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An invitation: build a better professional network together

I'm hosting a study group from June 6, 2023, to help introverts build a better professional network.

The "none. none more short" version: I'm hosting a study group from June 6, 2023, to help introverts build a better professional network. We'll meet twice a month on Zoom, share insights and provide personal support. Join us: $400 early-bird, $600 late-bird price.

Wassup nerds! I hope you have all been doing well. I’ve been busier than usual with an interesting mix of projects: deep market research for a security services firm, some POV research, working with OpportunityLabs members, delivering on that POV coaching offer I put out there a few months ago, trying to figure out a minor health condition that resembles exercise-induced hypoglycemia, and breathing in the fat clouds of smoke that Canadia has been ripping out of her wildfire vape. :)

I’m writing to invite you to a summer study group focused on building a better professional network, but on our way to that invitation I hope you’ll come with me on what bears some resemblance to a philosophical inquiry.

Here’s a claim: sometimes the best way to get an outcome is to push on a lever that is only indirectly coupled to that outcome. In billiards terms, sometimes the ball you need to pocket is one you can’t strike directly with the cue ball, so you have to strike an intermediate ball with the cue ball; a combination shot.

A previous client of mine is an open source software strategist. He’ll tell his large tech clients to invest in open source not because of the direct effects, but the second-order effects, which might include an increased ability to recruit developers and a very real cost-savings due to open-source contributions (among others). While there might be other “combination shots” that achieve these effects, it’s also arguable that investing in open source is a better way to achieve these outcomes than going after them directly ever would be!

Maybe breathing all this Canadian wildfire smoke has made me paranoid, but I see this “combination shot” thing happening all over the place.

Here are two combination shots from my professional life. Neither were intentionally constructed at the outset, but both are clearly evident in retrospect.

In January 2015, I self-published a book called The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms, the progenitor of my current book on positioning. My life changed forever when Gumroad sold my book for $19 to a stranger while I was taking a dump. It was like that time when, as a kid, I realized there’s no reason you can’t drown plain white rice with ranch dressing instead of a tiny little pat of butter. Or that there’s no reason you can’t make a batch of cake frosting from powdered sugar, Crisco, and vanilla extract, and take a sleeve of saltine crackers and whip up some redneck Oreos right quick after you come home from school. Or that there’s no reason you can’t just mix a cup of sugar and a packet of Kool-Aid and not add water and instead just eat the whole thing straight out of a bowl with a spoon.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right! I was hooked on making $19 while, ahem, not working. I wanted more of that; I had a book I wanted to promote! So I guested on some podcasts. And then people started joining my email list in still-small but far-larger-than-before numbers. And all of a sudden, I had a better professional network than I’d ever had before.

In a metaphorical sense, the book was the first billiard ball, and the improved professional network was the second ball — the one that actually went in the pocket. I’ve sold over $100,000 worth of books on positioning, but I’ve made way more than that from related services.

Did the services revenue come directly from having published the book? Or were they a from having a better professional network, which itself was a second-order effect of writing (and re, re, re-writing!), promoting, and selling the book? The wise ones tell us: “nothing is unconnected”. So I don’t know how far we can get with trying to isolate the book, the improved professional network, and the services revenue from each other.

But I can tell you that the book sales have dwindled over time. The ability of the professional network to amplify my efforts at generating revenue and impact has not.

My second “combination shot” story: One of the ways I tried promoting the aforementioned book was to start publishing more frequently to my email list. In January of 2016, I started publishing an email every weekday to my email list. When you publish this frequently, interesting things happen. At a certain point, you run out of things that you think are worth putting in front of your readers. I call this “hitting the wall”.

If you force yourself to continue publishing at the daily cadence, there is a very good chance you’ll create a breakthrough in your thinking. I won’t stray off topic by explaining the mechanism by which this happens, but I do talk about it (or around it, maybe) at some length here. Daily emailing is another case where the thing we really want is a second-order effect of the thing we do. The accelerated expertise is the thing we really want; the daily publication is merely an intermediary step.

I’ve done small-scale research on both the buy and sell side of the software development services market. My core question has been: how do sellers get more opportunity and how do buyers discover, vet, and hire sellers? Both sides of the market say the same thing: primarily via their professional network. This research is incomplete, ongoing, and I will share more about it later, but it paints a clear picture of how the discovery happens. (The vetting of multiple candidates might involve a different mechanism. I have my educated guesses, but I don’t have solid data about this yet.)

I’ve been kind of gesturing at this thus far, so let me just say it clearly: our professional network plays an absolutely pivotal role in helping us intercept more opportunity. There are other things that matter, but a good network is critical.

