Nowadays I’m in such a privileged position that a lot of young people, just starting out on journeys of their own, are coming to me for advice. I see that many are making the exact same mistakes I did back in the days. As such, in order not to keep repeating myself, I’d like to present the three greatest, but also most common, pitfalls of the trade.
So without further ado, let’s begin with numero uno:
1. The BS Trap of Empty Networking:
When you’re just starting out, one of the most important things is to expand your network and getting to know the right people. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your idea is, how well executed your product is, or how productive and smart you are—if no one knows who you are. As such, there are good reasons to spend a lot of time getting to know new people. And for many of us, this can be quite enjoyable.
But sometimes it can get a little bit too enjoyable, especially to those of us who’re extroverts. It can feel very meaningful and exciting to meet all these new people, but if it’s not leading to any concrete results, you just end up wasting your time chatting away in cafés and on endless zoom calls.
So, you need to ask yourself: am I meeting new people because it benefits my work, or am I mainly doing it because it just feels good? You need to bust your own bullshit. You need to face that little demon inside of you who’d rather drink a latte with an exciting stranger than sit at home toiling in front of the computer (or whichever inanimate object happens to be your primary work tool).
Now, I’m not saying you should tell Obama or Elon to take a hike if they wanted to hang out some day. It can, after all, be very wise to drop everything if the right person all of a sudden pops up in your life. But most of the time, in most people’s lives, the next potential coffee date is not an Obama, or an Elon, and does not turn out to be a pivotal moment for that important project of yours—which you presumably, unless you’re super human, are chronically behind schedule with anyway.
I know it can be flattering when people take an interest in your work and want to meet you, especially when you’re just starting out, but make a sober estimation of what the potential value of meeting this particular person could be. Don’t accept just any invitation for a meeting. After all, most out-of-the-blue-networking-dates-with-no-particular-agenda-apart-from-getting-to-know-each-other lead to: absolutely nothing.
Now, this is not to say that you should entirely dismiss the potential value of a new acquaintance. Some of the most valuable twists and turns of my own career have been the result of such random out-of-the-blue meetings. All I’m saying is that it’s wise to be aware about the trap of spending so much time on empty networking that you end up sacrificing crucial work time.
So, just to be clear: When I’m talking about “empty networking”, I’m not referring to meetings with someone who’s expressed an interest in maybe becoming a new client, partner, patron and so on, or that person who could create your new website, or become your new assistant etc. Empty networking refers to all those “getting-to-know-each-other” meetings that many of us inevitably end up spending time on when we’re working on abstract and experimental projects.
Initially, you’re just happy that anyone wants to meet with you, and I agree, if you have no network, just seeing what would happen can be a good strategy. But as times go by, and more people know about you and your work, it is advisable to get more picky and prioritize your actual work time wisely.
2. The BS Trap of Mutual Recruitment:
When people are networking, they’re often on the lookout for people to collaborate with—or, more specifically, they’re looking for people to recruit for this brilliant once-in-a-century project of theirs. The only problem: so is everyone else.
As a newcomer, you’ll quickly discover that everyone has a project—a project they for mysterious reasons think to be just as much the center of the universe as your own. As such, when people are networking, the polite thing is, of course, to hear the other person out and learn about their project and do a lot of nodding. Oftentimes though, the problem is that both parties are secretly trying to recruit the other for their own project. It’s kind of playing rock paper scissors, but without the paper and scissors.
Most people don’t have a lot of money and contacts when they’re just starting out. Initially, all you have is this amazing idea and a determination to convince others that your project is so exceptional and such a good opportunity for them that they should come work with you. For free. And that they should do most of the boring work, since you came up with the idea and thus are too special to do all the mundane things that are necessary to get the project off the ground. After all, you are more of a thinker and a strategist. Others would be more suitable for all the practical errands. In fact, it would be quite a waste of your unique talent if you were to spend your valuable time on such matters…
However, so is everyone else also thinking. And nothing ever gets done. Apart from words, all the best words, and lots of coffee dates and zoom meetings.
The thing is, many, if not most, end up in this gridlock situation because they expect people to follow, but without giving people any reason to do so. We delude ourselves into believing that we’re so special, and that our project is so brilliant, that others should just count themselves lucky that they get to work with us on this. But there’s nothing special about coming up with a good idea. What’s special is the ability to execute. Every successful entrepreneur knows this.
If you want people to join you, don’t be afraid of hard and dirty work. And certainly don’t fool yourself into believing you’re above doing humdrum tasks. In the real world, those who’ve become kings and queens are the ones who did a lot hard and boring work to begin with.
Boring work equals getting things started equals power equals money. And then you don’t have to beg people to join you, you can just pay them.
The way to avoid the Mutual Recruitment trap is to have already performed much of the work necessary for your idea to become a successfully executed project. When you’ve done that, when people can see your idea has materialized, they become much more inclined to join—not least if they don’t have to work for free or if revenue is just around the corner.
By the way, here’s a colorful example of true leadership, of how you get people to follow and create a movement. (Pssst, the secret point here is that maybe, just maybe, you should lead by following someone else, and through that create the change that matters.)
3. The BS Trap of “Out-platforming” each other:
Ever since the rise of Amazon, Facebook and all the other internet giants, it has become clear that if you control the platform everyone is using you’ll become extremely successful. This doesn’t only apply to the evil enterprise of selling stuff online and making people addicted to cute cat videos, but also to the business of saving the world: If you come up with the next big open source decentralized autonomous block chain web3 thing—that everyone is going to use to tear down capitalism, the patriarchy and racism, and in extension saving the whales and the rainforest—a great share of the fame and glory goes to you. The same is the case if you become the founder of the forum, community or umbrella organization everyone wants to be part of. (Just to be clear, before we move on, that when I talk about platforms I don’t refer to online applications only.)
