Not too long ago, I interviewed several people from a million disparate walks of life -- from a ski instructor living modestly in a woodsy cabin to a movie producer who hobnobs with stars to a nerdy tech guru. They were young and old, sophisticated or simple-minded, from big cities and small towns all over the country.
The one thing these people all had in common was that -- according to someone who knew them -- each of them was a "Connector." And not just in the Tipping Point sense of the word. (I actually connected Malcolm Gladwell to one of the quintessential Connectors in his book: my Dad, Roger Horchow!) The Tipping Point's definition of Connector is someone "with an extraordinary knack of (sic) making friends and acquaintances." Gladwell said that Connectors are an elite group of people so expert in cultivating connections that they are the reason the rest of us are connected, too. The kind of people for whom the "Six Degrees of Separation" rule is reduced to just one degree. And the kind of people who connect with others simply for the joy of doing so.
But since The Tipping Point was first published in 2000, the world has changed, and the once "elite" species called Connectors has propagated. Marketers have since been focusing on selling to these new Connectors, researchers have been studying their influence on society, and social networking sites have been proliferating to support them.
Most importantly, trying times have made us all learn the value human connectivity. We're now slowly realizing that the key to having healthier, happier, and more successful lives is not about things or money -- it's about other people.
Connectors' lives -- both innately and deliberately -- are built around their meaningful connections with other people. I learned from these interviews -- and from my own experience -- that being a Connector not only influences your social life, but it can happily inform everything from the way you work and organize your files, to how you approach your day and what you think about when you wake up in the morning, to how you design your living room and even how you stock your cupboard.
We could all serve to learn a thing or two (or 10!) from the way Connectors live.
My friend Dick Bass (now in his 70s) has traveled far and wide and had many adventures. His achievements include being the first person to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents, as well as being the oldest person (by five years) to climb Mount Everest (at the age of 55). He once told me a story of a plane ride, on which he sat next to a nice man who listened to him go on about the treacherous peaks of Everest and McKinley, the time he almost died in the Himalayas, and his upcoming plan to re-climb Everest. Just before the plane landed, Bass turned to the man sitting next to him and said, "After all this, I don't think I've introduced myself. My name is Dick Bass." The man shook his hand, and responded, "Hi, I'm Neil Armstrong."
Catalog entrepreneur, Broadway producer, Connector
2. Do Something That Scares You Every Day
The only way you're going to evolve is by putting yourself in a position out of your comfort zone -- travel to new place, read a book that didn't think you'd like you'd read, be a room with people who might disagree with you -- these things change the way you do things and get you to experience ideas new ideas, and that's an evolution.
CEO of Vivre.com, Connector
3. Be OK With Not Knowing
Although many Connectors are people who do know a lot, they also love not knowing. Finding out -- by asking others -- is one of the true joys of life.
You don't always have to have the answer. If you don't know something, admit it, and then take the time to find out.
Realtor, Former General Manager of The Hotel Jerome (Aspen), Connector
4. Always Be Prepared
The Boy Scout rule reminds us of the importance of taking safety precautions, like having an emergency contact list, an earthquake plan, and a First Aid Kit. Less dire, but equally important circumstances to Connectors include, among others: being equipped at a moment's notice to entertain guests, facilitate a connection, or help out a friend. Making a little effort in these areas may not mean the difference between life or death, but it will no doubt improve your lifestyle as a Connector.
Being organized -- having systems in place, a full cupboard, or getting your work done in advance -- allows you to spend more time connecting with friends & family.
Professional Organizer, Connector
5. Travel, Far or Near
Most Connectors have such a curiosity about people that it informs the way they travel -- many told me that they find people in the places they want to visit, and form their whole trip that way. And if they can't travel, they find ways to get the same travel experience in their hometowns, whether by visiting a different culture through a museum or taking a "staycation" in their hometowns with friends and family -- making discoveries where most would feel they have already discovered.
6. Take Every Meeting
About ten Connectors said the same thing verbatim to me, when asked, "Do you do anything differently in your work life?" From John Emerson, President of Capital Guardian Trust Company to Rhonda Barad, Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, they all said:
"I make a point of returning every phone call and email. And I've never said no to a meeting."
7. Make Lemonade or Adopt the "Tom Sawyer Mentality"
Look for the possibilities in any situation -- no matter how seemingly good or bad.
If I'm in a frustrating meeting, I think: "What can I learn from these people?" We all have problems and stresses and conflicts with people, but it's an attitude thing. If you can wake up saying 'What can I learn today," you'll be a lot better off.
Associate Publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine, Connector
Adopt a Tom Sawyer Mentality. I think: I get to paint the fence. When you think this way, it becomes easy to do things you like... I look forward to doing most things. I set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. every day -- but I don't ever remember it going off... That becomes a microcosm, he said. If you look at the chores as an opportunity, then you've eliminated the things that are abrasive to you -- they just go away.
Retired Fortune 500 CEO, Ski Instructor, Connector
8. Take Notes
A common Connector activity is to "jot things down." Grammar school teachers will dedicate multiple lesson plans to effective note-taking, so that children learn how to make information meaningful -- and therefore memorable -- to them. Since Connectors aim to make their relationships meaningful, note-taking helps make that happen.
If you can make a habit of writing down memorable (and legible) keywords about people you meet, conversations you've had, topics you would like to know more about, information that might later be useful to you or someone else, then you can live in a constant state of connection-making -- even if the real connection doesn't happen until later, when you're back at home deciphering scribble from a cocktail napkin.
9. Show Appreciation
My Mother required my sisters and me to write thank you notes at an early age. She learned from her mother, who would write people thank you notes for phone calls, and for thanking her, until the thanking went on and on ad infinitum. As much as we hated it, we continued this tradition and realized the true meaning of showing appreciation for any gift received: it shows proper respect for the human relationship and its gifts.
Certain things make you memorable. Courtesy and respect might not be those things, but they're rare enough that they might make someone think, "I really enjoyed meeting that person." It might not stick out like a rose in a pasture of green, but it will make someone look forward to the next time they see you, and the next good conversation.
Commercial Realtor, Connector
10. Give Without Expecting to Receive
Be neighborly. Experience the joy of helping someone, giving of yourself, and being of service.
Rule 61: Don't Keep Score.
Sally Horchow & Roger Horchow
Co-authors, The Art of Friendship: 70 Simple Rules for Making Meaningful Connections
For more tips from a Connector, Follow Sally on Twitter.