August 27, 2000 was one of the most important days of my life.

I was loving my newfound independence and soaking in my second day of orientation at NYU. Little did I know that I would meet my future wife that evening. A group of guys I was with connected with a group of girls she was with. The night unfolded from there.

I often say it was the luckiest day of my life. If we hadn’t met then, we never would have. NYU has tens of thousands of students.

However, I recently learned that the story I’ve been telling myself is wrong. How we meet the most important people in our life personally and professionally (including how I met my wife) is not random.

According to research by Brian Uzzi, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the Kellogg School of Management and one of the world’s top network scientists, there is a common origin that most of the important relationships in our life have, and most people are completely unaware of it.

To understand the gravity of what I’ve just said, think of the most important people in your personal and professional life. What would your life be like without them? Now, imagine if you could increase the odds of meeting more people like them. Imagine the impact that those people could have on your career and life!

The Perils Of Being Too Strategic

Based on Brian’s research, here is the approach most people take consciously or unconsciously when strategically building a network:

  • Identify the most important qualities they’re looking for in the people in their network (often the same qualities they already have).
  • Look for others who share those qualities.
  • Find those new people through people they already know.

Here’s the problem with this… You’ll very rapidly build a network of people just like you; people who speak the same slang, have had the same experiences, and even have the same skills. The problem with this is that having a diverse network is critical to success and creativity.

Secondly, the network you build will lack the dynamism of the real world. In Brian’s words, “Future challenges are unforeseeable and therefore impossible to plan for. People who self-select their network contacts too much, build weak networks that don’t adapt to new conditions very well. A weak network turns challenges into liabilities. A strong network turns challenges into opportunities.”

So, if being too strategic is bad, then what is the solution?

Studies Show How We Really Build Deep Relationships

The answer for Brian is obvious based on nearly 100 research papers he’s published over the last two decades on networks — it’s shared experiences.

Think about the 10 most important relationships in your life besides your immediate family. How did you meet them? It’s likely that you met many of them through shared experiences (college dorms, sports, collaborative teams, passion projects, etc).

But not all shared experiences are created equal…

“The clue to the types of shared experiences that are most potent lies in the formation of the famous relationship between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They didn’t develop their relationship over a business deal as you might expect. They developed it through a shared activity that the two men shared a deep passion for — the game of bridge. Since then, they’ve become kindred spirits and collaborated on several levels. Warren Buffett has committed more than $40 billion of his wealth to the Gates Foundation.”

Through years of research, Brian has found that the most powerful shared experiences are those where you build deep trust, get to know people at a deep level, and are exposed to a diverse array of people. He found that the three qualities that create these the most are:

Key #1: Passion

According to Brian, experiences based on people’s passions are important for two reasons:

  • People (even busy people) make time for their passions.
  • People like other people more when they display their passions.

“This happens for two reasons (1) Sometimes having a passion is a deeply personal and intimate aspect of a person’s essence, so expressing it to others creates sentiments of acceptance and authenticity in the person expressing their passion. (2) We like passionate people. Both the excitement and the knowledge behind the passion are contagious.”

I learned that power of passion to transform experiences while I was at NYU. At first, I selected all of my classes based on how passionate I was about the topic. However, I quickly learned that a dull professor could ruin whole areas of study for me. Instead, I started picking professors based on how passionate they were. Their passion was contagious and my whole college experience was transformed. This strategy culminated in me taking and loving a course called Baseball As A Road To God taught by President John Sexton.

Key #2: Interdependence

The second key to a meaningful shared experiences is being in situations where there is a common goal or passion that can only be satisfied jointly with other people.

In Brian’s words, “Trust is normally a slow and long process to build. However, through shared activities that require interdependence you quickly recognize, ‘I can’t do it alone’ or ‘I can’t win it’ without the other person.  In short, you recognize how the other person is meaningful to you.  And all lasting relationships are built on a foundation of meaningfulness.”

When I reflect back on meeting my wife, the conditions were perfect. We were each starting from scratch with our network in a completely new city. This made us much more open to meeting new people. Together, we were able to confidently embrace a new phase of life in one of the largest cities in the world.

Key #3: Competition

“Finally, in a shared activity there has to be some gradation of winning/losing or doing better/worse. Competition brings out meaningful behavior, stretches you, and reveals your top level of performance to yourself and others. In addition, it exposes your softer intrinsic qualities like confidence, resilience, and empathy. Deep down, learning someone’s essence is what we want in relationships.” As an example, in a study of Northwestern students Brian performed, he found that the majority of MBA students formed their deepest relationship on sports team, not in class.

This finding also matches classic research in social psychology, which shows that when we’re in a heightened physical state, we feel closer to people that we already have some level of connection to.

Take Action Now

Now, that you’re armed with this fundamentally unique relationship building approach, how do you apply it to your network?

The next time that you’re invited to an event with elements of passion, interdependence, and competition, realize that it’s a rare opportunity to build deep relationships. For example, in 2014, I went to a few amazing events that curate this type of environment, and they had a big impact on me; Mastermind TalksCadre DCHIVE, and the Young Investor Organization’s community within the annual Milken Global Conference.

When you want to catch up with someone, don’t just meet at a cafe or in your office. Turn it into an experience. For example, Charlie Hoehn, author of Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety turns meetings into walks and even playing catch. Joey Coleman, the Chief Experience Composer of Design Symphony has created and teaches a replicable process anyone can use to turn interactions with their customers into experiences.

Want to take things a level deeper? Create your own experiences for others.

And who knows, you could meet your future spouse during a shared experience, just like I did.

It’s not just about who’s at the table. It’s about the shape of it as well.

