The movie “Ocean’s Eleven”, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Seen here, Elliott Gould (as Reuben Tishkoff). Theatrical release, December 7, 2001. Screen capture. Copyright © 2001 Warner Bros. Credit: © 2001 Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Pyxurz.
The term “networking” grosses me out. I think of “the business card shuffle”. I have been there. In my early career, I attended a few networking events, where nervous people stood around in a sweaty room and forced their business cards on each other. That is not what networking is about at all.
Real networking is building relationships. Real networking is giving and serving someone else for not good reason. Real networking is seeking advice and wisdom from someone else. Real networking is about being perceived as a trusted advisor. It is not a hustle.
Don’t take my word for it. You can find real networking in action by watching the movie Oceans 11.
In Oceans 11, two convicts named Rusty and Danny are putting together a team of crooks to rob a bad guy’s casino. As they put the team together, they go see Ruben. Ruben is the money guy and quietly connected to the underworld. In the conversation, a favor is referenced by Ruben. Here is what is sounds like…
Reuben: Look, we all go way back and uh, I owe you from the thing with the guy in the place and I’ll never forget it.
Danny: That was our pleasure.
Rusty: I’d never been to Belize.
At first, Ruben is reluctant to help and shuts them down. He says he is not interested. But as the conversation begins to close, Ruben asks inquisitively, “Who do you got in mind?” Rusty and Danny go through the list of candidates that will work on the team. They outline the team of “proper villains” they are putting together from a long list of thieves based on relationships, experience and trustworthiness. After Ruben hears the list of villains involved and who they are going to rob, he is in. What ever happened in Belize created trust and got Ruben involved. As the movie later reveals, Rusty and Danny could not have pulled off the heist without him.
Here are a five lessons you can learn about networking from that example in Oceans 11:
1) Make meaningful connections before you need them. You should try to get to know people before you need to know people. Trust is earned over time. I am not suggesting cheesy or pushy efforts to aggrandize yourself to people in the “right” circles. That is creepy. I am suggesting reaching out to people and make connections. Just get to know others and be known to others. You never know when your name may come up.
It is easy to pass over an unknown name on a list and much harder to pass over the name of someone with which you have a personal connection. Don’t just be an unknown name on a list. And don’t make decisions about others without trying to know the people on the list.
2) You should try to help people for no good reason. I recommend a “helping without hustling” approach. Don’t help people because you expect favors in return. Help is not a baseball card to be traded. A favor might be returned, but it might not. Don’t do it for a return payment. Help others for no good reason.
3) Help other people because someone helped you when you did not deserve it. You will never be able to adequately repay all the good things that others have done on your behalf. But try anyway. Don’t just return kindness, but create an opportunity to help someone completely different.
4) Seek to help others because it creates the right environment for your life and your relationships. Help people because it is a good thing to do all on its own. This is how the good things of the world grow. Helping others broadens your world and gives you an opportunity to get to know others in a meaningful way. Don’t ask for or expect repayment.
5) Think of helping people as a free sample of your work. Grocery stores give out free samples all day long. The free sample that you munch on in the store might not sell that product right then and there, but it might remind you of it later. If you volunteer, help out, contribute or just show up, people take note. The logic is simple. If you do things with excellence for free, then you can be trusted when the stakes are higher.
In conclusion, it is OK to hand out your business card. You can’t make meaningful connections if you don’t get out of your office and meet people. But meet people because you want to help somebody and have a real connection. Real connections with people lead to success. Standing around in a sweaty room handing out business cards in the pursuit of a sale doesn’t cut it. Opportunity is build on friendships and trust, not from a hustle. Just ask Ruben from Oceans 11.