Matthew Andrews
Product Manager ・ Software Engineer ・ Executive MBA Graduate ・ Tokyo Resident
Stop going to networking events and start networking

When I hear the term ‘networking event’, I imagine a room of business card swapping suits and waitstaff carrying trays of canapes. It’s often a waste of time.

It’s hard to recall many (if any) of the people I’ve met at such events having a significant impact on my career. All the really influential people have come from more spontaneous meetings. It’s time to stop going to ‘networking events’ and start networking instead.

So much material exists about how to overcome shyness to network effectively — and whilst being an introvert is still a barrier for many people, I believe many more perfectly confident people struggle to get as much value out of networking as they should because so many events intended for networking are so bad — and they miss out on opportunities to accelerate the development of their private and professional lives.

Instead, we should think of networking as a mindset that we should have all the time.

1. Create opportunities where you can meet people naturally

At so-called ‘networking events’ the purpose is too direct and artificial: there’s no real communication. Better to look for opportunities to naturally connect at a more personal level, leaving business to later.

Sign up to a course, join a sports club, go to local meetups, volunteer at a charity, organise something, find out where the people at the companies you’re interested in hang out after work.

Doing so randomly can be good (you never know when you might stumble upon an opportunity) but you can be strategic: try to find places frequented by the sort of people you’d like to meet.

Take networking online: join conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn, publish a blog, create something.

If you publish a blog post once per month on Twitter and LinkedIn, chances are someone you would be interested in talking to will eventually ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ one of your posts. This can be a very nice, natural excuse to send them a message to thank them and start up a conversation.

2. Be open to new unexpected opportunities

Networking is an opportunity for discovery and learning. Be excited, curious and open minded.

Spend enough time with the people you talk with to really get to know them.

Be open to talk to everyone. You never know which people will end up being most useful for you in the future.

3. Make a good first impression

Think about what your interests and goals are.

Then think about what the interests and goals of the others could be — and where they might align with yours.

If you can, spend time preparing for each meeting, interaction or event before-hand seriously researching into people’s backgrounds and preparing intelligent informed questions.

If you take time to properly identify and research shared interests, you’ll leave a better first impression and have a better chance of creating a more authentic, meaningful long-term relationship.

4. Expand what you have to offer

Find something valuable to offer by thinking beyond the obvious.

People tend to think narrowly about what they can offer. They focus on tangible things such as money, social connections and information, while ignoring the less obvious such as gratitude, recognition and enhanced reputation.

You might also have unique insights or knowledge that could be useful to people you meet. For example, junior people are often better informed than their senior colleagues about trends, new markets and technologies.

When you think more about what you can give to others than what you can get from them, networking will seem less self-promotional and more selfless — and you’ll become someone that people want to talk to.

5. Be led by a higher purpose

People who focus on collective benefits of making connections (“support my firm” or “help my clients”) rather than on personal ones (“support my career”) feel more authentic whilst networking.

Any activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher motive. For example, if you belong to an underrepresented group, media attention that would result from building a stronger network would not only benefit you individually but help counter biases against the entire group.

So, if you find it hard to motivate yourself to put effort into networking just for the sake of just your career, find a more meaningful, motivating reason to do it, like becoming a role model or addressing an issue you consider important.

6. Nurture the relationship by helping each other

Don’t just exchange pleasantries and LinkedIn profiles. Go deep.

People establish the most collaborative and longest-lasting connections when they work together on tasks that require each other’s contributions.

Spend time really listening to the people you meet. Then when you get home, follow up. Create opportunities to work together. Keep in touch.

In summary

  • Create opportunities where you can meet people naturally
  • Be open to new unexpected opportunities
  • Make a good first impression
  • Expand what you have to offer
  • Find a higher, more meaningful purpose
  • Nurture your relationships by working with and helping each other

By doing this all the time, networking will change from being an activity to a mindset, will feel more natural and be more meaningful.

Final thought: I’m absolutely terrible at applying this advice in real-life but I hope that by writing it up publicly that will improve.


