Network Above Your Peers For Competitive Advantage

The reality is that you have to network way, way beyond your peers, to gain social advantage in any industry or community that does not have formal mentoring embedded in it. Some examples of the latter are architecture, the law, and medicine…most highly regulated professions have very formula mentoring processes. 

But not entrepreneurship. Not writing. Not acting. Not marketing. You can get an MFA, but nothing keeps amateurs without the degree from competing with you (and winning). 

You, alone, have to find your own Master. The problem is that we live in a society where most Masters don’t take apprentices. The experienced want to be left alone and hang with their industry buddies. They feel little obligation other than noncommittal mentoring. We do not value master-apprentice relations because it involves a ton of obligation to nurture talent. This kind of obligation incurs a high cost of time and energy. 

You’re most likely to see this at work in recreational and professional sports, if anywhere.

You can learn a ton of tactical and operational things yourself. Those who learn proactively tend to survive better. 

When your business is stable, break-even, or close to break-even but not growing as fast as you want, the lack of available Masters becomes a problem—generally, this is in the early eight figures. 

This is also around the time early-stage brands start bringing functional executives on board, the specialists. But once someone is reporting to you, there will always be a filter, the filter to keep their job.

Masters don’t filter their commentary with apprentices. They call bullshit. They don’t care if you’re offended by the truth. To find this kind of value in a mentor, you’ll need to network upwards. Not among peers. Not at a trade show cocktail party. Not among your employees, for sure.

Do not think your investor is the person to Master you either. They are not neutral, disinterested parties. You need someone who cares about your success and can spend time with you but who ultimately is helping out of a commitment to successful entrepreneurship only. 

I’m not saying everyone needs a Master in today’s business world. Nor is one available for everyone anyway. 

Just stop looking to your peers for advice on questions they know no more about than you. Just because your peers are more available to you does not mean you can go to them for everything. 

So, it’s critical that you network up the de facto hierarchy in this chaotic industry of overlapping insider networks. This is easier said than done without some initial social proof that allows you to get into this conversation and stay there.

I suggest you research those you think you could learn from and meet them. Interview them. People love to be interviewed in America, especially when you’re not asking for a job. 

If you want to trigger a free mentor in this noncommittal society, interview experts you could learn from and let it happen. You can’t force a Master-Apprentice relationship, and the Masters don’t feel obligated to recruit them formally. 

Vertical networking is your only tool. 

It’s the people ahead of you on the revenue curve who know what you don’t.

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]