Several weeks ago a former student reached out to me via LinkedIn looking for some career guidance. He was a great student, a good person with impressive experience for his age. However, given that his field was software engineering, there was little I could offer him….except for my connections. After dropping the ball for a few weeks, he nudged me – as I suggested he do if he hadn’t heard from me. In fifteen minutes, I thought of three friends who were in his field that I could connect him to. I wrote three emails seeing if they were open to talking with him. Within minutes two said yes and I connected them.

Later that day, I remembered a conversation that I had with another friend. A great guy who was out of work and looking for a new opportunity. I had wanted to connect him with another local friend who might be a good contact but had forgotten to. So I reached out to see if he’d be open to having a call or a cup of coffee. He said he’d be happy to.

These are two examples of what is technically referred to as social capital. Simply put, it’s using your connections to help someone else.

In the last few months alone, I have both been the recipient and distributor of social capital. A friend of mine offered to share my recently completed screenplay with producers he knew. I helped connect an author to a national book club. Later he connected me to an opportunity to appear on a podcast. I’ve put several students in touch with folks who could help them with their senior projects. Someone recommended me for a new consulting opportunity with a great new publication. Another person asked me for some contacts related to a grant opportunity. I reached out to someone regarding a potential summer job for my daughter, the same day I shared a job posting that I thought would be of interest to someone else.

All of this exchange in social capital, all within just a few months.

In contrast with other forms of capital, the goal of social capital is not to accumulate it. In fact, it’s hard to do so. Social capital is largely gained through your own reputation and the relationships you build over time. Each time you spend some of it, you are vouching for someone but that doesn’t necessarily diminish how much social capital you still have. In fact, perhaps paradoxically, the more you spend the more you may get – as people on both sides may feel grateful for the connection.

This should not imply that social capital is intended to be transactional. We don’t help others simply because “what goes around comes around.” We do so because we can and we should. When we help someone or when someone helps us. We don’t exchange “goods.”  We exchange “good.”

However, the act of spending our social capital is all too often reactive. Someone asks us for help and we choose to oblige or not. But what if we were all more proactive?

Each day, many walk into a Starbucks and proactively spend their financial capital for a quick jolt of caffeine. But what if each day, we also proactively “walked into LinkedIn or our contact list and spent our social capital by connecting two people?

The cost would be less and the jolt even more rewarding.

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