Networking is painful, and I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to enjoy it. Unfortunately for me, networking is effective: most good opportunities come from personal connections.
We can see all kinds of empirical evidence for this — people getting rich from being aware of it, which is the best evidence that something is true. Conferences buy cheap square footage and lease it at expensive rates to attendees who want to meet other attendees. Stanford business schools offer you the valuable opportunity to meet a lot of Stanford MBAs. Y Combinator’s entire model is based on VCs’ preference for warm introductions over cold emails: the spend three months getting a startup into shape and then introduce it to a hundred billion dollars of risk-seeking AUM.
Clearly networking, in a broad sense, works.
But it doesn’t work very well for people who are bad at striking up conversations with strangers or near-strangers, and I definitely qualify there. I’m fairly introverted (which should be no surprise; introverts are way overrepresented on the text-only parts of the Internet), and I’m pathologically bad at recognizing faces. I used to think I was just nearsighted, but after I got glasses I heard about prosopagnosia and it clicked: if there’s a word in Greek or Latin for it, it’s probably real.
Introversion and a poor ability to recognize people makes networking an absolute minefield. You’re either going to have a somewhat painful conversation with someone you don’t know, groping for some sort of common ground, or you’re going to have an even more awkward conversation with someone you’ve actually already talked to.
There is a solution: be famous. You lose the ability to filter out who you want to talk to, but at least everyone starts the conversation with some context; you’re outsourcing the extroversion to them.
Fame is hard, and it has other costs. But there’s a second alternative: be microfamous. Microfame is the best kind of fame, because it combines an easier task (be famous to fewer people) with a better outcome (be famous to the right people).
If you’re trying to calibrate how hard it is to achieve micro-fame, focus on the micro, not the fame. Micro-fame just means your friends-of-friends have a nonzero chance of knowing who you are, and striking up a conversation with you about something mutually interesting.