Before there was Keith Ferrazzi, for me at least, there was Heidi Roizen. It was about eight years ago when I was a cub reporter for Inc. magazine and I’d read the Malcolm Gladwell profile, “The Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg,” which gave name to those rare types who seem to know everyone and who apply that knowledge to generate a seemingly endless torrent of opportunity.
Lois was a master of creating and managing social capital. Gladwell called such people connectors. He wrote that these connectors’ skill was so distinct and valuable, so vital to any environment dependent on the free-flow exchange of information and skill (which is to say every environment populated by humans) that in some oblique way they run the world. And then, in what seemed at the time a needlessly taunting postscript directed personally at me, Gladwell hypothesized that connectors were born that way. That this powerful skill was innate.
That last part was particularly troubling to me as I had just come to recognize two unsavory realities for an ambitious young man intent on becoming a big success: the reality that a lot of the big successes I was encountering in those days seemed kind of like Lois and the reality that I was nothing like her. What I lacked in sociability, however, I made up for in angry obstinacy. I decided I’d challenge Gladwell’s hypothesis.
The simple plan was to find other Lois Weisberg-types and try to extract a common set of rules and principles by which these people navigate the world. If I could do that, then those rules and principles could be taught. Maybe the only truly helpful documents I discovered early in my research was a Harvard Business Review case study on a woman named Heidi Roizen, the subject of this month’s Social Capitalist interview.
One of the few female power players in Silicon Valley at the time, she had started and sold a successful tech company, become an executive at Apple and then a well-known venture capitalist. She called both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs friends and was known to have one of the deepest, most extensive networks in the Valley. She was undoubtedly a connector, and unlike anything else I found, the case study laid out some strategies for how Roizen operates. It convinced me that I was on the right track.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get in touch with Heidi at the time and, soon after, I picked up the phone in my office and there he was: “Hi, I’m Keith Ferrazzi. I hear you’re doing a story on networking.” I had only told maybe three or four people that I was researching the story, one of them was a high school friend who was now a publicist, and as it turns out, Keith’s publicist.
So as my interview with Heidi approached, I was very excited about the chance to do what I hadn’t eight years ago and talk to one of the inspirations of what became my story about Keith in Inc, “10 Secrets of a Master Networker.”
When you look at connectors like Heidi from afar, hearing in broad strokes about their unlikely but fortuitous social encounters that serve as transformational plot points on their biography – bumping into X CEO or befriending Y future software genius leading to Z remarkable adventure – the typical reaction is, “WTF?!?!? Why do some people have all the luck?”
It’s when you get up close that you can see an underlying design that actively and repeatedly creates these “lucky” social situations.
This idea that you can shape serendipity is nicely elaborated on in an excellent new book called The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. The authors highlight three choices that determine how we can shape serendipity: where we spend our time, how we spend our time, and how we maximize the value of the unexpected encounter. Roizen is incredibly smart about all three:
On how to meet the right people:
“One of the things I’ve done in my career that has been very effective – and enjoyable too – is I’ve always gotten involved in the trade associations of industry I’m working in. So I became part of the Software Publishers Association when it was very young and I ended up on the board. When I was a VC I was in the National Venture Capital Association Board.”
The easiest way to meet the right people, the people doing what you do or want to do, is to go where they go. And the easiest way to build a relationship with those people is to do so in the context of working on something you both care about. Context creates intent; there’s an immediate clarity of purpose to build upon.
On what makes her persuasive:
“I go in with a very credible, passionate pitch about who I am and what I’m willing to do. . .”
There is nothing like passion and purpose to help you stand out, get noticed, and attract unexpected encounters.
On how to maximize the value of the unexpected encounter:
“I think about what do I have to give? What can I do to create value with that person? What can we work on together?
As the authors of the Power of Pull put it: “Listening deeply, being attentive, and understanding what the other person is involved in prove invaluable in converting a chance meeting into a more valuable sustained relationship that keeps on giving.”
Question for you all: Have you always assumed, like Gladwell, that being a true connector wasn’t something you could learn?
Tahl Raz is the host of myGreenlight’s Social Capitalist Series.