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Olson on Networking: Helping Others, Friendship and Honesty

Posted on September 14, 2007

Due to the success of TECH cocktail I get asked about networking a lot. Now, I don’t know about you but every time I hear the word networking I cringe ever so slightly. The cringing is a result of a specific image popping into my head - the image being Keith Ferrazzi’s “networking jerk.”

C’mon, you know who I’m talking about. They are lurking at every convention, party and conference and they are the people you try to avoid. I’d try to write my own description of the “networking jerk” but I think Ferrazzi says it best. Here’s an excerpt on the “networking jerk” from his book Never Eat Alone:

He is the man or she is the woman with a martini in one hand, business cards in the other, and a prerehearsed elevator pitch always at the ready. He or she is a schmooze artist, eyes darting at every event in a constant search for a bigger fish to fry. He or she is the insincere, ruthlessly ambitious glad-hander you don’t want to become.

Truer words have never been spoken. You do not what to be that guy or gal ever and if you find yourself acting like that you should take a long hard look at what you’ve become, slap yourself in the face and make a concerted effort to become human again.

That gets to the core of what I think good networking is - being a good human being.

Your first concern should be helping others. (aka: Karma is very, very real.)

We are all members of the human race and we all want to succeed but the key is to remember that to succeed you need to help others succeed as well. (We’re all in this together, right?)

Every time you enter a conversation with someone you should do the following:

- Ask them about and try to understand their passions and goals.
- Figure out a way that you can possibly help them pursue their passions and attain their goals.

I think this comes as a natural impulse to most if not all people but some folks let other things skew their natural impulse causing them to only think of themselves and what others can do for them. That is how you start to fall into the trap of the networking jerk and how you don’t make friends.

Make friends. (aka: Everything needs a foundation.)

Pretty simple idea right? I think so and yet I see a lot of people who simply don’t seem to grasp this idea. These are the people who are always looking for the next person to hand their business card or give their elevator pitch to and, frankly, they aren’t making quality connections.

Frank and I based TECH cocktail on the idea that if you get people together in one room who share the same passion for technology than friendships will form. We figured that friendships are much more valuable since they are long term in nature as opposed to a simple one off business card hand off which may result in a short term deal but will most likely fizzle out quickly and not result in long term business.

The reason why the simple business card hand off doesn’t work is because the person (or people) you were “networking” with didn’t really get to know you and you really didn’t get to know them. After the event when you then tried to work together you got to know the person (or people) and one or both of you realized you didn’t like working together. If you can’t work with someone it doesn’t matter how fruitful the deal could be it simply won’t be worth it and future business is, of course, also out of the question after that realization is made.

So, what has really been accomplished in that situation? I am sure the person doing the networking thought they were doing the right thing since they got a deal but, in the end of the day, a lot of work was done for a short term gain whereas, if they had made a friend the same amount of work would have been done but the result would have been a longer lasting partnership and new business opportunities for both parties that weren’t even evident at the time of the first connection.

Making friends helps people in the long run because friends will continually help each other in ways they may have never foreseen whereas the one time deal via a “networking moment” is just that - a one-time deal. Plus, who doesn’t want more friends who get excited about the same things they do?

No hidden agendas. (aka Honesty is the best policy.)

Yes, you read right and yes, this is common sense. However, I have occasionally seen folks that have lost that common sense throughout my travels. What is even more fascinating to me is that they think the people they are trying to network with won’t see right through them. Unfortunately for them I think that is a very big underestimation of their fellow humans.

Simply being honest with people will get you far in life. However, to follow my own advice, I will be honest with you and tell you that honesty will cause you to lose some deals too. Even with those losses taken into account though I think you’ll be much better off being honest. Being honest will create much more rooted relationships with people that will yield more business than you can imagine because people trust you.

Thats right, trust starts with honesty.

Another part of being honest is being genuine. I feel that the term networking also conjures up thoughts of people who are not genuine and who are trying to manipulate the people they are talking to and that is a shame. Networking should not be a synonym for manipulation it should be a synonym for creating real friendships among people who share your passions.

So, the bottom line is to be a good human being and make friends - not just connections. Friendships will be around for the long haul where as connections can be and are generally fleeting.

Making friendships can’t be taught though. There is no easy way to simply make things start happening. All you can do is get out there, be yourself and try to help your fellow human beings and things will work themselves out.

Relating this all back to TECH cocktail I would have to say that what has made TECH cocktail such a success is the fact that the TCers all get the idea that solid friendships are what matter. Without such great attendees TC simply wouldn’t be what it is today.

Well, I could go on and on about networking but I think this is good for a first post about these issues. Perhaps this could become a series of posts. If you guys would like to see more on this topic please comment to that effect and I will work out some more posts around these ideas.

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5 Comments so far
  1. Mike Maddaloni September 15, 2007 12:42 pm

    Hi Eric - Keep it coming! There can not be too much dialogue on what networking should be. With you, Jason Jacobsohn and occasional posts by myself, hopefully the word will get out more on the true, selfless value of networking is!


  2. Rob Long September 17, 2007 8:03 pm

    I always wonder when I see someone’s LinkedIn profile with “500+” contacts. How meaningful could those possibly be? And at these conferences, with everyone passing around business cards, there’s not much that’s really valuable being passed along — you end up with dozens of cards (I’ve even given away someone else’s card as my own, by mistake) without much of a foundation there to build on. To work with someone, give someone money to do something, hire someone, even recommend someone to someone else, you really need more than a “networking moment” to take that kind of action.

  3. Eric Olson September 17, 2007 8:52 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Rob. That was one of the reasons why Frank and I started TECH cocktail and structured it in the way we did.

    We really believe that we are providing a forum where people are able to make lasting friendships that will also result in business rather than just business contacts.

  4. […] In the internet world the line between work and life has been getting more blurry over time. There has been a lot of talk about it in various blogs and other publications some of which talk about the good and some of which talk about the bad. I began to think about this lack of a line and whether it was bad or good (or both) shortly after writing my latest piece on networking. […]

  5. Paul Jennings November 8, 2007 1:32 pm

    Your points are exactly right and it reminds me of when i’ve been at events and there have been car salespeople there and they have no intention of helping others but are there just to try to get the next sale, i have never seen them leave with even a possible lead and i’ve not seen them at other events after!

    BNI has it right with its analogy of farmers and hunters, networking is about planting seeds and growing and nurturing relationships rather than going for the one off quick deal and getting as many business cards as possible and it’s philosophy of givers gain is spot on.