Billionaire Elon Musk has legions of supporters. For the die-hard Musketeers – what I call his followers – his past and current successes disrupting entire industries with PayPal, Tesla Motors, Solar City, and SpaceX are well documented. What is much less, if ever mentioned, in interviews is one of the most basic and important skill sets he used to catapult himself toward his current legendary stratospheric status.
What is this basic skill? Elon Musk is a Big Game networker. He understands how to network with Big Gamers – people of influence.
During my 30-minute interview with Musk, I asked him about three areas: How did growing up in South Africa affect his life, was his driving purpose what kept him afloat all these years, and which people helped him to achieve his current success.
The third area, regarding his relationships with Big Gamers most peaked my interest because it illuminates how he met the individuals who would eventually change his life and effectively our collective world.
Here are 3 networking tips you can learn from Elon Musk:
1. Cold calling still works.
According to Musk, the first really important Big Gamer he ever met was when he was studying in Canada. He was looking for a summer job and he read a newspaper article about an executive named Peter Nicholson, who he thought sounded “really smart.” Nicholson was the head of strategy for the Bank of Nova Scotia, which was one of the largest banks in Canada. He later became the chief economic adviser for the prime minister of Canada.
“I couldn't get to him directly, so I called the newspaper and asked to talk to the writer. I met the writer and [eventually] the writer connected me with Peter Nicholson.”
Musk met and ultimately convinced Nicholson to hire him as a summer intern. Cold calling [or cold-connecting with someone on social media platforms] still works. Find who you want to meet and reach out to them on multiple platforms numerous times. Fortune is in the follow up.
2. Be in the right zip code.
In 1989, Kevin Costner starred in the film “Field of Dreams” where he popularized the phrase, “If you build it, they will come.” In real life, the more correct axiom is, “be in the right zip code where they are building things you want to build.” Even though Musk grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, he shared with me the following, “The reason why I wanted to come here was because the forefront of technology is in the U.S.”
Musk didn’t just jump on a plane and fly to Silicon Valley. He first attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, and then began (but eventually dropped out of) a PhD program at Stanford University in California. His travels from Pretoria, South Africa to Stanford, California totaled 11,786 miles.
Great ideas spark the desire to create or grow a company, but it’s the great people in the right zip code you surround yourself with that will turn your ideas into the next Apple, Google, Tesla Motors, Facebook, or Uber.
3. Override your fears.
Musk never initially intended to create Tesla Motors or SpaceX. He had various ideas of what fields he wanted to pursue in college, but it wasn’t until after he sold PayPal to eBay that he really thought about his life goal to “affect the future of humanity.” Even when he started Tesla Motors and SpaceX, he never thought they would succeed.
It is easy to look at Elon Musk and think that you can never be like him. You probably don’t want to be like him, but you can learn how to network like him to catapult your own career forward. When you look at your own career, if you’re not where you want to be, which Big Gamer do you want to network with that would change your life? Think about where you can meet that person, and try to reach out to them over and over again until you make contact.
Though you might have fears of doing this, focus on what Elon did. When asked about having fears and how he deals with them he said, “I feel fear quite strongly, so it’s not that I don’t have fear. But if I think it’s important enough then I just override the fear.”
If your career is important enough, then go for it. Don’t settle. Aim higher.
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