“The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” — Bill Gates
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard attorneys and bankers initiate a networking conversation with the question: “What are you working on these days?” Given attorney-client privilege and/or other confidentiality issues, there is a strong likelihood that the recipient of that question is in no position to answer. And, so, the conversation is instantly uncomfortable and awkward. This is the professional equivalent of asking a potential mate “what do you do?” in a social setting — which is largely, mistakenly, and unfortunately the question of default (at least in New York City). Quite simply, many people either don’t or can’t define themselves by what they “do” or what they’re “working on.” So…don’t do that.
A better approach is to ask “what’s interesting?” This open-ended question can take a conversation down any number of paths including, quite possibly, the path towards the answer to the above-referenced question. But, more than that, it may lead to some surprising responses that, among many other things, (i) give you insight into the thinking and interests of your co-conversant, (ii) expose you to some new and engaging perspectives, and (iii) provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate what you find interesting.
To take advantage of this opportunity, though, you need to ensure that you are interesting and have some engaging responses to your own question. One of the easiest ways (but certainly not the only way) to be interesting is to arm yourself with information about a variety of different subjects (of course, in addition to topics related to your area of expertise). Unfortunately, many attorneys and bankers are too busy working their own cases and deals that they they often don’t have enough time to focus on things going on in the world around them, not to mention the other cases or deals occuring in their very field.
Luckily, technology has made it easier than ever for the oft-time-constrained professional to be better informed, such that they could and should be prepared to pivot during any conversation and discuss a myriad of topics. Generally, however, lawyers (sometimes to their own detriment) and bankers aren’t as up to speed on useful and helpful technology as they should be. Fortunately there are numerous low-hanging-fruit steps these professionals can take to remedy this problem.
Here are some mobile applications (and tips) that can help you stay informed in as little time as possible:1
The following two applications are resources that I deploy everyday because of their real-time information capabilities, filtering options, and ease of use:
• Flipboard. By now, more than 90mm people know about Flipboard, a popular aggregator that allows users to compartmentalize news into broad categories (e.g., “Technology” or “Business”). What many users don’t realize, however, is that you can customize your content and subscribe to RSS and other feeds that plug you in to streams that are professionally relevant to you. Here’s how: (1) after downloading the app, click on the red flag in the top righthand corner of your mobile device; (2) type the subject area you are interested in into “search,” and a variety of relevant content will appear; and (3) select the content pertinent to you and it will add to your feed, including “Cover Stories” (for instance, searching “Private Equity” will allow you to create special fields that subsumes content from Financial Times, BusinessInsider, Guardian, NYTimes, and homegrown content exclusive to Flipboard). In a very little amount of time, you can be sure to have up-to-date news relating to your field of expertise — without the hassle of clogging an already bursting email inbox.
• Twitter.2 Twitter has its skeptics but if used strategically, it functions as a wonderful source of real-time news. And the best part is that you do not need to tweet at all to take advantage of the wealth of information that Twitter can provide. A large percentage of Twitter account holders, it seems, do exactly that. Nearly every media platform and influencer has a Twitter account and “following” them can give you access to plenty of news at your fingertips. A few minutes of scanning these sources on the way to a cocktail party can get you up to speed on news you may have missed relatively quickly. The key here is being selective about who you follow to avoid noise and to deploy Twitter’s “Lists” feature so that you can aggregate the Tweeters you follow into topical feeds. I, for instance, have separate Lists for “Financial News,” “Tech News,” and “Legal News.” That way I can make sure I can get up to speed on the appropriate topic at the appropriate time without seeing, for instance, one of Kanye West’s ridiculous Tweets.
B. Helpful Supplements 3
• Circa. At the end of 2013, a number of tech forums lauded Circa for its mission of targeting news to the mobile news consumer. It provides easy-to-digest summaries of select topical news stories that fall somewhere in between the fulsome description of news you might get from print media and the minimalistic nature of Twitter. For a quick overview of what’s going on in the world around you, for instance, this is an easy and user-friendly place to go (and it updates stories so if you “follow” a story, you can receive push notifications of any changes to that story). It’s downside, however, is that it doesn’t allow for micro-filtering to a field of expertise in the way that Flipboard does because, to date, it only covers very broad news topics.
• Inside. Inside launched earlier this year with a focus on mobile news consumption; it, therefore, is a direct competitor to Circa. Similar to Circa, Inside provides users with an easy way to consume top news stories and receive updates. What distinguishes it from Circa, however, is the ability of users to select customized topics for their own personal feed. Therefore, if you want to search for “Bankruptcy,” for instance, you can simply click on “Topics,” search for that term, click on the result, and it will be instantaneously added to “My Feed,” your feed of personally-selected subjects. For professional use, then, Inside may be more helpful than Circa. The design, however, is a lot clunkier.
• News360. News360, similar to Circa and Inside, is a mobile application that purportedly collates subject matter based on your reading habits and searches to tailor content to your interests. It is more similar to Inside than Circa in that its tailoring can be more specific; it also has the added functionality of saving articles for later reading without an internet connection. So, if you’re just perusing through for headlines but want to read more in-depth later and will be in the subway or on a flight, this app’s download-and-read-later functionality might just be the differentiator you need.
• Wibbitz. For the visual types, Wibbitz offers minimalistic video news reports. Filtering content to specific subject matter is difficult with Wibbitz — a clear downside — but for macro news in a different and easily digestible format, Wibbitz is distinct from the others on this list.
• Newsbeat. Like Wibbitz, Newsbeat offers news delivery in a different manner: it acts like a personal news radio station that reads you article summaries and other issues of interest (e.g., traffic and local weather). Given that it’d be hard to read or watch video while, say, on a Citibike or on your morning run, Newsbeat may be a great way for you to multi-task. Newsbeat’s content derives from hundreds of sources and it deploys an algorithm that, like many of the other sources above, tailors your content the more you interact with it.
Whether you are “in it to win it” and want to increase the likelihood of your career leading to partnership or you are uncertain about your future and simply want to maintain optionality, effective networking is critical. One of the most helpful and effective ways to network is to position yourself to be (more) informed and memorable. Thanks to mobile technology, it takes much less time for those on the move — both bankers and lawyers alike — to do just that. You just need to know where to look.
Follow Rob Jordan on Twitter at @robertjordan33 or email him at email@example.com.
1. As with most things, the Paradox of Choice is highly relevant here. Accordingly, this list is by no means all-inclusive: feel free to send me some suggestions. Also, for most tech enthusiasts, these names are old hat. For those who are typically behind tech, i.e., attorneys, these names should help get you started.
2. Another option here is that you can subscribe to other people’s lists. So, if you’re a fellow professional in the distressed investing/bankruptcy world, you could simply subscribe to my “Bankruptcy List” and automatically follow everyone that I’m already following…saves you the work of populating your own feed.
3. One suggestion is to pick a topic you don’t really know that much about and start following it. Tech, for instance, may not seem to have a direct connection to, say, restructuring, but, as just one example, tech enables the “sharing economy” and time will tell how sites like Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, Postmates, RelayRides and others affect traditional businesses like hoteliers and car companies.