Earlier this week, the annual South by Southwest conference was teeming with nearly 30,000 attendees – startup entrepreneurs desperate to get noticed, VCs on the prowl for the best investments, journalists clamoring to cultivate sources and spot the next big trend, and legions of fanboys hoping to meet Neil Gaiman or (even better?) Robert Scoble. Amidst this chaos, how do you break through the clutter and draw the right people to you? John Hagel may have the recipe.
Hagel, whom I first met last year at Deloitte University’s ONTalent summit and reconnected with at SXSW, is the co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge. “The challenge with SXSW and events like it,” he says, “is it’s so big and overwhelming, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.” But in his book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, co-authored with John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, Hagel points to several key practices that can help attract colleagues and collaborators to you – rather than you having to beseech them from across the exhibit hall or with desperate Twitter messages.
Choose to participate. We generally think of serendipity as pure luck, says Hagel. But we can choose to put ourselves in its path and increase our chances of success. “At one level, SXSW exemplifies serendipity, because whenever I come, I get these unexpected meetings with people I never knew existed, and you couldn’t have planned it,” he says. “But by making the choice to come to SXSW, I’m increasing the probability of those encounters.” Want more serendipity in your regular life? “Just look at your calendar,” Hagel advises. “How tightly scheduled are you? Have you got a breakfast meeting, meetings all day, then late night meetings? There’s not much chance for serendipity there unless a fire alarm goes off and you have to head into the street. Create spaces where you’re wandering around and exposing yourself to new people.”
Put out a beacon. The Internet has given us an unprecedented opportunity to connect with the like-minded, says Hagel. “You can use the power of social media, in particular, to amplify the signal of what you’re working on,” he says. “What’s your passion, what excites you, what questions are you grappling with? You can put a light out to others: here’s somebody we ought to reach out to.” (Hagel cites the example of Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and co-founder of the drone company 3D Robotics, who unexpectedly found his business soulmate over the Internet – who turned out to be a self-taught drone expert from Tijuana, Mexico.)
Be vulnerable. In the business world, there’s a temptation to shout our strengths from the rooftops and hide our weaknesses, says Hagel – but that puffery doesn’t help us in the long run. “There’s a need to share your vulnerability – to share a gnarly problem, to engage [the other person], to invite them to rise up and draw out the things deep within them,” he says. “How do we learn to trust each other? It’s being able to show you’re human and you also have issues you’re grappling with.” But being vulnerable doesn’t mean you should immediately start blabbing about your recent breakup. Instead, you should focus on interesting professional challenges with your new business contacts. “The art is being able to frame the problem in a way that makes it exciting and interesting,” says Hagel. “It’s not about ‘Oh, a horrible thing just happened to me,’ but ‘Wow, imagine if we could figure this out.’ You draw people in and it becomes a self-selection filter. It will test whether you’re dealing with someone who just wants to advance themselves or someone who wants to work collaboratively.”
It can be hard to get noticed and draw the right people to you. But if you show up and get involved, put out ‘beacons’ (whether it’s blog posts, starting an organization, or speaking about an issue), and are open about your challenges, you dramatically increase the odds that others will find you and value your contribution.
How do you attract the right people to your life?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on March 15, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.