Q. What inspired you to write this book?
I was initially inspired to write EDGE because of my own personal experiences a first-generation Asian-American woman in the workplace, but then found that I was doing research that would be more broadly valuable. When I was trying to navigate my early career, I was met with various challenges and realized that the advice we’re often given—to put your head down and just work hard—doesn’t always lead to success and outcomes. Sometimes you work twice as hard and you get half the amount of benefits, if you’re lucky. Sometimes you just burn out and see the rewards going to others.
The disconnect between hard work and lack of recognition can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening. I began to do research in this area, examining the disparities in who is successful in the workplace and who is not, and how individuals can employ certain strategies and tactics to level the playing field in an authentic way.
In my research, I found that there are ways to take the obstacles, constraints, barriers, even stereotypes that you face, and flip them to your advantage. I wrote EDGE to help and support individuals in doing so, especially those who have been underestimated and face disadvantages, whether they are female entrepreneurs, people of color in business, or first-generation college students.
Q. Do you recommend creating an “elevator speech” or does that sound too rehearsed?
I typically discourage people from memorizing scripts or elevator pitches when networking or pitching an idea to key stakeholders. However, what I do recommend is that you “prepare without overpreparing.” What I mean by that is, have a basic set of points about yourself and your main goal (and what you’re seeking to achieve from a conversation). That allows you to have a rough outline of points you’d like to touch on when in your meeting. This provides you with a basic scheme to help you mentally guide yourself as you advance through the meeting, so that you can make sure you hit on all your major points while also embracing spontaneity and any opportunities that arise to bring up interesting, tangential points. And importantly, this allows you to avoid appearing stiff and rehearsed, and instead delightful and conversational.
Q. What is your #1 tool to help introverts when networking?
Being an introvert is commonly viewed as a disadvantage in the world of business. As a society, we implicitly often believe that extroverted qualities are synonymous with leadership qualities. As such, from an early age we are taught to value, mirror, and seek out extroversion in order to be successful. However, this does not mean that introverts are completely cut out of the networking process—it just means they must approach networking differently and in their own way.
This always reminds me of something that I experienced early in my own career. In my very first academic job, I was a young assistant professor that had no idea how to network. A well-meaning senior colleague of mine told me that it was important for me to get to know all the senior associate deans and the leaders of the school. I remember asking him, “How do I do that? How do I get to know them?” He responded, “just ask them to lunch, and get to know them; you don’t need to have an agenda, just be social and casual and get to know them…”
And so, I started asking a few of the senior associate deans to lunch. After finally getting on one the dean’s calendars, we sat down to lunch, and he said, “so what do you want to talk about?” I replied, “oh, I just wanted to get to know you, I don’t have an agenda.”
The lunch went disastrously, and I realized that here was an extremely busy man, who assumed that if I asked for his time, I must have something important to discuss with him. I realized that I’m not the type of person who can just be social and casual with someone in that way (there are some that can).
But as luck would have it, a few weeks later, I was on a flight to give a talk at a conference, and this same senior associate dean was on the same flight (and scheduled to give a talk as well). He saw me and asked if I wanted to share a ride with him to the conference hotel. On the 45 min ride to the hotel, I didn’t need to have an agenda. I was able to chat with him in a different circumstance and under different expectations – and we chatted about life, about our kids, about our goals. And to this day, he remains one of my most trusted advisors and mentors.
If you are an introvert and prone to being quieter, or putting your head down and working hard, you can still be successful in networking. The #1 tool that I offer: recognize the different opportunities that are out there and do it in your own way.
Q. What advice can you give to people who get discouraged and naturally retreat into themselves after hitting a stumbling block or encountering an obstacle?
Double down. One of the hardest lessons everyone has to learn is that failure is inevitable. We sort of know this… we’ve been told that failure is a precursor to success. But what I found is that the number one emotion attached to failure is embarrassment or shame. And when we feel embarrassment or shame, we say, “never again… never again will I put myself in that situation.” Instead, we should double down. Put ourselves in more of those situations. That’s how we get more data, more information, more learnings about ourselves. More about our values and what we value and why. And inevitably, this is what leads to success.
Q. How do you help someone develop their edge when networking options have been so limited over the last year?
It’s true that networking opportunities have been limited for everyone this past year. Part of what makes it limiting is that we all have a tendency to seek out similar mentors and ask for advice from the same people. We tend to want to network with, and make asks of, those who are established in their careers—those who are considered the big success stories. But sometimes it’s those who are at the same level as us, or perhaps just one or two years our senior that provide the best advice and mentoring.
The way I think of it is this: imagine I was learning tennis, and a superstar like Roger Federer or Naomi Osaka agreed to play with me. I wouldn’t actually learn that much… they’d be servings aces over me and lobbing winners again and again. What I actually need is someone who is around my level – someone who is slightly better who knows the challenges that I’m currently facing and the types of things I’m encountering in my day to day. That’s who we can be looking to for advice and networking, and there are so many more people who fit into this category. We can gain an edge when we don’t feel like we have to go after the people who are constantly getting asks (and hence have to say no more often), and likely to provide less relevant and effective know-how (at least for our current stage) on top of that.
Q. We live in a society with a deeply rooted bias towards people of color, women, and other minority groups. How does one channel this adversity into an advantage in this sort of environment?
You can succeed and achieve your goals no matter your current circumstances. That is not to say that we don’t face disparities because of race, gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, religion, accent, and so on. Over the last decade or so of my research, and what I detail in my book, is the EDGE framework, where the E, D, G, and E stand for the principles of this framework: Enrich, Delight, Guide, and Effort.
We can flip adversity, constraints, and obstacles in our favor when we enrich and understand our basic goods – the value we have to offer, and the perceptions that others have about the value we offer. We can also hone our ability to understand how we authentically delight—whether it’s a customer, supplier, investor, potential partner, and so on. When we delight our counterpart, it’s the equivalent of cracking the door open and giving us an opportunity to show how we enrich and provide value. Guiding calls upon how we can effectively reframe others’ perceptions and stereotypes. And finally, effort is about hard work. We often put effort and hard work first, thinking that if we work hard, success will follow. But effort and hard work actually come last in this framework… because when we know how we Enrich, Delight, and Guide, that’s when Effort and hard work actually work harder for us. That’s when we get the tailwinds. That’s when we put in twice the amount of hard work for twice the amount of benefits, or even three times the amount of benefits.
Learn more about Laura Huang, purchase her book and join her Edge Community at www.laurahuang.net