Lines not Dots: The Power of Consistency in Building Relationships
Trust is built through consistency over time
Mark Suster – a prominent founder and venture capitalist – wrote this seminal piece in 2010 titled, "Invest in Line, not Dots". It spoke about how to maintain investor relationships. But what’s timeless about the advice is that it is for all kinds of relationships, not just investor relations.
This can apply to potential employers, partners, collaborators, employees, professors, universities, alums, peers, ex-colleagues, or with everyone, in general – we'll get to that to that soon.
Consistency over time
Every relationship is built on a foundation of trust. Friendship is a type of relationship that’s been studied empirically.
There’s research to suggest that it takes roughly 50 hours of time together to move from mere acquaintance to casual friend; 90 hours to go from that stage to a simple “friend” status and more than 200 hours before you can consider someone your close friend.
So, how do you build trust? The clue is in the research above.
Trust is built through consistency over time.
Here’s how it works:
The first time you interact with someone, either in-person or through your content, it’s just one data point. There aren’t enough proof-points to establish a trend.
By being consistent, you develop a track record. People know what to expect from you and they know that you aren’t flaky, or will you disappear suddenly.
Why does this matter? People invest their time in you. They want to see a positive return from the time investment in you.
How does this apply to the real world?
Play long term games with long term people – Naval
Let's take the case of graduate school admissions. If you create a line relationship with key stakeholders in the admissions process, higher are the chances of you being accepted.
This is more relevant for PhD admissions, where you and the professor have to work closely over many years. They need someone they can trust.
For example, my friend got in touch with a professor from Columbia University at a conference in 2015. Over the years, he developed a relationship with him without any intention of becoming a PhD student. However, a few years later, at another conference where he was a speaker he was persuaded by people he met there to pursue a PhD, and today, he is pursuing his PhD under the same professor.
The same principle applies to careers, startups, fundraising, partnerships, collaboration, and more.
Build relationships at scale
But, your time is limited – how do you maintain relationships with people at scale, especially when you don’t know them yet.
Cal Newport in his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” talks about how you should work on projects that are remarkable and it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.
There are different platforms that help establish this credibility through consistency.
For example, there is Twitter (startups, technology, VC), LinkedIn (professionals), Instagram or Behance (creatives/designers), or newsletters (everyone).
A well-known example for developers is Github. Contributions on this platform are tracked on a long time scale to establish a line relationship for yourself.
Newsletters (just like this one) have the potential to create that one-on-one relationship at scale. This makes it more personal and conversational than the other mediums. Even though you might not know me personally, if you’ve read several of my posts – you’ll get a good sense of my thinking process.
How should you use this knowledge?
Reach out to people even when you don’t have to. This makes it easier when you actually need to
Be systematic about maintaining relationships with people
Start a newsletter or be active on social media to create lines with more people at scale
Mark Suster’s Invest in Lines not Dots
Naval’s podcast on Play long term games with long term people
That's it for today. Let me know what you think about the lines, not dots concept. Reply to this email, and I'll be happy to discuss it with you.
Talk to you soon!
P.S. Share this with a friend if you think it’ll be helpful