Missed Impression, and Networks

This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures

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Spent the day at VMI yesterday.  Headed back to Chicago later this afternoon after I do a panel in the morning.  There has been a lot of talk about network and VMI.  I think certain schools certainly lend themselves to having the potential for building a great network.  VMI does because of the shared experience each of the students go through, along with the exploits of graduates.

I think that the outside world looks at the military and has an impression that they are robots.  This is not true.

If you look at various military operations, they run and operate just like a startup.  The Doolittle Raid was a startup.  General George C Marshall was every bit as creative as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs when it came to building an organization.

Let’s think about what he did.  He was installed as General of the Army on Sept 1, 1939.

  • invaded Poland on the same day.
  • He inherited one of the smallest fighting forces in the entire world.  Our army was smaller than Romania’s.
  • One of his first actions was to fire all the leadership that was entrenched.  Marshall had spent 15 years as a first lieutenant and couldn’t advance his career and so when he was the boss, he changed the game.
  • Soldiers were ill equipped.  America was coming off the Depression.
  • Lend-lease hadn’t kicked into high gear yet.  The Arsenal of Democracy was still sputtering.
  • American citizens were split on whether we should even enter a war or not.  There was a huge and vocal isolationist movement led by famous Americans like Charles Lindbergh.
  • Ambassador Kennedy was unsure if we should fight the war.
  • The hurdles were endless, but by 1945, he had won two wars and developed the most technologically advanced and lethal fighting force the world had ever seen.

Marshall was a great leader but he was a fantastic delegator who trusted the people who worked with him.  He wasn’t a central planner.  General Patton was similar.  You can only do that when you establish a culture of trust.

A lot of people go to Israel to check out their startup culture.  It’s excellent.  One of the reasons why is that they have a common culture in a religion.  But, more importantly, everyone has compulsory military service.  That breeds a culture of trust and it makes information move through the synapses of the network really really fast.  There is a culture of trust that has a cornerstone in both the shared religious rites of passage and military experiences.

Being in the military is not a disadvantage, especially if you feed and take care of your network.  We talk a lot about network today but I don’t think people really “get” it.  All you have to do is reinterpret and reframe how things in the military work and it becomes not a chain of command but a decentralized entrepreneurial venture.

I go to networking events and people come up to me, introduce themselves to me, and ask me a couple of questions.  We exchange cards, and then they leave.  I might get a LinkedIn ping.  But, they never ask me what I really need to see if they can help me.  It’s about me helping them.  They might as well walk up, ask me for my card and walk away.  Networking events have become very very robotic.

It’s also important to know where you sit in a network.  The strategic advantage that can work for you is to be a person who is not in the network connecting that network to outside resources they can utilize from another network. Professor Ron Burt calls this “brokerage”.

It’s important to remember, your network isn’t about what you can get out of it.  It’s about what you put into it.  Brad Feld likes to say, #givebeforeyouget, but it’s more specific than that.  You have to have a sixth sense and think about how you might be able to help someone before they can even realize that it might be nice to be helped.

Yesterday, I met a person who has a child that attends a college where my friend is very involved.  Before he could say anything, I offered to try and make an introduction to that person for his child so that they could meet each other.

I get nothing out of that introduction.  Just a halo effect of helping someone out.  I also get the halo effect of introducing my friend to a student, which he will enjoy because this place is very important to him.

The other day I ran into a startup I wasn’t going to invest in.  I knew a guy who would like to talk to them about their business and might have some ideas, but probably wouldn’t invest.  After a double opt-in intro, the two will meet.  I get nothing except a halo effect and the satisfaction of maybe helping two people advance their businesses.

That’s what I mean by having a sixth sense about networking.  Closed networks don’t do that.  They become highly transactional.  People inside the network always have their hand out.  They want to be a headliner and get accolades.

Great networking doesn’t take an app, although they can help.  I love what Ablorde is doing with 4 Degrees.  You should check it out and give it a try.(http://app.4degrees.ai )

You will make mistakes networking.  Don’t let it stop you.  Apologize. Take responsibility for the mistake.  No excuses.  It’s okay to explain your line of thinking but you aren’t going to persuade anyone.  Then, keep moving.

Being a great networker takes being empathetic and conscientious.  Going the next mile before someone asks you to.