In our “bigger is better” world, it’s only natural for us to want to supersize our network of human connections. We make the false assumption that the more people we know, the greater our chances of being exposed to opportunities that may lead to personal and professional success.
If you’re like most people, you have built your network in a pretty random fashion - connecting with anyone who wishes to communicate with you. And if you have a hard time saying no to people, your undiscerning generosity may be self-defeating. This is why I’ve developed the 5.50.500 rule for my own life.
Consider first the five people who should be in your inner most circle. These five are going to deeply and profoundly influence you. Seek out and nurture five relationships with good, smart people who can help you to be a better version of yourself. With each of these people, the conversation should be unfiltered and trust should be absolute. They help form the foundation that will lead to your success. Choose them, not to the exclusion of all others, but because they reflect the individual you wish to become. I call this my “Zone of Mentorship.” I work hard to spend quality time with these five people. To be authentic and take feedback. To learn. To grow. And to actively contribute to the relationship.
Complementing the 5 is the 50 - a collection of individuals whose knowledge and expertise provide a foundation for both collaboration and growth. To achieve this, I try to think of the 4-6 dimensions of myself I’m hoping to improve, and identify individuals within each category with deep expertise - and with whom I can thoughtfully invest time and expand my knowledge. Having 6-8 experts in each area is almost like having your own “advisory board” for areas of competency you’re looking to develop. I call this my “Zone of Professional Development.” For example, my 5 categories are: Healthcare Trends, Entrepreneurial Thinking, Teaching & Coaching, Thoughtful Investments, and Community Engagement. Over the past 10 years, I’ve invested in trusted relationships in each of these areas - and I know the key people I can call on at any time if I need additional insight. These have become some of the most valued professional relationships I have - and over the years, we have supported one another for mutual success.
While there’s really no other “500” - I use this term to help me understand which individuals are not in the 5 (Zone of Mentorship) or the 50 (Zone of Professional Development). It’s not that I don’t enjoy the people in this group - nor that I never spend time here. It is simply a way I acknowledge that these relationships will never be as deep as the others - and can become distractions if I’m not disciplined with my time. Everyone who is not in the “5 or 50” are in the 500. These are all wonderful individuals - but we do not necessarily share the same core values, goals or interests.
How to Build Your Own 5.50.500
I totally believe that if you carefully curate your most trusted, inner circle, you will be more valuable to the larger community of people in the world who care about the same things you do. Here’s a few thoughts to help you create your own 5.50.500:
First, assess yourself. Are you in control of the relationships in your life? If you are not making deliberate choices about who you are spending time with, you need to take back that control. Evaluate your calendar for a month - and ask yourself when is the last time those interactions either provided value or allowed you to give value? Make a plan to lessen your time investment in people and activities that make unrewarding demands. Identify those people and activities that should be part of your 5.50.
Secondly, assess your habits. What activities did you take part in over the past week that was a great investment of your time? And ask yourself if how you’re spending your time is aligned with your most deeply-held values. If it’s not, then drop it. What routines are simply old habits that do not align with the person you wish to become.
Last of all, assess others. What types of people do you want to spend more time with, and what types do you want to cut out entirely? Relationships should not be transactional — the idea is not to spend time only with people who you believe can help you. Focus on the long-term value of building mutually-beneficial relationship. Build the “right relationships” - not because there is the expectation of reciprocity, but because being useful and generous builds social capital by increasing your knowledge and opportunities.
As you shrink your inner circle, you’ll begin thinking of yourself as the architect of your environment. As you forge deeper, more authentic relationships with smaller numbers of people who are genuinely important to you, you will gain more context into their wants and needs, and they will likewise develop a fuller understanding of you. That will give you a stronger foundation on which to build a larger community that benefits from knowing you.