Michael Simmons writes at and is co-founder of Empact. To receive more articles like this one, visit his blog.

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Here is Why It’s Never Too Late for You to Achieve Something Worthwhile

Have you ever asked yourself if it’s too late to achieve something worthwhile in life. These two most upvoted responses by Marcus and Jim respectively on Quora will help you if you still have doubts about what you can do at any stage of your career.

1. Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, likes dinosaurs.

Too late for what?

If you slept through your 26th birthday, it’s too late for you to experience that. It’s too late for you to watch “LOST” in its premiere broadcast. (Though, honestly, you didn’t miss much.) It’s too late for you to fight in the Vietnam War.

It’s too late for you to go through puberty or attend nursery school. It’s too late for you to learn a second language as proficiently as a native speaker*. It’s probably too late for you to be breastfed.

It’s not too late for you to fall in love.

It’s not too late for you to have kids.

It’s not too late for you to embark on an exciting career or series of careers.

It’s not too late for you to read the complete works of Shakespeare; learn how to program computers; learn to dance; travel around the world; go to therapy; become an accomplished cook; sky dive; develop an appreciation for jazz; write a novel; get an advanced degree; save for your old age; read “In Search of Lost Time”; become a Christian, then an atheist, then a Scientologist; break a few bones; learn how to fix a toilet; develop a six-pack …

Honestly, I’m 47, and I’ll say this to you, whippersnapper: you’re a fucking kid, so get over yourself. I’m a fucking kid, too. I’m almost twice your age, and I’m just getting started! My dad is in his 80s, and he wrote two books last year.

You don’t get to use age as an excuse. Get off your ass!

Also, learn about what economists call “sunk costs.” If I give someone $100 on Monday, and he spends $50 on candy, he’ll probably regret that purchase on Tuesday. In a way, he’ll still think of himself as a guy with $100—half of which is wasted.

What he really is is a guy with $50, just as he would be if I’d handed him a fifty-dollar bill. A sunk cost from yesterday should not be part of today’s equation. What he should be thinking is this: “What should I do with my $50?”

What you are isn’t a person who has wasted 27 years. You are a person who has X number of years ahead of you. What are you going to do with them?

* What I’d intended as a throwaway comment, about the difficulty of second-language acquisition after childhood, has generated interest and disagreement. I will admit upfront I am not an expert on the matter, and was mostly informed by research I’d read about.

It claimed there’s a window of childhood, after which the brain stops being able to hear certain sounds—one’s not used by a child’s native language—which is why it’s so hard to learn to speak a second language without an accent.

Some people may master it, but not many. (How many people do you know, after 25, learned a foreign language and can speak it so well, natives have no idea they’re listening to a foreigner?) It’s also challenging to learn all the idiomatic expressions that native speakers have known since they were small children.

However, since having written this answer, I’ve learned that the Science behind this is very controversial. As I’m not an expert, let me refer you to the wikipedia article (and it’s linked resources).

“In second-language acquisition, the strongest evidence for the critical period hypothesis is in the study of accent, where most older learners do not reach a native-like level.

However, under certain conditions, native-like accent has been observed, suggesting that accent is affected by multiple factors, such as identity and motivation, rather than a critical period biological constraint (Moyer, 1999; Bongaerts et al., 1995; Young-Scholten, 2002).”

2. Jim Lawrenson, Still driving…

Unfortunately for ‘real’ people, the media is obsessed with the tiny minority who succeed early and display this very publicly.

This is then amplified by the high profile ‘subject’,  for PR purposes, to perpetuate their success.

Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, River Phoenix, Justin Timberlake, Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Jobs, James Dean, Richard Branson, Whitney Houston, One Direction, Amy Winehouse, Mark Zuckerburg. Need I go on.

Notice a trend in there somewhere?

You are probably being influenced, (like all of us), in how you assess your own progress, compared to these people. It can be a dangerous game to play.

It takes a tremendous amount of luck, as well as talent, to get into the right position at the right time. Not many people who make it will tell you that, often preferring to put it down to their hard work.

That is because they believe that this is the case, not because they are intentionally misleading you. I know that because, to an extent, I’ve done it.

You also may not have considered that even if you were on the list of young successes. It is very hard to follow that early success later in life. Your expectations of yourself are higher and based on that youthful virtual reality you experienced once, you can never improve on your past.

That can be a tough pill to swallow and despite all the money in the world, many struggle with that.

Look at any list of young successes from just 10 years ago and count the number who have disappeared, died or been in rehab. Lots.

Half the list of super successful people above are dead for a start off.

This is not an excuse for you to give up trying however. 

Try to think of life as a long road journey.

The journey can be as exciting or as boring as you choose to make it.

Wherever you are on the journey, there are new experiences, as long as you welcome them and seek them out. Some you can plan in advance.

Often, you need to get out of the car to experience them. Otherwise, you will see them flash past the window and feel like it is too late to stop.

  • Do something every day which contributes to your progress on the journey and always be learning and experiencing new things.
  • Don’t put off experiences which can be done today by getting out of the car, for a tomorrow which may never arrive.
  • Build a vision of where you want to get to in 1, 5 and 10 years and then think about the steps you need to complete in the next 30 days to move towards it, but don’t set deadlines that are too harsh. Do the first step on the list today.
  • Like any long journey, you will hit diversions, obstacles, traffic lights, speed bumps, closed roads and all manner of other problems. There will be crashes – you might be involved in them. Like any long road journey, if you want to get the destination enough, you won’t turn back, you will reroute. The car might break down or need repairing. Just accept it will happen now, and carry on.

Most importantly, don’t wait for all the traffic lights between your house and your destination, to turn green at the same time, before you set off.

They won’t!

Get in the car and start driving.

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