So here’s the philosophical question: if we want a better professional network, is it possible to directly pursue that goal, or are we limited to better professional network as second-order effect of something else?

Personally, I do think it is possible to directly pursue the goal of having a better professional network. I don't think we are all limited to that better network being a second-order effect of {publishing, speaking, hosting a podcast, teaching, etc}.

The subsequent problem: most of the advice out there seems to come from people who are naturally inclined towards network-building. That advice does not fit us well. I have read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. It was literally physically painful for me to read. It's a very good book on building a professional network, but I think Keith's book is not the problem. I think I'm the problem, at least when it comes to buying in to and executing Keith's suggested approach.

I can set up a practice of introducing myself to people over the Internet. The tiniest work-related shiny object (ok, any kind of shiny object), tight deadline, or woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed day will throw me off the practice, and no amount of freebasing dealer-grade guilt changes that.

I can schedule outings to be social. The slightest amount of end-of-day fatigue or upsetting stuff happening during the day will have me dump the plans like yesterday's trash.

I can try to ping people in my network on a regular schedule and "provide value to them". The most microscopic bit of doubt about whether the message will come across as genuine or not is enough to keep it in the drafts folder, and a string of 2 or 3 such false starts is enough to get me switched over to a task -- any task -- I feel halfway competent at.

There is an interesting bit of under-explored territory between books/courses and coaching/consulting. It's the community of practice/study group.

  1. Course: A course typically refers to a structured learning program, often with a defined start and end date, and a curriculum that covers specific topics. Courses often have clear learning objectives and outcomes, and they may result in a certificate or degree upon completion.

  2. Coaching: Coaching is a more personalized approach to learning and development. Coaching is often used to improve performance in a specific area, such as leadership or communication skills, and it can be a powerful tool for personal and professional development.

  3. Community of Practice (CoP): A community of practice is a group of people who share a common interest or profession and learn from each other by sharing experiences and knowledge. CoPs can be a powerful way to learn from peers, solve problems collaboratively, and innovate new solutions.

(Thanks for the definitions, ChatGPT!)

You're invited to join a community of practice/study group I'm leading, starting June 6, 2023. Here's the deal.

Who it's for: This is for people who want a better professional network but would rather eat a bowl of broken glass than do the work of building a better professional network. And for those who have tried and never made any progress.

Rationale: I have data that STRONGLY implies that a better professional network is a lever that is directly coupled to better bizdev. However, nerdy introverts like me would generally rather not have to do the actual work of cultivating a better professional network. The core of my audience -- developers -- see this personality preference amplified by the ease with which they can find themselves working home alone. I think there's a problem there to be solved.

Goals of the study group format:

  • Start at least one introvert-friendly practice that will support you building a better professional network

  • Get help from both the group and Philip if any obstacles present while working on the above (ex: point of view, anyone? :) )

  • Group learning, community-of-practice style

  • Cost effectiveness of a course, ability to course-correct/iterate of a group cohort thing, access to an expert and experienced group facilitator (Philip)

Reasonable-for-you-to-expect outcomes:

  • Lots of get-unstuck, introvert-friendly ideas to choose from

  • Feedback and support on your implementation of those ideas

  • Encouragement in "sticking with it" over the 3-month timeframe of the study group and hopefully beyond

  • Some small input-side wins to feed the easily-distractible/easily-discouraged part of you


  • 3 months duration, starting June, 2023

  • The whole group meets realtime via Zoom video call every 2 weeks for a 2 hour discussion session. The discussion will be pretty tightly-structured to maximize group learning and progress. Meeting times:

    • June 6, 2023: Start time - 9am MT / 11am ET / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST

    • June 20, 2023

    • July 4, 2023 (Yes, I know; we might push this one to Thursday of this week bc of the American holiday.)

    • July 18, 2023

    • August 1, 2023

    • August 15, 2023

    • August 29, 2023

  • There will be some sort of private discussion surface for the group, hosted on a TBD platform, somewhere in the realtime group chat quadrant of the digital tool universe.

  • Philip will host weekly office hours where any group member can drop by with questions, to talk through challenges, get ideas on positioning/POV, get a dash of encouragement, etc.

Price: $400 early-bird, $600 late-bird

Signup deadline: by the start of the first realtime video call, which is June 6, 2023 9am MT / 11am ET / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST

Early-bird deadline: Sunday, May 28th

If you're interested in joining, please sign up here: https://buy.stripe.com/aEU4jRabm8z75vW4gq . If you have questions before joining, email me: [email protected]

I'll email a few more times with reminders about this. I hope you give it a try. Together we'll help each other build a better professional network.