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We’ve all benefited in some shape or form from the kindness shown by either a friend or associate who has either forwarded on our CV, put us in contact with a business opportunity or arranged a quick chat for us. I’ve unashamedly milked my contacts for all that they’re worth – so much so that I would be shamed and shunned from the “Economy of Kindness” if it were a real thing, but I am comforted by the proverb, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

“There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are all made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” – George Burton Adams

What I, a shameless opportunist, find interesting is how slow we are to reach out to our extended network for advice, jobs, business and any other kind of corporate favour. Be it pride or not wanting to inconvenience someone, we’d rather rely on recruiters, cold calls, network events or any other similar action, and suffer that awkward, uncomfortable feeling that comes with seeking favour from a stranger.

What’s odd is that when we finally muster up the courage to embark on any of the cold and emotionless acts mentioned above, we are completely taken aback when this other person, with whom we have no connection, doesn’t share our excitement as we explain our personal agenda and venture.

What I have seen and experienced is the lengths that one’s personal and extended networks are willing to go to, to assist where they can. Notably, the network of friends and acquaintances you’ve collected over the years might not seem like the most credible bunch of connections at face value but somewhere in that list of contacts you have, someone could know a person that you need to know. In 2011, Facebook did a study that found that of the 720 million Facebook users at the time, the degree of separation between users was 4.74, while LinkedIn showed three degrees of separation.

Keith Ferrazzi, in his book, “Never Eat Alone”, explains the benefits of using mutual friends or associates as a differentiator that will provide you with a unique “in”: “When you mention someone you both have in common, suddenly the person you are calling has an obligation not only to you but also to the friend or associate you just mentioned.” Understandably, taking advantage of someone’s loyalty to another for your own benefit should raise the same moral questions that each character who found him or herself in a sticky situation in any of the Saw movies had to ask themselves, but we all need to start somewhere. Instead of passing on the opportunities that may be available to you through others, rather commit yourself to showing the same kindness to others when you are given the opportunity.

The whole idea of the “Economy of Kindness” should not be about what you can gain but what you can give back. By helping those who reach out, we all can play a role in shaping and adding to the lives of the people around us, whether it be through a 30-minute chat or just forwarding their details on to someone we know.

A good friend of mine recently called up two of South Africa’s most respected CEOs’ secretaries and asked if he could have 30 minutes of their time. They agreed. A few weeks later, there he was, sitting in Stellenbosch with no agenda apart from simply learning from these guys.

Surely we can all find a little time to show some kindness to those looking to improve and further themselves.

Here are a few pointers that I stole, in reaching into the unknown of your known.

A few helpful basics for reaching out beyond the known

  • Live and die by your Subject line
    Include your strongest hook, either the contact you have in common or the value you can add.
  • Consider your timing
    Consider when the person would most likely be reading their emails.
  • Be brief
    Once you’ve written a draft, the “best” version is usually 50% shorter.
  • Have a clear call to action
    Consider the action you want the recipient to take.
  • Read it out loud
  • Spell-check
    I recently received a CV from a designer looking for a “Jnr. Dosing Position” as per his email’s subject line, I never opened his mail.

*Keith Ferrazzi – Never Eat Alone

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