Adapted from several classes on Networking taken as part of my IE Executive MBA, notes from the very excellent “Learn to Love Networking” from Harvard Business Review and my own reflections.

8 tips for better negotiation — or, how to gain a magical superpower

Listen to a recording of this article:



One of the most eye opening moments of my Executive MBA was our short one day course on Negotiation.

Before, I’d thought negotiation skill was a kind of magical superpower out of reach of mere mortals, like me. But the truth is negotiation is not magic. It can even be learned from a book. By following a few simple steps I’ve been able to get what I’ve wanted faster and more smoothly, whilst helping my counterpart achieve their goals too.

Furthermore with this new understanding, where before I might look upon “tough negotiators” with respect and admiration for their gall and negotiation skill, I now see confident amateurs losing opportunities for better deals.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare

The more you prepare, the stronger your negotiating position.

Make sure you have answered the following, ideally in writing for yourself, before entering negotiations:

About yourself

  • What are your goals? How are they prioritised?
  • What are the issues to be negotiated and how important are they are to you?
  • What are your BATNAs? — best alternative to negotiated agreement
  • What would be the minimum terms you would accept?
  • What will be your starting position? — the maximum you will push for

About the other side

  • What do you think their goals are? How do you think they prioritise them?
  • What do you think is their BATNA?
  • What do you think the minimum terms they would accept would be?

About the situation

  • Deadlines? Which side is under more pressure to conclude negotiations quickly?
  • Are there any precedents that could benefit you? (Or work against you?)
  • What would you like to avoid talking about? What will you say if they bring it up?

2. Start high, but not stratospheric

In your research you should identify your starting position. This should be ambitious but not outrageous, otherwise you risk not being taken seriously or causing offense. The more you can back up your starting position with research the better.

You could say:

Based on my research from asking some of my contacts performing similar roles at other firms, I would like to ask for a salary of X.

There are people who say it’s better to let the other set the starting bid, others who say it’s better for you to. But bear in mind that studies show that the opening bid acts as an anchor, pulling the final agreement up (or down).

Finally, remember once you’ve stated your opening offer, you can only negotiate down, not up.

3. Prepare your BATNAs

BATNA stands for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” and is your fallback should negotiations fail.

This explains why you are in such a stronger position to find a new job when you already have one.

But don’t leave it at just that. Develop multiple BATNAs. Nurture and strengthen your BATNA. And above all, make sure you do nothing to weaken your BATNA.

When applied to job negotiations, this can mean:

  • Pursue multiple opportunities in parallel.
  • Ask to hold offers whilst you consider other opportunities from other parties.
  • Even if you hate your job, you don’t need to let the other party know that!

4. Listen

Don’t jump in and start making demands. First listen.

Before stating your perspective, listen first to the way they see it. Ask why in a neutral, friendly tone. Genuinely listen and learn. Either by asking directly or indirectly, validate the research you’ve done on the other side’s goals and priorities.

5. Remember negotiation is just one stage of a longer-term relationship

Except for the rarest of simple transactions, a negotiation is just one small part of your relationship with the other party.

Being perceived to have squeezed the other side too hard can have consequences that you may pay for eventually.

Remember that after concluding negotiations for your new job, you will need to work with the people you have negotiated with potentially for several years to come.

6. Don’t treat the other side as the enemy

Respect that each side needs to prioritise their own interests but that you also have common interests: namely getting to a deal.

A good negotiation should not lead to a win-lose, it should be win-win.

The more collaborative and trustful a relationship you can develop between you and your counterpart, the more likely you will be able to help each other identify opportunities to make the deal better for both of you.

7. Don’t focus purely on money

Don’t focus on headline figures alone. In job seeking, companies are structured to have multiple budgets and salary pulls only from one.

Don’t dismiss this as spare change. These extras can be significant.

Personal development, travel opportunities, annual leave allowance, flexible working arrangements, job title, size of your team… can all make a massive difference to the value you get from your role (and can be far more tax efficient than paying for them yourself out of your income). Also consider the effect your job has on your health, happiness and general well-being.

