Networking and the Growth Mindset: How Music Entrepreneurs Can Learn to Love Networking

Summer is a great time to network! Chances are that you are touring, at a festival or engaged in a new teaching or performance venues where you are likely to be meeting a lot of new people. Yet for so many people, networking brings up a lot of negativity. I have heard the following:

Networking feels sleazy activity but musicians have to do it if we want to get ahead. I’ll never be able to do it perfectly so why bother? It’s too hard anyway and I’m not a people person so what’s the point?

How true are those thoughts?  It’s a matter of your mindset! And the good news is that mindsets can be changed.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review summarizes the research, which shows that changing your mindset can change the way you approach networking and confirms that it is possible to overcome an aversion to networking. In fact, I spend time every summer teaching musicians and arts leaders how to network.

My starting point is to reframe networking with my favorite definition:

Connecting with people with whom you are in sync so that you can share and remain relevant to each other.



 Remain Relevant

How can you embrace this definition and change your mindset around networking?

Start by adopting the Growth Mindset of Success.

Here’s how.

I love the growth mindset because it allows talented, intelligent people like musicians and arts leaders to achieve success through trial and error and hard work, as opposed to feeling the need to be perfect from the outset.  The growth mindset is the brainchild of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University whose research is summarized in the eminently readable book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Dr. Dweck’s research shows that you are more likely to achieve success when you view your talent and intelligence as starting points which you cultivate through hard work, experimentation and growth. Growth mindset individuals are willing to take risks, experiment, stumble, fail and pick themselves up again until they achieve the results they are looking for. Thus, success is the result of effort, learning, resililence and persistence.

This is in contrast to the “fixed” mindset which stems from a belief that your talent and intelligence are limited and that mistakes and failure mean that you are not talented,  Fixed mindset people hold onto their talent for dear life as the proof of their success. As a result, they are afraid to rock the boat, take risks or make mistakes. And interestingly, they are not as likely to achieve success as their growth mindset counterparts.

The fixed mindset person would tell herself that she is just not good at networking and will never be able to change so there is no point in even trying.  The growth mindset individual would view the challenge of learning how to network in a different way:

Networking is an opportunity to meet some great new people. I like to make friends so why not extend my professional circle?  And if networking is about connecting and sharing, I love to learn new things. And I am happy to share my own experience as a musician, connect people I love with others and see how we can create opportunities together.            

Happily, it is possible to change one’s mindset through a 4-step process:

1.        Notice Your Fixed Mindset Thoughts

2.        Affirm Your Commitment to Change

3.        Substitute a Growth Mindset Thought

4.        Take a Growth Mindset Action

Let’s see how to apply the growth mindset in the context of networking.

1.        Notice Your Fixed Mindset Thoughts

Step one to any change is awareness so begin to pay attention to your negative, fixed mindset thoughts that tell you how you just can’t network. 

I’m not a people person/I’m an introvert so I will never learn how to network

I will never do this perfectly so what’s the point in trying to network?

I don’t like asking people for favors so how can put myself out there to network?

Hmmm.  Notice all that negativity, perfectionism and self-judgment.

It is also important to zero in on the situations that gives rise to these thoughts.   Become familiar with your triggers, which may range from post-concert receptions to informal gatherings after a rehearsal to summer festivals.

But all is not lost if you continue with the next 3 steps!

2.        Affirm Your Commitment to Change

Once you become aware of the situations that trigger the fixed mindset, the next step is to convince yourself that you have the power to change.

One way to do this is to look for evidence that supports and negates your fixed mindset thought.

Let’s take a look at the perception that if you are not a “people person”, you cannot network.


Start with the evidence that supports your contention:

“I don’t like big parties so I don’t talk to anyone.  How can I possibly network if I am so afraid to talk to people?”

Now, take a look at the other side of the coin.

A lot of people don’t like big parties!   And big parties are not the only place where you can network. 

Where have you enjoyed meeting new people?

What have you learned when you met someone new?

Where were you able to help someone with a resource or other action?

I bet that you can come up with a few situations where you were able to connect with others such as

In a performance ensemble

At a one-on-one meetings over coffee or drinks

In conversations over a shared topic of interest.

Going through this exercise helps you to focus on situations where you were, in fact, comfortable around other people and dispel the belief that you can’t network.

And be sure to keep track of your successes to remind you that you are improving!  It is a matter of perception so why not go with the most empowering interpretation? This tells you that you want to change and that you are committed to doing so!

3.        Substitute a Growth Mindset Thought

Now that you have some evidence that you are capable of networking, it’s now time to change your thinking by coming up with answers to your fixed mindset thoughts.

Start by using the words of growth.

I have enjoyed meeting new people in the past and I can do it again.

I am committed to getting better at expanding my network so that I can grow my circle of mutually-supportive people.

I’m not sure how to do this.  I bet I can learn! And I don’t have to do it perfectly.`

4.        Take a Growth Mindset Action

Finally, the growth mindset means that you are willing to take actions–even if they feel a little risky-because of your commitment to grow and change.

Here’s what a growth mindset action would look like:

The next time I meet new people in a professional setting, I will take a new approach. 

I can create an elevator pitch and practice if before I attend my next networking event.

I will ask my friend for some tips on how to network.

I can practice the 4-step process on a daily basis to create a new habit.

The process of change takes practice. And the good news for musicians is that you all know the process of practicing for improvement! So use that same skill to practice replacing the voice of the Fixed Mindset with your Growth Mindset and see how that helps you in your networking.

Enjoy your summer networking!