On Networking

It’s a question I get quite often: can you teach me about how to network better?

  1. I actually don’t network all that well. I suck at small talk, for starters. I’m never sure of what to do when I walk into a large gathering. My preferred thing to do at large parties is to seek out a person I’m comfortable with, and chat with that person for as long as possible. So if that is the kind of networking you have in mind, I’m not the guy to ask.
  2. But reaching out to folks to ask for help, I have a lot of experience in. I’ve been doing it for years, and will do it for life. Unashamedly, unabashedly. That I can speak about, since I have skin in the game.
  3. “Life is a non-zero sum game” is an axiom for me. So if somebody asks me for help, I will always try to help. I’d advise you to do the same. And that is a good way to start building out your network: help other folks when they ask you for it. Two advantages, one personal, one societal.
    1. Of course that person is likelier to help you when you reach out to them for help. You can, Vito Corleone style1, call in favors, even years down the line.
    2. But at the margin, that person is also likelier to pay it forward. That is, there is a non-zero chance that the person you helped will in turn help other folks who ask that person for help. If your ultimate aim is to build a society that is more willing to help each other to learn (as mine is), help others as much as possible. And you can call that networking, if you like. 🙂
  4. But that is the larger point about networking. I think most people have “how can I get others to help me?” in mind when they want to get better at networking. And sure, that’s very much a part of it.
  5. But it cuts both ways, no? I think it makes sense to first ask “How can I help others?”, before asking others for their help. Exports matter as much as imports!
  6. And a college student (my primary target audience on this blog) might well say, “But what can I help them with? They have so much more experience and knowledge than me!”
    1. True, for the most part. Not always, mind you, but I get the merits of that argument.
    2. But can you help somebody else? Can you help your juniors learn better? Can you help your neighbor’s schoolkids out with a project? Can you put out blogposts regularly that other folks may eventually read?
  7. If at least a part of your personal mission in life is to help other people, you will be that much more confident in asking others for help. Because you’re not asking for help only for yourself to get a job (for example), but through the help you’re receiving, others are benefitting too.
  8. The bottom-line is this: networking isn’t just about asking how to get others to help you. It is also about asking how you might help others. And doing the latter first makes it much easier to ask for the former.
  9. One final point: it is of course still entirely possible that the person you’ve asked for help will say no. They’re not doing it because they don’t like you, or your work. It is because they have commitments of their own, and honestly and really don’t have the time.
  10. Which is fine! There’s seven billion of us out there, you can always find someone else 🙂

Previous posts on EFE that have mentioned networking.

  1. don’t take that analogy too far, please![]

Hajjar Awesome!

The phrasing of the title is because of English August, a book I read long ago, and still remember very fondly. And it’s sort of a pat on the back for myself because I completed a thousand posts on EFE. Well, strictly speaking this is post number 1003, but let’s round it off to an even thousand today.

My friends and colleagues, past and present, will be happy to confirm that there are few folks lazier than me, and I’ll happily admit to it myself. Which is all the more reason to celebrate this, because to keep this going for a thousand posts over five years is an achievement of sorts for me.

We started this blog on a whim sometime in June 2016, my wife and I, without having a very clear idea about what was to come of it. I started off, as I almost always do, with a large amount of enthusiasm, and as with everything else I do, said enthusiasm petered out soon enough. But since June 2018, I’ve been fairly regular, averaging about a post a day.

There have been periods of radio silence last year, and the reason is that I went through extended bouts of “but what is the point?”. Not jus the point of writing on the blog, but doing anything at all. It was that kind of a year, and I will not beat myself up over feeling that way, and about breaking my streak. Excreta, as the poet says, happens.

And there have been periods of radio silence this year too, but the second wave was devastating for all of us. We have all suffered losses, immediate family or extended. But for all of our sakes, let’s not dwell on that anymore. We’ve all had enough of it.


What have I learnt from writing these thousand posts?

