I was fortunate to have dinner last night with some brilliant leaders and professionals. I won’t name names, but some were friends from great companies, and others were new friends with amazing ideas. I’ll also divulge that I got to ask a question that interested me to Marc Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications, that gave me some new perspective. This comes coupled with a line I blathered out in a speech yesterday that suddenly stuck to me like glue. The experience of enjoying dinner conversations about business and pursuits with smart people, plus talking about some of my past opportunities, plus that line in a speech, gave us this post.
Access is an Asset
The definition of asset I found was “A useful or valuable thing, person, or quality.” Your home is sometimes thought to be an asset (though in many people’s mindsets, it’s a liability, because in this climate, it’s not guaranteed to yield more money). People think of their stock investments as assets, but if you’re holding the wrong stocks, that isn’t always true, is it? Your experience can definitely be an asset, but tell that to people who are out of work for 18 months and climbing, but who are told repeatedly that they’re “overqualified,” which is the biggest F-you that any human should ever have to endure professionally.
But access, access to people, ideas, and resources, are an asset. For instance, I had the ability to learn from the CEO of a 41-year-old media company that had to reinvent itself from a print platform to a digital content marketing powerhouse. I was with a man who represents a company built around peer advisory for CEOs, with access to tens of thousands of company leaders (we didn’t get to talk much last night, but we see each other enough that I’m okay with that). I met with a veteran sales professional who straddles one of the harder and more grinding sales channels (radio sales back in the day) and who is now helping companies improve their sales strategies. Plus I was with a legendary PR man, a seller of outdoor advertising who has reinvented herself, someone who learned how to earn her spot in a company via being bold and using social media, and others. Think of all the opportunities I had to learn all at that one dinner, at one table.
Work on Access
Building access is every bit as important as learning or earning. I know from witnessing a friend’s experiences that buying your way into access is often awkward and unrewarding. I know from firsthand experience that earning access can sometimes be as easy as having a different perspective that might be business-yielding for someone who technically shouldn’t have a need to meet you. And at every step of the way, there’s a really simple formula that will help you work on attaining and maintaining access.
- Offer something helpful. (This isn’t the same as offering to be helpful. Make something helpful happen.)
- Ask intelligent questions that allow someone to share their experience and wisdom, and listen/learn respectfully.
- Maintain a somewhat regular conversational/check-in schedule with that person.
- Introduce that person to someone who can help them step up their game.
I am friends with a very influential writer. He is truly a legend. (And by friends, I like him and I feel he likes me.) What I did with my time with him recently was that I shared what I thought might help him succeed. I then introduced him to people I thought could help him grow. I also had the opportunity to ask him questions about growth and learning. If you look at my bullet points above, the only thing I had better do next is check in somewhat regularly. Notice what I didn’t do?
I didn’t ask him for anything (well, except an interview).
All Assets are Volatile
Cash isn’t worth as much as it used to be 4 years ago. Real estate can certainly go up in value, but the last few years worldwide has shown us that the experience isn’t a foregone conclusion. And personal assets, such as access, are even more fleeting.
Relationships aren’t a check-box. I can’t have this great dinner with smart people and not follow-up. If I miss the chance to carry on the conversations and not build on what momentum happened, by being even more helpful, or finding other ways to collaborate, then things go cold quite quickly. Many of us (especially me) have let relationships fade before we’ve done enough to render them helpful. We get busy. We get tied up in our own problems, and we let those assets fade. Just writing these last three sentences caused my guilt to swell up and crush my chest a bit.
At the end of the day, successful people invest in relationships. Sir Richard Branson told me that he is only successful when he trusts teams of brilliant people to execute on his vision. The first few pages of Business Stripped Bare talk about meeting a very smart person who didn’t yet work for Virgin. Our success, while strongly in our own hands, requires other people’s thoughts and support to develop us fully the way that plants need soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight to see their own fulfilled form.
How does one invest? I’ll give a very simple action plan in tomorrow’s free newsletter, which is not the same as this blog. If you want the rest of the story, simply subscribe for free. Otherwise, just realize that it requires some work.
How have you seen this play out? How does access influence or inform you?