Years ago Jo and I were out to dinner at this little bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of town that had just started opening up to the public for meals. As the sun went down the restaurant was like a beehive buzzing with activity— chefs calling out orders and busboys turning tables as quickly as their hands could move. As our server came by to hand us our menus, I noticed she had a tattoo of the Jolly Roger on the inside of her wrist. I was dying to know how on earth a Pirates fan ended up working in a B&B in Texas, so I asked her about it.
A few minutes after we’d ordered, I looked out the window and saw a gentleman in a pair of ironed blue jeans step out of a truck that had a Keenan Engineering decal on the side. I popped up for a second and went over to talk to him at the hostess stand. Turned out he was new in town, just moved to Texas from Arizona, and was starting up a business doing home inspections. I already had a lot of home inspectors I trusted, but I took his card and slipped it in my back pocket.
I came back to find our food had come while I was up, but as I sat down I couldn’t help but overhear that the couple at the table next to us was visiting Baylor with their daughter. They were trying to decide if it was the right school for her. Of course I had to tell them that was my alma mater they were talking about, and that I’d be more than happy to answer any questions they had— as long as they weren’t about academics. I lifted my fork to dig in to my food and looked over at Jo. She was giving me a look that I know quite well, a look that said, Are you done yet?
It’s a couple decades later and I still have that same focus to engage and connect. For me, this is what networking is all about— making a genuine connection, one that starts at the heart and has no destination in mind other than closer.
I have always known that we are all part of one giant cloth. A bunch of threads, one tapestry. It’s almost like I can see the stitches floating between us, holding us together. That invisible web of connection feels to me like something beautiful, something bigger than us. Those connections are always there, waiting for us to tighten them.
I might have been born with the talkative gene, but it was my mom who raised me to be a radical connector. For those who know anything about my mother, the idea of her encouraging me to be a radical anything might draw a laugh. She is a very traditional woman. When she married my dad in 1970 and they moved to Albuquerque, the Summer of Love was still in full swing all around her. Her head just about exploded with everyone burning their bras and flying their freak flags. There she was, an Elvis Presley fan in a poodle skirt, while the rest of the world was already onto Birkenstocks and Beatlemania. She doesn’t exactly scream “maverick” in her tucked- in blouse, but in this one particular way, she is as radical as anyone on the planet. Early on she saw— really saw— who I was.
I was a kid who reached out to anyone and everyone to get to know them a little better. That wasn’t necessarily how she herself had grown up, but she saw that in my nature and insisted I follow my heart.
I’ve always had confidence that if I approached with sincere interest, people would respond. When I was in my twenties, I read the famous Dale Carnegie quote that says, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” I knew how true that was because my mom had let me figure it out for myself.
The way I see it is that the moment you stop being curious about other people and you begin to let differences stand between you, you start to put them in the category “other.” You go from “we” to “not like me.” You become self- centered, and when that happens, you start to see other people only in terms of what they can do for you. I feel like every kid wonders at some point if the whole world is just a video game created around them with other people there for the sole purpose of basic inter-action. But other people aren’t props. That’s what gets under my skin about the traditional idea of networking. It’s all about making relationships transactional, about “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” When I meet someone, I don’t approach them with an agenda of “What can I get out of this person later?” I’m genuinely looking to understand people and learn from them. And that’s what has made my network so strong. It’s never been about “What can you do for me?” or “How am I going to need you?” It’s about getting to know who you are, how you think, what gets you up in the morning, and the ways we’re made better together.
Radical connectors know that humanity is like the earth. We have a common core way deep down that’s solid, shared, and unchanging. And then we have a uniqueness closer to the surface where we can be as different as a mountain is from the sea. Radical connectors have this incredible binocular vision where they can see both the depths of someone’s humanity as well as the differences that sit closer to the surface. The result is that a radical connector can see people as the multidimensional, complicated beings we all are.
Radical connectors are also fearless. They don’t pick and choose who gets invited into their circles based on how much they have in common with someone, and that takes guts. Radical connectors are okay muddling through a little awkwardness if the payoff is a richer, more interesting group of people in their lives. They don’t go through life skimming for the “right” people to share their time with. They see the merit of an open network. You let people in and you’re better for it.
Any farmer will tell you that one of the keys to a successful harvest is to rotate your crops. You switch one crop out for another over different growing seasons. Keep the same crop in place year after year and you deplete the soil of nutrients, ending up with a higher probability of pests and weeds and a paltry crop. Same deal with your diet. If you eat the same thing every single day— even if it’s the healthiest salad ever made— you’re going to get plenty of one vitamin but not enough of another, and it’s going to make you weaker in the long run. Your network is the same. If it’s made up of only one type of person, it’s going to be weak.
I’ve wrestled with the fact that people seem to gravitate toward people who look and act and think the same way that they look and act and think. Next time you go to a park, look around. See if you can guess who is with which group. I bet it’s surprisingly easy to do so, just based on how people dress, the music they’re listening to, the type of gear they’ve brought with them. We cluster together in clumps of likeness. We live next to people who read and watch and discuss all the same things we read and watch and discuss. Too many of us are comfortable connectors, deepening the ruts of our personalities and ideas by hanging out only with people who share them. We need to change tactics and become radical connectors, pollinators who pick up ideas from one spot and carry them to another, cultivating the world we all share. Because here’s the thing: it’s only when we bump up against something different from ourselves that we either learn something new or have a chance to deepen our beliefs.
I can see how it might be instinctive to stick with people whose motivations and ideals align perfectly with your own. But a dynamic network will never be built on likeness. Think about it: if I were to populate my life with people who talk, act, and think just like me, my network would be completely one- dimensional, lopsided. And if you’ve ever built anything, you know how lopsided foundations turn out. Without fresh vantage points and opposing ideas, there’s no opportunity to be strengthened. No change. No growth. No new ideas.
We have to be willing to engage with people who are different from us and do so with dignity and love. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly them-selves and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”3 Man, that rings true. If we are going to lead with love, we have to love our fellow man in the fullness of who they are, not just the parts that remind us of ourselves.
Talk to other people, those who are just like you as well as those who aren’t. As you choose people for your network, look for radical connectors— people who do the same. Seek out people who show genuine interest in one another, who can both see our common core and celebrate what makes us unique.
Taken from No Pain, No Gaines: The Good Stuff Doesn’t Come Easy by Chip Gaines. Copyright 2021 by Chip Gaines. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson.
This excerpt was featured in the April 18, 2021 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.