  1. As David Perell pointed out on Twitter recently (as have others), if you take care of the quantity, the quality will take care of itself. Some of my posts have been atrociously bad, some have been about me trying to find my voice, and a lot have been of fairly middling quality, at best. But there are some that I am genuinely proud of, and remember very fondly indeed.
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    My learning has been to show up (almost) everyday, without fail. It doesn’t matter if people read what I have written or not, comment or not, share or not. The writing is its own reward. I may have said this before on these pages, but if you’re a student reading this, please: write. Or make videos, or Instagram posts (or stories, or whatever one calls it), or tweet, or make a podcast. But put your work out there, and that regularly. Trust me, it does wonders for you.
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  2. I haven’t bothered with measuring anything. I don’t add identifiers to outbound links, I haven’t installed Google Analytics, I don’t do affiliate links, and I don’t advertise anywhere. I try to respond to whatever comments folks put up, whether here on the blog, or on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you have written a comment and I have not responded, my apologies! I have also automated the sharing of these posts on Facebook, but I (quite literally) haven’t logged in to Facebook in years.
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    My learning has been that quantifying stuff is strictly optional. I write everyday (well, almost), and even that is not a measure or a requirement. It’s a choice. Who is reading this, is the readership going up over time, which social media site drives the most traffic to my website – I don’t know any of this. And it doesn’t really matter. I just write.
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  3. Writing these thousand posts has made me painfully aware of how little I know. Nassim Taleb has made famous the concept of the anti-library, and in that sense, writing on this blog is a daily reminder of how much remains to be read, learnt and written about.
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    My learning is that writing is a humbling experience, and that becomes truer the more you do it. And that’s a good thing! Think of it this way, you don’t write to show how much you know. You write to understand how much there remains to be learnt.
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  4. I don’t schedule my posts too much in advance. The most I’ve ever managed is a couple of weeks or so, and that because I was due to go on vacation. Otherwise (and this includes today) it is a case of get up, arm yourself with coffee, and think about what to write. That has its disadvantages, because an unmarinated blogpost doesn’t acquire the depth of flavour it could have otherwise. But it also has its advantages, because I am the kind of person who works best when panicking a little bit about upcoming deadlines.
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    My learning is that habit formation is a real thing, not just management speak. If you do something for long enough, it becomes a habit, but better – it becomes a habit you’re unwilling to break. And you end up finding the time one way or the other to keep at it. And that, in and of itself, is worth it.
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  5. The more I write, the more I remember stuff I’ve written. This is not a statistically valid observation, and I haven’t analyzed it, but I do think that I increasingly link to posts I’ve written earlier. I don’t say this to show how much I’ve written in the past, but to explain that I’m able to “connect the dots” better. I now understand better how what I’m writing about today can be thought of as an aspect of something I’ve written about earlier (or vice versa). My understanding of the world, such as it is, is definitely better than it was earlier. That’s a healthy profit right there!
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    My learning has been that writing is a way of teaching myself to think, to see the larger picture, and to make connections between topics that I would not have otherwise. And for that reason, I highly recommend it. It is not for me to say if I have become a better writer. That is for others to judge. But I can think better for having written these posts, that I feel (mostly) certain about.
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  6. I wanted to celebrate the thousand posts by coming up with a book based on on what I would have called some of my best work here. I even spoke about this with some of my friends and students, all of whom were very kind with their encouragement. But on reflection, the “could’ve been a blogpost instead” argument was much too strong to go up against. A book ought to be a book, not a vanity project.
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    But spinoffs is a good idea, I think. And for that I would like your help. What can I do more of? Less of? Add a weekly podcast that reflects in greater detail on what I’ve written that week? I’ll happily admit to not having the faintest idea about where I’ll find the time, but that’s one possibility. A day of the week dedicated to book reviews? God knows it’ll force me to read more books, and get better at writing about them. What else? Please send in your suggestions, and I really do mean that.
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  7. I don’t have any desire to turn this into a newsletter (Substack, or Revue, or anything else). One, because I’m lazy. I can’t bear to think about the nightmare of moving over into another system and all of what that entails. Plus, WordPress, which is where this is hosted, is just fine by me. Except for the new block editor style they have. I loathe it, and it is far too buggy for my liking. But I’ve gotten used to it now, and I’ve quite literally adopted the way I write to its idiosyncrasies, so why invest in changing now? (You want examples? Those little “..” signs that you see throughout this post are there because I don’t know how to introduce spacing between points otherwise. Pah.)
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  8. I cannot tell you about the number of people I have gotten a chance to meet and work with as a direct consequence of this blog. Students, professors, folks from the corporate world, people who work in think tanks, research organizations, and more besides. I often tell students that putting your work out there is a great way to build out your network, and I don’t say that without basis. It quite really is true. That ought not to be the reason to write, but it is a positive externality spillover, and a very welcome one. I’ve built my community as a consequence of writing this blog, and I am very thankful for it.
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  9. There are opportunity costs, of course. Those never go away.
    1. Maybe I could have written more academic papers? I don’t necessarily want to, and I’ll explain why in a blogpost one day, but I certainly could have.
    2. Maybe I could have read more books? This one hurts, because I really could have, and I really would have wanted to. But I think the takeaway is becoming better at time management. In other words, do both, but sacrifice something else in my day. Meetings. I would love to “sacrifice” meetings.
    3. Made more podcasts? Learnt a new skill? Made more videos? Traveled more? Again, I think the answer lies in learning how to get better at becoming more productive.
    4. So a promise to myself (and I’m old enough, and perhaps cynical enough, to already come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably end up breaking it): read more books, create more podcasts, make more videos, and attend less meetings.
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  10. Thank you for reading! I hope to do this for years to come, and I’m grateful that you have chosen to read whatever it is that I put out on these pages. If you have any feedback or suggestions for me, I would love to hear it. Again, thank you very, very, much 🙂

