The corollary to “it’s better to be lucky than good” is that of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. This is oh so true in the world, but it’s nothing new to the astute people out there.
Have you ever wanted to reach out to your senator or congressman? I’m sure you didn’t just call them on the phone and chum around for a while. I tried this method and generally you can either: mail them a letter, email them, or leave a voice mail. Each of these communication methods are screened by staff members so you never really communicate with them, instead (at best) you receive a letter written by one of their staffers in the voice of the person you are trying to reach.
Unless you happen to know someone who knows them personally. Then you get an email, phone call, or letter from the person direct to you. It amazes me constantly the people you can access if only you know someone who knows someone. This is one of the reasons why I really love social networks (i.e. LinkedIn).
I’ve had the privilege of working with people-who-know-people and it’s really amazing how quickly you can access people at the highest levels if you cultivate your social network. It’s like a garden that needs constant watering. This is why there are two types of people in this world: the connectors and the doers. The connectors spend much of their time cultivating their social network and putting the right people in touch with each other. These connectors would be useless if they kept their network to themselves but they want to put the right people in touch, not just some fan. The doers are the people who want to be connected and are willing to do work in order to be affiliated with the connectors (or the people they may be connected to.)
This may be why associations are so popular.
I heard someone say that employees want three things: recognition, affiliation, and compensation. The recognition comes in many different forms depending on the employee. Some people want awards, others want a pat on the back, and some IT people just want coke and pizza. The affiliation part is something that everyone wants. Long ago I worked for a middle-tier company that nobody had heard of; I worked on clients that nobody had heard of; and I rarely went to conferences to meet the luminaries in the industry. People want to be affiliated with organizations or people who they admire (read: like, trust, and respect.)
This need for affiliation may be why Google is buying up companies left and right just to get the people who are working there. It’s why a friend of mine is working in Redmond for several months straight (traveling away from home) and still likes it because the people he is working with are top-notch.