All entrepreneurs are short on time, so there’s a tendency to focus on activities that generate an immediate ROI. But when it comes to networking, that single-minded focus can be a mistake, says venture capitalist Anthony Tjan, whom I profile in my new book Stand Out.
Through extensive interviews and surveys, Tjan and his colleagues discovered that the best leaders fell into four categories: Hearts, Smarts, Guts and Luck, the name of a book they wrote in 2012 exploring what makes entrepreneurs successful. The first three make perfect sense; of course those would be useful traits for leaders. But luck was more surprising.
It turns out that’s not just a catchall to describe some inexplicable success. Instead, the "lucky" entrepreneurs had a very distinctive outlook on life. Luck is the post-facto term we apply when we realize that a certain set of moves has been beneficial. But in the moment, luck actually springs from a combination of curiosity and humility.
Too many current and aspiring leaders refuse to waste their time talking to people who aren’t immediately useful to them; they’ll make a beeline to hit up a top journalist or a prominent angel investor or potential client. But everyone else? Not so much.
The problem is, that myopia means you’re likely overlooking others around you who could ultimately be great contacts one day down the road. The lucky leaders were the ones curious enough to talk to anyone, and humble enough to realize they have a lot to learn from all comers, not just people who have already "made it" or are "higher up the food chain" professionally.
To guard against the tendency to chase superstars or only talk to people like yourself, you can follow the strategy of one man studied by psychologist Richard Wiseman. He would randomly choose a certain color before arriving at a party, and only talk to people wearing that color. Make an effort to break out of your comfort zone and talk to people who don’t look like you, or who may not fit the typical profile of who you’re expecting to meet.
The directive to get luckier may sound paradoxical. But by increasing our curiosity and humility, it’s eminently possible. To bring more luck into your life, ask yourself questions like:
How can I pare back my schedule to allow for more serendipitous encounters?
You can’t pursue interesting opportunities if you’re scheduled wall-to-wall. Make it a rule to leave at least one hour unscheduled per day, to allow room for emergencies, or lucky breaks.
How can I meet people I normally wouldn’t connect with?
Whether it’s following the “colored shirt” strategy above, or making a point to strike up a conversation with random people on a given day (your barista, the bus driver, the person in line next to you at the grocery store), it’s useful to push your social boundaries periodically.
Am I overthinking the value exchange?
It’s important to appreciate people for who they are, rather than immediately wondering what’s in it for you, or whether they’re the “right kind” of person to talk with.
Most people think of luck as something mysterious -- something you can never control. But by adopting an attitude of curiosity and humility, entrepreneurs can stack the odds in their favor that their interactions with diverse people will pay off over time. And five or 10 years later, when a connection has helped you break in to a new client or a new business opportunity, everyone will say: "Wasn’t that lucky?"