Navin Kabra on the Power of Networking

Besides putting out super-awesome threads on Twitter, Navin Kabra also writes a newsletter. (He also runs a firm, and makes time for being interviewed for podcasts, and much else besides, but thinking about that will only depress the rest of us, so let’s stop)

So he sent out a post yesterday on that newsletter, which I found fascinating:

There are 3 kinds of power in an organization and most people focus on the wrong ones.
Jacob Kaplan-Moss has a great article about The Three Kinds of Organizational Power: role power, expertise power, and power through relationships. Most people focus on the less important ones. Understanding what these powers are and how to use them is key to becoming effective at your work.

https://futureiq.substack.com/p/understanding-organizational-power

First, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to his newsletter. It’s not just free, it ends up being worth more than the time you spend reading it, and if that is not a bargain, I don’t know what is. Second, maybe I’m guilty of over-fitting, but it was fascinating to me how role power is LinkedIn, expertise power is Coursera and networking power is Starbucks:

College is a bundle: education | credentialing | peer networks

https://econforeverybody.com/2020/03/12/signaling-bundling-and-college/

If I were to write that blog post again today, I would remove the word peer. That part, I really do think that role power is about signaling, expertise power is about learning, and relationship power is about networks (the last one is obviously true, it is the others that make me think I might be over-reaching).

Food for thought, as they say.


Navin’s article speaks about the last bit, relationship power, as the most powerful/useful one. And anybody who is in any part of the higher education supply chain would likely agree: it is networks that get things done.

Now, as a student, what should you take away from this?

You need to consciously spend some time in developing your networks. And that means putting yourself out there as often as possible. Write blogposts. Make videos. Start podcasts. Make TikTok or Takatak (or whatever else we’re calling it these days) clips.

And once you do all of that, as often as possible, start sending those links to folks. Ask them for feedback, and ask them specifically for areas of improvement. Ask them for learning recommendations. The magic of the internet will mean that conversations, debates and opportunities will crop up on their own.

But networking does not mean sending people requests on LinkedIn. That just means you’re added to a person’s network. Networking matters, not the network itself. It is a garden that needs regular tending to. The bad news is that it is hard work, the good news is that there are surprisingly large payoffs, and over surprisingly large periods of time.

Make connections with your peers, your professors and your potential mentors. Use this network to share your thoughts, and put those thoughts out for public consumption. Optimize for quantity, and quality will be the eventual outcome. Respond to other people’s publicly available output.

Most importantly, do this for its own sake.


Job opportunities is one of the benefits of doing all this. It is not the only goal, and it is not the end-goal.

For you will change your job eventually, but your network will either shrivel or grow. Please, learn how to nurture it, and keep at it every day.

Navin promises towards the end of his post that he will share his own tips about networking. I’ll link to that post whenever it comes out, of course. But in the meantime, start learning, and help others learn, and build out your network.

Why would you want to not acquire a superpower, eh?