8. Post-Agreement Negotiation

Once you have come to an agreement, offer your counterpart the opportunity to improve it.

This is not about re-opening negotiations. Honestly and genuinely commit to honouring the agreement you have already negotiated. But suggest both parties treat it as both of your new BATNA’s.

If the initial negotiation has gone well for both sides, there will be areas of the deal you wish you had done better and areas your counterpart wishes they could have done better too.

This is your chance not to make a new deal but improve what you’ve already agreed on.

Conclusion

By following these tips, I have negotiated better deals for myself at work and in my personal life and, occasionally, have succeeded in making a deal where others had thought impossible.

I feel I really have gained a magical superpower.

Further reading

Where to buy Yorkshire Tea in Tokyo, Japan

After searching far and wide, all it took was a quick email to Yorkshire Tea themselves to find the answer:-

Meidi-Ya 明治屋

But only some stores:-

I topped up at Roppongi.

¥950 for 40 tea bags include tax (¥880 without tax)

You can also order online from the distributor or if you are happy to buy in bulk and wait a month or more, there are some sellers on Amazon and Rakuten who important it from the UK or US.

In defence of copying

I was recommended to read Zero to One by Peter Thiel, which starts with an evocative question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? Thiel then proceeds to describe the difference between “truly new innovation” (going from 0 to 1) against iterative improvements (going from 1 to n) and citing the example of Chinese copying products and business models from elsewhere as not innovation. I don’t believe this to be true and I believe the author is downplaying the value of copying.

In the infancy of each of China’s industries, they did indeed imitate and copy the leading incumbents. Much like the Japanese electronic and car industries when they started. Later, Japanese car makers led the world. Likewise, China leads the world in retail technology, low-carbon transportation, Drone technology and more.

Whenever learning anything new we start with imitation. The most innovative creators of entertainment draw inspiration from the leaders that came before them. Even more creative innovations come from copying the practises from one industry and applying them to another.

And yet in the world of product development, copying is anathema.

Copying, especially when entering an unfamiliar problem-space, is a low-risk way to gain expertise on the customer problems and avoid some of the mistakes others have already learned from.

The author argues that imitation is a kind of crutch that holds back innovation. When used excessively, that’s certainly true. The imitator can never exceed the imitated. But writing off copying as a universal bad practise is just as bad as using it excessively.

Copying is a tool. Like all tools there are times when it’s appropriate and other times when it is not. A smart innovator knows when to copy and when to create.

So, my universal truth very few people agree with me on:
Copying is an essential tool for the creation of innovative products.

Antifragile Supply Chains Pecha Kucha

To give you a flavour of the sort of work I had to produce for my MBA, here is one fun and interesting assignment from my Supply Chain Management class: introduce Antifragility and apply it to the topic of Supply Chains through a Pecha Kucha-style presentation.

A Pecha Kucha presentation is a form of lightning talk made by a 20 slide presentation, 20 seconds per slide. I was assigned the topic of antifragility, promoted by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Please enjoy the video (or read the text) below …

Transcript

Konnichiwa S1! (S1 is our class group name)

Welcome to my Pecha Kucha on Antifragile Supply chains. Or, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Today we’re going to learn how Netflix and others build their businesses by trying to destroy themselves.


So firstly, what is antifragile? Antifragile is a made-up word that has the opposite meaning of fragile. So, what is fragile? Fragile is something that breaks easily. Like a mirror, if you kick it, it breaks and that’s the end of it.


Other things are robust. Like a brick wall, if you have the same level of body strength as me and you kick a wall, nothing happens to the wall.

But robust is not the opposite of fragile – in the same way the opposite of positive is not zero – it’s negative. Being robust is neutral.


So if robust is not the opposite of fragile, what is?

People who promote the idea of antifragility claim there’s a third type, which we can call antifragile. Something that actually gets stronger the more you beat it up.

