What Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein can teach us about networking and risk-taking

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journals on July 13, 2020.

In a 1994 interview with the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs tells of his experience when, as a high school student, he picked up the phone and asked Bill Hewlett, a co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, if he had any spare parts that he could give Jobs to build a frequency counter. Not only did Jobs get the parts, but he also landed a summer job on an assembly line manufacturing frequency counters in a Hewlett-Packard factory.

During the interview, Jobs states, “I’ve never found anyone who has said no or hung up the phone when I called. I just asked. And when people ask me, I try to be as responsive, to pay that debt of gratitude back. Most people never pick up the phone and never call, most people never ask. And that’s what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail.”

Albert Einstein once said, “If you have never failed, you have never tried anything new.” One must learn how to take risks, to accept rejection, and to move forward. That’s how you progress in your career.

The power of networking came into sharp focus for me personally when I was able to introduce a student of the Pennoni Honors College of Drexel University to a C-suite executive at eBay.

After speaking with a group of Pennoni students at a lunch-and-learn event on how to develop into effective leaders as their careers progress, one of the students introduced herself and shared her goal to work in Silicon Valley in the area of marketing after graduation. She asked me if I knew anyone she could network with in that field in Silicon Valley.

I immediately thought of Richelle Parham, chief marketing officer of eBay at the time (and a Drexel alumna) who I had met the previous year. Within hours, I connected the student to Parham.

This student was the only one to ask me for help. Had the student not had initiative, the introduction would not have occurred. She took the risk of rejection. The worst I could have said is, “I am sorry I can’t help you. I know of no one in Silicon Valley to whom I can introduce you.”

Many jobs are found through people you know in your network. Everyone should develop networking skills because you never know when you will need to go to your network to find your next job.

Networking enables you to meet new people, introduces you to new ideas and perspectives, and helps you consider new approaches to problems. It provides a way to benchmark others and discuss best practices within your industry. Networking builds communities of individuals who have similar or related interests.

In my book “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success” and in articles I have written for the Philadelphia Business Journal, I emphasize the importance of networking skills. So, how can you effectively develop these skills?

  • Always be out and about meeting new people.
  • At an event, learn how to join a group conversation and how to graciously depart the group to meet other people at the event.
  • Recognize people in serious conversation and know when not to interrupt them.
  • Learn how to start conversations with those you have not previously met.
  • Practice sharing what you do in a few sentences (the proverbial elevator speech).
  • Don’t dominate conversations. Make good eye contact, be a good listener, and show interest by asking relevant questions.
  • Look for common areas and subjects that can form the basis of a future conversation and relationship.
  • Develop meaningful connections with just a few people versus shallow connections with many.

Obtain the e-mail address of those you have networked with to let them know how much you enjoyed speaking with them. Include something that you both spoke about so you are memorable and can differentiate yourself from other people that individual met that day. When the opportunity arises, help those you have met. They will do the same for you.

Networking is one of the most powerful tools you can use to further develop your career, regardless of whether you are a college student, individual contributor, mid-level leader, business owner, or CEO of a company. It will also help you develop your interpersonal skills. Networking is a skill that should be taught and practiced by all students, regardless of area of study.

Remember what Steve Jobs said, “That’s what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them.” Get out of your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to someone new. By doing so, you never know what opportunities might open for you.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at

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