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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

Life & Work: Is blurring the line good or bad?

with 2 comments

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.

That particular post focused on what I view as the core of good networking and that is simply being truthful, honest and striving to create lasting friendships that may also lead to business (i.e. being a good human being). Of course following that approach makes keeping a line between business and life pretty difficult.

Speaking from personal experience I would say that a lot of the folks I work with on a regular basis are also good friends or at least heading toward that status. That means we share a beer at a pub as friends one night and the next morning we’re providing connections for each other or working on a business deal.

I love that way of working since it makes work so much more fun. I mean who doesn’t want to work on something they are passionate about and get to do it with friends that are just as passionate? (Quick disclaimer - I know some folks prefer to keep life and business separate. This is just my $0.02 and it is all *imho*.)

After coming to that conclusion I began to take a look back at history to figure out if the line between work and life had always ben there or if it evolved over time. It seems to me that the line has evolved into being because, in the past, the line was pretty much non-existent.

If you think you about it people’s lives were very tied to their work back when business was mainly agricultural and trading rather than paying for things with cash. In those days everyone seemed to know everyone else in town and people weren’t simply customers. They were also friends, neighbors and family. I would guess that it was not uncommon for customers to know the whole family that owned the general store or the family that ran the pumpkin farm.

Today it seems like the line has been drawn because people look at business as separate from life but I wonder if that isn’t the way we should think about things. If business was more personal and ones customers and partners were also friends it seems more humanity could be brought back into the business world and better deals could be done.

Sure, there would be arguments and issues because of the personal nature of things but that exists already. I mean, when someone says that something isn’t personal and that it is just business does that really matter? I feel like people will generally take it personally anyhow and, a lot of the time, it probably is.

What’s interesting is that Facebook seems to be breaking down some of those barriers as more and more work friends, customers and partners begin to connect on the network. Suddenly people begin to see others as people with families, hobbies, etc. just like them. Adding the human element to the mix changes things since now the person on the other end of the phone or computer is more real. They aren’t just a customer, partner or co-worker they are a fellow human. I feel like that “realness” makes a big difference in how people feel about their work.

Scaling that type of situation so it works in the world of big business, though, will be the key and I am not sure how or if that can be done (or even if most people would want it to be done). What are your thoughts? Can it be done and, if so, should it be?

Written by Eric Olson

September 24th, 2007 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Business, Networking

Olson on Networking: Helping Others, Friendship and Honesty

with 5 comments

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.

Written by Eric Olson

September 14th, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Posted in Business, Networking

Thoughts on Networking: Fun is Key

with 3 comments

I don’t know about you but when I hear the word networking I think of Keith Ferrazzi’s portrait of the “networking jerk.” That is to say I think of people crammed into a beige room all trying to hand out as many business cards as they can while continually looking for the next best person to talk to. Unfortunately I think this type of scenario still occurs all too frequently and I am not convinced it does anyone much good.

In my mind the true key to solid “networking” is to have fun with people and become genuine friends with them.

Frank and I based TECH cocktail on that belief and the event has grown like crazy. People from other cities have even started to e-mail us asking when we’ll be doing a TECH cocktail in their city.

Sure, that’s great and all but does any business get done as a result of TECH cocktail? (I love asking myself questions in posts.) The answer is a resounding yes.

I know numerous people who have found great employees, great jobs, co-founders and friends they can work on projects with. I’m also sure that VCs may find some deals within the TC crowd if it hasn’t happened already.

More and more events are now popping up that center on fun with networking as an afterthought. One of my favorite is the Labor vs. Capital dodgeball game that my friend David Hornik co-hosted recently.

The basic gist of that event was that VCs would play entrepreneurs in dodgeball while on trampolines (hey, who doesn’t like a good tampoline playing surface). As you can see from the video on Jason Shellen’s blog it seems to have been a big success although it remains to be seen if the embattled VCs will ever fund anyone from the Labor team ever again. Kidding of course (or am I…). I definitely think that the same good business connections will come of that dodgeball game even though networking wasn’t the focus.

Hopefully we’ll see more fun events going forward as I believe they are the future of networking. Ultimately you work with people you like (if at all possible) and I’m not sure you can start to be friends with people through business card exchanges alone.

Side note: Who’s up for a TECH cocktail softball game this summer? Maybe we could do the Labor vs. Capital thing or Web vs. other tech.

Side note to the side note: You can’t spell funding without fun. Think about it.

Written by Eric Olson

June 12th, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Business, Networking