“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Don’t underestimate this statement.
A really easy way to improve in a particular area is to surround yourself with someone who is at a higher level of mastery in that field. For example if you want to learn more about how to run a business, start reaching out to CEOs who run successful businesses and spend time with them.
There is another angle to this. You have to be really careful about spending your time with people who drain value rather than add. Recently I’ve come to terms with the fact that many friends from earlier years of my life have taken very different paths to me. I really struggle to maintain friendships with people who have practically no real goals. As I enter my early twenties, I’ve had to actively let go of a lot of friendships for this reason.
The bottom line is, you should seek to place people in your life who are at a level where you want to be and remove those who are at a level you don’t. I don’t mean just a material/societal level, but mostly on a skills, expertise and general life level.
This year I started organising small networking dinners for interesting people at London universities, with a focus on entrepreneurial spirit. These have been a great success. After the first 3, new friendships have been born and even startup business partnerships have been made. The way it works is I invite someone, tell them about the plan and ask them to bring a guest. The result is a diverse group of interesting people getting to know each other over an informal dinner. The effect of connecting them all can be monumental. I encourage you to start up something similar in your field of interest or with your immediate relationships. All it takes is booking a restaurant (or cooking at home) and inviting a few people down.
In the past year I’ve discovered the power of “network intelligence” (see Reid Hoffman’s The Startup of You). Being aware of what you have expertise in and specifically what you do not is incredibly useful. The first thing I think about when I approach a new challenge is “who do I know who has already solved this problem / is an expert in this area?”. By reaching out to them, I am going to save countless hours of research and get straight to the meat of it. A really simple practical example was when I begun studying chaos theory in 3rd year mathematics. My friend who graduated from Imperial Physics with a First was all over chaos theory. He has a logistic map equation tattooed on his arm, I kid you not. So when I opened the module and glanced over the first few lines, I realised I could just call him for a 15 minute fast-track introduction. After, I skipped reading through the notes and went straight to the practice exam questions. Surprisingly, I could answer every single one and got 100%. I had a great fundamental understanding of the material because I’d interactively spoken to the right person. I saved myself hours of reading, understanding and learning through one quick phone call.
So next time you’re hanging out with someone and find yourself bored and gaining nothing, think again about keeping them in your life. And next time you’re undertaking a big challenge or trying to focus on a new area of your life, think about who you know who can help you with it. People always love to be called on for their expertise and will always appreciate you asking.