David Foster’s surprising key to success

What the Victoria-born music producer told the audience at the BCBusiness Top 100 Event

Credit: Paul Duchart

David Foster takes questions from the audience at the BCBusiness Top 100 Event

During his interview with Canada Wide chairman and CEO Peter Legge at the BCBusiness Top 100 Event, David Foster popped up from his chair, walked into the audience and asked this question: “What is the key to success?” The audience responded with “money,” “hard work,” “passion,” “commitment.” None of those answers were what Foster was looking for because his answer was “networking.” Yes!

Elon Musk or navel-gazing?

Foster explained it this way: Although he could hang out with other musicians, he is much more interested in meeting people like Elon Musk—people who can open his eyes to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. While Elon Musk might not take your call (or ours), the point Foster is making is that navel-gazing with other musicians isn’t going to broaden his experiences. Names like Groban, Streisand, Celine and Bublé seem like a pretty stellar network, but it’s still a “they know the same people you do” group. Reaching out to people who don’t think like you, who have dissimilar skills and knowledge and have different connections introduces you to new networks and new opportunities.

7 ways a network matters

Many in the BCBusiness Top 100 audience may have found David Foster’s answer to the key to success surprising. While we all know we need a network, we don’t often drill down on its importance. Shepa Learning Company’s seven elements of The Value of a Network™ illuminate why networks matter:

1. New information

A network gives you access to information you can’t get any other way. Here’s an example: we were meeting with a financial vice-president about a volunteer opportunity and she was looking for some advice. During the conversation she mentioned her firm was “thinking about doing some networking training.” Six months later, we began a very fruitful relationship with that firm. But here’s the thing: Google couldn’t have helped us get this information, nor was a request for proposal posted, nor were there any other avenues available to get that kind of sticky knowledge.

2. New perspectives

A network gives you access to new perspectives. The ultimate example involves Einstein and that little thing called the theory of relativity and the breakthrough Einstein needed. He credited this fresh insight to discussions he had with Swiss-Italian engineer Michele Besso, with whom he did “battle against that problem.”

3. Exponential opportunities

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, says, “If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.” That’s what networking is all about?meeting new people. If you think about the one-, two- and three-degree connections of every new person you meet, you are expanding your opportunities exponentially.

4. Authentic feedback

As the leader, you may find there’s a temptation for others to not disagree with you. Or, if your network consists of mainly internal connections, perhaps everyone is “drinking the same bathwater.” For example, in 1984 Coca-Cola decided that people were ready for a “New Coke.” They should have had a better network to provide feedback. Warren Buffet would have been a good person! Buffet, who drinks five Cokes a day, would have told them not to mess with a 99-year-old formula and saved them the debacle that was New Coke. Your broader network delivers valuable feedback.

5. Support

A network is your back stop in work and life. It provides you with mentors, champions, resources, emotional support and so much more. And if you are a giver, not a taker, people are more likely to want to be there for you. Author Tim Sanders in his book Love is the Killer App says, “If all I do as a bizperson is take what I can get from you, I’m not truly relevant to your life. You may have to speak to me now, but if I lose the job that brings us into contact, you probably won’t speak to me again.” A network is a terrible thing to lose.

6. Health

Over the past 15 years, there have been many studies showing that a supportive network is good for your physical and mental health. Some scientists believe that a supportive network is as important a factor as sleep, diet, exercise and stopping smoking. Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, his landmark book on engagement, says, “Social networks help you stay healthy…as a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half…it’s a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining.” Perhaps this is a slogan: “Network or Die.” OK, maybe not.

7. Happiness

Research has shown that having close friends, volunteering in the community and getting to know your neighbours increases your happiness. As reported in The Atlantic, “If you volunteer at least once a week, the increase to your happiness is like moving from a yearly income of $20,000 to $75,000. If you have a friend that you see on most days, it’s like earning $100,000 more each year. Simply seeing your neighbors on a regular basis gets you $60,000 a year more. On the other hand, when you break a critical social tie—here, in the case of getting divorced—it’s like suffering a $90,000-per-year decrease in your income.” Happiness is like a raise. Of course you want both!

Not so surprising after all

Kudos to David Foster for championing the power of networking, an often overlooked leadership skill. When you read (or listen to) Foster’s life story, you see that his success hinged on spanning networks. He has the bridging skills needed to marry the needs of the artist with the business of music. His other powerful network is his philanthropic network, the children and their families, the business people and companies that contribute to the success of the David Foster Foundation. This is where he probably gets his happiness.

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac, principals of Shepa Learning Company, are business networking speakers and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Penguin/Prentice Hall).  They offer a free weekly networking tip, always under 200 words.