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.