Richard Boyd, co-founder and CEO of Ultisim Inc., a simulation learning company that utilizes gaming technology and AI.
Can you share a little about what makes you an authority on building a great network?
The best brief answer to this question is my introduction to Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman before he started LinkedIn. He ended up investing in my company the same year he started LinkedIn and I became one of the first users of it (joining May 7, 2003). Before that he had me checking out platforms like Sixapart and friendster while he discussed the importance of networking effects on world problem solving.
But I think the seeds of my networking awareness DNA came much earlier.
When I first arrived at UNC Chapel Hill as a freshman I somehow had already been imbued with the understanding that success and fulfillment in my career and my social life was a function of my connections to other people. I was elected to be the Student Body President of my High School after organizing people around an initiative to allow off campus lunches. One of the decisions I made way back then was to try to talk to and get to know a new person every day. I can't recall if someone encouraged me to do that or I just came up with it on my own. I just knew that I was alone in a strange new environment and I was going to need some help. I needed allies. So I would introduce myself to a new person every day. I learned how extraordinary it is to see those simple connections accrue. It led to me being elected vice president of my fraternity and to a set of social skills that help me to this day.
How important is networking for professional success, and why?
One of my most valued network connections, Alan Kay, is fond of saying that “perspective is worth 80 IQ points”. When tackling new initiatives in the business or philanthropic spaces it is always helpful to get a diversity of opinion and perspective. When you have cultivated a collection of diverse talents and perspectives, you can marshall people or ideas more fluidly towards more complete solutions. It’s as simple as that.
The other answer to this question is that we humans are wielding more complex tools and building systems so complex we don't fully understand them, much less have any hope of single handedly managing them. The best way to address complex problems is to harness collective networked intelligence. A few years ago that meant a lot of human experts in different fields. I think now we are going to need humans and machine intelligence networked together to solve our most existential issues, but I suppose that is the subject of another post. "How to create your own human/machine-based neural net aligned to your goals"
What's your usual ice-breaker question when meeting someone for the first time?
In my example from college I had a simple cheat. I would just say, “Hey look, I am doing this simple social experiment where I just need to meet a new person each day. Would you mind being that person today? I just want to tell you my name and you tell me yours and you tell me one important thing I should know or remember about you.” Of course people would assume I was doing this for a class. Sometimes it would lead to rich deep discussions, but usually just a simple exchange and then I would thank them, smile and go on my way. But it culminated in a point when I was a sophomore when I would be walking on campus with someone and they would see all of these people waving to me or acknowledging me as we walked. They would end up saying something like “Who are you? Or “Wow, you are really popular.” But it was really just the single minded pursuit of a very simple action that accrued over time.
Today I still use the “Tell me one thing you would like me to remember about you”
How do you approach networking differently when you're meeting someone in person versus virtually?
Since Linkedin was formed I usually follow up a virtual zoom or other meeting with a Linkedin or Twitter invitation, like everyone else. In person it is important to ask questions of the person and get them talking about what they are passionate about. My catch phrase/question is something like ‘Tell me what problems you are admiring this year/quarter?’
What are some common mistakes people make when trying to build their professional network, and how can they avoid them?
Be purposeful. If you are actively seeking a unique set of connections and are using something like LinkedIn, do some basic research first. At least do a Google search and read the public facing information about the person. OR today you could ask Chatgpt. Don’t show up to a meeting or send a request without doing the basic background work.
The biggest mistakes I see on LinkedI are people who contact me and then say that they want to schedule my time to have me tell them more about me and what I am doing. I reject all of those.
Have you noticed any differences in the types of relationships you build through in-person versus virtual networking? If so, can you describe those differences?
Meatspace still wins. The best connections are started and fostered in person. Most of my new connections today come from me speaking at an event somewhere where I have kindled that mutual problem admiration fire in someone. Social settings where there is food and drink follow and those connections tend to lead to more cooperative projects and effort.
During Covid we learned we can advance these connections virtually as well, but they don’t seem to be as strong.
What are some strategies you've found effective for building rapport and establishing trust with someone you've only just met?
Story telling is effective. Telling stories from your perspective and lessons you have learned in your trajectory so far are usually appreciated, Even more important is having your new contact sharing their life stories and lessons learned.
How can someone use social media and online networking to expand their professional network?
Social media and other online tools like LinkedIn are useful for finding groups, thought leaders and events aligned to your cause. I personally find attending group events and discussions as a healthy way to find the voices with whom I want to join forces. Today I would recommend enlisting generative AI as a companion in your network creation.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to networking and trying to make connections in their industry?
Start by meeting one new connection every day either online or in person. Use social media and generative AI to help you find the best watering holes aligned with your cause. The small steps every day method conquers mountains over time.
Be Intentional. Have purpose. Grow your network thematically around the industry, technology or problem areas you are admiring, but also don’t forget the next rule
Perspective is worth 80 IQ points. Invite differing industries and social points of view and talents to your network so you get a more complete view and can create more complete solutions.
Small steps lead to big networking effects. The best path to success is realizing you don’t need to build it all in one day or from one event. Success lies in the single minded pursuit of simple actions over time. Try meeting one new person every day. You will be surprised at the compounding result.