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A-Ha Moments

Social Capital Example: Stephanie’s Story

Written by: Bill Sherman on Monday, 21 July 2008, 1:09 PM

This weekend, I visited San Jose for work and to celebrate a friend’s birthday. While I was there, my friend Stephanie Sparks created an excellent example of how you can use your social capital to help others. I’d like to share her story with you. It’s really pretty cool.

Stephanie works in San Jose as an attorney who specializes in law on the edge of the digital frontier. She also instinctively understands how to build and mobilize social capital across her network. It’s a practice that’s deeply wired within her.

Early in the evening, Stephanie asked me how I’d become interested in thought-leadership marketing. I replied that it had begun when I was working on a Ph.D. at St. Louis University. The English Department had assigned me to work in the Graduate Writing Center. I helped many Ph.D. candidates find their voice as scholars, and I started to tell the story of the Chinese geophysics student who’d written his dissertation about new seismic findings in the New Madrid Fault Zone (which caused massive 8.x earthquakes during the winter of 1811-12).

At this point, Stephanie looked at me intently. She said, “I have a friend who has gotten stuck on her dissertation proposal, and her committee has given absolute deadline of September. She’s really smart. Would you please help her? Please tell me you can.” Stephanie’s voice was filled with passion. This wasn’t a off-hand request or business referral. Stephanie was committed to her friend’s success.

Coaching graduate students isn’t my current career. I haven’t coached a Ph.D. candidate since 1999.

I said yes to Stephanie’s request, because she’s such a very good friend.

As soon as I said “yes,” Stephanie whipped out her cellphone and called her friend. “I think I found a way to help you with your writing. I’ve got a friend who’s an amazing writing coach and has worked with Ph.D. candidates before. I’m having dinner with him now. Can we come over later tonight?”

Later that night, I met with Stephanie’s friend. She told me that she’d looked for a writing coach in the San Francisco Bay area, but she hadn’t found anyone who’d work with Ph.D. candidates. She was thrilled that Stephanie had found someone to help her (even if the person was visiting from St. Louis).

On Saturday, I met with Stephanie’s friend. We discussed her dissertation proposal and started refining her hypotheses and research plan. By the end of the conversation, we’d come up with a plan to get her “unstuck” and back-on-timeline.

Stephanie put her social capital to work:

  • Stephanie’s friend needed help but couldn’t find it in her immediate network (so she told her friends the type of help she needed);
  • When Stephanie heard me tell my story, she saw the connection between her friend’s need and my skillset (she located a resource within her network);
  • Stephanie mobilized a resource (my past experience) to help her friend;
  • Stephanie strengthened the bond between herself and her friend; and
  • Stephanie and I strengthened our bond.

Here’s today’s tip. If you try to build a social network solely for your personal benefit, you will eventually fail. You can’t be selfish.

Like Stephanie, you should search for opportunities where you can leverage your social capital to help others.

One Response to “Social Capital Example: Stephanie’s Story”

  1. Joe Franklin Says:

    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.

    July 21st, 2008 9:50 pm

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