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OPINION

NETWORKING

‘Networking in Sweden needs more guanxi’

Jimmy Zhao, CEO and founder of mentoring app Lunchback, argues that the fast-paced Swedish startup community needs to learn from Chinese traditions when it comes to relationship-building.

'Networking in Sweden needs more guanxi'
A woman meets Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg at a conference in Beijing. Photo: Andy Wong/TT

You might have just landed in this beautiful Nordic country, or you might have been living here for quite many years. Either way, let's be brutally honest: networking in Sweden is broken.

People try to network at some of the many different mingle events, and spend a lot of time trying to find new people to add to their social media profiles. But how efficient are these events? Do you get much out of them? I never did.

When I came to Sweden around 10 years ago I invested a lot of time in networking and meeting people. I made so many 'hi-bye' friends at these events – more than you could imagine.

In the culture I grew up in, people value 'guanxi' – a Chinese word describing a deep, meaningful connection. Mentorship and knowledge exchange is valued so highly that there is an old Chinese proverb: “Being a mentor for one day, means a lifetime fatherhood.”

For this reason, relationship-building is a big part of business and social culture in China. When I first came to Sweden, I was far from my family and friends, and my biggest worry was that I would not be able to find success as an entrepreneur without the right 'guanxi'.

Everyone wants success, and no one is born knowing how to get it. The way to learn is to ask the ones who have been there and done that. Successful people say that finding a mentor is the biggest factor in achieving success. We can't learn the hard lessons all by ourselves, and we can't pick up the huge amount of implicit knowledge in a business community by ourselves. We all need help from someone in order to learn.

Needing others is not a weakness; it's a strength. Your ability to copy someone successful is the biggest predictor of your own success. It has been said that good artists copy but great artists steal. Most of the people who were successful had mentors. Albert Einstein had lunch with his mentor every Thursday. Bill Gates had Paul Allen and Warren Buffet had Benjamin Graham.

Here is the golden rule of networking: you shall spend your time in thirds.

Spend one third of your time mentoring the people who are not as knowledgeable as you are, and they will return the favour by making you feel good about yourself.

Spend one third of your time with people who are on the same level as you, because they will give you a new perspective on the things you (think you) already know.

Spend one third of your time with people who are a decade or two ahead of you, because they will make you uncomfortable but teach you the secrets of their success.

You may be asking yourself, why would successful people want to meet a person like me? You may doubt that you could be interesting to them, and you might be afraid they will reject you. They might. But there are some strategies you can use to get them interested. First, be humble. You are asking them for something, and it's best to be up front about that. Second, persevere. Keep trying, and don't take No for an answer. At least not the first half-dozen times.

Guanxi is the connecting force in the world, and I want to create more of it. This is the reason that we started Lunchback, an app that can be used to find yourself a mentor in your local area. From this experience, we know that successful people who want to be mentors are available and interested in helping more junior people to succeed and progress in their careers.

Networking should not be about fleeting encounters, it should be about creating community. The most valuable social capital is the intimate, supportive relationships that spur collaboration while deeply satisfying our human need for connection, belonging and meaning.

These are the rules we should all live by:

1. Inspire and teach others with great stories, and be ready to learn from them too.

2. Build friendships, not just hi-bye relationships.

3. Show love: appreciate the mentoring and love who you are.

4. Have fun: the unexpected moments are often the most fun and most meaningful.

You will be surprised at how willing other people are to meet you in real life – all you have to do is ask for it in a safe environment. Mentorship is the shortcut to your success. It won't come easy, it still takes a lot of hard work, but this difficulty is what makes success worth celebrating.

Remember this equation: your success in life = the people you meet + what you create together.

Jimmy Zhao is the CEO and founder of Lunchback.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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