SPS Magic

By Samuel Patrick Smith

He is brilliant, talented, and creative, an excellent performer and a professional in every sense of the word. But somehow, he has never been recognized and his business has never taken off. His success is always around the corner in the latest project or idea, but so far, it has not materialized. The missing link? Good connections.

Another talented performer was making slow progress in her career until she teamed up with a promoter who recognized her ability. For several years, the partnership worked and she rapidly moved ahead. Maybe it was the unaccustomed success and a swollen head, but whatever the reason, she decided her partner was holding her back and struck out on her own. The past two years, her career has taken a nose-dive, along with her self-confidence. Meanwhile, the partner has made other connections, and her career is flourishing. The secret of her success? Connections.

As performers and business owners, our success is based on people and the connections we have with them. A poorly connected person fails and continues to fail. In truth, everyone has connections, good and bad. The key is to find positive connections that work. Some connections are toxic and should be avoided. Some start out well enough but become one-sided with the passing of time. Other connections -- rare and wonderful -- are positive and charged with energy and magic for a lifetime.

This principle has passed the test of time. Andrew Carnegie, who started his own business 140 years ago, was known for his ability to find, build, and maintain connections. Carnegie claimed to know very little about the production and sale of steel, but he created a fabulously successful corporation by surrounding himself with dozens of men of great ability who bridged the gaps in his knowledge. Carnegie's strength was in making and maintaining the connections.

Connections are not simply business partnerships, however, which may or may not be a good idea. Connections include employers, employees, customers, friends, acquaintances, vendors, resource people, and family members. Connections help us do what we can't do for ourselves, whether it's building a prop, drawing a picture, booking a show, writing a letter, or having faith in our future. Other people -- positive connections -- can make this happen for us, and we can make it happen for them. I know this is true because I have made connections, some of them unexpected and surprising, which improved my business exponentially. They have helped me do what I could not do by myself. They have helped me see what was out of focus.

Some people view the idea of needing positive connections as a sign of weakness. They feel that they should be able to do everything by themselves. This is simply not realistic. No one can do everything. Even Thomas Edison employed mathematicians to figure complicated formulas. David Copperfield would never make it out of his driveway without a dedicated staff, people who handle the promotion, prop building, booking, and logistics of travel. Even comedian George Burns -- in his later years, a classic one-man show -- employed joke writers and a secretary and had close connections with other comedian friends like Jack Benny.

The careers of all truly successful performers and business persons have confirmed that we work best by concentrating on what we do best, and positive connections give us the focus and energy to concentrate. These positive connections aren't free, however. They require, at minimum, the following investments:

(1) Positive attitudes. When we focus on what we can give (without letting others take advantage of us, of course), the connection has enough breathing space to grow. When we start thinking, "After all I've done for him!" the connection loses strength. You can keep things in perspective simply by keeping things in perspective. Know what you give, know what you receive, but quit trying to keep a running tab. Instead, cultivate a feeling of thankfulness for what you've received and are receiving from the relationship. Connections bloom in an atmosphere of generosity, gratitude, and enthusiasm.

(2) Realistic commitments. I have a friend with whom I have an informal, unspoken business connection. I do things for his business; he does things for mine. There's no exchange of money, only an exchange of energy -- but then, what else is money but stored energy? Recently, I needed help on a project on a Saturday morning, and he gladly came to the rescue. I thought about how inconvenient that had been for him and how I would try not to do that to him again! There have been other times when I've helped him meet similar deadlines, but there's no keeping score. We are just committed to helping each other as friends. It's a wonderful gift!

(3) Honesty. What a refreshing concept! This includes clear communication about what's good and what's bad. It means not pretending that your connection is in great shape when it's really not. I had a client, a formerly positive connection, with whom I had increasing problems. We got together for two meetings of total honesty, discussing every aspect of our mutual dissatisfaction.  By the end of the second meeting we had cleared up a lot of misunderstandings. He looked across the table and said, "I want to be a better customer."

I said, "I want to be a better vendor." We both laughed, shook hands, and our connection improved immediately. His next project went like clockwork, and it was a positive experience for everyone involved.

Honesty in small things pays big benefits in our connections. For example, I feel complete confidence in my graphic designer who is normally extremely organized. Recently I called her about a disk and some artwork for a project I had mailed to her. She looked for the materials and called back to say she didn't have them. Several days later, she called and sheepishly admitted to finding the artwork, but still not the disk. A day or two later, I found that the disk had not been mailed, and I sheepishly admitted to finding the disk! Neither of us made any attempt to save face by lying. It was a small incident, but it built on an already strong level of trust.

