One of the best and most terrifying things about life is that none of us knows what is around the corner. Could you imagine how boring things would be if we did?
None of us know for sure what changes lie ahead in terms of technology, social landscape or the economy. Whilst this can undoubtedly be frightening, it also means that there is always room for new ideas and businesses. To be able to respond to the unknowns of life, however, you must first be open to randomness and opportunities, says business professor Tanya Menon in her TED talk, The Secret to Great Opportunities.
When we apply rigid labels to things or don’t step out of our comfort zones, we are limiting our opportunities to create something amazing. The bigger we allow our worlds to be, the more room there is for growth.
Many of us, Menon says, will find that we end up stuck in the same routines, spending time with people that are similar to us in terms of background, ethnicity, interests and opinions. Whilst it is natural to gravitate towards familiarity and look for comfort, this can greatly limit our opportunities. Rather than walking into a room and making an unsubtle beeline for the person you decide is the most relevant to your goals, you should look for the person you least want to talk to. In doing so, you expand your network into an area you would never have thought worth pursuing, and hence you make your world bigger.
Having a big network undoubtedly comes in handy during times such as job hunting, although, interestingly, research has shown that people tend to think of their network as smaller when they are in a vulnerable position such as unemployment. Whilst people from lower social incomes were able to network just as well, and even slightly better, than their high-income counterparts when no stress was involved, as soon as people were told their jobs depended on their ability to network, they weren’t able to network as well. One way to tackle this is by looking through your social media contacts when you are unemployed and reminding yourself of the many contacts and connections you do have. This means you will be able to approach networking from a position of strength and will be more likely to succeed in building new contacts.
When maintaining contacts, it is also key to treat them like people. Whilst this may seem obvious, many of us slip into the habit of treating our relationships with people as exchanges in worth. When we ask someone to do a favour for us, we might remind them subtly of a time we did a favour for them, or say something along the lines of “I’ll owe you one”. In doing so we make relationships like economic exchanges, which is fundamentally against our natural nature. It is much better to see the exchange as a human one, and say something like “I know you would do the same for me”, when you do someone a favour.
Rather than seeing our social network as a train where some people get on and some people get off, we should see it as an area of atoms where we may or may not randomly meet and pass on energy to each other.
Rather like a lottery, the key to great opportunities is by being as open to as many different ones as possible.