Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Social Influence Primer: Lessons from the Pros

As LeBron James answered questions from the press about the journey to his first championship I couldn't help but think of  the importance of William Wesley. If his name doesn't sound familiar thats purposelly so. "Worldwide Wes" as he's known in many circles keeps a notoriously low profile.

So low in fact that Henry Abott of True Hoop blog launched a journalist investigation into what he actually does. GQ even went as far as to ask if he is "The Most Powerful Man in Sports?".  One thing that isn't questioned is his ability to penetrate the tight inner circles of NBA superstars and his influence in the world of sports and business. Seemingly working for everyone and no one at the same time Wes represents a new kind of social engieer.

Providing purposeful connections, with no apparent ulterior motive. I highly recommend you read both articles in order to get the most from this particular post.

How does a guy whose name isn't Phil Knight or David Stern manage to be involved in so many deals with elite athletes? Wes' rise to power is an amazing experiment in demonstrating social value, influence and utility. Here's how to leverage your own strengths in a similar fashion.

Infiltrate and Create Value

If there is one thing to know about social groups is that they are always in a state of influx/outflux. Members are constantly being introduced and removed as the group seeks to keep equilibrium with changing norms, values and goals. Many outsiders fail to make it pass the introduction phase because they come off as awkward, desperate and irritating.

Simply put, they don't bring anything new or useful to the table. Being interesting, charming,  or witty won't get you far unless these skills are considered useful to the group dynamic. A great example from Worldwide Wes was his time spent as a sales rep at Pro Shoes, a sneaker store that many college hoop stars frequented for the latest kicks.

Any salesman will tell you the importance of understanding your customer and providing value. Demonstrating value can be done in a number of ways;  niche expertise, connections, discounts, etc.

Developing relationships with soon to be millionaires while they are just hundred-aires and nurturing that relationship was key. Ask yourself this, on your last night out at a dinner party , what value did you actually bring?

-Did you introduce two strangers who share the same interests and passion, ultimately providing a solution through the connection?

-Did you make any new contacts, exchange info and follow-up?

or did you talk to the same people about the same stuff that you always do and post instagram photos of your dish?

Understanding a Powerful Social Concept: Implied Reciprocity
Social groups are alot like balance sheets, meaning there are assets and liabilites. Those deemed as assets get the invites to the parties, trips, job promotions, etc. You can imagine what happens to people who are considered liabilites. Non-returned calls, avoidance and ultimately ex-communication from the group.

One phrase that is repeated from the likes of LeBron and others when asked about their relationship with Wes is, "He never asked for anything".  Let's consider that for a moment.....

Professional athletes for the most part are young, super-rich, famous and are constantly pusued by an army of attorneys, jewelers, family members, friends and women all chomping at the bit for a piece of the action. Naturally they are on guard to any outsiders and keep those outside the core group at arms length. Trust is paramount whenever millions are involved.

Chances are you've been out to a nightclub and have witnessed the long lines at the door. Would be patrons desperately bargain with the promoter or doorman about the entry fee, bottle prices and guest list.

Meanwhile inside the club you witness equally desperate women trying to shimmy their way to the nearest table for a free drink.

Both of these sets are social pariah. Hopelessly looking for a shortcut and hookup while providing nothing in return. Do not let this be you!

The key difference that will prevent you from falling in this group is that you will under promise and over deliver. That's it.

Talk a small game but bring HUGE results.

Taking  a page from the pros, you should be actively downplaying your ability, then unleashing it at the most oppurtune time. You can see this strategy deployed when someone offers that just in time referral that leads to something that benefits all parties involved.

There's an ancient Sicilian motto that goes, "Don't do favors, accumulate debts."  The pessimist will look at it as manipulative, the socially intelligent will recognize it for what it actually suggests.

Be selfless, giving, and unassuming. Expect nothing in return for your efforts but understand that the value you provide others will return to you ten-fold.

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