I recently spoke on a panel to help tech professionals find jobs in the era of COVID-19.
I realized that the system can be extended to fit a wide range of startup use cases – from recruiting at scale, growing sales, fundraising – or any activity that involves optimizing a network of contacts.
It involves two basic steps. First, getting your internal state right. Next, executing in the external world using an operating system tuned to your goals.
Step 1: The Inside Operating System
I operated on autopilot for much of my life.
I’d fly out of bed in the morning, immediately check my phone, respond to messages, and fly off from one thing to the next until my head hit the pillow exhausted at night. I was hooked by the momentum and pull of social media, news, and the moods of those around me. I was essentially operating in reactive mode.
It took me a while to unlearn this behavior and realize that my state of consciousness colors all the activities of my day – from work to personal relationships. It’s important to get it right.
For me, it’s doing some variant – however briefly – of what I call G.E.M. (gratitude, exercise, and meditation).
For others, like Tim Ferriss, it involves a regimented morning routine with journaling, strong tea, and high intensity exercise.
If you’re not one for a fixed routine, I recommend at least checking in to see what’s going on in your body, your thoughts, and emotions – and asking yourself what is needed to be at your best.
As an added benefit, neuroscience demonstrates that just a small set of these activities can be a powerful force to ward off depression (read more in Alex Korb’s The Upward Spiral).
Step 2: The Outside Operating System
Once you’re properly booted up, you can go out into the world and start making things happen.
However, for much of my life I also just executed here on the principle of “Massive To-Do List” x “Maximum Intensity” x “Maximum Hours.” While the equation yielded success in the short term, it often yielded burnout in the long run.
A better way is to take a step back and build an operating system for your success.
In the realm of anything that involves making magic happen from a network of people, it’s important to take what feels like infinitely messy work and instead add structure, measure, and optimize.
For me, this has come down to this framework:
(# Contacts in my network) * (Quality and fit of contacts) * (“Top of mindedness”) * (K-factor) = Likelihood of goal success
The first part of the equation is quite simple: you’re better off having a large number of contacts in your network; however, they’re only as valuable as the quality of these contacts, and their fit with your goals (whether it’s the type of candidates you’re looking for, investors they know, etc.)
“Top of mindedness” (for lack of a more technical term) is how often these contacts think of you. You might have a great network but if you aren’t top of mind, you’re basically invisible and you won’t hear from them when great opportunities come up. The key here is building a scalable, repeatable system for keeping these contacts up to date. It might be interacting with them on Twitter, a newsletter or blog, catching up with lots of folks at once (for example, a conference or dinner you host regularly). Be creative, be authentic, and figure out the right cadence. You want to remain top of mind, but out of someone’s spam folder.
Lastly, the K-factor is a term borrowed from viral marketing (which in turn borrows it from epidemiology). It’s basically how your network grows or declines with every new contact. You can grow your network by simple, powerful steps like asking everyone you speak with to introduce you to 1-2 people in their network who might also be a fit. You can keep your K-factor high (or at least at 1.0) by being a good human being, respectful to others, and helpful whenever you can.
Growing your network with this framework — by building first an inner, then an outer operating system — can be a powerful way to organize chaos into order, and hopefully, find some happiness along the way.