On the other hand, when you discover someone being dishonest about even a small issue, confidence wavers and the connection takes on significant static. One of my business connections has insisted on taking credit for work I know he didn't do. When I asked him about it, he said, "No, I did the work," when I had positive proof that he didn't. He is still one of my vendors, but my level of trust in him has diminished.

(4) Maintenance. Even the best connections experience wear and tear. To continue, they need routine maintenance. Without it, connections run the risk of being damaged and even permanently severed. When things are tense in a business relationship, taking time out for some good old fashioned fun can help. Good conversation, a meal, a cup of coffee, a good laugh can make the difference. When people have fun, it gives their work sparkle and shine. Drudgery does not spawn creativity, and times of lightening up can lead to greater productivity down the road -- and the preservation of valuable connections.

The old saying, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is as true as ever. If your connections feel that you're only interested in what you can get out of them, they will wither. This is one reason I like to call and e-mail vital connections even when there's nothing specific we're working on. I just want them to know they mean more than business. If you only hear from someone when they need something, anytime they call you'll be apt to think, "What do they want now?"

Often when someone finishes a job for me, I call to thank them for the excellent work. You can feel the tenseness when they come to the phone because a follow-up call (sadly) often means some kind of complaint. That makes it extra fun to say, "I was just calling to tell you what a fantastic job you did! You were incredible!"

(5) Patience. Every connection we have can't always meet our needs at the exact time we want them met. Sometimes people need time and space to grow. It's a great thing to have the wisdom to see beyond the present moment, to have enough insight not to burn bridges when our expectations aren't met right away.

A story is told of a great leader of industry whose key employee made a mistake costing the company $184,000. He went to the man's office and found him cleaning out his desk. "What are you doing?" the employer asked.

"I figured I was finished here after that fiasco."

"Absolutely not," his boss countered. "I've just spent $184,000 educating you. You're not leaving now!"

Stories of patience abound in the business world, and sometimes it's the patience of employees that pays off. Two young entrepreneurs started a manufacturing company in the late 1950s, and in their early years had trouble paying the bills. Disgruntled employees with no vision jumped ship. Within a short time, however, the partners developed and built a highly successful company, becoming billionaires themselves and making millionaires of many who stayed the course.

A publishing company started with a handful of friends and family. When things were tight, one employee said, "Let us pray that the money holds out."

"No," replied one of the executives. "Let us pray that our faith holds out." It held and the venture grew into a large and successful organization, publishing a magazine with distributions of over a million copies per month. Connections of faith and patience made it work.

These examples of positive attitudes, realistic commitments, honesty, maintenance, and patience demonstrate the value of successful connections. But how can we make all of this work in our own careers? You should practice each of these qualities with your valued connections, but I have three further recommendations to start making this work even more effectively.

First, sit down with a notebook, either paper or digital, and list every present connection you have. (List-making clarifies our thinking.) Remember, connections may include employers, employees, customers, friends, acquaintances, vendors, resource people, and family members. Then, if you're focusing on business, list your top five business connections. Which customer paid you the most money last year? Which employee was the most productive? Which supplier or vendor came through with the most products or ideas of value in the last year? Make a note of these top five and you'll know where to begin strengthening the relationships to make sure the connections are secure.

Second, with your list in hand, begin "opening your line of credit." Give people credit for the good they do. Even for ideas that go back years--if they're still paying off, say thank you. Someone I know recently said to me, "I'm human enough to let this bother me, but I gave someone an idea years ago which they're still using and benefiting from, and although I see them several times a year, I've never heard, 'That was a good idea. I appreciate it.'" Giving credit is free. Why not give it? It strengthens your connections and makes people feel good.

Third, deliberately create new connections. You can do this with letters, phone calls, or visits. When I think of the best things that have happened to me, most of them started with a letter. I met magician-author Burling Hull, then wrote him a letter. That launched our friendship and my career. I read about Fetaque Sanders, a retired African-American magician, and wrote him a letter. A close friendship developed which also impacted my business in tangible ways. My grandparents told me about a young lady who was their new neighbor. I wrote her a letter, and she later became my wife--my most successful mailing! All of these good things happened to me, but only after I took a step.

Remember, too, that every connection you make isn't going to benefit you directly or exclusively. Sometimes your connections are for the sole purpose of helping others. (But when we are helping others, aren't we also helping ourselves?) As the popular lecturer and writer Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) wrote, "We will not be here forever, anyway...and we had better help one another while we may: we are going the same way--let's go hand in hand." By going hand in hand, we get there faster, and the trip is a lot more fun. That's the magic of connections!


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