So, let’s look at some examples of antifragile systems…


You are! You’re antifragile.

As you exercise or do some sports, your body gets tired – it’s being damaged at a cellular level. But afterwards, when you rest, your body recovers but not just back to its original state – it grows stronger.

That’s an antifragile system.


The concept of antifragility was originally introduced by a book of the same name by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

He argues that we as humans need to seek out experiences that stress us, that hurt us – so that we can grow stronger. The same is true for companies. And, yes, supply chains


But simply subjecting yourself to extreme stress without breaks doesn’t work.

The stressors must meet two critical conditions:

  • Sufficient recovery
  • Not overload in each dose

The core idea is about breaking down a stressor into smaller doses to be taken at regular intervals so that you can raise your overall tolerance to it.


Let’s talk about Netflix’s content delivery supply chain and how they apply antifragile principles.

Even though Netflix delivers its products over the internet, the principles are exactly the same as a traditional supply chain — except it’s a supply chain that operates at the speed of light


And that means when things go wrong, customers are immediately impacted.

So Netflix built a tool called CHAOS MONKEY.

It’s a virtual wild animal that they let loose on their digital estate causing chaos.

Chaos Monkeys turn off servers, reconfigure settings and generally wreak havoc.

Why?


By constantly putting their systems under stress then identifying and implementing improvements, the system gets stronger.

This effort paid off in 2011 when a huge Amazon outage broke numerous popular websites. Netflix’s service however, despite running on Amazon’s cloud, continued without interruption.


For an example in a more traditional supply chain, recall last week’s Amazon case: how they simulated stressful holidays conditions by artificially constraining their supply chain at other times of the year.

Closing 15 out of the 20 doors available for supplier deliveries they were able to identify process bottlenecks and refine their procedures.


In both the Netflix and Amazon examples, they’re not leaving the stresses on their systems to chance — they’re proactively managing them.

Another feature of these systems is, unlike during real disasters or genuine spikes in demand, if things start going wrong in your test, you can always stop the test early and let things get back to normal.


But the idea goes deeper than just dress rehearsals for disasters and seasonal demand.

In Taleb’s view we’ve be fragilising (ie. treating things as if they are fragile) the economy, our health, political life, our children and more.

We’ve made life too easy that we’ve lost our strength.


Opportunities to create antifragile systems exist everywhere.

E.g., Customers sometimes write negative reviews online, and each review is a small attack on the company behind the product.

A company that believed in antifragility – and had a system for learning from bad reviews, might actively encourage customers with bad experiences to post them online.


Now, think about the concept of variability. In a supply chain, variability is a form of stress because it’s more expensive to cope with than consistency.

Although it might make financial sense and be more efficient to reduce variation, doing so creates fragility.

So in the long run, a supply chain that is more flexible is more antifragile.


But by far the most controversial corollary of antifragility thinking relates to debt.

Remember one of necessary conditions for an antifragile system was not overloading on stress.

Debt creates fragility because it leaves less room for errors — increasing the chance of a catastrophic failure.


Like any idea, antifragility is not without its critics.

It’s not really a new idea — it’s basically the same idea as Charles Darwin figured out 200 years ago

It oversimplifies complex situations to a single dimension

Not every system gets stronger when subjected to stress.


In summary, an antifragile system is one that follows this circular flow chart.

It feeds on doses of random stress, pain and discomfort
that are small enough not to cause irrecoverable damage
and is given, time and resources to recover,
So that it can grow back stronger and more resilient to ever higher doses of stress.


Examples of antifragile systems include:

Organisms – this concept is not so different to the theory of evolution
You when you do exercise
Simulations of supply chain disruptions
Anything that encourages chaos and randomness in your lives and work

But it’s important allocate recovery time and not to overload.


Thank you for listening to my notes on antifragility and making it to the end.

Do you think your company could become stronger if it were subjected to more stress?
Or do you think this is a load of homeopathic nonsense that oversimplifies things to the point of no use?

I’m looking forward to reading, and growing from, your criticisms on the forum.


References: