One way to help nurture good alliances is to provide early and explicit signs of your own commitment, showing people that you actually care about helping them. My name for this practice is the “theory of small gifts.” There are many small ways to invest in a relationship and create more value for everyone, without expecting anything tangible in return. For example, you can offer to introduce people to others in your network; if the introduction is well chosen, it can be one of the most valuable things you can do for someone. When I introduce two people on LinkedIn, my expectation is that both people will appreciate the introduction, even if a specific business transaction does not happen.
In fact, I had the theory of small gifts in mind when we developed LinkedIn. At the most obvious level, LinkedIn is a system that helps members use their networks to find people with relevant knowledge, experience, and resources. If you’re interested in open source programming and search LinkedIn for that phrase, you will see a list of experts connected to you through mutual acquaintances. You can easily ask for introductions without having to phone someone, ask them to do the hard work of thinking who would be the right match, and then manage the logistics of connection.
It seems counterintuitive, but the more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship. If you insist on a quid pro quo every time you help others, you will have a much narrower network and a more limited set of opportunities. Conversely, if you set out to help others by introducing them to the right people, simply because you think it’s the right thing to do, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities. For me, that is the greatest value of understanding alliances; it can help you build the kind of network on which great careers are built.
Reprint No. 00104
- Reid Hoffman is a partner at Greylock Partners, a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley. He is also the executive chairman and cofounder of the professional networking site LinkedIn, and the chair of the West Coast advisory board of QuestBridge (a nonprofit organization that links bright, motivated low-income students with scholarship opportunities). He is the coauthor, with Ben Casnocha, of The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career (Crown Business, 2012).