The beauty of creating a successful platform is that the labor you put into building it will be amplified manifold by the people who’re using it. As such, if you’re the kind of person who wants to make as big an impact in the world as possible, it’s natural to be attracted to working on such projects. (Platform ideas are also particularly common among metamodernists since they tend to be highly complex thinkers, always thinking in terms of meta this and meta that. Hence, the world of metamodern hipsters, hippies and hackers is littered with people having brilliant ideas for new platforms.)
The only problem about this is that everyone else in these circles is also having an idea for a new platform. And those who don’t, often don’t understand what you’re talking about.
Often, the only people who understand your platform idea, are the people with a platform idea themselves. The mutual recruitment meetings thus gets spiked with a further gridlock dynamic of people trying to “out-platform” each other: “that’s a great idea, how about you make that part of my platform—that’s a great thanks, but how about your platform becomes part of my platform…”
I reckon I don’t need to explain why this leads to a lot of wasted time and energy.
One of the main problems with people’s platform ideas is that they want to create an “empty” platform. An empty platform is one devoid of already existing contents. It’s just the tool itself— with the addition of an idea about who’s going to use it and for what. (One of the problems about that is that it’s very hard to plan who’s going to use it and how they’re going to use. Remember, YouTube was initially a dating app until its userbase started using it for other things entirely.)
A particularly tempting part of platforming everyone else is how humble you can be about it. Or rather, how humble you can tell yourself that you are and try to convince others that you are: The good thing about me is that I don’t get off on power; I don’t even really have my own vision or project; I just hold space for everyone else and empower them; so I should get all the power because I’m by far the most deserving. Really, I don’t want to decide anything at all, so I have next to no vision or ideas or contents, and I’ll be sure to tell everyone with a vision that’s the case, so that they join my platform, given my thing is the bigger vehicle their thing fits within.
… And then there’s this annoying thing that other rude people try to out-humble you and getting you to be part of THEIR platforms. How dare they! Best make yours even more devoid of all meaning.
A typical empty platform idea is when you come up with the thought that it would be amazing if all these wonderful contents producers you know about, and who are somewhat related, came together into a greater weave where cross pollination and deeper collaboration could occur. You see this wonderful forum where all those busy people whose work you admire get connected in productive ways leading to change that otherwise wouldn’t be possible—all while you, the platform creator, sits on top pulling the strings and enjoy the powerful output of your creation. *Muhahaha (in a benign way)*
There are a few problems with this:
- People are very well capable of connecting with others without a specific platform. You just need to google people, drop them a message and make a zoom appointment.
- People end up wasting a lot of time; not only on fiddling around with just another platform, but also on being connected with people they might have things in common with, but do not have much use of just because of that. (It’s a common mistake to believe that just because people have things in common they’d automatically get a lot out of meeting each other).
- People don’t like wasting time. So they don’t use your platform.
- Your platform has no contents. So people don’t use your platform.
“Empty” platforms tend to fail. The platforms that succeed often have some contents, some idea beyond “wouldn’t it be great if all these people came together”. And many successful platforms do not even start out as platforms from the get go.
From my own network I can mention two platforms that have turned out to become fairly successful: Psychedelic Society and Rebel Wisdom. Psychedelic Society is a particular good example of a platform that didn’t even start out with the intention of being a platform. Or at least not the kind of platform it has become. Initially, Psychedelic Society was intended as an association to help decriminalizing psychedelics and to inform the public about responsible and therapeutic use thereof. Today, as you can see on their website, its mission extends far beyond that and the events hosted by the organization contains topics that are only vaguely related to Psychedelics. My friend and colleague Emil Ejner Friis from Metamoderna, for instance, has done courses about metamodernism on their online event platform — a platform that has become the go-to place for progressives interested in personal development and societal transformation.
The trick is to find that niche which isn’t already covered. Psychedelic Society did that with Psychedelics, Rebel Wisdom with men’s circles and Jordan Peterson stuff. Only from there did they became platforms for more broader issues. It’s also worth to mention that both of these platforms sprung out of already existing networks (meaning that they started out with contents).
Finding that niche, and succeeding, is difficult. Without it, it’s close to impossible.
Hence, if you want to create a platform, don’t. But if you still want to do it, it’s important you have something to offer people from the beginning. The wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-all-these-people-came-together idea—which I see people coming up with again and again—is for the most part doomed to failure.
Often, people fall into all three BS traps simultaneously: endless hours spent on empty networking, unsuccessfully trying to recruit others for this platform idea of theirs, which they expect others to build for them (now that they were so kind to come up with the idea)—all while the people they are meeting with are trying to do exactly the same. All the best intentions remain just that: intentions.
Well, and let’s be realistic: Even with good intentions, we can sometimes lie to ourselves. Maybe we’re not actually saving the world, but seducing ourselves into thinking that we are while in reality just talking to other people about talking to other people about talking to other people.
My advise is:
- Try to be more selective and strategic when it comes to networking, especially when you’ve established yourself more firmly.
- And if you’re an extrovert, meaning you’re a person who gets emotional energy from meeting new people, try to develop a higher self-awareness about whether you’re misleading yourself into believing that amazing things are happening from meeting all these people—but in reality, it just feels good to socialize and getting recognition.
- Don’t delude yourself into believing you’re too special to do hard boring work. Just get to work and don’t waste time trying to make others work for you for free.
- Pay people to do hard boring work. And show the respect for their efforts.
- Don’t make an empty platform.
- And if you do, don’t try to out-platform all your friends.
With these final words I wish you Godspeed on your journey. Deep down you know you’re a very special person with a great gift to the world.
Just don’t create another platform for empty networking. Please, don’t do it.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian, and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.