May 12, 2014

Compassionate Networking: David Bradford’s “Up Your Game”

About halfway through “Up Your Game: 6 Timeless Principles for Networking Your Way to the Top,” author and current HireVue executive chairman David Bradford shares a brief anecdote that perfectly encapsulates the style and substance of the book overall:

Relationships require nurturing. As one of the leading venture capitalists in the world told me, “David, the word ‘networking’ understates what you do. What you do is build lasting relationships.”

Stylistically, “Up Your Game” is more of a freewheeling conversation than a how-to guide. Bradford often supports or expands on his observations (“Relationships require nurturing”) with personal anecdotes (“As one of the leading venture capitalists …”). Along the way, we learn about the politicians he knows (Mitt Romney), the business superstars he’s worked with (Steve Wozniak), and the professional athletes he pals around with (Steve Young).

But Bradford isn’t dropping names to make himself look good, nor do the personal stories distract from the points Bradford tries to make. In a lot of ways, the personal stories are the points he tries make, the real substance of the book. A reader could skim over the chapter titles and section headers if they wanted only to learn Bradford’s principles for networking. The principles themselves are simple enough, each one with a catchy, memorable name. But that reader wouldn’t be getting all that “Up Your Game” has to offer.

Bradford’s frequent digressions serve an important purpose: they flesh out Bradford’s principles of networking, showing what “Up Your Game” looks like in action. Bradford has a tendency to give his advice in the form of short, slogan-esque phrases (“Business is always about people”; and “Like attracts like” come to mind). And while these mantras are easily digested and remembered, advice is useless if we don’t know what to do with it. This is why we hear about the likes of Wozniak, Romney, and Young: Bradford is showing us how he used his own advice to build an impressive network that includes these giants.

The major focus of “Up Your Game” is networking: what it is, how to do it, when to do it, and why. While Bradford isn’t the first to tackle this subject, there’s a reason it’s so popular: networking is both one of the most crucial skills for building and maintaining a successful career and one of the most confusing. Simply put: a lot of us don’t know how to do it.

In my own experience, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of networking. It always seemed mercenary and manipulative: how am I supposed to justify building relationships with people just so I can get ahead in life?

Bradford’s take on professional relationships is the most unique thing about his book. He adamantly dispels the notion that networking is about figuring out what other people can do for us. Instead, he counsels compassion and reciprocity. Networking starts, in Bradford’s world, by “giving without getting.” We’re supposed to take genuine interest in the people with whom we network. We’re supposed to support them as they support us.

Bradford tells multiple stories in which he helps people land jobs and sends thoughtful gifts long before needing anything in return. Bradford’s networking style is not ego-centric: it’s people centric. No one single person is at the center of Bradford’s network. Instead, everyone – Bradford himself included – exists in mutually beneficial relationships.

Bradford’s approach to using technology to build relationships further demonstrates his commitment to people. “Up Your Game” celebrates technology for the wonderful tool that it is, but it also takes pains to remind us that technology is just that: a tool. Bradford advises us to use technology in conjunction with his “timeless principles,” not as a replacement for them. No matter the medium, people are always the be-all, end-all of Bradford’s networks.

The question becomes: who is this book written for? Who stands the most to gain from reading “Up Your Game”? I’d suggest that anyone, at any level of their career, could learn from Bradford. Networking isn’t necessarily a skill that comes with age or experience — although these things can certainly help — and even veteran workers may find themselves surprised by the new warmth and energy Bradford brings to the subject. Of course, career newbies may benefit the most from “Up Your Game”. When you’re starting out in the workforce, networking can seem downright daunting. With Bradford as a guide, it becomes just another way to make friends.

In the end, Bradford boils networking down to six principles that really do encompass everything. You’ll still need to read the whole book, though. This is no cheat sheet. You can’t just skim and expect to get it all. “Up Your Game” is a thorough account of how the “Bottlecap Kid” made his way to the top, and you really do have to see it to believe it.

Read more in Networking

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of