Joshua Cooper Ramo is an international best-selling author, Co-CEO and vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, and a member of the board of Starbucks and FedEx. You could say he knows something about business success. Recently, however, he wrote something about what he calls his “$800 million career mistake.” How could someone so successful make such a big mistake?
First of all, it’s probably not the kind of mistake you’re thinking about. He didn’t “buy high and sell low.” He didn’t exactly miscalculate costs or market share. He didn’t over (or under) spend. He simply didn’t see a connection.
In 1995 he had the opportunity to be employee number five at a little Silicon Valley startup called Yahoo! He passed on that opportunity. Here’s his description of his “$800 million mistake.”
I looked at Yahoo! and saw four dudes in a warehouse and that looked extremely risky to me. What I didn’t fully appreciate was what they were connected to: The fastest growing network in human history, the Internet. Wise investors. Energetic technologists. So this is maybe the fundamental insight of life in a network age: You are what you are connected to. You might think that, faced with a fast-changing, risky environment, the right business or career strategy would be to take less risk. But in a connected age, it turns out that the more risk you take, the faster you can change and learn and draw on resources you didn’t even know existed. Think of it like learning a new language or moving to a new city: Taking that risk connects you to new people and ideas and places.
For years we’ve heard people say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters.” That’s been true for a long time, but the Internet (and the way business is done these days) has blown that up almost beyond belief. It’s not just who you know, but how you connect to others that opens up incredible opportunities.
Who are you connected to in business? Maybe what you have to offer doesn’t fit their specific need. But to whom are they connected? Perhaps their connections need exactly what you have to offer. Or maybe you’re connected to another business that seems to run parallel to yours. You’re not really competitors, but perhaps there’s a new opportunity there that can only be realized if you work together (think about Kinko’s and FedEx or Amazon and UPS).
In 1624 the English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” That’s never been truer than it is today. We exist in connection to one another—but sometimes we simply don’t see it, or understand how it can benefit us.
Scaling your business isn’t always a solitary pursuit. What’s your connection? What are the business relationships you have that may hold opportunities you haven’t even considered yet?