversity of circumstances”.

You know how diverse teams are more creative? I think there is something very similar at play when it comes to networking.

A diverse network — diverse in terms of the people it contains, the reasons that connect them, the strength of those relationships — will generate opportunities you could not have seen coming.

So when it comes to building a business, or finding a job, or clients, or partners, or ideas, it pays to have “a good network”. By “good”, I mean “diverse”. Cast the net wide. You never know who amongst the people you know is likely to lead you to the next big step in your career, or your next client, or the breakthrough which will see you out of the problem you’ve been stuck in forever. You never know.

Autour du chalet, colliers de perles

Weak ties are those who open the most doors. These are the people you may not know that well, or be somewhat out of touch with. These are the people you have met in a context that seems completely irrelevant to the work you are doing. They are the people who connect you to networks beyond your own, to schools of thought your network is unfamiliar with. Weak ties make for better introductions, because the stakes are lower: our acquaintances put us in touch with others more easily than our close friends and family, who know our faults too intimately, and may fear the fallback of a failed connection.

For this reason, I see no sense in being overly focused on one’s “personal brand”, or having an overly intentional online presence. Your network is made of relationships, and relationships are had between human beings. In networking, there is more being than doing. Caring gets you further than needing.

Go where there are people. Be open. Be generous. Be curious. See others, so that they may see you. Be helpful. Ask what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. Find the balance of depth and breadth that suits you: too much depth leaves no space for others, too much breadth will see you forgotten like a business card in a pile of papers.

Don’t sell. Make friends. It doesn’t matter what brings you together, as long as you connect. You never know what it is that you do or say that might attract people to you. So be you. Better to be loved or hated for what you are, than for a mask that you’re wearing.

You never know who will come around to be your most precious business (or life!) contact until that day in the future arrives.

The kind of communication between people fostered by social media is perfectly suited to weak ties. It’s not very intrusive. We can stay connected with far more people than we could ever in the physical world, scrolling through our timelines or newsfeeds. Ambient intimacy creates rapport in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways. Distance and time do not get in the way anymore.

But to take advantage of that, for your online presence to play a role in nurturing your network, you need to be a person.

LinkedIn Appreciation [en]

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of LinkedIn. And recently, I’ve been thinking about why that is the case.

When LinkedIn started out, it was really not much more than a glorified online resumé. Facebook and Twitter and blogs were much more alive, and I pretty much wrote it off (specially when French speakers were discovering it and pronouncing it leenk-euh-deen).

Since then, LinkedIn has evolved tremendously. I’ve spent some time on it recently, and I have to say the user experience has improved tremendously, the news feed is alive, and I really like the new “skill endorsements” (as opposed to “recommendations”, which usually serve to show how good you are at getting others to write nice things about you, rather than properly reflect your professional value).

LinkedIn actually managed to make these skill endorsements fun and pretty addictive. Go to a connection’s profile (here’s mine ;-)) and endorse any skill. You’ll find yourself with a box such as the ones below at the top of the page when you scroll back up.



I think this works because:

  • You are asked a very simple question: “Does Kevin know about blogging?” — yeah of course he does. Endorse.
  • Don’t know? Just hit the little cross and the problematic case (!) is replaced with a new one which you may be able to answer more easily. You don’t get stuck.
  • There is an element of “intermittent rewards” here: clicking “endorse” is satisfying, and you never know if the next question you’re going to be asked will be easy to deal with or not.
  • The skills and people you are asked to endorse are “random”, so there is little pressure to endorse all the skills of a connection, or any skill — the system gives you plausible deniability (your contact or that specific skill you didn’t endorse can simply not have showed up)
  • You are asked to endorse only a small aspect of a person’s skillset, participating in some kind of crowdsourced recommendation. It’s much less “costly” socially than a proper recommendation (not to mention cognitively lighter by a few factors of ten).

Back to why I’ve shown little interest in LinkedIn so far: I think a lot of it has to do with my status as a freelancer who

  • works a bit on the fringe of big business
  • has a very strong online presence (blog, Twitter, and Facebook, mainly)
  • has very intertwined personal and professional lives.

One of the characteristics of LinkedIn is that it is “100% professional” (quotes because, as I responded to a student yesterday, I don’t believe we are ever 100% professional; we are whole human beings who behave differently in different settings, but it’s only a matter of time until a cat photo finds its way into LinkedIn).

The “professional network” brand is reassuring for those who like to keep business and personal separate, but for those like me who don’t, it’s kind of boring. Facebook is way more fun. People are on Facebook anyway to share their cat photos, and in between a status update and a funny video, there are plenty of opportunities to bring up business. It’s part of our lives, after all.

However, this means that there is a pretty different population on LinkedIn than on Facebook. Who is your audience? Who are the people you are trying to connect to or be noticed by? Go where they are.

And even for me, I have to say it’s nice to have a chance to discover more about the professional lives of those I hang out with on Facebook. But that brings us back to the online resumé, which in itself is a pretty important thing: it means that in the age of LinkedIn, we can all be on the job market without being in job hunting mode. Before, we would polish up our CV when we felt the wind turn. Now, our LinkedIn profile is part of our online identity.

If you want to share what usefulness LinkedIn has had (or has!) for you personally, I’m interested in hearing about it — specially (but not only) if you’re a freelancer.