Remember connect the dots coloring books? Basically, these books added another layer of complexity to your standard coloring book. Before you could begin working, you had to create an outline based on a loosely assembled group of dots on a page.
It recently struck me that life is a little like that as well. We are born into this world and given a blank page with a few dots on it formed from our parents and immediate family. As we grow up, we add more dots; playmates, classmates, church members, college roommates, professors, co-workers etc. It is then up to us to connect these dots to etch out our lives. And depending on how we make these connections, we can either end up with a beautiful masterpiece, or a picture of a one-legged dog.
Just like creating a beautiful picture, the key to creating a great life is to connect the dots properly. But unlike your old connect the dots books, in real life, you can rearrange your dots to create a brand-new picture anytime you want. It just takes a little boldness and ingenuity.
In Tim Ferriss’ book, “The Four-Hour Work Week”, he tells the story of how he offered a group of Princeton seniors a round-trip ticket anywhere in the world to anyone who could contact three seemingly impossible-to reach people—J. Lo, Bill Clinton and J. D. Salinger and get at least one to reply to three questions.
Of 20 students, all frothing at the mouth to win a free spin across the globe, how many completed the challenge? Exactly … none. Not a one. There were many excuses: “It’s not that easy to get someone to …” “I have a big paper due, and …” “I would love to, but there’s no way I can….” There was but one real reason, however, repeated in different words: It was a difficult challenge, perhaps impossible, and so, no one even showed up.
We all have someone we would love to meet. Maybe that person would be great customer, investor or referral source. Maybe we just want to pick their brain over a cup of coffee. I mean wouldn’t it be great to sip Chai Tea with Oprah, talk college hoops with Barack Obama, or maybe get your rap demo into Jay-z’s hands? But then we stop ourselves with negative thinking. That person would never want to hear from me, I mean, who am I even to approach such a big name, such an important person? Well, you are partially right. You just can’t go from A to Z like that. You must first…connect the dots.
In a 1967 study entitled, “The Small World Experiment”, Stanley Milgram, a Harvard Psychologist sent several packages to 160 random people living in Omaha, Nebraska, asking them to forward the package to a friend or acquaintance who they thought would bring the package closer to a final individual, a stockbroker from Boston, Massachusetts.
Each “starter” received instructions to mail a folder via the U.S. Post Office to a recipient, but with some rules. Starters could only mail the folder to someone they knew personally on a first-name basis. When doing so, each starter instructed their recipient to mail the folder ahead to one of the latter’s first-name acquaintances with the same instructions, with the hope that their acquaintance might by some chance know the target recipient.
Remember, this was 1967, before the invention of Email, still the stockbroker received 64 of the original messages, the first arriving in just four days after the experiment started. At the end of the experiment it was found that the packages took an average six “jumps” to reach the stock broker in Massachusetts, hence the phrase “Six Degrees of Separation”.
As you can imagine, with the advent of the internet, social media and mobile devices, the world has shrunk even more. According to Facebook, the distance you are from any other person in their network of 2 billion people is only 3.5 people on average. So, according to the statistics, there are only about 4 people between you and whoever it is you want to meet. You just need to connect these dots.
So, how do you do this? First you need a plan. Keith Ferrazzi of “Never Eat Alone” calls this a “Relationship Action Plan”. I like to think of it as a business plan for your contact list. Here is a step by step guide to creating and executing on your plan.
STEP ONE: Create a list of aspirational contacts. Keep this list relatively small at first to allow you to focus.
STEP TWO: Do your research. Where do they live, what do they like to do, interests, hobbies, current projects? Create a google alert to stay updated on news about this person.
STEP THREE: Create a reverse trail of contacts back to you. Use LinkedIn to find if they have any employees or direct connections. Then find those employees connections. According to the studies about this, you should only have to dive 3 or 4 levels deep before you reach a mutual friend.
STEP FOUR: Begin reaching out to the connections that are closest to you and begin offering value. That last part is critical to your plan.
If you approach any of these people and in the first few minutes you say, “Hey, do you think you can introduce me to so and so”, you will probably get shut down immediately. The key to moving up your relationship chain is to become a recommendable source of information, entertainment or resources. As your relationship gets stronger, at some point you will get invited to an event where you will be invited as “my friend _______. She is an amazing _____”.
Obviously, building this type of relationship will take some time, maybe years. But when you have connected with the person of your dreams, it will be so worth it. Of course, you may be thinking that having that type of plan appears unseemly or disingenuous. On the contrary, quite the opposite is true.
As I mentioned earlier, the key to forming a connection with anyone is to offer value to that person. If you are offering value to people, what difference does it make if you are hopeful that they can introduce you to someone else in their circle. Now, if the only reason you are dealing with someone is to meet their more famous friend then you are being disingenuous, so don’t do that.
So, here’s a challenge for you, similarly to Tim Ferris’ challenge to the Princeton students. Write down the names of the three people you would most like meet in the world and using the steps above, create a plan to receive a call or email from them. You may surprise yourself when you find out it’s not as difficult as you would think. I would love to support you or hear about your results. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know your success story, or if I can support you in any way.
Ray Abram is an experienced consultant, speaker and performance coach who has worked with clients at Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, Cox Media, Google, Sony and Viacom as well as smaller, more entrepreneurial ventures. He uses his consultative style and technological prowess to help you discover “your best self” and then provide tools to help maintain your new