How a shy, Star-Trek loving software engineer became Fortune’s best networker

In 2011, one man had more LinkedIn connections to the 640 Powerful People on Fortune’s list than any human being on the planet. This man had more connections to the top Fortune’s 500 CEO’s, Fortune’s 50 Smartest People In Tech, Fortune’s 40 under 40, and Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women than anyone else at the time.

That man was Adam Rifkin, an entrepreneur who some people call Panda, and who built his vast network despite being a shy engineer.

You’ve likely never heard of Adam Rifkin. He’s doesn’t often come up in major press releases or appear on the covers of top magazines. He isn’t unfathomably wealthy like a Bill Gates. He isn’t unbelievably attractive like famous actor. He has done some incredible work, especially in venture capitalism, but on the whole, Adam Rifkin is a pretty ordinary guy with some extraordinary networking skills.

The researcher, psychologist, and professor, Adam Grant, covered the story of Adam Rifkin extensively in his 2013 book Give and Take. Grant explored what made Rifkin so successful in building and maintaining connections. He learned that although Rifkin grew up fairly shy and introverted, over time, the Panda adapted and embraced three crucial ideas for networking that have defined much of his professional career.

According to Adam Grant, when it comes to networking:

“Rifkin’s real aim is to change our fundamental ideas about how we build our networks and who should benefit from them. He believes that we should see networks as a vehicle for creating value for everyone, not just claiming it for ourselves, and he is convinced that this giver approach to networking can uproot the traditional norm of reciprocity in a manner that is highly productive for all involved.”

Adam Rifkin had been building an unbelievable network far before Fortune’s study came out and he was officially recognized for his extraordinary connections. So how did he do it? What makes his philosophy on networking so attractive and so effectual?

Three practical tips that are so simple anyone can do all three in the next 15 minutes.

1. Weak Ties

In order to become the best networker, Adam Rifkin knew that he understand how to access the full-breadth of his network. In order to do this, he devised a maxim that he still lives by to this day: “I believe in the strength of weak ties.”

Rifkin separates his connections into two camps: strong ties and weak ties. Adam Grant defines strong ties as: “close friends and colleagues, the people we really trust,” whereas weak ties are simply summarized as our acquaintances.

Given these definitions, you’d think that a successful networker should focus more on strong ties as opposed to weak ones. But that’s one of the things that sets Adam Rifkin apart. As Grant explains, strong ties provide bonds, but weak ties serve as bridges.They provide more efficient access to new information.

Strong ties provide bonds, but weak ties serve as bridges.

For shy people, weak ties can seem intimidating because it’s hard to know where we stand with that person since they are on the periphery or our networks. However, as Rifkin has learned, it is our weak ties that are surprisingly more likely to open up new avenues to other networks, sparking the discovery of original leads and new connections.

Rifkin practically uses these weak ties to increase his reach and build a wider network of good contacts. He takes time most days to reach out to a friend or connection on his periphery, not to get something but just to touch base and catch up and see what he can do to help that person.

Practical: Look through your contact list and re-engage with one person you haven’t talked with in more than a year. Ask if there is anything you can do to help or serve them.

2. The 5-Minute Favor

The reason that Adam Rifkin is able to make and keep contact with so many of his weak ties is that he has become the master of what he has labeled “The 5-Minute Favor.”

He has chosen to lead, and consequently, build his network, by this simple rule: “You should be willing to do something that will take you five-minutes or less for anybody.” Because of this mentality, Rifkin goes into every relationship and conversation he has looking for ways to engage and help the other person. He truly comes into his networking with open hands rather than closed fists.

“You should be willing to do something that will take you five-minutes or less for anybody.”

This mentality of being a giver first is attractive. People often walk away from a conversation or interaction with Adam Rifkin feeling seen and celebrated, and typically with a new contact or finding themselves one step closer to their goal.

Practical: Ask a colleague today how you could help them in the next 5 minutes. See what they say and then step in and be helpful.

3. Pronoia

According to Adam Grant, the last crucial idea that defines Rifkin’s extraordinary networking is that of pronoia.

In Give and Take, Adam Grant goes on to explain the concept by saying that “30 years ago,” the sociologist Fred Goldner wrote about what it means to experience the opposite of paranoia: Pronoia. According to the distinguished psychologist Brian Little, pronoia is the delusional belief that other people are plotting your wellbeing.” This mindset is what truly sets the Panda apart from other venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

“Pronoia is the delusional belief that other people are plotting your wellbeing.”

To build a great network, it’s often not enough to just follow the simple practicals. We could all start to focus on weak ties and increase how many 5-minute favors we do. But until we shift our belief out of paranoia and into pronoia, we’ll likely continue to miss the true value of a vast network.

Pronoia allows networkers like Adam Rifkin to hurdle common barriers like competitiveness, insecurity, and instantaneous gratification. This believe allows Rifkin to dismantle the reciprocity mindset of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Instead, he gives consistently and freely, believing that other people have his best interest in mind.

Practical: Take out a piece of paper and write down 10 ways that other people could be plotting your success right now. They don’t have to be factual, just engage your mind in this “what if” exercise as a way to start shifting your thinking.

106 Miles

You could argue that Adam Rifkin got lucky and that his extraordinary network is due to him being in the right place at the right time. Luck certainly has something to do with it, but it’s not the whole story.

Over a decade ago, Rifkin began organizing one of the biggest meetups in Silicon Valley for technical entrepreneurs called 106 Miles. If you find yourself in the area or are able to attend one of these meetups, you’ll likely see Adam Rifkin interacting with other engineers and networking across the room. If you watch the way he interacts with others, you’ll begin to realize that it’s not just luck. It’s a calculated form of generosity, a desire for other’s good, and a deep commitment to helping wherever he can.

If Adam Rifkin, the shy, Star-Trek Loving Software Engineer can do it, so can you.

This article was originally posted in Entrepreneur’s Handbook.